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Jefferson winner Aday's impact felt university-wide

  • Commencement 2006
    Commencement 2006  David Aday and South African social activist and retired Bishop Desmond Tutu talk prior to the ceremony.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Flying the flag
    Flying the flag  Aday poses in front of the flag of the Dominican Republic.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • His first love
    His first love  His friends say that, no matter how many campus activities David Aday becomes involved in, his first focus is always his students.  File photo
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Physically, David Aday arrived on the William & Mary campus for a job interview in 1978. However, his mind and his heart were in Wyoming.

The job at the state university there was tenure track. The job at William & Mary was not; in fact, it was supposed to end after three years.

Aday and his wife, Sherry, enjoyed skiing. Wyoming was a good place to be for that. William & Mary? Not so much.

He hails from Kansas. He could get home much easier from Wyoming than from Virginia.

Then Sherry hit him with a dose of reality.

“She said, ‘How can you not go to William & Mary?’” Aday recalled. “So I came out here and was blown away, by the colleagues I met, the students I met. It was just so unlike any experience I’d ever had. William & Mary was just an entirely different world for me.”


It’s a world that Aday, professor of sociology and community studies, has so enriched over 37 years that he is the 2015 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award. The award is presented annually at Charter Day to a member of the university for “significant service through his or her personal activities, influence and leadership.”David Aday in the 1979 Colonial Echo

“It’s hard for me to imagine that the work I’ve done merits that kind of recognition when I look at the work of my colleagues,” Aday said. “I have colleagues who are just doing remarkable things of all kinds, both in teaching and research. More than anything else, it says to me that the choices I’ve made and the way in which I’ve tried to work with students is valued in the way that I would hope.

“When we say that William & Mary is unique in blending research and undergraduate teaching and takes seriously the idea of undergraduate research, I hope that my being selected for this award symbolizes that this is true.”

Aday has held 14 academic leadership positions at W&M -- four at the present time -- including co-director of the recent public health minor. He was instrumental in the creation of two international engaged scholarship programs that carry the W&M stamp: the Student Organization for Medical Outreach and Sustainability (SOMOS) and Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship (MANOS).

He has served as chair of the sociology department (1991-1997), director of the American studies program (1999-2003), chair of the Assessment Steering Committee (1990-2010) and director of the SACS Accreditation Project (2003-2006).

“He is the finest teacher-scholar-administrator-leader-professional I have ever known,” wrote Grey Gundaker, the Duane A. and Virginia S. Dittman Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, in a letter recommending Aday for the award.

An impressive array of qualities

His colleagues and friends drop descriptions such as leader, versatile, devoted, innovative, compassionate, committed and unsung in writing about Aday.

“David Aday has led the way on some of the most important and difficult projects undertaken by the College during his long and productive career,” Sociology Professors Graham Ousey and Gul Ozyegin wrote to Provost Michael R. Halleran. “His strategic vision has helped create self-sustaining systems that facilitate continuous learning and improvement at the College.”

They point to his willingness to serve as the lead for the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools review process as among his greatest contributions to the university.Aday at the 2008 Convocation ceremony

“To do so required attention to detail in every aspect of the university and to understanding the SACS requirements and standards,” wrote Susan Bosworth, associate provost, Office of Institutional Accreditation and Effectiveness. “The requirements cover areas from academics and faculty governance to finance, financial aid, facilities, planning, development and so on. He expertly navigated the reaccreditation and quietly and persistently led the way to a successful reaffirmation.”

About 1990, Aday changed the way he interacted with the university as a whole. First, he gained tenure, which he says “gives you greater flexibility of what you can do.” In addition, he became chair of the sociology department – and loved it.

“I think it’s the best job on campus,” he exclaimed.

On the other hand, about that time the university dropped the master’s program in sociology. Had that been the case when Aday was looking for work, William & Mary might have been eliminated from consideration. He even thought about leaving.

“I knew if I stayed, I would have to do things differently, because I’d no longer have graduate students to mentor,” he said. “Not long after that, I was asked by the dean if I could help out with the interim position in American studies. That turned out to be four years serving as acting then director of American studies. Again, I found that I really loved that role, the challenge of figuring out how to make resources work and helping students.”

In 2005, a group of W&M students and a single physician spent a week in the Dominican Republic diagnosing illnesses and handing out medicines. Aday heard about the trip from a student in his seminar  and offered to help the group in any way that he could. He joined a small group of students and Mark H. Ryan ’96, now medical director of the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship and an assistant professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.  From those efforts  SOMOS was born.Mentoring students in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic is one of Aday's passions.

“I never dreamed that his involvement would turn out to be what it is,” Jason Starr ’06 blogged several years ago. “I think it's really remarkable … that he was engaged enough in what you were doing to make that a part of his own life, and I think Dr. Aday definitely did that.”

A year later, Aday agreed to work with a second small group of students who wanted to find ways to use the power of research and academics to inform efforts in student learning.

“For nearly a decade, students have competed for selection to the projects, participated in seminars each semester, traveled to the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua, learned basic research skills, contributed to a developing model of participatory development and public health, attempted to understand the value of knowledge for partnering with a community to promote improved health and health care – and worried,” Aday wrote recently. “Do we have the right to be here? However unintentionally, are we continuing patterns of first-world domination? Are we taking risks with people, their cultures, or their communities?”

Gundaker credited MANOS for being “a profound agent of change in the orientation of the College curriculum. Our students want an education that helps them help people. One has only to spend a few minutes reading MANOS and SOMOS blogs to see that these programs embody all that we could hope for the College to be.”

Future plans

Aday is going to stay at the university for “a couple more years,” working to promote the sustainability of the projects and testing the prospect that the work these students do is scalable to other communities and regions.

“But I hope when I retire, I’ll be able to work with the projects for a few more years after that,” he said. “I think (students would) benefit from a faculty advisor into the future -- maybe not indefinitely. The students are able to do 95 percent of everything now.”

Aday said he has no regrets, though he might have liked serving on the Faculty Assembly.

“I didn’t know how long my career would be at William & Mary, but I did fall in love with the place when I first got here,” he said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate to have around me colleagues who have inspired me, have exemplified the very best of the work that can be done by university professors. We’re extremely fortunate to have the kind of student we have to teach here. I wouldn’t change anything about my career.”