Speaker puts focus on King’s “radical” message; students reach out in service

Rev. Sekou leads the audience in song during Monday's MLK Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
Rev. Sekou performs Monday during the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Memorial Chapel. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University faculty, students, and staff honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a day of service on Monday.

No classes were held on the federal holiday honoring the civil rights icon, but Lawrence again provided a bevy of volunteer and learning opportunities around King’s life and message. The day was topped off with the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Memorial Chapel, an event co-sponsored by Lawrence and African Heritage Inc.

A community celebration

Simon Balto gestures with his hands as he speaks during Monday's MLK Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
Simon Balto gives his address, “Restoring the Radical King,” during Monday’s 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Memorial Chapel.

The evening event featured keynote speaker Simon Balto, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa and author of the book, Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.

He implored the audience not to lose sight of the radical mission of King, not to be lulled into complacency by a modern caricature that allows politicians and others to tap into benign visions of King that they believe can impart feel-good messages.

“We treat him now like this bundle of sound bites and remember him as a lovable man with little more than a kumbaya dream of a colorblind society,” Balto said. “People, and politicians in particular, seem to think that King can be whatever they want him to have been.”

He was so much more than that, Balto said. There’s a reason that a Gallup poll in 1966 found that only 32% of Americans had a positive view of King. He sought radical change. He made people uncomfortable. And that was a good thing.

“Martin Luther King was a radical,” Balto said. “People often think of the word radical as if it is pejorative or scary. But we shouldn’t think that way.”

It’s about “challenging the status quo at a fundamental level,” he said.

King and others in the civil rights movement successfully took down Jim Crow laws in the south, ending legalized segregation. But that, Balto said, was only one phase. The next phase — fighting racism that was built into the very fabric of the nation — would prove far more difficult. It’s a battle that continues today even as we honor the great accomplishments of King.

“Yes, Dr. King did want an end to racial discrimination, but he also knew that simply ending the Jim Crow system was not going to do it,” Balto said. “He knew that racism was manifested in all sorts of different ways … and not just in the south. He knew it was baked into the housing policies in places like Milwaukee and Chicago and Los Angeles. … He knew it was baked into the ways of the criminal justice system and how it treated black people. He knew it was in the school system and the labor market, in all sorts of places the civil rights movement that had vanquished Jim Crow in the south hadn’t fixed.”

King told his followers that the new battle would be more difficult, in large part because it came with a much higher price tag for the nation, one that would run into the billions of dollars and require the transformation of many of the tenets of society, Balto said. It was an uphill fight, and remains so today.

“People died pursuing it,” Balto said. “Indeed, Dr. King died pursuing it.”

Memorial Chapel is mostly full as Lawrence student Kyree Allen sings during Monday's MLK event.
Kyree Allen ’23 sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monday’s Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Memorial Chapel.

Also at Monday’s King Celebration event, Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a musician, filmmaker, and theologian, led a rousing music portion of the program. The annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award was presented to Carla A. Manns, a local author, business owner, and community leader. And Pa Lee Moua, formerly an associate dean of students for diversity at Lawrence and now the Appleton Area School District’s diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Educator Award.

Special video tributes were given to recently departed community leaders Ronald Dunlap and Henry Golde.

Day of service activities

Nearly 400 Lawrence students, faculty, and staff took part in community outreach activities or participated in teach-ins Monday in honor of King’s legacy. With no classes being held, it was designated as a day of service.

Nearly 150 volunteers supported communities across the Fox Cities through service at Riverview Gardens, the Fox Valley Humane Association, Feeding America, Brewster Village, and the Boys and Girls Clubs in Appleton and Menasha. Another 155 attended a half dozen teach-ins that ranged from being actively engaged in anti-racism advocacy to addressing stigma and disparity within mental health treatment.

“We were very impressed by the interest from the Lawrence campus,” said Kristi Hill, director of Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. “We are hopeful that we provided a variety of offerings around learning, volunteering, and celebrating.”

Students load mulch into a wheelbarrow at Riverview Gardens.
Students load mulch to be placed in hoop houses at Riverview Gardens during Monday’s MLK Day of Service. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

At Riverview Gardens, an Appleton nonprofit that uses urban farming as a means to produce food and provide job training for struggling populations, nearly 25 students took to the fields on a cold afternoon to place mulch into hoop houses and do other chores, all aimed at prepping the farm for spring planting.

“Riverview Gardens is a really great organization because they work with job skills training for homeless and disadvantaged communities,” said Floreal Crubaugh ’20. “That’s really important for our day of service.”

She and many of the other volunteers she was working with are members of the student organization that tends to the Lawrence University Sustainable Garden (SLUG), so the outreach to Riverview Gardens was particularly close to the heart.

“We’re a club that’s really organized around community service and volunteering,” Crubaugh said. “This really meshed well with our mission of giving our time and giving our skills to the community.”

It’s work that was much appreciated by the workers who tend to the needs of Riverview Gardens on a daily basis.

“This helps us prepare for our spring planting,” said Elisse Pavletich, the farm manager. “They are putting mulch in a lot of our hoop houses, which will prevent weeds from growing in those places and it gives us a lot more time to focus on the vegetables in spring, which then helps us to help more people.”

Lawrence students sit with cats at the Fox Valley Humane Association during the MLK Day of Service on Monday.
Lawrence students socialize with cats while volunteering at the Fox Valley Humane Association Monday during Lawrence’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

At the Fox Valley Humane Association, a team of Lawrence volunteers focused on cleaning the facility, doing laundry, and stocking shelves before turning their attention to interaction with the animals that are currently calling the shelter home.

“I find working with animals incredibly important,” said Sara Prostko ’20. “They are a population that cannot say their needs, they don’t have a say in their environment, where they go, who they’re with.

“Lawrence is all about trying to be a voice for those who cannot have a voice for themselves. I think this is exactly that. … We’re doing a lot of cleaning and sorting of stuff, things that I’d rather us volunteers do rather than employees so they can spend their time and efforts on things to expand the organization.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

MLK Celebration highlights 9 big events on Lawrence campus during winter term

MLK essay contest winners are introduced during last year's Martin Luther King Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
The 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration returns to Memorial Chapel on Jan. 20.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Ice skates, gloves, and the warmest of hats are all part of winter term at Lawrence. It might be getting cold out there, but don’t forget that winter term on campus also is a magical time. 

There are fun things to do all over campus (skating on Ormsby Lake, anyone?). That includes the events calendar, which gets particularly robust in winter term. Here are nine exciting things happening on campus this winter term, beginning with Monday’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.    

1. MLK outreach and celebration

Every year the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) hosts a day of service in honor of King. As Lawrentians take time out of their classes to recognize the great work of MLK, the CCE provides a space for Lawrentians to give back to their community and learn about King’s legacy. The full list of events happening on MLK Day is available on the CCE section of the Lawrence web site.  

To wrap up the day, the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, co-sponsored by Lawrence and African Heritage Inc., will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

Dr. Simon Balto, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa, will deliver the keynote address. It also will feature the music of Rev. Sekou.

Balto holds a degree from the University of Wisconsin. He wrote the book, “Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power,” and his writing has appeared in TIME magazine, the Washington Post, and other popular and scholarly outlets.

The event also will feature tributes to the late Ronald Dunlap and Henry Golde. MLK youth essay contest winners will be honored, and the recipient of the annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award will be announced.

2. Great Midwest Trivia Contest 

What has been fun, trivial, exhausting, and ongoing at Lawrence since 1966? That is correct, the Great Midwest Trivia Contest. It’s billed as the world’s longest running trivia contest because of its tradition of having the final question of the contest serve as the first question of next year’s contest. This year is no different, with the much-anticipated trivia contest starting Jan. 24 at precisely 10:00:37 p.m. and ending at midnight on Jan 26. Find details here.

3. Lunar New Year 

A table at last year's Lunar New Year draws visitors.
Lunar New Year, an annual celebration on campus, returns Jan. 25.

To celebrate the Lunar New Year, various clubs on campus host a Lunar New Year Celebration each winter termThe event features food, music, performances and information on different Lunar New Year Celebrations around the world. This year’s celebration will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. Jan. 25 in the Warch Campus Center. Cultural performances include traditional lion dance (Tay Phuong Lions from Savage, Minnesota), Japanese Taiko drummers (Taikoza from New York City) and Hmong dancers Nkauj Suab Nag (Gao Shoua Nah from Appleton). There also will be a Cultural Expo with educational activity booths sponsored by student organizations: Chinese Student Association, Japanese Student Group, Korean Culture Club, Pan-Asian Organization, Vietnamese Cultural Organization, and more. Find information here.

4. Winter Carnival and President’s Ball 

Gingerbread competitions are back as part of Winter Carnival.

No need to hide from winter. Let’s embrace it. The week-long Winter Carnival concludes with the annual President’s Ball in the Warch Campus Center on Feb. 1. Every year the Student Organization for University Programming (SOUP) hosts the picture-perfect President’s Ball. It gives all Lawrentians — students, faculty, and staff — the opportunity to enjoy live music, take photos in the photo booth, and get on the dance floor. Winter Carnival, meanwhile, kicks off Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 2, featuring activities ranging from a scavenger hunt to a ping pong tournament to a ski outing to broomball games on Ormsby Lake to a gingerbread house competition. It’s highlighted by the President’s Ball on the evening of Feb. 1. A day of service follows on Feb. 2. Details can be found here.  

5. Jazz Series concert featuring Bill Frisell 

Music starts to heat up winter term in February. Guitarist, composer, and arranger Bill Frisell will be gracing the Lawrence campus as part of the ongoing Jazz Series. Frisell has been recognized for his unique sound as he transforms the modern guitar. Frisell and friends will be in concert at 8 p.m. Feb. 7 at Memorial Chapel. For more on the Jazz Series (and other 2019-20 music series at Lawrence), see here.

6. Richard III on stage 

Winter term isn’t complete without a production from the Theatre Arts department. Richard lll, by William Shakespeare, will take the stage at Cloak Theatre for four performances from Feb. 20 to 22. It is directed by Timothy X. Troy. Visit here for more details on this show and others in the 2019-20 season.

7. Artist Series concert featuring Tine Thing Helseth 

Here’s another big concert happening in winter term, this one as part of the Artist Series. It’ll feature Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tine Thing Helseth. She has established herself as one of the foremost trumpet soloists of our time. The performance is set for 8 p.m. on Feb. 28. More details can be found here.

8. Cultural Expressions

Students perform on stage during last year's Cultural Expressions.
Cultural Expressions is a winter term highlight. It’s back on Feb. 29.

The Lawrence University Black Student Union hosts an annual Black History Month Celebration called Cultural Expressions. It offers a space for members of the Black Student Union to showcase their talents — everything from music to dance to spoken word — to the entire Lawrence and Appleton communities. This year’s Cultural Expressions will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 29 in Warch Campus Center. See the calendar on the Lawrence web site for more information.

9. Opera takes center stage 

Opera is a huge part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and the annual opera is must-see viewing on campus. This winter term performance will feature Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, set for March 5 through March 8 in Stansbury Theater. Check the calendar for show times. 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Convocation speaker: Imaginative thinking is political work, and it’s not easy

Masha Gessen talks at the podium on the stage of Memorial Chapel during Thursday's convocation.
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and author, delivers a convocation address Thursday at Memorial Chapel. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Masha Gessen was up front that there would be no answers in this address. Only questions, be they political, socio-economic or otherwise.

The Russian-American journalist and author, delivering the winter term Convocation Thursday morning at Lawrence University’s Memorial Chapel, told the gathering of mostly faculty, students, and staff that in order to find answers to society’s most perplexing problems, we must first challenge our assumptions of what we think we know and then imagine a better world, a better way to connect the dots.

In other words, think. And think deeply.

Gessen is the author of more than a dozen books, including the National Book Award-winning The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Two more books are in the works, one coming this summer focused on the three years of the Trump presidency, and another that is still a work in progress on imaginative political projects around the world and what we can learn from them.  

It was the latter that was the focus of Gessen’s Convocation address, “The Parallel Polis.” It was the second of three Convocations in Lawrence’s 2019-20 series.

A staff writer at the New Yorker and an instructor at Amherst College, Gessen is a native of Russia, relocating to the United States at the age of 14.

Some things, Gessen said, seem so straightforward, so automatic, that we stop questioning it, stop thinking about it. It was an assumption about the former Soviet Union that kicked off the conversation that is now leading to the coming book.

“It started with this assumption I was raised with that I never, ever questioned,” Gessen said. “The assumption was that, not only communism and the communist idea, but any utopian idea would always lead to totalitarianism.”

Perhaps. But perhaps there are other ways to think about it, pieces to pull from it, ideas to reimagine in a different context. Can we challenge ourselves to dive deep and explore whether our assumptions are indeed correct and absolute?

Masha Gessen: “I was looking for very disparate projects that were united by the commitment to imagining something different.”

Gessen talked about reporting around the world, from a community-based urban farm in Detroit to experiments with universal basic income in Finland, all as imaginative political projects aimed at upsetting the paradigm.

“I wasn’t looking for projects that were solving a specific problem. I wasn’t writing about the problem itself. I was looking for very disparate projects that were united by the commitment to imagining something different.”

Gessen said people working on some of these projects had a difficult time telling their stories, in part because they were imagining something that didn’t yet exist. They didn’t have a language to make sense of it, so they struggled to articulate their vision.

“It got me thinking about different ways to think about imagination, which was my ultimate topic,” Gessen said. “How do we talk about things that we haven’t invented yet?”

Imaginative thinking is where real political change happens, Gessen said.

In late 2011, early 2012, when Russia was reeling in economic turmoil and there were mass protests and talk about the fate of Vladimir Putin, Gessen started pondering imaginative thinking, or the lack thereof. No one could really imagine what would come next in Russia should Putin be gone.

“The intellectual work of imagining what would happen after is actually political work,” Gessen said. “It’s essential for something to be able to move forward. But how do you imagine something that you don’t know, and then sort of will it into being?”

More questions. All the more important to think about at what Gessen called “this particularly vexing moment in history.”

The answers won’t ever come easy.

“I think things that are right in one place are really wrong in another, which is not to say everything is relative,” Gessen said. “It’s not. But it is to say there probably aren’t universal recipes. But what’s useful is figuring out what your assumptions are and thinking really hard about those assumptions and doing some experimenting in your mind.”

Ed Berthiaume is the director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

D-Term in London: Exploring entrepreneurship past and present

Lawrence students and faculty gather for a photo in London during D-Term. (Photos by Samantha Torres)

By Marty Finkler and Claudena Skran

The D-Term course Entrepreneurship in London: From the Mayflower to Brexit featured a variety of different aspects of entrepreneurship, both contemporary and historical.

Additionally, we explored different types of entrepreneurial ventures including: private for-profit, social not-for-profit, and public/ private partnerships. A significant portion of the course was devoted to the regeneration of economic activity for parts of London that had deteriorated and fell into disuse and then have benefited from unique entrepreneurial initiatives. Students selected initiatives to explore in an oral presentation and often revisited these sites.

Our Lawrence traveling classroom was led by two faculty — Marty Finkler and Claudena Skran — and included 10 students representing majors in music, philosophy, art history, biology, psychology, government, economics, theatre arts, and global studies. 

We arrived in the Rotherhithe area of south London just after Thanksgiving. The group began with a historic tour of the area, learning about the launch of the Mayflower ship in 1620, and the many connections between seafaring and the subsequent development of the community. At the Brunel Museum, its founder, Robert Hulse, stressed that we were standing inside the tunnel that made possible the very first underground train system in the entire world. Students also celebrated a public theatre event, starring members of the Bubble Theatre group, and volunteered with community members at Time and Talents, one of the oldest social enterprises in the area.

More D-Term: Lawrence students study history of video gaming

From Rotherhithe, the group moved further east to the Docklands area of London, which thrived in the 18th and 19th century and part of the 20th century but lapsed into abandonment by the early 1970s with the rise of large container ships that the Thames River was not deep enough to accommodate. The globalization of the production and trade in material goods further diminished the economic viability of east London in general and Docklands in particular. 

As finance for such globalization became a new source of income for London, the city began to expand, but central London could not cost-effectively provide the space needed for such expansion. This led to the development of Canary Wharf, which one of our speakers (Ralph Ward) actively participated in. He briefly described this high rise lavish commercial and financial sector development as well as the need for less lavish housing in east London.

Ward led us on a walk that literally went across the tracks to one of the poorest neighborhoods of London known as Poplar, where he introduced us to Danny Tompkins, who heads Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association). Tompkins led us around the area and explained how Poplar HARCA regenerated housing opportunities for its residents through a mix of private and public funds and developments. He pointed out the controversy related to selling some of the land for private development in order to have funds for social housing.

Ten students and two faculty members spent the two-week D-Term in London.

The following day we focused on another regeneration effort in the Docklands known as the Canada Water project. This new project envisions a buildout of commercial and residential developments over the next 10 to 20 years. The project director, Roger Madelin gave us an in depth tour of the area, which already features a significant increase in activity around the Canada Water transit station and some of its entertainment venues. Madelin showed us a physical model of the development and explained the different influences and problems that needed to be resolved to complete the project.

Madelin previously led the development of the regeneration of Kings Cross, another area we explored in depth. Kings Cross had fallen into disrepair and disrepute as industrial activities left London in the second half of the 20th century. The development over the past decade took advantage of the two major transportation centers (Kings Cross and St. Pancras) to provide significant office space for Google, Facebook, and Nike as well as many commercial activities. For the most part, these commercial venues now serve upper income groups. 

A guide at the Visitors’ Centre provided us with an overview of the history and prospects for the development. On their own, students then explored the fascinating architecture of the new buildings before getting together for lunch and discussion of their observations.

After 10 days in London, we headed to Oxford, to consider how both innovation and entrepreneurship have shaped this historic university town. Students visited the Oxford Foundry, a hub for start-ups, attended a talk by Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria at the Refugee Studies Centre on humanitarian aid, and had lunch with Gil Loescher, the distinguished professor who was awarded an honorary degree from Lawrence.

The student experience

Samantha Torres ’20 was among the students taking part in the D-Term class in London. She shared some of her observations:

I participated in the London Centre program in the Fall of 2018. I had no idea when I’d return, but when I saw the opportunity to go back during D-Term, I knew I had to go back. However, what I thought would become an add-on to my past experience became a stand alone, standout program that offered a completely different taste of London that could only be obtained through insider connections. 

Having both professors who’ve previously lived in London made it truly one of a kind and remarkably immersive. Alongside tours, we experienced the idiosyncrasies that make up London. From learning about the inception of the Mayflower to the current debates on Brexit, my cohort was able to identify the complexities that continue to define one of the oldest cities in the world. 

During my time at Lawrence, I’ve found the most impactful experiences have been those of the traveling classroom. I’ve had the fortune of traveling to London and Jamaica with Professor Skran, a big advocate for this unconventional learning. And I couldn’t agree with her more. The traveling classroom model has taught me that there are intangible lessons that cannot be learned through lectures or textbooks.

Life lessons I’ve learned were ones that provided personal development and an independence that traditional classroom settings simply can’t challenge you to do. There’s a whole world out there, and sometimes you need to experience it to learn from it. As a Lawrentian, we are encouraged to go beyond. Because of the traveling classroom, I’ve been able to go beyond places I could ever imagine.

Marty Finkler is the John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the American Economic System and a professor of economics, and Claudena Skran is the Edwin and Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and a professor of government.

NewMusic Initiative takes composer Asha Srinivasan on a 3-year creative journey

Asha Srinivasan stands for a portrait in Memorial Chapel.
Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, has been commissioned to write a choral piece for East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Composer Asha Srinivasan has been no stranger to navigating the world of music creation over the past decade.

The associate professor of music at Lawrence University has composed 21 commissioned pieces since arriving at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in 2008, mostly at the behest of performance groups seeking new chamber music from emerging composers. But the request that came to her a year ago took her by surprise and kicked off a three-year musical relationship with students at a college more than a thousand miles away.

Srinivasan was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. She’s now into the second year of a three-year process that is allowing her to stretch her musical boundaries and to represent Lawrence in new ways. She spent two days in Greenville, North Carolina, during Lawrence’s fall term reading period working with East Carolina composition students, a prelude to the choral music she’ll be writing in the months ahead.

“It’s a prestigious commission because it’s such a selective process,” Srinivasan said.

The ECU initiative works like this: Undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s music program spend the better part of a semester listening to music and surveying the landscape for composers they’d like to work with. Composers need not apply. Any composer from anywhere may be in the mix, unbeknownst to them until someone from the program reaches out.

Once a selection has been made, the school contacts the composer to make an introduction and an offer, to talk about committing to a three-year process and, if interested, to hammer out the details. The first year is about doing that groundwork, making the connection, and giving the composer the opportunity to choose which ECU music group he or she would like to write for. The second year involves interactions between the composer and the students — hence Srinivasan’s recent two-day trip to Greenville — and the start of the writing process. The third year brings the completion of the piece and eventually a premiere performance.

Through it all, the ECU students get an education in the commissioning process. Srinivasan gets a chance to tackle her work in a whole new way. And Lawrence gets an important connection with a new batch of young musicians.

One never knows when those types of connections will circle back, Srinivasan said, noting how she first came to the attention of the ECU students.

“It turns out that one of the cello graduate students had been an undergraduate at Western Illinois University when I was featured there as a guest composer several years ago,” she said. “She had heard a flute and cello piece of mine called Dviraag. She got interested in my music, and so she’s the one who first put in my name.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

Because it’s a three-year process — most of her commissioned work has happened in five- or six-month windows — this project gives Srinivasan new possibilities. Not only did she get to choose the ensemble she’d be writing for, but composer Edward Jacobs, a professor in ECU’s School of Music and the founding director of the NewMusic Initiative, encouraged her to try new things.

“He said, ‘This is a chance for experimentation,’” Srinivasan said. “It’s usually a performance group that commissions me, and it’s usually chamber music, and so the instrumentation is already a given. But in this case, I got to choose the instrumentation. I chose to write for their chamber singers, which is kind of like our concert choir. I haven’t done much work for the choir. That isn’t an opportunity that’s come my way, but it’s also something I’ve stayed away from or veered away from. So, I’m using this as an opportunity to embrace something that would be major growth for me and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

A new commission is launched in the three-year cycle each year. The process, ECU’s Jacobs said, benefits both the composer and the students, in part because of the collaboration that’s built in.

“The lengthy span of a commission allows a composer to become a part of our community through multiple visits to campus,” he said. “It allows for students and composer to collaborate on sketches during the work’s development, and allows the composer a longer time-span than usual for a commissioned piece to be written.”

Srinivasan said it was on her two-day excursion to the ECU campus that she realized how valuable this sort of thing was for the Conservatory here.

“I listened to their ensemble and talked to their composition students,” she said. “I gave nine private lessons. I met with master’s students. And I came as a representative of Lawrence, of course, so they got to know Lawrence.

“I think it helps give Lawrence more notice. People already know of it. But it helps to have that personal connection. People see my teaching and it represents Lawrence’s commitment to me as a composer and shows that my work as a composer is supported.”

Srinivasan said she’s in the early stages of writing. The composition will be finished in time for its premiere at ECU in the spring of 2021.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

For Lawrence alum, “Jeopardy!” success bolstered by Quizbowl, trivia experience

Alex Damisch is seen on the set of "Jeopardy" during her fourth and final game.
Alex Damisch ’16 competes during her fourth and final game on “Jeopardy!” The screen shows what at the time were her winnings through three games. The episodes aired in late November. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Alex Damisch ’16 is a big fan of knowledge games. Now more than ever.

Her gaming history, which included stints at Lawrence University as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest and president of the Quizbowl club, paid off recently with a run on Jeopardy! that included three days of winning and a tally of $35,549. The episodes featuring Damisch on the popular TV game show aired in late November.

“I’ve been a fan of competitive knowledge games for as long as I can remember,” said Damisch, who lives in Chicago and works as a data analyst for Underwriters Laboratories.

She was drawn to the games while growing up — Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were favorites — but it was her experience with Quizbowl while a student at Lawrence that really prepped her for her shot when the Jeopardy! cameras rolled.

Quizbowl is a team knowledge competition. Students at Lawrence meet regularly to practice and they travel to compete against other schools.

“Quizbowl asks about a wider range of academic subjects, and with greater depth, than anything you’d see on TV,” Damisch said. “I was never a dominant player, but it broadened my range of knowledge and got me reading about things I would have never imagined.”

That wasn’t the only Lawrence connection contributing to her success as she fielded questions from Alex Trebek on the set in Los Angeles. She credits her fiancé, John O’Neill ’18, with prepping her in the three weeks leading up to her Jeopardy! taping. She and O’Neill met at Lawrence when she was a sophomore and he was a freshman. He, too, is a big fan of the Jeopardy!-style games.

“After I got the call, we dropped wedding planning and pretty much everything else but work for the three weeks that we had to prepare,” Damisch said.

She used a standup desk and held a click pen to simulate a buzzer while playing along to old episodes of Jeopardy!, with O’Neill coaching and keeping score along the way.

“John worked in various capacities at the library for all five years at Lawrence, and he’s particularly gifted at finding resources on any topic you can imagine,” Damisch said. “That really came in handy when we tried to attack some of my weaker subjects, like animal science and older pop culture. … It says a lot about John that he would, for example, quiz me on Canadian provincial capitals and major cities well into the night without complaint.”

This marked the fourth time Damisch had auditioned for Jeopardy! — once as a Lawrence student and three times since graduating in 2016. It’s not an easy process. This time, she felt she was ready.

“The day after I came back from vacation, I got the call,” she said. “I admit that my first thought was exasperation at having to take more vacation time. But for Jeopardy!, you make it work.”

Damisch is used to juggling tight schedules. While at Lawrence, she completed a B.A. degree in mathematics and a B.Mus. degree in clarinet in four years — and served as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest in both 2015 and 2016. She went on to earn a master’s degree in predictive analytics from DePaul University.

Now she plays trivia games with co-workers and continues to volunteer for organizations that work with Quizbowl competitions. When she receives her Jeopardy! winnings in a few weeks, she said she plans to set aside a little for a honeymoon trip, donate some to Orthodox Christian causes that are important to her, and invest the rest.

And she’ll look back fondly on her Jeopardy! experience, even if much of it is a bit fuzzy.

“I’d say I probably remember one or two distinct moments from each game, the rest is a blur,” Damisch said. “It doesn’t take that much longer to tape an episode of Jeopardy! than it does to watch one. … After I taped the shows, I thought to myself, ‘Man, it went by so fast, and I was always so focused on my next move, I hope I remembered to smile.’ Spoiler alert: I did not.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lawrence students “Pop the Bubble” to bring together campus, community artists

A Lawrence student plays guitar during a Pop the Bubble event at The Draw in Appleton.
Lawrence students performed at The Draw in mid-October as part of a Pop the Bubble event. (Photos by Sebastian Evans ’21)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

If you’ve ever talked to Lawrentians about their relationship with the Appleton community, you’ve probably heard a reference to the “Lawrence bubble.” In the Lawrence University lexicon, the term refers to campus as its own world in which some students may feel a disconnect from the surrounding community.

Emily Austin ’20 challenged this sentiment by starting Pop the Bubble.

Twice a month, this student-run program puts together an evening of various artistic performances by Lawrence students at The Draw, a multipurpose venue located along Lawe Street just a short walk south of campus. Each event centers around a theme chosen to spur conversation and build relationships between students and community members.

“Creating that open space and communication is the main goal of this project,” Austin said. “I think we often get stuck in the bubble, yet we have so much to learn from the community and they have so much to learn from us.”

Austin, a double major in music performance (voice) and English, was inspired to pop the bubble last spring when she took American Roots Music, a Conservatory of Music course co-taught by Grammy-nominated musician Cory Chisel and Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl. Students in the class bonded through writing and performing their own American roots music.

It was the students’ final performance at The Draw that inspired Pop the Bubble. Organizers at the venue invited the Lawrentians back to perform any time they wanted for free. A new door into the Appleton community was opened, and Austin jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought, ‘This is so cool, we have to do this,’” Austin said. “It would be an opportunity to bridge the gap between Appleton community artists and Lawrence University artists. It would also give musicians on campus a space to perform and feel comfortable outside of the Con and campus spaces.”

Two visitors look over artwork on display at The Draw during a recent Pop the Bubble event.
Pop the Bubble events are a mix of music, art, spoken word, and more.

The first Pop the Bubble show resembled an open mic night where Lawrence students performed for a local audience. The shows have since developed to focus on a theme that unites performers and audience, Lawrentians and community members alike. The most recent show, Stories of Home, asked all to share their personal experiences and memories from home. Performances included spoken word, music and film. Audience members wrote and drew their stories from home on Post-it notes that were collected at the end of the night; just one of the ways Pop the Bubble works to collaborate and connect with the people of Appleton.

The Pop the Bubble team has grown to include student artists of many disciplines, including a dancer, a visual artist, and creative writers. And it’s not just students who are interested. Community members, especially local artists, have reached out to the Pop the Bubble team expressing a desire to work with Lawrence students.

“The community we’ve found here has been so welcoming and excited about the project,” Austin said. “There’s a desire to get our students out and working and making those connections.

“I think if the Appleton community knew about what we were doing on this campus, especially in the Con and in the arts, there would be a little bit more acceptance of each other. It would become a way to share those ideas and collaborate on a human level.”

Two participants fill out Post-it Notes as part of a "Stories From Home" theme at a recent Pop the Bubble event.
Participants at a Pop the Bubble event at The Draw in October use Post-it notes to share stories, part of a “Stories of Home” theme.

Singer-songwriter and theatre major Caro Granner ’20 has been on the Pop the Bubble team since the beginning.

“When I came in, I felt this really warm, inviting energy,” Granner said of the Stories of Home event during fall term. “People were able to come together and enjoy each other’s company and create some really cool stuff together. To feel that welcoming, joyful energy at the end of a long week was really rewarding for me.”

Austin and Granner hope to increase student involvement with Pop the Bubble and expand their efforts, including doing fundraising for local nonprofits and arts groups.

Pop the Bubble will schedule its next event in winter term.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

New faculty hires, guide to Freshman Studies top list of most-read 2019 stories

Hoa Huynh, Jordyn Pleiseis, and Miranda Salazar pose in cap and gown in front of Memorial Chapel on Commencement morning.
The Class of 2019, including (from left) Hoa Huynh, Jordyn Pleiseis, and Miranda Salazar, helped make 2019 a special year at Lawrence.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A story announcing the hiring of five new tenure-track faculty at Lawrence University was the most-read story at lawrence.edu in 2019, followed closely by a guide to the books on the reading list for Freshman Studies.

The new faculty story, posted in May, welcomed Abhishek Chakraborty, statistics; Estelí Gomez, Conservatory of Music (voice); Vanessa D. Plumly, German; Relena Ribbons, geosciences; and Austin Segrest, English. All five started their new appointments at the start of Fall Term.

It heads our list of the top 10 most popular stories of 2019 on the Lawrence news wire, a list that includes Lawrence landing high in national rankings, a nod to tradition, the arrival of a new degree, and an embrace of the school’s commitment to the sciences.

Here, then, are the top 10 stories for 2019 at lawrence.edu, based on analytics that track readership:

  1. Lawrence announces the hiring of five new tenure-track faculty.
  2. Garth Bond, associate professor of English and director of Freshman Studies, guides us through the 2019-20 Freshman Studies reading list.
  3. Princeton Review ranks Lawrence among the best colleges in the country.
  4. Lawrence unveils its new Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree.
  5. Excitement builds in the sciences as Lawrence ranks high on a STEM-to-Ph.D. ranking and works to implement inclusive pedagogy in the sciences.
  6. The Rock, a boulder with history on campus dating back 124 years, gets some new attention.
  7. An anthropology professor and his students work in partnership with a historic site in Kaukauna.
  8. Lawrence ranks among “Best Value” schools in the country, places fourth on “Impact Schools” list.
  9. Getting to know Lawrence’s Class of 2023, by the numbers.
  10. We caught up with players and coaches from the men’s basketball team that made a thrilling run through March Madness 15 years ago.

More: Eight alums, eight stories: Shining a light on amazing, inspiring experiences

19 superlatives: As 2019 closes, we celebrate a year of Lawrence brilliance

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Eight alums, eight stories: Shining a light on amazing, inspiring experiences

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

We’ve had a lot of great interactions with Lawrence University alumni in 2019, and we’ve shared some of their stories in the Lawrence magazine, on the lawrence.edu news wire, and on our various social media channels.

Here are eight alumni we put in the Lawrence spotlight in 2019. There are plenty of others worthy of attention, of course, some of whom were honored during Reunion Weekend, some of whom we’ve connected with at alumni events, and others who are being the light wherever their journeys take them.

These eight — ranging from the Class of 1965 to the Class of 2012 — caught our attention in 2019. If you haven’t read their stories, we hope you will now (see story links below).

— — —

Derrell Acon ’10

Portrait of Derrell Acon
Acon: “It’s so in your face, it’s in your soul, it’s in your heart.”

We caught up with Derrell Acon ’10 as he was starring in Long Beach Opera’s The Central Park Five, an operatic retelling of the wrongful convictions of five New York City teenagers in the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. The case drew nationwide attention at the time, and the opera arrived just as a Netflix special had the case back in the national conversation. We talked with Acon about the production, his journey from Lawrence, and why the arts scene of southern California beckoned.

— — —

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

Lee Shallat Chemel speaks at Lawrence's commencement.
Chemel: “Lawrence opened my eyes completely to the richness of the arts.”

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65 returned to Lawrence in the spring as the 2019 Commencement speaker. She was a student at Milwaukee-Downer College when the school merged with Lawrence. She spent her senior year at Lawrence before embarking on a career that would eventually take her to Los Angeles, where she would leave her mark as a producer on some of the most iconic television series of the past three decades. We chatted with Chemel in advance of her Commencement speech about her deep affection for Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer, the circuitous route she took to television, and why certain celebrities she worked with (Michael J. Fox, Lauren Graham, and Jason Bateman) hold a special place in her heart.

— — —

Mei Xian Gong ’11

Head shot of Mei Xian Gong
Gong: “I would not be who I am today if I did not have the Posse plus Lawrence experience.”

Eight years removed from her Lawrence graduation, Mei Xian Gong ’11 furthered her connections with her alma mater when she was appointed to a three-year term as a Recent Graduate Trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees. What makes that appointment particularly notable is that she came to Lawrence in the fall of 2007 as a member of the school’s first group of Posse Foundation scholars. The appointment makes her the first Posse alum to become a Lawrence trustee. We talked with Gong about her penchant for being a “trailblazer” and how her Posse and Lawrence experiences have helped to shape her early career in business.

— — —

Glen Johnson ’85

Head shot of Glen Johnson
Johnson: “I came to Lawrence with the full expectation of being a reporter.”

Following his graduation from Lawrence, Glen Johnson ’85 spent nearly three decades as a working journalist, most notably at the Associated Press and Boston Globe. In 2013, John Kerry, freshly tapped by President Barack Obama to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. secretary of state, asked Johnson to join his team as the senior communications advisor. It’s a job that would take him around the world — multiple times — and give him a close-up view of diplomacy at the highest levels. We caught up with Johnson as he was getting media attention for a new book on his experiences, “Window Seat on the World,” published last summer by Disruption Books.

— — —

Yexue Li ’10

Yexue Li poses with the tiny vase.
Yi: “My most precious experience at Lawrence was not learnt from a textbook but to always be ready and prepared for a situation like this.”

Yexue Li ’10, the head of Asian art at the auction house Sworders in the United Kingdom, drew media attention as the point person for the auction of a tiny vase that sold at a price a wee bit higher than previously purchased. Bought at a thrift store for 1 pound ($1.21), it turns out the vase once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor, a ruler in China’s Qing dynasty during the 1700s. It would go on to sell at auction for £484,000 (nearly $625,000). As part of our newly launched Lighting the Way With … alumni series, Li shared the experience with us and talked about how her time at Lawrence has helped prepare her for all sorts of surprises.

— — —

Rana Marks ’12

Rana Marks sits with her laptop at the Amazon headquarters.
Marks: “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of hours and a lot of reward.”

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in September that the global behemoth was committing to an ambitious pledge to fight climate change and be transparent about its own carbon footprint, he pointed to the launch of a new public-facing Amazon website — sustainability.aboutamazon.com — that would report and track the company’s sustainability efforts. Rana Marks ’12, a Lawrence economics major who had gone on to get her MBA from Duke University, was hired to help shepherd the website to launch and beyond. We talked with her about the challenges and opportunities that come with her new role with Amazon.

— — —

Terry Moran ’82

Head shot of Terry Moran
Moran: “The qualities of empathy and looking past just the moment or the headline and seeing into the story.”

The longtime ABC News correspondent returned to the United States in mid-2018 after a five-year stay in London. He’s again covering Washington, D.C., and its strident politics. He returned to Lawrence this fall to host our live Giving Day webcast. We chatted with Moran about how his Lawrence experience, including working at The Lawrentian, turned him on to journalism, his views on the rapidly shifting media landscape, and what advice he has for students eyeing careers in journalism.

— — —

Madhuri Vijay ’09

Portrait of Madhuri Vijay
Vijay: “The whole thing feels somewhat surreal and a bit like a dream.”

Madhuri Vijay ’09 arrived on the worldwide literary scene in a big way in 2019. Her debut novel, The Far Field, was long-listed for the prestigious 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, short-listed for the JCB Prize for Literature, long-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and drew praise in book reviews from the Washington Post to the New Yorker. We talked with Vijay about her success, the path to get there, and how her time at Lawrence informs her writing.

19 superlatives: We highlighted some 2019 moments of brilliance at Lawrence. Read about them here.

More: Lawrence’s most-read stories of 2019

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Tony Aker named football coach at Lawrence University: “I’m beyond thrilled”

Tony Aker

Tony Aker, a former football standout in Wisconsin at the high school and college levels, was announced Tuesday as the new head football coach at Lawrence University.

Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray said Aker, who has spent the past four years on the coaching staff at Carroll University, will bring with him a deep knowledge of Wisconsin and Midwest recruiting.

“We are excited to have Coach Aker and his family join the Lawrence University team,” Abaray said. “Tony is the right person at the helm to steer our program forward – implementing the steps to build, piece by piece. His experience, knowledge and energy represent what we will do — bring our Wisconsin and regional talent to Lawrence while continuing to embrace our national footprint, grow and develop our football scholar-athletes into leaders of the world and be active members of the community.”

Aker is the 29th head coach in Lawrence history.

“I’m beyond thrilled and excited to be named head football coach at Lawrence,” Aker said. “I want to extend my thanks to President (Mark) Burstein, Christyn Abaray and the search committee for entrusting me to lead this great program. I look forward to developing our current Lawrentians both on and off the football field, establishing great relationships with our many alumni and working relentlessly to bring the best and brightest future Vikings from our great state, region and beyond.”

Aker was an All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection as a wide receiver during his playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In high school, he was a standout athlete at Brown Deer High School and was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Wisconsin Athlete of the Year in 2005. Before transferring to UWSP, he spent two years at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota, where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and two-time all-region performer, helping to lead his team to the 2007 NJCAA national championship.

Aker was on the coaching staff at UWSP before moving on to Carroll, where he worked as associate head coach/offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks. He was most recently serving as the interim head coach at Carroll. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UWSP in 2012 and is working toward a master’s degree in education.

“My family and I are excited to become members of the Lawrence community as well as our greater Fox Valley community,” Aker said. “It truly is a great time to be a Viking.”

For a complete story on the Aker hiring, see here.