Students develop mock trial inspired by ‘Serena’

From left, WCU student Tyler Vaughn and WCU professor Jayne Zanglein look on as Melissa English, assistant professor of business law, acts as the judge for a mock trial developed by WCU students based on the Ron Rash novel “Serena.”

From left, WCU student Tyler Vaughn and WCU professor Jayne Zanglein look on as Melissa English, assistant professor of business law, acts as the judge for a mock trial developed by WCU students based on the Ron Rash novel “Serena.”

WCU business administration and law students said the mock trial they developed based on the Ron Rash novel “Serena” – the university’s “One Book” selection for 2014-15 – helped them connect more deeply with their field of study and with each other.

The story of a timber baron, George Pemberton, and his ruthless wife Serena, the novel was published in 2008 to critical acclaim nationwide and was a New York Times bestseller. Rash is WCU’s Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture.

Assigned to invent a case using the characters and a legal issue in the book, students created a 1930 lawsuit in which a widow alleges an agent of a lumber company intentionally cut a cable wire in an attempt to injure or kill her husband. Students then took on roles ranging from attorneys to witnesses, including the book’s title character. They researched the case and held the three-hour trial in December in a courtroom in the Jackson County Justice and Administration Building.

Jayne Zanglein, professor of business law, said the mock trial capstone project empowered students to tackle and succeed at a task as complex as preparing for a trial.

WCU students serving as members of the trial team for the defense, from left, Katherine Muto, Ashley Helton and Stephanie Reguero-Soto, discuss the case during a mock trial.

WCU students serving as members of the trial team for the defense, from left, Katherine Muto, Ashley Helton and Stephanie Reguero-Soto, discuss the case during a mock trial.

Their work involved months of delving not only into law but also into historical images, detailed information and diagrams of log loaders and equipment, and statistics regarding workplace injuries in the southern United States from pulpwood logging, which is explored in the book.

Kamiyo Lanning, a senior from Asheville, said the students gained a more comprehensive understanding of how everything they had learned was implemented in a courtroom, and Tyler Murray, a senior from Davenport, Iowa, said he was struck by the numerous rules and regulations that govern trials.

Jamil James, a senior from Wilmington, was charged with conducting a cross examination. He said the experience of crafting new questions immediately after a direct examination helped him improve his ability to think on his feet.

In addition, Murray and Amanda Smith, a senior from Sylva, commented about how the project helped them see how significant the time is that they spent together as a team and will spend in the future working with colleagues.

“The people you work with really become like a second family,” said Murray.

Zanglein also said students embraced their roles to the degree that when a student portraying a character from “Serena” named “Galloway” raised his right hand to be sworn in as a witness, his hand was missing, just as the character’s was in the book.

The WCU Office of First Year Experience’s One Book program is designed to encourage first-year students to have common intellectual conversation about one book. Freshmen were provided with copies of the novel, which was incorporated into transition courses as well as multiple upper-level courses in a range of disciplines. The book selection also aligns with WCU’s 2014-15 campuswide academic learning theme “North Carolina: Our State, Our Time.”

For more information, contact Zanglein at 828-227-7191.