Tag: Lawrence alumni

Internship put Lawrence physics student on research team that earned Nobel Prize

An image created by Professor Andrea Ghez and her research team from data sets obtained with W.M. Keck Telescopes shows stars that are in very close, very fast orbits around the Milky Way’s central black hole. It’s research that Amelia Mangian ’18 participated in during a 2017 internship. (Courtesy of UCLA Galactic Center Group – W.M. Keck Observatory Laser Team)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s Physics Department is again celebrating close connections with the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Amelia Mangian ’18, then a fourth-year physics student at Lawrence, spent an internship in the summer of 2017 working with a team of scientists at UCLA led by astronomer Andrea Ghez, who earlier this month won the Nobel for her years-long study of supermassive black holes in the universe.

“She is the model of the perfect scientist,” Mangian said of Ghez. “She persevered, she worked hard, and she proved a lot of people wrong on the way to becoming a world-class researcher and educator. I think the other thing that is remarkable about Andrea is how easily she can communicate her work to people of all ages and how much she cares about spreading her love of science.”

Ghez is one of three recipients of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, joining Roger Penrose, a mathematician at Oxford University in England, and Reinhard Genzel, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and director at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. All were honored for their work advancing the study of black holes.

Amelia Mangian ’18

“Working with this team—Andrea, her collaborators, particularly Mark Morris and Tuan Do, as well as her research team, post-docs, and graduate students—has helped my career tremendously,” said Mangian, now pursuing a doctorate in astronomy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “It helped me find a passion for black holes, for astronomy, and for being a role model to other young astronomers who want to be researchers, too.”

A year ago, the Nobel went to two astronomers whose breakthroughs in the 1990s led to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy, a research subject that Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department at Lawrence, has focused on for much of her career.

The 2019 Nobel announcement felt like a win for Pickett and her students. The 2020 announcement is much the same. Having a former student so closely connected to the research team is an opportunity to shine a light on undergraduate internships and research opportunities that are plentiful for Lawrence students in the sciences.

Not lost on Mangian or Pickett is that Ghez is only the fourth woman to win the Nobel in Physics, joining Marie Curie (1903), Maria Goeppert Mayer (1963), and Donna Strickland (2018). The Nobel adds to Ghez’s growing profile as she blazes trails as a role model for women scientists.

“One of my particular interests, long before coming to Lawrence, has been the history of women in physics and astronomy—our stories, representation, and how we can tear down barriers to success and recognition,” Pickett said. “There are a number of ways we get at this problem, but primarily it comes down to creating a sense of belonging with the department, and the discipline.”

Lawrence is part of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute initiative that challenges U.S. colleges and universities to substantially and sustainably increase their capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in science. It was one of 33 schools selected in 2018 to receive a $1 million grant from HHMI through its Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence initiative. Another 24 schools were selected the year prior, part of HHMI’s push to reimagine science education to better engage students from all backgrounds.

“Our primary focus is inclusive excellence — how can we increase our successful engagement and the success of students who are under-represented in the sciences, whether first-generation college students, for example, or under-represented minorities?” Pickett said.

Megan Pickett

Seeing scientists such as Ghez be awarded a Nobel—also of note, two women won the Nobel in chemistry the following day—helps ring that bell, and having a Lawrentian so closely tied to the work adds fuel to the fire. But it also is a reminder that while great strides have been made, the work is far from finished when it comes to equity and opportunity.

“Having those role models, and being able to send our students off campus, potentially to work in a Nobel lab, is huge,” Pickett said. “Closer to home, though, we are today more diverse and more dedicated to that diversity as a department than we have ever been. In particular, the addition of professors (Tianlong) Zu and (Margaret) Koker help make our department begin to look more like our student body—and the importance of that cannot be overstated.”

Mangian, meanwhile, counts Pickett as a mentor who helped her believe in herself as a scientist. That relationship, she said, drives her to pay it forward as a mentor as she carves out her own career.

“She has guided me through rough times and helped me be the best version of myself during the good times,” she said of Pickett. “She’s the reason that I’m where I’m at today, academically and personally.”

At Illinois, Mangian is studying actively feeding supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, using data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) to infer properties of the black holes such as its luminosity and mass. She’s also building on mentoring lessons she took from Pickett and others at Lawrence.

“I’ve been very active in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through the organization I run called the Society for Equity in Astronomy,” Mangian said. “We are a group focused on improving the astronomy department at Illinois and those across the country. We run a mentorship program with about 40 individuals involved and have monthly discussions about culturally significant topics such as the Strike for Black Lives, #BlackInTheIvory, and the ongoing situation with the Thirty Meter Telescope being constructed on indigenous lands on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. I am also starting up a tutoring program aimed at helping students with disproportionate educational backgrounds coming into the astronomy program at Illinois.”

Mangian’s work in 2017 with Ghez’s group came after being selected for a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program, a highly competitive process. Lawrence students in recent years have gone through that program to land research posts at the University of Indiana, University of Wisconsin, Harvard, University of Rochester, and the University of Twente in the Netherlands, among others. 

“These experiences are valuable regardless of whether you end up going to graduate school or not,” Mangian said. “Having the opportunity to work in a research environment early on in your life allows you to explore areas that interest you the most, helps you build skills to prepare you for a wide variety of jobs—collaboration, computer skills, communication—and helps build your professional network. This, along with my time working with Megan, convinced me that I wanted to be an astronomer, and an educator, too.”  

It also gave her the chance to get to know and learn from a future Nobel Prize winner, something she reflected on when she heard the Ghez announcement from the Nobel Committee for Physics, relayed to her by her mother.

“My excitement grew throughout the day as I came to terms with the fact that I not only worked for a Nobel laureate, but I’d been to her house, too, for wine and cheese. I couldn’t think of a more deserving person to win the award.”

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

Creativity, ingenuity will allow mask-wearing musicians to perform together

Isabel Kelly ’21 works on a flute mask in the Lawrence University costume shop. Seven Lawrence students are creating masks to be worn by musicians in the Conservatory of Music. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University music students will soon be getting specially made face masks suitable for their music-making needs.

The music, after all, must go on even though life in the Conservatory of Music has been altered in almost every conceivable way in this pandemic. Every student, whether playing a brass or woodwind instrument, will have an appropriately designed mask so they can safely partake in ensemble practices or performances.

That’s the short story.

The deeper story is about alumni connections and Lawrence ingenuity, all leading to students in the Theatre Department’s costume shop, fresh off a master class from the alumna who designed the masks, creating more than 100 of the face coverings for their fellow Lawrentians. Masks and music-making are not easy partners.

“The Conservatory has been wrestling with how to get their large ensembles together this term,” said Karin Simonson Kopischke ’80, instructor of theatre arts and costume shop supervisor. “Just trying to figure out a safe way to do it.”

Katy Hopkins ’85

Enter Katy Hopkins ’85, who operates Yahara River Woodwinds, an instrument-repair shop in Stoughton, Wisconsin. With much of her business curtailed because of the pandemic—out-of-work musicians are less likely to need instruments repaired—she began making and selling face masks, including three specialty models she designed and developed for musicians, one for playing brass instruments, one for playing the flute, and one for playing other woodwinds.

“It took a long time for me to design these masks because there’s just a different set of issues,” Hopkins said. “If you’re playing a reed instrument, you have to have a mask that’s not going to interfere with your mouth, and you don’t want the reed to break. You have to be very careful about the kind of material you use. For flutes, when they blow across the instrument, a lot of their air goes out into the room. You have to figure out how to contain that air.

“You also need to find the right material that will still stay on your face when pulling a mouthpiece in and out,” she said. “It still has to contain your air when you’re not playing. The material has to be lightweight enough that the poor musician doesn’t die from heat exhaustion. Most wind players, they get pretty warm when they play anyway. To have something over your face and mouth can exacerbate that feeling of being flushed. There are just a lot of things to consider when you’re designing these.”

Students pitch in to make cloth masks for campus. Read more here.

When Hopkins, an oboe player who majored in music performance at Lawrence, landed on workable designs this summer, she shared them on Etsy. The response was immediate. She has been flooded with orders from around the country, to the point where she’s had to turn down sales because she can’t keep up.

Among those who came calling was her alma mater. After flute professor Erin Lesser gave one of the Yahara masks a thumbs up, Dean of Conservatory Brian Pertl, a Lawrence classmate of Hopkins in the early ’80s, reached out for a large order, perhaps 100 or more.

“At that point I was already overwhelmed by orders,” Hopkins said. “I said I’d love to help out, but I can’t keep up.”

Lilly Kuipers ’23 holds a finished woodwind mask in the costume shop.

Pertl then floated the idea of Hopkins teaching her design to the costume shop students, under the direction of Simonson Kopischke. Funds were allocated for a contingent sale of the design and for a master class that involved Hopkins coming to campus to teach the particulars of her design.

It’s a win-win, Simonson Kopischke said. The musicians get their masks and the students in the costume shop, who had been looking for a project to take the place of theatre costume work that has been partially sidelined by the pandemic, get a chance to put their creative skills to work.

“It’s a chance to use their hands and use their creativity and release the stress,” Simonson Kopischke said. “And it’s a work-study program, so a lot of them depend on the money they make.”

Hopkins delivered the master class to seven students in the costume shop on the lower level of the Music-Drama Center, reconfigured with sewing machines now spaced eight feet apart.

The masks will be black, suitable for concerts. The Conservatory purchased the black fabric, but other material, from the thread to the elastic, was already on hand.

“We’re set up pretty much like a professional costume shop,” Simonson Kopischke said.

Work stations in the costume shop have been adjusted keep student workers safe. Here, Isabel Kelly ’21 works on a flute mask at one of the sewing machines.

For Hopkins, the mask work is a satisfying detour for an instrument repair business that just launched a year ago.

“I was a lifelong sewer and I started just making regular masks for friends and family,” she said of the early days of the pandemic. “And they all said, ‘Hey, these are really nice, you should sell them.’ I needed extra income and I needed something to do and I’m a very creative person, so I started making masks and selling them on Etsy.

“In mid- to late summer, I started getting requests from my music educator colleagues and friends saying, ‘Have you thought about developing masks for musicians? We all have to go back to school and our administrators are requiring us to have something that’s going to work and protect us and our musicians.”

She went into her lab and started tinkering with designs, finally settling on three that are distinct and functional.

Hopkins is hopeful this is but a brief rerouting of her business.

“I hope for all of us that COVID is short-lived and we can go back to normal,” she said. “I expect this is a short-term business venture. But I’ve enjoyed the creative process, and I’m very excited about working with Lawrence students again.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Jim Miller: Running where few have run before

Jim Miller ’80 runs the Old Mill Marathon through the countryside north of Burlington, Vermont, on Aug. 30.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Jim Miller ’80, whose love of running has, to say the least, been lifelong.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jim Miller ’80 caught the marathon bug while running cross-country for Lawrence University in the late 1970s. What he’s done with that passion over the 40-plus years since puts him in very select company.

On Aug. 30, just days before turning 62, Miller ran a marathon in 2 hours, 53 minutes, 59 seconds, making him one of only four runners known to have run marathons in under 3 hours in six different decades, according to data shared at PodiumRunner.com.

That is 26.2 miles of high-level achievement spanning more than 43 years and touching the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and, now, the 2020s.

“I set a goal to get that sixth decade and I was really excited to get it,” Miller said.

To do it, he had to get a bit industrious. He initially planned to run a marathon in North Carolina in March, but it was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc on running events across the country. He signed up for a marathon in Fargo, North Dakota, that was scheduled for late August, hoping the pandemic would loosen its grip by then. No such luck.

“At that point it seemed unlikely any marathons were going to be held the rest of this year,” Miller said.

He didn’t want to wait out the pandemic, knowing his training was on target and the body felt good.

“There’s no guarantee I’ll be healthy and fit next year,” Miller said. “I was very confident I could run a fast time right now. I’ve been in really good shape for six months, and it’s hard to maintain that indefinitely. So, I felt a sense of urgency.”

Jim Miller ’80 (center) organized the Old Mill Marathon and limited it to 14 runners.

Like Lawrentians are apt to do, he opted for ingenuity. He organized his own marathon near his home in Burlington, Vermont, named it the Old Mill Marathon, got it officially sanctioned, set up a COVID-19 safety plan, and recruited 13 local runners to run it with him.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in any marathon I’ve run,” he said.

And that’s saying something. Miller has run 40 marathons through the years. The enthusiasm for it has never waned, despite injury setbacks and that inevitable march of Father Time.  

The Lawrence difference

Miller said he was a decent but not great runner in high school in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He came to Lawrence for the academics, but he opted to run for the Vikings, and that experience lit a fire inside him.

He’d go on to have a Hall of Fame career at Lawrence, earning All-America honors in cross country and track and winning two Midwest Conference (MWC) championships. By the time he graduated with a degree in economics, he held school records in the 2-mile, 3-mile, and 6-mile distances.

It was a longer run Miller took early in his time at Lawrence, though, that set him on a different path. He ran the 1977 North Dakota Marathon, well before marathon running became the widespread boom it is today, and he won, posting a time of 2:34. It felt good. He wanted more. He won in North Dakota again the next year. Then, on the advice of Lawrence alumnus and advocate Chuck Merry ’57, he entered Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, and proceeded to run an eye-opening 2:19 that got him noticed nationally.

He quickly set a new goal—the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“My senior year at Lawrence I spent training for the Olympic Trials,” Miller said. “I got so much support on campus.”

Always chasing a goal

He moved to Vermont following Commencement in June of 1980 to continue his training. He took a number of odd jobs while focusing on his running. He worked at a store selling running shoes. He took temp jobs. He began working part-time as a janitor at a bank in Burlington.

“I became a ‘running bum’,” Miller said. “Not exactly your typical Lawrence post-graduation route.”

He set a personal record of 2:18:18 and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both 1980 and 1984.

He never did make the U.S. Olympic team, but that part-time janitor job led to opportunities at the bank to put his economics degree to work. He would go on to forge a more than 30-year career as a trust officer and financial planner with the Merchants Trust Company.

And the running would continue, always with goals in place. He’d run one or two marathons a year when injuries weren’t sidelining him. One decade ran into the next, and while that 2:18:18 time would become a distant memory, the sub 3-hour times would continue.

“One of the key factors is enthusiasm and passion,” Miller said. “To run at my best, I need to be excited about a goal. Without that, I won’t come close to my potential. It’s really setting new goals as I age and trying to find a goal that excites me. It’s certainly not to run faster than I’ve ever run before, but it’s pretty easy to find goals that will challenge me.”

Does he have his eye on stretching his sub 3-hour brilliance to a seventh decade? That, he said, might be difficult. He’ll be 71 when 2030 rolls around.

“Even a year out our bodies change so much at this point,” Miller said. “I haven’t written it off in my mind, but that would be some challenge.”

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

Virtual biotech conference first step for Kalsi brothers as they eye tech launch

Harsimran Kalsi ’20 and Satvir Kalsi ’17

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

The Kalsi brothers have a lot in common. 

Both are recent Lawrence University alumni. Both were biology majors. Both were first-generation college students. Both managed to graduate in three years. And both have a passion for science—and for using their skill set to address the world’s most pressing health concerns. 

Satvir Kalsi ’17 and Harsimran Kalsi ’20 have spent their summer working as a team, launching a biotechnology conference—it was to be hosted at Lawrence in April but has since moved to a virtual format—and finalizing the details on their own start-up business, tentatively called Otto, which is set to launch later in the fall. With a lifetime of experience learning each other’s habits, predicting each other’s moves, and adapting to each other’s situations and needs, the brothers are well-equipped to tackle any challenge thrown at them as business partners. 

Together, they’re keeping their eyes on a big goal: scientific innovation. 

Healthspan 2020, a virtual conference

The process of aging is arguably the most universal health concern there is, so it was the first issue on the Kalsi brothers’ agenda. Every day, the majority of deaths worldwide are caused by aging and/or age-related illnesses, and aging is, of course, something none of us can avoid.

At least, not yet. 

Even though the average lifespan has increased as modern medicine has continued to develop, age-related health problems have largely remained stagnant. Essentially, people are living sicker for longer. 

That’s where rejuvenation biotechnology, the subject of the Healthspan 2020 conference, comes in. Focusing on repairing the damage aging naturally does to the body, rejuvenation biotechnology aims to enable people to live healthier lives, regardless of their age. 

“The goal is not just to extend life; it is to make people healthier, longer,” Harsimran said. “So, if you’re chronologically 90, you’re biologically 60.” 

The Healthspan conference launched Aug. 26, with an emphasis on the current state of rejuvenation biotechnology research and innovation, as well as the specific health care developments in Wisconsin. Featuring expert speakers from the realms of industry and academia, the entirely virtual, nearly carbon-neutral conference aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the science behind aging—and the potential reversal of its effects—while also ensuring the information is presented in a concise and understandable manner. 

Admittedly, Harsimran did not plan for the conference to be completely online when he came up with the idea as a student back in 2018. The conference was originally scheduled for April 3 on the Lawrence campus, before Lawrence announced it would continue virtually for the Spring Term. But what the virtual conference lacks in direct, in-person communication, it makes up for in accessibility. The website is available to everyone. 

Although Satvir was not originally as involved with the April conference, when the change of date and format resulted in a change of the speaker lineup, Satvir was there to help bridge the gap as he took on the role of Healthspan’s final speaker. As a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he brings an interesting perspective to the conference: that of an advocate for comprehensive change in how the medical community, and those who influence it, approach aging. 

“There are still people out there who don’t know the problem exists, and that advocacy work is open to pretty much anybody,” Satvir said. “… I wanted to be able to put this problem into perspective and try to connect people to the science without getting bogged down by the specifics.” 

Pursuing entrepreneurship 

The Kalsis’ dedication to scientific innovation does not stop with the Healthspan 2020 conference. 

Especially at this moment in history, the need for speed and reliability in scientific discovery is brutally apparent. But, the Kalsis said, it’s become clear that there are some snags in the system, that the scientific community is not structured in a way that always facilitates fast, effective collaboration. 

“You can imagine, if someone made this process even faster, that could really save not just lives but a lot of time, a lot of money, and obviously the death toll would be decreased by almost any measure,” Satvir said. 

Back in the fall of 2018, after spending a few summers doing scientific research, Satvir and Harsimran said they noticed what others are now starting to see: scientific innovation doesn’t move as fast as it could. Due to a variety of barriers regarding collaborations, including financial and accessibility roadblocks, there is too often excessive red tape standing in the way of scientific discovery. 

“It typically takes 17 years for data on a lab bench to go to being an actual clinical therapy,” Harsimran said. “And, you know, where will we all be in 17 years? How about the oldest people we know? And then it also takes on average $2 billion. … If we can reduce these barriers, there’s a pretty good chance that we could speed up how quickly we get good medical care. I think everyone is realizing the importance of that.” 

That necessity for speed is the basis behind the Kalsis’ new tech start-up. After two years of development, entrepreneurship classes, and recruiting potential users, the brothers are just a few months away from the launch of their new platform, designed to facilitate access to scientific expertise and equipment and to streamline collaboration and communication between scientists. 

Through their website, users, including academic institutions, citizen scientists, and early-stage biotechnology and biopharmacology companies, will be able to work together in their research and experiments, potentially leading to faster and easier scientific discovery. With users from a variety of different fields of industry and academia, individuals and organizations can use the platform to find collaborators for research and to access otherwise expensive and hard-to-get equipment, making the field of science more accessible for more people. 

Although the website will initially be limited to pre-selected and approved users, if all goes well the plan is to expand and make the platform available to the public, facilitating further scientific innovation and discovery. 

“If it works out really well, it’s not only valuable, but it’s actually a catalyst for scientific discovery,” Satvir said. “. . . It’s causing us to discover new things very quickly and causing us to have new treatments very quickly. That could really change the landscape we deal with today.” 

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Lawrence feels strength of support from alumni, friends amid ongoing challenges

Work is under way to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success. A $1.5 million fund-raising goal for the project has been met. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Financial support from Lawrence University alumni and friends hasn’t waned amid the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contributions to the Lawrence Fund, a key funding mechanism to support students, the work of faculty, and the upkeep of the campus infrastructure, set a record with just over $4 million contributed during the 2019-20 fiscal year that concluded at the end of June. That surpassed the previous high of $3.9 million in 2015-16.

The Lawrence Fund is key on a number of levels. The funding affects almost every student and classroom, supporting the daily operation of the campus and bolstering everything from scholarships and study abroad opportunities to infrastructure upkeep, Conservatory performances, and athletics. The alumni donor participation rates in the Lawrence Fund also have an impact on national rankings and future funding opportunities. It’s estimated that without the Lawrence Fund and endowment earnings, each student’s tuition would increase by more than $10,000 a year.

Topping the $4 million mark for that fund for the first time is no small thing, said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development.

“The Lawrence community continues to impress with its fierce loyalty,” he said.

The support comes at a time when institutions of higher education across the country are grappling with financial challenges unforeseen at the outset of the year. As the spread of COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic, Lawrence joined other schools in sending most students home for remote classes during spring term, resulting in significant revenue losses. Lawrence trimmed more than $3 million from its operating budget through new efficiencies, cuts in travel and non-essential expenses, and assorted staff furloughs. President Mark Burstein took a 20% pay cut for six months, and the leadership team that comprises the president’s Cabinet each took pay cuts of 10% over that same time period.

The University recently announced that the campus would reopen in the fall, with both students and faculty being given the option to be on campus or continue with distance learning. Classes will be delivered in a mix of in-person and remote formats.

Through it all, the generosity of alumni and other supporters has helped keep Lawrence moving forward despite the ongoing uncertainties.

“Thanks to support from the Lawrence community and high demand from high school seniors for a Lawrence education, the university enters these turbulent times in a strong position,” Burstein said. “Each effort to support our students, faculty, and staff during the pandemic has been made possible through extraordinary investments from our community. Lawrentians’ belief in the future of the transformative education they themselves received motivates us every day.”

Besides the Lawrence Fund record, other notable end-of-fiscal-year examples of generosity include:

  • The Supporting Our Students (SOS) Emergency Fund, set up to help students with unexpected expenses caused by the pandemic, has raised more than $161,000 from nearly 600 donors.
  • The Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) campaign passed its $85 million goal and now sits at $87.3 million. The fund raises money to provide additional financial aid to students who show a demonstrated need.
  • The overarching Be the Light! Campaign, ongoing since 2014 and scheduled to conclude at the end of this calendar year, continues to push toward its $220 million goal. The campaign ended the fiscal year at $214.2 million, a mix of cash donations, pledges, and deferred commitments from more than 15,800 donors.

The generosity that continued as the pandemic brought deep challenges over the past five months highlights the importance of the long-nurtured relationship between Lawrence and its alumni and community supporters, Husmann said. That the support never wavered is a testament to the bonds that connect Lawrentians through generations and the commitment to meet the needs of current and future students.

“During the pandemic, we surpassed the $85 million goal for Full Speed to Full Need, which is allowing us to provide more financial support to our students and their families,” Husmann said. “The community also made additional gifts for the SOS Fund, which helped hundreds of students navigate the sudden shift to distance learning during third term.”

The SOS funds have helped students with expenses ranging from emergency travel and temporary storage to short-term food and housing needs.

Other highlights on the fund-raising front during the just concluded fiscal year:

  • When J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 established the endowed Riaz Waraich Dean for Career, Life, and Community Engagement, he challenged the Lawrence community to match the $2.5 million gift. Contributions toward that match now stand at $2.2 million, providing support for internships and other career exploration.
  • Contributions toward the development of a Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall have grown to $429,000. The goal is $1.4 million.
  • Kuo-ming Sung was named the first professor to hold the Wendy and KK Tse Professorship of East Asian Studies, established by Wendy and KK Tse ’81 as part of the Be the Light! Campaign.
  • The goal of $1.5 million to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success was met. Work on the center is under way this summer, with expectations for it to open by the start of Fall Term. Other campus renewal work supported by gifts during the fiscal year include Brokaw Hall renovations, new bleachers in Alexander Gym, and new landscaping in front of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

The Be the Light! Campaign saw new contributions totaling $32 million during the year, up from the $26 million to $27 million range in preceding years. To see that happen amid the uncertainties of the pandemic was particularly satisfying, Husmann said, noting that alumni and other supporters have shown an appreciation for the difficult challenges facing the University and its students as preparations are made for an academic year that’ll be unlike any that came before.

“I’ve been motivated and heartened to hear numerous accolades of support and encouragement from our community and the expression of this through financial support,” Husmann said. “We are grateful.”

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

50 years after graduating amid chaos, Class of 1970 offers hope to 2020 grads

A group of Lawrence University students, faculty, and staff march across campus following the May 4, 1970, shooting of anti-war protesters at Kent State University. (Lawrence University photo)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Graduating from college when it feels like the world is on fire isn’t a particularly comforting thing. Members of Lawrence University’s Class of 1970 can tell you something about that.

Fifty years after walking across the Commencement stage on Main Hall Green at an event that felt part celebration, part protest, part chaos, the Lawrentians of that class have nothing but words of encouragement for the 2020 graduates who are navigating their own moment of chaos.

Margaret Everist ’70 was one of those graduates 50 years ago. She feels the disappointment and pain of this year’s graduates, who had to finish their final term away from campus and watched the job market implode amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Her advice? Stay focused on what’s in front of you — the opportunity to change the world.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Everist said from Minneapolis, where she retired after carving out successful careers in health care and finance. “Go out into the world to make a difference, one small step at a time.”

Lawrence held a virtual 2020 Commencement on Sunday, honoring nearly 270 graduates. As the day arrived, racial injustice protests rolled across the country, a tipping point that is resetting public conversations on equality, inclusion, and police brutality. Combined with the ongoing pandemic, it added new context to Commencement and the graduates’ post-Lawrence journeys: “As we continue to settle into this uncertainty, maybe a little more uncertainty than we might’ve bargained for four years ago, I am confident that if any class has the strength to deal with the weight of the world, it’s the Class of 2020,” senior class speaker Samantha Lizbeth Torres ’20 told her classmates.

We feel your pain

The Class of 1970, meanwhile, was supposed to be on campus this week to celebrate its 50th anniversary, but, alas, Reunion fell victim to the coronavirus lockdown. The class that graduated amid a firestorm of anti-war protests following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent shootings of student protesters on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State put plans to gather in person on pause. Instead, a virtual “re-Commencement” was held Sunday to bring the class together online. More than 100 members of the class took part.

For members of that class, the emotions of Commencement 50 years ago still linger. The ceremony took place but the divisiveness was palpable, the graduates recall. Many refused to wear their caps and gowns. Some wore black armbands. The Commencement speaker lectured the students, calling their generation self-absorbed, naïve, and humorless.

“The Vietnam War was raging and draft boards were aggressively seeking out young men whose service had been deferred during college,” Bill Hillburg ’70 recalled. “Baby boom demographics resulted in too many new grads chasing too few jobs and professional school slots. Inflation was devouring salaries. We were collectively freaking out.”

The 1970 Commencement went on as scheduled despite anti-war protests that had heated up in the weeks following shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. “It was a divisive mess,” Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70 said. The class, marking its 50th anniversary, held a virtual “Re-Commencement” on Sunday. (Lawrence University photo)

It was in the weeks leading up to Commencement that the bottom seemed to fall out. College campuses were already hotbeds for anti-war protests, and then on May 4, 1970, the improbable happened. Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on students on the Kent State campus, leaving four dead. Less than two weeks later, police fired shots on the campus of Jackson State, killing two students.

Protests would escalate on campuses across the country.

In Appleton, hundreds of protesters, many of them Lawrence students and faculty, flooded into the downtown the day following the Kent State shooting, the anger reflected on the front page of a special edition of The Lawrentian. Classes on campus would be temporarily suspended as the protests continued through the remainder of the term.

“Our college years were anything but perfect,” said Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70. “We were on the streets protesting the war and the racial and gender inequalities we could witness every day. Our country was as divided then as it is now.”

For her and her classmates, college had been tumultuous from the start. They saw the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., then Robert F. Kennedy. The Vietnam War was escalating and emotions were running raw.

“We finished out our senior year with suspended classes and bitter divides among the Lawrence administration, faculty, and student body,” Krinke Hillburg said. “Yes, we had a graduation ceremony, but it was a divisive mess, with many students wearing black armbands and donating the money that would have gone to cap and gown rental to the anti-war effort. Our Commencement address was given by a faculty member who chastised us for our naivete and privilege. Our idealism was ridiculed, our upheaval of cherished Lawrence traditions mourned. We were the least favorite graduating class of all time.”

A message of hope

For Bill Hillburg, it was a Lawrence staff member, a career adviser, who provided a sense of calm and hope amid all the chaos. You have a Lawrence education to cling to, and that is no small thing, he told students who had gathered for a spring term counseling session.

“He had no hot job tips or secrets for getting into grad school, which was not an option for the draft eligible,” Bill Hillburg said. “He also didn’t advise us whether to take up arms or flee to Canada. But he did give us hope. He assured us that our lives and careers would take us on paths we could not foresee and adventures and challenges we could not imagine, and through it all, we would benefit from being educated Lawrence grads. He was right.”

Bill and Myra would marry shortly after leaving Lawrence. Bill would go on to work many years as a journalist, mostly in California, and later with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Myra would become an accomplished teacher and girls’ golf coach.

“Along the way, we lived in several states and foreign countries and raised two talented daughters,” Bill Hillburg said.

John Fease ’70, a retired pastor who provided the benediction at Sunday’s “Re-Commencement,” said a lifetime of experiences has dulled the frustrations that surrounded Commencement. He, in fact, didn’t even graduate as expected that spring. He was short on credits, which pushed his Commencement to the following year. While his classmates went through with a fractious Commencement ceremony, he and his fiancee, Barb, got married.

So, as Fease and others on the 1970 Reunion Committee were meeting over the last year to plan their 50th reunion, he and Barb also were looking forward to marking their 50th wedding anniversary the same weekend. That celebration is not canceled.

“While there is great disappointment that we won’t be gathering for the reunion this year, Barb and I plan to shelter together to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Fease said. “Surely, reason to rejoice.”

Fease, Everist, the Hillburgs, and their classmates are now delivering to the Class of 2020 a message of resilience: There are lifelong benefits to having a liberal arts education, and, thus, the uncertainty of the moment will give way to new opportunities and adventures. Krinke Hillburg said there’s much to be disheartened about right now, from the state of today’s politics to “the deterioration of our planet, another unending war, and unprecedented inequality in our society.” But just as it was true 50 years ago, today’s graduates have much to build on.

“Without our Lawrence education to see us through life, we could be inconsolable,” she said. “But the light of intellectual curiosity and the quest for knowledge Lawrence provided us with has seen us through many of life’s dark moments.”

For Everist, it was the ongoing connections with fellow Lawrentians that helped guide her journey once she left Appleton. Today’s graduates will feel the same, even if they fell separated at the moment, she said.

“It’s not the end,” Everist said of Commencement. “It’s the end of being at Lawrence, but it’s not the end of the Lawrence experience.”

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

Alumni Awards shine light on efforts to better the world, support Lawrentians

(Photo by Danny Damiani)

Seven Lawrence University alumni are being honored with 2020 Alumni Awards. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the annual Reunion celebration, this year’s recipients are still being celebrated for their contributions to both the Lawrence community and the world. Full bios of the award winners can be found on the Alumni Awards page at Lawrence.edu.

The honorees include:

Riester

Jeffrey Riester ’70, Presidential Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna whose leadership has contributed to the betterment of the Lawrence community. An attorney and manager at Godfrey & Kahn’s Business Practice Group in Appleton, Riester has been an active community partner, including being a founding member of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. He also has provided exemplary leadership to Lawrence, including service on his 40th and 50th Reunion committees, the LUAA Board of Directors, the Björklunden Advisory Committee, and the Lawrence University Board of Trustees. In particular, he brought insightful leadership to the Board of Trustees as chair from 2002 to 2004, as chair of the More Light! campaign working group, and to the Björklunden Advisory Committee as co-chair alongside his wife, Jone ’72.

Chemel

Lee Dodds Chemel ’65, Lucia Russell Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna of more than 20 years for outstanding contributions to and achievements in a career field. Chemel, who served as Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement speaker, started her studies at Milwaukee-Downer College before transferring to Lawrence College during the merger. She would go on to have success as a theater director before embarking on a successful career as a television director, earning four Emmy nominations while working on such shows as “The Middle,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Spin City,” “Mad About You,” “Murphy Brown,” Northern Exposure,” and “Family Ties.” She is the recipient of three BET awards for outstanding direction in comedy and two Humanitas awards.

Reams

Zoie Reams ’14, Nathan M. Pusey Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger for significant contributions and achievements in a career field. Reams, who earned a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance at Lawrence, has been gracing the stage in some of the world’s most renowned opera houses. A Mezzo-soprano, she was lauded by Opera News for her “velvety mezzo” and for how she “phrase[s] with elegance and articulate[s] coloratura nimbly.” Of particular note and achievement for a young musician was her 2018-19 season debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago singing Flora in La Traviata. On the concert stage, Reams has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Staatstheater Cottbus Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, and the combined choirs of Auburn University and New Choral Society of Scarsdale, New York.

Colston

Brienne Colston ’15, George B. Walter Service to Society Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna who best exemplifies the ideals of a liberal education through its application to socially useful ends in the community, the nation, or the world. Colston is a black queer feminist youth worker, facilitator, and community organizer hailing from the South Bronx. She is the founder and executive director of Brown Girl Recovery, a non-profit collective dedicated to prioritizing healing justice and providing community spaces to women of color in the Bronx and other uptown areas through social justice programming and events. She also serves as a racial justice and political education facilitator for an array of small community-based organizations. With degrees in gender studies and history, Colston found her passion in grassroots organizing and resistance work. Her tireless work for her community and devotion to liberation has given many women of color a vital space for encouragement, support, and healing.

Hanley

Nancy Perkins Hanley M-D ’54, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Hanley crafted an impressive 31-year career as an occupational therapist in rehabilitation, psychiatry, and pediatrics. She also has brought her appreciation of Milwaukee-Downer College to everything she has done for Lawrence University. Since 1991, she has held the position of class secretary. For four years, from 1996 to 2000, she served on the LUAA Board of Directors as a member of the Alumni Programs Committee and Alumni Development Committee. In 2004, she was a member of her 50th Reunion Steering Committee. In 2008, she helped to organize the Milwaukee-Downer Legacy Circle reception for M-D alumnae in southern California. She is a former class agent, admissions volunteer, and organizer of regional alumni programming.

Katzoff

Ted Katzoff ’65, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Katzoff, a theater major, started the fencing program at Lawrence. An actor, manager, director, and sword master, he has spent a lifetime sharing his passions for theater and fencing. He returns to Lawrence often to mentor the fencing team, lead master classes for the theatre program, interview prospective students and represent Lawrence at college fairs. He has served on multiple Reunion committees, as a campaign volunteer for both the More Light! and Be the Light! capital fundraising campaigns, served on the Alumni Board of Directors from 2009 to 2012, and volunteered every year for the 50-year Connection program that honors the merging of Milwaukee-Downer College and Lawrence College.

Tuan

Chiao-Yu Tuan ’14, Marshall B. Hulbert Young Alumni Outstanding Service Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger who has provided significant service to the college. Tuan, an international student who majored in psychology and math-computer science, produced the documentary, 5000 Miles from Home, while at Lawrence, capturing the perspective of first-year international students. Since graduation, Tuan she has maintained close ties to Lawrence by creating platforms to help effectively communicate with current and prospective international students. Tuan works for Airbnb as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley. She has never hesitated to share her experience with Lawrence students, whether that means coming back to campus to speak to computer science classes or mentoring international students on life after Lawrence. Tuan is a longtime host for the annual Silicon Valley Trek, a spring break excursion taken by Lawrence Scholars in Business.

As they await medical school, these ’19 LU alums reach out a hand to children

From left: Nick Felan ’19, Madeleine Felan, and Lizzy Garcia Creighton ’19 started a nonprofit in Dallas called All in for Children. Nick and Lizzy also are preparing to enter medical school.

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Nicholas (Nick) Felan ’19 thinks often of Tyce.

They met in the hospital, where Tyce was recovering from a car accident that he had been in while trying to steal pizza. When Nick came to see him as part of a volunteer program, Tyce told Nick how he was thinking about dropping out of school, even referencing suicidal thoughts. In the two weeks Tyce had been in the hospital, he had no other visitors.

Tyce was 12 years old.

“I think when I was 12, my only worry was what Pokemon cards I was getting for Christmas—nothing like that,” Nick said. “Seeing that different perspective, it really just opens your eyes as to how badly people need strong mentors and influential people in their life.”

Nick’s passion for helping children in need started as a Lawrence student, volunteering with classmate Elizabeth (Lizzy) Garcia Creighton ’19 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley. After graduation, the two biology and biochemistry double-majors headed south to Dallas, where they have spent the last eight months volunteering while studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)—only to have it canceled three times due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With their futures abruptly put on pause and the world in the midst of a pandemic, Nick and Lizzy took the opportunity to start giving back in a more substantial way. On March 31, four days after they were originally scheduled to take the MCAT, Nick and Lizzy, along with Nick’s younger sister, Madeleine Felan, launched All in for Children, a nonprofit organization aiming to better the lives of young people and their families.

Getting started

When brainstorming potential projects for All in for Children, the first one seemed obvious: making masks. There was a huge need within the community, plus it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get more people involved with the organization.

After reaching out to their local children’s hospital to get an approved design for the masks, the founders got to work ordering supplies and learning how to sew. But they knew that if they wanted to make a substantial impact, they needed more people. With Madeleine taking the lead on spreading the word, All in for Children turned to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Nextdoor to find their reinforcements—and their followers made sure they got plenty of shares. Altogether, more than 20 people contributed to their mask-making efforts, a connection that Lizzy hopes will be long-lasting.

Mask-making was the first priority for All in for Children.

“Once we move on from mask-making, people can still be involved,” Lizzy said. “All those people who made masks for us will see our posts and be like, ‘Hey, I made masks for them that one time, maybe I’ll donate $10, maybe I’ll go to that canoe race or 5K or whatever it is that we’re doing.’ We thought it’d be like a great way to kick-start everything.”

Through the combined efforts of the founders delivering packages of supplies (containing pre-cut cloth, elastic, clips, and pipe cleaners) and the volunteers sewing up the finished products, All in for Children has donated about 1,200 masks in total, split between the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and their local Boys & Girls Club.

Moving forward

If All in for Children gets requests for more masks, those will be accommodated. But for now, they’re shifting their focus back to what their name suggests: bettering the lives of children.

Based on their volunteer experiences, Nick and Lizzy both feel that if they can work with someone while they’re still young, it’s possible to create a lasting impact on their future. To that end, All in for Children is looking for ways to provide mentoring and services where they can do the most good.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is fostering a growth mindset in kids,” Lizzy said. “Children are so malleable. We really want to make these kids believe that no matter where they come from, what their background is, what their home life is like, it’s not like life handed you lemons and now you’re bound to not achieve certain goals. We want to open those doors up, make them believe that they can pretty much do whatever.”

On the immediate horizon, this is likely to mean fundraising for other charitable organizations that provide important services to young people. With some ideas—like selling T-shirts and setting up 5Ks—already being discussed, All in for Children hopes to provide financial assistance for local nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club and the Agape Clinic, which provides inexpensive health care services for families in need.

Despite these developing plans, Lizzy, Nick, and Madeleine recognize that the current situation could shift rapidly. Still, they hope All in for Children will be able to adapt alongside it. With Madeleine graduating high school in a year and Nick and Lizzy still unsure where they will attend medical school, the future of All in for Children could take a variety of forms.

But no matter where they end up, All in for Children will remain focused on its key mission: doing the most good for the most impressionable among us. Kids usually live in environments where many factors are out of their control—but consistent mentorship can provide stability.

“That’s the area where we all think we can make the biggest impact,” Nick said.

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Communications office.

One family’s generosity nurtures four new Lawrentian student journeys

Lawrence photographer Danny Damiani paid a visit to the Kaukauna front porches of each of the Paulson Scholars: From left top: Bailey Underwood ’20, Isaac Wippich ’21, Molly Ruffing ’22, and Enna Krnecin ’23.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Bailey Underwood ’20, Isaac Wippich ’21, Molly Ruffing ’22, and Enna Krnecin ’23 have a few things in common when it comes to their college paths.

All four are proud Lawrentians. All four hail from Kaukauna, a 10-minute drive east of the Lawrence University campus. All four are distance learning from their Kaukauna homes during spring term. And all four can point to a generous Kaukauna family as an impetus to their Lawrence journeys.

Four years ago, when Tom ’93 and Mary Paulson and their three children, Sarah, Nick ’14, and Erik ’16, committed $2.5 million to create a Lawrence scholarship fund, the dream was for four Kaukauna students to be attending Lawrence as Paulson Scholars year in and year out.

That dream has been building since 2016, one scholarship at a time. This marks the first year Paulson Scholars can be found in each of the four classes at Lawrence.

Underwood, the first recipient, is a fourth-year biology major. Wippich is a philosophy and psychology double major who was a visiting student at the University of Oxford in England before the COVID-19 pandemic brought him home. When he graduates next year, he will be the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Ruffing is a second-year student pursuing a psychology and English double major. And Krnecin is part way through her first year with her options wide open.

Bailey Underwood ’20

“Not only did the Paulsons make it financially feasible for me to attend college, they shared genuine compassion and support every step along the way,” Wippich said. “They brought us Scholars out to dinner and engaged with us about our passions with sincere curiosity.”

Similar thoughts are echoed by each of the Paulson Scholars, each of whom say the Paulsons helped them realize a dream of attending Lawrence. The annual scholarship provides the full demonstrated financial need for four years to a Kaukauna High School graduate attending Lawrence. If no Kaukauna students are eligible or interested, the scholarship expands to other Fox Cities students. It focuses on high-need applicants.

Tom Paulson said he and his family, so grateful for how Lawrence has impacted their lives, made the decision to create a scholarship fund after Lawrence launched its Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) financial aid initiative as part of the Be the Light! campaign. The $85 million FSFN target has been reached, the university announced Monday.

The timing was right, the need was there, and the chance to support students in their Kaukauna hometown just felt right, Tom Paulson said.

“It just seemed like a great opportunity, and almost a responsibility to pay it forward.”

The commitment has been more than financial. The Paulsons annually invite the Paulson Scholars to dinner. They stay in touch, and offer advice, solace, and mentoring as needed.

Isaac Wippich ’21

Tom Paulson graduated from Lawrence in 1993 at age 32, completing a winding path that included going to school while working full-time and supporting a growing family. Two of his children, Nick and Erik, would later graduate from Lawrence.

“The Paulsons are genuinely interested in how to continue to improve Lawrence and also how we are all doing as individuals,” Ruffing said. “They remember who we are and what we’re passionate about and urge us to continue to reach our full potential.”

For Underwood, the opportunities she’s had at Lawrence go well beyond the classroom. The research she’s been able to do within the biology department is just the start.

“I was lucky enough to pursue my own research and experience the scientific process truly from beginning to end, and I’m seeing it in my Senior Experience project,” she said. “This would not have been possible had I gone to another school and had I not had the Paulson family supporting me. They have truly become a second support system, for which I am so thankful. Because of Lawrence, I can truly say I’m a scientist, but also a flautist, a Francophile, a psychology geek, and so many other things because the education Lawrence provides allows me to be all of those things.”

Krnecin, meanwhile, said attending college would have been “much more difficult and complicated” if not for the Paulson support. “Without their help, I would not be at Lawrence,” she said.

Molly Ruffing ’22

Tom Paulson’s unlikely path through Lawrence

Tom Paulson’s own Lawrence journey came about in a non-traditional way. He was working full-time at the Institute of Paper Chemistry, then located in Appleton, and took advantage of a tuition agreement between the Institute and Lawrence, whereas he could take a course per term on the dime of the Institute. He did that for six years, starting in the mid-1980s. But when the Institute relocated to Atlanta, the tuition agreement ceased.

“I was kind of out on my own, wondering how I was going to find my way through the rest of my degree,” Paulson said. “I had senior status but I would still have probably three-plus years of part-time schooling. It was incredibly expensive doing it that way.

“I had a growing family. We were a family of four at that time. That really wasn’t feasible and it looked like I maybe wasn’t going to make it.”

That’s when then-chemistry professor Jerry Lokensgard stepped up and said he and others would work with Paulson to see him through to graduation.

“I think the operable word was ‘we’,” Paulson said. “He was invested in this, which is really amazing to me. He had already talked to the financial aid department and talked to professors and looked my schedule over and did a lot of leg work on his own.”

They found a path where Paulson could juggle full-time work and school to complete his degree in a year.

Enna Krnecin ’23

“I just don’t think this could have happened anywhere else,” Paulson said. “It was incredibly humbling that he did all this. So, we ended up doing exactly that, enrolling full time for a year. And I had to continue working. My wife and I had just had our son, Nick, so we were struggling financially, as young couples do, but the financial aid that came through and the generosity of complete strangers really made it happen.”

Paulson would get that degree, setting him on a career trajectory that would include two successful business start-ups.

“It was really the most transformative, humbling, busy, crazy year of my life,” Paulson said of that 1992-93 academic year. “But, not only the financial support, but support from my professors was amazing. If I needed to miss a lab because I was traveling with my work schedule, they’d allow me to do it at night or on weekends. It seemed like a team effort to get me through this. To me, that’s the Lawrence difference.”

Seeds had been planted

Tom Paulson said he and Mary had talked for years about giving back to Lawrence when the time was right. When Nick and then Erik attended Lawrence, they both had transformative experiences that further solidified the family’s commitment to the long-term health of Lawrence.

“When Nick and Erik were both at Lawrence, we started talking as a family about this idea,” Tom Paulson said of making a financial commitment to the school.

They settled on the idea of an ongoing scholarship fund to support students from Kaukauna. It became part of the Be the Light! campaign, which to date has raised more than $208 million toward the $220 million goal.

For more information on the Be the Light! campaign, see here.

Tom Paulson speaks during a Be the Light! campaign event held during winter term in the Warch Campus Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“It was a great thing for us as a family,” Tom Paulson said. “The kids know this is money that is somehow coming out of their pockets down the road. That was a real powerful motivator for us. The ability to sit down as a family and openly discuss this.

“Everything came together as a real magical moment. A match came in, the Be the Light! campaign was here, and everything just flowed together. I am overwhelmed at the response to the campaign, and I love the fact that we’re involved.”

For the four students now benefiting from the Paulson decision, the generosity is not taken lightly.

“It’s a wonderful experience having donor support from such caring people, and I honestly cannot imagine my Lawrence experience without the Paulson family,” Ruffing said. “It has made me truly feel valued and part of a community greater than just the current student body.”

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

The Paulson family (from left): Tom ’93, Sarah, Nick ’14, Mary, and Erik ’16.

Trip to Ghana combines experiential learning with deep alumni connections

A hike through a rainforest and photo beneath a massive waterfall were among the experiences for Lawrence alumni on a trip to Ghana earlier this year. (Photos by Jonathan Rubin ’19).

By Jonathan Rubin ’19

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and much of the world shut down, more than 20 Lawrentians and friends gathered in Accra, the capital of Ghana, to embark upon nearly two weeks of experiential learning, tours, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery.

It was led by Claudena Skran, Lawrence University’s Edwin and Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, and Stacy Mara, associate vice president of development. We traveled to almost all corners of Ghana, which is about a third as big as Texas but with two and a half million more people.

Our group was fortunate to have Sarah Ehlinger Affotey ’11 with us to help plan, coordinate, and engage the group. Sarah, who earned her first master’s degree from the University of Ghana and whose husband is Ghanaian, worked to ensure everything was set. Her insight and knowledge were invaluable.

Many of my travel companions are retired or decades deep into their careers. As a new Lawrence graduate (religious studies, 2019), it was fascinating to hear the perspectives and reactions of people far more experienced than my peer group. The adventures and discussions we shared will be with me forever.

For information on Lawrence alumni travel opportunities, see here.

I also was thrilled to find out that I would be traveling with my old friend and mentor, Wes Varughese ’16, who now lives and works in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Wes was the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) president when I first arrived at Lawrence. He helped me get my footing at Lawrence, and, most importantly, persuaded me to join a field experience in Sierra Leone.

Wes Varughese ’16 (left) and Jonathan Rubin ’19 reconnected on the Ghana trip.

Thanks to Wes’s guidance — as well as life-changing advising from Professor Skran (and from Professor Martyn Smith in Religious Studies) — I found myself traveling around the world, first with professors from Lawrence, then through Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) programs, and even as a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholar in Indonesia. To share the Ghana trip with Wes gave me the sense of a circle brought around and completed.

Our exploration of Ghana was a rare opportunity to gather together as learners and thinkers from varied disciplines, industries, and career paths, and enjoy adventurous experiential education. As lifelong learners, Lawrentians know that these new experiences work their way into the fabric of our understanding, helping us to grow and connect with one another and with the world in new ways.

While Ghana might seem far from the banks of the Fox River in Appleton, Lawrence has deep connections to the first independent democratic nation in West Africa. Our trip followed in the footsteps of the December 2018 student field experience to Ghana.

Dr. Augustine Fosu ‘73 and his wife, Helen, hosted the Lawrence alumni group in Ghana.

One of our group’s first stops was to visit one of the first Ghanaian Lawrentians: Dr. Augustine Fosu ‘73. In 1968, as a young Ghanaian American Field Service (AFS) student in Milwaukee, he wrote to a Lawrence dean who happened to be coordinating the Peace Corps program in Ghana. A year later he would begin his undergraduate work at Lawrence. He would go on to receive his Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern, and today is one of the most decorated development economics professors in Ghana, while also holding positions at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Oxford University in the UK.

Dr. Fosu invited us to the weekly graduate seminar at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research at the University of Ghana Legon. He gave a fascinating and challenging presentation about Ghana’s history and development, and about the paths and challenges ahead: education vs. infrastructure, foreign interest vs. development goals. The presentation provided a strong framework for understanding the country we would explore over the course of our stay.

That evening, Dr. Fosu and his wife, Helen, hosted our group and guests from around the world at a dinner party at their home. We sat outside on a warm, clear night at a dozen tables and enjoyed a traditional Ghanaian meal.

“It was a great experience at Lawrence … so much so that 40 years later, I encouraged my son to go to Lawrence, despite being admitted to other top universities in the U.S.,” Dr. Fosu said, addressing the group that evening. “I so valued my experience, and so I sent my son as well.” His son, Kofi, graduated from Lawrence in 2013.

After a few days in Accra, we made our way to the Cape Coast Slave Castle, and had the privilege to bear witness to difficult history. Facing the dehumanization of Africans so viscerally in the halls of a dungeon or staring from battlements across the ocean toward the United States, the Caribbean, and South America, we were left with lasting impressions. The group presented a gift to the site, a plaque from Lawrence, dedicated as Susan Goldsmith ’65 read Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” 

After touring another castle in Elmina, we continued on to the rainforest at Kakum National Park. After learning a bit about the environment, we walked across rope bridges suspended dizzyingly high above the rainforest floor. It was exhilarating to see the jungle from this perspective. While the swing and sway of the bridges made us all a bit nervous, everyone finished the canopy walk and we were on our way to our next stop: the City of Kumasi.

Rope bridges at Kakum National Park posed their own challenges.

After a good number of engaging tours, museums, and markets, we had the pleasure of a private dance performance from a popular local traditional dance troupe. The evening of drumming, dancing, and local club beer was a delight.

From Kumasi, we went on to the Volta River region and stayed at a wonderful riverfront eco-lodge hotel. Electricity for the entire country is generated by the Akosombo Dam and hydroelectric facility on the Volta River.

Our group was lucky to be joined for this part of our tour by another Lawrence alumnus, Momodu Maligi ’04. Maligi was appointed by former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma as the first Minister for Water Resources in his home country of Sierra Leone. Maligi outlined for our group the stark realities around access to clean water and to other utilities, and issues surrounding government intervention and foreign cooperation.

After a long and bumpy bus ride, we hiked through the rainforest and swam beneath a massive waterfall. Just as we had all changed back into our dry clothes, it began to pour. Ever resilient, we marched our way out of the rainforest and back to our vehicles. Despite being thoroughly soaked, it was a favorite moment.

From the Volta region, we made our way back to Accra and really began to feel the weight and value of our experience together. Since I graduated only last year, I was the youngest alumnus on the trip. I was moved by the strong connections I witnessed between Lawrentians, and saw our shared Lawrentian values put to work in real time — lifelong, joyful learning, meaningful and ethical engagement with the world, and intercultural learning.

Professor Claudena Skran (center) and Stacy Mara (front left) led the alumni trip to Ghana.

Professor Skran’s experiential learning model for her students adapted beautifully to our tour. Not only were we able to see the sites, taste the food, and shop in the colorful markets, we were able to contextualize all our experiences through the prism of what we were learning and discussing. Most importantly, we had a number of talented guides and local contacts who allowed us to connect to the people in the places we were visiting.

“Rarely does one get the opportunity to collaborate with someone so passionate and knowledgeable about their field of work,” Wes said of Professor Skran. “Her resourceful nature, holistic approach in her academic work, but most importantly her respect and inclusion of her students is the reason why so many Lawrentians have and continue to take field experience courses with Professor Skran, for over 15 years now. … She’s been extremely influential in my career thus far.”

Like Wes, these experiences and opportunities as a student changed my life. This trip to Ghana with these amazing Lawrentians affirmed for me the value of my Lawrence education and my pride in membership in our community.

As we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes, COVID-19 was becoming a grave new reality for our world. Our group has stayed in touch — we have all remained well, and I feel somehow sustained by the connections we forged.

Jonathan Rubin ’19 is a writer and consultant based in Long Beach, California. Since graduating, he has used his liberal arts education to work on projects ranging from digital marketing to international development.