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Washington and Lee Receives Mellon Grant for New Spring Term

Washington and Lee University has received a $650,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to enhance the educational effectiveness of the University’s four-week spring term.

As part of the academic life initiative developed in 2007, W&L has embarked on a revitalization of its spring term, which has been shortened from six to four weeks and during which students will now take a single, intensive course.

This revitalization has entailed the development of more than 175 new and innovative courses. These new courses are focused on creating the kinds of intensive teacher-student-peer interaction and rigorous response to subject matter, materials, and learning experiences that are the hallmark of a formative liberal arts education.

The Mellon grant will be used to fund most of the cost of operations and managing the project, including honoraria for speakers and special materials for courses, enrichment events, continuing course development, and support for off-campus courses.

Washington and Lee Provost June Aprille said that the Mellon Foundation grant will permit the new spring term to meet many of the goals that have been set for it.

“We are most appreciative that the Mellon Foundation has provided us with this funding as we develop this initiative,” Aprille said. “By focusing full-time on just one course for this short term, students will be intensely engaged with their professors and peers in a rigorous in depth and personal response to important subject matter. Another key feature of the intensive one-course model is the scheduling freedom to move the class off-campus as needed to consult original sources and visit key sites.”

Marc C. Conner, professor of English, is director of the spring term and has been working with faculty on the development of the new courses.

“The ‘revitalized’ spring term preserves and enhances the best of the traditional W&L spring term,” Conner said. “All the courses will be intensive and transformative for our students, with innovative pedagogies, creative experiences, close student-faculty collaboration, travel, guest speakers, study abroad, and much more. The real aim is for students to enhance their critical thinking abilities in multiple ways, and to offer this highly intense, fully engaging experience as both a contrast and a complement to the superb teaching we do in the long terms.”

The first courses in the new format will be offered in 2010. A few examples of the kinds of courses that will be taught include: an examination of the ethics, economics and ecology of surface mining in central Appalachia, technical examination of 17th-century Dutch paintings, an in-depth exploration of the use of puppets and masks in theatre; and a study of children’s literature, including classroom observation of children.

According to George Carras, director of corporate and foundation relations, this latest grant from the Mellon Foundation is one of five different grants totaling $2.5 million that the foundation has made to W&L in recent years. Other programs that have been supported include strategies to enhance international education at W&L; efforts to create a more diverse faculty; the addition of a Chesapeake Bay Watershed initiative to W&L’s environmental science program; creation of a leave program for assistant professors to pursue research; development of in-house funding for technology in teaching; and the addition of a post-doctoral fellow in environmental studies.