As part of Research Weeks (April 5-26), VCU News is highlighting the work of undergraduates whose work was made possible by VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Department of Biology, Division for Community Engagement and guidance from faculty members.
Research Weeks take place on both campuses and feature a wide variety of projects in multiple disciplines.
Those featured below are students in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
As a jazz guitar major in the Department of Music at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, Richard Albright did not expect to spend time in a lab uncovering the secrets of a gene that could give insights into Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition.
Albright spent his first year at VCU taking classes focused on jazz, classical guitar, ensembles and music theory. But Albright said being exposed to other disciplines in college piqued his interest in science. He decided to take a semester off to explore other interests by taking introductory science classes at a community college and to complete basic emergency medical technician training.
“Once I had taken those courses, I knew I had to return to VCU and give science, specifically biology, my attention,” Albright said. “It’s difficult to put into words, but although I had a deep passion for music, being in a university exposed me to possibilities.”
Albright will graduate in May 2020 with bachelor’s degrees in biology and music. Although seemingly disparate, both disciplines complement and improve the skills of the other, he said.
When Glynis Boyd Hughes was a child, she was a voracious reader. Among her favorite books were Nancy Drew novels. She identified with the young heroine’s tenacious commitment to each case. When the character wanted to know something, she did everything possible to get her answer. Hughes felt she was the same way. She also was a diligent student who got straight A’s, participated in extracurricular activities and reveled in every day she spent at school. She was insatiably curious. Sometimes, she conducted impromptu experiments, such as dropping a flip-flop in a rain-swollen ditch to see how fast the water was running.
“I was highly motivated and a high performer,” Hughes said. “I really just loved being a student. However, I didn’t have background support that was conducive to excelling.”
In a first-person piece for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, written in 2012, Hughes recalled, “My home life was more akin to Oliver Twist than Richie Rich, complete with domestic violence and poverty. My only friends were books, for two reasons: In books I could go anywhere and be anyone I wanted, and books accepted me, no qualifying needed.”
Hughes gave birth to a daughter in ninth grade. A year later, she made the difficult decision to leave school to work so that she could support her child. Eventually, she secured her GED, earned an associate degree at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University, where she majored in psychology while working several part-time jobs. She viewed her presence in college as transactional — the love of learning replaced by a focus on how a degree could help improve her earning power.
When it comes to practicing safe sex, African Americans with increased commitment to their ethnic identity are more likely to negotiate condom use with sexual partners and had greater condom self-efficacy — or confidence in one’s ability to use them consistently and correctly — according to research by Virginia Commonwealth University student Vanessa Oppong.
Oppong, a senior in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences, conducted the research as part of a fellowship last summer from VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and then continued this academic year under VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (iCubed).
“I am very passionate about the reduction of health disparities, particularly those affecting African American communities,” Oppong said.