Teaching moment

Scholarship encourages educational administrators

Mary Ann Wright, Ph.D. (M.Ed.’84/E; Ph.D.’97/E), always knew she’d be an educator.

From setting up a chalkboard and “teaching” her younger brother while on family vacations to the book reports she’d write as “assignments” for her grandfather, her early experiences prepared her for a lifelong career in the field.

“My grandfather would make us read historical fiction, and I didn’t mind writing those book reports at all,” Wright said. “And my brother was great about my teaching!”

A former grade school educator, elementary school principal and director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Principals Assessment and Development Center, Wright, now a leadership development consultant, has taken her love of education one step further by endowing a scholarship in 2014 to help shape school leaders. She has also included VCU in her estate plan.

“The VCU School of Education had such a profound influence on me 28 years ago and even now,” Wright said. “When I came to VCU as faculty, I was working with 16 school divisions in rural, urban and suburban settings. VCU helped me continue to grow as a professional. So many of the skills I have today – collaborating, leading, networking – all developed as I worked in the School of Education.”

She hopes that her two daughters, Emily, a student in the VCU School of Social Work, and Lauren, a Virginia Tech alumna, will learn from her philanthropic examples.

“The girls’ eyes would roll whenever I talked with them about legacy accounting,” Wright said with a laugh. “I’d ask them, ‘Are you going to be an asset or a liability on the world’s balance sheet?’ and I’d close the conversation with, ‘Let’s help others where we can.’ ”

The Mary Ann Wright Scholarship in Educational Leadership, established in 2014 and available for graduate students focusing on administration and leadership, was awarded for the first time in April to Alfred Vann II.

“This is a breath of fresh air,” Vann said when he learned of the scholarship. “To be acknowledged this way is a joy.”

With a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College, a master’s in social work from Washington University and a master’s of divinity from Virginia Union University, the Richmond native once planned a law career. But as a substitute teacher and the son of a licensed clinical social worker, Leenora Vann, L.C.S.W. (B.S.W.’86/SW; M.S.W.’89/SW), his plans changed.

“The light bulb went off for me,” Vann said. “If I were to make an impact on the long-term developmental phase of young people, education is the key.”

“Financial aid is critical,” said VCU School of Education Interim Dean Leila Christenbury. “It can be a deciding factor on whether a student is able to successfully complete the program. Alumni generosity, support and encouragement, such as that of Mary Ann Wright, help sustain our programs and our students, like Alfred Vann, whom we are preparing for the future.”

For Wright, the gift provided a teaching moment. “One of the values you want to model for your children is leaving the community a little bit better than you found it,” she said. “For me, it’s a positive, enriching opportunity. I get as much out of it as the students.”

To learn more about the School of Education, contact Jessa Nelson (B.S.’10/MC), development assistant, at (804) 828-3715 or nelsonj@vcu.edu.