Feature Stories Campus Events

Grant Benefits Owls, Bees, Squirrels–and Local Schoolchildren

Screech owls have two new nests, squirrels are better protected from cars, soil erosion has been remedied and pollinators will soon have a special garden.

Lexington elementary schoolchildren undertook these projects this school year through a partnership of Washington and Lee University, Boxerwood Nature Center and local schools.

The projects were made possible by a competitive, three-year grant to Boxerwood from the NOAA/B-WET program—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training, an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant, experiential learning in the K-12 environment.

“The grant was looking for a collaborative effort between a university and a nonprofit that improved science education in schools,” said Lenna Ojure, director of teacher education and associate professor of education at W&L.

Ojure and Haley Sigler, assistant director of teacher education and assistant professor of education, helped to design and teach a professional development program on inquiry science to a core of local schoolteachers using Boxerwood’s facilities. This is a hands-on teaching method that involves schoolchildren trying to answer a question through research, gathering data, analyzing it and making a proposal to do something about what they have discovered.

The teachers trained through the program with W&L’s teacher education faculty to become leaders in their schools and to help other teachers who might want to undertake a similar project.

“This is also good for W&L’s program in teacher education,” said Ojure, “because we get to stay up to date with the current thinking on teaching science at the elementary level and to develop good relationships with local teachers, so they are more open to having our students in their classrooms.”

Read more:

The NOAA/BWET program
Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden

Stoler to Present Griffith Lecture at W&L

Mark Stoler, editor of the George C. Marshall Papers, will present the Robert S. Griffith ’52 Lecture at Washington and Lee University on Tuesday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Northen Auditorium of the Leyburn Library.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is titled “George C. Marshall and the Creation of Israel: The Partition and Recognition of Controversies, 1947-48.”

Stoler, who is serving as the Griffith Visiting Scholar at Washington and Lee, is professor emeritus of history at the University of Vermont.

Stoler’s areas of expertise include U.S. diplomatic and military history and World War II. He is the author of the 1989 volume, “George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century.” He has also written about a number of other topics related to World War II, as well as U.S. foreign policy.

The winner of several major teaching awards at the University of Vermont, Stoler is former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and a former trustee of the Society for Military History.

He earned his B.A. at the City College of New York and his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison He joined the faculty at Vermont in 1970 and became professor emeritus in 2007.

The Robert S. Griffith Jr. ’52 Visiting Scholar Fund, established in 2006 by Mrs. Helen C. Griffith in memory of her husband, sponsors distinguished visiting teachers and speakers in the areas of history, current events, politics or business. This fund provides assistance for the visiting scholar to be on campus for an extended stay in order to benefit students, faculty and the community through extensive interactions and teaching.

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Behind the Scenes at the Super Bowl

When we watch an enormous, worldwide sporting event on TV like the Super Bowl XLVII, we might enjoy the sets without really thinking about how they got there and who built them. Thanks to a behind-the-scenes account from Thomas Meric III, a 2012 graduate of Washington and Lee, we know a lot more about that process as it unfolded in New Orleans this year.

Thomas graduated with a B.A. in economics and theater. He’s from New Orleans and is working for that city’s Solomon Group, which says on its website that it creates “permanent museum exhibits, one-night-only live events and everything in between.” It provides design, project management, lighting, audiovisuals, multimedia. Thomas’ W&L theater experience with lighting design, stage management and sound mixing are paying off in his work at Solomon as a production coordinator.

For the Super Bowl, that meant getting down to work last August, when CBS contracted with the company to build three broadcast sets, design a bridge for broadcast and transmission cables, design and build hospitality suites, and light signage on several buildings, including the Superdome.

That was the easy part. “Once January rolled around,” Thomas wrote in an e-mail to his friends at the W&L Theater Department, “everything got crazy.”

For instance, installing the bridge took five days of work from midnight to 5 a.m. “It rained almost the entire time and was 35 degrees, outrageous fun,” wrote Thomas. He spent his days riding his bike from installation to installation, working around the clock and not getting much in the way of sleep or nourishment, along with the rest of his colleagues.

Thomas offered another anecdote: “We designed the lighting for some signage at the aquarium, but because of the site, we could not leave the lighting board there overnight. I volunteered to turn the lights on every night and off every morning for a week, and because of the lighting board situation, I had to walk down the street from our office to the aquarium with a lighting console and monitor. It was nine blocks and funny to think about now, but navigating through thousands of people with a lighting board is not as easy as other things.”

He also took photographs of the company’s Super Bowl work that wound up in two articles on the LiveDesign website. You can read them here and here.

Thomas has another passion: sailing. We blogged about his team in August 2011.

W&L's Medieval Renaissance Studies Program Presents “Commedia Meets Hamlet!? A Really Dumb Show”

The Medieval Renaissance Studies program at Washington and Lee University is sponsoring “Commedia Meets Hamlet!? A Really Dumb Show.” The event will be Friday, May 3, at 4 p.m. in Northen Auditorium with reception to follow. This performance is free and open to the public.

Guest artist Norma Bowles from Los Angeles and Professor Holly Pickett and her Spring Term class, Hamlet’s Ghost, have collaborated on the presentation of a commedia dell’arte show.

The performance will introduce six of the traditional stock Italian Renaissaice dell’arte characters Pantalone, Arlecchino, Pulcinella, Dottore, Capitano and Tartaglia. After presenting the characters, the students will explain the ways these characters, their lazzi and commedia techniques can be used to address contemporary social justice issues.

Pickett’s students will work with these traditional character types in their staging of the show in the play-within-the play from Act 3 of Hamlet.

Bowles is the artistic director of Fringe Benefits Theatre. She has led commedia dell’arte workshops all over the world, including The Melody Sisters in Pamplona, Spain; the Center for Theatre of the Oppressed and Applied Theatre Arts in Los Angeles; the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and South Coast Repertory Theatre.

She has also led workshops at more than 10 universities, including Princeton, Smith College, the University of New Hampshire and the University of California Riverside.  In 2007, W&L students  performed “Commedia for Social Justice” lazzi addressing sexual harassment and date rape for an audience of their peers.

Pickett, associate professor of English at W&L, has been a member of the W&L faculty since 2005. She is the author of four articles and five reviews and has one book manuscript under consideration and one in progress. She earned her B.A. at Millsaps College and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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W&L Professor Wins National Endowment for the Humanities Grant

Angela M. Smith, director of the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics and associate professor of philosophy at Washington and Lee University, has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct research this summer.

Smith is one of 78 winners nationally of an NEH Summer Stipend, which supports individuals pursuing scholarly work in the humanities. About only 8 percent of Summer Stipend applicants get the awards.

The two-month grant will support Smith’s completion of the manuscript “Attitude Matters: Responsibility, Respect, and Reconciliation.”

“My aim in ‘Attitude Matters’ is to explore the central importance of our attitudes in moral life. I argue that we are morally responsible for our desires, emotions, beliefs and other attitudes, not because we have voluntarily chosen, cultivated or identified with them, but because they directly reflect our judgments about reasons,” Smith has said about her work. “And I argue that we can be morally obligated to have certain attitudes toward others, even though they fall outside our direct voluntary control. Finally, I examine the implications of this view for our understanding of the distinctive wrongs associated with racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice, and provide an account of the attitudinal basis of moral reconciliation with others.”

She suggests that her views of the matter “run against the grain” of most traditional theorizing about questions of moral responsibility, which makes the NEH award especially exciting since it offers significant potential to advance the field.

A magna cum laude graduate of Willamette University, with majors in philosophy and political science, Smith received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University. In March, she was named the first director of W&L’s Mudd Center, which will be a resource for students and faculty throughout the University.

Smith has been a member of the W&L faculty since 2009, after spending a year as visiting associate professor of philosophy and a fellow in Society and the Professions, the program in applied ethics that has now been folded into the Mudd Center. Before coming to W&L, she was a tenured member in the philosophy department at the University of Washington.

She previously received a Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellowship at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values for 2013-14.

Smith is the latest W&L winner of an NEH grant. Last year, Richard Bidlack, professor of history, won an NEH Summer Stipend in 2003 to support work on his 2012 book, “The Leningrad Blockade, 1941–1944.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

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

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W&L Alumna Keckler Twirls into a New Job

Got a hankering for the Atomic Chili Cheese Dog, a specialty of the Twirly Top, in Gardners, Pa.? Never fear, it will remain on the menu under the new owner—Sarah Keckler, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2010.

Sarah, who grew up on a farm two miles away from her new business, had been working as a project manager in Washington. “It was pretty crazy when I told my boss, friends and co-workers in D.C. that I was quitting my job to go serve ice cream,” she told the (Carlisle, Pa.) Sentinel in a nice profile. As the newspaper points out, her B.S. in business administration comes in handy while running her new enterprise.

The Twirly Top is around 60 years old, the last of its breed in the area. It’s especially popular with folks who enjoy stopping in for a soft-serve cone on their way to the nearby Laurel and Fuller lakes. When the previous owners put the place up for sale, locals were concerned that it would close. “We’ve been coming here since we were little,” one relieved customer told the reporter.

Sarah has her hands full now, what with refreshing the menu, learning the recipe for onion rings and deciding to close on Sundays. “I was pretty excited to take it on,” she told the paper. “It’s a new era of the Twirly Top.”

W&L's Lepage Chosen for European Art Seminar

Andrea Lepage, assistant professor of art history at Washington and Lee University, is one of 21 faculty members from around the country chosen to participate in a special week-long seminar on Teaching European Art in context.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) selected Lepage for the seminar, which will be held at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in June. The seminar will be held in conjunction with an exhibition of rare traveling masterpieces of Dutch art, featuring works by Vermeer, Hals, and Rembrandt. The exhibition, “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” will be on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, beginning in June 2013.

“The exhibition ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,’ to be installed at the High Museum offers a rare occasion to view in person some of the finest Dutch paintings created during the Early Modern era,” said Lepage. “Participation in the associated seminar, ‘Dutch Art, Patrons, and Markets,’ provides me with an invaluable opportunity to expand upon Washington and Lee’s art history curriculum and create interdisciplinary connections between the art history and chemistry departments.

“My colleague in the chemistry department, Erich Uffelman, currently teaches a two-part course dealing with science in art. The first part of the course takes place on-campus and equips students with knowledge of the physical, chemical, and biological concepts necessary to undertake technical examinations of 17th-century Dutch paintings. The second part takes place on-site in Amsterdam and provides students with the ability to put their scientific training into practice while visiting museums and conservation workshops. Beginning next winter, an art history class focused on 17th-century Dutch art will be taught in connection with Professor Uffelman’s chemistry course and will provide students with a greater cultural context for their technical examination.”

Catherine Scallen, chair of the Department of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has taught since 1995, will lead the program, which aims to strengthen the teaching of art history to undergraduates at smaller colleges and universities.

“The seminar will be especially valuable for faculty members at institutions without large campus museums or proximity to major art museums. Art historians in all fields and studio artists, as well as faculty members who specialize in history, European studies, and related fields will find this seminar of interest,” said CIC President Richard Ekman.

Lepage joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 2008. She received her B.A. in art history from Clark University and her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Brown University. She teaches courses in Colonial Latin American art, Modern Latin American art, Spanish Baroque art and Italian Baroque art.

She also teaches in W&L’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies program and is currently offering a spring term course, Chicano Art and Muralism, which is based in part on the current exhibition of Chicano art from the collection of entertainer Cheech Marin.

The CIC is an association of 645 nonprofit independent colleges and universities and more than 90 higher education organizations. Since 1956 the organization has worked to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society.

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New Group Aims to Expand Use of Digital Humanities at W&L

A group of Washington and Lee University faculty and staff is exploring new ways to use technology in the University’s humanities disciplines.

The Digital Humanities Working Group is an informal organization of 15 faculty and staff whose goal is to lead the way in establishing digital humanities (DH) as a more commonly accepted method of teaching and research. The group is investigating the ways in which DH can enhance both teaching and learning for liberal arts students.

Paul Youngman, a 1987 W&L graduate and associate professor of German at W&L, and Suzanne Keen, the Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English and interim dean of the College, organized the initiative.

“We’re trying to get people to recognize that DH is here to stay, and that print is no longer the predominant means to produce or disseminate knowledge,” said Youngman. “While print is still around, it is more and more frequently embedded in some sort of digital platform. Text is therefore no longer bound and fixed.”

Youngman observed that DH is not a specialized field, but refers to all the different computing techniques that can be used in conducting and presenting research as well as in the classroom. He predicted that the term “digital humanities” will eventually disappear as it becomes widely accepted, and that people will simply call it “humanities.”
DH asks traditional humanities questions and then seeks answers by applying methodologies and tools provided by computing such as visualization techniques, data mining, statistics and computational analysis.

“If we’re talking strictly pedagogy, which is the mission of W&L, it will equip our liberal arts graduates with computing technology skills that can help them a great deal in the professional world and allow them to better compete for a job in the 21st century,” said Youngman.

He conceded that DH can seem daunting to those who are unfamiliar with it. One of the group’s goals next year is to bring DH experts to campus to discuss with faculty what DH is and what it can do.

Youngman was previously director of the Center for Advanced Research in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He immediately began implementing digital humanities approaches into his W&L courses.

Having worked primarily with faculty at the center at UNC-Charlotte, Youngman found that introducing the techniques to his students was something new. He initially relied on the assistance of Brandon Bucy, senior academic technologist in W&L’s Leyburn Library, and Eric Owsley, manager of web development in the Department of Communications and Public Affairs, who created a travel blog for one of Youngman’s classes.

As a result, Youngman’s students don’t hand him assignments much on paper anymore; he does everything online, including traditional papers and grading. He stressed that text is still important, and that in using a digital platform he is still rigorously evaluating students’ German, albeit in a different way.

“Introducing digital humanities to my students was really fun to do, although it did take up some class time,” said Youngman. “But we need to teach this.”

One technique Youngman’s students used was Ngram analysis on the poetry of Goethe. Google Books’ Ngram Viewer is a project of The Cultural Observatory at MIT and Harvard. It allows a researcher to search all the digitized books to trace the usage of a word over several centuries and show a big-picture trend. “They call this ‘distant reading’ because, rather than reading a book, the computer is taking thousands of books and mining them for this data,” said Youngman.

“It gives students a different way of looking at the text. People have been analyzing Goethe’s poems for 200 years, but not many people have employed Ngrams to situate them in their historical context. It allows students to say something original about his poems, and I think undergraduates find that exciting,” he added.

Youngman’s students also used word clouds, where the more common a word is in a text, the larger it appears in the cloud. For example, a Goethe poem from the Sturm und Drang period in German literature, in which emotion and feeling is emphasized more than reason and intellect, shows “herz” (heart) as the predominant word. The word cloud is a visual way of representing this.

Youngman observed that while Ngrams and word clouds deal with text, there is also a whole array of techniques that deal with sound and imagery.

Rather than writing the classic end-of-term paper, where it’s a limited conversation between the student and the professor, Youngman’s students place their work on a digital platform where other people can see it. “Anybody can look at a project, and I think that puts a little more heat on the students because they don’t want their work to be presented to the world in a sloppy manner,” said Youngman.

A number of the members of the Digital Humanities Working Group, which formed in August 2012, have different DH projects underway, including faculty in classics, history, philosophy and English. Students presented several of those projects this year at W&L’s biennial research conference, Science, Society and the Arts.

The group has also recently begun to network with other institutions with active digital humanities centers and programs to discuss best practices and lay the groundwork for future collaborative research and teaching efforts.

Their work can be seen on a website, Generally Digital (digitalhumanities.wlu.edu), and the group has scheduled a May 2 seminar for the campus, Developing Digital Humanities Projects, at 3 p.m. in Northen Auditorium of Leyburn Library.

Other members of the Digital Humanities Working Group:

  • Alston Brake, digital scholarship librarian
  • Rebecca Benefiel, associate professor of classics
  • Brandon Bucy, senior academic technologist, ITS
  • Sarah Horowitz, assistant professor of history
  • Curtis Jirsa, assistant professor of English
  • Dick Kuettner, director of the Tucker Multimedia Center
  • Julie Knudson, director of academic technologies and client services, ITS
  • Yolanda Merrill, humanities librarian
  • Nicolaas Rupke, Johnson Professor of History
  • David Saacke, chief technology officer, ITS
  • Rachel Schnepper, Mellon Junior Faculty Fellow, history
  • Sara Sprenkle, assistant professor of computer science
  • John Tombarge, associate university librarian for digital services and strategies

News Contact:
Sarah Tschiggfrie
News Director

W&L Alumnus Wins National Award for Columns

The Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi (SPJ) awarded Steve Matrazzo, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1984, its award for general column writing for newspapers with daily circulations of less than 100,000 and non-daily newspapers.

Steve is editor of the Dundalk Eagle, a weekly paper in suburban Baltimore. What made the national honor even more impressive is how infrequently the award has gone to a writer from a non-daily newspaper. As the Eagle reported, Sigma Delta Chi records indicate it’s only the sixth time that a non-daily writer has been recognized.

The author of the paper’s “Talk of the Town” column, Steve had spent 20 years in manufacturing before he joined the Eagle in 2006. He has written his column since 2009 and was named editor of the paper in 2010.

He submitted five of his columns to the contest. You can read one of the entries on the Society for Professional Journalists’ site: “Rage against what is being done in the shadows.” 

In the Eagle story announcing his award, Steve said: “This award is a big thing to me personally, of course, but it’s also an important affirmation for The Eagle and for the many community newspapers that aspire to provide quality journalism to their readers.”

Steve’s work has previously been recognized by awards from the National Newspaper Association, the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association and the Maryland Chapter of SPJ.

Earlier, the SPJ recognized Washington and Lee students in its District 2 competition.

W&L Law Professor’s New Book Examines Shareholder Power and Corporate Governance

What do corporate governance and health care reform have to do with one another?

The answer lies at the core of a new book by Washington and Lee law professor Christopher Bruner. In Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World, Bruner examines the corporate governance powers possessed by shareholders in the U.S. and other common-law countries. Bruner finds, contrary to popular belief, that shareholders in the U.K. and other common-law jurisdictions are both more powerful and more central to the aims of the corporation than are shareholders in the U.S. The vexing question, explored by Bruner’s book, is why.

The question itself seems paradoxical, says Bruner, because the U.S. is widely thought to have the most shareholder-centric corporate legal system in the world. However, his close examination of corporate laws in the U.K., Australia and Canada reveals that this is not the case. Shareholders in the U.K., for example, possess the unqualified right to remove members of a corporate board at any time without cause, and to accept hostile takeovers without board interference, whereas U.S. shareholders possess neither.

“This is especially surprising given that the U.S. is correctly viewed as being more politically conservative, and more committed to a ‘free-market’ ethos, than more left-leaning countries like the U.K.,” says Bruner. “The fact that U.S. corporate law shows greater regard for other corporate stakeholders, such as employees, runs contrary to what the prevailing politics in each country would lead most to predict.”

Hostile takeovers vividly illustrate the point. In the U.K., corporate boards faced with a takeover cannot mount defenses without the consent of shareholders. But in the U.S., corporate boards have substantial discretion to implement takeover defenses to further non-shareholder interests – for example, to protect employees from job loss or to shield a local community that could be hurt by the loss of a big employer.

The resolution of this apparent paradox, Bruner argues, lies outside corporate law itself. Bruner’s theory is that relatively robust social welfare protections in countries like the U.K., Australia and Canada have freed up their corporate legal systems to focus more intently on shareholder interests without giving rise to “political backlash” – because other legal structures accommodate the interests of employees.

“Takeovers are less controversial politically and socially in these systems because employees are less vulnerable in the context of job loss,” says Bruner. “They receive substantial social welfare protections including health care outside of the employment relationship, which reduces the political and social stakes of corporate law.”

The contrast remains a stark one, but things could be heading in this direction in the U.S. as well. Bruner says the increase in recent decades of stock-based compensation for corporate directors has more closely aligned the interests of management with shareholders. This has led to a sharp rise in risk-taking within financial firms, which contributed to the most recent financial and economic crisis.

“Ironically, one of the principal reform efforts following the crisis was to give U.S. shareholders more power, apparently in the belief that they would seek to constrain reckless management,” says Bruner. “This was a bad idea because, if anything, profit-seeking shareholders tend to favor more risk, which could lead to another crisis in the financial sector.”

Notwithstanding the negative effects of shareholder-centrism in financial firms, however, Bruner concludes that simultaneous passage of the Affordable Care Act, along with enhancement of other social welfare programs in the U.S., may help render stronger shareholder powers across the universe of public companies more socially and politically stable than they would have been otherwise. “Only a shift in tandem, with greater employee protections accompanying greater shareholder powers, will be sustainable over time.”

Corporate Governance in the Common-Law World is now available from Cambridge University Press, as well as from Amazon and other booksellers.

Praise for the Book

“Christopher Bruner’s stimulating new book is a distinctive and important contribution to the burgeoning literature on comparative corporate governance. Bruner argues persuasively that within the common law world differences between countries are nearly as pronounced as the similarities and explains this pattern by way of provocative politically oriented theory.”

– Brian Cheffins, Cambridge University, Faculty of Law

About the Author

Christopher Bruner is an Associate Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University. His teaching and scholarship focus on corporate law and securities regulation, including international and comparative dimensions of these subjects. Professor Bruner’s articles have appeared in a variety of law and policy journals, and his comparative study of U.S. and U.K. corporate governance, titled “Power and Purpose in the ‘Anglo-American’ Corporation,” won the 2010 Association of American Law Schools Scholarly Papers competition.

Professor Bruner has presented his scholarship in Australia, Denmark, Mexico, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and has conducted research as a visitor to the law faculties of the University of Cambridge, the University of Sydney, and the University of Toronto. Professor Bruner received his A.B. in 1995 from the University of Michigan, his M.Phil. in 1997 from the University of Oxford, and his J.D. in 2001 from Harvard Law School.

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

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