March 30, 2017

Making (Brain) Waves

Perched impossibly high in the sky over Bordeaux, UMW senior Emily Ferguson releases her swing. She braces for that quick stomach flip as she swoops down toward the vibrant French port city, feels the wind rush through her hair, and takes it all in.

Abigail Reiman and Dan Hirshberg Freshman Abigail Reiman Projected image of brainwaves.

“I felt like I’d had one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” she said of the lucid dream she induced and directed, “and I was just sleeping.”

When she graduates in May, Ferguson will be among the first to complete UMW’s Contemplative Studies program, one of the few undergrad curricula of its type in the world. Melding ancient meditative techniques with cutting edge research in the cognitive sciences, the minor promotes mindfulness, self-exploration and critical inquiry. It teaches students to find their breath and relax in the present. And, with implications for reducing anxiety and increasing concentration, it can help them harness their dreams in more than one way.

For Ferguson, a biology major and neuroscience minor on the pre-medical track, that means grad school and a career in academia or research. Contemplative studies brought the pieces together. “Biology, philosophy, sociology … ” she said. “It merged all those things and gave me a real sense of clarity.”

The 18-credit curriculum also offers electives in anthropology, art history, geography, psychology and religion, among others. Students in the core courses must meditate daily, working their way up from five- to 45-minute sessions. Sensory headbands that record brain waves help monitor their progress.

Kirsten George, a senior psychology major with a second minor in linguistics, is researching mindful eating, a potential treatment for disorders like anorexia and obesity. At least once a day, she grabs her favorite “Betty Boop” pillow, cracks open the window in her Alvey Hall room and sits down to meditate.

“You need a lot of self-discipline,” said George, whose coursework has helped her reduce anxiety and stress. “You have to look at it as a positive thing.”

UMW’s Leidecker Center for Asian Studies opened in 1998, thanks to the late Professor of Philosophy Kurt Leidecker, a Buddhism specialist who left his estate to Mary Washington. Rich with plump pillows, Buddha statues and Tibetan texts, it’s the perfect place for students to focus their minds and relax.

When Assistant Professor of Religion Dan Hirshberg came to campus in 2014, he brought his own expertise in Buddhism and meditation. After spending a semester abroad in India and Nepal as an undergrad, he said, “It was all over for me. I never wanted to do anything else.” Hirshberg earned a master’s degree in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism from Naropa University, a leader in contemplative education, and a Ph.D. in Tibetan studies from Harvard University.

Along with Professors of Classics, Philosophy and Religion David Ambuel and Angela Pitts, who began offering the original meditation course in 2012, he launched UMW’s Contemplative Studies program in fall 2016.

“I think it’s a really important mindset,” George said. “I feel lucky to have experienced this at my school.”

UMW to Release New Guy Film Series, April 7

“America’s coolest college president” is back on YouTube. In advance of the inauguration of its 10th president, the University of Mary Washington will release a six-part video series, The New Guy, starring President Troy D. Paino. As “the new guy,” Paino discovers all that life has to offer at the Fredericksburg, Virginia, university and in […]

On a Mission

UMW junior Ben Henderson practically grew up in his parents’ faith-based community center. There were no weekend basketball games for this shooting guard; Sundays were all about church. Religion makes his world go ‘round. Yet when it came time for college, he was reluctant to study the subject.

“I felt like it would be contradicting my personal beliefs,” Henderson said.

UMW junior Ben Henderson works with young children at the Family Life Center in Fredericksburg. Henderson, who is double majoring in religion and sociology, is set on going to seminary school and focused on building better communities. Photo by Norm Shafer.
UMW junior Ben Henderson works with young children at the Family Life Center in Fredericksburg. Henderson, who is double majoring in religion and sociology, is set on going to seminary school and focused on building better communities. Photo by Norm Shafer.

He was wrong.

In opening his eyes to other religions, he said, “It made me a better Christian.”

That’s key for Henderson, who spent long summer days playing games with the children who were dropped off for daycare at the center his parents, both pastors, built to support the Fredericksburg community. Somewhere along the way, playtime turned serious, and he found himself called to the ministry. It’s a quest he continues at UMW, where his majors, sociology – and now also religion – will guide him toward his dream to help at-risk youth.

The youngest of four – brother Joseph Jr. ’14 and sister Ashley Nicole ’11 are also UMW alums – Henderson was reared on hard work. As his mother and father labored tirelessly around him, “It became second nature to try to do as much as I can,” said Henderson, who stocked food, sorted clothes and swept floors early on. The first to arrive in the morning. The last to leave every night.

When middle-school basketball, with no Sunday obligations, gave him a chance to do his own thing, his parents showed up to support him.

“Even when I was on the bench most of the game,” Henderson said, “they were the family that was always there.”

Choosing Mary Washington kept Henderson close to them – and to the center – but he was adamant about living on campus. “When I’m on campus, I’m at school,” he said. “I get caught up in learning.”

That includes that first shaky foray into religion with Associate Professor of Classics, Philosophy and Religion Mary Beth Mathews. “The Abrahamic Religions” dissected Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and gave Henderson a new view.

“I liked that class,” he said. “[Studying religion] has given me a chance to set aside my Christian lens and find a different perspective.”

With a schedule like his, perspective is important. He’s in the UMW Chorus, took part in the University’s recent branded marketing campaign, helps out in the Office of Admissions and squeezes in side jobs and classes where he can. That’s on top of a full-time curriculum, a part-time job with Academic Services, and of course, his work at the center, where he now administers the youth program he used to be part of.

Program Support Technician Charlotte Corbett-Parker, who supervises Henderson in Academic Services, credits his stellar performance, in part, to the skills he picked up at the center.

“These are life experiences that other students just don’t have,” she said. “You don’t see a lot of people wanting to serve the community the way [his family does]. Ben is tied into helping others. It’s something that comes natural to him.”

He also plays drums at church, where he’s passing his passion for the art down to the kids who’ve come after him. He plans to weave his musical talent into his dreams – attending seminary school, developing nonprofit programs, and teaching, all to bolster families and community.

“When I think of things I want to do, I never can say just one thing and leave it at that,” he said. “I think that’s because of how I grew up.”

Spring Break Abroad

UMW senior Ann Izzard peered out into the incredible mist. The grueling hike to the peak of the high-elevation cloud-forest mountain in Panama’s Altos de Campaña National Park had left her tired and sore. But the marathon trek turned out to be worth it.

“The view from the top was breathtaking,” said Izzard, a biology major who joined the recent UMW in Panama “Tropical Ecology” trip, led by biology professors Andrew Dolby and Alan Griffith.

UMW in London by UMW senior Elise Poffenberger UMW in Guatemala by UMW junior Alecia Milner and UMW senior Kristin Frye Ann Izzard enjoys the summit of a cloud-mountain peak in Panama. UMW Men's Rugby Ireland Tour by UMW junior Nathan Neri UMW in Quebec by UMW senior Kelly Morgan UMW in Guatemala by UMW junior Alecia Milner and UMW senior Kristin Frye UMW in Panama by UMW senior Ann Izzard UMW in the UK by UMW student Henry Mordica UMW in Austria by UMW senior Shanna Davidson

The adventure was among several spring break excursions that offered UMW students a chance to live and learn abroad – if only for one week. Dispersing across the globe, the travelers set out into Europe, South and Central America, and Canada to tour museums, study the environment, sample sports overseas and more.

Senior Kelly Morgan, a computer science and anthropology major, joined the UMW in Québec trip, flinging herself into the French-Canadian culture and language. The group, led by Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures Scott Powers, traveled the Great White North, exploring Québec and Montréal, with stops at the grand Château Frontenac on the St. Lawrence River, the unique Montréal BioDome and Duceppe Theatre.

Other groups visited the United Kingdom for “The Soccer Experience,” Austria to study the culture and the Holocaust, London to scope out British museums, Guatemala to study “Grassroots Sustainability,” and Ireland for the ninth UMW Men’s Rugby Ireland Tour.

Nathan Neri, a junior who majors in marketing, counted the Guinness Brewery tour among the many highlights of the Emerald Isle trip.

“How could it get better than going with your entire [UMW] team,” Neri said, “while also getting to play against the best college teams in Ireland.”

UMW Abroad offers a wide variety of winter break, spring break, and summer programs. To learn how you can earn academic credit on an international program, visit the Center for International Education’s website to learn more.

#MaryWashDay Makes History

The UMW community came together in a big way on March 14, 2017. Mary Wash Giving Day marked the largest single-day fundraising effort in Mary Washington history. In just 24 hours, 1,112 donors made gifts to areas across the University totaling $194,870.* Held on the 109th anniversary of UMW’s founding, #MaryWashDay was promoted across social media […]

Monroe Inauguration Comes to Life at UMW

Patriots braved this weekend’s blustery weather to witness the swearing in of the fifth United States president – or at least a festive reenactment of it.Saturday’s bicentennial commemoration of the inauguration of President James Monroe drew a couple hundred people, said Lynda Allen, public programs coordinator for The James Monroe Museum, which sponsored the event. […]

Behind the Scenes

Hairspray fills the dressing room beneath Klein Theatre stage. Not one but two types – flex- and firm-hold.“Hair is a character in this play,” Kevin McCluskey, associate professor of theatre and dance, said during dress rehearsals for Steel Magnolias. The UMW production runs through Feb. 26.

Madeline LeCuyer '11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shared tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias. Photo by Joshua Dela Cruz
Madeline LeCuyer ’11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shared tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias. Photo by Joshua Dela Cruz

Set in a small-town Louisiana beauty parlor, the show claims a six-person cast … and nine wigs, all lovingly created by LeCuyer, who brought them – along with her Broadway experience – from New York. A makeup artist and hairstylist, she’s worked on one hit after another, from Aladdin to Les Misérables. But her return trip to Mary Washington, where she shared tips with students, brought her full-circle.

“The bug had already bit, but this is where it really sank in its fangs,” said LeCuyer, who found her calling during her own undergrad years.

A native of Newport News, Virginia, she followed family members, including great-grandmother Bessie Satchell Amory ’29, to Mary Washington, where LeCuyer majored in theater and classical studies. Two experiences – a master class on wig design for the 18th-ceuntry styles in She Stoops to Conquer and a stage makeup course taught by McCluskey – helped her find passion backstage.

“I saw that spark in her,” McCluskey said. “When I challenged her to push herself, she did.”

At UMW, LeCuyer designed hair and makeup for Our Town, Romeo and Juliet, and Seascape, and interned with the American Ballet Theatre. Now, with a master’s degree in wig and makeup design from North Carolina School of the Arts and a cosmetology license from Empire Beauty School in Queens, she’s pushing others.

“I’ve grown so much working with Madeline,” said biology major Claire Stanchfield, who’s on the Steel Magnolias hair crew with international affairs major Delmi Fonseca-Portillo.

The wigs LeCuyer delivered for this quick-change production sit on an overhead shelf, each worth hundreds of dollars. To make her masterpieces, she scours scripts for context clues, and researches colors and styles. Then she begins the hours-long process of ventilating, similar to latch-hook, to create natural-looking hairlines and custom foundations, one strand at a time.

Madeline LeCuyer Madeleine Dilley and Lily Olson. Mandy Barnes. Catherine O'Meara, Madeleine Dilley, and Mandy Barnes. Madeline LeCuyer '11, a makeup artist and hairstylist on Broadway, shares tricks of the trade with UMW students in preparation for the opening of Steel Magnolias.

In Steel Magnolias, for example, LeCuyer frosted a wig for the role of M’Lynn, to complement senior Gwen Levey’s dark hair. Extra pins keep the hairpiece in place during nightly washings and rollings onstage.

LeCuyer spins the same magic on Broadway, where she’s worked on The Book of Mormon, Cinderella, Disaster! and Phantom of the Opera. On her current show, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, a musical adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, she handles all manner of hair pieces, accessories and braids, even a fake bun that hides a mic.

She finds time for her alma mater, too, returning to campus last summer to assist with UMW’s first-ever TV commercial, teaching a recent master class on prepping for wigs and helping Mary Washington students find their own spotlight.

“As a student,” LeCuyer said, “it’s important to know that if this is what you truly love to do, there’s a way to make a life for yourself doing it.”

For tickets to see Steel Magnolias, call the Klein Theatre Box Office at 540-654-1111 or buy them online.

Legacy of Love

Her hearing aids are turned as high as the heat in her cozy apartment, but dressed in a navy blue sweater and pearls, she looks lovely. It’s a good day for visitors.

On Valentine’s Day, Virginia Thomas Dickinson Morgan ’39 will turn 99. But in August of 1935, she was headed to college.

Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong. Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong. Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong. Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong.


Kelly Morgan ’00 leans in close to her grandmother, thumbing through pages of old Battlefield yearbooks. One in particular stands out. Morgan points to a picture of herself – a young woman on the steps of a newly built George Washington Hall.

It’s a black-and-white photo, but with stints as a student and on the staff, Morgan’s Mary Washington memories are filled with color. And with two sisters and two grandchildren – one an orthodontist, the other an attorney – who are also alums, her story comes with its share of coincidence.

Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39.
Virginia Dickinson Morgan with her parents, cousin, and sisters, Orene Dickinson Todd ’37 and Norma Lee Dickinson Walker ’41. The girls grew up on a Spotsylvania County dairy farm.

Morgan grew up on a Spotsylvania County dairy farm at a time when few women went to college. Still, one by one, she and her sisters, Orene Dickinson Todd ’37 and Norma Lee Dickinson Walker ’41, enrolled at the all-woman State Teachers College in Fredericksburg.

Morgan took typewriting, shorthand, economics, and more, and joined the Alpha Phi Sigma honor society. She served as class treasurer and worked on the then-student newspaper The Bullet and the Battlefield yearbook. A junior when the school’s name changed to Mary Washington College, she helped design the first MWC ring.

She remembers ­3-o’clock teas and formal meals in the dining hall, with assigned seats and impeccable standards upheld by notorious Dean of Women Nina Bushnell. “She had very strict rules,” Morgan said. “You didn’t disobey any.”

She and Virginia-Hall roommate, Lucy Oliver Harris ’39, became best of friends, shopping in Fredericksburg, spending time at the amphitheater and treating themselves to ice cream and Cokes at the C-Shoppe. One of their outings – a trip to visit Lucy’s cousin at the then-all-male U.Va. – would set Morgan’s Mary Washington legacy in motion.

That’s where she met James Patterson Morgan, who was “good looking,” she said. They started a courtship overseen by Bushnell, who demanded parent-approved lists of callers and smelled suitors’ breath before allowing them to pick up their dates.

“Of course we couldn’t ride in a car with a boy,” Morgan said.

When the dean couldn’t discourage the romance, national security stepped in. James was called to serve the country as an Army Air Corps navigator in World War II. With her beau away when she graduated, Morgan clung to campus, signing on as secretary to Dean of the College Edward Alvey Jr.

“He was a fine gentleman and always very professional,” Morgan said of Alvey, for whom she would work for six years. “I was very fortunate.”

But love wouldn’t wait for the war. In 1942, when James’ troop train stopped overnight in Springfield, Mass., Morgan was waiting. They tied the knot right then and there.

Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong.
Virginia Dickinson Morgan ’39 met husband James Patterson Morgan on a weekend trip to U.Va. with Mary Washington roommate Lucy Oliver Harris ’39.

James returned home safely from the war, and their marriage would span 63 years, until he passed away in 2005. He had transferred from U.Va. to Duke, where he completed his bachelor’s degree, served in the Air Corps Reserves and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He had raised three sons – James Patterson Jr. and twins Jon and Gary – with Morgan, who left her Mary Washington job to be a stay-at-home-mom, and briefly taught high school in Warren County, Virginia.

It would be Gary’s children, Kelly and Michael Morgan ’05, who would follow their grandmother – and their late great-aunts – to Mary Washington.

On campus, Kelly studied chemistry and reveled in research, working to grow the dental office at Fredericksburg’s Moss Free Clinic. Amazingly, she lived in the same Virginia-Hall space her grandmother had shared with her long-ago roommate, Lucy. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kelly established Morgan Orthodontics in Lansdowne, Virginia, where she mentors current Mary Washington students. She has a 5-year-old son.

Michael majored in computer science, studied abroad and served in the Peace Corps. Just as Mary Washington transformed from a teacher’s school to a college when Morgan was a junior, it became a university when Michael was in his own junior year. A graduate of The George Washington University Law School, he is an attorney in Calvert County, Maryland.

And there’s one other thing. At UMW, he met wife Erin Weimert Morgan ’04, with whom he would welcome a son just last month, as well as his grandmother’s namesake, Virginia, now 3.

Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong. Virginia Dickinson Morgan '39 turns 99 on Valentine's Day. Her Mary Washington legacy is still going strong.

She was there for the recent family visit to Morgan’s assisted-living apartment in Warren County, where the family pored through those Mary Washington memories. Among them was a letter hand-typed by Alvey soon after Morgan left campus – but only in body, never in spirit.

After several attempts to fill her position, he finally had found a promising fit. “I’m so glad,” Alvey wrote. “However, there will never be another Miss Dickinson!”

Rhythm and Roots

For UMW junior Bethel Mahoney, coming to college was as much about freedom as anything else.

The middle daughter in a multi-ethnic family – her father is African-American; her mother Ethiopian – she was caught between kinships and cultures. A musical instrument, one that she’d choose more for its size than its sound, would help set her apart. Now, the first in her family to pursue a four-year degree, she’s a standout in UMW’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

Cellist Bethel Mahoney, a psychology major at UMW, is a standout in the University's Philharmonic Orchestra.

Composed of Mary Washington students and Fredericksburg-area musicians, the group is the perfect arrangement for Mahoney. A psychology major who prefers ensembles to solos, she thrives on making connections – from the freshmen she leads as a Mason Hall resident assistant to the impromptu jam sessions she strums up across campus.

“I love bringing people together through music,” said Mahoney, who grew up in Northern Virginia.

Her parents – her father played bongos and congas; her mother taught techno dance – were protective, and Mahoney would find her first taste of freedom away from home at summer camp. Still, she was drawn into her family’s musical world and chose to play the cello when she was 8.

“It was the biggest [instrument] they had at the time,” said Mahoney, who also plays guitar, piano and ukulele. “I took it.”

Took it and ran.

Music gave her that summer-camp sense of freedom, and she excelled. If she felt like a face in the crowd at her sprawling Annandale high school, that ended when she reached for her bow. She won awards for her playing and landed a seat in the school’s top orchestra.

Then, for her artwork – a flyer she created for a marketing class – she won something else … a fieldtrip to Mary Washington. “It looked amazing,” she said of the Fredericksburg campus. “I thought, ‘I’m ready for this.’”

She applied for early-action admission and managed to thwart her parents’ best efforts to keep her living at home. Mason Hall, it turns out, like those long-ago summer camps, gave her the space she needed to grow as a freshman. She signed on with the Songwriters Club, found work in the music department and joined the University’s branded marketing campaign.

“Bethel’s a nice person, but she’s also smart and hardworking,” said Philharmonic Director Kevin Bartram. “She has a lot of promise, and she’s coming out of her shell.”

Part of that progress stems from a project she’s tackling with Bartram. Together with two additional student aides, they’re working on a national initiative to uncover 19th-century composers’ obscure and partially finished scores and make them playable at the university level. It’s taken the group to the Library of Congress, and Mahoney recently spoke about her part of the project to a full house at UMW’s digital auditorium.

Back at Mason Hall, where she’s now an RA, her evolution continues. This first-generation college student is planning for grad school, working toward a career in music production and keeping a floor full of freshmen inline.

“They’re new and they need help. I know so much about this school, and I love putting it out there,” Mahoney said. “I really want to make this year top notch, because that’s where it all started.”

Shark Attack

The dorsal fins were enough to draw in her classmates, but 6-year-old Marlee Howell found herself focused on something else. An eyeball.

“I want to touch it, but it’s so gross,” said Marlee, one of nine elementary school students to attend a recent lab hosted by UMW Associate Professor of Biology Deb O’Dell.

The tiny scientists – second- through third-grade accelerated learners from The Merit School at Stafford – came to the Jepson Science Center to dissect a shark. Talk turned to things like the tooth fairy, video games and slime at points during the lesson, but these smaller-than-usual university students learned some pretty big things.

“Experiences like these drive a lot of their career aspirations,” said Merit School teacher Amie Canter. “A lot of them already know what they want to be when they grow up.”

The future professionals, who might one day serve the Fredericksburg area as healthcare workers and scientists, donned miniature lab coats, goggles and blue latex gloves. With the help of three student aids from O’Dell’s Comparative Anatomy class, they sliced through the sandpapery skin of dogfish sharks, exploring the animal’s skeletal structures, nervous systems and more.

“It’s important for kids to know how fun and exciting science can be,” said senior biology major Brandon Fincham, who plans to go into teaching. “There’s something special about seeing kids’ eyes light up when they get excited about something like dissecting sharks.”

The group learned the difference between veins and arteries, located the sharks’ livers and colons, and discussed the functions of major internal organs.

“The heart looks amazing,” said 8-year-old Kaleb Carter.

Canter makes it her mission to get her students out of the classroom as often as possible. They’ve visited Mary Washington Healthcare, met with mayors and lawmakers, even trekked to the White House. The class’s partnership with UMW, including Associate Professor of Chemistry Leanna Giancarlo, Professor of Biological Sciences Joella Killian and Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Parrish Waters, is ongoing.

“We are truly grateful for the educational opportunities the professors at UMW have provided,” said Canter, who plans another Mary Washington visit in March.

Junior biology major Brittany Pennington, who worked with the children during last month’s lab, said a similar opportunity in elementary school might have helped push her toward a career in the lab.

“Something like this, especially at this age, is important to attract more students into the science fields,” O’Dell said, “to show them what’s new and cool … to show them some of the things they can do.”