Category: Students

Three in a row: LU Jazz Band continues Conservatory’s DownBeat success

The Lawrence University Jazz Band earned a 2020 DownBeat Award in the Latin Group category for a performance it did featuring Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban music, led by Director of Jazz Studies Jose Encarnacion.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s jazz program has earned a prestigious DownBeat award for the third consecutive year, this time in the Latin Group category.

The LU Jazz Band, performing as a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble, earned a Latin Group award in DownBeat’s 43rd annual Student Music Awards, announced April 28.

DownBeat’s student awards, released each spring, are among the highest honors in jazz education. The 2020 honors will appear in the June edition of DownBeat magazine.

The Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban endeavor started out as a bit of an exploration last year for the LU Jazz Band. A number of Conservatory of Music students expressed interest in expanding their knowledge and skills in Afro-Cuban music. Jose Encarnacion, an assistant professor of music and director of Jazz Studies, and two students from the percussion studio, Alex Quade and Nolan Ehlers, just so happened to be in the process of learning to play Bata music, sacred African music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Africa.

“Nolan had been in Cuba studying abroad, learning about Afro-Cuban rhythms and traditions,” Encarnacion said. “I found these conditions to be perfect timing for converting Jazz Band into a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble. In collaboration with Nolan, we put a concert together. Nolan, as co-director, would teach some of the traditional rhythms and songs as I worked with the style and feel of the music.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

It was the performance from that concert, Afro-Cuban Roots and Traditions, which included Afro-Cuban rhythms such as Rumba, Guiro, Bata and Salsa, that garnered the Jazz Band the DownBeat Award.

“These students really embraced diversity, opening themselves to new cultural and musical concepts,” Encarnacion said.

In the previous two years, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble took home the prize in the large ensemble category.

DownBeat’s SMAs are presented in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, high school honor ensemble, undergraduate college, and graduate college. Lawrence has fared well in those undergraduate awards over the past four decades. Students and ensembles in the Lawrence Conservatory have won 29 awards in various categories, including large ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, and jazz vocal group. They now can add Latin Group to the list.

Seeing the Conservatory take home a top prize for the third year in a row is a huge honor, Encarnacion said. It’s not something the jazz faculty or students take for granted.

“Every year the students push themselves to rise to new heights,” Encarnacion said.

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

Ingenuity, energy, commitment mark transitions to distance learning at LU

Students in Allison Fleshman’s Chemistry of Art class show their paper cranes during a virtual classroom session.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Physics students in Margaret Koker and Doug Martin’s Advanced Lab class received a package at their homes just before Lawrence University’s Spring Term began, complete with an Arduino electronics kit and oscilloscopes, tools to take part in a range of physics experiments.

Students in Jason Brozek’s Intro to Environmental Policy class are using the locations of their homes as part of studies on topics ranging from EPA Superfund sites and pollution data to climate change and wind energy.

Chemistry professor Allison Fleshman is teaching a Chemistry of Art course that will lead up to a virtual art exhibit titled Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID, where students will highlight the chemistry of the art they’ve created over the course of the term.

Tim Albright is among the Conservatory of Music professors tapping into the expertise of professional musicians around the country who find themselves in lockdown at home, with time and energy to interact with his students via virtual masterclasses.

Art professor Ben Rinehart has created a library of how-to videos as part of an art book-making class.

Those are just a handful of examples of Lawrence professors shifting gears as they’ve taken Spring Term instruction virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has colleges and universities across the country using distance learning to mitigate the spread of a virus that has put much of the world on lockdown.

Keeping instruction in depth and relevant while maintaining close faculty-student collaboration has been key as Lawrence faculty have transitioned on the fly to a new reality.

Teaching through this pandemic is a challenge that all faculty can rise up to meet, said Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department. Students need that to happen. The world needs that to happen. And she likes the response she’s seeing from her colleagues, whether in the sciences or the humanities or the arts.

“We believe, now more than ever, that this is our time to shine,” Pickett said. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, but then (Isaac) Newton changed the world when he was at home in quarantine in 1665.”

On that note, here are five examples of Lawrence ingenuity at play, starting with Pickett and her physics colleagues.

1. A physics community

Providing students with some needed equipment was just one step in helping physics students stay connected during this strange time, Pickett said. Communication has been constant, starting well before the term began and continuing throughout. A “Virtual Zoom Commons” has been set up for physics students, an effort to keep the community together virtually despite the physical distance.

Physics faculty members are working in sync even more so than usual, collaborating and sharing across virtual classrooms so they’re ready to step in to assist if needed.

“The changes my colleagues and I have made are significant and a testament to their commitment to physics instruction, and, more importantly, how much we care about our students,” Pickett said. “Our introductory course has two lab sections, which include video demonstrations of the lab that the students then analyze, as well as a host of virtual lab experiences culled from respected online sources. Ahead of the term, we made sure each professor was provided an iPad and Apple Pencil, in order to more easily use as a digital white board in our lecture classes. We’re also exploring different ways to use phones as sensors in case we need to do more remote labs in the future.”

Physics faculty meet via Zoom before the start of Spring Term to prepare teaching strategies.

Zoom office hours and the virtual commons have kept the student-faculty connections tight and have allowed the students to study together in a virtual space.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how much we cherish the community we’ve created in physics, and how much we miss our students,” Pickett said. “We have been working for some time on inclusive excellence in physics pedagogy, which has shaped our view of hidden inequities and costs in our classes—so important now as we rely on technology in a way we haven’t before.”

2. A matter of geography

Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government, said he looked for ways to use his students’ varied locations as an advantage, or at least a teaching tool, during a Spring Term of distance learning. He set up class projects in his Intro to Environmental Policy class, for example, to allow students to do research and analysis that is connected directly to their home regions.

Each student has to choose two of three options for study, all tied to where they are living: Explore and interpret home region climate change data from Yale’s Climate Change Communication Program, which breaks down data all the way to the county level; use the EPA’s interactive Superfund map and Toxic Release Inventory data to dive into pollution in the student’s home region; and study wind turbine costs and policies and how that might play out in the student’s home area.

“I wanted to find a way to take advantage of our geographic distribution while also encouraging my students to engage in their local communities — safely,” Brozek said. “The course is already designed around concrete case studies that are deeply grounded in specific places — PCB pollution on the Fox River, for instance — so asking students to investigate their own communities was a natural fit.”

In his International Law class, meanwhile, Brozek is using the virtual format of Spring Term to zero in on digital topics. He has his students analyzing existing podcasts that range in topic from the Paris Climate Deal to LGBTQ asylum seekers to the International Criminal Court, then collaborating to create discussion guides for those podcasts that can be shared and used.

He said he aims to “help students have a bigger sense of purpose and connection” by having them collaborate on a virtual project that will result in useful content.

“The goal is to make all the episode links and guides publicly available at the end of the term,” Brozek said.

3. Musicians sharing knowledge

In the Conservatory, trombone professor Tim Albright is but one of numerous faculty members reaching out to fellow musicians to give students a bit of a bonus during this pandemic. With tours and venues locked down across the country, professional musicians and other artists who normally would be navigating busy schedules find themselves quarantined at home with plenty of time on their hands.

In that, Albright saw an opportunity. A former New York musician, he’s deeply connected to the NYC music scene, so he set out to invite some of those musicians into class sessions as special guests, providing his students with insights into the lives of working musicians.

The likes of bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton, jazz trombonist and composer Alan Ferber, and Carnegie Hall archivist (and LU alum) Rob Hudson ’87 said yes.

“Most of these folks are gigging, working musicians on the cutting edge of performance today, so for my students to get to interact with them in their living rooms is a huge opportunity that we wouldn’t have normally,” Albright said. “We’re turning lemons into lemonade. With no live performances happening around the world, their schedules are free and they’re jumping at the chance to connect with fellow musicians.” 

4. Art by design

When word came down that the world was going into lockdown and Lawrence’s Spring Term would happen via distance learning, art professor Ben Rinehart, a printmaker and book artist, went into tech hyperdrive. He quickly schooled himself on iMovie and Adobe Premiere software and began creating how-to videos for his students in intermediate and advanced artist book classes.

He sent each student a kit prior to the start of the term with tools and materials to complete each project. He also scheduled two virtual studio visits with colleagues in Florida and Washington.

“They are demonstrations to engage the students while we are all distance learning,” Rinehart said of his videos, which take the students step by step through various techniques in creating art books.

The first Rinehart video was on iMovie, the next 11 on Adobe Premiere, all done in the two weeks before classes started.

“Pretty proud of myself for never having worked with either program before,” he said.

For a sample of Rinehart demonstrating the Jacob’s ladder technique, see here.

5. Mixing science and art

Allison Fleshman is an associate professor of chemistry, and she’s a believer that there is plenty of room for creativity in the sciences. Hence, her Chemistry of Art, a lab science course for non-chemistry majors.

She pondered ways to teach lab in a virtual space.

“Well, the main take-away from a lab science is to practice the scientific method,” she said. “So, all of my students will make a piece of art or collection of art that inspires them, and the catch is that they must document their work — hypothesizing, observations, detailing the chemistry involved, and documenting the procedure — in a detailed laboratory notebook maintaining the highest level of scientific rigor.”

The creation of paper cranes was part of the first two weeks of the term, with each student then venturing onto their individual art projects. The Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID virtual exhibition will be part of their final exam.

“The lab will also include many online simulations where they engage with the chemical concepts more rigorously,” Fleshman said. “But in the spirit of liberal arts, the Paper Crane Project, with a scientific flair, has connected the students using a symbol of hope known the world over.”

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

Sustainability is personal: Let’s all embrace 50th anniversary of Earth Day

Kelsey McCormick, Lawrence’s sustainability coordinator, poses for a photo overlooking the SLUG garden. To honor Earth Day, Lawrence’s Sustainability Steering Committee will host a live documentary screening of Once Was Water at 6 p.m. CDT April 22. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

By Kelsey McCormick / Sustainability Coordinator

When I was young, my siblings and I spent many weekend mornings on walks or bike rides with our dad. I assume it was to get us out of the house and burn off energy. I never would have guessed that years later I would be able to so clearly remember Dad picking up a leaf or a pine cone and telling us which tree it came from. I would be awestruck. He taught me that each tree had its own identity and purpose. There was something I deeply respected about that.

Wednesday (April 22) is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day marks the birth of the modern environmental movement and is usually a day for people to gather together to show appreciation for the planet and demand that we treat it with care. As I was lamenting the loss of our on-campus Earth Day celebration, I asked myself, “How can I take advantage of this opportunity and encourage Lawrentians to celebrate Earth Day at home?” Then I thought, maybe celebrating Earth Day at home was meant to be.

Sustainability conferences often begin with the same ice-breaker question. “How did you become interested in sustainability?” Many responses follow a similar theme to mine. Summers in a little fishing boat with Grandpa, helping Mom plant the backyard garden, late nights catching fireflies with neighborhood friends. Maybe it’s corny, but many of us seem to have strong emotional connections to the natural spaces where we live or have created fond memories. Sustainability is local. Sustainability is personal. 

This made me perk up. Even though we cannot celebrate together, maybe we can still celebrate Earth Day in a way that is personal and meaningful to each of us.

In a nod to Earth Day, we also share this video that showcases the Fox River and trails near the Lawrence campus:

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are seven ways that you can celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day from wherever you call home. 

1. Participate in a remote Earth Day documentary screening with the LU community

With assistance from Bullfrog Films, Lawrence’s Sustainability Steering Committee will be hosting a live documentary screening of Once was Water at 6 p.m. CDT on April 22. Tune in to watch the film along with the committee members and fellow Lawrentians. A live chat feature will be available during the film. The film will be available for 24 hours after the initial screening for those who are unable to watch at that time. We hope the film will inspire and spark conversation about resource use in your own community. The link to the screening is here:  https://streaming.bullfrogcommunities.com/sustainable_lawrence_once_was_water. The video password is 0wW2!21U

(Here’s a message from Bullfrog Films: To watch the film, viewers must sign up with email (and sign in) or just sign in with Facebook or Twitter to access the screening room, and then enter the video password. If signing up with email, we recommend that viewers do this in advance of the screening. See our How To for details. We also recommend copying and pasting the password. We will open the screening room 30 minutes before screen time so viewers can chat.)

2. Follow Lawrence’s green-living guidelines at home

Many of the credits in the Green Room Certification from Lawrence’s Office of Residential Education and Housing can be applied at home. See how many of these green-living strategies you can add to your regular routine. Bonus points if you can get your family members or roommates to play along. Access to the Green Room Certification is here (a Lawrence login is required to access the link).

3. Refine your SLUG skills in a backyard garden

The produce grown in SLUG is sold to Bon Appetit to be served in Andrew Commons. If you can’t tinker in the campus garden, try growing your own fruits or veggies and serving them in your own meals. If you don’t have a yard, that’s OK. Tomatoes, sweet peppers, spinach, lettuce, and many others will do well in pots on a balcony or patio. 

4. Become an ally for pollinators

Pollinators play an especially important role in welcoming spring. Did you know 90% of flowering plants depend on pollinators to reproduce? Lawrence is recognized as a Bee Campus USA and demonstrates its commitment to bees and pollinators by including native plantings and “bee hotels” on campus. You can create your own little refuge for bees by planting native flowering plants at home. No yard space necessary. Try installing a window box and enjoy the buzz of activity you will see outside.

5. Pick up one of Lawrence’s sustainability must-reads

Read what the faculty in this year’s Sustainability Institute are reading. Try Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World by Marcia Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and professor of geology at Lawrence. Or check out The Two-Mile Time Machine by Richard Alley. Interested in trying a thought-provoking novel? The Overstory by Richard Powers will spark conversation. Looking for something more philosophical? A Sand County Almanac details Aldo Leopold’s observations and feelings regarding wildlife conservation based on his personal restoration project in southwest Wisconsin.

6. Support your local economy 

Many of the small businesses that make your community special are likely closed or operating in limited capacities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Support those businesses by placing carry-out orders or purchasing gift cards to use later. Non-financial options of support include leaving a positive review online or sharing their business page on social media.

7. Reduce personal waste

Be conscious of product packaging and be aware of single-use items. Have you ever noticed that many of the items in your trash or recycling bin are just the containers your items came in? Take a peek. … Both bar soap and shampoo bars can be found in simple cardboard packaging as opposed to plastic. Consider investing in reusable snack bags as opposed to the single-use film ones. Some of these options may even save you money in the long run.

Kelsey McCormick is a project specialist/sustainability coordinator on the president’s staff at Lawrence University.

Lawrence adds major in Creative Writing, minor in Statistics and Data Science

Offerings in statistics and data science (left) and creative writing will be ramped up beginning in the fall.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is launching a new Creative Writing major and a new Statistics and Data Science minor, both beginning in the fall.

They both mark significant additions to the school’s liberal arts curriculum.

Creative Writing: Students in the English program now have two curricular tracks to choose from, one leading to a major in Creative Writing and the other to a major in Literature.

David McGlynn, chair of the English department, worked with colleagues to get the new Creative Writing: English major launched in time for Fall Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“We’ve seen more prospective students articulating their desire to focus directly on creative writing,” said David McGlynn, professor of English and chair of the English department. “More current and prospective students are seeking graduate-school and career opportunities in writing. We believe the new track system will allow students more flexibility to pursue their goals.”

Lawrence has offered a minor in creative writing for nearly a decade. New courses are being added, including an introductory creative writing course designed for first-year students and a senior seminar in creative writing for graduating seniors.

For a full story on the launch of the new Creative Writing: English major, go here; find a web page with more detail here.

Andrew Sage, working here with students during Winter Term, has helped to launch Statistics and Data Science as a minor, beginning in Fall Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Statistics and Data Science: The new Statistics and Data Science minor will be housed in the Mathematics department and will strengthen offerings in an area that is increasingly in demand. The use of statistics and data analysis has grown in fields across the liberal arts spectrum, making it a sought-after minor in a lot of disciplines.

“Data scientists are working with bioinformatics, genetics; it’s huge in economics, and it’s become a huge thing in political science,” said Andrew Sage, an assistant professor of statistics who came on board a year ago and has helped bring the new minor to fruition.

Sage was hired in 2018 and Abhishek Chakraborty joined the faculty in 2019, giving Lawrence two professors deeply invested in statistics and data and allowing for the addition of numerous courses and the development of the minor.

For a full story on the launch of the Statistics and Data Science minor, go here; find a web page with more detail here.

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

Creative Writing major adds new path in English for Lawrence students

David McGlynn, professor of English, teaches an Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction class during Winter Term. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Students looking to major in Creative Writing can now do so at Lawrence University, marking a significant shift in how the school’s English curriculum is structured.

Beginning in the fall, students in the English program will have two curricular tracks to choose from, one leading to a major in Creative Writing and the other to a major in Literature.

“The new ‘track’ system in the English department—essentially two majors, one in literary analysis and the other in creative writing—beautifully showcases the range of talent within our faculty while giving students the opportunity to explore their passions as readers, critics, and writers to the fullest range of their ability,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat.

See details on the new Creative Writing: English major here.

David McGlynn, professor of English and chair of the English department, said the newly launched Creative Writing: English major will allow students who want to focus on writing to do so with more depth and purpose. It will build on—not replace—an English major with deep roots, one that has produced a wide range of novelists, journalists, technical writers, poets, and book editors through the years.

“We’ve seen more prospective students articulating their desire to focus directly on creative writing,” McGlynn said. “More current and prospective students are seeking graduate-school and career opportunities in writing. We believe the new track system will allow students more flexibility to pursue their goals.”

Lawrence has offered a minor in creative writing for nearly a decade. Many of the writing courses — taught mostly by McGlynn and colleagues Melissa Range and Austin Segrest — are already in place. But new offerings will be added, including an introductory creative writing course designed for first-year students as well as a senior seminar in creative writing for graduating seniors.

Meanwhile, the Literature: English major also will see new classes added, including one that focuses on academic writing at the advanced level and expanded offerings in the study of historically underrepresented writers.

“Both tracks will allow students more opportunities to focus on what they want to do with the English major,” McGlynn said.

As chair of the English department, David McGlynn has led efforts to launch a Creative Writing major within the English offerings, beginning this fall.

Lawrence has had no shortage of successful writers coming out of its English department through the years. Most recently, Madhuri Vijay ’09 had her debut novel, The Far Field, longlisted for the 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

“Creative writing students learn how to work hard and to have faith in themselves over the long haul,” McGlynn said. “Developing as a creative writer takes years and the process can’t be cut short. But when we, as professors, find students who love to write, we do our best to encourage them to go big, to go for it.”

In addition to those who have become novelists or published authors, English graduates from Lawrence have found success in dozens of other fields where the ability to write and think analytically is so important.

“The skills learned in English classes, such as writing, communication, analysis, critical thinking, have applications far beyond studying literature,” McGlynn said. “Along with the writing comes the ability to look into the perspectives of other people, to consider things through someone else’s point of view. That turns out to be pretty good training for fields like social work, counseling, psychology; we’ve had students go on to study medicine, law, business, and library science. The possibilities really are endless.

“And when they get those opportunities, the writing, the thinking, the ability to sympathize and analyze simultaneously comes in really, really handy.”

English is often a popular option for a double major. The new Creative Writing major adds new possibilities across campus that has Kodat excited.

“In particular, it will be exciting to see what kinds of collaborative student projects the new track in Creative Writing unleashes at Lawrence, with its depth of course offerings in music and visual art,” Kodat said. “Expect to be dazzled and astonished.”

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

Lawrence unveils Data Science minor beginning in 2020-21 academic year

Andrew Sage, assistant professor of statistics, works with Erin Lengel in a Data-Scientific Programming class during Winter Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is introducing a new Statistics and Data Science minor in the fall, strengthening the school’s offerings in an academic area that is increasingly in demand in today’s job market.

While the minor is housed in the mathematics department, it will be evident very quickly that this is not just for math and computer science majors. Departments all over campus have been tapping into emerging trends in statistics and data analysis in recent years, spotlighting the interdisciplinary strengths of data science and its role in a liberal arts curriculum.

“Data scientists are working with bioinformatics, genetics; it’s huge in economics, and it’s become a huge thing in political science,” said Andrew Sage, an assistant professor of statistics who came on board a year ago and has helped bring the new minor to fruition.

See details on new statistics and data science minor here.

The hiring of Sage in the fall of 2018 was followed by the hiring of Abhishek Chakraborty, another assistant professor of statistics, in the fall of 2019. That put the faculty pieces in place to add key new courses in machine learning, Bayesian statistics, and advanced statistical modeling, among others, elevating the program significantly. The new minor recently got faculty approval, setting up a launch in the 2020-21 academic year.

“There’s really an interest across campus in using data to draw conclusions and make decisions,” Sage said. “By bringing in a second statistician and allowing us to really grow our program and teach more classes specifically to that area is really going to open up a lot of opportunities for collaboration across departments, and help us to better prepare students to apply statistical analysis and data analysis in their own areas.”

A 2019 report from LinkedIn showed a 56% year-to-year jump in data science job openings in the United States. TechRepublic.com listed data scientist as the No. 1 tech-related job in terms of openings and potential for advancement. All indications point toward continued growth as data scientists are sought in a wide range of fields.

At Lawrence, growing the statistics and data science offerings adds an important layer to the curriculum for students looking at options in a fast-changing job market, said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat. Practical and pragmatic learning intersects here with the power of a liberal arts education.

“The new minor gives our students the unparalleled opportunity to connect modes of quantitative analysis with the distinctively thoughtful, broad-based approach to learning that is characteristic of a Lawrence education,” she said. “Bringing together the training in critical thinking and effective communication fundamental to liberal learning with the keen numerical acumen that is foundational to so many 21st-century careers makes for a uniquely flexible set of skills that will leave our students well-equipped for life after Lawrence.”

Chakraborty said the potential to grow such a program was what drew him to Lawrence. The demand from students, in and out of the math program, has been evident since the day he stepped on campus.

“I have had students asking me about the minor, and it’s really encouraging to see their interest,” he said.

Two new courses were launched this year with the arrival of Chakraborty, and two additional courses will launch next year. Other courses—some in the math department and some in other departments—will be developed in the coming years. All that has the two new statistics professors grinning ear to ear.

“Our new courses filled up very quickly,” Sage said. “I think there’s definitely a demand, so the chance to come in here and contribute to that was a really big draw for me.”

Abhishek Chakraborty came on board this academic year as an assistant professor of statistics. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Current Lawrence students can switch into the new minor depending on where they are in their academic journey and which courses they’ve already taken. A handful of students could arrive at their 2021 graduation with a data science minor in hand. The number is expected to grow significantly in the years to follow.

“The field of data science is changing so rapidly that I expect this will be a minor that will continue to evolve and adapt to the needs of the students,” Sage said.

That brings us back to its fit in a liberal arts curriculum. Professors from departments across campus provided input to the creation of the new minor because of the prospects it holds for so many students.

Israel Del Toro, an assistant professor of biology, was among those actively working with the mathematics faculty to create the minor. Giving biology students stronger quantitative skills does nothing but widen their career opportunities.

“The biological sciences are increasingly using big data and novel computational technologies to tackle big questions about ecology, evolution, and health, just to name a few examples,” Del Toro said. “By offering a data science minor to our students, we are preparing them with a marketable skill set that is broadly applicable regardless of what biological subdiscipline they choose to pursue.”

Gathering data is only one part of the equation, of course. A good data scientist needs to be equipped with the ability to analyze that data, to communicate its significance, to understand the context of the data, to work as part of a team, and to make ethical decisions of how and when that data is shared, Sage said.

“Data numbers by themselves are meaningless if you don’t have an understanding of the context and the domain,” he said.

“I think this is the perfect place to be introducing data science as a minor,” Sage said. “It really does incorporate so much, and you really do need to be able to think in so many different ways. I don’t see any better place to engage in that kind of thinking than in a liberal arts environment.”

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

Lawrence’s Dworschack earns 3-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Willa Dworschack ’20

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Willa Dworschack ’20 is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, providing full funding for up to three years of research at any institution of her choice.

The Lawrence University physics major from Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, continues to add to her impressive resume. Following her graduation from Lawrence in June, the prestigious NSF Fellowship will fully support three years of her research in atomic, molecular, and optical physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).

“The opportunity to conduct research at JILA is unparalleled, and the support of the NSF grants me freedom to pursue research in the quantum sciences,” Dworschack said. “I am thrilled about this honor and grateful for all the wonderful opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of as a result of being at Lawrence University.”

Lawrence continues to excel in the STEM fields. Details here.

The National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the federal government that supports research and education in the sciences. Its fellowship award, first launched in 1952, is given to approximately 2,000 recipients a year to support the next generation of STEM leaders as they pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. 

A year ago, Dworschack was named a Goldwater Scholar, in part on the strength of her research in atomic and molecular optics. The Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields, is administered by the Goldwater Foundation.

Lawrence has a Goldwater Scholar in back-to-back years. Details here.

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

Conservatory named “hidden gem” as faculty find new ways to connect, teach

Lawrence University students, led here by Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, gathered for an impromptu performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah just as Winter Term came to an end. Faculty are now finding new ways to enhance music instruction and maintain connections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As Lawrence University treads new territory with distance learning for Spring Term, a consulting site for prospective music students has given the school’s Conservatory of Music a major salute.

Music School Central named Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music one of the best “hidden gem” music schools in the country. The top-10 ranking placed Lawrence at No. 3.

Bill Zuckerman, who oversees musicschoolcentral.com – he previously authored a column on the Conservatory titled, Is This the World’s Most Socially Conscious Music School? – called Lawrence “the definition of excellence in a liberal arts college music school.”

The ranking is music to the ears of Conservatory Dean Brian Pertl as he and his team launch into a Spring Term like none before. As are professors in departments across campus, the Conservatory faculty have taken up the challenge of keeping the community aspect of the Lawrence experience intact while shifting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.

Lawrence professor launches national fundraiser for artists shut down by COVID-19. See details here.

Tears were shed when word first came down that Lawrence, like other colleges and universities across the country, would be quickly transitioning to virtual instruction during the spring, Pertl said. But the conversation among faculty shifted almost immediately to ways in which the learning experience could still be marked with close faculty-student interactions, community building, and opportunities to tap into skills that will be in demand in the music world going forward.

What’s happened over the past four weeks – Spring Term began Monday following Winter Term finals and a two-week spring break – has been nothing short of amazing, Pertl said.

In the horns studio, Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth has taken her practice of group warm-ups each morning in Music-Drama Center 163 and transformed it into a daily Zoom session with her horn students. And she’s invited prominent horn makers and horn players from around the globe to interact with her students via Zoom masterclasses.

Horn students join Ann Ellsworth (top middle) for daily warm-ups via Zoom.

“So, horn makers from the U.S. and horn players from places like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and at least one from Germany will be Zooming in to speak to her horn students,” Pertl said. “It’s sort of taking advantage of this opportunity that a lot of these great musicians in the world are stuck at home, too. They are actually eager to interact with students.”

Trombone professor Tim Albright is working on a virtual trombone ensemble project, recording Charles Ives’ Variations on America, arranged by Lawrence alumus Dominic Ellis ’17. Trombone students will be recording their parts remotely, and the music will be stitched together on campus, thus keeping the trombone ensemble alive, just in a different setting.

Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Arau, who is teaching a rehearsal techniques class for music education, is partnering with middle and high school music programs in Malaysia, led by Lawrence alumnus Dan Miles ’10, and Hong Kong. Lawrence students will direct those music students from afar.

A number of student music groups, most notably in the jazz and improvisation area, will be exploring live improvisation in virtual spaces, performing together even though they are spread across the country or around the world.

Students preparing for junior or senior recitals are re-imagining what those recitals might look like. While some remain on campus and will stream recitals from Harper Hall, others are prepping for remote recitals that incorporate elements and skills that might not otherwise have been considered, including turning a recital into an animation-infused music video.

“All of sudden our students, instead of throwing up their hands and being dejected or saying, ‘I can’t,’ they’ve taken up the challenge, and they’re saying, ‘I can, and not only can I, I am going to do something that is going to push my boundaries,’” Pertl said. “They’re redefining what a recital can be.”

Staying flexible and staying connected are front and center as faculty and students venture into these uncharted waters.

“It’s beautiful, creative flexibility,” Pertl said. “We’re working with our students all the time to say, ‘This is what you’re going to need out there in the world, and this is what’s going to be exciting about being a musician in the world today.’ And they are going to be taking all of these forward-thinking practices, and they’re just going to be doing them, which is a sort of neat and beautiful thing.

“Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. Nobody wanted this to happen. But can we make the very, very best of this and come away with skills and knowledge that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to acquire, but skills and knowledge that will be beneficial for our students once they leave here?”

Ellsworth said her daily warm-up sessions with horn students might seem like a small thing, but it’s that sort of personal connection that students most feared would be lost.

“I ask everyone to mute themselves and then choose one student for each exercise to unmute so we can all hear that one person,” Ellsworth said of the sessions. “I play a short exercise from our routine and they all repeat it after me. The purpose of the group warm-up for horn is that half of the benefit is getting the mouthpiece off the face in-between exercises; it slows us down, prevents injury while we’re still cold, and sets us up for the rest of the day.

“But it turns out the real purpose for distance group warm-up is the time after our 45 minutes of playing, when I leave the room but leave the meeting running. I tell them they can hang out or not and that I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll come back and they are still there, hanging out, talking about student stuff. We had a prospective student join one meeting and I left them there to get acquainted because they can’t come to visit the campus. It’s super productive.”

There are dozens of other examples of collaboration and creativity taking place across the Conservatory as Spring Term gets rolling, Pertl said, all of which speaks to the ideals that landed Lawrence on the “hidden gems” ranking in the first place.

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

Lawrence’s Dillon earns Goldwater award on strength of math research

Travis Dillon ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s Travis Dillon ’21, a mathematics major who has done significant research both on and off campus, has been named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar.

This marks the second consecutive year a Lawrence student has been among the national honorees in the Goldwater program, which honors the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and was designed to foster and encourage high-achieving students in the fields of math, natural sciences, and engineering. Willa Dworschack ’20, a Lawrence physics major, was named a recipient a year ago after doing extensive research in atomic and molecular optics.

2019 Goldwater recipient earns prestigious National Science Foundation award. Details here.

Dillon is being recognized with the 2020 Goldwater award for his undergraduate research in mathematics, much of it in partnership with his Lawrence math professors.

Claire Kervin, assistant professor of English and director of Fellowships Advising at Lawrence, called Dillon a “motivated and productive” student who turned in thoughtful and well-presented work on the Goldwater application while taking part in a high-level math program in Budapest during fall and winter terms.

“He is one of the best recipients of constructive criticism I’ve seen in 15 years of assisting college writers,” Kervin said. “He is obviously deeply invested in complex research ideas, but is also capable of, even enthusiastic about, conveying these erudite concepts to others with differing levels of expertise.” 

Dillon, now back in his home state of Washington working remotely during spring term, said his research speaks to his deep love of mathematics.

“Although they have all been in mathematics, their focus varies quite a bit,” he said of his research projects. “I think it’s perhaps not widely known, but research mathematics comes in a lot of flavors. At a high level, geometry studies the properties of rigid structures, topology studies what happens when you’re allowed to bend and stretch them, number theory investigates the properties of counting numbers, which contains surprisingly deep questions and interesting questions.”

Much of Dillon’s research has focused in an area known as combinatorics, including developing a new combinatorial theory of Gaussian blur, a commonly used technique in computer science to “filter out noise from data,” and investigating symbolic dynamics. His work has taken him to Texas A&M’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a research program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and, most recently, to Budapest to study in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. He was to be there during spring term as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic rerouted him to his Washington home, where he is finishing the Budapest program online.

“I applied because it was recommended to me as the best mathematics study abroad program, and quite literally everyone I asked about the program had nothing but incredible praise for the program,” Dillon said of BSM.

Two of Dillon’s four undergraduate research projects have led to published papers with his professors. The other two have papers in the works.

He praised Lawrence’s math faculty for challenging and inspiring him, and highlighted his research work with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Elizabeth Sattler. He worked with her on the symbolic dynamics research.

“Our main goal was to answer a question from one of Professor Sattler’s previous projects,” Dillon said. “Over the course of the project, I introduced a much larger class of symbolic dynamical systems and answered the question in this more general setting. This was my favorite research project. I really enjoyed working with Professor Sattler, and my research ended up incorporating combinatorics, algebra, analysis, and even a hint of number theory. This sort of interdisciplinary thinking in mathematics is very exciting to me.”

After graduating from Lawrence next year, Dillon plans to attend graduate school in pursuit of a Ph.D. in mathematics.

The Goldwater honor will do nothing but help as he moves forward. It is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in the math and science fields, and is administered by the Goldwater Foundation, a federally endowed agency established in 1986. Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that garner the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs.

“It’s affirmation that I’m on the right track to accomplish my goals,” Dillon said. “I have also put a lot of work into my mathematical endeavors—taking advanced courses, enrolling in multiple reading courses at Lawrence, conducting research, some of it independently, studying mathematics intensely in Budapest. As with everyone, it’s really nice when these efforts are recognized.”

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

Lawrence students volunteer to tutor kids online during COVID-19 pandemic

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is joining several other universities in a community engagement program in which college students are volunteering to tutor younger students online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With elementary, middle, and high schools across the country moving instruction online, there’s an urgent need for online tutoring at all grade levels.

Kristi Hill, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change, is overseeing Lawrence’s portion of the program, in partnership with St. Norbert College and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Kristi Hill

“After sending out a virtual volunteer interest survey, 53 Lawrentians expressed interest in volunteering to provide online tutoring,” Hill said.

Training for the interested students is already under way.

Implementing the program quickly is key as so many students have been displaced from their schools.

“We are hopeful the program will start to address the educational equity gap that is likely to occur due to school closures,” Hill said.

The program was created by Dr. Bola Delano-Oriaran, associate professor of teacher education at St. Norbert College, who invited her colleague, Dr. Marguerite Penick-Parks, graduate program coordinator and professor at UW-Oshkosh, to collaborate on this program. St. Norbert and UWO launched the program with more than 100 of their students signing up. To date, five other colleges and universities are involved in the collaborative program with more than 600 registered families.

Lawrence students are expected to participate in the program through May 29.

Families, both locally and across the country, can sign up for the tutoring for their children at go.lawrence.edu/VITAL. They must have basic internet service, and acceptance will be on a first-come, first-served basis. Students will be assigned the same tutor for the duration of the program.

The Appleton Area School District is assisting Lawrence in launching its portion of the volunteer project.

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