Great research takes significant investment, and securing financial support can be especially challenging for junior faculty. Competition for grants is fierce, and public funding for research is being reduced even as laboratory costs rise with the expense of new technology and tools.
Thankfully, on the MCV Campus, a dedicated endowment exists to help young faculty whose research and careers show exceptional promise. The Blick Scholars Program — which recently named its newest four scholars — recognizes the outstanding research of junior faculty.
More than a decade ago, the George and Lavinia Blick Research Fund was established through a generous $2 million gift to be used to fund medical research on the MCV Campus. Before Lavinia Blick died in late 2007, she made this planned gift with one stipulation: that it go to support research across the academic health center. Lavinia was inspired by the incredible care her father and other loved ones had received over the years.
The program honors health sciences faculty at the assistant professor level who have demonstrated growth toward achieving national or international recognition for their research, developed a record of obtaining external funding, and whose research is collaborative.
New scholars are named every four years through a highly competitive nomination process. Nineteen faculty received nominations for consideration, and four were named this year. Scholars receive $25,000 each year for four years to support their research.
This program helps to attract and keep junior faculty like Alexis Edwards, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry in the VCU School of Medicine. Dr. Edwards concentrates her research on genetic studies of alcohol use disorder and other complex behavioral traits. She’s published more than 20 papers as lead author and more than 60 original manuscripts since she joined the School of Medicine faculty in 2012.
The Blick funding often provides validation and recognition for promising research in progress.
“This is my biggest honor since joining VCU,” said Qingguo Xu, D.Phil., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy. “To be recognized as a junior faculty member and have the support of my peers and mentors is very important for my research.”
Dr. Qingguo also holds joint appointments in the ophthalmology department and the VCU Massey Cancer Center. He joined the faculty in 2017 to help establish the pharmaceutical engineering program and specializes in nanotechnology drug delivery and diseases of the eye.
For some junior faculty, the research funding provides the ability to expand their research.
“This award will be instrumental in allowing me to develop my international research work related to HIV,” said April Kimmel, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health behavior and policy in the School of Medicine. Her research examines structural barriers to care and health disparities among HIV-positive populations in the United States. Dr. Kimmel uses sophisticated mathematical modeling and multidisciplinary collaboration to better understand the challenges of those patient populations, and she’s planning to expand her work to countries like Rwanda and Haiti.
Since joining the faculty at VCU Health in 2011, she has published more than 25 peer-reviewed papers in some of the most prestigious journals.
“I remember my first meeting with her,” reflected Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy in the School of Medicine. “I noticed right away how hard-working she was. Since I’ve been here, I’ve encouraged her and pushed her to apply for several types of leadership opportunities. She’s worked so hard, and to see this come to fruition with recognition that her work is appreciated on a broader scale is truly wonderful.”
The Blick Scholars Program also helps fund areas of research that are not strongly funded by traditional grant sources.
“For my own research, this award is indispensable,” said Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Biostatistics. “Computational work is generally not well funded, and this award will provide resources to maintain my independent line of research.”
Dr. Dozmorov came to VCU in 2014 and his research work spans several fields.
“His collaborations have been invaluable for physiologists, cancer researchers and genomic scientists,” wrote Michael Donnenberg, M.D., senior associate dean for research and research training in the School of Medicine. “He has pioneered new methods of data analysis in each of those fields.”
With this award, Dr. Dozmorov will be able to hire trainees to support his research with the certainty that four years of funding provides.
The caliber of research being completed by the new Blick Scholars is as inspiring as the generosity that fuels their inquiry and drive to discover new knowledge.
“The creator of this program understood that the research our junior faculty do is the key to changing lives and helping people have access to better treatments,” said Marsha Rappley, M.D., VCU senior vice president for health sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System. “This program is a very powerful statement. It recognizes that we value research at all levels and that faculty bring a lot of drive and creativity early on in their careers when it can be more difficult to receive funding.”
As for us, we’re excited to play a small part in empowering faculty as they pursue new discoveries that will move the healthcare profession forward. We celebrate the new Blick Scholars and look forward to seeing how their research will create positive impact both on and beyond the MCV Campus.
To learn more about how you can support great research on the MCV Campus through an estate gift, visit our planned giving page online or contact Jenny Ramey, director of gift planning, at 804-828-4599, or Jenny.Ramey@vcuhealth.org.