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W&M’s McLaughlin is a homegrown success story

  • Thomas Jefferson Award:
    Thomas Jefferson Award:  Virginia McLaughlin started her W&M career as an assistant professor of special education and rose through the ranks to become the first woman to serve as Dean of the School of Education. As she nears retirement, her legacy comes even more into focus as the recipient of the 2021 Thomas Jefferson Award.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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As an alumna turned faculty member and administrator at William & Mary, Virginia McLaughlin ’71 is a homegrown success story. From her myriad roles and accomplishments, she has had a grand impact at her alma mater for almost four decades. 

She is a trailblazer and mentor to a large number of educators, including students and faculty at W&M and teachers she affected throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia as an influencer of policy. 

As she nears retirement, McLaughlin’s legacy comes even more into focus as the recipient of the 2021 Thomas Jefferson Award. The honor is given each year to a member of the William & Mary family for significant service through his or her personal activities, influence and leadership. 

The award will be presented virtually during the university’s Charter Day Ceremony on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. 

“It’s a wonderful capstone to a long career at William & Mary,” said McLaughlin, who will retire in May. “In preparing my narrative for this award, it was a wonderful way to reflect on the 38 years I’ve been here as a faculty member and administrator in such a variety of roles.” 

A mentor to many

McLaughlin started her W&M career as an assistant professor of special education and rose through the ranks to become the first woman to serve as dean of the School of Education. 

Throughout her career, she has taught a wide variety of courses ranging from the undergraduate to doctoral levels, and she has played a major role as an influencer of policy as a member of the Virginia State Board of Education and Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. 

Moreover, she served on Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s P-16 Education Council and chaired its Committee on Comprehensive Data Systems. 

McLaughlin authored or co-authored three books and dozens of book chapters and journal articles on programs and interventions for students with special needs. Additionally, she has given over 100 presentations at international, national and state conferences. She has been a Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI on 32 federal and state grants totaling over $10.5 million. 

“What was most memorable to me was the model of intelligence, professionalism, sense of purpose, clarity and resoluteness that Dean McLaughlin exuded so authentically,” said Christopher R. Gareis, professor of Educational Leadership at the William & Mary School of Education. “I remember thinking that Ginnie McLaughlin was the kind of leader that I hoped I might become.”

McLaughlin’s mentorship to so many people was a natural result of her lifelong orientation toward collaboration and a desire to build strong relationships. 

It wasn’t until later that she realized how much of a mentor she was to so many young educators, particularly women. 

“As women would be hired as faculty members or be appointed to administrative positions, it was just a natural thing to work closely with them to problem solve together to support one another, and I think it was only later on that I realized what a void that might have filled for other people as well,” McLaughlin said. 

McLaughlin twice served as chair of the William & Mary Women’s Caucus, which later became the Women’s Network, co-founded an informal Administrative Women’s Group and has mentored and supported many women across campus in their career advancement. 

“Ginnie has always been generous with her wisdom and is an excellent mentor and colleague,” said Chancellor Professor of Geology Heather Macdonald. “I think back to my time as dean of undergraduate studies from 1993-96. There weren’t many women in administration at William & Mary at the time, and Ginnie was an important mentor and colleague, providing sage counsel and sharing her terrific grant writing skills, reviewing some of the proposals I wrote as a dean before sending them out.” 

At the state level, McLaughlin was a longstanding board member of the American Council for Education Virginia Women’s Network, chaired one of its annual conferences hosted at William & Mary, and was recognized in 2012 with its Breaking the Glass Ceiling Award for women who have made outstanding leadership contributions in higher education. 

“Throughout my career, I have been a passionate advocate for equitable and inclusive opportunities, not only for those with disabilities but for all persons regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and other factors,” McLaughlin said. “My lived experience as a woman has further sensitized me to structural and implicit biases that many encounter.” 

Feels like home

McLaughlin is among the select group of W&M alumni who returned to the university to teach. She took an indirect route back to Williamsburg, making stops in Tennessee and South Carolina to earn master’s and doctoral degrees and to teach at two other universities before making it back to her alma mater. 

“It certainly feels like home, and I loved having the opportunity to teach at my alma mater,” McLaughlin said. 

“I feel like being a graduate of William & Mary has given me an understanding of the culture and the people and our history in a way that's really been advantageous, and it's also helped me kind of keep things in perspective in terms of where we've been and where we need to go. It's been a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful life. 

One of the biggest advancements that came during McLaughlin’s time as dean of the School of Education was the construction of the sprawling School of Education building, located on 22 acres adjacent to campus. She played a central role in the building of that $48 million state-of-the-art facility. 

The School of Education previously occupied two floors of Jones Hall. Moving to the new building provided instant credibility and exposure. 

“It's heightened our profile so much, and I do delight in that,” McLaughlin said. “In a very concrete way, it changed our visibility, having our own building and kind of our own mini campus right there with signage and a presence where people can see us and know who we are. I also think it enhanced our capacity to raise the work that we do to a whole new level, and that's the most important thing.” 

During the pandemic, McLaughlin has had more time to enjoy the horse farm she and her husband, John, own in Toano. She is retiring to spend more time with their family, including four children and eight grandchildren, some of whom live in New York and Atlanta. 

“I don't need to work forever,” she said. 

McLaughlin will take with her a treasure trove of memories from her successful tenure at William & Mary. 

“What’s most enduring are the people, the people you taught and have seen go on to be dynamite teachers or significant leaders in all different levels of education and the faculty you’ve hired and seen flourish and grow,” McLaughlin said.