Feature Stories Campus Events

Timothy Diette Named Senior Advisor to the President for Strategic Analysis

Tim DietteTim Diette

Timothy Diette, associate dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics and the Harry E. and Mary Jayne W. Redenbaugh Term Associate Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University, has been named senior advisor to the president for strategic analysis, effective July 1.

President William C. Dudley announced Diette’s appointment in a message to the W&L community on March 16.

Diette joined the Williams School faculty in 2004, serving as acting head of the Economics Department in 2016 before being appointed associate dean in 2017. He holds an honors B.A. in economics and history, summa cum laude, from the University of Vermont, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to W&L, he worked in the finance departments at Bank of America and Wachovia, followed by a stint as an economist for the North Carolina Department of Revenue.

He teaches courses in Economics of Education and Health Economics, and is affiliate faculty in both the Africana Studies Program and the Shepherd Poverty Program. He also helped create and advises students for the Education Policy minor.

Diette serves on the university’s SACS Self-Study Leadership Team and as a member of the university’s Data Analytics Working Group, as well as on a number of university committees, including the International Education Committee, Writing Program Advisory Committee, and Registration and Class Schedules Committee. He previously served on the President’s Advisory Committee, the Student Affairs Committee, the Faculty Executive Committee, Faculty Administrators Evaluation Committee, and the Student Faculty Hearing Board. He is also a member of the Shepherd Program’s Strategic Planning Steering, Faculty Review and Advisory committees, and served on the organizing committees for Questioning the Good Life and Questioning Passion, two year-long seminar series devoted to the interdisciplinary study of contemporary topics.

“As we examine the challenges facing the university and higher education today, it’s clear that sophisticated analytical work is essential to making good decisions and making progress toward our most important goals” said Dudley. “Through his research and work experience, and most recently as a member of the Data Analysis Working Group, Tim has a demonstrated a talent for using information to improve institutional self-understanding and decision-making, and his insights will be invaluable in moving the university forward.”

As senior advisor to the president, Diette will work on strategic issues across the university, including admissions, financial aid, student affairs, academic affairs, and advancement.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to serve and partner with people across all areas of the university at this important moment in the life of our institution,” said Diette. “This position is particularly exciting to me, as it brings together my experiences as a faculty member and associate dean, my academic research in the area of the economics of education, and the analysis work I performed in the government and private sectors in ways that I hope will be beneficial to W&L.”

An internal search for a new associate dean of the Williams School will be announced soon.

W&L to Expand Advanced Research Cohort through Quality Enhancement Plan

Washington and Lee University has selected the Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) program as its next Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). President Will Dudley and Provost Marc Conner announced the selection at the undergraduate faculty meeting on Feb. 5.

“The Quality Enhancement Plan is a requirement of our external accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, but it’s also a great opportunity for us to develop a program that shows great promise to make a meaningful difference to critical university goals,” said Dudley. “The QEP will direct our energy and resources to make the ARC program even stronger and more impactful in the next five years.”

ARC students, Chris Messerich ’20, Mariam Samuel ’20 and Robert Moore ’20, meet with faculty in the IQ Center.

SACS requires a new QEP every 10 years. The last QEP, selected in 2008-09, was the Revitalized Spring Term. SACS requires that the QEP focus on improving undergraduate student learning outcomes, but provides broad latitude for the types of programs and concepts that institutions may pursue.

“The Spring Term project was immense, far outstripping most QEPs we’d seen other schools attempt,” said Conner. “We really threw ourselves into that project, and it’s been extremely successful. It’s one of our signature programs, and students and faculty both routinely describe their Spring Term courses as among their most memorable parts of their W&L experience.”

The ARC program began two years ago, under the leadership of Helen I’Anson, the John T. Perry Jr. Professor of Biology, and Megan Hobbs, associate dean of students, dean of sophomores, and director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEAD) program. ARC brings 12 incoming first-year students with a strong interest in the STEM areas to campus in the summer prior to their first year. For five weeks, the ARC students join existing faculty/student research teams doing research projects.

In addition to their summer research experiences, the students participate in a wide range of programs and activities designed to strengthen their leadership potential, give them a deeper understanding of the career pathways available to STEM majors, and help them emerge as future leaders on the W&L campus.

The ARC program is open to all incoming first-year students, and aims particularly to attract students of under-represented backgrounds to the program.

“ARC has been successful beyond our wildest dreams,” said Conner. “We’ve brought in two ARC cohorts now — fantastic students — and they’ve had a powerful summer experience that then carries over into their W&L experience as first-years and beyond. It involves the whole campus—academic affairs, student life, career development, admissions, alumni affairs, and more. Faculty, staff and students — including the upper-division students who work with the ARC students in the labs — all describe the program as a great success.”

The ARC proposal was submitted by Carrie Finch-Smith, associate professor of mathematics, and Katrina “Kiki” Speizio, a member of the class of 2018. It not only supports the current ARC program, but expands it beyond the STEM fields to other programs in the College and in the Williams School.

“I’m especially excited to think about the possibilities for the visual and performing arts, for journalism, for the Williams School fields, and more,” Conner continued. “More faculty will be able engage students in great summer projects, even before those students have begun their time at W&L. This could be the start of transformative and long-term working relationships for a number of students and professors.”

Hobbs and I’Anson will serve as co-directors of the ARC QEP project. Finch-Smith will join other faculty, students and staff on the ARC working group. Over the next several months, they will write the formal QEP proposal that will be submitted to SACS in January 2019. When the SACS self-study team visits campus for W&L’s formal accreditation review in March 2019, they will focus almost exclusively on the QEP proposal.

“The QEP proposal forms the major part of the on-campus visit. It’s intensely scrutinized,” said Conner. “Every detail has to be in place, and the overall justification and anticipated impact of the plan has to be clear. We have to explain how the QEP emerges from our overall strategic priorities, which the ARC program does beautifully, particularly in its emphasis on enhancing diversity and building an inclusive campus community. It’s been strongly emphasized in the strategic planning proposals coming from the College, the Williams School, Student Life, and Admissions. Because the time-frame for forming the QEP is so narrow, this is an especially strong choice for us.”

The QEP proposal process was a nearly yearlong enterprise. The QEP Selection Task Force, chaired by Elizabeth Knapp, professor of geology and director of the Johnson Program, was created in March 2017. It consisted of faculty, staff and students who solicited over 50 proposals from the entire campus community. After selecting the strongest and most promising proposals, they formed cohorts of similar proposals to further strengthen the finalists and met with both the president and the provost to share their views.

“The selection process was intense and very rigorous,” said Dudley. “Professor Knapp and her task force did an excellent job of helping various groups form strong proposals. We were especially gratified to see how well the finalists aligned with our institutional priorities — so much so that we will be able to include important elements from all of them in our strategic initiatives going forward. The ARC program has the twin virtues of being a proven and powerful concept, while also fitting well into the tight time-constraints of the SACS review process.”

“I’m so happy about this choice,” said Finch-Smith. “The ARC program has been a joy for me so far, and I especially love the way it allows students to develop both personal and geographical ownership of the W&L community.”

Keen Named Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Hamilton College

Suzanne Keen

Suzanne Keen, dean of the College and Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, has been named vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Hamilton College, Clinton, New York. She will begin her new role on July 1, 2018.

W&L Provost Marc Conner said Keen will remain in her current position through the current academic year. The process for hiring her replacement will be announced this winter.

“It is difficult to adequately express how important Suzanne Keen has been to W&L since her arrival in 1995,” said Conner. “She has been one of the great teachers of the university, a gifted and passionate educator who has taught thousands of students the joys and challenges of great literature. In her roles as chair of the English Department and on many important university-wide committees, she has been a leader and an eloquent voice of reason and commitment in everything she has done.”

Keen, who was acting chair of the Department of English from 2003 to 2004, and chair from 2010 to 2012, teaches courses in British fiction and postcolonial literature and a number of first-year and upper-level seminars. She has published widely on the topic of narrative empathy, and authored several books, including a textbook on narrative form and a volume of poetry. In 2008 she received an Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV), one of 12 awarded state-wide.

She served as interim dean of the College in 2012-2013 before assuming the position permanently in 2013. In that role, she hired dozens of faculty, with an emphasis on improving faculty diversity and cultivating a younger generation of campus leaders; created Teacher-Scholar Development Cohorts; added Arabic language instruction and Experiential, Global Learning and Perspectives course designations; carried out strategic planning for the College; advocated for the future of STEM pedagogy; and launched W&L’s Digital Humanities Initiative.

In her new role at Hamilton, Keen will serve as the chief academic officer and as the primary voice of the faculty on the president’s senior leadership team.

“While I have had the privilege of working with Suzanne for only one year, it is clear to me that she has had an enormous impact on W&L during her tenure at the university,” said W&L President William C. Dudley. “Suzanne’s passion for her students, the faculty, and teaching are evident in everything she does. She will be a great asset to both the faculty and the senior leadership at Hamilton.”

“I have been forged as a faculty member and senior administrator at W&L,” said Keen. “I am proud to have been part of a faculty so accomplished and so dedicated to our teaching mission. I have witnessed wonderful development in both the quality and diversity of our students since 1995, and the hardest part of this departure involves leaving my W&L teaching behind. My sweetest memories take place in the Payne Hall seminar room.”

More information about Keen’s appointment is available on the Hamilton College website.

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W&L Expands Financial Aid for Spring Term Abroad Programs

Beginning with the 2018 Spring Term, Washington and Lee will provide institutional grants to meet the full cost of Spring Term domestic and international travel programs for students with financial need. W&L President Will Dudley announced the expanded financial aid program in November, along with an extended deadline to allow eligible students to take advantage of the additional aid now available.

“This type of immersive, faculty-led program is an example of the distinctive education that we offer at W&L,” said Dudley. “I am pleased that these programs will now be available to all our students, regardless of financial means.”

Raising endowment to support financial aid for students to study abroad during the academic year, including Spring Term, as well as support travel, guest speakers and other non-traditional activities that are hallmarks of W&L’s revitalized Spring Term, has been an ongoing fundraising priority for Washington and Lee. The president’s discretionary endowment for funding of special initiatives, part of the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity, makes it possible for all students to take immediate advantage of Spring Term travel programs as the university focuses on completing this fundraising goal.

There will be 17 different Spring Term Abroad programs in 2018. They will be held in Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Japan, England, Ghana, Belize, New Zealand, Scotland, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, and Argentina and Uruguay.  Domestic travel courses will include trips to New York, N.Y.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; South Dakota and the Silicon Valley. For complete details, see the Spring Term website.

“Our Spring Term travel programs are truly distinctive,” said Provost Marc Conner. “Faculty lead students in an investigation of culture, language, history, politics, geography, and religion in areas and regions that the faculty know intimately from their own research.  Often students describe these trips as life-changing and among the most memorable experiences of their W&L careers.  These global immersion learning opportunities are great examples of a W&L education at its best.”

Brian C. Murchison Named Next Director of the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics

Brian C. Murchison

Brian C. Murchison, the Charles S. Rowe Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University, will be the new Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics and director of the Mudd Center for Ethics, beginning July 1, 2018. He succeeds Angela Smith, who was named the Mudd Center’s inaugural director in 2013 and is returning to her full-time faculty role as professor of philosophy.

Murchison joined the faculty at Washington and Lee in 1982. He focuses his teaching and scholarship on First Amendment issues, administrative law, mass media law, jurisprudence, torts, civil liberties, and contemporary problems in law and journalism. Murchison’s articles have appeared in a variety of law and scholarly publications, including the Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, the North Carolina Law Review, the Georgia Law Review, and the Emory Law Journal.

He received both his B.A. and J.D. from Yale University; served in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa, before attending law school; and practiced as an associate with Hamel, Park, McCabe and Saunders in Washington, D.C., before joining the W&L law faculty. At W&L Law, Murchison has served as interim dean, director of the Frances Lewis Law Center, and supervising attorney in the Black Lung Legal Clinic, in addition to serving on numerous law school and university committees. Last spring, Murchison introduced a new undergraduate course titled “Separation of Powers in the U.S. Constitution,” and this year he is chairing the university’s Commission on Institutional History and Community.

“All of Brian’s work has been in the overlapping areas of justice, speech, liberty and constitutional ethics,” said Provost Marc Conner. “He is one of the most respected teacher-scholars on our campus, and has been for decades. I’m delighted that he has agreed to take on the leadership of one of our signature programs. Brian is ideally suited for leading a program devoted to the exploration of the key ethical challenges and questions of our professional and civic lives.”

Murchison credits Angie Smith with establishing the Mudd Center as a thriving program on the W&L campus. “Thanks to the leadership of Angie Smith and her advisory board, the Mudd Center has done great things in a short period of time,” he said.  “I am excited about this opportunity to build on their accomplishments and to continue the center’s active role in the intellectual life of the university.”

Angela Smith

Smith, the first Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics and director of the Mudd Center, joined the W&L Department of Philosophy in 2009 as an associate professor of philosophy after teaching for 10 years at the University of Washington in Seattle. She teaches a variety of courses in moral and political philosophy as well as ancient philosophy.

“It’s difficult to overstate the achievement of Angie Smith, who as the inaugural director of the Mudd Center did so much to establish the center as a major site of inquiry and discussion of key ethical issues on our campus and in the nation,” said Conner. “When Angie announced in June that she was ready to return to the faculty, we sought a faculty leader who could build upon the foundation she established and pursue ethics with the same intelligence and passion that she has done. Brian agreed in early August to take on this role, and we are excited to see him assume this university-wide leadership position.”

Smith’s research interests concern the connections between morality, moral agency, and moral responsibility. She is co-editor of the Oxford University Press book The Nature of Moral Responsibility (2015), and has published numerous articles exploring the importance of attitudes in moral life. In 2013, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct summer research, as well as a Laurence S. Rockefeller Faculty Fellowship to spend the 2013-2014 school year at the Princeton University Center for Human Values. A magna cum laude graduate of Willamette University, with majors in philosophy and political science, Smith received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University.

Under Smith’s leadership, the Mudd Center has become a major resource for students and faculty on campus and at all three schools — the College, the School of Law, and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. The center supports faculty who teach courses in ethics across the curriculum, and sponsors programming that fosters serious and sophisticated conversation about public and professional ethics at the university. Past themes have included Race and Justice in America (2014-15), The Ethics of Citizenship (2015-16), Markets and Morals (2016-17), and Equality and Difference (2017-18). The center also publishes The Mudd Journal of Ethics, a peer-reviewed academic journal showcasing undergraduate work on a wide range of topics in ethics. Each spring the Mudd Center sponsors the Undergraduate Conference in Ethics, featuring papers that will be published in that year’s journal.

“Among her many achievements in the director’s role, Angie has done a wonderful job of incorporating our students in the work of the center,” Conner said. “The undergraduate conference and journal of ethics are terrific student-led achievements, and she has enabled our students to grapple with key ethical issues in an informed and responsible way.”

“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to serve as the director of the Mudd Center over the last four-plus years,” stated Smith. “I am particularly grateful for the support and advice I have received from faculty, staff and students throughout the university in developing ethics programming that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. I owe special thanks, in this regard, to the members of the Mudd Center Advisory Committee, who have provided crucial guidance at every step in the Mudd Center’s development. The Mudd Center also could not have gotten off the ground or continued to function without the extraordinary efforts of its first administrative assistant, Joan Millon, and its current administrative assistant, Debra Frein. It has been an honor to work with such committed and talented people. I am very excited to see what direction the center takes under Brian’s leadership.”

The Mudd Center was established through a gift to the university from award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, a 1950 graduate of W&L. When he made his gift, Mudd said that “given the state of ethics in our current culture, this seems a fitting time to endow a center for the study of ethics, and my university is its fitting home.”

A Message to Students from the Executive Committee

To: Members of the Student Body
From: The Executive Committee

Earlier this morning, a Student Body Resolution was posted online. The resolution represents the conviction of many student leaders representing the Executive Committee, the Student Judicial Council, the Student Bar Association, Residence Life, the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, the Student Association for Black Unity and Hillel, who over the past couple weeks have worked on drafting and signing the resolution to reaffirm our commitment to civil dialogue and interaction within our community. While we think it is important that our administration has committed to institutional reflection, we also want people to know that our student body will not stand for rhetoric that is hateful or disrespectful during these conversations. The resolution can be found at https://www.wlu.edu/executive-committee/student-body-resolution, and we hope you will sign it and join us in these important discussions throughout the year.

Remembering 9/11

Flags on the Colonnade in honor of the lives lost on September 11, 2001.

The W&L community remembers today those whose lives were lost 16 years ago on September 11, 2001. Those losses include two members of the Washington and Lee family — Rob Schlegel, of the Class of 1985, who died in the Pentagon, and James Gadiel, of the Class of 2000, who died in the World Trade Center.

Rob was on the staff of the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon and had been promoted to commander just weeks prior to the attack. James worked in the equities department of Cantor Fitzgerald, on the 103rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

Loud and Proud Carnegie Hall Performance Sparks Impromptu Choir Family Reunion

Receiving a thunderous standing ovation after performing in the Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall in New York was “truly one of those great life events” for the University Singers, according to Director Shane Lynch.

“Being on that famous stage, singing extremely well next to choirs from huge universities and schools of music . . . those are things that only happen once or twice in most people’s lives,” Lynch said.

The University Singers earned its place on the April 1 program through a highly competitive process. The W&L group was one of only four collegiate choirs from around the country chosen to perform in the Collegiate Choral Showcase. The other choirs selected were the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, the University of Washington Chamber Singers and the University of Washington Chorale.

The University Singers perform in the Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall in New York.

To vie for a spot, Lynch submitted several years’ worth of recordings of the University Singers, including a couple of songs per year. Judging was based on the ability of an ensemble to sing a number of different songs well and to sustain the quality of the choir over the course of several years, despite the annual turnover that is inevitable in any college choir. University Singers has 52 members, and about 40 to 50 percent graduate each year.

Not only were the students excited by the enthusiastic response to their performance, they also were moved by the outpouring of support they received from W&L alumni.

“We had alums of the University Singers come in from all over the country — California, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, etc. — just to be with us as we performed,” Lynch noted. “The choir family was loud and proud, to be sure. We were on that stage because of the hard work of those alums, as it was their recordings that got us selected in the first place. Afterwards, we had an absolutely packed reception where generations of choir members all sang together. It was just incredible.”

Lynch added that alumni support through the Gordon Spice Fund for Music was instrumental in making this this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible for some students. The Spice Fund was created in 2012 by alumni of choral groups who performed under Spice’s direction during his 39-year tenure at Washington and Lee. Income from the fund is used to enrich the mission of the Department of Music, with special emphasis on enhancing the experience for students through travel.

News of W&L’s acceptance into the showcase did not arrive until August, after budgets had been finalized and Lynch had already committed the University Singers to a full slate of performances that could not be altered.

“The only way an expensive additional performance like this could happen was by being creative, increasing student costs, and having great support from the provost,” Lynch explained.

He pointed out that increasing student costs makes being in the ensemble extremely hard for some students. The Spice Fund kept the costs for these students down to a manageable level and enabled several students with financial need to participate through the year without the stress of the costs keeping them away.

“I firmly believe that the only thing that should determine the roster of the University Singers is talent, and the Spice Fund makes that a reality,” said Lynch. “No longer is the cost of being in the ensemble a deciding factor for students—just talent, work ethic and desire, as it should be.”

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Creating Balance: Isabella Sparhawk ’17 Isabella Sparhawk used her Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend five weeks in India, studying vinyasa yoga and photojournalism.

As the sun rose over the Himalayan Mountains, I rose from the thin mattress of my bed in Hostel Plaza Gangotri. A typical day in Rishikesh, Uttarkhand, India, began at 5:15 a.m. I dressed conservatively, with my knees and shoulders covered and my hair pulled back. I walked down the four flights of stairs of my hostel, past the sleeping security staff boys, and made my way down the narrow dirt path sandwiched between two buildings. Sleepy cows decorated the street, dozing against the walls, sometimes accompanied by wild monkeys and wild dogs. I joined the 11 other students in my small group at 5:30 a.m. for tea and fruit (bananas, mangoes or lychees) before we made our way down the one main road to our yoga hall. This was my favorite time of the day. The usually loud and bustling main street was quiet, with shop owners dusting off their carts and children running barefoot down the street, selling us pictures they had drawn on notebook paper.

Our first class began at 6 a.m. with Helen, our Vinyasa Theory teacher from the Philippines. Vinyasa is a style of yoga that has a constant flow connecting the postures. In this class we learned about the proper positioning, adjustments and assists for different asanas (postures), how to structure a class, and how to modify poses to fit all skill levels. At 7 a.m. we had what we affectionately called “Death by Vikas,” our strenuous Vinyasa class led by our instructor Vikas, who we were convinced was also a male model. He took us through rigorous exercises and poses — many of which I had never encountered after three years of yoga practice. He pushed our flexibility, strength, confidence and resolve, and taught us many difficult poses while laughing at our pain, telling us we had it easy compared to his teachers, who would whip him with sticks if he did something incorrectly.

Our next class was Pranayama (breath therapy) with Mahesh, one of my favorite teachers, who was youthfully hilarious and grandfatherly wise. He also taught Yoga Therapy, during which we learned about acupressure, oil applications, stress-relief massages and emotional-release therapy. Some of the practices we did brought me and the entire class to tears — either from releasing emotional pain or from uncontrollable laughter.

Who knew so much could be accomplished before breakfast? At 9:30 a.m., my group and I sat down to our usual meal of porridge and toast, provided to us by the kind staff members who worked in the hostel. Sometimes we were surprised with potato sandwiches (think grilled cheese but with mashed potatoes instead of cheese) or lo mien noodles.

After breakfast, we had Philosophy class, where we learned about Yogic principles such as chakras, the origin of Sanskrit language, the yogic diet, reincarnation, prana, gunas, the eight limbs of yoga and much more. Next was Anatomy and Physiology with Kushal, an instructor from the Indian National Army. We learned about the skeletal, endocrine, digestive, muscular and nervous systems, and how all of these relate to and affect the yogic practice.

“There were so many colors, people, landscapes and animals it was a photographer’s dream. My camera acted as a tool to understand and bridge the newness around me.”

When morning classes were completed, we had lunch, which was always rice with a curry of some sort, chapatti (a whole wheat flat bread) and vegetables. We then had a two-hour break. I would typically spend my breaks walking around the city, going into crystal or fabric shops, getting Reiki, writing in my journal, reading from our textbook, studying, sitting by the river with friends, and taking photographs wherever I went. There were so many colors, people, landscapes and animals, it was a photographer’s dream. My camera acted as a tool to understand and bridge the newness around me. As a blonde, I stood out, and countless people stared at me and approached me to take pictures with them, whipping out selfie sticks and pressing their faces against mine. At first it was overwhelming and strange: Once someone handed me their baby, speaking in a different language, smiling and pointing at their camera phone. However, these interactions became a great way to start a conversation and ask if in return I could take a photograph of them or their children.

After exploring during break, we had our third yoga class of the day, Hatha, a slower form of yoga that focuses heavily on the breath and returning to a base pose, with Sarita. Sarita was our “Rishikesh mom” and is a fabulous woman who told us many stories about growing up in Delhi. She survived tuberculosis, sexist bosses, a bad marriage and having a child at 17, and now works and lives on her own — rare for women in India. She also taught us Shatkarma, cleansing techniques. During Shatkarma we used a neti pot to cleanse our nose, threaded a rubber tube from our nose to our throat, and had to drink and vomit salt water to cleanse our stomachs.

Our next class was Meditation with Sanjeev, a gentle old man who rode a motorcycle and was always dressed in pristine, head-to-toe white. We could never figure out how he kept his white shoes spotless after walking on the dirt paths that stained our own sandals. We did different forms of meditation: prayer, group, chant, laughing and movement. Our final class was a dancing meditation. I learned to waltz from my Austrian friend, and Sanjeev stood from his usual quiet seated position and broke into our dance circle, wildly swaying his arms and shaking his hips. Sanjeev also taught creative meditation. He said that when we express ourselves creatively through something we love, we are freeing our mind and living in the present moment, such as in dance, painting, singing or photography. Each Saturday class, we had a creative circle where every person had to share one of their gifts with the class. Students shared detailed drawings, told stories about legends from their home country, sang songs in their native tongue, and gave classmates origami. It was fabulous to illuminate how every person has so many talents. I also appreciated our simple meditations, when we quietly sat on the rooftop of our building where we could see the sun set over the Ganges River, and be enveloped by the calming brush of the breeze.

Following meditation, we had dinner, a meal similar to lunch. I loved sitting around at dinner and listening to everyone tell stories about where they came from and where they had traveled. We were an interesting group: John the Aussie with two cute kids, who grew avocado and apricot trees; Gudi from Vienna, who spent the past year living in France; Bri, who sold her life in Wisconsin to travel the world solo; Daniella from Puerto Rico, who spent the past six months traveling Southeast Asia; and Topaz, the professional ballerina, who had the kindest smile. It was inspiring to see how people lived their lives and made me realize the potential that life offers if you go outside and reach it.

This was a typical day in my life for the five weeks I was in India. I was able to learn and experience so much, and meet and love so many beautiful people. I am exceedingly grateful for the Johnson Opportunity Grant, and can confidently say this experience will benefit me in many aspects of my life. I am excited to share what I have learned through teaching yoga classes at Center of Gravity Studio in Lexington, and by sharing the photography book I created.

More about Bella:

Hometown: Akron, Ohio

Major: Business Administration

Minor: Studio Art (Photography)

Extracurricular Involvement: 

  • Development Intern
  • WLUR
  • SEAL
  • Mock Trial
  • Campus Activities
  • Alpha Delta Pi

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Study Abroad Spring 2015 – Photography in Paris
  • Semester Abroad in Madrid Fall 2015

Why did you apply for the Johnson Opportunity Grant?

The ability to create my own project was amazing. I was able to combine three of my favorite things: yoga, photography and travel.

How did your work under the grant apply to your studies at W&L?

My experience has applied to my studies in a multitude of unexpected ways. Academically, it most closely related to my photography minor. I took photographs and have created a self-published book with 140 images. The knowledge I gained at Vinyasa Yoga School also contributed to creating balance in my work, study and social lives, increased my mental flexibility and ability to look at things from new perspectives, and to deal with stress management more effectively. I have been given a new perspective on life, which has changed my goals and direction of my work, studies and post-graduation plans.

What was the most unexpected aspect of your grant experience?

I pictured a relaxing, Zen, trouble-free month for myself, but it was anything but. It vacillated between extremely high highs and low lows. My friends joked about how lucky I was (and I am!) to have received a grant to “go do yoga in India.” That is what I did, but it was in the context of three grueling physical classes a day, along with philosophy, anatomy and physiology, six days a week, beginning at 6 a.m. It was in conjunction with having a hostel room infested with termites that grew dimensionally out of the wall, and one night having hundreds and hundreds of swarming bugs in my room, horror-movie style. I was the absolute sickest I have ever been for 10 days without access to a doctor, and pulled my hamstring. I learned a lot about problem-solving and remaining positive.

Post-Graduation Plans: I’ll be working as a wildlife photographer at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Kangaroo Island, teaching yoga in Melbourne, scuba diving in Malaysia, and volunteering in Thailand and Indonesia.  After traveling, I will come back and get a real job (I promise, Mom)!

Favorite W&L Memory: I loved studying abroad during Spring Team with Professor Christa Bowden for our Photography in Paris class. We went to markets, museums and river tours on the Siene, re-created Atget photos, and explored. My group of two photo students and two history students did a project on Parisian street art, and it was amazing to learn about the modern artists and how the street art movement developed.

Favorite Class: Professor Bill Oliver’s short-story fiction class. We study examples of short stories and then write our own. The class meets at LexCo to critique each other’s work. I absolutely loved it, and recommend everyone take it. It provided me with a foundation to write a novel with Professor Oliver’s guidance, which has been an awesome experience.

Favorite Campus or Lexington Landmark: Rockbridge Regional Library — no one goes there, and it is my secret gem for studying. It’s a great way to feel integrated with the town.

What’s your personal motto? Everything happens for a reason. Be nice. Love everyone. Work hard. Live your truth (be yourself).

What’s your favorite song right now? I really struggle with the concept of a favorite, I can’t pick just one thing. I’m currently listening to a lot of ZHU, Russ, Alex Aioni and Glass Animals.

Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order? Napa Thai. Panang Curry or Drunken Noodles with tofu. James Dick has never been there, so everyone should peer-pressure him into experiencing their amazing food.

What’s your passion?

University Town Hall Meeting

There will be a town hall meeting to discuss the university’s strategic planning process and 2017-18 budget on Thursday, March 30, at 10 a.m. in the Hillel Multipurpose Room (note the change in location). Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to attend.