VCU will honor distinguished faculty

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Virginia Commonwealth University will recognize distinguished faculty during the 33rd annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs, will preside over the ceremony, which takes place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Ave. A reception will follow the ceremony.

Awards will be presented to four faculty members who have distinguished themselves and the university through their commitment to excellence, service, teaching and scholarship.

Gordon Ginder, M.D., will receive the University Award of Excellence.

Since 1997, Ginder has served as the director of the Massey Cancer Center. The role suits his goal to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of people. 

Before coming to VCU, Ginder served as associate director of the Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota.

“I feel at the end of the day maybe I’ve accomplished more by being able to help others do good research and teach,” Ginder said.

A gifted clinician and researcher, Ginder shares his expertise with graduate and medical students while creating what he described as “an environment where people are excited about learning.”

He hopes to excite students about the discovery process.

“When they come to you with an idea and a proposed experiment — that’s one of the greatest pleasures,” Ginder said.

Ginder’s areas of research interest include gene regulation, gene expression and hemalogic malignencies.

Under Ginder’s vision and leadership, VCU Massey Cancer Center has become a world-class treatment center.

Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., will receive the Distinguished Scholarship Award.

Eissenberg joined the VCU faculty in 1997 and his primary area of research is the behavioral pharmacology of drugs of abuse. In 2013, VCU received an $18.1 million P50 grant — the third-largest grant in its history — to create the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products in the Department of Psychology, where so-called modified risk tobacco products, or MRTPs, and other novel tobacco goods, such as e-cigarettes, would be studied. Eissenberg is co-principal investigator on the grant with Robert L. Balster, Ph. D., Butler Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Research Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

The emergence of hookah use in American culture, especially among adolescents and college students, has provided yet another intriguing avenue of research for Eissenberg, who studies the prevalence of tobacco smoking using a hookah in the U.S. and the likely health effects of this smoking method

“Cigarettes are regulated by the FDA, but there are these other products that we know nothing about,” Eissenberg said. “They need information to design meaningful regulations. [Studying e-cigarettes and hookah] is a huge opportunity to produce information that’s important in people’s lives.”

With more than $25 million in current federal grant funding primarily from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Eissenberg has been well funded to conduct his research.

Sally Hunnicutt, Ph.D., will receive the Distinguished Teaching Award.

Hunnicutt joined the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 1998 and she currently serves as associate chair and professor.

Hunnicutt’s core teaching principle is the incorporation of active and collaborative learning in the classroom. She was one of the first faculty members in the country to teach large classes using Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning, which allows students to work in groups and then listen to mini-lectures that focus on misconceptions discovered during the activity. As the students are learning chemistry concepts, they’re also picking up problem-solving, assessment and information processing skills that employers look for, she said.

“Teaching is based on trust,” Hunnicutt said. “You trust students to hold up their end. And students trust that you’re doing your best to help them learn.”

Hunnicutt teaches a wide variety of courses — both lecture and laboratory, including non-science majors courses, general chemistry, physical chemistry and a graduate chemistry course.

She was one of the first faculty members at VCU to use “clickers” in large lectures in order to obtain instant feedback on student learning and she brought the open-source homework system called LON-CAPA (Learning Online Network with Computer Assisted Personalized Approach) to VCU.

With colleagues, Hunnicutt developed the chemistry capstone course Professional Practices, the Content of Elementary Science course for elementary education majors, and the popular Energy! course in the VCU core, which is now taught to nearly 2,000 students each year.

Ananda Pandurangi, M.D., will receive the Distinguished Service Award.

Born and raised in India, Pandurangi takes to heart the philosophy of service outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture.

“Its central teaching is that in carrying out the responsibilities or performance of your role, do not expect fruits of that,” Pandurangi said. “I truly believe in that.”

Pandurangi came to VCU in 1984 as an assistant professor after completing a clinical research fellowship in psychiatry at Columbia University. By 1995, he was a professor with tenure in the Department of Psychiatry and an adjunct professor in the Department of Radiology. Since 1993, he has led the Division of Inpatient Psychiatry as chair, running a 50-bed unit that admits 2,000 of the most seriously ill psychiatric patients VCU cares for each year. He has also served as vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry since 2010.

Pandurangi also serves as director of the Brain Stimulation Therapies and Schizophrenia programs, and as medical director of Adult and Geriatric Inpatient Services and Emergency Psychiatric Services.

Pandurangi works through local and state initiatives to improve access and quality of care for those most vulnerable to being marginalized and medically underserved. Appointed by the governor, he chairs the Virginia State Board of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and has served on mental health task forces under Virginia governors Bob McDonnell and Terry McAuliffe.

He is director for the university’s overseas collaboration among five VCU departments and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India.

All four faculty awardees will speak during the event. Those interested in attending should RSVP at


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Gordon Ginder, M.D.
Gordon Ginder, M.D.
Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D.
Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D.
Sally Hunnicutt, Ph.D.
Sally Hunnicutt, Ph.D.
Ananda Pandurangi, M.D.
Ananda Pandurangi, M.D.