January 25, 2020

Influencers and Outcomes: UMW Alums Reunite with Their Mentors

Each alum was reunited with the person at UMW who most influenced their career paths. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

Each alum was reunited with the person at UMW who most influenced their career paths. Photo by Suzanne Rossi.

This place we call Mary Washington is actually a launching pad.

It’s where confidence is built, bonds are formed and careers are sparked.

It’s a setting for rich experiences, profound interactions with professors and development of meaningful mentorships.

Students who come here are grounded; from here, they soar. The exhilarating thing is that they occasionally make their way back to the nest.

UMW’s Office of University Relations recently captured four of those joyful returns, along with a recent graduate on the verge of taking flight. Each graduate returned to campus for a reunion and discussion with the person who most influenced their career paths; the 2019 graduate sat down with his current professor.

Chef Erik Bruner-Yang worked his way through Mary Washington, graduating in 2007 with a degree in business administration. The person on campus with whom he shared his hopes and dreams was Dean of Students Cedric Rucker. Bruner-Yang, who says he “found himself” at UMW, now owns five successful restaurants in the D.C. area.

Laura Mangano, a 2018 grad, returned to campus to see Rita Thompson, who had mentored her through the Rappahannock Scholars program. Laura is now a graduate nursing student at Johns Hopkins.

Matt Tovar, who graduated three weeks ago, is one of the first students to be admitted through UMW’s partnership program to George Washington University School of Medicine. Matt knew where he was going while still an undergraduate. He also knows – and made clear to his mentor, Associate Professor of Chemistry Leanna Giancarlo – what he plans to do: discover a cure for brain cancer.

Abernathy Bland, a member of the Class of 2005, is a teacher, professional artist and designer in Richmond, Va.  She said her mentor, Art Professor Carole Garmon, made clear that she had an awesome talent for art. What else could she do, Abby asked, than go out and be awesome.

Corey Taylor, a 2017 grad, is putting his computer science degree to work as a software engineer at Tech Wizards in Dahlgren. He said his mentor, Professor and Associate Provost Tim O’Donnell, helped him figure out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

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There are few aspects of the college experience more important than forming meaningful mentor relationships. Students need mentors to assist in navigating the complexities of university life, and the uncertainty and anticipation of what post-college life has in store.

Steven Spielberg once said that “the delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Take a look at this video to see what UMW grads, with nudging from their mentors, have created. You are among the first viewers of this video, which will be shown to incoming students and their parents at Orientation sessions starting next week.



Facilitators for the Common Read Needed

The UMW Common Read is one of the first opportunities to engage the incoming first-year students with classmates, upper-class students, faculty and staff in a shared intellectual experience, which can promote critical exchange of ideas and create a sense of community. The Common Read for 2017 is Hidden Figures. The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. We are hoping that you will join the discussion on the morning of Aug. 25 at 9 a.m. First-year students from the same FSEM course will discuss the book with one to two faculty, staff or upper class students. We will provide questions and supporting information in advance to help guide the discussions. We hope that you will join in welcoming the first-year students and participating in the fruitful discussions that will kick off their academic experiences at UMW. If you would like to volunteer to co-facilitate a discussion group, please indicate your interest (or check to make sure that you are already participating) on the following google sheet https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1DrRUIaR5MaZ0Qdv-zAaPv4Spnv0uJdmODe2aZ-63BRE/edit#gid=0. If you are teaching an FSEM course, you will be assigned to your group of students unless you indicate otherwise. Please let us know if you have any questions or need a copy of the book.

Thank you,

Kelli Slunt

Tim O’Donnell

“Common Read” Books are Available!

Copies of the 2016-2017 Common Read, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by alum Kristen Green, have arrived and are now available. If you would like to participate in the discussion groups on Friday, Aug. 26, please email Tim O’Donnell or Kelli Slunt.  Copies of the book are also available at the Academic Services window in Lee Hall.



Life Raft Debate Comes to UMW!

In celebration of Founders Day, we will convene the first ever “Raft Debate” on Monday, March 14, at 4 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium.  All members of the University community are invited to attend and participate. This entertaining program will feature three members of the UMW faculty arguing that their disciplinary perspective should be given the last seat on the life raft. The event will be moderated by Provost Jonathan Levin and will include:

  • Randall Reif, Assistant Professor of Chemistry (representing the natural sciences)
  • Leslie Martin, Associate Professor of Sociology (representing the social sciences)
  • Gary Richards, Associate Professor of English (representing the humanities)

Popular on many liberal arts campuses, “raft debates” are an engaging way to approach discussions about disciplinary pathways. UMW’s event is timed to coincide with spring semester advising and major declaration.


Georgetown Report Reveals Median Wages for Liberal Arts Majors (GoodCall.Com)

Why Companies Like Grads With a Liberal Arts Degree (Investopedia.com)

Academic Services Welcomes New Director

We are pleased to welcome R. Wesley Hillyard III as the new Director of Academic Services. Wes is a 2005 graduate of UMW and majored in Business.

As the Director of Academic Services, Wes will lead our team of academic advisors and administer a portfolio of student success efforts including our focused efforts with transfer students, students in academic jeopardy and academic success programs.

Since he left UMW a decade ago, Wes has been busy working in management positions in private industry as well as in higher education. He completed his Masters in Higher Education at the University of Virginia in 2009. For the past four years, he has been at Northern Virginia Community College where he has served in multiple roles, most recently directing their Student Success division. Prior to that, he served as Residence Hall Director at James Madison University.

Wes has remained true to his alma mater, serving in several different capacities, including being a member of the Alumni Board and the Vice President of Regional Networks.

He and his wife Michele live in Woodbridge and have a 5-month-old daughter, Ali. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, amusement parks, and learning the ropes of fatherhood.

We welcome Wes on his return to the UMW family.


Join Freshmen in Summer Reading

sklootcoverThis summer all incoming first year students are reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot as part of the University’s first year experience program.

On Aug. 21 from 9-11 a.m., as part of new student arrival activities, first year students, upperclass peers and members of the faculty, staff, and alumni will join together in small group discussions to explore some of the book’s many lessons and insights. If you are interested in participation in these discussions, email Tim O’Donnell.

Copies of the book are available from the Academic and Career Services window in Lee Hall for members of the UMW community wishing to read the book along with our incoming first year class over the next few weeks.