Feature Stories Campus Events

W&L's Champion Kung Fu Fighting Champ

For Washington and Lee junior Marshall Olszewski, the first time was more than a charm. In his first competition in Lei Tai, full-contact Kung Fu fighting, at an international Kung Fu tournament last weekend in Hunt Valley, Md., Marshall won his division at 153 pounds and earned a spot on the United States team that will compete in the World Kuoshu Championship Tournament in Ulm, Germany, in September. Although this was Marshall’s first experience with Lei Tai, which includes kicks, punches, throws, take-downs and sweeps on a three-foot high platform without any sides, this was not his first experience with Kung Fu. He’s been studying Kung Fu for 10 years at the U.S. Kuoshu Academy in Owings Mill, Maryland under Grandmaster Huang. Last year Marshall also competed in the tournament but not in Lei Tai. Instead, he took third in Chinese wrestling, second in weapons fighting and first in light contact. Marshall will be joined on the U.S. Lei Tai contingent in Germany by his two Lei Tai coaches in the event, Michael Huang (Grandmaster Huang’s son) and Sanjay Nair, a third-degree black sash. Marshall wrestled at McDonogh School in Baltimore for four years and also in his first two years at W&L, where he had a 3-2 record last season in the 157-pound class.


W&L's Citizen Journalist in Hartford

Tim Gavrich is a junior English major at Washington and Lee and a member of the Generals golf team. And he’s parlaying those two interests — English and golf — into an interesting Internet gig as a local “examiner” in Hartford, Conn., for the Web site called Examiner.com, which is a “content aggregator” based in Denver. Tim writes a golf column for the Web site, covering everything from the local courses in and around Hartford to his take on the British Open. You can read all of Tim’s columns on the Examiner.com site, where he is His latest column previews the upcoming Buick Open and gets in a nice plug for the W&L golf team.


Pulitzer Prize Winner to be Reynolds Visiting Professor at W&L

Caesar Andrews, one of the Detroit Free Press staff that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting, is the newest Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Andrews, who left as executive editor of the Free Press to pursue his longtime interest in education, will join the department for the 12-week Fall Term. He will teach Editing for Print Media and a course of his own design, Covering Classic Journalism.

His professorship is made possible by a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.

“Caesar Andrews is well-known in the industry for his enlightened and energizing leadership,” said Brian Richardson, head of the department of journalism. “And now the Pulitzer jury has recognized his commitment to superior journalism and serving his community. We are delighted that our students will be taught by a journalist of his stature.”

Said Andrews: “Washington and Lee has an impressive journalism program. I am excited about spending a semester there and working closely with the next generation of journalists.”

The Pulitzer Prize recognized the Free Press staff, especially reporters Jim Schaefer and M.L. Elrick, “for a distinguished example of reporting on significant issues of local concern, demonstrating originality and community expertise….”

According to the Pulitzer Web site, the Free Press uncovered “a pattern of lies by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick that included denial of a sexual relationship with his female chief of staff, prompting an investigation of perjury that eventually led to jail terms for the two officials.” The prizes were announced April 20.

Andrews has been an editor and manager for nearly 30 years in a wide range of newsrooms – from a local weekly in Cocoa, Fla., to the launch of USA TODAY. He has worked in Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Washington, D.C., all while with Gannett Co.

In addition to three years as executive editor at the Free Press, he served as editor of the Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C. for eight years. In that capacity he directed coverage of news from nation’s capital during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

He has also served as a board member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and as president of the Associated Press Managing Editors. During his 2002 term as APME president, an annual award was established recognizing outstanding diversity efforts in U.S. newsrooms — the Robert C. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership.
Andrews is a frequent discussion leader at industry conferences, seminars and workshops on quality journalism, ethical decision-making, management, diversity and motivation. He taught journalism at Grambling State University, his alma mater, during a one-year leave.

Over the years, he has also participated in student outreach targeting future journalists. He has also been active in the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. He was a member of the reaccreditation team that visited Washington and Lee two years ago.

He has also been recognized with awards from both the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and from the Black College Communication Association – both for contributions to diversity.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev., it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.


New Grad Heads to Uganda

Mackenzie Brown graduated from Washington and Lee in June with a major in environmental studies and a minor in poverty studies. She headed back to her home town of Kingwood, W.Va., but only for a couple of months while she prepared for her big adventure — a year running an after school program at St. Kizito Primary School in Kampala, Uganda. In a story for a local West Virginia television station, WVNS-TV, Mackenzie explained that this will be her first trip to Africa. She is participating in a program called Better Understanding of Life in Africa or BULA. Mackenzie has begun her blog, so you can follow her journey there. And you can view the TV news story about her trip here. Good luck, Mackenzie.


Skip's Still Setting the Stage

Skip Epperson, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1983, has gone a long way since his days of building sets at the old Troubadour Theatre. Currently chair of the theatre arts program at California’s Cabrillo College, Skip is also the set designer for Cabrillo Stage, a professional summer stock musical theatre company in the Monterey Bay area of California. The San Jose Mercury News published a wonderful feature on Skip and his work last week in which he recounts not only that he had not realized W&L was all-male until he arrived as a freshman but also how he ignored his mother’s advice and got into theatre during his undergraduate days at W&L. After getting his B.A. from W&L where was a Chi Psi, Skip got the M.F.A. at Virginia Commonwealth. He’s been teaching at Cabrillo since 1990 and recently was awarded a 2008-09 Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship for his work. If you’re in the Monterey Bay area in the next couple of weeks, you can catch some of Skip’s work on “The Wizard of Oz” between now and August 16.


Organizing Volunteers for the Land of the Incas

Anne Spencer Olivo, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1997, met her husband, Juan Carlos, in Peru in 2003. Together, they began volunteering with various Peruvian organizations — an orphanage, a women’s homeless shelter, a hospital. Eventually they would move from Peru to the States, working at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where they organized some volunteer trips back to Peru. But now they’ve built an interesting business around anyone who’s interested in participating in volunteer programs to Peru through their organization Peru 109. Their organization is based in Barrington, Vermont, where the Olivos live, but they spend a good bit of time organizing and leading volunteer programs for college students, families and independent travelers, focusing on interactive community projects. Anne and Juan Carlos make all the arrangements, including placing the volunteers with host families. There is a series of different projects, including the ability to set up your own two-week stay in one of three host cites — Chimbote, Trujillo or Cusco.


Barbecue Redux

Remember John Snedden? He’s the Class of 1981 premed major turned barbecue chef extraordinaire that we blogged about in December. In honor of mid-summer and the weekend, we couldn’t help but bring John back for an encore. And that’s because the latest feature stories about him and his Washington, D.C. , restaurant Rockland’s Barbecue and Grilling Company, include some recipes that are undoubtedly just what you need for the backyard grill. First, iVillage features John’s basic rib recipe in its “Steal This Recipe” feature, which also includes the information that the Rockland’s Barbecue and Grilling Company never cook over gas or electricity and they promise your food within eight minutes of your order. The second note featuring John is from the Washingtonian’s Best Bites blog and a feature called “The Frugal Foodie.” In this one, John shows how to prepare a barbecue for four for less than $15 — and the recipes are all there. Since John got started cooking by staging pig roasts at the Rockbridge County farm house where he lived as a student. Chances are he fed a lot more than four for $15 or less in those days! Enjoy.


Summer Research Means Yellow Jackets, X-ray Diffractometer and Dirt

Stepping on a nest of yellow jackets is just part of Meredith Townsend’s experience during her summer research project at Washington and Lee University.

She also spent a day poring over a manual to work out how to operate the X-ray diffractometer because no one had used it for such a long time. Then there was the week-long impatient wait for a delivery of hydrogen peroxide to treat her soil samples.

But Townsend said those frustrations are countered by the experience of conducting research in the field.

A rising junior geology major, Townsend is a R. E Lee Research Scholar at W&L and has been working on a research project with David Harbor, professor of geology.

Washington and Lee’s R.E. Lee Summer Scholars, part of the University’s undergraduate research program, is in its fifth decade of operation. It was founded in 1960 by an 1899 graduate. Students must be nominated for the opportunities, which involve either assisting a professor in research or carrying out a student-planned project under the supervision of a professor.

In the case of Townsend and Harbor, the project is one small part of a broad new multinational effort funded by a five-year multimillion dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, and is based at Pennsylvania State University.

W&L is one of six satellite sites on the project. The center is the Shale Hills site in central Pennsylvania. The satellite sites are located along a climatic gradient in the mid-Atlantic region and are being used to test the models developed at Shale Hills, and to provide regional data on weathering rates as a function of climate changes.

In addition to W&L, the other satellite sites are operated by Colgate University, the University of Tennessee, Baylor University, Alabama A & M University, the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez, and Juniata College.

“If you go back to the Dust Bowl,” said Harbor, “we mined the soil to such a degree that it couldn’t hold organic matter. When that happens, the soil can’t hold water. So we need to understand the dynamics of the production of soil, how it is produced, how long it stays on the surface, what happens as it moves across the land surface. It’s critical research for an important part of the ecosystem.”

“Although we know a lot about soil, nobody has put enough numbers to it yet so that we can say whether we are using the soil in a sustainable or unsustainable way.”

In order to find that out, the research is looking at how the same kind of rock-shale bedrock-turns into soil in roughly the same place at the top of a hill, but in different climates. Those climates range from upstate New York to the southern Appalachians, Puerto Rico, Wales and South America.

“It’s based on what is called a critical zone between the bedrock and the top of the trees,” said Harbor, “and includes all the activities of biological actors within that zone such as trees, plants and the weathering that turns bedrock into soil. It’s complex because there are a lot of interactions going on within the zone, and we don’t actually know much about it.
“It’s so complex that we need an ecologist, hydrologist, geologist and other scientists to work on the whole thing.”

“We’re collecting samples of the parent rock and soil samples from the shale within a very narrow zone of just ten meters thick. Then we’re doing geochemistry, using an electron microscope and X-ray defractometer to look at the physical and chemical differences up and down the soil,” he said.

Townsend and Harbor are working at a number of different sites in areas around Lexington, including one just south of Clifton Forge and one at the top of White Rock Mountain, which is east of Brattons Run in Western Rockbridge County.
Harbor plans to continue the research after the summer by erecting a monitoring station to measure soil moisture, temperature and precipitation that the geology department will monitor for three or four years.

Townsend plans to pursue a career in geosciences after graduate school, maybe a combination of research and teaching at a university.

In the meantime, there’s the small matter of retrieving the equipment they left at the yellow jackets’ nest…


Eight Ways to Stay Healthy at College

As colleges and universities prepare to open the year with continuing warnings about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, this promises to be a challenging year for student health centers.

But Dr. Jane Horton, director of student health and counseling at Washington and Lee University, says that the keys for students to stay healthy are not really different despite the swine flu’s presence.

Here are eight measures that Horton thinks students and families should consider as they prepare for the opening of classes.

  1. Have a physical exam before starting college. Washington and Lee requires all students to have a physical, and Dr. Horton believes it’s an important part of preparing for college. “For an 18-year-old going off to school, this may be the first time that they’ve had an opportunity to sit down with a physician one-on-one and talk about things like sexual health, tobacco use and alcohol use without a parent present, and with a clinician who can give them advice about those things.”
  2. Talk to your doctor about recommended immunizations for adolescents and young adults and make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date. Make plans to get a flu shot in the fall. Dr. Horton cautions that this will be the year when student health centers will be doing more outreach than ever to see that students get vaccinated against the flu – both the normal seasonal shot and the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available. “We expect the H1N1 to be a two-shot regimen. That means we’ll want to try to get as many students possible to have all three flu shots,” she said. “It’s going to be a logistical challenge.”
  3. Have a parents-student conversation about expectations regarding alcohol, other drugs and sexual activity. “These are discussions that may be difficult for parents to initiate,” Horton said. “But it’s so important to have clear, honest conversations about expectations. Parents need to be aware that things are going to change and need to keep the avenues of communications open.”
  4. Check your health insurance. Families need to be aware, says Horton, of what kind of coverage the student will have on campus, including whether or not the prescription drug plan will be honored at pharmacies in the area.
  5. Bring a first aid kit with common, over-the-counter medications. “Students need to know how to self-treat a cold because many have never really managed that on their own before,” Dr. Horton said. “They need to know whether or not to go see a doctor, something that their parents have usually handled for them.”
  6. Do what your mom always told you. Wash your hands, cover your cough, dispose of used tissues – “All of those common-sense pieces of advice can make a big difference, especially for students who find themselves living with a whole lot of other people in residence halls for the first time,” Dr. Horton said.
  7. Watch your diet. Unhealthy eating habits are easy to pick up when no one is there to make sure you eat your veggies. “Don’t forget to eat breakfast to give your brain fuel for those morning classes,” she said. “Regular exercise is also important for good health and weight management. Students should try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise four to five days a week.”
  8. Get plenty of sleep. “For some reason, students get to college and their clock seems to shift, and they stay up too late, and they still have 8 o’clock classes,” said Horton. “They stay up talking to friends in the hall, and they don’t start their work until 11 or 12, and they’re up half the night doing their homework. Sleep deprivation among students is a very unhealthy habit.”

As Horton observes, students hate being sick at college, and the swine flu is going to make staying healthy a challenge. “We know that this new flu is very transmissible and that younger people are being affected at higher rates than we typically see in a normal flu season,” she said. “It’s not that it’s any more severe, but even standard flu can put a student out of commission for a week, and that’s one week’s worth of classes in a 12-week term.” That’s why Horton is emphasizing the importance of getting those flu shots when they’re available.


Studying Ancient Graffiti

Rebecca Benefiel

Rebecca Benefiel, an assistant professor of classics at Washington and Lee, was cited in a USA Today article last week that focused on research being undertaken to show what daily life was like in the ancient city of Pompeii. Rebecca’s work is unusual enough that it obviously caught the eye of the USA Today reporter. She’s working on graffiti, the more than 11,000 inscriptions on the walls. As Rebecca told USA Today, “You can’t get that level of detail anywhere else.” The latest article that Rebecca has written on her work, which is supported in part through the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship from the Archaeological Institute of America, discusses a character named Amianthus who was a particularly prolific graffiti writer. What’s fascinating about this graffiti is that it’s recording Amianthus and some buddies playing a Roman game trigon, a Roman game. Rebecca has written a note about this on Blogging Pompeii, a blog where scholars from all over the world are talking about their work.