Persistence paid off for UMW graduate Sam Ulmschneider.
The global studies and history teacher was recently named Virginia’s 2020 recipient of the James Madison Fellowship – on his fourth attempt to earn the award.
The $24,000 prize is given to just one recipient per state each year to promote outstanding teaching of the U.S. Constitution in secondary schools. It will allow Ulmschneider to pursue a second master’s degree while he continues to teach gifted high schoolers at his other alma mater, Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond.
Two of Ulmschneider’s previous fellowship applications resulted in his being named a runner-up. Undiscouraged, he kept applying, a process that included a lot of essay-writing. “I felt like my students do when they’re filling out their college applications,” he said.
His own education at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School – and the Advanced Placement credits he earned there – allowed him to focus on his academic interests almost immediately at UMW.
“The advising system was wonderful, and it’s one of the things I took away from Mary Washington,” said Ulmschneider, who double majored in history and philosophy with a minor in religion, and joined the University’s club fencing team.
Professor of History and American Studies Susan Fernsebner encouraged him to follow his intellectual interests, he said. And Professor of Classics, Religion and Philosophy David Ambuel set an example as a scholar and “a wonderful guy.”
Ulmschneider graduated with honors in 2006, then enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University with the intention of pursuing a Ph.D. and career as a college professor. But after earning a master’s degree in history, he said, “I had some serious talks with some very smart people about the academic history job market” and decided on a different path.
He taught college and community college courses in Virginia and spent six months teaching English in China to high schoolers who planned to study abroad, before joining the faculty at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in 2011. The school draws highly academically qualified students from surrounding localities and emphasizes government and international studies.
Ulmschneider teaches modern political theory and philosophy, a politics and policy seminar, and Advanced Placement courses in U.S. government and politics and American history. A favorite is We the People, a class focusing on oral argument, writing and research. Students must audition for admission, and participants prepare for state and national competitions that simulate congressional hearings. Ulmschneider has coached the team to several state championships and national finals.
He’s also involved with the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County, which provides in-person and online programs to promote democracy and understanding the Constitution.
With the fellowship, Ulmschneider will have the chance to sharpen his skills and knowledge, fulfill the continuing education requirement of teachers and pursue his passion for studying interesting subjects, with the challenge and discipline of formal coursework. An academic background in political science, law and public policy, he hopes, will improve his effectiveness as campaign chairman and treasurer for his friend Schuyler VanValkenburg, a fellow government teacher in his second term as a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Still undecided where he will pursue his fellowship-funded graduate studies, Ulmschneider is leaning toward a program for educators, allowing him to continue teaching full time while working toward a degree during the summer.
In that regard, he’s carrying out a main goal of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, to “ensure that the spirit and practical wisdom of the Constitution will guide the actions of future generations of American citizens.”