Destined for Public Service Balen Essak '20 interviews Maisie Osteen '14L about her experiences with the Shepherd Program and as an assistant public defender.
Editor’s note: Welcome to a new series on The Columns, “Living the Shepherd Dream,” in which current students in the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability at Washington and Lee interview alumni of the program who are working in a field that interests both. Look for installments in this series once a month on The Columns.
Balen Essak ’20, a poverty minor and economics major from Wisconsin, has a demonstrated interest in the criminal justice system. He has spent the last two summers exploring different aspects of the justice system and hopes to attend law school after he graduates from W&L. His ultimate goal is to become a public defender. Balen got in touch with Maisie Osteen ‘14L, an assistant public defender in Richland County, South Carolina, and asked her a few questions about her career.
Essak: When did you first think that you wanted to go into public service work?
Osteen: I think I have always wanted to be in public service. I mean, I am the daughter of public service-oriented parents—I grew up with service and community-building as very valued aspects of life. When I was trying to determine my career path I narrowed it down to three areas: law enforcement, teaching and the law. I knew whichever path I chose would be in the public interest sector.
When did you first think that you wanted to go into public defense specifically?
Prior to law school I worked at the Legal Aid Justice Center and a small boutique law firm in Charlottesville, Virginia. These two jobs were a great foundation for my legal career because they showed me how much I valued public service and my affinity for criminal law. When I went to law school I thought that I would focus on international human rights. After my first summer placement, through the Shepherd Program, I decided that there was enough work to be done in my own backyard and set my focus on public defense.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
I took three years off after I graduated from undergrad. When I graduated I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I worked a few different jobs, I traveled, I talked to people about their careers and about different options, and I determined that a career as a lawyer would probably fit me the best. It sounded like there was a nice balance between fighting, academic rigor and ability to make systemic change—on some days there is!
How did your time at W&L affect your decision to go into public service work?
I would like to think that I would have ended up a public defender no matter what school I went to, but I don’t know if that is true. I was so fortunate to be able to work with some of the best and most accomplished criminal defense lawyers in the country at W&L. Almost all of these professors had some connection to indigent defense or indigent services of some sort.
In addition, my relationship with the Shepherd Program gave me space to really focus on the academic study of poverty and human capability and to pair that with what I was seeing in the field. My relationship with Shepherd started my first law school summer. I was a Shepherd fellow at the Georgia Justice Project. After my summer and the closing symposium in Arkansas, I took two classes in the Shepherd Program, as well.
Did W&L prepare you well for public service work?
I think the W&L School of Law, like most law schools, is generally geared to those students who want to have careers in big law or in private practice. Fortunately, W&L has a very practical take on legal education. Between the practicums, the seminars and, most importantly for me, the clinics, W&L afforded a great foundation for my practice. And, as I said before, the professors I had at W&L were not only incredible teachers and mentors but now they are colleagues and friends. These folks are still people I call on for professional and personal guidance.
Was being a public defender your first job out of law school?
Yes. It is the only job for me.
What do you think is the biggest problem facing our criminal justice system today?
Man, this question could be its own essay. I am going to break my answer into three responses:
- There are absolutely two justice systems, a system for the poor and a system for the wealthy. In some ways this idea runs against the mission of the public defender. We are working really hard and we want our clients to have the exact same “odds” or shake at justice, but the reality is that is not the case—yet. If you are wealthy you are given benefits at every impasse. You’re less likely to be arrested, more likely to get out on bond, less likely to be found guilty, and likely to receive a lighter sentence if found guilty. It is just two different systems.
- The acceptance of injustice. Injustice has just become the status quo. You get people who are a part of the “system” and can be so totally unfazed by violations of other people’s rights.
- Unbalanced resources is a common woe of the public defender. We are told that our country values the principles of “innocent until proven guilty” or that “everyone deserves their day in court,” but ultimately, we don’t give our defense lawyers enough resources to give these maxims any real teeth.
What can the average person do to help improve our criminal justice system?
Keep your eyes and ears open. Courthouses are open to the public and citizens should feel empowered to head down to their local courthouse to watch proceedings. We are all seeing the images and videos of police shootings and, while police brutality is horrific and we need major reform in that area, there are daily injustices carried out in courtrooms across America that we aren’t talking about. We need to be talking about these injustices too.
Interested in meeting Maisie? She’ll be on campus in October for the Social Impact Summit. Learn more and register here.
Summer in Germany Mark Donohue '19 spent the summer working as a software engineering intern at a company called AGCO, located in southern Bavaria.
Mark Donohue ’19
Hometown: Wilton, Connecticut
Majors: Computer Science, German
Please tell us about the work you’ve been doing in Germany this summer.
I worked as a software engineering intern at a company called AGCO, located in southern Bavaria. They are an agriculture firm (I know, it is a weird combination, software and agriculture, but nevertheless an interesting one). I helped write some of the software that collects data from AGCO machines—and, in some cases, controls them.
What made this internship possible for you?
The support from Professor Youngman and the German department at W&L made the internship possible, as well as the German American Exchange, the organization responsible for organizing all of these internships.
What does an average day for you look like on this project?
Usually, I have a meeting with my boss in the morning where I update him on the work I have been doing. I’ll work throughout the day. In the afternoon, I’ll have another meeting with AGCO employees around the world and discuss the software changes that my team has implemented.
Has it been challenging in any way? If so, how?
Trying to understand my coworkers on a daily basis was definitely the most difficult part. Not only do they speak German at an unreasonably fast rate, they also speak in the dialect of the region, which sounds nothing like regular German.
Has your work this summer impacted your future plans in any way?
Yes. Although my first choice would be to work in the U.S., the experience has opened up the idea of possibly working in Germany.
How did W&L prepare you for this experience?
For starters, I started learning German at W&L, and this internship would not have been possible without any knowledge of German. Secondly, the German department and Career Development made sure that my application for the program stood out.
More about Mark
What extracurricular activities do you do?
I’m a member of Phi Zeta Delta, I work in the IQ Center, and I sporadically play on the club hockey team.
Why did you choose your major?
I came to W&L with absolutely no idea in what I wanted to major. On a whim, I took a computer science class my sophomore year. I really liked the subject and the career opportunities it could provide, so I stuck with it. As for German, I had actually forgotten to take the Spanish placement test before my freshman year. Still needing to fulfill the language requirement, I decided to take a German class. Since then I’ve taken at least one German class every semester, and that is primarily because of the professors within the German Department. They are some of the best that W&L has to offer.
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
Professor Youngman. He encouraged me to pursue this internship and helped me throughout the application process.
What’s your personal motto?
“Just do it.”
Favorite place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Muchacho Alegre. Chicken quesadilla or the enchiladas.
Favorite W&L event?
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I can hit the high notes in “Hello” by Adele.
A Natural Inclination As a senior ecologist with Trihydro Corp., Jana Heisler White '98 works on environmental protection and remediation.
Jana Heisler White ’98 entered W&L as a pre-med student. But about halfway through her undergraduate years, she discovered her interests lay more in the natural world than human anatomy. She did become a healer, but of the environment rather than people.
“At W&L, I discovered that botany and entomology were what I was enjoying, so I decided this is what I should do,” she says.
After graduating with dual degrees in biology and geology and working a brief stint as a teacher, she decided to continue her studies of the natural world.
At the same time, she felt an urge to go west, so she pursued a master’s in plant biology at Arizona State University and a doctorate in ecology from Colorado State University. After conducting postgraduate work on the effect of climate change on rangeland ecosystems in the West, she settled in Laramie, Wyoming, where she is a senior ecologist with Trihydro Corp., an engineering and environmental consulting firm.
“I work on environmental protection and remediation, doing everything from habitat restoration to endangered species protection,” she explains. “I help clients make sure they are in compliance with regulations and advise them on incentives for protecting the environment.”
Although she spends a lot of time in her office staying current on natural resource policy and reviewing reports, she enjoys fieldwork at sites across the West. She has spent four and a half years working on conservation and habitat enhancement for greater sage-grouse, a species that was historically found throughout the western U.S., but has seen a large decline over the past 40 years.
“Greater sage-grouse have high fidelity to habitat and are sensitive to human impacts. The species also relies on sagebrush, which is susceptible to fire due to the spread of cheatgrass throughout the western U.S. I have contributed to numerous projects to improve habitat quality for sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligate species,” she explains.
She finds her job most rewarding when she feels she is actively working to protect or restore landscapes and species habitats, and when projects require the collective expertise of diverse stakeholders.
A Salad Bowl with a Sordid Past This elegant bowl, which is part of W&L's Reeves Collection, can be traced back to the Opium War of 1839-1842.
Drug wars may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you see this elegant and elaborately decorated piece of Chinese export porcelain. But this bowl, from a large service emblazoned with the name of the ship Red Rover, is intimately connected to the smuggling of opium from India into China in the 1830s and the first Opium War fought between China and Great Britain from 1839 to 1842.
Red Rover was a 97-foot long, 245-ton, three-masted ship built in Calcutta, India, in 1829. Named after the swashbuckling pirate in James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Red Rover,” she was the first of what became known as “opium clippers,” which were fast sailing ships that smuggled opium from India to China.
Based on American clipper ships designed during the War of 1812, Red Rover was built for speed, with a sleek hull, flush deck and raked masts. These features allowed her not only to go fast, but also to sail close into the wind, allowing her to sail from India to China even during the winter monsoons that blew from north to south. On her maiden voyage in 1830, she sailed from India to China and back in just 86 days, beating all previous records. She made two other voyages to China that year, a schedule she continued most years until she was lost at sea in 1853.
For most of her life, Red Rover belonged to Jardine, Matheson & Co. The company had been founded in 1832 by the Scotsmen William Jardine and James Matheson, and was the leading merchant house involved in the lucrative but illegal opium market; by 1834 they were responsible for one-third of the opium smuggled into China. They were also among the leading proponents of “free trade,” which to them meant forcing China to ease trade restrictions and open more ports to foreign merchants, by force if necessary.
Opium, a narcotic that Chinese addicts mixed with tobacco and smoked, had been illegal in China since 1729. However, British and American merchants smuggled it into China starting in the early 18th century. The amount grew each decade, from around 4,000 chests a year (a chest would hold about 140 pounds of the drug) in the early 1800s to 10,000 chests in the 1820s. That figure was up to 19,000 chests in 1831-32, and 40,000 in 1838-39.
This made vast fortunes for a few British, American, Indian and Chinese merchants, and created serious medical, social and economic problems in China. As Cheng Hanzhang, a Chinese official, described it, opium was “a poison that foreigners do not use themselves but still sell to China, harming our people, consuming our wealth to the tune of millions of taels per year, all secretly in exchange for silver that will leave and never come back.”
All of this and other issues led to what became known as the Opium War, which last from 1839 until 1842 and ended in defeat for China. It marked the end of long period in which China was powerful, prosperous and envied around the world, and the beginning of what China has called its “Century of Humiliation” in which European, American and later Japanese governments would seize Chinese territory, meddle in Chinese politics and dictate Chinese trading policies. The Opium War and what came after continues to color Chinese perceptions of the rest of the world; according to one historian, “No event casts a longer shadow over China’s modern history than the Opium War.”
That British merchants did not see anything wrong with their actions is reflected in this bowl. It was part of a large service meant for elegant dinner parties, and may have been used on board Red Rover, or by William Jardine or James Matheson in their homes in Macao, Hong Kong (which the British got in 1841 as part of the settlement of the Opium War), or Scotland. The name of their fastest and most famous ship, emblazoned on a garter (a heraldic device that had connotations of the exalted Order of the Garter), would have been an obvious reminder of the source of their wealth and influence.
The Red Rover salad bowl is on display at the Reeves Center on the Washington and Lee campus. Read more about the Reeves Collection here.
Confronting Cancer with Research Erin An '19 has spent time this summer researching immunotherapy treatments for pediatric cancer at the University of Virginia.
Erin An ’19
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Majors: Religion, Pre-med track
Q: What kind of work are you doing in Charlottesville this summer?
While working with a former W&L alum, Dr. Daniel “Trey” Lee, I have had the opportunity to conduct research at U.Va Health System in the Department of Pediatrics and Hematology. We are developing potential CAR T cells immunotherapies for a specific type of pediatric brain tumor, DIPG. Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG) are very aggressive brain tumors in children, and they are difficult to treat due to their precarious location in the brain. However, that may all change with the promising potential of CAR T cell immunotherapies.
Q: What made you want to be part of this work?
While shadowing and volunteering last summer in the oncology department at a hospital in Spain, I formed relationships with the cancer patients there as they came in for their chemotherapy treatments. Until then, I did not realize how harshly those treatments attacked their bodies. During that summer, I decided to pursue pediatric cancer research. CAR T cell immunotherapies are so innovative because they are more personalized treatments, different from chemotherapies, and the goal is to create more effective and specific treatments with less side effects.
Q: What does an average day for you look like on this project?
My day normally starts at 7 a.m., when I go for a run and have quiet time before starting work at 9:30. I do different protocols on a daily basis; some days I do plasmid minipreps, restriction enzyme digests and transductions to create our different CAR T cell constructs, while other days we do tissue culture, check on the mice in the vivarium and perform stereotaxic brain injection of the tumor cells into the mice. Once we successfully transduce the T cells into CAR T cells, we can give the treatments to the mice with brain tumors and look for promising results. After work, I read outside, go hiking or visit the lakes in this area.
Q: What is the most interesting knowledge you’ve picked up while doing this work?
I did not realize that CAR T cells were so versatile. We’re not only trying to develop CAR T cells to treat DIPG brain tumors, but also trying to develop a different type of CAR T cells that will minimize the side effects (cytokine release syndrome) of CAR T cell treatments!
Q: Has it been challenging in any way? If so, how?
Initially, conducting research in an entirely new field was challenging, but researching in a hospital puts things into perspective and has challenged me to confront the disease that we are trying to combat face-to-face. We have to monitor the effects of the brain tumor in the mice, and it is difficult to imagine that similar effects are also occurring in the pediatric patients. The reality of this disease makes me work harder to successfully develop the immunotherapies.
Q: Has your work this summer impacted your future plans in any way?
Because of this research, I want to continue to pursue the development of novel therapeutic therapies in cancer research.
Q: How did W&L prepare you for this experience?
Through my liberal arts education as a pre-med and religion major, W&L has challenged me to analyze critically, not only in academics but also with real life problems. I have realized that medical research is not only about knowing the science behind it; it also necessitates creativity and thinking from multiple perspectives, and all of those skills were fostered by the W&L education.
If you know a W&L student who would be a great profile subject, tell us about it! Nominate them for a web profile.
More about Erin
What extracurricular activities do you do?
-ESOL community coordinator
-Intervarsity Small Group Leader
-Burish Intern at Maury River Middle School
-Biochemistry research student
-Cellist in University Orchestra
-PAACE and SAIL officer (last two years)
-EMT (ride-along and volunteer)
Why did you choose your major?
Originally, I was a chemistry major; however, I decided to further my religion studies. People are often shocked that I am a religion major on the pre-medical track, however my religious studies are not incongruent to my pre-medical studies, but have fostered my critical analysis skills and have challenged me to really understand the different perspectives that we study in the different religions. I love the Religion Department because they truly care for their students and challenge us to look deeper into the different philosophers and the different religions that we study.
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
There have been so many professors, students and staff that have inspired me. It is so difficult to just choose one. I would say that Professor Kyle Friend has inspired me the most, as not only is he my research mentor and professor, but a life mentor overall. He has not only challenged me in the academic setting in his lab and viochem class, but also has challenged me to really pursue my passions. He was one of the many professors who encouraged me to further my religious studies along with my pre-medical studies and hopefully pursue a MD/Divinity dual degree in the future. I am so thankful for Dr. Friend and all the inspiring professors and students who have supported me to pursue all my passions and studies at W&L.
What’s your personal motto?
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” —Psalms 118:24
Favorite place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Napa Thai. I love their spicy drunken noodles.
Favorite W&L memory:
Dinners with friends and science library hangouts. I know that everyone at W&L works super hard, but all the learning has been enjoyable due to the W&L community!
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I wrestled on an all boys’ wrestling team in high school.
Why did you choose W&L?
I chose W&L because I was offered a ROTC scholarship here, however, I decided not to do ROTC anymore. I could not picture myself being at any other college than W&L. It is truly an unexpected blessing to be here!
Quick Hit: Students See Sustainable Farming in Action During The Leading Edge Pre-Orientation Program on sustainability, first-year students were treated to a visit to Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia.
W&L Partners with Correctional Center for New Exhibit A panel discussion and reception for "The Unfreedom of Expression: Artworks from the Augusta Correctional Center" will take place Sept. 13, but the exhibit will remain on display through Sept. 30.
A new art exhibit in Wilson Hall’s Lykes Atrium and hallway galleries at Washington and Lee University highlights the talents of men housed (or formerly housed) at Augusta Correctional Center (ACC) in Craigsville, Virginia. “The Unfreedom of Expression: Artworks from the Augusta Correctional Center” will be on display through Sept. 30. A panel discussion and reception will take place at 5 p.m. Sept. 13 in Wilson Hall Room 2017. Both the discussion and reception are free and open to the public.
Two Washington and Lee juniors, Laura Calhoun ’20 and Balen Essak ’20, first got the idea for this exhibition during a 2017 Spring Term class taught at ACC. During the course, Calhoun and Essak noticed some impressive doodling on an inside classmate’s textbook and began to learn more about the variety and quality of art produced by men who are incarcerated at ACC.
The exhibition features the work of 18 men who are incarcerated or were formerly incarcerated, and it includes sculptures, paintings, drawings and textile pieces. Some artists are extremely imaginative when it comes to finding materials for their work — for example, a tiny white skull was carved from two bars of soap using a pen cap.
To read more about the story behind this exhibit, please click here. Visitors to this exhibit are invited to leave comments in a guest book that will be shared with the artists at a later date.
Lykes Atrium and hallway galleries are located on the second floor of Wilson Hall, in Washington and Lee University’s Lenfest Center for the Arts. The Atrium is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, please call 540-458-8861.
Finding Beauty Behind Bars After taking a course at Augusta Correctional Center, two W&L juniors helped to organize an exhibition at the university featuring artwork by artists who are incarcerated. The exhibit is entitled “Unfreedom of Expression.”
During a Spring Term 2017 course held at Augusta Correctional Center (ACC), Washington and Lee University students Laura Calhoun ’20 and Balen Essak ’20 admired some elaborate doodling on a textbook owned by one of their classmates from ACC.
“That’s nothing close to the best art you’ll find here,” he told them. “There are some incredible artists at Augusta.”
After seeing more examples, which ranged from detailed pencil drawings to papier-mache figurines fashioned out of toilet tissue rolls, Calhoun and Essak were astonished. That day, as they drove home to Lexington, they began to wonder what it would take to bring that amazing artwork out of the prison and into the galleries of W&L.
More than a year later, with support from both the correctional facility and multiple departments at W&L, a new exhibit has opened in Wilson Hall’s Lykes Atrium and hallway galleries. “The Unfreedom of Expression: Artworks from the Augusta Correctional Center” features the work of 18 men who are incarcerated or were formerly incarcerated, and will be on display through Sept. 30. A panel discussion and reception will take place on Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. in Wilson Hall Room 2017. Both the panel discussion and reception are free and open to the public.
For everyone involved in the project, this show is a chance to share with the wider community what W&L students have been learning through their interactions with residents at Augusta.
“We saw through our class that the people who are incarcerated are people with real feelings and emotions,” Essak said. “But on the outside, when people think of a prisoner they think of people who are violent and inhuman. That is the stigma we are trying to tear down. They are more than one action that they may or may not have done at some point in their life.”
Washington and Lee’s relationship with ACC began in 2015, when Kelly Brotzman ’95, then a visiting assistant professor in W&L’s Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, taught a Spring Term class at ACC called “Incarceration and Inequality.” The course, which was the first of its kind in Virginia, was taught three times a week to nine W&L students and 10 inmates.
For Spring Terms 2016 and 2017, Brotzman used the same model to teach courses at ACC called “Freedom and Unfreedom” and “Profit and Punishment.” Calhoun and Essak were students in the 2017 course.
One year after they had the initial idea for the art show, Calhoun and Essak began to work with W&L’s Tammi Hellwig, director of Community-Based Learning; Clover Archer, director of Staniar Gallery; and Howard Pickett and Fran Elrod, director and associate director of the Shepherd Program. On ACC’s end, the project was enthusiastically supported by Warden John Woodson and Regional Principal Darlene Maddy.
Calhoun and Essak wrote a proposal for funding from the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics at W&L, which is hosting a 2018-19 speaker and discussion series on the “Ethics of Identity.” In their proposal, Calhoun and Essak wrote: “One of the central questions of this year’s Mudd series theme is: ‘Can we choose our identities, or are our identities given to, or imposed upon, us?’ In the case of incarcerated individuals, this question becomes especially poignant.” The Mudd Center generously supported the collaboration, with additional funding from the Shepherd Program, the Office of Community-Based Learning and the Provost’s Office.
After lining up all of that support, it was finally time to pick up the artwork from ACC. In late August, Essak and Calhoun traveled with Archer, Pickett and representatives from the Office of Community-Based Learning to retrieve the pieces. It wasn’t until they had possession of the art that Calhoun felt as if the show would really happen.
“I don’t know that one word can describe that feeling,” she said. “It was like a combination of elation and relief and hope.”
Archer, who has curated dozens of exhibitions at W&L, said she was delighted by both the number of pieces offered for display and the level of technical skill they evidence.
“This art was made without any expensive or sophisticated art supplies or classes or formal training,” she said, “yet the level of expression is just sensational and the technical skills are amazing.”
Two bars of soap
Inside a clean peanut-butter jar is a tiny ship flanked by two miniscule dolphins, all floating on an indigo sea — and all made from the pulp of wetted toilet paper rolls. No less impressive are the handkerchiefs made from bed sheets or the fist-sized white skull, which was carved from two bars of soap using a pen cap.
The materials and tools used to create the art in “The Unfreedom of Expression” lend much to the exhibition’s overall meaning. While the students who study art in Washington and Lee’s Lenfest Center have access to some of the best art supplies money can buy, residents at Augusta have far fewer resources. For example, the watercolors used to paint the image of a ruby-throated hummingbird may have been fashioned from an item such as liquid paper mixed with marker ink. These kinds of methods speak to what Archer called “the risk and the sacrifices they make in order to have an outlet for expression.”
“We’ve had work by untrained artists and artists who come from a very different experience than our students,” Archer said, “but this is probably one of the most intensely powerful exhibitions we’ve had because I feel like our students are so far removed from this experience.”
She hopes the work will inspire rich conversations among W&L students. A guestbook set up at the site of the exhibition will record visitor thoughts that can then be shared with the contributing artists at ACC.
This pattern of W&L students learning from ACC residents, and vice versa, is one that has been exceedingly successful since Brotzman taught that first class at the correctional facility. This year, Pickett, the director of the Shepherd Program, taught a Spring Term course at ACC called “Martin Luther King Jr.: Justice, Love, and Forgiveness.” Some of the students in his class will have artwork in the show (one student even painted a portrait of Pickett).
Jeff Schatten, assistant professor of business administration, taught a seminar with a similar model at ACC in Spring 2017 and at Middle River Regional Jail in Spring 2018. Schatten’s course, entitled “Organizational Behavior: Leading Teams,” explored the interpersonal processes and psychological factors that affect the way individuals interact and engage with one another.
One of the goals of the Community-Based Learning Office in supporting an engaged course, Hellwig said, is to facilitate a reciprocal relationship. “The community voice is essential, which includes collaboratively identified learning objectives, clear and timely communications and a structure that enables students, community partners and faculty to design a mutually impactful partnership.”
“The collaboration with ACC has been outstanding,” Hellwig added. “The administration has been involved in every step of the project in a positive way. Principal Maddy thoughtfully considered the collective learning experience of the artists, W&L students and the community.”
Hellwig also noted that Archer spent countless hours curating the show, and that her contributions have made the exhibition even more impactful. “So much thought went into the way the exhibit is set up. The arrangement of the art, the design of the labels, and so many other details speak to the level of respect she has for these artists and their work,” she said.
Of course, nobody at W&L or ACC would have been involved in a project like this if not for the compassion and tenacity displayed by Essak and Calhoun as they strived for months to make their vision a reality. Most students who take seminar courses at detention facilities describe it as a transformative experience, Hellwig said, but these two students “made sure it wasn’t a fleeting transformation. They wanted to make something lasting.”
“Helping Laura and Balen realize their vision to showcase each artists’ voice, as well as their humanity, has been a humbling and moving experience,” Hellwig said.
Community-partnered seminar courses at detention facilities are often popular during registration, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy for any of the students. In addition to heavy reading loads and writing assignments, Pickett’s MLK Jr. class required each student to reckon with preconceived notions, as well as emotions like guilt and feelings of helplessness.
“At the very end of class, people had grown quite close in those important conversations about love and justice and forgiveness,” Pickett said. “A lot of outside [W&L] students were feeling very sad, and one of the inside students said ‘Look, don’t be sad. We’ve sat down for the last four weeks and you came in here not knowing what to expect, and we came in here not knowing what to expect, and we just had real, honest conversations about really important issues. I want you to remember that’s a beautiful thing.’”
Photos from Professor Howard Pickett’s Spring Term 2018 course at Augusta Correctional Center, “Martin Luther King Jr.: Justice, Love, and Forgiveness.”
“The Unfreedom of Expression: Artworks from the Augusta Correctional Center”
When: Sept. 1-30
Where: Wilson Hall’s Lykes Atrium and hallway galleries, Washington and Lee University
A panel discussion and reception will take place on Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. in Wilson Hall Room 2017. Both the panel discussion and reception are free and open to the public.
Championing Land Conservation A passion for the outdoors led Taylor Cole '75 to launch a second career as co-founder of Conservation Partners in Lexington.
Growing up in Lexington, Taylor Cole ’75 spent many hours exploring the wilds beyond Woods Creek and the W&L football stadium. (His father, Fred Carrington Cole, was president of the university from 1959 to 1967.) In those days, that area was open space, woods and natural habitat all the way to the river. Through those adventures, Cole developed a passion for the outdoors that has translated into a second career as a co-founder of Conservation Partners, a Lexington-based consulting firm that guides landowners through the complex process of protecting their property through conservation easements or land gifts.
Cole spent the first part of his career as a banker. During that time, he served on the board of a land trust and developed an understanding of how to stem the tide of development that is encroaching on farmland and natural spaces.
In 2001, he left banking to establish Conservation Partners L.L.C. with attorney Jim McLaughlin ’86, son of former W&L football coach Lee M. McLaughlin. Their mission is to help clients permanently protect the scenic beauty, wildlife habitat, or historic integrity of their land and preserve its ability to provide a farming or forestry livelihood.
“When we started Conservation Partners, Virginia ranked 50th out of 50 states per capita on expenditures by state on protecting open spaces. Around that time, the state came up with the Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit,” he says. “In very short order, Virginia began to significantly increase land protected by conservation easements, so it was a great time for us to get involved.”
Although Conservation Partners has helped save many thousands of acres in the Old Dominion, Cole says much work remains.
“We are still losing 100,000 or more acres a year to development. As a state, we have protected about 7 percent of the land eligible for easements,” he says. “We are so fortunate as Americans to have these extraordinary open spaces. It is important we do this so kids growing up now will have the experience we had.”
Into the Storm Caroline Schmidt '13 volunteered for the Red Cross during 2017's horrific hurricane season.
Caroline Schmidt ’13 did not major in journalism and mass communications at W&L, but the writing skills she developed as a business major served her well last fall during her intense eight weeks as a volunteer with the Red Cross during the horrific 2017 hurricane season.
Schmidt was interviewing for jobs when Hurricane Harvey hit. Because her mother, Elizabeth Penniman, is vice president of communications at the Red Cross, she was asked to join the media relations team at Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. They were happy to welcome her aboard as a media relations and social media specialist. Then the disasters began to pile up, and social media exploded.
“There were three hurricanes, but the responses were different for each,” says Schmidt, who is now an associate in the San Francisco office of True Search, an executive search company. “Harvey just came and stayed. Irma was all over Florida. In Puerto Rico, there were power outages and fear for safety. Just because we did something in one situation didn’t mean we could just do it again. It was very draining because each was so different. Then in the midst of everything, the Las Vegas shootings and the California wildfires happened. Media calls were in the dozens per day, and we worked seven days a week for 65 days straight. It was both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.”
Further complicating things were the Red Cross’s different rules in different jurisdictions. In Florida, they ran the shelters, but in Puerto Rico, the government managed the shelters. There, the Red Cross facilitated communications to help people locate missing relatives. For Schmidt, the most rewarding moments were when they could help people talk to their families for the first time.
“I was definitely a supporting player,” Schmidt remarks. “The people on the ground were the true rock stars, handling incredibly challenging situations, going without sleep. All departments at the Red Cross came together to help out. I was in no way responsible for what happened. I was just so fortunate to help in any way that I could.”