A woman standing at a podium speaking.
Faith Wilkerson, Ed.D. was honored with both the Riese-Melton Award and the President's Inclusive Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award at Tuesday’s PACME ceremony. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Six VCU community members honored at the 2023 PACME ceremony

Faith Wilkerson and fellow award recipients demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion through their work on and off campus.

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Faith Wilkerson, Ed.D., program director for the Minority Educators Recruitment, Retention and Equity Center in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education, is the 2023 recipient of the Riese-Melton Award, which recognizes contributions that advance cross-cultural relations. The announcement was made April 18 at the ceremony for the annual Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment.

Wilkerson is among six PACME honorees for 2023. The Riese-Melton Award represents PACME’s capstone honor. The PACME program recognizes VCU individuals and groups for making significant contributions to promote civility, build community, establish cross-cultural initiatives, advocate equity and nurture a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“Each PACME winner is an exemplar of the power of relationships,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. "When we honor our relationships, we create something that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than the sum of its parts.”

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said that as a public research university and hospital system, VCU must embrace different viewpoints and perspectives. He referenced the concept of “radical empathy” and the work of author Isabel Wilkerson, the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in journalism. It means trying to understand people and situations you may never know or be in.

“It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it,” Rao said, using Wilkerson’s words.

He said "radical empathy” requires a lot of unlearning, and this year’s PACME honorees have worked to foster a fully welcoming environment at VCU.

“Today we celebrate colleagues and friends whose extraordinary efforts take us closer to the embracing and inclusive place we talk about being,” Rao said.

Here are the 2023 PACME honorees:

President's Inclusive Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award: Faith Wilkerson, Ed.D.

Wilkerson came to VCU in 2000, earned three degrees and began working for the university. She served in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs for many years before joining the  Minority Educators Recruitment, Retention and Equity Center. It recruits and retains Black educators through teacher residency programs with the goal of improving student outcomes.

“Dr. Wilkerson has been the epitome of what the university represents through its strategic plan and diversity initiatives,” Sotiropoulos said.

Eight people standing next to each other on a stage.
(Left to right) Reuban Rodriguez, Ed.D. associate vice president and dean of students; Danielle Pearles representing PACME honoree Monique Sample; PACME honoree Alena C. Hampton, Ph.D.; PACME honoree Faith Wilkerson, Ed.D.; VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.; PACME honoree Lane Carasik, Ph.D.; PACME honoree Korinthia “Kori” Nicolai; PACME honoree Nikki Fernandes; and Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, at the 2023 PACME Awards ceremony. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Academic and Administrative Leadership Award: Alena Hampton, Ph.D.

Hampton is the associate dean for academic affairs and student success in VCU’s College of Health Professions. Its dean, Susan Parish, Ph.D., said Hampton has led numerous initiatives, including the college's Diversity Merit Scholarship, its minority alumni mentoring program and an incentive program for faculty to pursue DEI work in the curriculum.

Hampton said while the words diversity, equity and inclusion have never officially been in any of her job titles, she has always embraced a personal responsibility to create an equitable and inclusive environment, particularly for students.

“It really matters to me that my work makes a meaningful contribution, so it really does mean the world to me to be acknowledged here today,” Hampton said through tears.

Faculty Award: Lane Carasik, Ph.D., and Nikki Fernandes

Carasik is an assistant professor in the VCU College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering. His colleague Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., said she nominated Carasik for effecting systematic change through establishment of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the American Nuclear Society, as well as through research opportunities for students.

“He pursues equity for all with passion, selflessness, dedication and, equally important, ability,” Filippas said.

Fernandes is an instructor in the Department of Focused Inquiry, which is part of the University College. Fernandes said she came to VCU in 2009 because she believed in its mission to cultivate a diverse community among students and faculty. 

Associate professor Katie Logan, Ph.D., said Fernandes is heavily involved not only at VCU but in the Greater Richmond community. She established Warmth, a free weeklong reading- and writing-intensive program for Black young adults in the region.  

“Nikki has constructed a sustained mentorship program, and the presence of Warmth participants in the room today is a testament to the long-lasting impact of that work,” Logan said.

Staff Award: Monique Sample

Sample is the diversity programs and employer partnership specialist with VCU Career Services and staff adviser for VCU P.R.I.M.E., an initiative that supports professional development and networking for underrepresented students interested in health-related careers.

“There is not a day that goes by without Monique exceeding the expectations of her role in an effort to increase awareness of and action to support justice, equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Danielle Pearles, associate director of employer and experiential development in VCU Career Services.

Sample said she was shocked to receive the PACME honor for doing something so integral to who she is as a person.

“I try to live as authentically as possible in all spaces to see and hear the people the way they want to be seen and heard — and make sure I hold and create space for them,” Sample said.

Student Award: Korinthia “Kori” Nicolai

Nicolai is a doctoral student in the VCU School of Education concentrating in educational psychology.

Associate professor Sharon K. Zumbrunn, Ph.D., said Nicolai, in her short time at VCU, has already made many meaningful contributions to building community, establishing cross-cultural initiatives, advocating for equity and nurturing a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“For example, Kori’s already a national leader in conversations about race and racism in the field of educational psychology, serving in important roles at both the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association,” Zumbrunn said.