Richmonders on both sides of the gun debate made their voices heard on Jan. 29 at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s “Public Square Forum,” a monthly discussion between the public and experts on topics of public interest.

Audience members were barred from bringing firearms to the forum but members of the VCU chapter of Students for Concealed Carry attended the forum. The group started at VCU in 2009 to promote the idea of students and faculty members having the right to carry a concealed weapon on campus if they have a permit.

Published by The Commonwealth TImes

Many students use services like Rate My Professor. The site, where students review professors on a scale of one to five based on how difficult the professor is, how clearly they explain concepts and other criteria. It’s a way for students to let their voices be heard — but how does a service like Rate My Professor compare to the university-administered teacher evaluations when it comes to implementing the feedback?

Web Story: A look at some hard data on Richmond’s obesity and how it stacks up agains the rest of the country.

Slideshow: A look at some of the disadvantages Richmond has to staying healthy

Podcast: An interview with a Richmonder who overcame obesity:

By Sam Isaacs, Natasha Haskamp, Chelsea Ginrgas


A audio Slideshow featuring some problems Richmond faces in overcoming obesity.

By Sam Isaacs, Natasha Haskamp, Chelsea Gingras

Overcoming Obesity

An interview with a Richmonder who overcame obesity.

by Sam Isaacs, Natasha Haskamp, Chelsea Gingras.

Richmond has found itself in the midst of a nation-wide health crisis, obesity. Its struggles were highlighted this spring after being voted the second fattest city in the country by the Gallup survey which tracks U.S. city wellbeing.

Experts believe the complexity of the disease makes it hard to treat. “Obesity has been on the national spotlight for years, but the numbers are still climbing. It is challenging because there are so many factors that can cause someone to be obese,” said Tom Baur Ph.D., professor of Biology at VMI.

Dr. Richard Atkinson, a leading obesity researcher at Obetech and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, feels that an unhealthy lifestyle is not the sole cause of obesity.

“A person can exercise and eat right, and still be obese, the physical condition and age of woman while pregnant can set up her child to be prone to obesity for life,”he said. Atkinson is also researching a potential virus that may have a direct link to the rise of obesity.

Obesity is found by weight divided by height squared, a number referred to as body mass index or BMI. If a person has a BMI of over 30, they are considered obese.

Whether it is in regards to children or adults, health officials and affiliates have recognized the ever growing issue, and are working to make Richmond a healthier place. With the Gallup survey showing a population obesity rate of 29.4 percent, the city has its work cut out for it.

According to Lee Charles of the Virginia Department of Health, 52.3 percent of Richmond’s adult population is physically inactive, and 73.5 percent gets less than the recommended amount of at least five servings of fruits or vegetables daily.

Baur believes that the cities problem’s may be cultural. “We live in a food toxic environment bombarded with fast food and food with high calories. Southern food typically is not the best for you and it is eaten widely in Richmond,” he said.

Katherine Vatalaro Hill, Assistant Director VCU’s Wellness Resource Center, has an active role in obesity awareness with both VCU and the city. She feels that Richmond’s obesity problems can be traced back to complex social economic issues.

“Wellness education and habits start at a young age. There are often links to poverty and education, and in  Richmond’s impoverished areas, kids are getting off to a bad start,” she said. “In poorer, crime filled areas, the initiative for children to play outside drastically drops, so you’ve also got a lot of kids not exercising.”

Hill noted that Richmond has few healthy produce selections in most of the impoverished areas, which creates unhealthy life choices, “There isn’t any local produce at many of the corner stores that people are getting their groceries from so a lot of people have no access to anything healthy at their normal grocery stops,” said Hill. She also pointed out that Richmond has taken notice of this and mapped out ‘food deserts’ or places where healthy food is not offered.

Though the battle against obesity is far from over, Richmond has recognized the importance of fighting it, and has taken initiatives to offer and educate it’s residents. “It is a serious issue, and with more research and healthier living, we hope to cut down on the local obesity rates,” said Baur.

The Wellness Resource Center promotes obesity awareness in Richmond.
Related links:



By Sam Isaacs

Frozen yogurt is dominating the Richmond desert scene. With over six locations within five miles of the city, competition is at an all time high, and one local business is up for the challenge. Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream has been serving Carytown for over a decade and has felt the heat of recent ‘froyo’ expansions, two of which are just blocks away.

“We saw a drop in customers last summer when Sweet Frog opened, but once Yapple opened next door to them this year, it was like they canceled each other out and we saw an increase in sales,” said Heidi Krizansky, the ice cream maker at Bev’s.

She also noted the quality of ingredients as something that separates them from the chains,” Everything we use is real, I try to buy local as much as I can, and that is something you just don’t find at the other chains. All of their flavors are from additives mixed in with their product,” said Krizansky.

Some customers choose places like Sweet Frog and Yapple because of the accessability and popularity. “It is convenient and easy they are everywhere so there is always one around if you are craving some ice cream,” said Erin Keller, a customer of Sweet Frog who visits several times a month.

Employee Lauren Halley said she believes the catering and wholesale distribution services which the chains don’t offer, give Bev’s and edge in the competition.

“We sell to Crossroads and The Mill and offer baked goods. We have developed loyal customers and are a Carytown staple, and that is something the chains can’t compete with,” said Halley. “We do cookies, cakes and ice cream cakes.

Others feel that they are getting a better deal at Sweet Frog, “I like how you can control how much you are getting with both the ice cream and the toppings, just the overall customization process,” said patron Jenna Cooper.

Krizansky disagrees with the idea that Sweet Frog is a better deal, “There, you think you are getting a better price, but they get you with the toppings and you end up paying a lot for not much ice cream. Here, we don’t top our ice cream with Oreos, we flavor it with them so you get more ice cream for your money,” she said.

For Krizansky, her customer-friendly environment puts her shop ahead of its competition.

“I get to talk to my customers, get to know them and get feedback. There is no room for that in a chain. Maybe in the internet age some people proffer a fast impersonal setting but we don’t do that here,” she said.

related links:

This piece is from my column for Shafer Bird regarding my opinions of the service in the Richmond restaurant scene.

Salty Sam: “The Lost Art of Restaurant Service”

Words by Sam Isaacs

Eating out is awesome. Getting served something (hopefully) delicious while enjoying the company of friends or family can be a refreshing and fulfilling experience.

With that being said, one of my biggest gripes with the restaurant scene in Richmond is people giving establishments way more credit than they deserve. Yes, some of the places here make really incredible dishes, but the food is only a part of what makes a restaurant great.

When eating out, particularly at more upscale places, one of the reasons why the prices are so high is that you as the customer are also paying for the name and the experience. With that being said, do not accept and make excuses for mediocre service, or a dirty restaurant.

The service and atmosphere are just as important as the overall food when dining out and should be taken just as seriously. I’m not saying walk into a place and treat everyone horribly, but as a paying customer you are owed great service and a good atmosphere.

Too many times in this city have I been served food by someone who looks like they could care less whether I live or die when I walk out the door or other times, eaten at a place with a filthy dining room and borderline inhumane bathroom. There is one phrase that I hear all the time that makes my skin crawl, “Well it’s good for Richmond.”

What does that even mean? Why can’t something just be universally good? Getting mediocre treatment from a wait staff and eating off filthy plates on a dirty table in a disgusting restaurant does not make the place “chic,” “urban” or “cozy.”

As a college student, every penny to my name is precious and if I am going to give my time and money to a business then I expect to be treated like a guest and be comfortable while doing so. There is no reason why you should accept anything less.

On the contrary, if you do run into a great server, always tip well and personally let them know that you enjoyed their service. As one of the most thankless jobs out there, a few extra dollars and kind words go a long way.

So get out there, explore all of places Richmond has to offer and make sure never sell your dining experience short.

Politics 2012

Obama’s Campaign Tactics

Obama Actively Pursues College Votes

With the election right around the corner, Barack Obama is taking serious steps to appeal to college students.

By Sam Isaacs

With every presidential election, a candidate must choose how to present themselves, and their ideas. In the eyes of several VCU students, faculty and local residents, Barack Obama’s campaign is making an impact in the area.

Social media has become an important platform, one that Obama seems to be more effective at managing than Romney, noted Jeff South of VCU’s School of Mass Communications.

“Obama has more Facebook followers, and Twitter likes, but do they translate to votes?” asks
South. South said that whether people actually show up to vote remains to be seen, but the numbers can’t be ignored with social media playing such a big role in how the youth get their news.

South also notes that social media involvement can lead to campaign donations, a benefit the Obama campaign is reaping.

Students have taken a notice to Obama’s media tactics as well. “I really felt that Obama started really building his hype during the Olympics, it is one of the most watch things on t.v., and I saw very few Romney ads while watching,” said VCU student Katey Damian.

One VCU faculty member believes more and more college students are getting their news from social media, and Obama is applying old strategies new outlets. “Candidates are still mudslinging, something that has been done since the signing of the Constitution. Now, this technique is being used all over social networking and the internet,” said VCU Political Science Coordinator John AughenBaugh, PhD.

A Richmond native, Ed Lajoie, said that not only are Obama’s ads reaching college students, but his message is as well. “He has done a great job of making Romney into a symbol of something many college students dislike, a rich white guy in a suit,” said Lajoie. “Taxes, student loans and making it in the working world are important factors for students, and Obama is doing a good job on playing them up to kids.

New tactics and new strategies in this year’s campaign vs. 2008 were also noticed. “In ’08 Obama focused on hope and change, I feel like this year’s campaign is less slogan oriented, and more fact and issued based,” said Damian.

AughenBaugh believes that Obama has focused less this election on promises, and found a new strategy, “Since he is the incumbnet, the ideas of hope and change aren’t relevant like they were in ’08. He is not defending himself, he is attacking Romney.”

Obama has also stepped into new territory by engaging in activities like the live chat on in August, a session in which he took question from internet forum members, something Jeff South notes has never been done before.

Students and Faculty alike have taken notice of Obama’s effort to highlight social networking, new platforms and new messages across to college students. “His strategy is essentially throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks,” said South.


VCU students can show their political support via 711 coffee cups

Story I wrote for the Commonwealth Times Regarding Green Initiative 

VCU to host third sustainability day

September 19, 2012, at 10:22 pm

Sam Isaacs
Contributing Writer

VCU will host its third annual Sustainability Day on Oct. 12, the Friday going into family weekend, at the Student Commons.

The event will highlight VCU’s push to replace services with greener alternatives, such as transportation services like BioRide RVA and Zipcar as well as eco-friendly food vendors.

“We will hopefully have a 100 percent sustainable menu, with all of the food coming from Virginia,” said VCU ‘s Sustainability Coordinator Jordan Starbuck.

A Segway tour will highlight some of the green projects around the Monroe Park Campus including the Shafer Dining Court solar panels and the Pollak Building’s Green Roof, a rooftop garden constructed in 2011 by students.

Each year, the event is focused around an environmental theme. This year, it’s all about energy.
“We will have the energy manager there, and folks to talk about the solar panels, food production and recycling,” said Jacek Ghosh, VCU’s director of Sustainability.

Ghosh also notes that this event is not something strictly run by VCU Sustainability, but something that different departments and groups, including student leadership groups, the Residential Life and Housing department and the Fashion Design department all contribute to.

“The idea is to get the students who are either doing something in their class or program to highlight what they are doing and what we’re doing at VCU and raise overall awareness, particularly (among) new students and families,” Starbuck said.

Sustainability falls into one of VCU’s strategic plan’s six guiding principles, making it a highly prioritized part of the school’s agenda. Ghosh believes students played a huge part in raising the school’s sustainability awareness.

“The student’s dedication to sustainability and involvement in projects and petitions are what brought the issue to the university’s attention ultimately making it one of the six guiding principles,” said Ghosh.

The school’s sustainability efforts have been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. STARS awarded VCU with a silver rating, the highest among universities in the state. The STARS rating offers university a unique grading system in which strengths and weaknesses are noted.

“Just because you win an award or good score does not automatically make you greener … STARS looks at education, research and greening all your operation,” Ghosh said. “Other report cards don’t pick up on all of that.
VCU received it’s highest rating in the Planning, Engagement and Education field.