2 Minutes With … Jason Bernheimer: Spanish-language, LGBTQ+ advocacy

Jason Bernheimer poses for a portrait.
Jason Bernheimer on his efforts to advocate for resources for the LGBTQ+ community in the greater Fox Cities: “Inclusivity is always the best policy.” (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Spanish and global studies double major Jason Bernheimer ’22 figured out how to combine his passions in a research project. The Lawrence University sophomore from Vancouver, Washington, visited various clinics in the Fox Cities to find out what Spanish-language health resources are available to Appleton’s LGBTQ+ community.

This type of work is familiar territory for Bernheimer. In high school, he worked for different departments within the Washington state government, doing workshops with state officials on how to successfully serve a gender-diverse community.

Behind all of this is Bernheimer’s philosophy that inclusivity is key.

“Inclusivity is always the best policy,” he said. “I think this applies to many different realms, not just gender inclusivity or the LGBTQ+ community. It’s important for all sorts of things.”

In the field

Bernheimer, working on an independent study project through professor of Spanish Rosa Tapia, knew that patients with health resources available in their preferred language — especially having access to health professionals who speak that language — have significantly better experiences in clinics than those without. So, what resources does Appleton provide for the Spanish-speaking community members who need them? And what about the LGBTQ+ community, another group that benefits from targeted health services?

Bernheimer hopped on his bike and went from clinic to clinic in search of answers. The results? There aren’t many health centers in the Fox Cities that provide adequate Spanish-language resources for Latinx patients. Nor is there any overlap between these resources and those targeted toward the LGBTQ+ community.

“That was something I found to be really concerning, and somewhere we have room to grow as a community and as a city,” Bernheimer said.

Regardless, Bernheimer said he had impactful conversations with clinics and nonprofits that have been working hard to support Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities in the Fox Cities. One is Casa Hispana, a Fox Cities nonprofit that develops initiatives to better the lives of Latinx locals, including connecting them to resources.

Connecting to the community

The research was relevant to Bernheimer not just as a student but as a Fox Cities community member.

“It was a really helpful experience for me in general,” he said. “More than just doing the research but also becoming more a part of the Fox Cities community. [The research] presented itself as an opportunity for something I wasn’t aware of as someone who is residing in the Fox Cities.”

The research also lays the groundwork for his future plans to help companies implement inclusive practices and policies.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Tim Spurgin: Embrace the chance to “up your game”

Tim Spurgin poses for a portrait on a snowy Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Tim Spurgin (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Tim Spurgin’s track record at Lawrence University is full of accolades.

It seems the school, its faculty and its students have found countless ways to tell him that he’s really, really good at what he does.

Spurgin, the Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Literature and associate professor of English, has been at Lawrence since 1990. He has since won Lawrence’s Young Teaching Award (1993), its Freshman Studies Teaching Award (1994), and its Award for Excellence in Teaching (2014), as well as multiple Babcock Awards for going above and beyond in assisting students.

Spurgin has focused much of his academic interest on 19th-century English literature, especially the works of Charles Dickens, as well as literary criticism and theory. But he also has been a key leader in Freshman Studies at Lawrence through the years and has been a guiding force for countless students who have gone on to great success in part because of his teachings in writing and literature.  

A graduate of Carleton College with a doctorate in English from the University of Virginia, Spurgin shared with us some insights on what makes him tick as part of our On Main Hall Green With … series.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I’d like students to know that my job has two parts.  I’m here to offer support and encouragement.  That’s absolutely crucial.  But professors are also supposed to set challenges for students.  You come to college because you want to up your game — to read and talk about things that probably weren’t on the agenda in high school.  The other thing to remember is that those two things are not at odds with each other.  They’re supposed to fit together — and when things are going well, they really do.  At least I think so.

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

In the last few years, I’ve had the chance to launch some new classes, and that’s been very exciting. Working with my pedagogical heroes, Dominica Chang and Peter John Thomas, I’ve helped to introduce a new course on the 19th-century novel. That one’s called “The Long Novel.” I’ve also introduced classes on Joyce’s Ulysses and the works of Jane Austen. In all of those classes, I’ve had a chance to dig into interesting books and meet students who might not otherwise take an English course. It’s been a win-win for me — and I hope for them, too.

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

When I came to Lawrence in 1990, I had no idea that Freshman Studies would be so important to me. I’ve taught the class almost every year, and I’ve twice served as program director. In that time, I’ve had an amazing chance to continue my own liberal-arts education. It’s interesting to reflect on this and to realize that many of my favorite FS works are from outside my discipline — Plato, Chuang Tzu, Feynman, Milgram, the “I have a dream” speech, Fun Home, and Kind of Blue, just to name a few. I’m not sure I’d have predicted that, and I’m very glad it’s worked out that way.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I’ve always been jealous of sportswriters. Cartoonists and cinematographers, too. I’m not sure I could really do any of those things, but it never hurts to dream.

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

I like several spots in the library, including the Kruse Room on the fourth floor. I’ve also become very fond of Andrew Commons at breakfast time. Not brunch on the weekends — though that’s nice, too. I’m talking about weekday breakfast time. The coolest people are there, and the view cannot be beat.

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

Book: Setting aside the obvious choices for someone in my field — Persuasion, Middlemarch, To the Lighthouse, and anything by Penelope Fitzgerald — I’d have to say that it’s True Grit, by Charles Portis. Both movie versions have their charms, but there’s nothing like the original novel.

Recording: The Band’s debut album, Music from Big Pink, or maybe their second (self-titled) record. My favorite single track is their version of Long Black Veil. Give that a listen sometime.

Film: Local Hero, by the Scottish director Bill Forsyth, just out on the Criterion Collection. Beautiful, offbeat, with an inspiring score by Mark Knopfler. I’d be a good Gordon, Gordon.

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

Read more:

On Main Hall Green With … Dominica Chang

On Main Hall Green With … Stefan Debbert

Lighting the Way With … Rana Marks: Delivering on Amazon’s sustainability plan

Rana Marks '12 poses for a photo in the Spheres, Amazon’s biodiversity conservatory in Seattle where employees can enjoy the beauty of 12,000-plus plant species from over 30 countries around the world.
Rana Marks ’12 joined Amazon’s sustainability team six months ago. She played a leading role in launching a new website chronicling the company’s sustainability initiatives.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Rana Marks ’12, who is part of the much-buzzed about sustainability efforts recently announced at Amazon.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Rana Marks ’12 is just six months removed from getting her MBA at Duke University and already the Lawrence University alumna is elbow deep in one of the year’s most talked about environmental sustainability stories.

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in September that the global behemoth was committing to an ambitious pledge to fight climate change and be transparent about its own carbon footprint, he pointed to the launch of a new public-facing Amazon website — sustainability.aboutamazon.com — that would report and track the company’s sustainability efforts.

That new website has been the focal point for Marks since being hired in June as a program manager for sustainability at the company’s Seattle headquarters. She is part a team of about 200 employees focused on shepherding the company’s sustainability efforts.

We talked with the Chicago native — she was an economics major, singer, and tennis player during her time at Lawrence — about the road ahead and how the path that got her to Amazon happily went through Lawrence.

On her role in Amazon’s Worldwide Sustainability division

“My job has really been to manage that whole launch of the website, to work across different constituencies in sustainability and tell the story of what they’re doing, but also to work with the developers of the website,” Marks said. “I’m sort of coordinating all of those pieces. It’s a lot of pieces. It’s been a busy couple of months.”

The Amazon announcement included, among other things, a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040, to use 100 percent renewable energy in its operations by 2030, and to be operating 100,000 electric vehicles by 2030. Bezos also said Amazon has become the first company to sign the Climate Pledge co-created with Global Optimism and is challenging other companies to sign on.

The website project was in motion long before Marks came on board. But she jumped in shortly after arriving in Seattle and helped bring the launch to fruition.

“It’s been a lot work and a lot of hours and a lot of reward,” she said.

Considering Amazon employs more than 600,000 people across the globe and touches our daily lives in a myriad of ways, the challenges ahead are huge.

“Now that we’ve said it out loud and made this public commitment, it does drive a different speed of action internally that has to happen in order to hit those goals,” Marks said.

Rana Marks ’12 stands in the Spheres, Amazon’s biodiversity conservatory in its Seattle headquarters, where employees can enjoy the beauty of 12,000-plus plant species.

On finding her place in sustainability

Marks worked briefly in sustainability for The Boldt Co. in Appleton and then in Chicago for a nonprofit advocating for the blind and visually impaired before heading to Duke to pursue her MBA. She said the work she’s doing now at Amazon meshes beautifully with her interest in both global economics and sustainability, interests that came into focus during her studies at Lawrence.

She came to Lawrence to study economics but already had thoughts of sustainability in her head. It was a trip to China through Lawrence’s Sustainable China program, led by Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and Associate Professor of Government Jason Brozek and funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, that sealed the deal. She knew then that sustainability in some shape or form would be her calling.

“It was an experience that I still look back on really fondly,” Marks said of the China trip. “It certainly helped expand the way I thought about sustainability in a global context.”

She leaned into classes and professors with a sustainability focus. In addition to Brozek, she pointed to economics professors David Gerard and Merton Finkler as big influences.

“Having exposure to classes in natural resource economics and environmental economics developed my interest in sustainability even further,” Marks said.

Learn more about Lawrence’s sustainability initiatives here.

On exploring career paths while at Lawrence

She said she drew insight from a Lawrence business program, similar to what is now known as Innovation and Entrepreneurship, that exposed her to various career paths. That led to an internship with a utility company following her sophomore year that was focused on developing an infrastructure for electric cars. She would later study abroad in Argentina, taking classes on sustainability issues in South America that built on her global perspective.

“I look back and it was all of these little pieces over the course of my four years at Lawrence,” Marks said. “It was certainly an interest I had before coming to Lawrence, but I think the liberal arts education and the sort of dynamic way we learn at Lawrence was something that really catered to the development of my interest in this area — wanting to have a career in sustainability while also understanding the complexity of what sustainability encompasses.

“I didn’t just get a business degree and go into sustainability. It was the interactive learning, the ability to do independent study with professors who were doing things that I thought were interesting, the school giving me the opportunity to study abroad, to take a trip focused on sustainability. It was the collection of all of these experiences.”

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

2 Minutes With … Martha Strawbridge: Merging passions for music and math

Martha Strawbridge ’20 conducted research on math and music with math professor Alan Parks. She’ll be presenting an academic poster on her work at a math conference in Denver in January. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Math and music may seem like two distinct subjects with no significant correlation. Not true, and Martha Strawbridge ’20 is trying to change that narrative, highlighting the ways in which mathematics and music can be used to understand each other.  

“I’ve been playing saxophone since I was in sixth grade, so I’ve had a lot of time on the performance side,” the Lawrence University senior said. “When I came [to Lawrence], I wanted to become a jazz saxophonist.”  

Strawbridge, from Longmont, Colorado, came in as a saxophone performance major, and while taking classes in both the Conservatory of Music and the college, she grew increasingly interested in mathematics.  

“I knew I liked math in high school, but I took a calculus class here and I loved it so much that after my freshman year I decided to become a math major,” she said. 

Strawbridge continues to be part of the Conservatory as a saxophone performance minor. She also creates big band compositions with Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble and a jazz professor.   

“It wasn’t so much I wanted to switch; I just wanted to start doing more math and still kind of pursue music,” Strawbridge said. “It was more that I wasn’t as interested in performing.”  

A perfect combo

She found a way to combine her two interests last year when she attended a mathematics symposium where professors were presenting research they had been working on. Lawrence mathematics professor Alan Parks presented his research on mathematical music theory, studying ways in which math and music inform and influence each other.

After the symposium, Strawbridge applied to conduct research with Parks.  

 “It worked out really well, and he and I already knew each other from classes and some independent studies,” Strawbridge said. “So, I applied, and he knew I was really interested in music and math, so it was kind of like a natural match.” 

In tune with research 

With a grant from the Clare Booth Luce Foundation, a funding mechanism for women in science and math, Strawbridge was able to conduct research in mathematical music theory over the summer.  

“It was an interesting process figuring out what we were going to research,” she said. “Professor Parks is a musician, too. So, we were wondering if it was going to become like music theory, analyzing scores and depicting them mathematically. Or if it was going to be really math heavy.  A lot of time it was just both of us reading stuff that interested us.” 

Mathematical music theory is a relatively new area of study.

“In the standard Western tuning system, you have 12 notes,” Strawbridge said. “[We tried to figure out] what are different ways we can imbed that into space that’s enlightening for people, or at least interesting?”

Next steps 

Parks and Strawbridge are now working to get their research published in the Journal of Mathematics and Music. And Strawbridge has been selected to present her research in January in Denver at a joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). 

“I’m presenting the poster that I made,” Strawbridge said. “It will be very cool to explain what I was doing. It’s really fun.”

While that audience will be with people steeped in mathematics, Strawbridge said she also loves explaining the connections between music and math to people who aren’t necessarily involved heavily in either.

“I feel like math and music are both like, ‘oooh, music or math, I can’t do either of those,’ and it’s, like, ‘Well, I can talk to you about these ideas and you can understand more than you think you would.’ I think that was a really fulfilling aspect of our research, too.”

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Summer Kopitzke: Wading deep into nature research

Summer Kopitzke, wearing waders, poses for a photo while kneeling along the Forget-Me-Not Creek in Manitowoc.
Summer Kopitzke ’20 does field work along the Forget-Me-Not Creek near Manitowoc.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

While most of us spent our summer in shorts and swimsuits, Summer Kopitzke ’20 donned her waders for her summer job as a Great Lakes fisheries technician for the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Program.

It was the latest step for the Lawrence University senior as she forges a path in ecology.

With the help of scientists, students and public outreach, the federal-university partnership program strives to maintain healthy coastal environments by educating coastal and Great Lakes communities about preserving and respecting American coastlines. The UW program is one of 33 Sea Grant university partnerships in the United States.

In the field

Kopitzke’s work was based out of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Manitowoc campus. Her primary task: Mapping Forget-Me-Not Creek, a two-mile stream that flows along the Ice Age Trail into Lake Michigan. This involved trekking back and forth along the length and width of the creek, recording each 100-foot mark with poles and measuring tape. Mapping the stream also consists of noting changes in substrate and depth, and using a seine to determine what species of fish call the stream home.

Despite frustrations with rainy days and pesky reed canary grass that often blocked her passage through the stream, Kopitzke knew she was doing important work.

“Doing this work, I felt a lot of love and it was a lot of fun to do,” she said. “I got to do research on things I really find interesting.”

Her findings at Forget-Me-Not Creek will be compiled and given to visitors at the nearby Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve, an organization that recently restored the mouth of the stream to improve the fish habitat and water quality.

Kopitzke also recorded data from bycatch videos from a fishing boat in Two Rivers. The bycatch data will be sent to the DNR to help advise the fishing boat operators on adjustments to their net sizes so they can catch more whitefish, their target species.

A lifelong passion

Kopitzke fondly recalls hunting and fishing with her grandfather in Tigerton, where she grew up. Those experiences instilled in her a love for the land, inspiring her to double major in biology and environmental science. She discovered her love for field work upon taking an aquatic ecology class here at Lawrence.

The summer research tapped into those same interests, Kopitzke said.

“Where I’m from, it’s a big part of my life,” she said of the outdoors. “It’s always held a part in my heart.”

When she wasn’t walking around the stream or analyzing bycatch data this summer, Kopitzke took time to enjoy the scenery of prairie and farmland that surrounded her. Her Senior Experience project will focus on whitetail deer population ecology. She plans to further her involvement with aquatic ecology when she goes to work for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Stefan Debbert: “Constantly challenged to grow”

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Stefan Debbert (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Stefan Debbert knows a thing or two about inclusive pedagogy.

The Lawrence University associate professor of chemistry is leading the way in reshaping the school’s teachings in the sciences to better engage students of all backgrounds and identities. When Lawrence was one of 33 schools in the country selected in 2018 for a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative, Debbert was tabbed as the project director.

A member of the Chemistry faculty since 2007, Debbert has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a Ph.D. from Cornell University.

We fired six questions at him as part of our faculty series.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

Every student should know that I deeply respect the work they’re doing, in and out of my class. From the synthesis of a new molecule or the construction of a tight two-page essay, nothing we try to do in my classes is easy, so it’s important that students feel like they can ask questions and make mistakes without incurring judgment from me. Our students work really hard, and I’m always impressed by their development as scientists and as people during their years at Lawrence. 

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

Right now, I’m excited to help lead Lawrence’s efforts to make our introductory science classes the best, most effective, most inclusive, most engaging, most life-changing experiences we can offer. That’s a lot of commas, but with our $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence program, we are aiming high. We’re rethinking our intro courses in biology, chemistry, and physics from the ground up so that every student is included, challenged and supported from the very beginning. We’re putting a lot of work into this, with help from a lot of people, students included, and we’re really excited about the possibilities.

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

I really appreciate how my job at Lawrence has led me to chase my passions, and am constantly surprised by how my day-to-day job changes. My organic chemistry lab training led me to a job where I, on occasion, make new compounds, cultivate cancer cells, write research grants, teach chemistry, teach drug development, teach poetry and art and Shakespeare, work with and advise students from new freshmen to graduating seniors, manage a research group, chair a department, help develop institutional policy, play instruments in class, etc., etc., very much etc. I think the 2005-era, new-Ph.D., slightly-better-shape version of me would be very surprised that I’d be doing all that — and that I’d do it less than an hour from my hometown of Fond du Lac.

I feel like I am constantly challenged to grow as an educator, a scientist and a person. It’s difficult, it’s always humbling, and I really appreciate it.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Teaching as a hobby, probably. Alternately, I could parlay my career as a Parks-and-Rec youth baseball coach into a position with the Brewers’ management, I assume.

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

I have a few! My lab, obviously (Steitz 226), is awesome, but I also like hanging out by my favorite organic chemistry books in the Mudd Library (QD 262 4 LIFE). My daughter’s favorite spots, when she was little, were the skull display case in Briggs and the ramp at the bottom of Steitz (perfect for scootering). Finally, I like the gym at Buchanan-Kiewit, the site of lots of soccer highlights (and hilarious lowlights) over the years. 

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

My favorite book is Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table … wait, come back! It’s a memoir, and it’s really good! It deals with the author’s life as a Jewish chemistry student in WWII Italy, his experience in a concentration camp, and his life as a chemist thereafter. It’s full of his appreciation for the tactile sensuality of chemistry, and it really speaks to me. 

One recording: Johnny Cash, At San Quentin (the unabridged version), or if I’m feeling more chill, Chet Baker Sings.

One film: Sorry, no answer on this one.

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

2 Minutes With … Shelby Siebers: Indigenized leadership, mentoring

Shelby Siebers '20 poses for a photo during her stay in London.
Shelby Siebers ’20 is spending the fall term studying in London.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Senior year is a great time to reflect on the journey you’ve taken at Lawrence. For Shelby Siebers ’20, an ethnic studies and psychology double major, that reflection is focusing squarely on the work she has put into indigenizing education.

Getting involved

“When I came to Lawrence, I was involved in LUNA as a member,” Siebers said. “By my sophomore year, I quickly had a board position and I started doing leadership for LUNA.”  

LUNA is the Lawrence University Native Americans organization, and during her junior year, Siebers served as president.

“I think LUNA has done a lot,” Siebers said. “The biggest accomplishment each year I think is Indigenous People’s Day.” 

What was formerly known as Columbus Day has been changed to Indigenous People’s Day as a way to recognize and celebrate indigenous cultures. For the past five years, LUNA has been hosting a celebration on campus. 

“Basically, we invite the Oneida Nation dancers to do a pow-wow demonstration and to just go through what each dance means,” Siebers said. “I think it’s a very significant part of Lawrence’s culture because it shows that we Native students are there, even though our population on Lawrence’s campus is small. And it’s just a really good way to educate Lawrence’s campus.”  

During her time as president of LUNA, Siebers helped bring Matika Wilbur, creator of Project 562, to campus. Wilbur was invited to not only speak at a convocation on the representation of Natives, but also to create a mural on campus that adds a positive representation of Native people. 

Read more on Matika Wilbur’s visit to Lawrence here.

“She came to Lawrence after lots and lots of convincing, and we did a mural on the side of the Wellness Center,” Siebers said. “And it was meant to be a representation of the land Lawrence occupies currently, which is the Menominee Nation. … I feel like this mural was a really big breaking point for Native students on campus because we finally got positive representation.”   

Studying abroad  

For this term, Siebers has gone abroad, studying at Lawrence’s London Center.  

“It’s been really hard for me being a Native in London,” Siebers said. “Just because I was so used to building that identity at Lawrence, so I was feeling very secure in it. But here it almost feels like I’m starting over again because it feels like I’m the only Native.” 

The commitment to indigenized education and expressing her identity continues, however.  

“It motivates me to carry my identity even stronger than I would back at home,” Siebers said. “Being away for Indigenous People’s Day was really hard, but I still represented myself. I wore my moccasins, I wore my ribbon skirt, I wore my beaded earrings.”   

Being a mentor

This past summer, Siebers worked as a camp counselor for the Oneida Nation Arts Program, allowing her to work with Native youth.  

“It was such a rewarding experience because not only did I get to do what I love to do best, which is work with Native youth and be a mentor toward them, but I also got to be more connected to my culture,” Siebers said. 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

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

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Dominica Chang (photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Minutes With … Emily Austin: Singing in the birthplace of opera

Emily Austin '21 works on her vocals in the voice studio in the Lawrence Conservatory.
Emily Austin ’21, here practicing in the voice studio in the Lawrence Conservatory, spent her summer performing in Italy. “It was definitely an amazing opportunity for me to grow as an artist and performer,” she said. It was her second visit to Italy as an artist. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Emily Austin ’21 took two trips of a lifetime to Novafeltria, Italy, through La Musica Lirica, an opera training program that sends promising vocalists to the birthplace of opera for an intensive five-week performing experience.

Austin, a music performance major in the Lawrence Conservatory’s voice studio, first got involved in 2017 when La Musica Lirica held one of its annual auditions at Lawrence. She was one of a handful of chosen students, and in the summer of 2018 she took the stage as Despina in a performance of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. The incredible experience drove her to audition again later that year and earn a spot in the 2019 summer program.

“Being in the place that opera was born and studying it was by far the most important and coolest aspect of the program,” she says.

Staying busy

Austin’s time in Italy with La Musica Lirica was far from rest and relaxation. The students’ itineraries were packed with Italian classes in the morning and rehearsal in the afternoon and evening, not to mention master classes with visiting artists, instruction in Italian diction and vocal lessons.

And then there was preparing for your role. This summer, Austin starred as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, one of the most ambitious roles in opera; Susanna is on stage for the entirety of the four-hour production. Austin fought through the stress and says she had the experience of a lifetime, learning much about herself and her craft.

“I was singing my big aria usually at 12:30 at night, which was a challenge and a test of stamina,” she says. “It was definitely an amazing opportunity for me to grow as an artist and performer.”

Finding her voice

Austin, from Washington, D.C., recalls how her love of music and singing was instilled in her long before she came to Lawrence. Her mother took her to baby music classes and she always loved singing along with the radio. There was never a time when music wasn’t part of her life.

“Singing was sort of innate,” she says. “It was just something that seemed right.”

She started taking voice lessons in her freshman year of high school. She scored her first role in an opera here at Lawrence as a lead in the 2018 production of Count Ory, followed by a role in Mass last year. She has since come into her own as a singer with all the skills and passion to succeed in Italy.

“It gave me so much confidence,” she says. “It was a really big challenge for me. Succeeding in that way, being recognized for the hard work that I put in in the biggest role I’ve ever done, was really rewarding. I feel like now that I’ve sung that role, I can do anything. And so many amazing memories.”

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

2 Minutes With … Nick Vaporciyan: Exploring history via quantum physics

Nick Vaporciyan ’21 poses for a photo in the Mudd Library.
Nick Vaporciyan ’21 took his physics education in an unexpected direction when he began doing research for a book project with Associate Professor of Physics Megan Pickett.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Nick Vaporciyan ’21 spent a memorable 10 weeks on campus over the summer. The Lawrence junior did physics research assisting Associate Professor of Physics Megan Pickett with her forthcoming book, which will tell the history of quantum physics through largely forgotten, old or overlooked narratives.

“It’s very easy to find these giants of modern science that everyone knows about who are in every physics textbook,” Vaporciyan says. “Their stories have been told countless times. But it’s very neat and difficult to find these smaller stories that are no less interesting, and even no less significant in some cases.”

He references a particular story he found about Sir George Gabriel Stokes, the man who first investigated fluorescents and learned they’re caused by ultraviolet light. This work is the foundation for a technique called laser pulling that led to our ability to build quantum computers today.

“It’s a pretty obscure connection,” he says. “Most people who have taken quantum physics know how laser pulling works, but the history underlying when we first began to investigate that is not well known. So, it was very cool for me to find that out.”

The process

While most other students were doing hands-on physics research in a lab, Vaporciyan found himself happily hunkered down in the library.

“It was actually a lot of fun for me because I hadn’t done book research in quite a while,” he says. “It renewed my interest in more historical aspects of science that sort of get pushed by the wayside when you’re doing all the technical work in your classes.”

Vaporciyan had to turn away from physics textbooks for this research. The vast history of physics reaches far back in time and includes a multitude of cultures; much of this knowledge doesn’t enter into the mainstream physics consciousness.

What lies ahead

Vaporciyan’s travels through physics history rekindled his love for the subject.

“You just sort of get swept away,” he says. “It’s really fascinating to see how interconnected some of these things really are historically, not only on a technical level.”

Underlying the science and history, it was also the pedagogical aspect at the core of Pickett’s book that had him hooked. Though he’s not planning on a career in teaching, he’s very interested in education. Participating in the making of a resource for physics — especially one that takes such a different approach — combined his interests.

There’s still much to be discovered. Though the summer research has ended, Vaporciyan will continue investigating the topic for his Chandler Senior Experience.

He’s earning his physics degree through the 3-2 cooperative degree program, which will transfer him after three years to an accredited engineering school for two years to also obtain an electrical engineering degree.

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