Category: Faculty

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

Nah.

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

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

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

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

Video games as scholarship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A two-week immersion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcasting evolves into increasingly popular teaching tool at Lawrence

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

Fallon Sellers ’20 just smiled and nodded.

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

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

Welcome to the world of classroom podcasting.

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

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

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

Podcast numbers keep growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding an audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawrence Conservatory’s Albright in the mix on Bon Iver’s Grammy-nominated “i,i”

Tim Albright, assistant professor of music, and junior Allie Goldman play trombones during a teaching session Thursday in Shattuck Hall of Music.
Tim Albright, assistant professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, works Thursday with Allie Goldman ’21 during a trombone teaching session in Shattuck Hall. Albright and his trombone are on Bon Iver’s “i,i” album. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included. He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music.”  

—Tim Albright on Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon

———

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When Grammy nominations were rolled out Wednesday, Bon Iver’s i,i snagged three of them, including in the headline-grabbing Album of the Year and Record of the Year categories. The album, released in summer, also is starting to show up on critics’ best-of-the-year lists.

That’s all of particular note to a Lawrence University music professor who lent his considerable trombone talents to the album.

Tim Albright, a professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, spent four days in recording sessions in Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, part of a horn section dubbed the Worm Crew.

“The horn section was made up of the unusual combination of trumpet, French horn, two trombones, saxophone and bass harmonica,” Albright said. “It was an unconventional assortment of instruments, but the sound was gorgeous.”

Vernon, the creative mastermind behind Bon Iver, has carved a deeply respected reputation for collaboration and musical experimentation. His annual Eaux Claires music festival — it took a hiatus for 2019 with an expectation to return in 2020 — and other musical outreach has raised Eau Claire’s arts profile considerably. His home studio, 180 miles west of Appleton, has become known as a gathering place for talented musicians.

“We rehearsed and recorded for four days and nights,” Albright said of the recording sessions. “When we weren’t making music, we shared meals, slept in bunk beds, and listened to music in Vernon’s state-of-the art control room. I was struck by his warmth and hospitality. He made us all feel completely at home, which helped the music come alive. 

“I think the album sounds amazing.”

Indeed, it does.

The album, Bon Iver’s fourth, was one of eight nominated for album of the year. The track “Hey, Ma” (it features Albright’s trombone) got a nod for Record of the Year, and the album also was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album. The Grammys will be held Jan. 26.

Cover of Bon Iver's "i,i"
Bon Iver’s “i,i” earned three music Grammy nods and a fourth for album packaging.

Esquire magazine included the album on its list of 50 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far), posted on Nov. 11.

“Twelve years after the seminal album For Emma, Forever Ago, Wisconsin singer Justin Vernon and his extended band find new ways to break your heart with their unusual indie-folk music,” Olivia Ovenden writes. “As on 22, A Million, follow-up i,i is filled with noodling jazz riffs, auto-tuned vocals and glitchy electronic samples.”

Esquire points in particular to the song “Salem,” which features Albright. “A patter of soft bleeping notes layer over each other and lift into a euphoric chorus which cries, ‘So I won’t lead no lie / With our hearts the only matter why.’”

Craig Jenkins of Vulture calls the album one of the best of the year.

“The lyrics are heavy on close inspection, but the music makes them buoyant,” he writes.

Making a connection

Albright’s connection to Vernon and Bon Iver comes via a trumpet player friend who had hooked him up in the mid-2000s for a recording session with The National, a then-unknown band that was preparing for the release of the album Boxer.

“I’ve known CJ for about 15 years from my time working in New York City,” Albright said. “When the band The National was just getting started, he said, ‘I wonder if you could come out to my friend Bryce’s house and record for a group called The National. I think they’re going to become big.’ Not thinking much of it, I took the train out to a tree-lined street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, to record a one-minute fanfare in a stranger’s living room.”

Bryce turned out to be Bryce Dessner, one of the founding members of The National. And the trumpet player friend would prove prophetic. Boxer would indeed put the band on the map.

It was a couple of months later when Albright and his wife were walking through the Atlantic Terminal Shopping Mall in Brooklyn when he heard a new song playing overhead. It caught his ear.

“I nudged her and said, ‘Hey, listen, there’s trombone on that record,’” Albright said. “A moment later I realized the trombone player was me from the track I had recorded in Ditmas.”

That same trumpet player friend reached out to Albright again in 2018 when Vernon was looking for collaborators on his coming album. They needed a trombone.

In a media statement he released just prior to the release of i,i, Vernon noted contributions from a bevy of musicians, some with widely recognized names like Bryce Dessner and Bruce Hornsby, others more under the radar.

“This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever-growing family we are,” Vernon said.

Albright, on the Lawrence faculty since 2016 and a member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, is now part of that extended Bon Iver family. He doesn’t know if he’ll get to record with the band again, but he knows having that connection with Vernon could build other important bridges, perhaps involving his Lawrence students.

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included,” Albright said. “He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music. He cares deeply about giving back to the Wisconsin community that helped shape his musical voice.”

In the meantime, Albright will cherish his contributions to an album that will almost certainly be showing up on additional best-of lists between now and the end of the year. His name is all over the credits, which isn’t a bad place to be.

“It’s fun to be in that world, to touch a little bit of stardom,” Albright said.

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

STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings, pedagogy changes build excitement in the sciences

Brianna Wilson '21 (left) looks at a fish while teaching assistant No'eau Simeona '20 stands beside her and collaborates on a lab project for Morphogenesis of the Vertebrates.
Brianna Wilson ’21 (left), a biology major, works with teaching assistant No’eau Simeona ’20, in a Morphogenesis of the Vertebrates lab at Lawrence. Wilson is charting a course she hopes will take her to graduate school and an eventual Ph.D. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Caitlin White Magel ’09 isn’t surprised that Lawrence University is showing up on national rankings of schools whose science graduates have most consistently taken a STEM-to-Ph.D. path.

As she closes in on her doctorate at Oregon State University, Magel points to guidance during her sophomore year at Lawrence that set her on the road to being a marine scientist.

She came into Lawrence as an environmental studies major, and early interactions with her advisor, geosciences professor Marcia Bjornerud, further locked in her desire to study human impacts on natural ecosystems. But, she quickly learned, there were more options to consider.

“I was encouraged by other science faculty — and my scientist father — to consider the option of a double major in order to have disciplinary depth in a particular field while still being able to explore broader issues through the environmental studies classes,” Magel said. “By the end of my sophomore year, I declared a second major in biology.”

That led to participation in the LU Marine Program (LUMP), jump-starting what would become a deep interest in marine ecology and putting her on a path toward her Ph.D.

She’s not alone in that experience. The number of Lawrence students earning degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields on their way to successful completion of doctoral degrees places Lawrence in select company, according to a new report from the Council for Independent Colleges (CIC). In a national ranking that measures the percentage of a school’s STEM graduates from 2007 to 2016 who eventually earned a Ph.D., Lawrence comes in at No. 17, sandwiched between Harvard at 16 and Princeton at 18. It is a jump of 11 spots from the previous rankings, released in 2013. When the new rankings are broken down to women only, Lawrence comes in at No. 29. The CIC used National Center for Education statistics and National Science Foundation datasets that included public and private schools.

More science: Recent Nobel announcements hit close to home for Lawrence profs

Those rankings aren’t by happenstance. They speak to the deep commitment Lawrence has made in the STEM fields, and the power that comes with small class sizes and the opportunity to do hands-on research in the sciences as an undergraduate in a smaller, liberal arts setting, said Stefan Debbert, associate professor of chemistry.

“The rankings are a sign that we are doing something right, that we are getting students invested enough in the sciences that they are considering future study,” he said. “But it’s also a challenge to us to make sure we’re sending them to graduate school well prepared. The goal isn’t just to get students to enter graduate school. The goal is, if that’s the correct choice for them, to have them in a position to succeed.”

Elizabeth Ann De Stasio writes on a whiteboard as she teaches Integrative Biology: Cells to Organisms at Lawrence.
Elizabeth Ann De Stasio, the Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and professor of biology at Lawrence University, teaches Integrative Biology: Cells to Organisms.

A new approach

There is still much work to be done. Lawrence doesn’t show up on the CIC’s STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings when it measures African American or Latino graduates. The school’s numbers aren’t large enough to qualify.

That’s an issue that’s being addressed head on by Lawrence administrators and faculty across the sciences.

Debbert is leading an initiative to restructure how introductory-level science courses are taught. Lawrence was one of 33 schools selected last year to receive a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative via its Science Education Program. Another 24 schools were selected the year prior, part of HHMI’s push to reimagine science education to better engage students from all backgrounds.

Debbert is working with other science faculty at Lawrence to reshape how subjects are introduced and explored, how classrooms are structured, and how faculty interact with students. It puts more emphasis on the front-end science courses in hopes it’ll keep more students — and a greater diversity of students — in the sciences for the long haul.

“HHMI is motivated to help America fix its STEM pipeline problems,” Debbert said. “We have lots of students come into college thinking they want to major in the sciences, and we lose a lot of those students. HHMI is really pushing us to think about why we lose those students. Sometimes we lose them because we’re just not engaging with them enough. Students look around a giant science classroom and they think, ‘I don’t see people who look like me’ or ‘I don’t see myself as fitting in this environment.’ And then we lose them.”

Much of the HHMI work over the past year has involved training sessions with faculty and the redesigning of curriculum for introductory science courses, all with a focus on inclusive pedagogy. The revamped courses will be rolled out over the next two years.

There’s also a desire to retool a large lecture hall in Youngchild Hall to create a more modern science space, with the traditional tiered seating replaced with a dozen or so tables equipped with interactive technology. It would cater to the intro classes and serve as a launch point for science learning. Creating what Debbert calls a “science commons,” with a welcoming environment, is a big part of the new approach. Additional fundraising is being sought to make that happen, hopefully with construction beginning no later than summer, said Amy Kester, director of corporate, foundation, and sponsored research support. The goal is to have the room ready for the 2020-21 academic year.

Stefan Debbert folds his arms as he poses for a portrait on the Lawrence campus.
Stefan Debbert on efforts to engage with science students early on: “We are working with them, getting to know what part of science motivates them.”

Building on success

The changes at the intro class level will build on the successes Lawrence has had elsewhere in the sciences. The “rallying cry,” Debbert said, is to get students excited about and engaged with science in those early classes so they stay with it long enough to see the possibilities that come with deeper, more specific study in the higher-level courses, be it in biology, chemistry, physics or related subjects.

Part of that approach is giving students opportunities to do significant research, sometimes as early as freshman year. Students in the sciences at Lawrence are often doing research that students at other schools might not see until grad school.

“We have these students do research with us,” Debbert said. “So, they’re not just sitting in the back of a giant lecture hall falling asleep while someone talks at them. We are working with them, getting to know what part of science motivates them. We’re getting to know how they feel they can contribute, not just to their scientific field but to the world at large.

“I think that’s what drives a lot of our students to pursue graduate school. This idea that you really can have a massive impact in science.”

Lawrence, of course, has a much smaller enrollment than many of the public and private schools in the CIC rankings. Lawrence, with a student body of about 1,500, might graduate 10 to 12 chemistry majors, another 10 to 12 physics majors, and about 40 biology majors in a given year. Those smaller numbers, and the school’s 8-to-1 students to faculty ratio, help make the hands-on approach in the sciences possible.

That approach hooked Brianna Wilson ’21, a third-year biology major from Kenosha who wants to pursue a Ph.D. so she can eventually teach biology at the college level. An intro biology course during her freshman year opened her eyes to that possibility.

“The last five weeks of the term you design your own experiment with the professor,” Wilson said. “I was taken aback by that, that they’d throw us into a lab and let us design our own experiment. … I thought I wouldn’t be able to get a chance to do that until … I went to graduate school. That was pretty memorable.”

Path to a Ph.D.

Mug of Caitlin White Magel.
Caitlin White Magel ’09

Wilson is now envisioning a path not unlike that of Magel and other Lawrence grads working their way toward doctoral degrees.

For Magel, it was an opportunity to take part in LUMP that opened her to a new world. The Lawrence program provides a hands-on undergraduate experience in marine biology, including a two-week field study of a Caribbean island, the study of coral and fish biodiversity, and the exploration of reef ecosystems.

“It was an incredible experience,” Magel said. “It was my first scientific experience in marine ecosystems, and also my first experience doing field-based research.”

Then, following her junior year, Magel garnered a summer internship with the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates at Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. That built on what she had taken from the LUMP experience.

After graduating from Lawrence, she would return to Newport for a two-year research assistant position with the EPA’s Pacific Coastal Ecology Branch, studying coastal salt marshes. That led her to her doctoral program focused on coastal marine ecology.

“Undoubtedly, the support and encouragement of many of my Lawrence professors, especially Marcia Bjornerud, Bart De Stasio, and Jodi Sedlock, helped put me on a path to success in graduate school,” Magel said.

That’s music to Debbert’s ears. The ongoing connection between student and faculty is a key selling point in a liberal arts education, the sciences included. That starts early at Lawrence and continues post-graduation.

“We really try to help students find out what it’s like to be a researcher,” Debbert said of the undergraduate work. “Being a scientist isn’t just sitting in a lecture hall and taking tests. Real science is about being curious and being OK with not knowing something and then going out and figuring it out. That’s what we really try to stress to our students.

“Yes, we’re going to teach the quantitative skills and the math and how to use the instruments, but we also want to make sure we’re teaching them how to communicate with each other, how to work with people who might not be very similar to you, how to come up with a research question, how to fail, and how to succeed after that.”

No one on the faculty is focusing on the STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings, Debbert said. The rankings are nice because they remind people that there is some serious science happening in the halls of liberal arts colleges, Lawrence included, but they don’t change a professor’s classroom approach or a student’s experience.

“Sometimes people seem surprised that you can have an actual honest-to-goodness real laboratory experience at a small school,” Debbert said. “If anything, these rankings show people that, yes, we do real science at Lawrence, and we care about it and we care about having our students learn how to be researchers, independent researchers.

“To us, that’s the main thing. It helps us communicate our story, and the story for liberal arts schools in general, which is, send us your scientists and we can help them grow in that way.”

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

Nobel inspiration: Lawrence scientists, economists embrace new momentum

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, stands beside a whiteboard showing some of her astrophysics research in Lawrence University’s Youngchild Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

If you sensed a surge of excitement in recent days coming from the halls of Lawrence University’s Youngchild, Steitz, and Briggs halls, you were not mistaken.

When the Nobel Prizes for chemistry and physics were announced earlier this month, the news hit close to home for a couple of science faculty members and their students, creating momentum for the research they’ve been working on here at Lawrence.

The same can be said for a pair of economics faculty members who have focused their research on topics tied to the groundbreaking Poor Economics, a book that’s been a mandatory read in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies since 2016. More on that later.

The win in chemistry went to three chemists — Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough, and Akira Yoshino — who were instrumental 30 years ago in the development of the lithium-ion battery, which now powers many of our wireless electronics, most notably cell phones. That’s a subject near and dear to Allison Fleshman, an associate professor of chemistry who has dedicated much of her research over the past two decades to ion mobility, work that could potentially improve the next generation of those lithium batteries.

The win in physics, meanwhile, went to two astronomers — Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (they split the prize with a cosmologist on a separate project) — who in the mid-1990s discovered a fiery, uninhabitable planet orbiting a distant sun-like star, a breakthrough that set the course for the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy. Megan Pickett, an associate professor of physics, was fresh off her Ph.D. and working for NASA when word of the discovery came through. She has since spent much of her career studying the formation of those stars and planets, simulating how solar systems are formed.

Both Fleshman and Pickett drew inspiration early in their careers from the groundbreaking work these scientists were doing. To see them now honored with Nobels, well, there were celebrations in recent days to rival those of football fans on a Sunday afternoon.

“As soon as the Nobels were announced, my Facebook was a flutter with all of my old colleagues from graduate school and my post-doctoral work,” Fleshman said. “We were all very, very excited. There’s a subgroup of scientists, and we were just going absolutely bonkers when we heard. And I may have run through the hallway shouting, ‘lithium for the win.’”

Pickett had a similar response when the physics award was announced, not just because she was happy for Mayor and Queloz but also because of the momentum and validation it provides for the science she and her students are doing in Youngchild.

“I was wondering when this group would get the Nobel Prize,” she said.

How solar systems form

It was in 1995 when Mayor and Queloz first announced the discovery of the Jupiter-like planet, having tracked a periodic wobble in the colors of light from the star that indicated a planet was circling. They determined it to be a four-day orbit. Scientists at the time already believed there were planets other than Earth that were orbiting sun-like stars. But they had no proof. And then they did.

“The scientific community was skeptical, as it ought to be with new discoveries like this,” Pickett said. “There had been a lot of false discoveries and false alarms in the past. But this stood the test of time. And as people started using this method, more and more solar systems were found. We now know of 4,000 planets that orbit stars.”

Learn more about Physics at Lawrence here.

Pickett had just finished her Ph.D. at Indiana University earlier that year and was working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. She remembers hearing the news of the discovery like it was yesterday.

“I was in the space science research laboratory,” she said. “The entire floor that I was on, mostly theoretical astrophysicists, were running down the halls excited about this. Everyone at first was trying to show that it was wrong, but they were really excited. They were either excited one way or the other. If it was right, we would finally have proof that there were planets outside our solar system. And it turned out to be right.

“And it turned out to be the kind of stuff I was interested in studying. So, I was very lucky in terms of my career, being in the right place at the right time studying the right thing.”

Scientists now believe that the number of planets in our galaxy could number in the billions.

“Twenty years ago, or 25 years ago, you would have been laughed off the stage if you had said something like that,” Pickett said. “Now people are taking it very seriously based on the statistics we’ve seen.

Allison Fleshman, associate professor of chemistry, stands for a portrait in her lab in Lawrence University’s Steitz Hall of Science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The study of ions

Meanwhile, over in the Steitz chemistry labs, Fleshman and her students are busy talking about the charge that the Nobel announcement has given their work. They aren’t necessarily doing lithium battery research per se, but they’re studying a piece of the process that could affect the ongoing development of the battery technology. Fleshman has been doing research in and around that topic since her doctoral studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Part of my Ph.D. was in developing a new way of describing ion transport, which is what this field of research is called,” Fleshman said. “Ion transport is how well the ions can move, or their mobility between two electrodes. If you have an electric field, how well can the ion adjust to responses in that electric field?”

Learn more about Chemistry at Lawrence here.

Keeping that and related research alive could one day lead to changing the electrolyte — the chemical medium that carries the positively charged lithium ions — from a liquid to a solid, eliminating potential issues related to leakage or expansion in the battery.

“That would be kind of like the Holy Grail,” Fleshman said. “That’s the next big thing. Until then, the idea is to improve the material that carries the charge. My students and I apply a new model to describing that transport.”

The Nobel for the lithium-ion battery is a momentum changer in part because it’s something people can relate to. They may not understand the science behind it, but they appreciate the rapid advances in the cell phone and other electronic tools that they can hold in their hands. The message from Fleshman is simple — we’re not done yet.

“Once it gets to the consumer’s hands I think people assume there is no more innovation to be made,” she said. Not true. While the Nobel award acknowledges that the work of Whittingham, Goodenough, and Yoshino was cutting edge, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.

“If you’re in the field, you know these questions,” Fleshman said. “You know there are limitations with the electrolyte. There’s a misunderstanding about why lithium moves. There are misunderstandings of how lithium interacts with the electrolyte as a whole.”

The possibilities for the next generation of lithium batteries are just now being explored, and it’s more than just making our electronic toys run faster. The prospect of communities redirecting some of their energy usage in more sustainable ways is in play.

“The Nobel puts those questions on the international stage,” Fleshman said of the continued study of lithium technology. “I think it gets more people interested, people who thought the technology was basically at its end. We’ve made a lithium battery. It works great. My cell phone stays charged for forever. But there is so much more innovation to be had.

“There are really good scientists out there trying to answer the question of how can we redirect our energy demands to energies that are sustainable, and rewarding those scientists with a Nobel is yet another way of saying we need a global conversation about renewable energy sources,” Fleshman said.

The book on development economics

When the winner of the Nobel in economics was announced, you might have heard a smattering of applause across campus. The work of development economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of M.I.T. and Michael Kremer of Harvard is plenty familiar to students and faculty here. The 2011 book from Banarjee and Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, has been part of Freshman Studies since 2016, meaning most every current Lawrence student has dissected the book at some point over the past four years, or will next term.

Dylan Fitz
Hillary Caruthers

The book — and now the Nobel – has shined a light on the growing field of development economics. In this case, it’s the work of economists who zero in at the micro level in the study of poverty and other economic issues in developing countries, gathering and using specific on-the-ground data to analyze outcomes. Instead of taking a big picture view, they run real-world trials of local groups or communities to test how certain factors — be it in the areas of education, health care, food, family planning or others — are affecting the economics of a region.

Nowhere on the Lawrence campus was the applause for the Nobel louder than in the offices of Hillary Caruthers and Dylan Fitz, both assistant professors of economics who specialize in the micro approach to development economics. Both have counted the Poor Economics authors and Kremer as role models since their graduate school days a decade ago, even before the book was published.

“I do find it extremely validating,” Caruthers said of the Nobel announcement. “It’s exciting that when you look at all of the Nobel laureates going back through time, this is by far the closest to our research. So, it’s exciting to see people be honored who we have admired and who have inspired us in our field of study and have really shaped the field so much. It’s like seeing our idols rewarded for their work.”

Learn more about Economics at Lawrence here.

Caruthers and Fitz said they both were driven to pursue development economics on the micro level because it is so tightly tied to the people affected. It is analysis of open-ended micro data from individuals and households with an expectation that it’ll add to the larger economics conversation, and, in the end, help improve living conditions.

It’s not that the more macro approach to development economics isn’t valuable, Fitz said. It’s just the micro approach and what it can bring to the table is another important piece, and it’s what drew him to the field.

“The type of work in Poor Economics is why I’m an economist,” he said.

Some of the research done by Caruthers, for example, has focused on how poor nutrition in utero can affect someone through life. That touches on the same themes explored in Poor Economics, studying how early health care, or lack thereof, can have ramifications that affect one’s ability to ever escape poverty.

“Economics is a social science, of course, but often it’s easy to forget that we are ultimately interested in people and the well-being of humans,” Caruthers said. “So, de-emphasizing systems and instead emphasizing that micro impact is very appealing to me as a scholar.”

Poor Economics has been a great fit for Freshman Studies, introducing non-economics students to a part of the economics curriculum many don’t know exists.

“A lot of freshmen come in and they don’t know what economics is,” Fitz said. “Some of them think it is just business or just defending free markets, which is not at all the case. Economics is something that can help us make the world a better place — to try to understand the world first of all, and then to improve it for people.”

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

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

John Huber ’84

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

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

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

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

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

Fire-damaged home on Union Street to be demolished in coming days

Photo of exterior of home at 229 N. Union St., Appleton.
The home at 229 N. Union St. was severely damaged in a fire in October 2018.

The Lawrence-owned house on Union Street that was to be restored and used as a home for the provost and dean of faculty will instead be torn down due to damage from a fire a year ago.

The house, owned by Lawrence since 1928, has great historic significance. But efforts to restore it following the fire have proven not to be viable. Construction Project Manager Joseph King said the announcement comes with much “sadness.”

The following letter from King is being sent to City Park Historic District neighbors and local community leaders regarding plans to demolish the property at 229 N. Union Street:

We write today with the announcement that we’ve made a very difficult decision regarding the Lawrence-owned property at 229 N. Union St. The home, which suffered extensive damage in an October 2018 fire, will be torn down in the coming days, and the property will be returned to green space.

The decision to demolish the home follows a year of study by architects, engineers, and City of Appleton inspectors. We explored an assortment of options for renovating or restoring the home. In the end, the fire damage was too extensive to make the house viable. It is with great sadness that we have made the necessary arrangements to have the home demolished.

We are notifying the Lawrence community and neighbors because we understand and appreciate the historical significance of this home. It was built in 1901 and has been owned by Lawrence since 1928, serving a variety of purposes through the years. Perhaps most noteworthy, Attic Theatre was founded in this home. We celebrated that history a little more than two years ago when we had the 2,700-square-foot home moved a block down Union Street.

Unfortunately, the damage from the fire last fall was too much to overcome. The fire occurred while a contractor was working on renovations. The contractor’s insurance is covering the loss and the demolition. At the time of the fire, Lawrence was preparing the home to become the residence for the provost and dean of faculty. Alternative housing arrangements have been made.

A small slice of Appleton and Lawrence history will be lost with the demolition. For that, we are heartbroken and know that those who appreciate that history are feeling the same.

Path to Trump? Podair co-authors book that finds answers in legacy of Spiro Agnew

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly three years ago, in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, as the results of one of the most stunning election nights in U.S. history began to come into focus, Jerald Podair sent an urgent email to two fellow history scholars.

They were his co-authors on a book project, in its early stages, about Spiro Agnew, the oft-dismissed former vice president who they believe served as a harbinger for the modern Republican party.

“Our book just became very, very relevant,” Podair wrote in that email as the clock ticked past 3 a.m. and it became clear that Donald Trump would become the nation’s 45th president.

Three tumultuous years later, that book, Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America, has arrived, set to be published Oct. 18 by University of Virginia Press.

Portrait of Jerald Podair in Main Hall.
Lawrence University history professor Jerald Podair partnered with two other history scholars on a new book on Spiro Agnew, detailing how Richard Nixon’s one-time vice president set a path to the era of Donald Trump. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

In the book, Podair, the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies and professor of history at Lawrence University, and co-authors Zach Messitte, president of Ripon College, and Charles J. Holden, professor of history at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, detail how the ascent of Trump and his populist base can be traced back to Agnew, whose political star burned bright briefly in the late 1960s and early 1970s before crashing hard.

Agnew was much maligned in his day and is often referenced among the worst vice presidents in history. But Podair, Messitte, and Holden argue that historians and political observers need to take a closer look. Agnew’s populist “everyman” appeal, his very public disdain for political correctness and the academic class, his depictions of the media as the enemy, and his ability to rally supporters by railing against uncomfortable cultural change woke up a political base that would eventually lead the Republican party into the era of Trump.

Agnew was considered a joke by many political pundits of the day when Richard Nixon surprisingly tabbed him as his running mate in 1968. Time magazine called him “a narrow and dangerous man with a genuine capacity for bigotry.”

“That’s how he was viewed,” Podair said. “Just like Donald Trump is viewed in many ways today. But, like Trump, Agnew had much more substance to him and really had a powerful populist message that resonated very deeply with middle Americans at the time — the Trump voters we’d call them today — and may very well have swung the 1968 election to Nixon.”

Interest in the book is already ramping up. An op-ed about Agnew written by the three co-authors appeared in the Baltimore Sun in late September and has since been picked up by numerous other media outlets across the country. A book event featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema at Lawrence.

The timing of the book’s release, just weeks after Democrats in the House launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, should give it prime exposure. It wasn’t necessarily planned that way.

Podair, Messitte, and Holden began conversing about the Agnew book before Trump even declared his bid for the presidency. Its focus was more about Agnew’s role in the transition of the Republican party from one focused on economics and the business elite to one focused on cultural unease and an angry populist reaction.

Messitte and Holden have long studied the political waters of Maryland, from whence Agnew emerged. And Podair is well-versed in the politics and cultural dynamics of the 1960s and the various arcs and swings of politics through the 20th century.

Thus, they agreed to team up on a book project that they believed was important, whether Trump was in play or not.

“We divided the book into sections,” Podair said. “My portion was to explain how the Republican party changed from the 1930s, when it was viewed as the party of the economic elite, to the 1960s, the late ’60s, when it began to be viewed as the party of the average man, the working man. Not necessarily economically populist, but certainly culturally populist.”

The Democratic party, meanwhile, had seen its own role reversal, becoming the party of “cultural elitism” in the 1960s as the country navigated race riots, student rebellions and an anti-war movement that divided much of the country, Podair said.

“Spiro Agnew was uniquely positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.

Agnew would become Nixon’s “point of the spear,” Podair said, ridiculing protesters in often crude and seemingly mean-spirited ways, all the while working up what was a growing base of resentment against the cultural transformations that were taking place in the U.S.

“That flies in the face of the traditional view of Agnew as some bumbling, inarticulate clown,” Podair said. “He did say some things that were gaffes. But there was much more to him than these gaffes, which is what the media focused on. He was able to bring a culturally populist message to the American people and get people who had normally voted for Democrats their whole lives — the New Deal Democrats — and get them to vote for Republicans. And that’s the way I think he shifted the political ground.”

If that sounds very much like 2016, Podair said you are not wrong, and that’s why historians and others who are studying the unfolding drama that is the Trump presidency would do well to zero in on Agnew, from the time he first garnered attention as a national political figure in the late 1960s to his resignation from the vice presidency in late 1973 amid revelations that he committed income tax fraud while governor of Maryland.

“When Trump took the escalator ride and started speaking the way he did, he was really tapping into a welter of cultural resentments,” Podair said. “Whatever you want to call his typical voter — blue collar white voter or alienated working class voter — well, he was tapping into a welter of cultural resentment that Agnew had definitely tapped into. And I would argue that if you took the name off of Agnew’s speeches and updated it a little — obviously there was no Twitter in those days and the media that Agnew was railing against was the three networks, that’s it — these are words that Donald Trump could have spoken.”

All the more reason for historians to take a deeper dive into the makings of Agnew, Podair said. With an impeachment inquiry under way, a 2020 election campaign heating up, and emotions running high, Trump is a daily fixation, for better or worse. Republican Populist may provide a little context as to how we got here.

“Our general thesis is, if you want to understand where Donald Trump came from, he didn’t come out of nowhere,” Podair said. “He has, in fact, deep roots in the changes in the Republican party that go back more than 50 years. If you want to understand Donald Trump, you’ve got to understand Spiro Agnew. He is actually a pivotal figure, and, I think, a very understudied and underrated political figure.”

Book event: A book discussion featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden will be held at Lawrence University on Oct. 28. The Main Hall Forum begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. It is free and open to the public.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Dominica Chang: Heavy lifting in French studies

Dominica Chang poses for a photo while standing on one of the paths cutting across Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Dominica Chang (photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Dominica Chang, the Margaret Banta Humleker Professor of French Cultural Studies and an associate professor of French, is a classroom favorite, whether leading study abroad trips to Senegal or diving deep into French literature.

But she also has a variety of interests outside the classroom, not the least of which is the pursuit of some serious weightlifting skills. She was recently certified as an Olympic-style weightlifting coach.

Chang has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree from Middlebury College, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We fired off six questions for her as part of our new On Main Hall Green With … faculty series. She was kind enough to help us get the series started.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I hope that every student knows that I truly want them to succeed, not only in my class but also in life. I want them to master the content of the specific course, certainly, but also to learn how to think critically and independently, to speak with intelligence, confidence and humility across differences, and to be sensitive and generous to each other. These basic principles guide my pedagogy, from Freshman Studies to French 101 to French Senior Capstone. My hope is that when a student believes that a teacher is in their corner, hoping they will succeed, they will also better understand — and therefore better conquer — the intellectual and social challenges we will engage in together.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Spending 10 weeks in Senegal with Lawrence students has been a wonderful experience for me. While there, we spend most of each day as well as many weekends together, so I am able to get to know the students in a completely different environment. It’s very fulfilling to help such bright, enthusiastic young people experience and navigate a culture that is so different from our home campus.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

Dakar, Senegal! I could never have predicted that my training in 19th-century French literature and cultural studies would have led me to spending 10 weeks every few years leading our Francophone Seminar in Senegal. Each time I’ve gone, I have as much of a transformative experience as the students I accompany. I’ve made lifelong friends there and consider myself incredibly fortunate to have these opportunities.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

I think a lot about the random contingencies in life that affect what we do and who we become, so I love this question. If I weren’t teaching, I would most likely be rescuing animals or working as an animal welfare advocate of some sort. Either that … or perhaps helping to run a local pizza joint!

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

My intellectual side loves my office; my home away from home. When I need a break from thinking too hard, I love spending time in the Alexander Gym weight room, especially since I’ve gotten more seriously into weightlifting this past year. It’s a great facility and I enjoy running into our hardworking coaches and student-athletes.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: Sentimental Education (1869) by Gustave Flaubert. It’s the text that took my love for French studies to the next level and inspired my graduate work in the field. I am very fortunate to be able to teach it on occasion in The Long Novel, a course that I co-teach with professors Tim Spurgin and Peter Thomas.

Recording: New Order, Substance (1987). I’m a child of the ’80s. Just the other day, I realized that at least a few songs from this album have made it onto every single playlist I’ve put together since 1987.

Film: The Battle of Algiers (1966) by Gillo Pontecorvo. Perhaps my favorite film of all time. Time and again, I am astounded by its cinematic beauty and especially by the sensitivity and complexity with which it represents the brutality of colonial occupation.

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

7 days, 7 events: From concerts to Latin film festival, this week is jam-packed

A still from "Perfect Strangers."
“Perfect Strangers” will be shown as part of the Latin American and Spanish Film Festival, running Wednesday through Saturday at Lawrence University. It’s one piece of a busy week on campus.

This week marks one of the busiest of the fall term when it comes to significant events on the Lawrence campus, beginning with a Sunday music performance on the Main Hall Green and ending with a four-day film festival.

We couldn’t hit them all (check the calendar at lawrence.edu for a full listing of events), but here are seven Lawrence University events — all with free admission — packed into one glorious seven-day stretch.

1. Birds celebrated with music on Main Hall Green

Visitors will experience “Ten Thousand Birds” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams on Lawrence’s main lawn at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. The Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, will transform the outdoor space with music based on the songs of birds that are native to, or migrate through, the Midwest.

During the 90-minute performance, musicians and audience can move freely around the space. In that way, “Ten Thousand Birds” is analogous to a walk in which you discover bird and other natural sounds — bird songs become music and the open setting becomes an artistic space, blurring the lines between human creativity and natural phenomena.

This performance will be repeated at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

2. “Family and friends” a theme for Sunday night performance

A recital to be held Sunday, Oct. 13 in Lawrence University’s Harper Hall will carry a theme focused on the bonds of family and friends.

Matthew Michelic, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory, will lead the performance, titled “Music for Family and Friends.” It will feature music written for close friends or family either of the composers or the performers. It begins at 7 p.m.

Each piece in the program has a story that will be related during the recital. 

The composers represented include three current or former Lawrence faculty: Stephen McCardell is a teacher of music theory, Keith Dom Powell is a teacher of horn for the Academy of Music and has instructed in Lawrence’s Freshman Studies program, and Thom Ritter George served as interim conductor of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. 

The program begins with a work that W.A. Mozart wrote to help a friend in need, and ends with the famous Sonatina by Antonin Dvorak, written for and dedicated to his children.

The performers include faculty pianists Anthony Padilla and Michael Mizrahi, trombone faculty Tim Albright, and adjunct faculty members Emily Dupere on violin and Leslie Outland Michelic on English horn. 

3. Indigenous People’s Day features Oneida dancers

Lawrence University Native Americans (LUNA) will host a celebration of Indigenous People’s Day at 5 p.m. Monday in the Warch Campus Center.

The event celebrates and honors the lives and cultures of Indigenous People across the Americas.

Oneida pow wow dancers will provide a demonstration, and an emcee will talk about the importance of regalia, dance, and song. LUNA will serve indigenous foods that are central to a couple of Native American tribes, and provide information about the importance of each food and the tribe from which it comes.

4. Music for All concert series is back

The first installment of Lawrence’s Music for All concert series will be held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Riverview Gardens Community Center, marking the beginning of the fourth season of the series.

Tuesday’s concert will include performances by professors Erin Lesser (flute), Michael Mizrahi (piano), Dane Richeson (percussion) and Mark Urness (bass), as well as performances by other students and faculty. Each piece will be introduced before it is performed, providing context and suggestions for what the audience should listen for, thus creating a more immersive and interactive experience.

This series was founded by Mizrahi and Lesser as part of Lawrence’s partnership with Riverview Gardens, a nonprofit focused on addressing homelessness and poverty in the Fox Cities. Mizrahi and Lesser modeled the program off of their work in Decoda, a dynamic musical group that tries to achieve a social impact through performances.

The Stone Arch Brewpub will provide light refreshments during the reception.

Future concerts in the series are set for Nov. 18, Jan. 20, Feb. 23, April 21, and May 18.

5. Latin American and Spanish Film Festival returns

The eighth annual Lawrence University Latin American and Spanish Film Festival is set for Oct. 16–19, featuring seven of the top Spanish-language films of 2018, in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. The festival will begin at 5 p.m. each night and will include films from Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Spain and Colombia.

The festival will open on Wednesday night with two comedies from Mexico and Chile, Perfect Strangers and Broken Panties, respectively. The films on Thursday and Friday night will take on a more dramatic tone with three dramas and one thriller: Birds of Passage (Colombia), The Angel (Argentina), The Chambermaid (Mexico) and Journey to a Mother’s Room (Spain). Saturday night will begin with a showing of Chilean drama, Damn Kids, and will be followed with a special audience Q&A with the film’s director, Gonzalo Justiniano. After the Q&A, guests are welcome to attend the 7:45 p.m. reception in the Esch-Hurvis Room, located within the Warch Campus Center.

Professors Cecilia Herrera and Rosa Tapia of the Spanish Department organized this year’s event.

“The Latin American and Spanish Film Festival has become a cherished and unique event in our state,” Tapia stated. “It brings our diverse community together and it reminds us of our shared humanity and common love for the arts.”

More information on the festival can be found at go.lawrence.edu/lasf.

6. Indian classical dancer to open dance series

Renowned Indian classical dancer Anindita Neogy Anaam will perform at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in the Warch Campus Center, marking the beginning of this year’s ongoing dance series.

Anaam, who is based in Wisconsin, is one of the leading figures in Kathak, a form of Indian classical dance. As a dancer, instructor and choreographer, Anaam has garnered praise and worldwide recognition, such as being awarded the Indian Raga Fellowship, an award that few North American dancers have received. She has performed as a soloist in India, Germany and the U.S.

Future performances of the dance series include Set Go on Jan. 17, Michelle Ellsworth on April 8, and Rythea Lee on April 27.

7. Pianist McDonald to be in concert in Chapel

Soloist and chamber musician Robert McDonald, a music instructor at the Juilliard School and a 1973 Lawrence University graduate, will perform a guest piano recital in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.

Along with receiving his bachelor’s degree from Lawrence, McDonald has earned degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. He has been recognized internationally with various prestigious awards, including the Deutsche Schallplatten Critics Award and the gold medal at the Busoni International Piano Competition, among others.

Although McDonald is a faculty member at both Juilliard (since 1999) and the Curtis Institute of Music (since 2007), he continues to tour throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.

McDonald also will be teaching a master class at 4 p.m. Saturday in Harper Hall. (It was moved back one hour from the planned 3 p.m. start because of a scheduling conflict.)

Compiled by Alex Freeman ’23, a student assistant in the Communications office.