The Blog @
Southern Virginia University
  1. Relief Efforts in White Sulphur Springs

    June 28, 2016

    Meet Sonya. She’s a nurse. She helps people for a living. She was on her way to work on Thursday when floods hit her hometown of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Sonya’s home is one of more than five hundred to take heavy damage or to be destroyed during last week’s flood.Sonya

    Here’s what it looks like now.

    IMG_20160626_143154350_HDR (2)

    I met Sonya when I traveled to White Sulphur Springs with a group of relief-effort volunteers. My experiences in church service, my community involvement and my education at Southern Virginia University had all prepared me to serve — sometimes with only a moment’s notice — so I went to White Sulphur Springs prepared to work. Still, I’m not sure I was mentally ready for what I found there.

    Several streets were caked with dried mud, sending yellow clouds of dust up with each passing car. Fallen tree limbs, silt, broken chunks of asphalt and planks of rotted wood filled the rest of the gutters and roads. Rust-colored watermarks showed where the floods had lapped two, four or even six feet above ground-level. In some parts of town, entire buildings had been submerged. In others, homes were washed away, leaving nothing but gravel-covered foundations. The skeletons of flood-crushed structures, appliances and vehicles littered the sidewalks.IMG_20160626_143323476_HDR

    Sonya’s house still had an inch or two of wet mud beneath her scattered belongings, so it was difficult to maneuver through her house. She directed four friends from Southern Virginia and me for a chunk of Sunday afternoon, making decisions on what to salvage and what to leave behind. Working conditions were hot and muggy. The surrounding wreckage made it hard to detect our own progress.

    But at the end of the day, Sonya smiled, and so did I. Maybe it was because of her acknowledged gratitude to have survived the flood. Maybe it was because of the unifying nature of service — something Sonya deals with every day as a nurse.

    Whatever the reason, it was a privilege to work alongside her, and I’m deeply grateful for the emphasis my upbringing and education placed on serving my neighbor.

    (Post and photos by Stephen Taylor ’15.)

  2. 7 Reasons to Try Summer Courses

    June 2, 2016

    SVU091815_0182To all who take the occasional college course: If you like to learn all year long, if short-term, concentrated courses fit your learning style, if you have too much free time in the summer and if you just want to hurry up and graduate, you could do worse than to take some summer courses. Here are a few reasons to consider it for future summers.

    1. Summer classes offer better chances of fitting a work schedule. It’s a lot easier to juggle a part-time job with a summer class or two than with a handful of fall/spring classes scattered throughout the day. Summer courses allow you to keep a fairly consistent schedule Monday through Friday, where fall/spring terms might require something different every day of the week. Participating in Southern Virginia’s new online classes makes this even more manageable.

    2. Summer classes speed things up. Because both required and elective courses are available during the summer, you could shave a semester or two off your graduation timeline. This could mean that you earn an entire year to live your post-graduation dreams while your peers are studying for final exams. Think about it. But don’t rub it in your friends’ faces, because that would be mean.

    3. Summer classes speed things up. Yes, these are the same words I used before, but summer classes have a shorter duration than fall/spring courses. If you’re the kind of learner who thrives on focused, short-term study, these courses will fit you like a glove. Maybe that’s a bad simile for summer. Summer classes will fit you like a whitewater rafting life-jacket.

    4. Some courses are only offered in summer terms. Take Dr. Cluff’s “How to Read a Film” course as an example. A typical day in this class includes watching, analyzing and discussing an entire film in the same sitting. A course like this could only meet once a week without barring students from other important courses during a regular semester. During the summer, on the other hand, it can meet several times a week for 2-3 hours at a time.

    5. “Topics: World of Harry Potter.” You can literally get credit to study and write about your favorite character in Harry Potter.

    6. Campus is beautiful in the summer. Yes, it’s also beautiful in autumn and spring, but if you want to watch the fireflies illuminate all of Chandler Field on a June evening, you have to be here in June.

    7. Summer classes don’t stop summer from happening. The same year that I took my first two summer classes, I went on a 5000 mile road trip, worked two new jobs, performed in a musical theatre production, made several close new friends, went on a first-date with the woman who would later marry me, AND still got to sleep in.

    Long story short? Even with summer classes, it can still feel like summer.

    A summer Book Arts class at Southern Virginia. #svuedu #books #bookmaking #summerschool #artist

    A video posted by Southern Virginia University (@svuedu) on

    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Video by Bronwyn Himes ’17. Photo by Jonathan McBride.)

  3. Photos: Commencement 2016

    May 26, 2016

    Commencement is a bittersweet word to me. On the one hand it reminds me of goodbyes, daunting new challenges and the end of an era. But it literally means ‘a beginning.’ What could be more encouraging or beautiful?

    Congratulations, class of 2016, on your new beginning this month. May every graduate, past and future, remember fondly the day of their own Commencement. Hopefully a few photos will bolster the memories. Check Facebook and Google+ for a few more!

    (Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Brinn Willis ’07.)

  4. The Constitution, Madison & Montpelier

    May 25, 2016
    Portrait of James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

    Portrait of James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

    This past semester I took a course called “The Legal and Intellectual History of the Constitution.” This course was engaging and powerful, and I learned not only about the Constitution as a document of history, but also about its absolute relevance in today’s political climate. Conversations in this course about constitutional interpretations and how those interpretations should be implemented in modern America were often fierce, and more than once — as should happen in a great course — my confidence in my own ideas slipped away long enough for me to appreciate, learn from, and even adopt some of the clever points of view of my classmates.

    I also gained a greater respect and admiration for the sacrifice and scholarship of America’s Founding Fathers (especially James Madison), who, in my mind, serve as history’s high points in political thought. Learning about these men and their lives inspired my own opinions and beliefs, and I often found myself, when deciding my position on an in-class conversation about the constitutionality of modern laws surrounding religious freedom, gay marriage, healthcare, or economic regulation, asking the question, “What would James Madison think about this?”

    As fantastic as the course was, however, the class meetings and conversations themselves were only one part — and perhaps even a lesser part — of the influence this course had in my life and education. What really moved the course to the forefront of my academic experience here at Southern Virginia were the extracurricular opportunities I had the privilege of participating in.

    One of those opportunities was to join an optional field trip to James Madison’s home at Montpelier (thanks to Professor Rachel Wilcox for organizing such an amazing event), only a short drive from Southern Virginia. While there, our class toured the very room in which Madison wrote the Virginia Plan, the document that served as the basis for the heated debates around congressional representation, among other things. In the classroom we often discussed the Virginia Plan at length, and even put on an imitative Constitutional Convention. We debated the same issues the Founding Fathers had, and argued over the achievements and shortcomings of Madison’s Virginia Plan. But I feel comfortable in saying that no one in the class truly understood the Virginia Plan’s importance or brilliance until we were able to put ourselves in the atmosphere of Madison’s home.


    Another opportunity, after the semester was over, and this time just with my family, was to see the Constitution in the National Archives in Washington D.C. Because of my course with Professor Wilcox, I had analyzed the Constitution, debated over its place in modern society, written papers about my interpretations of certain sections of it — but I hardly realized its gravity and import until I took advantage of the opportunity to see it, a deceptively simple piece of parchment by looks, but by content one of the world’s most profound documents.

    Charters of Freedom Hall, National Archives, Washington

    Both of these trips, only short distances away from Southern Virginia, allowed me to to turn abstract education into tangible life experience. The classroom knowledge I received from Professor Wilcox, as is usual at our university, was incredible — coupled with the ability to enrich my studies through access to some of the amazing opportunities located near our university, it was life-changing.

    (Post by Braxton Boyer ’16. Photos courtesy of Philippa Hawker ’16 and Library of Congress.)


  5. Dance History, Humanities Professor Exemplifies Scholarship at Symposium

    May 23, 2016

    Debra-Sowell-Symposium-2One of the great things about Southern Virginia University is the opportunity to take interesting topics courses in a close-knit environment with professors who are experts in their fields. This past semester, Dr. Debra Sowell taught her special topics class in dance history again and also served as visiting scholar at the San Francisco Ballet.

    Last fall, representatives of the San Francisco Ballet contacted Dr. Sowell and invited her to come be a guest resident scholar at their two-day symposium.

    “It was fabulous,” Dr. Sowell said of the experience. “It was very exciting because as a visiting scholar, I was taken inside the company; I got to tour their … state-of-the-art facility for ballet — one of the best in America. And the day of the opening night I got to watch a company class. The company takes their daily class on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House. [Being] backstage that [close to] the dancers was so cool.”

    She also said that watching the company rehearse and perform was “nostalgic” for her because “it brought back memories of growing up and taking ballet for many years.” While she was there, she spoke to staff at the San Francisco Ballet and to students of the San Francisco Ballet School, as well as to parents, donors and members of the Christensen society. She discussed the history of the first full-length “Swan Lake” in America and the role of the Christensen brothers, about whom Dr. Sowell wrote the book “Christensen Brothers: An American Dance Epic.”

    “[The Christensen brothers] were interesting because they were descendants of Mormon pioneers who became impressive pioneers themselves in the history of American ballet,” she said. “One of the pioneering projections on which they collaborated was the first full-length ‘Swan Lake’ in America. Before that, only excerpts from the ballet had been performed. When the Christensens took this production on tour from San Francisco to the Northwest, a critic in Seattle referred to it as Tchaikovsky’s ‘practically never-seen four-act toe tragedy.’”

    Lew and Janet Reed in 1940, B, Lude

    After one of her speeches at the San Francisco Ballet School, she had a very meaningful experience with a member of the audience.

    “A couple approached me, and the husband said that his grandmother had been in the San Francisco Ballet under Willam Christensen,” she said. “This man had been in a bookstore years earlier and had found my book on the Christensens. Opening to the index, he found his grandmother’s name and turned to her picture. Reading about that era in the company and the significant role his grandmother had played had brought her memory closer to him. It was a touching moment for both of us.”

    In addition to speaking at the symposium, Dr. Sowell also stays active in her field in many other ways. Recently, she served as an adjudicator of the Founding Editors’ Award of Dance Chronicle, the leading journal in dance history. Dr. Sowell is also a member of the journal’s editorial board and regularly reviews manuscript submissions. Through her work with Dance Chronicle, she stays current on the latest research in her field, which in turn benefits her students by exposing them to a wealth of knowledge.

    She also provides her dance history students with direct learning experiences outside of the classroom. When I took the class several years ago, she led us on a course excursion to see a professional production of “Swan Lake” in Richmond. This past semester, she not only took her students to a dance performance in Lexington, but also had a special guest dance instructor, Marin Leggat Roper, visit campus to conduct a three-day workshop on dance, movement, and theatre choreography.

    Dr. Sowell truly exemplifies the university’s core value of scholarship. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such a knowledgeable, passionate scholar during my time at Southern Virginia. I encourage all current and incoming students to find elective courses that interest you and expose you to new disciplines and new professors.

    (Post by Hannah King ’13. Photos courtesy of Dr. Debra Sowell.)