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‘Starchitect’ and Jefferson Medalist Ito Drops in on Graduate Architecture Class

4 hours 14 min ago
H. Brevy CannonRobert Hull

Hundreds of students filled the University of Virginia’s Old Cabell Hall Auditorium Friday to hear Tokyo-based ‘starchitect’ Toyo Ito speak. Afterward, many lined up to get his autograph. Such is the fame of the 2014 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, who was on Grounds to receive the medal.

Ito is a world-renowned celebrity architect who combines conceptual innovation with superbly executed buildings, as in his masterpiece, the Sendai Mediatheque in Japan, which reimagines what a public museum and library should be in the digital age.

So six graduate students in the School of Architecture understood how privileged they were when Ito joined their graduate-level studio course on Friday to critique their work.

“When our team was selected to present, I was nervous, yet excited,” Sarah Miller said. “It isn’t very often during an academic career that you’re able to engage with a celebrated architect who has pushed the customary limits of design.”

Meeting face-to-face with Ito was a great honor, said students Imon Teng and Zhifei Cheng, both of whom are from China. Cheng said Ito is his favorite architect in the world. Teng described Ito as a “celebrity who we usually see in books.”

The studio class has spent the semester envisioning ways to transform Atlantic City, N.J. – a city with 40,000 residents and 24 million visitors annually – with a new “cultural axis” running from the historic boardwalk to the heart of the city, cutting through the major casino and resort vicinity, architecture professors Manuel Bailo Esteve and Matthew Jull explained.

Two teams of three students each presented their designs, and Ito gave them feedback. The review took place in the newly revitalized Shure Studio in Campbell Hall, named for alumnus Michael A. Shure.

“I found the theme of the studio very good and was impressed by the sincere and thought-provoking attitude of the students during the presentations,” Ito said.

“Although I could only give intuitive comments at that time, I believe that they will give more fruitful final presentations, and their work as a whole is very promising.” 

Students described the experience as “amazing,” “inspiring” and “precious.”

Ito’s commentary was thought-provoking and complimentary, Miller said. “I was particularly impressed with Mr. Ito’s immediate understanding of the project after a brief introduction, and his pointed advice for helping us drive our group project further.”

He “encouraged our reading of the existing conditions” and discussed “opportunities for investigating speed as a driver of our public space design,” she said.

Ito suggested to one team that they make their buildings “more friendly” to better welcome visitors, Cheng said.

Ito spoke a mix of English and Japanese, assisted by a translator, but despite the language barrier, “He had great communication with the students and a good sense of humor,” Alex Ayala, the course’s graduate teaching assistant, said.

“His visit to Campbell Hall and his lecture at Old Cabell Hall reminded me why I decided to pursue this discipline,” Ayala said. “He showed the great joy and wisdom that one can get from design, and his work shows that architecture education never really stops – it can continue to evolve and take many shapes in our professional lives.”

University of Virginia Board to Set Tuition for 2014-15

6 hours 42 min ago

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors will meet April 23 to set undergraduate tuition rates for the 2014-15 academic year.

The meeting will be held at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, a day after board members attend the inauguration of Donna Price Henry as the eighth chancellor of University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

The University administration will propose a 4.5 percent increase in tuition and mandatory fees for in-state undergraduate students, and a 6 percent increase for out-of-state students.

“The University of Virginia remains committed to providing affordable access to one of the nation’s premier public research institutions,” University President Teresa A. Sullivan said.

The proposal would support ongoing efforts to improve faculty and staff compensation, drive initiatives of the University’s strategic plan and cover increases in U.Va.’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

“This recommendation first and foremost enhances the quality of the student educational experience at U.Va.,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Hogan said. “The strategic investments that are proposed would advance initiatives that benefit current and future generations of students.”    

If approved by the Board of Visitors, the proposal would increase the total cost of attendance for a first-year Virginia resident by $949 to $27,417, which includes tuition and fees, room and board, and estimated expenses for books and travel expenditures.

U.Va. is widely recognized as one of the top public universities and one of the best values in all of higher education. Kiplinger magazine ranks the University No. 2 among “Best Values in Public Colleges,” while Princeton Review ranks U.Va. the third-best value among public universities. U.S. News & World Report ranks U.Va. the No. 2 public university overall.

Recognizing the importance of robust financial aid in measures of quality and value, the tuition proposal does not affect the University’s longstanding commitment to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need and to operate admission on a need-blind basis. Among public universities, this distinction is shared only by U.Va. and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The University gives no consideration to the financial circumstances of a student when considering an offer of admission,” Sullivan said. “This is a place where any student who qualifies academically has an opportunity to succeed.”

Under the proposal, 2 percentage points of the increase are earmarked for faculty and staff compensation, 2 percentage points will go toward funding the priorities of the University’s strategic plan, and 1.4 percentage points will cover the state-mandated statutory increase in the employer’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

The Board of Visitors approved a resolution in February 2013 to elevate the average faculty salary into the top 20 of U.Va.’s Association of American University peers. The University, like many others in higher education, faces a major generational transition among faculty in the coming years.

“The educational experience here is directly linked to the quality of faculty,” Sullivan said. “U.Va. is engaged in an intense competition to retain our best faculty members and to attract new leaders for the classroom and research efforts.”

University staff and faculty last summer received merit-based increases. For faculty, the increases were the first regular salary increases in about five years, due to ongoing budget constraints at the state level.

Revenue generated from the tuition proposal would directly support several key initiatives of the Cornerstone Plan, the University’s new five-year strategic plan. The Cornerstone Plan identifies five “pillars” for sustaining and enhancing University excellence.

One strategic initiative is “Total Advising,” a comprehensive approach that combines high-quality academic advising, career advising and coaching, and building an online portfolio. Total advising also fosters relationships between current students and U.Va. alumni. The proposal would also support improvements in institution-wide infrastructure and services that support the ability to conduct research, scholarship, creative arts and innovation.

As it prepared the tuition proposal, the University’s administration initially projected that U.Va.’s operating expenses would increase by about $19 million in the next fiscal year, a figure that would have required a much larger tuition increase to fully fund.

However, efforts to generate savings through more efficient operations, including wellness programs, procurement and process efficiencies, and reallocation of existing resources added up to almost $11.5 million in operational savings, which afford U.Va. a greater ability to hold down necessary increases.

“Our goal is to present a proposal that shows responsible stewardship of resources, while supporting ambitious efforts to improve what already is one of the country’s best universities,” Hogan said.

University of Virginia Astronomer Trinh Thuan Awarded French Legion of Honor

Wed, 2014-04-16 15:53
Fariss Samarrai

Trinh Thuan, a University of Virginia astronomy professor and author, has been named chevalier of the National Order of the French Legion of Honor, by decree of French President François Hollande.

Napoleon Bonaparte established the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France, in 1802. Hollande cited Trinh for his “exemplary personal commitment to the promotion of scientific culture and the transatlantic collaboration in the field of astrophysics.” He received a medal Wednesday from French ambassador to the United States François Delattre during a ceremony at Carr’s Hill, the residence of U.Va.’s president.

“The French Legion of Honor is just the latest in a long series of accolades bestowed on Professor Trinh in recognition of his excellent research and scholarship,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “This award brings honor and distinction to the University, and all of us in the U.Va. community are proud and grateful.”

“Ever since my childhood and adolescence in Vietnam, while I was attending French schools, I have had a profound admiration for and attachment to the French culture and language,” Trinh said. “So when I started writing for the general public, it was natural that I turn to the French language to express my ideas. I am deeply grateful to France for having recognized my work and awarded me this prestigious honor.”

Trinh is a highly regarded author in France, where his popular science and science-related books are best-sellers. Born and raised in Vietnam, where he first was educated in French schools, he writes in the French language. Several of the 11 books he has published have been translated into other languages, including English.

Trinh is the recipient of other honors in France and internationally. In 2007 he received the Grand Prix Moron, France’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, for his book, “The Ways of Light: Physics and Metaphysics of Light and Darkness.” In 2009 he received the Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. And in 2012, the Institut de France named Trinh winner of its Cino Del Duca World Prize in recognition of his work to communicate science to the general public.

“Most folks who know Thuan are aware that he is an author who explores the boundaries of science, philosophy and religion,” said Mike Skrutskie, who chairs U.Va.’s Department of Astronomy. “What many fail to appreciate is just how renowned he and his works are in the French-speaking world. In many ways, Thuan is ‘the French Carl Sagan,’ to the extent that, in France, people recognize him and stop him on the street to discuss astro-philosophy. In this regard, the French Legion of Honor is amazingly appropriate and well-deserved.”

Some of Trinh’s books include, “Desire for Infinity” (2013), “Dictionary of the Lover of the Sky and the Stars” (2009), “The Ways of Light” (2007), “The Quantum and the Lotus” (2001), “Chaos and Harmony” (2000), “The Secret Melody” (1995) and “Birth of the Universe” (1993).

Trinh’s astronomical research is centered on understanding the formation of galaxies and the chemical composition of the universe. He earned his bachelor’s of science degree at the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. at Princeton University.

Since coming to U.Va. in 1976, Trinh has taught thousands of students two introductory courses in astronomy for non-science majors: “Introduction to the Sky and the Solar System” and “Introduction to Stars, Galaxies and the Universe.”

“I have no doubt that teaching science to non-scientists has honed my skills in writing about scientific issues to the general public,” Trinh said. “In other words, my teaching has fed my writing, and vice versa.”

Trinh is not the first with U.Va. ties to have been decorated with the French Legion of Honor in recent years. In 2007, professor John D. Lyons, then chair of the Department of French Language and Literature, was named a chevalier. In 2009, alumnus, U.Va. benefactor and former Board of Visitors member Mortimer Caplin was similarly honored for his role in World War II’s Normandy invasion.

A few other distinguished Americans who have been similarly honored include President Dwight D. Eisenhower, chef Julia Child, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison, as well as ambassadors, military leaders, professors and others from a range of fields.

U.Va. Spinoff PsiKick’s Batteryless Sensors Poised for Coming ‘Internet of Things’

Wed, 2014-04-16 15:29
H. Brevy Cannon

Research from the University of Virginia and the universities of Michigan and Washington is the foundation of a startup company, PsiKick, that plans to manufacture the lowest-power wireless sensors in the world.

These chips could play a major role in an anticipated technology revolution being called the “Internet of Things,” the “Sensor Revolution” or the “Industrial Internet” – a future where countless everyday items, from doors to gym equipment, have embedded wireless sensors tied together in a vast wireless network that enables countless new “smart” behaviors. For instance, an exercise bicycle might queue up your preferred workout the minute you walk through the door of the gym, perhaps based on the number of steps you’ve already taken today as recorded by your smartphone.

Founded in 2012, PsiKick recently received a major vote of confidence in the form of early-round funding from New Enterprise Associates, one of the largest venture capital funds in the world, which has helped launch dozens of now-influential technology companies, from TiVo to WebMD, Coursera, HealthSouth and Vonage.

NEA partners Greg Papadopoulos and Forest Baskett will both join PsiKick’s board of directors in conjunction with the financing. Both are former professors of electrical engineering and computer science (at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, respectively) who went on to become chief technology officers at two of the most revered companies in Silicon Valley: Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics.

“These are two of the best guys in the world that we could have on our board,” Brendan Richardson, PsiKick CEO and co-founder, said. “Both of them have helped build a billion-dollar company from the ground up. Having them looking over our shoulder is truly invaluable.”

Michael P. Straightiff, director of the U.Va. Licensing & Ventures Group, echoed that sentiment. “While the funding flowing to PsiKick is critical to the company’s near-term progress, we are even more excited by the expertise and networks that the partnership with NEA will yield.”

PsiKick’s chips can be paired with existing sensor circuits to wirelessly monitor and analyze nearly anything, from sound, light or electric impulses from the body to movement or vibrations, Richardson explained. There are already lots of wireless sensor systems out there, “but they all require a battery power source,” he said.

That’s where PsiKick chips are a “potentially disruptive game-changer” for the coming explosion of embedded electronics, said Richardson, a graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce who now lectures there on entrepreneurship after working as a venture capitalist, angel investor and startup adviser for more than 20 years.

Because PsiKick chips are incredibly energy-efficient, requiring 1/100th to 1/1,000th of the power needed by existing sensors, they don’t need batteries. Instead, PsiKick chips can operate by harvesting readily available power sources, such as human body heat, vibration or ambient light.

For the Internet of Things to happen in any form, “low-power circuits are needed,” said Benton Calhoun, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who has been working on ultra-low-power circuits for more than a decade, beginning in graduate school at MIT, where he built on an interest in embedded computing he developed while earning his B.S. in electrical engineering from U.Va. in 2000.

Calhoun co-founded PsiKick with Richardson and a friend and fellow researcher from MIT graduate school, David Wentzloff, who is now an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan.

In recent years Calhoun’s research as a U.Va. professor has been supported by grant funding from the National Science Foundation and U.Va.’s Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Partnership.

“The most rewarding part of this has been working with my students on the technology and seeing it now translate out into the world,” Calhoun said.

Yousef Shakhsheer, who just earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from U.Va. under Calhoun, shared a similar sentiment. “It’s exciting to get to walk this tech through academia to commercialize it, to bring this out to the real world and apply it. That’s an opportunity that few people get.”

Shakhsheer is one of five newly minted or soon-to-be Ph.D. graduates from U.Va. and Michigan who are joining PsiKick as design engineers, having worked on this research for several years under Calhoun and Wentzloff.

Shakhsheer was part of Calhoun’s research team that partnered with a research team at the University of Washington, led by Brian Otis, associate professor of electrical engineering, to develop the first-ever batteryless wearable electrocardiogram sensor in 2011, some of the foundational research that underlies PsiKick’s products.

PsiKick’s first major products may well be wearable sensors, building on that earlier proof of concept to create a wearable, long-term health monitor of a patient’s vital signs like heart rate, breathing or even the brain function of a patient with epilepsy or Alzheimer’s, Richardson said.   

“This has the potential to revolutionize the way we do medicine,” said Shakhsheer, who earned his undergraduate degree in computer and electrical engineering from U.Va. in 2008.

“Brendan and his team are integrating the state-of-the-art in ultra-low-power processing, power management and next-generation wireless concepts to produce a novel ultra-low-power system,” new PsiKick board member Papadopoulos said. “The resulting platform is a stunning technological achievement and a gateway to the next wave of wearable devices.”

Launched in June 2012, PsiKick has licensed technology from the universities of Virginia, Michigan and Washington and received its first seed funding from a group of angel investors in Charlottesville. Since then, the company has made its first chips, won multiple contracts with various Department of Defense agencies and engaged with more than 20 customers for its ultra-low-power platform.

The latest funding comes from New Enterprise Associates along with Osage University Partners and MINTS, a University of Michigan venture fund.

With this new round of financing, the company will expand its sales, marketing and engineering teams and rapidly accelerate product development, Richardson said.

“We are delighted to see a company with a partnership of this caliber emerging from the Charlottesville ecosystem,” said W. Mark Crowell, executive director of U.Va. Innovation and associate vice president for research.

“There probably is no single university in the world that could have accomplished this,” Richardson said. “This required three major research universities with research groups, each of which brought unique world-class strengths, working together closely over many years to overcome the challenges involved and come up with something that is groundbreaking. You don’t see that very often across institutions.”

Season-Ending Classic Farce ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ Takes the Ruth Caplin Theatre Stage

Wed, 2014-04-16 15:16
John Kelly

The University of Virginia Department of Drama will close its 2013-14 season with Georges Feydau’s classic French farce, “A Flea in Her Ear.” The show opens tonight at the Ruth Caplin Theatre and runs through April 26.

The setting is Paris, at the dawn of the 20th century. A suspicious wife sets the farcical wheels in motion for a wild comedic ride that features mistaken identities, narrow escapes, secret rendezvous, crazy coincidences and little lies that grow bigger by the minute.

“A Flea in Her Ear,” translated by British dramatist John Mortimer and directed by U.Va. associate professor of drama Colleen Kelly, will be presented from April 17-19 and April 23-26, with all shows beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 ($12 for seniors and U.Va. staff and Alumni Association members; $8 for students), and are available online, by calling 434-924-3376 or in person on weekdays from noon until 5 p.m. at the U.Va. Arts Box Office, located in the lobby of the Drama building.

“One of the things that interested me about this particular play was the combination of the elegance of the language, wordplay and wit, butting up against a bit of slapstick comedy,” Kelly said. “I just thought it would be very interesting to see how these things can live together in the same world. The real challenge for me is to communicate to the actors that while there is quick movement and urgency to what their characters are doing, you always have to be conscious not to lose the language and let the physicality take over.”

Kelly and her cast are also conscious of presenting a period piece to contemporary audiences. “Sometimes I am not sure if today’s audiences always understand they have permission to laugh, particularly in a period piece like this. For example, the play has characters who struggle to communicate, including one with a speech challenge, and others who are foreigners and have trouble being understood and heard. I would certainly not expect an audience to feel comfortable laughing at these struggles themselves, yet there is definitely humor to be found here in watching people try to, with grace, communicate in the absurd situations in which they find themselves.”

The same goes, Kelly said, for the play’s physical comedy. “It is sort of like watching the Three Stooges hitting each other. It’s not about laughing at violence. These things remain funny, and yet I think contemporary audiences sometimes have that moment of saying, ‘Wait, do I have permission to laugh at that, or is it OK to laugh at that?’”

The answer to both questions, she said, is a resounding “yes.” 

“There is a reason this play is often placed up there among the greatest farces of all time,” she said. “It’s a fast-paced, fun theatrical experience that keeps you thinking and laughing all the way through.”

Free parking is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, located alongside the theaters.

U.Va. Students Pursue the Pleasures of Multilingualism

Wed, 2014-04-16 14:00
Charlie Tyson

Growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nishat Jabin’s first language was Bengali. But one of her great pleasures was watching English-language cartoons. She ranks “Tom and Jerry,” “Hey Arnold!” and “Scooby-Doo” among her childhood favorites.

“I always said I wanted to know more languages than I have fingers,” said Jabin, a third-year mathematics major at the University of Virginia.

Jabin is on her way to conquering one hand, at least. Beside her fluency in Bengali and English, she also is proficient in Hindi and Urdu.

Jabin is one of many U.Va. students whose immersion into foreign tongues extends beyond the language classroom. Quite a few of these students came to Grounds from other countries or spent significant time abroad before arriving at U.Va. Others, however, say their time at the University supplied them with opportunities to master new languages.

Chris Haberland, a first-year master’s student in the Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, speaks English, Spanish, Farsi and Arabic. He’s also dabbled in Basque, a language isolated to northern Spain, and classical Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztec elite when the Spanish colonized Central America.

Haberland, who was born in Charleston, S.C., and grew up in Herndon, graduated from U.Va. in 2013 with a major in Spanish Literature & Culture. He spent his second year as an undergraduate studying in Valencia, Spain. Last year, he used a Critical Language Scholarship to study Arabic in Rabat, Morocco.

Although he says his overseas experience was essential, he attributes his polyglotism in large part to his time in the classroom. “To actually carry out my language-learning goals, I took language classes wherever I could fit them into my schedule,” he said.

Haberland said that U.Va. provides a dynamic environment for students to explore different languages. “U.Va. has extremely strong foreign language departments and numerous student clubs dedicated to celebrating different languages and cultures,” he said. “Many students become multilingual after devoting their summers to language study, either at U.Va.’s intensive Summer Language Institute or by winning grants to attend other language schools.”

Haberland isn’t finished learning new languages. This semester, he jumped into a Portuguese class.

For Denise Taylor, a third-year government major, knowing several languages has broadened the intellectual opportunities available to her. A native speaker of English and Turkish, fluent in French and German, and conversationally proficient in Farsi, Taylor has taken several French and German literature courses at U.Va.

Taylor was born in Germany, and her family moved to the U.S. when she was a year old. Her mother’s side of the family is Turkish, and she spends almost every summer in Turkey.

“When I was a little kid and did something I wasn’t supposed to (which was all the time), my parents sent me to the corner and I would have to count to 50 in Turkish, English, German and French,” she said. “I think my parents had a hidden agenda.”

Language instruction at U.Va., such as her classes in Farsi, has helped Taylor further explore new ways of thinking and speaking.

“The more languages you know, the more fun it is to learn new ones,” she said. “My favorite part of studying a new language is seeing how a specific culture is mapped out onto it. Learning a word that describes a concept that you can relate to, but couldn’t articulate before, is the best feeling.”

Jabin said that knowing foreign languages not only led her in new intellectual directions; it has also opened up new social possibilities. A close friendship in Bangladesh spurred her to learn Hindi; her best friend (since the age of 3, she says) came from an Indian-Pakistani background. Consequently, Jabin’s friend was born into a multilingual household – her mother’s side spoke Hindi; her father’s side spoke Urdu.

“I would spend so much time at her place that I caught up to the language very easily,” Jabin said. “As of this day, when I speak to her, I speak to her in Hindi, even though we were both in Dhaka where the language was Bengali.”

Similarly, Spanish became a point of union for Haberland and his father. “Starting when I was around 4 years old, my dad used to play Spanish cassette tapes while he drove me around in his pickup truck,” he said. “Spanish was his first language and he encouraged me to study it formally in middle school when it was first offered as a class.”

Jabin said she thought it was more common for U.Va. students to speak Romance languages, such as French and Spanish, than languages spoken outside of Europe. But she said it’s easy to find conversation partners in nearly any foreign tongue on Grounds.

“One of the best things about U.Va. is that you always find someone who can chat in a foreign language,” she said. “Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend in Urdu.”

Taylor, Haberland and Jabin agreed that the presence of multilingual students, whether international or not, enriches the University’s social and cultural texture. “I would say it’s fairly common for students to speak multiple languages here,” Haberland said.

Language ability is often touted as increasingly vital for businesses in a time of global commerce, as a diplomatic and national security necessity, and as a prerequisite for research in a host of areas. Haberland said, however, that he came to languages not for pragmatic reasons but out of “enchantment.”

“The languages I have studied have all become conduits for learning in other spheres,” he said. “Every time I immerse myself in a new language, I absorb a new culture, another history, a rich artistic tradition. I know I am more creative having appreciated the prose of Borges, the masterpieces of Iranian cinema and the sound of gnawa. These things give me great joy, and I would never have known them if I had not embarked upon the study of languages.”

U.Va. Physics Department to Host National Physics Day Show on April 24

Tue, 2014-04-15 21:17

University of Virginia professors and undergraduates will give strange and mystifying presentations that illustrate the fascinating properties of fire and ice during the annual National Physics Day Show, hosted April 24 by the Department of Physics. The show begins at 7 p.m. in room 203 of the Physics Building, located at 382 McCormick Road.

Physicists Steve Thornton, Bob Jones, Cass Sackett, Utpal Chatterjee and Despina Louca will educate and entertain with a variety of interesting demonstrations for the general public. See water boil after it has cooled, balloons inflated with dry ice holding red hot metal – and more.

Parking is available in the Central Grounds Parking Garage on Emmett Street and, after 5 p.m., in the Scott Stadium lots.

For information about this free public event, contact Helen McLaughlin at 924-3781 or him2b@virginia.edu.

U.Va. Chosen for ‘100 Great Hospitals in America’ List

Tue, 2014-04-15 21:15

National health care publication Becker’s Hospital Review has selected University of Virginia Medical Center to its 2014 list of “100 Great Hospitals in America.”

The publication describes the hospitals chosen for the honor as having “a rich history, strong credentials and a growing focus on how to best care for patients in an era of reform. These organizations have played home to some of the greatest medical advancements in U.S. health care history, and they are also the bastions of their respective communities – serving the roles of academic hubs or local mainstays.”

The publication selects hospitals for the listing based on its own research, nominations and several national hospital rankings. For example, Becker’s Hospital Review noted that 10 U.Va. medical specialties were included in the most recent U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” guide and that the U.Va. Cancer Center is “one of the top cancer treatment and research facilities in the region and is designated as a National Cancer Institute cancer center.”

R. Edward Howell, the U.Va. Medical Center’s vice president and CEO, said the award reflects the commitment of everyone at the medical center to provide excellent care and service.

“This recognition from Becker’s Hospital Review was earned through the hard work of our staff to advance the care we provide for patients both here in Central Virginia and throughout the commonwealth,” he said.

Hospitals cannot pay to be included on the “100 Great Hospitals in America” list. Becker’s Hospital Review does not rank the hospitals chosen for the listing and features them in alphabetical order.

‘SNL’ Star Zamata Returns to U.Va. and Leaves ’em Laughing

Tue, 2014-04-15 16:31
Ashley Patterson

The humor of “Saturday Night Live” arrived at the University of Virginia a little late this weekend, when the show’s newest cast member, Sasheer Zamata, a 2008 U.Va. graduate, performed Sunday night before a standing-room-only crowd in the Chemistry Building auditorium that included her father and a few of her drama professors.

The University Programs Council hosted Zamata in an hourlong stand-up comedy performance. Students began lining up at 7 p.m. for front-row seats for Zamata’s 8 p.m. show.  

Zamata’s performance introduced audience members to both her comedy and her life, following her traditional style of intertwining humor with stories of real-life experiences. “Weaving storytelling into standup, that’s my jam,” Zamata said.

She joked about typical family problems, race, awkward sexual experiences, her life in New York City and her recent experiences at “SNL.”

Zamata joked about her first kiss, which happened at age 17.

Her best friend gasped when she told her she had yet to be kissed the summer before their senior year of high school, saying, “‘Oh my god! Well, we need to fix this,’” recalled Zamata in a mocking tone.

“She made me feel like I made some egregious error, like evading my taxes or something, like ‘Oh my god ... If you don’t fix this by the end of the summer, they’re going to come after you,” she joked.

Following her performance, she opened the floor to questions for almost another hour. Eager audience members posed questions; a few even offered to be her best friend. Zamata kindly accepted one offer of friendship, but joked off the second offer, quipping that her best friend quota was currently full. 

Many were interested in her experience as an “SNL” cast member.

“My favorite thing about being on ‘SNL,’ I guess is … being on the show,” Zamata honestly joked.

“They treat us like kings, it’s nice,” she added.

Zamata said she recently met fellow U.Va. alumna and former “SNL” cast member Tina Fey. Zamata said that having a Cavalier connection was cool – as was Fey – but also joked that talking to someone about a shared experience you had at different times can be awkward – like talking to someone who has also eaten lunch at some point.

“Oh you know lunch – yeah, I had that, too. Yeah, lunch was cool for me and I’m glad you had it too,” she joked.

Zamata gets to work with celebrities each week on the show, and said that her first show, with rapper Drake, has been her favorite thus far. “We were both experiencing this new thing with fresh eyes,” she said.

While Zamata is among one of the faces of the “SNL” performing cast, she also proves valuable behind the scenes as a writer. She told stories of late-night-turned-early-morning writing sessions during which random things like alligators and toilet seats join together to create comedy.

“It’s like the wild, wild West. You can write whatever you want,” she said.

When one student asked, “How can I do exactly what you’re doing?” Zamata cautioned that the journey was not easy.

“Everyone’s first year in New York is awful,” she said. “I cried so much in public. I’m not even a crier, but as soon as I got to New York I was on the train crying, in the park crying, always crying.

“It’s hard. You have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it.”

While comedy is the focus of her career at the moment, she admits to wanting to be cast in movies as well.

“I’m interested in doing movies,” she said. “I would love to be in action movies. I just want to kick ass and break stuff and drive fast cars and blow stuff up. That’s my thing.”

But she rates at least one professional goal even greater than her desire to be an action hero. “I’m dying to play Beyoncé. She’s my favorite celebrity of all time,” she said.

Zamata then performed a skit about Beyoncé’s former band, which she titled, “Destiny’s Child Does a Three-Legged Race.” Audience laughs and cheers seemed to confirm that she would succeed in a role as the R&B artist.  

Asked about her experience streaking the Lawn, Zamata admitted that she never participated in the U.Va. tradition as a student. Audience members unanimously agreed that she should partake in the tradition following her performance.

“If I do [streak the Lawn], I’m not telling any of you,” she said. “I don’t want any of you to see it.”

Amuse Bouche, the University’s only long-form improvisational comedy troupe – which Zamata co-founded during her time on Grounds – opened the night. 

For fourth-year troupe members, the opportunity to share the bill brought their experience full circle. Zamata visited U.Va. in 2010 and performed with the group, giving them insight into her then-fledgling career.

“It’s been a really interesting experience to watch it all come about, because we’ve all followed her comedy as it’s gotten to this point,” Kevin McVey said. “It’s cool to see it really work out for her.”

U.Va. Undergrads’ Biomedical Research Nets Major Beckman Support

Tue, 2014-04-15 15:19

Researching the human diaphragm to help in disease treatment, particularly Duchenne muscular dystrophy; restoring healthy islet function in people with Type 2 diabetes; and understanding the movements of a pathogenic parasite have netted three University of Virginia undergraduate students major research support.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation scholarships will go to Christopher Waters, 21, of Danville, a third-year student; and to Catherine Henry, 19, of Great Falls and Rachel Stadler, 20, of Poquoson, both second-year students. All three are biomedical engineering majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

U.Va. was one of 10 universities to receive a Beckman Scholars Award from the foundation in 2013. U.Va. was selected largely because of the quality of its scholars and the University’s approach to mentoring and training, said William Guilford, an associate professor of biomedical engineering. 

The University’s award, worth approximately $120,000 over three years, provides scholarships for two undergraduate researchers per year who are working in chemistry, biochemistry and the biological and medical sciences. The scholars are selected locally and the funds provide each undergraduate researcher with $19,300 in salary and travel for two summers and one academic year. The Office of the Vice President for Research and the dean’s offices of the College of Arts & Sciences and the Engineering School fund a third scholar each year.

Henry is researching the structural differences between healthy and unhealthy diaphragms –  a layer of muscle at the base of the rib cage that helps draw air into the lungs – and how the aging process compounds the adverse structural adaptions found in dystrophic diaphragms. The research may help in disease treatment ­– particularly Duchenne muscular dystrophy, whose victims suffer progressive muscle degeneration and weakness caused by an absence of dystrophin, a protein that helps keep muscle cells intact. Symptoms tend to manifest between ages 3 and 5.

“There is a dire need for new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy,” she said, “People afflicted with DMD die in their early 20s from either respiratory or cardiac failure. The current treatment only mitigates some of the symptoms and, ultimately, results in more health problems.

“By learning more about how the disease affects the diaphragm, more effective treatments can be created that prevent respiratory failure and improve the length and quality of life of DMD patients.”

Shayn Peirce-Cottler, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, described Henry as a student who “naturally gravitates to the lab and absolutely loves doing research.”

Henry has also been spearheading a collaboration between Peirce-Cottler’s laboratory and that of Silvia Blemker, another associate professor of biomedical engineering.

“Catherine has demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm for research, tireless dedication to moving her project forward and early signs of possessing both the intellectual horsepower and the innate curiosity and critical thinking skills necessary for excelling in research,” Peirce-Cottler said.

Waters’ research involves measuring pulses of insulin within a range of glucose levels. Under normal circumstances, beta cells in the pancreas secrete pulses of insulin at around five-minute intervals. These pulses are larger after meals and smaller at night or during fasting. There is a range of glucose levels that permit these pulses to occur. When glucose goes too low, beta cells “turn off”; when glucose is too high, insulin is released with tiny irregular pulses. Type 2 diabetes is associated with these tiny and irregular insulin pulses. While most previous therapies sought to increase the size, number or insulin secretion from beta cells in each islet, Waters’ data suggests to get optimal performance, islets in a diabetic environment should be made less responsive to glucose, not more.

“Diabetic islets overreact to blood sugar levels, and the goal of our research is to identify the mechanism behind the overreaction and produce a therapeutic cure to return the islets to healthy levels,” Waters said.

The Beckman funding will allow Waters to remain in Charlottesville to pursue his research over the summer.

“It also allows me a chance to interact with others at the Beckman Symposium, which will open me to new research being done by other undergraduate researchers,” he said. “I feel extremely honored for having been selected this year, and I’m looking forward to meeting and interacting with other scholars in the coming year.”

“Chris is enthusiastic, friendly, hard-working and also has a laid-back demeanor,” said Craig Nunemaker, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. “He’s volunteered a lot of his time on this project with no compensation. This award will enable him to really engage in his project at a much higher level because he’ll be able to dedicate his full summers to his project.”

Stadler’s research revolves around infectious diseases, particularly “toxoplasma gondii,” pathogenic parasites that are a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness and are linked to malaria.

“My goal is to understand how the parasite moves so that it can be prevented from infection,” Stadler said. “Because of its close relationship to malaria, my work may also lead to a better understanding of a broader preventative measure for the family of broadly infectious pathogens. I love the challenge of working with toxoplasma.”

William Guilford, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and Stadler’s mentor, said that her work is exceptional.

“Hers is a first-ever look into the motile inner workings of the parasite toxoplasma, a disease-causing organism whose close cousin causes malaria,” he said. “She is observing single molecular motors inside living parasites to understand how they are able to propel toxoplasma into human cells, where it divides and hides. There is no doubt that her work will make a splash in two scientific fields – infectious disease and cell motility.” 

Guilford said he enjoys working with Stadler. “She is at once tireless and resolute, yet gregarious and fun-loving,” he said.

Henry, who plans to pursue a medical degree and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, is a Rodman Scholar and a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award recipient. She is on the dean’s list and a member of the Cavalier Marching Band. She is also a student researcher in Peirce-Cottler’s laboratory investigating dye usage in the detection of abrasions on rape victims with different skin tones, and was a student clerk intern/researcher at the Nuclear Medicine and Radiology Departments at the University of Iowa under Dr. Michael M. Graham, where she wrote two papers that are in the process of being submitted to journals. She is also a member of the Wahoo Wizards, a volunteer group that performs experiments for elementary school students to educate and motivate them to pursue science, math and engineering. She volunteers for the Jeremiah Project, a middle school camp with a mission to build and repair houses in poor rural communities.

Stadler is a member of the Cavalier Marching Band and Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band service fraternity. She presented her research on “toxoplasma gondii” at the Biophysical Society Annual Conference in San Francisco. She wants to pursue a Ph.D. in infectious diseases and work with the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Waters, a Rodman Scholar, plans to pursue a Ph.D.

U.Va.’s Darden School to Host Shanghai Investing Summit May 9 in Shanghai

Tue, 2014-04-15 14:48
Matt Charles

Two research centers of excellence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the Center for Global Initiatives and Center for Asset Management, will convene the first Shanghai Investing Summit on May 9 in Shanghai.  

From one of Asia’s most dynamic cities, asset management experts and leaders in the field – hosted by Darden’s top-ranked faculty – will identify the next best investments in both the large, core emerging markets and in new pockets of performance. Attendees will leave the summit with actionable investing ideas on new opportunities and trends, based on active discussion with leaders in the field.  

Asset managers, investors and MBA students can register via the Darden Shanghai Investing Summit website. The event will take place at the Shanghai Marriott Hotel Centre, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  

“From one of the world’s most energetic financial centers, we’ll delve into the investment ideas that will help investors thrive in this challenging global environment,” Darden Dean Robert F. Bruner said.

The Shanghai Investing Summit is a synergistic collaboration between two of Darden’s research centers of excellence. The Center for Global Initiatives strengthens and expands Darden’s global community through educational opportunities and building partnerships, while the Center for Asset Management generates thought leadership and provides professional development opportunities in the field of asset management.

The summit will showcase speakers from the Shanghai region and around the world. Keynote speakers will include:

  • Robert F. Bruner, dean, University of Virginia Darden School of Business
  • Yifei Li, China chair, Man Group

Industry experts will explore three topics:

Hedge Fund and Alternatives Outlook in Emerging Markets Panel

  • Moderator – John Macfarlane III, founding partner and chair, Vinci Zafferano Capital
  • Patrik Edsparr, CIO and co-founder, Tor Investment Management
  • Hua Fan, head of Fixed Income and Absolute Return Investment Department, China Investment Corporation
  • Fanglu Wang, senior managing director, CITIC Capital

Large Institutional Investors’ Perspectives on Global Opportunity Panel

  • Moderator – Larry Kochard, CEO & CIO, University of Virginia Investment Management Company
  • Mark Machin, senior vice president and head of International, president, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Asia
  • Ichiro Suzuki, senior portfolio manager, Nomura Asset Management

New Investing Opportunities Panel

  • Qing Shan Liu, CEO, Manulife TEDA Fund Management Co.

Shanghai United Media Group is the official media sponsor. Corporate sponsors include CFA China and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The event is open to the public; registration fees apply. For more information and to register, visit the Darden Shanghai Investing Summit website.

The summit forms part of Darden’s third annual Global Leadership Forum, which takes place May 9-10. The forum leverages Darden’s powerful alumni network as participants pinpoint the best next global investment opportunities.

U.Va. Historian Alan Taylor Wins 2014 Pulitzer for Book on Slaves and War

Mon, 2014-04-14 20:03

University of Virginia historian Alan Taylor, one of the nation’s premier experts in Colonial America and the early U.S. republic, has received a Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”

The Pulitzer committee’s citation calls the book “a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”

Taylor, who arrived at U.Va. in March and will begin teaching in August as the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Chair in the Corcoran Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he was “astonished” at the news.

“I realized it when my email went crazy,” Taylor said. “It is nice when you get congratulations from so many friends. It is wonderful to see how happy others are at my good fortune.”

U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan congratulated Taylor on the award. “This prize is yet another recognition of Alan Taylor’s remarkable research and scholarship and his unique perspective on early American history,” she said. “We are delighted that he has joined our faculty, and that he will continue his distinguished career at U.Va.”

This is not the first time Taylor has won the prize. He received his first Pulitzer in 1996 for his book, “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic.” He also received a Bancroft Prize for that book.

“I didn’t expect my first Pulitzer and I certainly did not expect this,” said Taylor, who received the news in Philadelphia, where he was preparing a talk for a group of historians.

“This is huge,” said Paul Halliday, who chairs U.Va.’s history department. “We have a lot of terrific, prize-winning historians in this department, but to win a second Pulitzer is remarkable.”

“It’s fantastic,” said Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, a professor in the Corcoran Department of History and Saunders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. “This is thrilling for the department.”

Halliday noted that Taylor’s book was still in contention for the Washington Book Prize – as is O’Shaughnessy’s book, “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution and the Fate of the Empire” – and had been short-listed for the National Book Award, along with many other accolades.

“This is only one of the many prominent recognitions it will receive,” Halliday said. “This is an important but little-known story, but one that is very important to us in Virginia.”

“The Internal Enemy” tells the story of about 3,000 enslaved Africans from the Chesapeake region who escaped slavery by fleeing to the British and helping them to wage war on the United States during the War of 1812, said Taylor, who taught at the University of California, Davis for about 20 years before joining U.Va.’s faculty. “The book sets that story in the context of the shifting nature of slavery after the American Revolution,” he said.

The Pulitzer announcement says, “Drawn from new sources, Alan Taylor’s riveting narrative re-creates the events that inspired black Virginians, haunted slaveholders, and set the nation on a new and dangerous course.”

In 2012, Taylor served as a fellow in residence at Monticello’s Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. He used the resources of the Jefferson Library to finish his manuscript for “The Internal Enemy.”

“It was an extraordinary set of human dramas, the resourcefulness of people who were seeking freedom, stealing boats in the middle of the night to go out and find British warships and offer their services,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he was drawn to the story in part because so little seemed known about it. He stumbled upon it while he was researching something else and was surprised that he had never heard these stories.

“This was supposed to be my area,” he said. “Most people never heard about it. A lot knew about the earlier slave escapes during the American Revolution, but these events were much better documented.”

Taylor thinks in part these episodes were overlooked by historians because they took place during the War of 1812, a forgotten and ignored war. This is Taylor’s second book about the War of 1812 and he hopes that the notoriety of the Pulitzer will bring his book to the attention of more readers than would ordinarily read a history book.

“Alan Taylor has always been interested in public history and writing for the layman, not just the scholar,” O’Shaughnessy said. “He has succeeded in making an important methodological breakthrough in the discipline with his ability to integrate modern social history – the lives of ordinary people – into the grand narrative of political, military and economic history.”

Taylor is highly regarded as a historian who has reshaped how fellow historians and the general public look at the topic. Halliday described him as a pioneer in “microhistory,” which examines particular episodes, places or small groups of people so that broader meanings become apparent. Halliday said Taylor has also broken ground in conceiving early American history as part of a global story, especially around the Atlantic Ocean.

“It is a story about forces and actors at work all around the Atlantic,” Halliday said, “such as the competition of multiple European empires in, for and around North America; the commerce in human lives brought forcibly from the west of Africa; contacts among multiple cultures as they traded, conducted political negotiations, intermarried and so on. Truly great writing about the American past, like Alan’s, reveals just how deeply embedded we are and always have been in the world around us.”

Aside from this current work, Taylor is also the author of  “Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier,” “The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution,” “American Colonies: The Settling of North America” and “The Civil War of 1812.”

Taylor is the fourth Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor in History since 1958 when the endowed chair was created. The first holder of the chair was Pulitzer Prize winner Dumas Malone, best known for “Jefferson and His Time,” his six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson. He was followed by notable Jefferson scholars Merrill Daniel Peterson and, most recently, Peter S. Onuf, who retired in 2012.