Feature Stories Campus Events

W&L Biology Professor Receives VFIC Grant

Natalia Toporikova, assistant professor of biology at Washington and Lee, has received a $2,000 grant from the Mednick Fellowship Committee of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) for her project “Role of Time-of-Day Signals in Hormonal Surges of Female Rats.”

“Shift work has a significant effect on reproductive health,” said Toporikova of her research. “Women working both day and night shifts have a 33 percent higher risk of menstrual problems and 80 percent higher risk of fertility problems. In this study, we manipulate the light-dark schedule in female rats to understand how the light affects ovulation and pregnancy initiation.”

Toporikova uses methods of computational modeling to study a wide range of biological systems. Other recent projects include neural control of breathing and signal detection by electric fish. See this recent article about work she and a W&L class did on the effect of biological clocks and rhythms on college students.

“Among the Washington and Lee assistant professors conducting summer research in 2014, her project stood out for its relevance to priorities in contemporary science, including understanding infertility,” said Suzanne Keen, dean of the College “We are proud of Natalia’s contributions to her home department of biology as well as to offerings in mathematics. Her interdisciplinary teaching and research exemplifies Washington and Lee’s teacher-scholar model.”

Toporikova holds a Ph.D. from Florida State University. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University and at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The Maurice L. Mednick Memorial was created in 1967 in honor of a young Norfolk industrialist who died from accidental causes. His family and business associates wished to perpetuate his name by establishing a memorial that would emphasize his and the donors’ strong interest in higher education.

The Mednick Memorial Fund is administered by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC). It exists to encourage the professional development of college teachers and improve their academic competence through fellowships for research and advanced study. A committee of VFIC business trustees and college presidents oversees the selection of research proposals for funding.

The VFIC advances the distinctive values and strengths of its 15 member colleges by securing financial support from the private sector, increasing visibility, facilitating innovative and collaborative initiatives between the colleges, and supporting initiatives that ensure that this personalized educational experience remains an affordable choice for tomorrow’s citizen-leaders.

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Washington and Lee Announces June Community Grants

Washington and Lee University’s Community Grants Committee has made 8 grants totaling $25,500 to non-profit organizations in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They are the second part of its two rounds of grants for 2013-14.

The committee chose the grants from 19 proposals requesting more than $96,000.

W&L awarded grants to the following organizations:

  • CASA for Children – for the training, supervision and support of CASA volunteers specifically serving child victims in Lexington, Buena Vista and Rockbridge County;
  • Concerned Citizens of Glasgow, Inc. – to assist with the purchase of a new water heater and upgraded plumbing;
  • Lexington Police Department Foundation – to assist with the funding of the Brushy Hill firearms training facility;
  • Main Street Lexington – towards funding of the downtown Lexington bike racks;
  • Parry McCluer High School Girls’ Basketball Program – to assist with the purchase of new warm up tops or equipment;
  • Rockbridge Area Health Center – towards the dental care program for underserved children in the Rockbridge area;
  • Rockbridge Area Hospice – to support the RAH Connections program;
  • Rockbridge County Public Schools Foundation – to assist with the funding for the purchase of iPads for the Maury River Middle School English Department.

Established in 2008, W&L’s Community Grants Committee evaluates requests for financial donations and support from Lexington and Rockbridge County. While the University has long provided financial and other assistance to worthwhile projects and organizations in the community on a case-by-case basis, the Community Grants Program formalizes W&L’s role in supporting regional organizations and activities through accessible grant-making.

During its 2013-14 cycle, the Community Grants Committee awarded $50,000. Proposals may be submitted at any time, but they are reviewed only semiannually, at the end of the calendar year and at the end of the fiscal year. The submission deadline for the two rounds of evaluations for 2014-15 will be: by the end of the work day (4:30 p.m.) on Friday, November 7, 2014, and Friday, April 17, 2015. Interested parties may download the proposal guidelines at http://go.wlu.edu/communitygrants.

Proposals should be submitted as electronic attachments (Word or PDF) via e-mail to kbrinkley@wlu.edu. Please call (540) 458-8417 with questions. If an electronic submission is not possible, materials may be faxed to (540) 458-8745 or mailed to Washington and Lee University Community Grants Committee, Attn: James D. Farrar, Jr., Office of the Secretary, 204 W. Washington St., Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450-2116.


W&L Law Building Renovation to Commence Summer 2014

Sydney Lewis Hall, the home of Washington and Lee University School of Law since 1976, will undergo a dramatic renovation beginning this summer.

The project will result in more flexible space for student collaboration and study, new homes for four of the School’s legal clinics, and an improved entry sequence and navigation for the building. Associate Dean Sam Calhoun, chair of the School’s building committee, said that the goals of the renovation became clear during the most recent year-long space study.

“We’ve known for a long time that Lewis Hall can be confusing to enter and navigate for visitors,” said Calhoun. “What became clear during the space study is that students really wanted more flexible space for study and group work consistent with the demands of our curriculum and their changing work habits.”

The current plans call for the creation of more spaces for public and private group work, including group study rooms, small seminar rooms, and an additional reading room in the library. The addition of numerous exterior windows will allow more natural light into the building, especially on the lower floors. Some of the law school’s student organizations, including the Student Bar Association and The Law News will move to new spaces.

The renovation also includes a new and more obvious entry to the building on the ground floor near the visitor parking spaces and a new stairwell accessible from the main lobby that directly connects the second, third, and fourth floors. Together, these modifications will dramatically change the entry sequence to and circulation within the building.

The space required for the renovation will come from moving nearly 10,000 linear feet of library books to compact shelving. In addition, nearly half of the law student carrels will be removed. All first-year law students will still be assigned a dedicated carrel, and about half of the third-year class will have dedicated space through participation in a clinic or on a journal. The remainder of the students will have access to over 200 spaces of various sorts for study on an as-needed basis, along with a locker for storing personal items.

Originally slated to cost $10 million, Law School officials and University administration decided to scale back the renovation to a projected $8 million to meet the most critical needs. Phase 1 of the project will be completed this summer at a cost of $2.4 million. The cost and specific components of Phase 2, scheduled for next summer, are subject to final approval from the Board of Trustees. The project is not funded through tuition and fees. Instead, a combination of donations from alumni and friends and matching funds from the University will cover the renovation cost.

“Our alumni know that these renovations are long overdue,” said Dean Nora Demleitner. “We want to be fiscally responsible, however, to allow for enhanced scholarship support.”

Alumni wishing to purchase a carrel displaced by the renovation should contact Elizabeth Outland Branner, Director of Law Advancement, at brannere@wlu.edu or 540-458-8191.

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W&L Professors Lead Ellison Seminar at the Library of Congress

The historic Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, in Washington, contains three named rooms: one for Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, one for President Woodrow Wilson and one for Ralph Ellison, author of the 1952 novel “Invisible Man” and the first African-American writer to win the National Book Award. In the Ellison Reading Room on May 22, W&L professors Marc Conner and Lucas Morel led the library’s second Ralph Ellison Seminar for an international cohort of Ellison experts talking about the importance of his writing to 21st-century America.

“The Ellison Reading Room is such a special place,” explained Conner, the Jo M. and James Ballengee Professor of English and associate provost. “Ellison’s own books line the shelves—his copies of all the classics that he read and learned from. To talk about Ellison’s work in that setting is so powerful.”

“Ellison’s commentary on American society and politics, whether in fiction or critical essays, remains a gold mine of insight into the possibilities and pitfalls of American democracy,” said Morel, professor of politics and the Class of 1960 Professor of Ethics. “Gathering scholars from various academic fields to discuss Ellison in the nation’s capital couldn’t be more fitting.”

In recent years, Washington and Lee has emerged as a leader in the study of Ellison, who spoke on campus in Lee Chapel in 1963. In 2002, Conner and Morel hosted a national symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Invisible Man.” Morel, who is also a nationally recognized Lincoln scholar, edited the essays from that event into his book “Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to ‘Invisible Man’.” In 2012, they organized another symposium, “The New Territory: Ralph Ellison and the 21st Century.” That gathering comprised the first Ellison Seminar at the Library of Congress and a two-day event at W&L, including presentations by six W&L students who had studied Ellison’s work in Conner’s African-American literature course. Conner and Morel also have co-edited a book of essays that emerged from the 2012 symposium; the manuscript is under consideration at the University Press of Mississippi.

Although working in different disciplines, Morel and Conner have found significant overlap in their studies of Ellison. “Lucas and I complement each other’s work so well,” said Conner. “He brings this great political perspective to Ellison’s work. I approach his work from a more literary point of view. But Ellison was as much an essayist as a novelist, as insightful a commentator about American politics and culture as anyone in our tradition. So between the two of us, we bring a great range of approaches to Ellison’s work.”

In 2007, Conner and Morel helped found the African-American Studies Program at W&L (now the Africana Studies Program), and each has taught courses on Ellison’s work over the years. In 2011, Conner helped found the Ralph Ellison Society, an international group of scholars working on Ellison’s writing. He organized and chaired two panels about Ellison at the 2014 American Literature Association Conference, which followed the Ellison Seminar in May. He also is co-editing Ellison’s selected letters, along with John Callahan, Ellison’s literary executor.

Callahan, who helped Ellison’s widow, Fanny, establish the Ellison Reading Room after her husband died in 1994, is enthusiastic about the work going on there. “Conner and Morel have made one of Ellison’s wildest dreams come true,” he said. “The work they’re leading is literally fulfilling Ellison’s dream of democratic equality and American fraternity. They have my gratitude and that of the Ellison Trust.”

Washington and Lee Recognizes Retirees

Washington and Lee University recognized three retiring members of the University’s faculty during commencement exercises. Eight retiring members of W&L’s staff were recognized during the Employee Recognition Banquet in April.

The 11 faculty and staff are Dymph Alexander, administrative assistant, music, 1989-2014; Bill Becker, co-director, University Store, 2003-2013; Maureen Becker, co-director, University Store, 2003-2013; Harlan Beckley, Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion, founding director of the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability; Diane Cochran, administrative assistant, law school faculty services, 1996-2014; Wayne Conner, lead custodian, Leyburn Library, 1969-2014; Virginia Cropper, administrative assistant, Career Development, 2004-2014; Ann Massie, professor of law, 1984-2014; Greta McCaughrin, instructor of Russian, 1984-2014; Chris Miller, assistant director, Financial Aid, 2003-2013; and Tony Stinnett (deceased), sergeant, shift supervisor, Public Safety, 1993-2013.


Williams School Announces Three Term Professorships

Washington and Lee University’s Williams School announces the appointment of three term professorships. Each professorship extends for three years and goes into effect July 1, 2014. Term professorships are given to mid-career faculty members who are exceptional teacher-scholars.

Grigsby Term Professorship

Associate Professor of Politics Tyler Dickovick has worked at Washington and Lee since 2004. He conducts research on African and Latin American politics, with a focus on decentralization, federalism and local governance. He is the author of Decentralization and Recentralization in the Developing World: Comparative Studies from Africa and Latin America and is the co-author of a textbook, Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods and Cases, with Washington and Lee sociology professor Jonathan Eastwood. He frequently serves as an advisor to government organizations in the U.S. and around the world.

Dickovick teaches classes on international development, global politics, international political economy, Latin American politics, comparative political analysis and African politics. He has also led spring term courses to Senegal and Ghana. Dickovick earned his Ph.D. in public affairs from Princeton University.

Cannan Term Professorship

Associate Professor of Politics Rebecca Harris joined the University in 2005 and quickly established herself as a leading scholar working at the intersection of public policy and science. She received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and has a book, Black Robes, White Coats: The Puzzle of Judicial Policymaking and Scientific Evidence. Her article, “Gatekeeping,” appeared in the book, Leadership in Science and Technology.

Harris teaches applied American politics courses, which include American national government, public policy, law and judicial process and environmental policy. Spring term courses include offerings in biopolicy, food policy and disaster policy. She also advises the Washington and Lee Political Review.

Lawrence Term Professorship

Associate Professor of Accounting Stephan Fafatas came to work at Washington and Lee in 2006. He earned his Ph.D. in accounting at the University of Colorado after working as a CPA at a large public accounting firm in Houston, Texas. Fafatas has spent his research career studying issues primarily related to earnings quality and auditor reputation. In recent work, he has looked at the relationship between measures of ethical citizenship and corporate financial reporting quality, as well as the determinants of voluntary environmental disclosures. His scholarship targets a variety of stakeholders as businesses struggle to develop and maintain transparent and accurate financial reporting systems.

Fafatas currently teaches introductory financial accounting, financial statement analysis, and a newly developed spring term class on accounting history. His prior teaching experience also includes auditing and a study abroad course in Nicaragua.

Water Filtration Systems Built for Two Elementary Schools in Guatemala by W&L’s Chapter of Engineers Without Borders

Members of W&L’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) recently traveled to Guatemala to build much needed water filters for elementary schools.

Working through a non-government organization (NGO) Pueblo a Pueblo, they built two bio-sand water filtration systems for nearby pueblo elementary schools in Panabaj and La Cumbre.

Two individuals from W&L’s ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) club and two professional engineers from Wiley-Wilson in Lynchburg, Va., supported the group with translation and engineering services.

After combining with Pueblo a Pueblo (PaP), the EWB spent several months preparing for their on-site work by making prototypes in the Howe Annex workshop. The main design objective was to develop a more sustainable method for building the form into which the concrete would be poured, using primarily lumber.

The bio-sand filter system consists of a concrete basin to hold a sand column which removes bacteria by various physical and organic processes. This more sustainable solution is easier to transport, less expensive, easier to construct and reusable multiple times.

The region around the schools is made of steep mountains and volcanoes, thus highly prone to devastating mud slides. A massive slide triggered by Hurricane Stan in 2005 killed about 2,000 area residents, burying them alive. Poverty is rampant and visible as well.

By partnering with PaP, the EWB team lived like the area residents for the most part. The accommodations consisted of a small house with two floors connected by very steep steps. Rooms are small, cramped and overcrowded and bathroom facilities conjoin toilet water and shower water in the drain. Beds are scattered on the floor haphazardly and 6-8 students shared a single room.

When in Guatemala, the club procured materials it needed for the project from local sources recommended by the NGO liaison.

Untreated water filters through several layers of rock, fine sand and coarse aggregate. Sand and aggregate must first be washed repeatedly until runoff is clear. The large aggregate must be bleached.

“Our days were pretty long with breakfast at about 6 a.m. and getting everyone ready for the day. We worked until sundown at about 7 p.m. So, we didn’t do much for entertainment but relax, make plans for the next day and rehash comical moments from the past 24 hours…and play Jenga,” said Professor Jon Erickson, the faculty liaison of EWB.

The project was turned over to an NGO in-country liaison, whose task was to monitor the system over the next 30 days while the filter built up a bio-layer that keeps out harmful bacteria but allows harmless bacteria to run through.

If all works out as planned, the 250 students at each of the two schools will be able to regularly drink clean water.

W&L Welcomes ODK's Convention, Centennial Celebration June 11-15

Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society founded at Washington and Lee in 1914, returns home to Lexington June 11-15 for its 48th Biennial Convention and Centennial Celebration.

A highlight of the four days of leadership training, guest speakers, business sessions and fun activities will be the official dedication of ODK’s national headquarters building in Lexington’s former train station, on June 14 at 11 a.m.

W&L was instrumental in persuading the national organization to establish a headquarters at the building; it sold it to ODK and held the mortgage. Five years later, Washington and Lee donors to ODK have been joined by other supporters in raising the funds to pay off the debt. The last payment will be made at the dedication.

ODK had no permanent headquarters before settling in Lexington.

“As the founding university of ODK, Washington and Lee is proud to have the national leadership honor society make its headquarters back home in Lexington,” said W&L President Ken Ruscio, a former national president of ODK.

For the complete schedule of the ODK National Convention, visit www.odk100.org/schedule-of-events.html.


Four W&L Players Named to Division III All-America Teams

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) released its Division III men’s and women’s tennis All-America teams recently and Washington and Lee placed two athletes on both the men’s and women’s lists.

Juniors Sonja Meighan and Patricia Kirkland were both represented on the women’s All-America team, while junior Taylor Shamshiri and sophomore Michael Holt both received All-America honors for the men.

Meighan and Kirkland’s selections give W&L at least one women’s All-America honoree each year since 1993.  A total of 23 players have earned 73 All-America citations over the years. The W&L men have seen 18 players honored a total of 51 times since 1977.


W&L Law's Russ Miller Testifies on NSA Affair for German Parliament

Washington and Lee law professor Russell Miller testified this month before a German Parliamentary committee investigating the so-called “NSA Affair.”

The Special Committee of Inquiry was convened in the wake of revelations by NSA contractor Edward Snowden showing that for many years the U.S. has been pursuing massive intelligence gathering operations in Germany, including the collection of Germans’ telecommunications data and content. It was also revealed that the U.S. had been monitoring the German Chancellor’s personal cell-phone.

Miller is an expert in U.S. and German Constitutional Law. In 2009 he published the book “U.S. National Security, Intelligence and Democracy,” which explores the U.S. Senate’s 1976 Church Committee investigation of American intelligence activities in the war on terror.

Miller notes that many Germans are outraged by the recent revelations.

“Germans place a high priority on privacy, and the NSA intelligence gathering is viewed as a betrayal by the U.S., who Germans see as an ally and partner,” says Miller.

Miller was called as an expert to provide the Committee with an understanding of the relevant American law and also to draw on his expertise in German law to offer comparative insight into how – and why – the two countries differ so dramatically on the question of how to balance security and liberty.

Aided by rising second year law student Steve Chovanec, Miller submitted a fifty page report in advance of his appearance. The report sought to answer a sweeping range of formal questions from the committee, including what provisions of law exist in the U.S. authorizing the collection, retention and distribution of telecommunications data and content.

During his testimony, Miller underscored that the issue of national security has typically been a political rather than a judicial matter in the U.S. and that any calls for legally or judicially enforced responses to these issues will sound foreign to Americans. He answered numerous detailed and often provocative questions from the Committee, including how the U.S. would respond to the discovery that the German intelligence services had been collecting and distributing communications data collected from American soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I was honored to be able to make a modest contribution to the work of the Committee,” Miller says, “I value and still believe in the German-American partnership, and I’ll be pleased if my testimony gave the committee members a slightly better understanding of the legal, as well as social and cultural, differences that frame these issues in our two countries.”

The Special Committee is planning to take fact testimony from Edward Snowden in Moscow. Miller and Snowden are likely to be the only Americans to appear before the committee.

Related Links

Der Spiegel International Online Coverage (in English)

Video of Special Committee Hearing (in German)

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