Feature Stories Campus Events

A Community Collaboration: Volunteers from W&L, VMI and RCHS Help Make Woods Creek Montessori’s STEM Summer Camp a Success

After recognizing a lack of summer programs in the area for elementary students interested in math and science, Woods Creek Montessori Director Caroline Russell took action. In mid-June, the inaugural Woods Creek Montessori STEM summer enrichment camp kicked off, with nearly 20 rising fourth, fifth and sixth graders participating in hands-on sessions in science, engineering, technology and math.

The interactive sessions, held in science labs and classrooms on the campuses of both Washington and Lee University and VMI, were taught by volunteer faculty and staff from both colleges, as well as teachers and students from Rockbridge County High School.

The first week of camp focused on science, with students participating in sessions such as Engineering: From Bridges to Rockets, Visualizing Science, Understanding Viscosity and Volcanic Eruptions, Chemistry is Cool!, Spider Behavior, the Woods Creek Project, Rube Goldberg Machines, Science of Cyanotypes, Hands-On Physics, and Beekeeping and Pollinator Protection.

The first week’s sessions were taught by Jim Squire, professor of electrical and computer engineering at VMI; Dave Pfaff, W&L’s integrative and quantitative science center academic technologist; Jeff Rahl, associate professor of geology at W&L; Matt Tuchler, associate professor of chemistry at W&L; Nadia Ayoub, associate professor of biology at W&L; Charles Winder, biology laboratory instructor at W&L; Jay Sullivan, professor of mechanical engineering at VMI; Christa Bowden, associate professor of art at W&L; Daniela Topasna and Greg Topasna, both professors of physics at VMI; and Harrison Branner, recent graduate of RCHS.

Week two of the STEM camp focused on math, engineering and technology, with the students enjoying sessions on Fun with Fractals, Economics Decisions and Games, Electricity and Circuits, Real World Computer Programming, Why Are Some Things Expensive? It’s All About Supply and Demand!, How to Engineer a Bridge, LEGOs and Linear Optimization, Number Theory, and Math in Decision-Making Models: How We Use Math in Making Everyday Decisions.

The second week’s sessions were taught by Meagan Herald, associate professor of applied mathematics at VMI; Katie Shester and Chris Handy, both assistant professors of economics at W&L; Maggie Lee, rising sophomore at RCHS; Brandon Bucy, senior academic technologist at W&L; Art Goldsmith, the Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics at W&L; Chuck Newhouse, professor of civil and environmental engineering at VMI; Gavin Fox, assistant professor of business administration at W&L; Chris McGrath, advanced math and science Teacher at RCHS; and Tenni Sen, professor of economics and business at VMI.

In addition to the volunteers from W&L, VMI and RCHS, Waddell Elementary School first grade teacher Janice Black and RCHS advanced chemistry teacher Sherry Baucom served as lead instructors for the summer camp, accompanying the students to the various sessions.

By all accounts, the first year STEM camp was a success, and local parents and students should be on the lookout for the program to run again next summer.

“We received tremendously positive feedback from parents and campers who were grateful for the opportunity to participate in this hands-on enrichment program,” said Russell.  “Woods Creek Montessori looks forward to building on the success of this project and to supporting youth STEM education in the Rockbridge area in the coming years.”

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In the Community: W&L’s Denny Garvis Provides Social Enterprise Workshops for Nonprofits

What started as a teaching tool and an annual checklist for local non-profit leaders has grown into a series of social enterprise workshops for both executive directors and board members to stay current on governance best practices.

In its fifth year, Denny Garvis’ Annual Tune-Up Workshops for Social Enterprises: Required and Recommended Practices for Non-Profit Board Governance are highly popular, free sessions, held each summer and attended by dozens of local and regional non-profit directors and board members.

For Garvis, a professor of business administration at Washington and Lee University who was a practicing attorney before he transitioned to teaching, the workshops are a natural extension of his research on topics that straddle law and business, such as corporate governance and social enterprises. The current workshops, targeted specifically to leaders of non-profit organizations, evolved from an earlier corporate governance program. The focus on non-profits allows Garvis to serve the community in a unique way and to have a significant, positive impact on many different organizations.

“I’ve served on a number of local boards over the years, and found myself having to say no to many organizations due to time constraints,” said Garvis. “Offering these workshops allows me to serve and connect with a lot of groups at one time without over-committing.”

In addition to providing a service to the community, the workshops also offer a summer research opportunity for W&L undergraduate or law students. Garvis hires one student each summer to research, develop and co-present that year’s programs. The student’s experience begins in a seminar-like setting, discussing topics and core materials. The student then researches the issues and tailors the workshops to the specific challenges organizations are facing, so while the format is the same, the topics change each year.

“It’s a great experience for an undergraduate student interested in law school,” said Garvis. “There can be curriculum connections, as well, if the student is in the poverty studies program, as it can also combine working with a community organization.”

Typical attendees are directors and board members of preschools, day cares, various arts groups, Hospice and social services organizations such as United Way, RARA, RATS and Community Table. While most attendees are from Lexington and Rockbridge County, there are often a handful of regional attendees from Staunton and Covington.

Garvis describes the sessions as “low key, old-school” workshops. The executive sessions cover legal and regulatory issues, board composition and dynamics, trends and current issues. The sessions also serve as a forum where the directors can share resources and ideas and as a closed group where they can communicate openly. According to Garvis, the directors have established a trust amongst themselves that enables open dialogue and great conversation.

The workshops are extremely popular with a number of executive directors, who make it a point to attend each year. “I go to these seminars for a couple of reasons,” said Stephanie Wilkinson, executive director of Main Street Lexington. “It’s the most efficient way to get information on best practices for non-profits; it’s obviously cost-effective, since they’re free of charge; and possibly most importantly, it’s a safe space for those of us in the local non-profit world to get together and share the challenges and questions that inevitably arise with when you work with a board.”

Garvis continues to offer the workshops each year because he consistently gets great feedback and regular attendance. “People learn something new every year,” he said. “And I enjoy the ongoing, year-round personal connection to a variety of organizations. It’s interesting, fun and gratifying.”

“I’ve attended three years in a row,” said Wilkinson, “and I leave every time with new ideas and a new determination to make our board as good as it can possibly be.

W&L Law’s Lyman Johnson Serves as Expert Witness in $159M MF Global Settlement

Lyman Johnson, Robert O. Bentley Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, served as an expert witness in the recently settled bankruptcy case against Jon Corzine and the commodities firm MF Global.

Corzine is a former U.S. senator and governor of New Jersey. Following his reelection loss to Chris Christie, he become CEO of MF Global. The firm collapsed in 2011 after generating a $1.6 billion shortfall following investment in European sovereign debt.

Corzine and other executives were sued by several entities, including their parent company and stockholders. The $159 million settlement ends all litigation so that the liquidation of the firm can proceed.

In the case, Johnson worked with the law firm Jones Day in its representation of the trustee’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Corzine.

Johnson is a nationally known scholar, whose work focuses on business associations, securities regulations, corporate finance, and business planning. His scholarship has appeared in a variety of publications including the Michigan Law Review, Texas Law Review, Boston University Law Review, Columbia Law Review, George Washington Law Review, and the Delaware Journal of Corporate Law.

In addition, Johnson’s scholarship and expert testimony have been employed in several high profile corporate lawsuits in recent years, including the nation’s largest stock options backdating case and a case brought by shareholders of the Walt Disney Company for the way their Board of Directors handled the hiring and firing of Michael Ovitz. Johnson has filed amicus briefs in several recent U.S. Supreme Court cases involving corporate disclosures and shareholder rights.

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W&L's Cantey Examines U.S. Policy Toward Syria

The following opinion piece by Seth Cantey, Assistant Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee, appeared on USA Today’s website on July 21, 2016, and is reprinted here by permission.

Obama did too much in Syria, not too little: Column

By Seth Cantey

The U.S. and its partners did just enough to make things worse. Next time, let Assad win.

The recent tragedies in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, Baghdad, Medina and Nice — like the related ones coming — all have roots in Syria. Conventional wisdom holds that if the United States had done more to affect the course of Syria’s civil war, the Islamic State terrorist group might never have taken hold, Syrian President Bashar Assad might have been defeated, and the scale of the war might have been far smaller. According to this argument, the terrorist attacks that fill our headlines are the results of failed policy.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Providing lethal aid early would have made matters worse, accelerating the war rather than slowing it. What no one wants to see today, because so few saw it at the time, is that there was another policy that could have prevented the chaos now consuming the region. The U.S. and its partners could have, and should have, let Assad win. Instead, years later, an anti-ISIL coalition met for two days this week in Washington to plan next steps against the caliphate and those it has inspired.

Several points are worth remembering about how the Syrian civil war began.  First, to the extent that a moderate opposition existed, it was weak. There were Syrians who protested peacefully, and many hoped for a secular alternative to Assad. These people were no match for a well-trained Syrian army supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. The U.S. could have poured weaponry into the conflict, but most intended recipients would have had little training or combat experience. Those weapons would have changed hands, just as U.S.-provided artillery, tanks and Humvees have in Iraq.

Second, the opposition was disorganized and lacked coherent leadership. Many people recognize the names Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Some recognize the name Abu Mohammad al-Julani, head of the Nusra Front. But who can name anyone in the moderate Syrian opposition? Who leads the Free Syrian Army or the Syrian National Coalition?

Third, Assad and the powers supporting him had a clear objective: keep Assad in power. Syria’s allies were unburdened by the regime’s atrocities, because they had a dog in the fight. In contrast, the U.S. found itself in a catch-22. By attacking Assad it would help extremist rebels; by attacking extremist rebels it would help Assad. Unwilling to back either party, and without a plausible alternative, the U.S. had no clear goal. And thus no clear strategy. The administration believed it could keep its hands clean by not intervening militarily. Meanwhile, the body count continued to rise.

In this context, Washington chose a third way. When President Obama called on Assad to step down in August of 2011, he invested the U.S. in the dictator’s defeat without changing policy on the ground to facilitate that outcome. The possibility of Assad winning the war outright was no longer on the table, and U.S. acquiescence to a political solution in which Assad remained became more difficult. To do something, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions on the Syrian government, froze Syrian assets under U.S. control, prohibited commercial ties with Damascus, and blocked the import of Syrian oil.

There were other actions too. The U.S. helped to establish supply routes and funneled money, intelligence, and non-lethal aid to handpicked rebels, many of whom would later change sides. Physical supplies included communications equipment, night vision goggles, bullet proof vests, pickup trucks, food, medicine, and more. Most damaging, the U.S. and its partners did little to prevent states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia from sending vast sums of materiel and money to Assad’s opposition, including its most extreme elements. Turkey faced little pressure to control its border, even as thousands of militants flooded into Syria to join the war.

It was clear that none of this would be decisive, but it was also clear that these steps would prevent Assad’s victory and prolong the war. In the meantime, the correlation between the most effective fighters and the most brutal ones grew stronger, eventually to the point that one group began holding territory and attracting recruits from around the world. By doing enough to avoid accusations of doing nothing, the U.S. poured fuel on a fire that might have extinguished itself — and watched as others poured on more.

The main problem with U.S. policy toward Syria is not that the administration did too little early in the conflict. It is that the administration did too much. If the U.S. and its partners had not intervened, Assad would have stamped out the civil war before it began. A brutal dictator would have retained control of his country, but the death toll would be lower, Syria would be more stable, the refugee crisis might not have happened, and ISIL might never have taken its current form. When we look at Iraq and Libya, we see obvious examples of the unintended consequences of intervention. We should see that when we look at Syria, too.

Lee Sommerfeldt '18 Awarded Bridging Scholarship to Japan

Lee Sommerfeldt, from Sealy, Texas, a junior at Washington and Lee University, has received a Bridging Scholarship for Study Abroad in Japan and a Morgan Stanley Scholarship. He will be studying at International Christian University (I.C.U.) in Tokyo during the 2016-17 academic year.

The Bridging Project offers scholarships to American undergraduate students participating in study-abroad programs in Japan. Funding from private foundations and major U.S. corporations (including Morgan Stanley), through donations to the nonprofit U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, makes it possible to award these scholarships. Sommerfeldt will receive $2,500 from the Bridging Project.

Morgan Stanley supports the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation’s Bridging Project for Study Abroad in Japan. Morgan Stanley awards only two scholarships each year to students who have an interest in economics and international finance and who have been accepted for study in Japan. Sommerfeldt’s Morgan Stanley scholarship is for $7,500.

“It’s an honor to be able to represent the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation and Morgan Stanley during my study abroad at International Christian University in Tokyo,” said Sommerfeldt. “During February break this year, I stayed on campus researching and writing the essay portion of the scholarship on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, so it’s a great feeling having my work be recognized.

“I’d like to acknowledge all the help I’ve received from Washington and Lee’s Japanese Department, including W&L professors Janet Ikeda and Yumiko Tashiro. Their advice has helped me develop my language skills and passion for Japanese culture. Mixing that with our excellent commerce school and the library’s resources, Washington and Lee has given me the skills to seamlessly apply liberal arts thinking to more concrete topics, such as the modern Japanese economy.”

A double major in business administration and East Asian languages and literatures (Japanese emphasis), Sommerfeldt is a member of the Venture Club, which not only promotes entrepreneurship but also helps students learn about start-up businesses in a hands-on environment. He also is a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and W&L Campus Kitchen, where he prepares and delivers meals. He also is a Kemper Scholar.

“I first met Lee when, as a first-year incoming advisee, he emailed me in the middle of the summer and asked what he could do to prepare for the first week of class of Beginning Japanese,” said Ikeda. “My recommendation was to master the first writing system of Japanese known as ‘hiragana.’ True to his word, Lee arrived on campus already having pushed himself to succeed. He is a deserving recipient of two scholarships that will aid his yearlong study at I.C.U. in Japan. We are especially proud to call him W&L’s first Morgan Stanley Scholarship winner.”

Roanoke Times: W&L's mock convention gets it right again with Trump nomination

The Roanoke Times features a story about W&L Mock Convention’s “notable track record for accuracy,” following this week’s Republican National Convention.

Read the full story.


Annual Fund Sets New Record in 2015-16

old-george-l-400x533 Annual Fund Sets New Record in 2015-16Photo by Kevin Remington

In the year following the wildly successful conclusion of Honor Our Past, Build Our Future: The Campaign for Washington and Lee, alumni and parents once again gave more to the Annual Fund than ever before. Toward a goal of $10.2 million, their combined support at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year on June 30, totaled $10.3 million. This represents an increase of more than $260,000 or 2.6 percent over last year’s total and is the seventh consecutive year of record-setting results. The Annual Fund exceeded $10 million for the first time in 2014-15.

“The fact that we can continue the momentum of the Annual Fund the year after the conclusion of the campaign is a testament to the loyalty and generosity of the university’s alumni and parents,” said Dennis W. Cross, vice president for university advancement. “Through their generous support, alumni and parents continue to affirm their belief in the mission of Washington and Lee, their desire to support today’s students, and their satisfaction with their personal experience and that of their children.”

Giving by undergraduate alumni continues to comprise the largest portion of the Annual Fund – this year totaling $7,026,074, the first time giving from this group reached $7 million. Undergraduate non-alumni parents once again set a new record of giving to the Annual Fund with contributions to the Parents Fund totaling $1,700,000. Giving by Law alumni to the Law Annual Fund also set another record – $1,490,000, an increase of nearly $150,000 or 11 percent over last year’s record-setting total. Gifts from friends of the University who are not alumni or parents rounded out the Annual Fund total.

A complete summary of the 2015-16 fundraising results will be included in the August 2016 edition of Generally Speaking.


W&L's Strong Quoted on MSN

Bob Strong, William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee, was quoted in a recent MSN article on Why Presidential Candidates Keep Dumbing it Down. You can read the full MSN story online.

W&L Journalism Student Interviews Mother of Slain Dallas Police Officer

Washington and Lee journalism major Rachel Stone ’17 recently found herself reporting on one of this summer’s most heartbreaking stories. As an intern at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, she was assigned to interview the mother of Lorne Ahrens, one of five police officers shot and killed in Dallas on July 7.

“Obviously, I had never done any type of article where I had to speak to a grieving family member, let alone the mother — and in such a tragic, hateful killing,” Stone said.

Stone, who has served as the cops reporter for the Rockbridge Report and interned last summer at The Roanoke Times, is technically a business reporting intern for the Observer. But since the newspaper’s night-cops reporter had left for The Washington Post, she said, interns have been taking turns filling in on the shift.

Stone was working the night-cops desk on July 11, when editors found out that Ahrens’ mother, Charleen Sonner, lives in Charlotte. She thought she might do a phone interview with Ahrens’ half-brother, who also lives there, but she ended up talking to Sonner instead.

“I have never done anything like this, so I really tried to plan out all of my questions ahead of time and write out the kind of phrasing that I wanted,” Stone said.

The additional preparation helped, but it did not make the interview easy. Stone said she had a heart-wrenching conversation with Sonner, who lost her husband more than 20 years ago and lost one of her three sons about 10 years ago, only to now lose another child.

Stone asked questions, but her instinct was to stay mostly silent while Sonner told stories about her son. “She reiterated on more than one occasion how proud she was of her son.”

“I was brought to tears several times during the conversation,” Stone said, “but I tried not to let her hear that.”

The only story she has covered that comes close to the Ahrens story in terms of emotion, she said, was the 2013 drunk-driving crash that killed one W&L student, injured two others, and sent the driver to prison. She does not relish the possibility of covering more such stories in her career.

Nevertheless, she said, she received a great deal of support and positive feedback from fellow interns and employees at the Observer, and she appreciated the opportunity to “tell readers what this man was truly like.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity because I’m always open to new experiences,” she said, “and I think that’s what an internship is all about.”

Read Rachel’s story at online >

W&L's Murdock Quoted on FUSION

Karla Murdock, Elmes Professor of Psychology, was quoted in a recent piece on the media site FUSION. In the story, titled “5 settings to change on your phone to make it 100% less annoying,” Murdock weighs in on how to minimize smart phone interruptions.

You can read the full FUSION story online.

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