May 1, 2020
2020 PACME awards recognize individuals and groups who have made exemplary contributions
Holding the event online allowed many beyond the VCU community to celebrate the winners’ achievements.
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Henry W. Lewis III has built a career of service by following in his family’s footsteps.
“I stand on the shoulders of generations of servant leaders,” said Lewis, director of recruitment and student programs for the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Health Professions. “My family has been my first and best role model.”
Lewis received the Riese-Melton Award on Thursday during a virtual ceremony recognizing honorees of the 2020 Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment. The Riese-Melton Award honors someone within the VCU community who builds bridges and increases diversity and inclusion.
Lewis has worked at VCU for six years and has been involved in numerous initiatives. He said he is most proud of founding Black Men in Medicine. The group helps minority undergrads find careers in science and medicine. The program has played a role in 11 minority VCU graduates being accepted into medical school.
“It was almost five years ago I crafted Black Men in Medicine,” Lewis said. “I had no idea it would become what it has become today. It has helped serve a community that has experienced many successes in health care but historically has been denied many opportunities in the noblest of professions.”
In total, eight awards, including the Student Award to Calvin J. Hall III, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, were given out during the ceremony. The annual awards recognize individuals and groups who have made exemplary contributions to promoting civility, building community, establishing cross-cultural initiatives, advocating equity and nurturing a welcoming and inclusive environment at VCU.
VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., praised the award winners and said inclusion is about leadership. The winners are people who take the university’s vision and make it become reality. Rao said the university must take the time and recognize those individuals who have made VCU a better place and created a more diverse and inclusive community.
“They see human potential, and they provide opportunities for everyone to be successful, and I mean everyone,” Rao said. “They're committed to the success of all human beings. We can learn so much from each other and most certainly can learn so much from the people we’ll be recognizing today. We benefit from not only their leadership, but also from their compassion and love of humanity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to move the ceremony online, but that allowed people from all around Richmond, across the country and around the world to view the event. Mariam F. Alkazemi, Ph.D., an assistant professor of public relations at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was one of two professors to receive the Faculty Award. She traces her roots back to Kuwait and was grateful that her family was able to watch the ceremony online from across the globe.
Alkazemi said she appreciated that VCU has worked so hard to create a community that involves a variety of rich traditions. She incorporates her multicultural background into her research and classroom experience and recently developed a course titled “International Media Coverage – The Middle East.” The class covers multiple perspectives on how the media discusses the Middle East.
Alkazemi is known to have spirited discussions about complex topics with her students. Her goal, she said, is to have a discussion where multiple perspectives are included.
“Universities do not just give people equal opportunities to learn,” she said. “That misses the point. Universities generate creativity in the air by bringing people together and introducing the tools by which we can explore our differences.”
They see human potential, and they provide opportunities for everyone to be successful, and I mean everyone. They're committed to the success of all human beings.
“She embodies the key social work values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person and the importance of human relationships,” said Sarah K. Price, Ph.D., associate dean for faculty development in the School of Social Work, who introduced Clark.
Tegwyn H. Brickhouse, D.D.S., Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Dentistry, received the Academic and Administrative Leadership Award. She has played an important role in bringing dentistry services to underserved populations and has developed numerous partnerships toward that cause.
“This is the first time in 15 years at VCU that I have been able to share something like this with my family,” Brickhouse said, giving a “shout out” to those watching online.
The Model of Inclusive Excellence Administrative Award was given to the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and the Model of Inclusive Excellence Academic Award was given to the School of Pharmacy. The awards were given for the first time this year and were determined based on data around diversity, inclusion and engagement.
Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the School of Pharmacy, said the school has worked hard to make it a place that is inclusive for everyone who works in and studies pharmacy.
“The award validates what we have been doing to enhance our school environment, and demonstrating what we still need to improve,” DiPiro said.
Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success, hosted the ceremony, which he closed on a somber note, acknowledging the challenges facing the country and the world.
Today is a unique period in history, he said.
“Make no mistake about it, like generations before us, we don't shrink or shy away from confronting enemies seen or unseen,” he said. “Like the generations before us, we did not give way to our anxieties and fears and then capitulate to circumstance, and like the generations before ours, we don't give up on our values when they're tested. We don't waiver in our beliefs when they're challenged, and certainly don't say we're wrong when history shows time and time again that when you stand up for justice and equality … others will follow.”
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