Two students and two faculty members will be recognized at William & Mary’s Charter Day ceremony on Feb. 9 for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the community.

This year’s honorees and their awards are:

In addition to being recognized during Charter Day, they will be celebrated during a special ceremony on Feb. 5 at 4 p.m. in Miller Hall’s Brinkley Commons room (RSVP here). That event will also include an announcement about this year’s Plumeri Award recipients.

The Charter Day ceremony will feature remarks by Secretary of the Smithsonian Lonnie G. Bunch III and student performances in honor of the university’s Year of the Arts. Bunch will receive an honorary degree at the event, along with former W&M Rector Jeffrey B. Trammell ’73.

Thomas Jefferson Award: Professor Linda Schaffner

by Jim Ducibella

Carl Friedrichs, the Glucksman Professor of Marine Science, wrote that colleague Linda Schaffner is deserving of the Thomas Jefferson Award because her “service to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) and William & Mary embodies the true essence” of the award.

A former winner of W&M’s Thomas Jefferson Teaching Prize and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award, how has Schaffner met that high standard of “significant service through her personal activities, influence and leadership”?

(Photo by Stephen Salpukas)

For Schaffner, professor of marine science and past associate dean for academic affairs at VIMS, it means leading the development of new curricula and strengthening ties with Arts & Sciences and the law and business schools to provide greater access to classes and professional development opportunities across the university.

It means strengthening and directing one of the longest running National Science Foundation-supported (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduate Programs in the nation, with a focus on introducing diverse students to marine science and to William & Mary.

It means a focus on student health, wellness and sense of belonging, evidenced by bringing a health counselor to the VIMS campus regularly for free consultations and for overseeing and championing the creation of the first-ever campus center on the VIMS campus.

“I can’t think of anyone who has been a more steadfast champion for students,” wrote Ginger Ambler, senior vice president for student affairs and public safety. The counseling initiative “is but one powerful example of the collaborative spirit Linda brings to her work, and the impact of her leadership on the student experience,” Ambler added.

“Within her school, across our campus and in her field, she is a leader of exceptional accomplishment and integrity.”

For Schaffner, embodying the Jefferson Award means creating the NSF-funded program for Minority Scholars in Ocean Sciences at VIMS, in collaboration with Old Dominion University and Hampton University.

It means creating and facilitating formal mentorship training for VIMS faculty and leading the school’s semiannual ‘Writing Bootcamp’ for students eight times in the last eight years. It means teaching 14 courses in the last decade.

It even means playful, fun things such as initiating the practice of having VIMS students wear baseball caps when they march through Wren portico at Convocation.

It means helping a junior colleague obtain a $2.3-million NSF grant to study how muddy sediments move around in coastal ecosystems.

“She has been a member of the W&M community for more than four decades, first as a student, then as a faculty member and administrator, producing science that has had a tremendous impact on coastal communities in the Commonwealth and beyond, training and educating students and the next generation of scientific leaders,” wrote Derek Aday, dean & director of VIMS.

Mark Luckenbach, professor and associate dean of research & advisory services at VIMS, wrote, “Having worked with Linda for 38-plus years, I can unequivocally state that over that time, no other individual has poured more of their heart and soul into the institute.”

Professor Courtney Harris, chair of the coastal & ocean processes section, explains that Linda’s “service to William & Mary and VIMS has gone ‘above and beyond’ in so many categories that it would be exhaustive to list them all.”

She is correct, but one can try using a few statistics.

  • $4.8 million: the amount of fellowship or grant money Schaffner has received as lead principal investigator
  • 11: The number of times Schaffner has served as the major advisor for graduate students seeking master’s or Ph.D. degrees
  • 50: The number of times Schaffner has served on student thesis or dissertation advisory committees
  • 23: The number of undergraduates she has mentored for summer or academic year research experiences
  • 38:The number refereed publications Schaffner has authored or co-authored
  • 4,000+: The number of citations her publications have garnered

The totality of those achievements has resulted in what Schaffner describes as “a rich and joyful life.”

“I am grateful … [to be] a member of the greater William & Mary community and for all of the opportunities my tenure as a faculty member has provided,” she said. “I really had it all during my career – from access to the Chesapeake Bay where I did much of my research, to access to phenomenal students who always made me want to learn more and teach better.

“I hope that during my time as a member of the W&M community, I’ve done my part to help ensure that we will continue to provide the quality education and mentoring needed to develop marine science leaders who are ready and able to address the most pressing issues of what undoubtedly will be a complex future.”

Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award: Claire McKinney

by Claudette Brooks

Claire McKinney, assistant professor of government and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, has built a teaching foundation on fostering inclusive learning environments to engage the creative minds of her students.

Claire McKinney
(Courtesy photo)

It comes as little surprise that she is the 2024 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award, which is awarded annually and recognizes a “teaching member of the W&M community who has demonstrated, through concern as a teacher and through character and influence, the inspiration and stimulation of learning to the betterment of the individual and society as exemplified by Thomas Jefferson.’’

McKinney’s classes are much sought-after because of her unique way of cultivating ideas and individuality among her students.

“I am extraordinarily humbled. Given the wonderful teaching at William & Mary and the list of previous winners of the award, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the recognition,” McKinney said.

A published author who has done research on topics such as abortion politics, contemporary law and feminism, McKinney has brought her methodology and innovative teaching practices to the forefront for students at William & Mary since 2016. Inspired by her late mother, a high school math teacher, McKinney has narrowed her area of focus to the intersections of gender, politics and reproduction in the American context.

“Claire McKinney is a gifted, generous teacher who makes political theory relevant and vital for her students,” said Sue Peterson, Reves Professor of Government and International Relations.

Focusing on the educational strategy of “Universal Design,” she brings her years of research to the classroom to implore critical thinking, broaden knowledge and expose diversity of thought.

Universal Design, McKinney said, is “an approach to building structures and includes literal architecture to engage students of all learning abilities. It is a methodological approach to the world that begins with the question, how can we make something accessible to as many minds and bodies as possible?”

“She has stimulated, nuanced conversations within our class and challenged us to think critically about the ways in which gender structured our political world,” said Jack Mackey ’21, a former student.

McKinney’s thoughtful teaching style coupled with her passion for pioneering meaningful and relatable dialogue to challenge her students is a testament to her dedication to making a lasting impact.

”She has a reputation for academic rigor, as well as fair treatment and assessment of students,” said Jennifer Putzi, Sara & Jess Cloud Professor of English and professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies. “Her classes are also regarded as timely interventions into things that matter to our students right now — reproductive rights, disability studies, transgender theory — and her classroom is a safe place for difficult discussions.”

McKinney’s colleagues say she has been a valuable member of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies program (GSWS) faculty, which focuses on interdisciplinary teaching and research while exploring the roles of gender and sexuality in relation to human experiences. According to colleagues, the program went through a shift in major requirements which had students take on an array of classes with no real focus. This all changed when McKinney joined the staff. She took an active role in the process and encouraged radical revision to the curriculum which paved the way for the program to prosper today.

“Her belief in the importance of facilitating independent student learning is at the heart of her devotion to W&M,” said Claire Pamment, associate professor of world theatre and director of the GSWS program.

McKinney said she would not be the teacher or scholar she is today without GSWS.

“The students I encounter in the program are attuned to thinking about power, identity and culture in ways that are exciting and vital to creating new directions for the future,” she said.

“It is a gift to teach at William & Mary. The students come with excitement and passion and my colleagues care deeply about students in a way that is rare in public institutions. More than anything, I think this award is a testament to my mother, who passed away last year but taught me how vital teaching is as a practice, and the importance of doing it well.”

Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy: Robby Gourdie ’24

By Laura Grove

Robby Gourdie ’24 balances exceptional classroom performance with extraordinary dedication to research and genuine enjoyment in mentoring classmates. Gourdie is a chemistry major who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry and teach at a university that – like William & Mary – emphasizes undergraduate research.

(Photo by Stephen Salpukas)

“I think undergraduate research opportunities are what I value most about W&M,” said Gourdie, “And I’d like to share that experience with others.”

Gourdie is this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy which is awarded to an exceptional undergraduate student. The prize recognizes excellence in the sciences and honors the relationship between Jefferson and his William & Mary tutor in mathematics and natural sciences, Professor William Small.

“Robby’s excellence in academics, scholarship and extracurriculars embody the spirit of the Thomas Jefferson Prize,” said William R. McNamara, associate professor of chemistry. “Furthermore, I strongly believe that he has a chance to make a tangible impact on the fields of chemistry and biochemistry. I look forward to hearing about the great things that Robby accomplishes throughout his career.”

Gourdie has a 4.0 grade point average, is a merit-based 1693 Scholar and has earned a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

In the lab, Douglas Young, associate professor of chemistry, has mentored Gourdie for nearly four years.

“Robby’s excitement for research on the interface of chemistry and biology has been evident from the start,” said Young. “I had no reservations offering him a spot in my lab as a first-year student, and definitely don’t regret this choice as he has time after time demonstrated his impressive scientific prowess and phenomenal dedication.”

As a result of his work in the lab, Gourdie co-authored a 2023 paper, “Development of Multivalent Conjugates with a Single Non-Canonical Amino Acid,” which was published in ChemBioChem, a prestigious international science journal. Gourdie is also working on several other projects in the lab and, according to Young, will likely be an author on three to five more publications as a result of those projects.

“Studying chemistry is sort of like solving puzzles with a purpose, and that makes it fun in a way,” said Gourdie. “I’ve been given a really unique opportunity to grow as a researcher and immerse myself in my interests in Professor Young’s lab, and I just want to make the most of it. In general, I get restless very easily, and lab work gives me the opportunity to really focus my time and my energy.” 

Gourdie also focuses time and energy mentoring other students. He is an active tutor in the Tribe Tutor Zone and a founding member of the chemistry department’s mentorship program. Gourdie explained that positive experiences with educators in his own life motivate him to help other students grasp difficult concepts.

“I really believe that a lot of ‘hard’ concepts can be much more accessible than we make them out to be if we’re willing to put effort into the way we communicate them,” said Gourdie. “Sometimes you have to keep approaching an idea from different angles until you find the one that works for you, and I find it fulfilling to help people through that process.”

Daniel Cristol, Chancellor Professor of Biology and director of the 1693 Scholars program, describes Gourdie as someone who is interested in knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Cristol also remarked on Gourdie’s persistence and the personality traits that help him succeed both academically and socially.

“In the lab, Robby will achieve through sheer determination what he cannot accomplish through mere cleverness,” said Cristol. “Outside of the lab, he is a valued friend, mentor and assistant to many because of his authenticity, loyalty and gentle humor.”

 For his part, Gourdie is adamant that achievements aren’t a solitary endeavor.

“You never really accomplish anything alone; to say otherwise is disingenuous,” said Gourdie. “Especially in research, it takes so many people’s ideas, hard work and support to get anywhere. In that vein, I’d just like to thank the professors who mentored and taught me, as well as all of my friends, family and peers who have supported and studied with me throughout my education.”

James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership: Jaden Spady ’24

by Jim Ducibella

The Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership dates back almost two decades, yet the precepts could have been established with Jaden Spady ’24 in mind.

(Photo by Stephen Salpukas)

Spady, a finance major and a W&M Scholar, is the 2024 Monroe awardee in appreciation of an amazing array of campus and community involvement that is the embodiment of all the prize represents.

A few examples:

Along with fellow members of the Kappa Pi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Spady runs a mentorship program for Black male students at James Blair Middle School, the spoken intention being to provide a positive Black role model and inspire the students he interacts with to go to college.

He helped run several voter registration programs on campus in collaboration with the League of Women Voters, the goal to encourage students not only to register to vote but to arm them with information to make an intelligent choice.

He has served as president of the university’s African American Male Coalition, now called the Black Male Collective, partnering with the Center for Student Diversity and a local barbering college to provide conversations in spiritual growth, free food and haircuts to any student.

He facilitated collaboration with historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg to educate the W&M community about its rich history, some of which is now, literally, being unearthed.

Spady currently serves as a WMSURE student fellow, mentoring students, especially the underrepresented, who are interested in conducting research, while helping freshmen WMSURE scholars transition to college life.

There are other examples.

“From the first moments at W&M, Jaden found ways to stay engaged with the community,” wrote Iyabo Osiapem, teaching professor of Africana studies and linguistics and co-director of WMSURE. “He is the ideal candidate for the James Monroe prize.”

Spady’s accomplishments would be impressive under any circumstances, but he rightly points out that in 2020 he walked into a world embroiled in challenges never before seen.

“We were actively battling a pandemic amid a polarizing presidential election, and the fight against racism was at the top of mainstream consciousness after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others,” Spady said. “As a first-generation college student and a Black man stepping into a predominantly white institution, I had no idea what to expect for my next four years.”

He turned COVID-19 into an opportunity for scholarship, teaming with Professor of Business Analytics Yu Amy Xia in 2021 on a project looking into the effect the pandemic was having on supply chains. He presented their findings at the spring Undergraduate Research Conference. He has made several other presentations at spring WMSURE conferences, presenting both independent research and work he’s completed for class.

From the start of his time at W&M, Spady said, he was fortunate to connect with several student mentors who imbued him with the comfort he needed to be himself and the “confidence to thrive.”

That combination of qualities enabled him to form goals he is already well on his way to achieving.

“I strive to ensure that I leave my community a better place than it was when I first arrived,” he said. “My mentoring at James Blair is an excellent example of where I can see a lasting impact on my engagement. I get to be a positive Black role model like the ones I had growing up. I can inspire these kids to be high achievers and to one day pay it forward to make their communities a better place.”

Spady asserts that he receives genuine “joy” from seeing others succeed. But it has not been easy. There’s been a constant juggling act of classes, extracurricular activities, and community engagement, and a strategy to balance them to give, and receive, the maximum benefit.

“The road of community work is complex and challenging, its rewards are immeasurable,” he said. “It transforms not only the lives of those we serve but also our own, creating a stronger, more compassionate, and resilient community.”

Or, as Osiapem wrote, “Jaden has become an invaluable member of our community.”

, University News & Media