Funding for academic chairs, fellowships for graduates with the potential to join the faculty and merit scholarships for exceptional current and prospective cadets are among the elements of a bold initiative to cement and bolster academic excellence at the Institute.
The first public manifestation of the initiative, the General J.H. Binford Peay III 1962 Endowment for Academic Excellence, came during a Board of Visitor’s dinner May 3 when Col. Troy Siemers, professor and head of the Department of Applied Mathematics, was named to the Major General James M. Morgan Jr. ’45 Chair for Academic Excellence and Col. Gregory Topasna, professor of physics and astronomy, was named to the Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury Chair for Academic Excellence.
Two additional chairs were announced at the Institute Awards ceremony May 14. Col. Dick Rowe, professor of biology, was named to the Bruce C. Gottwald Sr. ’54 Chair for Academic Excellence and Col. Ryan Holston, professor of international studies, was named to the Jonathan Myrick Daniels ’61 Chair for Academic Excellence.
Faculty members in all departments and at various points in their careers are eligible for the chairs, which are awarded based on rigorous criteria to recognized excellence. Eventually, a total of 16 academic excellence chairs will be awarded. Each recipient receives a full salary, plus an additional bonus as a nod to excellence in scholarship.
“It is imperative that we be competitive for all our faculty positions and give special recognition to our most distinguished professors,” said Donald M. Wilkinson ’61, chair of the cabinet for the Peay Endowment and former member of the Board of Visitors who is spearheading the fundraising effort for the multi-prong initiative. “This is a noble endeavor: A long-term effort to build a sizable endowment to ensure VMI’s competitiveness in perpetuity.”
Three other components of the initiative will be rolled out in the future: merit scholarships, Peay fellowships and the Peay Academic Excellence Fund.
The merit scholars component builds on the Institute Scholars program, which is normally able to provide only partial scholarships for academically high-performing cadets. It will have the ability to provide full scholarships to top prospects who – beyond academic achievement and future potential – demonstrate qualities intrinsic to VMI: Exceptional leadership, commitment to personal physical fitness and interest in national service. The Institute also has the flexibility to designate worthy rising 2nd and 1st Class cadets as Peay merit scholars. The initiative calls for about 20 scholarships eventually active at any one time.
Peay Fellowships promote careers in academia for graduating cadets and alumni by providing funding for graduate education. Specifically, Peay Fellows will receive funding for two years of graduate education, followed by two years of service on VMI’s faculty as “Instructors in Residence.” These fellowships – a warded to cadets and alumni, who have demonstrated the ability, passion and potential for successful careers in higher education – will encourage alumni to seek positions within VMI’s renowned faculty. A total of four fellowships are expected to be active at any one time.
The Peay Academic Excellence Fund provides flexibility in addressing academic needs by adding funds as needed to the other three components.
The Board of Visitors passed a resolution in 2017 stating that the endowment honors the Institute’s 14th superintendent for the “exemplary qualities of character and leadership he demonstrated through a lifetime of selfless service, beginning as a VMI cadet.” The resolution goes on to note Peay’s all-around “devotion to excellence” as a cadet in Corps military activities, in service on the honor court, as football team quarterback and academically.
“Who better to exemplify the traits of well-rounded, high-achieving cadets?” said Bill Boland, BOV president.
Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist
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