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“Each PACME winner is an exemplar of the power of relationships.”

Two men in suits hold plaques
DiPiro, left, and Ogbonna celebrate following the awards ceremony.
By Amanda Heymann
VCU University Public Affairs

Kelechi (K.C.) Ogbonna, Pharm.D., associate dean for admissions and student services in the School of Pharmacy, received the Riese-Melton Award, given each year for contributions made in advancing cross-cultural relations, at the 2022 Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment awards ceremony on Tuesday.

Ogbonna was among several of those honored at the event for their meaningful impact on the VCU and local communities. The PACME awards serve to recognize outstanding individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to promoting civility, building community, establishing cross-cultural initiatives, advocating equity, and nurturing a welcoming and inclusively excellent environment. The Riese-Melton Award is the capstone honor of the PACME awards.

In addition, at the event the School of Pharmacy received the Model of Inclusive Excellence Academic Award as the top academic unit at VCU and VCU Health in rankings of inclusion and community support. This marks the second time in a row the school has won the recognition.

Adrien DeLoach, Ph.D., executive director for the Division for Student Engagement and Impact in the Office of the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, nominated Ogbonna, calling him a fierce advocate for student success and an influential voice regarding holistic admissions and student recruitment on campus.

Ogbonna said since joining the School of Pharmacy he has been encouraged by the school’s leadership to think critically about how to transform health care to make it more representative of the patients that it serves. This has included creating spaces for students to talk about issues not explicitly expressed in the curriculum, such as through PrideRx and the Latinx and Black Graduate Student Associations.

“None of these ideas were my own, we simply provide a space and opportunity for students to meet a need that was identified,” Ogbonna said. “And so for me this award is really an award that goes to the students, the faculty, and the staff members … [who] personally helped me pair my personal ‘why’ with purpose and passion.”

“Today, we honor the winners of this year’s PACME for their commitment and substantive action toward actualizing VCU’s key goal of diversity driving excellence,” said Archana Pathak, Ph.D., special assistant to the vice president for institutional equity, effectiveness and success and interim director of the Q Collective.

In reflecting on VCU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., cited the late author bell hooks’ concept of a “beloved community.”

“She said, ‘A beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world,’” Rao said. “So I think of all of you … as members of VCU’s beloved and loving community.”

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D, chief diversity officer, advisor for ONEVCU, and vice president for Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success, said the community VCU fosters has not only allowed members to navigate the challenges of recent years, but to continue “to write, research and paint and draw and dance and act, to tell stories, and teach and innovate and create despite the stress, fatigue and uncertainty of our times.”

“Our VCU community is watered by the ways in which we advocate for and empower each other in our relationships,” Nasim said. “Each PACME winner is an exemplar of the power of relationships and how, when we honor our relationships, we create something that is bigger than ourselves.”

Other 2022 PACME recipients include:

Faculty Award: Mignonne Guy, Ph.D.

Guy is an associate professor and chair of the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Guy helped lead an effort to create a general educational requirement that will ensure that all VCU students acquire racial literacy.

Staff Award: Jenna Lenhardt, Ph.D. and Lachelle Waller, Ph.D.

Lenhardt is the recruitment specialist for the Office of Enrollment Management in the School of Education, where she has helped increase applications from underrepresented minority students. She also helped start the Multilingual Ambassador Program, a grant-funded partnership between VCU School of Education and four high schools that help multilingual students navigate the admissions and enrollment processes.

Waller is the director of undergraduate advising and research for the Department of Chemistry. She started TRAKD, a nonprofit organization designed to improve the quality of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and Math) education within the community.

Student Award: Storytelling and Healing Student Group

This year the student award was renamed the 2022 Tristen Sloane Presidential Award for Community Multicultural Enrichment after Tristen Sloane, who received the Riese-Melton award as a student at VCU in 2019. Sloane died this month.

Storytelling and Healing Student Group is a student-driven organization that functions as both a creative and academic group. It strives for empowerment, resilience, growth and self-discovery of the individual voice. 

President’s Inclusive Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award: Sofia Hiort-Wright, Ph.D.

Hiort-Wright is senior executive associate athletic director/senior women’s administrator for VCU Athletics and a sport supervisor for tennis. Hiort-Wright holds a leading role with Athletics Diversity Equity & Inclusion and the Healthy Relationships Violence Prevention Committee.

Models of Inclusive Excellence award winners:

Model of Inclusive Excellence Administrative Award: Office of the Vice President for Finance and Budget

Model of Inclusive Excellence Academic Award: The School of Pharmacy

These awards recognizes offices that create a diverse and inclusive environment for its faculty and staff. It is chosen using biennial assessment and performance data collected from multiple university sources that collectively measure diversity index, inclusion index, and engagement index. The administrative and academic units that are presented with this honor rank highest among all of their other peers on average.

Categories Faculty and staff news, Faculty news, Pharmacy profession, Student organizations
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