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Diabetes Management App Wins W&L Business Plan Competition

A business plan to provide diabetics with a better way to manage their disease by using smart phone technology won Washington and Lee University’s third annual Business Plan Competition.

Members of the winning team, all 2013 graduates, were John (Jack) Apgar, an economics major from Lexington, Clark Jernigan, a double major in accounting and business administration from Greenville, S.C., Drew Martin, a business administration major with a minor in creative writing from Midlothian, Va. and Stephen Stites, a business administration major from Richmond.

Washington and Lee alumni, faculty, parents and students chose the winning proposal from among the five finalists. The Business Plan Competition is part of the capstone course in W&L’s Entrepreneurship Program, which began in 2009.

“The plan stood out for the judges,” said Jeffrey P. Shay, the Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership. “It was thoroughly researched and came from a real problem one of the students observed.”

The WatchDog Diabetes Management plan arose from the experience of Stites who worked alongside a diabetic last summer. “Every day before lunch he  would have to take his blood sugar levels using a big bulky kit with a glucometer about the size of a walkie-talkie and then write down the reading and any notes in a physical log book,” recalled Stites. “It was a very inconvenient process.”

The team’s business plan noted that 44 percent of diabetics cite managing their blood glucose levels as their biggest challenge and 30 percent say that their current method of doing so is unsatisfactory. And 87 percent said they would be willing to spend $50 for a smartphone integrated solution.

Approximately 25.6 million Americans suffer from diabetes. The market for diabetes management products is $16 billion and is expected to triple by 2018. Simultaneously, more than 114 million people use smartphones, of which approximately 12 million are diabetics.

The WatchDog system reduces the glucometer to the size of a quarter which plugs directly into the headphone jack of any smartphone—a characteristic their competition lacks—and transfers blood glucose readings to an integrated smartphone app. “This makes it the first truly mobile diabetes management solution and nobody has a kit this small,” Martin explained in his presentation to the judges.

The app allows users to log and read their blood sugar levels as well as make notes and look at trends and graphs of their readings. The app also provides encouragement by sending a congratulatory message if, for example, they keep their blood sugar levels under control for a full week.

Diabetics can also share their data by sending their blood sugar readings directly to their physician and receive reminders about doctor appointments or to check their levels. Finally, users can connect to a supportive community of diabetics through the website DogPark, where they can share data, recipes, fitness programs and troubleshooting tips.

WatchDog employs a “captive pricing model” similar to the printer industry that makes more revenue from selling printer ink than printers. A diabetic goes through a pack of approximately 50 test strips a month. While it costs only 10 cents to manufacture the strips, they sell for 76 cents to retailers. Given this extremely high margin, the team expects test strip revenue to outpace glucometer revenue by the second month.

“We’re definitely surprised that we’re the first to think of this exact idea,” said Martin. “One of the judges actually asked us why a company such as Johnson and Johnson or Pfizer hasn’t done this yet.”

“Quite frankly, if the students of the winning team didn’t have jobs already, WatchDog is a very executable business plan,” said Shay, noting that the plan received an honorable mention at Virginia’s first Governor’s Business Challenge as the “Most Significant Market Disruptor” (tied).

“The judges and I continue to be amazed at the creativity of the ideas that the students are coming up with and the sophisticated level at which they are researching, writing and presenting their plans,” Shay added.

While the members of the WatchDog team shared the $1,000 first prize, second place went to GreenSpark, a smart phone app to reduce use of vampire current consumption. Hitched, a do-it-yourself wedding store, was third and Touch and Go, a mobile app for a biometric fingerprint scanner to access hotel rooms was fourth. sQRibe, utilizing QR (Quick-Response) codes to promote events, came in fifth.

Teams presented their business plans to panels of W&L alumni at the end of the fall and winter terms. The alumni panel selected five finalists which were featured on a website that included executive summaries along with videos of each team’s presentation, and the site invited members of the W&L community to vote.

Robots and Spring Term

The video above shows Upol Ehsan, a 2013 graduate of Washington and Lee, controlling a drone with hand gestures — the result of a project that he and classmates Dia Bisharat, Gabi Tremo and Fred Gisa completed during the four-week Spring Term course on robotics taught by Simon Levy, professor of computer science.

There’s lot to admire about the project — aside from the fact that the videos is just plain cool.

From the professor’s point of view, it’s pretty remarkable that the students could complete such a project in such a short time span. That was Simon’s goal at the outset. As he explained: “A couple of years ago, I developed a software tool to enable non-experts to control the AR.Drone using the Python programming language. It has proven very popular at W&L and other institutions.”

Simon went on to say how software like the one he created permits students to complete ambitious projects in a short amount of time. “If you look for similar-looking projects on YouTube or Google, you’ll likely find, as did my other students and I, that such projects are typically ‘one-off’ demonstrations that are difficult to replicate or modify. In contrast, part of our mission in the Computer Science Department is to train students to write software that can actually be used and improved by others, through good design principles.”

So with that software available, one four-member team in the class determined to see if they couldn’t turn a person into a control stick by using an Xbox Kinect, which allows controller-free, full-body game playing.

“The person becomes the controller,” said Upol, a double major in physics-engineering and philosophy with a minor in mathematics, who is from Bangladesh. “The natural thing people have is their touch. Touching and swaying your hands is intuitive. In creating the software to control the drone, we wanted to pick up on that and bypass any sort of sensors or joystick.”

Upol noted that lots of potential applications exist for a drone that is operated by gestures, and that the next step would be to add artificial intelligence that would allow the drone to go off and do the job on its own after a little training.

“The real advantage that we saw was the ability to get the drone out of precarious situations with gesture control,” he said. “You can get it out of a very tight spot.”

Because of his background in philosophy, Upol said that he pays very close attention to how humans interact with machines, so the project blended his interests. And Simon said that students solved a pretty tricky problem by figuring out how to get the output of the Kinect to control the movements of the drone.

The gesture-controlled drone wasn’t the only cool robot that came out of the Spring Term class. Have a look at this video of a Neato XV-11 vacuuming robot programmed to avoid obstacles using lidar. Kinsey Schell, a sophomore computer science major from New Orleans, had charge of that project.

W&L Boosts the Value of Study-Abroad Experience for Students

With college graduates looking for an edge as they enter the job market, does listing a study-abroad experience on one’s résumé make a difference to potential employers?

Laurent Boetsch, director of international education at Washington and Lee University, posed that question to a couple dozen W&L alumni whose jobs include reviewing applications.

“I asked these alumni who live all over the world this question: ‘What value do you give to somebody who applies for a job or internship and lists study abroad on the résumé?” Boetsch said. “Their answer was, basically, that it had no value. . . . unless . . . the applicants can articulate why the study abroad experience was important to them, what use they made of it when they returned and why it’s important for the job that they are applying for.”

That answer validated for Boetsch the approach Washington and Lee has adopted for study abroad as part of the University’s new strategic initiative for global learning.

In the past, Boetsch acknowledges, study abroad was primarily a personal experience for individual students who chose to venture out of the country at some point during their four years.

“It used to be that you came back from study abroad with an experience that was very, very personal,” Boetsch said. “You had great memories. You had a photo album. You had postcards that your mother had collected. But that was as far as it went.”

Beginning in the 2011–2012 academic year, W&L began to view study abroad in three phases: the preparation, the opportunity abroad, and the integration of the experience into their lives back on the campus. Boetsch believes that improving the third phase can help students in a job search.

At the same time, Boetsch acknowledges that the return stage is the most complicated. Some students may have had more exhilarating experiences than others; some students will be less inclined to share their experiences with a wider audience.

“We have  to be able to accommodate the variety of experiences and to allow students to reflect on the time spent abroad,” he said. “Then, rather than  give students a list of topics we think they ought to address, we are providing many different contexts for them to engage with students and faculty on campus about their time away .”

For instance, a group of students themselves created a group, Plan for Tomorrow, that has put developed sessions for returning students to share their experiences in an academic setting  . At Parents’ Weekend in the fall and Alumni Reunions in the spring, students present poster sessions on their trips. In addition, the University’s Writing Center helps students write about their experience, and the Career Development Center is incorporating questions about study abroad into mock interviews.

In addition to the traditional semester-long or year-long immersion programs, W&L students now have other types of experiences abroad. There are the four-week Spring Term trips with W&L faculty members, summer internships, and even brief tours like the University Singers took to Italy earlier this year.

For Boetsch, each of those experiences counts as study abroad, but they must all be viewed differently.

“In the past, study abroad was probably for the more adventurous student. That may still be true for those students who choose to be immersed in the culture and language for as much as a semester or even a year,” he said. “But there are all kinds of experiences abroad, and every one of them has a certain value.

“For instance, some students are looking at opportunities that are less adventurous than spending a year living with the Bedouins. For those students, four weeks with a W&L professor in Denmark is what they may find comfortable, and who knows where that can lead?”

Boetsch emphasized that while the new initiatives could provide a graduate with an advantage in the job search, the driving force behind the program is not job placement, it’s education.

“For today’s students, all of these various study-abroad experiences open up opportunities, both professional and non-professional. Once they begin nurturing them in themselves, it never stops,” he said. “That makes a difference in today’s world. It’s how this generation of students is going to live their lives.”

This is the first year that W&L is awarding Cultural Immersion Certificates as an incentive and a reward to those students who have shown significant commitment to and understanding of global interaction. The University awarded the first such certificate in December 2012 to Dani Breidung, a member of the Class of 2013, who completed her degree requirements early. This spring, 33 students in the graduating class spent enough time abroad to qualify; 10 students applied for and received certificates.

W&L Student Explores Media Coverage of Africa

When Waringa Kamau arrived at Washington and Lee University in the fall of 2011, she had talked herself into the practicality of a business major. Her longtime love of journalism, though, tugged at her so much that she soon switched her major. The worldwide responses she’s been getting to a brief documentary titled “Africa in Western Media” have confirmed the wisdom of her decision. “This is what I’m supposed to do,” she said.

Kamau, a rising junior, created “Africa in Western Media” during her winter term course, Race, Gender and Religion in the Media, taught by Phylissa Mitchell, a visiting assistant professor of journalism (and a 2001 graduate of W&L’s Law School). The final assignment: explore the way the media portrays a people, a race or a religion.

“This is a topic I’m passionate about anyway,” said Kamau, who is from Nairobi, Kenya. “For a long time now, Africa’s story has been told by CNN, BBC and everyone else. Western news outlets often parachute into various African countries and think they can tell that country’s story, or even the entire continent’s story, after being there for one day. Complexities are often overlooked and stark generalizations are made, resulting in very unbalanced reporting of Africa.”

She wrote the script and partnered with classmate Papa Osei ’13, who handled the photography and the editing. The pair stationed themselves outside Elrod Commons, where Kamau buttonholed random students while Osei, who’s from Accra, Ghana, filmed the conversations.

The interviewees often mentioned famine, AIDS and poverty when Kamau asked them what kind of images came to mind when they viewed traditional media coverage of Africa. She also interviewed five fellow African students, who expressed their shared concern over skewed representations.

“There’s a saying they have at home,” Kamau explained. ” ‘Unless the lion learns to tell its story, the hunter will always be glorified.’ That’s basically the whole essence behind my documentary. Everyone, not just Africans, needs to learn to tell their own story. Because if someone else is going to write it, they might misrepresent it, they might tell it a certain way that fits their interest, which might not necessarily be your interest.”

Thanks to Kamau’s mentor and aunt, Mary Murigah, who works in human resources for Capital Group Limited, a Kenyan media company, the documentary busted out of the W&L classroom. After Kamau posted the video on YouTube, Murigah sent the link to an editor at her company. “And then he did a story on it,” said Kamau. “Then people started seeing it a lot.”

So far, stories about and mentions of the documentary have appeared on the websites Diaspora Messenger, Mwakilishi.com, African Press International and several others.

Kamau was thrilled to hear from reporters, including Caroline Mutoko, a broadcaster on Nairobi’s Kiss 100 FM radio station, part of Radio Africa. The host of a popular show called “The Big Breakfast,” she invited Kamau to meet her later this summer, when she comes home for a visit after an internship in Johannesburg with Times Media, a leading newspaper and magazine publisher.

“I listen to her radio show every day,” marveled Kamau. “Half the time I was talking to her, I was like, “I cannot believe I am talking to you.’ “

Other responses to the documentary are more complex. “Some of the feedback I got was, ‘So you want media to lie?’ No! As journalists, they have the obligation to cover the political instability, the droughts, the famine, whatever else is going wrong there,” she said. “But at the same time, they have the same obligation to cover what’s going right, the good things that are happening. That’s what I was trying to say. They have obligations to cover both sides of the story.”

Her family and friends have given the video and her career goal a collective thumbs-up. Before, her parents, Susan Wanjiru and Peter Ng’ang’a Kamau, had not been entirely sold on their daughter’s desire to be a journalist, especially given the possible dangers of practicing the craft in Africa, which, she said, “is trying to define the whole idea of democracy and what a free press is.” She understands her mother’s worries. “After she saw the video, she was like, you know what, I think this is what you want to do—go for it. And my dad too.”

Kamau grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, and attended high school at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. “I was always involved with the school magazine and writing,” she said, “and I participated in a lot of writing competitions.”

Once she enrolled at W&L, she explained, “I was iffy about majoring in journalism. At home, people want you to major in law, and medicine, and engineering, and I’m this kid who wants to do something else. I was battling with ‘this is what I want to do’ as opposed to ‘what I’m expected to do because it will make me money’.”

Thus her initial decision at W&L to major in business. “I was miserable. I hated it,” she remembered. “It is really stupid now that I think about it. Why was I trying to please everyone?”

Kamau had applied mostly to U.S. colleges in large urban areas, so Lexington came as a shock. “It was so different from everything, because I’ve never lived in a small town. I was coming straight from Johannesburg.” The first few months were hard, but her mother encouraged her to stick with it. “You find that there’s a lot to do here, actually,” she said. “I’m always busy.” Among her activities is the presidency of the African Society.

Kamau’s professor, Phylissa Mitchell, shares her pupil’s satisfaction with the assignment. “A special kind of student takes this class,” said Mitchell. “It’s incredibly time consuming, and they often become uncomfortably familiar with their own biases and prejudices. Students learn that the key to be successful in it is to open their brains and hearts. Waringa exceeded expectations at that. She made us, as U.S. nationals, confront our sometimes warped visions of exceptionalism and how it often harms the rest of the world. I loved her project, and I loved that she worked with another African, Papa Osei, a Ghana national, to show the world what Africa has and what its incredibly talented students can do.”

With two years to go at W&L, Kamau sees her long-term goal as “empowering people to tell their own stories. Which is why I want to go back to Africa to do journalism, because I want to tell the African story. I can’t tell it all, but that’s what I want to do.”

News Contact:
Julie Campbell
Associate Director of Communications and Public Affairs

Back in Business on the Jersey Shore

Back in November, not long after Superstorm Sandy had decimated the Jersey Shore, Washington and Lee alumna Victoria Taylor, of the Class of 2011, wrote this on FoxNews.com: “The Jersey Shore I know and love will bounce back.” (Here’s our blog on that story.)

On Tuesday, Victoria was back in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., where her family owns Jenkinson’s Boardwalk. She was there to watch President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proclaim that the Jersey Shore is back, indeed.

After watching Tuesday’s rather soggy festivities up close, Victoria wrote a first-person account for the New York Daily News, where she now works as a reporter.

Victoria’s account of the visit was extremely personal. She recounts the seven-day work weeks that her family put in all winter in order to get Jenkinson’s — and much of the family’s other Jersey Shore amusement park, Casino Pier in Seaside Heights — up and running.

Here, in part, is the way Victoria described the experience:

Lackluster weather made for a dreary beginning to Memorial Day weekend, but by Sunday and Monday it felt more like May than March in Point Pleasant. The nice weather attracted the crowds, and they helped breathe life back into the boardwalk. Customers lined up for funnel cake and won giant bananas. The carousel jingle played, and children begged their parents for cotton candy. It almost felt as if nothing had changed.

But on Tuesday, I watched Christie sink the pigskin in the “Touchdown Fever” game and win the Chicago Bears stuffed animal for the President of the United States on the boardwalk where I grew up. Obama shook my hand as he walked down the line, and I was reminded of how much has transpired over the last seven months. The boards are newer, and some of the arcades have been redone. But the resilient spirit of the Jersey Shore is still the same, and it is definitely open for business.

Seven W&L Graduates Commissioned into Military

Several hours after they received their diplomas in front of Lee Chapel, seven members of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2013 filed inside the chapel to participate in commissioning ceremonies.

Two graduates were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Marine Corps: Connor Smithson, of Cary, N.C., and Lee Brett, of Raleigh, N.C.

And five graduates who participated in Army ROTC with VMI’s Marshall-New Market Battalion were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army: Nick Cianciolo, of Cincinnati; Parker Mangold, of Westport, Mass.; Brian Ross, of Brick, N.J.; Marissa Thompson, of Chatham, N.J.; and Sasha Vandalov, of Vienna, Va.

On Memorial Day

Remembering some of Washington and Lee’s fallen heroes on this Memorial Day. (Click each image to enlarge).

W&L's Spring Term Course on Chicano Art Featured on KCET

The Washington and Lee Spring Term course on Chicano art was featured in a story titled “Virginia is for Chicano Art Lovers” in the “Departures” section of Los Angeles KCET’s website on May 23, 2013.

Taught by Andrea LePage, assistant professor of art at W&L, the course benefitted from the Stanier Gallery exhibition “Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection” and from a lecture by the entertainer/art collector at the opening.

Read the KCET story here: http://myw.lu/110nVxe.

A W&L First for the Garrett Family

A member of the first coeducational class at Washington and Lee, Patience Jones Garrett met her future husband, fellow student Bill Garrett, at a fraternity party during her sophomore year. Since then, they have experienced all kinds of firsts together: first date, first child, first home. Thanks to their son Will Garrett, a member of W&L’s Class of 2013, they can add another first to that list: they are the first parents who are both W&L undergraduate alumni to have their child graduate from the University.

“Little did we know at the time,” said Bill, reminiscing about their introduction. Patience belongs to the Class of 1989, Bill to the Class of 1987.

“One of Patience’s roommates was dating one of my fraternity brothers,” remembered Bill, a member of Beta Theta Pi. They continued their relationship after Bill’s graduation with a B.S. in business administration and accounting. “We made it two years while she was at school, and I was working up in New Jersey, and then we started our family very early.”

“We got married in November after I graduated,” said Patience, who holds a B.A. in history.

Today they have three children, sons Will and Thompson and daughter Hayden, and live in Purcellville, Va. Bill is the CFO of Global Aviation Holdings Inc., a major provider of worldwide air transportation. Patience runs Appointments, a gift boutique that she founded and transformed into an online-only retailer.

Growing up, Will came to campus a few times with his folks. When he was picking a college, he said, “after my visit here, I was pretty much sold.” Having enjoyed a stellar career in lacrosse and soccer at the Highland School, in Warrenton, Va., he’d boiled down his choices to Middlebury and W&L. “I didn’t want to go to Vermont,” he said.

“It was never an expectation,” he said of any possible parental influence on his decision to attend W&L. He played lacrosse all four years and earned a B.S. in business administration. He’ll soon start a consulting career at Cerner Corp., in Kansas City, Mo., which handles health-care technology.

Of his pioneering status as the first W&L graduate with both parents also undergraduate alumni, Will reported, “The University has such a rich tradition and history. It’s kind of a cool fact to tell people. Everyone thinks it’s really neat.”

When Will decided on W&L, said Bill, “It was a happy day. We were very proud because we know what a great school it is and how, when you come here, you are set for taking on the world.”

Patience, who has attended just about all of Will’s lacrosse games, added, “It was also fun because you could visualize what he was doing and where he was, because you had done it all yourself.”

The couple shared their main emotion on Commencement day with that of all the other families who packed the Front Lawn. “We’re just so proud of him,” said Patience.

W&L Bestows Honorary Degree Upon Law Alumna Pamela White

Washington and Lee University awarded an honorary doctor of law degree to the Honorable Pamela J. White, a 1977 graduate of the University’s School of Law and an associate judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court for the 8th Judicial Circuit.

White received the honor during the University’s undergraduate commencement exercises on Thursday, May 23.

In honoring White, the University paid tribute to her as a “talented and tenacious advocate” who, as an attorney in Baltimore for 30 years, handled “countless cases that dealt with employment controversies that arise in a complex economy.”

The degree citation also noted White’s volunteer work on behalf of Washington and Lee and also for her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Mary Washington. She serves as rector of the Mary Washington Board of Visitors. From 1995 to 2004, she was the first Washington and Lee alumna to serve on the University’s Board of Trustees, having previously served on the Law Council and the board of directors of the Alumni Association.

The citation continued: “In all these capacities, you have been an advocate for access, diversity, integrity and quality in higher education. By your own example, you have shown how a lifelong commitment to learning can foster professional success and civic responsibility.”

• Citation for Pamela J. White (pdf)

White received her bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington in 1974 and her juris doctorate from Washington and Lee in 1977. She joined the Baltimore firm of Ober/ Kaler, Grimes & Shriver and became the first woman to be named a partner.

A past president of the Maryland State Bar Association and a member of the American Bar Association house of delegates, White has served as a trial judge on the Circuit Court bench in Baltimore City since February 2007. There, she has worked on criminal and civil dockets and in the family division.

A recipient of numerous awards, White has been named a Distinguished Alumna of both Mary Washington and W&L, was named to Maryland Top 100 Women by the Daily Record, received the Maryland Leadership in Law Award, also from the Daily Record, and won the Charles H. Dorsey, Jr., Mentor Award from the Baltimore City Bar Association.

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