Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015
For some parents and other family members who attend Virginia Commonwealth University’s Family Weekend Oct. 23-25, they won’t be visiting campus for the second or third or even fourth time — they’ll be coming home. That’s because many VCU students follow in the footsteps of other relatives who attended VCU before them and make their own memories on their family members’ old stomping grounds.
Legacy students often bond with their relatives through their shared experiences at VCU — all while experiencing the university in their own unique way. Below are a few of their stories.
Darice Etienne is the sixth member of her family to attend VCU, a tradition that goes back three generations and five decades. The legacy began with Darice’s grandmother, Carol Belton-Bynum, who studied education at what was then the Richmond Professional Institute in 1966, followed by Darice’s mother, Sheronda Bynum, who graduated with a degree in fashion and merchandising in 1999. “Actually, my mother had me while she was going to school here,” says Darice. “I even remember going to her graduation when I was 4 years old.”
Darice’s father and uncle, twin brothers Derrick and Darrell Etienne, studied mass communications and played soccer for VCU from 1995 to 1997 before starting professional soccer careers, while her aunt on her mother’s side, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, graduated with a B.S. in political science in 2010.
You might say Darice was destined to be a Ram, but she wasn’t convinced until her mother gave her the grand tour of campus. On her one-woman guided tour, Sheronda pointed out the highlights that remained from her time at VCU in the ’90s, such as the Pollak Building where she studied and John Chandler and Kat Farley’s Mobile Munchies campus food kiosk. But she also noted the array of new buildings to show her daughter how VCU had developed in the past 20 years.
My mother was also like, ‘Wow! VCU has grown so much since I was here.’
“Once she gave me the tour, I felt like there was a lot of history,” says Darice. “My mother was also like, ‘Wow! VCU has grown so much since I was here.’” After seeing that combination of history and progress, says Darice, “I knew this was the place for me.”
Today, Darice is majoring in psychology and minoring in Spanish in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and will graduate in the summer of 2016. She’s certain she made the right choice in VCU — “It’s super diverse; people here are great,” she says — and her mother and grandmother agree. Darice is on the VCU cheerleading squad for men’s and women’s basketball games, and her mother and grandmother attend every game to see her in action. Her grandmother alternates between a “VCU Mom” and “VCU Grandma” T-shirt to celebrate the family legacy.
When Darice graduates next year, VCU will no longer have a member of the Etienne family enrolled — but that might only be temporary. “I have a younger sister,” says Darice. “She’s a really good soccer player and we’re hoping she’ll choose VCU.”
Will Gilbert believes he has understood that VCU was the place for him since he was still a kid growing up in Natural Bridge, Virginia, near Lexington.
“As long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to go there,” Will said.
This despite the fact that his mother, Kathryn, a VCU alumna, was not the kind of rah-rah graduate who dresses her offspring in her school colors and teaches them the fight song at the dinner table. Even now, she does not remember Will expressing strong interest in her alma mater until he was well into high school. Where the two do agree, with Will due to graduate in December from the Honors College and the Robertson School of Media and Culture with a degree in broadcast journalism, is that Will and VCU have been an ideal match — an outgoing, enthusiastic seeker of new and exciting experiences paired with a university and city fully stocked with them.
“Will has just grabbed the opportunities at VCU and taken advantage of everything that goes on there,” Kathryn said. “He’s been involved in so much stuff. He’s done great.”
To illustrate her point, Kathryn made reference to Will’s immediate schedule. At the time she was speaking, Will was preparing to moderate a town hall meeting held at VCU for the four candidates vying for the state senate seat in the 10th District. Then, in the near future, he would be leaving the country as part of a delegation of students and faculty selected to visit the VCU campus in Doha, Qatar.
“It’s really been a fun ride for him,” she said.
Will gravitated toward the broadcast journalism program early in his time at VCU and has become fascinated with TV production. He worked on VCU Insight, the student-run television news program, for three semesters, most recently as an executive producer, and he hopes to pursue a career in the field after graduation — eyeing work not just in TV news but in the development of television shows and related productions. When he arrived at VCU, he never would have guessed that’s where his future would head.
VCU really allows its students to grow and explore who they are as a person.
“VCU really allows its students to grow and explore who they are as a person,” Will said.
Kathryn Gilbert was a member of the swim team at VCU and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting. While still a student, she began to work in the accounting department, continuing in that role following graduation. Then she took a job at Virginia Military Institute, where she has been for 32 years.
Will said he enjoys hearing his mother reminisce about her time at VCU and reflect on the dramatic changes the university and the campus have undergone. For instance, Kathryn lived in a dormitory that was located in Founder’s Hall, now an administrative building.
“I never really thought of it as a family school before,” said Will, who also has two aunts and a sister who attended VCU. “But it’s become that for me.”
As a medical student in the late ‘70s, Martin Goldberg, M.D., learned how to perform cardiac catheterizations under the mentorship of George W. Vetrovec, M.D., in the cauterization lab at West Hospital on the MCV Campus. Vetrovec, a longtime VCU School of Medicine professor who recently stepped down from his post, inspired Martin to pursue a career in cardiology. After receiving his medical degree in 1978, Martin completed his internal medicine residency and cardiology fellowship at VCU in 1983.
“I was incredibly pleased with the training I received at MCV,” Martin said. “The faculty there inspired me to do what I did.”
The 63-year-old internal medicine professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School and cardiologist with Sentara Cardiology Specialists now applies lessons he took from his time as a medical student to the work he does every day.
The faculty there inspired me to do what I did.
When it came time for Martin’s son, David Goldberg, to decide where he wanted to go to medical school, his father’s stories influenced him to attend VCU School of Medicine. “My dad always talked about how great his experiences were in the ‘70s and how many clinical opportunities there are at VCU,” David said.
Now a fourth-year medical student at VCU, David had the opportunity to attend lectures taught by Vetrovec during his first two years. “I thought it was wonderful that David was taught by him because I remember how in awe I was of him then,” Martin said. “I’m certain that 30 years later I’d probably be even more in awe.”
This year, Martin’s daughter, Lauren, began the physical therapy program in the VCU School of Allied Health Professions. So far she’s enjoying exploring the campus her father and brother already know so well. “I see my brother fairly often when I am near the hospital during lunch,” she said. “It is really fun to be able to see him in that setting and to sometimes even meet his friends.”
But the VCU family ties don’t end there. Lauren and David’s maternal grandfather earned a degree in distributive education in 1953 from the Richmond Professional Institute. Both siblings have started Alzheimer’s awareness groups at various schools they’ve attended, including VCU, in honor of their grandfather, who passed away in 2010 from complications of the disease.
Martin returns to Richmond every five years for class reunions, and this year he came back to campus for Lauren’s white coat ceremony. “It was a real kick to walk into the Kontos Medical Sciences Building because I learned a lot from Dr. Hermes Kontos,” Martin said, adding that the building that houses School of Medicine classrooms and laboratories features an archway from the Saint Philip Hospital, where he would sometimes see patients as a medical resident. “It’s a nice tie-in from the past to the present,” he said.
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