VCU celebrates its top 10 graduates of the last decade

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Virginia Commonwealth University honored 10 graduates of the last decade (GOLD) this past weekend at VCU Alumni’s inaugural 10 Under 10 awards celebration.

The awards celebrate alumni who earned their first VCU degree within the past 10 years and who have enjoyed remarkable professional success, made important contributions to their community and/or loyally supported the university. VCU Alumni presented the awards May 2 at a ceremony held at the School of the Arts’ Depot building.

“These 10 GOLD alumni are exemplary from both an inspirational and an aspirational perspective,” said Gordon McDougall, associate vice president for alumni relations. “VCU President Michael Rao often calls upon the VCU community to commit ourselves to making our world a better place by doing for others, and these alumni have heeded that call.”

The following alumni are the inaugural 10 Under 10 recipients.

- Adeeb Barqawi (B.S.’10/H&S; B.S.’10/LS) teaches physics to high school students in Houston through Teach for America and founded the nonprofit ProUnitas to provide children with an empowering education and an ecosystem of support.

- Grant P. Garmezy (B.F.A.’09/A) owns Grant Garmezy Glass in Richmond, Virginia, where he’s built a team of talented artists (and VCU alumni) who help him create one-of-a-kind sculptures.

- Elizabeth Hoettels, CCRN, CEN (B.S.’05/N) has been recognized for her clinical practice as a member of the U.S. Air Force where she received the Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan. She is known for her work in the critical care transport of military personnel and is stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where she works as a nurse with the Critical Air Transport and Acute Lung Evacuation teams.

- Michael Karnjanaprakorn (M.S.’06/MC) co-founded Skillshare, an online learning platform that boasts more than a million enrollments in 1,000-plus classes offering instruction in everything from website design to hand lettering.

- Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B) selflessly gives back to VCU by contributing his time, talent and leadership to efforts across the university that inspire and engage students, alumni and donors. One of Nguyen’s projects, the Alumni Charity Challenge, brought together 13 Virginia colleges and universities and gathered more than 4 tons of food for the food bank.

- Elizabeth Woodall Parker (M.Ed.’08/E), an elementary school counselor and child advocate whose leadership and creative efforts have made a positive impact on her school and community, was named a finalist for the American School Counselor Association’s 2015 School Counselor of the Year.

- Micah Risk (B.S.’07/E) founded Lighter, a successful online plant-based meal planning and grocery delivery service that makes it easier for people to eat healthy while also helping the environment.

- Derick L. Rivers, Ph.D. (M.S.’09/H&S; Ph.D.’14/H&S) is an award-winning math and statistics instructor who now educates the entire nation as a mathematical statistician for the Food and Drug Administration’s tobacco division.

- Mark Strandquist (B.F.A.’13/A) is an artist, activist and educator whose award-winning Windows From Prison project connects diverse communities and sparks dialogue and action around criminal justice issues.

- M. Lori Thomas, Ph.D. (M.S.W.’06/SW; Ph.D.’08/SW) implemented Virginia’s first “housing first” program and continues to conduct research in support of the model, which provides homeless individuals with housing first and then follows up with the supportive services needed to keep them in their home.

To read more about these remarkable alumni, visit


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