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Cover of Summer 2007 Issue

Dr. Walter Witschey Comes to Longwood

Dr. Walter WitscheyThe Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences at Longwood University has gained a strong addition to its faculty with the appointment of Dr. Walter R.T. Witschey as professor of anthropology and science education.

Dr. Witschey, a past president of the Virginia Academy of Science who is a tireless science educator and an active archaeologist, will begin teaching at Longwood in fall 2007 after retiring June 30 as director of the Science Museum of Virginia. As professor of anthropology and professor of science education, he will teach two courses per semester. On May 12, he gave the commencement address to the Longwood Class of 2007 (See back cover).

“The addition of Dr. Witschey to the Longwood faculty provides the university with amazing opportunities in science education and anthropology,” said Longwood President Patricia Cormier. “His international experience as a scholar-teacher will elevate Longwood’s growing reputation as a highly competitive institution. We are thrilled to welcome him to the university.”

Last fall, Dr. Witschey gave two lectures at Longwood in a math education course and one in a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course. He also addressed the Peter Francisco Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, which meets monthly at Longwood. “To work with the inspired and inspiring leadership at Longwood and its outstanding faculty is an irresistible opportunity,” he said.

For a decade he has been the co-principal investigator in a project to study the settlement patterns of the ancient Maya, who occupied eastern Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula), Guatemala, Belize and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador. The research involves constructing a GIS database of all known Maya archaeological sites, called the Electronic Atlas of Ancient Maya Sites. More than 4,600 sites have been registered.

From 1987 to 1992, as a graduate student at Tulane University, and sporadically thereafter, he directed an archaeological research project at Muyil, an ancient Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula, with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History. “The site was occupied before 400 B.C. and was occupied continuously until the arrival of the Spaniards in A.D. 1511,” he said.

He was president of the Virginia Academy of Science in 2003-04 and of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, an international organization of 500 science center members, from 2001-03. He was a professor of life sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and the 2007 Leader-in-Residence in the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies. He has taught courses in computer programming and systems management, business management, and archaeology at several universities.

Dr. Witschey has held the top position at the Science Museum since June 1992, during which a $20 million renovation project was completed, a $30 million capital campaign raised more than $36 million, and statewide outreach programs were expanded. He writes a monthly science column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, now
in its 10th year, as well as half of the articles for “Sci-Kids,” a weekly column for middle and high school students keyed to Virginia’s Science Standards of Learning. “In addition to being a strong leader in science education, Dr. Witschey shares his enthusiasm about science on a personal level with everyone he meets,” said David Cohn, chairman of the Science Museum board of trustees. “For him science is more than a job. It’s his life.”

Dr. Witschey is personally responsible for two Guinness world records at the Science Museum. The “Grand Kugel” in the Mary Morton Parsons Earth-Moon Sculpture, outside the front of museum, is the world’s largest floating granite ball. Unveiled in January 2003, the ball, which represents the earth, weighs 29 tons, is 8 feet 8 inches in diameter, and is a popular Richmond landmark.

In 1981, after proposing the idea to the museum’s director, he built the world’s largest analemmic sundial, which covered one-third of an acre in the parking lot.

This type of sundial uses thin, slightly asymmetrical figure-eight loops, instead of straight lines, for hour marks, to correct for differences between sun time and clock time. “The dial had a figure-eight analemma painted on the pavement for each hour of the day, and the shadow of the brass ball atop a 25-foot flagpole fell onto the diagram and told the clock time accurately – to within 30 seconds, and in early morning and late afternoon to within five seconds – which most sundials are not equipped to do,” he said.
“It was paved over in the 1990s after four million people had walked over it.”

From 1970-84 he was president and CEO of The Computer Company, which grew to $32 million in annual sales and 1,200 employees. The Richmond-based company, which he co-founded in 1969, provided Medicaid-related services to more than a dozen states, as well as international network services before the creation of the Internet. As part of that business, he opened Richmond’s first retail personal computer store. The business was sold to Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Virginia in 1983.

Dr. Witschey has been a consultant to federal and state agencies, businesses, and not-for-profits for management, computer systems design and management, computer networks, and client management systems. He is the author of published articles in fields as diverse as computer mapping of Colonial Virginia, land patents, and linguistic analysis of Spanish Colonial documents in Mexico.

A Charleston, W.Va., native who has lived primarily in Richmond since 1965, he has a B.A. in physics from Princeton University, an M.B.A. in operations research from the University of Virginia, and an M.A. and a Ph.D., both in anthropology, from Tulane. He and his wife, Joan, a Danville native, have five children and 10 grandchildren.

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