Convocation honors faculty for service and scholarship

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Virginia Commonwealth University recognized four distinguished faculty members 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, presided over the ceremony, which took place this morning in front of a packed auditorium at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts.

“We all share a relentless passion to do everything we can to help others to be successful and make the world better,” Rao said. “You’re also a model for students.”

We all share a relentless passion to do everything we can to help others to be successful and make the world better.

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

“I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with the faculty and staff here at VCU,” Hackett said.  “What this faculty [has] been doing – the research, scholarship and creative activities that are conducted on a daily basis on this campus – clearly warrant VCU’s status as a 21st century research university.”  

Gordon Ginder, M.D., received the University Award of Excellence.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized by my faculty peers and to get this award,” Ginder said. “Any success I’ve enjoyed over the years has been due to the support I’ve had.”

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.

Under Ginder’s vision and leadership, VCU Massey Cancer Center has become a world-class treatment center. Before coming to VCU, Ginder served as associate director of the Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota.

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

Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., received the Distinguished Scholarship Award.

Eissenberg, professor of psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, 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 university 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.

In his acceptance speech, Eissenberg dedicated his award to fellow faculty members who balance research and teaching.

“At VCU, [students] are taught by an outstanding cadre of tenured, tenure-track, non-tenured and adjunct faculty,” said Eissenberg. “Without them, my work and this award would not be possible. And so I dedicate it to them.”  

Sally Hunnicutt, Ph.D., received the Distinguished Teaching Award.

“I’ve always been a chemist and a teacher,” Hunnicutt said. “And as a professor, I learn more about chemistry all of the time. I also learn from my students.”

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 gaining problem-solving, assessment and information processing skills that employers seek, she said.

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.

Ananda Pandurangi, M.D., received the Distinguished Service Award.

“I’m indeed humbled and honored to be recognized with this award,” Pandurangi said. “The award speaks to me in many ways. I’m blessed to work in a department with faculty who strive for excellence.”  

Pandurangi came to the VCU School of Medicine 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. He directs the university’s overseas collaboration among five VCU departments and the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India.

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.

A reception followed the ceremony. VCU Convocation Brass performed for the processional and recessional.

Feature image at top: From left: Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., Sally Hunnicutt, Ph.D., Ananda Pandurangi, M.D., and Gordon Ginder, M.D., were recognized by VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., during the 33rd annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation.


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