Spring Term: An Exercise in Creativity
By Marshall Woodward Washington and Lee Spring Term gives students a four week opportunity to dive into their field of passions, explore an industry or career path more intensely, or test out their interests away from their majors. This opportunity for academic and intrinsic exploration is not only a time for study, but a chance for students to reflect on what their post-grad lives could look like. Professor Hess’ BUS 383 travelled to San Francisco for 10 days to receive an “overview of business cycles, disruption, innovation, and technology's role in entrepreneurship,” as Worth Smith `16 describes. While the syllabus predicted a course on the changing world of entrepreneurship on the West Coast, Smith believes the class was more for the stories, for the chance to hear firsthand accounts of failure leading to success, to see that the world offers many lucrative and stimulating paths outside of the traditional W&L finance route.
Alumni involved in the instruction of the course include Ted Elliot ’94, Linsly Donnelly ’91, Gabrey Means ’92, and Mike Harden ’97. These daring and innovative alumni did not graduate from the Williams School, and they did not meet immediate financial success, yet they are nonetheless emblematic of both a dynamic market and the dynamic W&L alumni base. These alumni defied the conventional wisdom of a defined career path. Instead, they faced the threat of failure, reaped the melancholic gifts of misfortune, and rode the roller coaster of the dynamic world of entrepreneurship.
While the trip to San Francisco focused on risk and uncertainty, Professor Smitka’s Spring Term class on the automotive industry features the past and possibility. An industry expert, Professor Smitka sought to study the fall of the American automotive industry and its recent renaissance through the lens of the industry’s headquarters, Detroit. The course was a period of intensive reflection on the history of cars in America— from Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T in the early 1900s to the boom and bust of traditional manufacturers. Visiting Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, the group met with the Head of Human Resources, along with Bill Cosgrove, who was instrumental in the acquisition of Volvo and Land Rover for Ford. Additionally, the course studied the changing socio economic nature of Detroit, as the city falters and is slowly salvaged by Chinese investors and immigrants.
After the drive to Detroit, students met with industry executives and listened to Tom Wolfe ’51 lecture on streamlining and the customization/hot rod movement of the 1970s and 1980s. The class was also able to visit parts manufacturers in Roanoke and get a rare glimpse into the production side of the regional economy. Though many students are reticent to miss beautiful spring days in Lexington, Peter Wittwer ’16 encourages students to relish in the opportunities W&L provides, saying, “I got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Detroit to meet with executives and really get a lot of insider information/forecast on the auto industry.”
Other rewarding domestic travelling courses include Civil War Battlefield Studies in the Shenandoah, Accounting in Las Vegas, and even a class focused on visiting prisons around Virginia. With many captivating courses to choose from, The Spectator holds steadfast to Spring Term as a Washington and Lee institution, a core part of the curriculum that gives students a chance to dive out of their area of study and into a new world of creative learning.
Photo Credit: Rich Niewiroski Jr.