Author: Ed Berthiaume

Sustainability is personal: Let’s all embrace 50th anniversary of Earth Day

Kelsey McCormick, Lawrence’s sustainability coordinator, poses for a photo overlooking the SLUG garden. To honor Earth Day, Lawrence’s Sustainability Steering Committee will host a live documentary screening of Once Was Water at 6 p.m. CDT April 22. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

By Kelsey McCormick / Sustainability Coordinator

When I was young, my siblings and I spent many weekend mornings on walks or bike rides with our dad. I assume it was to get us out of the house and burn off energy. I never would have guessed that years later I would be able to so clearly remember Dad picking up a leaf or a pine cone and telling us which tree it came from. I would be awestruck. He taught me that each tree had its own identity and purpose. There was something I deeply respected about that.

Wednesday (April 22) is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day marks the birth of the modern environmental movement and is usually a day for people to gather together to show appreciation for the planet and demand that we treat it with care. As I was lamenting the loss of our on-campus Earth Day celebration, I asked myself, “How can I take advantage of this opportunity and encourage Lawrentians to celebrate Earth Day at home?” Then I thought, maybe celebrating Earth Day at home was meant to be.

Sustainability conferences often begin with the same ice-breaker question. “How did you become interested in sustainability?” Many responses follow a similar theme to mine. Summers in a little fishing boat with Grandpa, helping Mom plant the backyard garden, late nights catching fireflies with neighborhood friends. Maybe it’s corny, but many of us seem to have strong emotional connections to the natural spaces where we live or have created fond memories. Sustainability is local. Sustainability is personal. 

This made me perk up. Even though we cannot celebrate together, maybe we can still celebrate Earth Day in a way that is personal and meaningful to each of us.

In a nod to Earth Day, we also share this video that showcases the Fox River and trails near the Lawrence campus:

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are seven ways that you can celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day from wherever you call home. 

1. Participate in a remote Earth Day documentary screening with the LU community

With assistance from Bullfrog Films, Lawrence’s Sustainability Steering Committee will be hosting a live documentary screening of Once was Water at 6 p.m. CDT on April 22. Tune in to watch the film along with the committee members and fellow Lawrentians. A live chat feature will be available during the film. The film will be available for 24 hours after the initial screening for those who are unable to watch at that time. We hope the film will inspire and spark conversation about resource use in your own community. The link to the screening is here: The video password is 0wW2!21U

(Here’s a message from Bullfrog Films: To watch the film, viewers must sign up with email (and sign in) or just sign in with Facebook or Twitter to access the screening room, and then enter the video password. If signing up with email, we recommend that viewers do this in advance of the screening. See our How To for details. We also recommend copying and pasting the password. We will open the screening room 30 minutes before screen time so viewers can chat.)

2. Follow Lawrence’s green-living guidelines at home

Many of the credits in the Green Room Certification from Lawrence’s Office of Residential Education and Housing can be applied at home. See how many of these green-living strategies you can add to your regular routine. Bonus points if you can get your family members or roommates to play along. Access to the Green Room Certification is here (a Lawrence login is required to access the link).

3. Refine your SLUG skills in a backyard garden

The produce grown in SLUG is sold to Bon Appetit to be served in Andrew Commons. If you can’t tinker in the campus garden, try growing your own fruits or veggies and serving them in your own meals. If you don’t have a yard, that’s OK. Tomatoes, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce, and many others will do well in pots on a balcony or patio. 

4. Become an ally for pollinators

Pollinators play an especially important role in welcoming spring. Did you know 90% of flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce? Lawrence is recognized as a Bee Campus USA and demonstrates its commitment to bees and pollinators by including native plantings and “bee hotels” on campus. You can create your own little refuge for bees by planting native flowering plants at home. No yard space necessary. Try installing a window box and enjoy the buzz of activity you will see outside.

5. Pick up one of Lawrence’s sustainability must-reads

Read what the faculty in this year’s Sustainability Institute are reading. Try Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World by Marcia Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and professor of geology at Lawrence. Or check out The Two-Mile Time Machine by Richard Alley. Interested in trying a thought-provoking novel? The Overstory by Richard Powers will spark conversation. Looking for something more philosophical? A Sand County Almanac details Aldo Leopold’s observations and feelings regarding wildlife conservation based on his personal restoration project in southwest Wisconsin.

6. Support your local economy 

Many of the small businesses that make your community special are likely closed or operating in limited capacities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Support those businesses by placing carry-out orders or purchasing gift cards to use later. Non-financial options of support include leaving a positive review online or sharing their business page on social media.

7. Reduce personal waste

Be conscious of product packaging and be aware of single-use items. Have you ever noticed that many of the items in your trash or recycling bin are just the containers your items came in? Take a peek. … Both bar soap and shampoo bars can be found in simple cardboard packaging as opposed to plastic. Consider investing in reusable snack bags as opposed to the single-use film ones. Some of these options may even save you money in the long run.

Kelsey McCormick is a project specialist/sustainability coordinator on the president’s staff at Lawrence University.

Lawrence adds major in Creative Writing, minor in Statistics and Data Science

Offerings in statistics and data science (left) and creative writing will be ramped up beginning in the fall.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is launching a new Creative Writing major and a new Statistics and Data Science minor, both beginning in the fall.

They both mark significant additions to the school’s liberal arts curriculum.

Creative Writing: Students in the English program now have two curricular tracks to choose from, one leading to a major in Creative Writing and the other to a major in Literature.

David McGlynn, chair of the English department, worked with colleagues to get the new Creative Writing: English major launched in time for Fall Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“We’ve seen more prospective students articulating their desire to focus directly on creative writing,” said David McGlynn, professor of English and chair of the English department. “More current and prospective students are seeking graduate-school and career opportunities in writing. We believe the new track system will allow students more flexibility to pursue their goals.”

Lawrence has offered a minor in creative writing for nearly a decade. New courses are being added, including an introductory creative writing course designed for first-year students and a senior seminar in creative writing for graduating seniors.

For a full story on the launch of the new Creative Writing: English major, go here; find a web page with more detail here.

Andrew Sage, working here with students during Winter Term, has helped to launch Statistics and Data Science as a minor, beginning in Fall Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Statistics and Data Science: The new Statistics and Data Science minor will be housed in the Mathematics department and will strengthen offerings in an area that is increasingly in demand. The use of statistics and data analysis has grown in fields across the liberal arts spectrum, making it a sought-after minor in a lot of disciplines.

“Data scientists are working with bioinformatics, genetics; it’s huge in economics, and it’s become a huge thing in political science,” said Andrew Sage, an assistant professor of statistics who came on board a year ago and has helped bring the new minor to fruition.

Sage was hired in 2018 and Abhishek Chakraborty joined the faculty in 2019, giving Lawrence two professors deeply invested in statistics and data and allowing for the addition of numerous courses and the development of the minor.

For a full story on the launch of the Statistics and Data Science minor, go here; find a web page with more detail here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Creative Writing major adds new path in English for Lawrence students

David McGlynn, professor of English, teaches an Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction class during Winter Term. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Students looking to major in Creative Writing can now do so at Lawrence University, marking a significant shift in how the school’s English curriculum is structured.

Beginning in the fall, students in the English program will have two curricular tracks to choose from, one leading to a major in Creative Writing and the other to a major in Literature.

“The new ‘track’ system in the English department—essentially two majors, one in literary analysis and the other in creative writing—beautifully showcases the range of talent within our faculty while giving students the opportunity to explore their passions as readers, critics, and writers to the fullest range of their ability,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat.

See details on the new Creative Writing: English major here.

David McGlynn, professor of English and chair of the English department, said the newly launched Creative Writing: English major will allow students who want to focus on writing to do so with more depth and purpose. It will build on—not replace—an English major with deep roots, one that has produced a wide range of novelists, journalists, technical writers, poets, and book editors through the years.

“We’ve seen more prospective students articulating their desire to focus directly on creative writing,” McGlynn said. “More current and prospective students are seeking graduate-school and career opportunities in writing. We believe the new track system will allow students more flexibility to pursue their goals.”

Lawrence has offered a minor in creative writing for nearly a decade. Many of the writing courses — taught mostly by McGlynn and colleagues Melissa Range and Austin Segrest — are already in place. But new offerings will be added, including an introductory creative writing course designed for first-year students as well as a senior seminar in creative writing for graduating seniors.

Meanwhile, the Literature: English major also will see new classes added, including one that focuses on academic writing at the advanced level and expanded offerings in the study of historically underrepresented writers.

“Both tracks will allow students more opportunities to focus on what they want to do with the English major,” McGlynn said.

As chair of the English department, David McGlynn has led efforts to launch a Creative Writing major within the English offerings, beginning this fall.

Lawrence has had no shortage of successful writers coming out of its English department through the years. Most recently, Madhuri Vijay ’09 had her debut novel, The Far Field, longlisted for the 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

“Creative writing students learn how to work hard and to have faith in themselves over the long haul,” McGlynn said. “Developing as a creative writer takes years and the process can’t be cut short. But when we, as professors, find students who love to write, we do our best to encourage them to go big, to go for it.”

In addition to those who have become novelists or published authors, English graduates from Lawrence have found success in dozens of other fields where the ability to write and think analytically is so important.

“The skills learned in English classes, such as writing, communication, analysis, critical thinking, have applications far beyond studying literature,” McGlynn said. “Along with the writing comes the ability to look into the perspectives of other people, to consider things through someone else’s point of view. That turns out to be pretty good training for fields like social work, counseling, psychology; we’ve had students go on to study medicine, law, business, and library science. The possibilities really are endless.

“And when they get those opportunities, the writing, the thinking, the ability to sympathize and analyze simultaneously comes in really, really handy.”

English is often a popular option for a double major. The new Creative Writing major adds new possibilities across campus that has Kodat excited.

“In particular, it will be exciting to see what kinds of collaborative student projects the new track in Creative Writing unleashes at Lawrence, with its depth of course offerings in music and visual art,” Kodat said. “Expect to be dazzled and astonished.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence unveils Data Science minor beginning in 2020-21 academic year

Andrew Sage, assistant professor of statistics, works with Erin Lengel in a Data-Scientific Programming class during Winter Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is introducing a new Statistics and Data Science minor in the fall, strengthening the school’s offerings in an academic area that is increasingly in demand in today’s job market.

While the minor is housed in the mathematics department, it will be evident very quickly that this is not just for math and computer science majors. Departments all over campus have been tapping into emerging trends in statistics and data analysis in recent years, spotlighting the interdisciplinary strengths of data science and its role in a liberal arts curriculum.

“Data scientists are working with bioinformatics, genetics; it’s huge in economics, and it’s become a huge thing in political science,” said Andrew Sage, an assistant professor of statistics who came on board a year ago and has helped bring the new minor to fruition.

See details on new statistics and data science minor here.

The hiring of Sage in the fall of 2018 was followed by the hiring of Abhishek Chakraborty, another assistant professor of statistics, in the fall of 2019. That put the faculty pieces in place to add key new courses in machine learning, Bayesian statistics, and advanced statistical modeling, among others, elevating the program significantly. The new minor recently got faculty approval, setting up a launch in the 2020-21 academic year.

“There’s really an interest across campus in using data to draw conclusions and make decisions,” Sage said. “By bringing in a second statistician and allowing us to really grow our program and teach more classes specifically to that area is really going to open up a lot of opportunities for collaboration across departments, and help us to better prepare students to apply statistical analysis and data analysis in their own areas.”

A 2019 report from LinkedIn showed a 56% year-to-year jump in data science job openings in the United States. listed data scientist as the No. 1 tech-related job in terms of openings and potential for advancement. All indications point toward continued growth as data scientists are sought in a wide range of fields.

At Lawrence, growing the statistics and data science offerings adds an important layer to the curriculum for students looking at options in a fast-changing job market, said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat. Practical and pragmatic learning intersects here with the power of a liberal arts education.

“The new minor gives our students the unparalleled opportunity to connect modes of quantitative analysis with the distinctively thoughtful, broad-based approach to learning that is characteristic of a Lawrence education,” she said. “Bringing together the training in critical thinking and effective communication fundamental to liberal learning with the keen numerical acumen that is foundational to so many 21st-century careers makes for a uniquely flexible set of skills that will leave our students well-equipped for life after Lawrence.”

Chakraborty said the potential to grow such a program was what drew him to Lawrence. The demand from students, in and out of the math program, has been evident since the day he stepped on campus.

“I have had students asking me about the minor, and it’s really encouraging to see their interest,” he said.

Two new courses were launched this year with the arrival of Chakraborty, and two additional courses will launch next year. Other courses—some in the math department and some in other departments—will be developed in the coming years. All that has the two new statistics professors grinning ear to ear.

“Our new courses filled up very quickly,” Sage said. “I think there’s definitely a demand, so the chance to come in here and contribute to that was a really big draw for me.”

Abhishek Chakraborty came on board this academic year as an assistant professor of statistics. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Current Lawrence students can switch into the new minor depending on where they are in their academic journey and which courses they’ve already taken. A handful of students could arrive at their 2021 graduation with a data science minor in hand. The number is expected to grow significantly in the years to follow.

“The field of data science is changing so rapidly that I expect this will be a minor that will continue to evolve and adapt to the needs of the students,” Sage said.

That brings us back to its fit in a liberal arts curriculum. Professors from departments across campus provided input to the creation of the new minor because of the prospects it holds for so many students.

Israel Del Toro, an assistant professor of biology, was among those actively working with the mathematics faculty to create the minor. Giving biology students stronger quantitative skills does nothing but widen their career opportunities.

“The biological sciences are increasingly using big data and novel computational technologies to tackle big questions about ecology, evolution, and health, just to name a few examples,” Del Toro said. “By offering a data science minor to our students, we are preparing them with a marketable skill set that is broadly applicable regardless of what biological subdiscipline they choose to pursue.”

Gathering data is only one part of the equation, of course. A good data scientist needs to be equipped with the ability to analyze that data, to communicate its significance, to understand the context of the data, to work as part of a team, and to make ethical decisions of how and when that data is shared, Sage said.

“Data numbers by themselves are meaningless if you don’t have an understanding of the context and the domain,” he said.

“I think this is the perfect place to be introducing data science as a minor,” Sage said. “It really does incorporate so much, and you really do need to be able to think in so many different ways. I don’t see any better place to engage in that kind of thinking than in a liberal arts environment.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Woodford’s path to Appleton’s City Hall paved with lessons from Lawrence

Jake Woodford ’13 will be sworn in as Appleton’s mayor on April 21.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lessons in leadership have been plentiful over the last 11 years for Jake Woodford ’13, Appleton’s mayor-elect.

From his time as president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) as an undergraduate to his work at Lawrence the past seven years as secretary to the Board of Trustees and assistant to the president, Woodford has been a voice of insight, intellect, and reason on a myriad of issues impacting Lawrence and the city.

When the ballots in the Appleton mayoral race were counted Monday, nearly a week after the April 7 election, the 29-year-old Woodford was elected to a four-year term, garnering 54% of the vote. He will be sworn in April 21 and will succeed Tim Hanna, who has served as Appleton’s mayor for 24 years.

“I’m so grateful for the incredible support my campaign has had from not only the Appleton community but also members of the Lawrence community,” Woodford said.

It was in the fall of 2009 that Woodford, who grew up in Appleton, walked onto the Lawrence campus as a first-year student. He declared government as his major and never looked back.

“It was an area of passion for me,” he said.

It’s a passion that would grow over the next four years, blossoming in many ways as he forged his own academic path and worked to strengthen and enhance the Lawrence experience for his classmates and those to come. In addition to his classroom work, he would serve in multiple student leadership roles and would be elected president of the LUCC, a student governing organization that’s an integral part of shared governance at Lawrence.

“It really was a living lab for me in terms of leadership — elected leadership and also in terms of management,” Woodford said of his undergrad experience.

He would walk off the Commencement stage in 2013 and into an important role in the president’s office, one that had him in frequent collaborations with the City of Appleton and other regional government bodies on issues ranging from mobility studies to infrastructure development. It would all prove to be preparation for his entry into elected office.

Woodford delivered a letter of resignation to Lawrence President Mark Burstein on Tuesday morning, 10 hours after being declared the mayoral victor. He called it a “bittersweet moment.” For Burstein, it was a moment of deep Lawrentian pride.

“Many Lawrentians are called to public service and to roles that have direct impact on their communities,” Burstein said. “It has been a pleasure to watch Jake’s energy turn toward the city he loves. I know the mayor-elect will lead us into a great future.”

Woodford will assume Appleton’s top leadership position at a time of great uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic. His Monday night victory came amid the state’s safer-at-home orders and pleas for social distancing, leaving him to do media interviews in his driveway instead of at a packed victory party.

What comes next for Appleton and other communities navigating the fallout from the pandemic has yet to be written. But Woodford is confident the lessons learned at Lawrence over the past 11 years will serve him well.

“This is a complicated time to be taking office, but I feel well prepared for this work,” he said. “I feel well prepared for adjusting to the times and facing the challenges we face, and I credit a lot of that to the Lawrence education that I have, this education that has prepared me to think critically and to be able to adjust to the situations that I face and the circumstances as they change. And to be grounded in values, values of community and of building a community that can be home for all people.”

Appleton and Lawrence have long had a collaborative relationship. Their histories are closely intertwined and the health of one is critical to the health of the other. Burstein noted those ties as he applauded the passing of the city’s leadership torch from Hanna to Woodford.

“I also want to thank Mayor Hanna for his efforts to foster a more inclusive Appleton with a vibrant economic base, safe environment, and bustling downtown,” Burstein said. “Even though our aims have differed at times, we have always found a way to work together to improve the quality of life for the people we serve. I hope to have the same relationship with Mayor Woodford.”

As Woodford prepares to become the top elected official in the city that Lawrence calls home, he points to mentorship from Burstein and other campus leaders as key to his preparation for a leap into public office. Those are lessons he’ll lean into as he manages a city with more than 74,000 residents.

“The thing I’ve always been struck by about Lawrence is that it’s a place where people are treated with respect and trusted to do their work, trusted to lead,” Woodford said. “I went from being a student at the university to being a colleague, and to being a senior leader at the institution, and I always felt respected and supported and mentored by my colleagues, by the faculty, and that’s been such an important part of my Lawrence experience.”

Next stop, City Hall.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Trethewey to deliver Commencement address; 2020 ceremony to be virtual

Natasha Trethewey

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose writings are plenty familiar to Lawrence University students will be the speaker at the university’s 2020 Commencement celebration, which will take place in a virtual format.

Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States and whose book, Native Guard, has been part of the required reading for Freshman Studies at Lawrence the past five years, will deliver the address and receive an honorary degree.

Lawrence officials notified the senior class on Monday that an in-person Commencement ceremony on campus would not be possible this year because of the projected length and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. See President Mark Burstein’s message here.

Lawrence has moved its Spring Term to distance learning and has canceled all public events during that time.

Commencement, set for June 14, will continue, but it’ll happen in a virtual space. Details are still being worked out, but Trethewey has committed to participating.   

“No decision this year was more painful than the realization that we needed to transform our wonderful commencement celebration into a virtual event,” Burstein said. “Having Ms. Trethewey’s commencement address will help us all remember the importance of inclusive social connection and the power of humanity.

“Ms. Trethewey’s work has provided a gateway to our arts and sciences education for every Lawrence first-year student for years through our Freshman Studies program,” Burstein said. “It seems fitting that we honor Ms. Trethewey, whose powerful poetry has moved millions, at the Commencement of a class that her work launched.”

Trethewey previously gave a Convocation address at Lawrence in fall 2016.

“Our journeys have been intertwined since I visited Lawrence four years ago, and I am delighted and honored to be able to reconnect with this class in such a meaningful way,” Trethewey said.

A chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Trethewey is the author of five collections of poetry: Domestic Work (2000), Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006)—for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize—Thrall (2012), and Monument: Poems New and Selected (2018).

In 2010, she published a book of nonfiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Trethewey is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In 2017, she received the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities. A member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she is currently Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University.

When Trethewey came to Lawrence in 2016, she spoke on “The Muse of History: On Poetry and Social Justice.”

It’s Native Guard, meanwhile, that Lawrence students will be most familiar with. It’s been part of the Freshman Studies reading list since 2015.

Garth Bond, associate professor of English, was directing Freshman Studies last year when he said this about Native Guard: “This short collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry teaches students to recognize the fullness and precision of meaning in language. Trethewey’s poems meditate on the role that objects—photographs, monuments, diaries—play in shaping our memories and histories. She begins with the personal loss of her mother, then turns to the public history of American racism and the memorialization of the Civil War. The final section revisits personal experience, now reshaped in the light of that public history.”

Reunion 2020 announcement: Reunion 2020, a four-day celebration with Lawrence alumni planned for the week following Commencement, will not take place as planned this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, University officials announced to Reunion classes on Monday. Lawrence officials are in the process of determining how the University will move forward to celebrate and honor Reunion 2020. A message to alumni from Matt Baumler, executive director of Alumni and Constituency Engagement, can be found here. Alumni are encouraged to check the Reunion page at for updates.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence’s Dworschack earns 3-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Willa Dworschack ’20

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Willa Dworschack ’20 is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, providing full funding for up to three years of research at any institution of her choice.

The Lawrence University physics major from Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, continues to add to her impressive resume. Following her graduation from Lawrence in June, the prestigious NSF Fellowship will fully support three years of her research in atomic, molecular, and optical physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).

“The opportunity to conduct research at JILA is unparalleled, and the support of the NSF grants me freedom to pursue research in the quantum sciences,” Dworschack said. “I am thrilled about this honor and grateful for all the wonderful opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of as a result of being at Lawrence University.”

Lawrence continues to excel in the STEM fields. Details here.

The National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the federal government that supports research and education in the sciences. Its fellowship award, first launched in 1952, is given to approximately 2,000 recipients a year to support the next generation of STEM leaders as they pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. 

A year ago, Dworschack was named a Goldwater Scholar, in part on the strength of her research in atomic and molecular optics. The Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields, is administered by the Goldwater Foundation.

Lawrence has a Goldwater Scholar in back-to-back years. Details here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Conservatory named “hidden gem” as faculty find new ways to connect, teach

Lawrence University students, led here by Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, gathered for an impromptu performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah just as Winter Term came to an end. Faculty are now finding new ways to enhance music instruction and maintain connections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As Lawrence University treads new territory with distance learning for Spring Term, a consulting site for prospective music students has given the school’s Conservatory of Music a major salute.

Music School Central named Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music one of the best “hidden gem” music schools in the country. The top-10 ranking placed Lawrence at No. 3.

Bill Zuckerman, who oversees – he previously authored a column on the Conservatory titled, Is This the World’s Most Socially Conscious Music School? – called Lawrence “the definition of excellence in a liberal arts college music school.”

The ranking is music to the ears of Conservatory Dean Brian Pertl as he and his team launch into a Spring Term like none before. As are professors in departments across campus, the Conservatory faculty have taken up the challenge of keeping the community aspect of the Lawrence experience intact while shifting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

Lawrence professor launches national fundraiser for artists shut down by COVID-19. See details here.

Tears were shed when word first came down that Lawrence, like other colleges and universities across the country, would be quickly transitioning to virtual instruction during the spring, Pertl said. But the conversation among faculty shifted almost immediately to ways in which the learning experience could still be marked with close faculty-student interactions, community building, and opportunities to tap into skills that will be in demand in the music world going forward.

What’s happened over the past four weeks – Spring Term began Monday following Winter Term finals and a two-week spring break – has been nothing short of amazing, Pertl said.

In the horns studio, Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth has taken her practice of group warm-ups each morning in Music-Drama Center 163 and transformed it into a daily Zoom session with her horn students. And she’s invited prominent horn makers and horn players from around the globe to interact with her students via Zoom masterclasses.

Horn students join Ann Ellsworth (top middle) for daily warm-ups via Zoom.

“So, horn makers from the U.S. and horn players from places like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and at least one from Germany will be Zooming in to speak to her horn students,” Pertl said. “It’s sort of taking advantage of this opportunity that a lot of these great musicians in the world are stuck at home, too. They are actually eager to interact with students.”

Trombone professor Tim Albright is working on a virtual trombone ensemble project, recording Charles Ives’ Variations on America, arranged by Lawrence alumus Dominic Ellis ’17. Trombone students will be recording their parts remotely, and the music will be stitched together on campus, thus keeping the trombone ensemble alive, just in a different setting.

Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Arau, who is teaching a rehearsal techniques class for music education, is partnering with middle and high school music programs in Malaysia, led by Lawrence alumnus Dan Miles ’10, and Hong Kong. Lawrence students will direct those music students from afar.

A number of student music groups, most notably in the jazz and improvisation area, will be exploring live improvisation in virtual spaces, performing together even though they are spread across the country or around the world.

Students preparing for junior or senior recitals are re-imagining what those recitals might look like. While some remain on campus and will stream recitals from Harper Hall, others are prepping for remote recitals that incorporate elements and skills that might not otherwise have been considered, including turning a recital into an animation-infused music video.

“All of sudden our students, instead of throwing up their hands and being dejected or saying, ‘I can’t,’ they’ve taken up the challenge, and they’re saying, ‘I can, and not only can I, I am going to do something that is going to push my boundaries,’” Pertl said. “They’re redefining what a recital can be.”

Staying flexible and staying connected are front and center as faculty and students venture into these uncharted waters.

“It’s beautiful, creative flexibility,” Pertl said. “We’re working with our students all the time to say, ‘This is what you’re going to need out there in the world, and this is what’s going to be exciting about being a musician in the world today.’ And they are going to be taking all of these forward-thinking practices, and they’re just going to be doing them, which is a sort of neat and beautiful thing.

“Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. Nobody wanted this to happen. But can we make the very, very best of this and come away with skills and knowledge that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to acquire, but skills and knowledge that will be beneficial for our students once they leave here?”

Ellsworth said her daily warm-up sessions with horn students might seem like a small thing, but it’s that sort of personal connection that students most feared would be lost.

“I ask everyone to mute themselves and then choose one student for each exercise to unmute so we can all hear that one person,” Ellsworth said of the sessions. “I play a short exercise from our routine and they all repeat it after me. The purpose of the group warm-up for horn is that half of the benefit is getting the mouthpiece off the face in-between exercises; it slows us down, prevents injury while we’re still cold, and sets us up for the rest of the day.

“But it turns out the real purpose for distance group warm-up is the time after our 45 minutes of playing, when I leave the room but leave the meeting running. I tell them they can hang out or not and that I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll come back and they are still there, hanging out, talking about student stuff. We had a prospective student join one meeting and I left them there to get acquainted because they can’t come to visit the campus. It’s super productive.”

There are dozens of other examples of collaboration and creativity taking place across the Conservatory as Spring Term gets rolling, Pertl said, all of which speaks to the ideals that landed Lawrence on the “hidden gems” ranking in the first place.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence’s Dillon earns Goldwater award on strength of math research

Travis Dillon ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s Travis Dillon ’21, a mathematics major who has done significant research both on and off campus, has been named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar.

This marks the second consecutive year a Lawrence student has been among the national honorees in the Goldwater program, which honors the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and was designed to foster and encourage high-achieving students in the fields of math, natural sciences, and engineering. Willa Dworschack ’20, a Lawrence physics major, was named a recipient a year ago after doing extensive research in atomic and molecular optics.

2019 Goldwater recipient earns prestigious National Science Foundation award. Details here.

Dillon is being recognized with the 2020 Goldwater award for his undergraduate research in mathematics, much of it in partnership with his Lawrence math professors.

Claire Kervin, assistant professor of English and director of Fellowships Advising at Lawrence, called Dillon a “motivated and productive” student who turned in thoughtful and well-presented work on the Goldwater application while taking part in a high-level math program in Budapest during fall and winter terms.

“He is one of the best recipients of constructive criticism I’ve seen in 15 years of assisting college writers,” Kervin said. “He is obviously deeply invested in complex research ideas, but is also capable of, even enthusiastic about, conveying these erudite concepts to others with differing levels of expertise.” 

Dillon, now back in his home state of Washington working remotely during spring term, said his research speaks to his deep love of mathematics.

“Although they have all been in mathematics, their focus varies quite a bit,” he said of his research projects. “I think it’s perhaps not widely known, but research mathematics comes in a lot of flavors. At a high level, geometry studies the properties of rigid structures, topology studies what happens when you’re allowed to bend and stretch them, number theory investigates the properties of counting numbers, which contains surprisingly deep questions and interesting questions.”

Much of Dillon’s research has focused in an area known as combinatorics, including developing a new combinatorial theory of Gaussian blur, a commonly used technique in computer science to “filter out noise from data,” and investigating symbolic dynamics. His work has taken him to Texas A&M’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a research program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and, most recently, to Budapest to study in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. He was to be there during spring term as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic rerouted him to his Washington home, where he is finishing the Budapest program online.

“I applied because it was recommended to me as the best mathematics study abroad program, and quite literally everyone I asked about the program had nothing but incredible praise for the program,” Dillon said of BSM.

Two of Dillon’s four undergraduate research projects have led to published papers with his professors. The other two have papers in the works.

He praised Lawrence’s math faculty for challenging and inspiring him, and highlighted his research work with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Elizabeth Sattler. He worked with her on the symbolic dynamics research.

“Our main goal was to answer a question from one of Professor Sattler’s previous projects,” Dillon said. “Over the course of the project, I introduced a much larger class of symbolic dynamical systems and answered the question in this more general setting. This was my favorite research project. I really enjoyed working with Professor Sattler, and my research ended up incorporating combinatorics, algebra, analysis, and even a hint of number theory. This sort of interdisciplinary thinking in mathematics is very exciting to me.”

After graduating from Lawrence next year, Dillon plans to attend graduate school in pursuit of a Ph.D. in mathematics.

The Goldwater honor will do nothing but help as he moves forward. It is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in the math and science fields, and is administered by the Goldwater Foundation, a federally endowed agency established in 1986. Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that garner the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs.

“It’s affirmation that I’m on the right track to accomplish my goals,” Dillon said. “I have also put a lot of work into my mathematical endeavors—taking advanced courses, enrolling in multiple reading courses at Lawrence, conducting research, some of it independently, studying mathematics intensely in Budapest. As with everyone, it’s really nice when these efforts are recognized.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence donates boxes of PPE supplies to aid Appleton’s COVID-19 battle

Abby Screnock and Joe Sagar deliver boxes of Lawrence University’s PPE supplies to the City of Appleton.


Lawrence University has donated more than 25 boxes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to the City of Appleton for use by health care workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supplies, which would normally be used by Lawrence students in science labs, came from the school’s Chemistry and Biology departments and included protective gowns, lab coats, goggles, and gloves, said Christyn Abaray, Lawrence’s athletics director and assistant to the president. Professors and staff inventoried the school’s PPE supplies to pull together the donations to make available to the city.

“During these uncertain times around the world, communities are working together in intentional and deliberate ways,” Abaray said. “As an entrenched, established member of the Fox Valley community, we at Lawrence readily mobilized to donate the on-campus PPE supplies for our Fox Valley community’s front line. The only way we will persevere is in partnership with each other.”

Lawrence’s spring term began on Monday. All classes are being held via distance learning.