The University of Mary Washington presented its top honors during commencement ceremonies Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12.
Kendall M. Parker of Fredericksburg received the Colgate W. Darden Jr. Award, which is presented to the student with the highest grade-point average (GPA) in the four-year undergraduate program. Parker finished with a 3.99 GPA.
Robert Barr, associate professor of political science, received the Grellet C. Simpson Award, the institution’s most prestigious annual award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. The recipient is routinely a senior member of the faculty.
Catie Finlayson, assistant professor of geography, received the UMW Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Member Award, presented annually to an exceptional member of the faculty who has served the institution for at least two years but no more than five years.
Smita Jain Oxford, senior lecturer in the College of Business, received the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award. The winner is selected by the graduating class as the faculty member “they will most likely remember as the one who had the greatest impact on their lives.”
Jane Huffman, associate professor of education, was recognized with the Graduate Faculty Award. The honor showcases an exceptional full-time faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in graduate teaching and professional leadership in a graduate program. The person selected must have served in a full-time position at the university for at least two years.
Kendall Parker finished her undergraduate career with all A’s, including one A-minus.
“I do know it wasn’t a course in her major, where she ended with a perfect 4.0 grade point,” said Provost Nina Mikhalevsky, who recognized Parker with the prestigious award.
A political science major with a minor in business administration, Parker earned an honorable mention in a national undergraduate paper competition. She is a member of the national senior honor society Mortar Board; the national political honorary society Pi Sigma Alpha; and the national collegiate athletic honor society Chi Alpha Sigma. An exceptional player on the UMW basketball team, she set a school record for the number of three-pointers made in a single game.
“As her thesis advisor put it, she’s not just good in one area: she’s an outstanding scholar, an accomplished athlete, and a wonderful person,” said Mikhalevsky who described Parker as a “triple threat.”
Associate Professor Robert Barr has put his students at the center of his teaching since he arrived a Mary Washington in 2005, Mikhalevsky said. Students and faculty praise him for his frank and accessible manner, and his willingness to spend hours mentoring students, challenging them to push for excellence.
“While his courses are demanding, his students consistently comment on how much they are challenged and learn, how effectively he engages students in discussions, and how obvious it is that he cares about all of his students,” said Mikhalevsky, adding that students flock to him for advice. “By expressing confidence in his students, he helps them excel.”
Recipient of the University’s Alumni Association Outstanding Young Faculty Member Award in 2010, Barr also received a Jepson Fellowship and a prestigious research grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation. An expert in Latin American politics, he has published numerous articles in academic journals.
Barr holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in foreign affairs and a bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in international relations from the University of Virginia.
Assistant Professor Catie Finlayson, who arrived at UMW in 2014, is described as energetic, challenging, inspiring and always willing to lend a hand.
“Team-based teaching, a ‘flipped’ classroom and open-educational resources are more than academic buzzwords for her: they are fundamental approaches she routinely employs to actively engage students in their classes,” Mikhalevsky said.
A human geographer, she specializes in cultural geography, including nature and societal interactions, explorations of theory and methodology, and the geography of religion. She has published a textbook and numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and has supervised students in more than 20 independent research projects, helping them develop papers for conference presentations.
“As one undergraduate researcher put it, the experience pushed her to accomplish academic goals she never imaged she might achieve,” said Mikhalevsky.
Finlayson earned a Ph.D. in geography from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religious studies from Winthrop University in 2007.
Smita Jain Oxford
A senior lecturer in the College of Business, Smita Jain Oxford has clearly influenced students’ lives, according to Class of 2018 representative Grace Howie who presented the Pinschmidt award. Howie recounted a quote from one student who said that Oxford not only affected her life academically, but also provided wisdom and advice for transitioning from life as a student, to life as a professional.
Students described Oxford as kind, fierce, persistent and highly intelligent.
“Those in her classes admit that while her grading ‘sends a shiver down their spine,’ it is worth it, because her classes are exciting and she uses real world examples from her time as a negotiator in her academic and personal life,” Howie said. “This professor has not only made an impact on the student’s education but has forever left a mark as we proceed after our time here at the University of Mary Washington.”
Oxford started at UMW in 2003 as a visiting instructor and was appointed to a full-time position in 2005. She received an MBA from Columbia University, a master’s degree from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College.
Associate Professor Jane Huffman spent than a decade teaching in the Virginia public school system before coming to the University in 2007.
“Her teaching is noteworthy both for the range of different courses she teaches and for the way she employs collaborative activities, active learning techniques, and real-world class projects,” said Mikhalevsky. “Her students leave UMW with a thorough understanding of education law, instructional design, learning theory, and issues of equity and access.”
She’s also distinguished herself by taking on multiple leadership roles both in the College of Education and throughout the University. As an example of her dedication, Mikhalevsky said that, despite breaking her ankle that required her to wear a rolling leg brace, she continued to teach classes, mentor students and fulfill her program commitments.
“She was down only briefly, bounced back, and had another extremely productive year,” Mikhalevsky said.
She received a doctorate in education from Virginia Tech and a master’s and bachelor’s degree from Radford University.