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Faculty Convocation will honor seven VCU educators and researchers for excellence

Annual ceremony on Sept. 6 highlights teaching, scholarship and service.

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Virginia Commonwealth University will recognize seven faculty members for outstanding teaching, scholarship and service at the 41st annual Faculty Convocation. The ceremony will be held Sept. 6 at 3 p.m. at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts and will be live-streamed on this VCU News article page.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., VCU provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will welcome guests, and VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., will deliver opening remarks.

A glance at the 2023 honorees:

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Anika L. Hines, Ph.D.

Anika L. Hines, Ph.D., School of Medicine, School of Population Health

Outstanding Early Career Faculty Award

Hines heads the Equity in Cardiovascular Health Outcomes Lab, where she and student mentees work to uncover and mitigate the impact of health disparities, which lead to premature death and poor health outcomes in marginalized people. Through a National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant, Hines is examining the impact, cost and pathways of county-level structural racism on hypertension disparities in Black and white adults. She has received multiple awards for excellence in both research and teaching, including the VCU School of Medicine Blick Scholar designation and the Association of Black Cardiologists COVID-19 Innovation Award.

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Michael F. Miles, M.D., Ph.D.

Michael F. Miles, M.D., Ph.D., School of Medicine

University Award of Excellence

Miles researches functional genomics, studying underlying genetic risk factors and gene expression in individuals with alcohol use disorder. This research looks at why some people are more vulnerable to becoming addicted to alcohol than others. Miles co-founded the VCU Alcohol Research Center in 2010, which is one of 23 national alcohol research centers funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He has published more than 210 papers and abstracts contributing to the knowledge base of his field. Miles recently served as president of the Research Society on Alcoholism and is a member of the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, the Society for Neuroscience, and the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society.

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Emiola Oyefuga, Ph.D.

Emiola Oyefuga, Ph.D., School of Education

Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award

Oyefuga’s research interest centers around using social capital to improve educational outcomes for students, and she is currently working with a team of VCU researchers investigating educator sexual misconduct in schools across the U.S. She is known for her clear, accessible teaching style, and student course reviews note that she creates an atmosphere of tolerance and collegiality in her classroom, which encourages open discussion. Oyefuga is a 2019 recipient of the VCU Black History in the Making Award and a 2018-19 recipient of the VCU Dale Kalkofen Scholarship in Educational Leadership.

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Deborah L. Polo

Deborah L. Polo, College of Humanities and Sciences

Distinguished Teaching Award

For more than 30 years, Polo has contributed to positive educational outcomes for thousands of undergraduate students of chemistry. At least 50% of her students meet or exceed the 50th percentile each semester on standardized American Chemical Society General Chemistry Exams, national assessments that gauge understanding of general chemistry. Polo led a faculty committee that designed a standardized, in-house placement test for incoming students of chemistry, implemented in 2019. She currently manages the testing process as well as a web-based tutoring program for students in need prior to enrolling in general chemistry. She devotes countless hours to these administrative efforts in addition to teaching. Student evaluations of Polo’s classes are consistently overwhelmingly positive, with students indicating they gain valuable and extensive knowledge.

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Martin K. Safo, Ph.D.

Martin K. Safo, Ph.D., School of Pharmacy

Distinguished Scholarship Award

Safo is an international leader in the research of sickle cell disease. Safo and late mentor Donald J. Abraham, Ph.D., discovered it is possible to directly target mutant hemoglobin in red blood cells to reduce sickling, redefining conventional thinking on the development of sickle cell pharmacotherapeutics. Safo has recently developed a novel anti-sickling drug agent that could lead to a functional cure of the genetic disease; the agent is undergoing pre-clinical studies funded in large part by the National Institutes of Health. He has published more than 150 research articles, and funding for Safo’s lab has reached an estimated $9 million.

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Curtis N. Sessler, M.D.

Curtis N. Sessler, M.D., School of Medicine

Distinguished Service Award

In the VCU Health System, Sessler served as medical director of the medical respiratory ICU for 30 years and as medical director of critical care for 27 years. In 2010, he led intensivists from multiple VCUHS departments to coordinate clinical efforts and create novel approaches to critical care, including telemedicine and the Resource Intensivist program. Sessler also led the group that developed and validated a sedation assessment tool for ICU – the Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS), which has been copyrighted by VCU, translated into many languages and is used worldwide. He has been a member of numerous editorial boards and was editor-in-chief for the board review textbook “Critical Care Medicine” from CHEST/American College of Chest Physicians. His work has been recognized through national awards from CHEST, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and the Critical Care Societies Collaborative.

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Evan M. Sisson, Pharm.D.

Evan M. Sisson, Pharm.D., School of Pharmacy

Outstanding Term Faculty Award

Sisson has led innovative collaborations among health care professionals from different fields that have improved patient outcomes and provided learning experiences for students and junior faculty. He partnered with the VCU Health System’s Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, to create the Nurse Practitioner and Pharm.D. Diabetes Management Clinic, where Sisson adapted his interprofessional, team-based model to care for VCU patients with complex diabetes. This university setting serves as a teaching site that provides hands-on experience for nurse practitioner and pharmacy students. Sisson is a recognized expert in the management of diabetes and dyslipidemia, and he has published over 30 peer-reviewed manuscripts as well as 18 books and book chapters.