Kerry Egan '95: Observations of a Hospice Chaplain
An essay about death and dying by Washington and Lee alumna Kerry Egan, of the Class of 1995, touched a nerve on CNN.com over the weekend.
Kerry, a religion major who received her master’s of divinity from Harvard, is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts. She spends her time talking with people who are dying. In her piece, which was published on Jan. 28 and titled “What people talk about before they die,” Kerry wrote about her experiences with hospice patients:
Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.
People talk about their families, she wrote, because “that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.”
She does not, Kerry wrote, necessarily use “the words of theology to talk about God” and added that “people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”
Within 24 hours of the essay’s posting on CNN’s site, it drew 3,000 comments in response, many praising her and others taking her to task. It was, as CNN wrote in its “Overheard on CNN” column, “quite the conversation starter.”
In 2004, Kerry published, a journal of her experiences with her then boyfriend (now husband), Alex Ruskell, of the Class of 1994, on the pilgrimage route in southern France and northern Spain known as Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.
W&L Mock Convention Sees Double-Digit Win for Romney in Florida
Washington and Lee University’s student political research team the 2012 Republican Mock Convention have concluded that Mitt Romney will claim a double-digit win over New Gingrich in Tuesday’s Florida primary.
That prediction is based on research conducted by Jeff Wieand, chair of the Mock Convention’s Florida delegation and a second-year law student from Pottstown, Pa.; Zach Wilkes, the Mock Convention political committee chair and a senior politics major from Farmersville, La.; and the Mock Convention political team.
In their prediction and rationale posted on the Mock Convention’s blog on Sunday night, Jan. 29, Wieand wrote: “We expect Romney to receive 40 to 46% of the vote, with Gingrich coming in second with 28 to 34%, Santorum finishing in third with 12 to 18%, and Paul rounding out the group with 6 to 12%, though these ranges could fluctuate by a few percentage points over the next two days.”
Earlier this year, the Mock Convention predicted wins for Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire and for Gingrich in South Carolina.
Wieand wrote that “the Gingrich who commanded the debates in South Carolina failed to appear on the stage in Florida and was beaten back by Romney’s newfound aggression. Gingrich’s faltering debate performances, combined with an all-out attack from the Romney campaign and much of the Republican establishment, allowed Romney to quickly regain lost ground .”
In addition to weak debate performances, Wieand concluded, Romney’s decision to release his tax returns was a factor in his resurgence, and some of the ads that Gingrich aired in Florida hurt more than helped his candidacy there.
With the W&L Mock Convention less than two weeks away, the Florida primary will once again signal a shift in the race, according to Wilkes. “Romney will reassert himself as the national frontrunner and a clear favorite for the nomination, and Gingrich will have to be increasingly aggressive and take more risks going forward to have a chance at overtaking Romney.”
Noting that the February schedule does not favor Gingrich, especially since there are no upcoming debates, Wilkes did not rule anything out. “If anyone can once again rise from the political dead, it is Newt Gingrich. If he can pull an upset or two in February and regroup for Super Tuesday on March 6, the race for the nomination could draft through mid-summer.”
The W&L students must make their choice of a Republican nominee on Feb. 11, the third and final day of the three-day Mock Convention. The quadrennial event, in which W&L students choose the nominee of the party out of power, will feature major speakers. It has been correct more than 75 percent of the time, with only two incorrect predictions since 1948.
The Mock Convention festivities will begin on Thursday (Feb. 9), with a debate between top Democratic strategist James Carville and GOP pundit Ann Coulter, followed by a speech by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. A parade throughout downtown Lexington will be held on Friday (Feb. 10). The lineup of speakers includes former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, and House Majority Leader and Virginia Representative Eric Cantor.
Kali McFarland ’12
Katy Stewart ’13
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
An Honor for Adrienne Howard '91
For 20 years now, Washington and Lee alumna Adrienne Weatherford Howard, of the Class of 1991, has moved from base to base — 14 moves in all — as her husband, Navy Cmdr. Colby Howard, has received new assignments.
Cmdr. Howard is now the commanding officer of the guided missile destroyer Dewey, based in San Diego, Calif., where Adrienne lives.
Throughout this time, Adrienne came to realize just how important family support is to members of the military. So she decided to create an adopt-a-sailor program, recruiting people to support her husband’s unmarried sailors with letters, birthday cards and care packages.
Because of her initiative, Adrienne was a special guest of first lady Michelle Obama and vice presidential spouse Jill Biden at the State of the Union Address on Jan. 24. (For a picture of Adrienne and a short bio, go to this page on the White House site and roll over the last chair on the right in the second row.)
Adrienne got her invitation, in part, because she wrote about her efforts on the Joining Forces blog of the first lady and Dr. Biden. Her post, Joining Forces for Our Sailors, described her plan. Here is part of what she wrote there:
The Navy does a great job supporting the families so that they can, in turn, support their Sailors. During this time, I couldn’t help thinking: what about the guys and girls who aren’t married? What about the ones who don’t come from strong family backgrounds? Who is going to support them? Who is going to make sure they have something at mail call? Who is going to send them a Christmas card? A birthday card? The crew of the ship is largely young and unmarried, many of them doing their first deployment. Knowing how important little bits of home are to the crew, surely we could figure out a way to get little bits of home to these Sailors.
Adrienne’s invitation to sit in the first lady’s box resulted in numerous interviews. Media in both her hometown of Lynchburg — WSLS-TV and the Lynchburg News and Advance both featured her story — and also in San Diego on KGTV and in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
As she told the Union-Tribune, “I don’t think me being chosen was about me. I think it was the fact that I represent the kind of volunteerism that is seeking — for civilians to join our military.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet to Give Reading at Washington and Lee
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey will give a reading at Washington and Lee University on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 4:30 p.m. in Northen Auditorium of Leyburn Library. She will read from her earlier works and from her forthcoming collection Thrall.
Trethewey’s reading is free and open to the public. A book signing will be held after the reading outside of Northen Auditorium. The event is sponsored by the Glasgow Endowment.
Trethewey is the author of Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2010); Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002), which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association; and Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000). Her collection Thrall is due for publication in 2012.
The Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, Trethewey is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Her poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as American Poetry Review, Callaloo, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review and several volumes of The Best American Poetry.
Her first collection of poetry, Domestic Work, was selected as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet, and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.
W&L’s Glasgow Endowment was established by the late Arthur G. Glasgow for the “promotion of the expression of art through pen and tongue.” In the past four decades the endowment has hosted authors including Mary Oliver, Seamus Heaney, Linda Hogan and Edward P. Jones.
Virginia Gov. McDonnell to Address W&L Mock Convention
McDonnell took office in 2010 after receiving the most votes of any Virginia governor in history. During his term, he has supported proposals to make the largest investment in Virginia transportation systems in a generation and announced a $311 million budget surplus for two consecutive fiscal years.
McDonnell also serves as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, the Southern Growth Policies Board, the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Legal Affairs Committee of the National Governors Association. Prior to becoming governor, McDonnell served Virginia as the attorney general and a state delegate.
The public is invited to attend the event, which will be held in the Warner Center. Tickets are available at mockconvention.com.
Mock Convention begins on Thursday, Feb. 9, and ends on Saturday, Feb. 11. It will feature speeches by other distinguished politicians and analysts. The event will culminate in the students’ prediction of the Republican presidential nominee.
McDonnell will speak as part of a Friday lineup that highlights the key figures of the Virginia GOP, including majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7th District). Mock Convention will also feature a debate between analysts James Carville and Ann Coulter; former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee; and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour.
W&L’s Mock Convention is a quadrennial tradition where students pick the presidential nominee for the party out of power. Roughly 99 percent of all students work for three years researching potential candidates, tracking polls and gathering on-the-ground data. With only two incorrect predictions since 1948, and an overall accuracy rate of over 75 percent, Mock Con has been called “the most realistic” exercise of its kind by Newsweek magazine. This year, the students have correctly predicted the outcome of the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and are eager to prove the 2012 W&L Mock Convention will continue to be “the biggest and boomingest” of student political organizations (TIME Magazine).
Kali McFarland ’12
Katy Stewart ’13
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
W&L Survey Examines Internet Use in Rockbridge County
Household Internet connections in the Rockbridge area exceed the national average, but residents’ use of the latest online tools is unexpectedly low, according to a recent survey by a Washington and Lee University researcher.
The survey by Claudette Artwick, associate professor of journalism and mass communications at W&L, was developed with students in her course on research methods, in anticipation of the arrival of high-speed broadband service to the region.
“We thought this would be a great opportunity to conduct a baseline survey to find out the state of Internet use in the area at this point in time, before they install broadband,” said Artwick. “Several years down the line, we’ll take another survey to measure change over time.
The survey was sent in May 2011 to 2,500 randomly-selected households and 505 residents responded. “That’s a pretty good response rate,” said Artwick. “We sent a paper questionnaire to be sure we covered everybody, not just those who had Internet service. We also gave people the option to respond online.”
Artwick cited a number of the more notable findings:
• 80 percent of households connected
The survey found that 80 percent of households are connected to the Internet, which is higher than the national average of 71 percent. Artwick said that although the finding is unusually high for a rural area, she attributes this to the number of retirees, residents who telecommute, semi-retired people who still work and individuals connected to one of the area’s three universities.
People in the area spend an average of two and a half hours online per day. Artwick said she expected to hear that most of that time was spent online at work. But that was not the case. “Nearly three quarters of the Internet users said that they spend most of that time online at home,” said Artwick.
The survey also found that half of respondents use the Internet at work, with 20 percent accessing the Internet at a public library or someone else’s home and 15 percent using their cell phones or smart phones to log on.
• 11 percent of respondents have never used the Internet
While 81 percent of residents have used the Internet for five years or more, 11 percent of respondents had never used the Internet. “People reported that they did not have Internet access at home because of cost and not owning a computer,” said Artwick.
“As one might guess, about a third of people in this area connect to the Internet using DSL (digital subscriber lines),” she continued. “But what was surprising, and this is where I see a real connection with our high speed broadband project, is that 10 percent of people in this area still use dial-up access, which is double the national average of five percent. Residents indicated that they don’t have enough choices since nearly half of respondents said they are not satisfied with the number of Internet providers in the area and nearly a third expressed dissatisfaction with the cost of service,” she said.
• Use of latest tools unexpectedly low
About 40 percent of those respondents who are online indicated that they use e-mail only once a day and never use Facebook. In addition, only seven percent of respondents use Twitter. “These are two of the most common social media tools on the Internet, so that surprised me,” said Artwick.
Although Artwick said she expected a lot of people to be watching movies online, 80 percent of respondents said they never watch movies on paid websites like Netflix. “I don’t know if that has to do with the speed of their Internet connection or not,” she said.
Sixty percent of respondents who are online said they do shop online. “The most active shopper in the survey purchased something online 125 times per year, compared to the average of 21 times per year,” said Artwick. And one-third of residents play games online.
• One-third of respondents name traditional newspapers as their main source for news
Residents in the survey named hard copy newspapers as their main source for news (33 percent) followed by TV news (28 percent), online news (14 percent), and a family member or friend (11 percent).
“Again, that’s surprising, and much different from the national average,” said Artwick. “What we’re seeing nationwide is that television and online are almost equal in usage, whereas hard copy newspapers are on the way down. But it’s different in this area. I don’t know what explains that, but maybe people are referring to their local newspaper.”
Artwick hopes to conduct a future survey to measure how area primary and secondary teachers use the Internet in the classroom. “I think it would be very good to have that information and see how it changes over the years,” she said. Her survey was supported by a W&L Lenfest Grant as well as a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which is also supporting similar research at the University of Missouri.
The complete findings of the survey can be found at http://rockbridgeinternet.blogspot.com/
The survey comes on the heels of the $6.9 million federal grant in 2010 to the Rockbridge Area Network Authority (RANA) to bring high-speed broadband to the area, one of 94 Recovery Act investments in broadband projects nationwide.
The arrival of high-speed broadband to the area will increase competition and give residents higher speeds at lower prices, according to David Saacke, chief technology officer at Washington and Lee and co-chair of RANA.
A central part of the project is construction of a new shared data center at Washington and Lee, for which the university has provided $2.5 million. “The design of the data center is completed and construction should begin in a few weeks,” said Saacke. “We hope it will be completed by this June. We’re also starting the bidding process for laying the fiber optic cable, but it could take two or three years for all the spokes to be laid throughout the county.”
The groundbreaking for the new Richard A. Peterson Center, which is named after W&L’s late chief technology director, will be held on Feb. 6 at 2 p.m.
Japanese Tea Room Unwraps Another Gift
Washington and Lee’s Japanese Tea Room has received a second gift from Sen Genshitsu, the 15th-generation Grand Master of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea.
In October, W&L’s Tea Room received its name — Senshin’an (Clearing-the-Mind-Abode) — as a gift from Sen Genshitsu. Tea room names are special gifts, as Janet Ikeda, associate professor of Japanese, explained at the time, and W&L’s name coming from such a distinguished personage was significant.
This second gift came with a note from Sen Genshitsu: “I am pleased to donate the articles enumerated on the attached list toward promoting understanding of Japanese culture at Washington and Lee University and the exchange of culture between Japan and America. May the articles long be kept and be put to good use.”
The utensils range from vases to kettles to tea bowls. The display is now available for viewing in the Watson Pavilion.
Radulescu's “Black Sea Twilight” on U.K. Chart
The second novel by Washington and Lee professor Domnica Radulescu, Black Sea Twilight (2010 Doubleday), a love story set amid the political turbulence of 1980s Romania, reached No. 40 on WH Smith’s best-seller list in the United Kingdom a few months back. Domnica promoted the novel at a book signing and reading at the Romanian Cultural Centre in London, co-sponsored by Doubleday, last July. See a photo gallery from that event.
Best-selling novelist Adriana Trigiani (Big Stone Gap, Lucia, Lucia) described Black Sea Twilight as “evocative, poetic and lush—a delicious page-turner of lost love, loaded with magical dreams and real hope. Nora Teodoru is a magnetic and unforgettable character. You won’t be able to put this one down.”
Domnica’s novel is now available as an e-book from WH Smith and looks to be following a similar path to Train to Trieste, her best-selling first novel, since it will be published in Romania this summer, and then, possibly, in Sweden.
Judging Patron Saints
by Kenneth P. Ruscio
Washington and Lee University
(This piece is reprinted by permission from Inside Higher Ed, where it first appeared on Jan. 26, 2012.)
Sadly, almost any topic in our modern society becomes politicized, forcing us into a corner where we must choose to be for or against. Opinion comes first, interpretation comes later, if at all. Simplicity is the order of the day. Dealing with complexity is inconvenient.
So it is with the irresistible urge to judge historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee and even George Washington — deciding whether we are pro or con, and then injecting them into our contemporary partisan conflicts. It overwhelms any inclination to embrace the study of the past for something other than debating points. We know, or should know, that our own history is complicated. We would appreciate it if those judging us in the future would respect that. We owe the same courtesy to those who came before us.
When Joseph Ellis wrote American Sphinx, his masterful study of Thomas Jefferson, he ran headlong into precisely this problem. As he ventured into his research, his youthful fascination with Jefferson gave way to a mature appreciation for the man with all his contradictions, faults and strengths, failures and accomplishments. History rarely presents us with simple morality tales. And the fortunes of Jefferson in the contemporary age look so much like the dreaded approval ratings in volatile public opinion polls. One day, he is everyone’s hero. The next, he is a hypocrite and a devious politician.
It was a puzzle for Ellis. As commentaries on Jefferson devolved into point-counterpoint volleys, it seemed “impossible to steer an honorable course between idolatry and evisceration,” he wrote. The historian concluded wisely that “affection and criticism toward Jefferson are not mutually exclusive positions,” and that “all mature appraisals of mythical figures are destined to leave their most ardent admirers somewhat disappointed.” Influential individuals who live in turbulent times do things that call attention to the strength of their character, and they do other things that point to their human qualities, which is to say their imperfections. “Anyone who confines his research to one side of the moral equation,” wrote Ellis, “is destined to miss a significant part of the story.”
There are occasions when I feel these tensions in a direct and personal way.
I serve as president of a college named after two influential and consequential figures. One of them is George Washington, who made our college the beneficiary of his only significant gift to higher education: $20,000 in James River Canal stock. He wanted to support an institution located in an area of the country he considered the “Western frontier.”
The other is Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, he became president of what was then Washington College. He and several members of his family are buried in Lee Chapel, an iconic building on campus where we hold many of our formal ceremonies. My wife, my son and I live in Lee House — the house on campus built for him and his family that has served as the home for all the university’s presidents. The dining room is where he died. The building in the driveway was a stall for Traveller, Lee’s horse; it remains preserved as it was back in Lee’s day, and by custom its doors remain forever open. It is the second-most-visited tourist spot in a small town with many historical sites.
We commemorate both men during our annual Founders’ Day Convocation on campus, held on Lee’s birthday each year. Our convocation speaker this year was Ron Chernow, author of the Pulitzer-winning Washington: A Life.
I also am a graduate of the institution I now serve as president, and I proudly and forcefully call upon the traditions of the university in the service of preparing students for lives of integrity and responsibility. My own stance toward Lee is one of respect, especially for what Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist, refers to as “the quality of character” of his deliberation when he confronted impossible choices.
But it is not idolatry. Neither is it evisceration. It is instead an honest attempt to understand the man and his times, which included slavery, secession and civil war. I take this stance not for purposes of reaching a final judgment on whether he was destined for heaven or hell — which would be the height of arrogance, as if I, and not Providence, could make such a call — but to appreciate the complexity of history and those who live it. Like Ellis with Jefferson, I have come to the conclusion that affection for and criticism of Lee are not mutually exclusive.
There are times, though, when that is easier said than done.
What should the university do when a Washington Post columnist condemns Lee as a traitor who chose the wrong side when it came to the great moral question of his time? How should we respond when a PBS documentary, which otherwise portrayed the man with all the respect history requires, got it wrong when it came to the chapter in his life that profoundly affected the university? He did not, as the documentary claimed, live out his final years “in hiding” at a small college in the mountains of Virginia. Rather, he fulfilled a pledge. “I have a self-imposed task which I must accomplish,” he wrote. “I have led the young men of the South in battle; I have seen many of them die in the field; I shall devote my remaining energies to training young men to do their duty in life.” Forsaking far more lucrative offers, he came to a nearly bankrupt college to prepare young men from the North and the South for a dramatically different world in the wake of the Civil War.
Beyond our campus, the story of Lee the general overshadows the story of Lee the educator; understandably so. But those years of curriculum reform and lessons in integrity are inseparable from the man’s biography, and they add a deeper appreciation, especially to our understanding of Lee’s refined sense of duty. Many students and alumni of this university cannot recognize the man when the profile casts aside the effect he had on an educational institution that had a direct effect on our own lives.
For that reason and many others, criticism of Lee, even the unintended oversight, triggers the reflex to rush to the defense. As one thoughtful, dedicated alumnus wrote to me in the wake of the PBS documentary and the Washington Post column, neither of which mentioned the university, “we” have been attacked, and the institution “has done nothing to respond.”
But the university is not synonymous with the man. It is an institution of values, to be sure. And to illustrate its values, it often invokes the stories of individuals who have made it what it is. But it is first and foremost an institution of learning and study, of critical reflection on all matters. Its primary mission is to seek truth. It cannot do so if it closes its own history to examination.
Lee was a dignified, humble man. His sense of duty and honor would cause him to cringe if he ever became the subject of idolatry or the embodiment of myth. Blindly, superficially and reflexively rushing to his defense is no less an affront to history than blindly, superficially and reflexively attacking him. What he needs, what he deserves, and what his record can withstand is the honest appraisal of those who have not made up their minds, who can appreciate the man with all his complexities and contradictions. History is indeed not kind enough to present us with simple morality tales.
More to the point, a university serves its students best by not imposing an orthodox point of view about the past and certainly not the future. Higher education, no less than other institutions, is a victim of our politicized society. The things we do — the courses we teach, the values we espouse, the faculty we hire — should not be subjected to ideological litmus tests.
John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th-century British educator, remains a powerful influence on how we think about a college education. His words remind us to keep our bearings. The faculty should “learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other.” In so doing, they create a culture of learning. “A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom.” Newman concludes, “This is the main purpose of a university in its treatment of its students.”
Ellis has it right when it comes to the role of history. Newman has it right when it comes to the role of the university. But it remains a challenge in our highly divisive times. If any institution should resist the harsh, polarized and emotional discourse of today’s society, and if any institution should model the virtues of calmness, moderation and wisdom, it is a university, especially one named in honor of two individuals who personified precisely those virtues.
Kenneth P. Ruscio is a 1976 graduate of Washington and Lee University. He took office as the university’s 26th president in 2006.
Two W&L Professors Win State's Highest Teaching Honor
Two Washington and Lee University faculty members — James R. Kahn, the John F. Hendon Professor of Economics, and Lesley M. Wheeler, the Henry S. Fox Jr. Professor of English — have won Outstanding Faculty Awards from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) for 2012.
The award recognizes superior accomplishments in teaching, research and public service and is the highest honor for faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities.
Kahn and Wheeler will receive their awards at a luncheon in Richmond on Feb. 16, when they also will join the other 10 recipients for an honorary introduction on the floor of the General Assembly.
Including this year’s winners, seven Washington and Lee faculty members have been honored by SCHEV in the past four years.
This is 26th year for the statewide awards program, and the 12 recipients were selected from a pool of 125 applications based on accomplishments that strongly reflect the missions of their respective institutions.
“This is well-deserved recognition for Jim and Lesley, who have distinguished themselves in their fields and as superb teachers,” said Washington and Lee Acting Provost Robert Strong. “We appreciate that SCHEV has once again chosen to honor our faculty with these important awards.”
James R. Kahn, who received a B.A. in economics from Washington and Lee in 1975, returned to his alma mater in 2000 to lead the University’s interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program. He received both an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Maryland. Kahn taught at the State University of New York-Binghamton (1980–91) and the University of Tennessee (1991–2000). He also held a joint appointment with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Kahn is internationally known as an environmental economist, innovative teacher and leader in both interdisciplinary research and integrative curricular development. Throughout his career, he has pioneered research that integrates economic and ecological concepts. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Economic Approach to Environmental and Natural Resources, which has been released in three editions.
For the past 20 years, he has focused his work on the Amazon, establishing an exchange program with the Federal University of Amazonas, in Brazil, where he has been a collaborating professor since 1992. His research has influenced public policy related to environmental issues in the state of Amazonas and has resulted in intense, transformational experiences for numerous W&L students who have traveled there for study and research.
W&L senior Emily Ackerman called her semester abroad “one of the most enriching and memorable experiences” of her college career. “Never have I had a more enthusiastic and approachable professor with such infectious passion for sharing knowledge,” she wrote in support of his SCHEV nomination. “It is apparent that Professor Kahn finds true joy in watching his students grow, both intellectually and culturally.”
Kahn has also developed the Chesapeake Bay Program through funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It focuses on place-based teaching, which integrates students into the local study of watersheds, land use and Chesapeake Bay.
As Larry Peppers, dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, wrote in support of Kahn’s nomination: “Just as the program in Brazil has brought tremendous educational benefits to his students and economic benefits to the inhabitants of the rain forest in Brazil, so the Chesapeake program will benefit all of the citizens of Virginia and surrounding states who derive so much from this great environmental asset. . . . Kahn’s model of integrating education, research and service is truly global in scope and represents a powerful educational model.”
Kahn’s work has received high praise from many others in his field, including Daniel Simberloff, the Nancy Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Tennessee, who wrote that “few universities have such a dynamic, innovative professor working on so important a range of environmental problems.”
Kahn describes his educational philosophy “as pursuing an interdisciplinary understanding of cause-and-effect relationships, providing transformation experiences for students, helping students make the transition to independent researchers and developing both a global- and place-based learning focus.”
Lesley M. Wheeler is a prize-winning poet and an internationally acclaimed scholar of 20th- and 21st-century poetry. She joined Washington and Lee’s faculty in 1994. She received her B.A. in English from Rutgers University and her Ph.D. in English from Princeton. She teaches poetry and creative writing.
Wheeler has written four books of poetry, including Heterotopia (2010), winner of the 2010 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2011 Library of Virginia Poetry Award, and Heathen (2009). Her scholarly books include Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present (2008). She is the author of more than 15 essays and book chapters and has published over 65 poems in journals, with five forthcoming.
Wheeler has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Foundation and The Virginia Commission for the Arts, among other grantors. She is currently at work on a poetry book, Signal to Noise, and a scholarly book, Poetry, Conversation, Community in the Twenty-First Century, a study of the networks sustaining contemporary poetry.
Wheeler has had a significant impact on Washington and Lee’s curriculum, having helped establish and then co-direct the interdisciplinary Women’s and Gender Studies Program in 2000. She has also developed uncommon classroom experiences to help her students engage with the subject matter. The Haiku Death Match, for example, is a student performance for her course in American Poetry, 1950–Present. She has also led the Glasgow Endowment for Visiting Writers and has significantly diversified poetry programming.
In her nomination letter for Wheeler, Suzanne Keen, the Thomas Broadus Professor of English and herself a former SCHEV winner, wrote: “Steadily productive, devoted to her teaching, experimental and creative, Lesley exemplifies the Washington and Lee ideal of connecting academic life with service to all her communities, including an international network of poets.”
Current and former students heap praise on Wheeler’s classes. “I can safely say that I have never been more moved by subject matter than when I was studying poetry — and its relationship to a surrounding culture, era or community — under Professor Wheeler,” wrote Adam Lewis, a 2010 graduate. Added Adam Hockensmith, of the Class of 2008, “Wheeler is, without a doubt, one of the brightest stars on any faculty in the country, and a true inspiration to the creatively minded.”
Helen Emmitt, NEH Professor of English at Centre College, supported Wheeler’s nomination by writing: “She has a keen sense of literary history and a wonderful way of finding issues that somehow been there all along without being noticed by other scholars.”
In describing her own work for the SCHEV nomination, Wheeler wrote that her “primary commitment as a teacher, scholar, artist, and citizen is to promote poetry as a vital mode of human experience.”
SCHEV established the Outstanding Faculty Awards in 1986 to recognize excellence in teaching, research and service among the faculties of Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities. A special committee of education, business and civic leaders and SCHEV choose the recipients based upon nominees’ contributions to their students, academic disciplines, institutions and communities.
Previous Washington and Lee winners:
Rebecca Benefiel (Classics) 2011
Domnica Radulescu (Romance Languages) 2011
Ellen Mayock (Spanish) 2010
Mark Carey (History) 2009
Erich Uffelman (Chemistry) 2009
Suzanne Keen (English) 2008
William F. Connelly Jr. (Politics) 2007
Harlan Beckley (Religion) 2002
Pamela Simpson (Art History) 1995
Margaret Brouwer (Music) 1994
Andrew McThenia (Law) 1994
Edgar Spencer (Geology) 1990
Sidney Coulling (English) 1989
Brian Murchison (Law) 1988
Philip Cline (Economics) 1987
Leonard Jarrard (Psychology) 1987
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs