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VCU honors seven at faculty convocation

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VCU recognized seven faculty Tuesday at the university's annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Sonya Clark recently hurt her back. So when she gingerly made her way to the podium Tuesday at Virginia Commonwealth University’s annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation, she decided to use the moment as metaphor. 

First, she told a joke.

“Those of you who know me know I don’t usually do anything slowly, and, though I’m Jamaican, clearly I’m not channeling Usain Bolt,” Clark said. “There’s this great aphorism that if you want to go fast you go by yourself and if you want to go far you go with a community. I’m going slow today because of the community that I’ve had the privilege of being involved with here at VCU.”

Clark, chair of the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the School of the Arts and director of the department’s graduate programs, was one of seven faculty honored Tuesday at the 34th annual faculty convocation. VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, presided over the ceremony, which featured remarks from the honorees and Marsha D. Rappley, M.D., chief executive officer for VCU Health System and VCU vice president of health sciences.

President Michael Rao provides welcoming remarks at the 34th annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)
President Michael Rao provides welcoming remarks at the 34th annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

“What really distinguishes VCU’s faculty is the innovation and transformation and collaboration,” Rao said. “Part of the evidence is the transformational impact we have on the communities we serve. The most important thing we do: We continue to take what we do at this institution and connect it to the greatest and most important needs of the people in our community.” 

Davis receives Presidential Medallion


Tuesday’s
 recipients, Rao said, embody those university ideals in many ways. Michael D. Davis, Ph.D., a retired professor in the School of Education, received the Presidential Medallion, established in 1984 by the Board of Visitors to honor the outstanding contributions by a member of the university community.

Davis, who retired in May after a 37-year-career, continues to serve the university in the Office of Continuing and Professional Education, which he was instrumental in creating. He began his career as an assistant professor and also served as associate and full professor of early childhood education.

Michael D. Davis, a retired professor in the School of Education, receives the Presidential Medallion from VCU President Michael Rao. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Michael D. Davis, a retired professor in the School of Education, receives the Presidential Medallion from VCU President Michael Rao. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

The university has changed dramatically in the last four decades, he said.

“Our multitalented students and faculty have become more diverse,” Davis said. “New programs have been developed, new facilities have been built. More importantly, the teaching that goes on is more interdisciplinary, integrated and experiential and reflects what and how our students will need to know and learn to be successful in 2040.”

Faculty honored for contributions

Four faculty, including Clark, were honored with annual awards recognizing their commitment to excellence, service, teaching and scholarship.

Clark, who joined VCU in 2006, received the Distinguished Scholarship Award, presented to an outstanding scholar who has demonstrated a pattern of productive scholarly activity, which has been recognized nationally or internationally. Examples of her work, featured in hundreds of exhibitions and more than a dozen public collections in the United States and abroad, illustrate concepts in culture and identity through the use of raw materials.

Sonya Clark received the Distinguished Scholarship Award, presented to an outstanding scholar who has demonstrated a pattern of productive scholarly activity, which has been recognized nationally or internationally. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Sonya Clark received the Distinguished Scholarship Award, presented to an outstanding scholar who has demonstrated a pattern of productive scholarly activity, which has been recognized nationally or internationally. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

M. Samy El-Shall, Ph.D., received the University Award of Excellence, which recognizes a faculty member who has performed in a superior manner in teaching, scholarly activity and service. The chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences is known across the globe as a leader in the fields of physical chemistry and nanoscience. 

El-Shall has published more than 220 research papers. On Tuesday, he recalled his first at VCU, which he published shortly after arriving on campus in 1989.

“It feels like only a few years ago,” he said. “I started with a very small research goal, consisting of two undergraduate students. They helped me set up my lab and actually did the first experiments in my lab in nucleation and clusters. And they published the first paper I had at VCU. Since then many people have contributed to our research in chemistry, in clusters, nucleation and nanoparticles.”

Jay S. Albanese, Ph.D., received the Distinguished Teaching Award, recognizing an outstanding teacher at the university.

A professor and chair of the criminal justice program in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Albanese taught the first online course in criminal justice at VCU in 1999. He currently mentors three junior faculty members at VCU and informally supports numerous others.

“I have the privilege of teaching for a living,” Albanese said. “There’s no better way to live than to talk about ideas. Over the years many people have asked me how to be a good teacher. You become a good teacher when you learn to speak with your students, rather than to your students. I’ve found good teaching is always conversation.”

Susan Tinsley Gooden, Ph.D., received the Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a faculty member who has performed superior service to the university, the profession and/or the wider community.

Gooden, a professor of public administration in the Wilder School, founded and led the Wilder Graduate Scholars Fellowship Program. She also served as executive director of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, and currently serves as president of the American Society for Public Administration — the first African-American female elected to this position in the organization’s 77-year history.

“All awards, of course, are special, but receiving a service award from those you work with most closely is particularly rewarding,” Gooden said.

Gail Hackett, provost and vice president for academic affairs, welcomes guests to Tuesday's event, which marks the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Gail Hackett, provost and vice president for academic affairs, welcomes guests to Tuesday's event, which marks the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year. (Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing)

New honors

The university introduced two new awards Tuesday.

Matthew L. Banks, Pharm.D., Ph.D., received the outstanding early career faculty award, which recognizes a full-time tenured or tenure track faculty member (rank of associate professor and lower) who has been in rank at the university or at another institution for a total of five years or less.

An assistant professor in the School of Medicine, Banks teaches in the university’s M.D./Ph.D. program, pharmacology and toxicology graduate program and in the School of Pharmacy. His research on addiction is currently funded through the NIH National Institute of Drug Abuse by seven grants totaling nearly $2 million.

“I humbly stand before you based on the support and mentorship of all those in my department and all those family and friends who have supported me over these years,” he said.

Sarah Golding, Ph.D., received the outstanding term faculty award, recognizing a part-time, full-time, collateral or adjunct faculty member (rank of instructor and above) who has at least three consecutive years of employment at the university.

Golding has served since 2011 as an instructor and director of undergraduate research in the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, where she leads several research courses and helped develop summer “boot camps,” where students undergo a weeklong immersion in best practices for molecular laboratories.

She first came to VCU in 2000 as an exchange student. It changed her life.

“I came to VCU on a 100-degree day as a junior in college through an exchange program with the University of the West of England,” Golding said. “I engaged in a one-year, hands-on research experience at the Massey Cancer Center, and science came alive in my eyes. That experience went on to shape all my future research and career decisions.”

 

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