Christian Gromoll

When math professor Christian Gromoll takes students to visit his beehives this spring, learning about colony behavior will be only part of the equation. Discovering more about each other—part of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of faculty-student interaction both inside and outside the classroom—will be a primary motivator.

Ernest “Boots” Mead
Gromoll is one of numerous UVA faculty awarded grants through the Mead Endowment, a UVA Alumni Association program created a decade ago in honor of Ernest “Boots” Mead (Col ‘40). A longtime professor of music at UVA, Mead is renowned for engaging students, steering them to groups of like interest and hosting seminars where young people and faculty can exchange ideas.

For Gromoll, one of eight professors who received awards this year to fund their “dream ideas,” that exchange entails working with students to develop mathematical models from bee behavior.

“Honey bees operate as superorganisms,” Gromoll says. Individual bees display complex behavior to convey information and generate feedback, but “the colony as a whole is what propagates itself and solves very complex logistical problems.”

Among others with “dream ideas,” music professor Bonnie Gordon will work with UVA students who will be mentors for area fourth-graders. She also plans to take elementary and UVA students to music performances, from opera to rock.

Mead, a UVA faculty member from 1953 to 1996, traces the beginning of his seminars to 1970, when a group of rising fourth-year students suggested meeting regularly to discuss ideas “without the strictures of exams, quizzes, syllabuses and so forth,” he recalls. “It’s interesting to remember that the students started that.”

Sustaining that concept is a key mission of the endowment, one that Gromoll appreciates. While he was an undergraduate at Harvard, Gromoll benefited from a faculty member who took him under his wing.

“I see the advantage to promoting that kind of thing in an organized fashion like the Mead Endowment does,” he says.

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