March 3, 2021

Phillip Duggins: CASE Chemistry

Phillip Duggins, UMW's associate director for Regional Alumni Engagement, won a CASE Award last week for last summer's "Chemistry in the Kitchen" program for Mary Washington alumni and their families.

Phillip Duggins, UMW’s associate director for Regional Alumni Engagement, won a CASE Award last week for last summer’s “Chemistry in the Kitchen” program for Mary Washington alumni and their families.

University of Mary Washington professors teaching science experiments online for alumni and their children to perform at home.

The idea was born from a start-of-the-pandemic brainstorming session attended by Phillip Duggins, UMW’s associate director for Regional Alumni Engagement.

Duggins shared the idea with his friend and neighbor, Davis Oldham, an associate professor of chemistry at UMW, who in turn connected him with fellow faculty members Leanna Giancarlo, Kelli Slunt and Janet Asper. In June, the trio taught “Chemistry in the Kitchen,” drawing an audience of over 150 alumni families. The virtual lunchtime learning classes are now available on YouTube.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) presented Duggins last week with a silver “Alumni Engagement on a Shoestring” award for his work on the popular program.

“I was so excited to share the news with our chemistry colleagues who partnered with us to make this event so successful,” Duggins said, “especially when they were in the midst of transitioning to online classes last spring.”

With more than two decades of experience in event planning and managing volunteers, Duggins was hired in 2019 to engage Mary Washington’s 41,000 alumni globally and help them feel connected to their alma mater. Organized by UMW’s 22 regional alumni networks and 10 affinity groups, events were mostly held in person before COVID hit.

Alumni engagement is more challenging now, Duggins said. But his team has found that Mary Washington graduates are still eager to take part in online events, such as last September’s virtual tour of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, led by a UMW alum who works at the site. Within 45 minutes, participants registered for all 100 spots, so organizers added a second tour, which also filled up quickly, drawing alumni from as far away as San Diego.

“Not everyone lives in or near a regional network or can travel,” Duggins said. “Virtual events like this are giving us the opportunity to reach a much wider audience.”

 

“Not everyone lives in or near a regional network or can travel,” said Duggins, who has helped Mary Washington's 41,000 alumni feel connected to their alma mater since coming to UMW in 2019. “Virtual events like this are giving us the opportunity to reach a much wider audience.”

“Not everyone lives in or near a regional network or can travel,” said Duggins, who has helped Mary Washington’s 41,000 alumni feel connected to their alma mater since coming to UMW in 2019. “Virtual events like this are giving us the opportunity to reach a much wider audience.”

Q: What other virtual events has Alumni Relations offered?
A: We’ve had cider and beer tastings, a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden light show, and several academic departments have hosted alumni happy hours. We’re exploring offering a coffee tasting, more tours of museums and cultural sites, and “Paint and Sip” events.

Q: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I grew up on a farm and was driving a tractor by the time I was 8.

Q: What’s your favorite thing in your office?
A: Pictures of my children: Madelyn, 15; Hannah, 14; and Zachary, 11.

Q: What have you been doing outside of work during the pandemic?
A: Keeping up with my kids’ activities and doing projects around the house.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the UMW campus?
A: The gates on Sunken Road. That area is so peaceful and relaxing.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: From my time as a Cub Scout: “Do your best.”

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Miriam Liss: Research Persistent

After her first interview for an academic position – at Mary Washington – Miriam Liss knew right away she wanted the job.

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

Professor of Psychological Science Miriam Liss

“It was so much fun. I loved everything about it,” said Liss, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Connecticut. “The people were wonderful. The students were wonderful. The town was charming.”

That was 20 years ago. Since then, she has risen in rank from assistant to full professor in the Department of Psychological Science. This fall, she’ll take on the role of chair.

Along the way, her life has woven itself into her work, which always focuses on students. With them, and with many fellow faculty members, she’s explored and published on myriad topics, from feminist identity and body image to sensory processing and self-injury. When Liss became a mother herself – to Emily, 12, and Daniel, 14 – her research turned toward the subject of parenting.

More recently, she’s embraced the concept of mindfulness. The results of a three-year study – with UMW professors Mindy Erchull, Dan Hirshberg, Angela Pitts and David Ambuel – appear in the current issue of The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry. Their research, a collaboration between the departments of Classics, Philosophy and Religious Studies, along with Psychological Science, found decreased levels of depression and anxiety in students who take UMW’s Contemplative Practice course.

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of 'The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.'

Miriam Liss has pursued a wide range of research at UMW, involving students every step of the way. Results of a recent study conducted with felllow faculty members were published in the current edition of ‘The Journal of Contemplative Inquiry.’

Liss hopes to instill the idea of mindfulness, and its effects on mental wellness, at an even earlier age, by collaborating with Mary Washington students and a social worker at Spotsylvania’s Riverview Elementary School to implement a first-grade curriculum. She’s guiding her research team to get the program off the ground and evaluate its effects, and to explore how mindfulness might protect against a variety of mental health outcomes in college students.

From the first course she taught, after that “fun” and fortuitous interview, to the classes she’s teaching, virtually, this semester – Psychology of Women, using the textbook she wrote with Erchull, and Abnormal Psychology – students have remained front and center.

“That’s one of the things I like so much about Mary Washington,” Liss said. “We’re allowed to develop our research agenda in any way we want as long as we’re involving students.”

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Working with students, especially my research students, and allowing their interests, along with my own, to shape what I do. Over the years I’ve worked with so many amazing students.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: Balancing everything. Sometimes I feel like I have so many balls in the air I’m afraid I’m going to drop one.

Q: Any big plans as department chair?
A: My colleagues and I have been working to develop a course through the Department of Psychological Science to prepare students for careers after college.

Q: What’s the one thing people would be most surprised to learn about you?
A: They might be surprised to know how involved I’ve been with theater. I made my Fredericksburg début in 2015 as the mother in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I love singing. I can do a mean show tune. My true fantasy is to retire and get on the stage.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Don’t get so tangled up in your thoughts. Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Also, I have a general motto of self-acceptance. We’re all going to mess up. It’s OK. We can still love all the parts of ourselves, not just the great parts.

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Chris Williams: Living Farmer’s Legacy

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

At the University of Mary Washington, the late James L. Farmer Jr. is known as the civil rights icon who organized the 1961 Freedom Rides and as a Mary Washington history professor who regaled his students with personal stories in his big, booming baritone.

But to Chris Williams, who has served as assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center since 2017, Farmer was a friend and neighbor with a “great sense of humor.” Growing up in Spotsylvania, Williams became close to the man whose quest for justice and equality would later inspire his own life’s work.

This week, Williams shared his story on the new PBS series “American Portrait.” UMW alum Shawn Mitchell ‘20, who interned at PBS last fall, suggested that Williams respond to the prompt, “What is the tradition you carry on?” Williams’ video was selected from 11,000 submissions for the episode, titled “I Rise,” which aired Tuesday night.

“Our job here is to continue the legacy of Dr. Farmer’s work but also teach incoming students and colleagues about who this great man was and what he sacrificed and what he contributed to the betterment of American society,” Williams told The Free Lance-Star. The Washington Post and Associated Press also helped spread the word about Williams’ appearance, and he will be featured on WJLA during Black History Month.

Williams cites JFMC’s social justice, diversity and anti-racism advocacy work, showcased through programming such as cultural events, teach-ins, a human rights film series and an annual justice summit. To kick off Farmer Legacy 2020 – the 100th anniversary celebration of Farmer’s birth – UMW students and local residents traced the same route in Oct. 2019 that the Freedom Riders took to desegregate interstate travel.

They returned from that fall break trip with a “renewed sense of vigor and purpose,” said Williams, who is working with UMW faculty members and Fredericksburg officials to have a historical marker erected at the former bus station on Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, the first stop on the Freedom Riders’ journey. Their goal is to have the marker in place this year, the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

“My relationship with Dr. Farmer is why I wanted to do these projects,” Williams said. “He fulfilled his obligation and duty of making this society better than when he entered it. So should we.”

Q: What are some of the ways JFMC has continued to engage students during COVID?
A: We’ve created great online programming, which can be found at www.umw.edu/multicultural. This spring, we’ll have events for MLK, Black and Women’s History months, as well as the Islamic Cultural Celebration and Passover Seder.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Seeing our incredible students persevere, despite daily challenges on and off campus.

JFMC Assistant Director Chris Williams with some of his favorite record albums. A prolific music writer, Williams will teach a music history course at UMW this fall. Photo Credit: Sabrina Vaz-Holder/The Free Lance-Star.

JFMC Assistant Director Chris Williams with some of his favorite record albums. A prolific music writer, Williams will teach a music history course at UMW this fall. Photo Credit: Sabrina Vaz-Holder/The Free Lance-Star.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Trying to deal with the pandemic on both a professional and personal level.

Q: You’re a music journalist who has been published in Ebony, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, among others, and you were recently featured on Netflix’s “Hip-Hop Evolution.” What’s next?
A: This fall I’m teaching a UMW music department course that covers the intersection of culture, race, politics and music history. Our students will also get to hear some transformative music by legendary artists.

Q: Who are your favorite performing artists?
A: Stevie Wonder; Marvin Gaye; A Tribe Called Quest; Earth, Wind & Fire; and The Isley Brothers.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Tell the truth.

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