W&L’s Advanced Research Cohort fosters innovation, creativity for first-years

W&L’s ARC program provides first-years with STEM research experience, mentorship.


Students participated in the ARC program during summer of 2016. Photo courtesy of Kevin Remington.

Nuoya Zhou

Last summer, a dozen first-years with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) participated in a program that gave them the opportunity to gain hands-on experiences with STEM research projects held by Washington and Lee professors and upperclassmen.

W&L Biology Professor Helen I’Anson came up with the idea for the Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) program in 2014 when she attended a conference for the directors of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Baltimore.

Later, I’Anson and W&L’s Interim Provost Marc Conner became ARC’s faculty mentors. According to the school’s website, a number of faculty members also helped kickstart the program, including Assistant Dean of Students Megan Hobbs, Assistant Biology Professor Gregg Whitworth and Director of Student Activities Kelsey Goodwin.

During the five-week session last summer, students worked in research labs in the morning and then participated in workshops in the afternoon every day.

The afternoon workshops included leadership development programs, community service, team-building activities, career presentations and alumni networking.

Participant Joy Nish, ‘20, said the program helped her acclimate to campus life.

“[The program] encompassed more than research,” Nish said. “For most of the days, we were doing leadership training and getting to know campus more so than just being a research student.”

Nish, who was in Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Kyle Friend’s biochemistry lab, said she appreciated the guidance and support she received throughout the session.

“[Friend] helped [give me] the basic knowledge of this [research],” Nish said.

Likewise, Friend said he enjoyed his mentoring role throughout the program.

“I was delighted to work with an incoming student to help her understand the research offerings in W&L labs,” he said in an email. “I thought the ARC program served as an excellent introduction to life as a science student at W&L, and I am pleased to see that it will continue for a second year.”

The program’s faculty mentors serve as academic advisers for the ARC students.

Another faculty mentor, Professor of Physics and Engineering Joel Kuehner, said he believed the program was instrumental in helping first-years adjust to college.

“It was also amazing to see how quickly the ARC students took ownership of campus and felt at home in this community,” he said in an email. “The transition to college can be difficult for some, and the ARC students had the opportunity to gradually immerse themselves.”

Participants were also paired with upperclassmen mentors who provided assistance during labs and workshops and who served as a support system throughout the program.

One of the student mentors, Elizabeth McDonald, ‘18, said she thought it was beneficial for upperclassmen to help out during the program.

“It’s a good way to show incoming freshmen how [rigorous] science labs are,” she said.

McDonald also said she thinks the program could be improved by better preparing upperclassmen to balance getting their own work done with mentoring new ARC students.

Overall, I’Anson labeled the program a success.

“Of course we cannot predict if the program will make a difference in the long run for these students and for those they associate with at W&L,” she said in an email. “However, we know that the 5 weeks were extremely well received by the ARC students, the faculty mentors [and] the team involved in the program.”