The Charter Class era alum is a Professor and Distinguished Research Scholar in psychology and neuroscience at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech. Sharon describes her life’s work as being a “perpetual student.” She has been highly productive and earned numerous major honors, written more than 250 scientific articles and 8 books, and led many large interdisciplinary research centers focused on child development at the University of Washington, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and Georgetown University. She credits New College as “the major educational force” in shaping her life and her ability to contribute to understanding the factors that promote positive human development.
Sharon loves students who are self-starters. She tries to spread the idea that each student is responsible for his or her own education, a concept she learned during her time at New College. “The essence of New College was academic freedom, charting my own course of study, and having close relationships with professors. I felt like I was going to go study with Socrates and Plato! That freedom really spoke to me.”
Sharon describes herself as a non-conformist who took on the Missouri State legislature in high school challenging a ruling that students couldn’t teach their own class to themselves. “That’s ridiculous to have a law or legislation prohibiting this. We always are teaching ourselves and learning from other students. I presented a proposal that a group of students could teach a course to ourselves, earn full credit, and grade ourselves. They still said we couldn’t be in a room without an adult. So, my high school principal let us meet in his adjoining conference room and we left the door open! It was amazing and the perfect preparation for a New College education.”
Sharon now serves on the board of the New College Foundation. This is her second Foundation Board service. “I loved my time at New College. If we had a good idea and we could make a case for why it was important for our own education, the faculty always encouraged us. They allowed me to go to major scientific meetings, study with faculty elsewhere (in Boston and Mexico City), and pursue opportunities for research and publication on children’s creativity. They treated us like graduate students – actually, like we were peers – even when we were only 17 or 18!”
She, and her husband Craig Ramey now live in Sarasota and she conducts her research remotely. “I always say we moved here because of New College first, followed by Sarasota’s vibrant culture and natural beauty. New College is not only Florida’s Honors College, it is a unique college in our nation. It has been an innovator, a real haven for students for whom a conventional education would just be more of the same. What New College offers is an environment where students truly co-determine and shape their own educational outcomes.”
Their daughter, Ann Dwyer Andre (’87) was also one of those students. Her New College education in biology led to her work today in the field of biomedical research, working on new pharmacological interventions to improve health, including a potential major breakthrough in the prevention of type 1 diabetes.
Sharon is a proud member of New College’s Four Winds Society. When asked why she has named New College in her estate plan, she says, “because there might be someone like my daughter or like me, who needs a place like New College. We’re small, we’re not going to change the world, but we might change the lives of the students who come here, so I just want this special place to exist forever and ever.”