Hard Times in Vermont
When blues guitarist and singer Scott Ainslie, of the Class of 1974, saw the normally eight-inch-deep Whetstone Brook in his hometown of Brattleboro, Vt., transformed into a raging torrent as Hurricane Irene passed through on Sunday, he got out his video camera and recorded some remarkable images. Then Scott added his own recording of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times, Come Again No More” from his CD, “Jealous Moon.”
The result is a moving video that Scott has uploaded to YouTube as an appeal for donations to the local Red Cross to assist in recovery efforts in Vermont. (You can use this link to the American Red Cross of Vermont and The New Hampshire Valley for information on how to help.)
Scott is also working on a benefit concert for affected families and businesses in the area.
Watch the video below:
Staniar Gallery Announces 2011-2012 Season
University’s Staniar Gallery will present eight exhibitions ranging from W&L Professor Emeritus I-Hsiung Ju to legendary pop artist Andy Warhol. The gallery, which opened in 2006, is dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary and art historical works in all media by regionally, nationally and internationally recognized artists.
The season kicks off with a two-person exhibition of prints and drawings by Barbara Duval and a film installation by Meredith Root. In this exhibition, titled Abandon, the artists challenge the boundaries of their respective disciplines to explore the notion of transitional space.
Both artists capture a mysterious beauty in their work, set against the background of unnamed desolation. Duval’s paintings and prints are filled with shadow-shaped figures, often depicted in motion and inhabiting a landscape that is eerily empty and dark. Meredith Root’s 6-minute film, The Shortest Day, is a visual document of a dilapidated building in Milwaukee, Wis., which was left as an institutional dumping ground after serving various manufacturers as a factory site for over 85 years.
Barbara Duval is a professor of art at the College of Charleston in South Carolina and Meredith Root is on the faculty as director of the animation program at the Memphis School of Art. Abandon will be on view from Sept. 6 to Oct. 6.
For the second exhibition of the year, W&L welcomes back to campus Professor Emeritus I-Hsiung Ju. Professor Ju will present selections from two recent series of scroll paintings influenced by his extensive practice of traditional Chinese brush work.
Over the 20 years on the faculty, Ju won numerous awards as an educator and artist. Since retiring in 1989, Ju has developed courses and workshops on Chinese brush painting and regularly lectures on the subject. The exhibit will run from Oct. 12 through Nov. 2.
An exhibition by Minneapolis painter Michael Kareken will finish out the fall semester at Staniar Gallery running from Nov. 8 through Dec. 10. Kareken will present detailed paintings of discarded bottles, scrap metal piles and debris which reflect his use of painting to control the chaos of the urban landscape that surrounds his studio. In this series, which includes drawings and prints, Kareken develops an uncanny sense of quiet drama that unsettles ordinary associations with the subject matter he depicts: recycling centers and garbage dumps.
Since 1996 Kareken has taught at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, where he is a professor of fine arts. His work is included in the collections of The Walker Art Center, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Frederick Weisman Museum of Art and the Minnesota Historical Society, among others.
On Jan. 9, Staniar Gallery will open with the exhibition In the Event of Andy Warhol. The 2008 gift to W&L of over 150 photographs taken by legendary pop artist Andy Warhol was the impetus for this exhibition, which explores the ideas and influence of the renowned artist. To commemorate its 20th anniversary, the Warhol Foundation donated nearly 30,000 of Warhol’s Polaroids and black and white prints to more than 180 educational institutions across the country, including W&L and Roanoke College. The two institutions have collaborated to present highlights from both collections in this exhibition.
A selection of works by contemporary artists who have been inspired by Warhol will also be on display, featuring pieces by Shepard Fairey and Piper Ferguson, among others. Other components of the exhibit will be based on Warhol’s practice, including videos of student screen tests and a series of Polaroid portraits by W&L photo students. The exhibit closes on Feb. 4.
For the exhibition Painted Words-From Object to Subject, opening on Feb. 13, artist Trisha Orr presents two series of paintings examining the use of text in a visual context. Orr creates dense still lifes, using clear glass vases to distort and fragment the print on art books.
The Poem Paintings, a collaboration with her husband, the poet Gregory Orr, features excerpts of his work in a grid format. Both series explore the nuance of language and acknowledge the subjective nature of reading a painting. Trisha Orr has received individual artist fellowships from the NEA (mid-Atlantic Regional) and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Her work has been included in numerous group and museum shows nationally, and her solo exhibits have been reviewed in Art in America and The New York Times. This show will be up through March 10.
Staniar Gallery welcomes guest curator Rob McDonald for the next exhibition, Land Not Lost: Contemporary Views on Virginia Landscape, on view March 12-23. In conjunction with the Virginia General Assembly’s Commission to mark the 150th anniversary of the Commonwealth’s participation in the American Civil War, this exhibition presents contemporary artists who profess a deep connection the regional landscape. Nearly sixty percent of the fighting in the war took place on Virginia soil, which remains ingrained the collective memory of haunting conflict. The ten artists selected for this show depict their native landscape with infinite beauty and respect for its storied history. Participating artists include the late Cy Twombly, Sally Mann, Rob McDonald, Gordon Stettinius, Robert Alexander Williams, Willie Anne Wright, Ron Boehmer, Dean Dass and Ray Kass. This exhibition will be on view in connection with the 2012 Virginia Sesquicentennial Signature Conference on the Civil War at Virginia Military Institute on March 22.
The Senior Thesis exhibition will follow opening on March 27 and running through April 10. Each year, as the capstone experience in the studio art major at Washington and Lee, the graduating seniors exhibit their thesis projects in Staniar Gallery. As their debut in the art world, the exhibition is an opportunity for the young artists to create a cohesive body of work that is shown in a professional setting. The group show features a wide range of art works in various media including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and sculpture.
The final exhibition of the year will feature sculptures and drawings by Craig Pleasants. His sculptural structures blur the line between form and function, architecture and art. Based on what he calls an “aesthetics of necessity,” Pleasants uses alternative materials to expand the definition of shelter, housing, and home. In this exhibition, Pleasants will also present a series of drawings that illustrate the thought process behind his three dimensional pieces. Craig Pleasants has exhibited widely for over 30 years and has been recognized with numerous grants and fellowships from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the South Carolina Arts Commission, among others. The exhibition will be on view from April 23-May 25.
Staniar Gallery is located in Wilson Hall in the Lenfest Center, home of the departments of art, music and theatre. Artist’s talks and presentations are held with most exhibitions, which are free and open to the public. The gallery is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the academic year. More information can be found on the Staniar Gallery website: http://go.wlu.edu/staniar.
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.
Pre-orientation began Aug. 29 and ends Sept. 2. On-campus orientation for all first-year students begins Sept. 3.
“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.
“It’s a good challenge to go and live in the wilderness for five days,” said Zoller. “It’s not really about Washington and Lee; it’s about making a connection with other students while they’re in the woods. They’re with a group of strangers and in a whole new environment. But they all come in equal and just get to know each other. Some real friendships develop. And they’re with student trip leaders, not a professional guide.
“I want to give a shout out to the trip leaders,” said Zoller, “because they are the ones who make this happen. They look forward to it all year, and they are so well prepared. They know what they’re doing and know how to help the students.”
One first-year student review of Appalachian Adventures said it was, “more difficult than I expected, but more fun than I imagined.” Another said “It was a blast! I was so worried. I’d never hiked before, let alone backpacked. It was one of the best times of my life…”
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.”
Rebecca Makkai on NPR
In June we blogged about Rebecca Makkai, of the Class of 1999, whose first novel, The Borrower, has been widely praised. But it was one of Rebecca’s short stories that landed her a spot on a recent edition of NPR’s “This American Life.”
As part of the program’s show on Gossip, Rebecca reads a portion of one of her short stories, “The November Story,” which first appeared in its longer version in “Crazyhorse,” a literary journal. You can read the original story in “Crazyhorse” here. And you can listen to Rebecca read her story on “This American Life” or download the show as a podcast by going here.
“The November Story” is part of Rebecca’s collection in progress, which she has tentatively titled Music for Wartime.
Rebecca’s website features links to many of the reviews of The Borrower from The Daily Mail, the Washington Times, Marie Claire and The Daily Beast, among others.
W&L Events to Observe 10th Anniversary of 9/11
Washington and Lee University will observe the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks with two different events — a prayer vigil and a panel presentation and discussion.
The prayer vigil will be held at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, in front of Lee Chapel on campus. The Rev. John Talley, minister of the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), will lead the event, which is sponsored by the College Democrats and the College Republicans.
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 7 p.m., three members of the W&L faculty will lead the panel discussion, “Ten Years Later,” in the Hillel House Multi-purpose Room.
The panelists will be Ayse Zarakol, assistant professor of politics; Mark Drumbl, the Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and director of the Transnational Law Clinic; and Bob Strong, the William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics and interim provost.
Both events are open to the public at no charge.
Booked Up with Bill Buice ’61
Bill Buice, of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1961, and his wife, Stuart, were the subject of a nice recent profile in their local paper, the Shelter Island (N.Y.) Reporter, this summer. The focus is their mutual love of books.
The Buices, who live in Shelter Island Heights, N.Y., are both natives of North Carolina. They met while she was an undergrad at Duke and he was a law student. On their first date, says the article, they went to a book auction.
As young marrieds in New York City in the mid-1960s, they frequented the bookstores on Fourth Avenue. Both of them became collectors of books. Stuart favored the Bloomsbury Group, Bill the English Romantics. Bill became involved with the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association and the Grolier Club, which promotes the art of the book.
Two years ago, the Buices spoke to the Friends of the W&L Library. The apt title of the talk was “Two Collectors, One Library—Can This Marriage Be Saved?”
Given such a provenance, you might think that that the Buices would shun e-readers. Not so, Bill told the Shelter Island newspaper. “I owned one of the first e-books,” he said. “I thought it was like Gutenberg. I thought there was a new Gutenberg out there. He changed the world and e-publishing might very well do the same thing and in fact it is. It’s revolutionizing the way people obtain knowledge and how they read.”
Barbara Brown, University Librarian and Professor Emerita at Washington and Lee, Dies at 69
Barbara Jeanne Brown, University librarian at Washington and Lee University from 1985 to 2003, died on Aug. 27, 2011, in Lexington, Va. She was 69.
Brown was named University librarian in 1985 and served in that position until retiring in 2003. She had previously spent five years, from 1971 to 1976, as head of reference and public services at W&L, and was one of the first women to hold a senior administrative post on campus.
“The University is fortunate to have had Barbara at the helm of the library during a critical period in that field,” said W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “She combined her expertise with a sparkling wit and a warm, cheerful personality, and we will miss her.”
Brown was born on Oct. 9, 1941, in Charles City, Iowa. She earned a B.S. in English from Iowa State University in 1963, and an M.S. in library science in 1964 from Columbia University.
She began her career as a librarian in 1964 at Cornell University, working in the John M. Olin Library and the Uris Undergraduate Library. Between her two tenures at W&L, she served as assistant university librarian for general reader services at the Princeton University Library and as associate director of program coordination at the Research Libraries Group Inc., at Stanford University. In 1974, she spent one year with the Council on Library Resources Management Intern Program, a professional honor that went to only five mid-career librarians in a given year.
As the University librarian at Washington and Lee, Brown oversaw the introduction of automation, most notably through the online catalog known as Annie (named after Annie Jo White, W&L librarian, 1895-1922), and through other electronic resources. She also doubled the library’s holdings and established the Telford Science Library.
Brown served on numerous university committees, including the President’s Advisory Committee, the Student Faculty Hearing Board and nearly 30 others, including search committees for key positions. She was a member of the committee that planned Washington and Lee’s 250th anniversary celebration and presided over the ceremony during which the University Library was renamed in honor of former W&L dean James G. Leyburn.
For her contributions to academic life on campus, in 1976 Brown received the prestigious Ring-tum Phi Award from the student newspaper of the same name. She was also a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society founded at W&L in 1914.
Among Brown’s many professional affiliations, for which she also provided leadership in various capacities, were the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET), the Virginia Library Association, the Virginia State Council of Higher Education, the Virginia Independent Colleges & Universities Library Association, the American Library Association and the Associated Colleges of the South.
As a resident of Lexington and Rockbridge County, Brown volunteered with the United Way, the American Cancer Society, the Rockbridge Historical Society, Kendal at Lexington and the English-Speaking Union. A member of the Lexington Presbyterian Church, she sang in the choir there and with the Rockbridge Choral Society, of which she was a founding member.
She is survived by many dear friends and by a number of cousins.
The memorial service will be on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 2 p.m. at the Lexington Presbyterian Church, 120 S. Main St. It will be followed by a reception in Evans Hall on the W&L campus.
In lieu of flowers, Brown requested that those who want to make donations direct them to these organizations: Lexington Presbyterian Church (120 S. Main St., Lexington, VA 24450); Kendal at Lexington (160 Kendal Dr., Lexington, VA 24450); Friends of the Rockbridge Choral Society (P.O. Box 965, Lexington, VA 24450); the Rockbridge SPCA (P.O. Box 528, Lexington, VA 24450); and the First Presbyterian Church of Carroll (P.O. Box 681, Carroll, IA 51401).
W&L Law Students Revive Tradition of SBA Service Day
Local community organizations throughout Lexington and Rockbridge County received a helpful boost when students from Washington and Lee University’s School of Law took part in the Student Bar Association’s (SBA) Service Day during orientation this year.
“The last time we did this was in 2005 or 2006,” said SBA President Negin Farahmand. “It used to be an annual event and so we’re trying to bring it back.”
More than 70 law students took part in the SBA Service Day on August 24. Aimed mostly at incoming students, including first year law students and transfer students, Farahmand said that about 20 current law students also took part as site leaders. “We worked with 15 local organizations, from the Rockbridge Area YMCA to the Rockbridge Free Clinic and Fine Arts in Rockbridge,” she said. “The students met at the law school at 1 p.m. and then dispersed to the different service sites and stayed there until 5 p.m.”
The students took part in a variety of projects from yard work and picking up brush to organizing files and doing paperwork. “It was any work that the individual organization needed to get done but doesn’t necessarily have the time to do,” explained Farahmand.
One project she was particularly interested in was a car wash to raise funds for the Valley Association for Independent Living. “VAIL works specifically with people who have disabilities to try to get them to live independently,” she said. “So that’s a major project the students did.”
Another tradition the SBA hopes to revive is a highway clean up of a portion of Route 60, from the Exxon on Poplar Hill Road for about a mile and half. “The SBA adopted the road years ago,” said Farahmand, who conceded that the task of maintaining the road had fallen by the wayside in the intervening years. “So we worked with Adopt-a-Highway to do this cleanup and I think this will be a good way to restart the initiative.”
Other students worked with children at the Yellow Brick Road Child Care Center. “I think that project was beneficial to both the children and the law students,” said Farahmand. “As law students we get really wrapped up in what we’re doing and we’re very busy. I thought the SBA Service Day would be rewarding for the students and a good way to give back to the community and show that we’re part of the community and we don’t just go to school here. With more than 70 student volunteers, I think it had a big impact in just one day.”
Farahmand stressed that the W&L School of Law has many organizations that perform community service projects throughout the year, but not specifically through the SBA. “For example, there’s a community service requirement for all third-year law students,” she said. “My hope is that those third-year law students who were involved in the SBA Service Day as site leaders will stick with those organizations throughout the year. And hopefully the tradition of the SBA Service Day will continue after this year.”
Other organizations that benefited from the SBA Service Day were Boxerwood Gardens, three locations of Habitat for Humanity, Hoofbeats Therapeutic Riding Center, the assisted living community Mayflower, Woods Creek Montessori, Rockbridge Area Community Services, United Way of Lexington-Rockbridge County, Roots and Shoots and Rockbridge Area Conservation Council.
New Book for Suzanne LaFleur ’05
Suzanne LaFleur, of the Class of 2005, has just published her second novel, Eight Keys, with Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House. It tells the story of best friends Elise, who’s lost her parents, and Franklin. As the publisher describes it, “There’s always been a barn behind the house with eight locked doors on the second floor. When Elise and Franklin start middle school, things feel all wrong. Bullying. Not fitting in. Franklin suddenly seems babyish. Then, soon after her 12th birthday, Elise receives a mysterious key left for her by her father. A key that unlocks one of the eight doors upstairs in the barn.”
Publisher’s Weekly gave Eight Keys a starred review: “LaFleur . . . writes with uncommon sensitivity to the fraught period between childhood and the teenage years, when friendships balance on a razor’s edge and nothing feels certain. The heart of the story lies in the layered relationships and characters that give the novel its powerful sense of realism.”
This is Suzanne’s second novel for Wendy Lamb Books. Her first, Love, Aubrey, is about another orphaned girl and “the healing powers of friendship, love, and memory.” On its 2009 publication, Booklist said, “LaFleur proves she is an author to watch.”
On her website, Suzanne tells how, as a child, she started composing and telling stories even before she knew how to write. She decided then that she wanted to write stories for other children, and at W&L she continued on that path by double-majoring in English and European history. She obtained an M.F.A. in writing for children from the New School. Her brother, Alex, begins his junior year at W&L this fall.
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 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.”
‘Help Them See the Big Picture’
Jonathan Eastwood, an associate professor of sociology, agrees. Eastwood, who is studying how a country’s emerging nationalism affects the balance of power between church and state, hired Manuel Garcia ’14 and Matthew Ziemer ’14. “I really work to try to help them see the big picture and not just what they’re doing in terms of data collection on a day-to-day basis, but how it fits in relation to the broader research project I’m conducting, also the big questions in the field,” said Eastwood. “It’s good for the research, but especially, as a teacher, it’s just really wonderful to work with bright undergraduate students in this way.”
For the project, Garcia collected data from encyclopedias of nationalism and studied the constitutions of relevant South American countries. The work improved his research skills. “Trying to be efficient, trying to get as much information but at the same time being meticulous about it, making sure you don’t leave any important information out, I think that it’s demanding,” said Garcia. “I definitely think that will help me once I start the school year.”
In the Psychology Department, associate professor Wythe Whiting and his team examined whether a person’s ability to detect facial expressions declines with age. Similar research has focused on age-related declines in memory and attention, said Whiting, but face processing is unique because it is a hard-wired, nearly automatic skill that uses a different type of cognitive processing.
For the study, test subjects looked at photographs of faces on a computer screen and determined the correct emotions. Student assistance was vital. “We may be getting 70 people through here. It takes at least an hour per person, so the students are necessary components, to collect the data,” said Whiting. “But it also gives them great experience because they pretty much get to do the project from start to finish.”
By running the project all the way through, the students-Roger Strong ’12, Keaton Fletcher ’13 and Erin Kennedy ’14-learned through trial and error how to conduct an experiment. “A big part of it is how much attention to detail that’s necessary,” said Strong. “Because if you change one little thing about the program or images and later on, if you don’t realize you messed it up, you have to go back and fix everything.”
From Belize to Lexington
Even projects in exotic locales can be labor intensive. Just ask Lisa Greer, associate professor of geology, who traveled to Belize with Matt Benson ’12 and Will Sullivan ’14 to study the health of an endangered coral species called Acropora cerviconis. Significant living swaths of the coral are known to exist in two places, the Dominican Republic and Honduras. Greer learned about the Belize site from Al Curran, a 1962 W&L graduate and Smith College geology professor who directed a research program in which Greer participated during her undergraduate days at Colorado College.
In Belize, Sullivan photographed the reef while Benson captured its topography with a video camera. In Lexington, the team determined the health of the reef after calculating the percentage of live coral visible in meter-square segments. To do this, they have been digitizing Sullivan’s photographs. It’s a time-consuming task, and it can take up to four hours just to digitize just one square meter of coral.
“Will was absolutely invaluable in trying to figure out the method for how to digitize these,” said Greer. “He has worked with three or four different programs, really to try and key in on a method for doing this.” Benson, after a four-week, grant-sponsored trip to St John, will be using the Belize research as part of a comparative study.
Students and professors across the board enjoyed not only collaborating but also getting to know each other on a less formal basis. Perhaps most surprising, at least for the students, was that they would even have the opportunity to work with professors in the first place. “A big thing to stress is how accessible research is at W&L,” said Nicole Gunawansa. “I never realized that this was going to be a huge aspect of the school.”
— by Amy Balfour ’89, ’93L