A Record-Setter: Lawrence Welcomes Largest-Ever Freshman Class

When the Lawrence University admission staff starting planning for this year’s freshman class, the goal was to enroll a slightly larger group of first-year students than it did in 2009.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Lawrence welcomes its largest freshman class ever — 456 — Tuesday, Sept. 7 when new students arrive on campus to move in and begin a week of orientation activities. Classes for the 2010-11 academic year begin Monday, Sept. 13.

“We wanted a larger class. We just didn’t expect it to be this much larger,” said Ken Anselment, Lawrence’s director of admissions.

This year’s freshman class — 100 students larger than last year’s — was drawn from the largest applicant pool in Lawrence history, a record 2,625. Counting transfer students (17) and exchange students coming from abroad (20), nearly 500 new faces join the student body this fall.

“Given the state of the economy, colleges were nervous,” said Anselment of the prospects for the class of 2014. “People were predicting dire straits for private colleges, but things ended up way better than expected.”

Anselment credits several factors for the jump in applications and matriculants, citing the college’s emphasis on individualized instruction, its “curb appeal” and good old-fashioned hard work.

“Our philosophy that college should not be a one-size-fits-all experience and our exceptionally high number of individualized courses really resonates with students,” said Anselment. “The opening of the Warch Campus Center has been huge. And some of the other improvements, such as the College Ave. median project and the renovation of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, have the campus looking spectacular.

“A concerted effort by the entire Lawrence community, from the admissions staff to faculty, athletic coaches and alumni all reaching out to prospective students, has been essential to our success,” Anselment added. “Like the African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole university to enroll a student. And this year, did we ever.”

The new students bring a diverse set of interests and eclectic experiences with them to campus.

Amal Abbas spent a year fearing for her life every day as war raged around her Baghdad neighborhood. When a bomb destroyed the elementary school adjacent to the middle school she attended in 2004, Abbas’ mother gathered up Amal and her two siblings and fled for Amman, Jordan, leaving behind everything but the clothes they could carry. In May, 2008, with the help of the International Organization for Migration, Abbas and her family uprooted again, resettling in Chicago, a transition complicated by the fact they knew no one there and spoke minimal English.

With the help of a sponsor, Abbas attended — and excelled — at St. Scholastica Academy, an all-girls catholic school, for two years. When her best friend applied to Lawrence, Abbas followed suit. A campus visit in April sealed the deal.

“I fell in love with Lawrence. It felt like a second home,” said Abbas, who is believed to be the first student from Iraq ever to attend Lawrence. “I’m excited and nervous. This is going to be another whole new beginning for me.”

Henry Gergen of Beaver Dam spent 18 days in July on a six-country tour of Europe as the lead trumpet player for the Sound of America Honor Band, which is composed of all-state musicians from around the country. During a stop at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, final resting place of nearly 5,100 U.S. servicemen, most of whom died during the “Battle of the Bulge” in World War II, Gergen was given the honor of playing “Taps” at the grave of General George S. Patton. The students’ visit to the military cemetery was filmed and shown on Luxembourg television.

Emily Russell could be Lawrence’s version of the dog whisperer. The 18-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., began competing in dog obedience and agility shows just four years ago. By 2009, she was the no. 1 ranked junior obedience handler in the country by the United Kennel Club, the world’s largest all-breed performance-dog registry. In addition to showing her three-year-old golden retriever Layla, whose name was inspired by the Eric Clapton classic, Russell also visits nursing homes on a monthly basis with Aubrie, an eight-year-old therapy dog.

Walker Brengel of Whitefish Bay is following in the footsteps of three older brothers, all of whom also have attended Lawrence. While Henry and Taylor graduated in 2006 and 2009, respectively, brother Peter begins his junior year this fall. Like his siblings, Walker is a swimmer, but also an avid cyclist who once found himself pedaling along side seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong during a “Live Strong” ride in Milwaukee. He also is an aspiring artist who has been selling his artwork nationally since he was in the sixth grade.

The 456 freshmen represent 36 states and 32 foreign countries, among them Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam. International students account for just under 10 percent of the freshmen. Wisconsin supplied the most freshmen (128), but only three other states — Illinois (77), Minnesota (55) and New York (20) — sent more students to Lawrence than did China (15).

“We have young people from all over the world coming here to Appleton and we’re very proud of that,” said Anselment. “It’s fun to recruit students who are excited about the place — and their excitement has been palpable.”

Among those who reported their ethnicity, 17 percent of the incoming freshmen are domestic students of color, the highest level since Lawrence began tracking such numbers several decades ago.

The Class of 2014’s academic profile remains among the strongest of any institution in the state, with 26 percent of the freshmen ranked in the top five percent of their high school graduating class, while nearly 43 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their class. Fifteen of this year’s freshmen graduated as their school’s valedictorian. Collectively this year’s freshmen carry an average high school grade point average of 3.66 with ACT and SAT score averages of 29 and about 1900, respectively.

More than 92 percent of this year’s freshmen class received financial assistance from Lawrence. The average need-based financial aid package exceeded $28,500.

“We’re proud to offer financial aid packages that help students focus more on fit than on finances,” Anselment said.