Last spring, when the University of Mary Washington suddenly switched to remote learning, students found themselves in new territory, especially rising seniors. Nevertheless, they didn’t let the global pandemic stop them. They continued to excel academically, partake in extracurricular activities and serve as campus leaders, helping the rest of the UMW community navigate through the COVID crisis, civil unrest, and a contentious and consequential election season, along with the types of challenges all students face.
Here, in part one of a two-story series, several 2021 graduates share their achievements and future plans, as well as how Mary Washington has prepared them for life after college. Read Portraits of Perseverance, Part 2.
Mary Washington is the alma mater of Beth Kelly’s parents. But it was the stellar reputation of the College of Education and Division III varsity swim team that made this legacy student decide to dive head first into UMW, where she’ll graduate in the top 10 percent of her class.
Kelly has made a splash on campus, placing in the top eight in the Capital Athletic Conference twice, serving as Student Conduct Review Board president and a member of three honor societies, volunteering with COAR (Community Outreach and Resources) and working in the University Center.
In addition to her elementary education major, with Professor of Linguistics Judith Parker’s help, Kelly crafted a special major in psycholinguistics. Spurred on by her grandmother’s speech difficulties after a stroke, Kelly will begin a master’s degree in speech language pathology at the University of Colorado this fall. “I have a desire to help others and realized this field combines my love of service, leading and creating personal connections.”
The recipient of full-tuition merit scholarships, John Asmus was determined to make the most of his Mary Washington education. He’s a biology major in the pre-medical track and serves as senior advisor to the Pre-Health Club, helping expand the organization to include aspiring pharmacists, veterinarians and physical therapists. In his free time, Asmus led outdoor trips for Campus Recreation and is active with the Catholic Campus Ministry at UMW.
President of the Global Medical Brigades, he organized trips to Panama and Honduras to provide medical and dental care to those who have little or no access to healthcare. “This was truly the most humbling experience of my life.”
Asmus plans to volunteer at the Moss Free Clinic and continue research with Assistant Professor of Biology Swati Agrawal this summer. He hopes to work in a laboratory, and later attend medical school to become a pediatrician.
For physics and mathematics major Margaret Gregory, the decision to come to UMW just added up. Her high school principal was an alumna and recommended that Gregory take a tour during her junior year. “I really loved the campus and downtown Fredericksburg,” she said. “I felt that the UMW community was a place where I would learn and grow as an individual.”
Gregory has served as president of UMW’s chapter of the Society of Physics Students, earned second place at the Summer Science Institute and completed Departmental Honors research in physics.
And she’s proved an unstoppable force, recently named a Fulbright semifinalist and accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gregory plans to earn a Ph.D. in physical oceanography through MIT’s joint program with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts. “I’m grateful for the support of Dr. Varun Makhija, my research advisor, and all of my friends who encouraged me to apply to this program.”
Breonna Washington felt so sure about UMW that she applied for early admission. “The first time my mom and I took a tour of campus, it felt like home,” she said. One of her top achievements as a college student came even before she started her freshman year, when she completed the Student Transition Program, which prepares underrepresented or first in family students for life at Mary Washington.
In addition to coursework for a business administration major, Washington juggles multiple responsibilities, including volunteering at a vaccination clinic and working as an office coordinator at Mary Washington Hospital’s Medical Imaging Center.
But healthcare isn’t Washington’s only interest. As an intern with UMW’s Center for Economic Development, she’s working with CED Executive Director Brian Baker to identify how emerging technologies can benefit the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors, which have had to pivot due to COVID. All that while also making the Dean’s List for the past three semesters. “That solidified that I’m on the right track.”
Check out the UMW website on Friday to learn more about other outstanding Class of 2021 graduates.
Beth Kelly is the recipient of a privately funded scholarship. John Asmus’s tuition is fully paid through two merit scholarships. To learn more, visit UMW’s Scholarship Opportunities page.