September 24, 2022

UMW Gets it Right With ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

UMW juniors Nathaniel Huff (left) and Seth Drenning ’24 star in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong.’ Photo by Geoff Greene.

UMW Theatre opens its 2022-23 season with a show that has college students performing a play about college students performing a play.

The descriptor might be redundant, but the outcome is riveting, said Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull.

The Play That Goes Wrong is the story of a cast of wannabe stars committed to pulling off their opening-night presentation of Murder at Haversham Manor despite boundless blunders and missteps. Packed with comedic elements and technical touches, this play within a play stretches the talents of UMW students who act like actors in a murder mystery gone awry. The show – onstage in Klein Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 2 – kicks off a season specifically designed to coax theatregoers into continuing to return to in-person performances.

“The very nature of this play is so different from what people expect from theatre,” said senior computer science and theatre major Ethan Pearson, who’s cast as Chris. “The dominoes keep falling to make things worse and worse, and you just can’t wait to see what fails next.” Read more.

UMW Psychology Grad Speaks About Veteran Mental Health

Robyn Shepardson ’05, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is this year’s psychology graduate-in-residence.

Robyn Shepardson ’05, a clinical psychologist and researcher at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is this year’s psychology graduate-in-residence.

Robyn Shepardson wants more mental health care to be available for veterans.

“They’ve experienced horrors of war that civilians cannot imagine,” said Shepardson, who earned a degree in psychology from the University of Mary Washington in 2005. “As a society, we owe it to those who have served to take good care of them when they leave the military.”

She hoped to impart her message – that integrating mental health into primary care settings is key to increasing access to service for veterans affected by repeated deployments, combat or traumatic brain injuries – during a recent visit to UMW.

This year’s psychology graduate-in-residence, Shepardson delivered a lecture titled “Increasing Access to Mental Health Treatment: Clinical Research Evaluating a Brief Anxiety Intervention for Primary Care Behavioral Health Settings.” The free public presentation took place in the Hurley Convergence Center Digital Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 15. Read more.

Three Professors Receive Colleague-Chosen Awards

University of Mary Washington professors bestowed prestigious awards on three of their colleagues at the Fall 2022 Faculty Address earlier this month. Professors of English, German and physics were praised for their commitment to their fields, the art of teaching and the importance of service.

Maya Mathur

Maya Mathur, Associate Professor of English

Associate Professor of English Maya Mathur

Professor of English Maya Mathur received the Grellet C. Simpson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. The honor recognizes full-time faculty members, who – like Simpson, UMW’s fourth president – place an emphasis on quality teaching and the liberal arts.

Since earning the rank of associate professor six years ago, Mathur has created six courses, including sought-after first-year seminars Shakespeare and Popular Culture and From Cinderella to Harry Potter: Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature. Tailored to the interests of 21st-century students, Mathur’s courses blend canon with modern topics, prompting exploration of class, race, gender and power within texts.

“The enthusiasm and engagement my students bring to class both enhance my understanding of literary texts and help me develop new ways to analyze it,” said Mathur, whose meticulously constructed Canvas pages and use of engaging applications like Padlet and Flipgrid stand out.

She shares innovative ideas and has worked with the Center for Teaching to co-sponsor workshops, including one focused on race in the classroom. “Many faculty and students are eager to address race,” said a nominator. “Professor Mathur is leading the way in guiding us to do so.”

Marcel Rotter

Associate Professor of German Marcel Rotter

Associate Professor of German Marcel Rotter

Associate Professor of German Marcel Rotter received the J. Christopher “Topher” Bill Outstanding Faculty Service Award for those who have taught at UMW at least seven years and held significant service roles in their departments, colleges and community. The award was established in 2003 in honor of longtime UMW psychology professor Topher Bill.

Rotter, who chairs the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, works to promote and improve German language instruction at Mary Washington and in Virginia, organizing continuing education events for teachers and cultural immersion experiences for students. “His work cultivates key relationships and promotes UMW as a cultural hub and an institution with a global mindset,” said a nominator.

In 18 years at Mary Washington, Rotter also has served as chair of the University Faculty Council, leading a revision of the general education curriculum, and as treasurer for the Faculty Senate of Virginia, all while keeping students top of mind.

“Many of our students have never left Virginia, let alone the U.S.” said Rotter, who also is VP for the Society of German American Studies. “My colleagues from around the world and I are here to show them what’s out there.”

Varun Makhija

Assistant Professor of Physics Varun Makhija

Assistant Professor of Physics Varun Makhija

Assistant Professor of Physics Varun Makhija won the Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Award, for those who’ve taught full time at Mary Washington for two to five years.

At the end of his first semester at Mary Washington in fall 2019, Makhija found himself the sole physics professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics. And so, in three years, he taught 21 of the 24 physics offerings in the course catalog; supervised 19 students in individual studies, internships and Summer Science Institute research; and reinvigorated UMW’s chapter of the Society for Physics Students, which won awards in 2020 and 2021.

Makhija is “the glue,” said nominators, “that has, through sheer enthusiasm and love for teaching and physics,” held the program together.

At Mary Washington, he has worked to connect the campus physics community with scholars in the field and published six papers in leading journals, often with undergraduate co-authors.

“The primary motivation for me has been our students,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot from them, and I’ve tried my best to provide an environment in which they can do things they’re passionate about, and then go to the places they want to go after UMW.”

Thanks to Associate Professor of Mathematics Education Kyle Schultz, who provided a transcript of his awards presentation, and to the members of last year’s Committee for Sabbaticals, Fellowships and Faculty Awards.

UMW Presidential Address Ushers in the 2022-23 Academic Year

UMW President Troy Paino addresses faculty and staff before the start of the fall 2022 semester. Photo by Paige Shiplett.

UMW President Troy Paino addresses faculty and staff before the start of the fall 2022 semester. Photo by Paige Shiplett.

University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino kicked off the fall semester – and the 2022-23 academic year – Tuesday morning during an in-person address to faculty and staff.

“I haven’t been able to welcome you like this for a while,” Paino said from the stage in George Washington Hall’s Dodd Auditorium.

The start-of-the-semester assembly came after what Paino called a busy summer and a very successful legislative session in which the commonwealth made a historic investment in UMW. The president spoke of plans for the funding, the launch of a new strategic vision slated to be revealed this fall, the filling of key administrative roles and – most importantly – the importance of welcoming a strong and diverse incoming class. Read more or watch the YouTube video of the entire address.

UMW Makes Princeton Review’s 2023 Best List

UMW's Lee Hall

UMW’s Lee Hall

The University of Mary Washington is among 16 Virginia colleges to make Princeton Review’s Best 388 Colleges: 2023 EditionRead more.

Fleming, Jones Tapped to Advance Student Experience

Two University of Mary Washington administrators dedicated to the student experience – Associate Dean for Student Involvement Melissa Jones and Assistant Dean for Residence Life and Housing Dave Fleming – begin this 2022-23 academic year in new roles.

Dave Fleming and Melissa Jones

Dave Fleming and Melissa Jones

Jones has been named dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs. Fleming has been named dean of residence life and housing and serves as assistant vice president for student affairs. Both will be working in crucial campus roles held for decades by Cedric Rucker who retired this summer.

In their new positions, Jones who came to UMW in 2014 as assistant dean for student involvement, and Fleming who arrived in 2015 as associate director of residence life, will continue to enhance the campus experience, in what they call UMW’s, “conversational” approach to student engagement.

“I love watching them apply the skills they’re learning in class, through their involvement in clubs and throughout college,” Jones said. “We try to make sure Mary Wash students have a seat at the table, become engaged and get involved.”

Assistant Dean of Student Involvement Melissa Jones thrives on her role helping new college students find their way.

As Assistant Dean of Student Involvement Melissa Jones thrived on her role helping new college students find their way.

Promoted to associate dean in 2017, Jones has led UMW’s Student Involvement team, overseeing Orientation, Campus Rec and Student Activities and Engagement, fostering a peer mentorship program and highlighting the importance of student collaboration.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and English, with a minor in African American studies, and a master’s degree in social foundations of education from the University of Virginia. She also earned a master’s in counseling psychology with a concentration in college student personnel administration from James Madison University.

Having been in higher education since 1999, Jones worked in residence life and housing, student conduct and academic integrity, and residence education at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She also worked in residence life at the University of Richmond. She has taught courses and held roles in student conduct, Title IX, crisis management, career services, student leadership development, and in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Promoted to assistant dean for residence life and housing in 2017, Fleming has led critical areas such as residence hall strategic planning, budget management, program development and assessment, and staff development and supervision. He’s been a leader in crisis management, assuring after-hours emergency response and adherence to protocols, all with a focus on students.

Dave Fleming on move-in day in 2017

Dave Fleming on move-in day in 2017.

Most recently, he’s served as co-chair of the University’s Public Health Advisory Working Group throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve been able to move the University through, while minimizing the impact on students and making sure they’re having as good an experience as possible,” he said.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in business administration, from Salisbury University in Maryland and a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of New Haven in Connecticut. He has worked in higher education since 2006, holding various positions in residence life at Salisbury University and at VCU.

In his new role as dean, he’ll continue to lead the charge to optimize residential life for UMW students, and as assistant vice president for student affairs, he’ll also oversee the area of student conduct and responsibility.

Together, Jones said, she and Fleming will strive to maintain the feeling she found her first day at UMW. It’s a goal they’ve shared on and off campus, as Jones and Fleming married in 2015.

“I remember coming to the conclusion that this really feels like home and hoping that’s what it feels like for our students,” she said. “Eight years later, I know that’s what it feels like for our students.”

Move-In Week News From Dining Services

Students dining on campus

Students dining on campus

A message from UMW Dining Services:

University Dining is excited to welcome everyone to campus for the fall 2022 semester!  Please visit the Campus Dining website for the latest updates or read the Welcome Letter for more information.

*  Food options and serving hours during move-in week

* The Dining Welcome Tent hours with free lemonade, prizes, and dining information

* The time meal plans go active

* Dining gift packages, jobs, and lots more!



Stull on “With Good Reason” Radio, Aug. 6-12

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and Producing Director of UMW Theatre Gregg Stull is interviewed on With Good Reason radio this week, Aug. 6-12. In the episode titled “Set the Stage,” Stull shares how some industries came to a slow crawl at the dawning of the pandemic, with curtains closing quickly for theatres across the country. Now we are returning to the stage, but theatre may be changed forever. Hear more online. 

Jody Wilken: Belmont Blooms

If Corinne Melchers could see the gardens at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont today – bursting with blooms in pinks, purples and yellows – Jody Wilken hopes she’d be pleased.

Master Gardener Jody Wilken is landscape lead at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont

Master Gardener Jody Wilken is landscape lead at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont

As landscape lead at the 18th-century estate of the famous American artist and his wife, Wilken is tasked with maintaining the standards of natural beauty set forth by the late Mrs. Melchers. Records of what she planted and Garden Club of Virginia guidelines provide a template for maintaining the historic grounds, which Wilken embellishes with her own expertise.

“The discipline of having to stay within a timeframe is helpful to me,” she said. “Left to my own devices, it would probably be more of a hodgepodge of plants that I love.”

She was already in the weeds, as they say, when she landed her current position in December 2019. Having worked part time at Belmont for years alongside predecessor Beate Jensen, Wilken knew the flow of the seasons. Summer’s filled with weeding and watering. Fall means planning for warm weather’s return. Winter’s for paperwork catch-up and tending less prominent areas of the 27-acre property. And spring? Well, spring is showtime!

Wilken grew up fascinated with her grandfather’s Ohio farm and her grandmother’s complementary green thumb. Now a Master Gardener, she’s shared her expertise with others through stints at the local extension office, the Fredericksburg Farmers Market plant clinic and Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. She earned the Southern Garden History Society’s Young Professional Grant earlier this year, and grows tomatoes, melons, peppers, onions, garlic and herbs at her Stafford County home.

“I guess it’s in my blood!”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: When I’m out on the grounds and people ask about certain plants. It’s nice to be complimented. I take a lot of pride in my work.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: The physical aspect of it, especially in the heat of a Virginia summer. The plants need to be cared for regardless of weather, and they don’t care if the gardener is hot, sweaty and tired. I have to be careful not to overdo it.

Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Spring, although it’s also the busiest. The gardens at Belmont really put on a show from late March through early June.

Q: What’s your favorite plant?
A: I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t have one. My favorite color in plants is deep blue, uncommon in the plant world. I have an iris at home called “blue suede shoes.” It’s gorgeous.

Q: What’s your favorite flower-filled area at Belmont?
A: The four triangle beds planted with antique roses and hundreds of tulip bulbs and daffodils in spring.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I spent 21 years as a flight attendant and didn’t really start gardening until I retired in 2001.

Q: How do you spend your free time … other than gardening?
A: My husband and I are passionate about good food. Chopping and prepping is relaxing for me. I’m also an avid downhill skier, but I don’t get to do that enough in Virginia!

Sharon Williams: Graduation Evaluation

Assistant Registrar for Degree Audit Sharon Williams.

Assistant Registrar for Degree Audit Sharon Williams.

Starting a new job might not be at the top of most birthday to-do lists. But in September 2016, Sharon Williams was happy to spend her special day at the University of Mary Washington.

As assistant registrar for degree audit, she holds in her hands the future of hundreds of hopeful grads every year.

“Yes, I see them in my sleep,” Williams said of the applications she reviews for students closing in on completing UMW’s bachelor of arts and bachelor of science programs.

She runs reams of reports to identify missing requirements, then works – along with faculty advisors – to help soon-to-be graduates find ways to finish in time to cross the Ball Circle stage.

Things really ramp up when Commencement creeps close, but Williams’ world begins picking up speed as early as March.

“My inbox is full each day after getting through the day before,” said Williams, who has spent the better part of her career in higher education and completed a term on the University Staff Council last month. “Then there are the many phone calls and in-person visits.”

Each student’s circumstance is unique and calls for its own brand of support and encouragement, but the end goal is always the same.

“Everyone wants to know and hear you say it …,” Williams said. “Upon the success of this semester, you are on track to completing your degree(s).”

Q: Have you held any other positions at UMW?
: Yes, I worked as the Student Records Specialist when I first arrived in 2016, but I’ve always been in the Registrar’s Office.

Q: What are the most important qualities to have in a job where you’re working with young people eager to graduate from college?
A: Patience and empathy. Remembering that I was once in their shoes and someone was patient with me. 

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Being able to help students find solutions, even the ones that don’t know they need help. It takes an entire village to get students to the finish line, and I’m so grateful for all the support.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Telling a student they won’t graduate. I hear the heartbreak and see the tears, not always from the student but also the parents.

Q: What’s the most meaningful thing in your office?
A: I have a sign that says “Believe.” To me that means that even on your worst day, you need to continue to believe.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I grew up on a farm, but I don’t like to be outside for long periods of time.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Start each day with a grateful heart.