Category: Alumni

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

Signage a nod to strange, complicated history of Lawrence’s favorite rock

New signage has gone up next to the Rock on Lawrence’s Main Hall lawn, noting the big boulder’s ties to campus dating back to 1895.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Rock, a 2-ton boulder resting peacefully on a stretch of lawn near the northwest corner of Main Hall, has finally had its long, strange history commemorated by Lawrence University.

Newly installed signage provides a nod to the 4,700-pound piece of granite that has been tolerated but rarely celebrated by the university that has been its home — mostly — since members of the Class of 1895 first hauled it to campus 124 years ago.

As campus traditions go, this is one that has had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the school. The Rock — not to be confused with a certain Hollywood celebrity of the same nickname — has been the subject of pranks, fraternity feuds and deep mysteries through the decades. It was returned to campus in the spring of 2018 after having gone missing for 20 years.

Now it’s home, and there’s nothing but love. Thus, the new signage recently placed next to the Rock:

“Members of the Class of 1895 found this boulder on a geology field trip in New London, WI, and brought it to campus to serve as the senior class gift. In the years since, the Rock has been painted, buried, moved around, and even removed from campus. After a 20-year stay on the Nickel family farm (Michael Nickel ’02, Adam Nickel ’03), it was returned to its original placement in front of Main Hall in spring 2018.”

The Rock, now painted green with the white lettering of the Class of 2019, has a history that started out combative, if all in good fun. Consider this dispatch in The Lawrentian in July 1895:

“Tuesday afternoon was Class Day and the big boulder of the Class of ’95 made its debut in college history. Somehow the seniors had an idea that the giddy juniors would not allow it to become a landmark on the campus and they watched all night till the day of its dedication, lest some festive ’96er should come along and carry the pebble off and throw it in the river.”

That would set a tone that would become part of the Rock’s tradition, one of mostly harmless rivalry and midnight escapades stretching across more than 100 years, frequently chronicled by The Lawrentian and sometimes The Post-Crescent.

Among the highlights:

With concerns the pranks had gotten out of hand, the Rock was moved to a mostly out-of-the-way spot near the Fox River in 1939; it would be returned to the Main Hall green by ambitious students three years later.

It would go missing in 1964, finally retrieved in 1983 (it had been buried behind Plantz Hall by members of the Class of 1967, so, technically, it was still on campus).

And it would once again disappear in 1998, discovered 20 years later by students Sarah Axtell ’17 and Jon Hanrahan ’16, who had launched an entertaining, Serial-style podcast in hopes of solving the mystery of the Rock’s whereabouts.

In between all of that, the Rock was at the center of some much-chronicled campus rivalries and shenanigans that included students hiring towing companies to move the rock around campus in the dark of night, tossing it into the Fox River on multiple occasions, placing it in cement, and building a papier-mache replica that would appear one morning in 1957 on the roof of the former Stephenson Hall.

As the location of the Rock became a competition among fraternities, there was an unwritten rule that said wherever the rock was located on the morning of homecoming, that is where it would stay for the rest of the school year.

The 1998 disappearance came not long after the Phi Delta Theta and Delta Tau Delta fraternities had a bit of a public showdown, one that involved a front-end loader and required the dean of students to negotiate a compromise as local media looked on.

The engraving of Class of '95 can clearly be seen on the Rock, which sits on the Main Hall lawn. The rock is painted green with Class of 2019 in white.
A paint job by the Class of 2019 does not obscure the engraving from the Class of ’95 (that’s 1895) on the Rock, which sits on the Main Hall lawn with newly installed signage commemorating its history.

A search and a podcast

The Rock was then mostly forgotten for nearly two decades until Axtell and Hanrahan launched their No Stone Unturned podcast in 2016.

“Sarah and I were real dorks about Lawrence history,” Hanrahan said.

Their sleuthing eventually took them to a farm in Calumet County where the rock was found behind an old barn, the carved Class of ’95 in plain sight. It turns out there were a lot of complicated emotions tied to the Rock and how it ended up on that farm.

Lawrence and the Nickel family would eventually reach agreement that the Rock should return to the Main Hall green. It came home in 2018.

The ongoing fascination with the big boulder speaks to college students’ need to feel connected to their school’s history, said Hanrahan, who now works as an associate producer for New York Public Radio. He points to other schools with similar objects that have served as traditions that tie together generations of students — Rutgers’ cannon, Carnegie Mellon’s fence painting, and Northwestern’s own version of an oft-painted rock.

“There’s definitely that element of college students wanting and needing that quirky sense of identity,” Hanrahan said.

The podcast not only gave Hanrahan and Axtell the chance to fixate on Lawrence history — “This project was one of the first real moments when I fell in love with archives,” Hanrahan said — it also provided an opportunity to connect with alumni in a meaningful way.

“We got a sense of what life was like at Lawrence, especially in the ’90s, which was when the disappearance occurred,” Hanrahan said. “… We got a taste of life in the ’60s when the Rock disappeared then. That was very, very different from what life was like in the ’90s, which was also very different from what life is like in the 2010s.”   

An uneasy history

Erin Dix ’08, the university’s archivist over the past nine years, said the many Rock-related pranks left some past university administrators uneasy. That’s why the new signage is notable.

“The administration at Lawrence has not always embraced the disruptive elements of the Rock’s tradition,” she said. “In 1939, college officials moved the Rock to the tennis courts at the bottom of the Drew Street hill to try to discourage the constant pranks. But students managed to hoist it back up the hill three years later. During the Rock’s most recent absence, I often heard the theory that the administration had purposefully removed it from campus.” (It had not.)

“My favorite anecdote about the Rock comes from a Post-Crescent article published when it was being exhumed from the parking lot behind Plantz Hall in 1983,” Dix said. “‘Richard Warch, president of the university, was there, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from his sack lunch during the noon-hour event. “What a great day for Lawrence University,” he said with mock enthusiasm as a big P.G. Miron crane lifted the rock from the ground.’”

Hanrahan believes that kind of history should be celebrated. Students today should be aware of the school’s deep history and the student experiences that preceded them, even if it’s just a goofy old rock. That it has Class of ’95 carved into it is reason enough to acknowledge that connection, he said.

“That’s not 1995, that’s 1895, this unimaginably distant group of people,” Hanrahan said. “And it has these classes from the 1930s carved on the side as well. So, it’s a rock and it’s obviously this old geological artifact, but it broadcasts its oldness and it’s Lawrenceness right there on the side. It’s hard to look at it and not think of a Lawrence from 100 years ago.”

New signage now accompanies the Rock on the Main Hall lawn.

Axtell, now working in New York City for Accomplice the Show, an immersive theater company, applauds the university for formally recognizing the history of the Rock, calling it an important connection between generations of students.

“I don’t think the university can always take an official stance on some of the goofy things that have happened in the past, but I think the university should be proud of the ingenuity and creativity of its students,” she said.

“It gives people a reason to connect back to the history of the place. People need to pay more attention to the history of the areas around them, for better or worse.”

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

Summer renovation projects keep campus infrastructure in prime shape

Photo of Memorial Chapel with the lawn to the east torn up for work on the steam line.
Work on the steam line near Memorial Chapel continues this summer. The chapel also is getting new exterior lighting. The steam line work continues what was started in spring on the south side of College Avenue.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Maintaining the campus infrastructure at Lawrence is an investment in the well-being of students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community, which is why campus renewal is a key priority of the Be The Light! capital campaign.

That has been in full view this summer as multiple renovation projects are taking place across campus thanks to a series of gifts and support.

This summer’s more ambitious projects include new concrete at the plaza by Memorial Hall and an upgrade of its entryways, new hardscape on the Conservatory walkway, and the repaving of the Alexander Gym horseshoe, part of a facelift that includes lighting and new sidewalks. And while the installation of a generator may not seem like much, it kicks off the multi-million dollar renovation transforming Kohler Hall into a 21st-century living space.

“Campus infrastructure enables the university to deliver on its mission,” says Jacob Woodford, assistant to President Mark Burstein. “Careful stewardship of the investments of Lawrentians, family, friends, and supporters of the institution in our campus ensures our ability to deliver on that mission for generations to come.”

Work continues on the hardscape and landscape between Memorial Hall and the Wriston Art Center.

When the $220 million Be the Light! campaign made its public launch in November 2018, campus renewal joined Full Speed to Full Need, Student Journey, and the Lawrence Fund as the four cornerstones that would anchor the campaign.

A $2.5 million gift from the Kohler Co. to renovate Kohler Hall into a modern residential space was a key piece of the campaign launch. This summer’s work on the generator is a piece of that renovation project.

Among the other key projects in play this summer:

Music and Drama: Installing new doors and windows on the Music and Drama side of Shattuck Hall.

Steam line: Replacing the portion of the steam line north of College Avenue, a continuation of the work that was done during spring term.

Memorial Chapel: Lights are being added in front of the chapel to increase visibility, a nod to pedestrian safety along the walkways.

Brokaw Hall: Carpet installation in the 1911 building that includes office space and a residence hall.

Quad 5: Reworking the plumbing, electrical, and sprinkler system, plus painting.

Small Exec: Sprucing up and repainting the kitchenettes.

The campus updates ensure a welcoming environment for current and incoming students and encourage alumni and others to visit. The work speaks to the university’s commitment to maintaining its facilities at a high level, the supportive relationship between the university and its alumni and other supporters and its embrace of future generations of students.

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

Music is everywhere as Mile 7 gets rolling; partnerships grow deeper

With a whistle in his mouth, Kenni Ther gestures while leading the Brazilian samba drumming workshop Thursday at Mile of Music.
Kenni Ther ’16 leads the Brazilian samba drumming workshop in Houdini Plaza during Thursday’s opening day of Mile of Music.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kenni Ther ’16 had his young charges hanging on his every word, eyes focused, sticks in hand, a mix of drums and upside-down buckets in play on a gorgeous afternoon in downtown Appleton’s Houdini Plaza.

“I get tired of talking sometimes,” Ther told the gathering of several dozen kids and the adults they brought along for this high-energy teaching session on Brazilian samba drumming. “That’s why I have the drum. I’ll let the drum do the talking for me.”

And, so he did. And the young drummers followed suit as a couple hundred spectators nodded their approval.

A few hundred feet to the east, a crowd overflowed from the patio at Bazil’s Pub as singer-songwriter Christopher Gold played a heartfelt set and shared stories of joy and despair and the wisdom gained from both.

It was the middle of the afternoon. On a Thursday. Welcome to Mile of Music.

The annual four-day all-original music festival kicked off its seventh edition on Thursday, mixing nearly 900 live music sets in 70-plus venues with more than 40 interactive music education workshops, a blend that differentiates this festival from most any other music event on the planet. It continues through Sunday — and, yes, admission is free.

The Music Education Team, supported by a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, is a full-on Lawrence University juggernaut, led by music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl. It features more than 25 instructors, many of them, like Ther, alumni who developed their musical skills and nurtured their passion for music while students at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music.

Full lineup of Mile 7 music education workshops here.

Meet the Lawrence-led Music Education Team here.

Like the festival itself, the music education workshops have grown in size and scope since first launching in 2013. More than 7,000 people are expected to take part in the hands-on sessions before the finale, a ukulele workshop, brings it to a close on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s great to get out in the community and have people learn music in not a classroom setting,” Ther said after the samba drumming workshop ended. “Sometimes people think you only get to learn music in your private lessons or in a school band or orchestra or choir. No, music is for everybody. Everyone listens to music, so everyone has the right to be their own musician and figure out music on their own.”

Nestor Dominguez ’14 talks to the audience during a mariachi workshop in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall.
Nestor Dominguez ’14 is joined by Mariachi Jabali as they lead a mariachi workshop Thursday in The Grove, a green space next to Brokaw Hall, during Mile of Music.

A few blocks down College Avenue, on the green space next to Brokaw Hall known as The Grove, Nestor Dominguez ’14 was leading a mariachi band — Mariachi Jabali, featuring students from Appleton North High School — as they introduced the music to a couple hundred onlookers. They ran through a variety of music within the mariachi genre, from jarabe to bolero to ranchera to polka.

“Just get up and wiggle around and come up with a dance,” Dominguez encouraged the crowd as the band showcased the popular jarabe style. “If you’re going to be here with us, you need to get up and dance.”

Then there was bolero, the mariachi music of romance. Dominguez, who plays and teaches mariachi music in Chicago, encouraged the crowd to make and maintain eye contact with the person next to them as the music played.

“Eye contact is so important,” he told them. “Let’s connect as human beings. … I’m not saying you’re going to fall in love with the person next to you, but that would be all right.”

A world of music in our back yard

As the music education offerings at Mile of Music have evolved over the past seven installments, they’ve taken on a more global feel, Brazilian samba drumming and mariachi being part of a festival mix that also includes, among others, Ghanaian drumming and dance, Afro-Cuban singing, and Balinese gamelan. New this year are sessions on Native American music and dances of India.

That’s not by accident. Ramagopal Pertl said the team has purposefully set out to showcase as many cultures and styles as possible, a theme embraced by team members and the audience alike.

“That is really important, especially for the little ones,” said Francisca Hiscocks of Appleton, a native of Spain who attended Thursday’s Brazilian samba drumming session. “Just for their education, to be exposed to something different, that’s important. For me being from a different country, I think this is so great.”

More on the connections between Lawrence, Mile of Music here.

Porky’s Groove Machine returns to Lawrence, Mile of Music. Read more here.

Thel, who teaches music at a middle school in Oshkosh, said cultural variety in the festival’s music education outreach is all about being inclusive and enlightening.

“Maybe hip hop is your thing, that’s great,” he said. “Maybe acoustic guitar playing is your thing, or the ukulele workshop, that’s your thing. Everyone has a specific rhythm in their heart that they can relate and respond to. We’re just trying to help people figure out what that is.”

Mile of Music was drawing rave reviews as it got rolling Thursday. Music could be heard coming from everywhere along and near College Avenue — in bars and coffee shops, in Memorial Chapel, on patios, in alleyways and on green spaces on the Lawrence campus. Even from a camper parked on the Ormsby Hall lawn, home to the Tiny House Listening Lounge, a new venue for this year’s festival.

“I think this is just all really cool,” said Sarah Fischer of Appleton, taking in the festival’s opening day.

Bernard Lilly ’18, who performs as B. Lilly, puts on a songwriting and performance workshop at Copper Rock Coffee Company during Mile of Music.

More photos of the 2019 Music Education Team workshops here.

Cool, indeed. And the opportunity to bang a drum, get a lesson in songwriting, or learn about Native American flute playing while you’re here, well, that’s a bonus that is music to the ears of anyone who cherishes the connections between the festival, the community and Lawrence.

“We all agreed from the beginning that this wasn’t the type of festival that was ogling celebrity, it was craft focused,” said Cory Chisel, the Appleton-raised singer-songwriter who co-founded the festival with marketing executive Dave Willems. “It was like, here are innovative, exciting songwriters from around the world, and I wanted to bring all those people to Appleton specifically because of the specialness of this place and the music that was inside of us and the talent level we have inside of us here.”

It isn’t just about listening to and discovering new music, although that is a huge focus of the festival. It’s also about participating in the music-making, connecting the community with the music, Chisel said. Hence, the launch and growth of the Music Education Team. The partnership with Lawrence for that piece was as important as anything else in establishing the festival as one of the bright lights of the Midwest music scene.

“Mile of Music was about that connection,” Chisel said. “And Lawrence has been deepening and strengthening that community relationship.”

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

Porky’s finds its goofy, funky groove in return to Lawrence, Mile of Music

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

What does a hot dog, a squid, and a red Power Ranger have in common?

Well, they are the stage personas for three of the seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, a high-energy funk band known for mixing big musical talents with randomly odd costumes and a heavy dose of silliness.

The Minneapolis-based band, which got its start on the Lawrence University campus and is comprised completely of Lawrence alumni, is bringing its love of music and fun back to Appleton for the annual Mile of Music festival Aug. 1-4. The band will be performing on stage (details below) and for the fifth year in a row will be part of the Music Education Team presenting immersive musical experiences throughout the downtown festival.

Mile of Music, Lawrence have deep ties. See more here.

Fresh off the release of a new album, Hello, My Name Is, Porky’s Groove Machine continues to build a strong fan base across the Midwest, all while dressed in incredibly random costumes.

Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 all got their start with the band while students at Lawrence. They bonded via the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, started out playing campus parties and have maintained a close association with the school and Appleton even though they’ve all settled nearly 300 miles away in the Twin Cities.

“We were just hanging out, getting really excited about music through the Conservatory,” Allen said of the band’s start-up. “And we wanted to play. So, we just got together to jam a little bit and then, like, make up some songs.”

Eight years later, Porky’s is a thing.

We caught up with the band earlier this summer when they returned to downtown Appleton to play the weekly Heid Music Summer Concert Series in Houdini Plaza.  

Porky's Groove Machine, wearing wildly random costumes, perform on stage at Houdini Plaza.
The wildly random costumes have long been part of the show for Porky’s Groove Machine. It started when they were Lawrence students, playing campus parties. Here they perform earlier this summer in Houdini Plaza in downtown Appleton.

Goofy from the start 

The group initially formed in 2011 while all the original members of the band were students at Lawrence. What started as a cover band playing campus parties quickly evolved. Since then, the band has grown in size and outreach, rotated in new members (all Lawrentians) and wrote a ton of music, some of which is featured on Hello, My Name Is, an album released in March.

The band has grown a lot from those early days at Lawrence, but it was at Lawrence where the foundation for spreading funk and silliness was set.

The campus environment, where people were learning and challenging themselves but also having a good time, set the wheels in motion. It turns out things don’t always have to be so serious. Sure, a classical music education was part of the process, but improvisation was always encouraged and a sense of humor was embraced.

“I feel like just having gone to Lawrence and just having been in this funny environment, you know what I mean, where these particularly funny things happen, there’s already a common ground for a sort of goofiness,” Blanck said.

The band took that goofiness and supercharged it on stage. They’ve come to be known for their creative stage personas. When performing at parties on campus in those early days, they would dress to fit the theme of the party. It carried over from there, and soon fans were connecting to the random weirdness of the band’s costumes.

Blanck said he remembers that a-ha moment when he realized the costumes had become an important part of their identity as a band.

“I remember we played a show once and people tweeted at us,” Blanck said. “Someone we didn’t know was like ‘#powerranger, #squid , #hotdogtrombone, so confused but I’m so happy,’ and it was like, I guess those are alive now, and then from there on everyone started looking for it, kind of digging into it a little more.”  

Ilan Blanck wears a red Power Ranger suit while performing at Houdini Plaza.
Ilan Blanck ’16 wears the red Power Ranger suit with pride. The costumes, he said, are part of the fun and help make the band accessible.

Porky’s takes off

Porky’s became a well-known group on campus, performing at events ranging from an Earth Day celebration to a Yule Ball. And as the on-campus following grew, they started to become recognizable off campus as well, performing at bars and clubs in downtown Appleton and elsewhere in the Fox Valley.

“I remember our first off-campus show was at Déjà vu Martini Lounge,” Allen said. 

As band members graduated, many began settling in the Twin Cities. Eventually, all who stayed with the band landed there. And while they all have day jobs, many of them music related, they began dedicating more and more time to Porky’s. In 2018, they played nearly 70 shows. The band became a registered LLC in the state of Minnesota, and Porky’s, if it wasn’t before, was now a full-on passion that was commanding much of their free time. 

“We all ended up moving to Minneapolis to make Porky’s happen, so it’s a serious component of how we are making decisions in our lives,” Yoes said. 

Making music 

As Porky’s has become that serious — yet still goofy — endeavor, the music the band performs has shifted and evolved. What started as a mostly cover band with only one or two original tracks is now a band producing mostly original music. They have released three EPs and two albums to date.  

“When we first started, when we played these gigs at the bars downtown, we’d play a four-hour show, and you know we would have to fill all this time, so we played a bunch of covers and we jammed them out for 15 or 20 minutes each,” Lowe said.

“And then our originals would be like, ‘Hey, everybody, we finally wrote a song.’ We’d have one song to show off.  Now it’s more like we’ll do an all-original set and then we’ll put in two or three covers.”

The humor behind their stage personas also shows up in their homegrown lyrics. With songs like “Don’t Put Love in the Granola” or “The (Not Quite a) Ball of Trombone,” the group embraces the silliness. 

“We hear from people who see our show who maybe don’t get a big dose of goofy in their lives,” Allen said. “We often hear from people who are like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before, but thank you.’

“So, that always inspires me and makes me feel good to come up with something that’s going to connect with someone and give them a sort of absurdity or silliness or some kind of release that they need.” 

Beyond a band  

Porky’s Groove Machine members also apply this concept of releasing people’s silly side when they teach music workshops. And they do a lot of workshops, mostly geared toward children, spreading the joy of music-making.

“We get questions from students, like why do you wear your costumes, why do you look like that, or why are you running around and yelling?” Rivard said.

“And our whole perspective is, well, you know, rather than approaching music in a very studious and very hard to reach place, we want to make it as comfortable and as inviting to students as possible. That allows us to get students to improvise and to write music on the spot because they feel comfortable. They know that no matter what they do, they’re not going to look dumber than we do.”

The workshops that are part of Mile of Music are among their favorites. Through working with the festival’s Music Education Team, led by Lawrence music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, the group has been able to share that love of music in Appleton. It’s one of the things that has inspired them to create workshops of their own where they are able to teach students improvisation, music fundamentals, and thinking outside the box.  

Staying Connected  

Being able to teach music as a band and perform several times a year in the Appleton area has given the members the opportunity to stay tight with Lawrence, the Conservatory in particular.

“We are back here all the time, seeing the dean and our teachers,” Lowe said. “We performed at the Lawrence Academy camp (two summers ago), and we’re working with the Mile of Music Education Team, which is deeply linked with the Lawrence Conservatory.” 

For Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, the success of the Porky’s band speaks to the commitment and joy each of the band members finds in music. And their willingness to give back through Mile of Music and other music workshops is a great reflection on Lawrence and the mission of the Conservatory.

“I have had the great pleasure and privilege of working closely with almost every member of Porky’s,” Pertl said. “In particular, Matt Lowe and Nick Allen took didgeridoo lessons with me for their entire four years at Lawrence.”

Don’t let the goofball costumes fool you. The music that Porky’s is creating is stellar. That it’s mixed with energy and fun, and delivered with a full heart, all the better.

“I love that Porky’s seamlessly combines high-level musicianship, a sense of humor, and a deep commitment to music education,” Pertl said. 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office. 

Where to see Porky’s at Mile of Music

Friday, Aug. 2: 9:30 p.m. at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 7:40 p.m. at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St., Appleton

Saturday, Aug. 3: 10 p.m. on the Mile of Music bus.

Deep connections: Lawrence, Mile of Music in sync from the start

Leila Ramagopal Pertl participates in a sing-along at an earlier Mile of Music festival.
Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a music education instructor at Lawrence University, has been the leader of Mile of Music’s Music Education Team from the start.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

There has been a special blend of music in the air in Appleton each August since Mile of Music was founded in 2013.

From the debut six years ago through the upcoming seventh edition, Lawrence University has been tightly connected to the all-original music festival every step of the way, most notably by leading the robust music education component, but also providing performance spaces and counting its alumni among the performing artists.

Mile of Music returns for Mile 7 Aug. 1-4, with 900 performances taking place in 70 venues along a mile stretch of College Avenue in the city’s downtown. Nearly 50 music education workshops will be included, organized by the Music Education Team (MET), allowing festival-goers to get interactive instruction in diverse forms of music and dance.

I talked with Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, a Lawrence instructor in music education and the festival’s music education curator, about the five deepest ties between Lawrence and Mile of Music.

1. Lawrence’s fingerprints have been on Mile of Music from the start

In the spring of 2013, Mile of Music co-founders Dave Willems and Cory Chisel approached Brian Pertl with a vision of using the new festival as a way to support music education in the community. Pertl referred them to Ramagopal Pertl, whose passion for music education led her to the motto, “Music is a birthright.”

She suggested the new festival incorporate hands-on music-making workshops, an idea that proved to be brilliant. The music education component was a hit from the get-go, and has grown far more robust in the six years since that debut. It has solidified Mile of Music’s reputation as a special community learning experience.

“It’s what sets this festival apart from probably any other festival in the world, that there’s this priority on allowing people in the community to learn,” Ramagopal Pertl said.

2. Music Education Team has a Lawrentian vibe

The Music Education Team is responsible for organizing and leading the Mile’s music education workshops, which give festival guests the opportunity to discover their musical selves through a variety of music and dance instruction. It continues this year courtesy of a grant from the Bright Idea Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

The MET is made up of professional artists and educators with a knack for engaging a crowd. The team is heavy on Lawrence participation, from music faculty to alumni to students; the latter can receive class credit for participating.

See the music education workshop schedule here.

The seven members of Porky’s Groove Machine, all Lawrence alumni, are a big part of the MET. The Minneapolis-based funk band, also a popular festival performer, has been returning for the festival for five years, in large part because of the opportunity to engage with people in the workshops. Each of the band members — Matt Lowe ’14, Marshall Yoes ’14, Eli Edelman ’14, Nick Allen ’14, Luke Rivard ’15, Ilan Blanck ’16 and Shasta Tresan ’17 — are tied in to music education on some level, making the music workshops they do here and elsewhere a natural extension of their passions.

“Mile of Music is what really prompted us to think, ‘Oh, we can do this as a group together,’” Lowe said. “I would attribute that to Brian Pertl and his wife, Leila, who are the star music educators of the world. They taught us a lot of what we know and how to do things, and we’re definitely inspired by them.”

Other alums also are returning to lead workshops, Corey Torres ’12 and Bernard Lilly ’18 among them.

Porky’s Groove Machine keeps the funk rolling. See more here.

Meet the full Music Education Team here.

The festival’s workshops range from mariachi, hip-hop and samba to Afro-Cuban drumming, P-bone funk and Balinese angklung.

Last year, the 25-member Music Education Team led nearly 50 music education events that were attended by more than 7,000 festival-goers. By the end of this year’s festival, more than 25,000 people will have participated in the interactive events since they were launched during Mile 1.

Ramagopal Pertl said connecting people to the music — as participants, not just passive listeners — has proven to be a draw.

“It’s really important for people to come and feel what it’s like to make music in collaboration with other people around you,” she said. “Not only are you probably rediscovering something that was yours to begin with, but you have a greater understanding of why artists on the Mile play music. That was important for us here on the MET.”

Ilan Blanck, a member of Porky's Groove Machine, teaches at a guitar workshop during an earlier Mile of Music.
Ilan Blanck ’16, here teaching a guitar workshop at an earlier Mile of Music, will return with Porky’s Groove Machine to both teach at workshops and perform. The band members have been part of Mile of Music for the last five years.

3. Lawrence alumni on stage at Mile of Music

Lawrence alumni have graced the Mile of Music stages since the festival’s founding. Porky’s Groove Machine is coming back to the Mile this year in full costume to put on a funk-inspired show, and Lilly, performing as B. Lilly, will showcase his signature blend of R&B, jazz, hip-hop and gospel, in addition to leading a songwriting and performance workshop.

Both have been popular draws at previous Mile of Music festivals. Both also return to Appleton frequently to perform, their fan bases helping to establish this as a second home.

The Mile of Music performance schedule has just been released. See it here.

Porky’s will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Deja Vu Martini Lounge, 519 W. College Ave., and 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at Emmett’s Bar and Grill, 139 N. Richmond St. They’ll also be performing on the Mile of Music bus at 10 p.m. Saturday.

B. Lilly will perform at 7:40 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2 at Fox River House, 211 S. Walnut St., and 6:40 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3 at OB’s Brau Haus, 523 W. College Ave. He’ll also be on the Mile of Music bus at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

For more on B. Lilly, Porky’s Groove Machine and other Mile of Music performers, including a chance to sample their music, visit here.

Lawrence Memorial Chapel is seen during an earlier Mile of Music performance.
Memorial Chapel is among the spaces on the Lawrence campus again hosting Mile of Music performances. Stansbury Theater and Harper Hall also will be utilized for performances or music education workshops, as will outdoor green spaces near the Conservatory.

4. Lawrence venues anchor the east end of the Mile

State-of-the-art performance facilities and beautiful green spaces make the Lawrence campus a great place to host music events.

Each year, Lawrence provides Mile of Music with venues for concerts and music education workshops. These include Stansbury Theater and Memorial Chapel, the latter being one of the festival’s main stages where artists from around the country enjoy resonant sound quality and intimate performance experiences.

Memorial Chapel, one of the festival’s Main Stages, will host more than 25 performances between Thursday and Saturday, including start-your-day medleys featuring three artists each at noon Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Some of the notables scheduled for the chapel stage include Dan Rodriguez with The Talbott Brothers (6:45 p.m. Friday), King Cardinal (8:40 p.m. Friday), a combo of Tanya Gallagher, Paul Childers, Megan Slankard and Bascom Hill (6:30 p.m. Saturday) and Hugh Masterson (8 p.m. Saturday).

Harper Hall and outdoor green spaces such as The Grove and the Conservatory Green often host music education events on the east end of the Mile.

Mile of Music’s interactive workshops draw festival-goers of all ages. An estimated 7,000 people took part in the workshops during last year’s four-day festival.

5. Bonding over shared philosophies of community engagement

Lawrence and Mile of Music both emphasize community, a connection that has brought success since their partnership began in 2013. As part of that, the Music Education Team has put an emphasis on diversity, sharing instruments and music from across cultures in interactive, intimate settings.

“Our MET team has a deep commitment to celebrating the diversity of cultures and music-making that exists right here in our community,” Pertl said.

For the first time this year, Mile of Music will represent Native American and Asian-Indian music with workshops on Native American flute and dances of India.

Mile of Music is all about using music to create community. And Lawrence’s work in creating a close-knit community on campus has extended to its partnership with Mile of Music.

“Lawrence’s commitment to building community through music and music education perfectly aligns with the mission of Mile of Music,” Pertl said. “The seven-year partnership between Mile and Lawrence has helped redefine Appleton as a city that deeply values art, music and music education.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office. Awa Badiane ’21 contributed to this report.

Generous donors put Lawrence’s annual fundraising at near-record levels

Nabor Vazquez '19 gives a presentation as students and faculty look on during Lawrence University's Biofest 2019.
Nabor Vazquez ’19 gives a presentation during Lawrence University’s Biofest 2019. A wide variety of academic endeavors are supported by the Lawrence Fund, which had its second best giving year to date.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The generosity of Lawrence University supporters shone bright in the 2018-19 fiscal year that concluded at the end of June.

Monies raised for the Lawrence Fund, a key funding mechanism to support students, the work of faculty and the upkeep of the campus infrastructure, surpassed $3.9 million, the second highest one-year total in the school’s history.

But that is just one slice of the good news the school is reporting. The overall giving across all funds topped $24.4 million, the fourth highest ever.

The ongoing generosity of donors speaks to the deep relationship Lawrence alumni and other supporters have with the school, the desire to enhance the Lawrence experience for today’s students and the pledge to pay it forward for future Lawrentians, said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development.

“The impact of philanthropic investment in the college is profound and enhances all aspects of the student experience,” he said.

The Lawrence Fund plays a significant role in the campus’s operation, supporting everything from scholarships, study abroad opportunities and research to infrastructure maintenance, Conservatory performances and athletics. It affects every student and every member of the faculty and staff in some measure.

Students and faculty pose for a selfie on a D Term trip to Hong Kong in 2018.
Study abroad opportunities are supported by the Lawrence Fund. Here an LU group poses for a selfie in Hong Kong in December 2018 while studying sustainability, livability and urban design.

The alumni donor participation rates in the Lawrence Fund have an impact on national rankings and future funding opportunities. It’s estimated that without the Lawrence Fund, each student’s tuition would increase by more than $10,000 per year.

“Gifts to the Lawrence Fund keep the entire academic and co-curricular offerings robust,” Husmann said. “Donors have invested in the curriculum, allowing us to add new professorships, enhance classrooms, and fund student-faculty collaborations.”

The $3.9 million raised in the Lawrence Fund is second only to the $3.91 million raised in the fiscal year ending in June 2016.

Meanwhile, the overarching $220 million Be the Light! campaign, which launched quietly in January 2014 and had its public launch in November 2018, has reached $182.3 million in gifts and pledges. The ongoing campaign, the largest in Lawrence’s history, includes the Lawrence Fund as one of its four cornerstones. It also includes the Full Speed to Full Need initiative to make Lawrence accessible and affordable to all academically qualifying students, the Student Journey, which has welcomed numerous endowed positions aimed at supporting cutting edge programs and course offerings, and Campus Renewal, targeting facility and infrastructure upgrade projects on campus.

The recent $2.5 million gift from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 to create an endowed professorship to teach the psychology of collaboration is the latest in a string of endowed positions, supported by Lawrence alumni, that have boosted and diversified the school’s academic offerings.

Mike O’Connor recently began his work as Lawrence’s new Riaz Waraich Dean of the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement (CLC), a newly endowed position that aims to better prepare students for life after Lawrence by, in part, enhancing connections with alumni in the students’ fields of interest.

The Full Speed to Full Need fund has made progress toward its goal of reaching $85 million, Husmann said. When that number is finally reached, it will mark a major milestone for the university in its ongoing commitment to make sure the doors are open to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The fund has already delivered direct financial aid assistance to 250 students, and another 100 incoming students are expected to benefit in the 2019-20 academic year.

“The Lawrence community has rallied around the Full Speed to Full Need fundraising initiative in an increasingly strong fashion,” Husmann said. “With more than $82 million raised, we can provide more financial resources for our students than ever before, which is driving LU student debt down — against a national trend of increasing student debt.”

That sort of engagement is seen from Lawrence alumni all year round, Husmann said, and not just in the form of financial gifts or pledges. Lawrence alumni give back to Lawrence in other ways, too, he said.

“Hundreds of alumni serve as resources for the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement, volunteer with Innovation and Entrepreneurship, volunteer with admissions, and serve on boards and advisory groups. This reflects the enthusiasm Lawrence alumni have for their alma mater.

“We in the Lawrence community are so grateful for this impressive support.”

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

A pioneer with Posse 1, Mei Xian Gong takes on new role as a Lawrence trustee

Mei Xian Gong ’11

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Mei Xian Gong ’11 was a trailblazer when she arrived on the Lawrence University campus in the fall of 2007, a member of the school’s first group of Posse Foundation scholars.

A dozen years later, she’s blazing a new trail as the first of the Posse alumni to be elected to Lawrence’s Board of Trustees. She joins the board as a Recent Graduate Trustee, a three-year term for an alum within two to 10 years of graduation.

It was in the fall of 2007 that Lawrence welcomed its first group of 10 Posse scholarship students after forming a partnership with the New York-based Posse Foundation. The nonprofit organization assesses and develops students from diverse backgrounds who show leadership potential.

For a story on newly elected trustees, click here.

For more on the Posse Foundation, click here.

Gong tapped into her leadership skills as an undergraduate, serving on the Lawrence University Alumni Association Board of Directors and as a member of the LUAA Connecting to Campus Committee.

Now a market manager for Mettler-Toledo in Columbus, Ohio, Gong called her Lawrence experience a “major force” in her development and wants to pay it forward as a trustee.

“I want to have a better understanding of Lawrentians at different points of their journey, from alumni to current students and future Lawrentians,” Gong said. “I am sure much has changed since I was last on Main Hall green, so I hope I can learn from our current students on how we can continue to nurture them.”

Gong majored in chemistry and interdisciplinary chemistry/biology at Lawrence, later earning an MBA at Ohio State University. She has been with Mettler-Toledo since 2016, and has stayed involved with Lawrence in various alumni volunteer roles over the past eight years.

Posse experience

Lawrence is one of more than 50 colleges and universities that partner with the Posse Foundation, nearly double the number of partner schools since Lawrence and Posse first linked arms in 2006.

Gong was selected as part of the debut Lawrence group — known on campus as Posse 1 — and she says she continues to lean on her Lawrence and Posse experiences to this day.

“I still remember the moment when I internalized who I want to be,” she said. “It was the summer of 2007, before we started freshman year at Lawrence, when my Posse was tasked to complete an activity together in New York City. We had a guideline, with minimal directions, an envelope to open when we completed the task, and many ideas for what we can do.

“After a long discussion, we finally decided to take the ferry to Staten Island and go clean up a nearby beach. We had a common goal and yet still went through the different stages of group development. … My Posse members were young leaders with different backgrounds, experiences, and thoughts. Yet, still, I was shocked that we went through the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages when completing this as a team. … We acknowledged what role we took, and shared what role we would want in the future. I wanted to take on a more adaptable role, be what the group may need at different times, and chose ‘trailblazer.’

“Many of my Posse memories are like this … open discussions in safe spaces where I learned more about who I was and who I want to be. I learned from my Posse, relied on them to help me grow and take risks, and welcomed the person I was becoming.

“This continued at Lawrence and throughout my four years there.”

Gong said much of what she learned at Lawrence came well beyond the classroom. She got involved in alumni relations and worked as a class agent, which gave her opportunities to connect with faculty and administrators in a different capacity and gave her insights into the importance of campus finances, alumni connections and university stewardship.

“I would not be who I am today if I did not have the Posse plus Lawrence experience,” Gong said. “The Lawrence bubble is a thriving environment where we had many opportunities and mentors to guide us as we took risks, stepping a bit outside of our comfort zone.”

For the Posse Foundation, seeing one of its scholars appointed to the trustee position is testament to the strong bonds between the program and Lawrence.

“We are so proud of Mei,” said Posse Foundation Founder and President Deborah Bial. “As a Lawrence Posse alumna, she exemplifies leadership of the highest standard. Her professional expertise combined with her commitment to giving back make her an invaluable member of our community. We are thrilled for her and grateful to President Burstein and his fantastic team for our 13-year partnership, which has allowed us to serve so many dynamic students.”

From NYC to Lawrence

Born in Guangzhou, China, Gong came to the United States with her family in 1998. She grew up in Manhattan, and, with parents who spoke little English, she assumed certain leadership and outreach roles in her family. She would become the first member of her family to attend college.

Then a senior at Millennium High School, Gong said the Posse scholarship opened new doors for her. She chose Lawrence as one of her preferred schools in part because of the small student-to-faculty ratio.

“I really like the small environment, so I picked Lawrence as one my top choices,” she said.

The Posse Foundation puts an emphasis on diversity and the benefits that come when diversity is celebrated and nurtured. Being part of a Posse group — particularly as a member of the first Posse class at Lawrence — provides insights and tools that she and other Posse students can take into their post-college careers as they build and encourage positive workplace relationships, Gong said.

“I think it definitely makes it smoother as we go to work in different organizations,” she said.

The ongoing connections with Lawrence, even before her appointment as a trustee, have continued to be significant and beneficial.

Gong praised Cal Husmann, Lawrence’s vice president for alumni and development, and his staff for their efforts to stay connected with Lawrentians after they leave campus.

“He takes a vested interest in the student’s world,” she said of Husmann. “That’s really helpful, especially early in our careers when there are so many changes in our lives. He continued to reach out and show interest in my growth. That helped me feel confident in my abilities, knowing there is someone back at Lawrence who cares about my development.”

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

O’Connor’s arrival puts Life After Lawrence initiatives in hyperdrive

Mike O'Connor poses for a photo in the doorway to the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement.
Mike O’Connor began May 1 as the new Riaz Waraich Dean of Lawrence University’s Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement. The endowed deanship is part of new initiatives to bolster career advising and community, employer and alumni connections.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Connect. Connecting. Connectivity. Interconnected.

Spend 10 minutes with Mike O’Connor, Lawrence University’s new Riaz Waraich Dean of the Center for Career, Life and Community Engagement (CLC), and he’ll drop a variation of connected into the conversation a couple dozen times.

He may even throw in team sport, collaboration and networking.

That’s not by accident.

O’Connor’s hiring to fill the newly endowed deanship is all about ramping up connections with departments across campus, with alumni and with potential employers to help students better prepare for life after Lawrence.

Being connected to the CLC and its resources, be it through internships and fellowships or employment contacts and alumni resources, is something that will be part of every student’s journey from the moment they arrive as freshmen during Welcome Week. It won’t be something to be put off until senior year.

“To me, the messaging for first-year students would be, the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement is just part of what you do as a Lawrentian,” O’Connor said. “It’s not a stand-alone entity. It’s interconnected, it’s part of the tapestry of Lawrence.”

That initiative, including the endowed deanship, is supported by a $2.5 million gift from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 that was announced last November at the public launch of Lawrence’s $220 million Be the Light! campaign.

O’Connor, who had been the director of the Career Exploration program at Williams College for the past five and a half years, sees opportunities for enhanced connections at Lawrence in every direction he looks. Many of those efforts were already under way before he got here, spurred by a Life After Lawrence Task Force that pushed for greater emphasis on preparing students for career and life opportunities after they graduate. Now, with more resources available and a renewed focus, those efforts are being supercharged.

“Life After Lawrence has a lot of moving parts,” O’Connor said. “There’s a big employer initiative and we’re building more pipelines for recruitment. More than that, though, is the potential for better integration with curricular goals and actualizing our alumni base at scale. We’ve got this amazing group of thousands and thousands of Lawrentians who want to help other Lawrentians. We’re working on tapping that power.”

For starters, career advising is being weaved into the Freshman Studies program in new ways. The Career Communities initiative has been launched and will continue to be fine-tuned and rolled out to students across all areas of study. And an interactive student-alumni mentor network is being developed.

“That will give us the ability to connect with alumni based on a certain major or career interest or geographic area, and be able to reach out to them in real time,” O’Connor said. “A student will be able to say, ‘Hey, I see you are working at Google in this data analytics role. I’ve been thinking about that as a career, can I hop on a call with you for 10 or 15 minutes to find out more about it?’ Or maybe I have this interview coming up and I need advice.

“This is something we onboarded at Williams and it was just a complete game-changer. It actualized our alums’ talents in real time in a useful way.”

The alumni relations work that’s already been done by the Alumni and Constituency Engagement Team puts Lawrence in a great position to roll out this enhanced recruiting network, O’Connor said. The recently launched Career Communities is a big step in that direction.

Read more about Career Communities here.

For alumni interested in helping Lawrentians in their career pursuits: Make yourself a Career Contact on AlumniQ”. 

Introducing an alumni affinity network to students will start during Welcome Week, although developing it and integrating it will be a work in progress.

“We’re trying to move on a lot of this very quickly,” O’Connor said.

There’s been encouraging cooperation from departments across campus as these initiatives have been explored, developed and tested.

“We’re lucky that we have a highly collaborative community with a lot of opportunities,” O’Connor said. “Not just our office but partnering with others across campus. The work of the CLC is really a team sport.

“We’re interfacing with Development and all across areas of Student Life, and we’re being increasingly intentional about how we’re working with broader alumni divisions, working with faculty and doing it in a more skilled way. If we’re all leaning into it, and I think we are, we stand a better chance to help a lot more students.”

On the personal side

O’Connor began his new duties on May 1.

He and his family — his wife, Kerrin Sendrowitz O’Connor, two daughters, Fiona Jayne, 3, and Isla Kelly, 7 months, two dogs and a cat — have embraced the move from the East Coast to Appleton, even if their move here from upstate New York in late April included a flat tire and a freak snowstorm.

“After logging over 100,000 commuter miles over the course of my Williams tenure, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to bike to work,” O’Connor said.

Now it’s time to explore their new home.

“The family and I like to consider ourselves outdoorsy,” O’Connor said. “We’ve been to 14 or 15 national parks, and love hiking, biking, and camping. … Given the age of our children, we love the park system in Appleton.”

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

Welcome to Lawrence: Making sense of the Freshman Studies reading list

Freshman Studies is an important piece of the Lawrence experience, and the required reading list is an important part of Freshman Studies.

With all first-year Lawrence University students taking Freshman Studies during their first two terms, and all sessions using the same reading list, students join together in a larger intellectual community, one that ties them not only to their fellow students across campus but also to Lawrentians from generations past.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Freshman Studies syllabus has been continuously revised to introduce a changing student body to the intellectual challenges of a liberal arts education, and to the resulting benefits of the interdisciplinary thinking it embraces.  The coming academic year’s syllabus demonstrates the evolution of this ongoing task.

Learn a little more about Freshman Studies here.

We asked Garth Bond, associate professor of English and director of Freshman Studies, to guide us through the 2019-20 reading list.

Fall term

Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard. This short collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry teaches students to recognize the fullness and precision of meaning in language. Trethewey’s poems meditate on the role that objects — photographs, monuments, diaries — play in shaping our memories and histories. She begins with the personal tragedy of her mother’s murder, then turns to the public history of American racism and the memorialization of the Civil War. The final section revisits personal experience, now reshaped in the light of that public history. All in 75 pages. (Adopted Fall 2015)

Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy. From Trethewey’s poetic reflection on ants making a home on her mother’s grave, students move to a biologist’s study of the most fascinating of social insects: the honeybee swarm. Seeley demonstrates how our understanding of honeybees’ complex communication and social decision-making has developed systematically through the application of the scientific method; but he also reveals the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking by exploring the lessons that honeybee decision-making may have as a model both for human democratic processes and for emerging systems of artificial intelligence. (Adopted Winter 2019)

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping. The story of two young women growing up under the housekeeping of a series of female relatives following the death of their mother, Robinson’s novel revisits the themes of loss and memory raised by Trethewey while also exploring the human individuality—some of it troubling—that questions the lessons Seeley would draw from the more naturally communal honeybees. Robinson particularly illuminates the impact of unwritten social expectations on women who fail to conform to them, while her unreliable narrator forces students to rethink their initial views of the relationship between society and the individual in the novel. (Adopted Fall 2018)

Plato, The Republic. On the Freshman Studies syllabus since its creation in 1945, Plato’s philosophical consideration of what makes a virtuous individual and political order embodies the practice of liberal education. After discussing the proper nature of philosophical discourse, Socrates develops his arguments in dialogue with his fellows. He poses hard questions about the nature of reality and the potential dangers of democracy that challenge students’ assumptions. Our discussion of these ideas brings current students into a conversation with alumni reaching back over 70 years now, literally embodying the community-building goals of the liberal arts. (Adopted 1945).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Bruegel’s 16th century painting, which places the mythical Icarus’s tragic crash — having flown too close to the sun — quietly in the background of a contemporary rural landscape, reminds students that images impose the same demands on our attention as poetry, narrative, and scientific or philosophical discourse. It too asks questions about the nature of loss and memory, and of the relationship between the individual and society, but posed in the “language” of images rather than words, helping students to develop the visual literacy required in our increasingly visual culture. (Adopted Fall 2016)

Winter term

The Bhagavad Gita. Having closed the Fall Term with examples of ancient and early modern Western thought, Winter opens by turning to other ancient and medieval traditions. Roughly contemporary with The Republic, this seminal Hindu scripture offers its own account of the good life, one focused on fulfilling one’s duty (or dharma) without attachment to the fruits of one’s actions. Its more poetic philosophical approach offers a probing challenge to the individualism often seen as central to Western thought. (Adopted Winter 2015)

The Arabian Nights. This 14th century collection of traditional Arabian stories forces students to consider the very nature and purpose of storytelling. As a new bride weaves tales each evening to keep her husband and king from killing her in the morning, as he has sworn to do with all of his wives, questions arise about the nature and purposes of storytelling: its relationship to power and to erotic desire, the ulterior motives governing its rhetoric, and the invasive and irresistible pull of curiosity. Far from turning away, this text revels in the fruits of human action, both ripe and rotten. (Adopted Winter 2018)

Tony Kushner, Angels in America. Set in Reagan-era Washington, D.C., this Pulitzer Prize-winning play echoes a number of the magical elements found in The Arabian Nights, but within a realistic depiction of the political and ethical conflicts of the AIDS epidemic emerging especially in the gay community at that time. While the politically diverse characters of Kushner’s script already demand careful attention to the motives and meanings of their actions, recorded versions of different productions allow students to think about the creative acts needed to move from the written page to embodied performance. (Adopted Winter 2020)

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. Moving from the historical AIDS epidemic to the contemporary battle with global poverty, two developmental economists offer a scientific approach to human action. They advocate putting aside big ideas, like increasing aid or freeing markets, in favor of careful research addressed to small, specific questions. Students see how answering these small questions can also give voice to the human experience of those living on $1 a day. Can narrowly focused action, guided by the scientific method, really outperform our political beliefs and create a quiet revolution in economic and political institutions? (Adopted Winter 2017)

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music is a fundamental part of our university community. This most famous of albums invites all students to explore the complex relationship between planned structure and improvised action at the heart of jazz performance. As a relatively early and deeply influential LP, it further challenges students to think about the processes of memory and meaning at work in permanently recording and revisiting a “live” improvisation, as well as the cultural role and context of jazz music, especially its relationship to African-American identity. (Adopted Winter 2016)

Note to incoming freshmen: Looking for your Freshman Studies books? Domestic students should receive the first book, Native Guard, in late July or early August. International students will receive the book when they arrive on campus.  Students also may visit the online bookstore, www.lawrence.edu/academics/bookstore. Be aware, though, that Freshman Studies sections won’t appear in the bookstore (or on student schedules) until those sections have been created in mid-August.