William & Mary’s Values in Action awards, established by two anonymous donors, recognize student organizations, faculty and staff who epitomize the university’s values of belonging, curiosity, excellence, flourishing, integrity, respect and service.
This fall’s faculty and staff award recipients are Sherri Donson, manager of Law Café at W&M Law School, and Blanca Tyler ’09, administrative and language house coordinator for modern languages & literatures. They were selected from a pool of nominees including professors, administrators and other employees representing departments, schools and units across the university.
Honorees from student organizations are the African American Male Coalition; Food for All; Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada; History Club and Wren Pals.
Individuals will receive $2,500 each and student organizations $500 each.
Faculty & Staff
Sherri Donson, Manager
Donson was recognized for living out the values of excellence and belonging for deftly managing every minute detail of café management while creating a welcoming space through small, daily acts of kindness for hundreds of students. She prioritizes getting to know people, checking on how they are doing, supporting and listening to them.
“Sherri is the backbone of the law school for many students,” a student wrote in support of her nomination. “She serves us our daily caffeine dose with a gracious attitude, an incredible efficiency and a smile. Sherri is beloved by everyone she comes in contact with.”
Donson knows customers both by name and order and offers a listening ear, calming presence and smile while handling food and drinks for the huge number of students, faculty, staff and visitors who pass through the law school daily. Her inclusivity keeps alumni coming back to visit her and “serves as glue between students, faculty and administration,” according to nominators.
“She works hard to make sure every student is seen, heard and valued,” wrote a student nominator. “She asks about our well-being. She makes sure we know we matter.”
Blanca Tyler, Administrative and Language House Coordinator
Modern Languages & Literatures
Tyler’s role in creating a community of support and inclusion among a diverse group of students and faculty personifies the values of belonging and respect. She handles myriad administrative duties for modern languages & literatures students and faculty with aplomb while managing the department’s work-study students, eight language houses and International Fellows.
“Ms. Tyler serves as the node of contact for an extremely large and diverse body of faculty and students in MLL comprising numerous linguistic, cultural and national backgrounds,” a nominator wrote. “As a culturally humble, trilingual cultural ambassador with Latin American roots, Ms. Tyler sets the tone of respect and equity as she liaises between janitorial staff, administrative staff, faculty, student workers and multiple offices across campus.
“She welcomes the young International Fellows that come from abroad to live in our language houses and works in MLL’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee to make everyone feel like they belong in our campus.”
Tyler also took on a mentorship role with students. She organizes off-site trips and dinners at her home for international students so that they are not homesick and enlisted her husband to repair their bicycles.
African American Male Coalition
Connecting students with similar experiences to engage in activities and community makes the African American Male Coalition a conduit to the value of belonging.
The organization’s main objective is to provide a safe, unified environment for African American males that will promote intellectual and spiritual growth, as well as establish a sense of brotherhood among the African American male community. The group seeks to build an inclusive community to ensure that Black and Brown men on campus feel like they are seen, heard and belong at W&M.
The group hosts monthly barbershop events where members gather in a safe space to engage in meaningful conversation, eat a catered meal and get haircuts. This barbershop type environment is nostalgic to many of its members, provides a valuable opportunity for fellowship and contributes to a unique sense of belonging.
The coalition provides members with opportunities for community involvement and educational enrichment. It hosts a monthly event called The Other Side of Education where professors and faculty men of color are invited to talk to members and build meaningful connections to foster support in their educational endeavors. This past summer, coalition representatives helped out with the Williamsburg Juneteenth parade organized by the local NAACP chapter.
Food for All
Recognized for the value of service, Food for All is a student-run group fighting food insecurity within the campus community.
Collaborating with individuals and communities across campus and the local community, students work to provide meals and groceries for W&M community members in need through partnerships with the Campus Food Pantry, W&M Dining Services, Sodexo catering services, food drives and other initiatives.
Their projects have included delivering meals to students quarantined off-campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting a swipe drive each semester so that students can donate meal swipes to people in need, running a campus food exchange and partnering with various groups to conduct food drives. More than 600 student volunteers operate the exchange three times a week, and it has served more than 200 people to date.
Winning Impact Week in the spring with more than 200 student votes and $3,500 collected allowed Food for All to purchase a commercial refrigerator and freezer to add perishable items to the exchange, accept more donations and store leftover food from events for redistribution to the community.
Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada
Latinx-based sorority Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc., demonstrates the value of belonging by striving to create space on campus for not only Latinx identities, but a variety of diverse identities as well, through its events and collaborations with other organizations.
For example, the chapter worked with other groups to celebrate and share food at the Taste of Latinx event, collected material and monetary donations for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, participated in Galentine’s Day Sip and Paint and hosted the dialogue “Living up to Expectations” during Women’s History Month to provide a safe space to discuss the pressures of being women of color on campus, in work spaces and in life after college.
By hosting events from educational speakers, films and student discussions to lighter gatherings like picnics, pumpkin painting and Latin food sales, SIA cultivates community and brings students together outside of classes. The events are most popular with underclassmen finding themselves in search of camaraderie during their first years on campus.
Workshops such as Studying for Success: Organization and Study Tips from the SIAs and Building Success: Resume Workshop focused on academic success to support marginalized students in balancing academics, imposter syndrome, financial struggles and a social life.
History Club typifies the university value of curiosity as an academic-based interest club that makes intellectual curiosity integral to its existence. Viewing history as more than a major or academic field of interest, the club gives members opportunities to discover incredible stories and make greater connections to the world around them in a relaxed setting.
The club’s purpose is to provide students with a casual, peer-led setting to engage with and learn about history without academic pressures. It promotes the idea that history is a fluid and multifaceted subject that can and should be explored in a casual and non-academic manner to promote inclusive and accessible access to information.
Members learn about their peers’ historical passions and explorations. This inclusive community allows members to share and further their own historical interests and drives curiosity in new historical topics.
Each semester the club holds several events where members present on a historical topic of interest or professors discuss their projects and research as well as answer students’ questions. Recent activities have also included trivia-based games such as Jeopardy, Pictionary and more.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, students exemplified the W&M value of service by writing letters to residents of Williamsburg-area senior living communities.
Now known as Wren Pals, group members form genuine and long-term relationships with facility residents affected by Alzheimer’s and certain dementias. As it adds members, the group is adding residents and facilities to the number of people it serves.
Members visit and deliver activity packets for residents in order to help keep their memories active while also helping to make them feel a little less alone. Student teams have developed activity packets that consist of letters from members, crossword puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, short quizzes and more thought-provoking activities to help residents in memory care facilities stay challenged in order to mitigate the progression of their neurodegenerative diseases.
The club fundraises annually for the Alzheimer’s Foundation at its annual October walk and this year surpassed its goal by almost 50%. Currently, the group is expanding to collaborate with the nonprofit Conversations to Remember to engage with residents of a Newport News hospice facility.
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