Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

An Interdisciplinary Carnival The Science, Society and the Arts conference at W&L, which takes place March 15-16, brings together people of all disciplines to celebrate the good work taking place within the university community.

WLU2632-800x533 An Interdisciplinary CarnivalOne of several book colloquia at the 2017 SSA conference focused on “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

“SSA is important for W&L because, as a university comprised of high-achieving students, there is a need for a venue where research and projects can be presented.”

~ Alankrit Shatadal ’21

Washington and Lee’s multi-disciplinary conference, Science, Society, and the Arts (SSA), will this year celebrate 15 years of providing a platform for students to present their original work to the rest of the university community.

Through SSA, which will take place Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 16, 2019, attendees can enjoy visual and performance arts, panels, colloquia, presentations and student-created posters. For the first time, student-made digital shorts and documentaries will be looped in Stackhouse, allowing audiences to drop in and watch them while attending other SSA activities.

Politics Professor Robin LeBlanc, who had been a leader of a student conference before she came to W&L, first came up with the idea of holding such an interdisciplinary conference at W&L when the faculty members in the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics were having conversations about strategic planning in 2002.

“A concern for the Williams School is always how to make sure that the students and faculty here stay connected with the students and faculty outside of the Williams School,” LeBlanc said.

She suggested a conference that “gives students an opportunity to show the incredible work that they are doing in the classrooms” — work which had previously only been seen by a single professor.

The first SSA conference was held in fall 2004 with more than 130 participants presenting posters, panels and book colloquia. Beginning in 2007, SSA organizers added more elements, gained more law school participation, and decided to hold the event in the middle of March during odd years. Students who intend to participate must submit proposals in advance. The first day of the event includes performing arts and visual arts, while the second day features a keynote luncheon, panels, colloquia and poster sessions from various disciplines.

“SSA is important for W&L because, as a university comprised of high-achieving students, there is a need for a venue where research and projects can be presented,” said SSA committee member Alankrit Shatadal ’21.

In recent years, the SSA committee has had more than 20 members, including five students and a diverse group of faculty and staff across different departments. The committee has three subcommittees for programming, communications and technology.

Davis Straske ’19, who has been a member of the programming committee since January 2018, said she has enjoyed helping to plan the event.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet professors, work with them toward a common goal, and provide student input on an event put on by the school for students,” she said.

Lawrence Associate Professor of Accounting Stephan Fafatas, chairman of the 2019 SSA committee, said the conference opens his eyes to the talents of students outside his discipline.

“I know what students do in my accounting classes, but I don’t get a chance to see what they are accomplishing outside those classes very often,” Fafatas said. “SSA is a venue that provides the W&L community a better understanding and appreciation of our students’ achievements across a variety of disciplines.”

Professors encourage their students to submit academic works to SSA. Assistant Professor of Classics Caleb Dance said when he sees a good paper from one of his students, he sometimes marks it with a sticky note suggesting that it be proposed for SSA.

“They might have already earned a wonderful grade from the paper, but hopefully they weren’t just doing it for a grade, they were doing it because they were interested in it,” he said.

Boetsch Associate Professor of Sociology Lynny Chin, who is also a member of the SSA committee, said proposals for this year’s conference represented a wide range of disciplines. She added that the programming subcommittee randomized the locations of posters and presentations to ensure variety for audiences. “Everything in the event is the highlight,” she said.

Faculty may also participate in SSA by proposing a book, film or album for a colloquium. Dance, who proposed a discussion of “Dirty Computer” by American musician Janelle Monáe, said colloquia inspire interdisciplinary communications.

“Someone might come to this colloquium who’s very interested in music production, and someone else might be very interested in the lyrics and the poetry,” Dance said. “Just having those two people in the same room and in conversation with one another—that’s what SSA wants to encourage.”

Associate Professor of Biology Nadia Ayoub, a member of the SSA committee, said anyone can benefit from SSA by “going and seeing the wealth of creativity” at W&L. Nick Mauer ’20, another member of the SSA committee, agreed.

“SSA brings the campus together to demonstrate the breadth of talent and exceptionalism of W&L students,” he said. “It is a great opportunity for us to learn from the work of each other and interact with departments we would not otherwise explore.”

WLU3571-800x533 An Interdisciplinary CarnivalUniversity Singers perform during the 2017 SSA conference.


2019 Committee Members

Chair: Stephan Fafatas, Accounting
Nadia Ayoub, Biology
Elizabeth (Beth) Belmont, Law
Brandon Bucy, ITS
Lynn Chin, Sociology and Anthropology
Caleb Dance, Classics
Elizabeth Denne, Mathematics
Chris Dobbins, Music
Stuart Gray, Politics
Antonio Reyes, Romance Languages
Elliot King, Art and Art History
Gabi Tremo, Communications and Public Affairs
Jessica Wager, Office of the Provost
Sarah Wilson, Geology
Blake Shester, ITS
Alicia Shires, ITS
Yoo-Jean Han ’22
Allen Litvak ’21
Nick Mauer ’20
Alankrit Shatadal ’21
Davis Straske ’19

A Sampling of 2019 SSA Programming:

Performing Arts:
Refuge Chamber Choir – Reflections Upon Peace
Voices of W&L – Two Views Through Campus

Digital Shorts:
“A W&L Story: The Early Black Athlete Experience”
“Chinese Public Opinion on Pollution and Global Climate Change”

Panel Presentations:
Transitions in Power Balance
Our Bodies

“Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country” by Shelby Steele
“My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir” by Brian Turner

Find more information about SSA, including the complete schedule of events, on the SSA webpage.