Feature Stories Campus Events

W&L Alum Named Jefferson Fellow

Robert Foster, of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2007, has received a Jefferson Fellowship from the University of Virginia and will attend the Darden School of Business in the fall.

A physics-engineering major at W&L and captain of the Generals’ football team, Robert received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California.

He’s been in the Los Angeles area since graduation, working first as a systems engineer with Northrop Grumman on several different projects, and most recently with Booz Allen Hamilton as a senior consultant on the Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite.

Robert was among 21 students in the new class of Jefferson Fellows. He is the only winner this year who will be attending Darden. The awards are based on merit and provide full financial support. The selection process is rigorous and includes a four-day competition in Charlottesville.

Exploring Greek Life

TJ Fisher is a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2015 and a double major in theater and history, from Potomac, Md. Last August, we blogged about TJ’s unusual job running the Dentzel Carousel at Maryland’s Glen Echo Park. He had written an essay about the experience for the Washington Post.

This summer, TJ traveled to Greece as part of a special program that his social fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, runs to help its members better understand the history and philosophy of fraternal life. He wrote about his experience, what it meant to him as an individual, and what he believes it means about Greek life at a university like Washington and Lee.

Here is TJ’s essay:

My friends and family, and visitors to Washington and Lee, often have questions about Greek life. I know they’re thinking of “Animal House” and the other negative stereotypes of fraternity men and sorority women depicted in the media, or maybe of the real-life misconduct of these men and women reported in the news. They’re well aware that W&L has a significant Greek presence and want to know how this could possibly fit with the values we express and our aspirations to behave as gentlemen or ladies, based on what they think they know about Greek life.

I was fortunate to have a recent amazing experience, which I think makes very clear the ways in which Greek life can contribute positively to the life of the University, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share some reflections about that trip.

In February, at a regional leadership academy in Connecticut, I was extremely honored to be one of 16 undergraduate brothers that my fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, chose from around the country to embark on the Tragos Quest to Greece. It is a 10-day journey through that country in contemplation of the history and philosophy of fraternal life, and is the capstone to the leadership development programs the fraternity offered. It is funded for the chosen undergraduates by SigEp, thanks in large part to its namesake, Bill Tragos, who has been very involved in the fraternity since his graduation in 1956 from Washington University in St. Louis. After a busy Spring Term and start to my summer jobs, I was excited to have a week and a half off to spend with my brothers.

The trip was certainly anything but a rest, however. We were not given an itinerary but merely knew we would be embarking on activities relating to the ideals to which brothers aspire: sound mind and sound body. We 16 undergraduates, five adult mentors and a professor, all brothers, met each other for the first time in Chicago. There we were also introduced to such staples of the trip as our 6 a.m. wakeup call for a group workout; our morning and evening discussions to review the events of the day; our analysis of the two books and several plays and poems we’d been given before the trip; and our conversations about various subjects pertinent to the fraternity. The following day we flew into Athens, and the trip really began.

Each day brought exciting new experiences, many of which I believe are analogous to the ways in which Greek life can add spectacularly to W&L. Our lively discussions of the ancient Greek works we’d read reminded me of the regular dinner lectures I’ve organized for our chapter, in which professors or other important local figures speak to us about a topic of their interest and then engage us in discussion. The exchanges of information between brothers in similar fields reminded me of the potential for useful professional networking between undergraduate and alumni members of Greek organizations. The ability of all 22 of us to bond quickly and deeply despite diverse backgrounds and interests reminded me of the potential to learn from other members of a diverse chapter.

I was reminded most forcefully, however, of the potential of a fraternity or sorority to serve as a motivator and support system for its members. One of my favorite sights of the trip was the Palamidi Fortress, at the top of which was a beautiful view of the sea and the town below. We were separated by that view, however, by more than a thousand steep stone steps. Cardio endurance is not my strongest suit even in the best of conditions, and the midday sun was beating down more and more forcefully as our altitude increased, so I was struggling to keep up the quick pace set by the more active brothers. Had you asked me at the time, I’m sure I would’ve said I was struggling to cling to life itself as I dragged myself up the steps.

I did not want to miss out on sharing the view with the brothers, so I was fortunate that they were there to help me. One brother stayed behind with me for a moment while I caught my breath, and all of them encouraged me to finish strong with them. We all felt accomplished when we reached the top of the fortress and were rewarded by the great view. This is a great deal like my experience with our chapter. We never mock each other but are always there to remind each other to spend more time studying, to edit fellowship applications, to play a good game of racquetball for exercise, and so on. In a community as small as W&L, where everyone knows everyone else at least a bit, it’s a worthwhile proposition to get to know a smaller group of people very well and to be able to count on them.

The quest is just one example of what fraternity membership has added to my W&L education, and it is an excellent one. My time as a Greek has brought me more than parties and means much more to me than empty declarations. Any W&L student looking for the kind of Greek experience I have had can easily find it, and our University will continue to benefit as more students realize the great potential of their fraternities and sororities. I am so grateful to have an experience I will remember for the rest of my life, and I now have something very specific to point to when I am asked questions about the purpose and value of W&L’s Greek system. Our Greek traditions are part of what makes us the unique institution we are today, and I am excited to watch them continue to develop.

Suzanne Keen Named Dean of the College at W&L

Suzanne Keen, the Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, has been named dean of the College.

Daniel Wubah, W&L’s provost, announced Keen’s appointment, which is effective immediately. She had been serving as interim dean since last July.

“I’m very pleased that Professor Keen has accepted this invitation to make her deanship of the College permanent,” Wubah said. “After consulting with numerous members of the faculty and with senior administrators, I am certain that she is not only the best choice for this position but that her appointment will also permit us to continue the momentum that she has already created during the interim year.”

Prior to being named interim dean, Keen served as head of the Department of English and also on two major faculty committees — the Advisory Committee, which reviews tenure and promotion cases, and the Courses and Degrees Committee. As interim dean, she chaired the Courses and Degrees Committee during the 2012–13 academic year and also served on the Faculty Executive Committee. In addition, she launched a collaborative Digital Humanities Initiative, involving faculty, librarians and information technology professionals, and entered into a collaboration with Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia, supported with a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South.

Keen has been a member of the Washington and Lee faculty since 1995. She holds an A.B. in English literature and studio art and an A.M. in creative writing from Brown University, and an A.M. and Ph.D. in English language and literature from Harvard University. She taught at Yale from 1990 to 1995. She served on the faculty of Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English during the summers of 2003 through 2010.

A 2008 winner of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, Keen is a narrative theorist and an internationally recognized authority on literary empathy.

Keen’s interdisciplinary interests combine a longtime devotion to the novel in English with recent neuroscience, developmental and social psychology, and emotion science. Her books include “Thomas Hardy’s Brains: Psychology, Neurology and Hardy’s Imagination,” “Theory and Interpretation of Narrative Series” (Ohio State, forthcoming in 2014), “Empathy and the Novel” (Oxford, 2007), “Narrative Form” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), “Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction” (Toronto, 2001), “Victorian Renovations of the Novel” (Cambridge, 1998) and a volume of poetry, “Milk Glass Mermaid” (Lewis-Clark, 2007).

In addition, she is U.S. co-editor of Contemporary Women’s Writing (an Oxford University Press journal) and guest edited a special double issue of Poetics Today on narrative and the emotions (Spring and Summer 2011, 32.1–2). She teaches the novel in English, postcolonial Anglophone literature and contemporary British fiction.

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W&L Law Alumna Views Hearing Loss as an Opportunity

Melissa Pignatelli-O’Brien is many things: an attorney; a volunteer mediator; a former competitive diver; a resident of Park City, Utah; and a 1999 graduate of the Washington and Lee School of Law. She is also an advocate for people with hearing loss, talking about her own experience to help others.

Accordingly, Melissa is the subject of a profile in the Park City Park Record, “Local Lawyer Sees Hearing Loss as an Opportunity.” She told the reporter that because of her hearing loss, which was undiagnosed at the time, she found law school “a struggle. . . . could never find the right place to sit, where I could hear both the professors and students asking questions.” Once she began practicing law, the problem only magnified, and she found conference calls her “biggest fear.”

She and her father finally realized that a hearing disorder ran in the family. As you might imagine, after Melissa got hearing aids, her life changed for the better.

She met her husband, Marc O’Brien, at an Atlanta law firm. They have two sons, Ted and Cash. Her family has supported her every step of the way.  “My boys don’t think there’s anything wrong with me, they just want me to hear them,” she said. “So they’ve learned how to communicate with me. They look me in the eye, they speak slowly and clearly and they don’t talk to me when my back is turned.”

The profile is worth a read, with more details about her career and family. You might also take note of the name of one of her favorite authors in the “Vital Statistics” list at the end.

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W&L Law Prof. Michelle Drumbl Discusses IRS Sequester Cuts in Federal Times

A recent Freedom of Information act request from the “Federal Times” turned up an IRS planning document that predicts sequester-related budget cuts will result in billions of lost revenue.

The IRS predicts that the $600 million cut to the agency’s $11 billion budget will result in decreased enforcement and fraud detection, costing the government billions. In addition, the “Federal Times” reported that the planning document predicts reduced availability in both pre-filing taxpayer assistance and education services as well as “degraded” telephone service.

W&L Law professor and tax clinic director Michelle Drumbl told the paper that she is especially concerned about the decrease in tax payers services.

“If people can’t get answers before they file, that could lead to more complications that will cost more time for the IRS to resolve,” she said.

Many of the clients in the law school’s tax clinic are low-income parents who can’t afford to stay on hold on the telephone for an hour or more trying to get a question answered, Drumbl said.

Read the entire article at the Federal Times website.

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Ashford '82 Wins Raves for “Macbeth”

Director Rob Ashford, a member of Washington and Lee’s Class of 1982, has just finished a new project across the Atlantic — in Manchester, England, to be exact. For the Manchester International Festival, he co-directed “Macbeth” with none other than Kenneth Branagh, who also played the iconic role.

And it was a production with a twist. Rather than staging it in a theater, Rob and Branagh put the cast through their paces in a deconsecrated church. According to this laudatory review in the New York Times, the floor was dirt and the seats were wooden benches, and the action took place practically in your lap.

Rob’s production won rave reviews from British critics as well, and from his leading man. Here’s what Branagh said in a Q&A for the Guardian: “Rob Ashford made the profound difference, as co-director and good friend. He made a lionish contribution and let me concentrate on my performance at all the right times.”

Lucky movie-goers in the United Kingdom and Ireland got to watch a live broadcast of the production this past Saturday, July 20. Movie theaters in the U.S. will screen it starting this fall. Keep an eye on the National Theatre Live website for more information on dates and places.

National Leaders to Address Shepherd Poverty Symposium

Three prominent national experts on issues of poverty in America will address the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty’s 2013 Symposium, which will be hosted by Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute on Aug. 6 in Lexington.

The symposium comes at the conclusion of the SHECP summer internships that have involved almost 90 college and law school students from 17 colleges and universities around the country. The students spent eight weeks working with non-profit organizations in a variety of settings and will complete the program with a series of presentations and panel discussions during the Frueauff Closing Conference on Monday, Aug. 5, in Lewis Hall, at the W&L School of Law.

On Tuesday, Aug. 6, the teaching symposium will feature Kathryn Edin, professor of public policy and management of the Harvard Kennedy School; Ron Haskins, senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution; and Kristen Lodal, CEO and co-founder of LIFT.

Edin will speak at 8:30 a.m. followed by Haskins at 9:30 a.m. The two will then have a conversation at 10:45 a.m. followed by Lodal’s remarks at 11:10 a.m. and then an exchange featuring all three speakers. The presentations, which are all open to the public, will be in Gillis Theater at VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics.

“We are fortunate to have three such distinguished individuals for our symposium,” said Harlan Beckley, the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion at W&L who founded and directs SCHEP. “This is the second time that we have convened this group of institutions for a symposium that includes both faculty and students from the consortium. These speakers will challenge all of the participants to think in different ways about the issues that the students have seen first-hand during the past several weeks.”

The first symposium was held last August in Little Rock, Ark., at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers. She focuses on direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women and men and their families. She is particularly interested in questions about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work. Her most recent of six books is “Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City,” which was co-written with Timothy Nelson and published in May 2013 by the University of California Press. Edin and Nelson lived in Camden, NJ, for a time and interviewed many non-custodial fathers in Camden and Philadephia. She is chair of Harvard’s Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy.

Ron Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families and former senior adviser to the president for welfare policy in 2002, spent 14 years on the staff of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee.  In that capacity, he was the principal staff person for the Republican Party in forging agreement with the Clinton Administration on welfare reform in 1996. Haskins, a senior editor of “The Future of Children,” will, like Edin, speak on families, children, and poverty.

Kirsten Lodal co-founded LIFT in 1998 as a sophomore at Yale University and has devoted herself to guiding the development of LIFT’s innovative program model. LIFT currently runs centers staffed by trained volunteers in six major U.S. cities to serve low-income individuals and families. Lodal plays a leadership role in numerous poverty-related policy initiatives, including Opportunity Nation. She is the chairman of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, a powerful model for restoring childhood to children living in shelters.  Lodal, a practitioner leading efforts to provide access to integrated resources for persons in need of them, will address the innovative ways in which LIFT and other organizations are reducing barriers for families to flourish in society.  The SHECP interns are working for LIFT this summer.

The Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty comprises Baylor University, Berea College, Centre College, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, the College of Wooster, Elon University, Furman University, Hendrix College, John Carroll University, Lynchburg College, Marymount University, Middlebury College, Millsaps College, Niagara University, Spelman College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the University of Notre Dame, Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University and four additional institutions considering or seeking membership will be represented at the conferences in August.

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

Things Go Better with W&L Alumni

Here’s a story about how Washington and Lee alumni seem to turn up everywhere, and how Colonnade Connections helps alumni make those valuable connections.

Wyatt Heaton, a member of the Class of 2009, is pursuing both a J.D. and a master’s in accounting from George State University, in Atlanta. This summer, he participated in the 2013 Summer Legal Intern program at The Coca-Cola Company.

Before he started at Coke, Wyatt checked Colonnade Connections to determine if he could find any alumni who might also be working there.

His search led him to Vail Thorne, of the Class of 1980, the senior environmental, health and safety counsel (EHS) at Coca-Cola. Vail currently focuses on the company’s EHS and sustainability issues worldwide and advises on the rules governing green, or environmental, marketing.

During his internship, Wyatt mentioned his alma mater to another lawyer there and discovered Paul Hourigan, of the Class of 1999. Paul is Coca-Cola’s primary legal counsel for all professional sports sponsorship deals for North America. Paul’s work involves the company’s league sponsorship of the NBA and its official marketing partner relationship with the PGA Tour, as well as individual team deals.

When the three of them were scheduled to get together for lunch, Vail mentioned a fourth W&L alum on the premises in Atlanta — Ted Ghiz, of the Class of 1978, a senior tax counsel who deals with legislative, planning and controversy matters related to all state and local taxes. He’s worked for Coca-Cola for almost 20 years.

So the four got together at company headquarters in Atlanta for a photo (above) — W&L alumni representing a three-decade span at Coke.

Now that the internship is behind him, Wyatt will be working this fall as an extern for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He hopes to practice mergers and acquisitions law, tax law or securities law when he finishes at Georgia State.

And he highly recommends Colonnade Connections.

Campus Kitchen at W&L Feature on WVTF

WVTF, the Roanoke-based public radio station, featured Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee in a segment that ran on July 24, 2013.

Titled “W&L’s Campus Kitchen Feeds Minds and Bellies,” the piece by WVTF’s Beverly Amsler included in an interview with Jenny Davidson, coordinator of Campus Kitchen and advisor to Volunteer Venture and Nabors Service League.

CKWL was the winner of a Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award earlier this year.

Wrote Amsler:

It’s not your typical, run of the mill soup kitchen.  Instead of the homeless coming to them, the Campus Kitchen Project at Washington & Lee University travels throughout Rockbridge County. Volunteers take about 2,000 home cooked meals to those in the community including homebound seniors and the Magnolia Center, a day support program for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Listen to the audio and read the story at http://myw.lu/11e8vsV

76 Months, 2,184 Miles

Hayne Hipp’s email about his latest accomplishment came with the following headline: “Hipp Becomes First Member of W&L Class of 1962 to Complete Appalachian Trial.”

And the lead paragraph said: “Hayne Hipp attributes this phenomenal, six-year accomplishment primarily to the commitment to hard work he learned during his four years at Washington and Lee University.”

That’s all true enough. But to understand the magnitude of the accomplishment, some additional details are required, and a feature story in the Greenville Journal supplies plenty of those.

Hayne, an emeritus trustee of W&L and formerly CEO of Liberty Corp. in Greenville, began his 2,184-mile trek on March 6, 2007. He was 67 at the time and, as he mentioned to the Journal, “I had told too many people I was going to do it and just couldn’t back out.”

Things started well enough in Georgia until, on the second night, he slipped descending Blood Mountain and severed a quad tendon in his knee.

The injury kept him off the trail for more than a year, but it didn’t diminish his desire to conquer the A.T. As the Greenville Journal explains, he became a “section hiker,” completing the journey in multiple trips over a period of years. Most of those, he said, were four to seven days, covering eight to 22 miles.

Hayne has multiple stories to go with those multiple trips — like the time his boots caught fire and left him hiking in borrowed sandals for a short while. That’s why his trail nickname became “Reboot.” Or there was that time in Tennessee when he happened upon a female hiker sunbathing in the nude.

What he started in March 2007, he completed he finished on July 15 at 11:35 a.m. when, accompanied by his wife, Anna Kate, he connected the north from Springer Mountain sections with the south from Mount Katahdin, Maine, sections at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry, Va.