Category: Students

Financial aid changes clear path for more Lawrence students to study abroad

Lawrence students take part in a global classroom in Costa Rica.
Study abroad opportunities have taken Lawrentians all over the world, including this group in Costa Rica.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Lawrence University has seen a big jump this year in the number of students opting to study abroad, boosted in part by a change in the school’s financial aid rules that allows all aid a student receives to travel abroad with them.

The school has about 150 students studying abroad this academic year, up from 89 a year ago.

Beginning this year, Lawrence is allowing all financial aid to apply to study abroad opportunities, said Laura Zuege, the director of Off-Campus Programs who is transitioning into a new role as assistant director of Financial Aid. In addition to federal aid (by completing the FAFSA), Lawrence grants and scholarships can now be applied toward tuition and program fees for off-campus study. In previous years, Lawrence scholarships could not be used abroad and there was a cap on the Lawrence need-based grant amount.

“There is a pretty significant difference in the number of students going abroad, and we think a good portion of that is because of the financial aid change,” said Ashley Trump, assistant with Lawrence’s Off-Campus Programs office. 

The 2018-19 numbers were down from the norm, which ranged from 110 to 121 annually in the three prior years. But the jump to 150 is still significant, Zuege said.

“In addition to the new financial aid policy allowing LU grants and scholarships to apply, in the last few years Lawrence has also greatly grown the number of supplemental scholarships we offer students — in addition to their regular financial aid — which are specifically to support studying abroad,” she said. “Our hope is that changes in funding support will change the question for some students from, ‘Can I afford to study abroad?’ to ‘Where will I study abroad?’”

It’s all aimed at clearing hurdles that might keep students from considering a study abroad experience. Now, whether studying in London, Senegal, Japan or any of the multitude of other locations around the globe, Lawrence students have more flexibility with their finances to make that happen.

“The deep-impact experience that it can give you as far as getting to immerse yourself in another culture is incredible,” Trump said. “You get to see life from a different perspective and see your daily going-about-things from a different perspective.

Aerial photo of London.
London remains a popular destination for Lawrence students studying abroad.

“You can really enrich not only what you’re studying but how you see what you’re studying. For a lot of programs, you get to do hands-on work with your direct subject matter as well as getting to learn that subject matter in a different environment and see how different cultures view that subject matter.”

A recent “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education shows study abroad numbers are on the rise across higher education, a trend that has continued over the past 25 years. It’s estimated that about 16 percent of students enrolled in baccalaureate programs in the U.S. will study abroad.

The Off-Campus Programs office at Lawrence recommends that every student considering studying abroad first meet with officials in the Financial Aid office to look at financing options. The goal is to make studying abroad doable for any Lawrence student interested. 

“We wanted to make it more accessible to more students, and only having that need-based cap was not as accessible as the model we have now,” Trump said.  

The Off-Campus Programs page at Lawrence.edu lists information on 55 affiliated programs and the 29 countries where they are located.

Zuege said seven new programs were added starting this fall. Also, recent program changes at the London Centre has strengthened the London experience, boosting interest. And students of greater diversity are pursuing the study abroad options.

“In looking at demographics of this year’s study abroad participants, we see that 2019-20 participants are more likely to be first generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, and domestic students of color than compared to the previous three academic years,” Zuege said.

The deadline for applying to a Lawrence-affiliated study abroad program for the 2020-21 academic year is Jan. 27. For the London Centre and the Francophone program in Senegal, the deadline is Feb. 24.

Note: Ashley Trump recently left the Off-Campus Programs office to pursue another job opportunity.

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

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

New Music Ensemble performances took audience interaction to new heights

Lawrence musicians reflect
on “Ten Thousand Birds”
experience, a highlight
of fall term in the Conservatory

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors, but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.” — Helen Threlkeld ’23

Story by Emily Austin ’21

Julian Bennett ’20, a cello performance major, called it “something out of a storybook.”

He and the other musicians in the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble were performing Ten Thousand Birds, creating music inspired by bird calls and interacting with the audience in the natural settings of the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

“At one point I had about five ladybugs on my cello as I was playing and all the birds in the garden were singing back at us,” Bennett said.

The magical experience — in addition to the botanical gardens performance, the ensemble had a performance at Lawrence that was moved indoors because of bad weather and a public rehearsal at Bjorklunden in Door County — was among the highlights of fall term in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and shined a light on the possibilities that come with participation in the New Music Ensemble.

We caught up with students who took part in the Ten Thousand Birds performances to talk about what they took from the experience — performing music based on Midwestern animal sounds and bird calls, playing while walking in and around the audience, and exploring the nature around them.

Lawrence musicians perform amid the audience during the "Ten Thousand Birds" performance in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” is performed Oct. 13 in the Warch Campus Center. It was moved indoors due to inclement weather. It also was performed outdoors at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens and at Bjorklunden in Door County. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Zoe Markle ’20, a bass performance major, said her playing was directly affected by these “interactions with the audience” as well as those with the environment around them and believes that in the end the musicians “were as much a part of the piece as the music.”

Because the structure of this particular piece is left up to the musicians and based largely on improvisation, how the audience reacts and interacts can change the music.

 “It was always fascinating to hear how the performances would differ from each other, and what melodic lines I would hear that I hadn’t heard before,” percussion major Alex Quade ’20 said.

Learning and rehearsing Ten Thousand Birds was unlike any process the students had experienced, though each piece they learn in the New Music Ensemble provides a new and different learning challenge. Because the work is constructed on a timetable, there is no mapped-out score. Every sound comes in at a different timing.

For these performances, the directors of the ensemble, visiting assistant professor of entrepreneurial studies and social engagement Michael Clayville and associate professor of music Erin Lesser, decided to arrange the piece in a day-long journey, placing the sounds one would typically hear at different times of the day. Both professors are part of the award-winning contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which has performed the piece in this arrangement several times.

“We rehearsed the piece by sound and were split up into small groups for many rehearsals, rather than working as a whole,” Markle said.

This small group work is a major draw for students participating in the New Music Ensemble, she said.

Markle noted that a huge reason she joined the group was because she loves “to perform in smaller chamber ensembles” as she is “able to connect more on an individual level with all the members of the ensemble.” 

Erin Ijzer and Julian Bennett perform “Ten Thousand Birds” in the Warch Campus Center.

Ten Thousand Birds is a piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams that was commissioned for Alarm Will Sound. The work is a collection of bird calls and animal sounds that can be found in the Midwest and takes the form of a folio, each page of notated animal sounds separate so that the musicians can arrange them whichever way they like. If Ten Thousand Birds is performed outside the Midwest, it can be updated to feature the animal sounds of that region.

The work was initially introduced to Lawrence’s ensemble by Clayville and Lesser last spring when they asked if students would be interested in playing outdoors. The response was a unanimous yes.

Helen Threlkeld ’23, a flute performance and biology double degree student, explained that it was an especially cathartic experience for her, having grown up embracing nature.

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors,” she said, “but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.”

As a flutist, playing bird calls was especially exciting for Threlkeld, who explained that “a lot of composers have used bird song as inspiration, like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,” but she notes that no composer has done what Adams has by notating them directly into playable notation. 

Before bringing Ten Thousand Birds to Lawrence and the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, the New Music Ensemble traveled to Björklunden, the university’s retreat campus on the Door County banks of Lake Michigan. The group rehearsed outdoors in the woods surrounding the main lodge to get a feel for playing in nature and to bond as an ensemble.

During the rehearsal, Threlkeld also realized how much the environment played a part in the piece.

“The waves coming up on the shore created a soundscape that sort of enveloped all the performers,” she said.

During the community performance at Björklunden, she said she experienced the power of the piece and described a moment where she “lost all passage of time” while they were playing.

The ensemble also pushes students to develop new skill sets within their musicianship. During the Ten Thousand Birds experience, students were encouraged to improvise, choosing the times they would play and how they responded to other players.

Thelkeld noted the difference in thinking about this contemporary piece and traditional classical music. She’d often think hard about “what the composer wanted” when learning a piece. That was flipped this time, she said.

“I had more of a chance to use my own judgment and use my own responsibility as a musician to create an experience for the audience instead of worrying about ‘what did Mahler’ or ‘what did Dvorák think?’”

Alarm Will Sound came to Lawrence for a residency last year and opened up their rehearsals to members of the New Music Ensemble, challenging them to sight-read through one of the pieces they were working on. It tied in with the ensemble’s mantra to push musical boundaries.

Quade called the experience “invaluable,” emphasizing how important it is to take advantage of “the opportunity to rehearse, interact, and learn” from groups that come in.

“Having these connections, along with every Lawrence professor, is such an asset that everyone needs to take advantage of,” Quade said.

Being part of the New Music Ensemble is pushing the participants to become better listeners and communicators, and the deep connections they’ve made with faculty is changing the way they play and collaborate.

The success of Ten Thousand Birds bodes well for this ensemble, which will have more performances and a guest artist residency in the spring.

Emily Austin ’21 is a student writer in the Conservatory of Music.

Lawrence University joins amicus brief to support international students

Aerial photo of the Lawrence campus showing Main Hall in the forefront.
Lawrence President Mark Burstein: “The protection of OPT is vital for our international students, for our campus, and for all institutions of higher learning that embrace and nurture global education.”

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Today, Lawrence University joins more than 100 public and private universities and colleges in filing an amicus brief in support of a longstanding U.S. immigration program that assists international students in getting practical training with U.S. employers.

The “friend of the court” brief is supportive in the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union vs. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Washtech) litigation in district court to defend the immigration program known as Optional Practical Training and its more recent expansion, STEM OPT (collectively “OPT”).

“OPT has long been a critical program for students from abroad, and Lawrence stands strongly in support of the program and our students,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “International students make up an important part of the Lawrence community. Any rollback of the OPT program will greatly impact these bright and engaged students’ ability to obtain a full educational experience and for this state and for our country to benefit from their talent and energy. The protection of OPT is vital for our international students, for our campus, and for all institutions of higher learning that embrace and nurture global education.”

OPT permits international students studying at colleges and universities in the United States on F-1 status to pursue practical training with a U.S. employer in a position directly related to their course of study for a set period of time following graduation.

“Experiential learning, such as OPT, is now and has long been a crucial component of education in this country,” said Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance of Higher Education and Immigration, which drafted the brief. “The brief and its diverse, wide-ranging list of supporters, representing all sectors of higher education, demonstrate how colleges, universities, and the economy benefit tremendously from OPT. Any rollback of OPT will severely harm international students, the future of American higher education, and economic growth.”

Hundreds of thousands of international students and graduates participate in OPT across the nation each year, with more than 325,000 participating in 2017 (the most recent year statistics are available) and 1.5 million participating between 2004 and 2016.

As the amicus brief states, this is a longstanding government program that permits international students to continue, and deepen, their education by applying the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom to a professional setting. OPT provides untold benefits for these international students. But, just as critical, being able to provide international students with the opportunities facilitated by OPT gives American institutions of higher education an edge in an increasingly competitive global education market.

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

Tight-knit campus, diversity a draw for visiting Japanese students

Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library.
Japanese students (from left) Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library. Waseda University in Tokyo has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

In the spirit of International Education Week (Nov. 18-22), Lawrence University is celebrating the amazing contributions of its many international students. This year, that includes three students who are here from Waseda University in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.

The Waseda study abroad program has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002.

The students here this year are Mika Ohara, a sophomore from Tokyo; Manami Takahashi, a junior from Saitama; Arisa Yanagimoto, a sophomore from Tokyo. As their first term at Lawrence closes, we catch up with them to learn more about their experience with the program.

Small class sizes, residential living and a diverse student body drew the Waseda students to Lawrence.

“The English department here is more diverse,” says Takahashi, who studies old Japanese literature. “You can talk with people from other countries. People who have different cultures and living styles are so important.”

Ohara said she loves living amongst students from so many different backgrounds.

“There are a lot of international students from many countries,” Ohara said, “and we live on the same campus so we can get together on the weekends and cook something and make relationships.”

Above all, sharpening their English language skills is a primary goal for all three visiting students. Lawrence belongs to a group of one-year programs at Waseda called Customized Study-Language Focused programs, or CS-L, making it an ideal destination for Waseda students looking to improve their English. During fall term, the group takes specialized language classes, including English in the American University, and a modified version of Freshman Studies that makes the works more accessible to non-native speakers.

The Waseda staff at Lawrence is integral to the students’ success. Cecile Despres-Berry is the director of ESL and the Waseda Program. While she teaches classes, Despres-Berry also is an ever-present support system for the visiting students.

“One of the goals is to add extra layers of support in order to help them integrate into the campus more quickly, so they can find out about organizations and make friends and do all of those things within the 10 months they’re here,” Despres-Berry said.

The students quickly reap the benefits of that support system.

“They make huge gains in their language abilities and confidence in English,” Despres-Berry said. “Depending on what they’re interested in, they make huge gains in their academic area.”

Changing lives on campus

The lasting impressions don’t stop with academics. Historically, Waseda students form relationships with Lawrence students that continue long after they leave. That could have something to do with Lawrentians’ willingness to get involved with the program by becoming tutors, mentors, and roommates.

The benefits of hosting Waseda students extend to all corners of life on campus.

“Our tutors who are interested in working with language learners can benefit,” Despres-Berry said. “Students who are interested in studying Japanese have a group of students who they can learn from. They can be roommates. We have cultural programming. They’ve joined our varsity teams. They’ve really been a part of the campus.”

When asked about their goals for the rest of the year at Lawrence, Ohara, Takahashi, and Yanagimoto all look forward to making more friends. They are enjoying the small, close-knit makeup of the Lawrence community.

“Waseda has many students so it’s difficult to get along with many people,” Yanagimoto said. “Here all the students live on the campus, and the community is very small and close, so I’m going to get along with many people and we’ll know about each other deeply.”

Lawrence students interested in studying in Japan also have an option to sign up for a study abroad experience at Waseda. Options include a full year of study or a partial year. For information, contact the Off-Campus Programs office.

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

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

5 favorite ways Lawrentians get into the Halloween spirit on campus

Two pumpkins with Lawrence logos painted on them rest among the leaves on Main Hall Green.
Happy Halloween from Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Even in the midst of fall midterms, Lawrentians are never too busy to get into the Halloween spirit.

As the holiday draws near, students can be seen spreading Halloween cheer all around campus with a variety of fetes and frights. So warm up that mug of apple cider, put the finishing touches on that costume, and check out some of the favorite ways Lawrence students celebrate Halloween. You might just be inspired to join us.

1. CORE group trick-or-treating

On the Monday before Halloween, CORE leaders and their groups of first-years don costumes and head out for CORE trick-or-treating, a beloved Lawrence Halloween tradition. Starting at 9 p.m., the students go door-to-door for treats at the homes of Lawrence faculty near campus. President Mark Burstein’s home is a popular stop along the way.

The route ends with an afterparty in Memorial Hall, where students can hang out and eat their candy after all the fun.

2. Halloween parties

In the weeks preceding Halloween, students across campus organize their own Halloween-themed parties. These gatherings range from scary movie watch parties to full-blown costume bashes. It’s all about taking a break from midterm stress and spending time with friends.

3. Haunted house trip

Are you feeling brave? Each year, students in search of scares are invited on a road trip to a haunted house in Green Bay. This popular event has limited spots that fill up fast, so it’s important to sign up and pay the $5 fee as early as you can. Bringing along some friends makes for an extra memorable experience. This year’s trip already happened, but there are plenty of haunted houses in the area if you and your friends want to venture out on your own. They continue through Halloween weekend.

4. October Festival

The Diversity and Intercultural Center hosted an evening of festive fun in celebration of October. Students enjoyed caramel apples and root beer floats while designing skeletons and paper lanterns. What better way to wind down halfway through the term?

5. Pumpkin carving

Maybe parties and haunted houses aren’t your thing. Some Lawrentians spend a relaxing afternoon carving or painting pumpkins with friends. A variety of Jack-o-lanterns can now be seen near the entryways of residence halls and on the doorsteps of campus houses.

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

Make a Lawrence Pumpkin

Looking for pumpkin inspiration this October? Use one of our Lawrence pumpkin stencils to show your school spirit.

Download the stencils below:

Be sure to share your pumpkin art on social media with the hashtag #LawrencePumpkin

Carving Instructions

Recommended supplies:

  • A small, sharp knife, like a paring knife. This is useful for smoothing the edges to enhance the appearance of the carving
  • A transfer tool (a pointed thin tool, like a sharpened pencil or toothpick) to penetrate the paper and the outer layer of the pumpkin to help transfer the shape onto the pumpkin’s surface
  • Or pick up a pumpkin carving kit that has tools included
  1. Prepare your pumpkin & stencil
    Prepare the pumpkin by removing the top and gutting the pumpkin. Prepare the stencil by trimming it down to size with scissors. Leave about half an inch of space around the stencil so that you will be able to tape it onto the face of the pumpkin. When attaching, make sure not to crease it too much as it will mar the outcome of your carving.
  2. Transfer your design
    When the stencil is firmly attached to the surface of the pumpkin, use your transfer tool to poke holes through the lines on the paper stencil. The holes should be 1/8” apart but you can space them closer or further apart depending on how complex your design is. Push the transfer tool with enough force to penetrate the paper and the outer layer of the pumpkin. It is not necessary to push it all the way through. These holes will act as a guideline for when you are using the knife so ensure that you follow the design lines as much as possible. Take your time when doing this and if necessary, repeat it a few more times until the outline is clearly visible on the face of the pumpkin.
  3. Carve your pumpkin
    Once you have a clear outline, take your knife and push the tip of the blade into one of the outline holes. Cut through to the next hole, wiggling the knife along using back and forth movements. Carefully cut along the outline of your design. Do not rush. Make sure the blade of the knife connects the two dots before you make the cut. When cutting through tight angles, re-position the knife blade completely at the new angle.
    Pro tip: To make your job easier, cut and remove smaller sections one at a time. You can use your finger or the eraser end of a pencil to push out the cut sections.
  4. Finishing touches
    Use the knife to smooth the edges by removing excess pumpkin flesh. Although it is not necessary, carving out the edges at an angle of 45 degrees makes the final carving look better, as it lets
    more light shine out. When learning how to carve a pumpkin using a stencil, be patient and have fun! It can be a fun project, but if you’ve never done it before, remember that it might take some practice before you master the technique. If your pumpkin doesn’t look exactly like the picture on the stencil, don’t worry — what’s important is having fun and trying something new, all while showing your Lawrence spirit!

Pro Tip: Want to skip the mess of carving? Cut out the designs and use them as painting stencils instead.

“Ten Thousand Birds” to take flight again, this time on Sunday in Green Bay

A Lawrence student performs in "Ten Thousand Birds" in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” was performed last Sunday in Lawrence University’s Warch Campus Center. It will be presented again at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Green Bay Botanical Garden.

If you missed the performance of “Ten Thousand Birds” on Sunday — or would love a second look in a new setting — you are in luck.

The piece from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams was performed Sunday by Lawrence Conservatory of Music students in Warch Campus Center (originally planned for Main Hall Green, it was moved indoors due to inclement weather). It will get a second performance at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, located 30 miles north of Appleton. 

Here’s a photo gallery of scenes from Sunday’s performance in Warch.

“Ten Thousand Birds” is a soundscape experience of bird songs and other natural sounds, played by 40 musicians on percussion and wind instruments, strings and piano, a celebration of music and nature. It’s designed to feature natural sounds from the region where it’s being performed. In this case, it’ll be the sounds of animals native to the Midwest or which migrate through the region.

Audience members are free to move about, walking amongst the musicians and choosing their own pathways through the concert in order to create an individual experience of the music.

Directors of the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble, Michael Clayville and Erin Lesser, brought “Ten Thousand Birds” to campus after premiering it with their award-winning group, Alarm Will Sound. The group commissioned Adams to write a piece for them in 2014, intrigued by the “sound worlds” he so masterfully creates in his compositions. What they received was a “folio” of bird songs, an open-ended score that was intended to be performed outdoors, and arranged in any way the ensemble wished.

Take a listen to a snippet from rehearsal of “Ten Thousand Birds.”