After hours

Faculty members share what they do when the work day is done

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Away from work and in their own worlds, some Virginia Commonwealth University faculty members quietly lead second lives. Take the dentist who raises oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Or the professor who just released a debut album. Or the librarian often found rolling on two wheels.

Here’s a glimpse into the lives of three faculty members whose transition from work to play might surprise you — and whose hobbies tie into their work, at least in some small way.

A lifetime of song

Mary Hermann, J.D., Ph.D.
Mary Hermann, J.D., Ph.D.

Mary Hermann, J.D., Ph.D., grew up surrounded by jazz in New Orleans. Her father, a retired physics professor, played the trombone at local gigs and her mother loved bossa nova.

“I think I very well may have sung before I spoke,” says Hermann, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Counselor Education in VCU’s School of Education. “I would sing around the house whether anyone wanted me to or not. It’s always been a passion.”

At age 13, Hermann told her father she wanted to be a vocalist. He encouraged her to continue singing but to pursue a professional career, too. That led to her law degree. She practiced law for a year before turning to teaching, a career she says fit her personality better because she likes helping people achieve their potential.

Her interest in jazz picked up when she joined the VCU faculty in 2006 and met Antonio Garcia, director of jazz studies. They hit it off after realizing they were both raised in New Orleans and shared mutual friends. The couple married within a year.

“I started pursuing my interest in jazz about a year into our relationship,” Hermann says. “It’s a fun thing to share together, and I just have the best tutor and coach in the world.”

Hermann practices almost daily to keep her voice where she wants it, spending at least 30 minutes each day singing in her living room with the help of a sound system and CDs without vocals. She sings at about a half-dozen events each year, such as VCU jazz recitals or the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Flowers after Five concert series. In September 2013, Hermann released her first album, “Joy Spring,” which includes jazz standards, Portuguese bossa novas, ballads, blues, sambas and New Orleans medleys. Featured guests include her husband, her father, VCU jazz instructor Wells Hanley and VCU Jazz Studies Program alumni John Conley (B.M. ’04/A), Brian Sulser (B.M. ’93/A) and C.J. Wolfe (B.M. ’13/A).

The album was a culmination of a lifetime of singing at home, in choirs and musicals, and at local venues. Hermann says she hopes her achievement inspires counselor education students, who are asked to create a wellness plan for how they will stay happy and healthy throughout the program. The plan is important, Hermann says, because the counseling field can lead to compassion fatigue based on constantly giving to others.

“Part of staying well is pursuing your own hobbies,” Hermann says. “Students could see when I came out with the CD that I have a dream and I achieved it. I want them to do the same thing. I’m hopefully modeling for them what wellness looks like, at least on most days.”

A garden in the bay

Paul Wiley, D.D.S.
Paul Wiley, D.D.S.

In 2006, Paul Wiley, D.D.S. (D.D.S. ’76/D), walked into an oyster gardeners’ association meeting simply to learn about the topic. He walked out with oyster seedlings, mesh floats and a goal of raising his own oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

Wiley, an assistant professor in the School of Dentistry since 1996, is a Newport News, Virginia, native who grew up near the bay. He has been working to help keep it clean through oyster gardening for the past seven years.

“Oysters are amazing organisms that filter 40 to 50 gallons of water per day, which really helps improve water quality,” he says. “I wanted to do my little part to help the Chesapeake Bay.”

Wiley raises more than 3,000 oysters at a time in the waters of Mathews County, about 75 miles east of Richmond, Virginia. The hobby requires year-round attention, with trips every two to three weeks to check on the garden, which includes 16 floats filled with about 200 oysters each.

Every trip includes Wiley delving into the water to scrub and flip cages, ensuring they’re clean of algae and that water can flow through easily. The best part of his work, Wiley says, is harvesting the oysters when they grow to market size of 3 inches or more. Growth takes anywhere from 10 to 16 months, depending on the oyster.

Wiley collects the ready-to-eat oysters with the help of his wife, Pat, who he says is essential to the operation. Once the mollusks reach maturity, the couple lifts the heavy floats to the dock. They then clean the cages, transfer the oysters to a wheelbarrow, take them to a table and spread them out.
There are many ways to enjoy the bounty, which Wiley shares with family and friends.

“You just chew and swallow them when they’re raw,” he says with enthusiasm. “I roast a lot of them, too. They’re also good deep fried or in the oven or on the grill.”

Wiley’s passion for raising oysters is no secret to his students. The topic comes up during lectures, which Wiley says he sometimes breaks up with information or pictures about oyster gardening. While there’s no practical application of the hobby in his line of work, Wiley says skills used in dentistry do come in handy for shucking oysters.

“It takes a lot of hand-eye coordination to be able to shuck an oyster cleanly,” he says. “You have to work very carefully with a very sharp knife. Most dentists you can teach to shuck an oyster pretty quickly.”

Committed to the road

John Ulmschneider
John Ulmschneider

On long summer days, University Librarian John Ulmschneider usually steps away from his office in James Branch Cabell Library at 5 p.m. and hops on his bicycle for a 90-minute ride before returning to his office or home to continue working.

An avid cyclist who picked up the hobby when he moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 1999 for his job at VCU, Ulmschneider describes daily cycling — minus two rest days a week — as a must versus a want in his life.

“You have to make a commitment,” he says. “It gives you energy. If you skip it, you feel bad. It’s part of your life, like eating or anything else.”

Ulmschneider cycles about 120 miles a week during seasons with more daylight hours and about 3,500 to 4,000 miles total each year. He enjoys scenic routes in and around the Richmond area, often riding from his home in the city’s Northside to Ashland, Hanover County or New Kent County.

His ride of choice is a Trek bicycle crafted of lightweight carbon, which he calls “a beautiful machine” that responds smoothly to power rather than twisting and turning. He treated himself to the bicycle after amassing 25,000 miles on his last bike. That distance is equivalent to the circumference of the world, he says, adding that it’s nice to be able to say “I have circumnavigated the Earth.”

His last bike is now mounted on a trainer in his basement, where he says he’s “condemned” during the winter months because he’s cautious about riding outside after dark.

While Ulmschneider doesn’t cycle competitively, he says he enjoys long rides such as the Heart of Virginia event, a metric century (64-mile) bike ride in Hanover County that he participated in this past fall.

When he’s not cycling, he enjoys floating on the water. Ulmschneider bought his first kayak in 2011 and turned it into a fishing platform by adding items such as rod holders, bait containers and anchors. The Hampton, Virginia, native often returns to his hometown to kayak on the Chesapeake Bay or on a tidal portion of the James River.

“I like to fish and kayak in fall and spring when it’s super quiet,” he says. “It’s just you and the paddle to get around.”

He often cycles and kayaks alone, saying the activities give him energy for his work as VCU’s chief librarian, which encompasses leading the staff, forming and implementing a strategic vision and, more recently, planning for a multimillion-dollar expansion of Cabell Library.

“I work with information, people and books and am in an office all the time,” Ulmschneider says. “It’s a huge shift from being a librarian to be out on the water in a kayak. It’s a very helpful contrast to what I do.”


This article is excerpted from a story in the spring 2014 VCU Alumni magazine. Active, dues-paying members of VCU Alumni receive a subscription to the magazine as a benefit of membership. To read the whole magazine online, join today! For more information, visit