By MEAGHAN MCINTYRE
This past summer the University of Mary Washington’s Cap and Gown Mortar Board Chapter received the 2015 to 2016 Most Improved Chapter award. President of the UMW Cap and Gown Mortar Board Chapter, senior biology major Grace Henry, attended the 2016 Mortar Board National Conference in Indianapolis where she was presented the award, on behalf of the chapter.
Mortar Board is a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for their outstanding scholarship, leadership and service. The first chapters of the Mortar Board organization were founded on Feb. 15, 1918 at Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Swarthmore College. UMW’s chapter became a chartered member of Mortar Board in 1959.
As found on the national Mortar Board website, the official description of the award that Mary Washington’s chapter received states that it both encourages the development of a chapter and recognizes how the chapter has achieved success throughout the year. The award also recognizes a chapter’s ability to reestablish and reinvigorate programing and membership.
One of the major accomplishments of the 2015 to 2016 Mortar Board chapter was the creation of the Support our Students Fund. Previous president of the UMW Cap and Gown Mortar Board Chapter, Angela Dixon, was a leading force in getting the fund created. Dixon’s inspiration came when she had a personal experience that led her to learn about how certain students at the university are in rough financial situations.
“I found out that there are homeless students on campus who have basic needs that their families cannot afford to provide,” Dixon said.
In order to make this fund available, the UMW Mortar Board Chapter partnered with the Office of Student Life and the Young Alumni Association, which played a key role in fundraising.
The fund is “a one-time emergency grant to students in financial need,” Dixon said. Dean of Student Life, Cedric Rucker, explained how people often have surface interactions with one another and do not realize how financially diverse the university really is.
“We often find ourselves engaging with students who are in a financial tight spot,” Dean Rucker said. “Students sometimes are working three jobs, living from their cars, and others are unable to pay their rent. And these are exceptional students.”
The Support our Students Fund provides help for these students who may not have money for books, cannot pay their rent, or even need a plane ticket home because of a family emergency that may have come up. Last year the UMW Mortar Board raised $1,000 to help students in these types of situations.
The creation of the Support our Students Fund is an example of how UMW’s Mortar Board chapter has worked to administer the principle of service throughout the campus community. All three ideals of the Mortar Board are taken to heart for the chapter’s members.
Mary Washington’s Mortar Board secretary, senior Ariel Paulk who is a Business Administration major with a concentration in marketing, feels passionately about service, leadership and scholarship.
“The great thing about being a part of Mortar Board is that it ties together leadership, scholarship and service,” Paulk said.
“These three pillars have great importance to me, and I want to strive to fulfill these pillars to the best of my capability. Being a part of Mortar Board has already added a substantial amount of responsibility to my plate,” Paulk said. “This causes me to use my time more strategically to ensure I am completing all my duties as a student, as well as a member of Mortar Board. It has also encouraged me to keep this status of ‘honor’ in place by leading through example in terms of scholarship and service.”
While being a part of the honor society requires a lot of work, Paulk feels all students should strive to join the Cap and Gown Mortar Board chapter.
“I think other students should join Mortar Board because it gives them structure on how to include scholarship, leadership and service in their lives…Mortar Board commends students on their dedication to their studies and allows them a way to get involved with their universities,” Paulk said.
The presence of the Cap and Gown Mortar Board chapter on campus has increased over the past few years. “In the 2014-2015 chapter, [people] weren’t very involved,” Henry said. “Through many community service acts and fundraising, the organization improved,” Henry stated.
The UMW Mortar Board started becoming more active on the university’s campus by hosting events open to all students. Many of the events were and are held in hopes of helping prepare underclassman to participate in Mortar Board as seniors.
“Through those activities on campus, the Cap & Gown Mortar Board chapter is trying to build out our ideals of scholarship, leadership and service,” Henry said.
In addition to receiving the 2015 to 2016 Most Improved Chapter award UMW’s chapter was one of 36 chapters to receive the Gold Torch Award. This award is presented each year to the most outstanding chapters of the Mortar Board. On top of all of this, the universities Mortar Board advisor, Dr. Abbie Tomba, received the Mortar Board’s Excellence in Advising honor.
For the past seven years, Dr. Tomba has been the advisor for the UMW Mortar Board Chapter. As the advisor, Tomba works to connect the chapter from year to year and she provides support to the students in their work throughout the year. Tomba talked highly about the transition of the Mortar Boards presence on campus that has taken place over the past few years.
“Our chapter went from flying under the radar to establishing this fund that could really be a lasting legacy to both students at Mary Washington and the Mortar Board chapter,” Tomba said.