On May 12, 10 William & Mary standouts received the competitive and coveted Plumeri Awards, recognizing their excellence as educators.
Passion, vision, leadership and excellence were the words of the day — values each of the recipients embody in their work as they impact the lives of students and colleagues. Those same values are a guiding mantra for global business executive, philanthropist and civic leader Joseph J. Plumeri II ’66, D.P.S. ’11 and he celebrates the passion, vision, leadership and excellence he sees in others.
During the ceremony, Plumeri shared dynamic stories from his personal life and career, inspiring the standing-room-only audience through his unique perspective and generosity of spirit. In his remarks, Plumeri personally addressed each of the 10 recipients, thanking them for their work advancing exceptional scholarship and uplifting students at William & Mary.
“What you all have in common is incredible — every letter I received from each of you had to do with what I think life is about, which is genuine concern for people. Every letter you sent told me about what you were going to do for somebody else. Without you, those students can’t become what you told me they want to become. You bring that value.”
Plumeri established the awards in 2009 to reward outstanding faculty and enhance the recipients’ teaching, research and mentorship.
Author of the national bestselling book “The Power of Being Yourself,” Plumeri is currently a senior advisor to global investment firm Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR) and executive chairman of Switzerland-based Selecta Group, a leading provider of coffee and convenience food in workplaces and public spaces. Previously, he served as vice chairman of the Board of Directors of First Data Corp., the world’s largest payments and business solutions company, and was chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings PLC, a multinational risk advisor and insurance brokerage that merged with Towers Watson & Co. in 2016. He also held a variety of leadership roles over more than 30 years at Citigroup, including co-CEO of Shearson Lehman Brothers, CEO of Primerica Financial Services and CEO of CitiBank North America.
He charged everyone in attendance to raise up excellence above mediocrity in their own lives, encourage others to do the same and celebrate that excellence once achieved.
During his remarks, Plumeri made further generous commitments upon learning of greater need from Coach Tess Ellis for a ball delivery machine and field cover for the Tribe Women’s Field Hockey Team.
“Life is about taking care of other people, not yourself,” Plumeri said. “Because when you take care of other people, they lift you and you rise to the occasions you never believed you could. When you make a difference for other people, you add value to the world, and that added value is your legacy.”
More than 225 faculty members and coaches have benefited from Plumeri’s generosity during the past 14 years. Since 2019, the Plumeri Awards also have included recognition of a standout coach or athletics staff member. Names and biographies for each recipient can be found below and online at the Plumeri Awards page.
Recipients of the highly competitive awards are selected based on their accomplishments in the areas of discovery, scholarship, teaching and athletics. Full-time faculty who have been at the university at least five years are eligible, as are coaches and staff who help define excellence at William & Mary. In 2019, the award was increased from $10,000 to $20,000, to be used over a three-year period.
William & Mary Rector Charles E. Poston J.D. ’74, P ’02, P ’06 opened the program on Friday with a recognition of the “crown jewels” of William & Mary, the faculty and coaches who are recognized through the Plumeri Awards, and President Katherine A. Rowe thanked Plumeri for his visionary leadership in establishing the awards.
“Joe had the vision to create an award that would provide truly transformative support for W&M faculty,” President Rowe said. “Intellectual excellence is about going to the edge of knowledge, where there aren’t paths, signposts or roadmaps, and — in a sustained way — staying there and bringing others with you. At William & Mary, we convene incredible talent here to change the world for the better, and the award recipients here today do that by living on the edge of knowledge every day.”
In his 2011 W&M Commencement address — hailed by NPR and The New York Times as one of the best commencement speeches ever — Plumeri noted that William & Mary helped him realize and achieve his dreams.
Guiding passion, clear vision, impactful leadership, commitment to excellence — by embracing this unique formula to achieving your dreams, Plumeri has said, anything is possible. Through the Plumeri Awards, he ensures that exceptional professors have the resources they need to advance their research and help new generations of students channel their passions — what Plumeri refers to as “obsessions” — toward lives of purpose.
2014 and 2020 Plumeri Award recipient Neurophysiology Professor Christopher Del Negro spoke about the impact the awards have had on his research and career, empowering him to improve his lab and conduct groundbreaking research on the science of breathing and motor pattern generation.
“The Plumeri Awards provided me and my team resources for new equipment and infrastructure to prove the specific cellular origin of breathing that is now accepted worldwide, impacting global research,” Del Negro said. “These awards provide ambition, drive and real resources that are applied in a field-specific way to keep research going and to disseminate that knowledge. Even though this ceremony only happens once a year, I find it gives me the adrenaline and the ambition surge I need that lasts me another year.”
The impact of the awardees on students was front and center throughout the ceremony. Zoha Siddiqui ’24 shared her story of how Plumeri Award recipient Associate Professor of History Betsy Konefal impacted her life and helped her develop her passion for transitional justice — a process to redress human rights abuses and transform political systems — and craft a vision for a future in law.
“Through her classes and others, Professor Konefal opened up spaces for me to meaningfully engage with transitional justice efforts on the ground and to think critically about my own future role in the field,” said Siddiqui. “She encouraged and supported me at every step of the way. Her constant support, her advice, and her passion for her work motivated me to put my best foot forward every day.”
Konefal also helped Siddiqui secure the nationally competitive Mitchell Scholarship, through which she will complete a master’s degree in conflict transformation at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland.
“Professor Konefal’s passion for engaged teaching reflects a level of care across departments and professors at William & Mary. Through the Plumeri Awards, William & Mary recognizes faculty and Athletics leaders every year for the passion, vision and leadership that shapes students like me and prepares us for successful careers and to make a difference in the world.”
William & Mary Provost Peggy Agouris also shared her gratitude to Plumeri, noting the particularly rigorous selection process for this year’s awards, from an application pool of more than 50 W&M educators who each exemplify excellence. She then formally presented the award medallions to the 2023 cohort, with Rowe and Plumeri congratulating each personally.
Following the medallion presentations, Professor of Classical Studies Molly Swetnam-Burland delivered remarks on behalf of the 2023 Plumeri Award recipients. She noted that all five of the university’s schools and a variety of disciplines were represented by this year’s recipients .
“What we all share is a deep and enduring commitment to fostering excellence in William & Mary students,” Swetnam-Burland said. “I know I speak for all of us in giving voice to our gratitude to Mr. Plumeri, and in expressing the excitement we felt for the opportunities this award will help us develop for and with our students.”
She expressed her plans to use the funds from her Plumeri Award for a digital humanities project. She hopes to bring an ancient Etruscan archaeological site to life for students digitally, increasing accessibility for students.
“I hope that this project will empower students to see themselves as knowledge creators, not just learning passively but contributing to a rich and global dialogue,” she said. All of the students impacted by the Plumeri Award recipients, Swetnam-Burland said, will be afforded real-world experiences that will allow them to go far in their academic and professional careers: “Just as Mr. Plumeri urges us, they can put themselves out there, be themselves, and in so doing, make an impact on the world.”
“I truly believe that anything is possible,” Plumeri said. “Once I accomplish something, I always ask, ‘What else?’ What else can I do to make the world better?
“Celebrate excellence, celebrate achievement, and always work to find the ‘what else.’ Because whether you’re in marine science or business or chemistry or law or sports, it’s all about exposing your heart for the benefit of others.”
Meet the 2023 Plumeri Award Winners
More information is available on the Plumeri Awards webpage
Associate Professor of Geology
Nicholas Balascio teaches and conducts research in the field of climate science. He is a specialist in paleoclimatology and investigates how recent climate changes compare to past centuries and millennia by interpreting clues in geologic archives. He is an authority on Arctic paleoclimatology, and he reconstructs past environmental conditions by analyzing geochemical properties of lake sediment records. At William & Mary, he has developed and taught courses in global climate change and paleoclimatology, and he mentors on average four research students a year, many of whom participate in his international field campaigns.
Dawn Edmiston Ed.D. ’20
Clinical Professor of Marketing
For more than two decades, Dawn Edmiston has developed innovative teaching methods that leverage technology and an entrepreneurial mindset to advance student learning outcomes in higher education. Her research interests include digital marketing and integrated marketing communication. She is passionate about the internationalization of higher education and launched the global business minor at William & Mary in 2017.
Head Coach, Field Hockey
Tess Ellis was promoted to head coach of William & Mary’s Field Hockey team prior to the 2013 season. She has been honored as the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Coach of the Year four times, including two of the last three seasons, and led the Tribe to a CAA Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth during the record-breaking 2018 campaign. She brings to W&M a wealth of experience, including from training and traveling with the U.S. Olympic Team leading to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Research Professor of Marine Science
During her time at William & Mary, Marjorie Friedrichs has developed an internationally recognized research program examining how physical and biogeochemical processes interact in coastal waters. By combining numerical modeling and analysis of in situ data, she and her team at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science strive to better understand how human impacts, such as global warming and urbanization, affect estuarine ecosystem dynamics.
Associate Professor of Law
Rebecca Green is an associate professor of law at William & Mary Law School where she teaches courses in election law, redistricting and GIS, privacy law, contract law and alternative dispute resolution. Professor Green co-directs the Election Law Program, a joint project of the Law School and the National Center for State Courts that provides resources for judges on election law topics. Green’s research interests focus on the intersection of privacy law and elections.
Heartley B. Huber
Associate Professor of Special Education
Heartley Huber’s research focuses on the social and behavioral needs of students with autism and development disabilities and social supports to improve students’ inclusive experiences in school and beyond. Huber’s commitment to improving lifelong success and inclusion for individuals with disabilities prompted her to launch a campus-based job training program for young adults with developmental disabilities in 2019. She previously worked with students with autism, intellectual disability and emotional behavior disorders as a teacher and behavior analyst.
Associate Professor of History
Betsy Konefal’s research and teaching focus on Latin American history and movements for rights and justice. Konefal has traveled with W&M students to Guatemala and Argentina for human rights-focused research and study and partnered with the National Security Archive to offer internships where students use declassified documents to contribute to legal cases and collective memories of the past.
Professor of Classical Studies
Molly Swetnam-Burland is a specialist in Roman material culture and social history, with particular interests in the cities of Pompeii and Rome. She has research interests in Latin epigraphy, the working lives of the enslaved and freed members of the emperor’s household, in domestic religion and in the cult of Isis in Italy. She has published widely, including a monograph, two edited volumes and many articles in peer-reviewed journals. She is also involved in outreach, a frequent speaker at the Virginia Junior Classical League and Latin Governor’s Academy. She won a teaching award for excellence in higher education in 2020 from the Society of Classical Studies.
Associate Professor of Aquatic Health Sciences; Postdoctoral Program Coordinator
Andrew Wargo’s academic program focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. A major goal of this work is to understand the processes that drive disease severity and harness this information to improve long-term disease management. Since arriving at VIMS in 2012, Wargo helped develop a cutting-edge facility for freshwater pathogen research and implemented new courses in epidemiology. He was an establishing member of the VIMS Dive-In committee and acted as the inaugural Postdoc Program Coordinator.
Douglas D. Young
Associate Professor of Chemistry; Chair of the Undergraduate Research Committee; Chair of the Committee on Academic Status; Pre-Health Professions Advisor
Douglas Young’s research focuses on the interface of chemistry and biology, developing novel chemical tools to address biological questions. His work also investigates the synthesis and testing of new antibiotics, a high priority in healthcare as more and more microorganisms are developing antibiotic resistance. This research has engaged over 70 undergraduates in his 12 years at W&M.