August 25, 2019

Beate Jensen: Rooting for Retirement

Beate Jensen, cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, who retires this month after 20 years on the job. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen, cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, who retires this month after 20 years on the job. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen ’99 has gardened in just about every climate. Born and raised in Norway, she married a Marine stationed in Scotland and scattered seeds far and wide as they moved from Hawaii to Spain and everywhere in between. But it wasn’t until she came to Fredericksburg in 1996 that she began planting roots.

“I went to the library one day and copied down addresses for every college in Virginia. I requested course catalogs and read each one with care,” Jensen said. “Mary Washington’s historic preservation program caught my eye, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Jensen’s commitment to research landed her the job of cultural resources manager at Gari Melchers Home and Studio (GMHS) at Belmont, a position she’s retiring from this month after 20 years. She’s done everything, from controlling pests in the garden to pestering contractors to follow her guidelines. She and her staff keep the Stafford County estate looking just as it did when American Impressionist painter Gari Melchers and wife Corinne lived there in the early 1900s – but for 21st-century visitors to enjoy.

Along the way, Jensen earned a master’s degree in library science, spurring her to record the building and landscape features into Belmont’s collections management system. Aided by the Garden Club of Virginia and other grants and gifts, her work to restore the Melchers’ home and grounds has earned accolades, including Stafford County Historical Commission’s annual Historic Preservation Award.

“Fulfilling Corinne Melchers’ wish for Belmont to serve as a memorial to her husband and a park for local residents has been a labor of love,” Jensen said. “And I cannot stress enough that this has been a team effort – my staff is the most dedicated group of professionals you can find.”


Beate Jensen, with her standard poodle, Tommi, at Belmont. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Beate Jensen, with her standard poodle, Tommi, at Belmont. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Q: What’s your favorite GMHS project?
A: The conclusion of each garden restoration project, no matter how large or small, is always satisfying. But I’m particularly proud of saving the Fannie Roots House [a historic cottage that was home to the civil rights activist by the same name]. I was recognized by Stafford County in 2011 for this project, but I’ve always felt the award should have gone to David Ludeker, [Belmont building and grounds assistant], as his skills and hard work prevented this building from being torn down. It’s a treasure – an outstanding example of post-Civil War vernacular architecture that rarely survives today.

Q: Do you have any favorite plants that the Melchers also enjoyed?
A: It’s been fun researching and bringing back old root stock roses that they grew in their garden.

Q: What’s your advice for novice gardeners?
A: Don’t create too many flower beds. Keep things simple by planting a variety of evergreen and flowering shrubs. Use mulch and clean up the garden in the fall to save yourself time and energy in the spring.

Q: What are your retirement plans?
A: My husband, Ken, who I met here in Virginia, and I are moving to Vermont, near my daughter’s farm. We’ll be just a few minutes from the mountains where I’ll get to hike with my dogs and go fishing.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: If it doesn’t feel good, you aren’t doing it right.

UMW Earns Spot Among Princeton Review’s ‘Best Colleges’

The University of Mary Washington has once again been named among the nation’s best byThe Princeton Review’s annual publication, The Best 384 Colleges. The 2020 edition of the leading college guide, which debuted today, profiles only about 13 percent of the nation’s 3,000 four-year colleges.   In it, students gave UMW high marks in both campus […]

O’Dell Connects Cell Phones, Cancer on ‘With Good Reason’

UMW Associate Professor of Biology Deb O'Dell will share her research on the link between cell phones and cancer on the With Good Reason public radio show.UMW Associate Professor of Biology Deb O’Dell will be featured on “Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?” on the With Good Reason public radio show. Her interview, which took place last August, is an encore presentation and will air August 3 to 9. The program is broadcast in Fredericksburg on Radio IQ 88.3 Digital on Sundays […]

Debra Schleef: Unlimited Data

Debra Schleef, associate provost of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness

Debra Schleef, associate provost of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness

“I’ll tell you where to look. I won’t tell you what to see.” Those are words that Debra Schleef lived by as a professor. These days, UMW’s associate provost of Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness spends much of her days analyzing data. But now she does tell her colleagues what to see in those numbers.

Schleef’s office is central to research on students, faculty and staff at Mary Washington, and she uses those statistics to advise senior administration so they can make data-informed decisions.

“If there’s a data element, it usually touches my office,” said Schleef, explaining that universities are required to share statistical information with federal and state governments.

Enter the new cloud-based framework Schleef and her team are beginning to work on this month. Aided by educational best practices firm EAB, the hub will unite a dizzying array of data environments from across the University and put UMW among the first to use an implementation of this type.

Schleef first came to Mary Washington two decades ago to teach sociology and says her background primed her for her current position, which is responsible for areas of internal and external reporting as well as assessment.

“Being a sociologist offers a unique insight into organizational dynamics, communication and change, which is so relevant in this job,” Schleef said. “And while I don’t teach as often, I understand inside and out what it’s like to be a UMW professor and department chair, so I love having the opportunity to help people in those roles.”


Q: What first piqued your interest in sociology?
A: I wanted to be a lawyer – sociology was recommended by my freshman advisor. I’d never heard of it, but I took my first class – a lecture with 500 students – and I was completely hooked.

Q: Why did you decide to make the leap to Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness?
A: I was looking for an administrative opportunity and love data collection, analysis and reporting. I’d been teaching it for 25 years, so it was a perfect fit.

Q: You constantly work with numbers. What about that appeals to you?
A: It can be exhausting because details have to be right, and you might have to run an analysis several times. But I love the challenge of puzzling out the best way to get at the data and the excitement of figuring out a conceptually tricky data analysis.

Q: What can you tell us about the EAB hub?
A: It will address systems integration, and data management and accessibility, with a single solution. We are also hiring a director of business intelligence who will be central to that process and will support the more enhanced data visualization and reporting that will follow.

Q: What’s the one thing in your office that means the most to you?
A: I have a shuttle from the Starship Enterprise, which is the pepper half of a salt and pepper shaker set. I got it when I first joined the enterprise scheduling committee in 2012. Plus, I like Star Trek.

Q: What do you like to do to relax?
A: Standup paddle boarding, running and hiking, board games and just walking around Fredericksburg enjoying small town life.

RISE Mentor Receives Citizenship Award for Diversity Leadership

Nehemia AbelRising senior Nehemia Abel’s path to Mary Washington started with a refugee camp in eastern Africa. Wanting their children to have a better future, his parents applied for resettlement in the United States. Though his family was one of the few who were fortunate to be chosen, they still endured hardships along the way. Those […]

UMW’s Eagle Village Welcomes AT&T Mobility, Patriot Subs

New Eagle Village businessesThe University of Mary Washington Foundation has announced that UMW’s Eagle Village will welcome two new businesses. Wireless communication services giant AT&T Mobility and made-to-order sandwich shop Patriot Subs will arrive soon on the ground floor of the Eagle Landing section of the residential and retail mixed-use Eagle Village development. Patriot Subs leased the 1,500 […]

Summer Science Symposium Brings Students’ Theories to Life

Summer Science SymposiumUMW senior Hannah Frederick boiled a summer’s worth of scientific research down to a single hypothetical question. Cool and collected, she asked a crowd yesterday: How can math be used to keep Eve from accessing online conversations between Alice and Bob? Despite the easy-to-digest synopsis, Frederick’s project – Applications of Circulant Matrices Over Finite Fields […]

Charles Tate: Material Man

It’s Seersucker Thursday, and a handful of UMW employees showed up for this year’s 10th anniversary celebration on campus. Clad in the super breezy, quintessentially Southern fabric, they braved an afternoon rain with temps hovering around a steamy 90 degrees to pose for pictures inside Monroe Hall.

UMW Director of Transfer Advising Charles Tate

UMW Director of Transfer Advising Charles Tate

In the center of the sea of pinstriped apparel – shirts and ties, jackets and suits – was the man who started it all, Director of Transfer Advising Charles Tate.

From his elegant office on Lee’s second floor, he helps transfer students – each with a unique situation and story – transition to life as an Eagle, and coordinates with the Virginia Community College System. When he’s not advocating for undergrads, Tate is a student himself … of fashion. Well, not really. “I own about 10 pairs of khaki pants,” he said.

Still, the U.S. Senate’s 1996 launch of Seersucker Thursday caught his attention. When he noticed many Mary Washington colleagues favor the fabric, as well, he hatched a plan with former UMW employee Meta Braymer, who oversaw development of the Stafford Campus. Together, they whipped up a whirlwind of camaraderie based on the all-cotton material.

“I think it works at UMW because there’s a sense of community here and a willingness to have fun with something that’s a little offbeat,” Tate said.

He’s worn a variety of hats since his arrival at UMW in 2004, working as a docent at Gari Melchers Home and Studio, a museum guide at the James Monroe Museum, an office manager and assistant dean in Admissions, and a student success coordinator and advisor in Academic Services. Through it all, he’s kept one thing consistent – wearing seersucker to work at least once every July.

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Tate tells naysayers and skeptics. “It’s a little bit of an acquired taste.”

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: Working with students and seeing them succeed. A close second is working with the people in my division. My colleagues and supervisors are caring, student-focused individuals who not only support students but also each other. I have been extraordinarily lucky to work with the people I’ve worked with at UMW. I do not take that for granted.

Q: What’s most challenging?
A: When I find an issue, I’d like to solve it immediately, and in higher education things move at a certain pace because of all the constituencies involved. Being patient and working through issues is my challenge.

Q: Moving to material, is pincord acceptable to wear on Seersucker Thursday?
A: While pincord is not seersucker, in the spirit of the day we accept pincord. Anyone who’s willing to participate is welcome.

Q: There’s a debate on the season for seersucker. What do you think?
A: Traditionally the seersucker season is Memorial through Labor Day. I’m willing to stretch it from Easter through Labor Day, following my friends farther south, but I refuse to wear it after Labor Day. You have to draw the line somewhere!

Bianca Hightower: Career Creator

Bianca Hightower, assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Bianca Hightower, assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development. Photo by Norm Shafer.

Bianca Hightower has several meaningful mementos and family photos decorating her office. But for the assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development, what reminds her most of why she loves her job are the signed business cards from UMW graduates she’s guided toward careers.

“I work closely with students to help them develop the skills and experiences they need to pursue their career goals,” said Hightower, who came to Mary Washington in 2013 and began her current role two years later. “I cherish seeing how successful they have become.”

Hightower oversees UMW’s Peer Career Consultant Program and helps students navigate the internship and job search, in addition to teaching a course that helps job seekers learn how to communicate their personal brand to prospective employers. One might assume that Hightower and the Career and Professional Development staff have downtime during the summer. On the contrary, the office is bustling with activity, especially after commencement, during orientation and before the start of the school year. In the meantime, the staff is busy preparing to help the next crop of students plan their futures.

If that isn’t enough, Hightower also supports teenagers throughout the region in finding pathways to success. She leads the James Farmer Scholars, a college access program for 250 students in grades seven to 12.

“Juggling these dual roles has certainly challenged me to grow as a professional,” Hightower said. “I manage by staying organized and being efficient. But I couldn’t do it without the people around me.”


Q: How did you come to work in this field?
A: I completed several internships during graduate school to discover my interests and career services was where I found my niche.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: When students are able to define and reach their goals. Figuring out a career path is a daunting task, so I applaud students for working through the process.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Finding time in the day to fit it all in. Our office is small, but we get the job done.

Q: Tell us about Handshake and how it works.
A: It’s a platform that students use to connect with potential mentors and employers, track their experiences and keep in touch with our office. The biggest use is for students to search for and apply to job and internships posted in the system by employers.

Q: How will the James Farmer Scholars celebrate the 100th anniversary of James Farmer’s birth next January?
A: We are planning a reunion for past Scholars and special activities for current participants.

Q: What was your favorite summer job as a teen or college student?
A: Working as an undergraduate RA during a summer school session at Wake Forest University. It was a different dynamic than during the academic year and helped solidify my desire to pursue a career in higher education.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I am obsessed with cheerleading! I recently had knee surgery after being on an adult cheer team, but it was worth it.

Fiske Names UMW Among Best Colleges for 10th Consecutive Year

For the 10th consecutive year, The Fiske Guide to Colleges has named University of Mary Washington among the country’s best colleges for delivering outstanding academics and reasonable prices. Among top-selling publications that compare colleges, the prestigious Fiske Guide is often considered the gold standard resource of its type. The 2020 edition, the 36th annual issue, […]