The University of Mary Washington is proud of every student graduating this year. UMW is committed to providing a college experience that focuses on what matters most to each individual. As this year’s seniors spread their wings to explore life after Mary Washington, read about some of UMW’s 2023 Superstars, their accomplishments and the people who make this place.
Chandler Carlson: What’s in a Name?
Chandler Carlson was already a University of Mary Washington student when he learned that he’s also a relative of the school’s namesake, Mary Ball Washington. “After my family did an ancestry test, [I discovered] I am a direct descendent of King John of England (son of Henry II) as is Mary, which makes us cousins,” Carlson said.
Having grown up in the Fredericksburg area, Carlson chose UMW for its small class sizes and personalized approach, and to be closer to home. A biochemistry and psychology double major with a concentration in history, he participated in a group undergraduate research project investigating the effectiveness of essential oils and their mixtures as disinfectants compared to bleach. Carlson, alongside his team and professor, is working toward publishing a paper on their findings.
With an interest for the environment and sciences, Carlson got campus buzzing by helping found both the Botany Club and Bee Club. “My most important takeaway from UMW,” he said, “is the diverse perspectives gained from taking courses in different fields and with a multidisciplinary approach.”
He was an officer of the Eagle Pipe Band, Pre-Health Society, Global Medical Brigades, Student Government Association, Chi Beta Phi, Phi Alpha Theta, Psi Chi, Gamma Mu Theta and National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Carlson also participated in an episode of UMW’s Lively project, The Botany Club.
He received a Talon Award and several scholarships including the Roy Sheldon Cook Chemistry Scholarship, Sylvia McJilton Woodcock Scholarship and Celtic Arts Scholarship.
After graduation, Carlson plans to continue research in biology and chemistry and later attend medical school. “One thing I will miss is the camaraderie and mentorship from students and professors alike,” he said, “but the connections I’ve formed will last a lifetime.”
Maya Jenkins: Agent of Change
Maya Jenkins has made a commitment to bettering experiences for students, specifically people of color and women. Her name is shared around campus like a celebrity due to her notable involvements. Jenkins has served as a member of UMW’s Multicultural Leadership Council, president of UMW’s NAACP chapter and Pi Sigma Alpha’s national political science honors society, a student alumni ambassador and much more.
As a member of the UMW Police Community Advisory Panel and the NAACP at UMW, she co-authored a report discussing police reform and diversity equity and inclusion models that can help Black students and other marginalized communities. Jenkins also created and produced WeUMW, a film series débuted on Instagram that highlighted the Black student experience and the ways each guest had made an impact on campus. “Even though we had such a diverse group of people we were able to speak to, there is no way we could have come in contact with the vastness of Black UMW,” Jenkins said in the final video.
The series was credited as a defining contribution to Jenkins’ long list of accolades, resulting in her receiving the 2023 Grace Mann Launch Award and the James Farmer Legacy Award.
Following graduation, Jenkins plans to kickstart her career before heading to grad school. With a double major in political science and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and a minor in social justice, she was destined to advocate for others by promoting ideas and policies that demand positive change.
Shauna Kaplan: A Love for Student Affairs
Shauna Kaplan can’t get enough of higher education, and higher education can’t get enough of Kaplan. A ray of sunshine on campus and a student leader to her core, she plans to take her passion for student affairs from UMW to grad school at UNC Greensboro where she’ll pursue a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education, while serving as the graduate assistant for new student transition.
Since she stepped foot on campus, Kaplan – who majored in communication and digital studies – has had a heart to serve the UMW community, building relationships with fellow students, faculty and staff. Plus, she’s filled some big shoes in the form of Sammy’s eagle feet, as Kaplan is one of the students behind the mask of the UMW mascot.
Class Council president, she also has served as president of the Jewish Student Association and Alpha Mu Sigma. She’s been vice president of the Campus Programming Board and senior student coordinator for Student Activities and Engagement. And these are just a few of the leadership roles Kaplan has held at UMW.
And with many involvements comes many achievements and moments of pride.
Kaplan reflected on notable experiences such as her role as a lead planner in UMW’s annual tradition Devil-Goat Day and being selected to work on new student programs. “[I had] the opportunity to make real change,” she said. “Building infrastructure in a variety of existing clubs and organizations to make sure they were able to survive in a post-Covid capacity.”
Oscar León: A UMW Class Act
In a way, Oscar León has the weather to thank for his Mary Washington career. Hurricane Maria hit his home in Puerto Rico when he was a senior in high school, just beginning to apply for college. Delayed by the storm, he was attracted to UMW for its beauty and size … and the fact that its Department of Theatre and Dance welcomed him readily.
A theatre major and double minor in musical theatre and arts administration, León has appeared in Mary Washington productions like Fun Home, Much Ado About Nothing, Nickel and Dimed, The Rocky Horror Show and Pride and Prejudice. He worked with new student programs as an FSEM peer mentor and an orientation leader, sharing with others his love of the UMW community.
León received the Clara Boyd Wheeler Award, given to a student who exemplifies grace, a spirit of service and the ability to change lives. He was a three-year recipient of the June Davis McCormick ’49 Scholarship and was elected president of UMW’s chapter of the Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society.
After graduation, León aspires to work in arts administration, specifically in the development field, continuing his love for theatre by staying involved with classes and auditions. But he said he’ll continue to cherish the interpersonal relationships he made throughout his experience at UMW.
“No matter what time [it is] I’ll always see someone I know and say hi,” León said. “That’s so special to me!”
Emily Maljak: The Color of Inclusivity
Emily Maljak’s time at UMW has been filled with rhythm, art and inclusivity. A call for adaptable and inclusive learning experiences has been her guide, while a passion for color guard – she served as senior-year president – helped her to rebuild a successful program post-COVID.
Maljak, an elementary education major with an endorsement in special education, served as president of Mary Washington’s Student Education Association. Through UMW’s College of Education program, she was able to participate in a hands-on student-teaching opportunity in a kindergarten classroom.
“Over the past four years, I have met some amazing people, had caring and kind professors and made connections with the community that you can’t find at other universities,” she said.
An active voice in the education world, she has presented at local conferences on UMW’s STREAM initiative and joined the College of Education’s Makerspace to plan events and bring students and faculty together, something she identifies as one of her top achievements. She has focused her energy on curriculum accessibility for students labeled with disabilities and worked with instructional technology resource teachers to collect data on innovative learning options that can be implemented in the greater Fredericksburg area. After graduation, she plans to continue to conduct research and champion the endless after-educational avenues for people labeled with disabilities.
Drawn to UMW for its beauty and community feel, Maljak received both a Talon Award and an out-of-state grant upon admission. “It is no secret that the campus is beautiful,” she said, “but the people are what make it home.”
Maddie Phillips: Doing the Heavy Lifting
Maddie Phillips has poured the knowledge and strength she’s gained during her University of Mary Washington career into the community, with a deep desire to serve others. That all started after UMW rose to the top of her college choices.
Phillips had over 12 schools in sight, but an overnight visit with UMW’s track and field team sealed the deal: “I decided staying close to home and attending a small school was the right choice for me.”
As a co-founder of Mary Washington’s chapter of Girl Gains, a club dedicated to uplifting women through weightlifting and education surrounding healthy living, Phillips put her college experience into overdrive. Graduating within three years, she served as an FSEM peer mentor, member of the DE&I Committee for UMW Athletes, and volunteer for the Free Clinic of Culpeper and Crisis Text Line.
A biomedical sciences major, Phillips participated in undergraduate research focused on exploring how exposure to light affects reproductive hormones in zebrafish. She feels her biggest accomplishments include her independent research project, varsity track recognitions and the growing popularity of Girl Gains, which has over 200 members.
Phillips received the Irene Piscopo Rodgers ’59 and James D. Rodgers Student Research Fellowship II, and the Roy H. Smith Phi Beta Kappa Award. She also is a member of the UMW Honors Program. After graduation, she is jumping into the workforce with a job as a cardiology scribe in Fredericksburg.
Phillips shared a key lesson learned through all her hard work at Mary Washington: “How important it is to ask for help.”
Jiamie Pyles: Creating Hope for Others
Student, activist and entrepreneur are just a few words that describe Jiamie Pyles. Transferring to Mary Washington after completing an associate degree at Northern Virginia Community College, Pyles said her experience at UMW has been extraordinary.
A psychology major with a social justice minor, she has used her personal experience and struggle with substance abuse to lead as a peer support specialist for Eagles in Recovery and create a safe place where UMW students can find resources they need to navigate their own sobriety in a collegiate environment. Community philanthropist, Pyles has engaged herself on and off campus, taking on a professor-led undergraduate research project that explored the depictions of people with disabilities in children’s books and working to raise awareness of various political issues.
The recipient of a 2022 Virginia Recovery Foundation Scholarship, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and received the Alumni Association Eagle Award for community service. Devoted to UMW’s ASPIRE values and those with whom she has worked to create a safe and inviting space, Pyles will continue her work as a certified peer support specialist for Eagles in Recovery while pursuing a graduate degree in social policy at VCU. She also owns The Faery Dog Mother, a small animal care business.
A Virginia native, she fell in love with Mary Washington because of its welcoming recruitment team and striking aesthetic appeal.
“I visited Mary Washington and immediately fell in love with the campus,” Pyles said. “I did not end up applying anywhere else.”
Kate Ramirez: Leaning Into Her Latin Roots
As a first-generation college student, Kate Ramirez dove headfirst into UMW and its student life opportunities. However, the transition to college was no easy task. Ramirez often wished she had someone to lean on at first … then she devoted herself to being that person for others.
“[Don’t] be afraid to put yourself out there,” Ramirez urged. “It may seem scary at first, but the outcomes are far much greater.” Without getting involved, she believes she would not be the person she is today.
Comforted by her Latin roots, Ramirez quickly became involved in the Latin Student Association, serving two terms as vice president and contributing to the group’s Outstanding Student Program Award for launching the Latino Identities Month program. She also participated in other cultural programs and events, like Eagle Bhangra, through COAR and the James Farmer Multicultural Center.
Ramirez is a marketing major with a minor in entrepreneurship. Following graduation, she plans a career where she can utilize her skill set and marketing knowledge, hoping she lands somewhere in the beauty, skincare or fashion industries.
Joey Zeldin: Presidential Persistence
Paging Mr. President – Joseph “Joey” Zeldin considers his call to leadership an important one, offering weekly office hours as Student Government Association president to hear from his peers about the type of change they’d like to see on UMW’s campus. This political science major fell in love with policy work and legislation during his time at Mary Washington.
“It was not only an incredible honor,” he said of his lead SGA role, “but it also was a position that allowed me to advocate and make change on behalf of students.” A jack of all trades, Zeldin also has served as an orientation leader and coordinator, and as a student manager at the University Center and Hurley Convergence Center front desks.
Outside of his positions on campus, Zeldin gained hands-on experience in politics after landing an internship to work locally for Sen. Tim Kaine and also at the nation’s capital in Washington, D.C., for Sen. Mazie Hirono.
Zeldin was a recipient of a four-year Arthur and Carrie Galloway Scholarship, a Sylvia Woodcock Scholarship, the Frances Armstrong Scholarship and a General Scholarship from UMW. He was also recognized with a Blue and Gray Award.
So, what’s next for Mr. President? It should serve as no surprise that he hopes to land a job on The Hill. Zeldin aspires to work for a senator to advance legislation in urban areas like promoting better infrastructure, equitable transit and affordable housing options.
Other 2023 Senior Spotlights
Read more stories on 2023 UMW Senior Superstars covered throughout the school year.
Congratulations UMW Class of 2023!
There are so many senior stories to highlight. Visit the commencement website and download and share the graphics with your family and friends to celebrate. When sharing on social media, don’t forget to use #UMWGrads and #UMW2023. If you know where life with take you after graduation, consider using #LifeAfterMW.
susan duffey dimaina says
I absolutely LOVED reading about these young people; they make me so proud of UMW! Thank you for sharing their stories.