Members of the Randolph-Macon community gathered in the McGraw-Page Library’s Werner Pavilion on Friday, Oct. 21 to celebrate the installation of Grace Lim-Fong, Professor of Biology, as the Stephen H. Watts Professor in the Physical Sciences, and Joan L. Conners, Professor of Communication Studies, as the Charles J. Potts Professor in Social Sciences.
President Robert R. Lindgren welcomed attendees, including faculty, staff, alumni, and friends and family of Dr. Lim-Fong and Dr. Conners, by celebrating the legacy of endowed professorships.
“The rich, intellectual, and engaging learning environments created by these professorships, and exemplified by our recipients today, help awaken in our students a love and passion for learning–now and throughout their lives,” Lindgren said
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Alisa J. Rosenthal conferred the professorships to Dr. Lim-Fong and Dr. Conners, remarking, “These installation ceremonies are among my favorite responsibilities as Provost of RMC, and I am fortunate that the generosity of our alumni and the accomplishments of our faculty allow us to hold these ceremonies with some frequency.”
Grace Lim-Fong, Ph.D.
Dr. Lim-Fong earned her B.S. from the University of California, Berkeley and her Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. She joined the Randolph-Macon faculty in the fall of 2005.
A committed scholar, Dr. Lim-Fong is a leading expert in the fields of natural products and symbiosis surrounding Bugula neritina, a marine invertebrate. She has been a Co-Principal Investigator on four major National Science Foundation research grants, and in addition to her line of research involving symbiotic relationships in marine bryozoans, she maintains an active line of research on different yeast strains involved in beer-making.
As a teacher, Dr. Lim-Fong is lauded for her rigorous, innovative, and evidence-based pedagogy, and her enthusiasm, both for course material and for students. In 2013, Lim-Fong earned the Thomas Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching, a student-selected honor that recognizes faculty excellence in the classroom.
“Grace’s colleagues describe her research program as nothing short of astounding…She has published seven research articles since 2015, with student co-authors on several of these, demonstrating the outstanding opportunities she provides students to engage in substantive and original research,” Rosenthal said.
During her remarks, Dr. Lim-Fong pulled out a pipettor and used the lab instrument as a metaphor for her career on multiple levels.
“It takes time and effort to use a pipettor correctly. No one instantly becomes an expert at pipetting,” Dr. Lim-Fong explained, comparing this effort to her journey in science from the age of 12 onward. “I realize that there’s a lot more to know, and the more that I know, the more that I find out I don’t know.”
She celebrated the precision of the instrument, noting “200 microliters measured out of this is 200 microliters…Science can help us understand truth in the real world.”
And finally, she said, “Pipettors are but one part of a lab. We need a whole lot more equipment to stock a functional lab,” Dr. Lim-Fong said, calling out peers, collaborators, students, and her family. “I am but a mere pipettor. Others are centrifuges, microscopes, incubators, Sharpies, test tubes, and freezers. You all surround me and complete me in different ways.”
The Stephen H. Watts Professorship in the Physical Sciences
The Stephen H. Watts Professorship recognizes and honors a distinguished faculty member from the physical sciences whose teaching, scholarship, and service bring honor and distinction to Randolph-Macon College. Dr. Stephen Hurt Watts attended Randolph-Macon and the University of Virginia before receiving his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins Institute in 1901. He served as Professor of Surgery at the University of Virginia Medical School from 1907 until his retirement in 1928. Upon his death in 1953, he left a bequest to Randolph-Macon, which has been used for the development of the sciences.
The Stephen H. Watts Professorship was previously held by Wallace Martin (1992-2012) and Mike Fenster (2012-2022).
Joan L. Conners, Ph.D.
Dr. Conners earned her B.A. and M.A. from Marquette University and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. She joined the Randolph-Macon faculty in the fall of 2003.
A prolific scholar, Dr. Conners has focused her work on issues in campaign news coverage, reality and crime television, and political cartooning and other visual dimensions of politics. Her research in political cartooning has made her a preeminent scholar in the field. At RMC, she helped to establish the Communication Studies major and has developed courses that draw important connections among the subfields of Communication Studies as well as across disciplinary boundaries.
Dr. Conners is a co-author of Perspectives in Political Communication: A Case Approach (Allyn & Bacon, 2008) and co-editor of Harms of Crime Media: Essays on the Perpetuation of Racism, Sexism and Class Stereotypes (McFarland Press, 2012) in addition to authoring several journal articles and book chapters.
“Students and colleagues describe Joan as an excellent teacher – engaging, rigorous, carefully organized, laser-focused on student learning and success – and they note the unending river of advisees she has supported and mentored throughout her time at RMC,” Rosenthal said. “She cares deeply about her students, who praise her for the time and care she takes with them and cite her influence on them long after they graduate from RMC.”
In her speech, Dr. Conners emphasized the importance of and relevance of studying the social sciences.
“It is work in the social sciences that tries to understand how influential misinformation on social media about COVID-19 has been on people’s willingness to get vaccinated or not,” Dr. Conners said. “It is work in the social sciences that is studying the implications of the political polarization in America and how that affects our relationships with others. It is also work in the social sciences that is understanding how Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives in the workplace are transforming and can transform those cultures.”
She also spoke about the background of the professorship and how it reflects the role faculty play in students’ lives.
“I love the story behind this professorship, endowed from the estate of Charles J. Potts, a former student who didn’t graduate from Randolph-Macon College. He realized later in his life—at his 50th reunion–how influential R-MC had been for him,” Dr. Conners said. “It really speaks to how important this place is, how important our connections with our students are. Even if they don’t major in your program, or maybe even if they don’t pass your class, faculty have the opportunity to influence those students. We get to do that every day.”
The Charles J. Potts Professorship in Social Sciences
The Charles J. Potts Professorship in Social Sciences was established in 1995 in recognition of Charles Potts, who left the College a significant bequest though he attended Randolph-Macon College for just one year before going on to earn degrees from other institutions. He served in World War II, and then founded the law firm Adkins, Potts & Smethurst. He served as the solicitor of Salisbury, Maryland from 1939-46, a delegate to the Maryland House of Delegates from 1947-50, and president of the Wicomico County Bar Association in 1957. After returning to R-MC for his 50th reunion, Potts felt that his time in Ashland was critical to his future.
The Charles J. Potts Professorship was previously held by Howard Davis, Bruce Unger (1999-2006), Beth Gill (2007-2016), and Ted Sheckels (2018-2022).