What were VCU students and faculty up to this summer? Here are the stories behind eight of our favorite Instagram photos.


Summers tend to whiz by faster than any other season. Spring semester ends, you blink and fall semester is beginning. The following seven students and one professor made the most of their fleeting summer days by exploring new places, challenging themselves with new opportunities and adventures, and taking a moment to capture and share their #MyVCUsummer with the rest of us through the power of Instagram.


Carli Perkins (@carli_fries)

College of Humanities and Sciences, biology major, chemistry minor

??: @carli_fries "Llamas are friends not food." ?????? #MyVCUsummer #VCU #vcustudyabroad

A photo posted by VCU (@vcu) on


The story behind the photo:

What better way to kick off her #MyVCUsummer than by jet-setting off to Peru for her very first trip outside the United States? Carli Perkins traveled to the country for vacation after working part-time throughout the year to save up enough money. This photo was taken at Machu Picchu, a 15th-century Inca citadel not far from Cusco, Peru.

“The most memorable part of the trip was definitely going to Machu Picchu and being able to see one of the new [seven] wonders of the world,” Perkins said. “Being there and seeing it was completely unbelievable for me.”

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

Getting back into my classes and finishing my degree. I am especially excited for my Biology of Cancer class that I will be taking this semester.


Stephanie O’Neill (@stefmceff)

College of Humanities and Sciences, international studies major, religious studies minor


The story behind the photo:

Prepping a garden on the side of a mountain is about as easy as it sounds. Stephanie O’Neill pulled weeds, dug soil and turned composted food into the ground of a small plot in La Cumbre, Guatemala. The project was part of a weeklong midwifery service exchange program hosted by the VCU Institute of Women’s Health in partnership with the Highland Support Project and Association of Highland Women.

Of course she wasn’t just there to plant vegetables. Her team of eight spent the trip working with Mayan midwifery students, learning about Mayan health care, pregnancy care, herbs and traditional medicines.

“I wanted to gain a deeper understanding about maternal health in developing countries, so I could have the knowledge to raise awareness about this issue,” O’Neill said. “Global gender equality is a social justice issue that is so important to me, and the Association of Highland Women works hard to empower women through education and community.”

So how did she end up with a bag of dirt on her head?

“We had to climb down the side of the mountain to get more dirt and that is when I realized it is much easier to climb up, if I had the dirt on my head,” she said. “It is much more efficient and comfortable.”

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

The beginning of the fall semester is always such an exciting, lively time around campus. I am excited to get back into a daily routine and start my last semester at VCU!


Jacob Jaminet (@jbjamminit)

VCU Life Sciences, bioinformatics major, mathematics minor and member of the Honors College


The story behind the photo:

The sound of summer. After hearing about a summer fellowship from his advisor, Jacob Jaminet got his first taste of what applying to graduate school feels like. An essay, application form, transcripts and letters of recommendation later, he found himself spending his #MyVCUsummer at the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus researching if “… noise correlations help the brain to encode information.”

The program was intense. It included lectures and a crash course in biology for computer scientists, but Jaminet’s biggest takeaway actually had more to do with how he learned than what he learned.

“I have fallen into the terrible ‘undergraduate mentality’ that if I face a problem when conducting research, all I have to do is buckle down and plow through it,” Jaminet said. “I learned it is perfectly OK to ask a peer or mentor for help and to be OK with not knowing everything.”

When not in the midst of complex research, he spent his weekends visiting the best of what Colorado had to offer. His photo was taken among the Flatirons outside of Boulder.

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

I have been back at VCU for resident advisor training for the past few weeks. I can't wait to meet my residents and show them all that VCU has to offer! I am also taking SCUBA this semester as a fun class.


Madison Cirillo (@madeliciousxoxo)

Photo credit to her mother @kudreckis
College of Humanities and Sciences, psychology major

Teaching children in Jamaica.

A photo posted by Sherry Kudrecki (@kudreckis) on


The story behind the photo:

Madison Cirillo found herself sharing her camera with a young Jamaican girl during her two-week trip to the country as part of a Community Health Promotion service-learning course through the VCU Global Education Office and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

The course had Cirillo and her classmates traveling between seven different primary and high schools to promote oral hygiene, nutrition, physical activity and refraining from drug use and unsafe sex.

“I wanted to go on this study abroad, because I wanted to learn what it would be like learning from a completely new culture,” Cirillo said. “I wanted to help the youth of Jamaica to make a healthier population. I also wanted to gain experience from taking a service learning class instead of just a regular class.”

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

I am really looking forward to my classes this fall semester and this will be my last fall semester at VCU. I can’t wait for the excitement to begin all over again!


Benjamin Winans (@benwinans)

School of the Arts, painting + printmaking major


The story behind the photo:

A summertime family reunion in South Dakota was as good a reason as any for Benjamin Winans to further his art by taking a side trip to Badlands National Park. Traveling there with two VCU alumni — his wife, class of 2012, and his father-in-law, class of 1978 — he studied the environment, collecting samples of sand, charcoal and minerals to eventually use as pigments in his paintings.

“I’ve been interested in the history of the United States; especially the way different cultures have been and are treated by the government … and how to relate that history through painting and printmaking,” Winans said. “This was my first visit to South Dakota, and it was incredible to see a land that was admittedly stolen from the Lakota Sioux Nation in the late 1800s, and how it is currently used for tourism. The Badlands is an absolutely beautiful park, but it is also partially located within the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation, which contains two of the poorest counties in the U.S.”

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

I’m really looking forward to continuing [my] research, not only about the Lakota tribe in hopes of learning about their history, culture and their fight to regain their land, but also in the history surrounding all of us in Richmond, at VCU. How does the history of the city continue to affect it and us?


Cydni Gordon (@cydnigordon)

College of Humanities and Sciences, psychology, broadcast journalism and African American studies major


The story behind the photo:

Balloons, signs, a stocked refrigerator and plenty of smiling faces greeted Cydni Gordon and her fellow students the night they arrived in Puebla, Mexico, in June. She was part of an inaugural, two-week, reciprocal service program launched by VCU Globe — a result of winning the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Grant from the U.S. State Department, Partners of the Americas and NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Gordon and two other VCU students collaborated with three Mexican university students, volunteering with elders and children in a rural community in order to foster intergenerational understanding.

“I’d heard such great things about Puebla, and I was really excited about the opportunity to ‘student lead,’ and to be a part of the inaugural bunch of such an important collaboration between VCU and our two partner universities in Mexico,” Gordon said. “I love Mexico and this was another, yet different, experience to be had in the country I’ve grown to love so much.”

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

I’m most looking forward to taking the lowest number of credits I’ve taken at VCU thus far (12). Considering I’m a triple major, I don’t really know what it’s like to have a “light” class load.


Raheel Ahmed (@raheel.ahmed10)

School of Engineering, mechanical engineering major


The story behind the photo:

For Raheel Ahmed, his #MyVCUsummer moment represents months of hard work. Beginning in February and ending in July, Ahmed spent a semester away from the classroom to pursue a co-op opportunity at Cummins Inc., an American Fortune 500 company that manufactures engines. Working as a design engineer within a team of professionals, he put the skills he learned at VCU to the test while building the company’s largest engine. The 16-cylinder, 95-liter Cummins Hedgehog diesel engine boasts an easy 4,000 horsepower and will be used in locomotives across the country and on marine boats, as well as for mining and power generation.

“With that much power and performance, what makes it remarkable is that it still meets the most stringent U.S. EPA emissions standards,” Ahmed said.

What’s also remarkable is the amount of hands-on experience he gained through his co-op. Ahmed used software to design different components, tested new parts being installed in the engine and communicated with parts supplier companies.

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

I am very excited for my role as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at VCU (SHPE at VCU) and helping to see my members develop. I hope to share opportunities available to them regarding scholarships, study abroad, research, gaining technical experience and, most of all, internships. … We will also be volunteering throughout the year, such as teaching English and how to use a computer to adults within the Hispanic community, mentoring students at local high schools and talking to them about studying engineering and going to college in general, and registering VCU students to vote.


Amy Rector Verrelli (@vcuanthprof)

School of World Studies, assistant professor of anthropology

#Buffalo on the menu #Kruger #VCUinSA16 #tw

A photo posted by @vcuanthprof on


The story behind the photo:

For four summers now, biological anthropology professor Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., has led VCU students to South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind to interact with fossils, dig at an actual paleoanthropological site and go on safari — all part of a quest to reconstruct the paleoenvironmental context within which Paranthropus, a 2-million-year-old distant relative of modern-day humans, existed.

Having spent so much time in the country, seeing an elephant while on safari is special, but not necessarily out of the ordinary for Verrelli. A lion tearing into a freshly killed Cape buffalo, however, is a bit of a rare event.

“Often at Kruger National Park, you see special sightings like lions and leopards, because there is a crowd of cars there watching when you drive up. So, I had already been used to asking people where to look when we came around the corner to a relatively small group of cars,” Verrelli said. “The first car to come by, I waived to and asked, ‘What are we seeing? Where should I look?’ The driver very kindly told me, ‘Lions, and you can't miss them,’ while he laughed. And it was true! There was no missing them!”

For Verrelli, the sighting helps her and her students consider what the habitat was like for our ancient human ancestors, and what they must have thought when they came across lions.

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to about the new semester beginning?

Human Evolution is my favorite class to teach — I love getting to share my excitement about my research with students, and introducing them to their own evolutionary history. Every fall I also get to add new discoveries from the previous year, and I love it when students start getting excited about it too!


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.