Feature Stories Campus Events

Nellie Rice Retires after 53 Years at W&L

It’s the end of an era. After 53 years and 7 months at Washington and Lee, Nellie Rice is retiring. Her last day is today, Friday, Aug. 31.

A member of the Student Affairs staff since 1991, she served as the executive assistant to the vice president for student affairs and dean of students. In that capacity, she coordinated Parents and Family Weekend, one of the most popular and successful events on the University calendar every fall.

“I am so grateful to Nellie for all she has done for me during the last year,” said Sidney Evans, who became vice president of student affairs and dean of students in June 2011. “She has patiently guided me through processes large and small, always with a smile on her face. I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her.”

Nellie’s first day at W&L was Feb. 1, 1959, the year that Evans Dining Hall and Baker and Davis residence halls were completed. Before becoming a mainstay of Student Affairs, she worked in the Alumni Office and for the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps).

Nellie also served her colleagues all over campus through her contributions to the Office Staff Employee Advisory Committee and the University Safety/Environmental Committee.

She even shared in winning an award of excellence from the Printing Industries of Virginia, for the brochure for the 2009 Parents and Family Weekend, which she created in partnership with Communications and Public Affairs.

Nellie worked with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, arranging for visiting families to stay with locals during Parents and Family Weekend rather than at hotels; the families then donated money to Habitat. “The program is a lifesaver to those parents who realize at the last minute they can attend but are unable to find motel rooms,” Nellie said last year, “or to those parents who just want to stay with a local family.”

A celebration of Nellie’s stellar career at W&L will take place later this fall.


W&L Professor Advises Caution with Facebook IPO

By Adam Schwartz
Lawrence Term Professor of Business Administration

The Facebook IPO reminds me of two pieces of advice to avoid “classic blunders” from the character Vizzini in the movie “The Princess Bride.” As he tells the Man in Black: “The most famous . . . is ’never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!’ “

For finance, there are two classic blunders: Entering a market buy order for an IPO at the open on the first day of trading, and paying a multiple of more than 50 for any stock without a strong earnings growth story.

Researchers have shown IPO shares to underperform the market. In a study of 7,531 IPO offerings from 1980 to 2010, Jay Ritter, the Cordell Professor of Finance at the University of Florida, finds that the newly issued shares underperformed the market index by almost 20 percent in their first three years of issue.


AUDIO:


You might counter, “Well, some IPOs go up 100 percent on the first day.” True. There is sometimes an initial run-up on the first day. If the IPO is worth owning, you won’t get any shares at the initial price. Your market order will usually fill after the run-up has occurred (over $40 for Facebook, if I remember correctly).

I would avoid IPOs in the first few months after issue before the lock-up restrictions are lifted. Facebook investors are well aware that an additional 1.3 billion shares of the stock will be eligible to trade in November.

The biggest reason for the Facebook drop is simply that it was overpriced. Facebook trades at a very high multiple and doesn’t pay a dividend. Even at a price of $20, Facebook is still trading at almost 69 times earnings. Other high-growth tech stocks don’t trade at such a high P/E multiple. According to Yahoo Finance, awesome Apple trades at only 15 times earnings, and Google at only 20 times earnings. Facebook trades at a high P/E multiple, because the market is expecting a great deal of earnings growth. If that growth doesn’t materialize, the multiple of Facebook stock might fall.

The price of a stock is equal to the earnings times the P/E multiple. There is a great deal of risk even at $20 a share. If Facebook doesn’t post great earnings for several quarters, the price could drop lower still.

Although I’m not always right, I would personally rather hold shares in an S&P 500 index fund than Facebook shares at the current price. I don’t see how they can grow fast enough to justify a multiple of 69, unless they come up with a better revenue model—or a planet without a social network pulls up next to

Gerry Lenfest, Hall of Famer

H.F. (Gerry) Lenfest — Washington and Lee alumnus, benefactor and former trustee — received another major honor recently, when The Cable Center inducted him into the 2012 Cable Hall of Fame.

A committee of industry peers and leaders chooses honorees based on their outstanding dedication to and impact on the cable industry. Among the other 2012 Hall of Famers are newsman and talk show host Larry King and Debra L. Lee, chairman and CEO of BET Networks.

In a video tribute to Gerry (Classes of 1953, 1955 Law) as part of the induction ceremonies, Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast, said that Gerry is “so persuasive. He’s clearly smarter than almost anybody I’ve ever met. He was a lawyer, he’s a businessman, he’s an entrepreneur. Now, of course, he’s one of the great philanthropists in America.”

The short video below includes an interview with Gerry that’s well worth watching:


A Summer Going in Circles

TJ Fisher, a member of the Washington and Lee Class of 2015, grew up just a 15-minute ride from Maryland’s Glen Echo Park. He’d go to the park with his family and ride the tigers and rabbits and lions on the historic 1921 Dentzel Carousel.

Those rides left a lasting impression on TJ, and this summer he helped visitors to Glen Echo Park form their own lasting impressions and fond memories when he worked as one of the carousel’s operators and historic preservationists. That latter title meant that TJ helped keep the 91-year-old carousel running, doing everything from checking the oil to figuring out why an instrument in the Wurlitzer was off key.

In this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine (Aug. 26), TJ wrote a wonderful essay about his summer experience with the carousel for the magazine’s “First Person” feature.

TJ plans to major in history and theater with a museum studies minor; his work with the carousel combined all three of those areas. He studied the history of the carousel and of the 1926 Wurlitzer band organ. He even learned how to create new music for that organ, one of only 12 left, on paper rolls. As he wrote in the Post, he considered himself an entertainer more than an operator, telling the carousel’s story to its patrons.

Be sure to read TJ’s piece and enjoy the photos he provided in the gallery below:


New Pre-orientation Program at W&L Encourages Student Leadership

This week, 12 incoming students at Washington and Lee University are taking part in the new Leadership Venture pre-orientation program to develop their leadership skills. The aim is for the students not only to come away with an understanding of the foundations of leadership, but also to develop their personal vision and mission for leadership on campus.

Leadership Venture represents the third track in W&L’s Leading Edge pre-orientation program, which brings entering students together for the week before they undergo orientation with the entire class beginning on Saturday, Sept. 1.The two other tracks are the Appalachian Adventure, with students hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail, and the Volunteer Venture, with students performing volunteer work in one of six cities.

Sidney Evans, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at W&L, proposed the new program on leadership in response to a recent Princeton University study on the decline of women in leadership roles during college. “One of the things the study talked about was the importance of getting in front of women at the very beginning of their college career, to get them talking about leadership,” explains Evans.

As they developed the idea, Evans and Tamara Y. Futrell, the associate dean of students at W&L, who directs the program, determined that early introduction to leadership study would benefit all participants.

“I’m glad they expanded it to include men,” said Pasquale (Paqui) Toscano, of Kettering, Ohio. “It’s really great that all of us come from such diverse backgrounds — both gender and geography — because it adds to the texture of the experience.”

Futrell developed the basis of the program with the help of Brodie Gregory, a 2003 graduate of W&L and current president of the university’s alumni association. Gregory, who holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, is an expert in leadership and a former visiting professor of psychology at W&L. Megan Schneider joined Student Affairs this academic year in the new position of associate director of leadership and residential learning initiatives. She oversees leadership programming on campus, and created the curriculum and activities for Leadership Venture as well as serving as the lead facilitator.

With 28 applicants this first year, the organizers expanded their original aim of recruiting 10 students — five women and five men —to 12. Applicants had to submit essays describing what leadership means to them, their own perspective on leadership, and the characteristics and behaviors of effective leaders.

The students spent two and a half days this week on campus examining the foundations of leadership, leadership theory, what the students admire in leaders, and what they see as their own strengths in leadership. “We’ve learned different approaches to leadership and how it can be situational, and the different aspects that make a leader,” said Hannah Howard, a first-year student from Waco, Texas. “We’ve also learned how people you would originally not expect to be leaders are actually some of the best ones we have. While the other possibilities for trips before orientation sounded great and a lot of fun, I’m really glad I got into Leadership Venture, because it’s been fun, and we’re learning a lot.”

To help the students identify their individual strengths in leadership, Futrell purchased books that allowed them to go online, answer questions, and establish five strengths they should develop during the program and afterwards. For example, is the student’s strength in discipline or harmony; in being a developer, a relater or a learner?

“I always thought of myself as somewhat of a leader, but by no means the finished product,” said Arriana Nastoff, of Cincinnati, Ohio. “I hope this will help me develop some of the areas I know I need to develop.”

For the rest of the week, the students are in Washington, D.C., to meet with W&L alumni. The alumni will talk about their own involvement in leadership when they were students at Washington and Lee, how those experiences translated into their current careers, and how their leadership style has evolved.

“It’s really exciting, because we have alumni who are really strong in their fields and have been able to secure meetings with some other leaders, including Rebecca Blank, the acting secretary of commerce,” said Futrell. Other alumni the students will meet are Bennett Ross, of the Class of 1983, a partner in the law firm Wiley Rein L.L.L.P., and a trustee of W&L; Meredith Attwell Baker, of the Class of 1990, senior vice president of Comcast and former member of the Federal Communications Commission; and Dr. Nicole Ehrhardt, of the Class of 1998, an endocrinologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Trip leaders are senior Kahena Joubert and junior Trevor (Trey) Hatcher.

The students are also learning about the opportunities for leadership on campus and in the community. “The hope is that the Leadership Venture students will want to continue to be involved in leadership development throughout their time at W&L,” said Futrell. “It’s not about just serving in formal leadership roles, but being invested in being educated leaders as well.”

News Contact:
Sarah Tschiggfrie
News Director
stschiggfrie@wlu.edu
540-458-8235

Related //

From the Magazine: Q&A with Law Dean Nora Demleitner

Nora V. Demleitner is the new dean of the Law School. She becomes the first woman to hold that position and is the 17th dean in the 145-year history of W&L’s law school. She also holds the Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professorship in Law.

Where are you from? Where did you go to college and law school?

I was born and grew up in Bavaria, Germany. All my family is German, but thanks to amazing parents, who encouraged me to study abroad and had saved enough money to support my stud­ies, I ended up attending Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

Washington and Lee has brought back many fond memories of the fabulous three years I spent at Bates. After college I attended Yale Law School, and subsequently earned an LL.M. in interna­tional and comparative law from Georgetown Law Center.

What drew you to the legal profession?

My parents were avid readers, and early on I discovered some Perry Mason mysteries (in translation) in our house. My father and I early on spent many an evening and Sunday afternoon dis­cussing the lines of argument in the mysteries, the identities of the offender and anything else that had to do with the law. He often re-read the books just to talk to me.

I am confident he would be happy to know that criminal law, sentencing and collateral sanctions have become my academic passions.

How did you become interested in your area of sentencing and collateral sentencing consequences?

Part of this interest goes back to my excitement about criminal law issues in general. The late Professor Dan Freed is to credit—or blame—for my interest in sentencing. At a time when the federal sentencing guidelines were only a few years old, I took a sentenc­ing seminar with him, which riveted me. As part of the class, he secured a travel grant that allowed me twice to go to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to observe a state court judge and interview her about her sentencing practice. Inge Johnson, who is now a federal district court judge, was amazing. As a Danish LL.M. student at the Uni­versity of Alabama Law School, she met her future husband, also a lawyer, and ended up staying. Ultimately she was elected to the state bench and appointed to the federal court. What a role model for a then 24-year-old immigrant from Germany.

Collateral sanctions came a few years later. To explain, collateral sanctions are all those sanctions that befall an offender upon conviction, often automatically, usually without being an­nounced in court. Among them are felon disenfranchisement, deportation, denial of welfare benefits. I began to focus on these consequences when my husband, who is a practicing lawyer, was retained by a woman in nursing school who was trying to fight a very long exclusion from the Medicare program because she had pled guilty to a minor role in a fraud scheme years earlier in ex­change for a probationary sentence. At the time, she had no idea that the guilty plea would prevent her from working as a nurse. It was particularly irksome, as the two major players in the alleged conspiracy had fought the charges and won—and consequently could continue to work in the medical field. If the nursing student had known at the time of the collateral consequences, she might have fought the charges as well.

The situation of this woman, who was devoted to becoming a nurse after having taken care of her very ill husband for years, struck me as inequitable and unfair, and it piqued my interest. As I learned quickly, the United States has one of the most exclusion­ary regimes of collateral sanctions imaginable, concealed from view, often racially discriminatory, and overall harsh. The panoply of collateral sanctions in any state has made it impossible to com­pile them all. And their overall impact on an offender often leads to greater exclusion and recidivism rather than provide assistance with reintegration.

One example may highlight the irony of this regime: Many prisons teach inmates the skills to qualify as barbers; in many of the states in which these prisons are located, convicted felons are ineligible for a barber license. While we may agree that some­one who committed assault with a knife should perhaps not be licensed as a barber, it is far less understandable why a drug or fraud conviction should have this impact.

You clerked for the Hon. Sam Alito. What was that experi­ence like?

It was a wonderful experience clerking for now Justice Alito, who at the time was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The justice is an excellent mentor and teacher. I could not have worked for someone who cherishes the law more and believes in and models integrity and hard work. On top of it, Justice Alito has a marvelous sense of dry humor.

The justice never once asked anything of his clerks that he would not do himself. While many judges give their clerks the pro se cases, which are hard to decipher, he dealt with all of them himself.

Let me give you a few examples of some of the events in chambers that surely shaped me. On integrity: Justice Alito kept a role of stamps in his desk to assure that no personal letter would go out charged to the government. On hard work and the value of family: Every night the justice left in time to have dinner with his family. Unfailingly, he took two heavy bags, filled with briefs, with him to read after dinner. Today I am trying to live up to his example—and will blame him for a bad back carrying those heavy bags home.

Did you think you’d ever move from teaching into academ­ic administration?

I love being an academic—I enjoy teaching and scholarly pursuits. However, when the then dean at Hofstra Law School, Aaron Twerski, asked me to become his academic dean, I did not hesitate. It was a steep learning experience, but I was proud to be able to help shape the academic component of the law school and support the faculty in its creative endeavors.

Sometimes being in the right (or some would say, wrong) place at the time makes all the difference. I did not plan my career paths but have enjoyed every part of both my scholarly and my administrative career.

Why W&L?

What a question! I firmly believe that there is no other law school in the United States that is as exciting and has as much potential as W&L. It is already a very fine law school with a great history, but its future strikes me as even brighter in light of its creative and innovative faculty, who are dedicated to their students and the institution, the support from the University and its board, and a large and strong group of supportive alumni.

The 3L curriculum is the most forward-looking and com­prehensive curricular reform in any law school, and the first-year curriculum combines the traditional courses with those that prepare law students for practice in the 21st century.

Even during my initial visit, I was struck by the caliber and dedication of everyone and have gained additional admiration and respect for faculty, administrators and all University person­nel with whom I have interacted. I do want to single out Mark Grunewald, the interim dean, for special recognition. I could not have wished for a more thoughtful and helpful predecessor than Mark. His judgment is unfailingly excellent, and I have truly en­joyed spending time with him. I am looking forward to continu­ing to work closely with him and all members of the faculty and administration in the years to come.

It is an honor to serve Washington and Lee’s Law School as a dean and to be able to build on the impressive foundation those preceding me have built.

What are your plans for the Law School’s future?

Initially, I have to listen and learn so much more about the Law School and the University with its incredible people, resources and programs that might provide exciting synergies with the Law School. Whenever I mention to anybody—and I truly mean anyone—that I am the incoming dean at W&L Law, I find out about another project, another exciting initiative, another confer­ence that is in the planning stages. I want to support innovation, initiative and creativity, and that means first learning about all the initiatives and then hopefully bringing them together in a meaningful way so that we can tell the W&L story more loudly within the legal academy, to potential applicants and to potential employers.

In terms of priorities, one of my first goals will be to focus on student and graduate employment. As a professional school, our preeminent emphasis has to be on helping our students gain meaningful employment upon graduation, which allows them to build a successful career. As I learned in my clerkship, it is impor­tant to have an employer who presents a strong professional role model and who is invested in the professional development and learning of the young lawyers working with him or her. I hope and wish that each of our graduates will be in a position to have that experience, in a clerkship, private practice, a not-for-profit setting or in government service.

To help create these opportunities, I plan on meeting with alumni around the country and non-alumni employers who might be interested in hiring our students. I hope you will all join me in this effort! Ultimately, the test of the third-year curriculum will be in the success of our graduates in the marketplace.

As part of these employment efforts, we will also consider other strategic opportunities in the Washington market, as well as around the country. We will explore more public service posi­tions for our graduates. The employment efforts may have to be matched by an attempt to expand our public service opportu­nities within the Law School and the need to expand our loan forgiveness program.

We also have to be able to adjust to some of the coming changes that will impact the legal profession and our country. One of our goals will be to increase overall diversity in the Law School. In conjunction with this effort, we will continue build­ing programs that are focused outside the borders of the United States, as the practice of law will likely be increasingly across international borders.

Those opportunities are part of the ongoing efforts to improve our curriculum. We will continue to hone the third year and then will start taking a close look at the second year, to which admittedly no other school is paying much atten­tion at this point. We will also respond to the teaching chal­lenges brought by enhanced technology. In light of increasing open-source access to information and even great teaching, it becomes crucial for us to enhance our students’ learning in novel ways. As part of this effort, I expect us to explore the use of online education as well, perhaps with the goal of turning the classroom experience into collaborative team-based learning and teaching tutorials.

What are the greatest challenges facing legal education today?

The value proposition of law school: tuition and employment prospects. All of higher education has to learn how to control tuition increases going forward. This will be challenging and may require substantial structural changes. A number of mem­bers of our faculty have already given serious thought to the tuition and cost structure, and I expect that institutionally we will take a lead in that area as well.

On the employment front, I hope to create new opportuni­ties for our students, inside and outside the law. For that reason, we will begin strategic conversations with other institutions about possible joint degree programs and other career-enhanc­ing initiatives.

W&L’s Third-Year Program is well underway. What’s next for the program?

I am excited about attending some of our third-year simula­tion classes and the immersions. My goal is to be better able to convey the incredible richness of the third-year curriculum to various audiences. We will likely bring industry leaders to the Law School to give them a real feel for our innovations and to expose our students to the most advanced thinking in the profession.

Of course, the academic dean, together with Dean Mary Natkin, will keep an eye on the quality of courses offered and placements. We will try to add cutting-edge simulation courses that respond to market changes and bring together our first-rate faculty with leading practitioners. It will be an exciting under­taking, and I am thrilled to find myself in the company of deep thinkers who are also able to bring true change to an institution.

What book(s) would you hope every incoming law stu­dent would have read?

Good literature is most important. Read well-written, thoughtful and interesting books. One may give some thought to the classics: Albert Camus’ “The Stranger,” Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and, of course, Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”; not high literature but surely spellbinding is John Grisham’s very first book, “A Time to Kill”; throw in some Shakespeare and mix it all up with some of Martin Luther King’s great speeches and “The Federalist Papers.”

There are so many great books out that I am always loath to recommend some over others. Here are a few of my recent favorites. Nancy Gertner’s “In Defense of Women: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Advocate” is an inspiring ac­count of lawyering and an inspirational read for those who believe law should be about justice. Tom Morgan’s “The Vanishing American Lawyer” provides an insightful account into the changes in the legal profession.

Scott Turrow’s “One L” has become a classic. It should go on the must-read list—not because it reflects reality in to­day’s law school but because it has become part of the shared lingo of lawyers today—for the same reason, one should read (or watch) “The Paper Chase.”

How do you like to spend your downtime?

Other than reading, which is largely a solitary activity, any­thing I can do with my family: traveling, enjoying good food, hiking, skiing, swimming.

My two children, Cordell, 11, and Venetia, 8, make me laugh, challenge me, keep me humble and “fix” iPhones, iPads and any other technical gadgets. My husband, Michael, is a fabulous father and a great supporter of my work—and he makes sure that I never lose sight of what he considers the most important constituency: students. My mother, who lives with us, is my worst critic—no others needed—and makes sure I make time for our family. Together they are quite a combination, and I try to spend every free minute with them.

We are looking forward to exploring the Lexington area and all of Virginia and surrounding states. All of us are already excited about fall hikes and winter skiing in our new neighborhood. And, of course, I will make sure we also get to travel abroad regularly—one of my passions.

Related //

Goldsmith to Address W&L's Fall Convocation

Arthur H. Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University, will address the 2012 Fall Convocation on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 5:30 p.m. in the Warner Center.

Goldsmith’s address is titled “Finding Your Path to a Life Well Lived.”

• Watch Fall Convocation Live

Washington and Lee will open its 264th academic year and the 164th year of the School of Law when classes begin. The law school orientation begins on Aug. 22 with the first day of classes on Aug. 27. Orientation for new undergraduate students begins on Sept. 1, and class begin on Sept. 6.

Goldsmith joined the W&L faculty in 1990 after having taught at the University of Connecticut and the University of North Carolina. He also held visiting professorships at Wake Forest, Victoria University in New Zealand and Bond University in Australia. He was appointed to the Stephens Professorship in 1997 and chaired the department of economics from 1998 to 2003.

Goldsmith received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Bridgeport and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois.

His areas of specialization include labor economics, the economics of race and ethnicity, macroeconomics, and economic psychology, including the psychological impact of long-term unemployment. He has published extensively and lectures widely at economic and academic conferences. He belongs to the American Economics Association, is currently vice president of the Southern Economic Association, serves on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics, and is a member of the National Economic Association.

In 2008, Goldsmith won the inaugural H. Hiter Harris Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges.

The convocation is open to the public.

News Contact:
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs
jhanna@wlu.edu
(540) 458-8459

Silver Linings for Phil Timp '79

A little more than a year has passed since Phil Timp, a 1979 Washington and Lee graduate, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS.

A journalism major at W&L who once worked as a city editor for the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier before embarking on a public relations career, Phil was a marathon runner and a triathlete. Now he walks with a cane, wears a brace on his lower right leg, and uses a motorized chair in the Bristol, Tenn., offices of Corporate Image, where he is a senior vice president.

Phil, his family and their friends have established Team Timp, which sponsors fund-raising activities to support the ALS Association. Many of those activities are based on Phil’s speaking engagements throughout the tri-state area and beyond. He also has produced a CD, “Silver Linings,” on which he tells “how to rejoice in life in the face of some of life’s most daunting obstacles.”

Long before he began experiencing the symptoms of ALS, Phil was familiar with daunting obstacles. His 30-year-old daughter, Beth, has battled Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder of the brain that affects females almost exclusively, throughout her life. In 1998, Phil and his wife, Cindy, started The Beth Foundation to honor their daughter, who was 14 when she was diagnosed. The foundation assists families with children who have rare or severe disorders and provides funding for research. For many years, Phil has been speaking about how his family has dealt with Beth’s illness.

“Beth has given us the blueprint for courage,” Timp told the Bristol Herald Courier in May. “She’s had thousands of grand mal seizures, she’s lost her ability to talk and walk and she’s had Scoleosis surgery. Her courage is amazing. It’s amazing that we still have her at 30 years.”

In an article in May, this one in the Johnson City (Tenn.) Press, Phil connected Beth’s illness with his own: “After 30 years of all Beth’s struggles, my wife and I thought we were finally on the down hill. Then this thing. What it’s caused us to do is realize that as hard as we thought we had lived, we were only living life at 80 percent and we needed to ratchet that up to 110 percent.”

Praised for his courage in the face of these challenges, Phil says his underlying philosophy can be found in his statement on the front of the Team Timp website: “In this special life where Mount Everest seems to always be out in front of me, I have gained the perspective that the greatest Silver Lining of all is God’s complete intervention in every moment of my life!”


W&L's Gavaler Discusses Superheroes on WMRA's “Virginia Insight”

Chris Gavaler, visiting assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University, discussed the literary genre of superheroes on NPR affiliate WMRA’s “Virginia Insight” show on Monday (Aug. 27).

Chris, who teaches a Spring Term course on the early development of the superhero character and narrative form, has been studying comic book characters for years — both as a scholar and as a fan.  His findings show that our choice in superheroes can reveal a lot about each of us as individuals, and about our society as a whole.

In addition to his scholarly research, Chris created and maintains the blog “The Patron Saint of Super Heroes.” He is also the author of the novels “School for Tricksters” (Southern Methodist University Press) and “Pretend I’m Not Here” (HarperCollins).

Hosted by Tom Graham, “Virginia Insight” is a live call-in show. WMRA is found at 89.9 in Lexington, 90.7 in Harrisonburg and 103.5 in Charlottesville. Listen to the program below:


A Shakey Award for W&L Alum Overholtzer

Congratulations are in order for Adam Overholtzer, of the Washington and Lee Class of 2004, who captured an award called “the Shakey” for a promotional video that he helped produce.

Adam’s video won the prize at the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s annual conference in July. According to the AAAI, the goal of the competition is “to show the world how much fun AI is by documenting exciting artificial intelligence advances in research, education, and application.”

The Oscar-like Shakeys are modeled on Shakey the Robot, the first mobile robot able to reason about its surroundings. The Stanford Research Institute developed it in 1966.

Adam’s winning video promotes an iPad app on which he’s worked as an interaction designer at SRI International’s Artificial Intelligence System. Called “Inquire,”  it is the prototype of an intelligent textbook. As students read the text (based on “Campbell Biology,” one of the most popular college-level introductory textbooks), they can highlight concepts and get definitions. Or they are prompted to ask their own questions, and the software, using artificial intelligence, guides them to the answer.

The app is still in the testing phase; here’s an article from New Scientist that gives a good description of what it hopes to do.

SRI International is a Silicon Valley nonprofit research institute whose work has included development of the voice-enabled virtual personal assistant, Siri, that was incorporated in the Apple iPhone.

As an undergrad computer science major, Adam worked with Simon Levy in the W&L Computer Science Department on a video game designed to make the challenge by computerized “opponents” less predictable. He and Simon presented a paper on the game at the First Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference in 2005. He received a master’s in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon. And because, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it’s interesting to note that Adam is the son of Jeff Overholtzer, the manager of strategic planning and communication in W&L’s Information Technology Services.