Cristyn Oliver: Racing through obstacles as she finds her stride in athletics, academics

Cristyn Oliver

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

Cristyn Oliver has found her groove as a student-athlete during her sophomore year at Lawrence University.

Oliver, who won the individual Midwest Conference cross country championship in Fall Term and has now transitioned to the indoor track-and-field season, is enjoying the mix of athletics and academics after a difficult first year.

Pandemic protocols and cancelations during her first year meant no cross-country season, classes going remote, and limited socializing. Like other first-years, it was a trying way to begin her college journey.

Through it all, Oliver stayed positive. She said she never questioned her decision to come to Lawrence, 2,000 miles from her home in Redondo Beach, California.

For Oliver, a psychology major and religious studies minor, choosing Lawrence was not a hard choice. She had attended small schools while growing up and knew that she would feel most comfortable at a smaller university. She also received a good financial aid package, but the deciding factor was her desire to compete for Lawrence’s cross country and track teams.

“I liked the team when I met them, and Coach (Jason) Fast is really awesome,” Oliver said. “I’ve never had one conversation with him that was less than 10 minutes.”

Her first year was not what she expected, however. With the pandemic, it was difficult to make friends while social distancing. Taking classes on Zoom proved tiring. Paring that with not having a season made it hard to stay motivated. It was lonely, Oliver said.

But she persisted, knowing better days were coming.

“It’s been so much better now that we’re in person,” Oliver said. “Getting to meet new people who aren’t on my team, getting to know the professors a lot better, doing hands-on things in the classrooms like labs has been great.”

Cross country, soccer teams lead big athletics weekend

One challenge that remains is finding the time to balance school work with practices and meets. Part of her strategy is to complete smaller assignments between classes when the lessons are fresh in her mind and to get the work out of the way. But meets tend to take a long time, making it difficult to do homework on the weekends, she said.

On the run

When it was finally time to compete again, Oliver was geared to go.

In her cross country season, Oliver led the Vikings to their first Midwest Conference team championship since 2001. She was named the women’s individual conference champion, something that hasn’t happened at Lawrence since Julia Liebich ’01 did it in 1998.

Oliver’s achievement secured her a spot in the NCAA Division Ⅲ National Championships — the first Lawrence female runner to earn a spot at nationals since Val Curtis went in 2002. The 6,000-meter race was held Nov. 20 in Louisville, Kentucky. Oliver placed 85th, running the course in 22:20.0, the second fastest time in Lawrence women’s history.

Oliver has since switched her focus to the indoor track season. In the season debut, she won both the 3,000 meter and the mile run and was named Midwest Conference Track Performer of the Week. Next up is a Feb. 5 meet at Ripon College.

“I just looked at it as a base of where I’m at right now and how much I can improve to attempt to make another national meet, which is what I’m going to try to do,” Oliver said.

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

Conservatory student Michael Murphy flexes his music skills with multiple bands

Michael Murphy sits for a portrait in Sol Studios in Lawrence’s Music-Drama Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera / Communications

For Lawrence University junior Michael Murphy, there has never been any question of what he wants to do with his life. Growing up in a family of musicians, Murphy has always loved creating music and performing on stage, so it’s no surprise that he is already deeply immersed in the music world.

Murphy, pursuing a bachelor of musical arts (B.M.A.) degree in the Conservatory of Music, is from nearby Neenah, and he’ll have an opportunity to show his skills Dec. 23 when he performs a holiday concert with a popular local R&B band, STEEM, at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. He’s been performing regularly with the band, led by vocalist and saxophone player Michael Bailey and singer-songwriter Steve March-Tormé, son of the iconic Mel Tormé.

“STEEM is very much like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chicago,” Murphy said. “Our summer stuff is a lot more of the funk/jazz fusion, funk-rock, pop-rock instead of classic rock, and right now Christmas rock.”

Murphy is one of the guitarists and vocalists for STEEM. The Dec. 23 show, set for 7:30 p.m., is part of their Christmas tour, For Kids From One to Ninety-Two, taken directly from the lyrics of The Christmas Song as a tribute to Mel Tormé. The band has performed its holiday show throughout Wisconsin and into Minnesota and Upper Michigan in recent weeks.

Information and tickets for the Fox Cities PAC show can be found here.

Murphy started playing with STEEM because of his connections with Bailey, who leads another popular local band, Vic Ferrari. That band has an annual show called Symphony on the Rocks, which Murphy’s mom has been playing with as a violinist for 10 years.

Murphy had been performing with his family band, Murphy’s Law, and also separately with his brothers in their band, Hewit, for a couple of years. His mom suggested to Bailey that they play during Vic Ferrari’s intermissions.

“Mike had known us from coming to the shows and watching us grow up, basically,” Murphy said.

That eventually led to other opportunities, including an invitation to join STEEM.

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

Murphy said he took his musical training to another level when he enrolled at Lawrence.

The work he’s done in the Conservatory has allowed him to grow with his music. He had hesitated at first to apply to Lawrence because he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to school so close to home. But when the Conservatory unveiled its new B.M.A. degree, focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation, it quickly became his top choice.

He has played with Conservatory ensembles and worked closely with Conservatory faculty while continuing to play with all of his local bands.

“It has been greatly humbling to play with these groups and to have this education,” Murphy said. “I play with much more patience now and it has allowed me to have more confidence to play. At the same time, I’m encouraged to take risks and I’m able to try new things here with my music.”

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

On Main Hall Green With … Asha Srinivasan: Power in musical interactions

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Asha Srinivasan (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

Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music, continues to make her mark as a talented composer.

She’s been commissioned to write 21 pieces since arriving at Lawrence in 2008.

Srinivasan writes for a broad array of instrumentation, including large ensemble, chamber, and electroacoustic media. Among other honors, her composition, Dviraag, an eight-minute work for flute and cello, received the first-place prize at the 2011 Thailand International Composition Festival; she was one of eight composers nationally selected as a resident composer for the 2012 Mizzou New Music Initiative in Columbia, Missouri; and she earned first-place honors in the Flute New Music Consortium’s 2014 international composition competition. In 2019, she was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative.

An Indian-American composer, Srinivasan said she draws on her Western musical training and her Indian heritage to create her compositional language.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, a master’s degree in computer music composition and music theory pedagogy from the Peabody Conservatory, and a D.M.A. in composition from the University of Maryland.

We caught up with Srinivasan to talk about 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 want my students to know that I see teaching as a reciprocal act of learning. They learn from me and I learn from them. That was true my first year here and it continues to remain true. I am passionate about teaching young composers how to see their full potential and how to bring out the best in their own musical creations. At the same time, I am humbled by their creativity, knowledge, and perspective, and my own work has benefited tremendously through the rich interactions I have with my students.

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

Attending our composition senior recitals (the senior capstone in composition) is always one of the most gratifying experiences. As I listen to the range of a student’s work, from early, intermediate, and advanced stages, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and mystery as I reflect on the student’s development over four years. Here is another emerging composer, with their own unique voice and perspective on music and life, now ready to go beyond Lawrence and forge a new life trajectory through music creation.

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?

At the start of my composing career, performances of my music were usually arranged by me. I needed to be involved in order to make it happen. A pleasant surprise that takes place slowly over the course of a composer’s life is when the music one writes starts to take on a life of its own. Nowadays, performers I’ve never met, from all over the U.S. and abroad, find my music inspiring and arrange performances entirely without my knowledge or my effort. I’m also caught by surprise when people write about my music, either as part of a graduate dissertation, or just a course paper, or in professionally published work on music, such as Danielle Fosler-Lussier’s Music on the Move. 

A relatively new experience that I’m enjoying is hearing from young Indian-American musicians who want to perform my music. In retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising, but that is a connection I had not anticipated when I was an emerging composer simply writing the music that represented my Indian-American experience.

See more faculty profiles here

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

From the start, I had always primed myself for a path in music. But, in retrospect, I would have loved working with animals, like a vet technician or a zookeeper perhaps. If I stopped teaching now, what I would love to do is work in a social justice environment, helping others in need in some capacity.

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

I love the Wriston Amphitheatre. It’s just such a neat space to have on a college 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?

Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, is by far one of my favorite books because of the way the author weaves fascinating stories about nature through science explanations and Indigenous perceptions of the natural world.

Grá agus Bás, by Donnacha Dennehy, has a very compelling sound with beautiful and stunning Gaelic singing by Iarla O’ Lionáird over a complex and dense texture created by the Crash ensemble. For me, it stands as one of the best examples of what newly composed concert music is capable of, and this continues to give me inspiration for my composing and teaching work.

One of my all-time favorite movies is called 15 Park Avenue, directed by Aparna Sen. It’s an Indian film but it’s entirely shot in English. It’s about a young woman who suffers from schizophrenia and how her older sister, who is a professor, has to negotiate caring for her and their aging mother. The actors, the dialogue, the production, really everything about it is absolutely at its very best.

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

LaDora Thomas has been honing leadership skills from her earliest days

LaDora Thomas, a junior, is a CA in Trever Hall. It’s one of numerous leadership roles she plays on campus. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

When it was time for her first-grade class to form a line, LaDora Thomas always volunteered to be the caboose. From her perch in the back, she could see everything: every side conversation, every step out of line, everything that could potentially disrupt their perfect order. Then, she could move swiftly and correct it—before the line leader even knew what had happened.

“No one understood what a caboose was, no one understood why I needed to lead from the background or why we needed a leader at the end of the line,” Thomas said. “But that was so the person at the front can lead without worry.”

Now a junior at Lawrence University, Thomas is staying true to her first-grade roots. Although you might not see Thomas in her leadership roles on campus, she’s everywhere. From Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) to Residential Life to All is One—to name only a few of the positions decorating her long resume—Thomas is all about leading from the background.

So… what exactly is she doing?

Now in her third year as an LUCC member, Thomas has seen Lawrence student governance from all sides. Starting as a first-year class representative, Thomas quickly moved to take on the Cabinet-level role of public relations secretary. Now, following a special election at the beginning of November, Thomas will take over as LUCC vice president starting Winter Term.

In all these roles, Thomas has never necessarily been the face of LUCC. Still, she’s participating in key conversations, having her opinion heard in Cabinet, and promoting communication with the student body, largely through email and social media.

As soon as she started as public relations secretary, she had one key goal in mind: to make LUCC more accessible to the student body, breaking down barriers and making sure students are informed about the decisions that impact them. Since she took over running LUCC social media during her freshman year, it has more than doubled, growing from 180 followers to more than 400.

“I get to communicate with the student body in a simpler way, in a different way,” Thomas said. “My leadership there is more of a backseat position, and I really enjoy that—leading from behind. I don’t necessarily always have to be the leading person in a conversation, but I can provide my opinion, and it’s heard in those situations.”

This connection to the student body is fundamental to Thomas’s leadership style, and it carries over to her work as a community advisor (CA) in Residential Life. Especially with first-year students, Thomas is always ready to spark a conversation with one of her residents, doing what she can to help people navigate their first year of college and pass on the wisdom she’s learned through experience.

And now that she’s in the second year of the job, she’s really starting to see the rewards: she loves to watch her residents—some of whom have grown from shy first-years to outgoing CAs themselves—develop as they find their niche on campus.

Of course, her passion for helping others navigate their college experience doesn’t stop with her residents. As the president (or as she calls it, the “CEO”) of “All is One! Empowering Young Women of Color” (AIO), she strives to create a safe space for WOC to fully be themselves while also enabling others to find their path.

Rather than hosting a formal meeting every week, Thomas is taking AIO in a different direction, focusing on “decompression” events to promote community and healing. From “bestie chats” to cookies and coloring, she wants to create time for WOC to unwind without having to put on any performance.

“I think it’s just so important to have time to relax and really just be,” Thomas said. “We have to sometimes conform to the spaces around us to feel accepted and welcomed, and I want a space here where women of color can just come in and be themselves and fully be accepted regardless of all flaws.”

In addition to all that, Thomas has also taken on work with the Philanthropy and Engagement Center, the Communications office, and community service events.

What leadership can look like

The bottom line is simple: Thomas is a leader on campus, and she encourages everyone to find their opportunity to lead.

For Thomas, it’s all about leading from the background and providing whatever support is needed. She analyzes every situation in its entirety and thinks everything through before she acts. That way, she hopes her words and actions can be more impactful.

“Before I step into anything, I definitely analyze what I’m stepping into,” Thomas said. “Just as with this [LUCC] election, I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I applied. Had I not known what I was signing up for, if I were elected, would I be completely equipped? As a student leader, I never want to be inadequate when saying I’m going to help someone in a situation.”

But you don’t need to be LUCC vice president to be a leader, Thomas said. Everyone has their own level of comfort with leadership and their own style, and college is the time to explore that. As we make our way through life, Thomas said, everyone is responsible for being their own leader—designing their life, making their own plans, and influencing the people around them. As far as Thomas is concerned, the conflict resolution and problem-solving skills one develops in a leadership role on campus is critical to life after Lawrence.

“You definitely have to find that happy space where you can challenge yourself to take on a little bit more leadership, because it’s so needed,” Thomas said. “Even if it’s just one person walking down College Avenue and you know they’re a first year, and then you give them some advice. That’s a leadership position right there. Even if you don’t have a title, you’re being a leader.”

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

On Main Hall Green With … Jason Brozek: Global perspective, local impact

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jason Brozek (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

Jason Brozek is seemingly everywhere on the Lawrence University campus.

The Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government is a highly respected professor in Government as well as the interdisciplinary departments of Global Studies and Environmental Studies. He chairs the latter, which launched an Environmental Science major earlier this year. And he’s playing a lead role in developing a soon-to-be-announced International Relations major.

Brozek serves as a special assistant to the president and was recently named one of the co-leads for a campus-wide guiding coalition charged with visioning Lawrence’s future.

He recently helped launch and lead the Social & Environmental Justice Cohort summer internship program, which debuted this summer in collaboration with a bevy of nonprofit organizations in the Milwaukee metro area.

See more Lawrence faculty profiles here.

Off campus, Brozek has been an advocate in the Fox Valley for environmental justice and bicycle-related safety and growth, serving on the Outagamie County Greenway Implementation Committee and Appleton Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He also is a member of the Appleton Library Board.

In his spare time, he runs ultramarathons.

Brozek joined the Lawrence faculty in 2008, specializing in international security, global climate politics, water conflict, and international law. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wayne State College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We caught up with Brozek to talk about 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?

This is my 13th year at LU and my 20th year teaching college students, and I love it—but I still get nervous before every single class. Some of that is probably lingering imposter syndrome—it’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes I’m a fraud!—but I think it’s also because I genuinely, deeply care about what my students get out of our classes together.

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

Right now, at this very moment, I’m just jazzed to be back in the classroom again after four terms of teaching with Zoom. But bigger picture, I’ve started working with a group of folks from every slice of the Lawrence community on a project about envisioning LU’s future. We’re just getting started, but after 18-plus months of pandemic, I think there’s a lot of people who are ready to think big about charting a course for the future. What do we want Lawrence to be, what can we achieve together, and how do we get from here to there?

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?

It still feels surreal sometimes that I’ve had the chance to take dozens and dozens of students to China over the last 10 years. I was a first-generation college student who grew up on a family farm in Nebraska, and studying abroad was never an option for me. No one encouraged me to think about it, and even if they had, the price tag would have made it a non-starter. Eighteen-year-old me would be gobsmacked. I’m hoping we can nail down the funding to get back to international study trips the moment it’s safe again. 

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Ha! I honestly don’t know. Maybe something in city planning? That seems like a pretty big leap from international politics, but there’s something really tangible and powerful about libraries, parks, and bike paths. Fortunately, Appleton is a place where I can dip my toes in that a bit; so I’m not a city planner, but you can definitely find me at Council meetings arguing about stuff like giving away public space to parking.

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

Maybe it’s a cliched, too-easy answer, but I honestly love walking by the river. LU had its back turned to the water for a long, long time and we’ve only started embracing the Fox River in the last 10 to 15 years. It’s such a gem, and I hope we keep pivoting our physical campus toward the water as we build and expand.

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

Sci-fi and pop culture tell stories about politics that no other medium can, and I’m a huge proponent of taking them seriously. For example, Octavia Butler’s reflection on climate change and capitalism in the dystopian sci-fi book Parable of the Sower is something everybody should read. And I don’t know of anything as high profile as Falcon and the Winter Soldier that’s tackling the intersection of race and patriotism/nationalism. Doing it through the lens of Marvel superheroes means there’s a lot of new folks wrestling with the question of what it means for a Black man, Sam Wilson, to carry the shield of Captain America. Sure, it’s a Disney+ show with a tie-in action figure line, but it’s also like a contemporary version of Frederick Douglass’s “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” I’m also a podcast dork, and I can’t recommend the series This Land highly enough. It’s by Rebecca Nagle, a member of Cherokee Nation, and the series is about constitutional law, Native America rights, and tribal policies in the U.S.

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

For first-year trombone player, mixing jazz and basketball all part of the game

Mallory Meyer, a first-year music student and basketball player, stands in front of Alexander Gymnasium with her trombone. She will perform Nov. 5 as part of Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend and will debut Nov. 6 with Lawrence’s women’s basketball team. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

There are many reasons why students choose Lawrence. For Mallory Meyer, a first-year from Battle Ground, Washington, the deciding factor was the opportunity to play in Lawrence’s world-class Conservatory while also competing as a member of the women’s basketball team.

Meyer’s musical instrument of choice is the trombone, and she is currently the only first-year in the award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE), directed by Patty Darling.

“When I found out I was the only first-year in the band, I was surprised, and a little nervous about jumping in with all the amazing players,” Meyer said. “But being surrounded by players like that makes you step up to try to match their level, and, although challenging, it’s been great so far.”

LUJE carries a long-standing reputation of excellence. It has been nationally recognized multiple times in the annual Downbeat awards, among the most prestigious national honors in jazz education.

“We don’t have first-year students in LUJE very often, and Mallory’s outstanding and mature musicianship, spirit, and dedication are greatly admired by everyone in the ensemble,” Darling said.

Read more about LUJE here.

Meyer’s passion for both jazz and basketball will be on full display on the weekend of Nov. 5 and 6. The LUJE will take part in the annual Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, performing with world-renowned composer Dave Rivello at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 in Memorial Chapel (open to the Lawrence community only; available to the public virtually). Meanwhile, the women’s basketball team will kick off its season with a Nov. 6 game against Carthage College at 3 p.m. in Alexander Gymnasium (open only to Lawrence students, faculty, and staff).

Meyer, who is pursuing a bachelor of musical arts (B.M.A) degree, began playing the trombone when she was in fifth grade. She played in jazz bands throughout high school while also taking private lessons. She fell in love with playing and knew that she wanted to continue her musical education at a university with a reputable jazz program.

Lawrence fit the bill in every way. When Downbeat held its Student Music Awards last year, it created a new undergraduate category due to the pandemic—Asynchronous Large Jazz Ensemble. Lawrence won the category, marking the 30th time the jazz program has been honored by Downbeat in the last four decades, spanning categories that have included large jazz ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, jazz vocal group, and Latin group.

Jazz Weekend, being presented to the public virtually this year due to ongoing pandemic concerns, annually brings in top jazz talents to perform with and alongside Conservatory students and faculty.

Meyer’s talents don’t stop there, of course. She also started playing basketball about the same time she picked up the trombone. The 5-foot-10 forward now plays for the Vikings, and, much like rehearsals, practices have been going well.

“Getting to know everyone and just getting to play with them has been really nice, especially after not playing for a while,” Meyer said.

Juggling rehearsals and performances in the Conservatory along with practices and games in the gym has been challenging. But Meyer said she has taken it all in stride; she grew up having to manage her time between her school work, jazz, and basketball.

For Meyer, the hardest transition is being far from home and her family, but her time spent with LUJE and playing basketball with her teammates has helped to alleviate her homesickness, she said. And although missing her family, she wouldn’t trade the experiences she’s had at Lawrence so far.

“I just like the creative side of it all, being able to create music how I want and having fun on the basketball court with my teammates,” she said.

Ticket information for the Jazz Weekend concerts can be found at Lawrence University Box Office.

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

On Main Hall Green with … Melissa Range: Mixing it up with poetry, history, literature

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Melissa Range (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

Melissa Range, an associate professor of English at Lawrence, is a poet with a love of both creative writing and literature.

Her poetry, which has drawn national honors, is often informed by the teaching she does.

“I am working on a historical poetry collection about the abolitionist movement, so the research I do to prepare for teaching courses on the 19th century is profoundly influencing what I end up writing poems about,” she told Art Lit Lab in a 2018 interview.

In 2015, Range was named one of five national winners in the annual Open Competition sponsored by the National Poetry Series, cited for her second collection of poems, Scriptorium.

Find more On Main Hall Green With … faculty profiles here

A year earlier she was named one of 36 national recipients of a $25,000 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Creative Writing.

Range, who has been on the English faculty at Lawrence since 2014, has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Tennessee, a master’s in creative writing from Old Dominion University, a master of theological studies from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.

We caught up with Range to talk about 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?

Expect the unexpected. My favorite thing about teaching is mixing it up and having the freedom to be creative. Maybe one day you’ll come into a literature class and we’ll start digging through digitized 19th century newspapers and relating advertisements for women’s hats to the poems we’re studying. Maybe one day my Emily Dickinson or Frederick Douglass finger puppets will show up. While I am deadly serious about the power of literature—I one hundred percent believe reading poems, novels, plays, and essays can make us better, more just, more empathetic people—I also have a wacky sense of humor. It will show up in the activities we do, especially in creative writing classes. You might end up writing a poem from the point of view of a spoon who wants to join a roller derby team or a snowman who just stole a car, or maybe trying to make metaphors about whatever junk I just pulled out of a cupboard in Briggs 315. (These are real and not hypothetical examples.)

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

There’ve been a lot of exciting moments. Definitely teaching Native Guard in First-Year Studies; Trethewey’s one of my favorites (I teach her other books, too!). I am currently rethinking the way I teach poetry workshops and trying lots of new things in my creative writing class, so that’s fun. I really love teaching 19th century literature, especially my course on Emily Dickinson. She’s my favorite poet, and her life and art (not to mention her century) are so complex, intense, maddening, and wild. I have been so proud of how students have jumped into her poetry both times I’ve taught this class.

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?

My career as a professor is itself a surprise. I grew up a first-generation student in a small town in southern Appalachia, and there was no expectation from anyone that I would go to college at all, let alone do anything like becoming a professor. My path to becoming a professor was quite meandering. There were all kinds of stops—and all kinds of odd jobs—along the way. I didn’t decide I even wanted to go into academia until I was in my mid-thirties; I got my job here at LU when I was 41. So, I’m living proof that you don’t have to have everything figured out the second you graduate.

But, to be Lawrence-specific, I never thought I’d be getting up in front of an entire class of first-years and giving a lecture on Native Guard. Somehow, I’ve done it six times now! And I still love that book just as much as the first time I picked it up.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I have many ideas—opening a sandwich shop is at the top of the list. Several of my colleagues say they are in—don’t be surprised if one day there are professors slinging sammies on College Ave. Karaoke DJ? It would also be cool to open my own thrift shop. I think I’d also be great at hawking squashes at the farmers’ market. I’ve had so many odd jobs already in my life! What’s a few more?

But of course, there is actually only one other job. That’s the job I already have, which is being a poet. It just doesn’t often pay actual money.

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

I love the Wriston Galleries. There’s always something provocative to see. Wriston is also my venue of choice for poets who come to Lawrence as part of the Mia Paul Poetry Series. My poetry classes also often give readings in Wriston—so it’s got a lot of great memories for me.

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

I love the poetry collection Peach State, by Adrienne Su, which came out earlier this year—it’s about food, family, place, and identity, she’s one of the best rhymers out there, and it’s funny. I’m also rereading the novel Middlemarch, by George Eliot, and my jaw is dropping every other page at her sentences and her insights. I could be here all day just talking about books. Same with records—I used to work at a record store and I have way too many I love. Lately I’ve been really into revisiting Anita Baker’s album Rapture from . . . I dunno, 1986? 87? Perfect then and perfect now! And also listening to Outkast’s Aquemeni from 1998. Such perfect rhymes! Y’all see I love rhyme, right? I actually don’t watch a lot of movies or TV, but I do have a soft spot for extremely silly comedies. One I love is What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire show that is a) not scary; and b) truly ridiculous. Also not gonna lie, even though I am not an especially good baker, sometimes the Great British Bake-Off is the only way to end a busy week.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Kathy Privatt: The joy of collaboration on and off stage

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Kathy Privatt (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

Kathy Privatt and the stage have gone hand in hand for more than two decades of teaching at Lawrence University.

The James G. Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theater arts has taught in Lawrence’s theater department since 1999. A faculty leader across campus, she currently serves as chair of the Theatre Arts Department and is the university’s faculty athletic representative.

Through those 22 years of teaching, she has annually directed theater students through main stage productions, one-act plays, and a bevy of other theater experiences. When teaching went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, she deftly transitioned her students into producing radio dramas via Zoom.

She has held the Barber Professorship since 2008. It was originally established in 1985 by Ethel Barber, a 1934 graduate of Milwaukee-Downer College, and recognizes her lifelong interest in and support of the performing arts and higher education.

Privatt earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in theatre and speech at Central Missouri State University and her Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Nebraska.

We caught up with her to talk about her 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?

Collaboration drives my work, and I really do expect the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. When I’m directing a production, the collaborative process may seem obvious, but it’s how I think about teaching, too. Coming to class means we’re all agreeing to show up together, and while I certainly have a plan, I also expect to learn from each student, and for students to learn from each other so that we’re all learning from each other and together.

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

Right now, a set of three one-acts that I’ll be directing Winter Term because it’s a joyful collaboration. It all started with student Lexi Praxl’s independent study on contemporary French theatre. As she was collaborating with the reference librarians, she discovered what seemed to be a project to commission new short plays, inspired by the plays of Molière. We reached out to professor Eilene Hoft-March for translation help, and that led to a plan to have a student translator (Claire Chamberlin) create English versions. Now I’m starting production meetings with the designers for two new plays inspired by Molière, and one play by Molière, who was, himself, inspired by the Italian Commedia dell’arte. We’ll be performing these in the year of Molière’s 400th birthday. Oh, and did I mention that I also get to work with other colleagues for pronunciation help in a variety of languages? And this production will be Lexi’s Senior Experience? Collaborating is like going to a really good buffet, and every time you put something on your plate it creates interesting flavors with the food that is already there. It’s delicious, and just a bit intoxicating.

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?

Thanks to former Provost Dave Burrows, I am a certified Alexander Movement Technique (AT) teacher. I love sharing that work, whether through the classes I teach, in workshops, or in individual lessons. What I didn’t expect was to find myself sitting in church, making connections with the metaphors of the Christian faith and ways that AT guides us to experience ourselves in the world – and it feels so organic to me. Those connections have launched me on a project I call Embodying Your Faith, and I’m continuing to build on the collection of workshop sessions I’ve created. Most recently, I finished a set called Belonging that lives on the Spiritual and Religious Life YouTube page.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I think I’d be a physical therapist. They’re really effective body-detectives, AND relieve pain.

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

My office. I’m a bit of a “nester,” so I’ve filled it with mementos, even toys, that either remind me of someone or some event I’m connected to.

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: Love Wins by Rob Bell. Not a fluffy little examination, and even controversial for some, but to me, this book makes a really compelling case that God love us all, no matter what – period.

Recording: Poncho Sanchez’ Latin Spirit. My husband and I first heard Sanchez at a Jazz Series concert, and I hope I never forget how much sheer joy I felt watching those musicians as the music poured out of them. We bought the CD, and are lucky it still plays because I’ve lost count of the times we’ve put it on to dance a little salsa in the kitchen.

Film: That’s easy, The Princess Bride. I adore fairytales, and this one contains “love, true love” that isn’t afraid to sacrifice for one’s love . . . and the grandpa-reading-a-book frame makes me a little teary-eyed every time. So good.

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

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.