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Giving All Students a Leading Edge W&L’s Class of 2027 takes part in orientation experiences at no additional cost.

App_Adventure_2-scaled-600x400 Giving All Students a Leading Edge

“It’s an important step in fostering a strong community, which is a hallmark of the W&L experience. It’s W&L at its best.” ~ Robert Covington ’97

Washington and Lee alumni who have participated in the university’s pre-orientation programs, known as Leading Edge, often recall the experience as one of their best college memories. This year, those experiences were available to all incoming undergraduate students, thanks to two key endowments created to support the program.

Leading Edge provides first-year students with an introduction to W&L and an opportunity to meet new friends before classes begin. The trips are designed as bonding experiences in an environment where students can engage with people from diverse backgrounds, learn about themselves and begin building the necessary skills to thrive in college. For several years, the university has offered optional pre-orientation programming for students for an additional fee.

For Ella Van Wyk ’27, a first-year student from Eugene, Oregon, the opportunity to participate in Appalachian Adventure as part of Leading Edge was a factor in her decision to attend W&L. “This is such a unique opportunity that no other school I was considering offered,” she said. “It’s really special to be able to meet other students right off the bat who share my interest in hiking and backpacking.”

In 2021 the Board of Trustees voted to dedicate the earn­ings on $40 million of the university’s endowment to curricular and programmatic enhancements to the student experience. This commitment, along with the Class of 1997 Endowment for Pre-Orientation Programs and the Rogowski Endowment for Pre-Orientation Programs, has allowed the university to offer Leading Edge to students at no additional cost.

Robert Covington ’97, whose daughter Nell Covington ’24 par­ticipated in Appalachian Adventure, said several other members of his class have had children participate in the program and were excited to support its expansion. “Leading Edge offers an opportunity for incoming students to meet one another and to present themselves in a sincere way. It’s an important step in fostering a strong community, which is a hallmark of the W&L experience. It’s W&L at its best,” Robert said.

The Class of 1997 Endowment for Pre-Orientation Programs was established by the class in honor of its 25th reunion; it pro­vides support for program expansion, financial assistance for students and other related expenses. The class committed more than $680,000 to the Leading Edge Endowment.

Katie McGinley ’97, who served on the reunion committee, said the program presents an opportunity to connect students from diverse geographic locations and backgrounds. “We need more of these types of equalizing experiences in the space of private education,” McGinley said.

McGinley is the parent of Madison McGinley ’24 and Barclay McGinley ’26, both of whom she said made lasting connections on campus through their Leading Edge experiences. “This program creates a very welcoming, trusting environment — the environment that I associate with W&L,” McGinley said.

The Rogowski Endowment for Pre-Orientation Programs provides support for initiatives that equip incoming students with the skills to thrive while building the deep sense of community inherent in the W&L experience. Ellen Fitzsimmons Rogowski served on the W&L Board of Trustees from 2017–2021; she and her husband, Greg, are former co-chairs of the Parents Leadership Council and their son, Greg, is a Class of 2017 alumnus.

Ellen said one of the reasons her family chose to support Leading Edge is that it provides an opportunity to introduce new students to what truly makes W&L special. “This program invites people into the W&L experience faster and cements them as part of the community earlier.”

For upper-division students, the program provides opportunities to practice leadership and gain experience in team building and project management. Sophia Taylor ’26 recalled that she was inspired to become involved as a trip leader after her own Leading Edge experience. “Becoming a trip leader was an easy ‘yes’ for me,” Taylor said. “Some of the people that I am closest to on campus I met through my Leading Edge trip, and we supported each other throughout the year.”

Taylor said she wanted to provide the same positive experience that she had as a first-year student to this year’s incoming class. “W&L is full of students who want to get involved and make a difference,” she said. “Leading Edge trips kickstart students’ involvement by acclimating them to what is available on campus.”

Sidney Evans, Vice President for Student Affairs, said the expansion provides all students with an opportunity to engage with W&L in new ways. “We know these experiences are the foundation for building community and are vital for first-year students, but the upper-division students who serve as trip leaders are also learning lessons in leadership and team building,” said Evans. “This program is not just for the first-year students; it serves as a great model for how we approach student leadership.”