Author: Ed Berthiaume

D-Term course has students playing, studying old-school video games

Rehanna Rexroat '20 sits on a couch and plays "Missile Command" on the Atari 5200 in the Kruse Room of the Mudd Library.
Rehanna Rexroat ’20 plays “Missile Command” on the Atari 5200 in the Mudd Library during the “History of Video Games: 1977-1996” D-Term class. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Watching college students enthusiastically play Mortal Kombat II on Sega Genesis controllers while friends look on — minus blood mode but with plenty of talk of cheat codes and jump punches — might put you squarely in a dormitory circa 1994.

Nah.

This is the Kruse Room on the fourth of floor of Lawrence University’s Mudd Library, and it’s early December 2019. The eight students taking turns on the sofa are duking it out in a video game that is considered a classic, but one that 25 years after its release for home play is a bit primitive when compared to the slick graphics and realistic play of today’s most popular games. It’s part of a history lesson these Lawrence students are happily absorbing in History of Video Games: 1977-1996, a D-Term course being taught for the third time by reference and learning technologies librarian and assistant professor Angela Vanden Elzen.

“I did not grow up playing pretty much any video games,” said Miriam Syvertsen ’22, a mathematics major from Madison who is among the students who signed up for the two-week D-Term class. “But, and this is going to sound really nerdy, I like analyzing cultural products and the cultures they come from. Video games are cultural products and I really just like watching and studying the progressions.”

Fall Term at Lawrence ended in late November. Most students headed home for a five-week break before Winter Term begins. But a couple dozen students signed up for D-Term — or December Term — classes, some for this one on video game history, some for a class exploring entrepreneurship in London, and others for a class on improved learning and memory.

An Atari 5200 controller is used to play "Missile Command."
Students are using the original consoles to play the old video games. Here, an Atari 5200 controller is used to play “Missile Command.”

Video games as scholarship

The Vanden Elzen class isn’t just an excuse to play old-school video games. This is about exploring the history and influence of the gaming world over the past four decades. Other pop culture mediums such as movies and television have long been in the mix for scholarly exploration; video games not so much. But that has started to change.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to create this class,” Vanden Elzen said. “Working in the library, I noticed more and more video game scholarship coming out, and it was all very interesting and coming from so many different academic disciplines. It was coming from media studies, it was coming from gender studies, it was coming from history, from computer science.”

Vanden Elzen taught the D-Term class in 2016, 2017, and now 2019. Come Winter Term in the 2020-21 academic year, she and Film Studies support coordinator Jose Lozano will co-teach a new course, Introduction to Game Studies, that will be added to the Film Studies curriculum.

“That course has been a long time in the making,” Vanden Elzen said.

She said she first started pondering such a class in the late 2000s. A visiting teaching fellow had offered a couple of courses focused on virtual worlds. Those classes, Vanden Elzen said, drew interest from the Gaming Club on campus and sparked an idea that eventually led to the D-Term video game course and now the expanded gaming course coming a year from now.

“It really resonates with some students, being able to study one of their passions,” she said.

For Amy A. Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor, the introduction of the new class simply takes the curriculum where the students already are. Students have been pursuing new media projects for independent studies and capstones for several years now, an indication that there was an appetite for this type of course.

“Visual culture is one of the strongest and most pervasive influences on our contemporary culture, and film and video is just one component of that influence,” Ongiri said. “We want to explore as many aspects of visual culture as possible within our program. The new game studies class will help us expand the focus we already have in new media studies in classes offered by John Shimon and Anne Haydock. It will allow students to engage not only in the act of creating games but also to understand their aesthetic and cultural importance through the study of the history and theory of games.”

Angela Vanden Elzen watches as Jake Yingling '20 plays Ms. Pacman during the D-Term class.
Angela Vanden Elzen is teaching “History of Video Games: 1977-1996” during D-Term for the third time. Here she watches as Jake Yingling ’20 plays Ms. Pacman on the Atari 5200.

A two-week immersion

The D-Term class is broken into two parts each day. For the first hour, the class studies a particular slice of video game history, analyzing media from the time and digging into how gaming has influenced societal trends and cultural debates. The second hour is spent in the Kruse Room, where the students play selected games from yesteryear on the consoles that existed at the time the games came out. An analysis of the game follows.

In advance of Monday’s Mortal Kombat II gaming session, the class discussed violence in video games, the earliest games that introduced fighting, and the development, for better or worse, of the video game rating system.

“Growing up, I always played a lot of these old-school video games, and it’s just interesting to study them from a more historical perspective,” said Dylan McMurray ’22, a neuroscience major from Chicago.

“There was an article we read about the parallels in video game subjects and what was happening in world politics at the time — the Cold War, nuclear weapons crisis, and terrorist attacks like 9/11, and the trend toward first-person shooter games,” Syvertsen said. “It’s just really interesting, and getting a little bit of literacy about video games because I did not grow up with them is really helpful.”

Vanden Elzen launches her D-Term course in and around 1977, when video games began to emerge in the mainstream. She takes the class in fairly rapid order through the rise and fall of Atari — Space Invaders, anyone? — early video game marketing, the crash of 1983, high-stakes battles between Sega and Nintendo, the use of music and sound in games, early sports franchises, ties to movie themes, the introduction and evolution of violence in video games, gender and other representation, the development of marketable characters, and more.

“Video games have been such a major part of our culture in the United States and worldwide for a really long time,” said Vanden Elzen, a dedicated gamer herself. “Just by studying the games it gives us insight into that time when the game was released. Games can provide so much insight. They are so immersive and they can be such interesting forms of art and creativity.

“It’s important to study video game history to really understand where we’ve come from with video game technology, content, representation, narrative, and how that ties in with our culture and society. It tells us a little about ourselves.”

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

Lawrence’s sustainability efforts get high marks in upgraded rating

Aerial shot of campus showing Main Hall Green.
Lawrence University’s sustainability rating has risen from bronze to silver.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s ongoing commitment to sustainability has been recognized with an upgraded rating by the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The organization recently awarded Lawrence a silver rating in its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), an upgrade from the bronze rating the school received in 2017.

“It’s great to see that progress rewarded in the upgraded silver rating,” Sustainability Coordinator Kelsey McCormick said.

The AASHE ratings are built on a bronze-silver-gold-platinum system. Only a handful of schools worldwide earn platinum status. By moving into the silver category, Lawrence has continued its sustainability growth as it eyes an eventual gold rating. It’s a matter of continuing to build on the momentum that started two years ago.

“I think Lawrence has the potential to see gold, maybe within the next five to 10 years,” McCormick said. “It’s a long-term goal. But that’s where we’d like to see ourselves get to.”

Lawrence students working last summer in the SLUG garden brought in 10 goats for two weeks to help control the spread of invasive weeds. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

For more on Lawrence’s sustainability efforts, see here.

AASHE tracks and measures sustainability efforts tied to academics, engagement, operations, planning, and administration. The school needs to report on a wide array of measurements, from greenhouse gases to how sustainability is infused into the classroom to how its food service operates.

The improved rating points to the more coordinated work Lawrence has been doing on the sustainability front the past two-plus years, supported by a three-year grant it received in 2017 from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.

Lawrence has a history of sustainability-minded student groups being active, for example. And Lawrence’s Environmental Studies interdisciplinary program is more than 40 years old. But the grant allowed the school to build an infrastructure to coordinate and grow those efforts across campus. And the AASHE ratings system has provided an avenue for tracking the progress.

“It’s been my personal undertaking to take all of these sustainability efforts that have existed at Lawrence for a long time and get them all on the same page and moving in the same direction so we can build on each other’s efforts,” McCormick said.

While the Cargill grant will expire, McCormick’s sustainability coordinator position will remain intact, as will the sustainability mechanisms that have been put in place. A Sustainability Steering Committee that includes faculty, students, and staff will continue to provide leadership. The Sustainability Institute for faculty will continue to explore ways to integrate sustainability into existing and new courses. A peer mentorship program will still actively promote and teach about sustainability in the residence halls. 

McCormick’s work with the Sustainability Steering Committee, co-chaired by geosciences professor Jeff Clark, has included, among other things, working with student groups such as Greenfire to organize Earth Week events and other Earth-friendly activities, helping students get sustainability grant monies for projects in the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) or elsewhere on campus, supporting bee advocacy work, installing combined trash and recycling containers across campus, and partnering with Bon Appetit to reduce waste in the dining hall.

Students supporting the SLUG garden sell plants during the 2019 Earth Day Gala.
Students take part in the annual Earth Day Gala on the Lawrence campus.

Students take the lead on sustainability projects. See here.

Staying true to the cause is important to not only the Lawrence community but to prospective students as well, McCormick said. Being committed to improving the university’s environmental impact and enhancing its engagement in sustainability education are crucial talking points going forward.

“It is important for Lawrence to have a visible commitment to sustainability,” McCormick said. “We know that today’s students and prospective students are anxious about the status of the environment and the climate crisis. Our improved AASHE STARS rating shows that Lawrence is continuing to advance its sustainability efforts and is concerned about the world our future graduates will live in.”

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

Financial aid changes clear path for more Lawrence students to study abroad

Lawrence students take part in a global classroom in Costa Rica.
Study abroad opportunities have taken Lawrentians all over the world, including this group in Costa Rica.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Lawrence University has seen a big jump this year in the number of students opting to study abroad, boosted in part by a change in the school’s financial aid rules that allows all aid a student receives to travel abroad with them.

The school has about 150 students studying abroad this academic year, up from 89 a year ago.

Beginning this year, Lawrence is allowing all financial aid to apply to study abroad opportunities, said Laura Zuege, the director of Off-Campus Programs who is transitioning into a new role as assistant director of Financial Aid. In addition to federal aid (by completing the FAFSA), Lawrence grants and scholarships can now be applied toward tuition and program fees for off-campus study. In previous years, Lawrence scholarships could not be used abroad and there was a cap on the Lawrence need-based grant amount.

“There is a pretty significant difference in the number of students going abroad, and we think a good portion of that is because of the financial aid change,” said Ashley Trump, assistant with Lawrence’s Off-Campus Programs office. 

The 2018-19 numbers were down from the norm, which ranged from 110 to 121 annually in the three prior years. But the jump to 150 is still significant, Zuege said.

“In addition to the new financial aid policy allowing LU grants and scholarships to apply, in the last few years Lawrence has also greatly grown the number of supplemental scholarships we offer students — in addition to their regular financial aid — which are specifically to support studying abroad,” she said. “Our hope is that changes in funding support will change the question for some students from, ‘Can I afford to study abroad?’ to ‘Where will I study abroad?’”

It’s all aimed at clearing hurdles that might keep students from considering a study abroad experience. Now, whether studying in London, Senegal, Japan or any of the multitude of other locations around the globe, Lawrence students have more flexibility with their finances to make that happen.

“The deep-impact experience that it can give you as far as getting to immerse yourself in another culture is incredible,” Trump said. “You get to see life from a different perspective and see your daily going-about-things from a different perspective.

Aerial photo of London.
London remains a popular destination for Lawrence students studying abroad.

“You can really enrich not only what you’re studying but how you see what you’re studying. For a lot of programs, you get to do hands-on work with your direct subject matter as well as getting to learn that subject matter in a different environment and see how different cultures view that subject matter.”

A recent “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education shows study abroad numbers are on the rise across higher education, a trend that has continued over the past 25 years. It’s estimated that about 16 percent of students enrolled in baccalaureate programs in the U.S. will study abroad.

The Off-Campus Programs office at Lawrence recommends that every student considering studying abroad first meet with officials in the Financial Aid office to look at financing options. The goal is to make studying abroad doable for any Lawrence student interested. 

“We wanted to make it more accessible to more students, and only having that need-based cap was not as accessible as the model we have now,” Trump said.  

The Off-Campus Programs page at Lawrence.edu lists information on 55 affiliated programs and the 29 countries where they are located.

Zuege said seven new programs were added starting this fall. Also, recent program changes at the London Centre has strengthened the London experience, boosting interest. And students of greater diversity are pursuing the study abroad options.

“In looking at demographics of this year’s study abroad participants, we see that 2019-20 participants are more likely to be first generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, and domestic students of color than compared to the previous three academic years,” Zuege said.

The deadline for applying to a Lawrence-affiliated study abroad program for the 2020-21 academic year is Jan. 27. For the London Centre and the Francophone program in Senegal, the deadline is Feb. 24.

Note: Ashley Trump recently left the Off-Campus Programs office to pursue another job opportunity.

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

Podcasting evolves into increasingly popular teaching tool at Lawrence

Fallon Sellers and Georgia Greenberg sit at a table with a microphone as they record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class.
Fallon Sellers ’20 (left) and Georgia Greenberg ’20 record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Eyes got a little wide when Jason Brozek told his Government 425: War & Pop Culture students they’d be researching, scripting, and recording a series of podcasts during fall term.

Fallon Sellers ’20 just smiled and nodded.

The Lawrence University senior, one of about 20 students in the class, knew the drill, having done a podcast in the spring in Brozek’s Environmental Justice class and already being deep into a podcast in Linnet Ramos’ fall term Psychopharmacology & Behavior class.

“I was able to be a little reassuring to everybody else,” Sellers said.

Welcome to the world of classroom podcasting.

As the popularity of podcasts has exploded over the past few years and the technology for recording and sharing podcasts has been streamlined, professors have increasingly turned to the format as an alternate means of research and study in their classes. Instead of an end-of-term paper being due, students are showcasing what they’ve learned by creating episodes of podcasts that will in many cases be accessible to anyone who wants to listen.

At Lawrence, the creation of podcasts as part of coursework is becoming more frequent. Brozek and Ramos are the latest, but they are far from alone. Marcia Bjornerud in geosciences, Brigid Vance in history, and Israel Del Toro in biology, among others, have all experimented with podcasting in their classes.

“First, the barrier to entry is low,” Jedidiah Rex, a designer on Lawrence’s Instructional Technology staff, said of the increase in podcast usage as a teaching strategy. “The tools necessary to create podcasts are easy to use. Second, podcasting makes use of writing skills but offers an opportunity for students to express creativity. There is a pedagogical value in students doing this work.”

Podcast numbers keep growing

According to a survey from Edison Research and Triton Digital, released earlier this year, the percentage of U.S. residents 12 and older who have listened to a podcast at least once surpassed 50% for the first time. That milestone marks a “watershed moment” for podcasting, Edison Senior Vice President Tom Webster wrote in a blog entry about the report.

“With over half of Americans 12+ saying that they have listened to a podcast, the medium has firmly crossed into the mainstream,” he wrote.

Brozek said he was intrigued to incorporate podcasts into his teaching in part because it gives his students a chance to create something that can be shared much wider. Topics his students are exploring in the areas of environmental justice and war and pop culture have potential audiences across the globe.

“They’re out there,” Brozek said of the eight episodes on environmental justice his students did in spring term. “When I go through my podcast app, they are just in my list of podcasts along with the other things I listen to. I like the idea that they’re available for a much wider community.”

In the process, the students are learning technical skills, writing strategies, script creation, interviewing techniques, and copyright laws, all valuable things no matter what career path they might be eyeing.

“I thought this was a way we could keep expanding the quiver of professional skills that we’re trying to help students learn,” Brozek said.

They’re also learning and discussing privacy topics — putting yourself in the public conversation, and what that means. That’s an issue professors using podcast technology need to navigate.

“One of the challenges of doing public-facing scholarship in classes is that students have reasonable privacy concerns, but we can always find a way to work within those boundaries,” Brozek said. (To that end, the release of some or all of the podcasts created in the War and Pop Culture class will be held until early in winter term to make sure all participants are comfortable with the process).

While most of the students in the Brozek and Ramos classes were new to creating their own podcasts, most had long been consumers of the format.

“Podcasts are ubiquitous, consumed by this generation, and it’s a genre that they largely already understand,” said Andrew McSorely, a reference and digital librarian in Lawrence’s Seeley G. Mudd Library. “It’s not a huge leap to apply it to the classroom, and, generally speaking, it’s as easy to set up and get students to engage with as a blog. Because of that, it’s hard to say how many classrooms are utilizing podcast assignments, but there’s no question that more instructors have asked about this technology in the library the past few years.”

From left: Fallon Sellers ’20, Georgia Greenberg ’20, and Basil Eastman-Kiesow ’20 record a podcast for their War and Pop Culture class taught by government professor Jason Brozek.

Finding an audience

The appeal comes as podcasts have transitioned from the domain of sports and pop culture to something that can find niche audiences in almost any sector.

“Where once it was distinctly for entertainment purposes, it now can hold scholarship and be taken seriously,” McSorely said. “For content creators in the academy, this serves as a way to engage with new audiences, and for undergraduates, it’s a means of expression that can seem more natural than a traditional essay.”

In Ramos’ psychopharmacology course, the students, working in groups of three to five, are recording video podcasts where they explain, critique, and discuss research articles on a specific drug. The episodes are being made available on the class’s new YouTube channel.

“Often times in classes, students read an article, create a PowerPoint presentation that describes it and mention a couple of ideas on how it can be improved,” Ramos said. “But rarely do I get to hear how students felt after reading the article or get to hear their opinions on why it matters, what they learned from it, how it can impact other sciences or society.”

In Brozek’s War & Pop Culture class, the students have dug into topics ranging from post-nuclear apocalypse to how terrorism is depicted in the media to the use of propaganda to influence audiences during wartime. Doing that in a podcast allows not only for substantial research but also thorough discussion.

“Part of what they’re required to do in the podcast is bring in academic scholarship,” Brozek said as the fall term course got rolling. “This new course is designed around thinking about the way political science scholars write about and think about issues related to war, like terrorism, extraordinary, exceptional circumstances, torture, things like that. Think about the way political science crafts narratives and asks and answers questions and the way pop culture crafts those narratives — where they may have some overlap, where there are differences, what those differences mean, how concerned we ought to be about the differences.

“If (pop culture) is where most people are getting their perspective on terrorism, what does it look like and how consistent is it with the political science literature? So, those are the kind of questions we’re asking in this course.”

For the students, that kind of scholarship isn’t out of the ordinary. Academic work is almost always question-driven. But channeling that work through a podcast takes it in a different direction. That is where excitement meets anxiety, Sellers said.

“Most of the anxiety comes with just learning the technical stuff,” she said. “A podcast is essentially just a conversation. You’re talking through something with your peers. That’s pretty natural to do. I don’t think that’s the hard part. The daunting part was I didn’t have any experience with the computer-related things, the audio techniques, and learning how to use Audacity and how to navigate that.”

Learning those technical skills and related communication skills will pay off later as students enter the job market with a wider breadth of knowledge and know-how. For Sellers, a government major, that’s no small thing.

“Media is so pertinent in our society, and I think it’s so important that higher education is also moving along with that, and we’re learning how to adapt,” she said. “Being able to go into a job and say, ‘Hey, I’m able to produce a podcast, I know how to use these techniques,’ I think people are generally pretty excited about that.

“By the end of my Lawrence career, I will have done podcasts on the dairy industry, on pedagogy and propaganda in pop culture and on opioids and how they impact social behavior,” Sellers said. “So, it’s very Lawrence, and very well-rounded.”

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

New Music Ensemble performances took audience interaction to new heights

Lawrence musicians reflect
on “Ten Thousand Birds”
experience, a highlight
of fall term in the Conservatory

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors, but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.” — Helen Threlkeld ’23

Story by Emily Austin ’21

Julian Bennett ’20, a cello performance major, called it “something out of a storybook.”

He and the other musicians in the Lawrence University New Music Ensemble were performing Ten Thousand Birds, creating music inspired by bird calls and interacting with the audience in the natural settings of the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.

“At one point I had about five ladybugs on my cello as I was playing and all the birds in the garden were singing back at us,” Bennett said.

The magical experience — in addition to the botanical gardens performance, the ensemble had a performance at Lawrence that was moved indoors because of bad weather and a public rehearsal at Bjorklunden in Door County — was among the highlights of fall term in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and shined a light on the possibilities that come with participation in the New Music Ensemble.

We caught up with students who took part in the Ten Thousand Birds performances to talk about what they took from the experience — performing music based on Midwestern animal sounds and bird calls, playing while walking in and around the audience, and exploring the nature around them.

Lawrence musicians perform amid the audience during the "Ten Thousand Birds" performance in the Warch Campus Center.
“Ten Thousand Birds” is performed Oct. 13 in the Warch Campus Center. It was moved indoors due to inclement weather. It also was performed outdoors at the Green Bay Botanical Gardens and at Bjorklunden in Door County. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Zoe Markle ’20, a bass performance major, said her playing was directly affected by these “interactions with the audience” as well as those with the environment around them and believes that in the end the musicians “were as much a part of the piece as the music.”

Because the structure of this particular piece is left up to the musicians and based largely on improvisation, how the audience reacts and interacts can change the music.

 “It was always fascinating to hear how the performances would differ from each other, and what melodic lines I would hear that I hadn’t heard before,” percussion major Alex Quade ’20 said.

Learning and rehearsing Ten Thousand Birds was unlike any process the students had experienced, though each piece they learn in the New Music Ensemble provides a new and different learning challenge. Because the work is constructed on a timetable, there is no mapped-out score. Every sound comes in at a different timing.

For these performances, the directors of the ensemble, visiting assistant professor of entrepreneurial studies and social engagement Michael Clayville and associate professor of music Erin Lesser, decided to arrange the piece in a day-long journey, placing the sounds one would typically hear at different times of the day. Both professors are part of the award-winning contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which has performed the piece in this arrangement several times.

“We rehearsed the piece by sound and were split up into small groups for many rehearsals, rather than working as a whole,” Markle said.

This small group work is a major draw for students participating in the New Music Ensemble, she said.

Markle noted that a huge reason she joined the group was because she loves “to perform in smaller chamber ensembles” as she is “able to connect more on an individual level with all the members of the ensemble.” 

Erin Ijzer and Julian Bennett perform “Ten Thousand Birds” in the Warch Campus Center.

Ten Thousand Birds is a piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams that was commissioned for Alarm Will Sound. The work is a collection of bird calls and animal sounds that can be found in the Midwest and takes the form of a folio, each page of notated animal sounds separate so that the musicians can arrange them whichever way they like. If Ten Thousand Birds is performed outside the Midwest, it can be updated to feature the animal sounds of that region.

The work was initially introduced to Lawrence’s ensemble by Clayville and Lesser last spring when they asked if students would be interested in playing outdoors. The response was a unanimous yes.

Helen Threlkeld ’23, a flute performance and biology double degree student, explained that it was an especially cathartic experience for her, having grown up embracing nature.

“I’ve always been really inspired by music that is tied to the outdoors,” she said, “but I’ve never played music that tries to emulate the outdoors.”

As a flutist, playing bird calls was especially exciting for Threlkeld, who explained that “a lot of composers have used bird song as inspiration, like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf,” but she notes that no composer has done what Adams has by notating them directly into playable notation. 

Before bringing Ten Thousand Birds to Lawrence and the Green Bay Botanical Gardens, the New Music Ensemble traveled to Björklunden, the university’s retreat campus on the Door County banks of Lake Michigan. The group rehearsed outdoors in the woods surrounding the main lodge to get a feel for playing in nature and to bond as an ensemble.

During the rehearsal, Threlkeld also realized how much the environment played a part in the piece.

“The waves coming up on the shore created a soundscape that sort of enveloped all the performers,” she said.

During the community performance at Björklunden, she said she experienced the power of the piece and described a moment where she “lost all passage of time” while they were playing.

The ensemble also pushes students to develop new skill sets within their musicianship. During the Ten Thousand Birds experience, students were encouraged to improvise, choosing the times they would play and how they responded to other players.

Thelkeld noted the difference in thinking about this contemporary piece and traditional classical music. She’d often think hard about “what the composer wanted” when learning a piece. That was flipped this time, she said.

“I had more of a chance to use my own judgment and use my own responsibility as a musician to create an experience for the audience instead of worrying about ‘what did Mahler’ or ‘what did Dvorák think?’”

Alarm Will Sound came to Lawrence for a residency last year and opened up their rehearsals to members of the New Music Ensemble, challenging them to sight-read through one of the pieces they were working on. It tied in with the ensemble’s mantra to push musical boundaries.

Quade called the experience “invaluable,” emphasizing how important it is to take advantage of “the opportunity to rehearse, interact, and learn” from groups that come in.

“Having these connections, along with every Lawrence professor, is such an asset that everyone needs to take advantage of,” Quade said.

Being part of the New Music Ensemble is pushing the participants to become better listeners and communicators, and the deep connections they’ve made with faculty is changing the way they play and collaborate.

The success of Ten Thousand Birds bodes well for this ensemble, which will have more performances and a guest artist residency in the spring.

Emily Austin ’21 is a student writer in the Conservatory of Music.

Lawrence University joins amicus brief to support international students

Aerial photo of the Lawrence campus showing Main Hall in the forefront.
Lawrence President Mark Burstein: “The protection of OPT is vital for our international students, for our campus, and for all institutions of higher learning that embrace and nurture global education.”

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Today, Lawrence University joins more than 100 public and private universities and colleges in filing an amicus brief in support of a longstanding U.S. immigration program that assists international students in getting practical training with U.S. employers.

The “friend of the court” brief is supportive in the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers Union vs. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Washtech) litigation in district court to defend the immigration program known as Optional Practical Training and its more recent expansion, STEM OPT (collectively “OPT”).

“OPT has long been a critical program for students from abroad, and Lawrence stands strongly in support of the program and our students,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “International students make up an important part of the Lawrence community. Any rollback of the OPT program will greatly impact these bright and engaged students’ ability to obtain a full educational experience and for this state and for our country to benefit from their talent and energy. The protection of OPT is vital for our international students, for our campus, and for all institutions of higher learning that embrace and nurture global education.”

OPT permits international students studying at colleges and universities in the United States on F-1 status to pursue practical training with a U.S. employer in a position directly related to their course of study for a set period of time following graduation.

“Experiential learning, such as OPT, is now and has long been a crucial component of education in this country,” said Miriam Feldblum, co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance of Higher Education and Immigration, which drafted the brief. “The brief and its diverse, wide-ranging list of supporters, representing all sectors of higher education, demonstrate how colleges, universities, and the economy benefit tremendously from OPT. Any rollback of OPT will severely harm international students, the future of American higher education, and economic growth.”

Hundreds of thousands of international students and graduates participate in OPT across the nation each year, with more than 325,000 participating in 2017 (the most recent year statistics are available) and 1.5 million participating between 2004 and 2016.

As the amicus brief states, this is a longstanding government program that permits international students to continue, and deepen, their education by applying the skills and knowledge they learn in the classroom to a professional setting. OPT provides untold benefits for these international students. But, just as critical, being able to provide international students with the opportunities facilitated by OPT gives American institutions of higher education an edge in an increasingly competitive global education market.

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

Lawrence Conservatory’s Albright in the mix on Bon Iver’s Grammy-nominated “i,i”

Tim Albright, assistant professor of music, and junior Allie Goldman play trombones during a teaching session Thursday in Shattuck Hall of Music.
Tim Albright, assistant professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, works Thursday with Allie Goldman ’21 during a trombone teaching session in Shattuck Hall. Albright and his trombone are on Bon Iver’s “i,i” album. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included. He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music.”  

—Tim Albright on Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon

———

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When Grammy nominations were rolled out Wednesday, Bon Iver’s i,i snagged three of them, including in the headline-grabbing Album of the Year and Record of the Year categories. The album, released in summer, also is starting to show up on critics’ best-of-the-year lists.

That’s all of particular note to a Lawrence University music professor who lent his considerable trombone talents to the album.

Tim Albright, a professor in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, spent four days in recording sessions in Justin Vernon’s home studio in Eau Claire, part of a horn section dubbed the Worm Crew.

“The horn section was made up of the unusual combination of trumpet, French horn, two trombones, saxophone and bass harmonica,” Albright said. “It was an unconventional assortment of instruments, but the sound was gorgeous.”

Vernon, the creative mastermind behind Bon Iver, has carved a deeply respected reputation for collaboration and musical experimentation. His annual Eaux Claires music festival — it took a hiatus for 2019 with an expectation to return in 2020 — and other musical outreach has raised Eau Claire’s arts profile considerably. His home studio, 180 miles west of Appleton, has become known as a gathering place for talented musicians.

“We rehearsed and recorded for four days and nights,” Albright said of the recording sessions. “When we weren’t making music, we shared meals, slept in bunk beds, and listened to music in Vernon’s state-of-the art control room. I was struck by his warmth and hospitality. He made us all feel completely at home, which helped the music come alive. 

“I think the album sounds amazing.”

Indeed, it does.

The album, Bon Iver’s fourth, was one of eight nominated for album of the year. The track “Hey, Ma” (it features Albright’s trombone) got a nod for Record of the Year, and the album also was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album. The Grammys will be held Jan. 26.

Cover of Bon Iver's "i,i"
Bon Iver’s “i,i” earned three music Grammy nods and a fourth for album packaging.

Esquire magazine included the album on its list of 50 Best Albums of 2019 (So Far), posted on Nov. 11.

“Twelve years after the seminal album For Emma, Forever Ago, Wisconsin singer Justin Vernon and his extended band find new ways to break your heart with their unusual indie-folk music,” Olivia Ovenden writes. “As on 22, A Million, follow-up i,i is filled with noodling jazz riffs, auto-tuned vocals and glitchy electronic samples.”

Esquire points in particular to the song “Salem,” which features Albright. “A patter of soft bleeping notes layer over each other and lift into a euphoric chorus which cries, ‘So I won’t lead no lie / With our hearts the only matter why.’”

Craig Jenkins of Vulture calls the album one of the best of the year.

“The lyrics are heavy on close inspection, but the music makes them buoyant,” he writes.

Making a connection

Albright’s connection to Vernon and Bon Iver comes via a trumpet player friend who had hooked him up in the mid-2000s for a recording session with The National, a then-unknown band that was preparing for the release of the album Boxer.

“I’ve known CJ for about 15 years from my time working in New York City,” Albright said. “When the band The National was just getting started, he said, ‘I wonder if you could come out to my friend Bryce’s house and record for a group called The National. I think they’re going to become big.’ Not thinking much of it, I took the train out to a tree-lined street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, to record a one-minute fanfare in a stranger’s living room.”

Bryce turned out to be Bryce Dessner, one of the founding members of The National. And the trumpet player friend would prove prophetic. Boxer would indeed put the band on the map.

It was a couple of months later when Albright and his wife were walking through the Atlantic Terminal Shopping Mall in Brooklyn when he heard a new song playing overhead. It caught his ear.

“I nudged her and said, ‘Hey, listen, there’s trombone on that record,’” Albright said. “A moment later I realized the trombone player was me from the track I had recorded in Ditmas.”

That same trumpet player friend reached out to Albright again in 2018 when Vernon was looking for collaborators on his coming album. They needed a trombone.

In a media statement he released just prior to the release of i,i, Vernon noted contributions from a bevy of musicians, some with widely recognized names like Bryce Dessner and Bruce Hornsby, others more under the radar.

“This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever-growing family we are,” Vernon said.

Albright, on the Lawrence faculty since 2016 and a member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, is now part of that extended Bon Iver family. He doesn’t know if he’ll get to record with the band again, but he knows having that connection with Vernon could build other important bridges, perhaps involving his Lawrence students.

“Justin took me aside to say he wants to share his studio with students, Lawrence students included,” Albright said. “He wants his studio to be a place where budding musicians can experiment with recording and creating music. He cares deeply about giving back to the Wisconsin community that helped shape his musical voice.”

In the meantime, Albright will cherish his contributions to an album that will almost certainly be showing up on additional best-of lists between now and the end of the year. His name is all over the credits, which isn’t a bad place to be.

“It’s fun to be in that world, to touch a little bit of stardom,” Albright said.

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

Tight-knit campus, diversity a draw for visiting Japanese students

Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library.
Japanese students (from left) Arisa Yanagimoto, Manami Takahashi, and Mika Ohara pose for a photo in the Mudd Library. Waseda University in Tokyo has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

In the spirit of International Education Week (Nov. 18-22), Lawrence University is celebrating the amazing contributions of its many international students. This year, that includes three students who are here from Waseda University in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.

The Waseda study abroad program has been sending students to Lawrence since 2002.

The students here this year are Mika Ohara, a sophomore from Tokyo; Manami Takahashi, a junior from Saitama; Arisa Yanagimoto, a sophomore from Tokyo. As their first term at Lawrence closes, we catch up with them to learn more about their experience with the program.

Small class sizes, residential living and a diverse student body drew the Waseda students to Lawrence.

“The English department here is more diverse,” says Takahashi, who studies old Japanese literature. “You can talk with people from other countries. People who have different cultures and living styles are so important.”

Ohara said she loves living amongst students from so many different backgrounds.

“There are a lot of international students from many countries,” Ohara said, “and we live on the same campus so we can get together on the weekends and cook something and make relationships.”

Above all, sharpening their English language skills is a primary goal for all three visiting students. Lawrence belongs to a group of one-year programs at Waseda called Customized Study-Language Focused programs, or CS-L, making it an ideal destination for Waseda students looking to improve their English. During fall term, the group takes specialized language classes, including English in the American University, and a modified version of Freshman Studies that makes the works more accessible to non-native speakers.

The Waseda staff at Lawrence is integral to the students’ success. Cecile Despres-Berry is the director of ESL and the Waseda Program. While she teaches classes, Despres-Berry also is an ever-present support system for the visiting students.

“One of the goals is to add extra layers of support in order to help them integrate into the campus more quickly, so they can find out about organizations and make friends and do all of those things within the 10 months they’re here,” Despres-Berry said.

The students quickly reap the benefits of that support system.

“They make huge gains in their language abilities and confidence in English,” Despres-Berry said. “Depending on what they’re interested in, they make huge gains in their academic area.”

Changing lives on campus

The lasting impressions don’t stop with academics. Historically, Waseda students form relationships with Lawrence students that continue long after they leave. That could have something to do with Lawrentians’ willingness to get involved with the program by becoming tutors, mentors, and roommates.

The benefits of hosting Waseda students extend to all corners of life on campus.

“Our tutors who are interested in working with language learners can benefit,” Despres-Berry said. “Students who are interested in studying Japanese have a group of students who they can learn from. They can be roommates. We have cultural programming. They’ve joined our varsity teams. They’ve really been a part of the campus.”

When asked about their goals for the rest of the year at Lawrence, Ohara, Takahashi, and Yanagimoto all look forward to making more friends. They are enjoying the small, close-knit makeup of the Lawrence community.

“Waseda has many students so it’s difficult to get along with many people,” Yanagimoto said. “Here all the students live on the campus, and the community is very small and close, so I’m going to get along with many people and we’ll know about each other deeply.”

Lawrence students interested in studying in Japan also have an option to sign up for a study abroad experience at Waseda. Options include a full year of study or a partial year. For information, contact the Off-Campus Programs office.

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

STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings, pedagogy changes build excitement in the sciences

Brianna Wilson '21 (left) looks at a fish while teaching assistant No'eau Simeona '20 stands beside her and collaborates on a lab project for Morphogenesis of the Vertebrates.
Brianna Wilson ’21 (left), a biology major, works with teaching assistant No’eau Simeona ’20, in a Morphogenesis of the Vertebrates lab at Lawrence. Wilson is charting a course she hopes will take her to graduate school and an eventual Ph.D. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Caitlin White Magel ’09 isn’t surprised that Lawrence University is showing up on national rankings of schools whose science graduates have most consistently taken a STEM-to-Ph.D. path.

As she closes in on her doctorate at Oregon State University, Magel points to guidance during her sophomore year at Lawrence that set her on the road to being a marine scientist.

She came into Lawrence as an environmental studies major, and early interactions with her advisor, geosciences professor Marcia Bjornerud, further locked in her desire to study human impacts on natural ecosystems. But, she quickly learned, there were more options to consider.

“I was encouraged by other science faculty — and my scientist father — to consider the option of a double major in order to have disciplinary depth in a particular field while still being able to explore broader issues through the environmental studies classes,” Magel said. “By the end of my sophomore year, I declared a second major in biology.”

That led to participation in the LU Marine Program (LUMP), jump-starting what would become a deep interest in marine ecology and putting her on a path toward her Ph.D.

She’s not alone in that experience. The number of Lawrence students earning degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields on their way to successful completion of doctoral degrees places Lawrence in select company, according to a new report from the Council for Independent Colleges (CIC). In a national ranking that measures the percentage of a school’s STEM graduates from 2007 to 2016 who eventually earned a Ph.D., Lawrence comes in at No. 17, sandwiched between Harvard at 16 and Princeton at 18. It is a jump of 11 spots from the previous rankings, released in 2013. When the new rankings are broken down to women only, Lawrence comes in at No. 29. The CIC used National Center for Education statistics and National Science Foundation datasets that included public and private schools.

More science: Recent Nobel announcements hit close to home for Lawrence profs

Those rankings aren’t by happenstance. They speak to the deep commitment Lawrence has made in the STEM fields, and the power that comes with small class sizes and the opportunity to do hands-on research in the sciences as an undergraduate in a smaller, liberal arts setting, said Stefan Debbert, associate professor of chemistry.

“The rankings are a sign that we are doing something right, that we are getting students invested enough in the sciences that they are considering future study,” he said. “But it’s also a challenge to us to make sure we’re sending them to graduate school well prepared. The goal isn’t just to get students to enter graduate school. The goal is, if that’s the correct choice for them, to have them in a position to succeed.”

Elizabeth Ann De Stasio writes on a whiteboard as she teaches Integrative Biology: Cells to Organisms at Lawrence.
Elizabeth Ann De Stasio, the Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and professor of biology at Lawrence University, teaches Integrative Biology: Cells to Organisms.

A new approach

There is still much work to be done. Lawrence doesn’t show up on the CIC’s STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings when it measures African American or Latino graduates. The school’s numbers aren’t large enough to qualify.

That’s an issue that’s being addressed head on by Lawrence administrators and faculty across the sciences.

Debbert is leading an initiative to restructure how introductory-level science courses are taught. Lawrence was one of 33 schools selected last year to receive a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative via its Science Education Program. Another 24 schools were selected the year prior, part of HHMI’s push to reimagine science education to better engage students from all backgrounds.

Debbert is working with other science faculty at Lawrence to reshape how subjects are introduced and explored, how classrooms are structured, and how faculty interact with students. It puts more emphasis on the front-end science courses in hopes it’ll keep more students — and a greater diversity of students — in the sciences for the long haul.

“HHMI is motivated to help America fix its STEM pipeline problems,” Debbert said. “We have lots of students come into college thinking they want to major in the sciences, and we lose a lot of those students. HHMI is really pushing us to think about why we lose those students. Sometimes we lose them because we’re just not engaging with them enough. Students look around a giant science classroom and they think, ‘I don’t see people who look like me’ or ‘I don’t see myself as fitting in this environment.’ And then we lose them.”

Much of the HHMI work over the past year has involved training sessions with faculty and the redesigning of curriculum for introductory science courses, all with a focus on inclusive pedagogy. The revamped courses will be rolled out over the next two years.

There’s also a desire to retool a large lecture hall in Youngchild Hall to create a more modern science space, with the traditional tiered seating replaced with a dozen or so tables equipped with interactive technology. It would cater to the intro classes and serve as a launch point for science learning. Creating what Debbert calls a “science commons,” with a welcoming environment, is a big part of the new approach. Additional fundraising is being sought to make that happen, hopefully with construction beginning no later than summer, said Amy Kester, director of corporate, foundation, and sponsored research support. The goal is to have the room ready for the 2020-21 academic year.

Stefan Debbert folds his arms as he poses for a portrait on the Lawrence campus.
Stefan Debbert on efforts to engage with science students early on: “We are working with them, getting to know what part of science motivates them.”

Building on success

The changes at the intro class level will build on the successes Lawrence has had elsewhere in the sciences. The “rallying cry,” Debbert said, is to get students excited about and engaged with science in those early classes so they stay with it long enough to see the possibilities that come with deeper, more specific study in the higher-level courses, be it in biology, chemistry, physics or related subjects.

Part of that approach is giving students opportunities to do significant research, sometimes as early as freshman year. Students in the sciences at Lawrence are often doing research that students at other schools might not see until grad school.

“We have these students do research with us,” Debbert said. “So, they’re not just sitting in the back of a giant lecture hall falling asleep while someone talks at them. We are working with them, getting to know what part of science motivates them. We’re getting to know how they feel they can contribute, not just to their scientific field but to the world at large.

“I think that’s what drives a lot of our students to pursue graduate school. This idea that you really can have a massive impact in science.”

Lawrence, of course, has a much smaller enrollment than many of the public and private schools in the CIC rankings. Lawrence, with a student body of about 1,500, might graduate 10 to 12 chemistry majors, another 10 to 12 physics majors, and about 40 biology majors in a given year. Those smaller numbers, and the school’s 8-to-1 students to faculty ratio, help make the hands-on approach in the sciences possible.

That approach hooked Brianna Wilson ’21, a third-year biology major from Kenosha who wants to pursue a Ph.D. so she can eventually teach biology at the college level. An intro biology course during her freshman year opened her eyes to that possibility.

“The last five weeks of the term you design your own experiment with the professor,” Wilson said. “I was taken aback by that, that they’d throw us into a lab and let us design our own experiment. … I thought I wouldn’t be able to get a chance to do that until … I went to graduate school. That was pretty memorable.”

Path to a Ph.D.

Mug of Caitlin White Magel.
Caitlin White Magel ’09

Wilson is now envisioning a path not unlike that of Magel and other Lawrence grads working their way toward doctoral degrees.

For Magel, it was an opportunity to take part in LUMP that opened her to a new world. The Lawrence program provides a hands-on undergraduate experience in marine biology, including a two-week field study of a Caribbean island, the study of coral and fish biodiversity, and the exploration of reef ecosystems.

“It was an incredible experience,” Magel said. “It was my first scientific experience in marine ecosystems, and also my first experience doing field-based research.”

Then, following her junior year, Magel garnered a summer internship with the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates at Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. That built on what she had taken from the LUMP experience.

After graduating from Lawrence, she would return to Newport for a two-year research assistant position with the EPA’s Pacific Coastal Ecology Branch, studying coastal salt marshes. That led her to her doctoral program focused on coastal marine ecology.

“Undoubtedly, the support and encouragement of many of my Lawrence professors, especially Marcia Bjornerud, Bart De Stasio, and Jodi Sedlock, helped put me on a path to success in graduate school,” Magel said.

That’s music to Debbert’s ears. The ongoing connection between student and faculty is a key selling point in a liberal arts education, the sciences included. That starts early at Lawrence and continues post-graduation.

“We really try to help students find out what it’s like to be a researcher,” Debbert said of the undergraduate work. “Being a scientist isn’t just sitting in a lecture hall and taking tests. Real science is about being curious and being OK with not knowing something and then going out and figuring it out. That’s what we really try to stress to our students.

“Yes, we’re going to teach the quantitative skills and the math and how to use the instruments, but we also want to make sure we’re teaching them how to communicate with each other, how to work with people who might not be very similar to you, how to come up with a research question, how to fail, and how to succeed after that.”

No one on the faculty is focusing on the STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings, Debbert said. The rankings are nice because they remind people that there is some serious science happening in the halls of liberal arts colleges, Lawrence included, but they don’t change a professor’s classroom approach or a student’s experience.

“Sometimes people seem surprised that you can have an actual honest-to-goodness real laboratory experience at a small school,” Debbert said. “If anything, these rankings show people that, yes, we do real science at Lawrence, and we care about it and we care about having our students learn how to be researchers, independent researchers.

“To us, that’s the main thing. It helps us communicate our story, and the story for liberal arts schools in general, which is, send us your scientists and we can help them grow in that way.”

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

For this seafaring Lawrence alum, life has been one shipwreck after another

John Odin Jensen '87 poses for a publicity photo at the wheel of a ship.
John Odin Jensen ’87 is the author of “Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks.” He will return to Appleton Nov. 11 for a book event at the History Museum at the Castle and to speak to Lawrence students.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Odin Jensen ’87 knows his way around a shipwreck.

He survived one.

Jensen grew up in Alaska in the 1970s and early ’80s, immersed in his family’s fisheries business, an isolated and often danger-filled upbringing. Then he headed to Lawrence University in 1983, a history major determined to get an education that would allow him to explore a new way of life and leave the seafaring world behind.

Mission accomplished. Sort of.

He did find a new life, earning a bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, a master’s at East Carolina University, and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He’s now on the history faculty at the University of West Florida.

But he never did escape the sea, or more specifically, his insatiable interest in the sea. The history of North American mariners, ships, and shipwrecks would dominate his career, from working as an engineer aboard a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Great Lakes research vessel to surveying shipwrecks as an underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Now he’s written a book, Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks (Wisconsin Historical Society Press). A book tour will bring him to Appleton Nov. 11, where he’ll talk about shipwrecks and Great Lakes history from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the History Museum at the Castle, co-sponsored by Lawrence’s Cheney Fund for Excellence in History. He’ll also meet with Lawrence students in Monica Rico’s Intro to Public History class.

For info on studying history at Lawrence, see here.

We caught up with the Lawrence alumnus in advance of his visit to Appleton, which comes one day after the 44-year anniversary of the 1975 sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, arguably the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck thanks to singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and his “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Jensen talked with us about his own harrowing early adventures at sea and how his academic experiences at Lawrence set the course for what was to come.

Q: You’ve been immersed in maritime history for your entire career. What inspired the book?

A: In terms of the book itself, the inspiration was obligation and gratitude. Early in my career I had the extraordinary opportunity of getting in on the pioneering years of public underwater archaeology in Wisconsin. My work with the Wisconsin Historical Society led me to pursue a Ph.D. in history, and I know it was repeatedly instrumental to my success getting academic positions in a difficult job market. I have preached the gospel of Wisconsin public maritime heritage in classes, academic conferences, heritage policy forums and through public programs across North America from Alaska and Hawaii to New England, as well as internationally.

Everywhere I went, people were surprised and amazed by the Wisconsin/Great Lakes shipwreck heritage story. I wanted the readers of this book, particularly those from Wisconsin, to be equally surprised and enthused about their history and proud of their state’s public investment in preserving it.

Q: Speaking of inspiration. Your family was involved in commercial fisheries. How did growing up in that environment affect the decision to study maritime history?

A: Well, the conceptual underpinnings of the book and nearly all of the deeper ideas and themes I have explored as a scholar are inspired by my experiences growing up on Alaska’s coastal frontier as part of a Norwegian-American seafaring family. I began working with my dad in commercial fishing at a very young age, and this became really the center of my life and identity.

We often worked ridiculous hours; vile weather was pretty routine, and economic uncertainty was the norm. Ships sank and people I knew died — not regularly — but it was not that unusual. Our community was isolated — literally the western end of the American highway systems. The quality of available health care was marginal at best and services limited. The norms of behavior among those in the fishing community were, at minimum, colorful. As a child and young man, I had no grasp of how extreme our lives really were.

I was luckier than many people, but I witnessed and I experienced many things connected with life and work in a coastal community that marked and haunted me. The study of history — not just maritime history — has provided me with endless opportunities to make sense of, and derive positive benefits from, these experiences. 

Q: You are a shipwreck survivor yourself. What did that experience teach you?

A: This is a tough one. The book is a history inspired by shipwrecks. Typical shipwreck books look only at the actual wreck event and their surrounding circumstances.  Although dramatic — it is pretty unsatisfying because the wreck is often only a footnote or afterward in a much richer set of human stories of imagination, innovation, and success.

Like many people from my old walk of life, I have lived the human stories and the shipwreck — but very few people that I know have had the opportunity to spend decades dissecting and learning from these experiences. I have gotten to build a truly great life and a satisfying career on the foundations of one very, very bad day at the office.

Q: Did you come to Lawrence with a maritime history career in mind?

A: Absolutely not. I came to Lawrence during the winter term of 1983 to escape my maritime history. However, I was probably accepted in the first place because of my application essay, where I described how the lessons of my shipwreck experience made me a good fit for Lawrence. I guess it was my first written shipwreck history story.

Q: How did your Lawrence experience later inform your work and your career path?  

A: It was through Lawrence — particularly some amazing faculty — that I eventually learned to see broader value of my early life experiences, and I internalized a liberal arts/interdisciplinary approach to thinking and problem-solving. As a professor at the University of West Florida, I struggle consciously on a daily basis to live up to and pass on the high standards that Lawrence faculty set for academic excellence, professional integrity, and extraordinary mentoring.  

Q: What advice would you give to today’s students interested in history?

A: Now more than ever, the country and the world need people who can think historically and who are historically literate. The person who understands history has real advantages in coping with and finding opportunities in a world of perpetual change. I am biased, but an imaginative and hardworking student who completes a history major at Lawrence University will never lack for meaningful opportunities in the workforce and to make a difference in the world.

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