Jenilee Stanley-Shanks, director of government and community outreach at the VCU College of Engineering.
Jenilee Stanley-Shanks, director of government and community outreach at the VCU College of Engineering.

Jenilee Stanley-Shanks named a Richmond, Virginia, ‘Top 40 under 40’

When Ram Engineers open the Oct. 28 issue of Style Weekly, they will see a familiar face.

The popular weekly alternative newspaper has named Jenilee Stanley-Shanks, director of government and community outreach at the VCU College of Engineering, one of Richmond, Virginia’s, Top 40 under 40 for 2020.

Stanley-Shanks was included in the publication’s annual celebration of “people helping make Richmond a better place” for leading the college’s K-12 STEM education outreach efforts.

She was nominated by David Timberline, a project manager with VCU’s Center for Community Engagement and Impact. He was impressed with her commitment — and ability — to make STEM concepts relevant and exciting to young people.

“From the first time I met Jenilee, it was obvious that she has a very clear passion for her work and is able to channel that in a very effective way,” Timberline said. He was struck by her ability to offer “potentially esoteric or unrelatable engineering principles” in ways that are immediately relatable to young learners.

Making engineering ideas real is the through-line of the college’s educational outreach programs, which under Stanley-Shanks’ direction, have grown to include initiatives like Engineering in Vision, a real-time, virtual video conference series that brings students from schools in the Richmond region into laboratories and makerspaces to talk with professors and students about engineering.

She also leads an elementary school partnership program that provides STEM education resources and teacher coaching throughout the school year. And when the pandemic hit, she developed an Early Engineers blog filled with teaching ideas and lesson plans that equip teachers and families to keep children learning in a changing environment.

“Jenilee is just one of the people who are reaching out to the Richmond community, and specifically the Richmond public schools, in a way that is really inspiring to me,” Timberline said. “There are so many interesting pathways that I just don't think enough people know about, and she’s ushering so many people to and through pathways.”

Stanley-Shanks not only provides inspiration to the K-12 community, she invigorates the College of Engineering faculty, staff and students who give their time to help make her programs a reality. “She is one of those very special people who can see how to turn a basic engineering concept into an actionable plan that sparks enthusiastic participation by all of us in the college,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin, Jr. Dean of VCU Engineering. “She is so deserving of this recognition."

For her part, Stanley-Shanks is happy that the Style honor will make even more people aware of what VCU Engineering has to offer young people, educators — and Richmond.

“It’s a chance to reach engaged members of the community who maybe aren't really tied into engineering or really tied into education, but they are really tied into Richmond,” she said. “So much of what I do involves youth in Richmond and what we all hope Richmond could be. I think it's really cool to get to talk to a new audience about that. That's what I'm most looking forward to.”

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