Posted on Monday, May 15, 2017

College Round Up

From top-notch academic programs to life-changing workforce career opportunities, Virginia’s Community Colleges are continually making news. Check out some of the incredible things Virginia Western, Danville and Rappahannock Community Colleges are doing for their students and communities.

Virginia Western joins international project that will provide biology students with hands-on research experience    

Submitted by Josh Meyer, Director of Marketing & Communications, Virginia Western Community College

Virginia Western Community College is one of 15 institutions in the United States to become part of the 10th cohort to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Science Education Alliance – Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science project (SEA-PHAGES). The project is intended to spark an interest in science among students by teaching them to creatively and critically use the scientific method to address real-world issues.

Thus far, 142 colleges and universities, including Carnegie Mellon, James Madison University, Virginia Tech and Johns Hopkins University, have participated in SEA-PHAGES. Virginia Western is the only community college in Virginia that has been selected to participate. Training for Virginia Western faculty begins this summer and the project will be available to students as part of a two-semester course of study starting Fall Semester 2017.

“This is an exciting opportunity for students at Virginia Western to be introduced to the scientific method while significantly contributing and connecting to the larger scientific community,” says Amy White, Dean of STEM. “Our aim, along with HHMI’s mission, is to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge and inspire future scientists.”

The SEA-PHAGES program at Virginia Western will be incorporated into an Introductory Biology (BIO-101) course in Fall Semester 2017 and continues into Spring Semester 2018 in Cell Biology. Students will begin by isolating novel bacteriophage viruses from local soil. They will then use various microbiological technologies to characterize the bacteriophage as well as isolate and sequence the viral DNA. The continuation of the program into Cell Biology shows students how to annotate the vial genome and learn about bioinformatics. After Spring Semester, a faculty member and student representatives will present their findings at the SEA Symposium, a scientific conference hosted by HHMI. Last year the symposium had more than 3,400 students from 84 different colleges and universities participate.

Students who complete the SEA-PHAGES program acquire many skills currently utilized in the scientific community. Students learn to maintain proper laboratory notebooks, perform many standard laboratory techniques such as polymerase chain reaction and gel electrophoresis, and employ software used for genome annotation and bioinformatics analysis.  Additionally, students gain meaningful research experience early in their academic career, which connects them to the larger scientific community and instills a true sense of discovery.

Research has shown that students introduced early to meaningful research work are inspired to continue their education and scientific careers. Whereas, students introduced to meaningful research later in their careers see the work as validating to their choice and look to their peers ahead of them for inspiration.  Early-exposure to active participation in authentic research is contributing significantly to science and shaping career choices.

Click here for more information about HHMI and SEA-PHAGES.


DCC speaker brings justice to the “disappeared”

Submitted by Bobby Allen Roach, PR & marketing specialist, Danville Community College

Danville Community College hosted renowned speaker and cultural anthropologist Fredy Peccerelli for a guest lecture in April about his organization’s efforts to identify the bodies of more than 40,000 “disappeared” Guatemalan citizens from the country’s 1960-1996 civil war.

Peccerelli founded an organization called the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) to use DNA, archaeology, and storytelling to help families find the previously unidentified bodies of their loved ones after he learned about cultural anthropology in college.

“It’s a sobering task, but it can bring peace of mind — and sometimes, justice,” Peccerelli explained.

Peccerelli delivered a TED Talk in 2014, available at, about his efforts to bring closure to the families of 40,000 of the more than 200,000 Guatemalan citizens killed during the Latin American country’s 36-year civil war. These victims were never found and are referred to as the “disappeared.”

La Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) or Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission was formed in 1994 and produced much of the data and reports upon which FAFG’s work is based.

According to its website, “El informe de CEH revela que ‘La Desaparición Forzada fue una violación a los derechos humanos que se registró a lo largo de todo el período de duración del enfrentamiento armado.’” Translated, the statement indicates that “Forced disappearance was a violation of human rights that was recorded throughout the entire duration of the armed confrontation.”

For 36 years, family members, friends, coworkers, and others seemingly vanished with no explanation and no path to healing for those left behind.

In April, Peccerelli talked to DCC students, faculty, and staff about what happened to the thousands of “disappeared” people and about how they were mostly executed or forced into slave labor before being executed. During the question-and-answer session at the end of the lecture, he explained that he doesn’t believe his work brings closure to families, but that it does create a pathway to healing and, in some cases, justice.

Starting in the mid-1990s, the “disappeared” began to be located in unmarked mass graves with very little identifying information to connect them with the CEH dossier. Enter Peccerelli and FAFG, who work to provide comfort to the families of the “disappeared” and to provide evidence for the trials of those involved in their deaths.

Peccerelli also talked about an upcoming Steven Spielberg documentary about the “disappeared” called Finding Oscar, which debuted on April 14th at select theatres in the United States.

Born in Guatemala, Peccerelli and his family fled to Brooklyn, New York, when he was nine years old after his father received threats from a death squad in 1980. For more information about Peccerelli and the Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala, visit

PHOTO: Fredy Peccerelli, forensic anthropologist and 2014 TED Talk speaker, illustrates the connection between the “disappeared” and their families, which has led to the identification of more victims of the Guatemalan Civil War and has brought resolution to more of the victims’ families during an April guest lecture at DCC.


RCC Nursing Program Ranked First Among Virginia’s Colleges and Universities

Submitted by Eric Pesola, director of communications, marketing, & special media studies, Rappahannock Community College

Rappahannock Community College’s associate degree nursing program is now the highest rated among all collegiate-based programs in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to the website This ranking puts RCC ahead of the nursing programs at Radford, JMU, Liberty, and other four-year programs.

Standings are based, in large part, on the percentage of graduates from each program who go on to pass the state’s required licensure test, called the NCLEX-RN exam. RCC’s total score was 96.85 out of 100.

“The ranking is a moving target,” said RCC’s nursing program head Ellen Koehler. “There are so many ways to evaluate our numbers, not just the pass rates.”

“Every school wants to be successful,” said Koehler. “But what we do that is a little bit different, in my experience, is that we do it with a lot of heart. [Our program] is precious to all of us, because we all live in the community we serve.” is comprised of registered nurses who “care deeply about the profession” and who try to “promote excellence in nursing through enabling future nurses with the tools College Round Up’'

Laura Osberger

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