May 31, 2023

Mary Washington Alumna Issues 1908 Challenge

An alumna from the Class of 1949 is sponsoring the Virginia Colwell Read 1908 Challenge to inspire donors to make 1,908 gifts on Mary Wash Giving Day. Mary Washington was founded in 1908, and the 1908 Society recognizes alumni whose classes already have celebrated 50th reunions. It is in that spirit that Virginia Colwell Read ’49 is challenging alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff, students, and businesses to make a total of 1,908 gifts on March 20, 2018, to unlock her $5,000 gift to the Fund for Mary Washington.

“I was brought up with the obligation to return what has been given to me so others will be blessed,” says Virginia. “My education was given to me, and it is my hope that by supporting UMW and this challenge, others will be able to share the advantages of an education.”

Virginia credits Mary Washington professors and specific advice from Dean of Women Nina Bushnell for many of her career and life successes. Mrs. B’s advice during freshmen orientation in the fall of 1945 was, “You can if you will – but you won’t, or will you?” At a point in history when there were few, if any, women architects, engineers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, business entrepreneurs, or economists, this advice came to mean a lot to Virginia as she discovered something very important and life-changing across campus.

“Professors at Mary Washington actually encouraged us to use our expanding intellect,” she says. “They didn’t treat us as subservient entities, but as unique individuals with skills and meaningful ideas. I learned that what I thought truly mattered.” Virginia says that feeling of “you can if you will” gave her confidence to express herself without fear of being laughed at or put down.

The confidence gained at Mary Washington has had tremendous staying power as Virginia’s class nears its 70th reunion. “In a lifetime of careers and homemaking, raising children and engaging in community affairs, traveling or setting roots, the fact that my professors accepted me as a valued individual – regardless of my gender – has helped me navigate numerous and varied roads,” she says.

We can, if YOU WILL help UMW meet the Virginia Colwell Read 1908 Challenge by making a gift on Mary Wash Giving Day. Mark your calendar for March 20. For more information, visit

Chemistry Professor Sparks Alumna’s Career Success

When Marilyn Shull Black ’69 remembers Mary Washington, she pictures herself back in chemistry class in Combs Hall listening to an enthusiastic professor with a funny, Bostonian accent. The accent was especially noticeable to Marilyn since she was a Southern girl from Rock Hill, S.C., but it was more than the accent that caught her attention.

“Dr. Mahoney had an outgoing personality, he was engaging, and he showed me I could actually solve problems,” says Marilyn. “His passion for chemistry was the spark that ignited my future.” After working with Dr. Mahoney on her honors thesis – and being granted access to an atomic absorption spectrometer to measure the relationship between trace metals in children’s blood and their health impact – Marilyn decided to pursue a career in medical research.

This newly illuminated path led to a master’s degree from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Georgia Tech. Through the years, Marilyn held numerous research positions, including jobs at the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories, Harvard School of Public Health, and Environmental Research and Technology. In 1989, she founded Air Quality Sciences Inc. (AQS), which rapidly became the leading testing and research company focused on reducing chemical and biological indoor air pollution.

In 2001, Marilyn founded the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, a worldwide, non-profit, voluntary product certification program that works with more than 600 manufacturers. Today, she is Vice President and Senior Technical Advisor for Underwriter Laboratories.

“I love children and I love being a mother and grandmother,” says Marilyn. “I’ve spent all my career in chemical and environmental sciences specifically measuring indoor air quality and its impact on children’s health. The more I learned about contaminants, environmental exposure, and their connection to children’s health, the harder I worked to find solutions.”

Marilyn explains that adults get about 75 percent of environmental exposure to contaminants from the air they breathe. Since children breathe faster and have less body weight, they get even higher doses of contaminants, which can negatively impact brain development.

To show gratitude for Dr. Mahoney’s positive influence on her education, life, and overall career, Marilyn recently established the Bernard L. Mahoney Jr. Student Research Fellowship in Science. Dr. Mahoney retired from Mary Washington in 2002 and was granted emeritus status in recognition of his 39 years of service. He was honored to learn about the new endowment named for him that will offer assistance to UMW students majoring in a natural or physical science discipline. Selected students can receive stipends and essential support for research equipment, supplies, and/or approved conferences. At the conclusion of each Mahoney Fellowship, students will submit a summary report and showcase the final results.

Marilyn’s gift to fund the Mahoney endowment came through the Khaos Foundation, an Atlanta-based, non-profit organization she founded and named in reference to the mythological goddess of air. “I hope the new endowment in honor of Dr. Mahoney will serve as a catalyst to spark passion in others,” says Marilyn. “Perhaps they can continue to research problems and find real solutions that make a difference in our society.”

For information about giving opportunities, contact the UMW Office of Advancement at 540-654-2059.