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Be the Light! closes at $232.6M, adding strength, support for decades to come

Renewal of the Lawrence campus has been a big piece of the Be the Light! Campaign.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University raised $232.6 million in its seven-year Be the Light! Campaign, surpassing the $220 million goal and strengthening the school in myriad ways going forward.

The final tally was unveiled Thursday night at a virtual We Are the Light! campaign-closing event that drew an audience of Lawrentians from all over the world. It was a significant moment in the 174-year history of the private liberal arts college, and it comes in the midst of a pandemic that has tested the resolve and financial fluidity of colleges and universities across the country.

“What is most heartening about the Be the Light! Campaign is the alignment of donor interests and University need,” President Mark Burstein said of the generosity of alumni and other supporters. “The Lawrence community fundamentally cares about this place, the education we provide and the students we serve.”

This wasn’t a campaign to build a new building or expand the campus’ physical footprint. Rather, it was about the renewal of existing facilities, about strengthening and expanding academic offerings, about enhancing the student experience, and about providing scholarship resources to lower student debt and open new avenues for all academically qualified students to be able to attend Lawrence.

“This campaign has touched every aspect of the Lawrence experience,” Burstein said. “Scholarship, internships, religious and spiritual life, endowed faculty chairs, bricks and mortar projects, athletics, Bjorklunden. It’s just really touched every aspect of who we are and what we can offer to students.”

Flash back to 2014, when a $25 million matching grant from an anonymous donor (it would later grow to $30 million) kindled the possibilities to come. Earmarked for the newly launched Full Speed to Full Need scholarship initiative, the grant was matched by donors in less than 16 months, kickstarting the “quiet” phase of the Be the Light! Campaign.

Then, as Lawrence leadership prepared to go public with the campaign, the boldest fund-raising effort in the school’s history, outside voices urged them to pump the brakes a bit for fear that any goal beyond $200 million would be an invitation to failure. Burstein huddled with campaign tri-chairs David Blowers ’82, Cory Nettles ’92, and Charlot Nelson Singleton ’67, and Vice President for Alumni and Development Cal Husmann. With confidence in the vision of a transformed university, they opted to dream big.

“We were afraid if we set the goal too low it wouldn’t raise the aspirations of the Lawrence community,” Burstein said. “We knew that every dollar would have a direct impact on our students and the quality of the education we offer.”

They settled on a goal of $220 million as the campaign went public in late 2018. It was an audacious undertaking, designed to grow the endowment and support scholarship in ways that would sustain the school’s academic mission for decades to come, even as higher education braces for a multitude of challenges.

“I think we all decided to take the leap of faith together,” Burstein said.

“Exceeding our expectations”

Today’s students and those in generations to come have been at the heart of the Be the Light! Campaign. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

On Thursday night, the fruits of that faith were revealed and celebrated.

More than $91 million was raised for Full Speed to Full Need, providing endowed scholarships that help bridge the difference between a student’s financial aid and their demonstrated need. Burstein called that a core piece of the Be the Light! Campaign, one that drew an enthusiastic response from donors as contributions pushed past the initial goal of $85 million.

“This idea of supporting each of our students and their families to the level that methodology says we should, that just resonated in a way far exceeding our expectations,” Burstein said.

The results are already evident. The Full Speed to Full Need contributions have led to a decrease in the average student debt for graduating seniors each of the past four years, dropping from a high of $34,573 in 2016 to last year’s $29,118. That decline in debt for Lawrence graduates comes as reports show student loan debt trends continuing to rise across the country.

The campaign drew another $31 million to support the college’s day-to-day operations through the Lawrence Fund.

Nearly $26 million was raised for campus renewal, including renovations to Kohler Hall, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, Warch Campus Center, Ormsby Hall, Mudd Library, Brokaw Hall, Banta Bowl, and Alexander Gymnasium, among others. Classrooms are being upgraded in Youngchild and Briggs halls. Landscaping was or will be replaced in multiple spaces across campus. And the Net-Zero Bjorklunden Initiative has been launched, which will eliminate the generation of greenhouse gases from the Door County campus.

The campaign also has delivered five new endowed professorships, strengthening academic disciplines across campus. The Esch Hurvis Center for Spiritual and Religious Life was created.  An investment of $5 million has revamped and invigorated the Career Center, a major push following a 2018 Life After Lawrence study.

Upgrades on numerous facilities, including the Banta Bowl, have been possible courtesy of the Be the Light! Campaign.

The breadth of the investments is what stands out, making “a profound impact on almost every aspect of the Lawrence experience,” said Blowers, who serves as chair of the Board of Trustees as well as a tri-chair on the campaign. He applauded the vision and the work that went into making it happen.

“It has been such a privilege for me to be involved with our development staff, our tireless volunteer leadership, and President Burstein to mount the most successful campaign to date in Lawrence’s history,” he said. 

Burstein, who announced last summer that he would step away from Lawrence following this academic year, said the ebb and flow of the campaign has been amazing to watch. It was launched a little more than a year after his arrival as Lawrence’s 16th president.

“You start out with the prospectus, but that was seven years ago,” Burstein said. “That intervening time has allowed us to refine the needs and interests. Some things have stayed constant, like Full Speed to Full Need. But the Life After Lawrence Task Force, for example, defined the way forward for career services. That happened after the campaign launched. … Even the things we added, like Spiritual and Religious Life or the investments in the Career Center or going carbon neutral at Bjorklunden, all those move central aspects of the University forward.”

Campaign contributions came from more than 16,000 donors, including nearly 9,000 alumni. While large, multi-million-dollar donations drew the headlines and were critically important, nearly 70% of the gifts came in at $100 or less. For more than 4,000 of the donors, it marked the first time they had given to Lawrence.

Singleton, one of the tri-chairs providing leadership throughout the campaign, called the response from alumni, faculty, staff, and other supporters “historic and transformational,” and said all Lawrentians should take pride in what they have collectively accomplished.

“The results of the campaign are already at work as we provide scholarships, create new professorships, develop our co-curricular options, and see our campus being renewed,” she said. “Hats off to each of you who have so faithfully contributed to the success of the Be the Light! Campaign.”

Nettles, also a tri-chair of the campaign, said the investment in student support alone will bolster generations of Lawrentians.

“By every measure, the campaign was a success and exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Meeting an unexpected challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic was nowhere in sight when the Be the Light! Campaign launched. But as he prepared to unveil the final tally on Thursday, Burstein said he couldn’t help but look at the campaign results through the lens of what has transpired over the past year – a Spring Term fully remote; Fall and Winter terms in hybrid mode; students, faculty, and staff striving to maintain the high quality of a Lawrence education through never-before-seen obstacles.

Campaign investments have done more than provide financial flexibility during what Burstein called “a 100-year crisis.” The contributions funded numerous enhancements that have proven to be invaluable as the campus has navigated the pandemic — improvements in air quality in buildings across campus; the Spiritual and Religious Life leadership team that has been key in caring for students isolating or quarantining in Kohler Hall; the growth of the Career Center that has worked closely with new and soon-to-be graduates seeking employment amid economic upheaval.

The architects of the campaign envisioned investments that would prepare Lawrence for the known and the unknown, for the short term and the long term. The pandemic put that to the test even before the campaign concluded. 

“Just so much gratitude,” Burstein said. “The campaign is so hard for me to separate from this past year in the pandemic, how central the investments have been in sustaining this institution and student learning.

“This is what it means to strengthen an institution; it strengthens it for the challenges that come.”

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

Lawrence’s pandemic response has kept campus safe in midst of chaos elsewhere

Meralis Alvarez-Morales ’22 works at the COVID-19 testing site in the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center gymnasium. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Christyn Abaray knew she and her Lawrence University colleagues were walking a fine line when they welcomed 800 students back to campus in early September for the start of Fall Term.

After going fully remote during Spring Term, the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT)—a campus leadership group led by Abaray, assistant to the president—spent late spring and much of the summer sifting COVID-19 data, studying options, consulting with experts on and off campus, and eventually drafting a multi-layered strategy that would allow for a mix of in-person and remote study.

But as Fall Term neared, with roughly 60% of the school’s nearly 1,500 students opting to return to the Appleton campus, news reports were painting a bleak picture. Wisconsin was the No. 1 hot spot in the country for new COVID cases, with Appleton being one of eight Wisconsin cities making the New York Times’ top 10 list.

Christyn Abaray

Abaray watched those reports with understandable concern. LPPT members began fielding queries from concerned students and parents about how safe it was to return to Appleton.

But Abaray and her team stayed confident in the strategic plan they had put together, which included the initial testing of all students, faculty, and staff on campus, weekly random testing throughout the term, ample space for quarantining and isolation, and strict requirements to Honor the Pledge, including wearing a mask and adhering to physical distancing.

As the COVID test results came in through September and into October, the difference between what was happening in the Fox Valley—and, really, most of Wisconsin—and what was happening on the Lawrence campus could not have been more stark. While Appleton case numbers blew up, the campus emerged as arguably the safest place in the city.

“We were regularly just in awe of what the testing was showing,” Abaray said. “We were just blown away.”

Positive cases on campus through Fall Term stayed below 1% even while cases surged in the surrounding community. And while reports of bars and restaurants filling with unmasked patrons were frequent in the Fox Valley and across Wisconsin, Lawrence students overwhelmingly stayed true to the pledge they signed to follow safety protocols.

Campus buildings were closed to the public. Signage reminded all to wear masks anytime on campus. Students were asked to socialize mask-less only in their pods, with all other interactions requiring masks and distancing.

Now, midway through Winter Term, with six months of experience to lean on and protocols still in place, Lawrence continues to have success in limiting the spread of the virus on campus, with cases detailed weekly on its digital dashboard. There have been slight upticks, but nothing that has been sustained.

At its most problematic point during Fall Term, Lawrence counted 20 positive COVID cases among its students. That number fell back to two a few weeks later and never went above 10 the rest of the term.

In Winter Term, which began with the return to campus of about 900 students the first week of January, there was a quick increase, with 30 students testing positive and going into isolation during the week of Jan. 11. It was a potential tipping point, Abaray said, and the LPPT quickly communicated concerns, reminding the Lawrence community how precarious the situation was and how important it remained to adhere to safety protocols.

The message hit home. The feared spread never happened, with positive tests and needed isolation quickly dropping again into single figures. As of mid-February, there was one active student case.

Abaray and her team know this is not a victory lap. There remains a long way to go. New COVID variants spreading across the U.S. pose new threats, and losing focus on what got Lawrence to this point could send things south quickly. But they also know the strategy they adopted last summer works.

Testing, testing, testing

D’Andre Weaver ’21 (left) and Sterling Ambrosius ’22 wear protective gear as they work at the testing site. Fifteen students were hired to help staff the site each week.

Despite a hefty price tag, Lawrence committed to testing early and often and has stayed with it. The LPPT, which consulted frequently with Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO Dr. John Raymond and ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi, identified testing as key to keeping the plan on track.

Everything else would fall in place based on what the testing numbers told them, Abaray said. If they could mitigate the spread of the virus, then they could launch academic programs as envisioned in various modalities and they could take steps to make the student experience as robust as possible despite the obvious limitations that come with safety protocols.

“The big piece of making all that happen was testing,” Abaray said.

Every student and employee who planned to set foot on campus at any point during the term was required to be tested before the term began. After that initial round, at least one-third of the campus population was tested weekly.

During Fall Term, that meant nasal swabs administered by Bellin Health. For Winter Term, the LPPT opted to switch to saliva-based PCR tests that could be administered by Lawrence staff in partnership with Concentric.

Richard Jazdzewski

“This allows us to be much more efficient and able to scale our staffing patterns to match the testing numbers for the given week,” said Richard Jazdzewski, dean of Wellness Services and an LPPT member. “This has resulted in less time waiting in line on site for our LU community.”

It’s also allowed Lawrence students to work as part of the testing team. Meralis Alvarez-Morales ’22 jumped at the chance to don protective gear and go to work. She’s now working between four and five hours a week, gathering needed information on site from Lawrentians being tested.

“I choose to work as a testing assistant not only because of the opportunity to be paid, but also because I wanted to do my part in giving back to my community,” Alvarez-Morales said. “We are still in a global pandemic after all, and many hands do make light work.”

The testing, which is set up in the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center gymnasium, will continue in Spring Term, Abaray said. The cooperation to date from students and employees has been stellar. The push to stay the course will continue even as COVID numbers in the surrounding community continue to go down and a growing number of people are being vaccinated.

“The only way our testing strategy works is because we have a group of students, faculty, and staff who are adhering to all it means to be in the Pledge,” Abaray said. “It’s an interwoven group of things that all have to be happening for us to be where we are right now. Holding each other accountable is a big piece to that.”

The Pledge

Wearing a mask on campus is part of Honor the Pledge.

Honor the Pledge, launched before Fall Term began, is a pact between the University and all students, faculty, and staff who opted to or needed to be on campus. It lays out 10 promises tied to safety protocols, from mask-wearing to social distancing to testing.

Violations of the Pledge have been addressed on an individual basis, Abaray said. And while there have been occasional violations among students, the vast majority of Lawrentians on campus have stayed true to the Pledge. That, more than any other factor, is why Lawrence has had success mitigating the spread while some universities across the country have struggled.

“Student adherence to what we’re asking them to do, for the most part, is what’s making this possible,” Abaray said. “We’ve all read the stories from other places where decisions that students make really do make or break what happens. We have students who get it. They’re making some of the most mature decisions that we could ask for.”

Being a small campus certainly helps. Abaray and the rest of the LPPT know it’s easier to get that buy-in from a student body of 1,500 than it is for a campus with 50,000 students. But it’s still impressive. And the work continues.

A new incentive program launched through Wellness Services, called #VIKINGSCARE, gives Lawrence community members an opportunity to recognize their peers for behavior that keeps the campus community safe.

“Students who have been nominated can win weekly prizes, including free dinner with five friends from a local restaurant, an Apple watch, a Bluetooth speaker, LU gear, and more,” Jazdzewski said.

Alvarez-Morales, a Global Studies and Spanish double major, speaks with pride about her fellow students. She said students’ willingness to adhere to the Pledge, as limiting as it is, is what has separated Lawrence’s success in mitigating virus spread from what’s happened off campus.

“Lawrence overall has done a great job enforcing safety protocols and guidelines on campus,” Alvarez-Morales said. “Lawrence has also done a great job of providing students with the resources to obtain masks, reusable dinner bags, food, and sanitizing products to clean their spaces.”

The vast majority of students have taken the virus seriously. They understand that masking up and following protocols are selfless acts aimed at keeping others safe and the campus functioning. Alvarez-Morales said she wishes that was the case everywhere.

“In short, yes, I feel safer on campus now than I did when I first thought of returning to campus. But I do not feel safe in the surrounding community.”

Isolation and Quarantine Space

Kohler Hall was set aside as isolation and quarantine space as part of the strategic plan to mitigate virus spread on campus.

Lawrence limited the number of students who could live on campus – roughly 800 opted in for Fall Term and about 900 for Winter Term – so adequate housing space could be dedicated to isolation and quarantine.

Kohler Hall has been that space, with students being moved into the hall for isolation if they test positive and for quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who tested positive.

Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and chaplain to the University, Terra Winston, associate dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, and Curt Lauderdale, dean of students, have been instrumental in creating a responsive and caring space for students entering Kohler. Bon Appetit, Lawrence’s on-site provider of campus meals, has been essential in providing food delivery.

Abaray praised Morgan-Clement and Winston for their ability to provide comfort—physical and emotional—for students going through isolation or quarantine. And she called Bon Appetit employees unsung heroes for their willingness to adapt in ways that serve those students.

“Their planning and their ability to adjust their planning for our students who are in Kohler in quarantine or isolation has been phenomenal to watch,” Abaray said. “We had a plan going in, and that wasn’t providing the best experience for the students, so they pivoted. It illustrates how much adjusting you need to do. It’s OK to adjust. You don’t have to have all the answers on the front end. You won’t. Adjusting is part of that.”

The making of the LPPT

Leadership and communication via the LPPT have been critical from the beginning. The group includes President Mark Burstein and most of his cabinet, as well as key personnel from Wellness Services, the faculty, and other points across campus. In all, more than 50 voices have been part of that team, including a number of student leaders.

“We figured out very quickly that we needed to have a lot of stakeholders around the table if we were going to do this the right way,” Abaray said.

The group met twice weekly through the spring and summer as it drafted a strategy to, if at all possible, bring students back to campus. It split into five subgroups to explore in detail various aspects of that challenge—a group focused on the campus calendar and curricular issues; a co-curricular group focused on student life, housing, meals, and student engagement; a group focused on visitors to campus; a health group that included faculty members with expertise in the biomedical field; and an employee group that explored potential workplace issues.

Those subgroups met regularly, then reported back to the LPPT as the strategy slowly evolved.

“All of it needed to come together by the middle of summer to have an idea of what direction we wanted to go for the fall,” Abaray said. “That was the first big decision that needed to be made.”

Once the decision was made to proceed with at least a portion of the student body on campus, the LPPT went to work drafting particulars, communicating the plan in detail to students, families, faculty, and staff, and answering an onslaught of questions.

That work is ongoing, with the LPPT continuing to meet weekly.

“We feel somewhat comfortable with where we are,” Abaray said.

But as it was nearly a year ago when the pandemic first arrived, there are more questions than answers. LPPT members know they must continue to listen, learn, respond, and adjust.

“Everything changes by the day,” Abaray said. “It’s that level of living in the gray. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to people. You hear, ‘You all said this on this day and now you’re saying this.’ Yes, we did. We learned something. It’s not that we were wrong. It’s that we’ve learned something, and that’s moving us forward. We are making decisions with the best information we have at that particular moment, and the moment we have more information we are going to adjust. I know that’s not comfortable and it’s not ideal. For the control freak in me, it’s unnerving. But you have to be able to be in that space right now if you’re going to be productive.”

What’s next?

Vaccines are on the horizon. Jazdzewski said Lawrence will continue to work with city and county health officials in efforts to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines on campus, but how and when has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, preparations are under way to launch a Spring Term that will look very much like Winter Term. Students are again being given the option of living on campus or staying remote. If living on or visiting campus, adherence to the Pledge will remain a must. Adjustments in protocols will be made as conditions dictate.

Confidence in the strategy that has gotten Lawrence to this point is strong, Abaray said. But she and others on the LPPT know there will be more hurdles and more questions as winter turns to spring and impatience grows. The finish line remains murky at best.

“Every day we doubt everything because we just don’t know,” Abaray said. “We still don’t know what’s going on with this virus; still don’t know a lot of things. But I trust and I have confidence in our protocols and our strategy.”

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

Changes aim to improve student access to Experiential Learning Funds

Thinking about summer plans? Then you should be thinking about applying for Experiential Learning Funds. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A record number of Lawrence University students received funding over the past year through the school’s Experiential Learning Funds (ELF) program, designed to support students pursuing summer internships, self-directed research, and volunteer work.

Ninety student projects were financially supported, more than double the usual amount, an increase due in part to changing needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, said Emily Bowles, Experiential Learning Funds coordinator.

Now the deadline for 2021 applicants is straight ahead—it’s set for March 5 but flexibility is being built in because of ongoing pandemic uncertainties—and administrators are expecting another robust year.

The Career Center has streamlined the application process in an effort to make it easier for students with qualifying projects to access the funding. Students are being asked to submit a common application, leaving the ELF committee to match it with the most appropriate of the more than two dozen donor-supported funds that make up ELF. That removes the need for students to seek out specific funds, and it provides flexibility to match a request with a fund that has like-minded intentions.

“We’re hoping we can dismantle some barriers students may have faced in the past, increase awareness of funding opportunities, and ensure we help donors—many of whom are our alumni—match their dollars to projects that align with their values,” Bowles said.

The ELF committee is expected to issue decisions on each request by the end of March.

Student uses Experiential Learning Funds for computer science simulation. See more here.

Career Center here to help as pandemic affects job searches. See more here.

The funds cover expenses for students doing internships, job shadowing, research, or volunteer work. Some of the funds are broad in nature, giving the committee flexibility in how to disperse the monies. Other funds are specific to a particular field of study. The payments might help defray a student’s transportation costs, purchase needed resources, or cover living expenses.

The maximum outlay is $5,000, although the average is usually between $1,000 to $2,000.

The record 90 projects last year were supported to the tune of more than $160,000. The increase in the number of approved requests, Bowles said, was driven by the pandemic, which took many internship and research projects virtual, removing or lowering travel and housing expenses.

A new fund in the ELF program, the Equal Opportunity Fund for Career Exploration and Development, was launched to support Black, Latino, and/or first-generation students in new ways. And new attention was paid to using ELF funds to get students experience in social justice initiatives or with nonprofits that offer only unpaid internships, Bowles said.

“We were able to support more projects specifically designed by BIPOC and/or first-generation students thanks to the Equal Opportunity Fund,” she said. “In the midst of COVID, this fund source let us meet students where they were and alleviate some financial pressures so they could pursue projects based on their passions and personal or professional goals, even with so many factors conspiring to make pursuing internships or unpaid opportunities untenable for many people.”

A wide breadth of work

Among the 90 projects funded in the past year: a virtual internship at a psychology clinic working on social skills with middle school students; immersion in a public health research study; a data science internship; research into creating biographies for a catalog of Latin-American cello works; exploration of the barriers the arts present to artists of color; research into food insecurity issues across multiple continents; work in the offices of local elected officials; and many more.

Natalie LaMonto ’22

Natalie LaMonto ’22, an anthropology major from Frankfort, Illinois, was among the students who tapped into ELF funds after the pandemic shifted summer plans. She had planned on traveling to New Zealand, but that was no longer doable. The Sara A. Quandt and Thomas A. Arcury Endowment for Experiential Learning and Research in Public Health, one of the available ELF funds, gave her a viable plan B.

“This was not the summer I was imagining back in March, but I am glad that it turned out this way,” LaMonto said in a Career Center report on ELF impact.

She took on a virtual internship researching public health issues in vulnerable communities in North Carolina. She worked closely with Lawrence alumna Sara Quandt ’73, a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University who does extensive research in public health.

“This past year, after taking Nutritional Anthropology, I had realized that I wanted to pursue a career in public health, but I did not know exactly what that meant,” LaMonto said. “When I was chosen for this internship, I knew that I wanted to research vulnerable communities, like the Latinx migrant farmworker community in North Carolina, but I did not know exactly what that meant either. Through this internship, I have grasped what it means, what it is like, to be a researcher in public health.”

Gabriel Chambers ’22

Gabriel Chambers ’22, a government major from Queens, New York, took on a self-directed research project on food insecurity, funded in part by the Equal Opportunity Fund.

“We see that some populations have lack of access to safe and nutritious food whereas some don’t,” Chambers said in the ELF report. “In the current pandemic, this threat leaves at-risk individuals vulnerable to malnutrition while simultaneously trying to protect themselves from a virus. This project identifies what is food insecurity, why is this an issue, who is affected by this crisis, where in the world are these conditions prevalent, and my personal insight on my story with food insecurity.”

Besides helping to center his career ambitions, Chambers said the summer experience helped him develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and networking skills. 

“In a time of need, the Equal Opportunity Fund provided me with resources to build a foundation to a path I want to follow upon leaving Lawrence,” he said. 

Funds to fill in the gaps

Bowles said those types of student experiences are at the heart of the Experiential Learning Funds program. It’s what motivates donors to participate and what drives students to seek out such opportunities.

“Experiential learning projects over the summer can help students harness their theoretical knowledge to practical, hands-on experiences,” Bowles said. “I know when I was in grad school, I struggled with a sense of disconnect—I was talking about feminist and queer theory without having opportunities for advocacy or activism—and I think for Lawrentians, these funds can help fill in that space.”

For students eyeing law school or medical school or seeking additional business training, the funds can provide opportunities to build important connections. The funds, for example, can assist students in accessing online Harvard Business School courses in partnership with Lawrence.  

“Some of these projects have direct connections to classroom learning, and others let them try out things as interns with alumni or on the job so they can start to think about what possibilities their degrees hold for them,” Bowles said. “With the funds, it’s also possible for students to try out things that Lawrence doesn’t offer without having to do that during an academic year, when the work might conflict with their ability to show up fully for their courses.” 

Bowles said students looking to apply for ELF funds should consult with their advisors, be creative in what they envision, and be realistic in their budget projections.

“One of my favorite things about working with Lawrentians is seeing the myriad ways in which imagination, passion, ambition, and critical thinking become the foundation for such different experiences in the short and long term,” Bowles said. 

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

“We are setting some history here”: Women’s hockey ready to make its debut

The Lawrence women’s hockey team will drop the puck on its debut season on Saturday, Feb. 13. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Joe Vanden Acker / Lawrence Athletics

When Jocey Kleiber started as Lawrence University’s first women’s hockey coach in August 2019, she wrote a number on the whiteboard outside her office at Alexander Gymnasium. That figure was more than 400, and it signified the number of days until the Vikings dropped the puck on the first game in program history, set for late October 2020.

“It feels like five years ago now,” Kleiber said with a laugh.

That number was finally down to double digits, less than two months away from the opener, when the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) announced in August 2020 the season was going to be suspended until at least January 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of taking it as a soul-crushing setback, Kleiber took it in stride.

“The pandemic had been raging at that point so it wasn’t like it came out of the blue,” Kleiber said. “I kind of chuckled a little bit, and it was like, of course, I try to start a new program and a pandemic hits.”

Now the day Kleiber and her team have waited for, planned for, longed for, is finally upon us. Lawrence opens its inaugural season on Feb. 13 against the College of St. Scholastica at the Appleton Family Ice Center. The puck drops at 7 p.m. No fans will be allowed for Lawrence home games, but the contests will be webcast here. Lawrence then travels to St. Scholastica for a 4 p.m. Feb. 14 game in Duluth, Minn.

“It was kind of like our hearts dropped,” said first-year forward Delaney Kingsland of the decision to suspend the season. “We had worked through the year to get to this place. When we got the news that we were going to have a season, we were super excited.”

Women’s hockey is Lawrence’s first new varsity athletics program since men’s hockey was elevated from club status in 1986. Lawrence, which started its athletic program with a track and field day in 1889, now has 22 intercollegiate athletic teams. The addition of the Vikings brings the number of NCAA Division III women’s hockey teams to 67.

A slow build

Kleiber was only half-joking when she said it felt like five years ago that she was hired. It would be a colossal understatement to say much has transpired in the past 12 months. A once-in-a-century pandemic has dominated our lives. Kleiber was undeterred as she went about the business of building her team from scratch.

“As soon as I was hired and able to start recruiting, the first thing I did was to try and get as many feelers out as I could,” Kleiber said.

“I focused solely on recruiting. I was trying to go to as many tournaments as I could to get people to see me more and more. I had a mom say to me, ‘I’ve seen you everywhere on the road.’”

Kleiber kept plugging away as she saw hundreds of players in games across the country. She polished her pitch about why these young women should choose Lawrence and be part of something brand new. It didn’t always go smoothly.

The Vikings recently began full team practices at the Appleton Family Ice Center.

“Being a college coach, you get used to hearing the word no a lot, and you just kind of roll with it and go to the next kid,” Kleiber said.

And every once in a while, you hear, “Yes!”

Prescott native and goaltender Sydney Seeley didn’t know a lot about Lawrence, but Kleiber convinced her to see the campus.

“I was coming to Green Bay for a tournament for the weekend, and I thought I would tour (Lawrence) and check it out,” Seeley said. “I fell in love with the campus, and I love coach Jocey. There was something about (Lawrence), and I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”

“Sydney committed right then and there, and a few people committed shortly after that,” Kleiber said.

The momentum continued to build over the following months, and it was late winter 2020 when Kleiber started to feel good about the size of her first recruiting class.

“I think when the calendar flipped to March or April, I was feeling like we were right there. We needed a couple more players to fill out the team,” Kleiber said. “I had a good handful of feelers out to kids that had been accepted, and they just needed to make a decision.”

Navigating a pandemic

At the same time, Wisconsin went into a lockdown as the pandemic hit the population hard for the first time. Lawrence sent students home to study remotely during Spring Term.

Despite the lockdown, Kleiber managed to finish her recruiting class of 14 student-athletes. As we eased toward mid-summer, the number of infections and deaths continued to rise, but the coaches and athletes on the Lawrence campus held out hope they would be able to return to campus and be allowed to compete.

Kleiber continued her preparations for the season and kept her fingers crossed. The first bad news came on July 27 when the Midwest Conference announced it would not play the fall sports season. The NCHA followed on Aug. 6 with word that the men’s and women’s hockey seasons wouldn’t begin until January 2021 at the earliest.

Coach Jocey Kleiber recruited 14 players for the debut season.

“Man, we’re so close,” Kleiber recalled. “We have our jerseys; we have our equipment; the locker room is taking shape, and the world stops.”

That holding pattern continued until January. The Midwest Conference canceled its winter sports competitions, but the NCHA announced it would play an eight-game regular season followed by the playoffs. That announcement set off high-fiving and fist-pumping among the Vikings.

“We were all really excited that we got to have a season,” Seeley said. “Being the inaugural team, we wanted to play. Had we had to wait until next year, it would have been different. One thing that hits home for us is that we are the first people to wear these jerseys, the first people to set records, and it’s super exciting because we get to set expectations for the program.”

The Vikings have been careful since they arrived on campus in the fall. They conducted practice and weight training in small pods before just recently beginning full team practices. Masks are worn at all times. Team meetings and video work are all done via Zoom, and even on-ice conversations are socially distant whenever possible.

Kleiber said she reminds her players daily to “honor the pledge” to ensure the health and safety of the Lawrence community and to make decisions to keep everyone safe. The players are tested for COVID multiple times per week, including the day of a home game and within 24 hours of a road game.

Making history

All of those precautions have allowed the team to reach this point of launching a new program.

“Every time you step out on the ice for a new team it’s kind of exhilarating,” Kingsland said. “You get to do what you love and play with your best friends. Being able to step on the ice for our first game will be memorable. We are setting some history here.”

Women’s hockey became the 22nd intercollegiate athletic team at Lawrence.

A pretty lofty goal of 10 victories had been Kleiber’s goal for the team before the season was shut down last summer. 

“I say it to the players, I’m not someone who’s happy to be here. I want us to be good from the get-go,” Kleiber said. “I want more than that, and I know the athletes that are here want more than that. Having a goal that seems out of reach is better in relative terms than something that is pretty easy to accomplish.”

With the Vikings now playing an abbreviated eight-game regular season, Kleiber has adjusted the goals.

“One of the goals for us will be to make the playoffs,” Kleiber said. “Why not us? We will have to just play it one series, one weekend at a time. However it works out, it’s going to be an inaugural season unlike any other.”

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

Connections, resiliency pay off as new grads navigate job searches in pandemic

Hoa Huynh ’19, De Andre King ’20, Maria Poimenidou ’20 (submitted photos)

Three recent Lawrence grads talk about
anxieties, changed plans, delayed successes
as they job-hunted in the time of COVID

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Launching into a post-college career is no easy thing in the best of times. Now do it amid a global pandemic, the job market suddenly fractured, travel frowned upon, interviews only by Zoom, the family’s basement turned into a makeshift workspace.

“There are six of us in the house working or studying,” said De Andre King ’20, who pursued software engineering jobs from the basement of his family’s New York City home in the months following his June 2020 graduation from Lawrence University. “It meant stuffing a towel under the door to make sure no noise was coming into the room while I was doing the interview. I had to position my table to where the water meter behind me wasn’t showing. It took a lot of planning.”

King is far from alone, of course. We’re closing in on a year since COVID-19 complicated things for new and soon-to-be graduates, adding urgency to the work of Lawrence’s Career Center and importance to connections forged with the school’s alumni.

In some ways, strange as it might sound, the pandemic has lowered the temperature a bit on the pressure to land that perfect job out of school, said Grace Kutney, associate director of the Career Center.

“What I hear from a lot of students, and one of the reasons their shoulders are so tense, is that they feel like they are doing something wrong if they give themselves permission to explore during that first year or two after graduation,” she said. “But I think because of the pandemic, people kind of knew things were going to be weird. I think their families understood that things were going to be weird. And there was the anticipation of bracing themselves for it. … So, it takes a pandemic to be, ‘Oh, it’s OK to find something that is maybe short term.’ But if you look at the statistics nationally, taking a position for a year or two and then shifting to something else is normal; it’s totally normal.”

With that backdrop, we caught up with three recent Lawrence graduates, all of whom leaned heavily on the Career Center and other campus resources as they navigated these uncertain days before landing jobs. Their journeys are all different, but with some shared threads.

^ ^ ^

De Andre King ’20

De Andre King ’20: “It took me a little while to pick myself back up”

King was in Atlanta in early March for the fourth and final round of interviews for an internship with a music company, a software engineering position the computer science major believed would set him on his post-college path.

He nailed the interview. Then everything came crashing down.

The recruiter pulled him aside with a warning. The spread of COVID-19, having recently arrived in the United States, was exploding. The internship was about to be nixed.

“Literally, that world for me was ending,” King said. “And then to check back into reality and see that the world as we know it was possibly ending as well, it was really tough. I was really, really banking on that opportunity. In all of my job-searching experiences, it was something down to the T what I wanted to do.”

He returned to Appleton just as Lawrence was announcing that it would be going to remote classes for Spring Term, and King joined his fellow seniors in scrambling to say goodbyes and honor their college experiences while taking finals amid chaos and tears.

“I wasn’t even able to be fully present for those moments because I was so worried about what was going to happen next,” King said. “Once that opportunity in Atlanta fell through, I was down and out. I’m not going to lie; I was really disappointed and it took me a little while to pick myself back up and keep going. I think I took two or three weeks off before starting back on my job search.”

After going home to New York, he reconnected with the team at Lawrence’s Career Center. Kutney would help guide him through an all-out blitz of job applications, making new connections with alumni, updating application materials, and identifying opportunities that were shifting by the day as companies tried to make sense of life in the pandemic.

“It wasn’t starting from the ground up again, but more so making a pivot and seeing what worked and what didn’t work up to that point,” King said.

He worked through his resume and application letters with Kutney. He circled back with Michelle Cheney, his former advisor in the Career Center who had moved to a position in the Annual Giving office. He reconnected with Cory Nettles ’92, a Lawrence trustee who had been a mentor to him, picking his brain on networking and other skills. He talked with Gary Vaughan, coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, who had been an important conduit to the Atlanta interviews.

“In the earlier search, I was more specifically looking toward the music industry and the music tech industry,” King said. “But after that opportunity fell through, I widened my scope of industries to look into.

“Michelle and then Grace, they were amazing. They took the time to really review each of my materials — my cover letter, my resume, my LinkedIn, my Handshake profile. They also provided me with the tools that helped me manage my time better.”

In all, King sent out about 200 applications.

His efforts eventually led him to Bloomberg LP, where he landed a job in October as a software engineer with the media company’s Princeton, New Jersey office. In November, the Wall Street Journal featured him in a story about the hard work of job searches in the pandemic.

King, still working from the family’s basement, has yet to set foot in the Bloomberg office, but he hopes it’ll happen soon.

“I drove past it one day but I haven’t been inside yet,” he said. “Yea, I’m looking forward to going into the office.”

^ ^ ^

Maria Poimenidou ’20

Maria Poimenidou ’20: “You can fall into a spiral of worries”

Poimenidou has been in Houston since mid-September, working as a research assistant for the Experimental Therapeutics Department in Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Like King, the pandemic not only added new levels of stress to the job search, it also delayed the process.

“While I was hoping that by graduation I would know exactly where I would be, my interviews and job offers were all pushed back until after graduation,” Poimenidou said. “There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with that and you can fall into a spiral of worries, but the way I adapted to everything was by becoming more flexible.”

She leaned even harder into her Lawrence experience and the resources in the Career Center. 

“One of the most valuable lessons you get out of Lawrence is learning how to be flexible and open-minded,” said Poimenidou, a biochemistry and economics double major. “While I waited for my job offers to come back, I reached out to alumni and applied for different unpaid internships that were not directly tied to the job sector I was interested in. I was fortunate to be able to take on an unpaid internship and grateful to receive two job offers by the end of the summer, one in Chicago and one in Houston.” 

Advice from Kutney and Cheney was helpful, she said, keeping her focused on her priorities while letting go of things she couldn’t control.

“Both Michelle and Grace were more than just career advisors, they were life coaches,” Poimenidou said.

Her job interviews were all virtual, which Poimenidou said she found oddly comforting.

“To be honest, I enjoyed the virtual aspect of the application process because in a way it felt more personable,” she said. “I had interviews with people that were in their homes and I was in mine, where I could hear their dog bark or some commotion in the background. It felt less intimidating and I actually had amazing, easy-going conversations.” 

^ ^ ^

Hoa Huynh ’19

Hoa Huynh ’19: “I’ve become much more comfortable in networking”

Huynh is set to begin a new job as a finance trainee with ING in the Netherlands in April. It follows a just-concluded internship with a small U.S. company based in Amsterdam, an internship she landed after the pandemic put her post-Lawrence plans in disarray.

An economics major at Lawrence, she had wanted to add another internship to her resume. She began looking to large companies, exploring data analytics, finance, and marketing opportunities. That all changed as the pandemic arrived, shutting down hiring at many companies.

“I did a lot of reflection about myself and talked to many people, including peers who were also struggling in the pandemic and those who already succeeded in job applications,” Huynh said.

She reconnected with the Career Center and zeroed in on the finance field, where she already had some experience.

“I diversified the types of companies and applied to smaller businesses and startups,” she said. “After changing strategy, I finally got the internship.”

That led to the opportunity at ING, a multinational banking and finance company. Without the internship and the added experience, it would not have happened, she said, noting that she’d been rebuffed by ING prior to the internship.

“I think the pandemic has definitely made the job search more competitive than before, especially at the beginning when companies were also struggling with changes the pandemic posed,” Huynh said. “I had to adjust my goals.

“More importantly, I had to be even more active in networking to build connections and gain more insights, to make sure that I could prepare the best resume and cover letters. Thanks to networking skills that Grace taught me during my time at Lawrence, I’ve become much more comfortable in networking and reaching out to people, and that hugely helped me land the traineeship at ING.”

Huynh said she now hears herself echoing the lessons she learned via Kutney and the Career Center as she talks with peers who are launching job searches during the pandemic.

“Try to build connections, deepen the connections, and don’t be afraid to show that you’re vulnerable,” Huynh said. “For those who are intimidated by networking, like I was in college, think of it simply as asking about other people’s experiences and information; they would love to share that with you.”

Lessons learned

The pandemic is hammering home the important connections Lawrence students and recent graduates have in the Career Center, where Career Communities, Viking Connect and other recent innovations have improved life after Lawrence planning.

Numbers from Lawrence’s 2020 class are not in yet, but Kutney said of the 2019 graduates, 95% are employed or continuing in their education. That is just shy of the 97% average over the past five years, which is good news in a pandemic that started eight months after that class graduated.

Mike O’Connor, the Riaz Waraich Dean for the Career Center & Center for Community Engagement and Social Change, said he was seeing an influx of student interaction even before the pandemic hit. It continues to grow. In September, more than 250 first-year students attended a Career Center orientation, and 150 first-year students paid follow-up visits, an all-time high.

The Career Center’s Instagram account, where important career planning and job search information is shared, has seen an increase of nearly 700 student followers since fall 2019.

“What I say to students in the pandemic is, be prepared to pivot to industries that are hiring,” O’Connor said. “Many are surging. Think tech, health care, even education. Related to that is skill-building for those opportunities. There are tons of ways to approach this, including remote opportunities and internships. And build your network; that is so key. Colleges with ready-to-tap alumni mentors and contacts are super valuable.”

Those conversations are becoming more frequent in the pandemic, Kutney said. The message is often about staying calm and focusing on the next steps.

She talks to students about not stressing over the perfect job. Is the short-term need to earn a certain amount of money? Is the need to gain experience in a particular area? Is the need to be in a particular geographic area?

“In an ideal world, the position would fill all of those things,” Kutney said. “But right now, in a pandemic, that might not be the case. So, we’re really encouraging them to give themselves permission to go, ‘This is what I’m focusing on for this season of time, and then I can shift.’ That’s part of releasing from their shoulders this burden that they have to have it all figured out before June.”

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

Kiese Laymon, author of “Heavy,” speaks to need for introspection, revision

Kiese Laymon (top left) speaks with Amy Ongiri (top right), Tania Sosa ’24 (bottom left) and Edwin Martinez ’24 as part of the Jan. 28 virtual Convocation.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kiese Laymon says he’s never sure how to answer when someone asks him how long it took him to write Heavy: an American Memoir, his widely praised 2018 book that explored, with raw honesty, family secrets wrapped in a mix of brilliance, drive, pain, abuse, and addiction.

He’s not even sure the verb tense is correct.

“I’m not sure how long it took me to write Heavy or I’m not sure how long it’s taking me to write Heavy,” Laymon said Thursday as he virtually delivered Lawrence University’s Winter Term Convocation address.

As it should be with all art, he said, the revisions are ongoing, even though the book rolled off the presses more than two years ago and has racked up a bevy of top literary awards, including the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction and the LA Times Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose.

“Because memory and freedom are so fluid, I’m never going to stop revising Heavy no matter what,” Laymon said. “I think the honest answer to the question of how long did it take you to write Heavy is, I’m going to have to let you know when I’m done. The book is published but the book is not done.”

That need for constant revision in our work, in our lives, to look deeply inward in pursuit of honesty and clarity, was at the heart of Laymon’s address. Titled The Radical Possibility and Democratic Necessity of Navel Gazing, Laymon’s talk challenged people to embrace their own “navel gazing” as they uncover their own truths.

“I would like to argue that in this nation we are suffering because we are not as navel-gazing as we need to be,” Laymon said. “If each of us looked within our navel patiently, with routine and imagination, we would really find things that we never imagined. Those things, if we rigorously push them, would connect us to someone else.

“If you look into your navel with any acuity, with any tenderness, you’re going to find something you never saw before, and that something is going to help you understand the people you love more, it’s going to help you understand context more, and, most importantly, it’s going to help you understand what you want tomorrow to be.”

In Heavy, Laymon, a professor in English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi, offers a personal narrative of growing up Black in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s written as a communication to his mother, woven with layers and complexities of brilliance, passion, abuse, racism, obesity, anorexia, gambling, and more. The Lawrence community discussed the book earlier this month as part of a campus-wide read.

Thursday’s convocation address included a question-and-answer session in which Laymon discussed his work with Amy Ongiri, Lawrence’s Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies, and students Tania Sosa ’24 and Edwin Martinez ’24. President Mark Burstein then hosted a public Q&A with Laymon.

Music included Genius Child, performed by Preston Parker ’23 and Mandy Kung, and Set Me as a Seal, performed by the Lawrence University Concert Choir with members of the Appleton East High School Easterners, under the direction of Stephen Sieck.

Laymon recently released a new essay collection, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” an expanded and reworked version of an essay collection first released in 2013. He bought the rights to the book from the publisher so he could add six essays and edit others.

Again, introspection and revision.

That need for revision was instilled in Laymon early by a mother who pushed him hard. It has resonated through his teaching, first at Vassar College and then the University of Mississippi.

“It’s hard to have a revision if you don’t have an initial vision,” Laymon said. “It’s hard for that revision to have any integrity if that initial vision doesn’t have some sort of layers and depth. And I think that initial vision can only have depth if we do the rigorous work of looking within. I would argue there is no radical possibility without more sustained democratic navel gazing. And I think Heavy, among other things, is an example of that.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Tom Coben: When Kimmel calls and statues dance

Tom Coben ’12

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Tom Coben ’12, a motion graphics artist whose work in the past week has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly a decade after leaving Lawrence University with a growing portfolio of 3D graphics and other visual effects, Tom Coben ’12 has gone viral.

Well, his creative skills have gone viral, if not his name.

A freelance motion graphics and visual effects artist in the Twin Cities, Coben hooked up earlier this month with the creative team of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! They were looking for an artist who could animate statues dancing and singing for a video they were making to mark the end of the Trump presidency.

Coben delivered 14 shots of statues, monuments, and paintings that became the heart of the video – the Statue of Liberty, the faces on Mt. Rushmore, the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., among them – all in full celebration mode. Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the late-night talk show, posted the video late last week, and it quickly bounced around social media, racking up more than 5 million views on YouTube in the first four days.

See the Jimmy Kimmel video here.

“I sent a sample video of the Statue of Liberty dancing as a proof-of-concept on spec and they hired me for the bit,” Coben said. “We used a type of motion-capture technique where they filmed an actor with facial tracking markers and I used that information to apply the facial motions to the different sculptures and paintings.”

From there, he watched the final product roll out, and the social media shares and video views quickly grow, all in the days following the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Between social media and TV views, it’s the widest his work has been seen. But Coben said he did have one other brush with the power of the internet when Will Smith shared on his Instagram account an animation Coben made of a robot bowling. That got him a ton of exposure and some new freelance work, which is always a good thing.

“But this Kimmel video is definitely the most amount of attention any of my work has had,” he said.

It started at Lawrence

Coben first got a taste for motion graphics and 3D visual effects while studying at Lawrence.

An environmental studies major, Coben developed an interest in animation and 3D artistry. Lawrence’s Film Studies program was launching just as Coben was graduating. He was able to put together a self-directed film/animation-related minor.

“One of my favorite experiences at Lawrence was during the summer after my sophomore year when I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for five weeks with my advisor, (Associate Professor of Biology) Jodi Sedlock,” Coben said. “She knew I was interested in film production and asked if I would come and produce a short documentary about cave-roosting bat species and conservation of cave ecosystems on the island of Siquijor. Besides just being rad as hell, that experience helped me get a job the following summer at the Smithsonian National Zoo making promotional videos for their YouTube channel, filming the different exhibits.”

Then during his senior year, Coben took an intermediate sculpture class with Rob Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Studio Art and professor of art, and was given the green light to focus on using 3D software to create digital sculptures that he would incorporate into footage taken around campus.

It got wonderfully weird. There was a supersized octopus clinging to the cupola atop Main Hall. And snow goons waging a battle on the snow-covered campus green.

Neilson said he recalls Coben taking to heart the prompt he gave to the class at the outset of the term: “Construct a sculptural piece in any medium you choose that somehow closes — or exists within — the gap between art and life and addresses sculpture as a ‘thing’ in all its ‘objectness’.” Coben chose to use 3D modeling and video, and Neilson said he was all in.

“My approach to teaching art has always been: Sculpture can be anything we, the students and I, collaboratively decide it is,” Neilson said. “While I certainly love to ‘make things;’ to me sculpture is more about ideas than objects. Indeed, this is the fundamental beauty of sculpture; its ability to carry and convey meaning through material — even if the material is bits and bytes in a computer. Otherwise, it’s just an object.”

Coben took that approach and ran with it. He’s still running with it.

“After I graduated, I used some of those animations along with some other personal work to put together a reel, which got me my first few freelance jobs out of college,” Coben said. “After that I worked at a small video production company for about three years before deciding to get back into freelance animation, which I have been doing for the past five years.”

Much of his work is with local clients in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, doing 3D product renderings, motion graphics for commercials and online marketing videos, and visual effects for music videos.

He’s also designing custom 3D-printed sculptures, selling them on Etsy under the name Tomforgery3D. 

“They’re based on the classics but I’ve screwed with them to make them more absurd,” he said.

It might not draw the 5 million views of a Kimmel video, but it’s interesting, challenging, and creative work, Coben said.

“I had a lot of very cool opportunities at Lawrence and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today if my professors hadn’t given me the ability to pursue my interests with as much freedom as they did,” he said.

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

Great Midwest Trivia Contest carries on amid daunting obstacles, new rules

The trivia masters, led by Head Master Grace Krueger ’21 (center), will present the Great Midwest Trivia Contest Jan. 29-31 despite the many challenges of the pandemic.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The desire for trivia won’t be doused by a global pandemic.

It might look different. It might feel different. But the Great Midwest Trivia Contest will kick off its 56th annual edition on schedule Friday night, its team of trivia masters balancing a love of tradition with the realities of pandemic protocols that have forced a reimagining of the beloved weekend.

The passion and creativity of Lawrence University’s trivia weekend remains, even if some of the contest’s staples—the WLFM studio, the on-campus phone bank, the shared spaces of sleep-deprived participants—will not be in play.

The contest is being streamed on Twitch beginning at 37 seconds past 10 p.m. Friday and will continue until midnight Sunday. The action questions, a popular slice of the weekend, will continue but virtually—think variations of digital art—and answers through the weekend will be received in a mix of phone calls and a virtual phone line on a Discord server, all facilitated by 11 trivia masters scattered near and far.

“We’re nervous but excited to be trying new things this year,” said Head Master Grace Krueger ’21, charged with bringing all this together amid challenges unseen in the contest’s first five and a half decades.

Grace Krueger ’21

“I’ve been challenged to maintain 55 years of tradition without access to most of the tools we use to make it happen.”

Much of the weekend will be recognizable, keeping to traditions that have carried forth since the contest was first broadcast on WLFM in 1966—more than 300 rapid-fire and obscure questions over the course of 50 hours; teams organized to seek out answers via digital sleuthing or ingenious snooping; the awarding of weird and mostly useless prizes; the Super Garuda, the impossible finale question that returns as the first question of the following year’s contest.

But other elements have to change due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Trivia masters cannot be huddled together. Teams can’t physically gather as they once would, on or off campus. The campus radio station is off limits.

“We are entirely virtual this year, which means I’ve been challenged to maintain 55 years of tradition without access to most of the tools we use to make it happen,” Krueger said.

But there’s a will to make it work despite the obstacles, and in the process of finding new avenues, some pluses have surfaced. For one, the ability to interact in the moment will be greater.

“Our Discord server allows me to answer questions as soon as I see them, and it gives teams an avenue to connect with each other,” Krueger said. “And we’re excited about the inter-activeness of the Twitch chat because trivia masters on air will be able to read the chat and interact with players directly.”

Trivia players should make a Twitch account if they want to participate in the chat during the contest and a Discord account if they want to be connected with the trivia masters throughout the contest. No account is needed, however, for players who just want to view the stream.

Krueger, a theatre arts major from Branson, Missouri, called the adherence to tradition wherever possible a high priority as she and her team have pulled together the contest over the past few months. Once it became apparent that we’d still be deep in the throes of the pandemic when late January rolled around, it was time to explore what was and was not doable.

“It’s very difficult to balance the needs of the contest with this year’s restrictions, and, in some cases, we have had to make changes to trivia that go against tradition,” Krueger said. “Our main focus is making sure the contest happens this year and that it can be a positive experience for everyone.”

Bringing trivia weekend to life has always been a lot of work. Doing so amid the pandemic, with nearly half of the student body studying remotely and safety protocols forcing most interactions to be virtual, has added to the strain.

“Since the trivia masters and I meet virtually, it’s been hard to build the same sense of community because there are few opportunities to simply hang out and get to know each other,” Krueger said. “Additionally, all of us are under more pressure than usual because of current events. I’ve had several trivia masters drop out of the contest for personal reasons, which puts the pressure on the rest of us even more. However, we’re still super excited about the contest and we hope that everyone will be able to see all the hard work we’ve put into making it happen this year.”

Krueger’s team of trivia masters include Ellie Ensing ’21, El Horner ’21, Cristy Sada ’21, Mikayla Frank-Martin ’22, Riley Newton ’22, Riley Seib ’22, Caroline Rosch ’21, Mary Grace Wagner ’21, Nick Mayerson ’22, and Finn Witt ’22.

Krueger said she’s already heard from a number of long-standing players who have said they’ll play this year even if they can’t get together in person. Others, she said, will surely opt out. The contest typically draws upwards of 100 teams, but hitting that number might be difficult this year.

Tim ’10 and Molly Phelan ’10, die-hard trivia players since their Lawrence days, say they’ll be playing from their Chicago home. They know they’ll need to roll with the changes.

“While our team is often just the two of us, we usually have friends who come by and play on our team for a few hours throughout the weekend, but obviously this year that won’t be the case,” Molly said. “But we’ve had remote players on our team before and usually we just ask other players to text the group the second they get an answer and then everyone on the team tries to call it in, and the second someone picks up, everyone else hangs up to prevent jamming. In a lot of ways this contest will be the same for us as it has been in previous years—just two old alumni, hanging around our house glued to a computer.”

That, Krueger said, is the attitude she hopes other teams will take. She knows they’ll lose some teams, but she remains hopeful many of the veteran teams will still jump in.

“On one hand, a lot of teams who usually gather together for trivia weekend will be playing at a distance for the first time, and I’m not sure that’s a sacrifice they’ll be willing to make,” Krueger said. “On the other hand, the new virtual setup for the contest makes trivia much more discoverable to people on the internet, so we may see some growth in new players this year, especially since there are fewer activities happening generally due to the pandemic.”

Molly Phelan said she’s throwing nothing but love and support to this year’s trivia masters. A former trivia master herself, she has a pretty good idea of what they’re up against.

“As a small team, we come for the chaos, the search, and the comedy,” she said. “I’m a first-year choir teacher in an all-remote district, so I have nothing but respect when new technology works out, and nothing but understanding and sympathy when it implodes.” 

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

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

Dr. Bettina L. Love

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Embrace a radical imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December research projects expand across disciplines for faculty, students

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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