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College of Humanities & Sciences

Department of African American Studies

black history in the making [View Image]

Black History in the Making Awards

The Black History in the Making Awards were founded in 1983 by Dr. Daryl Dance, the distinguished scholar of African American and Caribbean literature, who served as program coordinator during the 1983-84 academic year. Dr. Dance established the Black History in the Making Awards to recognize the achievements of African American students.

In 1983, Dr. Dance invited academic units and organizations to “recognize a student who has made an important contribution.” The nominating units established criteria for selecting recipients. Since 1983, more than 550 students have been recognized by more than 50 departments and organizations. Nominees generally have stellar academic records, a history of community service and intern, professional or work experiences that place them at the forefront of their careers.

In 2019, the department introduced a separate award for junior faculty (particularly term faculty), staff and university and academic professionals.

The department calls for award nominations each spring semester.

2020 Recipients

MK Abadoo [View Image]

MK Abadoo

MK Abadoo is in her third year at VCU as an Assistant Professor in Dance and iCubed Affiliate Faculty in the Racial Equity, Arts, and Culture Transdisciplinary Core. She has introduced a new course in the curriculum entitled Dance and Community Justice. Her research is deeply embedded in community justice work. Just this past October, she collaborated on a site specific immersive dance work entitled "Brother General Gabriel" that took place at Richmond's African Burial Grounds. MK is an Undoing Racism facilitator for the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. Her department says, "She is a valued member of our community and we are so grateful for the opportunity to honor her through this recognition."

Photograph of Adrienne Adams [View Image]

Adrienne Adams

From Dr. Sarah Reed:
"Adrienne Adams, currently a senior in the Department of Interior Design, has shown great depth and rigor in her work. In particular, during the fall of 2019 she demonstrated astute and thoughtful research in preparation for her thesis. Her thesis topic addresses the potential positive outcomes of art and design programs within marginalized communities in Richmond who fall below the poverty line, especially people of color. Recognizing the strength of VCU as an art and design school, she dove into research about ways in which to strengthen opportunities for people of color, who have not traditionally had access nor seen the possibility of a career in these fields. It is a particularly timely study and she has engaged a variety of research to further her investigation, which is transitioning to the design phase this semester. "

From Professor Lexy Holcombe:
"...Adrienne really pushed herself to look beyond her initial assumptions about her thesis proposal. She revisited several research areas more than once and worked hard to articulate her growing understanding of the scope of the project. Each successive iteration of her work showed an improvement in clarity and purpose and she consulted with us often to review and refine her work."

Barbrianna Adams [View Image]

Barbrianna Adams

Barbrianna Adams is a second year Graduate Student studying Art Direction at VCU Brandcenter.
Barbie’s personality is infectious, she can light up a room with her smile and sense of humor. In 2018,
she was selected as a Multicultural Advertising Intern Program (MAIP) Fellow. This is a highly
competitive program and she worked as a Fellow at a Marketing & Advertising Agency in Los Angeles.
Barbie is a current Graduate Assistant with the VCU Globe Living-Learning Community. She supports a
diverse student body through global learning and cultural awareness. At VCU she is a member of BC
Collective whose mission is to empower creative minds to think, discern, and engage with one another
in an environment that addresses the complexities of diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry.
The VCU Globe team is confident that Barbie is going to take the field of marketing by storm with her
positivity, creativity and inclusive approach.

Rebeccal Alemu

Rebecca is an honors student at VCU, majoring in biology with a minor. in chemistry. She has an overall GPA of 3.66. Her service record at VCU is noteworthy as in three years she has developed both depth and breadth to this area of her life. Since 2018, she has been an active member of the Carver Promise as well as a counselor for the more recent addition of a VCU chapter for Camp Kesem at VCU for which she has served as Event Coordinator. She has volunteered her time to the East End Cemetery Clean up & Restoration Project, Alternative Spring Break (Savannah, Georgia): Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, Alzheimer's Association (VA Medical Center), and as Family Care Center Activity Assistant at VCU Medical Center. Moreover, she has leadership roles in Delta Epsilon Mu as the Community Service Chair and has served as a peer tutor by way of serving as an undergraduate preceptor for BIOL 151 and a notetaker for CHEM 101. Still, Rebecca is a pre-med student and has amassed several clinical hours as a Medical Lay Volunteer for the Health Brigade as well as Medical Assistant for Nova Foot & Ankle. She has been trained both as a CNA and through REVIVE! Opioid Overdose & Naloxone Education (OONE).

Michelle Anderson

The Department of Theatre states: "Michelle quite literally keeps our department functioning. She does all of our ledgers and manages the box office- reconciles all the purchasing done by the department and co-ordinates faculty and guest artist travel. She also books our high school matinees and maintains regular contact with Richmond high schools. She is a joy to be around, and never, ever makes a mistake in anything!  We could not live without her!"

Photograph of Rachel Boutte [View Image]

Rachel Boutte

Rachel Boutte is a doctoral student in the counseling program in the Department of Psychology. She works in Dr. Suzanne Mazzeo's research lab, and her research interest are in the area of obesity and overweight. Her work examines "factors such as race and ethnicity, food culture, geographic access and socioeconomic status."

Patrice Branch [View Image]

Patrice Branch

Patrice Branch is a senior majoring in Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness and Political
Science. She is an active member of the VCU Globe Living-Learning Community. Over the past year, she
has served as the team leader of the Outreach Team for VCU Globe. Through her work she has
organized Middle and High School visits for student panels, tours, lunch, and activities. Not only has she
been a great addition to the VCU Globe community. On-Campus Patrice has participated in an
incredible number of leadership opportunities, from RamCamp to Students Today Alumni Tomorrow
(STAT). Patrice has spent many of her hours on campus supporting first generation students and low-
income students. She is truly and inspiration and the work she’s done is just a small piece of the work
she will do. Ms. Barbara Ingber was truly impressed by Patrice and her ability to manage all of her
demands while remaining a dedicated scholar.


Photograph of Kyrian O. Buba [View Image]

Kyrian O. Buba

Kyrian O. Buba is a MS student in Patient Counseling in the College of Health Professions and a Chaplain Resident in the VCU Medical Center. He has a BA from Imo State University in Nigeria, a M.Div. from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University.

Prior to coming to VCU, Kyrian took a year of Clinical Pastoral Education at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Virginia.

Currently Kyrian is also an Associate Minister at Greenwood Baptist Church in Ashland, Virginia.

Kyrian has demonstrated leadership in a number of significant ways.

• Served as a resident mentor 2016 Virginia Union University Youth Theology Institute: STREAM.
• Academic Excellence Award: Pearl McNeil Award for Religious Pluralism (VUU).
• President, Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students, Imo State University Campus
• Zonal President, Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students
• Member, National Executive Council of Christ Saints Bible Church, Nigeria
• Founder & President of Lovethrone Foundation, Nigeria
• National Vice-President, Nigeria Christian Corpers’ Fellowship

Although a native of Nigeria, Kyrian is now a U. S. citizen. He is a gentle soul, a compassionate chaplain, and a diligent student.

Cole Clark

Statement from Sculpture + Extendent Media: The Sculpture department is delighted to honor undergraduate student Cole Clark because of his deep passion, energy, and generosity as a contributor among his peers in the learning process. Cole is a highly intelligent, knowledgeable, imaginative, and articulate scholar who generously shares critical insights and enriches and nourishes learning in classroom conversations and critiques. Cole is an ambitious and talented artist with great promise. His passion, ambition, and drive were recently exemplified in a production of Macbeth which he directed, and in which he mobilized almost his entire Sculpture class as well as students from other departments such as Painting & Printmaking and Dance & Choreography to participate.  Cole's teachers have enormously benefitted by having Cole as a student and we are thrilled that his presence and contribution are being acknowledged by this award.

Bishop Clark

Bishop Clarke is a native of Flint, Michigan but currently calls the city of Richmond his home. The guiding philosophy behind his academic life and his professional life comes from Maya Angelou: "The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free." This philosophy compelled Bishop to pursue a path as an African-American Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies double major with a minor in Sociology. Through his chosen fields, Bishop seeks to uplift all black voices and improve the lives of black people who sit at multiple intersections of oppression. In addition to being the winner of the 2019 Focused Inquiry Expo at VCU, Bishop has also worked with local nonprofits such as OAR of Richmond and the Nationz Foundation in order to be a part of the grassroots effort to transform the social and economic landscape of his new home in the service of the marginalized.

Photograph of Amina Coleman-Davis [View Image]

Amina Coleman-Davis

"Amina's impressive level of ambition as a young artist struck me immediately during our first meeting. Her inquisitive investigations of working artists, local arts organizations and professional opportunities to advance her goals as a young artist indicated a level of focus I don't usually see in first-year VCUarts students. As I've worked with Amina to research VCUarts' major areas and investigate paths of making and communication, we've worked to try to build models of success that help her to envision the highest levels of professional successes and artistic achievement. Her academic performance is exemplary, and I suspect that will continue throughout her career at VCUarts. I'm excited to see what she creates as she progresses through her BFA experience!" - From Amina's advisor, Nathan Tersteeg.

"Amina was a highlight of my semester. Her excitement to step into their work and a dialogue with other contemporary artists accelerated the work of the entire class. The open and positive energy they brought to class created a magnetic space for others to do the same. Throughout the semester Amina focused their research and commitment to the work of other Black artists and took time while we were at the ICA to explain the importance of many Black artists exhibited at the Great Force exhibition. I am already looking forward to seeing where Amina takes their work and how they grow as an artist." - From Amina's Time Studio faculty, Tom Burkett.

"I frankly cannot speak highly enough of Amina's dedication and work ethic as a student in our Surface Research course last semester. She showed up on time to every class, stayed focused, and "consistently produced exceptional work that raised the standards of her entire peer group." Furthermore, Amina contributed thoughtful perspectives to her fellow students in every critique, and immediately displayed an understanding and appreciation for contemporary art, culture, and discourse that reached beyond the degree of awareness I would expect from a first semester AFO student." - From Amina's faculty Surface Research, Jared Crane.

Photograph of Ashley Coles [View Image]

Ashley Coles

Ashley Coles is currently a graduate student in the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University and is on track to receive her Master’s in Public Administration this May. She has a degree in Wildlife Conservation  from Virginia Tech and aims to have a career in environmental policy. As a youth, Ashley was an active participant in many community programs in her hometown of Hempstead, NY. These programs were essential in shaping and transforming her career goals to enhance the community. In January of 2017, Ashley was awarded the Inspiring Young Professional Award, for her ongoing commitment to building and enhancing the community and state of NY through leadership and service. In continuing a path towards enhancing the community, from January 2019 through August 2019, Ashley served as an intern with the Office of Sustainability for the City of Richmond, where she helped progress climate change initiatives and identified vulnerable populations to enhance social equity. Scholarship is at the core of Ashley’s success and in November of 2019 she was inducted into the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, which highlights her love of learning. Currently, Ashley serves as a Graduate Assistant for Student Governance, where she assists over 400 student organizations with leadership and organizational development. 

Photograph of Mikese Collier [View Image]

Mikese Collier

From Professor Emily Smith:
"It is with much enthusiasm that I recommend Mikese Collier for this award. I have taught and worked with Mikese in design studio and lecture courses at VCU over the past three years. Also, Mikese has worked as a materials researcher with me in the Interior Design Department Materials Library.

Mikese is curious and shows a willingness to take risks while also paying attention to project requirements and details. I have seen her question expectations and challenge stereotypes in an effort to use her design work to both understand and explore the world around her. She has repeatedly gone beyond assignment criteria to do work that supports her design concepts. In our materials research, Mikese is hardworking and consistent. She understands the role that the library plays in the department and suggests ideas that would elevate the contents and connections that have to our department’s work. She is curious how we, as designers, can better understand the materials that go into our projects - the responsibilities we have in using materials that are ethically sourced. These values represent, I think, the best of what we are doing in our department.

Mikese is a worthy candidate and I am happy to provide any additional information about her VCU experience and work."

From Associate Professor + Interim Chair, Roberto Ventura:
In my experience as Interim Chair in Interior Design, I have found Ms. Collier to be trustworthy, dedicated and disciplined. She complements these traits with an indomitable optimism that energizes any environment she graces. Ms. Collier continues to develop a strong work ethic and can be counted on to come through when needed. She balances her academic workload with other obligations without complaint. Her juggling and discipline are admirable, and I am proud to have her as part of our Department."

Tene' Dixon

Remarks from Professor Emily Yeatts, School of Social Work: "I wholeheartedly recommend Tene’ “T” Dixon for the Black History in the Making Award. I’ve outlined some of her key accomplishments below:
● T demonstrates incredibly strong academic abilities, and ultimately earned an “A” in my Social Work Policy course. T’s contributions to our class discussions were thoughtful and well researched, and she was always respectful to her peers.
● T is passionate about helping returning citizens after they are released from prison, and recognizes that the stigma society places on this population makes reintegration incredibly difficult.
● T has experience interning at social service agencies, including but not limited to the Mill House, an organization that works with people with traumatic brain injury.
● While being incredibly busy with her classes and internship, T maintains balance by playing rugby at VCU.
● On top of all of this, T is a good person who is driven by a desire for social justice. She wants to do her part to make the world a more fair and empathetic place for all people. "

Malik Ellis with others [View Image]

Malik Ellis

Daryl Fraser, School of Social Work: "It is with great pleasure and admiration that I nominate Malik Ellis for the Black History in the Making Award. Malik Ellis is a stellar student with a GPA of 4.0. He is extremely organized and takes a proactive approach to his education. He consistently completes his assignments early and in advance of the due date. One of his professors remarked, “Malik is a very energetic student. He is a natural leader and is one of the first to jump in and engage in classroom discussions—particularly when we are discussing difficult topics, which encourages other students to engage in meaningful and critical dialogue.
Malik often seeks out additional opportunities beyond the classroom and internship. For example, Malik is currently volunteering at the GA with Del. Jeff Bourne and has attended the radio podcast, Race Capitol to learn creative ways to advocate as a social worker. Malik aspires to obtain his MSW with plans to become a social worker that works with citizens returning from incarceration. He is currently interning at OAR, which is the leading non-profit organization in Richmond that assists returning citizens with re-entry services."

Jake Branigan, School of social Work: "When Malik Ellis was in the lower level BSW program, he had every reason to shift focus away from his academic success, but instead her earned a 4.0 GPA. We would travel home to work an average of 20 hours between Friday and Sunday, then return to Richmond to stay with a family member and attend classes from Monday through Thursday. He has been active in the SSW community; I’ve seen him at multiple events. He was only my advisee for one semester, but he made an impact, and I believe he has one of the most stellar overall reputations among current upper level BSW students."

Katelynn Jarrells: "Malik is an impressive student. In my preparation for his nomination I spoke with numerous professors, past advisors, and field representatives. He is clearly bright and hardworking. He has a 4.0 GPA and works in addition to going to school. He has also worked to expand his networks outside of school and field opportunities to further his prospects after graduation. In advising Malik is always on top of things. He communicates in a way that is comfortable and professional. He is always prepared with questions and vocal about his needs. In the classroom Malik’s professors describe him as very engaged, well-prepared, very proactive in assignments and communication, collaborative with peers and respectful of differences, and brings a sense of humor that really adds to the classroom community.
Malik is unique in that he is one of the rare students that is hardworking, intelligent, passionate and a critical thinker. He is very much deserving of the title Black History in the Making."

Jasmine Elmore

Photography + Film

Jasmine Elmore is a transfer student who has received exceptional grades during their first semester at VCU. Besides standing out academically, feedback from peers and faculty is extremely positive. Jasmine was also the recipient of the 2019 - 2020 William B. Clopton Scholarship. This scholarship supports full-time students in the School of the Arts who are the first in their families to attend college.

Khalid Elshowaya [View Image]

Khalid Elshowaya

Khalid Elshowaya is a chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration and a biology minor. He is an academically outstanding student who ranks at the top of his class. Khalid is a responsible, determined, hard worker who does not allow obstacles to prevent him from pursuing his goal of medical school.

After reaching out to Ms. Casey Yocum she shared Khalid is not only a mentor but a role model to staff and students within the residence hall. Fellow RA's always seek out Khalid for advice and help when working through any issues they are facing. He goes above and beyond in planning events not only for the residents on his floor, but for the whole building to help residents grow. Khalid is someone that truly cares and invests in his residents and wants to see them all succeed. Not only does Khalid invest in students in the building but a mentor to men of color in the Richmond community. It has been an honor working and supervising Khalid this year. Khalid is an individual that wants to help others succeed and grow and watching that passion to help others will make him an incredible doctor one day.

Theodore Evans [View Image]

Theodore Evans

Theodore is a first-generation, pre-med biology major at VCU with an overall GPA of 3.1.  In order to achieve his aspirations of becoming a radiologist, he shadows several doctors in and around Newport News.  These experiences have only furthered his resolve to achieve his goals.  As a first generation student he faces challenges that other students do not and has had to work full-time during his undergraduate career, working as assistant manager at retail stores such as Forever 21, Dillards, and more recently, Banana Republic.  His performance both academically and at his job are a testament to his incomparable work ethic and his determination to serve his community in preventative medicine.

Angel Flowers [View Image]

Angel Flowers

Angel Flowers is a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies student who focuses in African American Studies and Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies. As a community-builder and DJ, she wants to help mobilize the arts to assist in public health, policymaking, and uplifting the work of nonprofits in the city. Using her platform and network, Angel often uses social media to assist in fundraising, organizing community support, and uplifting the work of QTPOC artists on the east coast. Angel encourages students to ask themselves who is doing work in their communities that they appreciate and to donate their time, spare change, and social media pages to their causes. 

Photograph of Daryl V. Fraser [View Image]

Daryl Fraser

Daryl Fraser is Associate Professor in Teaching at the VCU School of Social Work. In his role, Daryl provides field instruction to undergraduate and graduate social work students who are placed in community agencies throughout the Richmond region to promote a successful learning experience and to help the students bridge the practice principles they learn in class with what they encounter in agency practice.

In addition to Daryl’s strong commitment to student learning in the practicum placement, he has exercised a great deal of leadership in modeling for students and colleagues the social work core value of advocating for social justice in all that we do. Some examples:

● Daryl co-founded the School of Social Work Student-Alumni-Faculty Collective, which presents an annual day-long educational experienced called “Richmond Re[Visited]” This signature program of the School delves deeply each year into issues of racial justice, focusing on a core theme such as the School-to-Prison Pipeline or Racism and Mental Health, and takes student and alumni participants into communities around Richmond to hear directly from community advocates regarding how racism affects the core issue in their communities.
● Together with his colleagues, Daryl has published in the Journal of Social Work Education on a model for teaching racial justice in social work.
● Daryl became a Building Inclusive Communities Certified Trainer in 2017 and has brought this model to the School in a variety of contexts to facilitate an inclusive culture within the School.
● Daryl co-leads a study abroad service learning course every two years in the Dominican Republic. This course examines social work practice, social problems of a developing country, and the social welfare system of the Dominican Republic.

Daryl currently serves as the President of the Richmond Association of the National Association of Black Social Workers and is active in this organization at the national level as well. This involvement has been an important role model for our School chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers as well, and many of our students have been inspired to become involved in ABSW because of Daryl’s example.

Michaela Friend [View Image]

Michaela Friend

Michaela is a senior at VCU, double majoring in political science/civil rights concentration, and African American studies, and a minor in gender, sexuality and women's studies. Michaela’s strong belief in social action is clearly visible in her work with issue advocacy work and community programs both on and off campus. She is the current vice president of Amnesty International at VCU. In her home town of Hampton, Va., Michaela was actively involved with Habitat for Humanity and Meals on Wheels. She intends to go to law school and study and practice human rights law, and also to work to promote better laws to protect at-risk senior citizens. She has excelled in all of her classes at VCU and will make an incredible impact wherever she lands. 

Photograph of Nicole George [View Image]

Nicole George

Shelby McDonald, School of Social Work: "I am writing this letter to strongly recommend Nicole George for the Black History in the Making Award. Nicole is currently pursuing an MSW at Virginia Commonwealth University (GPA= 4.0), where I am an Assistant Professor. I got to know Nicole starting last summer, when I hired her as a research assistant. I sought out Nicole for this position because she came highly recommended by the coordinator of the Child Welfare Stipend Program at VCU. Nicole has excellent clinical skills, prior research experience on multiple community-engaged research projects, and is extremely motivated to pursue a career in social work research. Her career objective is to study the unmet needs of refugee and immigrant communities. She is particularly interested in conducting research that informs interventions, policies, and practices that support the mental and physical health of unaccompanied minors. It is clear that Nicole has been engaged in authentic and strategic steps toward this goal during her time as an undergraduate and MSW student. These efforts have involved personal, professional, and community-based experiences. For example, Nicole sought out internship experiences and jobs that allowed her to gain extensive experience and clinical training working with children who have experienced trauma, including refugee children and unaccompanied minors. She has worked on several research projects involving minoritized populations, such as refugee and immigrant youth in Kenya, child welfare system-involved youth, and monolingual Hispanic children in U.S. educational settings. In addition to working on my grant focused on abused and/or neglected children, Nicole has also sought out training to conduct interviews for another one of my studies that examines stressors and supports in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. An impressive emerging scholar, she is actively engaged in academic activities and social action that will support her future goals of conducting research that is informed by refugee and immigrant communities. She plans to pursue a PhD in Social Work in the near future."

Hyojin Im, School of Social Work: "I would like to nominate Ms. Nicole George for Black History in the Making Award. I have known Nicole since January, 2019, when I offered a topical seminar course for MSW students, “International Social Work Practice”. I have also had the opportunity to work with her through a year-long research sequence course (Fall 2019 – Spring 2020) and an independent study in Fall 2019. As her instructor and independent study research supervisor, I am fully prepared to discuss the quality and nature of Nicole’s work ethic and potentials for social work field.

Nicole has performed at a very high level in her independent study project as well as my research and international social work classes. She has displayed an intellectual curiosity, with an ability to think critically about complex issues bridging research and practice. Her ability to connect the interrelations between social justice issues, especially those related to social integration of racial minorities, immigrant and refugee populations, distinguished Nicole as a strong critical thinker and showed her maturity as a student. She has strong intellectual capacity and research skills, takes responsibility for her own learning, and has shown a commitment to the ideals of social justice and advocacy that distinguish social work as a profession. She has shown a strong interest in learning both qualitative and quantitative research methods and working with refugee and immigrant populations locally and globally. She impressed me with her eagerness to learn and apply research skills to immigrant/refugee unaccompanied minors and social work practices. In addition, I have observed Nicole produce quality results individually and as a member of a work team, exhibiting her ability to work creatively and productively on her own. For example, she restructured her senior thesis at Trinity College into an abstract on immigrant policy and child welfare services, which got accepted to SSWR 2020 and she presented an ePoster as a sole author in Washington D.C. in January.

Her collegial nature, dedication to the community and diverse populations, strong leadership and caring personality, considerable professionalism, and insightful and intellectual approach to different cultural norms and values are among her many assets that will make her a successful leader in social work education and research in the future. She brings great enthusiasm and interest to her work with marginalized groups. Nicole is confident about her social work practice, community organizing skills and cross-cultural communication. I strongly believe that she will be a great asset to the field of social work who help address social and economic injustice that affect cultural minorities and marginalized groups. She clearly possesses a great potential and skill set for success as a culturally competent social work researcher."

Dãa Guy-Vasson

Statement from Sculpture + Extended Media: The Sculpture department is delighted to honor graduate student Dāa Guy-Vasson.  Dāa is an accomplished artist and a generous community member who sets a high standard for peers and brings an informed vital perspective to critical discussions of art practices within the lens of issues around gender and race. Dāa is also a passionate maker, fearless in material experimentation and studio productivity. Their work is accomplished and innovative, and reflects a robust curiosity and deep substantive research. In addition to being a talented gifted artist, Dāa is also a remarkable community member.  They were selected to participate as an intern at the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) and have been a valuable asset to the programming and implementation of exhibitions.  Among other things, Dāa was responsible for selecting and organizing materials for the reading room part of the recent Great Force exhibition. This acclaimed show featured new commissions and recent work by artist addressing “the counter force of black resistance and the persistence of the color line in the United States” and Dāa's contribution through the reading room was indeed substantive. Dāa also demonstrates great leadership skills. Also at ICA, they conceived of and are now leading a reading group around the work of the African American writer Octavia Butler as part of the Otolith Group up coming exhibition. We are grateful to have Dāa as part of our community and have benefitted greatly from their wonderful articulateness, thoughtfulness, sensitively, and insights.

Octavia Hall [View Image]

Octavia Hall

Octavia's career has spanned 19 years at VCU where she is currently the Department of Biology's Senior Fiscal Technician.  Octavia is a highly knowledgeable and capable employee in our department. Moreover, as the financial systems, policies, and even budgets change at VCU and in our department, she and our accountant work tirelessly to keep our classes and labs running smoothly and with the proper resources.

Briana Harris [View Image]

Briana Harris

Briana Harris is a current Master of Social Work student with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2020. She is the President of the VCU student Chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers (2019-

She is currently planning the 5th Annual Cultural Awareness Day, helping create a panel of Black Professors to speak with undergraduate and MSW students about the process of pursing a Ph.D, and planning Black History and Women’s’ History Month Celebrations.

Her professional affiliations and service to the community include membership to the National Association of Black Social Workers and serving as a volunteer tutor with YouthBuild Charter School. She is a School of Social Work Child Welfare Stipend Scholar. She plans to dedicate her post-MSW time working in a local Department of Social Services.

Briana’s commitment to social justice and eagerness to advocate for marginalized groups will serve her well as she enters the practice field. Her understanding of the systematic inequalities that contribute to the disproportionate amount of Black children and families involved with the child welfare system is needed in the field. Her dedication to addressing these inequalities and dismantling them through her work is inspiring. I expect great things from Briana. Jamie L. Cage of the School of Social Work states, "She has the level of passion and commitment that I would want anyone pursing a career in social work to have. She will go far in the field of child welfare and she will make a difference in the lives of many children. For that, she is Black History in the Making."

Kyana Harris [View Image]

Kyana Harris

Kyana is a fourth-year dance major at VCU. She has shown considerable growth in her journey in the Dance department, particularly through her citizenship. Kyana facilitates, teaches, and organizes a free dance classes open to the community every Sunday. We value her initiative and advocacy of dance in and through community engagement. 

Photograph of Taylor Herndon [View Image]

Taylor Herndon

Taylor Herndon was just selected as one of the 4As Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP) recipients. Her internship will be at Mother NY this summer. MAIP is a highly prestigious and competitive program that places students at some of the best ad agencies in the country and around the world.
She was also a Communications Intern at VCU Global office. According to her Professor Marcel Jennings, Taylor's enthusiasm about advertising is apparent during every class. She is one of the first to speak up during critiques, always offering positive feedback and encouraging everyone around her to look at things through a different creative lens. When facing tough challenges, she has managed to persevere and has produced some of the top work in the class. According to her professor Dr. Clarence Thomas, Taylor’s passion towards advertising can be vividly seen through her performance in his history of advertising class. She actively engages in class discussions and is very proactive in group projects. When the class talks about the relationship between history and today, she can many times provide the whole class some food for thoughts with concrete examples. She is a critical and curious person.

Photograph of Brea Hill [View Image]

Brea Hill

Brea Hill is a senior broadcast journalism student in the Robertson School, where she cultivates her love for sports and entertainment journalism. During her tenure at VCU, Brea worked as a production crew member for VCU Insight and the Robertson School Speaker Series. Moreover, she also worked as a features writer for VCU Athletics, where she published news articles on VCU athletes and coaches. Outside of VCU, Brea interned with RVA Magazine last year as a reporter covering local food events. According to her professor Dr. Aloni Hill, many of her articles were published by this magazine as well and can be found on its website. Brea aspires to be a successful and well-known sports and entertainment reporter for a national network in the future.


Brezaja Hutcheson [View Image]

Brejaza Hutcheson

Remarks from Department of Photography + Film: "Brezaja Hutcheson, a senior film major, makes sensitive, intelligent experimental documentaries. Their films are very personal, addressing issues of blackness, feminism, and queerness. The films are beautiful, ambitious and elaborate, while still conceptual, modest, and focused. Brezaja was a transfer student to VCU, and was able to not only catch up to their peers, but excel in our highly structured program, by their drive, persistence, and hard work ethic. Their senior thesis film is an experimental film about the death of their friend, shot on black and white 16mm film. I taught the Senior Thesis Film class (for the first semester of the full year course), and I anticipate that it will be the best film of the year."

Photograph of Lauren N. Jackson [View Image]

Lauren Jackson

Lauren currently serves as an academic advisor at University Academic Advising. She is a leader, community builder and tireless student advocate, specifically in enhancing programming for African American women. In 2016, she created a course for first-year students called "Leadership Development for Women of Color," which has since branched into a self-sustaining mentorship program and student organization. She is a member of the Class of 2020 for the HIGHER Ground Program through The Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute and is completing her Ph.D. in Higher Education at Old Dominion University.

Tarazha Jenkins [View Image]

Tarazha Jenkins

Tarazha Jenkins is a first year student in the Department of Political Science at VCU. Her academic focus is in the area of American politics, Civil and Human rights, African American studies and Mass Communications. Tee became a local celebrity of sorts while in New Hampshire by speaking truth to power when she confronted NH Secy. of State Bill Gardner about his defense of the "First in the Nation" primary; specifically she questioned him on issues of representation and electoral access.  Her passion compelled NHPR Stranglehold co-host, Jack Rodolico, to invite her and a few other VCU students, to participate in an on-air episode, which has since led to her being contacted by NPR's "It's Been A Minute w/ Sam Sanders" for another interview, where she was featured on another podcast episode. Tee is described by her peers as “fierce in the face of, well, everything!” She has already made history with her contributions to the NHNPR broadcasts but she has also no doubt given many New Hampshire residents much to think about as well!    

Taylor Jenkins [View Image]

Taylor Jenkins

Taylor Jenkins has been an engaged and passionate participant both inside and outside the classroom at VCU.  Her professors describe her as “deeply engaged” and “impressive” noting her commitment to interrogating the overlays of race and income that can exacerbate access to and use of transportation options. Ms. Jenkins has served as an Outreach Coordinator with the Urban and Regional Planning Student Association where she organized volunteer activities for her fellow students. Ms. Jenkins has also been active professionally in the Richmond community, taking four internships over the course of her time in the planning program. These internships include GIS Intern at the Richmond City Health District, focusing on safe mobility in Richmond and resident access to public transportation; a budget Intern at the Budget and Strategic Planning Office for the City of Richmond; a planning Intern at GRTC Transit System; and Transit Intern at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. She has recently accepted a permanent position as a Statewide Transit Planner at the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Photograph of Marcel Jennings [View Image]

Marcel Jennings

Marcel Jennings has been the interim associate director of the Robertson School since 2019 and an assistant professor since 2014. According to Dr. Marcus Messner, interim director of the School, Jennings has been doing an outstanding job as interim director and has earned the respect and strong support from the School’s faculty and staff. Jennings has worked in the advertising industry as an award winning copywriter and associate creative director for more than 14 years. He has created advertising campaigns for international, national and regional brands across virtually all mediums at agencies such as Fallon NY, Ogilvy NY, DDB Chicago and most recently, Big River in Richmond. Jennings is a member of the Class of 2020 of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Program at VCU. 

Keola Jones [View Image]

Keola Jones

Keola is an immensely talented and dedicated dance major. A reliable member of our community, she is well-respected by her colleagues and the faculty. Keola has been cast in several student, faculty, and guest artist works. She currently holds a 4.0 and is a member of B.A.S.E. 

Photograph of Malana Lee [View Image]

Malana Lee

Malana Lee is a senior in the Nuclear Medicine Technology Program in the Department of Radiation Sciences at VCU.  She is also pursuing a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s studies.  She has been a member of the Virginia Gamma Chi Chapter of Lambda Nu at VCU since the fall of 2018.  Lambda Nu is a national honor society for the radiologic imaging professions.  Last year she served as Chapter Vice President and initiated a community service project to help residents at the Doorways, which provides lodging and services for families of patients receiving care at MCV Hospitals.  Malana never hesitates to volunteer her assistance for department outreach efforts to inform underrepresented minority high school and new college students about career possibilities in the radiologic sciences.  She has served as a consultant to faculty regarding the care of LGBTQ patients.  Ms. Lee has also served the Mid-eastern Chapter of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging by helping to document technologist continuing education credit.  Malana Lee makes it real and is already having a positive influence on her profession and community.

Adriane Manigo [View Image]

Adriane Manigo

Adriane is a senior African American Studies major. She is currently serving as president of The Black Experience, African American Studies' student organization, and she played a key role in the creation of the organization. She served on search committees and represented the department's students in meetings with faculty candidates. Her engagement and leadership skills have made a mark in the department.

Photograph of Devin Manning [View Image]

Devin Manning

Devin Manning is a queer + non-binary, disabled - fibromyalgia, auditory processing/hearing issues, tinnitus, hypermobility syndrome, and idiopathic intracranial hypertension - junior, who has a passion for human advocacy, writing, and providing representation for their experience. As an experienced writer already, writing on topics such as feminism, disability rights, queer rights, and mental issues on their social media and through Medium. Devin's push for accessibility in buildings has also led to them communicating with local Richmond owners to change their entrances and layouts.

Candace Mason [View Image]

Candace Mason

Candace Mason is a senior majoring in Forensic Science with a minor in Chemistry and a concentration in Physical Evidence. She is also a second year participant in VCU's LEAD Living Learning Program. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school to earn a Master's degree in Forensic Chemistry, and later become a Forensic Technician. During her four years at VCU, she has volunteered at Rampantry, Hashtag Lunchbag RVA, and Evergreen cemetery just to name a few. She has implemented her leadership skills while being the Treasurer of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice at VCU for two years, and she was on the social committee for Queen in You at VCU for the 2018-2019 school year. Her academic achievements include being on the Dean's List with a 3.5 GPA, becoming a member of Delta Delta Epsilon Forensic Science Honor Society, and being recognized as a University Student Scholar at VCU. She says, "I am dedicated to my academics, serving the community, and making my family proud!"

Maurice Mason

Maurice has distinguished himself as a very hard-working, committed and deeply engaged student. The Graphic Design faculty are delighted to acknowledge his sense of purpose and a dramatic increase in the quality of his work over two and half years. One teacher notes, "his prints from letterpress, especially his collaboration with an incarcerated poet are nothing short of brilliant."

Devin Nelson-Hence [View Image]

Devin Nelson-Hence

Devin Nelson-Hence is a senior, double majoring in Psychology and African and African American Studies, with a concentration in the social and behavioral perspective. Devin's nomination was provided due to what was described as a triumvirate of "commitment, passion, and collegiality". In addition to academic success (she has been on Dean's List since 2018 and was a 2018 University Student Scholar), Ms. Nelson-Hence is an active member of the VCU community. She is the current president of Psi Chi, a member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, and a research team member in both the Department of Psychology and the School of Social Work. In addition, Devin is engaged in the community, often volunteering her time to support youth and those with food insecurity in Richmond and her hometown. Stated recommender Dr. Shawn Jones: "In my discussions with Devin, it is clear that her research, service, and career goals represent an ingrained sense of her identity, and her commitment to improving the wellbeing of Black youth. I am confident that Devin’s arc bends toward leadership, whether in her future graduate school program, her continued community service, or any other endeavor to which she applies herself. She will make an impact, Black history, no doubt!'
Kendra H. Norrell [View Image]

Kendra H. Norrell

Kendra is an emerging leader in the field of environmental sustainability in the Richmond community. She is a member of the Richmond 300 Master Plan Advisory Commission. She was recently hired by the City of Richmond Office of Sustainability to provide outreach and engagement for rVAGreen 2050 equity-centered, integrated mitigation and adaptation Climate Action Initiative to help transition to a low carbon future that is affordable, equitable and inclusive of frontline communities, low-income communities, and communities of color. She has also worked as an Alternative Transportation Coordinator at VCU where her job was to increase the number of students and employees that come to work by sustainable means such as walking, biking, carpooling, and taking GRTC. Kendra has also been engaged in work around health inequities related to heat vulnerability. 

Speciose Nyamatereko [View Image]

Speciose Nyamatereko

Speciose came to the United States as a young child from the Republic of the Congo. She taught herself English by watching movies and reading John Grisham novels. Having read John Grisham’s novels sparked her interest in the criminal justice system, which ultimately led her to choose criminal justice as her major. She is also involved in writing a book called “Untold Stories,” which chronicles the stories of women in her native country. Importantly, criminal justice faculty members have found her to be a student who is truly committed to learning and does not just desire to earn a good grade. Currently, Speciose is a senior and will graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice in May of 2020.

Simon Okoth [View Image]

Simon H. Okoth, PhD

Dr. Simon Okoth is an Instructor and Director of Internships in VCU’s Department of Political Science. He earned a PhD in Public Policy and Administration from VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in 2009, following undergraduate and graduate training at Berea College, Murray State University, the University of London, and Tufts University. He has worked as Cultural Assistant at the United States Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya; Associate Director for Small Enterprise and Information Technology for the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya; Assistant Professor at Zayed University, United Arab Emirates; and Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the Wilder School at VCU. His two books, Responding to Black Swans: Why Ordinary Citizens Matter and A Seat at the Table: Constraints to Stakeholder Involvement, the Case of the Nile River Basin in Ethiopia, were published in 2017 and 2010, respectively. He has made numerous academic and community presentations, including the keynote speech at the 2019 African Students’ Association annual banquet at Berea College. Dr. Okoth came to the United States in 1977 with no family or contacts in the country and just $30 in his pocket. He has inspired students and colleagues alike with his drive and determination over the last 40 years, and most notably, with his continued investment of time and resources in improving water, sanitation, education, and other conditions in his home town of Kisumu, Kenya. Dr. Okoth is a Board Member of FlipFlopFriends, Inc., a U.S. charitable organization that donates, on an annual basis, shoes, flip flops, school bags, pens, and feminine hygiene pads to a village primary school in western Kenya.


Hazim Oraibi

Hazim Oraibi is a Senior majoring in Health, Physical Education & Exercise Science with a concentration
in Health Science. He has been a wonderful member of the VCU Globe Living-Learning community.
Hazim travelled with VCU Globe on a study abroad program to Doha, Qatar. He was able to see life in
the middle east and engage with the local community and students at VCUArts Qatar. In Richmond,
Hazim was a founding member of a Male Mentorship Program at Binford Middle School. The program
has been very effective and RPS is trying to extend the mentorship program to other area schools.
Hazim created this program as a way to encourage young African American students to excel
academically, feel supported and also encourage their development. Hazim plans to attend medical
school in his future and we in VCU Globe know that he will be a phenomenal physician.

Claudia Otchere [View Image]

Claudia Otchere

Claudia Otchere is a Senior majoring in Professional Science and Psychology. She is an active member of
the VCU Globe Living-Learning Community. Claudia has shown tremendous abilities to engage others
through humor and service. She has spent a significant amount of time working within the Greater
Richmond Area at local schools in English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms. She has done a
remarkable job as a student recruiter for VCU Globe and creating a safe space for students who
participate in the VCU Globe Program. Claudia also completed her Pharmacy Technician Certificate in
2019 from Reynolds Community College. She is going to do so many great things in her future.

Photograph of Shaneka Campbell [View Image]

Shaneka Campbell Owusu

Remarks from the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling: "Shaneka is an exceptional student who has shown tremendous drive and tenacity through her graduate program. She will make a remarkable counselor and we are proud to have her as a student and eventual alum. Ms. Campbell has been a part-time student in our department since spring of 2016 and maintains a 3.3 GPA. Throughout the majority of her time in the program, she has worked full time at Intercept Health, working her way up to a managerial position. Intercept Health is a youth group home, an agency devoted to serving the youth of our community that often need the most support. She truly exemplifies a women of color who continues to make a difference and contribution to our community."

Photograph of Claire Ozah [View Image]

Claire Ozah

With full support from the PR faculty, Claire Ozah has been described as someone to watch after she graduates, who is sure to reach success early on in her career. According to her Professor Josh Smith, she has a phenomenal personality and tenacity to learn. Claire's upbeat, positive energy is contagious with her peers, and she regularly finds herself taking on leadership roles in projects and assignments. Smith is certain that Claire will continue to do great things after graduation, and “we're grateful to have her in our program.”

Shaun Parker, II [View Image]

Shaun Parker, II


Shaun is an aspiring playwright, who also exhibits talent as an actor. He is a studious, engaged student, the recipient of several of our departmental scholarships because of his extraordinary work ethic. He is always striving to better himself and his art.

Sasha Pierre-Louis [View Image]

Sasha Pierre-Louis

The Department of Sociology states: "Sasha excels academically and at so much more. She has been a tireless student-leader in the Department and the University community. She has more initiative than any student that I have worked with in a very long time. She responds to every call for proposals and participation that I put on the listserv. She has represented the Department well in initiatives like the Three Minute Thesis competition. And, she regularly presents at the Association of Black Sociology, Eastern Sociological Society, and Southern Sociology conferences. Her work on race, gender, and networks on social media platforms is a solid analysis to our understanding of how marginalized workers in professional services access job opportunities. She is a joy to be around and very deserving of the Black History in the Making recognition.

On top of this, she has convincingly demonstrated her outstanding leadership among students. Speaking as the faculty advisor to AKD@VCU, Sasha served as the student president in the term of 2019–2020. She has been a very responsible and responsive leader with innovative visions and executive power to transform ideas into practice. Months before the fall semester of 2019, she met with me to talk about the new strategies that she planned to implement to the AKD operation. In the following months, she used democratic techniques to lead her team of the student leaders to decide their dream speaker in the induction ceremony and generated a work plan with shared labor. During our meetings, many team members praised Sasha: "I love her [leadership]!"

Eventually, Sasha managed to secure the time of Dr. Amaka Okechukwu (George Mason University) to visit VCU in April 2020 and built collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Race, Place, and Space Initiative to make the event as widely accessible as possible. With the efforts of her team and collaborators, Sasha is successfully leading the project for the purpose of increasing the visibility and awareness of racial inequalities intersected with gender, community, educational disparity, and the policy of affirmative action on the VCU campus. Sasha Pierre-Louis is an ideal candidate for the Black History in Making Award."

Photograph of Britney Pitts [View Image]

Britney Pitts

Britney Pitts is a PhD student in the School of Social Work. Her pre-PhD student work experience includes roles as an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant and an MSW Field Instructor. She is currently a PhD student advisor to the VCU student Chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers (2019-2020).

Her current projects include:
5th Annual Cultural Awareness Day
Creating a panel of Black Professors to speak with undergraduate and MSW students about the process of pursuing a Ph.D.
Black History and Women’s’ History Month Celebrations

Professional Affiliations:
National Association of Black Social Workers (member)
Society for Social Work and Research
Current Ph.D. student

She is currently doing research to address educational disparities for vulnerable youth in public education.  Her research interests broadly center around addressing the aesthetic trauma experienced by Black students in educational spaces. Britney is dedicated to dismantling the trauma Black people experience based on their physical appearance through research and practice. She is diving into a topical area that is not well studied or discussed. Despite the novelty of in the research arena, it is a topic that is important due to the harm that it has caused. Eurocentric views and standards of beauty, acceptability, and professionalism have created an aesthetic expectation that devalues the Black appearance and undermines Black cultures; causing trauma to the everyday Black person. Britney’s dedication to address this type of trauma is exciting. Although she is very new to doctoral education, she has fully immersed herself into this field. She’s currently involved in manuscript development projects with a team of researchers from The University of the District Columbia who has a PsychoHairapy Research Lab. Additionally, she will be attending a PsychoHairapy Training in New Orleans to be trained to research PsychoHairapy and use it in social work practice. Jamie L. Cage of the School of Social Work states, "I’m excited that she’s decided to pursue this area of research. I truly believe that one day her work will make a difference in the lives of many Black people. For that, she is Black History in the Making."

McAllister A. Reed [View Image]

McAllister A. Reed

McAllister is a Spanish major in the School of World Studies. Her department states, "McAllister is a hardworking and thoughtful student. She is always ready to contribute in the class. It is a pleasure to work with a student like her!"

Riley Reynolds

Riley Reynolds is a first year student in the Department of Political Science at VCU. She is considering an academic focus is in the area of international relations, political communication, and civil and human rights. Riley currently serves as a member of the Youth Action Council for the Action Alliance here in Richmond, where she helps to plan events and creates curriculum to be shared across the country. She also served as the Regional Coordinator for Rise to Run, a grassroots organization dedicated to training young women to run for office. Despite being a first year VCU student, Riley’s leadership skills have already begun to blossom.  In her role as a regional coordinator, she gained valuable experience leading a strategic planning project, organizing, and leading chapter meetings and events, and attending national conferences as a representative of her regional organization.  Also back home in Culpeper, she served as the President of the nonprofit Culpeper Youth Council, wherein that role she organized and supervised youth events and acted as a liaison between the nonprofit body and the organization’s governing board and partners. Riley has a keen interest in studying women leaders. During her recent participation in VCU Political Science REAL class on campaigns, held in New Hampshire, Riley focused her attention on how women contribute to campaigns and on the women candidates running for president in the Democratic Party for 2020.

Roy Roach [View Image]

Roy Roach

Roy F. Roach III is an academic advisor in the Robertson School and advises foundation students interested in the mass communication major. Roach completed his bachelor’s in communication and a minor in Chinese studies.  After discovering his passion for higher education, he was selected for the Ronald E. McNair Scholarship and completed his graduate degree in higher education. He is passionate about education and entrepreneurship as vehicles for social and global change. According to Dr. Marcus Messner, interim director of the School, Roach has been spearheading a pilot program in Spring 2020 that provides mentoring to male African-American and Latinx students in the Robertson School. “He is making a true difference in the lives of our students,” said Messner. 

Kelsie Rudd [View Image]

Kelsie Rudd

Kelsie Rudd is a fourth year student in the Department of Political Science at VCU. Her academic focus is in the areas of Comparative Politics, civil and human rights, and African American studies.  Kelsie was a commanding voice in the NHPR Stranglehold interview, and has since engaged in an independent study that continues to question New Hampshire's "First in the Nation" status; as part of this independent study, she'll engage in scholar activism by drafting OpEds to two of New Hampshire's newspapers (Manchester Union Leader & Concord Monitor).  Kelsie is described by her peers as both “exceedingly kind,” and by one of her professors as “refreshingly curious.” Kelsie has already made history as a Black Woman by her appearance in the NHPR Stranglehold podcast and several subsequent NPR broadcasts, but she knows she’s just getting started.

Amari Cummings [View Image]

Amari Samya

Amari is a stellar student, always goes above and beyond. Her performances in our main stage productions have been superb, and she now is performing in theaters in the community. She received a fellowship last year to study in London, and has received several university scholarships noting her high academic achievement. 

Photograph of Jessica Sims [View Image]

Jessica Sims

"The Department of English is proud to put forward Jessica Sims as our Black History in the Making recipient for 2020. When making a decision about this year's recipient, Jessica rose quickly to the top. Our professors write that Jessica has "diverse interests" and "takes her work seriously;" that she is "an excellent student with a creative intellect;" that her written work is often "beautiful and thoughtful;" and that she is a "keen thinker" with a "quick sense of humor" who is also a wonderful classroom citizen. Jessica is planning to attend graduate school in the future, and is considering becoming a teacher. We feel certain that she will succeed in whatever she decides to do."

Gregory Kearse Smith, Jr.

Recipient of the 2020 W. E. B. Du Bois Award for Excellence in History

Statement from Joseph W. Bendersky: "Gregory K. Smith is being honored as the 2020 recipient of the W. E. B. Du Bois Award for Excellence in History. This award was established to encourage outstanding African American undergraduates to pursue graduate study, preferably in History. This award is granted by faculty nomination and rigorous evaluation by the Scholarships and Awards Committee. Past recipients of this award have been truly remarkable students; several have gone on to Ph.D. programs or law schools at prestigious universities. Mr. Smith ranks among the very best of these Du Bois Awardees. A double-major in History and Political Science, with a minor in Creative Writing, he has earned a 3.944 GPA while talking a demanding schedule of rigorous courses. His faculty nomination stated: “In my twenty-five years of teaching at VCU, I can say without the slightest hesitation that Gregory is one of the best students I have had the pleasure to teach. Gregory is a highly intelligent young man with an impressive work-ethic.” Indeed, after examining the strong academic records of the competitors for this award, the Scholarships and Awards Committee determined that he was in a distinguished category by himself. The History Department has the highest expectations for Mr. Smith, and is confident that he will become a major contributor to whatever professional field he pursues."


Mychal Smith [View Image]

Mychal Smith, PhD

Dr. Mychal Smith teaches Biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry at VCU. He serves as the community outreach coordinator for Chemistry, is a Co-PI on the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and is the Graduate Program Director for the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development Scholars Program. He leads the Black Males in Chemistry Success Program initiative and currently works with Project SEED, an intensive program dedicated toward providing high school students with the opportunity to conduct hands-on science experiments over the summer.

E'Lora Spencer [View Image]

E'Lora Spencer

Statement from Professor Maribel Moheno, School of World Studies: "She is an outstanding student, person and a Spanish major and was in my Intro to Latin American Literature (SPAN331) last fall of 2019 where she did outstanding work. She's a double major with International Studies. She has also gone on study abroad programs to Morocco and Latin America and is a very promising young woman. She graduates this May."

Photograph of Maia Stanley [View Image]

Maia Stanley

Maia Stanley is a double major in digital journalism in the Robertson School and fashion design in the VCU School of Arts. She manages a high GPA despite stacking a heavy course load each semester. According to her Professor Alix Bryan, she has published five stories in a short time as a reporter of Capital News Service for clients throughout Virginia, including two stories picked up by the Washington Post. Maia has keen reporting skills to match her work ethic. She is extremely courteous and professional. She makes tight deadlines and files exceptional copy for a younger reporter. Recently she was running against a deadline and kept working on her article despite a fire drill. She typed away from the sidewalk outside of her apartment. Maia hopes to cover fashion through magazine reporting when she graduates. She completed an internship at Q Media in spring 2019. 

Arletta Thirus [View Image]

Arletta Thirus

Arletta Thirus is an undergradate Urban and Regional Studies student in the L. Douglas Wilder School. Her professors describe her as an engaged and inspiring student whose work reflected a “seriousness and dedicated” beyond that of many of her peers. One of her professors remarked on her work in his class in the following way. “One of the ways by which we measure student’s progress is by assessing their intellectual growth and their improvement … Arletta’s progress was clearly impressive and her work showed that she was growing intellectually as a researcher and using the class to acquire new skills. Taking advantage of opportunities in this way is surely one of the goals of the Black History in the Making awards and I am pleased to nominate Arletta for recognition for this award…She has demonstrated an efficiency in learning and an aptitude for taking advantage of academic resources in developing a project of social relevance for the Richmond community.”

Photograph of Lauren Thomas [View Image]

Lauren Thomas

Lauren Thomas is the Communication and Social Media Manager for Strategic Enrollment Management at VCU. She is a CreateAthon Team Leader this year, and she will be producing branding for OAR of Richmond, a non-profit organization that advocates for formerly incarcerated individuals. According to her Professor Scott Sherman, she has produced advertising campaigns in other classes for clients Rage RVA and Corner Barre RVA. She has participated in The One Club's Strategic Workshop and travelled to the Here Are All the Black People Conference. After graduation, Lauren wants to be a copywriter at an advertising agency.

David Emerson Toney [View Image]

David Emerson Toney

Remarks from the Department of Theatre: "David is one of our stellar acting teachers. He takes such great individual care with our students--drawing each one of them to become a better actor simply by helping them to believe that they are all that they need. His student comments are consistently terrific, and he shows genuine concern that each student achieve to the best of their abilities. Add to this that he also performs, both locally, and (twice in the last three years) at Washington DC's renowned Arena Stage. Having students be able to go up to DC to see their professor on such a big and nationally recognized stage is an event not to be missed."

Fatima Toure [View Image]

Fatima Toure

Fatima Toure is a sophomore majoring in political science with a concentration in International Relations. Though only in her second year at VCU, Fatima boasts a number of accomplishments that demonstrate a clear commitment to academics and student life. In addition to being named to the Dean’s List in 2019, she has served as a student instructor for the Department of Political Science and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She is currently an intern for Charniele Herring, Majority Leader of the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly. In addition to the Capital Semester Program, Fatima is a resident assistant at the GLOBE, a member of the West Grace North’s Community Council, and active with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, having formerly participated in OMSA’s Multicultural Connection Advisement Program. Dr. Chris Burdett of the Department of Political Science observes, “Fatima is an exemplary student of strong character whose energy and enthusiasm are inspirational. She has already embraced so many opportunities to broaden her exposure and experiences. Fatima is most deserving of this award not only for her early accomplishments but also for what we can anticipate.”

Photograph of Keandra L. Whitehall [View Image]

Keandra Walthall

Dr. Daryl Dance founded the Black History in the Making Award to “recognize a student who has made an important contribution” to the VCU community. The PhD Program in Health Related Sciences is proud to nominate Keandra Walthall, MS for the award. Keandra is a first year doctoral student in the Clinical Lab Sciences (CLS) Department in the College of Health Professions. She majored in Biological Sciences and Psychology at Virginia Tech before receiving her Masters in Clinical Lab Sciences at VCU in 2014. As a graduate student, Keandra designed and executed a study that verified the Shiga Toxin Quik Chek®Assay for the detection of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli in stool specimens. Her work led to the implementation of that assay in the VCU Health System’s microbiology lab, where she also worked during her Masters program. In recognition of her excellent research skills, Keandra was awarded the VCU School of Allied Health Professions Research Award in 2014.
Keandra’s experience working as a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist in Microbiology, M(ASCP)CM in hospital settings and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has led to her research interest in antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial stewardship, critical issues for public health and patient safety. Keandra has a natural aptitude for scholarly work; her intellect and engagement with current health topics are enormous assets to the VCU community. She is a member of the American Society for Microbiology and the American Society for Clinical Pathology; she presented an academic poster at the latter’s conference in 2018. The faculty of the PhD Program in Health Related Sciences and the Department of Clinical Lab Sciences join in awarding Keandra the Black History in the Making award. We wholeheartedly congratulate her and look forward to her future growth and success at VCU and beyond.

Photograph of Lark Washington [View Image]

Lark Washington

Lark Washington is a student in the Masters of Urban and Regional Planning program in the L. Douglas Wilder School. Lark's commitment to addressing pressing urban planning problems--especially for Black people and communities of color--extends well beyond the classroom. As an active member of Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities (RISC), she has studied and organized around the issue of eviction, helping to secure important policy changes around affordable housing and eviction prevention. She is deeply committed to making meaningful change through her school and community work.

Photograph of Andrea Williams [View Image]

Andrea Lynne Williams

Andrea Lynne Williams is currently a second-year graduate student within VCU’s Department of Forensic Science studying Forensic Biology with a 3.4 GPA, anticipating graduation in May 2020. Since 2018, Andrea has worked as the Graduate Research Assistant and Quality Assurance/ Quality Control Manager within the Dawson Cruz Forensic Molecular Biology Laboratory. Since taking on these new roles,  she has presented her Directed Research at an international forensic DNA conference in September of 2019. Andrea’s Directed Research project focuses on the use of an integrated mixture screening assay to assist an analyst in determining the presence of a mixture earlier in the DNA workflow. This integrated assay is forensically relevant because it addresses issues that arise with mixture deconvolution which is typically not done until the end of the DNA workflow. In addition to her academic achievements, Andrea has served the department, university and community by serving as an Resident Assistant for 3 years and serving as a RamPantry volunteer during her undergraduate experience at VCU, engaging with prospective students as they come to visit the department, serving as a student member on a Peer Tenure Committee within the department and being of service to her community as a member of the illustrious Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Andrea's optimism, passion for forensic science, and willingness to always lend a helping hand are what she holds near and dear to her heart!

Travis Williams [View Image]

Travis Williams, PhD

Dr. Travis Williams, PhD serves as an Instructor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Dr. Williams is a passionate and dedicated teacher who strives to educate students on vital issues related to inequality, race, and the environment. He teaches and is engaged in community action related to environmental racism and environmental justice. He organizes and leads a public lecture series titled “Racial Ecologies” which aims to bring attention to state and local community efforts to resist environmental racism and build environmental justice particularly for indigenous people across Virginia. VCU is a more equitable and inclusive space because of the work of Dr. Travis Williams.

Photograph of Mi'Kayla Word [View Image]

Mi'Kayla Word

Mi'Kayla Word is a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. Since joining Dr. Katharine Moore Tibbett's research group as a first-year Ph.D. student in December 2017, she has co-authored two peer-reviewed articles and presented her research results at the Gordon Conference on Quantum Control of Light and Matter. This extraordinary research productivity in such a short time demonstrates her dedication and success in scientific research. Mi’Kayla conducts interdisciplinary research at the intersection of chemistry, physics, and mathematics through her computational investigations of molecular rearrangement and dissociation reactions. These studies of organic phosphates and nitroaromatic compounds model chemical transformations of practical importance for military applications, such as decomposition of nitroaromatic explosives. Mi’Kayla’s computational work is crucial to interpreting the results of ultrafast spectroscopy experiments in my group on these compounds. She is currently supported on a research assistantship through my ARO grant on dissociation dynamics of energetic molecules.

Former Recipients

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