Lawrence’s John Holiday finds joy in recruiting young music talent

John Holiday works with a student in his voice studio.
John Holiday works with a student at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Holiday slips comfortably into multiple roles.

There’s John Holiday the performer, considered one of the rising young countertenors on the world opera stage.

There’s John Holiday the educator, a sought-after voice instructor at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music.

And then there’s John Holiday the recruiter, a man on a mission to draw some of the finest student musicians in the country to Lawrence.

He’ll be wearing all those hats this week as he joins the conservatory’s Presto! tour to Houston, but perhaps none as significantly as that of recruiter.

Houston is Holiday’s hometown. His connections there are deep, meaningful and current, and he’ll spend much of this week connecting young musicians from his beloved Texas to the university 1,200 miles away that he now calls home.

Collaborations key to Presto tour to Houston: See story here

“I have significant ties to Houston because of my family and my upbringing and my church,” said Holiday, who was born in Houston and grew up in nearby Rosenberg. “Subsequently, whenever I travel home, I always make sure that I plan to visit many of the high schools in the Houston area, chiefly the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which is a long-standing, well-known school for the creative arts, one of the best in the United States. They have won many, many awards at the national level.”

The Presto! tour, a six-day visit to Houston featuring two Lawrence music ensembles and seven faculty members, brings Holiday’s skills in performance, teaching and recruitment into almost ideal alignment. He’ll perform on March 21 along with the two ensembles in a public concert at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center and spend considerable time teaching and recruiting at area high schools.

He usually makes the visits to the schools solo. This time he’ll have a team with him, spreading the word of the Conservatory of Music and selling high-achieving students on why a Lawrence education would make sense.

“What I do when I go home is I always make sure that I set up master classes and important meetings with the students, not only at HSPVA but other high schools and junior highs in the area as well, so they can become acquainted with me in terms of the opera singing and the jazz singing that I do, but also so they can become acquainted with what I know is an excellent, excellent place for them, which is the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University.

“So, it’s really keeping with that that we came up with the idea to take Presto! to Houston.”

Texas is a state that’s rich with music talent. The 33-year-old Holiday, who has been teaching at Lawrence for nearly two years, already has three students from Texas studying in his voice studio. He makes no secret that he’d love to draw more.

“Texas is a huge, huge, huge arts state,” Holiday said. “As long as we’ve got football, there’s always going to be a phenomenal band and choir in Texas. And, because I’m from Houston, I think Houston has the best.

“But I also can say I’ve experienced wonderful singing and wonderful learning in the Dallas and Austin areas, San Antonio, too. They are all over.”









“It’s my endeavor wherever I go to find those students who I believe represent what I think is a good Lawrentian.”

John Holiday


Holiday has much to sell when it comes to student recruitment. First, of course, there is the world-class quality and social outreach of the Lawrence Conservatory. Then there is his own impressive resume, which includes winning the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award and performing on some of the world’s most celebrated stages.

Consider his performance schedule in the coming weeks and months. In addition to his teaching duties and the Presto! tour, there’s a date with the Dallas Opera, a May 1 faculty recital here in Appleton, a recital at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, a run of performances in England, a recital in Beverly Hills, a tour to Shanghai, a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, performances in Switzerland and then an early 2020 run of performances at the Los Angeles Opera.

That will get the attention of any aspiring musician looking for a mentor.

“Whenever I am somewhere singing a show, I am always recruiting,” Holiday said. “So, if I am in Florida, I’m finding a high school or a group where I can go in and mentor them and do a master class. If I’m in California, I’ll try to find the same thing. I’m actively recruiting because I believe in this school. I believe that we are a phenomenal institution and I believe that we should make it possible for students to get here, so it’s my endeavor wherever I go to find those students who I believe represent what I think is a good Lawrentian.

“A lot of these students have already heard of Lawrence. Then they are able to put a face with a name, with me. And then put a face with the school. Now they say, I know this person is there, so I should totally give it a look.”

More information on Lawrence Conservatory of Music here

It’s hard to put a value on that sort of outreach and energy, said Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory.

“For us, it’s been an incredible advantage having him on the faculty because he just loves the recruiting,” he said.

Doing that recruiting in your hometown? Even better.

“I’m so looking forward to it,” Holiday said of this week’s Presto! visit to Houston. “It makes my heart soar just knowing there are Texas students coming here, because I am a Texas guy through and through.”

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

Collaborations key as Lawrence Conservatory takes its social impact mantra on the road to Houston

Poster and link to information on the Presto Houston tour.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Three years ago, Brian Pertl, equipped with donated funds that would allow the Lawrence Conservatory to launch an annual music tour, set forth a vision for what that might be.

Concert performances would be only one part of any touring experience, the dean of the conservatory said. Any tour would have to mesh with how the conservatory has been evolving and growing over the past decade.

“We’ve been trying very hard to redefine what a conservatory education is,” Pertl said. “Part of that vision is to really ask the question, how can music impact society in positive ways?”

It was with that mission in mind that Presto! was launched three years ago, an annual music tour that would take Lawrence musicians — students and faculty — into a chosen metro market for a mix of musical performances and community outreach, an immersion aimed at establishing relationships and community well-being as much as sharing talents and expanding the conservatory’s musical footprint.

First came a multi-day visit to Minneapolis, with outreach efforts focused on mental health awareness, in addition to public performances. The second year was a deep dive into Chicago, where concerts were supplemented with outreach efforts with groups serving underrepresented communities.

Link to video of Presto visit to Chicago in 2018.
Video: Revisit the 2018 Presto! tour to Chicago

Now comes year three, and the most ambitious Presto! excursion to date. Beginning today, the New Music Ensemble and a select jazz ensemble, along with seven faculty members, will embark on a six-day trip to Houston — hometown of rising opera star and Assistant Professor of Music John Holiday — to perform at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center and do music outreach and education.

Presto! 2019 details: Houston info here

Meet LU’s John Holiday: Rising music star and talent recruiter

The outreach will include two days of music collaborations with young artists who create electronic music at Workshop Houston, a nonprofit after-school organization that recently made news when it received a $100,000 donation from rapper Travis Scott.

The Lawrence students also will spend three days in an elementary school working with third- and fourth-graders, teaching arts-integrated lesson plans.

John Holiday head and shoulders photo
John Holiday

A concert on Thursday, March 21 will showcase both of the Lawrence ensembles, featuring students and faculty members. Transitioning from one ensemble to the next will be a set by Holiday, first displaying his talents with a classical repertoire, then pivoting to jazz, where his talents are equally lauded.

Faculty members and Lawrence students also will pay visits to Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The school is a hotbed for the kind of smart, talented musicians Lawrence covets. Pertl said he would love to see more HSPVA students choose to come to Appleton.

“Texas has probably the most astounding public-school music programs in the country,” Pertl said. “It’s phenomenal, the musicians coming out of Texas and the number of musicians coming out of Texas.

“So, for us, if we’re looking at recruiting, anywhere in Texas is a big deal — the fact that John Holiday is from Houston, the fact that John has already created this really amazing relationship with the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, makes Houston a logical choice for the tour. We already have several students from Texas at our conservatory, and we would love to see more.”

Holiday was honored a year ago as the winner of the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award and is considered one of the rising stars of the opera world, a countertenor who got a hometown welcome in November when he sang the National Anthem at a Houston Rockets game.

“He is quickly becoming one of the top operatic countertenors in the world, and his hometown of Houston is embracing their hometown hero,” Pertl said.

Featuring Holiday on the Houston trip, both in recruiting young talent and being showcased at the concert, ties everything together. In the case of the concert, that tie is literal, with the two ensembles and their distinctly different repertoires bookending the set from Holiday.

“Since John does both classical music at the highest level and jazz at the highest level, it seemed like a great idea to have him as the pivot point between the New Music Ensemble and the jazz,” Pertl said.










Brian Pertl: “It’s really an amazing thing, and it changes our students.”

Music Tour With a Mission

The underlying tone of the Presto! Houston tour — music with a purpose — speaks to the direction the conservatory has taken since Pertl arrived in 2008. From the Music for All series that takes live performances into spaces that rarely experience such things to ongoing ensemble performances in a nearby prison, the conservatory has put an emphasis on community outreach and positivity.

The Lawrence Conservatory education is deep, focused on bringing students to the highest level of musicianship, but the education doesn’t stop there. Lawrence is also focused on how music can positively impact society. That’s something that separates Lawrence from other conservatories, and people are taking notice.

“A blog that came out last year on musicschoolcentral.com was all about Lawrence and it was titled, ‘Is this the world’s most socially conscious music school?’” Pertl said. “Yes, we are. I’ll take that headline any day.”

More on ensembles on Presto tour: New MusicJazz

When monies donated three years ago by Lawrence alumnus Tom Hurvis ’60 and his foundation made the annual tour possible — the original commitment was for three years but that has now been extended to at least five — Pertl and his faculty set out to create a touring experience that would be substantive and heartfelt for not only the students but the community to which they would be reaching out.

“The vision we wanted to explore, which nobody really had done, is integrating high-level performance experiences with deeply meaningful community collaborations,” Pertl said. “How can a tour impact a place positively? How can we form meaningful collaborations with organizations so both parties feel like it’s an incredible, positive experience?”

Getting creative in Houston

The Lawrence contingent will try to do just that in Houston, most notably with Workshop Houston, an after-school organization that has programs in Houston’s Third Ward that range from fashion design to dance to music. The students who gather in the music spaces work on computers to create electronic beats.

Workshop Houston officials have been sending tracks their students created to Lawrence. Conservatory professors Jose Encarnacion and Patty Darling and their jazz students have been listening to them and are preparing to collaborate with the young artists when they get to Houston, mixing live playing with the electronic beats to create new music.

“So, improvisation, creating riffs and music over the top, and then at the end of the two days there will be a concert featuring the students from Workshop Houston and Lawrence,” Pertl said.

The key is the collaboration — honing and developing skills and finding the joy in creating something together, said Betsy Kowal, who is helping to facilitate the trip for Lawrence.

Workshop Houston originally opened as a bike repair shop where kids could go after school to work on their bikes. It has evolved over the past 15 years into a multi-tiered program drawing students between sixth and 12th grades interested in a range of arts and academic activities.

Deidra Motton, the community liaison at Workshop Houston, said there are 25 to 30 students who regularly work on music in the organization’s Beat Shop. The five or six students who are the most deeply involved in exploring electronic music will be the ones partnering with the Lawrence contingent in creating new music that melds the computer-generated beats with the live performance.

“This is very new to us,” Motton said. “I just love to see these two worlds collide. It seems like Lawrence is very focused on the classical aspects of music composition and performance, and our students are really digging into the whole programming aspect. I’ve never seen a program merge those two worlds quite like this, so I’m really excited.”

Meanwhile, the outreach with students at Scarborough Elementary School is being facilitated, in part, by Craig Hauschildt, a Lawrence alumnus who is an arts integration specialist in Houston. The goal during the three-day residency in the school is to use music to teach skills that can be used long after the Lawrence students have departed, including preparing the young students for success in their state standardized testing.

“When we design our community engagement residencies, we’re always asking ourselves, how can this residency serve the mission of our partner and benefit their organization in the long run?” Kowal said.

Lessons learned in Minneapolis and Chicago will be applied to Houston. That includes a focus on those lasting impacts. Appleton is 1,200 miles from Houston, so a return visit isn’t realistic. But how can the work being done on this tour pay dividends going forward?

“Each year brings a new understanding of how this project can grow and develop,” Kowal said. “We’re constantly learning as we go, and it’s an ever-evolving understanding.”

The results thus far have been positive, Pertl said, if for no other reason than showing conservatory students in a very real way the power of music and how it can change someone’s world. In a survey following last year’s Chicago tour, 65 percent of the students who participated said their vision of what they wanted to do with music changed because of their Presto! experience.

“It’s really an amazing thing, and it changes our students,” Pertl said. “I love to see that. That’s a lot better than just going on tour and the thing you remember is going out to Denny’s at 1 in the morning.”

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

Murphy wins a Watson Fellowship, eyes violin-inspired exploration

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Meghan Murphy has an opportunity to take her violin on the road.

The Lawrence University senior from Wauwatosa was notified Friday that she is one of 41 national recipients of a Watson Fellowship for a year-long wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration. Like all applicants, she has a grace period to decide if she will accept it.

Head shot of Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy ’19

Based on her Watson application, she would head to India, Norway, Azerbaijan, Ireland and Mexico to explore musical traditions that incorporate violins and violin-like instruments.

“From the Azerbaijani kamancha to the Norwegian fiddle, similar physical tools express vastly contrasting styles of music,” Murphy said in her Watson statement. “Whether for dance or lullabies, these instruments allow people to create community and speak their souls. The violin is deeply ingrained in my own cultural and emotional experience.

“During my Watson, I will immerse myself in violin traditions, learning the nuances that allow this versatile instrument to slip between cultures.”

Murphy, who has been a recipient of the Kim Hiett Jordan Scholarship at Lawrence, is the 66th Lawrentian to win a Watson fellowship since 1969.

“I am extremely grateful to all the professors, staff, and students at Lawrence — particularly my advisors — who have invested their time and energy to help me see the best in myself,” Murphy said Friday after getting the news of her Watson selection. “I would not be in the position, and much less have the confidence, to apply for and receive the Watson without this incredible community.” 

Murphy is studying violin performance and religious studies at Lawrence.

She is part of the 51st class of Thomas J. Watson Fellows. The Watson provides funding for a year of purposeful international discovery for graduating college seniors in any discipline. This year’s class hails from six countries and 18 states, and fellows will travel to 76 countries exploring a wide range of topics.

Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, said Murphy’s curiosity of music and of the world around her would serve her well on a year-long Watson journey.

“Meghan has everything it takes to make the very most of her dream to study violin traditions from around the globe,” Pertl said. “She is a wonderful violinist who brings with her infinite curiosity, and a gift for picking up her violin and jumping into any music setting you can possibly imagine.”

For information on applying for a Watson Fellowship, click here

Murphy admits she had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the violin during childhood. But by the time she reached high school, she was fully hooked on what she calls the “emotional messiness of music.” And during a year of study in China between high school and enrolling at Lawrence, she had a moment that spoke to the power of the music she is so drawn to.

“I think about the time when I was homesick in southern China and began playing Bach’s Chaconne in my room,” Murphy wrote in her personal statement, part of the Watson application. “An old woman from a nearby village heard and came to listen. I did not understand her village’s language and she could not read or write, but she showed me pictures of the beautiful Batik art she creates and I played for her. It was an incredibly meaningful moment of shared humanity.

“We still sometimes send pictures or recordings to each other, even though we have no way to communicate through words.”

Murphy anticipates more emotional connections via music as she prepares for a year of study that would take her around the globe.

According to her project proposal, she plans to first head to Norway in September, where she would study the hardanger fiddle. She’d be there for about three months, and would be seeking opportunities to perform with local music groups.

“When I was young, I used to attend barn dances and was enchanted by the echoing sound of this fiddle,” she said.

She would then head to Pune, India, located on the western side of India, where she’d study the Hindustani violin.

Then it would be on to Mexico, where she’d study violin techniques with a professor of music at the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia. The professor, Julian Vazquez, “collaborates with four different styles of traditional music ensembles from musically significant regions in Mexico,” Murphy said. “These include Son huasteco, Purepecha music and ensembles from Michoacan and Guerrero.”

Next would be a visit to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, where she would study the kamancha, an instrument similar to the Chinese erhu.

Her last stop would be in Ireland, where, among other things, she would learn traditional Irish fiddling and to better connect her violin to dance.

“Learning new styles of music will expose me to the histories, languages, values, and cultures of many countries,” Murphy said. “As I continue my path in pursuit of failure and growth, I will also improve skills like improvising, learning by ear, and collaborative composing.

“Most importantly, however, I will continue the long process of learning how to make people dance or cry through the voice of the violin.”

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

Fleshman, Hakes, Piasecki earn 2019 tenure appointments at Lawrence

Aerial photo of Main Hall and Steitz Hall of Science
Lawrence University

Three members of the Lawrence University faculty — all teaching in the sciences — have been granted 2019 tenure appointments.

The college’s Board of Trustees, based on recommendations by the faculty Committee on Tenure, Promotion, Reappointment and Equal Employment Opportunity, and President Mark Burstein, granted tenure to Allison Fleshman (chemistry), Alyssa Hakes (biology) and Brian Piasecki (biology). All three have been promoted to associate professor, effective Sept. 1.

“Lawrence has some of the best faculty in the world; I can say that with certainty because I get the immense pleasure of seeing direct evidence testifying to that fact every year in reviewing the accomplishments of faculty who stand for tenure,” said Catherine Gunther Kodat, provost and dean of the faculty. “This year’s tenure class had the unique aspect of really showing off faculty talent in the sciences. Alyssa, Brian, and Allison are not only doing stellar work in their labs, they are true teacher-scholars, who meaningfully involve their students deeply in their own research.

“I am delighted that they have chosen Lawrence as their intellectual home, and look forward to applauding their accomplishments in the future.”

To help you get to know the three new tenure appointments a little better, we gave them each four questions to answer:

Allison Fleshman

Portrait of Allison Fleshman
Allison Fleshman

Promoted to associate professor of chemistry. Joined Lawrence in 2013. Fleshman has a bachelor of science degree in physics and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Oklahoma.

What or who inspired you to pursue chemistry?

“I’ve always been in awe of nature, and trying to unlock her secrets is the job of a scientist. My particular science, physical chemistry, is about understanding how nature’s building blocks — atoms and molecules — interact and move about.

“As an undergraduate, I couldn’t decide between physics and chemistry, so what a delight when I worked as an undergraduate summer researcher with physical chemist Roger Frech (who later became my doctoral advisor) and learned I could do both. It’s incredible to look at a chemical problem as a physicist and see the mathematical interworkings unfold. 

“I also love to teach and share my passion for this subject, so working at Lawrence allows me to share physical chemistry with students in class sizes that are small enough that we can really dive deep into the material. I often joke that I get paid to read a textbook and share my findings with a captive audience — I absolutely love it.”

What about the work you’re doing at Lawrence has you the most excited?

“My research looks into what makes liquids flow, which seems like something we should understand. But as we learn more about materials on the molecular level we discover that our understanding is incomplete. What excites me most about this work is that it is rewriting what is in the textbooks.

“My students often take the textbook as absolute truth, but this work helps them see that even our most agreed upon understanding still has room for improvement. In addition, the liquids I study are called ionic liquids — salts in the liquid form — and they are showing great promise as materials for carbon sequestration, and could help revolutionize industrial processes that emit greenhouse gases. It is essential that we all act to combat global climate change, and this research lets me fight it both in the lab and in the classroom.”

How do you think your students would describe your teaching style?

“My students probably wouldn’t argue that I love my subject more than humanly possible and think physical chemistry is one of the most beautiful disciplines to study. That enthusiasm also seeps into my teaching. ‘Go Team’ is a phrase I say quite often, and I think my students would liken me to their cheerleader/coach, encouraging them to push themselves beyond their comfort zone and embrace the challenging path.” 

What’s something you do outside of work that gives you joy?

“I practice yoga on a daily basis and find peace and serenity in that daily ritual. I am also a co-owner of a local brewery located in downtown Appleton with my husband and his family called McFleshman’s Brewing Co. When I’m not in the classroom, I’m in the taproom supporting the family’s efforts to make traditional English and German beers. My chemistry skills help us bridge the art of brewing with fermentation science and those efforts yield some delicious pints. Cheers!” 

Alyssa Hakes

Portrait of Alyssa Hakes
Alyssa Hakes

Promoted to associate professor of biology. Joined Lawrence in 2012. Hakes holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.

What or who inspired you to pursue biology?

“I wanted to be an ecologist since I was a kid. I fell in love with nature reading Ranger Rick magazines and through hiking and camping with my family and Girl Scouts. I first became interested in insects during the 17-year periodical cicada emergence of 1990 in the Chicago area. I collected a bunch and brought them to ‘show and tell.’

“My interest in plants started when I made a wildflower trail for my Girl Scout Gold Award project, and then continued in college when I went on a research trip to Panama to study rainforest plants. Because of that experience, I know how important faculty-mentored undergraduate research opportunities are to the development of a young scientist. By specializing in ecological interactions between plants and insects, I was able to combine all of my interests in botany, entomology, and ecology into one research program.”

What about the work you’re doing at Lawrence has you the most excited?

“My lab has been doing an exciting project in Door County involving a rare plant and invasive insect. The federally-threatened Pitcher’s thistle is a native plant that is found only in sand dune habitats of the Great Lakes. Recently, an ‘evil weevil’ has invaded the sand dunes and is eating the seeds of the plant, which is bad news.

“My students and I take summer research trips to the Lake Michigan field site and have discovered areas of the dune where weevil damage is more intense and less intense. Our data show that dune elevation and neighboring plant community influence weevil dispersal and damage. We are now using this knowledge to develop methods for controlling the insect and conserving the plant. The proximity of our field site to Bjorklunden has been key to our success. And it’s fun to have a beach as a summer office.”     

How do you think your students would describe your teaching style?

“I hope that my passion for the content comes through in my lectures. I like finding creative ways to demonstrate biological concepts in class, whether it’s making insect mouthpart puppets, throwing cut-out paper ‘seeds’ off the atrium balcony to study dispersal, anaesthetizing a touch-sensitive plant in class, or baking horrible-tasting cookies for students to demonstrate ‘Batesian Mimicry.’

“I like to be a little goofy and rarely pass on an opportunity to make a lame pun, adapt a meme to a class topic for a laugh, or tell stories that connect students with the material and make class more enjoyable. Through course evaluations, students have called me helpful, caring, and approachable. I don’t think I’ve been described as ‘hilarious’ on a course evaluation yet, but that’s secretly the dream.

What’s something you do outside of work that gives you joy?

“I enjoy spending time with my spouse and two kids. It’s fun seeing our kids develop their personalities and watching them try new things for the first time. We try to spend time with both sets of their grandparents as often as we can, which is a real privilege. 

“I am active in my Appleton church, and I love being invited to talk about the science of evolution with my congregation. Evolution was something I once misunderstood as a teenager, but has become an exciting and integral part of my scientific career. It brings me joy to share my passion for evolutionary biology with others in my faith community. I also teach Sunday School.

“To relax, I like watching baseball and Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes.”

Brian Piasecki

Portrait of Brian Piasecki
Brian Piasecki

Promoted to associate professor of biology. Joined Lawrence in 2011. Piasecki holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Texas, a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

What or who inspired you to pursue biology?

“Growing up my two biggest hobbies were building and taking things apart and experiencing nature through a variety of activities like camping, hiking, and climbing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the type of cell biology I do merges both of these interests. I now study how the individual molecular constituents of cells affect the function of organisms as a whole, and because I focus on evolutionarily conserved processes, this allows for me to simultaneously understand how organisms function and to more broadly experience the awesomeness of life.”

What about the work you’re doing at Lawrence has you the most excited?

“The old cliché that says a picture represents a thousand words works at both the macro and microscopic level, so biological imaging is what excites me most. I am enamored by visualizing cellular processes and sharing this passion with students by showing them how to use a variety of different microscopes. To me there is nothing more rewarding than watching a student grasp a biological concept by visualizing it with their own eyes.”

How do you think your students would describe your teaching style?

“I think students would describe me as highly engaged. I equally love biology and trying to make biology relevant to others.”

What’s something you do outside of work that gives you joy?

“As much as I enjoy working with others and having a family, I am actually a little more introverted by nature. Therefore, I really enjoy hobbies that allow for me to disconnect for a while, like woodworking. A few years ago, I discovered the ‘pocket hole,’ which is a really easy method for making rock-solid wood joints. Some might consider it cheating, but to me it provides an easy way to build my own durable and functional things around the house. In the past few years I have built a bathroom vanity, a couple of cabinets, and a combined shoe rack/bench.”

Mellon report: Liberal arts education prepares students for today’s job market

Aerial photo showing the Warch Center and the quad on the Lawrence University campus.
Lawrence University

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Liberal arts college students, take heart. That education you are pursuing will not only provide you with critical thinking skills and a rich array of experiences to prepare you for an engaged life, it also preps you for economic success in today’s rapidly changing job market.

That message comes through loud and clear in a newly released report by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that debunks the notion that students are better served pursuing pre-professional programs that are hailed as being more market-ready.

At Lawrence University, the liberal arts education is paired tightly with newly enhanced career counseling, a focus on entrepreneurship and a desire to stay connected with students long after they’ve graduated. It’s a formula that provides the best of both worlds — a broad, deeply diverse and enriching educational experience and an infrastructure designed to prepare students for the workforce through career advising, internships, fellowships and other opportunities administered via the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement (CLCE).

Anne Jones, the interim director of the CLCE who has overseen the recent implementation of enhanced career advisory tools, said preparation for a rapidly changing job market is a key part of the liberal arts education at Lawrence.

“It’s limiting to be trained during college for a specific role because of how quickly the environment and the industries are changing,” she said. “So, we try to teach students to learn to learn, so that they are better able to react as the jobs change.”

The CLCE is in the process of rolling out the first phase of its new initiatives aimed at making sure no student falls through the cracks when it comes to honing career-building skills. Newly built “career communities” that bring together Lawrence students with related career interests will put resources, experts, contacts and opportunities at their fingertips. The new tools will be publicly rolled out when students return to campus for spring term.

Connect to Career Communities here

Information on Career, Life, and Community Engagement (CLCE) here

Mixing those enhanced career-building opportunities with the critical-thinking mantra of a liberal arts education is the Lawrence way. The Mellon Foundation report affirms the value of that investment of time, energy and money.

The Mellon report acknowledges that the choice of a career field will certainly affect a student’s long-term economic prospects — yes, engineers will make more than elementary school teachers — but it argues that that is the case no matter what type of institution you enroll in. And the idea that liberal arts colleges are not offering majors in many of the in-demand STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — is pure fallacy.

“Critics claim that a liberal arts education is worth less than the alternatives, and perhaps, not even worth the investment at all,” the report states. “They argue that increasing costs and low future earnings limit the value of a liberal arts education, especially compared to alternative options such as pre-professional programs that appear to be better rewarded in the current labor market.”

Not true, says the Mellon report.

“Existing evidence does not support these conclusions, when other student and institutional characteristics are controlled for,” the report continues.

The report was authored by Catharine B. Hill and Elizabeth Davidson Pisacreta, both economists with Ithaka S+R.

See full Mellon Foundation report here

They call the perception that liberal arts colleges are not graduating students in math and science a myth. While many liberal arts colleges, including Lawrence, do not offer an engineering degree, their offerings are robust in other STEM fields.

Lawrence, for example, has long had sought-after programs in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics and mathematics, to name a few.

And, the report says, it’s important to acknowledge that not every student wants to be an engineer or a scientist. The income gap has more to do with career choices than whether you pursue a liberal arts education.

But it’s still important, the Mellon report authors state, for liberal arts colleges to be in front of the argument that there isn’t an adequate payoff for the investment. Don’t hide from the naysayers. Instead, show prospective students and their families where the value is and what you’re doing to prepare students to be job market-ready when they graduate and for future career growth.

“It therefore behooves liberal arts defenders to recognize and validate these concerns and provide evidence of the pecuniary benefits to a liberal education so that students and families can take them into account in their decision-making,” the report states.

Head shot of Lawrence President Mark Burstein
Mark Burstein

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein, a history major while an undergraduate at Vassar College, said he can proudly raise his hand when it comes to seeing first-hand the value of a liberal arts education and its ability to prepare students for a wide range of opportunities.

“I took a circuitous path to a college presidency with positions at a Wall Street investment bank, an organizational development consulting firm, and New York City government, followed by leadership positions at Columbia and Princeton universities,” Burstein said. “This career would not have been possible without the skills I learned as a history major at a liberal arts college. There I learned how to present complex topics, lead in a diverse community, and critically analyze the central issues that face society.

“It is nice to see that Hill and Pisacreta’s research underlines what I have experienced, that a liberal arts degree prepares us for career success.”

The Mellon report acknowledges that it’s difficult to define a liberal arts education because factors and practices vary from institution to institution. But at its core it includes a broad array of experiences and opportunities, infused with subject matter across a wide swath of educational terrain, all with an emphasis on critical thinking. 

“A liberal education therefore may be characterized not only by what is taught, but how it is taught and the skills that it develops as a result,” the report states.

The liberal arts approach prepares a student for career mobility and nimbleness, the CLCE’s Jones said.

“Many of the roles that will be out there might not even exist today,” she said. “The liberal arts do a really good job of teaching people the intellectual strength to think and learn, which should prepare them well.”

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

Richard Yatzeck, longtime professor of Russian at Lawrence, dies

Richard Yatzeck, professor emeritus of Russian, passed away on March 7, at the age of 86.

Yatzeck had one of the longest tenures in Lawrence University’s history. He joined the faculty in 1966, retiring in 2014 after a distinguished 48-year career at Lawrence that included leading students on multiple summer-long treks through Eastern Europe.

Richard Yatzeck

He was in his element teaching Russian literature and leading those biennial expeditions to Russia and Eastern Europe.

Upon his retirement nearly five years ago, Yatzeck noted that he wasn’t much of a fan of the modern world, preferring instead to savor the wonders of the 19th Century and the writings of Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoevsky.

“Basically, the only way to amuse yourself was to read and that’s what I’ve done all my life, and so in some ways I feel as if I still live in the 19th Century,” Yatzeck said just before his retirement in the summer of 2014 at the age of 81. He noted that he never owned a television.

“Part of being happy teaching at Lawrence is a lot of my work is spent reading and preparing for classes and the thinking that goes along with it,” he said. “When you read a book, you have to make your own pictures so that you’re exercising your imagination. What is this guy saying, what would it look like?”

To see obituary in The Post-Crescent, click here

Yatzeck began organizing every-other-year trips to Russia and Eastern Europe with former professor George Smalley shortly after he joined the faculty in 1966. Traveling in seven Volkswagen buses, as many as 35 students would participate in the trips throughout the continent.

“The (Lawrence) authorities at that time thought it would be a good idea. I’m not sure why they did because everybody else asked us if we’d get back alive,” said Yatzeck, who called the trips the highlight of his teaching career. “They were certainly good for my oral Russian.”

Those trips — as well as two stints (1991, 1997) as director of the ACM’s study-abroad program in Krasnodar — inspired him to chronicle his experiences in the 2012 book, “Russia in Private,” a collection of his observations of Russian life.

Yatzeck was also an avid hunter and fisherman.

“They are quite different things,” he said of teaching and his outdoor pursuits. “The business about hunting is you switch off your intellect and you listen to your senses. Something smells or you hear or taste something and your intellectual powers are in abeyance, and that’s a nice rest. But that isn’t how you teach.”

Yatzeck’s scholarly work included a dozen published poems, but he also wrote extensively about the outdoors, including 11 articles for Gray’s “Sporting Journal,” the “New Yorker” of outdoor literature. His first book was 1999’s “Hunting the Edges,” a collection of his musings about the philosophical, not the practical, aspects of the outdoors.

An on-campus memorial for Yatzeck is being planned for Reunion Weekend. It’s schedule for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. June 15 in Strange Commons in Main Hall.

Details will be included in the Reunion Weekend schedule.

‘Tonight is perfection’: McKees’ outdoor rink is an Appleton oasis on ice

An aerial view of the ice rink in the McKees' yard.
The McKee ice rink measures more than 100 feet in length and hosts pickup hockey games three times a week.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Welcome to The Venue.

It’s a Tuesday evening in February, and the super snow moon — the biggest, brightest full moon of the year — is hanging over the outdoor ice rink in the Appleton yard of Chuck and Lesley McKee, shining like a beacon on a scene that screams, “This is how we all should embrace our Wisconsin winters.”

The rink, more than 100 feet long and 35 feet wide, is crafted with detail; the ice tended to with care, perfectly smooth on this 20-degree night. A dozen friends and acquaintances, pads on and hockey sticks in hand, ages ranging from 30s to 70s, skate across the rink in a game of pickup hockey, navigating around a large shagbark hickory adorned with lights while firing pucks into mini-sized goals.

“Tonight is perfection,” says Bill Carlson as he scans the scene that unfolds on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons — weather permitting — during the winter. He’s been coming to these makeshift hockey games at the McKee house along Green Bay Road — just a few blocks north of the Lawrence University campus — for 25 years.

“This is called The Venue, and this is the finest athletic facility in the state,” Carlson says with a wink and a smidge of exaggeration. He smiles and gives a nod to Chuck McKee ’68, the architect who has lovingly tended to this winter oasis for nearly three decades.

The McKees are alumni of Lawrence — both 1968 graduates — and are longtime friends and supporters of the school. Chuck, who retired three years ago after a long career as an Appleton physician, was a football star for the Vikings in the 1960s. He was a captain on the 1967 team that went undefeated and was inducted into the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago. Individually, he was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1996.

The McKees have stayed closely connected to Lawrence through the years, attending shows and games, serving on boards. Chuck once served as director of the wellness center on campus and assisted as a doctor for LU athletic teams. Lawrence hockey players will sometimes come to the McKee ice rink to play low-key pond hockey after their season ends.

In many ways, this house is an extension of Lawrence.

Lawrence alumni connections: Learn more here.

Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame: See Lawrence honorees here

A party on ice

It was the McKee daughters who first inspired an outdoor ice rink in the years after the McKees moved back to Appleton in the late 1970s. The rink was much smaller back then. But through trial and error, it would grow and become a more elaborate undertaking.

Others have taken notice.

In its January edition this year, Better Homes & Gardens magazine featured the McKees’ rink, showcasing an outdoor ice-skating party they threw last winter — it was dubbed Moon Over Ice and featured everything from homemade ice lanterns to an outdoor spread of food and drink. The elegant party was initially launched in the 1990s when the McKees thought it would be a good excuse to get friends and neighbors outdoors in the winter. It was halted after a couple of years, then revived again a few years ago.

“Everybody wore old-fashioned fancy clothes and I had a tux that I wore,” Chuck says. “It was really fun.”

If the weather cooperates, it can be a fabulous experience. If it’s too cold or windy or the ice doesn’t cooperate, then not as much.

The 2018 party fell into the fabulous category, a blessing considering the presence of the photographer working for Better Homes and Gardens. It was like a dinner party in a snow globe.

“That day it snowed all day,” Chuck says. “People were out setting up stuff from 10 o’clock in the morning, hanging lights and fashioning the snowbanks to put the tables on. We had a 30-foot-long table on the ice. It was really nice. The whole idea was to spend all that time outside, and everybody loved it.”

A player brings the puck up the ice during a Tuesday night game at the McKee outdoor rink.
Players range in age from their 30s to their 70s. “You lose yourself in this, in the hockey. You’re all the same age out there,” says 72-year-old Chuck McKee ’68.

Then there’s the hockey

The activity on the ice the rest of the winter is a bit less sophisticated than a dinner party. It’s about hockey, but mostly it’s about camaraderie.

There are upwards of 25 guys who come for the hockey games on a semi-regular basis, usually 12 to 15 on any given Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, skill levels varying from some to none. They’re not necessarily friends outside of the hockey get-togethers, but they come because they’re drawn to the casual nature of the hockey and the friendly banter that comes with it, not unlike pickup basketball games or weekly softball leagues that draw players well beyond their athletic prime who still revel in friendly competition. This just happens to be at somebody’s house, a side yard transformed into an elaborate ice rink and a basement turned into a makeshift locker room.

“I’m most taken by how these various people got here,” Chuck says. “The only thing we do together is play hockey. Otherwise, very few of us have any close relationship.

“Probably only half or a third of the people who try this actually stick with it. We’ve had a lot of people who have said, yea, I want to give it a try, and then said, nah. It’s hard to predict who is going to stick with it.”

Marty Thiel came to the group this year. He’s 62, has been playing hockey since high school but had put his skates mostly on the shelf while his kids were growing up. They’re out of the house now, and one day he was asking around about where he could play some “old guy hockey.”

A week later he got a call from Chuck and an invite to join the group.

“Now I’m here three times a week,” Thiel says. “It’s everything and more. I’ll be sad when the season ends because the setting here is just perfect.”

The group helps the McKees keep the rink in working order. They come together on a weekend in December to help set up the rink, and then tend to it during the winter as if it were their own.

“It’s a human labor of love,” Carlson says. “During intermissions, about 15 shovels come out and we shovel the ice. It’s like a Zamboni with shovels. And then at the end of the night, there are a few guys who use the hose and spray another layer so it’ll be ready for the next time.”

Getting the ice just right took years of starts and stops, Chuck says. He found silage film, typically used on farms, that he cuts to size and places on the ground before making the ice. He puts up 6-inch-wide boards around the rink, turning his yard into a massive bathtub. He replumbed a faucet in the basement to accommodate a 1-inch hose.

“So, we take that hose out of the window in the basement and I just let the hose run for 18 hours when I know it’s going to be sub-freezing for five days or so,” Chuck says.

Then it’s a matter of chasing falling leaves as the water freezes.

“Brown oaks are usually the last trees to drop their leaves,” Chuck says. “And these shagbark hickories, one of them didn’t drop its leaves this year until January.”

Aerial view of hockey players making their way across the ice on the McKee outdoor rink.
A rotating cast of players show up on a given weeknight or Sunday afternoon to play hockey on the rink in the McKees’ Appleton yard. They navigate around a shagbark hickory on the east end of the ice.

But now, on this Tuesday night in mid-February, the leaves are no longer an issue and the ice is gleaming, the super snow moon providing a glow.

“Now is the sweet time,” Chuck says.

When the hockey is done, the players return to the basement, remove their pads, drink some beer and hang out. It’s a ritual that’s been playing out over and over again, with an ever-changing cast of characters, for nearly 30 years.

“Here’s what I think,” says Chuck, who at age 72 takes a back seat to no one on the ice. “Who gets to do this at my age? Who gets to sit down in a locker room and drink beer and play darts? I suppose I should be reading AARP books instead. You lose yourself in this, in the hockey. You’re all the same age out there.”

Chuck, who on this night was not playing because he had broken a rib on a freakish fall during a game a couple of weeks earlier, says the rink isn’t going anywhere, even when he eventually hangs up his skates. This ice thing is a hobby he can’t quit.

“Honestly, I’m going to make ice even if I’m not playing hockey,” he says. “It’s really fun. It’s like winter gardening.”

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

When March Madness came to Lawrence: 15 years later, bonds stay strong

“That’s when you start
thinking, man,
this is kind of a big deal”

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Sometimes madness can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Those who have even a passing curiosity of college basketball know the month of March is an unfolding tapestry of drama and strategy, unabashed joy and cruel heartbreak, playing out on hardwood courts across the country, often in spacious arenas housing hoops royalty but sometimes in small but achingly charming gymnasiums far from the spotlight.

So begins our flashback to 15 years ago, when the men’s basketball team from Lawrence University began its own magical dance through March Madness. It was a run that took the Vikings to the Division III Elite 8 before they suffered an agonizing 1-point overtime loss to the eventual national champions in a game that the then-Lawrence coach calls one of the greatest college basketball games ever played — even though the gymnasium in Tacoma, Washington, was mostly empty.

No, this is not a story that ended with a national championship. History rarely remembers a team that came up two games short.

But March Madness is different. A good Cinderella story has legs, made of moments and memories that live on.

Until March 2004, Lawrence had never won an NCAA tournament game. Ever. It hadn’t happened in 101 years.

They would win three on this post-season journey, a fourth slipping from their fingers, a Final Four berth just a few ticks of the clock out of reach.

Division III gets little love from national media, so this wasn’t quite the hysteria of Maryland-Baltimore County beating top-seeded Virginia last year. But it was big here. The Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, chronicled Lawrence’s run through the 2004 tournament with equal parts excitement and astonishment.

— — —

“Those brainiacs over at Lawrence showed they can ball with anybody on the Division III level, and those of you who were paying attention no doubt had quite a ball following their Shock the Nation National Tour. One point, one play from a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four. Lawrence University? Tell you what, folks, on a larger scale, this would be like Lehigh making it to the Elite Eight in Division I.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

Still winning

As we check in with that 2003-04 team 15 years later, we find that those players who posted a 24-5 record and went undefeated at Alexander Gymnasium were far more than basketball players. It turns out they were scholars, embracing the academic side of Lawrence as fervently as they attacked their basketball preparations.

Chris Braier, a sophomore that season who would go on to become the most accomplished player in Lawrence history, would also earn the status of Academic All-American. Now 34 and a physician assistant in Chicago, he earned his MBA in December from Northwestern University and has added clinical health care consultant to his resume.

Three other players from that team are now doctors — Kyle MacGillis, a hand/wrist/elbow surgeon in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Jason Holinbeck, an orthopedic surgeon in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Brett Sjoberg, a radiologist in Madison.

Kyle MacGillis drives to the basket against UW-Stevens Point in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament.

Chris MacGillis, brother of Kyle and the leading scorer with 22 points in that Elite 8 game, earned his law degree and is now a partner in a Milwaukee area law office.

Ben Klekamp earned his doctorate and now works as an epidemiologist in Florida.

Another is a college basketball coach, another a financial advisor, another a director of business development, another a manager of a regional business. The list goes on.

Count John Tharp, the then-34-year-old coach of that team, impressed. Not surprised, but impressed.

“The greatness of that run wasn’t necessarily just the wins,” Tharp says as he chats from Hillsdale College, where he now coaches the Division II Chargers. “The greatness of the run was the collection of people that we had in the program at that time. You want to epitomize what a student-athlete is, it was the collection of guys that were on that basketball team.”

— — —

“This whole experience has left a mark that will never go away, and that’s a good thing. For the journey was full of tales and memories that have no shelf life.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

An historic run

By the time the tournament began in early March 2004, the Lawrence campus had already taken notice that something special was going on. Despite having no player taller than 6’6″, the Vikings had imposed their will as they marched through the Midwest Conference schedule.

As the season rolled on, Alexander Gymnasium got down-right rowdy. It was full. It was loud.

The Appleton Fire Department had to turn people away because of fire code concerns.

“The vibe around campus, people were really excited,” Braier says. “The first game, there was a row of chairs along the baseline at Alex, and by the end of the year they had to build a whole new bleacher section on the baseline because of the crowds.

“When you would come to games, a lot of times the women would play before us, so you would come in during the first half of the women’s game, and you started noticing that there would be a line to get into our games. You couldn’t find a parking spot an hour and a half before the game. That’s when you start thinking, man, this is kind of a big deal.”

They won all 12 home games.

Chris Braier, here playing against Sul Ross State in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament, was inducted into the Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame three years ago.

Then came the tournament. The run began with a first-round 86-51 blowout of Lakeland at a packed Alexander Gym.

“I can remember diving for a loose ball into the standing room-only crowd in one of the corners and realizing that they’re 10 deep in the corners to watch this game,” Braier says.

Then it was on to Storm Lake, Iowa, a seven-hour bus trip into the round of 32.

“When we went to play Buena Vista and we were in Storm Lake, Iowa, we had a ton of students who were at that game,” Tharp recalls. “That’s a great effort to be there. It was amazing. To come out of that locker room and to see how many Lawrence kids were there, and just people from Appleton who were not even necessarily connected to Lawrence, that was incredibly special.”

Lawrence would beat Buena Vista 72-66, sending them to the Sweet 16 in Tacoma and a match up with Sul Ross State, a team from Alpine, Texas, loaded with size and talented junior college transfers. It was unchartered territory for any school from the Midwest Conference, which had never seen a team advance past the second round.

A thrilling 86-79 overtime win that included a late double-digit comeback moved the Vikings to the Elite 8 and a showdown with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III power located just 60 miles west of the Lawrence campus but light years away in terms of basketball history. The Pointers at the time had advanced to the Elite 8 twice in the previous decade and would go on to win back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005.

It was a nail-biter, neither team giving ground, filled with drama to the end — witnessed by no more than 400 or so people in a college fieldhouse nearly 2,000 miles from home. A late Stevens Point three-pointer sent the game into overtime — a bonus five minutes — and then Lawrence’s improbable journey came crashing down in the waning seconds of that extra period.

A made basket by the Pointers to retake the lead. Then a last-second shot that would have won the game for Lawrence fell short. The scoreboard read 82-81.

“I just remember being completely exhausted, dropping to the floor,” Braier says.

Just like that, the ride was over.

“You felt like that last shot, how does that not go in?” Braier says. “It’s like we were in a movie. In the movie, that shot goes in.”

Puget Sound, the host school, had lost the night before to Stevens Point. Thus, witnesses in the arena that night were few.

“There weren’t more than 300 or 400 people in the crowd at that game, and it was probably one of the greatest college basketball games ever played,” Tharp says. “It was a phenomenal game.”

Rob Nenahlo buries his head as he falls to the floor at the end of the game against UW-Stevens Point.
Rob Nenahlo falls to the floor as the game against UWSP ends one point short.

Stevens Point would roll through the next two games to claim a national championship. Lawrence was left with what might have been.

“I think when you talk to everybody they all think we were one or two possessions away from maybe having a chance to win a national championship,” Tharp says.

After the game, even the Stevens Point coach wished aloud that both teams could move on.

— — —

“The Vikings would have gladly jumped at that invitation to play one more game together. On Sunday, though, the talk in the airport was already moving to this week’s final exams on campus, spring-break trips and other ‘real life’ adventures. The team knew that this particular group, like all teams, only receives one chance to write its story.” Dick Knapinski, The Post-Crescent

— — —

“I think there was a sense of disappointment and heartbreak after that loss,” Tharp says. “Afterwards, and over the years, I think there is an obviously special place in everybody’s hearts about the run that was made.”

For Chris MacGillis, a senior on that team, the end of the journey hurt more than missing out on a chance at a national championship.

Chris MacGillis

“I wasn’t emotional because we lost and I thought we should have won,” he says. “I just remember becoming emotional because of how proud I was and how happy I was to be with this group of guys. We were a very tight group. We all relied on each other and we all cared about each other, and we still do to this day. I was more emotional about not being able to do this with these guys anymore than I was about losing.”

Lawrence would continue to dominate the Midwest Conference for the next couple of years, going undefeated in the 2005-06 regular season and claiming the school’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking. They’d win a couple more tournament games, as well. But they never quite recaptured the glory of 2004.

“It really was magical,” MacGillis says.

Still together

Fifteen years later, most of the players on that team remain connected. There are job changes and weddings and children and other life moments to navigate. But the bonds formed during that memorable season remain to this day. For basketball players, a March Madness experience, no matter if it’s under the bright lights of D-1 or in the more dimly lit shadows of D-3, lodges in your soul and stays there forever.

When Braier was inducted into Lawrence’s athletic hall of fame three years ago, many of the players from that team made their way back to Appleton. Braier said it was a reminder to him of how special that group was.

“I always thought, man, these guys are ridiculously smart,” Braier says. “That was my first thought when I first dealt with my teammates.

“I don’t think at the time you realize how special of a group of individuals this was. It was just an everyday thing. … Everyone was such a high achiever. You didn’t think it was anything different. But then when you stepped away or you talked to friends from other teams, that’s when you realized it.”

The coaches remain as connected as the players, despite a decade and a half of travels and life experiences separating them from those three weeks of madness.

“Those guys are part of my life, and obviously things have changed a little bit with me being at a different school and those guys are all over the country now, but I think everyone knows where everybody is at and what everybody is doing,” Tharp says. “But what makes it special, I still think to this day if anybody needed anyone else on that team, I think everybody would still be there for each other.”

Braier is getting married in September and most of his Lawrence teammates will be there.

There’s also a Las Vegas getaway every March that reunites many of them. No better time than March to recall that fleeting moment when Lawrence basketball got to dance.

“Man, I could talk about this forever,” Braier says.

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

Use of VR tech now reality in classrooms; FaCE grant to ramp up pace

Christopher Gore-Gammon wears VR headset in photo linking to video.

“One of the reasons I did that project was not only to explore my interest in it but also to give Lawrence the chance to pioneer in an art medium and form that not many schools are doing yet.”

Christopher Gore-Gammon ’17, on creating with virtual reality

— — —

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When students in Lavanya Murali’s Anthropology of South Asia class explored a Bangladesh refugee camp via a documentary, they did much more than just watch the narrated video.

Without leaving campus, the Lawrence University students walked the paths of the camp housing Rohingya Muslims who had fled violence in Myanmar.

Virtual Reality (VR) technology allowed the students to take the walking tour, with a 360-degree view. Not only could they walk with and listen to the “I Am Rohingya” tour guide discuss the camp, they could veer off on their own, wander inside the makeshift housing at the camp, explore the edges.

“For me, the object was to humanize something that is such a huge crisis,” Murali said, “and to have my students understand how refugees were living and the conditions in which they were living and to understand the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

“And I think the VR experience did that because it’s immersive. It does a better job of that than just watching the documentary would have.”

The experience of the Murali class, using Google Cardboard headsets with smartphones during winter term 2018, is an early example of VR technology being integrated into the classroom at Lawrence.

Constance Kassor, an assistant professor of religious studies, followed suit this term, using the Google Cardboard headsets for students to explore religious sites in India and Tibet. Martyn Smith, associate professor of religious studies, has been dabbling in other uses of the technology in class.

More is on the way, be it VR, Augmented Reality (AR) or 3D technology.

The Makerspace wing of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, housing the early investments in that technology, has already been expanded and reconfigured since its launch three years ago.

EXPLORE MORE: See Film Studies and Seeley G. Mudd Library

The next step will come this summer when faculty representatives from Lawrence will join with other Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) schools for a conference on blending immersive technologies with liberal arts classrooms.

Lawrence, led by Reference and Learning Technologies Librarian Angela Vanden Elzen, and other ACM schools successfully sought a Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) grant to fund a two-day workshop in July aimed at kick-starting new collaborative efforts to share, promote and develop best practices for growing the use of VR, AR and 3D technologies in classrooms at 11 ACM schools.

The workshop will be held at Grinnell College and will be a jumping off point for collaboration that will be ongoing, Vanden Elzen said.

They’ll share not only the classroom potential of VR and AR but also some of the low-cost options that make the technology accessible without major blows to the budget. Murali, for example, is among the Lawrence professors already using Google Cardboard, a VR platform adaptable to a smartphone, available for as little as $10 each.

“At a lot of these campuses, there is a small handful of people, in some cases maybe only one, who are doing this kind of stuff with their students,” Vanden Elzen said. “It’s going to provide a great opportunity for a bunch of people interested in VR and AR and 3D visualizations to share what we’ve learned.”

Pioneers in VR tech

Lawrence has had a handful of students dive into VR for their Chandler Senior Experience, including two this year under the guidance of Anne Haydock, assistant professor of film studies.

Two years ago, Christopher Gore-Gammon ’17 and Noah Gunther ’17 were pioneers of sorts, the first two Lawrence students to use VR in their Senior Experience projects.

Gore-Gammon, now a videographer with Lawrence after graduating with a degree in film/cinema/video studies, said helping Lawrence push forward on the use of VR and AR technologies was a big motivator for him.

“One of the reasons I did that project was not only to explore my interest in it but also to give Lawrence the chance to pioneer in an art medium and form that not many schools are doing yet,” he said. “You have your art schools here and there that are doing it, but liberal arts schools of this size aren’t even venturing close to it. So, to integrate VR and AR into not only the projects that students do but into the classroom itself gives Lawrence a unique opportunity to change how we approach pedagogy, and how we approach not only teaching the students that come in but also teaching each other.”

Piquing the interest of faculty

Getting faculty buy-in across campus is the next hurdle for many schools. Some schools have jumped into VR and AR technology with more enthusiasm than others. Some have faculty members already experienced in the new technologies. Others do not. Lawrence has made significant progress over the past couple of years but there is room to grow.

What schools are finding, Vanden Elzen said, is that students are often ahead of their instructors in this technology and are pushing for it to be used in the classroom.

Kassor called the new technology an innovative tool to get students engaged in exploration on a deeper level. In early February, 10 students in her class on Buddhism in India and Tibet used VR headsets to go on a virtual scavenger hunt, seeking and exploring monasteries, temples, statues and murals.

“I gave students a basic orientation in how to use the VR viewers and some apps they might want to look at on their phones,” Kassor said. “Then I kind of turned them loose and gave them time to explore, and then we had a kind of show-and-tell after they found things.

“The value of that for me was really just to give students another opportunity to explore things on their own rather than me curating content for them. It was really encouraging them to do something a little bit more than just a Google image search.”

The students’ enthusiasm reflected the growing interest in the technology, and the classroom possibilities, Kassor said.

At Lawrence, that growth in student interest can be seen in the Senior Experience projects as well as the daily traffic coming in and out of Makerspace.

“Students have been really embracing this,” Vanden Elzen said. “At first there were just a few students who would use this space. Now we’ve seen a lot of students embrace the space independently. So, it’s kind of come the other way around where the students are telling their professors what they’ve been making in the Makerspace.”

Meanwhile, Film Studies just got approval to create a high-end VR station just outside of Makerspace in the library. While the impetus came from Film Studies, it’ll be available to students across all majors, perhaps as early as the start of next term.

Film students “will use it to develop their own VR content to be used with the campus HTC Vive VR headsets,” Vanden Elzen said. “They’ll be using Unreal 4, a game-design program, and a 3D modeling program, probably Blendr, to create their content. … We’re hoping that by having this resource in the library, students from all majors will feel like this is available for them to use.”

That’s part of the VR momentum that’s building on campus, Gore-Gammon said.

“There are already multiple students who are interested,” he said. “They don’t have to be experts, but they’re interested. And soon we will go from the two people — me and this other student — two years ago to these students this year to eventually there will be 50 students who will want to do it, and that will be amazing.”

When Kassor and some of her students return to Nepal next year — a biennual trip — she hopes to have students create VR content that students back in Appleton can then access. That’s the next step in this VR journey, she said.

“We can bring some of that back and some of the students who don’t have the opportunity to travel can experience some of the same things the students who are traveling get to experience.”

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

President Burstein talks liberal arts education on WPR ‘Morning Show’

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio's "The Morning Show."
Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show.”

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein appeared Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” with Kate Archer Kent to talk about challenges facing higher education, the value of a liberal arts college and the need to assist students in navigating the costs of college.

Below are excerpts from what President Burstein had to say on the live show. To listen to the interview, click here.

On the type of connection a private institution such as Lawrence can have with the surrounding community:

“One of the things that really drew me to Lawrence and the Fox Cities was what I would consider a symbiotic relationship between the college and Appleton and the Fox Cities. Appleton is actually named for Amos Lawrence’s wife, her maiden name. And that relationship, that connection is so alive and well today. We collaborate on so many different things, Appleton and Lawrence, and we really both together create a more vibrant place for all of us to live.”

On the draw to a private liberal arts college?

“We do provide a different type of education. The faculty-student ratio at Lawrence is 8 to 1, which allows us to provide a more individualized, engaged learning experience for every student on campus. And that can be summer research opportunities in laboratories or it could be individualized study.”

On helping students navigate costs of college?

“At Lawrence, this has been a real focus for us. … Our stated price is about $57,000 a year. But 98 percent of our students get aid. And that aid on average is half the cost. So, it halves the costs every year.

“And we’re really trying to raise even more money to increase that grant aid to students and families. Right now, our average debt that a student graduates with is $31,000. That has decreased over the past six years. And we’re trying to get it down to about $25,000. So, for Lawrence, it is a sustainable proposition. We’re really trying to raise more money to support every student and family to ensure they can afford a Lawrence education.

“On the other hand, not every private institution has the kind of resources Lawrence has. We have an endowment that’s over $300 million. We have an extraordinarily generous community that surrounds us. It’s really something that students and families have to think about. What is the debt you would have to take out for a four-year college education, and is that sustainable for you?”

On how the Full Speed to Full Need campaign came about at Lawrence?

“Full need means the institution, the college or university, has enough resources to support every family to the level that federal methodology says that we should. What surprised me … is that there are only 70 full-need institutions in the country. And there are over 3,000 institutions that teach undergraduates.

“One student came in … said he was working 38 hours a week, he already took out $20,000 in debt, he was a first-term sophomore and he needed to take out more to complete that year. … His parents were divorced, his dad had just been evicted from his home for not paying his rent, his mom worked in a bookstore, and he loved it at Lawrence and wanted to stay there. And I started by saying, maybe you should think about transferring to your local state institution, where maybe the finances would be different for you. He said, ‘Mark, you didn’t hear one part of what I just said, which is I love it here.’ …

“So that started me on this odyssey of what it means to be full need. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Lawrence community we’ve now raised $79 million in scholarship aid, which goes into the endowment and supports students and families absolutely every year, including that student, who did graduate from Lawrence with more aid.”

On the battle to keep enrollment numbers up?

“In general, we are seeing declining enrollment in colleges across the board, both in public and private institutions. We see that in the UW System as well. That’s a demographic change, which is we have fewer high school seniors graduating in the United States. …

“Lawrence is very fortunate in that we have a student body of 1,500, and strong demand for the education we offer. About 25 percent of our students come from the state of Wisconsin, but 75 percent come from elsewhere. We have 47 states represented on campus and actually over 70 countries around the globe. That kind of demand is essential for both the future of Lawrence but also for the learning experience; interacting with this diverse population is part of the learning we offer.”