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VCU Students Learn About Qatar at Campus Event

By Daniel Ardura                                                                              March 07, 2012


Students walking past the Commons on Tuesday were treated to a special surprise: a large tent, dancing women and, of course, a camel.


“Yesterday I was looking for rioters and I just saw a giant tent set up. Then I figured out it was for Qatar Day,” said Andy Karstetter, a sophomore in the VCU Cinema program who was just one of many in the large crowd that spent the afternoon having fun, exploring a culture and learning something new.


“I’ve learned that Qatar is a great place, full of culture and drums and colorful costumes,” said Karstetter. “Plus, they eat on tables that are really close to the ground. I didn’t try it, but the pillows looked really comfortable.”


The event, formally titled Qatar Day, was put on by the school to raise awareness and interest in the VCU satellite campus located in Doha, Qatar. It consisted mostly of a tent with food and dancing, run by real Qatari women, and the most popular attraction, a cute camel that students could pet.


“I just hope people will be aware that VCU is not only in Virginia,” said Diego Mendoza, a VCU Qatar Arts student who came all the way across the Atlantic to help with the event.


He goes on to describe the many great opportunities that the satellite campus has to offer prospective students.


“Qatar has so much diversity. It’s not only Arabic culture, but people from all over the world. The arts scene is very vibrant. The government is trying to have a lot of arts events; a lot of famous artists are coming to the campus to have shows,” Mendoza said.


Artists who have visited the school include Takashi Murakami, Manish Aurora and Chunghie Lee.


Several Richmond VCU students also donated their afternoon to volunteer and help out, including senior Taylor Guardia, who heard about the event through Green Unity, a local environmental group.


“People should get an appreciation of a different culture here, like the dancing and the way people dress and just the whole cultural experience, because they get to experience it themselves,” said Guardia. “Just having fun and learning.”


Guardia, who was stationed at the food table, spent the day watching students gobble up the tasty treats that had been set out for them. “We’ve been serving red chicken and a mess of pita bread and a different type of hummus… all kinds of stuff.”


The big hit of the day was the lovable camel, positioned in a pen a little ways off. Students lined up way down the sidewalk for a chance to spend some time with him. As Karstetter puts it, “He’s funny looking. He’s good to look at. He’s easy on the eyes.”


Qatar Day was a big success, with hundreds of students walking through at its peak. According to, the event was also held last year on the same day, so it seems likely that the much adored camel with be making a triumphant return in 2013.



Andy Karstetter – 571 435 4962


Diego Mendoza – 974 561 2348


Taylor Guardia – 804 882 3631



Professor Matt Wallin is a Special Effects Master

By Daniel Ardura


Richmond, VA – May 4th, 2012



To his students, Professor Matt Wallin is just another Comm Arts teacher, educating them on the technology of the future. But in the special effects and feature film industry, Wallin is a legend.


“I started in the Visual Effects industry as an intern at industrial light and magic back before I graduated from film school at San Francisco state university,” said Wallin. “I had always been interested in filmmaking and special effects.  After my internship I began working for Lucasfilm full time and I remained there for the next decade.”


Wallin has worked on over 30 films in his lifetime, ranging from low budget creature features to massive big budget blockbusters, including “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace,” “Twister,” “King Kong,” “The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2,” “Watchmen,” “I Am Legend,” “Matrix: Reloaded,” “Matrix: Revolutions,” “Hellboy” and “The Mummy”.


“The best part of working in the film industry was the travel and the people. I met my wife working on a movie where she was helping to build sets.  I’ve had the opportunity though the industry to live in New Zealand, Iceland, Vancouver, Japan, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”


Photo courtesy of Wallin


Visual effects for movies is at an all time high. Time magazine quotes Scott Ross, a general manager at ILM, as estimating that VFX is a $1.35 billion industry.


But after years of successful work, Wallin made a bold choice: leaving behind a much sought after job, that many would kill for, in a burgeoning, lucrative and pretty darn cool industry to become: a teacher at VCU.


“My wife, while we met in NYC, is from Virginia and after the birth of our son in 2003 we waited a few years and then moved to Virginia. Teaching seemed the logical choice of a career change of pace so I could focus on being a dad.”


Having never pictured himself involved in academia, Wallin was initially nervous about joining the school. However, he has fit right in to the program, say his colleagues, including Tyler Darden.


“Professor Wallin is a valuable addition to the team, and we hope he stays with us for many years. He’s a smart guy and he’s very popular among the students.”


Senior Eric Mathews, a Comm Arts student, says Wallin is one of his favorite professors.


“He’s been in the field for so long and he has so much experience on big name projects that it really takes your breath away. It makes you a little star struck. But, he’s actually a real down to earth guy and a great teacher.”

Wallin says that his experience has helped prepare him for current job.


“I would absolutely say that working in the industry has made me a better teacher. I think it’s very important for a true research university to actively engage with professionals from related fields and that real life experience is invaluable in imparting knowledge go students. Plus it helps put the often ridiculous infighting in academia in proper perspective.”


The most endearing thing about Wallin is that despite years of being a part of the industry, he’s never become jaded. He’s still just a film geek at heart.


“I’m a big fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and all the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, in particular Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood…. There are just so many films that I love.”

VCU Professors Hold Seminar on Food Education and Availability

By Daniel Ardura


Richmond, VA April 12, 2012 – Local citizens and health experts gathered on Monday at Virginia Commonwealth University for a discussion about food access, food literacy, and barriers to eating well. For over an hour and a half, they discussed the major factors that are keeping people of lower income from being healthy.

About 60 students attended the public forum, which was part of the Public Knowledge Series being presented by the Students for Social Action.

“The problem is with the cycle,” said Heidi Hertz from the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. “If the parents grew up eating this way, and that’s all they know, then that’s the way that they will feed their children. We have to educate the whole family.”

Other major speakers included John Barrett from Shalom Farms, John Haddad from Know Your Veggies and Slow Food RVA, and Mark Wood, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at VCU.

They also discussed possible solutions and local outreach programs that can help people find good food.

“Access to healthy food ought to be a right,” said John Barrett, co-founder of Shalom Farms.

He encouraged students and citizens to support local farms and spread the word about cheap, healthy produce that can be found in the area, such as at Shalom Farms, which is located on Laburnum Ave., near the center of Richmond.

Students in the audience said they had no idea that it was so easy to find vegetables and fruits grown nearby.

“I think it’s good that people are making a difference in the community,” said sophomore and sculpture major Hannah May. “It’s definitely important to eat healthy and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I think sometimes it’s not always that easy to find them.”

The United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond founded Shalom Farms in 2008 with a mission of providing fresh, healthy food to high-poverty urban “food deserts” – areas where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. The nonprofit teaches residents of those areas about the benefits of fresh produce as well as how to farm and how to cook with it.

Many of the other speakers were also major public activists for improving food access in the area.

John Haddad recently started a program called “Know Your Veggies” with his organization, Slow Food RVA, which works with kids and families to teach them about fresh and local vegetables and fruits.

“Proper food literacy is just as important as availability,” Haddad said. “Imagine there’s great produce being sold just down the street but a working class family has no idea that’s what they should be eating, or no interest in buying it, then what good does that do?”

Many students seemed newly determined to improve their diet after the forum.

“I just came here with a friend,” said senior Trey McMillan, a double major in business and psychology. “I was planning on going to Cookout for lunch. Not anymore