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2012 at W&M: A look back

Editor’s note: These are but a few of the many notable things that occurred at William & Mary during 2012. For a complete list of stories from the year, visit the W&M News website. For even more, take a look at the 2012 President’s Report.

It was another exciting trip around the sun for the historic, 319-year-old institution.


Once again this year, William & Mary found itself among the top colleges on multiple rankings.

The university was tied for 33rd and sixth among public institutions in the U.S. News & World Report’s undergraduate rankings, which were released in September. The William & Mary Law School and the School of Education also did well in the magazine’s graduate school rankings, which were released in March. The Law School ranked 35th and the School of Education was listed at 43rd.

William & Mary was also listed among the top colleges in rankings by the Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s and Forbes.

In addition to being recognized for its academic excellence and value, the university was acknowledged for being a military-friendly institution and for being a top producer of Peace Corps and Teach for America volunteers.

W&M also found itself on a couple of unorthodox rankings this year, including one that listed it in the top spot among colleges for Harry Potter fans.

Teaching, scholarship, research

Although landing on national rankings earns the campus community some bragging rights and recognition, the focus of faculty and administrators at W&M remains not on rankings, but on providing students with a world-class education.

The university’s commitment to teaching was acknowledged in April when 10 W&M faculty members landed on the Princeton Review’s list of “The Best 300 Professors."

The wider community was able to enjoy some of that excellent teaching this year through the new Tack Faculty Lecture series, which kicked off in April with biologist John Swaddle’s talk on vector-borne diseases. Religious Studies Professor John Morreall followed in October, discussing the nature and value of humor.

Just as they expect their students to learn and grow, W&M faculty members also continued to acquire new experiences and skills this year. This summer, 17 professors learned about creating “blended learning” courses – part classroom learning, part technology-aided learning outside of the classroom -- through a seven-week professional development program. The new courses will be taught in 2013.

Significant strides in scholarship and research were also made this year. Multiple faculty members received substantial grants to support their efforts. For instance, molecular biologist Lizabeth Allison received a grant of more than $1 million from the National Science Foundation to continue her study on “Mechanisms Regulating the Subcellular Distribution of the Thyroid Hormone Receptor.” In November, the university received the largest single financial award in its history. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) selected the university to lead a five-year award of up to $25-million to increase global aid transparency through the creation of the AidData Center for Development Policy.

And when news breaks, W&M’s professors remain a go-to source of expertise for reporters. For instance, in July, when the existence of the Higgs Boson – or “God particle” -- was announced, W&M physicist Marc Sher provided his insight on the ground-breaking discover to multiple reporters, including one from the Associated Press, whose story ran in papers across the country.

That same month, W&M was again the center of attention for physicists when NuFact 2012, an international workshop about neutrinos, took place on the Williamsburg campus.

Also in 2012, Arts & Sciences announced the selection of a new dean. Katharine Conley, former associate dean of the Faculty for the Arts & Humanities at Dartmouth College, took on the role following the departure of Carl Strikwerda, who left William & Mary to become president of Elizabethtown College.

Students and faculty studying Chinese language and culture at W&M also received an increased set of learning opportunities in 2012, thanks to the opening of the university’s Confucius Institute in April. The institute is now providing Chinese culture classes, teacher training and other programs and assistance for the W&M and local community.

W&M also began to explore a partnership with Eastern Virginia Medical School this year. The possible collaboration was announced in July, and a due diligence committee was formed. In November, the committee hosted and open forum to receive feedback from the campus community, and, that same month, W&M and EVMS asked the Virginia General Assembly to appropriate $1 million to allow the two institutions to continue to explore the possibility of increased collaboration.

Campus life

Not everything that happens at W&M occurs within the walls of a classroom. The campus continued to be a vibrant place to both learn and live in 2012.

Multiple art exhibitions and music, theatre and dance performances were offered throughout the year, including August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”, the W&M Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween concert and an Athenian art exhibition.

In April, students came together to get the W&M name in the record books – the Guinness World Record book, that is. They set out to beat the current world record for “spooning” and achieved their goal with a line of more than 600 people curled through the Sunken Garden.

Graduation weekend saw a new tradition for student at the university: the first Donning of the Kente ceremony. The event celebrated academic achievement among students of color at the university and was sponsored by the Lemon Project and the Hulon Willis Association, which also celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

Among those who graduated in May was the student who first wore the Griffin mascot uniform and brought the new mascot to life after its debut in 2010.

Students also continued to be engaged in the community outside of campus this year, serving in places like Ghana through multiple service organizations and with the help of a dozen community engagement grants provided by the Office of Community Engagement this summer.

In the fall, students of various political affiliations came together to encourage voter registration in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election. The effort garnered about 1,600 new voters.

Big names on campus

The campus saw numerous speakers on a wide range of topics throughout the year including activist and author Cornel West and award-winning journalist Bob Woodward, with a few of them making national headlines.

The beginning of spring’s unusually warm semester saw the investiture of a new chancellor for the university: former Secretary of Defense and W&M alumnus Robert M. Gates ’65.

Gates, who is the first alumnus in the modern era to hold the position, assumed the role during February’s Charter Day ceremony.

That weekend, CNN’s “John King, USA” did a live broadcast from the campus, setting up in front of the president’s house. During the show, King held up a sign and said “This is what they call William & Mary: ‘Jefferson’s first university.’”

When the spring semester came to a close, longtime PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer – who, later in the year, would moderate one of the presidential debates – sent the Class of 2012 on its way.

The summer months didn’t keep the big names off of campus. In July, U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter participated in a roundtable discussion at the School of Education about affordability and accountability along with William & Mary President Taylor Reveley and leaders from several other colleges.

The beginning of the fall semester saw an event at W&M that would sell out Kaplan Arena in less than 20 minutes: a visit from the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

More than 8,200 people attended the October event while another 10,000 – from 109 nations – watched the student-organized event live online.

The Dalai Lama donned a green W&M visor for the occasion and discussed everything from technology to the difference between religions.

“I feel many of the troubles we face are of our own creation,” he stated. “There is too much emphasis on secondary differences – of faith, differences of races, of color, nationality.

“If we look at the fundamentals, we’re all the same people. No differences. No barriers.”