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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.”