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University to honor outstanding faculty at 26th Convocation

Virginia Commonwealth University will honor four distinguished faculty members during the 26th Opening Faculty Address and Convocation ceremony on Sept. 16.

An annual event that acknowledges the quality and excellence of the VCU faculty, Convocation also marks the formal opening of the academic year. This year’s event kicks off with a reception at 3 p.m. in the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building on the MCV Campus, followed by the ceremony at 4 p.m.

President Eugene P. Trani and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stephen D. Gottfredson will recognize the honorees for their outstanding accomplishments in the areas of teaching, scholarship, service and overall excellence. 

Billy R. Martin, Ph.D.
Billy R. Martin, Ph.D.

The University Award of Excellence will be awarded posthumously to Billy R. Martin, Ph.D. Internationally renowned for his research in understanding addiction and drugs of abuse and how they affect the brain, Martin became chair of the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in 2000, embracing this new role that illustrated his expertise as a researcher, educator and leader.

Martin, who died June 8, played a prominent role in developing the department’s reputation for landmark research in drugs of abuse. For more than 30 years, his primary focus was researching the effects of marijuana’s principal psychoactive ingredient.

Mary Ellen Olbrisch, Ph.D.
Mary Ellen Olbrisch, Ph.D.

The University Distinguished Service Award will be presented to Mary Ellen Olbrisch, Ph.D. One of the “founding mothers” of clinical health psychology, Olbrisch, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry, entered the burgeoning area early in her career. Immediately after graduate school, she served on the Education and Training Committee for the American Psychological Association’s new Division of Health Psychology, where she was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the training of clinical health psychologists.

Throughout her career and specifically in her 23 years at VCU, Olbrisch has maintained a tradition of service that has carried over to her roles as a clinical health psychology educator and practitioner. 

Jeffrey C. South
Jeffrey C. South

Jeffrey C. South will receive the University Distinguished Teaching Award. After 11 years at the School of Mass Communications teaching 11 different courses — including three that he helped develop — South still relishes getting in front of a classroom.

An enthusiastic learner as well as teacher, South is known as an evangelist for technology and is a big proponent of incorporating it in the classroom. He believes it is vital for journalists today to be familiar with the state of technology. South also makes time to share his insight with fellow teachers and journalists. He has participated in more than 90 panel discussions and workshops ranging from ethical training sessions to writing for the Web to how to use the Blackboard course management system.

David C. Wojahn
David C. Wojahn

The recipient of the University Distinguished Scholarship Award is David C. Wojahn. The celebrated and prolific career of poet and teacher Wojahn spans more than 30 years. Despite juggling the dual roles of writer and educator, Wojahn, the director of VCU’s creative writing program, never struggled to find a balance between the two. The winner of numerous awards and prizes, including being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Wojahn is well known for his lack of pretension.

Wojahn has taught in seven highly respected graduate-level creative writing programs, including VCU’s, which ranks 50th in the nation according to U.S. News &World Report and has earned a reputation as a dedicated teacher and mentor.