Category: Alumni

Virtual biotech conference first step for Kalsi brothers as they eye tech launch

Harsimran Kalsi ’20 and Satvir Kalsi ’17

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

The Kalsi brothers have a lot in common. 

Both are recent Lawrence University alumni. Both were biology majors. Both were first-generation college students. Both managed to graduate in three years. And both have a passion for science—and for using their skill set to address the world’s most pressing health concerns. 

Satvir Kalsi ’17 and Harsimran Kalsi ’20 have spent their summer working as a team, launching a biotechnology conference—it was to be hosted at Lawrence in April but has since moved to a virtual format—and finalizing the details on their own start-up business, tentatively called Otto, which is set to launch later in the fall. With a lifetime of experience learning each other’s habits, predicting each other’s moves, and adapting to each other’s situations and needs, the brothers are well-equipped to tackle any challenge thrown at them as business partners. 

Together, they’re keeping their eyes on a big goal: scientific innovation. 

Healthspan 2020, a virtual conference

The process of aging is arguably the most universal health concern there is, so it was the first issue on the Kalsi brothers’ agenda. Every day, the majority of deaths worldwide are caused by aging and/or age-related illnesses, and aging is, of course, something none of us can avoid.

At least, not yet. 

Even though the average lifespan has increased as modern medicine has continued to develop, age-related health problems have largely remained stagnant. Essentially, people are living sicker for longer. 

That’s where rejuvenation biotechnology, the subject of the Healthspan 2020 conference, comes in. Focusing on repairing the damage aging naturally does to the body, rejuvenation biotechnology aims to enable people to live healthier lives, regardless of their age. 

“The goal is not just to extend life; it is to make people healthier, longer,” Harsimran said. “So, if you’re chronologically 90, you’re biologically 60.” 

The Healthspan conference launched Aug. 26, with an emphasis on the current state of rejuvenation biotechnology research and innovation, as well as the specific health care developments in Wisconsin. Featuring expert speakers from the realms of industry and academia, the entirely virtual, nearly carbon-neutral conference aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the science behind aging—and the potential reversal of its effects—while also ensuring the information is presented in a concise and understandable manner. 

Admittedly, Harsimran did not plan for the conference to be completely online when he came up with the idea as a student back in 2018. The conference was originally scheduled for April 3 on the Lawrence campus, before Lawrence announced it would continue virtually for the Spring Term. But what the virtual conference lacks in direct, in-person communication, it makes up for in accessibility. The website is available to everyone. 

Although Satvir was not originally as involved with the April conference, when the change of date and format resulted in a change of the speaker lineup, Satvir was there to help bridge the gap as he took on the role of Healthspan’s final speaker. As a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he brings an interesting perspective to the conference: that of an advocate for comprehensive change in how the medical community, and those who influence it, approach aging. 

“There are still people out there who don’t know the problem exists, and that advocacy work is open to pretty much anybody,” Satvir said. “… I wanted to be able to put this problem into perspective and try to connect people to the science without getting bogged down by the specifics.” 

Pursuing entrepreneurship 

The Kalsis’ dedication to scientific innovation does not stop with the Healthspan 2020 conference. 

Especially at this moment in history, the need for speed and reliability in scientific discovery is brutally apparent. But, the Kalsis said, it’s become clear that there are some snags in the system, that the scientific community is not structured in a way that always facilitates fast, effective collaboration. 

“You can imagine, if someone made this process even faster, that could really save not just lives but a lot of time, a lot of money, and obviously the death toll would be decreased by almost any measure,” Satvir said. 

Back in the fall of 2018, after spending a few summers doing scientific research, Satvir and Harsimran said they noticed what others are now starting to see: scientific innovation doesn’t move as fast as it could. Due to a variety of barriers regarding collaborations, including financial and accessibility roadblocks, there is too often excessive red tape standing in the way of scientific discovery. 

“It typically takes 17 years for data on a lab bench to go to being an actual clinical therapy,” Harsimran said. “And, you know, where will we all be in 17 years? How about the oldest people we know? And then it also takes on average $2 billion. … If we can reduce these barriers, there’s a pretty good chance that we could speed up how quickly we get good medical care. I think everyone is realizing the importance of that.” 

That necessity for speed is the basis behind the Kalsis’ new tech start-up. After two years of development, entrepreneurship classes, and recruiting potential users, the brothers are just a few months away from the launch of their new platform, designed to facilitate access to scientific expertise and equipment and to streamline collaboration and communication between scientists. 

Through their website, users, including academic institutions, citizen scientists, and early-stage biotechnology and biopharmacology companies, will be able to work together in their research and experiments, potentially leading to faster and easier scientific discovery. With users from a variety of different fields of industry and academia, individuals and organizations can use the platform to find collaborators for research and to access otherwise expensive and hard-to-get equipment, making the field of science more accessible for more people. 

Although the website will initially be limited to pre-selected and approved users, if all goes well the plan is to expand and make the platform available to the public, facilitating further scientific innovation and discovery. 

“If it works out really well, it’s not only valuable, but it’s actually a catalyst for scientific discovery,” Satvir said. “. . . It’s causing us to discover new things very quickly and causing us to have new treatments very quickly. That could really change the landscape we deal with today.” 

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

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

All campus buildings to remain closed to public for duration of Fall Term

Signage around campus provides reminders of the safety protocols that are in place.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

In light of ongoing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Lawrence University buildings will remain closed to the public for the duration of Fall Term, which began Monday and runs through Nov. 24.

The campus buildings have been closed to the public since mid-March, when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

For Fall Term, the Warch Campus Center, Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center, and the Seeley G. Mudd Library, among other facilities, will be available only to Lawrence students, faculty, and staff, the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team announced. No public events will be held on campus as the University focuses on protecting the health of the Lawrence community and beyond.

Library resources will continue to be accessible online.

Lawrence has about 850 students, or 60% of its student body, living on campus for Fall Term. The remaining students have opted to access the term remotely. Most classes are being delivered virtually, with select classes being held in person with physical distancing protocols in place.

All students, faculty, and staff who are on campus have signed a Lawrence Campus Community Pledge, in which they have agreed to follow protocols that have been put in place, including wearing a mask, adhering to the 6-feet distancing rule, avoiding large gatherings, and doing daily checks for symptoms.

Anyone who will be on campus also has been required to get a COVID-19 test, administered on campus by Bellin Health. Additional testing will be done throughout the term.

The protocols also apply to any approved contractors on campus.

The rise in community spread numbers in Appleton over the past few weeks adds further emphasis to the need to be vigilant about safety-minded behaviors and interactions.

For more details on Fall Term, visit Planning for Fall 2020 on the Lawrence web site.

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

Jack Nilles tried to ignite a work-from-home trend 48 years ago. It’s finally here

Jack Nilles ’54

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

For all the Lawrentians out there who are working from home, communicating with the office from afar for reasons of choice or pandemic-related necessity, take heart in this fun connection. The scientist who was perhaps the earliest champion of working remotely, who has been called the father of telecommuting, who was publishing books on the subject nearly 50 years ago, well before personal computers were even a thing, is an alumnus of Lawrence University.

Meet Jack Nilles ’54, Lawrentian and visionary.

He studied physics at Lawrence. He would go on to become an accomplished physicist, working for a decade and a half at the U.S. Air Force’s Aerial Reconnaissance Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and The Aerospace Corporation and serving as a consultant with NASA, President Kennedy’s and President Johnson’s Science Advisory Council (PSAC), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“In the late ’50s and ’60s, I was basically a rocket scientist, devising reconnaissance satellites, for the most part,” Nilles said from his home in Los Angeles. “Most of it is highly classified stuff.”

Then came a career switch in the early 1970s, when Nilles shifted from rocket scientist to the director of interdisciplinary research at the University of Southern California, a position created for him so he could follow his theory that remote working, then unheard of, would be good for business and even better for the environment.

Living amidst Los Angeles’ notorious traffic congestion and seeing the increasing volatility around air pollution and other emerging oil and gas issues, Nilles floated the idea that office workers need not go into the company’s corporate offices to be effective. He envisioned satellite offices located closer to where employees lived, the payoff being employees who are less stressed and more productive, employers saving money by forgoing expensive downtown real estate, and an ecosystem that would benefit from a reduction in commuter traffic.

“Most of the traffic was people going from home to work and back,” Nilles said. “And much of that was people going to their offices, not to factories or other workplaces where they had to be there. When they get to the office, they get on the phone and talk to somebody somewhere else. I said, ‘Why don’t they just do that from home in the first place?’ This was around 1970.”

He delivered the idea to business leaders, including his own employer.

The response? Eh.

They were intrigued, but not quite ready to let employees out of sight.

“The experiment was a success”

Once at USC, beginning in 1972, Nilles put his idea to the test with a team of scholars across numerous disciplines and in partnership with a national insurance company that would serve as the study’s subject. Per the nine-month study, worker productivity went up, health care costs went down, and infrastructure costs dropped. If implemented nationwide, the insurance company could save upwards of $5 million a year, the study suggested.

“So, the experiment was a success,” Nilles said. “But the company said, no, we’re not going to do that. From every direction, we got resistance. That was my early lesson that this was going to be hard to sell. They’re used to business as usual. I’ve been fighting that ever since.”

Even now, 48 years later, only about 3 percent of employees in the United States work from home more than half the time, according to a report in The New Yorker. But the COVID-19 pandemic has, at least for now, made it more the norm than the exception. Technology allowed for a rapid transition when the pandemic hit in March, introducing people en masse to the joys and frustrations of Skype and Zoom – find the mute button, please — and turning attention-seeking dogs, cats, and home-bound children into office cohorts.

Now we’re five months into the global pandemic and this work-from-home thing has gotten less awkward. Nilles, 87 and still working 40 hours a week, said he’s hearing from people who say it’s already feeling, well, normal.

A scientist with a deep liberal arts mindset that was nurtured during his four years at Lawrence, Nilles saw those possibilities back in the early ’70s, even if others could not, when personal computers, laptops, smart phones, and teleconferencing were still fantasy. In 1976, he published the book, The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff, posing the question: “Can telecommunications and computer technologies be substituted for some portion of urban commuter traffic?”

It turns out, yes.

The book, updated and reprinted in 2007, detailed the 1973-74 study and posed questions that remain relevant today. (Yes, the book is available in Lawrence’s Mudd Library.)

While Nilles’ early work focused more on satellite offices than home offices, the message has held up through a bevy of technology advancements: Instead of viewing traffic congestion, and related urban sprawl, as a transportation issue, look at it as a communication issue. He coined the terms “telecommuting” and “telework.” He would write five books in all, and in 1980 co-founded with his wife, Laila, the management consulting firm JALA International. The company became heavily invested in developing good remote work practices, and in 1989 Nilles left USC to run the company full-time.

“It has clearly altered things”

Fast forward to 2020, with the pandemic steamrolling the economy and altering work and school processes, and you find Nilles suddenly getting new attention. The New Yorker and the New York Times, among other media outlets, have shined a fresh light on his pioneering work. “Jack Nilles envisioned a complete transformation of work, in which the central office might disappear – a steam engine giving way to a network of motors,” Georgetown University’s Cal Newport wrote in a May feature in The New Yorker. In July, the Harvard Business Review and Vox highlighted Nilles’ early efforts and the difficult road that remote work has traveled since.

“I keep saying lately, ‘after 48 years, I’m an overnight success,’” Nilles joked.

Work from home isn’t for everybody. Many, maybe most, want to be in the office, at least part of the time. Some companies that had plowed ahead with going remote have pulled back in recent years, tech giants Yahoo and IBM among them. But the pandemic has forced employees and employers to explore again what the possibilities might be, and some are now finding it to their liking, Nilles said.

“I think the pandemic clearly is the force that I did not have available to me at the time,” he said. “Now that it’s here, it has clearly altered things, and I think permanently.

“Now I see headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post every couple of days where companies are saying, ‘Well, gee, now we look at the costs, particularly in big cities, and we’re spending all this money on office space that we really may not need.’ As it turns out, surprise, surprise, people are more productive when they’re working remote than when they’re working in the office. That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you for 48 years.”

A rush to stay remote would, of course, create other issues, from financial implications in the commercial real estate market to sociological and psychological impacts within the work force. Watching how people respond and adjust as the pandemic rewires what we consider normal will be fascinating, Nilles said.

“We’re still in the middle of a giant experiment. … My original objective in 1973 was to see if this is feasible in a contemporary American business environment. Now, it’s clearly feasible. Now we have to go in and figure out what else does all this mean.”

Who better than the father of telecommuting to be part of that conversation? A Lawrentian, at that.

While Nilles’ company is mostly dormant, he still posts to his JALA Thoughts blog regularly, gets tapped as a consultant on creating remote work environments, and speaks on issues of climate change. He calls his time at Lawrence key to being able to nimbly navigate in the worlds of aerospace science, business productivity, and environmental sustainability over five decades, his liberal arts roots in play every step of the way.

“At Lawrence, I learned a little bit about everything,” he said. “How to deal with people who were experts in all these different disciplines. That was absolutely key to my being able to function in these different worlds.”

If you need to know more, you can find Nilles at home, where his office has been located for the past 31 years.

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

Lawrence feels strength of support from alumni, friends amid ongoing challenges

Work is under way to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success. A $1.5 million fund-raising goal for the project has been met. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Financial support from Lawrence University alumni and friends hasn’t waned amid the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contributions to the Lawrence Fund, a key funding mechanism to support students, the work of faculty, and the upkeep of the campus infrastructure, set a record with just over $4 million contributed during the 2019-20 fiscal year that concluded at the end of June. That surpassed the previous high of $3.9 million in 2015-16.

The Lawrence Fund is key on a number of levels. The funding affects almost every student and classroom, supporting the daily operation of the campus and bolstering everything from scholarships and study abroad opportunities to infrastructure upkeep, Conservatory performances, and athletics. The alumni donor participation rates in the Lawrence Fund also have an impact on national rankings and future funding opportunities. It’s estimated that without the Lawrence Fund and endowment earnings, each student’s tuition would increase by more than $10,000 a year.

Topping the $4 million mark for that fund for the first time is no small thing, said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development.

“The Lawrence community continues to impress with its fierce loyalty,” he said.

The support comes at a time when institutions of higher education across the country are grappling with financial challenges unforeseen at the outset of the year. As the spread of COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic, Lawrence joined other schools in sending most students home for remote classes during spring term, resulting in significant revenue losses. Lawrence trimmed more than $3 million from its operating budget through new efficiencies, cuts in travel and non-essential expenses, and assorted staff furloughs. President Mark Burstein took a 20% pay cut for six months, and the leadership team that comprises the president’s Cabinet each took pay cuts of 10% over that same time period.

The University recently announced that the campus would reopen in the fall, with both students and faculty being given the option to be on campus or continue with distance learning. Classes will be delivered in a mix of in-person and remote formats.

Through it all, the generosity of alumni and other supporters has helped keep Lawrence moving forward despite the ongoing uncertainties.

“Thanks to support from the Lawrence community and high demand from high school seniors for a Lawrence education, the university enters these turbulent times in a strong position,” Burstein said. “Each effort to support our students, faculty, and staff during the pandemic has been made possible through extraordinary investments from our community. Lawrentians’ belief in the future of the transformative education they themselves received motivates us every day.”

Besides the Lawrence Fund record, other notable end-of-fiscal-year examples of generosity include:

  • The Supporting Our Students (SOS) Emergency Fund, set up to help students with unexpected expenses caused by the pandemic, has raised more than $161,000 from nearly 600 donors.
  • The Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) campaign passed its $85 million goal and now sits at $87.3 million. The fund raises money to provide additional financial aid to students who show a demonstrated need.
  • The overarching Be the Light! Campaign, ongoing since 2014 and scheduled to conclude at the end of this calendar year, continues to push toward its $220 million goal. The campaign ended the fiscal year at $214.2 million, a mix of cash donations, pledges, and deferred commitments from more than 15,800 donors.

The generosity that continued as the pandemic brought deep challenges over the past five months highlights the importance of the long-nurtured relationship between Lawrence and its alumni and community supporters, Husmann said. That the support never wavered is a testament to the bonds that connect Lawrentians through generations and the commitment to meet the needs of current and future students.

“During the pandemic, we surpassed the $85 million goal for Full Speed to Full Need, which is allowing us to provide more financial support to our students and their families,” Husmann said. “The community also made additional gifts for the SOS Fund, which helped hundreds of students navigate the sudden shift to distance learning during third term.”

The SOS funds have helped students with expenses ranging from emergency travel and temporary storage to short-term food and housing needs.

Other highlights on the fund-raising front during the just concluded fiscal year:

  • When J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 established the endowed Riaz Waraich Dean for Career, Life, and Community Engagement, he challenged the Lawrence community to match the $2.5 million gift. Contributions toward that match now stand at $2.2 million, providing support for internships and other career exploration.
  • Contributions toward the development of a Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall have grown to $429,000. The goal is $1.4 million.
  • Kuo-ming Sung was named the first professor to hold the Wendy and KK Tse Professorship of East Asian Studies, established by Wendy and KK Tse ’81 as part of the Be the Light! Campaign.
  • The goal of $1.5 million to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success was met. Work on the center is under way this summer, with expectations for it to open by the start of Fall Term. Other campus renewal work supported by gifts during the fiscal year include Brokaw Hall renovations, new bleachers in Alexander Gym, and new landscaping in front of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

The Be the Light! Campaign saw new contributions totaling $32 million during the year, up from the $26 million to $27 million range in preceding years. To see that happen amid the uncertainties of the pandemic was particularly satisfying, Husmann said, noting that alumni and other supporters have shown an appreciation for the difficult challenges facing the University and its students as preparations are made for an academic year that’ll be unlike any that came before.

“I’ve been motivated and heartened to hear numerous accolades of support and encouragement from our community and the expression of this through financial support,” Husmann said. “We are grateful.”

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

Four talented alumni join Lawrence University’s Board of Trustees

Lawrence University (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence University’s Board of Trustees has welcomed four new members.

Evan Williams ’10 was elected as a Recent Graduate Trustee while Dan Busiel ’84, Tamika Franklin ’05, and Susan Long Hall ’76 each were elected as Term Trustees.

The Recent Graduate Trustee is a three-year position filled by an alumnus within two to 10 years of graduation. A Term Trustee position is for a three-year term, with eligibility to be re-elected for up to four consecutive terms.

“We are thrilled to add four outstanding new trustees who bring tremendous expertise in investments and risk management, non-profit fundraising, music education and performance, and pedagogical and instructional development,” said Board Chair David Blowers. “At this critical moment for higher education, I couldn’t be more appreciative for the diverse group of individuals who are giving so much of their time and talent as trustees to ensure that the college continues to distinguish and differentiate itself.”

Williams

Evan Williams is a composer and assistant professor of music and director of instrumental activities at Rhodes College. He graduated from Lawrence with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition and holds a DMA in composition with a cognate in orchestral conducting from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and a masters of music in composition from Bowling Green State University. Williams’ music has been performed across the country and internationally by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the International Contemporary Ensemble, Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Fifth House Ensemble, among others. He has received a number of awards and honors, including serving as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural Classical Roots Composer-in-Residence in 2018.

Busiel

Dan Busiel is senior vice president and chief investment officer at Trustmark, a national employee benefits company. Prior to his current role he served as head of the Portfolio Management Group at Allstate Corporation. Earlier in his career, Busiel held assorted derivative-related positions including rate trading, research, and sales at various J.P. Morgan subsidiaries (First Chicago, Bank One). He earned a bachelor’s in philosophy from Lawrence in 1984 and an MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in 1989. He has served as a non-trustee committee member of the Lawrence University Investment Committee since 2017.

Franklin

Tamika Franklin serves as director of development for the Preuss School UC San Diego. She is responsible for fundraising efforts, alumni engagement, marketing, and volunteer management. Previously she served as director of development for physical sciences at UC San Diego focused on major gift strategy. She played a leading role in developing UC San Diego’s Black Alumni Council and Asian Pacific Islander Alumni Council, serving as an advisor to cultivate active participation among diverse alumni. She graduated from Lawrence with bachelor’s degrees in government and philosophy. She served the Lawrence University Board of Trustees as a Recent Graduate Trustee from 2016 to 2019.

Hall

Susan Long Hall is the founder and president of the 95 Percent Group, a mission-driven organization dedicated to ensuring success for struggling readers. Prior to founding 95 Percent Group, she was a consultant to a number of school districts and state departments of education. She has authored seven books including the award-winning Straight Talk about Reading and Parenting a Struggling Reader. She graduated from Lawrence in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She earned her MBA from Harvard University and her doctorate in education from National Louis University. She and her husband, David, have served as members of the President’s Advisory Council. Her daughter, Lauren, graduated from Lawrence in 2012.

50 years after graduating amid chaos, Class of 1970 offers hope to 2020 grads

A group of Lawrence University students, faculty, and staff march across campus following the May 4, 1970, shooting of anti-war protesters at Kent State University. (Lawrence University photo)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Graduating from college when it feels like the world is on fire isn’t a particularly comforting thing. Members of Lawrence University’s Class of 1970 can tell you something about that.

Fifty years after walking across the Commencement stage on Main Hall Green at an event that felt part celebration, part protest, part chaos, the Lawrentians of that class have nothing but words of encouragement for the 2020 graduates who are navigating their own moment of chaos.

Margaret Everist ’70 was one of those graduates 50 years ago. She feels the disappointment and pain of this year’s graduates, who had to finish their final term away from campus and watched the job market implode amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Her advice? Stay focused on what’s in front of you — the opportunity to change the world.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Everist said from Minneapolis, where she retired after carving out successful careers in health care and finance. “Go out into the world to make a difference, one small step at a time.”

Lawrence held a virtual 2020 Commencement on Sunday, honoring nearly 270 graduates. As the day arrived, racial injustice protests rolled across the country, a tipping point that is resetting public conversations on equality, inclusion, and police brutality. Combined with the ongoing pandemic, it added new context to Commencement and the graduates’ post-Lawrence journeys: “As we continue to settle into this uncertainty, maybe a little more uncertainty than we might’ve bargained for four years ago, I am confident that if any class has the strength to deal with the weight of the world, it’s the Class of 2020,” senior class speaker Samantha Lizbeth Torres ’20 told her classmates.

We feel your pain

The Class of 1970, meanwhile, was supposed to be on campus this week to celebrate its 50th anniversary, but, alas, Reunion fell victim to the coronavirus lockdown. The class that graduated amid a firestorm of anti-war protests following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent shootings of student protesters on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State put plans to gather in person on pause. Instead, a virtual “re-Commencement” was held Sunday to bring the class together online. More than 100 members of the class took part.

For members of that class, the emotions of Commencement 50 years ago still linger. The ceremony took place but the divisiveness was palpable, the graduates recall. Many refused to wear their caps and gowns. Some wore black armbands. The Commencement speaker lectured the students, calling their generation self-absorbed, naïve, and humorless.

“The Vietnam War was raging and draft boards were aggressively seeking out young men whose service had been deferred during college,” Bill Hillburg ’70 recalled. “Baby boom demographics resulted in too many new grads chasing too few jobs and professional school slots. Inflation was devouring salaries. We were collectively freaking out.”

The 1970 Commencement went on as scheduled despite anti-war protests that had heated up in the weeks following shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. “It was a divisive mess,” Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70 said. The class, marking its 50th anniversary, held a virtual “Re-Commencement” on Sunday. (Lawrence University photo)

It was in the weeks leading up to Commencement that the bottom seemed to fall out. College campuses were already hotbeds for anti-war protests, and then on May 4, 1970, the improbable happened. Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on students on the Kent State campus, leaving four dead. Less than two weeks later, police fired shots on the campus of Jackson State, killing two students.

Protests would escalate on campuses across the country.

In Appleton, hundreds of protesters, many of them Lawrence students and faculty, flooded into the downtown the day following the Kent State shooting, the anger reflected on the front page of a special edition of The Lawrentian. Classes on campus would be temporarily suspended as the protests continued through the remainder of the term.

“Our college years were anything but perfect,” said Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70. “We were on the streets protesting the war and the racial and gender inequalities we could witness every day. Our country was as divided then as it is now.”

For her and her classmates, college had been tumultuous from the start. They saw the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., then Robert F. Kennedy. The Vietnam War was escalating and emotions were running raw.

“We finished out our senior year with suspended classes and bitter divides among the Lawrence administration, faculty, and student body,” Krinke Hillburg said. “Yes, we had a graduation ceremony, but it was a divisive mess, with many students wearing black armbands and donating the money that would have gone to cap and gown rental to the anti-war effort. Our Commencement address was given by a faculty member who chastised us for our naivete and privilege. Our idealism was ridiculed, our upheaval of cherished Lawrence traditions mourned. We were the least favorite graduating class of all time.”

A message of hope

For Bill Hillburg, it was a Lawrence staff member, a career adviser, who provided a sense of calm and hope amid all the chaos. You have a Lawrence education to cling to, and that is no small thing, he told students who had gathered for a spring term counseling session.

“He had no hot job tips or secrets for getting into grad school, which was not an option for the draft eligible,” Bill Hillburg said. “He also didn’t advise us whether to take up arms or flee to Canada. But he did give us hope. He assured us that our lives and careers would take us on paths we could not foresee and adventures and challenges we could not imagine, and through it all, we would benefit from being educated Lawrence grads. He was right.”

Bill and Myra would marry shortly after leaving Lawrence. Bill would go on to work many years as a journalist, mostly in California, and later with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Myra would become an accomplished teacher and girls’ golf coach.

“Along the way, we lived in several states and foreign countries and raised two talented daughters,” Bill Hillburg said.

John Fease ’70, a retired pastor who provided the benediction at Sunday’s “Re-Commencement,” said a lifetime of experiences has dulled the frustrations that surrounded Commencement. He, in fact, didn’t even graduate as expected that spring. He was short on credits, which pushed his Commencement to the following year. While his classmates went through with a fractious Commencement ceremony, he and his fiancee, Barb, got married.

So, as Fease and others on the 1970 Reunion Committee were meeting over the last year to plan their 50th reunion, he and Barb also were looking forward to marking their 50th wedding anniversary the same weekend. That celebration is not canceled.

“While there is great disappointment that we won’t be gathering for the reunion this year, Barb and I plan to shelter together to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Fease said. “Surely, reason to rejoice.”

Fease, Everist, the Hillburgs, and their classmates are now delivering to the Class of 2020 a message of resilience: There are lifelong benefits to having a liberal arts education, and, thus, the uncertainty of the moment will give way to new opportunities and adventures. Krinke Hillburg said there’s much to be disheartened about right now, from the state of today’s politics to “the deterioration of our planet, another unending war, and unprecedented inequality in our society.” But just as it was true 50 years ago, today’s graduates have much to build on.

“Without our Lawrence education to see us through life, we could be inconsolable,” she said. “But the light of intellectual curiosity and the quest for knowledge Lawrence provided us with has seen us through many of life’s dark moments.”

For Everist, it was the ongoing connections with fellow Lawrentians that helped guide her journey once she left Appleton. Today’s graduates will feel the same, even if they fell separated at the moment, she said.

“It’s not the end,” Everist said of Commencement. “It’s the end of being at Lawrence, but it’s not the end of the Lawrence experience.”

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

Alumni Awards shine light on efforts to better the world, support Lawrentians

(Photo by Danny Damiani)

Seven Lawrence University alumni are being honored with 2020 Alumni Awards. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the annual Reunion celebration, this year’s recipients are still being celebrated for their contributions to both the Lawrence community and the world. Full bios of the award winners can be found on the Alumni Awards page at Lawrence.edu.

The honorees include:

Riester

Jeffrey Riester ’70, Presidential Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna whose leadership has contributed to the betterment of the Lawrence community. An attorney and manager at Godfrey & Kahn’s Business Practice Group in Appleton, Riester has been an active community partner, including being a founding member of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. He also has provided exemplary leadership to Lawrence, including service on his 40th and 50th Reunion committees, the LUAA Board of Directors, the Björklunden Advisory Committee, and the Lawrence University Board of Trustees. In particular, he brought insightful leadership to the Board of Trustees as chair from 2002 to 2004, as chair of the More Light! campaign working group, and to the Björklunden Advisory Committee as co-chair alongside his wife, Jone ’72.

Chemel

Lee Dodds Chemel ’65, Lucia Russell Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna of more than 20 years for outstanding contributions to and achievements in a career field. Chemel, who served as Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement speaker, started her studies at Milwaukee-Downer College before transferring to Lawrence College during the merger. She would go on to have success as a theater director before embarking on a successful career as a television director, earning four Emmy nominations while working on such shows as “The Middle,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Spin City,” “Mad About You,” “Murphy Brown,” Northern Exposure,” and “Family Ties.” She is the recipient of three BET awards for outstanding direction in comedy and two Humanitas awards.

Reams

Zoie Reams ’14, Nathan M. Pusey Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger for significant contributions and achievements in a career field. Reams, who earned a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance at Lawrence, has been gracing the stage in some of the world’s most renowned opera houses. A Mezzo-soprano, she was lauded by Opera News for her “velvety mezzo” and for how she “phrase[s] with elegance and articulate[s] coloratura nimbly.” Of particular note and achievement for a young musician was her 2018-19 season debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago singing Flora in La Traviata. On the concert stage, Reams has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Staatstheater Cottbus Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, and the combined choirs of Auburn University and New Choral Society of Scarsdale, New York.

Colston

Brienne Colston ’15, George B. Walter Service to Society Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna who best exemplifies the ideals of a liberal education through its application to socially useful ends in the community, the nation, or the world. Colston is a black queer feminist youth worker, facilitator, and community organizer hailing from the South Bronx. She is the founder and executive director of Brown Girl Recovery, a non-profit collective dedicated to prioritizing healing justice and providing community spaces to women of color in the Bronx and other uptown areas through social justice programming and events. She also serves as a racial justice and political education facilitator for an array of small community-based organizations. With degrees in gender studies and history, Colston found her passion in grassroots organizing and resistance work. Her tireless work for her community and devotion to liberation has given many women of color a vital space for encouragement, support, and healing.

Hanley

Nancy Perkins Hanley M-D ’54, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Hanley crafted an impressive 31-year career as an occupational therapist in rehabilitation, psychiatry, and pediatrics. She also has brought her appreciation of Milwaukee-Downer College to everything she has done for Lawrence University. Since 1991, she has held the position of class secretary. For four years, from 1996 to 2000, she served on the LUAA Board of Directors as a member of the Alumni Programs Committee and Alumni Development Committee. In 2004, she was a member of her 50th Reunion Steering Committee. In 2008, she helped to organize the Milwaukee-Downer Legacy Circle reception for M-D alumnae in southern California. She is a former class agent, admissions volunteer, and organizer of regional alumni programming.

Katzoff

Ted Katzoff ’65, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Katzoff, a theater major, started the fencing program at Lawrence. An actor, manager, director, and sword master, he has spent a lifetime sharing his passions for theater and fencing. He returns to Lawrence often to mentor the fencing team, lead master classes for the theatre program, interview prospective students and represent Lawrence at college fairs. He has served on multiple Reunion committees, as a campaign volunteer for both the More Light! and Be the Light! capital fundraising campaigns, served on the Alumni Board of Directors from 2009 to 2012, and volunteered every year for the 50-year Connection program that honors the merging of Milwaukee-Downer College and Lawrence College.

Tuan

Chiao-Yu Tuan ’14, Marshall B. Hulbert Young Alumni Outstanding Service Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger who has provided significant service to the college. Tuan, an international student who majored in psychology and math-computer science, produced the documentary, 5000 Miles from Home, while at Lawrence, capturing the perspective of first-year international students. Since graduation, Tuan she has maintained close ties to Lawrence by creating platforms to help effectively communicate with current and prospective international students. Tuan works for Airbnb as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley. She has never hesitated to share her experience with Lawrence students, whether that means coming back to campus to speak to computer science classes or mentoring international students on life after Lawrence. Tuan is a longtime host for the annual Silicon Valley Trek, a spring break excursion taken by Lawrence Scholars in Business.

As they await medical school, these ’19 LU alums reach out a hand to children

From left: Nick Felan ’19, Madeleine Felan, and Lizzy Garcia Creighton ’19 started a nonprofit in Dallas called All in for Children. Nick and Lizzy also are preparing to enter medical school.

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Nicholas (Nick) Felan ’19 thinks often of Tyce.

They met in the hospital, where Tyce was recovering from a car accident that he had been in while trying to steal pizza. When Nick came to see him as part of a volunteer program, Tyce told Nick how he was thinking about dropping out of school, even referencing suicidal thoughts. In the two weeks Tyce had been in the hospital, he had no other visitors.

Tyce was 12 years old.

“I think when I was 12, my only worry was what Pokemon cards I was getting for Christmas—nothing like that,” Nick said. “Seeing that different perspective, it really just opens your eyes as to how badly people need strong mentors and influential people in their life.”

Nick’s passion for helping children in need started as a Lawrence student, volunteering with classmate Elizabeth (Lizzy) Garcia Creighton ’19 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley. After graduation, the two biology and biochemistry double-majors headed south to Dallas, where they have spent the last eight months volunteering while studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)—only to have it canceled three times due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With their futures abruptly put on pause and the world in the midst of a pandemic, Nick and Lizzy took the opportunity to start giving back in a more substantial way. On March 31, four days after they were originally scheduled to take the MCAT, Nick and Lizzy, along with Nick’s younger sister, Madeleine Felan, launched All in for Children, a nonprofit organization aiming to better the lives of young people and their families.

Getting started

When brainstorming potential projects for All in for Children, the first one seemed obvious: making masks. There was a huge need within the community, plus it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get more people involved with the organization.

After reaching out to their local children’s hospital to get an approved design for the masks, the founders got to work ordering supplies and learning how to sew. But they knew that if they wanted to make a substantial impact, they needed more people. With Madeleine taking the lead on spreading the word, All in for Children turned to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Nextdoor to find their reinforcements—and their followers made sure they got plenty of shares. Altogether, more than 20 people contributed to their mask-making efforts, a connection that Lizzy hopes will be long-lasting.

Mask-making was the first priority for All in for Children.

“Once we move on from mask-making, people can still be involved,” Lizzy said. “All those people who made masks for us will see our posts and be like, ‘Hey, I made masks for them that one time, maybe I’ll donate $10, maybe I’ll go to that canoe race or 5K or whatever it is that we’re doing.’ We thought it’d be like a great way to kick-start everything.”

Through the combined efforts of the founders delivering packages of supplies (containing pre-cut cloth, elastic, clips, and pipe cleaners) and the volunteers sewing up the finished products, All in for Children has donated about 1,200 masks in total, split between the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and their local Boys & Girls Club.

Moving forward

If All in for Children gets requests for more masks, those will be accommodated. But for now, they’re shifting their focus back to what their name suggests: bettering the lives of children.

Based on their volunteer experiences, Nick and Lizzy both feel that if they can work with someone while they’re still young, it’s possible to create a lasting impact on their future. To that end, All in for Children is looking for ways to provide mentoring and services where they can do the most good.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is fostering a growth mindset in kids,” Lizzy said. “Children are so malleable. We really want to make these kids believe that no matter where they come from, what their background is, what their home life is like, it’s not like life handed you lemons and now you’re bound to not achieve certain goals. We want to open those doors up, make them believe that they can pretty much do whatever.”

On the immediate horizon, this is likely to mean fundraising for other charitable organizations that provide important services to young people. With some ideas—like selling T-shirts and setting up 5Ks—already being discussed, All in for Children hopes to provide financial assistance for local nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club and the Agape Clinic, which provides inexpensive health care services for families in need.

Despite these developing plans, Lizzy, Nick, and Madeleine recognize that the current situation could shift rapidly. Still, they hope All in for Children will be able to adapt alongside it. With Madeleine graduating high school in a year and Nick and Lizzy still unsure where they will attend medical school, the future of All in for Children could take a variety of forms.

But no matter where they end up, All in for Children will remain focused on its key mission: doing the most good for the most impressionable among us. Kids usually live in environments where many factors are out of their control—but consistent mentorship can provide stability.

“That’s the area where we all think we can make the biggest impact,” Nick said.

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

New court design unveiled, part of makeover at Alexander Gymnasium

A Viking ship is featured prominently in the new court design in Alexander Gym. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Joe Vanden Acker / Athletics

Alexander Gymnasium is already a grand, historic structure, but the home of the Vikings is getting a makeover.

The 91-year-old home of Lawrence’s Department of Athletics and the competition venue for basketball and volleyball is undergoing a transformation, which was funded through donations by alumni and friends of the University. The first phase is complete with the unveiling of the new basketball/volleyball court.

“We couldn’t be more excited and appreciative of the new floor design for Alexander Gym,” Lawrence Director of Athletics Kim Tatro said. “While resurfacing was certainly a maintenance requirement, the fresh new design work is an added bonus. We appreciate those whose donations made this possible.”

The main court will retain the east/west configuration that has been in place for 35 years, but the court will look dramatically different. Designed by Art Director Matt Schmeltzer of the Lawrence Communications Office, the court features a Viking ship that stretches from the 3-point lines on either end of the floor.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the new floor design,” said men’s basketball coach Zach Filzen. “It looks phenomenal and is extremely well-designed. The new court, in addition to the other renovations, will go a long way in improving Alex Gym. We have a special facility when it comes to character and history. Being able to bring some updated aspects to our gym should make it a very fun place to play and watch high-level competition in the future.”

Cutting through the waves, the Viking ship uses as a figurehead the antelope from the Lawrence coat of arms. The shield from the same coat of arms adorns the side of the vessel. On the massive sail is the center jump circle with Lawrence’s interlocking LU logo.

“We are really excited about the new floor,” volleyball coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “It is a great upgrade to the facility that is not only eye-catching but shows our pride in Lawrence athletics. Looking forward to getting the team out there and trying it out.”

The border of the court is done in the dark blue that has been worn by Lawrence athletes for more than a century. The free throw lane, known as “the paint” in basketball parlance, wears the same dark blue paint. Each baseline features the words Lawrence University, and the sideline in front of the bleachers says Home Of The Vikings.

Workers prepare the logo on the refurbished floor in Alexander Gym.

“We are already fortunate to have one of the most unique and distinct places to play,” women’s basketball coach Riley Woldt said. “I’m really excited for our current players, all of the Viking alumni, and the entire Lawrence and Appleton communities to see and embrace the new court design, one that does an awesome job of incorporating Lawrence tradition within the comfy confines of Alexander Gymnasium. It’s going to give off a great feel on game day but will provide some wonderful energy for all those who come through the doors on a daily basis.”

This is the first phase of improvements taking place at Alexander Gymnasium during the summer of 2020. Alexander Gym, which has seen three teams win a total of 11 conference championships over the years, also gets a new set of bleachers. The old wooden bleachers, which were the original set of pull-out bleachers in the facility, had been in the gym since the mid-1960s. The new bleachers are set to be installed at the end of May.

The final piece of the renovation is a transformation of the lobby. With its terrazzo floor and high-arching ceiling, the lobby will serve as home to the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame and serve as a gathering space for fans and families of the Vikings.

Joe Vanden Acker is director of athletic media relations at Lawrence University. Email: joseph.m.vandenacker@lawrence.edu