September 24, 2019

Sarah Dewees: Helping Hand

Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement, which formally launches Sept. 9. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement, which formally launches Sept. 9. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

If universities were sorted into Harry Potter houses, Sarah Dewees knows where Mary Washington would land.

“I think of UMW as the Hufflepuff of small liberal arts colleges. Our students have a passion for working in the community, volunteering and making the world a better place.”

While she considers herself a bookish Ravenclaw, Dewees’ dedication to service and volunteerism – and her background in academia and nonprofit work – make her well-suited to be the associate director of the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), which officially launches next week, on Monday, Sept. 9.

Housed in the University Center, CCE promotes civic and community engagement, and supports faculty who are already integrating these types of opportunities into their teaching and research, and those who wish to start. Inspired by President Troy Paino’s strategic vision, Dewees and her CCE colleagues have developed a civic action plan to further the work currently being done in the Fredericksburg area by UMW students and staff.

Dewees and others at CCE have already been helping students think about ways they can serve others – from taking a community engaged class to voting and volunteering. With Virginia’s upcoming elections, CCE is focused on civic participation and will host a National Voter Registration Day on Ball Circle Sept. 24.

“At Mary Washington, we have a tradition of working in and with our communities,” said Dewees, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Kentucky. She also manages UMW Votes, Alternative Service Breaks and COAR – Community Outreach and Resources – the student-run organization inspired by the late Mary Washington professor and civil rights icon James Farmer.

“We’re lucky to have Dr. Farmer’s legacy here. He taught us that social justice includes both organizing and good works.”

 

Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement, which promotes civic and community engagement, and supports faculty in integrating these types of opportunities into their teaching and research. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Sarah Dewees, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement, which promotes civic and community engagement, and supports faculty in integrating these types of opportunities into their teaching and research. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Q: Where did you volunteer as a college student?
A: I worked on many political campaigns – handing out literature, knocking on doors and encouraging people to vote. I also interned at nonprofits, including the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which published the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Q: What brought you to Mary Washington?
A: My husband, Steve Hanna, has worked at Mary Washington as a geography professor since 1997, and I later joined him here.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Seeing the passion of UMW students.

Q: The most challenging?
A: There are so many opportunities and ideas for getting involved that finding a focus can be overwhelming.

Q: What in your office means the most to you?
A: A Mother’s Day card my son made me when he was 9. It’s now faded, but I still love it.

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: Everything downtown Fredericksburg has to offer – strolling the streets, coffee at Hyperion, kayaking on the Rappahannock and biking the Heritage Trail.

Q: Did you do anything fun this summer?
A: I visited the Musical Crossroads exhibition at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and saw the P-Funk Mothership. That was pretty amazing.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.