August 3, 2020

UMW Showcases STEM Activities

Small drones buzzed overhead as more than 600 people viewed the latest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Anderson Center at the University of Mary Washington on March 29 during the third annual  STEM Summit 16. Click to view slideshow. Showcasing the achievements of the region’s students, educators and businesses, the event featured more than 50 booths, including the UMW departments of biology, chemistry, computer science, earth and environmental science, geography, mathematics, physics and the admissions office. Germanna Community College, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren and a variety of regional schools also showcased 3-D printers, experiments and robotics among other STEM-related technologies. Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab and associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University, delivered the keynote address. One of the U.S. Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Cummings discussed drone technologies and human-machine collaboration. The Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual event is sponsored by Central Rappahannock Regional Library (FredTech) and Lockheed Martin. A few steps away in the Goolrick pool, five local school teams – from elementary to high school – competed in the regional SeaPerch competition. The SeaPerch program, funded by the Office of Naval Research, is an innovative underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Teams guided their remote-controlled submersibles through a series of tasks, including navigating an underwater obstacle course and retrieving weights. Teams also presented to a panel of judges about the overall projects. Two teams, both from the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity Dahlgren School, won the competition and will go on to a national SeaPerch competition in Mississippi. A different buzz could be heard further down Campus Walk during the 8th Annual UMW High School Calculus Tournament. Six local high school teams, consisting of 23 students, competed in a jeopardy-style competition and used individual buzzers to signal the correct answers. The Paul VI High School team from Fairfax took home the championship title with team members Christina Wulff, Stephanie Ibanez and Stephanie Keener. The Mountain View High School team from Stafford finished second. Thomas Sheehan, also from Paul VI High School, earned the top individual score of the tournament. More than $600 in prizes were awarded to the student winners as well as the schools represented by the top two teams. The event was sponsored by Dynovis.

Geography Professor Donald Rallis Retires

A portrait of Nelson Mandela hung on the wall of Donald Rallis’s office for most of his 23 years at Mary Washington.  In and of itself, this fact does not distinguish Donald from academics across the world. Mandela’s name and face were symbols of the anti-apartheid movement that galvanized college campuses in the late 1970s and 1980s and many faculty and students have embraced Mandela as a symbol of freedom and justice. Yet, Donald’s choice of office decoration symbolizes aspects of his character and accomplishments that deserve notice as we mark his retirement after 23 years as a teacher, mentor, and colleague.

Donald grew up in apartheid South Africa and had access to the privileges and wealth that system afforded members of his race. Yet, by the time he arrived at the University of Witwatersrand in the late 1970s, Donald’s sense of justice ensured he became a student activist against apartheid. Upon earning his bachelors of science in geography in 1982, he left South Africa to avoid compulsory service in a military charged with the preservation of a racist state. He then earned his master’s degree at the University of Miami before completing his doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University.

In 1990, Donald arrived at Mary Washington College – a smaller, quieter, and less diverse institution than UMW is today. He developed courses in third world development and world cities and, throughout his time here, encouraged students to transcend American parochialism and open up to the diversity of our world. In all of his classes, he asked students to understand that overcoming political, social, and economic injustice required both perseverance and the acquisition of knowledge. At the same time, his students learned that geography provides an approach to obtaining that knowledge. Carole Gallagher ’91 took courses in urban and economic geography with Donald during his first year at MWC. Now an associate professor of geography at American University, Carole writes, “Donald probably doesn’t know it, but he is the reason I went to grad school. He opened my eyes to  the openness of geography as a way of doing research.”

During Donald’s first years at MWC, momentous changes occurred in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and years of struggle, protest, and international pressure led to the negotiations that ended apartheid. Donald quickly organized a summer study abroad program so that MWC students could experience these events and learn about his home country.  Patty Mims ’92, a participant in the first of these programs, states that “the cultural and geographic experiences we had in South Africa enlightened me to hope, struggles for equality, and the ability of people to always make the best of every situation.” A few years later, Donald included the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton on the South African field program’s itinerary. By chance, Nelson Mandela was completing his morning walk as Donald and his students passed his residence.  Mandela stopped to shake hands with the entire group providing our students with a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

For Donald, the pursuit of social justice cannot be separated from teaching and learning. He also believes that college campus must be safe spaces for all members of the community to explore different perspectives and be true to our identities. Donald had been open about his sexuality in South Africa and as a graduate student in the U.S., but upon his arrival at Mary Washington friends cautioned him against making his identity as a gay man widely known. When the Clinton administration established its infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the armed services, however, Donald felt compelled to speak out. His 1993 op-ed in the Bullet, which began with the words, “I am gay and I am angry,” led to a forum on homosexuality organized by Professor Pat Metzger for her seminar on equality.

Richard Russo ’93 recalls, “Can anyone who was there forget the electric Stageberg-Rallis ‘Great Debate’ on homosexuality?  The forum that was to take place in the Monroe Hall auditorium was moved to Dodd Auditorium to accommodate the over 1,000 people who came to listen. I remember the excitement as the crowd moved down Campus Walk as if it were yesterday!”  (go here for more of Richard’s thoughts on Donald’s retirement). Richard cites Donald’s public courage as giving him the strength to embrace his own identity and to stand proud as a gay man – a sentiment shared by Matthew Michaelson ’97.  Jeff McClurken ’94 remembers that fellow students reconsidered their own homophobia in the wake of this event and fully credits Donald with moving Mary Washington along the path to becoming a welcoming place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students.

During his 23 years at Mary Washington, Donald taught thousands of students and created field programs in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and Cambodia. His ability to draw insights about culture from even the most mundane landscapes inspired students to explore the world and become geographers – whether they majored in the subject or not. He integrated web-based technologies into his classes in the 1990s and remains at the vanguard in utilizing blogs, discussion boards, and YouTube to take his classes out into the world and to bring the world into our classrooms. Donald’s blog site,, is utilized by faculty and students around the world. We hope he will continue to inspire Mary Washington students by teaching online classes and, perhaps, by leading field programs in Cambodia, where he has joined the faculty of the American University of Phnom Penh. Please join the entire UMW Geography Department in wishing him every success.

UMW Geographers Gain Accolades

Two University of Mary Washington geographers were honored at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers this year in Roanoke, Va.

Ethan Bottone’s, 2014, poster presentation, “Documenting Language Erosion and Preservation Efforts in the Canadian Arctic,” was recognized as the best undergraduate research paper in human geography at the conference.

Professor Dawn Bowen, UMW Simpson Award Winner in 2012, was one of three faculty to win SEDAAG’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

SEDAAG represents geography departments in public and private universities and colleges in 10 southeastern states.  Go to for more information


UMW Graduate Program in Geospatial Analysis to Begin Fall 2014

The University of Mary Washington’s Master of Science in geospatial analysis has been approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, paving the way for students to enter the program for the fall 2014 semester. The M.S. in geospatial analysis will be an intensive 12-month program designed for both recent graduates and working professionals. Geospatial analysis encompasses geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS) to organize, analyze and display spatial information. UMW will be one of only two institutions in Virginia to offer an advanced degree focused solely on geospatial analysis. The M.S. in geospatial analysis will be an intensive 12-month program designed for both recent graduates and working professionals. The graduate degree was approved by the Board of Visitors in February. A complete course outline is available at “UMW is an ideal place to study geospatial analysis because of its location mid-way between Washington, D.C., and Richmond and because of its commitment to the liberal arts and sciences,” said Steve Hanna, chair of the Department of Geography. Professor Brian Rizzo (right) works with students in UMW's GIS lab. He said that, in addition to needing employees with advanced technical skills, employers look for a flexible workforce, with expertise in world cultures and languages, mathematics, statistics, computer science and the natural sciences, and spatial thinking. “Employment announcements stress the need for written and oral communication skills,” said Hanna. “All these are emphasized in the UMW curriculum.” UMW’s program will require 30-course credits, which will be available through evening classes and can be taken by both full-time and part-time students. Applications for the program will have a recommended filing date of June 1, 2014. For more information, contact Brian Rizzo, director of GIS programs, at or Steve Hanna, chair of the Department of Geography, at

Navigating the Past

UMW senior gives a modern twist to local history.

Around the Globe in a Semester

More than 100 students are discovering geography as Professor Donald Rallis experiences it.

Stephen Hanna Publishes Article about Former Slave’s Map

Dr. Stephen Hanna, professor and chair of the Geography Department at the University of Mary Washington published “Cartographic Memories of Slavery and Freedom” in Cartographica, a leading journal in the fields of cartography and geovisualization.  This piece examines a map drawn by John Washington, a Fredericksburg slave who escaped bondage in April 1862 as the Union Army approached the town.  As a part of Washington’s memoir, Memorys of the Past (written in 1873 but not published until 2007), this map represents the Fredericksburg Washington experienced as a slave and remembered as a free man.

Winter Break Study Abroad Program in Cambodia Offered for the First Time at UMW

While winter break sent scores of college students scrambling for the comforts of home, UMW geography major Brian Brown spent his winter break out of the country for the very first time.  He was one of seven UMW seniors in Cambodia as part of a three-and-a-half week study abroad program with Associate Professor of Geography Donald Rallis and Assistant Dean of Academic Services Amber Huffman, who is a geography graduate of UMW. The students chronicled their journeys through blog posts and social media.

The winter break program, offered for the first time at Mary Washington, is one of only a few of its kind in the country, according to Rallis. Students on the trip will earn credit for a Geographic Study Abroad course toward the requirements for the geography major.

For the full story, read the Jan. 11 web feature.

Dawn Bowen

Dawn Bowen, associate professor of geography, had a paper, “Resistance, Acquiescence, and Accommodation: The Establishment of Public Schools in a Conservative Old Colony Community,” published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review in October, as well as two entries published in the Encyclopedia of Geography. In November, at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers, she presented a paper, “Experiential Learning in the Field: Short-Term Study Abroad Programs,” and was elected to the organization’s Honors Committee.