Back to News

ASPiRE Announces Three New Faculty Fellows, New Format

Drs. Cage, Corley and Barnes

(From left to right: Cage, Corley & Barnes)

VCU ASPiRE has announced three new Faculty Fellows for the 2018-19 academic year. Fellows enhance the learning environment of ASPiRE by engaging VCU faculty members from a wide variety of academic disciplines in ongoing interactions with ASPiRE students, staff and community partners.

Dr. Ashlee Barnes, assistant professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; Dr. Jamie Cage, assistant professor in the School of Social Work; and Dr. Nicole Corley, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, will collaborate with community partner The Generating Recovery of Academic Direction (GRAD) Center. The GRAD Center offers students the opportunity to work in a small-group setting to develop the skills and curriculum-knowledge necessary to be successful in their high school studies.

Susan Bodnar-Deren, associate professor in the Dept. of Sociology in the College of Humanities & Sciences, will return for a second year in her fellowship and continue her work with the Oak Grove community.

ASPiRE Director Erin Burke Brown said the fellowships will take on a new format this year to be more focused on partnership development. She said the partnership with the GRAD center was a perfect fit after the center requested volunteer assistance from ASPiRE for students to provide one-on-one tutoring.

“VCU is filled with trained faculty from a variety of disciplines that can assess a situation and determine next steps,” she said. “This Fall, we are in a learning phase, where the faculty members are finding out more about the needs of the Grad Center. This will include thinking of an intervention and figuring out how to fold ASPiRE students into the plan as volunteers later in the year. The faculty will be able to train and prepare our students for what to expect. I am excited about how this new model connects the best of what VCU has to offer - experienced faculty, eager students and disciplinary expertise - with our community partners.”

Barnes’ areas of research include developing strengths-based approaches to offender rehabilitation, identifying strategies and designing interventions that mitigate racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system and delinquency prevention.

“As an action researcher, I am interested in engaging in scholarly pursuits that will build capacity and improve the social conditions of marginalized communities,” Barnes said. “Community-engaged research is directly related to my field as my work involves collaborating with juvenile justice practitioners to identify and implement strategies that will increase system-level effectiveness and promote positive youth development.”

Corley currently teaches a social welfare legislation course to undergraduate social work students. She is interested in Black student achievement and centering the taken-for-granted knowledge and experiences of Black single-mothers and their families.

“Social workers are community engagers,” Corley said. “Our work primarily involves addressing and supporting the needs of the community. So, coming to a university with a strong community engagement focus and now working alongside ASPiRE, a program that supports community engagement, is a natural fit for me.”

Cage's academic interests relate to the development and well-being of youth involved with the child welfare system. She specifically is interested in the academic outcomes of youth and working within child welfare and community agencies to promote academic success.

“My plan with the GRAD Center is to learn more about the educational needs of youth in alternative schools,” Cage said. “My work will be targeted toward identifying risk and protective factors of academic success and working with the students and teachers at the GRAD Center to identify ways to decrease the risk factors and promote/foster the protective factors.”

For more information, contact Burke Brown at