Category: Academics

D-Term course has students playing, studying old-school video games

Rehanna Rexroat '20 sits on a couch and plays "Missile Command" on the Atari 5200 in the Kruse Room of the Mudd Library.
Rehanna Rexroat ’20 plays “Missile Command” on the Atari 5200 in the Mudd Library during the “History of Video Games: 1977-1996” D-Term class. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Watching college students enthusiastically play Mortal Kombat II on Sega Genesis controllers while friends look on — minus blood mode but with plenty of talk of cheat codes and jump punches — might put you squarely in a dormitory circa 1994.

Nah.

This is the Kruse Room on the fourth of floor of Lawrence University’s Mudd Library, and it’s early December 2019. The eight students taking turns on the sofa are duking it out in a video game that is considered a classic, but one that 25 years after its release for home play is a bit primitive when compared to the slick graphics and realistic play of today’s most popular games. It’s part of a history lesson these Lawrence students are happily absorbing in History of Video Games: 1977-1996, a D-Term course being taught for the third time by reference and learning technologies librarian and assistant professor Angela Vanden Elzen.

“I did not grow up playing pretty much any video games,” said Miriam Syvertsen ’22, a mathematics major from Madison who is among the students who signed up for the two-week D-Term class. “But, and this is going to sound really nerdy, I like analyzing cultural products and the cultures they come from. Video games are cultural products and I really just like watching and studying the progressions.”

Fall Term at Lawrence ended in late November. Most students headed home for a five-week break before Winter Term begins. But a couple dozen students signed up for D-Term — or December Term — classes, some for this one on video game history, some for a class exploring entrepreneurship in London, and others for a class on improved learning and memory.

An Atari 5200 controller is used to play "Missile Command."
Students are using the original consoles to play the old video games. Here, an Atari 5200 controller is used to play “Missile Command.”

Video games as scholarship

The Vanden Elzen class isn’t just an excuse to play old-school video games. This is about exploring the history and influence of the gaming world over the past four decades. Other pop culture mediums such as movies and television have long been in the mix for scholarly exploration; video games not so much. But that has started to change.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to create this class,” Vanden Elzen said. “Working in the library, I noticed more and more video game scholarship coming out, and it was all very interesting and coming from so many different academic disciplines. It was coming from media studies, it was coming from gender studies, it was coming from history, from computer science.”

Vanden Elzen taught the D-Term class in 2016, 2017, and now 2019. Come Winter Term in the 2020-21 academic year, she and Film Studies support coordinator Jose Lozano will co-teach a new course, Introduction to Game Studies, that will be added to the Film Studies curriculum.

“That course has been a long time in the making,” Vanden Elzen said.

She said she first started pondering such a class in the late 2000s. A visiting teaching fellow had offered a couple of courses focused on virtual worlds. Those classes, Vanden Elzen said, drew interest from the Gaming Club on campus and sparked an idea that eventually led to the D-Term video game course and now the expanded gaming course coming a year from now.

“It really resonates with some students, being able to study one of their passions,” she said.

For Amy A. Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor, the introduction of the new class simply takes the curriculum where the students already are. Students have been pursuing new media projects for independent studies and capstones for several years now, an indication that there was an appetite for this type of course.

“Visual culture is one of the strongest and most pervasive influences on our contemporary culture, and film and video is just one component of that influence,” Ongiri said. “We want to explore as many aspects of visual culture as possible within our program. The new game studies class will help us expand the focus we already have in new media studies in classes offered by John Shimon and Anne Haydock. It will allow students to engage not only in the act of creating games but also to understand their aesthetic and cultural importance through the study of the history and theory of games.”

Angela Vanden Elzen watches as Jake Yingling '20 plays Ms. Pacman during the D-Term class.
Angela Vanden Elzen is teaching “History of Video Games: 1977-1996” during D-Term for the third time. Here she watches as Jake Yingling ’20 plays Ms. Pacman on the Atari 5200.

A two-week immersion

The D-Term class is broken into two parts each day. For the first hour, the class studies a particular slice of video game history, analyzing media from the time and digging into how gaming has influenced societal trends and cultural debates. The second hour is spent in the Kruse Room, where the students play selected games from yesteryear on the consoles that existed at the time the games came out. An analysis of the game follows.

In advance of Monday’s Mortal Kombat II gaming session, the class discussed violence in video games, the earliest games that introduced fighting, and the development, for better or worse, of the video game rating system.

“Growing up, I always played a lot of these old-school video games, and it’s just interesting to study them from a more historical perspective,” said Dylan McMurray ’22, a neuroscience major from Chicago.

“There was an article we read about the parallels in video game subjects and what was happening in world politics at the time — the Cold War, nuclear weapons crisis, and terrorist attacks like 9/11, and the trend toward first-person shooter games,” Syvertsen said. “It’s just really interesting, and getting a little bit of literacy about video games because I did not grow up with them is really helpful.”

Vanden Elzen launches her D-Term course in and around 1977, when video games began to emerge in the mainstream. She takes the class in fairly rapid order through the rise and fall of Atari — Space Invaders, anyone? — early video game marketing, the crash of 1983, high-stakes battles between Sega and Nintendo, the use of music and sound in games, early sports franchises, ties to movie themes, the introduction and evolution of violence in video games, gender and other representation, the development of marketable characters, and more.

“Video games have been such a major part of our culture in the United States and worldwide for a really long time,” said Vanden Elzen, a dedicated gamer herself. “Just by studying the games it gives us insight into that time when the game was released. Games can provide so much insight. They are so immersive and they can be such interesting forms of art and creativity.

“It’s important to study video game history to really understand where we’ve come from with video game technology, content, representation, narrative, and how that ties in with our culture and society. It tells us a little about ourselves.”

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

Podcasting evolves into increasingly popular teaching tool at Lawrence

Fallon Sellers and Georgia Greenberg sit at a table with a microphone as they record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class.
Fallon Sellers ’20 (left) and Georgia Greenberg ’20 record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Eyes got a little wide when Jason Brozek told his Government 425: War & Pop Culture students they’d be researching, scripting, and recording a series of podcasts during fall term.

Fallon Sellers ’20 just smiled and nodded.

The Lawrence University senior, one of about 20 students in the class, knew the drill, having done a podcast in the spring in Brozek’s Environmental Justice class and already being deep into a podcast in Linnet Ramos’ fall term Psychopharmacology & Behavior class.

“I was able to be a little reassuring to everybody else,” Sellers said.

Welcome to the world of classroom podcasting.

As the popularity of podcasts has exploded over the past few years and the technology for recording and sharing podcasts has been streamlined, professors have increasingly turned to the format as an alternate means of research and study in their classes. Instead of an end-of-term paper being due, students are showcasing what they’ve learned by creating episodes of podcasts that will in many cases be accessible to anyone who wants to listen.

At Lawrence, the creation of podcasts as part of coursework is becoming more frequent. Brozek and Ramos are the latest, but they are far from alone. Marcia Bjornerud in geosciences, Brigid Vance in history, and Israel Del Toro in biology, among others, have all experimented with podcasting in their classes.

“First, the barrier to entry is low,” Jedidiah Rex, a designer on Lawrence’s Instructional Technology staff, said of the increase in podcast usage as a teaching strategy. “The tools necessary to create podcasts are easy to use. Second, podcasting makes use of writing skills but offers an opportunity for students to express creativity. There is a pedagogical value in students doing this work.”

Podcast numbers keep growing

According to a survey from Edison Research and Triton Digital, released earlier this year, the percentage of U.S. residents 12 and older who have listened to a podcast at least once surpassed 50% for the first time. That milestone marks a “watershed moment” for podcasting, Edison Senior Vice President Tom Webster wrote in a blog entry about the report.

“With over half of Americans 12+ saying that they have listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed into the mainstream,” he wrote.

Brozek said he was intrigued to incorporate podcasts into his teaching in part because it gives his students a chance to create something that can be shared much wider. Topics his students are exploring in the areas of environmental justice and war and pop culture have potential audiences across the globe.

“They’re out there,” Brozek said of the eight episodes on environmental justice his students did in spring term. “When I go through my podcast app, they are just in my list of podcasts along with the other things I listen to. I like the idea that they’re available for a much wider community.”

In the process, the students are learning technical skills, writing strategies, script creation, interviewing techniques, and copyright laws, all valuable things no matter what career path they might be eyeing.

“I thought this was a way we could keep expanding the quiver of professional skills that we’re trying to help students learn,” Brozek said.

They’re also learning and discussing privacy topics — putting yourself in the public conversation, and what that means. That’s an issue professors using podcast technology need to navigate.

“One of the challenges of doing public-facing scholarship in classes is that students have reasonable privacy concerns, but we can always find a way to work within those boundaries,” Brozek said. (To that end, the release of some or all of the podcasts created in the War and Pop Culture class will be held until early in winter term to make sure all participants are comfortable with the process).

While most of the students in the Brozek and Ramos classes were new to creating their own podcasts, most had long been consumers of the format.

“Podcasts are ubiquitous, consumed by this generation, and it’s a genre that they largely already understand,” said Andrew McSorely, a reference and digital librarian in Lawrence’s Seeley G. Mudd Library. “It’s not a huge leap to apply it to the classroom, and, generally speaking, it’s as easy to set up and get students to engage with as a blog. Because of that, it’s hard to say how many classrooms are utilizing podcast assignments, but there’s no question that more instructors have asked about this technology in the library the past few years.”

From left: Fallon Sellers ’20, Georgia Greenberg ’20, and Basil Eastman-Kiesow ’20 record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class taught by government professor Jason Brozek.

Finding an audience

The appeal comes as podcasts have transitioned from the domain of sports and pop culture to something that can find niche audiences in almost any sector.

“Where once it was distinctly for entertainment purposes, it now can hold scholarship and be taken seriously,” McSorely said. “For content creators in the academy, this serves as a way to engage with new audiences, and for undergraduates, it’s a means of expression that can seem more natural than a traditional essay.”

In Ramos’ psychopharmacology course, the students, working in groups of three to five, are recording video podcasts where they explain, critique, and discuss research articles on a specific drug. The episodes are being made available on the class’s new YouTube channel.

“Often times in classes, students read an article, create a PowerPoint presentation that describes it and mention a couple of ideas on how it can be improved,” Ramos said. “But rarely do I get to hear how students felt after reading the article or get to hear their opinions on why it matters, what they learned from it, how it can impact other sciences or society.”

In Brozek’s War & Pop Culture class, the students have dug into topics ranging from post-nuclear apocalypse to how terrorism is depicted in the media to the use of propaganda to influence audiences during wartime. Doing that in a podcast allows not only for substantial research but also thorough discussion.

“Part of what they’re required to do in the podcast is bring in academic scholarship,” Brozek said as the fall term course got rolling. “This new course is designed around thinking about the way political science scholars write about and think about issues related to war, like terrorism, extraordinary, exceptional circumstances, torture, things like that. Think about the way political science crafts narratives and asks and answers questions and the way pop culture crafts those narratives — where they may have some overlap, where there are differences, what those differences mean, how concerned we ought to be about the differences.

“If (pop culture) is where most people are getting their perspective on terrorism, what does it look like and how consistent is it with the political science literature? So, those are the kind of questions we’re asking in this course.”

For the students, that kind of scholarship isn’t out of the ordinary. Academic work is almost always question-driven. But channeling that work through a podcast takes it in a different direction. That is where excitement meets anxiety, Sellers said.

“Most of the anxiety comes with just learning the technical stuff,” she said. “A podcast is essentially just a conversation. You’re talking through something with your peers. That’s pretty natural to do. I don’t think that’s the hard part. The daunting part was I didn’t have any experience with the computer-related things, the audio techniques, and learning how to use Audacity and how to navigate that.”

Learning those technical skills and related communication skills will pay off later as students enter the job market with a wider breadth of knowledge and know-how. For Sellers, a government major, that’s no small thing.

“Media is so pertinent in our society, and I think it’s so important that higher education is also moving along with that, and we’re learning how to adapt,” she said. “Being able to go into a job and say, ‘Hey, I’m able to produce a podcast, I know how to use these techniques,’ I think people are generally pretty excited about that.

“By the end of my Lawrence career, I will have done podcasts on the dairy industry, on pedagogy and propaganda in pop culture and on opioids and how they impact social behavior,” Sellers said. “So, it’s very Lawrence, and very well-rounded.”

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

Columbia professor returns to Lawrence to talk on rise of “identity politics”

John Huber ’84

John Huber ’84, a professor of political science at Columbia University, will deliver a talk Tuesday on the rise of populist appeals that focus on “identity politics.”

Huber will present his talk as part of Lawrence’s Povolny Lecture Series in International Studies. The talk, Trump, Le Pen and Brexit: Inequality and Right-wing Populism, will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Wriston Art Center at Lawrence. It is free and open to the public.

In democracies around the world, there has been a rise in populist appeals that focus on “identity politics,” with a strong voting component based on race, religion, ethnicity and/or national identity, Huber says. This phenomenon influenced the election of President Donald Trump, the Brexit vote, the support for Marine Le Pen in France and the rise of right-wing parties across Europe. Why is this occurring, and what are the consequences?  

Huber will argue that the rise of identity-based populism can be linked to the parallel rise of economic inequality around the world. His talk will focus on this dynamic and its implications for ways we might address both the rise of populism and the rise of inequality in Europe and the world today.

Huber’s teaching and research focuses on the comparative study of democratic processes. His recent studies have focused on a range of topics, including bureaucratic politics, civil war, inequality, ethnic politics, the politics of redistribution, and the role of religion in elections. He is the author of three books from Cambridge University Press as well as numerous articles. Huber served as chair of Columbia’s political science department for six years, and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

President’s Matriculation Convocation kicks off new year; circle these key dates

President Mark Burstein poses for a photo on the Lawrence campus.
President Mark Burstein will deliver the Matriculation Convocation at 11:10 a.m. Thursday.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Welcome to the 2019-20 academic year. As classes begin today, students are kicking off a journey filled with performances, events and activities, and amid all the fun, they must stay in control of exams and deadlines. We couldn’t include everything, but we chose some important dates you should remember — the indispensable Lawrence traditions and crucial academic deadlines — so you can make the most of this year at Lawrence.

Matriculation Convocation

Thursday, Sept. 19, 11:10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., Memorial Chapel

At the start of each academic year, the president welcomes the Lawrence community back to campus with the Matriculation Convocation. The speech lays the foundation for a collaborative, engaging year. This Thursday, President Mark Burstein will address students, faculty and members of the Appleton community with “Is Our Future Too Hot to Handle?” He’ll examine how human activities are impacting our natural environment and speak to how higher education institutions can better educate and inform on the topic. The convocation is open to the public. Admission is free.

Last day to make class changes

OK, this one has several dates to mark on the calendar. Fall Term: Friday, Sept. 20 | D-Term: Monday, Dec. 2 | Winter Term: Friday, Jan. 10 | Spring Term: Friday, April 3.

Some students miss their registration time or are waitlisted for a class. That’s what late class change deadlines are there for. When you get into that class you were waitlisted for, or you decide on the second day of the term that a course isn’t for you, your schedule is still in your hands. Remember, failing to finalize your schedule by these dates will earn you a late registration fee.

Involvement Fair

Friday, Sept. 20, 7-8 p.m., Somerset Room

Do you want to get involved on campus? This is the place to go. The Involvement Fair gives students the chance to explore more than 100 clubs and organizations at Lawrence, from the Baking and Cooking Club to the Society of Physics Students. Tour the booths and chat with club representatives to explore all of your extracurricular options. Who knows, you might find the group you stick with for the rest of your Lawrence journey.

“The Involvement Fair is a great way for student organizations to recruit new members and spread the word about their purpose,” says Assistant Director of Student Organizations Charity Rasmussen. “Or just have a great time welcoming new or returning students to campus.”

To learn about student organizations before the fair, visit the directory of student organizations.

Mid-term reading period and D-Term registration deadline

Thursday, Oct. 24 to Saturday, Oct. 27

This long weekend is designated for students to prepare for midterm exams. Some students use this free time to take a trip home; the winter and spring reading periods only last two days. In the meantime, maybe you’ve been considering a supplemental academic experience during your winter break. If so, in the midst of studying, don’t forget to register for D-Term. Lawrence’s optional two-week term runs Dec. 2-13. Registration can be completed on Voyager. Find information on D-Term and the course list here.

Convocation Series: “The Parallel Polis”

Thursday, Jan. 16, 11:10 a.m., Memorial Chapel

Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist Masha Gessen will give a speech, “The Parallel Polis,” as part of the 2019-20 Convocation Series. These convocations are free and open to the community.

Cultural Expressions

Saturday, Feb. 29, Warch Campus Center

Cultural Expressions is an evening of performances in music, dance and poetry that showcase the talents of students of color on campus. This free event serves to celebrate and educate about cultures at the close of Black History Month. Cultural Expressions also punctuates the end of POC Empowerment Week (Feb. 23-29), highlighting the amazing contributions of people of color on our campus.

Cabaret

Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12, Stansbury Theatre

Lawrence International presents Cabaret, an evening of impressive student talent and a whirlwind of cultures. Members of Lawrence’s diverse student body – approximately 13 percent of which are international students – take the stage and treat the audience to cultural performances with the goal of cultural education. This annual spring showcase has taken the stage for 43 years and counting.

Zoo Days

Saturday, May 16, Main Hall Green

By mid-May, the weather is warming up and the school year is winding down. In true Ormsby Hall spirit of tradition, members of the Ormsby community host this event to showcase activities from student organizations, Greek Life and other residence halls at booths and tables. Zoo Days is distinguished from other campus affairs by the classic carnival booths that are brought to Main Hall Green. Try your hand at the dunk tank and enjoy live music, snow cones, cotton candy and popcorn.

LUaroo

Saturday, May 23 and Sunday, May 24, Quad Green

Every Memorial Day weekend, students gather on the quad in the final days of Spring Term for Lawrence’s own student-run music festival. The lineup consists of student musicians and exciting headliners, with past performances from The Tallest Man on Earth and Empress Of. This always much-anticipated Lawrence tradition is one last hurrah before finals arrive.

Georgia Greenberg ’20, co-chair of the Band Booking Committee and co-director of LUaroo, says the festival strikes a special chord with students.

“(Students) should feel like they can take time to relax and celebrate how far they’ve come in the school year,” she says. “It’s usually about two weeks from finals, and while that can be a stressful time, Lawrentians like to set time aside to party with their friends and have an awesome and fun-filled weekend.”

Honors Convocation

Thursday, May 28, Memorial Chapel, 11:10 a.m.

The 2019-20 Convocation Series closes with the Honors Convocation, which highlights academic and extracurricular achievements of students. Amy Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and Associate Professor of Film Studies, was selected for this year’s honor. Her speech is “The Importance of Failure.”

Final exams

Again, several dates to be aware of here. Fall: Sunday, Nov. 24 to Tuesday, Nov. 26 | D-Term: Friday, Dec. 13 | Winter: Monday, March 16 to Wednesday, March 18 | Spring: Monday, June 8 to Wednesday, June 10.

Final exams are perhaps the most important dates for a student to mark on the calendar. Know the dates well ahead of time so you can give yourself enough time to prepare and ace those tests. Professors give reminders as the exams approach, but they can still sneak up on you.

Commencement

Sunday, June 14, Main Hall Green

Residence halls close for underclassman three days prior, but the year’s festivities aren’t over yet. Graduating seniors stay on campus for Commencement, which signifies their move into life after Lawrence. It’s a time for family, friends and the future. There will be a number of events during the weekend for the graduates, culminating with Sunday’s Commencement.

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

Chimpanzee skeleton gets a much-needed makeover in LU student’s study project

For Claudia Rohr ’19, the chimpanzee project was an ideal supplement to a double major in biological anthropology and biology. The skeleton, seen over Rohr’s right shoulder, is on display in Briggs Hall. “It was a way to expand my work with primates,” she says.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Claudia Rohr ’19 remembers when Dan Proctor, a Lawrence University visiting assistant professor of anthropology, first wheeled an old chimpanzee skeleton into the forensic anthropology classroom.

A sophomore at the time, Rohr was struck by the skeleton’s appearance — the skull and torso hung limp from a hook and the limbs rested on a nearby table. There were missing pieces and backwards parts that made its purpose as a teaching tool difficult to fulfill.

Proctor said he was looking to have a student rearticulate and refurbish the skeleton. Make it useful again. Rohr was immediately interested.

With some help from the Mudd Library’s Makerspace and the physics department, Rohr spent much of the spring term rearticulating the skeleton as an independent study project.

“I thought it would be really cool if it could be put together well because Lawrence doesn’t have a lot of primate-related things,” she said.

The skeleton’s origins are unknown. For as long as anyone in the Anthropology Department can remember, it has hung on its stand on the third floor of Briggs Hall. It is believed that Lawrence student Richard H. Dorsey ’51 first articulated the skeleton in 1949, threading wire through small drilled holes in the bones to fasten them. But time and outdated articulation techniques eventually pushed the skeleton into disrepair.

To start her ambitious project, Rohr spent some late nights disassembling the skeleton, pulling wire apart from bone. She then took inventory of what bones she had and, with an osteology textbook at her side, deciphered which of the numerous tiny bones belonged to hands and which to feet. Eventually she was able to glue everything together and reattach the arms and legs to the torso.

But what to do about the missing bones? With training from Angela Vanden Elzen in the Makerspace, Rohr learned how to 3D print the missing bones using the existing parallel ones for reference. Most of these were finger bones. She quickly got the hang of it and printed with a resin so well matched to the skeleton’s original color that it’s difficult to tell the authentic bones from the fabricated ones.

With all the bones accounted for, the skeleton needed a new display configuration that would do justice to Rohr’s work and the chimpanzee itself. For this, Rohr reached out to LeRoy Frahm, the longtime electronics technician for the physics department. Frahm constructed a custom stand for the skeleton that would support its new knuckle-walking position.

The joint assist from anthropology, physics and the Makerspace carried Rohr’s project beyond an ordinary independent study.

“I thought it was really cool being able to work with everyone,” Rohr said of the collaboration. “LeRoy and Angela were really into it. It all worked together really well.”

Rohr graduated in the spring. From an academic perspective, the hands-on project turned out to be an excellent supplement to her double major in biological anthropology and biology.

“It was a way to expand my work with primates,” she said. “It was cool being able to see how the skeleton works as a whole and how different bones are articulated, rather than just looking at it for a day or two in class and then being tested on it.”

Rohr recently returned from her second research trip to Peru, where she studied the behaviors and disease ecology of New World monkeys.

Associate Professor of Anthropology Mark Jenike said the skeleton will be more useful than ever as a teaching tool in anthropology lab classes.

“People can look at it more easily now than they would’ve been able to when it was hanging from that hook,” he said. “It’s really for seeing what the whole skeleton together looks like, the way in which the chimpanzee would have been when it was alive.”

The value of Rohr’s project is far-reaching.

“It’s a form of respect to the skeleton,” Jenike said. “The chimpanzees are our closest living relative species. They have culture, they make tools, they seem to show emotions. … The chimp itself deserves respect. I think this is a more respectful way of displaying it than hanging from a hook with parts falling off.”

Rohr’s work is displayed in a hallway on the third floor of Briggs, visible to all who pass, including prospective students on campus tours. It stands as a testament to Lawrence’s commitment to academic excellence and the value of interdisciplinary teamwork.

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

Lawrence unveils new B.M.A. degree, widening path for student musicians

The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble performs at Memorial Chapel during the 2018-19 academic year.
The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble has been part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music’s long history of jazz education excellence. The new B.M.A. degree, beginning this fall, will build on that with its Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation track.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Electric guitars and synthesizers could soon become as familiar as violins and bassoons in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

A new degree program is being introduced at Lawrence University that is expected to open the school’s Conservatory of Music to a wider group of student musicians. Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.), with a Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation track, has been added to Lawrence’s degree options, joining Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.).

It’s a new avenue for a conservatory whose history dates back to the 19th century. Built on the strength of a nationally recognized jazz program that has been earning major honors since the 1970s, the new degree expands on the classical music component in the Conservatory, allowing students for the first time to audition with non-classical repertoire. The foundation is in jazz and contemporary improvisation, but the degree is built to accommodate a wide range of music making.

The B.M.A. degree, in place beginning this academic year, has a 50-50 split between music studies and a student’s choice of another field in the liberal arts landscape, with expectations to connect the two.

The high standards haven’t changed. The audition process for acceptance into the Conservatory remains intact, and the skill-development expectations continue to be top level. But for prospective students eyeing the B.M.A. degree, the audition no longer needs to be limited to pieces from the Western classical repertoire, potentially opening the door for students who see their strengths and interests in jazz or pop or hip-hop or another music genre. And the new degree presents an alternate path of study for classical musicians, as well.

It unwraps all sorts of additional choices, said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory.

“The new degree will open the Conservatory to a broader range of musical interests,” he said. “No longer does a student have to audition on a Western classical instrument and perform classical repertoire. Drummers, electric guitarists, fiddlers, keyboard players, jazz vocalists, songwriters and contemporary composers are all welcome to audition into the new program.”

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

For details on the new B.M.A. degree, including an FAQ, see here.

This isn’t completely new territory for the Conservatory. It has long had a thriving jazz program. Lawrence won the first of its 28 Downbeat jazz education awards as far back as 1985, its latest as recently as April, picking up the award for the best undergraduate large ensemble for the second consecutive year. But current students have had to come into the jazz track via the classical music auditions and training, then seek a jazz emphasis while also studying classical repertoire.

The current B.Mus. degree, Pertl said, works well for many aspiring musicians who seek both classical and jazz training, but it leaves out those whose aspirations do not include the classical side of performance training. The new degree will rectify that. It also will expand the opportunities to tap into music-related fields that don’t necessarily involve performance.

Students perform as part of a Jazz Ensemble concert in Memorial Chapel.
Jazz and improvisation have long been part of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. The new B.M.A. degree will add flexibility for music students.

Read more: Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble wins DownBeat Award for second consecutive year

Read more: Roomful of Teeth’s Estelí Gomez to join Lawrence Conservatory

The late Fred Sturm, who oversaw the jazz studies program at Lawrence for 26 years, began laying the groundwork for the new degree prior to his death in 2014.

What started as a specific focus on jazz eventually grew into the more wide-ranging B.M.A. degree, Pertl said. The degree allows the Conservatory to welcome in musicians who don’t necessarily fit a certain musical footprint.

“Last year, for example, we graduated an exceptional student from Chicago named Bernard Lilly,” Pertl said. “Bernard is an amazing soul singer. He’d been singing long before he came to Lawrence and sang all the way through Lawrence, but he never took any courses in the Conservatory because he didn’t feel like there was anything there for him, until his last term in his senior year when he took my entrepreneurship class and studied with (voice professor) John Holiday, and worked with professors in our jazz department. He would have been a perfect candidate for a B.M.A. degree.

“To be able to give students like Bernard high-level musical training will certainly broaden what they can do. But it also expands the musical culture of the Conservatory, mixing different genres and different musical sensibilities. This will be a huge advantage to everyone at the Conservatory.”

Students pursuing a B.Mus. degree in the Conservatory take about two-thirds of their classes in their major area of study and about one-third in general education or electives. Music students who pursue a double degree — a music degree and a B.A. in the college — do so on a five-year plan.

The new B.M.A., meanwhile, combines high-level music study with another field of interest in a four-year plan. As part of the degree requirements, students pursue a cognate focus that makes up 15% of their coursework. The cognate allows them to deeply explore another area of interest that ties into their music studies.

“It could be musically oriented but in the area of anthropology,” Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Kodat said. “Or musically oriented but in political science.”

Core classes, one-on-one work with faculty and a wide range of electives give B.M.A. students opportunities to carve their own musical paths, some performance based, some not.

That, said Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, speaks to how music can inform so many disciplines in a variety of ways. Today, preparing young musicians to pursue their musical lives can’t be limited to focusing solely on technical mastery. Each year, opportunities will arise that don’t exist today, so musicians need to pair their high-level musicianship with high-level thinking, creative problem-solving, and the flexibility to capitalize on opportunities that others don’t even see.

Flexibility, an ability to adapt quickly, and a willingness to collaborate are all key attributes for anyone entering the world of music in the 21st century. Blending those core musicianship skills with an education in a student’s other field of interest is the next step in keeping the Conservatory forward-thinking.

“A lot of these students who come in wanting to create their own musical voice are pretty self-directed already,” Darling said. “While they’ll be gaining a lot of these core musicianship skills, they also want to be able to access entrepreneurial practices, music business models and opportunities for internships.

“It’s really interesting how the recording scene has developed, how music publishing has changed,” she said. “Even large ensembles and orchestras — all these musical opportunities have transformed dramatically in the last 10 years and students need the ability to self-promote. That’s a very important skill to have … to be able to put your best self out there.”

Pertl called the B.M.A. a natural progression for the Conservatory as it embraces and nurtures the modern musician.

“At Lawrence, we’ve already been incorporating so many of the elements of improvisation and world music into the trajectory of a classically trained musician for the same reason,” he said. “It’s going to be the flexibility of art, and of mind, that will help you to successfully create your musical life.”

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

Voices from abroad: LU students share takeaways from studying across the globe

Fallon Sellers drinks milk from a coconut while studying in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fallon Sellers ’20 enjoys fresh coconut milk while studying in Auckland, New Zealand.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

It’s more than traveling the world; students who have enhanced their college experience with off-campus study often return with new perspectives and skills that stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Studying abroad last year made a lasting impression on Jackeline Flores ’19, who studied at the Lawrence University London Centre for her global studies major and Spanish minor.

“Personally, I feel that my experience abroad really solidified the idea that the world truly is my oyster,” she said. “All the knowledge and culture I was exposed to while abroad reminded me that there is so much out there left for me to learn about, which I find super exciting.”

Jackeline Flores takes in a view of the streets of London.
Jackeline Flores ’19 spent a term studying in London.

She’s not alone. We sampled more than a dozen Lawrence students who studied abroad during the past academic year, asking them to share key takeaways from their experience.

So many opportunities

The London Centre satellite campus is just one of 52 life-changing opportunities available to Lawrence students through the off-campus study program.

Each program blends classroom and experiential learning to facilitate students’ personal and academic growth through engagement with different cultures in an immersive learning environment. This leads to a range of profound benefits, says Director of Off-Campus Programs Laura Zuege.

“We know it affords the opportunities for intercultural learning, growth and development that employers time and time again are looking for,” she says. “Study abroad is a laboratory for that kind of development.”

Zuege and her colleagues work tirelessly to make these programs accessible and suitable for students of diverse academic, socioeconomic, social and ethnic backgrounds, by offering programs for every major and addressing students’ varied needs.

For more information on off-campus study, click here.

To see the full list of programs, click here.

“Different students have different concerns in different locations,” Zuege says. “We want to be tuned in with some of our portfolio (program) choices but also with how we approach, prepare and recruit students to be sure we’re reaching a range of the student body that’s representative of our student body.”

This fall, a breakthrough financial aid policy change is making that possible. All of a student’s institutional financial aid — grants, federal loans, scholarships — can now be contributed to off-campus study, in addition to existing study abroad scholarships. In the past, 100 to 120 students went abroad each year; this fall there will be 145.

What they’re saying

Here are a dozen more Lawrence students whose lives changed thanks to off-campus study last year:

Tamima Tabishat poses for a photo overlooking Rabat, Morocco.
Tamima Tabishat ’20 takes in a view overlooking Rabat, Morocco.

Tamima Tabishat ’20, AMIDEAST, area and Arabic language studies in Rabat, Morocco; global studies/German language studies and French language studies: “The most important (impact) was the way it helped me learn how to adapt quickly and smoothly to a new environment. Morocco’s geographic, linguistic, religious, political and cultural elements are very different from my typical academic environment. By studying in a new context, I felt that I was able to adopt new habits, adapt to new customs, and abide by new social rules, all of which are incredibly important skills to have in life. Practicing these things every day taught me how to see everything from a totally new perspective, which has made me not only a more critical thinker, but also a more considerate and tolerant citizen of the world.”

Joe Hedin ’19, Lawrence University London Centre, government/Spanish: “The London Centre allowed me to prepare myself for life after Lawrence. Thanks to the London Centre and Off-Campus programs staff, I had an internship, so I learned how to work in traditional offices, along with learning how to commute to work. I will never be able to put into words how impactful this was.”

Abigail Keefe ’20, IES Paris, language and area studies; violin performance, and mathematics/French and music theory: “Living in France with my host family helped me to improve my skills in the French language way beyond what I ever thought I would be capable of. Living in a country where my native language was not the primary language also helped me to try to understand how it would feel for people living and working in America for whom English is not their native language.”

Ryan Leonard sits in the sand in front of Mount Maunganui.
Ryan Leonard ’19 poses for a photo in Tauranga in front of Mount Maunganui.

Ryan Leonard ’19, IES Auckland, New Zealand, geology: “This experience is going to be one of the biggest selling points in my life after college. From the challenge of moving to a new country alone and having to meet new people, to maintaining good grades and budgeting and making time for travel, I have gained many marketable skills that I may not even realize I have acquired.”

Julia Johnson ’20, IES Vienna, music, cello performance; psychology/pedagogy: “It pushed my boundaries in so many ways such as speaking another language, making friends, being comfortable with public transportation, making travel plans, and not being afraid to explore Vienna and go to performances on my own. I feel like I grew more as a person studying in a new city where they speak another language more than I ever would have on my own campus.”

Ethren Lindsay ’20, Japan; linguistics and Japanese: “I was able to take many classes that would not have been available at my home university, one of which was a translation job. Since I am planning on possibly going into translation as a part of my future work, this was quite literally the most valuable thing that I could have gotten out of college.”

Alice Luo poses for a photo in an urban garden in Berlin.
Alice Luo ’19 visits an urban garden in Berlin.

Alice Luo (Manxin) ’19, IES Berlin, language and area studies; history: “Berlin is such a dynamic city with people coming from all over the world. In America, I felt an urge to be more American and I tried to deny my Chinese identity to some extent in order to better merge into the American culture. In Berlin, with the diverse population and cultures and a seemingly freer atmosphere, which I personally felt, I learned to accept my identity and even celebrate it and appreciate it.”

Juan Marin ’20, IES Freiburg, language and area studies; film studies and German: “I feel like the program taught me how to understand people better. I met a lot of people abroad, and I don’t just mean my classmates and more Americans. I met people from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Russia, Bolivia, France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Australia, Germany (of course), Morocco, the UK, and more. The program gave me an even higher appreciation for diversity and inclusion.”

Kate Martensis ’20, Budapest, semesters in mathematics education; math and history: “As part of our practicum course, my fellow students and I each had to teach two classes at a local high school. Though the process was not without its difficulties, it was an incredibly valuable experience, and I was so glad to put all the things we’d learned from school visits and our classes into practice. This made me all the more excited to be a teacher.”

Tia Colbert looks up at a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.
Tia Colbert ’20 checks out a wax figure of Sherlock Holmes while visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London with her British Crime Fiction class.

Tia Colbert ’20, Lawrence University London Centre, English and Greek/creative writing: “There was a significant focus on using London itself as a textbook, and I feel like that enhanced all the classes. I believe that experiential learning is one of the best ways to engage students, and the London Centre Program definitely delivered in that respect.”

Harry Rivas ’19, ACM Shanghai, economics: “The program had a drastic impact on my life. It changed the way I saw the rest of the world, specifically how I saw China, the impact China has already had on the world, and what is to come. I got to explore a culture and mindset so different from my own.”

Fallon Sellers ’20, IES Auckland, New Zealand, government/international relations: “It was incredibly interesting to interact and work with others my age from a different social and academic culture than mine. Collaborating with them and learning their stances on business and ethical behavior was fascinating, and it was immensely rewarding to observe other points of view outside of the U.S.”

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

Princeton Review cites Lawrence as one of ‘Best’ colleges in the country

Students pose for a selfie before the 2019 commencement ceremony at Lawrence.
Lawrence University students hailed the school as supportive, inclusive, and empowering in a survey from The Princeton Review. Lawrence ranked as one of the 385 best four-year colleges in the U.S.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University continues to feel the love from The Princeton Review.

After being named the No. 4 Impact School in the country on a Princeton Review ranking earlier this year, Lawrence has made the education service company’s list of the best 385 colleges in the country — only about 13% of eligible four-year colleges make the “Best” book.

“The Best 385 Colleges,” published each August, has been an annual resource for prospective students since its debut in 1992. The book does not rank the schools within the list of 385, but it does include a series of Top 20 lists in a variety of sub categories. The lists come after data is gathered from school administrators and interviews are done with students from each of the schools.

See “The Best 385 Colleges” report here.

Earlier this year, Lawrence was hailed by The Princeton Review as one of 200 “Best Value Schools” in the United States. That book placed Lawrence at No. 4 in the category of best schools for Making an Impact, which focused on life on campus but also post-college work.

“The college ranking field is full of many flowers,” notes Ken Anselment, dean of admissions at Lawrence. “But one of our favorites is being shortlisted as one of the Princeton Review’s Impact Schools because it underscores the quality of life our graduates enjoy after Lawrence. It affirms that our mission of providing a transformative education is, indeed, having an impact.”

Here’s a quick guide to Lawrence’s evaluation in the most recent book:

What students are saying about academics: “Tutoring is readily available, and the school ‘places an incredible focus on mental health issues and counseling.’ Lawrence is especially good at ‘providing a creative and explorative atmosphere within the college,’ and structuring itself in a manner that allows for student flexibility, so students ‘are able to explore and study whatever we are interested in, and we are encouraged to do so.’”

What students are saying about life at Lawrence: “Many people take advantage of the school’s offered activities like dances, comedians, musicians, speakers who are brought to campus, and movies shown in the cinema, and every term has a big event, such as the Fall Festival, Trivia, Winter Carnival, Cabaret and LUaroo. … As the university houses a popular music conservatory, ‘there is ALWAYS a type of concert going on.’”

What students are saying about their classmates: “Students here ‘are not afraid to show who they really are’ and ‘truly just love expressing how every person is their own and that we all accept it.’”

What the Princeton Review editors are saying: “Lawrence University takes a holistic approach to the admissions game. The school does its best to look beyond numbers and get a full sense of each applicant.”

In addition to the Princeton Review rankings, Lawrence also was honored earlier this year by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for being among the top-producing institutions for the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. With five recent graduates teaching abroad on Fulbright awards, Lawrence landed on the prestigious list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright students during the past academic year.

The 2018-19 list that features Lawrence  was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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

College Horizons Scholars Program offers Native students a bridge to college success

Scholars Program students take part in a classroom discussion in Briggs Hall.
College-bound students in the Scholars Program, part of College Horizons, take part in a classroom session Thursday in Briggs Hall at Lawrence University. The three-week program ends this week.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Twenty-one new high school graduates representing six Native American groups have been visiting Lawrence University this month as part of the College Horizons Scholars Program, a three-week summer academy that encourages the students’ healthy transition into college.

The Scholars Program is one of three administered by College Horizons, a New Mexico-based college-access nonprofit that advocates for the success of Native American students in higher education by teaching college readiness. Its staple program is College Horizons, a summer program of pre-college workshops for sophomores and juniors.

The Scholars Program, meanwhile, is for those College Horizons graduates who are preparing for college this fall. It’s been hosted by Lawrence each of the past three summers.

In addition to the students from the Scholars Program, Lawrence also hosted Graduate Horizons, a four-day program offering graduate school admissions workshops for Native college students.

Lawrence is one of about 50 colleges that partner with College Horizons. The partnership, established shortly after the organization’s 1998 founding, was a step toward increased campus diversity and in support of academic excellence in higher learning institutions.

In 2015, the Mellon Foundation awarded Lawrence a three-year grant of $650,000 to support the partnership with College Horizons. The foundation promotes the arts, humanities and culture in higher education.

Lawrence has hosted the Scholars Program every summer since the program’s 2017 debut. While most of the participating students won’t be attending Lawrence, having the program on campus helps strengthen the partnership with College Horizons.

“It was an easy fit because of our history and the attractions to Lawrence,” says Mikaela Crank, director of the Scholars Program. “Small liberal arts campus, easy to navigate … it basically has the sense of community that we do here.”

The link between Lawrence and the Scholars Program is more in-depth than just the partnership; the three-week itinerary of the Scholars Program is modeled after Lawrence’s Freshman Studies. For five days a week, students attend writing seminars and lectures led by Lawrence faculty members Brigetta Miller, Julie Haurykiewicz and Kate Zoromski. The Scholars Program has “indigenized” the model by adding a cultural transitions course, taught by Crank, which gives students the “cultural capital tools” to navigate a campus and utilize its resources.

College Horizons’ emphasized attention to the students’ well-being on campus is a key to the program’s success. The Scholars Program sets itself apart from other summer bridge programs because, Crank says, they take a holistic approach to the students’ adjustment to the institution, in order to empower their indigenous identities in an academic setting.

“We don’t want to graduate broken students,” she says. “We want to graduate students who are whole and healthy and who are not broken down by the university. So, we are really taking well-being into account.”

For the Scholars Program, Crank brings in speakers to address mental health stigmas and physical wellness, organizes meditation workshops at the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, and holds financial aid workshops with the Admissions office, all with the goal of empowering students to be successful and resilient when they head to their respective colleges in the fall.

The results are moving. Hawaii native Sienna De Sa, who is on campus with the Scholars Program, said she remembers when Carmen Lopez, executive director of College Horizons, spoke at her high school. The program’s values struck a chord with her, and she felt she needed help applying for colleges. Her experience in the high school program motivated her to apply for the Scholars Program as a senior. She has since committed to the University of Hawaii Hilo and has found more than just academic prosperity.

“I’ve learned that I am strong and resilient,” says De Sa. “That I have the power to be indigenous, educated, and I do not have to be afraid to do so. College Horizons has also given me this amazing support system that I know I can rely on in the future.”

De Sa is far from the only student to blaze her trail with help from College Horizons. The organization’s data shows that 99 percent of College Horizons students have been accepted into college and 85 percent have graduated college in four or five years.

The Scholars Program students are set to leave campus this weekend after their three-week stay, but the College Horizons partnership with Lawrence will continue. Lawrence’s grant has just been approved for another three years.

In its 21st year, College Horizons continues to aim high — more innovative programming, brilliant scholars and host universities building bridges to the future.

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

Collaboration keys research into invasive weevils along Lake Michigan shoreline

Weevils crawl on a Pitcher's Thistle plant in Door County.
Weevils are seen on a Pitcher’s thistle plant in Door County.
(Photo: Jakub Nowak ’20)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

If you’ve ever taken a summer walk in picturesque Whitefish Dunes State Park in Door County, perhaps you’ve admired the incredible Pitcher’s thistle, an endangered flowering plant found on the sand dunes of the Great Lakes shores.

If you’ve taken a closer look, maybe you’ve spotted the invasive weevils that threaten the rare plant’s survival.

Lawrence University Assistant Professor of Biology Alyssa Hakes has been studying this plant-insect relationship since she heard about it in 2013. For a few weeks each summer, Hakes and a group of students conduct field work at Whitefish Dunes State Park, located 10 miles south of Björklunden, Lawrence’s Door County satellite campus. Their goal for each trip is to measure weevil distribution and behavior and assess its damage on the plants.

This year, Hakes wanted to create decoy Pitcher’s thistles to use as weevil traps to test their attraction to the visual cues of the plant. To put her plan in motion, she received the help of biology major Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21, who created impressive 3D-printed decoys of the Pitcher’s thistle as an independent study project.

Harsimran (Hari) Kalsi ’21

Hakes had received a recommendation to work with Kalsi from David Hall, assistant professor of chemistry, and Angela Vanden Elzen, the reference and learning technologies librarian and assistant professor who oversees the Makerspace wing of the Seeley G. Mudd Library.

In his freshman year, Kalsi received 3D printing training from Vanden Elzen. He has since done 3D printing projects for Hall, designing and printing virus structures.

“Hari had the experience I needed in a collaborator,” says Hakes. “I had never worked with a 3D printer before, so I needed Hari and Angela’s help and expertise for everything.”

Kalsi was enthusiastic about taking his 3D printing experience to a new level.

“I was excited because I could use my skills to make a difference and potentially save a living organism on the verge of extinction,” he says. “I’m a huge proponent of translational science research and this is a great example of recognizing a problem in the world and designing an intervention to study and fix it.”

Field work in Door County

The weevils (Larinus carlinae) were introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s to control area populations of weedy thistles. However, it turns out that no thistle, even an endangered one, can avoid the weevils’ destruction.

The Pitcher’s thistle dies after flowering, so it only has one chance to reproduce. But the weevil comes along during egg-laying season and pierces the flower with its snout and lays her eggs within. The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the seeds, destroying the plant’s only chance to reproduce. That’s trouble for the Pitcher’s thistle species and for the ecosystem.

“It is one of the only flowering plants on the sand dunes, making it an important nectar resource to bees and butterflies,” Hakes notes.

A photo of pitcher's thistle on the dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Pitcher’s thistle is an important part of the ecosystem in dunes along the Great Lakes. (Photo: Jakub Nowak)

The weevils must be tracked and studied in their interactions with the Pitcher’s thistle in order to solve this problem. How do they choose a plant to lay their eggs in? How do they move about the dune landscape?

To find out, Hakes and her team use the mark-recapture method. This involves catching weevils and marking their backs with multicolored dots (Hakes calls these “weevil makeovers”) in order to track and identify them when they reappear in the wild. Here’s where Kalsi’s decoy plants come into play.

The faux Pitcher’s thistles are designed to trap weevils for study. They are coated in a sticky spray to snag the insect as they land to lay their eggs in the bud. The ability to manipulate the placement of the decoys makes them helpful in understanding how the weevils choose their host plant.

“This summer we tested whether weevils were attracted to our 3D-printed traps,” Hakes says. “Some traps were near real plants, and others were not. Our preliminary data on the mark-recapture study suggest that the traps are potentially more effective near real plants.”

Alyssa Hakes

She’s already setting goals for future field work based on this summer’s success with the decoys.

“We caught a few this summer. Ultimately, it would be great to use them to trap evil weevils en masse. The prototype will need to be improved if it is to be an effective tool in the future.”

Since the appearance of the decoys can be manipulated, she also hopes to use them to assess the weevil’s preferences for bud size, bud number, color and scent in the future. The possibilities are endless. Luckily, Kalsi says, “the decoys are easy to print, economically feasible and easy to transport and deploy in the field.”

In the end, the collaboration between professor and student, and ecology and tech, indicates a bright future in research.

“I love how projects like this help students and faculty collaborate across the campus and think creatively about solving problems,” says Hakes. “It’s been such a fun way to combine art and science.”

And the benefits go both ways. Kalsi’s 3D printing work has rewarded him as a student.

“I think the research I conducted with Alyssa supplements my educational path at some level,” he says. “Being a biology major who tends to focus on the molecular side of things, it was nice to work on an ecology-oriented project.”

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