For Rob Strassheim ’96 and his wife, Sarah Gildersleeve Strassheim ’01, the idea to honor one of their favorite faculty members began with a passed note. Not in class, Rob says, but during a meeting nearly a decade ago about naming classrooms in Woodard Hall, now home of University of Mary Washington’s College of Business, or COB.
“I remember it vividly,” says Rob, who serves on UMW’s Board of Visitors. He recalls slipping a piece of paper to his wife with the name of someone who made a tremendous impact on both of their lives and professional careers: Professor of Business Emeritus Galen deGraff.
But the contents of that note didn’t stay secret for long. The couple soon embarked on a fundraising effort to name a classroom after their former professor, who taught business courses, primarily finance, for over two decades at the University until he retired in 2015. COB recently dedicated the Galen deGraff Classroom, thanks to generous gifts made by Mary Washington alumni, friends and former colleagues. The Strassheims also led a fundraising campaign to create an endowed scholarship in Dr. deGraff’s name to help recruit out-of-state students who plan to major in business.
“Dr. deGraff and the University of Mary Washington changed my trajectory,” says Sarah, now global chief financial officer for Merkle, a worldwide customer experience management company. “As a professor, he saw something in me that I didn’t have the confidence to recognize in myself.”
COB Dean Ken Machande, who has known Dr. deGraff for more than 20 years, says this of his former colleague: “He taught students that the pursuit of anything meaningful requires effort beyond what most people are usually willing to give.”
During the years Dr. deGraff taught at Mary Washington, he steered students toward impactful learning opportunities like internships and independent studies, Rob says, which propelled them to success in their careers. But the former professor also inspired Rob to teach undergraduate courses at Mary Washington.
“I wanted my classes to have the same level of rigor and challenge students, while also gaining and maintaining their respect as a learned person in the subject matter,” says Rob, who has taught management, marketing and other COB courses for more than two decades. He also serves as vice president for business operations for Navisite, a cloud service provider.
Rob says the fundraising effort gave him the chance to reminisce with fellow Mary Washington alums about Dr. deGraff’s engaging lectures, in which he often recounted experiences in the business world, during graduate school and as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
But nothing could have prepared Rob for seeing Dr. deGraff return to the classroom for the dedication ceremony, where current UMW students sat in rapt attention as the former professor offered sage business and career advice.
“It gave me goosebumps,” Rob says. Several business majors came up to him afterwards, saying that they wished they could have been students of Dr. deGraff. “Seeing him teach again, in a classroom that now bears his name, made all the work worthwhile.”
For information about naming opportunities at the University of Mary Washington, please contact the Office of University Advancement at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-1024.
– Article written by Assistant Director of Advancement Communications Jill Laiacona