On Saturday, November 11, VCU Alumni honored ten graduates of the last decade who have gone on to enjoy remarkable professional success, make important contributions to their community and loyally supported the university during the 10 Under 10 awards ceremony.
Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., BCACP (Pharm.D.’11/P)
As a student at VCU’s School of Pharmacy, Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., BCACP, established a community-based project to help individuals with diabetes learn to live healthy. The program, held at her church, included diabetes-friendly foods prepared by student pharmacists, blood glucose testing, blood pressure testing and flu vaccinations.
“It was the first event that I created from the ground up,” says Caldas, now assistant professor at the pharmacy school. “It was amazing to see something I dreamed come to life, and I’m proud to say that, as a faculty member, the students still host this event each year.”
After graduating from the VCU School of Pharmacy in 2011, Caldas tackled her next big project: helping to open the first Kroger Marketplace on the East Coast while serving as a pharmacy manager for the company. During her four years there, she created a “neighborhood pharmacy feel.”
“I knew my patients’ names and helped them manage their medications,” she says. “I was able to correct dosages for children’s antibiotics, suggest changes to medications to save my patients money and create a sense of community.”
Simultaneously, she earned board certification as an ambulatory care pharmacist and volunteered at the free clinic Center for Healthy Hearts.
For her work and commitment to community pharmacy, the Academy of New Practitioners at the Virginia Pharmacists Association honored Caldas with the 10 under 10: Class of 2014 award. She previously had received the Pharmacists Mutual Distinguished Young Pharmacists Award from the Virginia Pharmacists Association in 2012 and the Emswiller Award for Leadership Achievement from the School of Pharmacy in 2011.
Today, back at the VCU School of Pharmacy, Caldas hopes to share her passion for the profession and to train the next generation of community pharmacists.
“My personal approach to my career is to empower our future pharmacists,” Caldas says. “I love my work in academia and the opportunities it has provided me.”
Christina Dick (B.S.’10/MC)
Christina DickChristina Dick launched her career at the advertising firm The Martin Agency, where she developed social media strategy and content for clients such as GEICO, Kraft’s Cool Whip, Stove Top and Breakstone’s/Knudsen, Walmart and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Recognizing her talents, Capital One recruited Dick to serve as its strategic marketing manager. Within three months, she was promoted to senior community management associate, directly responsible for the financial firm’s social media platforms, including the 84,000-follower Twitter account and the 2.9 million-fan Facebook page. It was only a little over a year later that Big River, an ad agency based in Richmond, Virginia, brought Dick on board to serve as senior content strategist.
Back in the agency world, her clients included sweetFrog, Virginia Lottery, Anthem, Lumber Liquidators, Virginia Farm Bureau and Eagle Construction. In March 2015, the Richmond Public Relations Society of America honored Dick with the Capital Award of Merit in Social Media for the “Summer of sweetFrog Challenge” campaign she developed for the frozen yogurt company.
With several successes under her belt, Dick struck out on her own and in April 2016 founded TFB Agency, a social media-focused marketing consultancy with clients that include Patient First and James River Air Conditioning. She was recognized by Style Weekly's as one of Richmond's 2017 Top 40 Under 40.
In her spare time, Dick serves as an adjunct professor at the VCU Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and regularly volunteers at school events, giving lectures and reviewing student portfolios. She also writes and publishes the popular blog Tiramisu For Breakfast and serves on the boards of the Richmond Ad Club and Richmond CenterStage.
Christine Haines Greenberg (B.A.’09/H&S)
Christine GreenbergFour years after she graduated from VCU with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in political science and women’s studies, Christine Haines Greenberg, who was working as a wedding planner, did what many are afraid to: She quit her full-time job and started her own company.
Greenberg is used to change, though. Because of her father’s military service, she spent most of her childhood in Europe as her family moved every two years. It wasn’t until halfway through high school that they settled in Stafford County, Virginia. She then found her way to VCU in 2003.
“In general terms, meeting so many different kinds of people at VCU was a huge comfort for me after living around the diverse military community,” Greenberg says. “It was invaluable to learn from students from all over the country who had hundreds of different experiences from me.”
Greenberg is a self-starter with two Richmond, Virginia-based businesses: Wood Grain & Lace Events, an event company she started in 2011, and Urban Set Bride, an award-winning bridal store she started with her mom in 2014.
Greenberg has always been in the business of empowering others. At VCU, she was an active member in Young Democrats and was a volunteer coordinator for Students for Barack Obama. She also volunteered for Food not Bombs and Planned Parenthood. Now, she manages Boss Babes RVA, a 2,500-member Facebook group that she founded. There, local, self-employed women can “network and lean on each other as they navigate the waters of entrepreneurship.” She’s in the process of creating a mentorship program, Mini Boss Babes, that would pair members of Boss Babes RVA with area middle and high school girls.
In 2016, Greenberg created a contest, RVA LOVE, where community members nominated a couple to receive a free wedding. After collecting more than $50,000 in goods and services from 30 local vendors, Greenberg’s contest gave a single mom battling lymphoma the wedding of her dreams.
Greenberg always remembers VCU for the lessons and experiences she learned at the university.
“My professors had real-world experiences that translated beautifully in the classroom,” she says. “The city of Richmond and VCU gave me a well-rounded, colorful, quality college experience.”
William Haugh (M.H.A.’08/AHP)
William HaughWilliam Haugh can trace his career path back to his childhood, growing up in the small town of South Boston, Virginia.
“I specifically chose hospital administration because of the important role hospitals play in the community, especially in rural areas,” he says. “I witnessed this firsthand growing up in South Boston in which Halifax Regional Health System was the largest employer in the county.”
After his first year at Appalachian State University, in Boone, North Carolina, where he was studying information systems, Haugh completed an internship at Halifax Regional Health System. It was an opportunity that exposed him to various aspects of hospital operations.
In 2004, after graduating from Appalachian State, Haugh approached Halifax Regional CEO Chris Lumsden and “basically begged” for a job. Lumsden offered him a position with two caveats: First, Haugh would be paid minimum wage, and second, he would only have the job for one year.
“He intentionally gave me an unappealing position to make sure that I would go back to school and receive a master’s degree,” Haugh says.
The tough love paid off. Haugh was accepted into the Master of Health Administration program in the VCU School of Allied Health Professions a year later.
“Without a doubt, the success I have been fortunate to enjoy in my career is a direct result of the education I received at VCU,” Haugh says. “My VCU education was the perfect combination of classroom instruction, special projects outside the classroom and the opportunity to network with industry leaders.”
As a student, the constant interactions with health care leaders taught him the ropes and “how things really work,” allowing his career to progress rapidly.
In 2008, Haugh joined Tennessee-based LifePoint Hospitals, which operates 72 hospitals in 22 states. He served first as chief operating officer at the 220-bed Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, Virginia, and then as CEO at Logan Memorial Hospital in Russellville, Kentucky, from 2009-12 . He joined Georgetown Community Hospital in Georgetown, Kentucky, as CEO in 2012. Three years later, he achieved what he considers one of his greatest accomplishment to date: being named LifePoint Health CEO of the Year.
Ashley Hawkins (B.F.A.’07/A; M.P.A.’13/GPA; Cert.’13/GPA)
Ashley HawkinsAshley Hawkins was on the brink of leaving the VCU School of the Arts her junior year, when she started to etch, screen print and create lithographs. Her newfound passion reinvigorated her studies.
“I was a fearful painter and almost quit VCUarts but then found printmaking and immediately fell in love,” Hawkins says. “The process was freeing. I could make 10 or 1,000 prints. I could change the plate or the screen, I could draw on my prints, collage — I was no longer afraid of ‘messing up.’”
She knew that starting a community print shop was her calling and she did, at Richmond’s Plant Zero, after college. With eyes on establishing a larger collaborative space, in 2010 she opened Studio Two Three, Richmond’s only printmaking studio that’s open to the public. At the same time, she returned to VCU to earn a master’s in public administration with a concentration in nonprofit management.
“I am an artist and Studio Two Three is my life’s art project,” Hawkins says. “I am fascinated by the constant excitement and challenge of creating and managing a growing organization and remaining responsive to our community needs.”
Hawkins says it’s a dream responding to those community needs, which include creating a space that supports professional artists with tools to take their career to the next step. The studio offers classes, workshops and a retail store, among other features.
In 2017, Hawkins launched the Art of Activism series. The first session gave more than 200 participants the ability to make protest posters and ephemera before the women’s march in Washington, D.C.
“We will continue to offer opportunities to amplify our voices in our community, in a time when art has never been more important,” Hawkins says.
Hawkins says earning a B.F.A. at VCU taught her more than lessons in art; she walked away with real-world problem-solving skills.
“I tell our interns and students the biggest benefit of an arts education is that it taught me how to think,” Hawkins says. “I have taken that process and applied it to founding and managing a thriving arts organization in Richmond.”
LeQuan M. Hylton, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’16/GPA)
LyQuan HyltonLeQuan M. Hylton, Ph.D., began making an impact in Richmond, Virginia, almost immediately after he and his mom moved to the city in 1998.
Hylton saw the homeless in the city and wanted to do something to help, so he started an outreach program through his church, St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
“It was my first contact with people who were homeless,” he told Style Weekly in 2014 when he was honored as one of the city’s Top 40 Under 40. “And really, it bothered me that people lived in such conditions.”
Hylton, who received his bachelor’s in business from Virginia State University and his M.B.A. from Averett University in Danville, Virginia, continued to work on issues surrounding homelessness up until he came to VCU to earn his Ph.D. in public policy and administration from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
“VCU is a wonderful place,” Hylton says. “I chose to come to VCU because of the community engagement and outreach. I really enjoyed my learning experience, which involved the community.”
Hylton became the first member of his family to earn a doctoral degree when he graduated from VCU in 2010. His dissertation, “Perceptions of the Homeless Toward Nonprofit Human Service Providers,” focused on homeless people’s preferences for assistance services.
“Growing up in a rural community gave me a strong sense of caring for others,” says Hylton, who is from Martinsville, Virginia. “It was a loving place where I learned that if we could meet the needs of our family, extended family and others, then we ought to.”
His research at VCU led him and his mother, Sharon Hylton, to start Unified Properties LLC, a company that buys, renovates and leases quality and affordable houses and offices in the Tri-Cities area. Hylton also owns the real estate firm Hylton & Co. and a construction service company, Carver Builders.
His sense of service to those around him doesn’t end with his dedication to the homeless community. Last year, Hylton was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was in charge of the construction of multiple warehouses, maintenance shelters and offices, as part of his Army Reserve service, where he holds the rank of major. He has received numerous awards for his military service to include: two Meritorious Service Medals for military service, an Army Commendation Medal and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
“I continue to give back by any means necessary,” Hylton says.
Gai A. Nyok (B.A.’10/H&S; B.S.’10/H&S)
Gai NyokGai A. Nyok, a diplomat at the U.S. Department of State, has come a long way since making the 300-mile trek to a refugee camp in Ethiopia from his native Sudan at age 5.
“I grew up in a situation where there was war. I was exposed to international issues. I lived in a refugee camp with people of many, many different nationalities,” Nyok says. “And I saw the impact that countries can have in resolving conflicts around the world.”
Nyok is among the 20,000 Lost Boys of Sudan displaced during the 22-yearlong Sudanese civil war that ended in 2005.
“We were being killed because we were seen as potential [soldiers for] the rebels from the south,” he says. “So we were targeted and killed, sometimes taken to the north. At the time, there were a lot of child soldiers on both sides. There were a lot of us escaping our villages to go to refugee camps.”
Nyok saw firsthand the impact diplomats can make when American diplomats interviewed him for a chance to come to the U.S.
“I was inspired by the work they were doing in a hostile environment in a refugee camp in Kenya,” Nyok says. “It was hostile. No services. Nothing.”
Nyok relocated to Hanover County, Virginia, in 2001 when he was 16. He was so inspired by his experiences with the diplomats that years later, when he received scholarships to attend VCU, he double-majored in economics and international relations with the goal of becoming one himself.
When he graduated in 2010, Nyok received the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to support and prepare students for careers in the U.S. Department of State Foreign Service.
“Today, my job takes me around the world implementing U.S. government policies and introducing, and advocating for, American values to foreign audiences,” Nyok says. “The key approach to my career has been finding the intersection of my strengths and passion. I made my way to America as a teenager, after having sought refuge in a number of other countries, and I understood early on the importance of diplomacy in today’s interconnected world while realizing that I flourish in foreign or unfamiliar environments.”
In a 2013 speech on World Refugee Day, former Secretary of State John Kerry called Nyok “a prime example, like so many millions of others, of exactly why it is worth all of us standing up for the world’s most vulnerable.”
Stanley R. Rayfield (B.F.A.’09/A)
Stanley RayfieldStanley R. Rayfield learned a valuable lesson growing up in Henrico, Virginia: Take hold of any chance given to you.
“Henrico High School in 2001-05 did not have the best reputation in the county. It was rough; there were limited resources, poverty and very hard things to deal with,” Rayfield says. “Being in that environment really taught me to be appreciative of any opportunity I had and not to squander it. I had the opportunity to be in a program called the Center for the Arts that changed my life. That program inspired me to become an artist and attend VCU.”
Rayfield enrolled in the VCU School of the Arts in 2005 and received several scholarships and fellowships to support his studies. Through the support of his professors and a newfound faith, he graduated in 2009.
“I cannot neglect that during my time at VCU I was dealing with depression,” he says. “I was really in a dark place and what got me through it all was I started going to church. When I began going to church that was a real breakthrough for me, personally and spiritually.”
Rayfield says his spiritual growth added value to his art. Shortly after graduating, a portrait of his father, Ralph, that he painted his senior year was exhibited in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, where it garnered second place in the 2009 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.
In 2013, Rayfield worked with popular film producer and director Spike Lee to create two paintings for the 25th anniversary of the Academy Award-nominated film “Do the Right Thing.” One of Rayfield’s paintings was displayed during a block party attended by celebrities including comedian Dave Chappelle and singer Lauryn Hill. Stanley also has work in the permanent collection of the U.S. Pentagon and five paintings in the permanent collection of the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts purchased one of Rayfield’s pieces, “Black Jesus,” for its permanent collection. In 2014, he completed a painting of Malia and Sasha Obama, which he presented to the then-President Barack Obama and is now part of the former president’s personal collection.
None of this would have been possible, Rayfield says, without the tutelage of the communications arts professors at VCU who helped him develop as an artist.
“They were amazing. They were like prophets. They knew exactly what we needed,” Rayfield says. “They forced me to find a different voice, which led to me ultimately becoming a great fine artist, so I thank God for that opportunity.”
Ryan C. Rinn (Cert.’11/GPA; M.U.R.P.’12/GPA)
Ryan RinnRyan C. Rinn spent his summers working at the local steel mill in his hometown of Seguin, Texas, just outside Houston. His father and grandfather both worked at the mill, but his parents — whom he credits with teaching him the importance of having a work ethic, patience and persistence — always encouraged him to leave Texas for college and to follow his dreams. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond, but it was at VCU, in a graduate class taught by Meghan Gough, Ph.D., assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, where he found his calling in urban planning.
Her Studio 1 class, centered on urban planning in Richmond’s Highland Park neighborhood, set the course for Rinn’s life. It’s there he began his work to revitalize the city’s historic neighborhood just north of downtown, a passion that still drives him today.
In 2013, Rinn was hired to serve as executive director of Storefront for Community Design, a nonprofit that, through low-cost design assistance and community engagement, links design professionals to design need. He accepted the position on the condition that Storefront would focus on community engagement in Highland Park. In the four years since Rinn has been at the helm, the organization has held more than 250 design sessions and 25 community advocacy events and has engaged more than 200 young people. Storefront also partners with VCU’s Middle of Broad studio, where students work on community design projects around Richmond.
In 2017, Storefront partnered with several organizations to open Six Points Innovation Center. The center, situated in the commercial core of Highland Park, allows nonprofit organizations to provide youth access to innovative programming in the arts, urban ecology, education assistance, public media, public history and advocacy.
Nonprofit director. Urban planner. Grassroots organizer. Community designer. Rinn proudly wears each of these hats and traces them back to VCU’s Wilder School, where, he says, he learned the tricks of the trade.
“The Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs allowed me to learn planning in an applied setting,” he says. “Two years in the field in graduate school helped me build community connections and friendships that I still lean on today for the betterment of our city.”
Isaac Rodriguez, Ph.D. (M.S.’10/En; Ph.D.’13/En)
Isaac RodriguezAs a high school student, Isaac Rodriguez, Ph.D., would come home and take over for his mom, who babysat children during the day, so she could go to her second job at a restaurant. When he was done babysitting, he would join her at the restaurant to bus tables.
Rodriguez says it’s that kind of grit, along with a focus on receiving a good education, that motivated him to succeed.
“There was never a dull moment growing up; my sister and I could never say we were bored,” says Rodriguez, whose parents, originally from Puerto Rico, moved to Virginia before he was born. “I can’t thank my parents enough and strive to make them proud every day.”
Rodriguez graduated with two biomedical engineering degrees from VCU’s School of Engineering: a master’s in 2010 and a Ph.D. in 2013. As a student, he was involved in Students Today Alumni Tomorrow and the Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, both of which offered him leadership opportunities that, he says, prepared him for his role as CEO in a fast-paced startup environment. In 2015, Rodriguez co-founded the biotech company SweetBio with his sister, Kayla Rodriguez Graff. The Memphis, Tennessee-based company has raised more than $2 million to bring Rodriguez’s invention to market — a regeneration membrane that can be used in oral surgeries to improve healing through the use of a unique ingredient, medical-grade honey.
“My education at VCU allowed me to be a scientist and invent the product that we are bringing to the market [in 2018],” says Rodriguez who served as NASA Langley's keynote speaker for Hispanic Heritage Month in October 2017. “I’m so excited now that I’m learning the business side of what we do and my sister, who has an M.B.A., is learning the science.”