W&L Students Win SSIR Grants

Seven Washington and Lee University seniors are pursuing research projects over the summer after winning Student Summer Independent Research (SSIR) grants from the University.

Now in its fifth year, the SSIR program complements the University’s R.E. Lee Scholars program, established in 1960. The SSIR grants underwrite students’ independent research and creative projects, with faculty serving as mentors.

“While the R.E. Lee Scholars program supports collaborative research in which students participate in and contribute to the research projects of their faculty mentors, SSIR grants are designed for more solo efforts,” said Hank Dobin, dean of the College at W&L. “The Lee Scholars’ model works well in the sciences, and SSIR is designed to focus in the humanities and arts. They allow us to support students during the summer before their senior years to pursue original projects.”

The grants-up to $3,100 each for four to 10 weeks of work-cover travel and living expenses, as well as other costs associated with the recipients’ projects. The program is funded by the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics.

This year’s winners and their topics:

• Henri Hammond-Paul, English major, Nyack, N.Y.: Researching an honors thesis in English focusing on the works of Henry David Thoreau, especially considering how people in the 21st century can contextualize Thoreau’s ideas to inform their lives.

• MaKenzie Hatfield, archaeology/anthropology and geology double major, Charleston, W.Va.: Conducting soil analysis to benefit the archaeological research being conducted at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.

• Kuan Si, mathematics major, Guiyang City, China: Understanding the proof in the paper written by Diego Marques, “On the Intersection of Two Distinct k-generalized Fibonacci Sequences,” and analyzing the intersection of the Fibonacci sequence with the Tetranacci, the Pentanacci sequences and so on. Based on this, he plans to propose a conjecture and prove it.

• Chris Washnock, religion and Spanish double major, Greer, S.C.: Exploring the institutional and historical effects on selfhood and soteriology, a dual philosophical and sociological exercise.

• Morten Wendelbo, global politics major, Aabybro, Denmark: Examining and comparing the emergence of the Washington Consensus and the more amorphous Beijing Consensus, which are the foreign-policy approaches of the U.S. and China, respectively, toward the developing world.

• Stephen Wilson, politics and studio art major, Columbia, S.C.: Using photography to capture the dynamics of personal belief at Glasgow Presbyterian Church and how this affects the entire rural community.

• Carl Wolk, religion major, Danbury, Conn.: Researching an honors thesis to determine the extent to which the economic model of distributism was realized in medieval England.

Washington and Lee to Install Virginia’s Largest Solar Energy System

Washington and Lee signed an agreement with Secure Futures L.L.C., a solar-energy developer based in Staunton, Va., today to install two solar photovoltaic arrays, totaling approximately 450 kilowatts, at two separate locations on the University’s campus.

The first solar array, with a capacity of 120 kilowatts, will be installed on a canopy to be constructed over the upper deck of the University’s parking structure. Lewis Hall, home of the Washington and Lee School of Law, will host the second array, a rooftop installation with a capacity of 330 kilowatts. Scheduled for completion by the end of the year, the two arrays combined will become the largest solar project in Virginia, with enough power to supply the total average annual electricity needs for the equivalent of 44 homes in Lexington.

“This is an important step for Washington and Lee as part of our continuing emphasis on sustainability,” said Kenneth P. Ruscio, W&L’s president. “This is another instance of how we are aligning our institutional practices with what we preach to our students about their duties as responsible citizens and their obligations to future generations.”

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When complete, the installations will represent the largest deployment to date of solar power in the commonwealth of Virginia. The roof of Lewis Hall will have 1,032 high-efficiency photovoltaic panels manufactured by the SunPower Corp., and the parking-deck canopy will hold 540 photovoltaic panels made by Sanyo. Washington and Lee has entered into a 20-year power-purchase agreement with Secure Futures to buy the solar-generated electricity.

The University pursued this opportunity, as the latest element in its sustainability strategy, with a clear eye on the economics of the model.

“The use of the Power Purchase Agreement makes this a financially viable project for the University, as it allows the University to purchase the electricity generated from the project at a far more effective cost than had we built and operated the structures ourselves,” Steve McAllister, Vice President for Finance at the University, stated. “In addition the structure of the agreement provides an option for the University to purchase the system at a later date. This option may prove to yield an even larger economic benefit for the University.”

W&L Internship Program Seeks Listings from Alumni and Parents

While researching internships online last spring, then junior Lev Raslin zeroed in on a program offered by Densebrain Inc. in Manhattan. “The company name stuck out,” said Raslin, “and when I read about it I saw that they made one of the apps that I use, NYCMate, which is basically a collection of all New York City public transit maps.”

Raslin, a member of the Class of 2012, found the Densebrain listing on the W&L Internship and Opportunity Initiative (IOI) webpage. IOI, now entering its second year, is a student-led effort to find and promote summer internships using the University’s network of alumni and parents. The internship with Densebrain – a digital ideas agency that develops mobile apps – was listed by Alex Cruikshank, a member of W&L’s Class of 1994.

“I reached out to W&L, to NYU, to Columbia,” said Cruikshank, a management consultant who worked with Densebrain this spring. “The quality of resumes from W&L was very high.” Cruikshank, together with Densebrain’s CEO and lead designer, interviewed Raslin in May in New York City. The company offered Raslin the internship on the spot, and he started a few days later.

Raslin, a double major in politics and anthropology, was interested in an internship because he wanted to supplement his analytical skills with hands-on, real-world business experience. He got that opportunity at Densebrain, where he helped prep an interactive campaign for a high-profile client.

“I’m thankful that W&L facilitates a program like this,” said Raslin. “I think it opens up doors where students A, might not find them or B, might not have them otherwise.”

Rats, Reefs and Religion: Faculty and Students Enjoy Summer Research

Attending a Brown Bag Lunch at Washington and Lee’s Howe Hall in the summer is akin to earning a mini college degree. During these sessions, held weekly in June and July, Washington and Lee undergraduates share highlights from their summer research projects. The quick-moving presentations zip between disciplines, offering an up-to-the-minute glimpse into experiments and studies taking place across campus.

About 100 undergraduates participated in summer research projects at W&L, which does not hold classes in the summer. According to the provost’s office, 61 of these students received funding through the Robert E. Lee Summer Scholars Program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. Students were also funded by the the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, the Levy Endowment for Neuroscience, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant and several other sources. Professors and students across the disciplines have found this summer work to be educationally and professionally rewarding.
Sarah Blythe, an HHMI post-doctoral fellow and biology professor, interviewed students for three summer positions. “I told them about the research, and that we’d be picking wet rats out of a pool. They all seemed to agree that was a perfectly fine thing to do,” said Blythe, who is examining how a high-fat diet affects learning and memory, with a focus on gender differences. Student assistance was essential, said Blythe, because the experiments were both time and labor intensive.

For the project, Rick Sykes ’13, David Phillips ’13 and Nicole Gunawansa ’14 monitored how rats performed in a water maze and in a novel-object memory test. They then harvested the animal’s brains.

“It was actually really great because it was very hands-on,” said Gunawansa. “That’s what I was looking for, because I’m intending pre-med, and so I really wanted the opportunity to see if I was willing to handle this stuff. It was a little difficult at first, because I never really had any experience cutting into a live thing before, but it was a very interesting and exciting process.”

Anthropology instructor Sean Devlin hired students for two summer projects. Erika Vaughn ’12 traced the origins of Native American artifacts that were donated to the University many years ago. Victoria Cervantes ’14, Erin Schwartz ’12 and Nicole Rose ’11 cataloged tenant-farmer artifacts uncovered in Charlottesville. They loaded this data into the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS), a database holding information about slave-related artifacts discovered at sites across the South and the Caribbean.

The DAACS cataloging wasn’t as thrilling as digging up artifacts during Spring Term, Cervantes admitted, but she was glad to have had the experience. “It’s a good way to introduce you to the field and find out if it’s really what you want to do afterwards, because you can’t always find that out in the classroom, or even on a spring dig, because that shows you the fun, Indiana Jones-y side of it. Then you get [to the lab] and it’s the other part of it,” she said.

For Devlin, a member of W&L’s Class of 2004, a rewarding aspect of summer research has been watching students learn. “Nicole is looking through a book right now about sewing implements and thimbles and needles,” he said. “It’s about those objects, but it’s also about what do these objects mean for the people using them. You can really see the students move from the small, specific stuff back to the larger, broader issues of interpreting the past.”

W&L Pre-orientation Program Sees Increase in Participants, Trips

This year a record number of more than 200 first-year students at Washington and Lee University are spending five days in one of two “Leading Edge” pre-orientation programs. Appalachian Adventures takes students backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Volunteer Ventures is a service-learning program that educates students about the realities of poverty by living, learning and working in various communities along the East Coast.

“Both pre-orientation programs have more trips this year and more participants,” said David Leonard, associate dean of student affairs and dean of first-year students. “But we’re also seeing more students coming back to lead the trips as well, sometimes for the second time in a row and in some cases for the third time.”

For Appalachian Adventures trip planner, junior Zachary Zoller, the increase in trip leaders meant spending his summer finding three new trips along the Appalachian Trail. “I’m glad it got bigger this year since more people can take part, because it’s mainly based on the number of trip leaders. So this year we’ve added at least 36 first-year students,” he said. “I guess there was a big boom in the number of trip leaders. We’ve got old ones coming back and a lot of new trip leaders who took part last year. It’s the biggest year it’s ever been.”

All those backpacking trips mean a lot of planning and organizing, which this year was mainly done by junior Ali Pedersen. “I’m organizing all the food, transportation and equipment,” she said. “The burden falls on me, but I have students who are ‘sherpas’ to help me. They don’t go on the trips, but perform tasks such as packing food and gear.”

There are 12 trips on different parts of the Appalachian Trail this year at elevations of 1,000 to 5,000 feet. Each trip has about nine first-year students, with a mix of experienced backpackers and novices. The students hike on average 20 miles in five days and mostly stay overnight in shelters.
Meanwhile, the Volunteer Ventures participants are participating in the program in six different cities – Roanoke, Lexington, Washington, D.C., Greensboro, N.C., Charleston, W.Va., and Richmond.

“I went on the Volunteer Venture trip to Washington, D.C., when I was in my first year,” said Shiri Yadlin, a junior from Irvine, Calif., who is the student coordinator for this year’s programs. “It was one of the best decisions of my college career. It jump started my interest in service and led to my participation in the most fun and rewarding organizations at W&L.”

Each of the trips provides students with a different understanding of community and service needs, emphasizing the impact of mountain culture, civil rights, housing, and urban infrastructure on citizen well-being.

The Leading Edge describes both Appalachian Adventures and Volunteer Ventures as memorable, meaningful and challenging experiences. “Both these programs are designed for people to participate in small group activity, and I think there’s a comfort zone with a small group,” said Leonard. “When the first-year students return they’ll be plum tuckered out, but ready to take on the world in terms of getting indoctrinated into the orientation program and meeting many of their other classmates. It’s a nice precursor for good things to come at Washington and Lee.”

Mark Farley ’88 to Address Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe

Mark Farley, a Houston-based attorney who specializes in environmental issues, will present a public lecture on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in Northen Auditorium of Washington and Lee University’s Leyburn Library.

The lecture, “Lessons from Deepwater Horizon and Similar Environmental Catastrophes,” is open to the public at no charge.

Farley is a 1988 graduate of Washington and Lee, where he majored in both English and biology.

A partner with Pillsbury, he heads the Houston office’s environment, land use and natural resources section. In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon incident, he has advised energy companies with upstream operations on emerging regulatory requirements and systems for overseeing environmental, health and safety performance.

Farley focuses on internal investigations and crisis response and routinely advises companies in connection with major industrial accidents, whistleblowers, process safety incidents and workplace fatalities. He has been the lead attorney in the most significant refinery accidents in the United States in the last 20 years.

In addition to the public lecture, Farley will be speaking to both a philosophy and environmental studies class and will be meeting with students in the university’s Career Services office.

W&L Team Installs Stream Gauge on Woods Creek

A team of Washington and Lee students, staff, and professors worked together to install a new stream gauge in Woods Creek during the 2011 Spring Term. Meredith Townsend, of the Class of 2011, and W&L Environmental Management Coordinator Chris Wise came up with the idea to try to reestablish a gauging station on Woods Creek as a work study project. Geology professors Paul Low and Dave Harbor, geology technician Emily Flowers, and Elizabeth George, Class of 2012, with the Environmental Studies Service Learning program all helped make it a reality. The group planned the installation, purchased the needed equipment, built the structure and installed the gauge.

There are two primary reasons for having a stream gauge on Woods Creek. First, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) monitors stream flow conditions on three larger streams in Rockbridge County, but only one other small stream, Kerrs Creek, is monitored. Data from smaller streams is just as important to research efforts. In smaller streams, flood levels are much higher and rise (and fall) more quickly because the creek is unable to accommodate the large influx of water. The new gauge will contribute to understanding the behavior of smaller creeks, both locally and nationally.

Another reason for having a gauge on Woods Creek is the unique nature of its watershed. While most of the watersheds in Rockbridge County consist primarily of undeveloped land, the Woods Creek watershed has a large portion ( between 30 and 40 percent) of developed land and is the only local stream that is affected by urban development. Development usually means a loss of canopy cover and vegetation and an increase in impermeable surfaces such as roads and roofs. This results in less soil absorption of rain, quicker runoff into streams and higher water temperatures as well as more pollutants.

The stream gauge will also be used as a hands-on tool to educate students of all levels. Most professors in the geology department do a few introductory laboratories on water dynamics, often using Woods Creek as an easy-to-access laboratory. The data from the gauge will be eventually made accessible to the entire W&L community, as well as the general public.



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