Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Jacqueline

    Human interest.

    “There are two sides to every story — including mine.”

    Meet Jacqueline
  • Ashley

    Laugh track.

    “Write what you know. Fortunately, I’m funny.”

    Meet Ashley
  • Joanna

    Lifestyle education.

    “Education should turn up your personality.”

    Meet Joanna
  • Daniel

    Curious by design.

    “Now that I have two-year-old twins, life’s taken on quite a different perspective.”

    Meet Daniel
Joanna Oremland, Alumni
“Education should turn up your personality.”

– Joanna Oremland, alumna

I opened a DJ lifestyle boutique as a freshman using a business plan I put together in retail management class. In the mornings, I studied fashion merchandising. In the afternoon, I was at my store on Broad Street, tweaking my spring lineup. What started as a class project is my real-life project.

Daniel McGarvey, Ph.D., Professor
“Now that I have two-year-old twins, life’s taken on quite a different perspective.”

– Daniel McGarvey, Ph.D., professor

It’s kind of a curse — being someone who is just sort of naturally curious, restless and hasn’t tried any job where they didn’t get bored after a while. I like to push things as far as they can go. Right now, I’m pushing to teach our science grad students the art of design and communication. That’s something you could only find here.

Xavier Waller, Student
“I had to lose myself in the city to find out who I really am.”

– Xavier Waller, student

I came from a small town, so I used to be intimidated by the city. I wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for track. But now, it’s like it just amplifies my whole personality. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but now the next step doesn’t scare me.

Jacqueline Van Dao, Student
“There are two sides to every story — including mine.”

– Jacqueline Van Dao, student

I changed from pre-med to public relations and human resources because I like people — communicating with people is my thing. PR teaches me how to talk to people, how to persuade them — not only in work, but in life. PR is the friendly side. HR is the serious side. VCU lets me be both.

Ashley Holston, Student
“Write what you know. Fortunately, I’m funny.”

– Ashley Holston, student

My dream job is writing for “Saturday Night Live” or a comedy sketch show. I’ve always wanted to be like Tina Fey — write, act, produce and have my hand in everything, as long as it’s comedy. The classes I’ve taken focus on honing your genre and making sure you are making quality work, whatever it is. VCU has definitely inspired me to be more creative in everything that I do. And that’s no joke.

“You can live life, or you can just sort of let it happen to you.”

– Ed Trask, B.F.A. 1992
Painting and printmaking

When you finally take that leap and you have that faith in yourself, when you put that energy out into the universe, I think it works. If you’re ‘Woe is me,’ and you’re waiting around for something to happen, then obviously it won’t. Something I learned from VCU, and just from the culture around here, is to not be afraid — to take a chance and just do it.

Nina Sims
“You become part of the culture and it just stays with you. It’s like family members, really.”

– Nina Sims, B.S. 1993
Mass communications

I was on a completely different career path until I took one class; public relations writing. That one professor — Paula Otto — sealed it for me. It’s so rare that you get to discover something that will change your life, and that one person can make such a big difference. I stay involved as an alum because I want to be sure that current students can have those kinds of opportunities that I did.

Faye and Josh
“With everything facing young black males in communities across the country, people were definitely ready for this book. So were we.”

– Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., professor
– Joshua Brevard, Ph.D. candidate

We had to write “African American Boys” together because one of us brings years of expertise on the research side, and the other has lived many of the life experiences covered in the book. When something is so directly related to you, it’s a no-brainer to collaborate on a project like this.

“Sometimes, the most important lessons are the ones you can’t teach.”

– Stephen Day, director, VCU Center for Economic Education

Some elementary school students in our mini-economy program came up with the idea for an insurance company. The students lost wages for forgetting to do classroom chores, so they issued protection policies. When some of their classmates turned out to be high-risk, they developed pricing levels. If students made five claims in one month, their premium went up. Try teaching that out of a book.

Sheryl Garland
“I’d never even heard of my career before. But I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

– Sheryl Garland, M.H.A. 1988
Health administration

I had been out of college for about three years and I was searching for something to do, some direction, looking for what’s next. I met the director of the master’s in health administration program at a career fair. Once he explained what that was, because I had no idea, I realized it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. There’s no better place to do it than VCU.

“Technology runs the world. But people run the technology.”

– Gurpreet Dhillon, professor, VCU School of Business

The computer on its own can’t do anything. It’s the people who use the technology and how it becomes embedded into our culture that give it power. I challenge my students to explore and discuss things beyond what is absolutely visible. It’s a VCU trait: Don’t just look at what is, but what is possible.

James Jenkins
“Every day I get to make a major difference in someone’s life.”

– James Jenkins, B.S. 2007

What makes me proud as an alum, is that everything that I have now and everything that will come before me is a direct result of the hard work that I experienced as a student. I always tell new graduates that this is your foundation; everything you’ll do down the road, you’ll fall back on this. Always.

“It’s scary how little people really know about money.”

– Patrick Chase, financial planning major

Saving money isn’t lame. I tell people that all the time — students especially. People need help to plan their finances because life is not about how much you look like you have, but how much you actually have.

“It’s amazing how education can refine what you already know.”

– Justin Gilliam, homeland security and emergency preparedness and criminal justice major

Originally, I wasn’t interested in college. I’m more of a hands-on person. I’ve always liked law enforcement so I decided to enter the military. It was my uncle who got me thinking about how I could combine my top-level security clearance from the Air Force with education. VCU had what I was looking for and now I’m double majoring in homeland security and criminal justice, and I just applied for the FBI. Talk about a change of thought.

“Not only do you learn something new, but you find how to make it better.”

– Faith Ajayi, student and alumna

I wanted to be an obstetrician before I really even knew what that was. In Nigeria, pregnancy procedures used to mean life or death. If you couldn’t deliver the baby, you died. I still remember being amazed holding my aunt’s baby after her C-section. That moment is why I am here and why I’m applying to med school.

“When you leave a place for the first time, your whole scope of the world is cracked. It’s bigger than you thought.”

– Ewing White, student

I like the idea of being whoever you want to be. I thought I was going to play football, but then I found theater. I guess that makes sense, because mom is a painter and I have five younger siblings who are all artists, musicians or actors. Look around — at murals on the walls, art hanging in coffee shops, bikes in the street. There’s inspiration everywhere.

“My community is a bunch of communities smashed together and that’s how I like it.”

– Austin Higgs, student

I’m a first-generation college student who came out to my parents when I was 7. I gave up a full ride to a very prestigious college to transfer here. My first day on campus, I was just amazed by the people I saw walking through Shafer Court. The clothes and colors — I just felt this must be a tolerant place and I knew I'd made the right decision. There’s a mural near campus that says ‘Go for it all’ — that really sums up my story.

Katherine Chen, Student
“It’s the human side that draws me in.”

– Katherine Chen, student

I shadowed an oral surgeon at the VCU School of Dentistry when I was in high school after getting my wisdom teeth pulled. Most kids would have been really turned off, but I found it so comforting to have a doctor explain everything to me. I work in the dental school now so I can become a dental professional and do the same thing for someone else someday.

John Gonzalez del Solar, Alumni
“Experiences are like notes and you build them into chords.”

– John Gonzalez del Solar, alumnus

I was a working musician for a decade of my life. But it turned into a grind, so I started working in a music shop in Oahu, where I was stationed after graduation. So much of it was guiding people to find the right instrument and, because of my music performance education, I had a great understanding that others may not have. That was a huge seismic shift for me — realizing that I could use my experience and education to help people. That’s what led me to open my own shop.

Henry Lewis III, Staff
“When I see people go from frustration to success, that’s the most exciting part.”

– Henry Lewis III, staff

I want to see students really figure out if health care is a field they want to get into. I want to be their cheerleader, their guide. I want to make sure they have a love, interest and passion for health care — that they’re making meaningful, informed decisions. I can’t wait to make that impact.

Sophie Cassell, Student
“I had to push myself to where I could succeed.”

– Sophie Cassell, student

Coming to VCU was an uncomfortable stretch for me, but one that I had to make. My father is a United Nations worker in Liberia, helping to rebuild his country. If I’m going to help him, I need to experience the city and be part of an international community. I need to be here.

Nicole Anderson, Student
“At its core, dance is powerful.”

– Nicole Anderson, student

Last summer I volunteered at Beth Shalom and was able to shadow a therapist. I even got to lead some dance therapy sessions. The power of small steps and movements made such a difference in their lives. That’s why I added a psychology minor to my dance and choreography major.

Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., Assistant professor
“This class isn’t just about history, it’s about right now.”

– Brian Daugherity, Ph.D., assistant professor

This is a good place to talk about particularly difficult issues. I’ve got students that represent a wide variety of ethnicities, so when I’m talking about race relations, for instance, we get a really good mix of opinions. It generates strong discussions, because people speak from the heart about their experiences. That’s what brings history to real life.

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