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Immerse Yourself in Spring Term! It's the most wonderful term of the year, so keep an eye on @wlunews social media and this post for a daily dose of W&L's deeply engaging four-week term.

Featured Courses

Environmental Archaeology
Talk to Us
The American Dream in Post-1954 Black Drama
W&L Student Consulting
Aerial Dance Techniques
Portable Radicals: Soft Sculpture
Ecology of Place
Anthropology of American History
Reading Lolita in Lexington
Cross-Cultural Documentary Filmmaking
Geology of the National Parks
Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division
Creating Comics
Educating Citizens for Democracy
Ethnohistory of W&L’s Past
Plant Functional Ecology
Nature and Natural Resource Protection Law
Hands-on Technology
Boot Camp


ENV 330: Environmental Archaeology

Environmental Archaeology, a Spring Term course taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Chelsea Fisher, applies a long-term perspective to human-environment relationships using approaches drawn from archaeology and the environmental humanities. The class focuses on three major practices that factor into environmental challenges today:  industrial agriculture, fossil fuel extraction and deforestation.

THTR 245: Talk to Us

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As Spring Term wrapped up, students in Associate Professor of Theater Jemma Levy’s class Talk to Us gathered under warm sun and blue sky in the Cohen Family Amphitheater to present their final projects. Cheered on by friends in front of a full crowd, they delivered short monologues they’d written on topics ranging from what normal means and Zoom as a panopticon to the tyranny of word counts and how bad movie depictions of COVID-19 college life will be.

The class focused on the use of direct address, when a performer speaks directly to the audience, to be persuasive. Students studied theater, film, performance art and stand-up comedy, analyzing how directors and performers use the technique to build rapport with the audience — and what happens when it doesn’t work. They then adapted those techniques for their monologues, each of which addressed the audience directly while presenting an argument and a distinct point of view.

For Mustafa Alkhatib ’23, it was a chance to explore something new. “I wasn’t that great of a public speaker before this class,” he said, “but we learned a lot about how to engage an audience, and I had a great time. As a student who doesn’t do a lot of arts classes, I really enjoyed it.”

Levy said working with students like Alkhatib is part of the joy of doing this class during Spring Term, when students and professors get to know one another more deeply because of the intensity of the classes. “Out of 16 students, I only had two theater majors,” she said. “That allows me to meet all these people, and I get to see their eyes light up because they’ve never seen anything like this before.”

AFCA 295: The American Dream in Post-1954 Black Drama

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The “American Dream” is a frequently mentioned ideological term, but it is not always examined through the eyes of different cultures and perspectives. In the Spring Term course, The American Dream in Post-1954 Black Drama, taught by Michael Hill, professor of Africana studies, students explore Black drama since 1954.

According to the course description, the class focuses on “the interplay between Black selfhood and the evolving notion of the American Dream.” Students study eight different American plays and analyze “what makes the struggle for progress an ambiguous, yet attractive, topic for Black playwrights.”

“Looking back on college, I always wished I had taken more English courses, so this was a perfect opportunity,” said Anna Renou ’21. “Professor Hill is such an engaging professor, and the other students in the course always offer such interesting perspectives during our seminar discussions. Those in-class discussions are my favorite part of the course.”

For a final project, students broke into two groups and dramatized scenes from the 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry. The play centers around the lives of the Youngers, a Black family living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. The main themes in the work are dreams, selfishness and race. The other dramatized work featured in class was “Fences,” by American playwright August Wilson. Written in the 1980s but set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson’s 10-part “Pittsburgh Cycle.” The play examines the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes.

“After Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ appeared, Black Americans garnered multiple Pulitzer prizes and, by most accounts, became vibrant contributors to a national theater,” Hill said. “In part, this contribution has been defined by an ironic view of that success narrative known as ‘The American Dream.'”

Freshman Drew Harrell said he took the course to learn more about Black literature.

“My favorite part about the class so far has been learning about and reading African American plays that I had not heard about before, along with interpreting messages behind the plays,” he said.” I signed up to take the class because I had taken a class with Professor Hill before and enjoy his teaching style.”

W&L Student Consulting

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Final presentations went well in W&L Student Consulting, a one-credit Spring Term course taught by Lloyd Tanlu, assistant professor of accounting. While presenting with several days left in Spring Term is a challenging proposition — every day is worth about three in a normal semester — students had made great progress on their projects, which included revamping the website of a Nigerian education nonprofit, conducting market research for a medical device firm run by a W&L alum and updating the training database of a manufacturing plant in nearby Buena Vista.

W&L Student Consulting is a co-curricular program in which students form teams and provide pro bono consulting services to businesses and nonprofit community organizations. The program also involves guest speakers and support from mentors, and it provides students with marketable experience to bring to internships. Offering course credit, Tanlu said, recognizes the work the students are doing and satisfies their experiential learning distribution requirement.

“It’s four weeks to get projects done, so it’s a learning experience for the whole group,” he explained. “They’re setting expectations, learning how to lead a team, learning how to deal with clients.”

And for students in a program whose graduates have landed jobs with high-profile consulting firms like Bain and McKinsey in the past, that’s great training.

DANC 250: Aerial Dance

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Washington and Lee University’s Spring Term is defined by creative courses that offer students unconventional educational opportunities, but Aerial Dance Techniques takes that definition to new heights.

Aerial Dance is offered every four years at W&L, and W&L was one of the first colleges in the country to offer the class. Professor of Dance Jenefer Davies even wrote a textbook on the topic.

In the class, students wear full body harnesses and perform their dance 50 feet above the ground, using the walls of Wilson Hall as their dance floor. They practice quite a bit in Johnson Theatre before taking flight.

According to Davies, aerial dance allows students to engage in a technique that pushes the boundaries of traditional dance.

“Aerial dance is exciting not only because of its beauty and its challenging nature, but also because it is evolving, which means that the students contribute to the international research and development of the form,” Davies said.

The class will present live performances for the W&L community only on May 20 and 21 at 2:30 p.m. Professional rigging company ZFX will travel to Lexington to rig the rooftop of Wilson Hall for the performance, which will also be livestreamed.

Amalia Nafal Bosch ’21 said she wanted to take the class because it offered her a chance to choreograph and perform.

“It’s been interesting seeing how quickly non-dancers got quite good at this thing even experienced dancers struggle with. It gave me a really uplifting perspective on humanity,” she said. “I have been a part of the Department of Theater, Dance and Film Studies every year I’ve been at W&L, but I never choreographed, so getting to present my art to an audience will be a pretty special takeaway considering that aerial dance isn’t an experience that’s common in any way, shape or form.”


ARTS 237: Portable Radicals: Soft Sculpture

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Avery Younis’s ambitious five-year plan involves becoming a Certified Public Accountant and attending law school, but she knows that a well-balanced life also includes a creative outlet. That’s one reason she was so excited to take the Spring Term class Portable Radicals: Soft Sculpture taught by Assistant Professor of Art Sandy de Lissovoy.

“I love the experimental nature of this class, and I was attracted to the wild nature of it,” said Younis, who will graduate this month. “Both of my grandmothers are very artistic women, and one of them once told me, ‘Take something you wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise.’ And of course, Spring Term provides us with these great opportunities.”

In the class, students explore moveable sculpture made with materials like cloth, plastic or paper, and they study accomplished masters of the form, such as Franz Erhard Walther and Senga Nengudi.

They also make their own art, which requires skills like design, sewing and fabric dyeing. For example, Younis made six pairs of many-fingered, multicolored gloves that hang from the ceiling in a way that allows people to insert their hands and play with them. They also experiment with art’s movement and interaction with elements like the wind. One student’s banner-like piece was hung over Woods Creek, where it interacted with moving water.

Younis said she has appreciated the rapport that developed among students in the class, as well as the fact that de Lissovoy gave them free reign over their ideas, even creating his own art alongside them.

“The closeness of the class through action is something that I will take away, because you wouldn’t have that experience through other classes,” she said. “Professor de Lissovoy has been amazing. He’s very encouraging and he gives us a sense of autonomy and independence.”

The students’ work will be on display under the tent on Stemmons Plaza from 2-3 p.m. on May 21.

ENV 250: Ecology of Place

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On a Tuesday morning in May, John Knox, professor of biology emeritus, led the Ecology of Place class on a hike up House Mountain to discuss invasive plant species and potential logging operations on a beloved local landmark used by many for recreational activities. He was one of several guest lecturers to join Larry Hurd, Herwick Professor of Biology, and Greg Cooper, professor of philosophy, who have team-taught the course for more than a decade.

This year is a bit different. The pandemic is constraining field trips to mostly Rockbridge County, but W&L’s location amidst fields, forests and rivers provides easy access to explore the convergence of ecology, economics and ethics in the university’s backyard.

Students are hearing from local experts on the health of local watersheds, the economics and ecological impact of the cow-calf operations that dominate local agriculture, the health, sustainability and economics of the local forest industry, the overall state of biodiversity in the region, and the impact of invasive species. Additional topics include managing rural development, the recent explosions in deer and coyote populations, and creating conservation reserves and wildlife corridors.

“Ecology of place has become a buzzword in the environmental literature, but it’s quite apt for the kinds of interdisciplinary discussions we’re having in class about the conflicts between wilderness and human-use areas,” Hurd said. “There are issues specific to Rockbridge County that students probably aren’t aware of, and some are new to me, too. This course teaches me something every time because a student asks an expert a question that didn’t occur to me.”

Besides the obvious goal of teaching students more about the local community’s environmental concerns and land-use practices, Hurd and Cooper hope that wherever students land, they will take an active interest in how similar issues are managed in their new environs.

HIST/SOAN 238: Anthropology of American History

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There are plenty of ways to learn about history beyond reading. In a Spring Term course taught by Alison Bell ’91, associate professor of anthropology, students learn about the past through direct experiences that use archaeology, architecture, archival sources and oral history as guides.

“I thought that this class would give me the unique opportunity to examine American history from a different perspective,” Ashely Webb ’23 said. “In this class, we look more at the everyday experiences, rather than big events, of the past.”

Students participate in hands-on activities during the four-week course, including lab and fieldwork, field trips and interviews. Trips have included three local cemeteries, the Frontier Cultural Museum and the old hospital once called Western State Lunatic Asylum, both in Staunton. In the next week, students will visit historic Jordan’s Point and Cyrus McCormick Farm in Rockbridge.

“Getting to see and interact with what we are learning about has been super helpful in understanding and connecting with the material, while also creating an interactive classroom setting,” Ryan Zimmerman ’22 said. I’d say out of the trips so far, I enjoyed the Frontier Cultural Museum the most. We talked a lot about architecture and the anthropological significance of the structures, so seeing them in person was a great experience and made all of us analyze the material even more.”

Zimmerman said he knew he wanted to sign up for the course as soon as he read the class description.

“We are getting to learn so much about America’s past through direct experiences and hearing from many different speakers, and the material helps to understand how we as a society have ended up where we have,” Zimmerman said. “I took it because I love Professor Bell, the class sounded super interesting, and it seemed like a fun way to learn about history!”

ENGL 285: Reading Lolita in Lexington

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Laura Brodie, visiting associate professor of English at Washington and Lee University, read Azar Nafisi’s memoir, “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” 15 years ago and was fascinated by how young women in Iran’s Islamic Republic responded to the classic novels “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Lolita.” This Spring Term at W&L, she turned that fascination into a course titled Reading Lolita in Lexington.

The class explores how students in the Islamic Republic of Iran have responded to the three novels and how the works’ significant themes have been played out in Nafisi’s life and the lives of young Iranian women. Brodie has students study an important western novel, like “The Great Gatsby,” and then read Nafisi’s interpretation of how the story is received in Iran.

“I’d been teaching these books to American students, but I’d never considered how their themes applied to Iranian students’ lives,” Brodie said. “Ever since 9/11, I had wanted to learn more about Islam, and in this course, we briefly study the history of Iran and Islam before reading Nafisi.”

Andrew Martinelli ’23 signed up for the course to learn more about the history of Iran, Iraq and Islam. In a word, he described the course as “impactful.”

“My favorite part of this class is how incredibly unique it is in its presentation of the materials,” Martinelli said. “Coming from someone who, prior to this class, knew very little about the recent history of Iran, I was skeptical of if I would enjoy the class when I learned how much time would be dedicated to diving into this topic. However, as I began to read ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran,’ which is not only a memoir about how people in Iran view western literature but also a documentary on Iran during the Islamic revolution, I was surprised at how intrigued I was.”

JOUR 266: Cross-Cultural Documentary Filmmaking

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“We’re in a golden age of documentaries,” declared Kevin Finch, associate professor of journalism and mass communications. “First, there are unlimited outlets to watch them, such as Hulu, Amazon and Netflix. And second, there’s the ease of entry for the aspiring filmmaker — the equipment is lighter and cheaper, digital comes in at 4K resolution, and there are various editing suites that streamline the process. Documentary filmmaking doesn’t require a huge investment.”

For his Spring Term class, Cross Cultural Documentary Filmmaking, Finch is sending his students into local communities to capture stories about Rockbridge County. He wants them to dig below the presumed homogeneity of the region to discover a richer texture of cultural life. “A good documentary takes the viewer someplace they’ve never been, shows them something they’ve never seen or reveals a slice of history previously unknown to them,” explained Finch. Stories the students are pursuing include the Buddhist Center, a museum in Brownsburg, the growing Hispanic population and being Jewish in a rural community.

Finch assumes that the students have never touched a camera, conducted a formal interview, used a microphone, written a script or edited with Adobe Premier or any of its competitors. The hands-on process is all part of teaching the technical aspects of filmmaking, alongside the rigorous background research students must do on their chosen topic to prepare for their interviews.

He quoted the late author Kurt Vonnegut to his students: “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

The final student documentaries will be posted to the Journalism Department’s website.


GEOL 105: Geology of the National Parks

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In the United States, 423 national parks stretch across more than 84 million acres. This Spring Term, students in Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology Eva Lyon’s course, Geology of the National Parks, are exploring parks within a day’s driving distance of Washington and Lee University.

During the class, students discuss various topics, including how different rock types form, the scale of geologic time and earth surface processes. Lyon said the course has been on her radar to teach for a while. She has experience as a park ranger and worked for several seasons in Colorado and Oregon before she attended graduate school.

“Each park tells a story. Some stories go back billions of years, but most of these stories are still being written,” Lyon said. “I’m a big park nerd. I’ve been thrilled to share what I know and love about these special places with my students. I hope to help them see why preserving parks for their scientific, cultural and intrinsic value is so important.”

Local field trips are a big part of the class, and students have been able to travel to Luray Caverns, Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, all in Virginia, as well as New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia, where they picnicked and rafted.

“It’s very cool to see the concepts we learn about in class actually happening in the world around us,” said Tyler Waldman ’24. “I love the field trips that we take because they’re extremely fun and apply what we learn into the real world.”

LJS 232: Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division

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There was a sense of touching history as Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Seniors Tammi Simpson’s class, Civil Rights and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, visited the Lewis F. Powell Jr.’29, ’31L archives at W&L Law. After a quick tour of the office where Powell worked at the Law School after retiring from the Supreme Court, students got a chance to read some of the voluminous correspondence he donated to the school.

The visit was a perfect fit for the course, which looks at the Civil Rights Movement and the role of the Department of Justice in it. Powell was school board director in Richmond when the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education forced the integration of Virginia schools, and he served on that school board and the Virginia Board of Education during Virginia’s policy of massive resistance to integration. Students put their hands on a letter from Powell to broadcaster Ed Murrow discussing his ability to shape public opinion around integration, as well as letters and petitions from Powell’s constituents and court case briefs from lawsuits levied against the Richmond school district for failing to integrate quickly enough.

“I have a strong interest in some type of legal career, particularly one centered around social justice,” said Eleni Filley ’22, a student in the course. “For that reason, it only made sense to take a course about the Civil Rights Movement. We have seen a lot of archival material from Special Collections and from the Law School’s library. Documents from the events that occurred in Prince Edward County and the subsequent role of former president of the university Fred Carrington Cole really impacted me because it made very clear the sweeping effects the decision from Brown v. Board had all over the country. In addition, viewing materials —specifically notes from Lewis Powell —at the Law School really emphasized how recent the Civil Rights Movement was.”

Simpson, who conceived of the course with the late Professor of History Emeritus Ted DeLaney and is honored to teach it in his memory, further fleshed out Powell’s biography and discussed the legislative and cultural background to the archival material, from the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 to the murder of Emmett Till. After a quick visit to the Law School’s courtroom to see how a court is set up, students role-played lawyers presenting arguments from Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision that established “separate but equal” as the law of the land, as well as Brown. Simpson, who worked for the Department of Justice for 15 years as a prosecutor, acted as a judge in both cases, probing the students on their knowledge of the arguments.

“I love teaching this class because I am passionate about civil rights enforcement and the protection of individuals who do not have the means to address unconstitutional acts by state and local actors on their own,” Simpson said. “This course is a wonderful opportunity to explore the importance and intersection of activism, the role of the courts and the legislative process in creating systemic, lasting change.”

ENG/ART 215: Creating Comics

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Most professors would be annoyed to discover their students doodling in class, but W&L Art Instructor Leigh Ann Beavers and Associate Professor of English Chris Gavaler actually expect to see that kind of behavior in their Spring Term course, Creating Comics.

Beavers and Gavaler, who have taught the course twice before, are teaching this term from their own recently published textbook, “Creating Comics: A Writer’s and Artist’s Guide and Anthology.”

Their methods have evolved along the way. Instead of having students write a script, then draw the panels to match, they instruct them to sketch possible main characters, then allow those sketches to inform the story. For example, one student’s drawings of a bee doing the back float led to a comic about the only lazy bee among its busy brethren. Other characters include a dragon, a micro-bunny, a mermaid living in London and a dog-headed skateboarder.

“I am an English major who is double minoring in studio art and creative writing, so this class seemed meant to be,” Audrey Dietz ’23 said. “I love graphic novels and art, so I was naturally interested in a course that not only allows you to replicate comics, but also teaches you the ins and outs of why artists and creators do what they do.”

Creating Comics is not just a fun course; it counts as both an English and a studio art class and offers lessons in creative writing, drawing and time management. By the end of the four-week term, students must complete a 12-page comic book that includes illustrated back and front covers.

“One of the most important take-aways for students, other than a heightened appreciation for the potential of serial imagery, is the awareness that you can make a complete comic or graphic something incredibly substantial in four weeks,” Beavers said. “The class is intense in a joyful way, lots of hard work that constantly generates surprising and interesting products.

EDUC 230 Educating Citizens for Democracy

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What is democracy? That’s the big, overarching question that Eric Moffa, assistant professor of education, uses to frame his class on Educating Citizens for Democracy.

“In order to be good citizens, we have to have a good sense of what democracy is,” Moffa said. “Are we a democracy or a republic? And what is the role of a citizen in a democracy? Once we examine different conceptualizations of citizenship, then we can unpack the ways the U.S. can form education policy. There are lots of unsettled questions regarding best practices and policies for how we educate citizens for democracy.”

Moffa spends very little time talking, letting students take the lead in investigating and debating the merits and weakness of various educational approaches. Students analyze and evaluate historic and philosophical texts, from Plato and Jefferson to W.E.B. Du Bois and Arthur Schlesinger. Small teams read journal articles and guide classroom discussions on the challenges of civic education in modern U.S. political and social contexts. The final project requires students to utilize narrative inquiry, interviewing former teachers who are at the frontlines of K-12 education.

“I want my students to be able to make informed decisions, to develop their own abilities to engage one another in deliberative discussions,” Moffa said. “The goal isn’t always to win a debate, but to develop a shared understanding. Democracy is a constant work in progress, and it changes because of multiple factors at play. Students should care what we, as a nation, are doing on a day-to-day basis to educate our citizens. Our discussions will give them the foundation to critically examine various theories of democracy, competing conceptions of citizenship and its implications for formal education.”


291B: Ethnohistory of W&L’s Past

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It’s impossible to shoehorn 272 years of W&L history into a four-week term, but Lynn Rainville, the university’s director of institutional history, will cover a large chunk of the school’s past in her fascinating Spring Term anthropology class, Ethnohistory of W&L’s Past.

The course applies interdisciplinary methods to take a closer look at W&L’s historic records and material culture, uncovering little-known stories along the way. The class will spend very little time in a classroom, instead meeting at on-campus sites such as Liberty Hall Ruins and the Robinson obelisk or exploring local graveyards and other historic off-campus landscapes. They’ll also look at art and ceramic collections and check out artifacts and documents in Special Collections.

During the first week, students met at the Ruins, where they pretended to be 18th-century surveyors looking over the original heart of campus. They also approximated random sampling by collecting data about cars in a nearby parking lot. During the term, they will also sketch maps, write essays and make a poster to share at the Spring Term showcase, all with the goal of strengthening their analytical skills and their ability to evaluate multiple layers of information.

“I chose to take this class because I wanted to deepen my understanding of the institution in the context of place and cultural tradition,” Sherman Golden ’23 said. “So far, I’ve had the chance to take a look at the patterns of movement of students, faculty and visitors on our campus, and it has completely changed the way I think about demographics.”

BIOL 322: Plant Functional Ecology

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During a typical Spring Term, the students in Biology Professor Bill Hamilton’s Plant Functional Ecology course would be traipsing through the grasslands of Yellowstone National Park and helping Hamilton with his research, which looks at the impact of a growing bison population on the park’s ecology. This year, they’re instead traipsing through the grasslands of the W&L campus, where no buffalo have roamed for a very long time, but there’s still plenty of flora and fauna to study.

“With a campus that is approximately 400 acres with approximately 150 acres of forest, there are plenty of opportunities to use the campus as a laboratory,” Hamilton said. “The variety of vegetation types across that acreage allows for lots of questions to be asked.”

On a recent afternoon, 12 students broke into groups of two to fan out across back and front campus and collect data. They gathered vegetation samples, measured trees, collected soil cores and noted factors such as soil moisture and temperature. Ultimately, they will cover six vegetation types and create a broad-scale campus vegetation and soil carbon map.

By the time the class wraps up, they will have created a soil carbon plan for campus, including recommendations for how to conserve or even increase soil carbon. That exercise is useful for addressing issues such as climate change, storm water management and campus ecology.

Hamilton’s course illustrates the teaching role that W&L’s campus plays in many courses every year, whether students are catching and tagging salamanders in a biology class, conducting geophysical experiments on a back-campus sinkhole with a geology professor, looking at the foundation of an old farmhouse while learning about archaeology, or doing creative writing assignments while sitting beside Woods Creek.

ENV 295: Special Topics in Environmental Studies: Nature and Natural Resource Protection Law

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One way to teach students about natural resource protection law would be to immediately assign a bunch of statutes and cases to read and analyze, but that’s not how Julie Youngman wanted to go about it for W&L’s Spring Term.

“We’re spending time at the beginning of the term exploring ideas and attitudes about nature and ways that people can protect nature before jumping into reading a lot of court cases enforcing the laws we use to protect natural resources,” said Youngman, an assistant professor of business administration who practiced environmental law for years at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

That exploration will include hiking in both a state park and a wilderness area to compare and contrast the ways in which a government might set aside an area for protection and enjoyment. The class will also feature guest speakers, including environmental lawyers, representatives from nonprofits, and a national park superintendent.

This week, the class took advantage of W&L’s outdoor classroom and Woods Creek to do a contemplative outdoor walk and consider the value of natural areas. Next week, visiting English professor Leah Green, who is also an award-winning poet, will lead the class through a nature writing exercise. In the end, students will produce not only a research paper on legal protections and challenges for natural areas dear to them, but also a creative handmade book.

“I was excited to hear that this class included not only lectures on protection law, but also the opportunity to get outdoors on various field trips,” said Olivia Allen ’23, who is thinking about someday practicing environmental law. “Spring Term has been a great experience for me so far. I love that I can commit all my attention to one class that I am interested in and embrace it fully.”

PHYS 180: Hands-on Technology

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In Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Tom McClain’s first-year Spring Term seminar, Hands-on Technology, it was a battle of battery materials. During a morning lab, students constructed their own batteries to power LED lights using various components. They reconvened in the afternoon to test them, setting off a lively debate not just about the merits of lemon juice versus Coke as an electrolyte, but about measuring performance and how to design an experiment that can resolve a contested question.

“This kind of class, where the focus is on process and methodology rather than on content delivery, is my favorite kind to teach,” McClain said. “I love students getting their hands on materials and discovering for themselves why the enterprise of science works the way it does.”

Jack Hunter ’24 was glad to find the course in the catalog. “I’m not a natural science person,” he said, “but this attracted me because we’d be building and tinkering.”

Hands-on Technology seeks to help students understand some of the most important technologies in our society while teaching them the fundamentals of scientific inquiry. In line with other first-year seminars, which emphasize practical assignments like labs, projects and fieldwork rather than exams, students in the class learn by building, tinkering and testing, creating their own knowledge instead of assimilating ideas from a book.

The battle of battery materials was resolved scientifically. Amid laughter and scrambles for zinc nails, students designed and conducted their own experiments, finding that zinc nails bested steel, copper wire beat aluminum, and Coke electrolyte topped lemon juice, vinegar and salt water to produce the highest voltage.

PE 153: Boot Camp

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Some students may have slept in before a late morning or afternoon class on the second day of Spring Term, but students in Brooke O’Brien’s Boot Camp class were up early and burning enough calories to justify an afternoon ice cream or gelato at one of Lexington’s treat shops. Their grueling awakening on Tuesday involved the “100s Challenge,” for which each team of two students had to complete 10 100-yard sprints, 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 mountain climbers and a number of other exercises.

Boot Camp, which comprises a variety of challenging workouts, is a popular physical education class at W&L, and Spring Term is a popular time to take PE because the weather is nice and students have, at most, one other class on their schedules. O’Brien, an associate PE professor and head women’s lacrosse coach, said PE classes seem to be in especially high demand this Spring Term because COVID-19 continues to curtail study abroad opportunities, so it’s a good time to complete one of the four PE classes required for graduation.

“I wanted to take Boot Camp because it’s challenging, fun and a great way to start the morning,” Sophie Behdani ’22 said. “I hope to get stronger while also being able to enjoy time outside with friends.”

Physical education classes are an essential part of a W&L education because health and fitness are important elements of a well-rounded individual, O’Brien said.

“Our job is to prepare students to go forward into the world,” she said, “and all the great ways that W&L students are going to impact the world, regardless of their vocation, are definitely only possible if they’re able to live healthy and balanced lives. PE puts wellness and health and activity into the equation for them as students, which hopefully means they’ll learn good habits now and carry them forward.”