Faculty & Staff Blogs
March 5, 2014 by Drew Stelljes
Last week I was asked to speak to the new members of social fraternities at W&M. It was an honor I took seriously. I wrote the following speech and hope it serves as a guide for a few other people as they contemplate their role in community.
There are dozens of lists that declare an array of benefits to being in a fraternity. I bet you’ve read a few, and definitely heard about several over the past few months and maybe years. They include:
- Leadership Opportunities
- Higher GPAs
- Community Service
- Greeks Are More Likely to Graduate
- Career Networking
- More Interaction With Faculty
- Improved Interpersonal Skills
- Built-In Sports Team
- Practice Your Interview Skills
- Some of the Most Successful People Are Greek
These all may have some correlation to Greek life, but it’s a lot harder to determine causality, especially the past 20-30 years or so. As we examine the list more closely, just about every benefit can also be found elsewhere on a college campus: leadership opportunities, service, intramurals, practice interview skills, talk with faculty, good GPA, etc. All of these attributes or accomplishments are completely feasible without membership in a fraternity. Further, the claim to fame about how successful people are Greek, begs the question of correlation or causality. Was it the fraternity that developed your determination to succeed or was it already a part of your DNA? Not sure.
So, as I pick apart supposed benefits, not for the sake of tearing down the system which I think so highly of, but rather to dig into what really sustains Greek life over hundreds of years and the evolution of the college experience, we’ve got to more carefully assess why fraternities continue to thrive on college campuses. Here’s my theory—one person, one brother, one perspective.
You consider rushing for one of a few reasons: (1) a friend encourages you to try it and the fact that someone else wants you to join them, feels good. (2) You want to join because, membership is one of the college must do’s. (3) You’d probably regret it if you didn’t join. So you join and it’s great – for a while. The new car shine wears off though, the chapter isn’t perfect, you notice the faults of individuals and maybe even of the chapter. But, you persist. It’s at this time the evolution from membership to brotherhood starts. You’ve put in some effort and you decide to stick it out. Aha! This is where the brotherhood can take hold. Cause now you’ve made the decision to remain part of the family even though you realize the family isn’t perfect. Every family has an uncle who can’t get it together, an aunt who fails at a lot of stuff, a parent who prioritizes the wrong thing, etc. But, you stick it out, cause you’re family. So you call yourself brother and you see your fellow brothers be good and funny and smart. And—you witness him being an idiot and a fool and drunk . But, he’s your family. So you stick with it.
And then, in your bravest moment, maybe in your entire college career, you stand up for your chapter. You re-read your ritual or your core values, For God and Women, Honor, Loyalty, and you muster up the courage to call out a brother for acting the fool. Or you prod the entire brotherhood toward being better than they are in current form. A non Greek calls out the faults of the system and instead of blowing him off, you fight back because you know, in your heart, while the system isn’t perfect, the process has been good to you. It’s then that you earn that title of lifelong member. It’s then that you really believe—this is for keeps.
For me, being courageous was so tough. I was intimidated by my older peers who were more articulate than I was. They commanded a presence in chapter meetings and they were funnier than me around the house. It took me a while to evolve from guest to brother – in my own head. Really all of my brothers accepted me early on. Took me longer to realize they accepted me!
Anyway, I was moved by our ritual, feeling a sense of spirituality I hadn’t before. I was surprised by the significance our founders placed on deep and quiet reflection. Still, I didn’t really fully come into brotherhood til I stood up for those values. I remember, one evening in 1995 like it was yesterday. I was planning on standing up at the end of meeting when there was open mic, to implore our brotherhood to remain true to values our founders wrote about. I was scared. Shaking. Sweaty palms. Dry mouth. Trembling a bit. I had rehearsed my speech. No one knew a speech was coming. I stood upon getting the ok from the chapter president and I spoke. I told my brothers how I wanted our chapter to be open to diverse opinions and how everyone should have voice, not the chosen few and the charismatic or funny others. I was still so scared, afraid of ridicule. As good as we could be to one another, one false phrase could become your nickname for life. I kept going though. We must be the ritual, live it, and model it. Not merely reciting the words that we hold sacred, but living it through our actions. We wore our letters a lot. We needed to hold them as sacred. Reminders to all not that we belonged to an exclusive club but that the letter stood for something greater than our one self. We’d made a pledge to be honorable, chivalric, and to live with integrity. We vowed to be future focused and to seek elders to help us seek our path. I was so afraid of being ridiculed, but I continued. I told the brothers how much I believed in the chapter and that the long meetings, the disagreements, the debates over who to admit, were worth it, so long as we stayed the course. I concluded with a rally cry of some sort and, as I sat down and slunk in my seat—the brothers applauded. Whew. They do like me, I thought. I was vulnerable, I was brave and they were ok with it. That’s the night I earned brotherhood. The family accepted me.
Now, in a fraternity, one decent speech, made at the right time, can earn you leadership positions! So I accepted a few over the next several years and I learned a ton about myself.
I learned that I most enjoy creating new things. I like to think about the future and how, a new project might make the system better for the next generation. I learned that I liked to hear brothers tell me about themselves one on one and not in large groups. I became better at asking questions and answering questions with some depth as pledges were required to interview every brother. I learned that none of us are perfect, far from it, and it’s ok to see someone in a bad place and then praise him next week for doing something good. I learned forgiveness—slowly and with a few chances to practice. And mostly, I learned to say goodbye to a good friend. In my chapter I grieved for the first time. During my senior my friend and brother Keith was murdered in his apartment. As soon as we all heard we ran – literally to the fraternity house and we hugged, we cried. We hit the walls. And then, some of us prayed. We prayed so loudly on the front porch I bet you could hear us across the street. Well, that’s how it sounded to me in that circle of brotherhood. Brad, our prayer leader that night became an awesome minister. He was doing some vocational discernment on the porch that night. After we prayed, we sat in silence and just like in ritual we went back to deep reflection. We’d never been in this place, but we were not entirely uncomfortable. We’d done this before. Ritual gave us the framework when we would need it most. In time, we healed mostly from Keith’s death. Last month a handful of us completed our fundraising effort for a scholarship in Keith’s honor. So, he’s still with us. His memory remains. He is our brother. And we are family.
So, the top 5’s and 10’s lists about benefits of Greek life, on the surface, sure they are not incorrect, but they don’t distinguish Greek life from college life.
Interaction With Faculty
Improved Interpersonal Skills
Practice Your Interview Skills
You’ll find these on any residential campus these days. So, here’s my top’s list. Brotherhood affords you the chance to:
- Live ritual
- Reflect on what you want in life
- Over time, coming to admire individuals for their unique strengths
- Over time, learning how to support brothers who fall down
- Have a family- a crazy family, but a real family and
- To, in short time, evolve from the kid to the dad to the granddad of the family
- And becoming a brother in a fraternity happens when you become brave, standing up for what the group could become and being accepted for your bravery
I hope you will feel welcomed into the brotherhood. Earn your keep by being brave when your family needs you most.
March 4, 2014 by Admit It!
Admit It! Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what goes on inside of Committee, you want more. We know that those going through the admission process often feel like the whole thing is a toss-up, that the selection process is one shrouded in secrecy. Our goal with the “Overheard in Committee” blog series is to provide some insight, to unshroud the process, to reveal some of its secrets. So for those of you eager for more, here you go.
Overheard in Committee today: “The best thing about this application is the testing.”
We were reviewing an applicant whose SAT and ACT scores (they had taken both exams) were outstanding. The student had a 1520 SAT (Critical Reading + Math) and a 33 ACT composite. However, every other aspect of the application fell a bit flat. The rigor of their coursework felt light, especially given the potential exhibited in their test scores. The student took AP classes but fewer than we’d expect given the school’s offerings, and they had avoided some of the really challenging classes: they had opted to stop Spanish after the third level, they had never taken calculus despite taking pre-calculus in the 10th grade and scoring a 720 on the math portion of the SAT and they weren’t taking any science in their senior year. With a mix of As and Bs they were barely in the top 10% of their class. Their extracurricular activities were okay but lacked distinction. Their recommendations and essays were satisfactory, but nothing above and beyond what we see in most applications we review. In the end, the most and truly only compelling part of their application was their standardized test scores.
Clearly this student has some innate intelligence and academic aptitude as shown in their SAT and ACT results. But that potential wasn’t replicated in other aspects of their application. If it had been, they’d likely have been admitted, easily. As it was, the Committee felt the student should be waitlisted.
We are in the process of building a class. We want students who will contribute to all aspects of life at W&M (both in and out of class). We want students who will challenge their peers, who will impact their classmates and hall mates, who will add perspective and energy to our campus. With so many great students vying for a limited number of spaces, we just didn’t feel this applicant measured up.
There are some students who we admit because their academic merits are truly outstanding. There are other students whose personal qualities compel us to admit them even though their academic merits aren’t quite as strong as others. Then there are those students who are strong in both arenas and we admit some of them too. It’s about bringing together the best of all aspects of our applicants. Yes, great testing is a start. But great testing doesn’t put you on the fast track to admit (likewise subpar testing doesn’t put you on the fast track to deny). Testing, like every other application component, is one part of many. It alone does not make or break an application. We read every application twice and convene Committee so we can craft a class that reflects the best of the best across all academic and personal qualities. In this applicant’s case strong testing but few other compelling qualities got them only so far.
More to come as we continue our deliberations.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
February 27, 2014 by Chuck Bailey
Last summer I reported on our field research in the High Plateaus of Utah. Erika Wenrich’s senior thesis project involves a gravity survey aimed at estimating the amount of sediment beneath Fish Lake, a large alpine lake developed in a high-elevation graben. In June we measured gravity at a network of stations around Fish Lake, but to complete the gravity survey, and model the sediment’s thickness in the basin, we needed gravity data on the lake itself. It’s now February and Fish Lake is covered by ice—time to return and complete the survey on the lake’s frozen surface.
Our whirlwind outbound journey included an unexpected drive to Dulles airport to catch a long flight into Las Vegas followed by an even longer drive from Nevada to Fish Lake. We arrived at the lake weary from travel, but excited to get started. The lake was crusted over with ~30 cm of ice (12”) and a layer of snow from a recent storm. The temperatures were well below freezing and accompanied by a stiff breeze from the southwest—it was brisk.
As expected measuring gravity on the lake’s icy surface during the day proved to be nearly impossible. The gravimeter is a delicate instrument that needs to be carefully leveled and works via the stretching of a spring balance with a constant mass. During sunny daylight hours the lake receives copious solar insolation that heats the ice, and as the ice expands fractures develop (not big through-going cracks, but rather small cracks here and there). When cracks propagate, seismic energy courses through the ice causing the delicate spring in the gravimeter to oscillate such that obtaining a reliable and reproducible measurement is not possible.
At night the ice is far more stable and consequentially we became nocturnal creatures wandering about on the dark icy surface making our gravity measurements. The lake was profoundly quiet during the wee hours and the veil of stars put on quite a show overhead. Working the night shift took its toll; after two consecutive evenings into the early mornings spent out on the ice we were wiped out. However, we completed three new gravity traverses across the ice and Erika is in a good position going forward with her research.
Our trip was timed to coincide with a visit by a team of collaborating geoscientists who were obtaining the first sediment core from Fish Lake. Once again the ice was critical, as the team’s coring rig was set upon the firm surface—for four days they lowered and raised the coring apparatus through 30 meters (100’) of water and into the muddy sediment at the lake’s bottom. They were rewarded with about 11 meters (35’) of core, which was safely transported to Oregon State University’s core repository to await detailed study by the team.
William & Mary alum and all-around good guy, Dr. Scott Harris from the College of Charleston used a transient electromagnetic (TEM) geophysical system to learn about the subsurface. He had quite a setup with a long (400 m) wire transmitter placed around multiple receiver loops out on the ice. The system induces an electric field and then measures the decay of that field through time, providing what is essentially a column of the conductivity in the subsurface. The lake’s fresh-water has a very low conductivity, while the infilling mud in the lake basin and underlying bedrock have much higher conductivities. His initial tests yielded subsurface information to depths of over 300 m, hopefully imaging the contact between the lake sediments and bedrock.
Our gravity data indicate that the lake is underlain by upwards of 100 meters of sediment (>300’), so the coring operation sampled just the uppermost layers of the graben fill. In the future we hope to core though the entire sediment package to fully understand the geologic history of graben development, lake formation, and glaciation.
Erika is one of 33 William & Mary geology majors in the class of 2014 and they are all working on senior research (thesis) projects. These studies range from gaging rock erodibility along the banks of the Potomac River, to understanding the complexities of agricultural runoff in the Coastal Plain, and even searching for water ice on Mercury. As college seniors, W&M geology students are contributing new knowledge about how the Earth operates (and other worlds as well). It’s cool stuff and part of what makes majoring in geology at William & Mary distinctive.
February 24, 2014 by Admit It!
We Admit It! It’s that time of year again. That time when we lock ourselves in our conference rooms, hunker down with a three-tiered cart full of snacks (and we won’t lie, most aren’t of the healthy variety) and complete the class. That time when we make the really tough calls. That time when we realize just how lucky we are to work where we do. That time where we’re humbled by the accomplishments of those students we are admitting and those who we unfortunately are not. We have a thousand and one discussions about what makes for a great application, a great addition to the class, a great fit for W&M. So without further ado, we bring you the “Overheard in Committee” blogs for the freshman Regular Decision cohort.
Overheard in Committee today: The interview was really compelling.
The applicant was a student who was strong across the board but in ways that many of our applicants are. She had been able to participate in our optional interview opportunity last summer and that was where she ended up distinguishing herself. The written evaluation provided by her student interviewer helped us see the applicant’s personality and how she would contribute to the W&M community if admitted. In this student’s case, the interviewer not only determined she’d be a great fit but she’d be the type of student who makes an impact on campus through her drive and passion both in and out of the classroom. The personality and enthusiasm exhibited in the interview helped to tip the scales in the applicant’s favor.
This is why we offer interviews; to help students help themselves, to allow students the chance to showcase their personalities and thereby enhance their overall application. Interviews to us are like teacher recommendations in many ways (they’re optional, they’re designed to give us a fuller picture of an individual student, they’re one component of many that go into an application) except that your teachers know you really well, but may not know W&M very well. Our Interviewers don’t know you very well, but they know W&M.
For those of you fretting over not participating in an interview, don’t. They are entirely optional. Only 20% of our applicants interview so most students who apply (and by extension who are admitted) do so without an interview as part of their application. We understand that many people cannot make it to campus when interviews are offered or try to interview but our appointments are full. No applicant is looked down upon for not interviewing. For those who do interview however, we wanted to provide some insight into that component and how it plays out through the application process.
Committee is a long-haul exercise. So stay tuned, more to come (especially once we consume some of that sugary goodness).
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
February 20, 2014 by Elizabeth Miller
On Friday, February 7th, 2014, William & Mary celebrated Charter Day, including honoring Laura Godwin ’14 with the James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership. Laura serves on the executive board of Project Phoenix and is a fixture in the Office of Community Engagement, bringing her joy and commitment to our office and the tutor/mentor program. That’s why no one was surprised when Laura sent out this incredibly sweet and genuine email to Project Phoenix. It was too good not to share:
I just wanted to send out this email, and tell each of you how grateful I am for you. On Friday, I stood on stage in front of way too many people and received an award that was half the size of me (no joke)…but I sincerely wished that each of you could have been on that stage with me. While Project Phoenix is just one piece of my involvement in the community, it is the one that has allowed me to work closely with other W&M students whom I love dearly. You all embody the heart and soul of what it means to serve a community, and I am in awe of each of you. We all dedicate a significant amount of time to working with our middle schoolers, and I would bet that none of us do it for the recognition; I know I don’t, and I never expected to be recognized for my work, but that would not have been possible without y’all.
I know that sometimes it seems like this program wears us out and stresses us out and drives us crazy. But at the end of the day we all stick with it because we care. I care about our middle schoolers, their well being, and their future. I care about each of you and making sure that y’all feel like you have a purpose and that we are all supporting each other inside and outside of this program. For those of you who were at the first info session we had, I went off on a little tangent about how much I enjoy working with my peers. I am not kidding when I say that I have met some of the best people while working with ProPho. Especially the executive board. I consider each of you a friend, and I am so blessed each time I get to be around y’all. Y’all inspire and encourage me and remind why we do what we do. So thank you. For absolutely everything. Y’all rock!
February 17, 2014 by Chuck Bailey
In 1969 Virginia embraced the travel slogan Virginia is for Lovers and at various times during the last 45 years William & Mary geology students have emblazoned departmental t-shirts with Virginia is for Lavas and turned the iconic heart into a volcano.
In that spirit, Geology Fellow Alex Johnson and I wrote a piece on the ancient lavas that once covered a large swath of what would become Virginia. What follows is an abbreviated version. Read the full version.
Stony Man is a high peak in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains that tops out at just over 1200 m (4,000’). Drive south from Thornton Gap along the Skyline Drive and you’ll see the impressive cliffs of Stony Man’s northwestern face. These are the cliffs that give the mountain its name, as the cliffs and slopes have a vague resemblance to a reclining man’s forehead, eye, nose, and beard. Climb to the top and you’ll see peculiar bluish-green rocks exposed on the summit that are ancient lava flows, part of a geologic unit known as the Catoctin Formation. From the presidential retreat at Camp David to Jefferson’s Monticello, from Harpers Ferry to Humpback Rocks, the Catoctin Formation underlies much of the Blue Ridge. This distinctive geologic unit tells us much about the long geologic history of the Blue Ridge and central Appalachians.
The Catoctin Formation was first named by Arthur Keith in 1894 and takes its name for exposures on Catoctin Mountain, a long ridge that stretches from Maryland into northern Virginia. The word Catoctin is rooted in the old Algonquin term Kittockton. The exact meaning of the term has become a point of contention; among historians the translation “speckled mountain” is preferred, however local tradition holds that that Catoctin means “place of many deer”.
Origin of the name aside, the Catoctin Formation is a geologic unit that crops out over a large tract in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia, eastern West Virginia, Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania. Its current geographic extent does not, however, represent the original extent of the Catoctin Formation. In southern Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Catoctin Formation crops out in one contiguous area, but in Virginia there is an eastern and western outcrop belt of the formation. The Catoctin Formation is exposed on both limbs of the Blue Ridge anticlinorium, a complex regional-scale fold that has been breached by erosion thereby exposing older rocks in the center and younger rocks such as the Catoctin Formation along the flanks. Originally, the eastern and western belts were contiguous, but erosion has removed the younger Catoctin Formation to expose older rocks in the central Blue Ridge.
The Catoctin Formation is composed primarily of metabasalt, commonly referred to as greenstone due to the rock’s greenish tint. When the basalt was metamorphosed, igneous minerals such as pyroxene, plagioclase, and olivine were converted to new minerals (chlorite, actinolite, and epidote), which give the rock its distinctive color. The Catoctin Formation also contains discontinuous layers of metasedimentary rock (including phyllite, quartzite, and even marble), as well as volcanic breccia and metarhyolite.
As the Catoctin lavas cooled, columnar joints developed in many flows. Columns form as the rock volumetrically contracts during cooling. As a lava flow cools, both from its top and bottom surface, these cooling cracks propagate inward, forming hexagonal columns. Columnar joints are best developed in lava flows that extrude onto a landscape. These columns are common in the Catoctin Formation’s western outcrop belt and indicate the flows were extruded on land. In contrast, at a number of outcrops in the eastern Blue Ridge, pillow lavas are preserved in the Catoctin metabasalts. Pillow lavas are bulbous to lobate masses formed as lava rapidly cools underwater, forming a glassy shell as the surrounding water quenches the lava.
How old are the ancient lavas of the Catoctin Formation? When did a vast volcanic plain cover the terrain that would become central and northern Virginia?
Metabasalt dikes commonly intrude and cut older granitic rocks in the Blue Ridge, and in rare cases these feeder dikes can be traced upward into metabasalt flows that covered the granitic rocks. Based on these cross cutting relations, the Catoctin Formation is clearly younger than the old Blue Ridge granites that crystallized between 1.2 and 1.0 billion years ago. The Catoctin metabasalts are overlain by a sequence of sedimentary rocks that contain fossils including Skolithos, a distinctive trace fossil formed by burrowing creatures. These fossils are characteristic of sediments deposited during the early Cambrian period some 520 to 540 million years ago.
Geologists have attempted to date the Catoctin lavas with varying degrees of success. In 1988, Badger and Sinha reported a late Precambrian age of 570 ± 36 Ma for the Catoctin Formation based on the Rubidium/Strontium (Rb-Sr) dating technique, however this isotopic system can be readily disturbed by later metamorphism. Zircon is a high temperature igneous mineral that is ideal for geochronological studies. Zircon crystals invariably contain a small amount of uranium, a radioactive element that decays to lead at a constant and well-known rate. By comparing the ratio of certain uranium and lead isotopes in a given crystal, it is possible to discern how long the uranium has been decaying, and thus the age of crystal and, by association, the rock in which it is situated. However, silica-poor mafic igneous rocks, such as basalt, commonly lack zircons and thus cannot typically be dated with this technique.
Yet, all is not lost as the Catoctin Formation is composed of more than just metamorphosed basalt; in northern Virginia, western Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania, metarhyolite is interlayered with the metabasalt. Rhyolites are felsic volcanic rocks that typically contain zircon and can be dated with the U-Pb method. Based upon U-Pb ages from metarhyolites in the Catoctin Formation, the extrusion of this volcanic complex occurred around 570-550 million years ago (Aleinikoff et al., 1995; Southworth et al., 2009) during the Ediacaran Period at the end of the Neoproterozoic Era.
What is a sequence of volcanic rocks doing in the Blue Ridge?
The Catoctin Formation is likely a continental flood basalt associated with late stage rifting that broke apart the Rodinian supercontinent and created the Iapetus Ocean. Flood basalts are large igneous provinces where low viscosity basaltic lava floods vast areas of the Earth’s surface. Due to the lava’s low viscosity, flood basalts are generally extruded quite rapidly, geologically speaking. In the case of the Catoctin Formation, more than 30,000 cubic kilometers of lava were extruded in a few million years. The origin of flood basalts is widely debated, however the most common explanation involves a combination of decompressional melting due to both continental rifting and the rise of a hot and expansive mantle plume. The origin of mantle plumes is also poorly understood, but likely involves a buoyant melt produced near the mantle-core boundary, which proceeds to rapidly rise through the mantle, melts other rocks, and drives extrusion of volcanic rocks at the surface.
Throughout geologic time, the cycle of assembly and dispersal of so-called supercontinents has been one of the most dramatic examples of plate tectonics at work. The supercontinent Rodinia is hypothesized to have been formed in the Late Mesoproterozoic and Early Neoproterozoic. At its core was Laurentia, a large landmass composed of what is now modern day North America, Greenland, and northern Scotland. As supercontinents are wont to do, Rodinia began rifting apart some 600-550 million years ago; the tectonic plates began to once again change direction and slowly drifted away from one another, forming new oceans and closing others. One of these new oceans that was created (and later destroyed during the creation of the most recent supercontinent, Pangea) was the Iapetus. The Iapetus formed between the eastern edge of the Laurentian craton and almalgam of tectonic blocks that would eventually be formed into what is referred to as Gondwana. It was during this period of rifting that the volcanic rocks of the Catoctin Formation were extruded on Laurentia’s margin.
A key method by which geologists have discerned the cycle of supercontinent formation and dissolution has been through paleomagnetism, which is the study of the magnetic properties in certain minerals as means to reconstruct the past location of tectonic plates. Although paleomagnetism has played an integral part in developing the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift, paleomagnetism in old rocks is complex. Take for instance the plight of Rodinia, different researchers have constructed multiple iterations of the supercontinent’s configuration and location. One study, focused on the Catoctin Formation in particular, place Laurentia near the South Pole at the end of the Neoproterozoic.
How did a vast plateau of volcanic rocks that were buried beneath kilometers of shallow marine sedimentary rocks become the foliated greenstones that undergird the Blue Ridge Mountains? The answer to this question involves a complex history of deformation, metamorphism, and uplift.
Recent geochronological studies indicate that the penetrative deformation and metamorphism, the tectonic event that produced the distinctive foliation in the Catoctin Formation, occurred between 320 and 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period. Some 20 to 30 million years later Blue Ridge rocks were thrust over sedimentary rocks of the Valley & Ridge province, during the collision that produced Pangea. The mountains produced during this collision likely rivaled the size of today’s Himalayas.
In the million of years since their uplift, the Blue Ridge has slowly been beaten down with rounded ridges replacing rugged mountains. As the processes of weathering and erosion continued their interplay, different rock types eroded at different rates resulting in the modern topography of the Blue Ridge. Compared to the overlying stratified rocks and underlying granitic basement complex, the fine-grained metavolcanic rocks of the Catoctin Formation are particularly resistant to erosion.
The great American author Nathaniel Hawthorne once noted “mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.” Here in the central Appalachians much of that monument is shaped from the basaltic rocks of the Catoctin Formation, a unit birthed by fire during the breakup of ancient Laurentia and later changed to greenstone during the growth of the new Pangean supercontinent.
February 11, 2014 by Admit It!
We Admit It! As of last week we had successfully downloaded and processed all freshman Common Applications submitted for Fall 2014! Whew. 14,000 plus applications later that’s a relief!
What does that mean for applicants?
- We have downloaded every freshman application submitted through Common App and uploaded it to our system
- Every freshman applicant and their parents should have received an initial email from W&M letting them know their application has been received
- Remember to check your spam/junk folders for these emails
- This initial email also includes a W&M ID number. Please include that ID number on any communications you send to us regarding your application
- If you believe you submitted an application to W&M and haven’t received an email from us, please follow up by phone or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This does not mean that all applications are complete. We are still working to complete over 2000 applications, which is very typical. It just takes time to sort through multiple documents submitted on behalf of over 14,000 individual students. You and your parents will receive another email when we complete your application. Or, if we are missing any materials, we will email you, the applicant, to let you know what’s missing (generally an application fee or standardized test score) and how to submit it to us. Just follow up in a timely manner and we’ll be happy to review your application for regular decision.
This is a major milestone in the application cycle. And it means Committee isn’t too far away. Stay tuned for some “Overheard in Committee” blogs towards the end of the month.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
January 30, 2014 by Chuck Bailey
Oman is a sunny place and cloudy days are rather uncommon. On Friday, January 10th we awoke to cloudy skies over Muscat. Today was the day to tackle “the exposure” at Wadi Mayh about 25 km (19 mi.) south of Muscat. Wadi Mayh is a through-going drainage that offers tremendous exposures of bedrock in its channel and valley walls.
The exposure we wished to see (and photograph) is a steep north-northeast facing slope rising 170 meters (~560 ft.) above the wadi. At this time of year the face is nearly always in shadow and the bright Omani sun backlights the scene making photography tough. I thought the clouds would provide just enough cover to mellow the lighting and result in a better picture.
Alex Johnson and I climbed to a high perch across from the exposure and readied the equipment, but the sun refused to be muted behind the clouds. We waited patiently. There were moments of less sun, but we never got the lighting conditions we’d hoped for. Nevertheless, we put the GigaPan to work, taking a set of 56 images of the rocky face that we later stitched together into a seamless high-resolution image. What follows is the stitched image that spent some time getting ‘massaged’ in Photoshop to highlight this brilliant exposure and was then uploaded to the GigaPan website. Try zooming in to the image to see fine-scale details such as fractures, veins, and fold hinges.
These gray limestones lack much contrast, but the layering is readily evident. It is difficult to appreciate the scale of the image. Recall the height of the exposure exceeds 150 m (500’); the best scale markers are near the bottom of the image, they are ~7 meters tall (23’) power poles. This is a huge exposure.
In the view below (of the central part of the face), the rock almost seems to be smiling at the camera. Follow individual layers and you’ll find that they turn back on themselves and trace out a curious elliptical pattern. Clearly, the rocks are folded, but these aren’t your everyday folds. These are sheath folds, and mega-sheath folds at that.
Sheath folds are distinctive curvilinear folds in which the hinge actually wraps around on itself. In three-dimensions sheath folds look much like their name implies, a sheath that might holster a sword (or in Oman, the traditional khanjar!). When eroded, the tubular-shape of a sheath fold displays a characteristic eye-shape in cross section—that’s what we see on the slopes above Wadi Mayh.
Sheath folds were first recognized in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but, in my opinion, not properly appreciated until the 1990s. They form when layers are strongly sheared and early formed fold hinges are rotated into cone-like shapes; the long-axis of the sheath fold parallels the direction along which the rocks were most stretched.
In 2007 Mike Searle and Ian Alsop published an excellent article in the journal Geology on mega-sheath folds from the Wadi Mayh area. The sheath folds are developed in shallow marine carbonate rocks of Permian and Triassic age that are in tectonic contact with underlying high-pressure metamorphic rocks formed when the Oman ophiolite was obducted onto the Arabian margin. The folds in the photo are actually subsidiary folds of an even larger mega-sheath fold about 15 km in length!
For me, sheath folds, regardless of the scale, dramatically illustrate that solid rocks are capable of flow, often in complex, but enticingly beautiful ways.
January 29, 2014 by Admit It!
I Admit It! This is probably the first time this blog has begun with a personal instead of a plural pronoun (something faithful readers likely noticed immediately). And those personal pronouns are intentional. Yes, I am the primary author of the Admit It! Blog but this blog is always written on behalf of the entire W&M admission staff. It represents a team, not an individual. This particular post is the one exception to that rule.
The Admission team is hard at work crafting the class of 2018. I personally am also hard at work on a potential member of the W&M Class of 2036. I will soon go on maternity leave to take care of my first child. As a result, the Admit It! Blog will take a hiatus of sorts. The blog will not be updated weekly as per usual. However, major moments will be blogged about (Completion of application processing, Overheard in Committee for both freshmen and transfers, decision releases for freshmen and transfers) and comments will be responded to – maybe not with this typical speediness but they will be responded to.
Please remember there are many other resources to get your questions answered: our Facebook page, our Twitter account, our website, or general email address (email@example.com) and we’re of course also available by phone during business hours. Plus the Admit It! Blog has over five years’ worth of blogs about every aspect of our process. You can search our blog by month (so for example you can review blogs from this time last year to get a sense of our process during the spring) or by search term as many of our blogs are tagged – just be sure to use our Admit It! Blog title when you search (for example “admit it! + committee” or “admit it! + application review”. Finally, you can input a URL to search tags (http://blogs.wm.edu/tag/application will search all posts that have the “application” tag). Some that might be the most helpful:
While Admit It! may be slightly out of sight in the coming months, it will not be out of mind (ours or hopefully yours). The admission cycle stops for no one, admission deans/bloggers included. We’ll see you a bit further up the proverbial road.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission
January 27, 2014 by Admit It!
We Admit It! Every day we read some phenomenal applications. And it’s hard to keep our excitement to ourselves. Sure, we share our great finds with each other, but why should we keep such excitement to ourselves? Why not share it with you also?
That’s why we have postcards. In the weeks to come (late January through late February), we will send a small cohort of our Regular Decision applicants these happy greetings from W&M. It’s a small, but we hope welcomed way to share our excitement about your application with you. The postcard’s message hints at more good news to come when we release decisions in April. These postcards are not official admission decisions, but are our version of what’s referred to as a “likely letter” (a precursor to an official offer of admission sent to applicants who we intend on admitting).
Because reading is a slow and steady process, we are not able to send a postcard to every student who will be admitted. In fact, we will likely send postcards to only about 1/3 of the students we will admit. If you do not receive a postcard, do not panic. Not receiving a postcard means nothing about your eventual decision. Remember, there are thousands of applications that we have yet to complete (so they cannot get a postcard at this time because they haven’t been reviewed). Additionally, because we can only read so many files in a given day, and because every application has to go through two complete reads (and oftentimes three) before a postcard can be sent, there are completed applications that may not move through our review process in time to receive a postcard. That’s just luck of the draw (as we explained in our previous blog, there’s no set order to the way we read applications once they are completed).
For those of you who do find our greeting in the mailbox in the days and weeks to come, enjoy it! And way to go! Your accomplishments impressed us greatly. Thanks for making our application review so enjoyable. To all of our applicants, we’ll head back to that huge stack of files on each of our desks and continue to read, read, read. All of your stories are why we do what we do, and we appreciate you taking the time to share them, whatever the eventual admission outcome may be.
Wendy Livingston ’03, M.Ed. ‘09
Associate Dean of Admission