Archive for the 'Education and Research' Category

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.

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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.”

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.

W&L Graduate Earns Fellowship to Study in Israel

Washington and Lee 2010 alumna Anna Stuart Burnett was accepted in the “Across Borders” fellowship program hosted by Dickinson College, and was one of 17 individuals (out of over 150) to be chosen for this extraordinary opportunity. The “Across Borders: Managing Trans-Boundary Environmental Resources in the Middle East and the United States” program is a highly selective, 4-week study-abroad program designed to foster a substantive understanding of how environmental, economic, social and political factors converge to influence policy and practice in the management of trans-boundary environmental resources, with a particular focus on the Middle East and United States. A Dickinson-formed commission selected 34 emerging young professionals—17 from the United States and 17 from the Middle East—who will study water-management issues in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Jordan River Valley.

Tentative dates for the summer 2011 U.S. cohort are June 26-July 25, 2011.

For more information, visit: http://blogs.dickinson.edu/acrossborders/

Marissa Mann ’11 – Studies Wind Energy

Marissa Mann is a senior business administration major with a minor in environmental studies from Southampton, N.Y. She is presenting her research comparing wind energy usage in Denmark and the United States at W&L’s Science, Society and the Arts conference on March 4, 2011.

Describe your research project. How did you become interested in the topic?

I am studying the wind energy industry and energy generation in Denmark and the United States. Currently, Denmark is the world’s leader in wind energy initiatives and export. Much of this success is due to an aggressive renewable energy policy in Denmark, which is in sharp contrast with a relatively non-existent renewable energy policy in the United States. My project will conclude with policy suggestions that are viable for the United States.

I became interested in this topic after visiting Vestas, the world’s largest manufacturer and servicer of wind turbines, with my European Business Strategy class during my studies in Denmark in Winter 2010. Because global climate change is becoming an increasingly pressing issue, carbon-neutral renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, must be incorporated into each country’s generation and consumption practices to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

How did you go about researching your topic?

I used many of the academic search engines provided by Washington and Lee, and primarily relied on journals that focused on energy policy and technology, such as Energy Policy, Environmental Science and Technology, and The Danish Wind Energy Association. I also conducted research on country-specific sites such as the Danish Energy Association, The United States Energy Administration, and the American Wind and Energy Association. I have also reached out to contacts I made during my visit at Vestas and individuals who have studied policy implications related to Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental sustainability. I anticipate that these individuals will serve as invaluable primary sources to further develop my research and policy suggestions.

What will people find most surprising about your research?

In my research I was very interested to discover that, while the United States has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates, there are currently no long-term policies to aid the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources. Additionally, the United States was the global leader in wind energy for the first half of the 1980s but has since significantly fallen behind both Europe and Asia in wind energy implementation and development. This is primarily due to increasingly aggressive European policies for wind energy development coupled with the lack of long-term policies and expiration of short-term policies in the United States, leading to a stagnation of turbine manufacture.

What have you gained from this process?

As the culmination of my studies at Washington and Lee, this research project has allowed me to use the researching, writing, and analytical skills I have acquired in college. It has also allowed me to combine aspects of my two academic focuses: Environmental Studies and Business Administration.

Hamilton Lab: Soil Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Interested in an opportunity to conduct scientific research in bioscience this summer? Dr. Hamilton will be researching soil microbial dynamics in soils from Yellowstone National Park and from local agricultural fields. The overarching goal is to elucidate the interactions between grazers, grasses and microbes that contribute to the ability of grassland systems to maintain primary productivity. This year, in collaboration with Dr. Humston’s lab, we will analyze the inputs of bacterial contamination from soil runoff in the Hays Creek Watershed. Sources of contamination from fecal waste originating from wildlife, agricultural, and human sources will be analyzed.

Methods: Spectrophotometric determinations of soil NH4+ and NO3-,soil and root respirometry, soil DNA extraction, PCR, quantitative PCR, Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism analysis, and DNA sequencing.

Projects:
Laboratory: Analysis of archived samples from Yellowstone National Park experiments conducted in 2005-2008. Analysis of surface soil contamination of fecal bacteria in the Hays Creek Watershed.

Field: Local sampling of agricultural fields with the potential to travel to YNP (depends on funding)

Modeling: Utilizing a database from over 350 soil samples I would like to begin to model the processes of soil N-cycling in relation to microbial abundance and diversity.