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W&L Students Boost Their Community Service

More than half of Washington and Lee’s students engaged in some form of community service during a 12-month period, according to a new report from W&L’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness.

A total of 1,482 W&L students engaged in almost 54,619 documented hours of community service during the year ending on June 30, 2012. Included in those figures are 342 students who engaged in at least 20 hours of community service during a semester. The figures represent an increase of more than 25 percent over the previous year.

Those figures include a range of activities, from service-learning opportunities that are part of academic assignments to numerous student-created and student-run programs.

Students logged a majority of the community-service hours in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They participated in several of the ongoing programs away from campus, however, such as the annual Volunteer Venture, where entering students perform a week of service prior to orientation.

“Although the report documents significant service hours, what is most impressive is the breadth and depth of individual and group community service given by W&L volunteers,” said Bryan Price, assistant provost for institutional effectiveness. “These individuals, singularly and collectively, have a profound impact in the community and in individual lives.”

The significant increase in the hours of volunteer work may be a factor of greater activity, said Price, and is certainly a result of better record-keeping that documents the work. Washington and Lee created a community engagement database for this purpose, and volunteers are using it in greater numbers.

“However, even though we were able to do a more effective job of identifying and documenting the activity, I am also quite sure that many volunteer activities in our community go undocumented, as students work individually or in very small groups to make a difference both here in Lexington and beyond,” Price said.

Some examples of new activities in which the W&L students participate are Student-to-Student, a W&L alternative to the national Big Brother-Big Sister Program, and College Access, a mentoring effort in which W&L students help students at Rockbridge County High School search for and apply to colleges.

In addition to the numerous ways in which the undergraduate students help in the local community, students in the School of Law also participate in several clinics that serve local clients. For instance, since 2003, the Community Legal Practice Center has provided free legal services to low-income residents in the Rockbridge area, with particular emphasis on services for the elderly and for victims of domestic violence. During the 2011-12 academic year, 15 law students gave approximately 6,210 hours of service to local clients.

Several other Law School clinics serve the region, including the Criminal Justice Clinic, the Tax Clinic, the Black Lung Clinic and the Immigration Clinic.

In each of the past two years, Washington and Lee has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction on the basis of its strong institutional commitment to service and its compelling campus-community partnerships that have produced measurable results for the locality.

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

Wilner Named W&L's First Venture for America Fellow

Mikel Wilner, a Washington and Lee University senior from Owings Mills, Md., has been selected as a Venture for America Fellow.

“Honestly I’m ecstatic. The shock hasn’t really worn off yet,” said Wilner of his selection.

Venture for America (VFA) is an organization working to funnel the best and brightest college graduates toward American start-up companies in cities with struggling economies. Its ultimate goal is to immerse talented graduates into the world of start-up companies and encourage them to become socialized and mobilized entrepreneurs, while also assisting start-up companies survive in the rocky economy.

VFA sent its inaugural class of 40 fellows to work in start-ups in Detroit, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Providence. This year, VFA is working to expand by recruiting 80 to 100 fellows and adding companies from cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, and New Haven to their program.

Wilner, a business administration and mathematics double major, is the first W&L student selected for a fellowship. “Venture for America provides people like me with the opportunity to work at a start-up company, which is usually a very risky thing,” said Wilner

Wilner also explained that, as a VFA fellow, if a start-up company were to go under for some reason, the fellows working for that company would then be moved to another company.

“It’s that kind of that security that enables people to go for it and immerse themselves in the start-up culture,” said Wilner.

Although Wilner always knew he would do something in the business field, he said his interest in entrepreneurship was first sparked two summers ago at an internship he had with a Baltimore venture capital firm.

Last summer, Wilner worked for J.P. Morgan and although he believes it was a good experience, he said he knew after a few weeks that the banking industry was not for him.

“I think a lot of business students are pushed in the banking direction without knowing what else there is out there,” said Wilner. “I was fortunate enough to take a step back and have a moment of clarity and realize I definitely belonged in more of an entrepreneurial field.”

Wilner said he values his time at J.P. Morgan because he first heard about VFA from a friend while interning there.

“One thing that influenced me to become involved with Venture for America was the idea of being a part of something that was bigger than ‘I’m gonna get mine’,” said Wilner. “It’s almost patriotic in a sense.”

Jeffrey Shay, the Johnson Professor of Entreneurship and Leadership at W&L, was not surprised at Wilner’s selection for the fellowship.

“I’m glad that Mike’s tenacity to find a truly entrepreneurial opportunity paid off, and it’s no surprise that VFA saw the same desirable characteristics and skills that Mike demonstrates on a daily basis, ” said Shay.

When he graduates in May, Wilner will enter the Venture Fellow Training Camp where he will meet with seasoned investors and entrepreneurs and learn more about the business world in general.

Once in the program, Wilner and the other Fellows are matched with and apply to work at the various companies that partner with VFA. Each fellow is eventually placed depending on which company best aligns with the fellow’s background, skills and experience. While at the training camp, Wilner and the other fellows will assist real businesses in order to gain practical skills to use during their fellowships.

By the conclusion of the training camp Wilner along with the other fellows will be assigned to the start-up company for the next two years. The fellows will also be assigned mentors to advise them throughout their fellowships.

“Hopefully, after the two years of the fellowship I’ll be trying to start my own company,” said Wilner about his future plans.

Applications to become a VFA fellow are still available on the organization’s website and due by Feb. 18. VFA will hold an information session at Washington and Lee on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. in Elrod Commons 345.

— by Sara J. Korash-Schiff ’15

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

A W&L Alum Is Hell on Wheels

Fans of the AMC Network’s series, “Hell on Wheels,” were no doubt delighted to learn that the show will return for a third season. But what Washington and Lee fans might not know is that a W&L alumnus, Mark Richard, of the Class of 1980, is an executive producer and has written several episodes during the show’s first two years.

For the uninitiated, “Hell on Wheels” is a post-Civil War western set in a town that travels with and services the construction of the first transcontinental railroad.

Mark is the author of two award-winning short story collections, “The Ice at the Bottom of the World” and “Charity,” a bestselling novel, “Fishboy,” and, most recently, a highly-praised memoir, “House of Prayer No. 2.” The memoir, now in its fifth printing, was listed as one of the Top 10 books of 2011 by The Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly and was a book-of-the-month selection of The New Yorker.

“Hell on Wheels” is not Mark’s first foray into writing for television. He’s also written for such shows as “Party of Five,” “Chicago Hope” and “Huff.”

In a 2011 interview with the website Blogcritics, Mark talked about writing for television:

Television writing is the most difficult for me. It’s a craft all to itself. So much information to transmit in such a short amount of time. There’s a shorthand to television writing that I am still learning and am a great admirer of when I see it done well. On the other hand, there’s not a lot of room for nuance in a lot of cases. An early producer told me ‘If it’s not on the nose, it’s not on the page.’

He described “Hell on Wheels” as “large in scope – veterans, Irish workers, freed slaves, robber barons, Indians — all colliding on the Great Plains.”

Mark has received numerous awards for his writing, including the PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the Mary Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, and a National Magazine Award for Fiction. He teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at the University of Southern California. You can watch a PBS interview with Mark talking to Tavis Smiley here.

“Hell on Wheels,” which stars Anson Mount, is scheduled to return in the third quarter of 2013 with 10 new one-hour episodes.

W&L Law Student Wins Prestigious Skadden Public Interest Fellowship

Washington and Lee University third-year law student Sam Petsonk has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the Skadden Foundation. These highly-coveted, post-graduate fellowships provide funds to law students who want to devote their professional life to providing legal services to the poor (including the working poor), the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights.

The Skadden Fellowship Program, often described as a “legal Peace Corps,” provides fellows with a salary and benefits consistent with the public interest organization sponsoring the law student’s fellowship application. In Petsonk’s case, this organization is Mountain State Justice, a non-profit, public interest law firm based in Charleston, WV.

Petsonk, who was born and raised in the coal-mining area around Morgantown, West Virginia, will focus his fellowship on representing coal miners who have experienced unsafe working conditions. He will also help miners gain access to a variety of state and federal health services and assist them in public hearings before regulatory agencies.

This is not Petsonk’s first foray into public service for coal miners. After leaving home for college at Brandeis, Petsonk returned to West Virginia with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, helping miners access health services and educating the community on public health and other matters.

“It was only after I left home for a time that I realized how much of who I am I owe to the region and the people of Appalachia,” says Petsonk. “I have always felt powerfully drawn to return to West Virginia and work on these issues.”

Following his service with AmeriCorps, Petsonk worked in the office of U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, where he continued to work on coal miner health and safety issues including black lung disease and safety regulation.

sampetsonk-400x600 W&L Law Student Wins Prestigious Skadden Public Interest FellowshipSam Petsonk ’13L

Petsonk says he chose W&L Law for his legal education in part due to the school’s innovative efforts to involve third-year students in serving the low-wage and working families of the region, and in part because he knew its strong, close-knit alumni network would allow him to find opportunities and connections in his chosen field.

“I am grateful that W&L creates space in the curriculum and in the student experience for students to dig in to their interests and personal aspirations and commitments,” says Petsonk. “There is a certain humanity about this law school that makes it possible to create projects like this that are deeply resonant and personal legal endeavors.”

Rockbridge County was also a fine spot, Petsonk notes, to pursue his passion for old-time music. But for Petsonk, who has played the banjo since childhood and more recently taken up the fiddle, his musical interests go beyond hobby or diversion. Rather, he sees music as an extension of his work.

“Public interest legal advocacy is not just about relationships in a courtroom, it’s about building a community of advocates,” says Petsonk. “Music is a big part of that community and the community of clients I have worked with in the past and will be working with as a fellow.”

The Skadden Fellowship Program was started in 1988 by the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to commemorate the firm’s 40th anniversary and in recognition of the dire need for greater funding for graduating law students to enter public interest law. So far, the Program has funded 677 law school graduates and judicial clerks to work full-time for legal and advocacy organizations. Petsonk is only the second W&L Law student to receive a Skadden Fellowship.

After the fellowship is over, Petsonk fully hopes to remain in West Virginia to continue his work with coal miners. He is dedicated to making sure there are good, safe job opportunities for miners and providing innovative and low cost legal services to the community.

“West Virginians have done the heavy lifting of mining the coal to make the steel to build the factories and cities of this country,” says Petsonk. “This fellowship is just a part of a broader commitment to establishing simple justice for those workers.”

News Contact:
Peter Jetton
School of Law Director of Communications
(540) 458-8782

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Houston Economic Group Honors Fred Griffin '60

Congratulations to Washington and Lee alumnus Fred B. Griffin, of the Class of 1960, for winning the 2013 Quasar Award from The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership (BAHEP).

Fred, or Buzz as W&L classmates will remember him, will receive the award next month at the organization’s 21st Annual Quasar Award Banquet. The Quasar Award is presented each year to a prominent individual “who has contributed greatly to the economic wealth and diversity of the Bay Area Houston region.”

Fred is owner and co-chairman of Griffin Partners, Inc., which operates as a commercial real estate development, management, and leasing company. The company develops office parks, industrial buildings, and healthcare-related complexes, as well as retail shopping centers, including single-tenant, large-scale, and multi-tenant buildings.

In an announcement of the award, the president of BAHEP, Bob Mitchell, said that “Fred Griffin has spent most of his life developing communities that have added greatly to the economic development of the region as well as to the quality of life of its residents.”

Fred responded to the news of the award by saying: “When I learned that I was going to be presented with the 2013 Quasar Award I was almost speechless. For the past 20 years, this award has been given to outstanding men and women who have devoted their careers to help make our lives better. To be included among them is such an honor for which I am very grateful.”

Previous recipients of the award have included Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Houston Mayor Bill White, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and U.S. Senator John Cornyn.

After earning his B.S. degree in physics and engineering at W&L, Buzz received his M.B.A. from the University of Texas. He began his career with Exxon Company USA and began his real estate career with Friendswood Development Company, a subsidiary of Exxon.  In 1980, he formed formed Griffin/Juban Companies, the predecessor to Griffin Partners. The companies have completed ground-up development projects encompassing more than 4,000,000-square feet of corporate office and retail space.

Buzz’s son, Ed, a 1985 W&L graduate, is now president of Griffin Partners.

Electoral College Thriller

On Monday the 50 states cast their votes in the Electoral College, making the results of November’s presidential election official. West Virginia cast its five electoral votes without controversy. But that’s not the way it worked in the novel by Washington and Lee law alumnus Brent Wolfingbarger.

Brent, a member of the W&L law class of 1993, is the author of “The Dirty Secret” (Smallridge Publishing, 2012), a political thriller set in his home state of West Virginia.

Currently a deputy director in the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Office of the Inspector General in Washington, Brent began his legal career in Elkins, W.Va., before opening his own practice in Charleston where he handled a variety of cases, including several involving election law. He argued two of those election law cases before the W.Va. Supreme Court.

As he told the West Virginia Gazette-Mail in an extensive interview in November, one of those cases was a major impetus for his novel:

“…I represented Jennings Miller in an election law dispute in Boone County where two candidates in the primary for assessor were separated by 18 votes. Every challenged ballot mattered. Every absentee ballot mattered. Jennings won that canvas. The opponent didn’t request a recount in time. We ended up in front of the state Supreme Court and won.

“That experience, that counting every ballot, crystallized my thinking. I understood how I could make it tie in with a book. I wanted it to be a West Virginia book.”

Back in October, when the presidential campaign was at its peak, the Kindle version of “The Dirty Secret” moved up to No. 9 on Kindle’s list of top 10 political thrillers. The novel has gotten plenty of five-star reviews, too.

The book is available in the alumni section of the W&L’s University Store and also on Amazon.

Evans '07 on the Forbes List

Forbes Magazine has tabbed Washington and Lee alumna Kelly Evans, of the Class of 2007, to its annual list of 30 Under 30: Media — “the next wave of power players in the news and information industries.”

Kelly is an on-air correspondent with CNBC, based in London. She reports for the network’s business day program and anchors “Worldwide Exchange” on CNBC Europe.

She joined CNBC in February 2012 after working as a reporter and columnist for The Wall Street Journal since 2007. Not only did she write the “Ahead of the Tape” column and write for “Heard on the Street” for the Journal, but she also hosted the daily “News Hub” program on WSJ.com.

In its description of Kelly, Forbes wrote that “she’s one of the recognizable young faces on CNBC, where she reports on ‘Squawk Box’ and throughout the day. She honed her financial news chops as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal.”

Of course, Kelly actually began honing her chops on “The Rockbridge Report” in W&L’s Reid Hall.

W&L Historian Pens New York Times Op-Ed

An op-ed by Washington and Lee historian Rachel Schnepper in Saturday’s New York Times explores the history of the so-called “war on Christmas.”

Rachel, who’s in her second year at W&L as a Mellon Junior Faculty Fellow, is working on a book titled “Preachers, Polemicists, and Print: Translatlantic Religious Experiences and the English Revolution.” She is examining the explosion of printed matter on churches in the Atlantic colonies published in the 1640s and 1650s.

In her Times piece, “Yuletide’s Outlaws,” Rachel compares the current controversy in the United States over what some cite as censorship or avoidance of the term “Christmas” in advertising with a similar historic instance.

As she observes: “The contemporary War on Christmas pales in comparison to the first — a war that was waged not by retailers but by Puritans who considered the destruction of Christmas necessary to the construction of their godly society.”

In fact, as Rachel notes, Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed the celebration of Christmas and, between 1659 and 1681, fined anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony five shillings.

You can read Rachel’s piece on the New York Times site, where you may need a password, or on the History News Network site.

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Former Virginia State Senator Hopkins Dies; WWII Grad of W&L

The passing on Dec. 11 of William B. Hopkins Sr. has produced a substantial profile and an admiring editorial in the Roanoke Times. He was a member of the Washington and Lee Classes of 1942 and 1944 Law.

As a respected and successful member of Virginia’s General Assembly from 1960 to 1980, Bill enriched both the state and his home of Roanoke. A Democratic member of the Virginia Senate, he was that body’s majority leader from 1972 to 1976. He was a key factor in the success of Roanoke’s Center in the Square and the Science Museum of Western Virginia.

“The benefits of his labors . . . still are felt in the greater efficiency of state government, and greater opportunities for children in Southwest Virginia to expand their horizons,” opined the newspaper.

The Roanoke Times profile is well worth a read, as is the editorial.

The president of the Martin, Hopkins & Lemon law firm, Bill belonged to the generation of W&L alumni whose education here was compressed due to World War II. After receiving a B.A., he left his law studies at W&L in 1942 and became a Marine, serving in the South Pacific. During the Korean War he also saw combat, at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He wrote two books about his wartime experiences.

Two members of his family also attended W&L: his son William B. Hopkins Jr., Class of 1976, and his granddaughter Virginia S. Hopkins, Class of 2008.

W&L's Black Lung Clinic Featured on WMRA

Timothy MacDonnell, associate clinical professor of law and director of the Black Lung Clinic at Washington and Lee School of Law, appeared on NPR affiliate WMRA’s “Virginia Insight” show on Thursday, Dec. 13, to discuss the work of the Black Lung Clinic.

Tim has called the clinic’s clients some of the hardest-working, most dedicated people he has ever met. And, he said, it is because of that dedication that those people are now “dying by inches.”

The Black Lung Clinic assists coal miners and their survivors who are pursuing federal black lung benefits. Law students, working with law faculty, represent the clients and evaluate claims, develop evidence, conduct discovery, depositions and hearings, and write motions, arguments and appellate briefs.

In attempting to collect benefits, miners and their survivors face formidable teams of lawyers, paralegals and doctors that the coal companies assemble to challenge these claims. The Black Lung Clinic has a success rate roughly five times the national average. Although the clinic is unable to represent every request for representation, it has represented about 200 clients since 1996.

Tim, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is a former legal advisor to the Iraqi High Tribunal, Baghdad, Iraq, and a former special assistant United States attorney.

“Virginia Insight,” hosted by Tom Graham, is a live call-in show. Listen to the archive of Tim’s appearance below:

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