Feature Stories Campus Events

Talking Science

Washington and Lee President Ken Ruscio joined the presidents of Arizona State University, the University of Pennsylvania and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, plus several internationally renowned scientists, including physicist Freeman Dyson, for a wide-ranging discussion of current scientific issues with members of the national media this week.

Hosted by Arizona State President Michael Crow at the Penn Club in New York, the session was an on-the-record event that drew representatives from the New York Times, NBC, Newsweek, Nature and Scientific American, among others.

The Japanese nuclear crisis was a primary topic. One of the journalists present, Robert Bazell, from NBC, had just returned from two weeks in Japan, allowing him to offer first-person insights.

Among other topics was governmental support for scientific research and the need to improve science instruction in K-12 education. On that topic, President Ruscio referred to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant that supports W&L’s efforts to provide training for teachers in Rockbridge County.


W&L Alumna Gets Leadership Role with Genome Project

In February, the lead story in Nature magazine examined the past, present and future of genomic research, laying out a “course for genomic medicine from base pairs to bedside.” This week, a Washington and Lee alumna takes on a major role in that future. Laura Lyman Rodriguez, of the Class of 1991, will lead the Office of Policy, Communications and Education at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

According to a news release announcing her appointment, Laura will “oversee development of the institute’s policy positions on the ethical, legal and social implications of human genome research.” In addition, she will communicate information about NHGRI’s genomic research programs, track and analyze legislation and develop NHGRI’s education and community outreach programs.

In describing her new role, Laura said, “We need to find common pathways to integrate genomic information and medicine into society so that it truly benefits the individual while also supporting scientific advances. We have a real sense of urgency because we’re talking about information that is unique and intrinsic to the individual. It’s about who you are at the most basic level.”

After receiving her B.S. with honors in biology, Laura earned a Ph.D. in cell biology at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. After graduating from Baylor, she served as administrative director at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, where she became interested in clinical research policy.

She then served as a Congressional Science Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), where she worked with Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Mich.) on his National Science Policy Report and K-12 math and science education. She also spent time in the Office of Public Affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Before joining NHGRI in late 2002, she worked at the National Academies, Institute of Medicine, where she directed the work of a committee examining the federal system for protecting human research participants.

Laura was special advisor to the director of NHGRI from 2003 through 2007, was named the senior advisor to the director for research policy in 2008 and was later appointed to be the deputy director for the Office of Policy, Communications and Education.

Local Hero

The Sierra Club has singled out as a legal hero Mary Cromer, a 2006 Washington and Lee Law graduate, for her work as a staff attorney for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. The ACLC, a small, non-profit law firm, is dedicated to protecting coalfield communities and the environment from destructive coal-mining practices in central Appalachia.

Formerly a clerk for the Honorable Glen Conrad of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia and an associate attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, Mary has represented individuals and families who have lost their well water because of nearby coal mining, and has fought pollution from coal mining under national environmental laws.

According to the Sierra Club, Mary is representing the Sierra Club and an organization called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth in a challenge to a large mountaintop-removal coal mine just upstream from one of Kentucky’s best rafting destinations. Her case is challenging what she contends is the state’s inadequate analysis of cumulative impacts of mining on the Russell Fork River and its tributaries.

Teaching Manners

As captain of Washington and Lee’s 1988 national championship tennis team, David McLeod, of the Class of 1988, was a competitor whose name is etched in the Generals’ record books for career singles wins (70, tied for 6th) and doubles (59 with Bobby Matthews, 1st). He and his teammates were the first alumni to be inducted as a team into the Washington and Lee Athletic Hall of Fame.

Today, David is carrying on a tradition that has been part of his hometown of Augusta, Ga., for more than three-quarters of a century. He runs Social, Inc., which teaches etiquette and dance to local pre-teens and teenagers.

Sunday’s Augusta Chronicle featured a story about David and Social, Inc., which has more than 2,000 students from 6th to 11th graders participating in a variety of classes, ranging from a manners and life-skills class to several levels of dance instruction.

The tradition began in 1935 but disappeared when the founder retired. David’s mother, Dorothy, restarted and eventually expanded it in the 1970s. When his mother retired four years ago, it was David’s turn. After graduating from W&L and coaching tennis for the Generals and at Davidson, David got his M.B.A. at Vanderbilt.

As he told the Augusta Chronicle, it was while he was at Vanderbilt that David saw Social as a possible future:  “It never dawned on me that I would be doing this until I was in business school and I came back. I saw what it had developed into and saw the older students and how the program had really positively impacted them. I just thought it was amazing. I loved playing tennis and I loved teaching, but I saw in Social a way that I could impact more.”

A View from Jerusalem

Shiri Yadlin, a junior at Washington and Lee from Irvine, Calif., has been spending the current semester studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shiri is  majoring in global politics and religion at W&L and is active in the Bonner Leader Program; Volunteer Venture, which is part of the Leading Edge Pre-Orientation program; and the Shepherd Alliance. She had a Shepherd internship in Washington, D.C., last summer.

Since she arrived in Israel in mid-January, Shiri has been blogging about her experiences — from the orientation program to the intensive Hebrew learning program called Ulpan to the four courses she’s taking (Modern Hebrew, Orthodox Judaism in Modern Times, Foreign Policy in Israel and Radical Coexistence in Judaism).

At one point, she remarked on how nice it was that everyone knew how to pronounce her name correctly: “It’s kind of fun to watch the Israelis I meet struggle with names like Alyssa or Jackie but then hear my name and say “Oh that one’s easy”. That certainly doesn’t happen every day back home.”

Shiri’s most recent blog entry, posted Thursday, was especially poignant. Titled “Not the post I was planning to write,” she talks about the bus stop bombing in Jerusalem on Wednesday that injured 50 and killed a Scottish Bible translator named Mary Jean Gardner.

Although Shiri was nowhere near the bombing, she soon discovered that the woman who was killed was actually in her class. “All of sudden this attack that I was beginning to cope with and get past, took on a whole new meaning. Now it’s personal, close to my heart, and much more of a reality.” She goes on to write that while she certainly recognized the history of violence in Jerusalem, she has never felt unsafe there, including riding the bus around the city. She adds: “While I still don’t think I’m in any kind of real danger, having this happen so close and in a place so familiar is a chilling experience.”

But there is much more in Shiri’s post itself worth reading, especially as she explains how the university has responded and the attitudes that she sees in the people.

Of course, everyone at W&L sends best wishes for her continued safety. If you do get to Shiri’s blog, be sure to read more than just the most recent one to get a flavor for the range of her experiences thus far.

The Day Liz Came to Town

When news broke Wednesday of the death of actress Elizabeth Taylor, no doubt some members of the Washington and Lee community recalled her visit to Lexington and W&L in November 1976. That visit centered on the Founders’ Day speech that her then-fiance, W&L alumnus Sen. John W. Warner ’49, gave at neighboring Virginia Military Institute.

Although the festivities at VMI were what brought the couple to Lexington, Sen. Warner (he wasn’t yet a senator but was weighing the possibility of a run) told audiences that he had wanted to bring his future wife to see his alma mater, something that the senator’s own father, a 1903 graduate of W&L, had done with his fiancee. The couple stayed in Lee House, toured the campus, and, after fulfilling the various duties at VMI, went to the old Troubadour Theatre, where the actress served as guest lecturer for a drama seminar.

In the January 1977 Washington and Lee alumni magazine, Bob Keefe ’68, news director and associate editor, described the visit in the magazine’s lead story. It was accompanied by Sally Mann’s photographs, which appear here. Bob’s story began with several of the newspaper headlines that accompanied stories about the visit, including this one: “Fans Agog, Cynics Converted.”

Cynics? What cynics?

Alum's Company Tackles Traumatic Brain Injuries

When it comes to traumatic brain injuries, the time it takes for a patient to get treatment is especially critical. Accordingly, BrainScope, a company whose CEO is Washington and Lee alumnus Michael Singer, of the Class of 1984, has developed Ahead EU-100, a new tool to quickly assess brain function, and introduced it in the United Kingdom.

A news release issued by the company said that  “the portable, non-invasive device uses product miniaturization and advanced signal processing methods to assess and categorize brain electrical activity and patterns related to brain injury . . . The system has a handheld device with software and algorithms, a disposable electrode headset and a Web-based capability for centralized storage and review of patient data.”

The release went on to quote Michael: “With approximately 1 million people each year attending the accident and emergency department in the U.K. following head injuries, we believe that . . . this product . . . will provide a valuable tool for clinicians in making informed decisions for triage, treatment and care of patients with suspected head injuries.”

With increased attention to head injuries in sports, such a device would seem to be especially valuable. One reports indicates that an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related traumatic brain injuries occur each year.

Prior to joining BrainScope in November 2008, Michael had been president of Revolution Health Investments, Revolution L.L.C. He initiated, negotiated and completed several transactions that together created the Revolution Health Network and was instrumental in the merger of Revolution Health with Waterfront Media.

He has also been an executive at Microsoft Corp., reporting directly to the CTO, and was the CFO, executive vice president of corporate development and a board member for Data Critical Corp. in Seattle.

Michael received an M.A. from the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics.

South by South…Lex?

As music, film and business leaders flocked to the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, last week, business administration professor Amanda Bower was staging her own convergence of creative types on a smaller scale right here in Lexington. In an effort to introduce students to potential career paths in advertising, marketing and promotion, Bower called on five young alumni from major national firms to share their insights on jobs and trends in their industries with students.  Exchanging ideas for the panel on Twitter in the days leading up to the event, Colton Payne, of the Class of 2010, dubbed the meeting “South by SouthLex.”

Payne was the most recent graduate of the group. Now an account coordinator at The Martin Agency in Richmond, he was joined by colleagues and fellow alums Sarah Helms, of the Class of 2007, and Marty Tompkins, of the Class of 2004. Helms is an account executive at the prestigious advertising agency, while Tompkins is a recruiter.

Rounding out the group were Courtney Berry, of the Class of 2005, an account supervisor at the ad agency Euro RSCG Worldwide in New York, and Laura Hornbuckle, of the Class of 2007, a senior account executive at Edelman, a global public relations company, in Washington, D.C.

Bower’s courses in marketing communications and consumer insights have become a breeding ground for budding creatives, and not just in the C-School. Her annual Integrated Marketing Communications class, popularly known as “Ad Class,” takes the form of a simulated ad agency, with each student assigned the role of an agency employee. Students from across the College and Williams School have to apply for positions in the class, which presents its plans for a major national client in a national advertising competition. Last year’s client was State Farm Insurance. This year’s is J.C. Penney.

“Since I got here we’ve been working on developing opportunities for folks interested in advertising, both in terms of related classes and class experiences, changes in the business major, and tapping into resources that we have available as students head towards careers,” said Bower. “I’d done a more informal version of this panel a couple of years ago with Marty Tompkins. It taught people how to think about putting together a resume or cover letter or generally put themselves together for the marketplace. It also dispelled the myths. I wanted to do something like it again.  So when Laura Hornbuckle contacted me and offered to come chat with some students, I took advantage of it and pulled the whole thing together.”

The group spoke to a packed room in the Williams School, sharing their experiences in advertising and PR, as well as tips for the job search. The key take-aways? Be yourself, be prepared to graduate without a job offer in hand, and be prepared to pay your dues. Panelists spoke of the importance of internships, even post-graduate ones, as well as informational interviews and the need to move quickly when the right job presents itself.

As for the other big piece of advice from the panelists? Work the W&L network. All of the alums agreed that W&L is a breeding ground for creative talent, and that they work hard to help fellow graduates get a foot in the door.

“One of the biggest resources we’ve got is our alums, said Bower. “There is a real a golden rule philosophy–how do we help people the way we would like to be helped. Going into the ad or PR world isn’t the same as going into other fields. To have people from the industry, and from different sorts of shops and geographical regions, come in and give the students texture and speak both so realistically and enthusiastically is a real help to them. I hope they learned how to prepare for a career, start a career, and then be successful in it.”

Hairless Profs

As part of last weekend’s Relay for Life cancer fund-raiser, members of the University community were invited to vote with their money for the faculty members they would most like to see bald. The winners (?) — Simon Levy (computer science), Scott Hoover (business administration) and Burr Datz, Class of 1975 (Campus Minister, St. Patrick’s Parish) were shorn during the event on Friday night,

Altogether 20 teams exceeded the goal of $16,000 on behalf of the American Cancer Society. Here is the Relay for Life’s website.

W&L Alum Teaching in Japan Experiences the Earthquake

Washington and Lee graduates John Henzel ’10 and Beth Valentine Henzel ’11 are living in Japan, where John is teaching English as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET).

The Henzels live in Osato, which is about 16 miles north of Sendai, the Japanese port city nearest the epicenter of last week’s earthquake. John teaches at Osato Junior High.

The Henzels have sent assurances to friends at W&L that they are fine.

To get a sense of what the earthquake was like for them, take a look at the video. One of John’s colleagues, Wesley Julian, a former JET teacher, a Hampden-Sydney graduate and brother of W&L alumna Christina Julian Kauffman of the Class of 2001, shot it in a second-floor staff room at Osata Junior High. You can partially see John and hear him talking with Wesley. The video appears on the BBC website, and you can see it by clicking here or on the photo above, which is a still image from the video.

On Thursday night (Friday morning in Japan) John wrote with this update:

“To give you an idea of how things are right now — I would say very varied. In my particular circumstance, my town is OK, apart from damage to roads and so forth. Physical damage to the apartment was minimal, except for losing basically all of our dishes. I’m typing this email from work (which I’ve come to every day since the quake), and the students return next week I believe. The real damage seems to have come from the tsunami, but we’re far enough from the coast that nothing would reach us here. Right now, we have power and gas, but no water yet. Also, gasoline is basically impossible to find at the moment, yet my teachers are still making some impressive commutes (somehow). I live in town, so in the worst case scenario, I can walk to school.

“As far as the radiation , we are well outside any potential affected zone. The western media is massively blowing it out of proportion it seems. Japan is very sensitive about radiation (understandably), and it is taking a prime spot in the discussion here. But they’re very calm about it. Even in the worst case scenario of a meltdown, there’s little chance it could reach to where we live. We’re well beyond the U.S. recommended 50 miles, which is well beyond the Japanese estimate. A colleague in the JET programme recommended this article to me, and I found it quite informative: http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=566799182

“While my situation is OK, others are not. I have friends whose entire homes, schools, or even towns have been swept away. While I believe everyone has been accounted for in the Miyagi JET programme, there’s some mixed information going around on one or two people still.

“The video was filmed by my predecessor, Wesley Julian, who had returned to visit Japan and attend the school’s graduation ceremony, which had occurred earlier in the day. He is a Hampden-Sydney graduate, and his parents live in Staunton. (Imagine my surprise when I was first placed and realized the connection!).”

Beth weighed in separately with an email later in the evening (or morning), adding:

“Comparatively speaking, John and I were fairly lucky. Our town, though getting hit fairly hard by the earthquake, didn’t suffer much damage. To extent of our knowledge, no buildings collapsed. We were without all utilities until Tuesday when the power and phone lines began to work. We had water for a few hours yesterday (I don’t think I have ever been as excited to wash dishes in my life), but unfortunately the pipes stopped working that evening. The roads and sidewalks are damaged — huge holes, cracks, and a few new steps in the sidewalk near a bridge. I haven’t been on the roads lately, so I don’t know how repairs are going, but people are driving on them.

“Gas stations are out of gasoline and have been since the weekend. The grocery stores still have food (some meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and other random items but no bread or milk). People start lining up about an hour before the store opens, and by the time the doors open there are about 75 or so people outside. Within a half hour most, if not all, of the meat and eggs are gone. You see people with two and three baskets full of items. Convenience stores sold out of items quickly and were closed by Saturday. I am unsure if they (our town has two) have reopened. Bottled water is also very difficult to find, but luckily John’s school has a water tank and has been able to get drinking water from there.

“We’ve had tremors since the earthquake; we had one just now in fact.  However, they are becoming less frequent and intense.”

Meantime, anyone who has information on other W&L alumni and friends who are in Japan can use the comment form to let us know where and how they are.