Winter 2014 Issue

Six Degrees of W&M

The Staying Connected Project

By Meredith Ramey '15

Since 1693, the College of William & Mary has educated students and, by result, produced bright and notable alumni whose memories of Williamsburg remain in their minds and hearts for decades. With such strong memories, it is no wonder that many alumni decide to give back to the wider William & Mary community through donations of their time, talent and treasure.

But the Class of 1975 has gone beyond traditional alumni outreach campaigns. Over a four-year period, the Staying Connected: Together Serving Others project — initiated by Van Black ’75 — has made special efforts to rally classmates to reach out and give back to all six degrees of the William & Mary community. The stories below spotlight both those touched by the Staying Connected project and particularly philanthropic supporters of Staying Connected.

Senior-year stresses, alumni connections and post-grad friendships
Four years ago, when Rachel Becker ’11 was faced with deciding what type of company she wanted to work for and what kind of industry would be the best fit, she began utilizing the resources of the Cohen Career Center. Working with some of the center’s online networking tools, Becker met Van Black.

Black suggested that Becker come to Dallas for an informational interview with a customer of his. During her trip, Black introduced her to Ann ’75 and Mark Woolley ’77. This simple introduction planted the seeds of what has grown to be the current Tribe Partners program at the Career Center. This program connects students at the College with alumni throughout the country, helping them network and providing them with coaching to explore potential career paths and opportunities.
Becker’s informational interview resulted in a post-graduation summer internship. More than 1,300 miles away from Williamsburg, Becker didn’t expect to make many more Tribe connections, but the William & Mary Alumni Association told her of other alums in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Because I wasn’t staying down there permanently, I didn’t go out of my way to meet new people,” Becker said. “But I ended up hanging out with William & Mary grads all summer. They gave me a community in a place where I knew absolutely no one. None of us were close friends in college, yet we managed to spend a couple hours talking about William & Mary. I think that’s something special.”

Philanthropic alums preserving College history
The Woolleys like to give back to the College community — and its history — in a tangible way. Recognizing the need to preserve William & Mary Choir scrapbooks and materials, they started the William & Mary Choir preservation project.

“We realized there were a lot of scrapbooks and other materials saved, but they were aging and some were deteriorating,” Mark said. “Through this project, we’ve been able to connect many generations — from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to current students.”

The couple plans two archiving sessions each year. The full-day sessions include archiving and socializing, making new connections and strengthening long-term friendships.

Green-and-gold households
In many ways, the Woolleys epitomize a number of William & Mary couples — over a quarter of alums marry another alum.

“I honestly think that living on campus for four years engenders a sense of family and togetherness,” said John Farrell ’89, husband of Kerry Farrell ’89. “It really lets you know if you’re going to be compatible. If you can get through that as a couple for four years, you’re really setting the stage for a lasting relationship.”

Not surprisingly, the children of many of these alumni couples, raised in green-and-gold households, grow to become William & Mary graduates themselves. The Woolleys’ daughter Jennifer, for example, graduated in 2006. The Farrells’ son Victor graduated in May 2014.

Reaching out to the community
Sam Pressler ’15 epitomizes William & Mary’s culture of service. During his sophomore year, Pressler read about the challenges military veterans face when returning from war. One article reported that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. This resonated with Pressler. Having lost a family member to suicide, he recognized the scope of suffering felt by the families of veterans lost to suicide.

Shortly thereafter, Pressler saw an article in the New York Times about Ron Capps, a veteran whose suicide attempt was interrupted by a phone call. Capps used the GI bill to attend Johns Hopkins University and obtain a master’s in creative writing. Discovering the therapeutic nature of writing, Capps began the Veterans Writing Project (VWP), a free creative writing program dedicated to helping veterans tell their stories. Reading about Capps’ work, Pressler started the Williamsburg chapter of the VWP, housed at the Law School’s Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic.

The first VWP seminar was held in December 2013 and included 25 veterans from Williamsburg and the surrounding area. Today, the VWP has evolved into the Center for Veterans Engagement, which offers a variety of arts-oriented programming including creative writing, music and comedy to the veterans’ community of Greater Hampton Roads. With over 40 student volunteers and $15,000 in funding, the center aims to serve more than 100 veterans in the 2014-15 academic year.

Staying Connected
While Van Black is often referred to as “the brains” behind the Staying Connected project, he describes Staying Connected member Barb Ramsey ’75 as a perfect example of “the heart.”

When Ramsey moved back to Williamsburg in 2009, she attended an alumni picnic, and, finding it warm and welcoming, she continued to attend functions at the College. Eventually, she joined the Williamsburg-area Alumni Chapter Board, the Annual Giving Board and the Lord Botetourt Auction committee, which raises funds for student-athletes.

“I started volunteering my time partially as an outlet, and also it’s good to give back because I believe in the College and what it does,” Ramsey said.

In addition to her positions on boards and her involvement on campus, Ramsey and her neighbors frequently host students and alumni at their homes for events, including the fifth annual open-invitation Homecoming brunch at Ramsey’s home this past October.

“This year, I became close to my personal trainer at the Rec Center, so a friend and I went to the Wren Courtyard and watched the seniors walk through,” Ramsey said. “While we were waiting for my trainer, I saw a number of students I knew from the Annual Giving Board, the Rec Center, or who were my neighbors. It made me realize how many students I knew who had impacted my life.”

This Homecoming, the Class of 1975 completed the fourth year of Staying Connected. And next year they’ll celebrate their 40-year Reunion, as they continue to give back to the William & Mary community.

To learn more about Staying Connected, contact Van Black at