attached article by Meredith Ramey

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WILLIAM & MARY: SIX DEGREES OF
CONNECTION AND THE STAYING
CONNECTED PROJECT
BY MEREDITH RAMEY ‘15
Since 1693, the College of William and Mary has educated students and, by result,
produced bright and notable alumni whose memories of Williamsburg remain in their
minds and hearts for decades. With such strong memories, it is no wonder that many
alumni decide to give back to the wider William and Mary community through donations
of their time, talent and treasure.
But the Class of 1975 has gone beyond traditional alumni outreach campaigns. Over a
four-year period, the “Staying Connected: Together Serving Others” project has made
special efforts to rally the graduates of ’75 to reach out and give back to all six degrees of
the William and Mary community. The stories below spotlight both those touched by the
Staying Connected project and particularly philanthropic supporters of Staying
Connected.
Senior-year stresses, alumni connections and post-grad friendships
Every year, hundreds of seniors at the College of William and Mary enter the bittersweet
final stretch of their education in Williamsburg, Va., and prepare for their post-collegiate
lives. Four years ago, Rachel Becker was one of these seniors. Faced with deciding what
type of company she wanted to work for and what kind of industry would be the best fit,
the 2011 graduate began utilizing the resources of the Cohen Career Center. Working
with some of the center’s online networking tools, Rachel met Van Black, Class of 1975.
After chatting several times about career aspirations, Van suggested Rachel come to
Dallas for an informational interview with a customer of his. During her trip, Van
introduced her to Ann and Mark Woolley, 1975 and 1977 alums who lived in the DallasFort Worth area. This simple introduction and many more like it planted the seeds of
what has grown to be a “cousin” initiative – the current Tribe Partners program at the
Cohen Career Center. This program connects students at the College with alums
throughout the country, helping them network and providing them with coaching to
explore potential career paths and opportunities.
Rachel’s informational interview proved fruitful, and resulted in a summer internship
post-graduation. Like many William and Mary students, she had never lived outside
Virginia and sought advice from Ann and Mark when choosing an area to live that
summer, and, during her transition, Rachel briefly stayed with the Woolley’s before
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moving into her own place. But even after branching out on her own, she and the
Woolley’s continued their friendship.
More than 1,300 miles away from Williamsburg, Rachel didn’t expect to make many
more Tribe connections, but to her delight, the William and Mary Alumni Association
told her of other alums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In addition, Van gathered
additional local alums for dinner after Rachel’s first day at her internship.
“Because I wasn’t staying down there permanently, I didn’t go out of my way to meet
new people. I wasn’t expecting a social life,” Rachel said. “But I ended up hanging out
with William and Mary grads all summer. … They gave me a community in a place
where I knew absolutely no one. Other people were shocked that, just because we went to
the same school, we were willing to get to know one another. … None of us were close
friends in college, yet we managed to spend a couple hours talking about William and
Mary. I think that’s something special. Now, anytime I can, I try to make an effort to
reach out to William and Mary alums – we always find each other.”
Philanthropic alums, lasting faculty connections, preserving College history
When Mark and Ann Woolley aren’t housing William and Mary grads, they like to give
back to the College community – and its history – in a tangible and impressionable way.
Realizing the lack of preservation for William and Mary Choir scrapbooks and materials
– items that memorialized their beloved choir director, Dr. Carl “Pappy” Fehr – they
started the William and Mary choir preservation project.
“We were both in the choir and we realized there were a lot of scrapbooks and other
materials saved, but they were aging and some were deteriorating,” Mark said. “Tapping
into choir alums from that period, we’ve been able to scan most of the scrapbooks from
the time when Dr. Fehr was there and photograph and notate the memorabilia. We also
got in touch with current choir members and Dr. Armstrong, who contributed additional
scrapbooks they wanted to digitize. Through this project, we’ve been able to connect
many generations – from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to current students.”
“Dr. Fehr – he was the type of leader you have at William and Mary. He was such a strict
disciplinarian, but so giving. He treated the choir members like his kids – he was their
parent away from home,” Ann said.
Like many faculty members of the College’s 322-year history, Fehr’s legacy lives on past
his 1974 retirement. His career is physically preserved through the projects of the
Woolley’s and their choir friends – friends who include current choir and chorus students
as well as local alums, family and friends. The couple plan two archiving sessions each
year, one in July and one in January or February, and they have held nine sessions since
beginning the project. The full day sessions include archiving and socializing, making
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new connections and strengthening long-term friendships. After the most recent session
July 19, Jay Gaidmore, the director of Earl Gregg Swem Library’s Special Collections
Research Center, decided to reach out to other student organizations interested in
preserving their histories as well.
Tribe families and creating the next generation
In many ways, Mark and Ann Woolley
epitomize a number William and Mary
couples – over a quarter of alums marry
another alum – including three other choir
alumni couples who work on the preservation
project with the Woolleys.
Raised in a green and gold household, one
shouldn’t be surprised that many of these
couples’ children grow to become William
and Mary graduates themselves. The
Woolley’s daughter, for instance, graduated in
2006 and Victor Farrell, the child of John and
Kerry Farrell, both Class of 1989, graduated
in May 2014.
“I honestly think that living on campus for four years engenders a sense of family and
togetherness,” John said. “It really lets you know if you’re going to be compatible. If you
can get through that as a couple for four years, you’re really setting the stage for a lasting
relationship.”
Many William and Mary couples, including all three choir-preservation project pairs,
choose to be married in the Wren Chapel – a venue reserved only for Tribe brides and
Tribe grooms. Today, the chapel celebrates between 70 and 100 weddings a year and
there is no telling how many more kiss atop the Crim Dell bridge before heading to other
wedding locations.
Continuing the tradition of service, touching the local community
In 2013, William and Mary had more graduates enter service careers than any other
national university, according to the Aspen Institute and Washington Monthly. Since it
began five years ago, Victory Media’s Military Friendly Schools list has listed William
and Mary in the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country
that embrace America’s military service members.
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Combining both accolades, Sam Pressler, Class of 2015, epitomizes William and Mary’s
culture of service and veteran outreach.
During winter break of his sophomore year, Sam found himself reading a lot about the
challenges military veterans faced when returning from war. One article reported that 22
veterans take their own lives each day. This resonated with Sam, having lost a family
member to suicide, and he realized that 30,000 veterans had committed suicide since he
had lost his uncle. Sam witnessed the impact of his family’s tragedy on his relatives and
recognized the scope of suffering felt by the families of veterans lost to suicide.
Shortly thereafter, Sam saw an article in the New York Times about Ron Capps, a
veteran with 25 years of service whose suicide attempt was interrupted by a phone call.
After returning from his final tour, Ron used the GI bill to attend Johns Hopkins
University and obtain a master’s in creative writing. Discovering the therapeutic nature of
writing, Ron began the Veterans Writing Project – a free creative writing center dedicated
to helping veterans tell their stories.
Reading about Ron’s work, Sam was determined to start the Williamsburg chapter of the
Veterans Writing Project (VWP). Housed under the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans
Benefits Clinic, the first seminar was held in December 2013 and included 25 veterans
from Williamsburg and the surrounding area. Two months later, the February 2014 class
was also at full capacity.
“William and Mary is centrally located and has the facilities to provide these offerings to
the veterans in the area,” Sam said. “I thought that we had the ability to make an impact.”
Utilizing his connection with Van Black, Sam’s sophomore-year mock interviewer, Sam
had the opportunity to speak at the 2014 Active Citizens’ Conference. The audience
included William and Mary students, as well as students from across the country. One
audience member, Anna Wong, Class of 2017, came up to Sam after the conference and
asked about getting involved in the VWP.
Inspired by Sam’s efforts, Anna wished to incorporate a performance-based outlet for the
project’s participants. Her vision sparked a program called “Movements,” held April 14,
that included student performers in music, comedy and poetry with Veterans Writing
Project participants reading their literary work.
Today, the Veterans Writing Project has evolved into the Center for Veterans
Engagement. The center offers a variety of arts-oriented programming – including
creative writing, music and comedy – to the veterans’ community of the Greater
Hampton Roads. With over 40 student volunteers and $15,000 in funding, the center aims
to serve more than 100 veterans in the 2014-15 academic year.
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Drawing connections within the wider Tribe community
William and Mary is a multifaceted institution. Anchored in history and pushing the
bounds of innovation, it continues to move forward and modernize while also
recognizing and memorializing its traditions. Throughout its 322 years and as it grows,
the College maintains a sense of community and connection.
William and Mary’s six degrees of connection, indirectly outlined above, demonstrate the
nuanced relationships and interconnections within the Tribe. Starting as students,
connections begin with recent graduates and less-recent alumni through the Cohen
Career Center and other organizations – or connections number one and number two.
When a quarter of these alumni marry one another and begin the future generation of
William and Mary students, their love often results in Tribe connection number three.
Next, both these groups connect to the faculty and staff they interacted with while on
campus. Though they might not be William and Mary graduates themselves, the faculty,
staff and administrators of the College bring their own degree of connection to the
students and alumni they influence – making them connection number four.
Lastly, since 1693, the College has connected students, alumni, their families and faculty
members to the local community and the national stage. As the alma mater to the
nation, the College has a strong and influential tie to the nation’s capital, resulting in a
strong alumni group in the greater Washington, D.C. area – connection number five. And,
only three hours away, the wider Williamsburg community and the community of
southeast Virginia offers a multitude of service opportunities that extend the Tribe’s
reach into the lives of elementary, middle and high school students, veterans, retirees and
residents touched by the efforts of students and faculty at the College. This wider
community, encompassing the geographic location and grounds of William and Mary, is
connection number six.
Staying Connected, maximizing William and Mary’s six degrees
Taking advantage of these six degrees of connection, the Class of 1975’s Staying
Connected project has spent the last four years strengthening the connection between
William and Mary alumni and their alma mater. Spearheaded by Van Back, volunteers
have worked to connect members of all six degrees of the William and Mary community
in productive and influential ways.
For example, students, alumni and Williamsburg residents alike volunteer with Campus
Kitchens – a national service organization. If you’re counting, that’s four connections in
one program! Staying Connected’s work with Campus Kitchens represents the alumni
program’s major focus – that alumni can give back through their time, their talent and
their treasure.
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Staying Connected also assists the Active Citizens’ Conference by providing
scholarships, speakers and panel members. The conference offers students, faculty and
community leaders a unique forum to share their best practices for impacting
communities and mobilizing social change. Alumni can volunteer their time and talent as
speakers or their treasure by donating to the scholarship funds that provide students the
opportunity to attend.
While Van is often referred to as “the brains” behind the Staying Connected project he
initiated four years ago, he describes fellow Class of 1975 alum and Staying Connected
member, Barb Ramsey, as a perfect example of “the heart.”
When Barb returned to Williamsburg in
2009, she no longer knew as many people
in the area as she did while residing there
from 1975-1986. To meet people, she
attended an alumni picnic, and, finding it
warm and welcoming, she continued to
attend functions at the College.
Eventually, Barb joined the Williamsburgarea Alumni Chapter Board, the Annual
Giving Board and the Lord Botetourt
Auction committee, which raises funds for
student athletes.
“I started volunteering my time partially as an outlet, and also – living in Williamsburg –
it’s good to give back because I believe in the College and what it does,” Barb said.
In addition to her positions on boards and her involvement on campus, Barb and her
neighbors frequently host students and alumni at their homes for events, such as spring
“study breaks,” a post-archiving dinner for Mark and Ann Woolley’s choir project
volunteers and the August “Welcome Back” dinner for football players. Staying
Connected will also host its fifth annual, open-invitation Homecoming brunch at Barb’s
home.
“If you live on Griffin Avenue, I think you need to get to know the students as people. …
This year, I became close to my personal trainer at the Rec Center, so my friend and I
walked to the Wren Courtyard and watched the seniors walk through,” Barb said. “We
then hurried to Crim Dell to see them walk across the bridge and, while we were waiting
for my trainer, I saw a number of students I knew from the annual giving board, the Rec
Center, or who were my neighbors. It made me realize how many students I knew who
had impacted my life.”
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This Homecoming, the Class of 1975 will complete its fourth year of Staying Connected.
In the fall of 2015 they will celebrate their 40-year reunion as they continue to give back
to all six degrees of connection within the William and Mary community.
To learn more about Staying Connected, contact Van Black at [email protected]
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