RICHMOND- While higher education advocates have focused on getting more state funding in recent years, this year, higher education advocates have added retirement benefits to their list of legislative priorities.
In an attempt to push for increased higher education funding, better faculty retirement options and lower tuition costs for in-state residents, members of three groups spearheaded the task of getting their voices heard. The Faculty Senate of Virginia, presidents of the VCU Faculty Senate, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) met at legislative offices at 10:30 a.m. Their first order of business was to push for educators’ retirement benefits.
House Bill 486, sponsored by House delegate Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) aims to create better faculty retirement incentives. The bill would allow education employees, who currently have optional retirement plans, to have the opportunity to opt-in to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS). Employees who wish to maintain an optional retirement plan, and were hired after July 2010, would be provided between 8.5 and 8.9 percent credible compensation from the commonwealth. All other employees would be entitled to a rate of 10.4 percent credible compensation from the state.
The overriding purpose of the bill is to allow state employees in the higher education system the opportunity to purchase service credit in the VRS based on accumulated earnings and experience, even if said employees are covered under an optional retirement program.
“Many employees come in untenured, so they have a choice whether they want to participate in an optional retirement plan or the VRS. Since optional retirement plans are portable, and can be taken to other systems. But if you get here [Virginia] and you realize how great it is, then you might wish that you had signed in to the VRS,” said Robert Andrews, current professor in the VCU School of Business and organizer of the 2013 Higher Education Advocacy Day. “The bill makes it, so down the road, once [employees] get tenured, they can make a onetime swap to buy equivalent amount of work time in the VRS. It’s certainly revenue neutral, and it’s really important for state employees to buy in to this established benefit plan.”
In addition to retirement benefits, education lobbyists are also looking to provide financial benefits to educators’ families. Senate Bill 104, introduced by Roanoke Democrat John Edwards, would reduce the tuition rate for children of Virginia higher education employees by 50 percent. Although, individual state institutions can currently decide whether or not to waive the tuition rate among employees’ children, SB 104 would ensure that all state
institutions implement the reduction immediately.
“Growing up with a mother as a college professor, you really gain a perspective into how valuable higher education is,” said junior Alex Wells of George Mason University. “I think that being proactive in the House and Senate really shows that we’re committed to the long term prosperity of prospective students and faculty in Virginia.”
Participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day also expressed a need for more state funding to make college tuition more affordable for future students. Members are seeking legislative action to filter more than $200 million for state tuition assistance, as well as more than $2 billion in employer-based financing towards the VRS program.
“We’re important in supporting higher education and maintaining credibility against voices on the other side who feel that they don’t have any responsibility to contribute to higher education,” Andrews said. “If we don’t have competitive institutions that have the financial resources to provide quality faculty members, or opportunities for students to have more feasible access to college, then we inevitably suffer in attracting professional businesses to our state.”
Richmond, VA- After a lengthy and ongoing dispute, the Richmond City Council unanimously approved a budget plan that will bring the Washington Redskins Training Camp to Richmond next summer.
Two state of the art practice fields and a fitness center are expected to undergo construction behind the Science Museum of Richmond in early 2013. Much of the controversy around the potential relocation of the Redskins training facility centered around Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital’s desire to expand a medical building onto the Westhampton School property. Under the agreement, Bon Secours will finance the $6.4 million necessary to build the training camp, contribute $100,000 each year to Richmond Public Schools for 10 years, and will be required to allocate a specified number of days for Richmond Public School students to utilize the fields.
“I mean I’ve been a Redskins fan for the past 14 years, and I’m really excited that they [Redskins] decided to make their training camp setting behind the Richmond Science Museum,” said Richmond local Patrick Sandberg.
Since Richmond is typically recognized as the home of many burgundy and gold fans, it’s no wonder there is a sense of excitement and optimism. However, not everyone is on the same page.
“I really think the Redskins training camp is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money,” said James Carter, a Henrico resident.
There is no indication of a higher tax rate among Richmond residents, but with the cost of the facility, it has some people wondering whether the financing will affect their wallets.
Despite varying opinions on the Redskins training camp relocation, it’s certainly a step forward to improve the city’s overall image and a potential opportunity to stimulate tourism and the local economy.
For more information on the training camp, as well as images of the Washington Redskins Training Camp construction plans, please visit:
For Kristin Carden, soccer is so much more than a game. It’s her entire identity. Hooting and hollering from the sidelines during the spring and summer practices, many onlookers would assume she was the head coach, not the starting goalkeeper.
Sidelined due to a severe high ankle injury suffered during the early spring, Carden was forced to sit out during much of the summer conditioning. Instead of hanging her head, however, she seized the opportunity to serve as a mentor and solidify her role as the team’s go to leader on the bench. Her vocal presence is hard to overlook, and her work ethic is on par with her veteran status. Without a doubt, Carden’s on field individual contributions seem mirrored by her ability to keep her team focused and encouraging them to play with as much fire and emphasis as she does during every play.
“I think one of her best qualities is just having a presence. Not only her size and her unique ability, but she cares a lot about this program and her teammates around her really know that and embrace her for that. The younger one’s look at her, being a fifth year senior, and with how competitive she is, and her strong vocal presence, as someone they can look to for advice and inspiration both on and off the field,” Added Women’s Soccer Co-Head Coach Tiffany Sahayduk.
After spending her 2008 and 2009 campaigns as the starting goalie for Virginia Tech and posting the second most career wins in Hokie women’s soccer history (18), Carden transferred to VCU to take over the goalkeeping reigns for the Rams. The six-footer has certainly been nothing short of spectacular during her tenure in Richmond. As a junior in 2011, Carden defended the cage as if it was life or death. She started in all 21 matches for the Rams, allowing only 15 goals, while recording a minuscule 0.68 goals against average (GAAvg), and saving more than 70 shots on net. Not to mention the fact that she also posted nine shutouts for VCU, on her way to 9-8-3 record and a First Team All Colonial Athletic Conference selection. To sum it up, she was a complete beast on the field, unwilling to settle for anything but her best effort. Nonetheless, Carden knew that if she wanted to take the next step, she would have to start leading by example and set the standard for her younger and more inexperienced teammates.
“Being a leader through communication and having a voice back there is really important as a goaltender. I want to be a helpful player both on and off the field and I want to be that voice they [the team] can count on. In order to help improve my own individual game and to progress my team, I want to be able to help them organize and facilitate them where they need to be when their not sure. That way I can best serve the team chemistry, which I think is most important for our success as well as my responsibility for taking a leadership role for the younger players,” said Carden.
Getting back on the field in late Aug., Carden’s hiatus didn’t seem to affect her individual ability in the slightest. Since returning for the Rams in goal, she has not lost since the first weekend she came back (Aug. 26th), and has recorded shutouts in four of the last five matches, to add to her already incredible 11 shutouts during her two years at VCU.
“I need to continue to improve on my play every day in practice and in games. I just want to get better on every save and be able to make those big saves for this team when it counts. It’s important that I put my best foot forward to make myself better and make those around me better whenever and however I can do that,” expressed Carden.
The VCU Women’s Soccer teams currently posts a 9-4-3 (4-2) record, and are winners of four of their last five games. The Rams next contest is at home on Oct. 19th against their Atlantic-10 rivals, the Richmond Spiders.
As first year VCU Women’s Basketball Head Coach Marlene Stollings familiarizes herself with a new school, a new team, and a new city, there will be one familiar face on the bench that should make her transition much smoother: Niki Dawkins.
For the past eight seasons, Dawkins served as a top assistant under renowned head coach, Wendy Larry, at Old Dominion University. Under Dawkins’ guidance, the Lady Monarchs were the most dominating force in the Colonial Athletic Association, posting an overall record of 158-67 during her tenure, as well as 105-21 in league play.
With four CAA Tournament titles, numerous league championships, and an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2008 under her belt at ODU, Dawkins hopes to bring that same winning mentality with her to spark an up and coming VCU team that finished 18-10 (13-5) last season, including a season sweep of the Lady Monarchs. She has coached five WNBA players, 15 All- CAA honorees, five CAA All-Defensive team selections, eight All-Academic honorees, and has been one of the most effective recruiter’s during her coaching career, signing some of the most impressive top recruiting classes in the nation.
As the top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Rams, she will be expected to continue her knack for finding premier talent and help mold a young team into a contender, as VCU moves into the competitive Atlantic-10 Conference. High character players, with the ability to run the floor and score will be some of the most important qualities Dawkins will look for in recruiting.
“Me and Coach [Stollings] love offensive players. We are going to be looking for gunners, and high-powered, versatile athletes. If you can put the ball in basket, you have a spot on the VCU Women’s Basketball team,” added Dawkins
Serving as Stollings coach and mentor at Ohio State University during her freshman and sophomore seasons, “Coach Nik” fills a similar role after being named the top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the VCU women’s staff earlier this year. Dawkins will immediately provide exceptional leadership, an unbelievable amount of basketball experience, and a vast knowledge of player growth and development both on and off the court that should pay dividends for a young VCU squad this season. Remaining in touch throughout the years, Stollings and Dawkins share an unparalleled passion for the game and an inevitable drive to win.
With head coaching stints at Detroit Mercy and New Mexico State, as well as assistant coaching positions at the University of Michigan, Texas Tech, Ohio State, and ODU, Dawkins certainly knows what it takes to build a winning program, and will be very useful as a mentor, a leader, and strategist to help mold a relatively unknown VCU team.
“Her [Dawkins] insight will be invaluable. She has 20 years of experience and her knowledge of the game is incredible. The comfort level is definitely there and having a rapport with someone you’ve known so long will help aid the program to where we want it much faster,” said Head Coach Stollings.
Dawkins was one of the most feared and gifted women’s basketball player’s in Ohio history, and played at Ohio State University from 1985 to 1989, where she had an illustrious playing career. She received All-Big Ten First Team honors, was a member of the Big-Ten All Decade Team, the Ohio State All-Century Team, and was also inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Internationally, Dawkins was a member of two USA Select Teams (1988 & 1990), the World University Team (1989), and the USA Junior National Team (1987). Overall, she has four gold medals, three of which she was the recipient as a player and one as a coach, when she served as an assistant for the U.S. 20-and-Under team in 2002.
“Every coach knows they don’t know everything, and there’s always more to learn and improve on as a player and a coach. I aspire to help these girls grow and reach their goals. When I stop learning, it’s time to get out of the business,” Dawkins said.
As the season rapidly approaches, Dawkins will be a continued source of guidance for a VCU team that lost leading scorers, Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour. Her eye for spotting talent, adjusting to a new system and her familiarity with Head Coach Stollings will help make her impact felt immediately. The Rams begin their season on Nov. 12th at Elon.
Audio Report: Non-Profit Organization Promotes Refugee Resettlement in the U.S.
My audio report details a non-profit organization, known as the Virginia Council of Churches, in their efforts to help foreign refugees assimilate into the country as easily as possible. I interviewed a member of the organization who is interning for the group, and he shares with me the organization’s goals as well as his own future goals in helping others and how the non-profit has helped him grow as an individual.