Convocation Ceremony Honors Outstanding Faculty; Launches Strategic Plan
University Public Affairs
Virginia Commonwealth University's 29th annual Opening Faculty Address and Convocation launched a new era at the university.
The formal opening of the academic year, Convocation also serves to acknowledge the quality and excellence of the VCU faculty. This year, President Michael Rao, Ph.D., used the distinguished event to launch the university's new strategic plan, "Quest for Distinction." He issued a call to action for all members of the university community to make the Quest a reality.
"This has very much become a new era. And I think VCU will capture our distinctiveness. We are a premier urban, public research university. We have a sharp, unambiguous focus on academic quality and student success, and I'm talking about at every level," Rao said, in his State of the University address that outlined the Quest themes. "As a research university, our emphasis is on attracting motivated students who are seeking a research-oriented environment."
Under the new plan, VCU will recruit highly motivated students who can take advantage of the opportunities provided by VCU. In doing so, enrollment will decline over time.
"There are things to consider about our vision that will be different from the past," Rao said. "Our focus is not about enrollment. Our focus is to increase our graduates and do it in a more timely manner."
In addition, Rao noted that one of the university's richest assets is its student diversity. To build upon that asset, the university has established a new position: vice president for diversity and equity. That person will provide senior leadership in utilizing student diversity to enrich the classroom experience and to make it more of a microcosm of what students will experience in the world.
After his address, Rao turned to the annual awards, which honored four distinguished faculty members.
"I really look forward to this event every year and one reason is because it gives me a chance to say thank you to all our faculty," he said. "You can't say thank you enough."
Beverly J. Warren, Ed.D., Ph.D., provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; Quincy Byrdsong, Ed.D., assistant Vice President for Health Sciences; James Coleman, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Isaac Wood, M.D., senior associate dean of the School of Medicine; and Michael Davis, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Education, presented the awards.
Michael L. Hess, M.D., professor of internal medicine with an affiliate appointment in physiology, received the University Award of Excellence.
Hess is internationally known for his tireless work in the areas of transplant organ damage, patient shock and organ rejection after transplant. He was a key figure in elevating VCU’s transplant program to one of the best in the nation
"Excellence in itself is difficult to achieve much less receive," Hess said. "Excellence is a quality that must be first learned, then practiced, then taught."
M. Samy El-Shall, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry, received the University Distinguished Scholarship Award.
In his 22 years at VCU, El Shall has published nearly 200 research papers and secured more than $8 million dollars in external funding. He holds seven patents and four provisional patents, and his highly competitive research group produces roughly 12 papers each year.
“The underlying theme of my research is that I start from simple, very small molecules or clusters and grow to large particles or assembled materials,” El-Shall has said. “Then we look at the steps in between, focusing on understanding the fundamentals of how this process takes place. The specific problem becomes easier to solve if you know how the fundamentals work. That’s how you can branch into many different applications.”
Edward J.N. Ishac, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, received the University Distinguished Teaching Award.
Ishac began his career as a researcher, but his patience, kindness and interest in finding new and better ways to help his students discover their passion for medicine led him away from the laboratory and into the classroom.
"To communicate with the students — to engage students — it's important to speak their language, and that is the language of technology," Ishac said. "We need to have appropriate use of technology. … This award, I kind of feel guilty accepting this award, so I'd like to thank all the students. It's been a tremendous honor."
Because medical knowledge doubles every three to four years, Ishac has said that teaching students how to learn and apply that information remains the most important lesson he can communicate.
“When they leave here, they’re going to have to continue learning,” he said. “That lifelong thirst for learning and adaptation is what we hope to impart on our students.”
Robert G. Davis, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, received the University Distinguished Service Award.
In his 39 years at VCU, Davis has taught thousands of students who have carried on his legacy of fitness. In addition to leadership roles in national, state and local physical education associations, he has written books, provided workshops and demonstrations for local public school teachers, students and parents, and volunteered at an elementary school.
"As a faculty member, you have time to do other things and you are charged with doing them," Davis has said. "I've always felt that my strength has been in service and I just basically really enjoy serving."
The honorees' scholarship, teaching, service and overall excellence bring to life the true benefit of higher education, which is transforming lives of individuals and our entire society for the better, Rao said.