Attracting top-notch students and faculty is every college’s goal. Increasingly, universities are enticing students with classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology and dining halls that feature gourmet food. At Washington and Lee, the university’s strategic plan is aimed at bringing the school into the 21st century.
The question many faculty members and students are asking is, "How successful will it be?"
The first phase of the strategic plan's building projects will begin May 20, when the fourth floor of Leyburn Library will close so that the library's entire collection of books and documents can be moved. Librarians are relocating the collection to make way for construction to begin on the Center for Academic Resources and Pedagogical Excellence.
The new center, which is known as CARPE, will cost nearly $6.9 million. CARPE will feature collaborative classroom spaces, tutoring resources across academic disciplines and video editing suites for students.
CARPE will also provide faculty with a space to improve their teaching methods. The facility will include experimental classrooms where professors can record themselves to assess and improve their teaching styles.
President Will Dudley said CARPE would keep professors up to date on new technology. He also said the center will be helpful for the majority of professors who have not been formally trained as teachers.
"You go to graduate school and get trained in anthropology or philosophy or biology, but nobody ever actually teaches you how to teach," he said.
Provost Marc Conner said the library is the obvious location for CARPE because it is “the intellectual heart of the campus.”
"A place that’s going to support faculty development and also student learning—the library just seemed like the right metaphor for that," he said. "That’s really what all these projects are about, to get the space to be equal to what the faculty and students need to do the teaching and learning work."
But it hasn’t been as easy as it sounds. Students might lose study carrels to make way for larger spaces geared toward collaborative group work. Some popular writing tutoring programs will be combined in the new center. And compact shelving will replace the current open stacks on the fourth floor of the library.
Junior Catherine Latour, a business administration and English double major, uses her fourth-floor carrel as a storage space for her textbooks. She stops by her carrel every day to switch out her books. She also studies in her carrel several times a week.
"A lot of students do study at their carrels and kind of use it as like a base point," she said. "I bet it’s a smaller number who consistently come and have like actually reserved one. But I think there's a lot of students who just like bop in and bop out every once in a while."
Junior math major Kat Gerbo reserved a second-floor carrel at the beginning of the year. She said she used her carrel four times during fall term and has not used it during winter term.
"I think for me, I wouldn’t be devastated if someone took my carrel from me because I've used it four times," Gerbo said. "But the times that I have used it, I’ve really been glad that I have that space."
She said some students might be frustrated if there were less carrels available.
"I can see how a lot of people would be very upset because that's like their ideal place to do their work," Gerbo said.
Conner said it's unclear how many carrels will remain in the library after renovations are made to accommodate for CARPE. He said the 421 carrels in the library may fluctuate by around 50 more, or 50 less. He also said the carrels, which are as old as the 40-year-old library, may be upgraded.
The creation of CARPE will also bring changes for tutoring programs.
Currently, students can make appointments for help with writing assignments in any discipline at the university Writing Center, which is housed in the library and staffed by 12 junior and senior students.
Students who major in a business-related discipline can receive writing help from the Williams School’s Communications Center, which is housed in Huntley Hall. They schedule appointments with professional consultants with advanced degrees to help them with writing and oral presentations.
Writing Program Director Florinda Ruiz said she envisions the Writing Center and the Communications Center coming together in CARPE, which will enable student tutors to learn from the professional consultants. Ruiz said student tutors could register for a one-credit experiential learning course dedicated to honing their communication and tutoring techniques.
"The general consensus is that we need both types of tutors or both types of consultants because they bring really completely different items to the table," she said.
Ruiz said equity in students' access to resources is a large consideration in the discussions about merging the two tutoring centers.
"Right now, only Williams School students have access to the Communications Center," she said. "So, the idea will be to expand that model to the entire university, while maintaining the writing tutors, so that we have some level of professional support for all students in the university."
English professor Kary Smout started the Writing Center when he came to W&L 27 years ago. He directed the Writing Center until early April. Smout said he was not consulted in the initial planning stages for CARPE. He said many of the decisions were "sprung" on him.
"They have not had as wide of a discussion as I wish they had, but as I say, that has happened a lot at my years at Washington and Lee," Smout said. "It mostly is a top-down leadership style, and I wish it were more democratic."
Leyburn Library was built in 1979, just a couple of years before Senior Reference Librarian Dick Grefe arrived at W&L. The main floor has had a major renovation since then. The lobby outside Northen Auditorium on the first floor has also had a minor renovation.
Grefe said improvements in the library are overdue. But he also worries about how CARPE will change the library.
He said he was frustrated that librarians weren't consulted about CARPE until administrators decided to place the teaching and learning facility on the first two floors of the library.
"We're going to lose some access to some materials as a result of this project, and as a librarian, that's upsetting to me," he said. "It’s going to be disruptive in the short term, and things will move around. Things will be unavailable."
Government documents, bound journals and some reference materials that University Librarian John Tombarge characterizes as "relatively low use" will be moved to new compact shelving on the fourth floor.
Grefe said administrators do not realize how much students utilize the library.
"An awful lot of the use by students, including, perhaps, humanities students, is at night," he said. "I don't know that there's been any sort of evaluation of how heavily the building is used in the evening."
CARPE is expected to open by December 2020. The university announced March 27 that Paul Hanstedt will be the new CARPE director. Hanstedt is director of pedagogical innovation at Roanoke College. He will start as CARPE director on July 1.
Director of Athletics Jan Hathorn said the university has considered adding a softball team since 2001, partly because Washington and Lee has been struggling to stay in compliance with Title IX.
With sports, universities must meet at least one of the following requirements: athletic opportunities for each gender must be proportional to the number of students of the respective gender on campus; a history of athletic expansion for the underrepresented gender; or proof that the underrepresented gender is accommodated within existing athletic programs.
Title IX Coordinator Lauren Kozak said she's uncertain whether Washington and Lee will ever offer athletic opportunities that are proportional to the gender makeup of its students.
Men's sports like baseball and football each have large rosters. There are not as many women's sports that boast similarly large rosters. But of all women's sports, softball requires the greatest number of players. There are between 16 and 27 players on other ODAC softball teams' rosters.
W&L also decided on softball because it is the only coed university in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference that does not have a softball team, Hathorn said.
Associate Athletic Director Elizabeth LeRose, who graduated from W&L in 2003, said a club softball team was popular on campus when she was a student. But she said students lost interest in the team when the club leaders graduated in 2005.
Assistant baseball coach Brandon Cohen said a softball team will "add value" to the W&L community.
"From a coaching standpoint, you learn a lot from other sports and their coaches," Cohen said. "[Baseball and softball] are really the same sport. The personalities are the same. The techniques are the same, besides pitching. Pitching is probably really the only difference."
Hathorn said softball will also help the university to attract more diverse students, since softball is a sport that is popular across all geographic regions in the U.S. Other sports tend to be more concentrated in specific regions, like field hockey in New England.
"[Softball players] can come from lots of different backgrounds," Hathorn said, "versus certain sports that often cater to a certain sect or section of our population."
First-year Sam Carley played varsity softball all four years at her high school in northern Virginia.
"I wouldn’t say it was the most popular [sport], but it was there, and it definitely is a presence in northern Virginia," Carley said. "My mom is from Missouri, and it was huge there, so she was the one that got me started on it. Whenever I would visit my cousins, every school had a softball field."
Carley said she knows of at least eight other first-years at W&L who played softball in high school.
"We all play catch every once in a while," she said. "It’s actually really fun and a good way to keep up with [softball] without actually having it here."
Sophomore Grace Anne Holladay also played varsity softball at her high school in Nashville, Tennessee. She said she toyed with the idea of continuing to play softball in college.
"Last year when the weather got nice, I was like 'Aw, man, this feels like softball weather,'" she said. "I missed it a lot last year, and when I heard about the strategic plan, I was like, 'Man, if they were to get that in my time here, that's definitely something I would be interested in.'"
The softball complex is projected to cost nearly $8 million to build.
Renovating the Science Center is the biggest capital project the university has ever done. University Architect Hugh Latimer estimated that the project would cost at least $100 million, the price tag he put on it last year. He said it could go up.
That's because renovations will also take more than a decade to finish.
"That's the most expensive project, so it's going to take the most time to do fundraising," Latimer said. "I'd be surprised if they started construction on that project in eight years."
But students and faculty are already excited about the possibilities.
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry Michael Pleva remembers when the Science Center was last renovated in 1996.
"You wouldn't know it now, but there were nice classrooms. Numbers of them," Pleva said. "But all those got taken up by additional people coming in, and their labs and their research areas."
Senior Jackson Roberts, a neuroscience and anthropology major, said his individual research lab has to move to a temporary location every semester, based on where other labs are meeting in the Science Center. Roberts said relocating "takes a lot of time and effort."
"We have a lot of undergraduate students doing really high-level research here, and sometimes that can be a little impeded by the resources we have, in terms of that space," he said.
Chemistry Department Head Steve Desjardins said he hopes faculty will gain more office space for teaching and research.
He also said the renovated building should have the highest certification for sustainability on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system.
Above all else, Desjardins said he wants students to have state-of-the-art equipment to match the work they're doing.
The number of W&L students majoring in science, technology and engineering fields has increased since the 1996 renovation to the Science Center. The acronym is typically STEM, for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But the W&L mathematics department is housed in Chavis Hall, across campus from the Science Center.
The 1996 renovations made the Science Center just large enough to accommodate demand. That year, 235 students were majoring in disciplines associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics out of 772 who had declared their focus of study. (The registrar collected the data in the fall, which means the number of majors likely does not include sophomores or first-years. Students usually do not declare their majors until the winter term of sophomore year.)
Of the 1,838 students enrolled at W&L this March, 398 of them have declared at least one science, technology or engineering major.
There is no longer enough classroom or lab space to accommodate all 398 science, technology or engineering majors in the Science Center. Each semester, some of those courses have to meet in other buildings on campus for the lecture portion of their classes.
Senior Sarah Anne Troise, an engineering and computer science major, said some of her engineering labs that meet in the Science Center are crowded.
She said her circuits lab, which had 14 students, was probably the most cramped.
"It is kind of a small classroom to begin with, so even that small class kind of overpowers the lab space," Troise said. "There’s so many little pieces for all the projects that they just get spread out over the whole bench. And so, it really just kind of becomes very crowded very quickly, just because there's limited counter space, but you have so many things that you need to have around you and that you're working with."
Joel Kuehner, the physics and engineering department head, said he would like to see more of the Science Center dedicated to larger collaborative spaces. He also wants a "studio style" approach that would integrate labs and lectures into one space.
"Students could have their hands on the equipment while they're learning about the physical phenomenon at the same time," he said.
Kuehner views the future Science Center as a place where all disciplines can one day collaborate. Some humanities classes, like Dance Professor Jenefer Davies' Dance Composition course, analyze their movements using visual imaging equipment in the IQ Center. The IQ Center is an interdisciplinary collaborative space in the Science Center that includes a stereo 3D lab, a computer visualization lab and an optical imaging lab.
"Given the ability to share space and the proper staff to keep that space running," Kuehner said, "I think we will start to see much more integration and collaboration between not just the STEM disciplines, but campus-wide."