SUMMER PROGRAM FASTTRACKS CAREER-MINDED WILLIAMS

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VCU senior guard Zakia Williams (second from left) at the graduation and awards ceremony for Henrico County's Basic Student Jailor Program earlier this month.

VCU senior guard Zakia Williams (second from left) at the graduation and awards ceremony for Henrico County’s Basic Student Jailor Program earlier this month.

RICHMOND, Va. – Bill Cosby once wrote a book called “Congratulations! Now what?”, which doled out postgraduate wisdom, laced with the comedian’s trademark humor, to college graduates. It’s said that there’s a little bit of truth in every joke, and Cosby’s cheeky title is a good example. Graduation can be an exciting time, but many students aren’t prepared to navigate life after the diploma.

But Zakia Williams doesn’t plan on being another rudderless graduate. She’s already planning ahead. This summer, the VCU senior guard took an important step towards a smooth “real world” transition. A Criminal Justice major, Williams was recently deputized through a joint program between VCU and the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department called the “Basic Jailor Student Academy”.

The nine-week program trained and certified VCU Criminal Justice upperclassmen in a number of areas, including firearms, mental health, defensive tactics and CPR. In its third year, the program was developed by Henrico Sheriff and VCU graduate Michael Wade in 2010 as a way to reduce overtime costs and prepare Criminal Justice majors for their careers. Students who complete the program are certified and eligible for part-time employment in the county’s corrections system.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for me because ultimately that’s what I want to do. I want to work in corrections,” said Williams, a native of Columbus, Ga.

There was plenty of upside in the program, but there was also a catch.

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2011-12 VCU WOMEN’S BASKETBALL PREVIEW

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All-American Courtney Hurt led the nation in rebounding (12.4 rpg) and double-doubles (25) last season. She also ranked second nationally in scoring (23.2 ppg)

When Beth Cunningham took over as head coach in 2003, there was exactly one postseason banner hanging inside the Verizon Wireless Arena for the women’s basketball program.

If that wasn’t bad enough by itself, that lonely piece of fabric was old enough that the tournament it was intended to celebrate, the National Women’s Invitation Tournament, had changed its name since the Rams’ 1995 appearance.

Now there are five banners, including a giant gold and white one from VCU’s 2009 NCAA Tournament appearance. In Cunningham’s eight seasons at the helm, the Rams have rewritten VCU Women’s Basketball history. VCU has reached the postseason in four consecutive seasons. The Rams are working on a school-record streak of five straight winning seasons. Three of the program’s four 20-win campaigns have come under her watch. The school’s all-time leader in victories with 148, Cunningham has coached two WNBA draft picks and an All-American.

At this point, when she takes inventory of the program, Cunningham doesn’t have to ask what the Rams have done, it’s what they still need to do. When she looks up into that northwest corner of the arena, she knows the answer. The Rams are still chasing their elusive first conference championship, Colonial Athletic Association or otherwise. VCU reached the championship game in 2008, another first for the program, but fell to Old Dominion.

“It’s something that you’d like to have already done, hang a championship banner, but there’s been so many good things that have happened with our program…it’s part of the building process,” Cunningham, 148-100 in eight seasons, said.

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