Looking Back: Your Picks for Top UVA Today Stories of 2018

A new president. Groundbreaking discoveries involving multiple sclerosis and autism. The untold story of a famous artist. A royal wedding with some University of Virginia flavor. The unveiling of the alumnus behind UVA men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett’s fictitious Twitter account.

This represents just a small sampling of the stories that came out of the University of Virginia in 2018.

Here is a look at some of UVA Today’s most-read articles, as measured by story views and social media engagement, presented in no particular order:

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First Day on the Job

Jim Ryan’s first day as UVA president in August was a busy one, as evidenced by this photo diary.

In his first official order of business, he witnessed the swearing in of UVA’s new chief of police. Later in the morning, he held his first all-staff meeting in Madison Hall.

In the afternoon, Ryan attended a medical discussion featuring Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Later, he spent time with members of the University community – including Cav Man – at an ice cream social at Newcomb Hall.

UVA Brain Discovery Could Block Aging’s Terrible Toll on the Mind

New research out of the School of Medicine revealed that aging vessels connecting the brain and the immune system play critical roles in both Alzheimer’s disease and the decline in cognitive ability that comes with time.

The research is the latest from the lab of pioneering neuroscientist Jonathan Kipnis, whose team discovered in 2015 a connection between the brain and the immune system via lymphatic vessels – a connection that science textbooks insisted did not exist.

“When you take naturally aging mice and you make them learn and remember better, that is really exciting,” Kipnis said. 

Josh Pritchett’s Improbable Journey From a Prison Cell to UVA

Josh Pritchett was released from prison two weeks before his 20th birthday and spent the next several years working at a hardware store, going to church and attending community college.

Today, he is an accomplished scholar – a fourth-year student in UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce who is on track to walk the Lawn in May.

Pritchett’s remarkable transformation began, in part, with a simple exchange of letters with a fellow inmate, and included an eventual bond with a UVA professor’s “Books Behind Bars” program.

Dear First-Years: Advice From 19 Lawn Residents

Nineteen Lawn residents shared their best tips for incoming students.

“When you doubt yourself, prove yourself wrong,” Head Lawn resident Joan Lee said. “I think the way to get there is to be kind to others; despite varying backgrounds and varying opinions, be kind to others and more importantly, be kind to yourself.”

“Make sure that you have balance,” fellow Lawn resident Jocelyn Willoughby added. “I came in first semester and everything was just school and basketball, so I didn’t have much time for a social life. Get that balance so you can enjoy a little bit of everything.”

5 Non-Basketball Traits UVA Basketball Coach Tony Bennett Seeks in Recruits

Examining a player’s “immeasurables” is just one way Bennett has turned some under-recruited high school prospects into key members of his program.

One thing Bennett looks for is a “carefree courageousness” – a trait he said former Cavalier star Joe Harris embodied.

“I like guys who play with courage, yet they’re free,” Bennett explained. “Some guys play hard, but they’re not free. They’re restricted. So when you see guys who are just courageous and warrior-like in how they play, but there’s a freedom to them where they can play beyond mistakes – those are some ingredients that are really special.”

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Did You Spot the UVA Connections in the Royal Wedding?

A trained Wahoo eye could have spotted at least two Cavalier connections to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding last spring.

One prominent alumnus – Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian – was there in person among the crowd who filed into St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

Meanwhile, The Most Rev. Michael Curry – the first African-American presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church – delivered a sermon that quoted from UVA religious studies professor Charles Marsh’s book.

UVA President Helps First-Years Move In

Like in a skit you might see performed by a late-night talk show host, President Ryan surprised new students and families on move-in day and helped them carry their bags – anonymously.

There were some priceless reactions.

In his first year, Ryan also received attention for his early-morning runs with students and community members , as well as a humorous holiday video that featured, among other things, UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett riding on the back of a moped.

Season’s Greetings from President Ryan

The Untold Story of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Time at UVA

The famed artist began her early experiments in abstract painting while at UVA, drawing the buildings and gardens that she walked past every day on her way to class in Cocke Hall on the Lawn.

In class, O’Keeffe first encountered the philosophy of Arthur Wesley Dow, an artist and teacher who would become one of her most influential mentors and shape her now-famous abstract style.

“She studied here at a critical time, a time when she actually thought she was going to stop pursuing art,” Matthew McLendon, J. Sanford Miller Family Director at the Fralin, said. “It’s a transformative time for her, and we can trace how this transformation begun in Charlottesville carried on through the rest of her career, when she becomes the O’Keeffe that everyone knows now. That began here.”

UVA Identifies Brain’s Lymphatic Vessels as New Avenue to Treat MS

New research from the School of Medicine suggested lymphatic vessels play a crucial role in the development and progression of multiple sclerosis.

The discovery comes from the same UVA lab that identified the lymphatic-vessel links surrounding the brain.

In an exciting follow-up, the researchers have determined that the vessels play an important role in not only multiple sclerosis but, most likely, many other neuroinflammatory diseases and in dangerous brain infections. 

Tailoring Instruction to Learning Styles (Still) Doesn’t Help Students

UVA psychologist Daniel Willingham said there is no evidence to support the idea that using learning-style theories in the classroom helps students learn and succeed.

“One educational implication of this research is obvious: educators need not worry about their students’ learning styles,” Willingham said.

“There’s no evidence that adapting instruction to learning styles provides any benefit. Nor does it seem worthwhile to identify students’ learning styles for the purpose of warning them that they may have a pointless bias to process information one way or another.”

Meet ‘Phony Bennett,’ UVA Basketball’s Biggest Anonymous Twitter Fan

The UVA alum used to be a stand-up comic, and has run the popular Twitter parody account since 2012.

Until last year, nobody knew who he was.

“My identity has been leaking out here and there over the years,” said the alum, when asked about his decision to step out of the shadows, “and a wise PR professional once told me I need to get ahead of it and control the reveal.”

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Associate Office of University Communications