U.Va. Professors Use Mead Endowment to Foster Interactions with Students

September 21, 2011

September 21, 2011 — Eleven University of Virginia faculty members have been awarded Mead Endowment grants for "Dream Idea" projects ranging from beekeeping to dinner-hour philosophy, all designed to develop extracurricular interactions between faculty and students.

Mead Endowment chair Tom Darbyshire, who graduated from U.Va. in 1982 with a degree in architecture, and several fellow alumni created the endowment to continue the U.Va. tradition of fostering close student-faculty relationships, a tradition exemplified by music professor emeritus Ernest "Boots" Mead, for whom the endowment is named. Mead, who is 93 and officially retired in 1996, still teaches a seminar every spring.

"Professor Mead was not only a great teacher in the classroom, but also took an interest in us outside of the classroom that really made all the difference," Darbyshire said. "We felt it was important to do what we could to send the message that this sort of interaction is an important part of what makes the University special."

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the endowment, which faculty members from the College of Arts & Sciences have used to fund projects ranging from a student-faculty bluegrass jam to an informal seminar on the physics of sports. The recipients each year also include a faculty member from the Darden School of Business.

"It has really been successful beyond our imaginations," Darbyshire said. "All of us involved with this endowment really treasure the fact that we have lasting relationships with faculty members who have changed our lives, and we want to make sure every student gets that opportunity."

This year's grant recipients include:

Gregory B. Fairchild
Executive director of the Tayloe Murphy Center and associate professor of business administration
Darden School

Fairchild will work with students to research best-practices for prisoner re-entry programs that provide entrepreneurial training for soon-to-be-released inmates, and to develop a curriculum for a re-entry program with a case study design customized to the target population with an entrepreneurial emphasis.

Gabriel Finder
Associate professor and Ida & Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures

Finder will take students enrolled in his course on the Holocaust on a chartered bus trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The students will participate in a one-day retreat with four or five Holocaust survivors who volunteer at the museum. Prior to the trip, student will read and then lead small-group discussions of a recently published book, "Approaching a Holocaust Survivor: Holocaust Testimony and its Transformations."

Coulter H. George
Assistant professor
Department of Classics

George plans to invite students from his Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics course to meet for a series of meals and informal speeches that explore a field of words. This could include words for kin, for animals or for the names of gods. The students will each give a short speech on one element of the set, and will be encouraged to use the word in question as a springboard for relevant tangents.

Bonnie Gordon
Associate professor
McIntire Department of Music

Gordon will pair 10 undergraduate students with 10 third- and fourth-grade students from Charlottesville's Westhaven neighborhood for a series of concerts on Grounds and beyond. This music-mentoring program builds on Gordon's prior work with a Westhaven afterschool program to introduce the arts to kids, many of whom had never been to U.Va. or to a live arts performance. 

Christian Gromoll
Associate professor
Department of Mathematics

Gromoll will interact with a small group of students by teaching them the mathematics of honey bee behavior through a weekly seminar on Grounds, and will teach them some practical aspects of beekeeping in the bee yard at his home.

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor
Assistant professor
Department of Religious Studies

Halvorson-Taylor will invite students to a "standing date" with the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Over the course of a month, students would read stories from the Hebrew Bible and gather at her home for meals to reflect on what these ancient narratives offer.

Sarah Kucenas
Assistant professor
Department of Biology

Kucenas will select eight to 10 young women and host them at monthly dinners where they can connect with female scientists from across the University and Medical School faculty.

Jamie Morris
Assistant professor
Department of Psychology

Morris will work with small groups of students to create learning and teaching tools – such as films, websites and PowerPoint presentations – that will help teach lay audiences about how knowledge of the brain may help us understand everyday life.

Matthew Reidenbach
Assistant professor
Department of Environmental Sciences

Reidenbach will invite two or three undergraduates to accompany him to Bocas del Toro, Panama, to spend two weeks studying the health and functioning of marine organisms.

Diana Vaman
Assistant professor
Department of Physics

Vaman will ask students in her course on string theory to make their own presentations and gather for celebratory meals. She will then invite a few of the most engaged students to conduct summer research under her guidance, or go with her to next year's annual meeting of the Southeast Section of the American Physical Society in Roanoke, Va.

Vesla Weaver
Assistant professor
Department of Politics

Weaver will create a joint class with 10 U.Va. students and 10 inmates at the Fluvanna Women's Correctional Center. She'll also organize a student trip to Washington, D.C., to observe Congressional hearings on prison sentencing legislation. Their experience will culminate in crafting their own policy reform recommendations. 

In addition to the new recipients, the Mead Endowment also awarded grants Saturday to four worthy former applicants whose projects were not funded because of limited resources. Those recipients are:

Talbot Brewer
Associate professor
Department of Philosophy

Brewer will invite a group of philosophically serious and enthusiastic undergraduates, graduate students and professors from various disciplines to read excerpts of influential philosophical writings on friendship, then to gather together and linger over a meal in a convivial setting to engage, without any set time limit, in a discussion of the nature and value of friendship.

Maurie McInnis
Associate professor of art history
McIntire Department of Art

McInnis will supply dinner to students in her "Art and Abolitionism" seminar and host movie nights to screen films related to the course. McInnis will also use the grant to fund travel for two or three students to accompany her to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston and the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass.

Amy Ogden
Associate professor
Department of French Language & Literature

Ogden will take students in her course, "The Culture of Love in the Middle Ages," on a series of field trips designed to enrich their understanding of medieval France, including a visit to a monastery, a trip to a calligraphy workshop, two concerts and a workshop on medieval food.  

William Wylie
Associate professor of photography
McIntire Department of Art

Wylie will select a group of advanced art students to study the chain of influence artists can have on future generations. They will study the work of three important photographers: Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Robert Adams. After reading and discussing the available writings on all three artists at a weekly seminar, they will travel to New York at mid-semester and visit the three major institutions that house the archives of these photographers.

— By Rob Seal

Media Contact

Rob Seal

Director of Media Management and Managing Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications