Category: Academics

“What are we going to do about it?”: An MLK Day call to fight structural injustices

Dr. Bettina L. Love

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Embrace a radical imagination.

Take the fight against structural racism beyond well-meaning committees and studies.

Don’t just speak out against crowded prisons and low-performing schools; commit to the work to end the conditions that result in crowded prisons and low-performing schools.

That is the hard message behind Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, said Dr. Bettina L. Love, the keynote speaker Monday at the 30th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, co-hosted by African Heritage Inc. and the Lawrence University Diversity and Intercultural Center.

“What structural changes are you willing to make?” said Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and an endowed professor at the University of Georgia. “You got all the reports, you got all the directors of initiatives and all this, and you know racism is in the system, and you know racism is stopping children from living and seeing their full potential, so what structural change are we going to make? Are we just going to keep having policies? Are we going to keep reporting out that the very places we work are racist? What are we going to do about it?”

The MLK Day Celebration is typically held in Lawrence’s Memorial Chapel, but the community event moved online this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Brittany Bell, assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center at Lawrence and co-chair of the Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, helped take the event virtual.

“This is a time for us to come together in unity,” Bell said. “Let us remember Dr. King’s legacy. Together we can be the light that illuminates the darkness in our world and our communities and make a difference.”

At Lawrence, with no classes being held, the event followed a series of MLK Day virtual conversations, including a book talk focused on Heavy: An American Memoir, the powerful and emotional 2018 book by Kiese Laymon, discussions on anti-racist strategies and disability advocacy, and a Music for All concert. The sessions were organized and led by campus volunteers through the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change.

The evening event took the King remembrances beyond campus, with community-focused messages of fighting the very injustices that King gave his life for while also embracing and celebrating Black joy.

The pandemic, Love said, has only exacerbated and magnified the deeply ingrained racism in this country. As did the killing of George Floyd. As did the marches of white supremacists.

“To be a person of color in this country today is a state of exhaustion,” Love said. “To always be trying to figure out ways we can survive this place. I know the Creator did not put me here to survive, to merely survive. I was put here to thrive. So that’s why I wrote the book. We want to do more than survive. That is not living. Living in a world where you are constantly in survival mode is what’s killing us more than anything — white supremacy that puts us in a place where we are constantly just trying to make it, spiritually, physically, mentally, economically. We deserve more.”

Love reminded the audience that at the time of his death in 1968, King was focused on the ills of poverty. He was fighting for workers’ rights, living wages, affordable housing, and economic opportunities for all. He was waging a battle on behalf of the poor that has yet to come to fruition.

“Before Dr. King died, he was building one of the world’s most robust coalitions of poor folks, black folks, white folks, Asian folks, Latino folks, you name it, he was building a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational coalition … to think very deeply about how we make sure people living in the United States had a guaranteed income, a living wage, housing,” Love said. “That was what he was on at the end of his life.”

Continuing that fight is what being an Abolitionist is all about, said Love, who titled her talk, Abolitionist Life: Resistance, Creativity, Hip Hop Civics Ed, Intersectionality, & Black Joy.

“More than anything, King understood this,” she said. “The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical distribution of political and economic power. That was his dream. We cannot sanitize it; we cannot water down King’s dream. His dream was to abolish poverty. His dream was to unite black folks and white folks and Latinx folks and indigenous folks, and everybody to create a world that understood if you want racial justice you better want economic justice. And we’re talking about a redistribution of wealth.

“King was about the abolishment of poverty. He was not trying to just give people a dollar here, a dollar there. He was trying to create structure that would ensure that nobody went hungry ever again. That is what abolition is about. It’s not about reform or reimagining. It’s about uprooting oppression.”

Love encouraged all to join that fight, to take it beyond good thoughts and supportive words.

“We do this work not wanting allies but wanting co-conspirators,” she said. “What have you done? What’s your work? That’s what a co-conspirator does. Put something on the line.”

To get there is a journey. Embrace that journey. Have a “radical imagination” and celebrate who you are, Love said.

“We have to do this work with joy,” she said. “We have to want to see Black folks win. It has to be more than just anger. There’s righteous rage, don’t get me wrong. But we also have to find the Black joy in this world. The work that says I want to be well, I want to work to be well.”

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

Three LU professors part of video series reaching out to high school AP students

Rosa Tapia, Gustavo Fares, and Beth De Stasio

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Three Lawrence University professors will be featured in AP Daily, a new series of video lectures aimed at supporting high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in the midst of the pandemic.

The College Board launched the ongoing virtual series on YouTube when the COVID-19 pandemic forced high schools to go to remote learning. The free series features college professors lecturing on topics of their choice tied to AP course material.

Lawrence’s Beth De Stasio, the Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and professor of biology, and Gustavo Fares and Rosa Tapia, both professors of Spanish, were invited to join the series. All three jumped at the chance.

“Each lecturer is asked to speak on material that extends the content of a particular unit of the course,” De Stasio said. “I immediately said, ‘Yes,’ because, frankly, I just love to teach and to facilitate learning.”

By the time they’re all launched, more than 200 videos will be included, providing support and flexibility to AP students studying remotely. The release dates are staggered to coincide with each curricular unit during the school year. De Stasio, Fares, and Tapia expect their videos to post in the coming weeks.

More than 8.5 million students have already watched the AP Daily videos, said Cathy Brigham, senior director of academic outreach at the College Board.

“These videos are available both behind a password-protected site called AP Classroom, which AP students and teachers manage in their in-class interactions,” she said. “But the videos are also available to the public on YouTube. On YouTube alone, the videos from higher education faculty have been viewed over 34,500 times for the first four units of AP courses. We are launching videos in sequence with when students are experiencing that content live in their classrooms, and so the number of videos will grow over time.”

De Stasio and Tapia chair their respective AP test development committees, and Fares has done so in the past, so they are plenty familiar with the work of the College Board and the AP process. De Stasio also is on the Science Advisory Committee for the College Board.

Tapia has been actively involved with the AP Spanish Language and Culture program since 2007. As a leading expert on the AP Spanish exam, she has been invited to give talks and workshops to university educators and administrators across the country, most recently at a February symposium at Stanford University.

She is one of seven lecturers speaking in the Spanish Literature and Culture portion of the AP Daily video series. The subject of her lecture is the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936).

“An independent and bold thinker, Unamuno’s life and works continue to spark a passionate cultural and social debate almost a century after his death,” Tapia said. “In the last two years alone, a series of books and two high-profile films have been dedicated to the writer and his legacy. The topic is pertinent to the AP curriculum, naturally, but I chose Miguel de Unamuno in particular because his influence can be felt today with a clear sense of relevance and urgency. His powerful works and unresolved dilemmas during a controversial and violent time in Spanish history—the prelude to a civil war—provide important lessons for today’s students anywhere in the world.”

Fares, meanwhile, is one of six lecturers for the Spanish Language and Culture portion of the series. He also has a long history of involvement with the College Board dating back two decades and knows the significance of keeping that program healthy and functional during the pandemic.

“The AP students tend to be the most interested in the disciplines they decide to pursue though the AP Program, and they tend to carry over that interest to their college education,” Fares said. “As such, they are students Lawrence would want to recruit.”

Fares delivered his video lecture on Joaquín Torres-García (1874-1949), a Uruguayan artist he covers in his Latin American Visual Arts course.

De Stasio is one of seven video lecturers in Biology. She chose to talk about how genes are “turned on” and “turned off” by different environmental conditions.

“I wanted to show how scientists model genes and interactions of the proteins that turn genes on or off,” De Stasio said. “So, a ruler was DNA, and binder clips represented proteins that bind to DNA to change accessibility of that DNA. I encouraged students to make models with things they have at home and to practice what will happen when the environment changes. What happens to particular genes in humans when we are stressed, for example? How does that stress signal get received and transduced all the way to the level of a gene? I wanted to demonstrate that these academic details are connected to our lives every day and that it is fun and exciting to figure out how it all works.”

The professors were asked to simulate as best they could a classroom lecture.

Being invited to participate in the series was an honor, and having three faculty members on the select invite list speaks well of Lawrence.

“As a subject matter expert, professors Tapia, De Stasio, and Fares will be able to share the depth and breadth of their knowledge with high school students who are up for the challenge,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president AP and Instruction for the College Board. “We are thrilled to partner with Lawrence and their faculty to help prepare these students for the opportunities provided by higher education.” 

For Lawrence, the series also provides a great connection with prospective students and their AP teachers.

“The site is free and open to the public, so teachers and students can use the lectures in their courses at no cost to them, the school, or the district,” Fares said. “By them accessing these resources, Lawrence becomes familiar to those educators and students, and these resources can become powerful recruitment tools for the university.”

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

December research projects expand across disciplines for faculty, students

Sophia Driessen ’22 transplants leafy greens from their sponge starters to new soil growth media while working Dec. 10 on a hydroponics research project in the Briggs Hall greenhouse at Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

While much of the Lawrence University campus has been quiet since Fall Term ended, there has been a bustle of activity happening in and around academic research projects.

In Briggs Hall, you can find Sophia Driessen ’21, Erin Szablewski ’21, and Catherine Wagoner ’22 working daily with Relena Ribbons, assistant professor of geosciences, on new hydroponics research. With work both in the lab and in Briggs’ small greenhouse, the students are getting a chance to do hands-on research that both boosts their resumes for graduate school and gives them insights into possible career paths.

“This work is valuable to me because it allows me to strengthen my independent learning and working skills,” Szablewski said. “Additionally, it is helping me to learn and grow in the research process, helping me in my graduate school application process. I was drawn to it because of its hands-on, interdisciplinary nature.”

They’re not alone. In all, 26 Lawrence University students—15 on campus and 11 remote—are working during December with 18 faculty members on research in disciplines stretching across campus. Each student applied for and received a $1,200 stipend for three weeks of work between the Fall and Winter terms.

“This is the third year for December research, but with a significant innovation,” said Peter Blitstein, associate dean of the faculty and associate professor of history. “For the first time, we are using internal funds to support projects in the social sciences, humanities, and fine arts, in addition to using funds from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation grant for work in the natural sciences.”

The December program began in 2018 with funding from Sherman Fairchild for physics, biology, chemistry, geosciences, and neuroscience research. This year, faculty in economics, the Conservatory of Music, English, mathematics, religious studies, and Mudd Library are participating.

The University is investing more than $37,000 in the expanded program, covering the students’ stipends as well as room and board for those on campus.

“This is the greatest number of students we have supported for December research in the three years we have had this program,” Blitstein said.

Elizabeth Becker, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Elsa Hammerdahl ’22 are collaborating with a St. Joseph’s University graduate student in researching mating habits of the monogamous California mouse. This species is notable because it’s believed that fewer than 5% of mammals are exclusive, an affinity known in animal behavior research as “pair-bond,” Becker said.

“While in some species, these pair-bonds are thought to form within 24 hours of cohabitation, other studies indicate that this process may take up to a week,” she said. 

This project continues research that Becker started at St. Joseph’s, the Pennsylvania school where she taught and led the Behavioral Neuroscience Program before joining the Lawrence faculty earlier this year.

“By manipulating the cohabitation period and then measuring a range of affiliative and aggressive behaviors in partners, we aim to establish an accurate timeline and create a formal operationalization for pair-bond formation in this species that can be used in future studies,” Becker said.

Ribbons and her three students, meanwhile, are doing hydroponics research that is supported by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) and the Lawrence University Research Fellows (LURF) program.

“The chief aim is to test out and pilot this new experimental setup with an eye toward future experiments to examine microbial communities that grow in the soil growth media,” Ribbons said of the research. “Students have been experimenting with what types of plants we will grow, starting within the leafy greens category to test out Swiss chard, Russian kale, and buttercrunch lettuce. Currently we are growing about 300 baby leafy greens in three replicates of the hydroponics manifolds.”

Wagoner, a geoscience and environmental studies major, said the work ties in nicely with her interests and career ambitions.

“As an avid science and nature enthusiast, I was naturally drawn to this research project,” she said. “These past few weeks have offered unparalleled experiences and knowledge that might be difficult to obtain in a typical classroom setting.”

An added bonus, she said, is working alongside other women with a shared passion for science.

“Aside from the inherent educational value of our project, it feels very empowering to be working and learning alongside three other women in a field largely dominated by men,” Wagoner said.

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

Note regarding WSGC: 1) this material is based upon work supported by NASA under Award No. RIP20_11.0 issued through Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium, and 2) any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In midst of pandemic, Disasters class draws poignant lessons from history

Jake Frederick (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jake Frederick is drawn to disasters.

Natural and unnatural disasters. World-altering disasters.

He doesn’t wish for them or the pain and destruction they bring. But the Lawrence University professor of history is unapologetically fascinated by them, struck by the physical, cultural, and emotional recalibration that comes in their wake.

By the nature of his chosen profession, Frederick is usually focused on disasters from long ago, exploring how they altered life in the years, decades, even centuries, that followed, how they exposed inequities, and how they reshaped cultural norms. But right now, as we’re living through a global pandemic unlike anything seen in 100 years, it’s tough for even a history scholar like Frederick to keep the focus squarely on the past. When he was teaching his Disasters That Made the Americas class during the last Winter Term, he found conversations quickly shifting to the present as the spread of COVID-19 arrived in the Americas and the panicked hoarding of toilet paper signaled that life as we know it was about to change.

“I think in any class, whether it’s history or English lit or physics, when students see what they’re studying unfolding in the world they’re living in, they always find that very stimulating,” Frederick said.

“At the moment, this group of students is living through a more dramatic historic moment than I think students have in 100 years. There hasn’t been anything like this since the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1919 and 1920. Even the second World War, there was a home front, so you could always be away from where the disaster was happening. But in the case of the pandemic, it’s everywhere.”

It’s not just the pandemic, of course. The wildfires that burned through large chunks of the western United States in recent months, fueled by climate change that is rapidly altering the planet, provide even more fodder for the intersection of historical disasters and modern times.

Disasters That Made the Americas, a 400-level history course that is focused mostly on Latin America, is being offered again in the upcoming Winter Term, and Frederick said the pandemic and the wildfires will certainly be incorporated into the class discussions. How could they not? The current disasters can help inform the study of past disasters, whether illness, climate, war, or otherwise, and perhaps provide some insight into what lies ahead.

“History is interesting in and of itself,” Frederick said. “But I think we can learn a great deal from the modern moment. I wouldn’t dare say what will be the effect of COVID, because historians get very freaked out by the present tense. We need a good 10, 20 years to figure out what the impact will be. But as we look backwards and look at cholera outbreaks, the Spanish influenza outbreak, there is always something contemporary you can refer to in helping them understand the historical point you are talking about.”

Ricardo Jimenez, a senior biology and music performance double major from Barrington, Illinois, was in Frederick’s Winter Term class. He remembers Frederick talking about COVID-19 on one of the first days of class, in early January, two months before it would be declared a global pandemic. There were reports of a few thousand cases in Wuhan, China, and Frederick talked to his students about keeping a close eye on its spread.

In nearly every classroom session to follow, Frederick would start the discussion by giving an update on the virus as more news came out. He tried to contextualize the gravity of the moment and what might lie ahead based on lessons from history.

“We saw it go from a few thousand to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands, and then eventually to other countries,” Jimenez said. … “I will never forget the day in which it arrived in the Americas and we had class the next day. Professor Frederick sat us down and said, ‘I don’t think we will be seeing each other next term.’ By this time, Europe was already on lockdowns.

“It was a very sobering moment to hear from a professor of disasters of human civilizations that this event that we were experiencing was a historical moment.” 

Up close and personal

Frederick, a member of the History Department faculty since 2006 and co-director for Latin American Studies, comes by his fascination with disasters via experience. He fought forest fires in the 1990s before going to graduate school. The firefighting he did in Mexico piqued his interest in the history of that region, leading him to a Ph.D. from Penn State University with a focus on colonial Latin America.

“I’ve always found the history of fires really interesting and thought I could marry these things together,” Frederick said.

He’s on sabbatical during Fall Term as he works on a book about fires in 18th century Mexico. When the Disasters class returns in January, the students will, among other things, draw parallels between today’s ongoing disasters and those that dot the history of the Americas.

“Human beings care about the same things now that they cared about a thousand years ago,” Frederick said. “But it’s sometimes difficult for students to put themselves in that mindset. But with the kind of things they’re encountering right now, and with us looking at disaster as the focus of the course, we are going to have a lot of good conversations.”

Much of Frederick’s focus is on what comes next. What happens after a disaster alters life in a particular region? What inequities have been exposed? And what responses come from leaders and from the populace?

“To a certain extent, the disasters are the sexy hook that makes it very interesting to engage these moments, but the disasters themselves are isolated moments,” Frederick said. “What really is most compelling about them is the impact that they have.”

History suggests some of that impact is communal, at least in the short term. People—today’s anti-maskers notwithstanding—tend to rally together in times of disaster, trending away from the popular mythology that disasters cause societal breakdowns and lead to anarchy.

“In the wake of disasters, particularly very acute disasters, people tend to come together,” Frederick said. “In a big disaster, the first responders are always the neighbors, the nearest community. The rescue forces are there immediately. So, what you often see, after a big disaster, there is a big moment of community-building. And these things can do a lot, at least in the short term, to bring people together. Even if that’s not a lesson for the future, it debunks every disaster movie out there. In reality, people really do tend to provide a lot of help to their neighbors.”

The lessons of history

For all of our advanced medical technology, our radar systems, our smart phones, and the like, the disasters of 2020 provide a reminder that we are as subject to epic natural threats as humans were in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries—pandemics, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes.

“When these things happen, there are very, very familiar consequences that tend to unfold,” Frederick said. “You find that certain parts of society will suffer the most. … What they tend to expose are pre-existing stresses that are in society, the pre-existing shortcomings of a society.”

The United States, for all its advancements, is no different, and the news cycle that is 2020 is making that clear.

“The responses (to disasters) tend to show the same thing,” Frederick said. “Wow, we have this disease coming, and it turns out that in the United States and across the world, health care is really unequally distributed. You might think that can be tolerated up to a point, but disasters tend to push those systems to the fracturing point.”

Lessons can be drawn, for example, from the cholera outbreak in Peru in the 1960s, which led to a reimagining of the country’s medical infrastructure.

“It was not necessarily, how are we going to prepare for the next cholera outbreak, but rather, how does this show us what is wrong with the system that exists now?” Frederick said. “And what it shows is that, disproportionately, poor people, people on the bottom of the socio-economic scale, were getting crushed by this disease. And there was a racial disparity. Indigenous people were getting disproportionately harmed by this disease.”

For Jimenez, learning how that has played out over and over again through history has given him perspective as he and his fellow students navigate the pandemic.

“I think studying past catastrophes helps you learn how events like these tend to unfold, who is really affected by them, and what the aftermath tends to look like,” Jimenez said. “I think the biggest takeaway from the course is really learning that the poorest in our society are those who suffer the most during any catastrophe. They are the most vulnerable but also the ones who are forgotten.”

These lessons from the past can inform the present. And vice versa. It’s what drew Frederick, the one-time firefighter, to the classroom in the first place.

“You can get a sense of relief and comfort from history,” Frederick said. “When you look at a disaster like COVID, you see that the world has gone through things like this before and we got out to the other side. It can be an awful process, and I promise this is going to get much worse before it gets better, but people have managed to get through this sort of thing and worse. Every single time, humanity has come out on the other side.”

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

Interested is readings from the Disasters class?

If Jake Frederick’s Disasters in the Americas class has piqued your interest and you want to read more, try these books that are part of the class:

The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, by Jonathan Katz; New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2013. This book is about the 2010 earthquake.

A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit; New York: Viking, 2009. The thesis of the book is that in times of urgent disaster people have a greater tendency to pull together than to turn on each other.

Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations, by Brian Fagan; New York: Basic Books, 1999. See chapters on the classic Maya collapse and the destruction of the Moche civilization.

On Main Hall Green With … Getting to know Jake Frederick, other Lawrence professors

Dr. John Mielke’s legacy, commitment to education celebrated at Lawrence

Dr. John and Sally Mielke have long been champions for education, including supporting the teacher education program at Lawrence. John Mielke passed away on Nov. 4.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is mourning the loss of Dr. John Mielke, an iconic leader and philanthropist in the Fox Valley whose passion for education and health care has left a lasting impact on the community.

Mielke died Nov. 4 at the age of 87.

The cardiologist’s incredible life included improving health care across the region, serving on the Appleton Area School District Board of Education for 26 years, and, with his wife, Sally, partnering on multiple health and education initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field for all residents. A number of those partnerships, via the Mielke Family Foundation, involved Lawrence, including establishing two endowed professorships, launching the Mielke Summer Institute in the Liberal Arts at Bjorklunden, and, in 2014, providing a multi-million-dollar gift that broadened opportunities for education students interested in teaching in elementary schools.

“The hundreds of Lawrence graduates both past and future who become educational leaders are a testament to John’s passion for learning, community, and educational access for all,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “I will deeply miss John’s counsel and friendship.”

The Mielke Family Foundation, which was started in 1963 by Mielke’s parents and has been supported by the family through three generations, put much focus over the past decade on early childhood education. That led to a $2.5 million gift to Lawrence in 2014 that expanded the teacher education program and allowed students to earn certification for teaching in elementary grades.

That was a game-changer for the program, said Stewart Purkey, director of teacher education at Lawrence and holder of the Bee Connell Mielke Professorship of Education, established 25 years ago. But it was just one piece of Mielke’s work to improve education at all levels, most pointedly for the youngest of students.

Purkey referenced Mielke’s work with the Building for Kids Children’s Museum, the Early Childhood Learning Center, and the development of Pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“John was prescient in his commitment to working with early childhood education and recognizing the incredible importance of helping young children learn and grow,” Purkey said. “He pushed over and over again for us to focus as much as we could on the education of the youngest children so they had that really strong foundation. Now, that’s sort of accepted and it’s a given that we have to work with pre-K 3 and pre-K 4-aged children. John was championing that years and years before it reached mainstream thinking.”

Purkey said that while he is saddened by the loss of a friend and mentor, he is buoyed that Sally Mielke will continue the work that she and John have been so devoted to through the years.

“It’s important to note, when we think about John, it was always John and Sally together, and, of course, Sally is still with us,” Purkey said. “I know she will continue John’s good work in the community, including how she’s involved with the teacher ed program here at Lawrence.”

Jenna Stone, Lawrence’s associate vice president of finance, has worked often with the Mielkes and called the loss of John Mielke monumental for the Fox Cities.

“John and Sally Mielke have been an extraordinary force for compassion, caring, health, and education in our community,” Stone said.

Until his death, John Mielke served on the board of the Mielke Family Foundation, one of the most active philanthropic foundations in northeast Wisconsin. It serves residents in both the Appleton and Shawano areas.

In 2010, the foundation was the recipient of Lawrence’s first Collaboration in Action award. It spoke to the long relationship between the university and the foundation, dating back to 1982 when the foundation established the Edward F. Mielke Professorship in Medicine, Health, and Society, currently held by Brenda Jenike.

In 1996, the foundation established the Bee Connell Mielke Professorship in Education. In conjunction, the foundation established a community outreach program called the Mielke Summer Institute in the Liberal Arts, which provides local educators with an opportunity to examine a specific theme of cultural or social significance from a multidisciplinary perspective, held at Bjorklunden, Lawrence’s northern campus in Door County. Purkey said more than 1,200 educators have since gone through the institute.

In recognition of the Mielke family’s decades of support, Lawrence’s education department is named for them, the Mielke Family Department of Education.

“John’s passing will be mourned by so many, but he leaves a remarkable legacy in the people and organizations he touched and made better,” Stone said. “He was relentless in chasing problems upstream to find root causes.”

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

Lawrence student earns funding in The Pitch competition, keeps streak alive

Adona Lauriano ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Adona Lauriano ’21 made it four for four for Lawrence University students finishing in the money in The Pitch, an annual intercollegiate entrepreneurial competition.

The government major from New York took third place, winning $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services toward her start-up business venture. Lawrence students have now finished in the top three in all four years of The Pitch, a Shark Tank-styled competition that pits northeast Wisconsin college students against each other as they seek funding for a business start-up idea.

The competition, held in Oshkosh with Lauriano and some other competitors accessing it remotely, was originally scheduled in the spring but was moved to October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauriano jumped into the competition when she returned to campus in September.

Lauriano’s business idea is called AX-ES (previously O.M. ID), a for-profit venture that would partner with municipalities in creating and distributing municipal photo identification cards for people who do not have a driver’s license. It’s all about access—or lack thereof—for people who are otherwise at a disadvantage when dealing with everything from City Hall to their neighborhood bank, she said.

AX-ES will develop a “white-label platform” to provide the software and hardware to implement and maintain a municipal ID program, Lauriano said.

“Eventually, we will control the cards’ production and distribution, but we will begin by partnering with each contracted municipality’s city ID agency,” she said. “AX-ES is seeking out contracted partnerships with city ID agencies in municipalities throughout the U.S. to ensure all individuals have access to beneficial and essential services despite socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We are a for-profit social good organization, designed to promote community inclusion, financial access, and improved relationships between residents and local government.”

There are populations in every city that live without appropriate identification. Lauriano said AX-ES aims to bridge that divide.

“The problem is that many individuals who do not hold a driver’s license—homeless constituents, young people, and immigrants—do not have official identification that is accepted by police, banks, and some parks,” she said. “It is a human rights issue since IDs confer access to every aspect of public life.”

Lauriano, coached by Irene Strohbeen ’78 and getting guidance from Gary Vaughan, Lawrence’s coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, made her pitch to the judges virtually. She weathered technical issues but came out undeterred.

“I tried my best to stress my passion and AX-ES’ potential to provide a super high impact,” she said.

Lauriano said 13 municipalities in the United States currently have municipal IDs. She wants to provide a service to make that much more widespread, with a focus on mid-sized cities that might not have the resources of a major metropolitan area.

“Thus, the real opportunity is to take AX-ES nationwide,” Lauriano said. “We would like to make it easier for cities to implement municipal IDs. Our potential market is the 639 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 to 200,000. … We want to cater to cities that might not have the human resources to develop their own municipal ID program without external assistance.”   

Lawrence was joined in the fourth annual competition by students from St. Norbert College, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. In all, 10 teams or individuals made pitches to the judges. Nicolet Bank was again the premier sponsor.

2017: Lawrence hockey players take first place in inaugural event.

2018: Team of international students takes first in second year.

2019: A strong second place in third annual competition.

Lawrence is the only school to have placed in the top three in each of the four years of the competition. Vaughan praised Lauriano for her preparedness as she navigated the difficulties of a remote pitch while most of the participants were in person.

“The fact that Lawrentians have placed in The Pitch in all four years the event has been held is a tribute to the total Lawrence experience, and it is indicative of the type of dedication and the work ethic our students exhibit in and out of the classroom,” he said. “Adona did great, and we are very proud of her accomplishment.”

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

Internship put Lawrence physics student on research team that earned Nobel Prize

An image created by Professor Andrea Ghez and her research team from data sets obtained with W.M. Keck Telescopes shows stars that are in very close, very fast orbits around the Milky Way’s central black hole. It’s research that Amelia Mangian ’18 participated in during a 2017 internship. (Courtesy of UCLA Galactic Center Group – W.M. Keck Observatory Laser Team)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s Physics Department is again celebrating close connections with the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Amelia Mangian ’18, then a fourth-year physics student at Lawrence, spent an internship in the summer of 2017 working with a team of scientists at UCLA led by astronomer Andrea Ghez, who earlier this month won the Nobel for her years-long study of supermassive black holes in the universe.

“She is the model of the perfect scientist,” Mangian said of Ghez. “She persevered, she worked hard, and she proved a lot of people wrong on the way to becoming a world-class researcher and educator. I think the other thing that is remarkable about Andrea is how easily she can communicate her work to people of all ages and how much she cares about spreading her love of science.”

Ghez is one of three recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Roger Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University in England, and Reinhard Genzel, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. All were honored for their work advancing the study of black holes.

Amelia Mangian ’18

“Working with this team—Andrea, her collaborators, particularly Mark Morris and Tuan Do, as well as her research team, post-docs, and graduate students—has helped my career tremendously,” said Mangian, now pursuing a doctorate in astronomy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It helped me find a passion for black holes, for astronomy, and for being a role model to other young astronomers who want to be researchers, too.”

A year ago, the Nobel went to two astronomers whose breakthroughs in the 1990s led to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy, a research subject that Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department at Lawrence, has focused on for much of her career.

The 2019 Nobel announcement felt like a win for Pickett and her students. The 2020 announcement is much the same. Having a former student so closely connected to the research team is an opportunity to shine a light on undergraduate internships and research opportunities that are plentiful for Lawrence students in the sciences.

Not lost on Mangian or Pickett is that Ghez is only the fourth woman to win the Nobel in Physics, joining Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963), and Donna Strickland (2018). The Nobel adds to Ghez’s growing profile as she blazes trails as a role model for women scientists.

“One of my particular interests, long before coming to Lawrence, has been the history of women in physics and astronomy—our stories, representation, and how we can tear down barriers to success and recognition,” Pickett said. “There are a number of ways we get at this problem, but primarily it comes down to creating a sense of belonging with the department, and the discipline.”

Lawrence is part of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute initiative that challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably increase their capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in science. It was one of 33 schools selected in 2018 to receive a $1 million grant from HHMI through its Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence initiative. Another 24 schools were selected the year prior, part of HHMI’s push to reimagine science education to better engage students from all backgrounds.

“Our primary focus is inclusive excellence — how can we increase our successful engagement and the success of students who are under-represented in the sciences, whether first-generation college students, for example, or under-represented minorities?” Pickett said.

Megan Pickett

Seeing scientists such as Ghez be awarded a Nobel—also of note, two women won the Nobel in chemistry the following day—helps ring that bell, and having a Lawrentian so closely tied to the work adds fuel to the fire. But it also is a reminder that while great strides have been made, the work is far from finished when it comes to equity and opportunity.

“Having those role models, and being able to send our students off campus, potentially to work in a Nobel lab, is huge,” Pickett said. “Closer to home, though, we are today more diverse and more dedicated to that diversity as a department than we have ever been. In particular, the addition of professors (Tianlong) Zu and (Margaret) Koker help make our department begin to look more like our student body—and the importance of that cannot be overstated.”

Mangian, meanwhile, counts Pickett as a mentor who helped her believe in herself as a scientist. That relationship, she said, drives her to pay it forward as a mentor as she carves out her own career.

“She has guided me through rough times and helped me be the best version of myself during the good times,” she said of Pickett. “She’s the reason that I’m where I’m at today, academically and personally.”

At Illinois, Mangian is studying actively feeding supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to infer properties of the black holes such as its luminosity and mass. She’s also building on mentoring lessons she took from Pickett and others at Lawrence.

“I’ve been very active in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through the organization I run called the Society for Equity in Astronomy,” Mangian said. “We are a group focused on improving the astronomy department at Illinois and those across the country. We run a mentorship program with about 40 individuals involved and have monthly discussions about culturally significant topics such as the Strike for Black Lives, #BlackInTheIvory, and the ongoing situation with the Thirty Meter Telescope being constructed on indigenous lands on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. I am also starting up a tutoring program aimed at helping students with disproportionate educational backgrounds coming into the astronomy program at Illinois.”

Mangian’s work in 2017 with Ghez’s group came after being selected for a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, a highly competitive process. Lawrence students in recent years have gone through that program to land research posts at the University of Indiana, University of Wisconsin, Harvard, University of Rochester, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands, among others. 

“These experiences are valuable regardless of whether you end up going to graduate school or not,” Mangian said. “Having the opportunity to work in a research environment early on in your life allows you to explore areas that interest you the most, helps you build skills to prepare you for a wide variety of jobs—collaboration, computer skills, communication—and helps build your professional network. This, along with my time working with Megan, convinced me that I wanted to be an astronomer, and an educator, too.”  

It also gave her the chance to get to know and learn from a future Nobel Prize winner, something she reflected on when she heard the Ghez announcement from the Nobel Committee for Physics, relayed to her by her mother.

“My excitement grew throughout the day as I came to terms with the fact that I not only worked for a Nobel laureate, but I’d been to her house, too, for wine and cheese. I couldn’t think of a more deserving person to win the award.”

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

Music plays on in new, creative ways as Conservatory adapts to life in a pandemic

David Pickar ’23 plays an upright bass on the steps of Shattuck Hall. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

On a crisp, clear October afternoon, with fall foliage painting a backdrop of blended oranges, yellows, and purples, music can be heard drifting across the Lawrence University campus.

Patty Darling is leading the Jazz Ensemble’s horn players through an outdoor rehearsal on the lawn east of the Music-Drama Center. Nearby, on the steps outside Shattuck Hall, percussion student David Pickar ’23 is quietly strumming an upright bass, working through the particulars of a methods class. A block to the north, Loren Dempster and two of his chamber music students are going through chord progressions and other lessons under the open skies in City Park.

Inside the Music-Drama Center, meanwhile, in a space reconfigured for social distancing and with musicians masked up, you can hear Andrew Mast as he guides the Wind Ensemble through its repertoire, with in-person students and those on Zoom connected in real time.

Elsewhere in the center or in the adjoining Shattuck Hall or on the stage of Memorial Chapel, on any given day this fall, you might find jazz, choir, band, and orchestra ensembles in full rehearsal mode, cameras and large video screens providing a communal music experience for both in-person students and those participating remotely. You might find opera instruction in full flight. You might find a voice student in a studio space, connected virtually with professors John Holiday or Estelí Gomez for a one-on-one lesson. You might find a music education class in conversation virtually with a Brazilian samba drummer in California or a mariachi player in Chicago as they collaborate on lessons to be shared with Appleton Area School District students.

Alumnae, students collaborate on masks for musicians. Read more here.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges during this unusual and often awkward time, but the music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, thanks to a full-on commitment to technology, innovation, and flexibility, is very much alive. Conservatory faculty have found creative ways to safely educate and motivate student musicians, on campus or scattered around the world.

“While creating music distantly is not the same as playing together in person, Lawrence has worked very hard to find ways for us to create music with one another,” said viola player Courtney Wilmington ’21, a neuroscience and music education double major who is studying remotely from her home in Vancouver, Washington.

It’s been an evolving process. Tapping into lessons learned when students were sent home for distance learning during Spring Term, the Conservatory set out over the summer to re-imagine its music offerings during a Fall Term that has roughly 25% of Lawrence students studying from afar. Particular focus was put on the ensembles, a huge part of the Conservatory’s music experience and one that is difficult to replicate when not everyone is in the same room.

Director Patty Darling (far right) leads the horn section of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble through a rehearsal on the lawn outside the Music-Drama Center.

“There was a real worry coming into this about what would happen with ensembles,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “If the student stays home, what sort of ensemble experience will they have? We said, ‘Why can’t we use our technology to bring our distance students into our actual rehearsals so they can participate and feel like they are a part of this experience instead of sitting alone in their room recording a cello track? And how can we create an actual community of music-making no matter where the students are?’”

More than anything, that sense of community was at the forefront of Fall Term planning, faculty members said. It’s key not only to maintaining the Conservatory’s high-level music education but also to supporting the well-being of students—music majors or otherwise—who live with a deep desire to make music together.

“While the way we are creating music is different and sometimes awkward right now, it still gives us the chance to share this experience, work toward common goals, and be together,” Darling said.

Charting a new course

Ensemble directors—among them, Matthew Arau, Mark Dupere, and Mast with orchestras and bands, Stephen Sieck and Phillip Swan with choirs, and Jose Encarnación and Darling with jazz—spent much of their summer focused on how they could make the ensemble experience both robust and safe, exploring everything from air filtration systems to proper masking to creative use of shared spaces.

Audio recording engineer Brent Hauer, video recording assistant Alvina Tan, and ITS staff helped set up ensemble spaces that feature one camera focused on the director and one that encompasses the full room. Virtual students can see and hear the in-person musicians and the director’s guidance while the in-person students and director can interact with students who are virtual on video screens.

The virtual students can play along, although they need to have their audio muted because Zoom technology can’t quite sync the sounds in real time. But the instruction and the unity of playing together remains. Eventually, the students who are virtual will record their parts to be added into final recording projects via the handiwork of Hauer and Tan.

Matvei Mozhaev ’23 rehearses with other horn players in the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.

“We were looking to come up with a really creative way to keep students engaged,” Arau said. “One thing that became really important was to find a way to have the unity and spirit of togetherness that happens in an ensemble, even though we’re apart. I kind of had this theme in my mind—‘Lawrence, Together!’ My biggest concern was there would be two independent streams. There would be the online students and the in-person students and they would feel so separate from each other, and possibly doing totally different things. So, it was important to find a way that the students who are online still feel connected to Lawrence and particularly to the ensembles.”

Mission accomplished, and not just in the ensemble rehearsals, Wilmington said.

“I think the most successful way we have that connection is through the breakout room feature on Zoom,” she said. “When there are only two or three other students in a breakout room, you are able to unmute and perform for each other, to get real-time feedback. This has been really helpful in my woodwinds technique class, where we can go into breakout rooms and play scales together or get feedback on our playing from peers.”

Seeking engagement

Every area of the Conservatory has made online engagement a focal point during the pandemic. Some of that involves the work with ensembles. But there’s also peer-to-peer collaborations, student-faculty interactions, and virtual recording projects. Other initiatives encompass community outreach, whether with Appleton secondary school students or with area nonprofits.

“The pandemic has been unusually hard on choirs—big gatherings of people who all share the same air,” Sieck said. “But we’re doing some innovative things.”

He pointed to mixing modalities so that eight or nine singers are live while the rest join online, then using software to combine individual recordings into a full choir. He has students exchanging performance videos with music students across the Appleton Area School District. Cantala, a women’s choir, is working virtually on a 19th Amendment project with other women’s choirs, and another choir, the Hybrid Ensemble, is creating an American songbook album for hospice patients and retirement homes in the Fox Valley.

Ali Remondini ’21 practices in a Music-Drama Center room equipped with a new air filtration system (left).

“This is not the way we would have imagined a celebrated conservatory choral program working a year ago, but our students are making it work,” Sieck said. “Lawrence students need to sing. They need a place to let their voice soar or dissolve into an impossibly quiet chord. They need the connection, vulnerability, challenge, and electricity of music-making. And not just the approximately 100 students who study voice as part of their major in the Conservatory, but also biologists, computer scientists, and historians. Choir becomes a home away from home for so many Lawrentians. 

“No, we can’t sing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with 200 singers and 100 instrumentalists sharing the stage right now, but we can always sing.”

Cantala’s focus on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment mixes music collaborations with contextual lessons, Swan said. 

“We’re having lively discussions about what it means to have the right to vote, the importance of equity, and the opportunity and responsibility of voting,” he said. “We’re watching the Ken Burns documentary, The Vote, providing us with a better contextual understanding of voting rights and privileges for women. Our repertoire focuses on the theme, ‘We Rise by Lifting Others.’ Texts include writings by Susan B. Anthony, words of empowerment by a Chicago-based female ensemble, poetry by Georgia Douglas, and an encouraging closer, Still I Rise, by African-American composer and conductor Rosephanye Powell.”

Cantala is partnering with Appleton East High School Chamber Singers and Belmont University Women’s Choir on the project.

The Jazz Band, meanwhile, is working remotely on a set of recordings, and the Jazz Ensemble is meeting with groups of four to five students at a time—the horns group rehearsing outside whenever possible—with plans for joint recordings by the end of the term.

“Playing music together, however we do it, is helping us stay connected during these incredibly difficult times,” Darling said. “That is of utmost importance.”

Outreach close to home

Music for All, an ongoing Conservatory initiative that brings live music into the community, is continuing virtually during the pandemic. It’s part of wider efforts to keep music outreach, a key piece of the mission of the Conservatory, active during the pandemic, even if it has to be via technology. That’s something that Wilmington said she and other students are excited about.

“We will be able to submit video recordings for performances all around the Appleton community, such as at Riverview Gardens and Harbor House,” she said. “We will attend the events live through Zoom to introduce our recordings. … It allows for the feeling of community and sharing to be maintained despite the distance.”

Swan, meanwhile, said his Hybrid Ensemble, which explores a variety of styles and genres, is doing outreach with area retirement communities as it works to create a special collection of music.

“We will be rehearsing repertoire during the next two terms, based on our research outcomes,” he said. “Our plan is to interview residents, develop relationships, and compile a recording at the end of Winter Term that reflects a diverse selection of repertoire, suggested by these elderly partners. We’re hoping this final recording will provide entertainment, joy, and encouragement to our elderly population.”

Virtual concerts also are in play this term. And energies that otherwise would have gone into the Conservatory’s annual spring Presto! music tour are now being directed toward music outreach closer to home, Pertl said.

Through it all—the virtual concerts, the ensemble collaborations, the creative use of music spaces, the community projects—the thread of innovation and adaptation blends with the need for engagement and growth. Different, yes. But the music and the mission live on despite the difficulties of the pandemic.

“I’m excited that we’re actually looking at technology and its possibilities and not just focusing on what we can’t do,” Pertl said. “Instead, we’re saying, ‘What can we do?’ I think that’s a very Lawrencey thing. We’re trying to teach our students to be creative and innovative and be problem-solvers. It’s OK, we know this pandemic is here. What are we going to do to not only make the best of it but maybe do something no one else has ever done before?”

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

Diversity award honors work Lawrence is doing to address equity, inclusion

A rise in retention and graduation rates among African American students at Lawrence speaks to focused work on equity issues across campus, says Kimberly Barrett, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is being honored for its work in becoming a more diverse and inclusive campus.

INSIGHT Into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education, announced that Lawrence is one of 90 recipients of its 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award. Lawrence will be featured, along with the other recipients, in the November issue of the magazine.

It’s a notable honor because it recognizes the significant progress Lawrence has made in recent years, but it comes with the understanding that this is a work in progress, said Kimberly Barrett, who joined Lawrence as its first vice president for diversity and inclusion in 2016.

“Although much work remains to be done, this honor acknowledges the progress that has been made in both achieving equitable academic outcomes for students of all backgrounds as well as in our efforts to increase the diversity of folks working and learning at Lawrence,” Barrett said. “Like institutions around the country, we must continue to enhance the quality of these efforts.”

Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity, said the HEED Award follows a “comprehensive and rigorous” application process.

“Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus,” Pearlstein said.

Barrett pointed to retention and graduation rates at Lawrence for African American students, which have gone up significantly over the past half decade. In the most recent Diversity & Inclusion Annual Report, it’s noted that the graduation rate for African American students at Lawrence is up 56%, and the retention rate for students of color has been equal to or above white students over the past three years. That, Barrett said, speaks to progress being made in achieving racial equity on campus.

Initiatives such as the annual Cultural Competency Lecture Series, the work of the Inclusive Pedagogy Committee, the annual Diversity Planning Retreat that keeps a leadership focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics, and the growth and activity of various employee affinity groups have helped move efforts forward, Barrett said.

National honor spotlights Lawrence affinity group. See details here.

From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of students of color at Lawrence has increased from 19% of the student body to 26%, Barrett said. The number of faculty of color also has grown over that five-year period, going from 13% of total faculty to 17%. The number of staff who identify as people of color saw a jump of 65%.

Besides Barrett’s vice president position, other new leadership positions added since 2016 to address equity and inclusion include the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, a Title IX coordinator, a Diversity Center coordinator, and a Dean of Academic Success.

Also, through a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the work of the President’s Committee on Diversity Affairs, Lawrence has implemented training to enhance the process for recruiting diverse applicants for faculty positions. Another grant from the Mellon Foundation has led to the diversifying of curriculum and the development of new pedagogical methods.

In recent months, as a movement for social justice has elevated conversation and calls for systematic change across the country, Barrett has been leading a series of virtual workshops on antiracism for Lawrence faculty and staff. Those conversations will continue with the return of students to campus, either in person or from a distance, for Fall Term. Barrett also has stepped up as a leader with Imagine Fox Cities, a local initiative aimed at fostering conversations on a range of societal and community issues, including diversity and inclusion. That work has included, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizing virtual conferences on topics related to social justice.  

In a recent letter to the Lawrence community in advance of the start of Fall Term, President Mark Burstein pledged continued focus on issues of equity and inclusion.

“We continue to dismantle systemic racism through individual and organizational learning; through curricular, pedagogical, and policy change; and through enhanced efforts to increase the racial diversity of students, faculty, and staff,” he wrote. “We also continue to collaborate with the City of Appleton to help ensure that Lawrentians are safe and welcome here. Our goal is to create a campus climate that allows each of us to feel that we belong in this community whether we are learning on campus or at a distance.”

Lawrence wants to be a leader on these issues, both on campus and in the Fox Cities, Barrett said. The HEED Award is recognition that that hard work is being done and, despite setbacks and frustrations, progress is being made.

“Despite the work that still remains ahead,” she said, “it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the righteous work in which we have been engaged because, as Audre Lorde wrote, ‘Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Every victory must be applauded, because it is so easy not to battle at all, to just accept and call that acceptance inevitable.’”

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

Becker returns to Lawrence to teach psychology and neuroscience

Elizabeth Becker ’04

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The newest member of Lawrence University’s Psychology Department faculty is plenty familiar with what makes this place special.

Elizabeth Becker ’04 earned a double degree in psychology and music performance here before going on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The lessons learned and relationships with faculty forged at Lawrence have been a guiding light in my own career as I sought to become the type of teacher that would make LU proud,” Becker said. “It is a true honor to be welcomed home and be part of the Lawrence community.”

Becker steps in as an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, beginning with Monday’s launch of Fall Term.

She is one of two new faculty members, joining Miriam Rodriguez-Guerra, who begins work as an assistant professor of Spanish.

Becker had been teaching at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, where she served as director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program and was the faculty affiliate to the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support. As a faculty member of the Psychology Department, she mentored both graduate and undergraduate researchers.

“I’m very excited to bring my program of research here to Lawrence to work with our incredibly talented undergraduate students,” Becker said. “I am dedicated to providing laboratory and professional development opportunities to prepare our students for graduate study.”

It was 20 years ago that Becker landed on the Lawrence campus as a first-year student. She said a matriculation convocation address delivered by then-President Richard Warch ignited a spark, a drive to learn and excel, that continues to this day.

“Starting the term I feel the same sense of excitement and nervousness I felt then,” Becker said. “Back in 2000, when I heard President Warch’s convocation address, that nervousness I felt was replaced with passion, admiration, and inspiration. I knew I was home. Indeed, my time at Lawrence was transformative and personally defining as I was pushed and challenged to be and live greater.” 

The Warch address touched on the importance of community, something that resonates even deeper this year as Fall Term begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Becker said.

“Not all institutions of higher learning will address this challenge well, but I can guarantee we will,” she said. “In my preparation for fall, which will be online, I have worked hard to ensure a high level of engagement with the material as well as with each other — including social distance walks — because I espouse the philosophy of President Warch, that ‘liberal education is best conducted as a personal experience.’ I am so happy to be home.”

Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine G. Kodat said bringing Becker back to Lawrence is a huge win for a department that continues to serve one of the largest numbers of majors at Lawrence.

“As an alumna and double-degree graduate, she appreciates all the things that make Lawrence special,” Kodat said. “I am delighted to welcome her back to her alma mater.”

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