The fate of summer research programs: Canceled or virtual?

President Will Dudley announced that all summer programs will be canceled or online, but the associate provost is hopeful that the program could still be in-person at the end of the summer.


An aerial view of Washington and Lee University. Photo by Coleman Martinson.

Avalon Pernell

President Will Dudley announced that on-campus summer programs were either canceled or going virtual in response to the spread of the coronavirus and extended stay-at-home orders.

Dudley broke the news in a campus-wide email on Tuesday, April 21 — but just three hours before, Associate Provost Paul Youngman gave different guidance to students registered as Summer Research Scholars.

“All of our summer programs, including Summer Research Scholars, the AIM program, Lifelong Learning, the Governor’s Language Academies, and athletic camps and clinics have been either converted to virtual offerings or canceled,” Dudley said in the campus-wide email.  

But according to Youngman’s email sent to students at noon on Tuesday, the university will determine the fate of the Summer Research Scholars — in-person research the last five weeks of summer or moved completely online — by May 22. 

It is conceivable that the university, in coordination with the CDC and Virginia Department of Health, could determine normal SRS interactions can take place later in the summer, perhaps in a five-week virtual, five weeks face-to-face, format,” Youngman said in the email obtained by the Ring-tum Phi. 

Youngman added that faculty mentors are responsible for determining if their research can make the shift online or will be canceled altogether. 

The Advanced Immersion and Mentoring (AIM) initiative, which invites incoming first-year students to engage in research on campus, was moved online. 

What began as the Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) program four years ago selects incoming students to participate in five weeks of on-campus research and introduces them to faculty and older student mentors. The program, which expanded to other academic disciplines besides STEM research last year, also helps students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds learn about the resources available to them before they start their first semester at Washington and Lee. 

AIM Program Director Helen I’Anson said she hopes the online format will allow them to help more incoming students than before. 

“Our goal is to help as many students with their transition to W&L while appreciating the current challenges we all face in maintaining and building community,” I’Anson said in an email. 

Incoming students weren’t the only ones affected by AIM going online. Resident advisors and program advisors, like Enuma Anekwe-Desince, ‘22, are also scrambling to make new plans.  

“In the absence of AIM, I will have to find other ways to pay for room and board, which may come at the expense of any other summer plans I had,” Anekwe-Desince, a program advisor, said in an email. “But I guess that’s my reality now.”

As someone who participated in the research program herself as an incoming first-year, Anekwe-Desince said she originally applied for the job because she enjoyed the program and wanted to have “an impact on students.” But she said the included room and board was an additional benefit, when affordability is a concern for her.

“While researching at W&L over the summer is an amazing opportunity, it is simply not economically feasible for all of W&L’s students,” she said. “Researching at W&L during the summer means getting paid to just turn around and give the university back a vast majority of that money for rent and food.”

But now, even that’s up in the air with the looming transition of summer research online. If summer research returns to a face-to-face format for the last five weeks of research, Anekwe-Desince will need to find a way to pay for room and board. 

But she said her situation was not the fault of the AIM program or the coronavirus. Instead, it pointed to a lack of affordable options for students. 

“There should be more options for students who can’t afford to pay $130 per week and $9 per meal to research for eight to ten weeks during the summer,” Anekwe-Desince said.