On Main Hall Green With … Israel Del Toro: Lawrence’s champion of bees

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Israel Del Toro (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 Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Israel Del Toro loves bees.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of biology studies bees, researches bee habitats, teaches about bees, caters to bees on the Lawrence University campus, and advocates for bees across the Fox Valley and beyond.

His efforts earned Lawrence a Bee Campus USA designation two years ago and his advocacy for bees off campus has led to a growing embrace for No Mow May, a movement that calls on homeowners in the community to hold off on mowing their grass in spring to help the pollinators thrive.

Much of Del Toro’s research and data analysis has centered on those pollinators, and a growing number of Lawrence students have joined his research efforts since he arrived on campus in 2016.

We caught up with Del Toro to talk about his interests on and off campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

My classes are all about experimenting, trying different approaches to problem-solving, failing, trying something new, and learning from the previous attempts. I don’t stress too much about grades but rather focus on the experience of trial and error. Having said that, I’m an easy grader; all I expect from my students is that they put their best effort forward. Don’t stress about your grade, rather show me that you learned something new. In my classes, students learn to code, think about biological data analyses, and geek out about exciting new science. 

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

Bees! Our lab is all about pollinator research. If you want to learn about protecting the important little things that run the world, then this lab is the place for you. This is the style of teaching that I enjoy the most, working one-on-one with you to ask really nerdy questions. I live for the moment when my students branch out and ask their own interesting questions, develop an elegant and simple study and go get that data. To work with me you have to be self-driven, independent, and curious about the natural world.

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?

One of the things I love about being an ecologist is that I constantly get to be outside in cool new places. I’ve been privileged enough to see all seven continents and do field work throughout the world. From the Australian Outback to the Savannahs of Africa, to the frozen islands of the Antarctic, and now the adventure-filled forests of North America. It’s simply exciting to be in a new ecosystem and learn about all the critters in it. While at Lawrence, I also learned that you don’t have to go somewhere remote to do cool science and engage with nature. There’s a ton of biodiversity right here in our own back yard that is awaiting exploration.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Fishing my way around the world. I love to travel, see the world, and learn all about different cultures and people. I have found that by learning to fish in a new place, you learn a ton about the people in that community. I first realized this when living in Darwin, Australia. I caught my first big fish there and have been hooked ever since. I’ve fished and lived in Denmark, Wales, South Africa, New Mexico, and Massachusetts. At every place, I learned a lot about the community from their fishing practices. Now I’m all about fishing for nearly everything that Wisconsin has to offer.

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

If I need a moment to get away, you will find me hiking the wooded trails along the river. I love the sound of the rushing water; it is my moment of Zen. When life gets busy and I find myself overwhelmed, sometimes taking that little 15-minute hike helps me reset. Make time to just be still, quiet, and enjoy the ever-changing sounds of nature right on campus.

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 recommendation for any incoming student is E.O. Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist. Even if you are not planning to be a STEM major, this book is filled with great tips for succeeding as a college student, and developing a curiosity-driven, exploratory mentality. Lately, I’ve found myself jamming out to some funky folk music. Check out the Punch Brothers or GreenSky Bluegrass. But I have to say that sometimes you will find me jamming out to a good corrido or some classic Los Tigres Del Norte—it’s in my DNA. This time of year, you will find me watching all the creepy horror movies and TV shows. American Horror Story and The Exorcist are just perfection in the fall!

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

Stories in the night sky: Lawrence student tackles research on Celestial Histories

Avery Greene stands among chalk constellations drawn by Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, earlier this month on the Lawrence University campus. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

Many people enjoy stargazing without ever knowing that those twinkling dots in the sky hold stories and legends from cultures around the world.

Avery Greene, a Lawrence University sophomore from Edina, Minnesota, wants to share those stories, particularly those that are important to her fellow Lawrentians. She spent the summer on a research project called Celestial Histories, under the guidance of Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, and is now creating an oral history of astronomy and of personal connections to the night sky. She’s building a website that will hold her research and the celestial stories shared by students, faculty, and staff at Lawrence.

A chemistry and history double major, Greene became interested in pursuing this project after hearing about one of Pickett’s astronomy classes, where students discussed different interpretations of constellations and stars. She had previously taken a historiography class that involved studying oral histories and learned how to create an exhibit in a narrative format. She had already taken numerous physics classes and felt ready to jump into the celestial research.

“I was able to take my education and my interests and put them together for this project,” Greene said.

She describes Celestial Histories as a collection of stories, traditions, and experiences of the night sky that people in the Lawrence community have shared with her. By collecting these different tales and legends, Greene is able to portray how students can celebrate different cultures in various forms — even in the sky.

“It’s a way that we can walk with other cultures, not only to a space where we’re acknowledging other cultures, but kind of creating a community centered around all these things that we have in common,” Greene said.

One such story that Greene pieced together is about the constellation Taurus. Often referred to as Taurus the Bull, one part of the constellation consists of a cluster of seven stars called the Pleiades. It might look familiar, Greene said, if you think of the Subaru logo. In Japanese, subaru means “united” or “gather together,” so when the Subaru Corp. was founded in 1953, its leaders adopted a logo with the united stars. One reason there are only six stars in the logo instead of seven is because the seventh star is not always visible to the naked eye.

The process for gathering these stories and experiences was twofold for Greene. Half of the project was spent researching and gathering historical information on her own, and the other half was spent interviewing people for their interpretations and accounts with the night sky.

Greene chose to focus her research within the demographics and populations that are represented at Lawrence so that her project would be more personal to the Lawrence community.

She reached out via social media to spread the word about her project, inviting Lawrentians to come forward with their stories. Now she’s creating a website so that people can experience for themselves the many traditions and legends connected with certain constellations.

Throughout her progress with Celestial Histories, Greene said Pickett’s guidance and support has been instrumental in keeping the project moving forward. Pickett provided the initial idea and a general outline of what she was looking for and continued to offer feedback at every stage of the project.

“She has an insane knowledge base of the actual sky, so she’s been a really good reference for me to check that what I’m actually saying is the right star,” Greene said.

Pickett had nothing but praise for Greene’s work.

“She put together the surveys, conducted the interviews, put together the website and archival access—and got us both IRB (Institutional Review Board) certified; she’s done an amazing job, and I am so proud of her,” Pickett said.

Greene aims for Celestial Histories to be an ongoing project. She is excited to continue interviewing students about their personal connection with the night sky. Both she and Pickett want it to be something that other students can continue after Greene graduates.

“I have learned so much,” Greene said. “I got to dig into something that I hadn’t really ever experienced before.”

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Building Brilliance With … Brittany Bell: Mentoring, supporting diverse voices

Brittany Bell (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission. 

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brittany Bell, Ed.D., is all about the student journey.

As assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC) at Lawrence University, Bell is an important resource for students. In the D&IC, located in Memorial Hall, Bell and her staff provide a welcoming, inclusive, and creative gathering space for students of diverse backgrounds.

She came to Lawrence in early 2019 after six and half years on the staff at St. Norbert College, where she served as assistant director of multicultural student services and then student success librarian.

Since arriving at Lawrence, she has raised the profile of the D&IC, remodeled the space to make it a welcoming place where students can gather, study, and socialize, launched educational programming, and has become a valuable mentor for students and student organizations on campus.

Bell, the mother of three girls with her spouse, Chris, contributed a chapter to the recently published book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls. It was published by SAGE Publications and came out earlier this year. Her chapter, co-written by Ramycia McGhee, is on colorism in the classroom.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a doctorate from Edgewood College.

Find more Lawrence staff profiles here.

Outside of work, Bell and her family operate the De Pere-based God’s Purpose Apparel, designing and selling clothing and accessories that feature motivational and faith-inspired sayings, with monies being donated to nonprofits serving the homeless community.

We caught up with Bell for a Q&A to talk about her work on campus and what inspires her.

What’s excites you the most about the work you do with Lawrence students?

It’s getting to know our students, learning more about their stories and aspirations. As I listen, I capture those first moments and then do what I can to support them along their journey. It’s exciting to do it all over again year after year.

As director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center and assistant dean of students, you play an important role in our students’ college journeys beyond the classroom. Why is that so critical to their Lawrence experience?

The best way to describe it is I am an ally, mentor, and I serve as a resource for students. Part of my role is leading the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC). The D&IC is a space where students can come together. We promote programming that educates and encourages conversation, and celebrations that embrace culture and identity in oneself and others. The space and staff at the D&IC provide an inclusive environment for students to thrive personally, socially, and academically. An opportunity we’ve created is the Program for Leadership of Underrepresented Students (PLUS), a peer mentoring program that assists students during their first year.

What drew you to a career working in higher education?

My own experience. During my time in college I learned how significant it was to have college leaders and mentors who were supportive during my journey. One day after completing my internship at a news station, I remember sitting in my mentor’s office. It was the end of my junior year, and after the internship experience, I decided I no longer wanted to be a news reporter. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I had wasted time and money. My mentor sat with me and we talked, and it was that day that I learned that I had options, ones that included me doing what I loved—letting my light shine bright and helping students through their journey. 

What did the past year and a half—the pandemic, the social unrest—teach you about the work you and your staff do?

The pandemic and social unrest has magnified the importance of all voices being heard. We learned how important it is to invite peers, colleagues, and friends to join us on this journey as we continue work toward creating change in our community.

What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?

One thing I do when I’m away from campus, besides being with my spouse and children, that brings me joy is when I’m designing. As an artist, I’m always amazed by the process from start to finish. I get to listen to the creativity from others and I take their ideas and form it into something wonderful. Since I was 5 years old, art has always been my go-to, and now when I see people wearing apparel or using business projects I’ve designed, it brings me joy knowing I’m making an impact in multiple ways.

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

Building Brilliance With … Monita Mohammadian Gray: An academic assist

Monita Mohammadian Gray ’92 is dean of academic success at Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission. 

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Monita Mohammadian Gray ’92 returned to Lawrence in 2016 as the school’s first dean of academic success.

Her position was created as Lawrence launched the Center for Academic Success, an initiative aimed at increasing support for students at every step of their academic journey. She has overseen the substantial growth of the program over the past five years, including its recent move to the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, renovated via a $1.5 million investment that was part of the Be the Light! Campaign.

In addition to more cohesive office space for the center’s staff, students can now find a modern classroom, a testing room, a conference room, a general tutoring area, a remodeled Help Desk, and a computer lab, all easily accessible and smartly connected to other available services in the library.

Find other staff profiles here.

We caught up with Gray to talk about the excitement surrounding the Center for Academic Success as her staff looks forward to again working in-person with Lawrence students.

What excites you most about the work you do with students?

Honestly, the best part of my work is to watch students we support transform into more confident individuals while they find their best academic selves.

How has the renovation and relocation of the Center for Academic Success changed the way it can and will be utilized by students?

The renovation and relocation of the Center for Academic Success took place at a time when all of our services were virtual. We have not had the opportunity to showcase the new space yet, but have plans to highlight our services for fall term. In our new space on the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, students have ample study and tutoring space, a centralized space for meetings with staff, a semi- private waiting area, an active learning classroom, and more reduced-distraction and isolated testing spaces for students with accommodations.

The decision to move our space into the library allows students to take care of more academic needs in one space. They can find resources, talk to a reference librarian, address technology questions with IT, use the MakerSpace, and stop in to our office to ask questions or find out how we can help them with any academic challenge.

Did the pandemic change the demands on you and your staff? And were there lessons learned that will be beneficial going forward?

Most students struggled with the shift to online learning, which led to greater demands on our staff to offer more support to students. Sometimes that work came at atypical work hours to help our students in time zones across the world. I am grateful for our staff’s commitment to our students’ success. Many students struggled with their own health, the health of their loved ones and friends, or other family obligations on top of their academic work. This combination creates a tricky balance to find academic success.

We are rewriting our policies, procedures, and website to be clearer and more transparent in their explanation of who we are, what we do, and how we can help students. We want there to be clarity about what resources are available to students, or what academic choices or options they may have.

As we prepare for our return to a fully in-person fall term, we have begun to evaluate how we deliver our services. We do our best to meet students where they are. We may be able to offer students virtual meeting options to suit an immediate need. 

What work or life experiences led you to this role at Lawrence?

I am a Lawrentian, through and through. I spent my undergraduate years studying psychology and served in various leadership roles on the tennis team and in my sorority. I served as an RLA (now community advisor or CA) my senior year and studied at the London Centre. I learned how to navigate different peoples’ expectations and find solutions to challenging problems.

Several years after I graduated, I returned to Lawrence, where I worked in the admissions office for over eight years. From the beginning of my career in higher education I believed it was important to consider student success in admission decisions. At another small, private institution, I worked in career development, orientation, transfer student services, retention and student success, and the Dean of Students office. I earned a Master’s degree in Educational Policy and Administration and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and Policy Development from the University of Minnesota.

My commitment to Lawrence remained strong in the years I worked away from Appleton. I served as a board member of the Lawrence University Alumni Association for five years, served as chair and as a committee member for multiple reunion planning teams, and have kept up with Lawrentians from my era and those I have met through my friends and work over the years. It is wonderful to connect with other Lawrence graduates, to hear stories about their time here, or welcome friends back when their children are looking at Lawrence. Most importantly, it is truly wonderful to have the opportunity to support our students’ success as Lawrentians every day.

What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?

Exercise and movement. I love riding my indoor cycle to a virtual workout. I tend to exercise in the morning when my excuse game is not as strong, and enjoy starting my day with an intense workout. After that, I feel like I can handle whatever comes my way. Alternatively, I love taking long walks while listening to a favorite podcast or new audiobook; it grounds me by giving me peace of mind. Fresh air paired with a soul-filling book—nothing compares for me.

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

2 Minutes With … Tee Karki: Compiling, sharing resources to assist South Asia

Tee Karki ’23

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 Karina Herrera ’22

Tee Karki ‘23, a government major from Nepal, has been raising awareness for the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in South Asia. That’s included the compiling of an extensive list of resources for people who want to help.

South Asia has seen a surge in COVID -19 cases, with infection rates spiking and the death toll climbing. The outbreak in Nepal hit home for Karki as she spoke to her parents about the vaccinations here in Appleton.

“I mentioned to them that I got my second vaccine and they mentioned that they still hadn’t gotten theirs and I thought that was really concerning,” Karki said.

That was a light-bulb moment for her as she came to understand more about the disparities between her situation in the U.S. and that of her family in Nepal.

Wanting to help the people from her home and other countries in South Asia, Karki dived in this spring. She started by compiling a resource guide, highlighting organizations that are trying to help with everything from medical supplies like oxygen and ventilators to food and other necessities in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.

It eventually grew into an extensive resource document that she has been sharing on social media. Click here to access the document.

“I wanted to create a resource document by different organizations and where they’re rooted,” Karki said. “So, you can track them based on where they are locally or not locally. And that’s just kind of how I got started, and then I just kept going.”

Facing challenges

Karki’s efforts were not without struggles. She said it was difficult to talk to people about the severity of the situation in South Asia when people here were just starting to overcome their pandemic anxiety. It was also challenging mentally for Karki. She described how she carried a lot of guilt for being able to walk around vaccinated with her friends and then sitting down to write about the dire situation back home.

It also was hard work. Karki had to read through and winnow a lot of information on the organizations she included on her resources list.

“That was my biggest challenge—more than getting it out there—it was going through the information by myself,” she said.

Karki did have experience working in Lawrence’s Title IX office to lean on.

“Working with Title IX is very sensitive; I have to be able to do a lot of research and then condense and make it easy to follow, and I think it’s exactly what I needed to do with the resource document,” she said.

Goals for the future

Karki plans to grow her network of resources and include more countries that have been heavily impacted. She’s working to add Myanmar and the Philippines.

She doesn’t plan to stop there, however. Karki wants to return home to create a video series to highlight the types of loss that people are facing and how they can better manage and cope with that loss.

After college, Karki aims to continue her advocacy work.

“The end goal would be to be an international lawyer and fight against the refugee crisis and genocides and really just commit to supporting people and countries who need to be represented equally with major superpowers,” she said.

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Building Brilliance With … Mike O’Connor: A new era of career planning at Lawrence

Mike O’Connor has driven the refresh of the Career Center in the two years since he arrived at Lawrence. Staying active outdoors keeps him at the top of his game, he said. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission. 

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications 

Mike O’Connor arrived at Lawrence University two years ago with a mission to reimagine how the school guides students in planning for the life that awaits after graduation. 

He wasted no time after settling in as Lawrence’s first Riaz Waraich Dean for the Career Center & Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. He and his staff have accelerated career conversations for all Lawrence students, beginning with first-year students arriving for Welcome Week. They’ve launched the Viking Connect online platform to facilitate interactions between alumni with experience in a particular field and students exploring related opportunities, and they kick-started Career Communities to better organize and deliver information and resources for students. 

The Life After Lawrence initiative, supported by a $2.5 million gift from J. Thomas Hurvis ’60, was a key component of the recently concluded Be the Light!  Campaign

Have you met Lezlie Weber, director of off-campus programs? We featured her in a Building Brilliance With … profile last month.

O’Connor, director of the Career Discovery Program at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, before coming to Lawrence, said the explosion of activity surrounding career planning, mentoring, and access to experiential learning opportunities has been amazing to watch. We caught up with him to talk about all that and more.  

What excites you about the work you do? 

Two things come immediately to mind. First, working with our incredible students and alums—Lawrentians are brilliant yet deeply humble people who want to make the world a better place.  

Second, our team. Every team member has leaned in to support one another and the broader institutional goals. We’ve grown and leaned on each other so much since COVID hit, and everyone has stepped up, pivoted, and flexed in so many ways. We care deeply about making opportunities more equitable and accessible, and we push one another to make that a reality. Working with them raises my bar and makes me strive to be better.  

How have the changes and new initiatives in the Career Center impacted the life after Lawrence conversation for our students? 

Great question, and there are so many directions I could go here. But I’d say we’ve made a few changes that have, broadly speaking, made for a better student experience. 

First, it’s the focus on early engagement. Last year, we managed to work with 93% of first-year students—not bad, considering they’re not required to work with us. Generally speaking, earlier engagement leads to more focused outcomes, so I’m particularly proud of our efforts there. 

I’d also point to Viking Connect. We’ve actualized a group of 900-plus alumni volunteers to act as mentors and connectors to students in career fields of interest. To date, over 3,000 messages have been sent on the platform; a number we hope to increase substantially in the years to come. 

Then there’s the funded internships. Thanks to the incredible work of our colleagues in Development/Advancement—most notably Cassie Curry—we’ve been able to fund more student internships than ever before. Our funding sources are quite varied and broad and allow students to access different levels and types of funding to support their living expenses and needs.  

And, finally, the Career Communities have changed the conversation. Each of our advisors manages two Career Communities and acts as the advisor/specialist/connector to opportunities within said fields. Students who sign up for a Career Community get a bi-weekly newsletter of internship, service, programmatic, and funding opportunities connected to their fields of interest, along with specialized content, potential alumni advisors, and more. The focus on Career Communities has helped us specialize more deeply, and offer more targeted advice, opportunities, and support. 

What work or life experiences led you to this role at Lawrence? 

Quite honestly, I never pictured myself living in the Midwest. In fact, I hadn’t stepped foot in Wisconsin prior to my Interview. But, as small worlds go, the recruiter for the Riaz Waraich dean role and I had some mutual friends—so I took his call to learn a bit more about Lawrence. At the time, my wife and I were both happily employed at great schools and expecting our second daughter, and the thought of moving halfway across the country wasn’t on our radar. But when I saw the work Mark Burstein, who I’d heard great things about, the trustees, and the working groups were doing with the Life After Lawrence initiative, I became intrigued. After talking with the search committee, I got really excited. 

I tell people all the time, you never know when life-changing opportunities will present themselves, and you have to be ready to respond.      

What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy? 

I’m a big believer in the healing power of nature. Being outdoors and exercise are incredible outlets, and I try to experience both every day.  

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

Lighting the Way With … Tom Zoellner: NBCC award shines light on storytelling

Tom Zoellner ’91

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Tom Zoellner ’91, a journalist, author, and English professor who this spring won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Tom Zoellner ’91 carved out an impressive run as a journalist by seeing stories where others didn’t, drilling down to the why, and always being present, all things he first explored as a Lawrence student three decades ago.

In addition to investigative work, he has relished telling stories that on the surface might seem mundane—ordinary landscapes, he said—but speak to the deeper fabric of life, connections that span generations or unite communities or otherwise tell us something about ourselves that we didn’t know or understand.

“There’s great value in ordinary America,” Zoellner said.

Lawrence alumni ready to unite for 2021 Virtual Reunion. See details here.

He told those stories while interning at The Post-Crescent in Appleton while a student at Lawrence and again and again while working at newspapers, large and small, across the country for 20 years, from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Savannah Morning News to the Arizona Republic and San Francisco Chronicle.

That ability to look beyond what’s visible was front and center as Zoellner, 30 years removed from his Lawrence graduation and now an English professor at Chapman University in Los Angeles, recently authored his seventh non-fiction book, The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America (Counterpoint Press), a collection of essays based on his travels across the United States.

A huge literary honor

The National Road has been well-received—the New York Times called Zoellner an “old-fashioned American vagabond”—but it’s book No. 6, Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire, published in early 2020, that has earned him some particularly heady attention this year. The book was named the winner of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award for Nonfiction in March, a prestigious honor. It beat out such notable finalists as Walter Johnson (The Broken Heart of America), James Shapiro (Shakespeare in a Divided America), Sarah Smarsh (She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs), and Isabel Wilkerson (Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent).

“It was a thrill, considering the field,” Zoellner said of the honor.

Island on Fire is a book that saw the light of day only for the bulldog spirit Zoellner honed during his newsroom days. It tells the story of an 1831 rebellion by enslaved people in the Caribbean, led by Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist deacon. Thousands would die in their pursuit of liberty from the British empire.

Zoellner shines a light on Sharpe, who is a hero in the Caribbean but has been a largely unknown figure to readers in America and elsewhere.

“I’m not a trained historian,” Zoellner said. “I approached the story almost like a journalist.”

At the outset, Zoellner was simply looking to write about sugar and the ways in which the British colonies grew and sold it in abundance. That eventually led him to the history of forced labor and other atrocities in the region and the eventual rebellion by the enslaved Sharpe and his followers.

“Books on sugar had already been done; I really couldn’t find an angle into that that was going to say anything new,” Zoellner said. “But I came across in Caribbean history the accounts of the 1831 uprising. I just couldn’t seem to let go of it. There was such incredible heroism, and it was a really consequential event on which very little attention, outside of Caribbean history, has been paid and no one book dedicated to it.”

He decided to dig deeper. He booked a flight to Jamaica, with some hesitation.

“I’m a Caucasian guy who lives in California,” Zoellner said. “A question arose internally for me, is this really my story to tell? Can I go to this venue and write with any credibility? I decided I could because this was really a global story. Sam Sharpe, who is at the center of this book, ought to be better known. He ought to be regarded as a hero on the level of Gandhi, or some of the Irish revolutionaries against British tolerance in Ireland, or some of the Polish revolutionaries against Russian rule. He obviously belongs to Jamaica, but I considered him a figure of global stature.”

Zoellner, who in addition to his teaching responsibilities serves as politics editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, had a tough time finding a publisher who met his enthusiasm for the project. They didn’t see the story connecting with readers in the United States.

He finally landed at Harvard University Press and went through a difficult peer-review process.

“It was a matter of being stubborn enough to push forward,” Zoellner said. “I resolved that the book was going to get done. It wasn’t that I thought I had to rescue Sam Sharpe. No, please; the story had been told, but it had been told in the context of larger Caribbean history and not for a U.S. audience. I was just determined that the story of those five weeks of rebellion was going to be between two covers and would hopefully become a tiny part of the conversation.”

The National Book Critics Circle Award gave Zoellner some reassurance that his work had indeed resonated.

“It was a vindication of sorts,” he said. “Not of me but of the story; that the timeless ways of resistance to oppression is something that should be part of the dialogue. It’s incredible heroism that is mostly lost to history. Even with as much documentation as we have, there is so much about it we don’t know. This is a way those rebels can speak from beyond the grave.”

The art of storytelling

Zoellner’s most recent book, meanwhile, has been garnering its own attention. When it came out in mid-2020, with a pandemic in full fury and a bitter election season fraying the public mood, The National Road seemed like a needed tonic. It introduced readers to a series of off-beat places and the people who live or work or hide there, infused with joy and anger, hope and despair.

“Over the past two decades, he has made some 30 cross-country drives and hundreds of ‘lesser partial crossings,’ both as a journalist on assignment and as a tourist with a taste for obscure landmarks and truck-stop breakfasts,” the New York Times wrote in a review of Zoellner’s book. “The National Road is a chronicle of Zoellner’s wanderings and wanderlust, what he calls his ‘unspecified hunger’ to cover the lower 48 states with ‘a coat of invisible paint.’ It’s also a sneakily ambitious book whose 13 ‘dispatches’ present a sweeping view of the American land and its inhabitants—how each has shaped, and deformed, the other.”

National Public Radio called The National Road “a fascinating investigation into American places and themes; metaphors for our country.”

Zoellner followed up the release of The National Road with an essay of another sort of travel, one that told of a trip he and a classmate took to Spillville, Iowa, during spring break while students at Lawrence in 1991. Unexpected Lessons from the Back Roads of the American Midwest was featured on lithub.com in October, giving Zoellner a chance to connect some dots from that quirky road trip to the twists and turns and heartbreaks that would color a life’s journey.

It all adds to an impressive resume that includes earlier books on the diamond trade (The Heartless Stone), how uranium changed the world (Uranium), the Gabrielle Giffords shooting (A Safeway in Arizona), and the history and influence of trains (Train).

Lessons from Lawrence

This is where Zoellner takes his thoughts back to his undergrad days at Lawrence and the early exploration of his newspaper career. His curiosity, his keen ability to observe, and his desire to make sense of it all 1,000 words at a time were first nurtured here, in and out of the classroom.

He came to Appleton in 1987 from his home state of Arizona, having never before been out of the Southwest.

“Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota; it all seemed exotic to me,” Zoellner said. “I was provincial and had not traveled at that point. So, the landscapes my classmates considered totally ordinary and boring, like dairy farms and silos and lakes, I thought they were wonderful, incredibly picturesque. Even parts of the industrial plumbing such as paper mills, locks on the river, various other kinds of factories, I thought they were beautiful. That probably sounds pretty weird to somebody from northeast Wisconsin, where it’s just part of the wallpaper, but for me it was like walking into a different world.”

He vowed to explore Appleton and the rest of Wisconsin and not to isolate himself on campus. He wrote for The Lawrentian, eventually becoming its editor. He pestered editors at The Post-Crescent to give him an internship.

The lessons, he said, flowed from there.

“A big part of my education at Lawrence came from the marination in the Fox Valley, thinking of myself not as a tourist but as a resident of the Fox Valley,” he said. “Working at The Post-Crescent was a huge education in the way government worked there, the way society fit together, the wonderful people in the Fox Valley. For students, it’s easy to miss out on that.”

Zoellner came to Lawrence knowing he wanted to be a journalist. He bypassed traditional journalism schools because he wanted the liberal arts experience, a wide-ranging course of study infused with historic sensibilities, context, and critical thinking. That, he believed, would inform his ability to tell stories others weren’t telling.

“That’s why I picked Lawrence in the first place,” Zoellner said. “Not just because it was in the upper Midwest and a long way from Arizona but because of that classic liberal arts emphasis. I still believe that. Getting that sort of multi-faceted approach, which is not vocationally driven, is the winning way to go.”

As he marks his 30-year Lawrence anniversary, Zoellner remains connected to Lawrence. He talks periodically with some faculty; he struck up friendships with Monica Rico in the History Department and David McGlynn in the English Department, both of whom arrived after he had already graduated. He applauded Lawrence’s recent decision to create a creative writing major as part of its English program. It speaks, he said, to all the things that helped him find his voice all those years ago.

Lawrence, after all, was the first stop on a winding journey that continues to reveal itself in unexpected ways.

“That sense of fascination with what many consider ordinary landscapes, that’s something that still gives me great pleasure today,” Zoellner said.

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

Find more Lawrence alumni profiles here.

2 Minutes With … Terrence Freeman: Exploration key to research fellowship

Terrence Freeman ’22, an anthropology major, will be doing archeological research this summer as part of the Graduate School Exploration Fellowship program. (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

Planning for life after Lawrence can be daunting. Terrence Freeman ‘22 is preparing by participating in the Graduate School Exploration Fellowship (GSEF) program this summer.  

“GSEF essentially takes students from marginalized communities to a conduct a research program at a graduate school,” said Freeman, an anthropology major from New York. “It is mainly used to not only draw marginalized students to the graduate school program but also to give you a feel of what the graduate school experience is like, to see if you really want to do that after graduation.”

GSEF is a fellowship program that gives undergraduate students between their junior and senior years the opportunity to conduct research at one of the Big 10 research universities. Participants are partnered with a mentor and receive career development advice along the way.   

Important guidance

Freeman is part of the Posse program at Lawrence and was encouraged to apply for a GSEF fellowship by his Posse mentor. He completed an application process that included, among other things, a personal statement essay and a research proposal.

“They said it was competitive and kind of tough to get in, so I was not putting too much hope into it; so, when I got it, I was like, this is awesome,” Freeman said. 

After being accepted, Freeman went through a week of training that detailed what to expect from the program. He was placed with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and is being matched with a mentor. During the application process, Freeman presented a research proposal that was centered on his work in anthropology and archeology. The research conducted is ultimately chosen by the mentoring professor, but Freeman hopes to do research on North American archeology.  

“I knew I wanted to work with an Indigenous community or an Indigenous population,” Freeman said. “I proposed studying the Pueblos in the Southwest because they have a rich prehistoric history. The main reason is, because they are a marginalized population, their prehistory goes unrecognized, and I wanted to shed some more light on it. Prehistory is pre-written time, so the material record is one of the only things that gives a voice to these people. By uncovering the material remains of the past, you are telling their story.” 

Connecting archaeology, activism  

Freeman, who will do his GSEF research this summer, has been active at Lawrence as a student activist.  

“Me and my friend, Earl Simons, we co-founded the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) here at Lawrence,” Freeman said. “Essentially what it is is a national pan-leftist organization that tries to create change through student-led activism and student-led campaigns.” 

There are about 20 SDS chapters in the United States. Freeman was able to get a chapter started in Appleton. As a chapter leader, Freeman attends a biweekly meeting to give chapter updates and stay coordinated with other chapters. 

Freeman is passionate about activism and hopes to one day combine it with his work in anthropology and archeology. 

“If I am going to work in archeology, I am going to work in public archeology, which is essentially conducting archeological research for the community,” Freeman said. “In my public archeology class now, we are talking about how public archeologists go out to marginalized communities and go to the people there and are like, ‘There is history beneath the soil now; how do you want to see it conveyed.’ I want to incorporate my activism with archeological research.” 

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

On Main Hall Green With … Gary Vaughan: Skills in business, innovation

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Gary Vaughan (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 Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Gary Vaughan, coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program and lecturer of economics, lives the words “innovation” and “entrepreneurship.”

They are part of almost every conversation he has with his students, whether teaching business and economics classes or guiding students through their business models and presentations in preparation for the annual The Pitch competition.

A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2009, Vaughan also has lived those words in his own business pursuits. He’s the founder of the Kimberly, Wisconsin-based Guident Business Solutions LLC, providing business consulting in areas ranging from company culture to human resources to strategic planning.

He’s helped build Lawrence’s growing Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, which brings together faculty expertise from various parts of the curriculum, most notably economics and the Conservatory of Music. It allows students to enhance their major with an I&E interdisciplinary focus, prep for master’s programs in business, economics, public policy, and international development, or prepare to launch careers in the business world.

Vaughan calls the I-E courses an ideal complement to any major a student is pursuing. They are elective courses open to all students.

“We spend time talking about career goals and life after Lawrence, and how to apply the lessons learned in I&E to that end,” Vaughan said. “Many I&E alumni stay in touch with me, asking for advice and sharing their career achievements along the way.”

Vaughan’s students finished in the money the first three years of The Pitch, a regional Shark Tank-type competition featuring students from northeast Wisconsin colleges pitching business start-up ideas. 

Vaughan and his wife, Sharon, also have been active volunteers in Lawrence’s Friendship Family Program, providing guidance and outreach to international students.

Vaughan earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a master’s degree from Silver Lake College and previously taught business courses at Concordia University and Fox Valley Technical College.

We caught up with him to talk about his interests in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I have been a teacher throughout my career.  If not in the classroom as I do today, in the businesses I consult with and in the businesses I ran. I have viewed every co-worker as a student of business and have tried to pass along any experiences I have had that would benefit them. One of my goals for my students at Lawrence is for them to be much smarter than I am when they get to be my age and achieve a similar position in life.

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

The Pitch competition and the Rabbit Gallery practicum excite me the most. The Rabbit Gallery, a pop-up art gallery on College Avenue run by I&E students, didn’t happen during the pandemic, but we are intending to pick it up as usual for this next Spring Term. We have approximately 600 community members tour the Rabbit Gallery each spring. It is one of our more popular practicums for students in the I&E program, with an average of 20 students participating each year. Watching our students excel outside the “Lawrence bubble” is exciting to watch. Our students have proven they can compete and represent themselves in a professional manner in academics as well as on the field or on the court. By the way, we also have a lot of fun as we learn together.

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?

To be honest, I never aspired to teach at a university in a formal way. Like many of our Lawrence alumni, when the opportunity arose, I said yes. This is an “entrepreneurial mindset” we try to instill in our students. To have the courage and self-confidence to say yes when opportunities present themselves. As we discuss in class, our careers are most likely not going to develop as a straight line; they are made up of many crooked lines that are moving us forward in our careers in interesting and exciting ways.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

My dream job would be to work in the National Park System taking care of the grounds and talking with the visitors. Hiking trails and taking in the sights when I’m not emptying the trash containers.

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

I enjoy walking on campus at dusk in the summertime. It is peaceful and quiet as the moon shines on Main Hall, and 10th week is far away.

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

Many may not know that I enjoy reading about the Civil War and have either read or listened to many books on that era. I enjoy the strategies that worked and didn’t work during that time in our country’s history. I am currently listening to The Man Who Would Not Be Washington: Robert E. Lee’s Civil War and His Decision That Changed American History, by Jonathan Horn.

As my students do know, I am also a Star Wars enthusiast.  I have several Star Wars articles in my office and have seen all the episodes several—OK, more than several—times, including Solo and Rogue One, and have enjoyed the story line for many years. May the force be with you.

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

Find more faculty profiles here.

2 Minutes With … Georgia Greenberg: Putting a focus on climate change

Georgia Greenberg ’20 helped organize the recent LUaroo music fest. (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

Georgia Greenberg ’20 will continue her journey through Lawrence this fall when she begins a full academic year of student teaching in an Appleton elementary school, part of a partnership between Lawrence’s Teacher Education program and the Appleton Area School District. After majoring in government with a minor in education, she is now in pursuit of her teacher certification.

But until she steps into the classroom, Greenberg has been busy the past year pursuing another passion—serving as the communications lead for Sunrise Appleton, a local chapter of the youth-led Sunrise Movement organization that works to combat the climate crisis by spreading awareness and driving legislative change in communities across the country.

She also took time to help organize the recent LUaroo music festival on the Lawrence campus.

Most of the work with Sunrise Movement is done through Sunrise “hubs,” where community members meet, hold events, and forge partnerships.

Greenberg, who is from Chicago, took a one-year pause from her schooling before she jumps into student teaching. She joined the Sunrise Appleton group in May 2020, several months after some Lawrence students created the community-wide hub.

“I think there are a lot of students like me who have had these interests but haven’t been able to put them into action,” Greenberg said. “It’s very exciting that we can be the first step into that world for young people who haven’t had the opportunity to get involved with something like this before, including myself.”

But Greenberg highlights the importance of expanding the reach of Sunrise Appleton. Organizers have made early efforts to rebrand the hub into a more regional Sunrise of the Fox Valley. They held a recent public pizza party downtown, hoping to recruit members and educate the community about climate change.

The expansion of the hub is a focus for Greenberg, as her responsibilities center on outreach and social media engagement. But it was a hunger for personal connections that got her on board with the Sunrise Movement in the first place.

“The first step for me was that I missed people and want to be around people,” Greenberg said. “I do it because I want to make the world better, but I also do it because I will go crazy if I don’t have work that I’m doing that makes me feel in control over things that are freaking me out.”

An interest in activism

Greenberg’s interest in activism was sparked when she saw her teachers in Chicago go on strike in 2012.

“That kind of organizing has always been interesting and inspiring to me,” she said. “There was a time when I thought, ‘That’s for other people; I don’t know enough. I can’t do that.’”

That mind-set has certainly changed for Greenberg, who has found a comfort level as communications lead with Sunrise Appleton.

She thinks the leadership skills she’s developing will help as she looks to become a leader in the classroom. After obtaining her teacher certification, she hopes to teach in her home city of Chicago.

“Figuring out I wanted to teach made school make sense,” she said. “I’m so excited. It’s crazy that this whole thing is going to end up being a six-year journey. And this is the final step.”

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