June 24, 2024

Summer Science Students Earn Perkins Research Awards

As temperatures soared near triple digits last Wednesday, the weather formed a compelling case for Ava Spencer’s research on how extreme heat impacts Fredericksburg’s most marginalized communities.

Participants in Mary Washington’s 2022 Summer Science Institute pose for a picture with their professors and peers. Photo credit: UMW’s Summer Science Institute.

Participants in Mary Washington’s 2022 Summer Science Institute pose for a picture with their professors and peers. Photo credit: UMW’s Summer Science Institute.

“I wanted to look at these issues from a sociological perspective, in a way that could help people,” says Ava, a rising senior majoring in environmental science at the University of Mary Washington.

She was one of a pair of students who took home the top prizes at UMW’s Summer Science Institute (SSI), which engages undergraduates in an intense 10-week research experience with professors and peers. At a public symposium held in the Hurley Convergence Center’s Digital Auditorium, she and physics major Kevin Leong were chosen by a panel of faculty judges to each receive a scholarship award through the John C. and Jerri Barden Perkins ’61 College of Arts and Sciences Student Research Endowment. The funds will help the students continue their projects through the upcoming school year.

Second place winners were Curtis Kasiski for his research on determining the dietary diversity of bumblebees, and Orianne Mbuyi Mujinga Kazadi for her work identifying fungal strains that can destroy invasive spotted lanternflies.

“I hope this award inspires them to open their minds to possibilities in life,” says Dr. Jerri Barden Perkins, who watched the presentations via Zoom. She was amazed at the variety and relevance of topics, she says, from fighting antibiotic resistance with phage therapy to using sockets to create video games. “The liberal arts and sciences education students find at Mary Washington broadens their perspectives and prepares them for the real world.”

Dr. Perkins earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Mary Washington and a M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia. She went on to conduct her own trailblazing research into rheumatoid arthritis and approved one of the first FDA drug therapies to combat AIDS. Her endowment, one of several she established at UMW, is in honor of her late husband, Cal, who practiced internal medicine.

“The Perkins scholarship award will allow us to recognize UMW students demonstrating exemplary performance,” says College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger. “This elevates SSI to a professional level.” Read more.

Chemistry Alums Mourn Passing of Beloved Professor

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Bernard Mahoney

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Bernard Mahoney

Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Emeritus Bernard Mahoney was in his element teaching and advising students during his nearly four decades at Mary Washington.

When alumni learned he had passed away on May 9 of this year, tributes began pouring in, reflecting on his many attributes: his “laughing” Irish eyes, his delightful Boston brogue, his knack for making even the most challenging of courses fun. Most of all, they spoke of how he made an impact on their lives and livelihoods, cheering them on for years, even after they graduated.

“He was my catalyst to succeed,” says Amanda Bruch McNeil ’80, crediting Dr. Mahoney for helping launch her career in the oil and gas industry at a time when it welcomed few women. “Without him, I never would have pursued that dream.”

Dr. Mahoney came to Mary Washington, then the women’s college of University of Virginia, in 1965. He held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston College and a doctorate in physical chemistry through University of New Hampshire. He also earned several prestigious fellowships, including from Harvard Medical School, the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

At Mary Washington, he served as department chair, was instrumental in creating the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program, and helped design the Jepson Science Center. He became a distinguished professor, earned UMW’s Grellet C. Simpson Award, and was granted emeritus status upon his retirement in 2002. Read more.

Alum Honors Friend With Scholarship and Bench

Class of 1993 alums and friends of Coby Frye, who helped fund the bench. From left to right: Patrick Fines, Warren Fischi, John Cheatham, Keith Park and John Anstey. Photo courtesy of John Anstey.

Class of 1993 alums and friends of Coby Frye, who helped fund the bench. From left to right: Patrick Fines, Warren Fischi, John Cheatham, Keith Park and John Anstey. Photo courtesy of John Anstey.

John Anstey ’93 remembers meeting Carl “Coby” B. Frye ’93 on the first day of their freshman year at Mary Washington.

“His infectious laugh and broad smile immediately put me at ease,” John says. The pair, who lived a few doors down from each other in Westmoreland Hall and later roomed together, became inseparable. “And that friendship carried us through our time at Mary Washington and into adulthood.”

After Coby died unexpectedly in spring of 2019, John decided to channel his grief into something meaningful. He and his wife, Kara Lee Matala ’94, established the endowed Carl B. Frye Jr. ’93 Scholarship for University of Mary Washington students who embody Coby’s positive, “can-do” attitude. In addition, the couple raised funds, along with six of their classmates, to memorialize their friend by naming a bench for him on Campus Walk, a place where they made so many memories together as students. Read more.

Fifth Annual Mary Wash Giving Day Breaks Records

The numbers are officially in! Last month, the University of Mary Washington community came together on Tuesday, April 5, in celebration of the fifth annual Mary Wash Giving Day, a 24-hour fundraising extravaganza to support UMW students, faculty and programs. Now that all online, mailed and phoned-in contributions have been counted, the day’s official results […]

Take Five! Mary Wash Celebrates Fifth Annual Giving Day, April 5

The countdown is on! Mary Wash Giving Day marks its fifth anniversary next week, and the entire University of Mary Washington community is invited to join the celebration. Participation matters most in helping UMW reach its goal of 3,000 gifts and 500 first-time donors during the 24-hour event on Tuesday, April 5. This year’s theme, […]

Student Scholarship Applications Open Feb. 1

Student scholarship applications open February 1, 2022. Please help get the word out and encourage students to apply for all UMW Foundation scholarships, including the newly funded Taylor-Floyd Scholarship for Civic Leadership.

More information is available at https://umw.scholarships.ngwebsolutions.com/ or through the Office of Financial Aid at x2468.

A French Connection: Scholarship Established Through Beloved Professor’s Estate

Juliette Breffort Blessing came to Mary Washington in 1957 to share her worldly knowledge of all things French, including language, theater, and cultural history. Former students remember her flair for fashion, her wonderful accent, and her expert and often life-changing advice and guidance.

Juliette Breffort Blessing as featured in the 1974 Battlefield

Juliette Breffort Blessing as featured in the 1974 Battlefield

“I first met Madame Blessing when I was a freshman in her French Civilization and Literature class,” says Kathy Liggett Leis ’69. “Thanks to her expert teaching, I became totally enamored with the subject and changed my major to French. Her faith in me was unwavering.”

UMW Professor Ana Garcia Chichester ’76 remembers Dr. Blessing as a dedicated professor and role model. “I was a French major, so I had several courses with her and benefited from her love of literature,” says Ana. “I still remember the nineteenth century poetry course I took with her. She loved to read and recite poetry to our class. Her spoken French was beautiful and she was very proud of her Parisian accent!”

Other students, including Catherine B. Elwell ’73, remember Dr. Blessing from a freshman liberal arts seminar. “It was a stimulating academic course, which I appreciated as an introduction to my campus life at MWC,” says Cathy. “I remember Madame Blessing as very friendly, warm, approachable, and lighthearted.”

A native of France, Dr. Blessing held degrees from the University of Lille, the University of Paris, and the University of Dijon. In 1982, she was honored with the Ordre des Palmes Academiques, an award from the French government in recognition of her contributions as a “distinguished academic or teacher for valuable service to universities, education, and science.” The award is one of the oldest civil honors bestowed by the French Republic.

Dr. Blessing retired from Mary Washington in 1992 after 35 years of teaching, and she was awarded the title of Professor Emerita of Modern Foreign Languages. She lived in Washington, D.C., until her passing in 2020 at the age of 94.

Always thinking of ways to help and advance students, Dr. Blessing included arrangements in her will to create a scholarship at Mary Washington. The UMW Board of Visitors recently approved the new Juliette Breffort Blessing Scholarship for French Study, which will support study abroad opportunities for a junior or senior majoring in French language.

Kathy Leis says her former professor’s passing is a profound loss. “Dr. Blessing was the pivotal force in my life. Her love of the French language became my life-long passion and set me on my life path. I truly credit her with my immensely rewarding career teaching French, an unlikely outcome for a girl from Alabama whose spoken French at the time was –charitably – appalling.”

Kathy adds, “I am who I am because of Juliette Blessing.”

For more information about bequests to support students at Mary Washington, contact the Office of Gift Planning at jclarke@umw.edu or 540-654-2064.

Announcement of Vice President for Advancement Search

A message from the Office of the President.

To the University Community,

As you may be aware, we are beginning a national search for a new Vice President for Advancement.  We are seeking a highly qualified individual for this critical area of operations for the University and will work diligently to ensure that we get the right person to lead this unit.

I have asked Jeffrey McClurken, Chief of Staff, to chair the search committee. The other members of the search committee are:

  • Devon Cushman, Class of 1993 and BOV Chair of Administration, Facilities, Finance, and Advancement committee
  • Jackie Gallagher, Professor and Chair, Geography Department, UFC representative
  • Patti Kemp, UMW Foundation Board, Class of 1969
  • Keith Mellinger, Dean of Arts and Sciences
  • Dana Norwood, Biology major, Social Justice minor, Class of 2022, SGA representative
  • Marion Sanford, James Farmer Multicultural Center
  • Catherine Seller, Advancement
  • Mark Thaden, Alumni Relations, Class of 2002
  • Alicia Tisdale, Financial Aid, USC representative
  • Susan Worrell, Interim Vice President for Advancement

The committee will be assisted in its work by Greg Duyck, Principal and Advancement Practice Leader of the executive search firm of WittKieffer with the goal of having candidates on campus in the spring.


Reflections on the Mary Washington Experience

Phyllis Newby Thompson ’69 and John Thompson.

Phyllis Newby Thompson ’69 and John Thompson.

Watch the first episode of the new ‘Leading Lives’ video series focusing on the stories behind philanthropy.

In the late 1960s, John Thompson regularly traveled from Blacksburg to Fredericksburg to visit his future bride, Phyllis Newby. After graduating from Mary Washington in 1969, Phyllis joined John at Virginia Tech, began a fulfilling teaching career, and received an award for outstanding educator in Virginia. John received a BS and MBA from Virginia Tech and launched a successful business career.

Phyllis Newby Thompson ’69 and John Thompson.

Phyllis Newby Thompson ’69 and John Thompson.

Now married 51 years, the Thompsons live on the West Coast, and they enjoy coming back to campus with their golden retriever, Max, to visit their favorite places and to reflect on how Mary Washington changed their lives.

“Our education was the whole jumping off place for everything wonderful that’s happened to us,” says Phyllis Newby Thompson ’69.

“I always believe that success is where preparation meets opportunity,” says John Thompson. “Education gives one an incredible leverage in life, and we think Mary Washington gave us a great foundation.”

Click here to see and hear the Thompson’s story in their own words.

Because of You