University announces next Quality Enhancement Plan following yearlong proposal review

W&L prioritizes decade-long expansion of its Advanced Research Cohort program, targeted at incoming first-years


Lily Horsley

A committee of W&L community members has selected the Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) Program to be the focus of its next Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), after soliciting widespread university input.

The ARC Program is a five-week summer research program for incoming first-year students with an interest in areas of STEM research. Selected first-year students also participate in a leadership seminar and learn about potential career paths for STEM majors and minors.

University President Will Dudley and Provost Marc Conner announced the decision last Monday, Feb. 5 at an undergraduate faculty meeting. The university’s Quality Enhancement Plan is required every ten years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Commission on Colleges, the regional accrediting body responsible for evaluating the university.

Conner said in an email to the university that the ARC Program aligns with the university’s goal of expanding opportunities for learning.

“The ARC Program will accomplish this [mission] very well, particularly in virtue of its emphasis on enhancing diversity and building an inclusive campus community,” Conner said.

Meredith Culhane, ‘21, spent five weeks working in a lab with Dr. Kyle Friend, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, along with five other students during the summer of 2017.

“We learned so much about what it was like to be a student outside of the classroom,” Culhane said. “We were able to meet so many other students, explore and become familiar with the campus and Rockbridge County and learn about all of the social opportunities offered by the school from community service work to participation in different clubs.”    

Culhane also said the program helped her transition into her first year at college.

“I am so grateful for this experience, and I am so happy others will get to participate in it in the future,” Culhane added.   

Conner said in a recent article on the university’s website that he is excited for the new possibilities for ARC, which he said has been “successful beyond our wildest dreams.”

Conner and Helen I’Anson, professor of biology and research science, were the first to serve as the program’s faculty advisors and mentors. Also initially involved in the program were Megan Hobbs, assistant dean of students, and Gregg Whitworth, assistant professor of biology.

When the ARC Program was first announced in 2016, applications for the summer far-outweighed expectations. The program was expanded from six students to 12, who were then matched with faculty in fields such as math, physics and engineering, biochemistry and chemistry and biology.

The ARC Program was selected among eight collaborative proposals that were chosen from over 50 community submissions. Elizabeth Knapp, director of the Johnson Program and professor of geology, is the chair of the QEP Selection Task Force.

Knapp said she thinks the ARC Program will benefit students who choose to participate.

“I am excited to see what research projects and additional programing develop as the program expands beyond the STEM fields to include students interested in leadership in the arts, humanities, social science and commerce,” Knapp said.

The ARC Plan was proposed by Carrie Finch-Smith, associate professor of mathematics, and Katrina “Kiki” Spiezio, ‘18. Hobbs and I’Anson will serve as co-directors of the project, alongside Finch-Smith and other faculty and students in the working group.

The final project will be a part of an evaluation by SACS in early 2019. Thereafter, the ARC Program will be implemented and evaluated over a five-year time frame.

“The selection process was intense and very rigorous,” said Dudley in a recent article on the university’s website. “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.”