Old Dominion University has been a participant in the Department of State's Bridge J-1 Exchange Visitor Program since 1964. This program provides opportunities for approximately 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories per year to experience American culture. The University has hosted hundreds of these exchange scholars over the years.
Participants of that program played a key role in organizing the Frank Reidy Center for Bioelectrics' most recent retreat.
Dr. Ruben Manuel Luciano Colunga Biancatelli, who came to the center in 2019, served as a postdoctoral fellow in 2020 and 2021 and is now a research assistant professor at the center, put together the event along with fellow ODU exchange scholars Flavia Mazzarda, Federica Castellani and Vitalii Kim, and Professors Olga Pakhomova, Christiana Dimitropoulou and Pavel Solopov.
The retreat brought bioscientists, bioengineers and speakers from Eastern Virginia Medical School and the University of South Florida together, allowing students, faculty and researchers to share their latest research, innovations and technology, and foster engagement and collaboration.
"It is a great opportunity for all the members to get together and discuss their research, and for students to present their experiments, practice their public speaking skills and compete for awards and prizes," said Colunga Biancatelli, who holds M.D. and internal medicine specialist degrees from La Sapienza University of Rome. "I consider myself lucky to be part of a center with such solid foundation and great traditions."
The retreat, which has been held since 2011, transitioned from in-person to virtual in 2020 because of the pandemic. In November, it reverted to primarily in-person following the University's COVID protocols. The program was put together in less than two months.
"In such a short time, Ruben and all the members of the committee were able to organize a magnificent event," said Andrei Pakhomov, research professor and interim executive director of the Reidy Center. "The scientific program was rich and interesting, and the connection with the remote speakers ran smoothly all day."
"I was lucky enough to be helped by an outstanding team of faculty and postdocs that assisted me during all the organization and created a unique and beautiful event," Colunga Biancatelli added.
ODU generally hosts 40 to 50 exchange scholars through the J-1 program annually, though the numbers are down because of the pandemic. The program allows ODU faculty to collaborate with international colleagues and attract talented post-doctoral and doctoral/master candidates and interns to complete their research. Many graduates of the Exchange Visitor program return to ODU to as degree-seeking international students.
"International researchers have been a valuable part of the fabric of ODU for decades," said Paul Currant, senior international officer at ODU's Center for Global Engagement. "Not only do they bring expertise and insight in their subject areas, but they bring different approaches to and perspectives on the research process itself. They also add to the global dimension of ODU to the benefit of our whole community."