Author: Ed Berthiaume

D-Term in London: Exploring entrepreneurship past and present

Lawrence students and faculty gather for a photo in London during D-Term. (Photos by Samantha Torres)

By Marty Finkler and Claudena Skran

The D-Term course Entrepreneurship in London: From the Mayflower to Brexit featured a variety of different aspects of entrepreneurship, both contemporary and historical.

Additionally, we explored different types of entrepreneurial ventures including: private for-profit, social not-for-profit, and public/ private partnerships. A significant portion of the course was devoted to the regeneration of economic activity for parts of London that had deteriorated and fell into disuse and then have benefited from unique entrepreneurial initiatives. Students selected initiatives to explore in an oral presentation and often revisited these sites.

Our Lawrence traveling classroom was led by two faculty — Marty Finkler and Claudena Skran — and included 10 students representing majors in music, philosophy, art history, biology, psychology, government, economics, theatre arts, and global studies. 

We arrived in the Rotherhithe area of south London just after Thanksgiving. The group began with a historic tour of the area, learning about the launch of the Mayflower ship in 1620, and the many connections between seafaring and the subsequent development of the community. At the Brunel Museum, its founder, Robert Hulse, stressed that we were standing inside the tunnel that made possible the very first underground train system in the entire world. Students also celebrated a public theatre event, starring members of the Bubble Theatre group, and volunteered with community members at Time and Talents, one of the oldest social enterprises in the area.

More D-Term: Lawrence students study history of video gaming

From Rotherhithe, the group moved further east to the Docklands area of London, which thrived in the 18th and 19th century and part of the 20th century but lapsed into abandonment by the early 1970s with the rise of large container ships that the Thames River was not deep enough to accommodate. The globalization of the production and trade in material goods further diminished the economic viability of east London in general and Docklands in particular. 

As finance for such globalization became a new source of income for London, the city began to expand, but central London could not cost-effectively provide the space needed for such expansion. This led to the development of Canary Wharf, which one of our speakers (Ralph Ward) actively participated in. He briefly described this high rise lavish commercial and financial sector development as well as the need for less lavish housing in east London.

Ward led us on a walk that literally went across the tracks to one of the poorest neighborhoods of London known as Poplar, where he introduced us to Danny Tompkins, who heads Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association). Tompkins led us around the area and explained how Poplar HARCA regenerated housing opportunities for its residents through a mix of private and public funds and developments. He pointed out the controversy related to selling some of the land for private development in order to have funds for social housing.

Ten students and two faculty members spent the two-week D-Term in London.

The following day we focused on another regeneration effort in the Docklands known as the Canada Water project. This new project envisions a buildout of commercial and residential developments over the next 10 to 20 years. The project director, Roger Madelin gave us an in depth tour of the area, which already features a significant increase in activity around the Canada Water transit station and some of its entertainment venues. Madelin showed us a physical model of the development and explained the different influences and problems that needed to be resolved to complete the project.

Madelin previously led the development of the regeneration of Kings Cross, another area we explored in depth. Kings Cross had fallen into disrepair and disrepute as industrial activities left London in the second half of the 20th century. The development over the past decade took advantage of the two major transportation centers (Kings Cross and St. Pancras) to provide significant office space for Google, Facebook, and Nike as well as many commercial activities. For the most part, these commercial venues now serve upper income groups. 

A guide at the Visitors’ Centre provided us with an overview of the history and prospects for the development. On their own, students then explored the fascinating architecture of the new buildings before getting together for lunch and discussion of their observations.

After 10 days in London, we headed to Oxford, to consider how both innovation and entrepreneurship have shaped this historic university town. Students visited the Oxford Foundry, a hub for start-ups, attended a talk by Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria at the Refugee Studies Centre on humanitarian aid, and had lunch with Gil Loescher, the distinguished professor who was awarded an honorary degree from Lawrence.

The student experience

Samantha Torres ’20 was among the students taking part in the D-Term class in London. She shared some of her observations:

I participated in the London Centre program in the Fall of 2018. I had no idea when I’d return, but when I saw the opportunity to go back during D-Term, I knew I had to go back. However, what I thought would become an add-on to my past experience became a stand alone, standout program that offered a completely different taste of London that could only be obtained through insider connections. 

Having both professors who’ve previously lived in London made it truly one of a kind and remarkably immersive. Alongside tours, we experienced the idiosyncrasies that make up London. From learning about the inception of the Mayflower to the current debates on Brexit, my cohort was able to identify the complexities that continue to define one of the oldest cities in the world. 

During my time at Lawrence, I’ve found the most impactful experiences have been those of the traveling classroom. I’ve had the fortune of traveling to London and Jamaica with Professor Skran, a big advocate for this unconventional learning. And I couldn’t agree with her more. The traveling classroom model has taught me that there are intangible lessons that cannot be learned through lectures or textbooks.

Life lessons I’ve learned were ones that provided personal development and an independence that traditional classroom settings simply can’t challenge you to do. There’s a whole world out there, and sometimes you need to experience it to learn from it. As a Lawrentian, we are encouraged to go beyond. Because of the traveling classroom, I’ve been able to go beyond places I could ever imagine.

Marty Finkler is the John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the American Economic System and a professor of economics, and Claudena Skran is the Edwin and Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and a professor of government.

NewMusic Initiative takes composer Asha Srinivasan on a 3-year creative journey

Asha Srinivasan stands for a portrait in Memorial Chapel.
Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, has been commissioned to write a choral piece for East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Composer Asha Srinivasan has been no stranger to navigating the world of music creation over the past decade.

The associate professor of music at Lawrence University has composed 21 commissioned pieces since arriving at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in 2008, mostly at the behest of performance groups seeking new chamber music from emerging composers. But the request that came to her a year ago took her by surprise and kicked off a three-year musical relationship with students at a college more than a thousand miles away.

Srinivasan was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. She’s now into the second year of a three-year process that is allowing her to stretch her musical boundaries and to represent Lawrence in new ways. She spent two days in Greenville, North Carolina, during Lawrence’s fall term reading period working with East Carolina composition students, a prelude to the choral music she’ll be writing in the months ahead.

“It’s a prestigious commission because it’s such a selective process,” Srinivasan said.

The ECU initiative works like this: Undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s music program spend the better part of a semester listening to music and surveying the landscape for composers they’d like to work with. Composers need not apply. Any composer from anywhere may be in the mix, unbeknownst to them until someone from the program reaches out.

Once a selection has been made, the school contacts the composer to make an introduction and an offer, to talk about committing to a three-year process and, if interested, to hammer out the details. The first year is about doing that groundwork, making the connection, and giving the composer the opportunity to choose which ECU music group he or she would like to write for. The second year involves interactions between the composer and the students — hence Srinivasan’s recent two-day trip to Greenville — and the start of the writing process. The third year brings the completion of the piece and eventually a premiere performance.

Through it all, the ECU students get an education in the commissioning process. Srinivasan gets a chance to tackle her work in a whole new way. And Lawrence gets an important connection with a new batch of young musicians.

One never knows when those types of connections will circle back, Srinivasan said, noting how she first came to the attention of the ECU students.

“It turns out that one of the cello graduate students had been an undergraduate at Western Illinois University when I was featured there as a guest composer several years ago,” she said. “She had heard a flute and cello piece of mine called Dviraag. She got interested in my music, and so she’s the one who first put in my name.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

Because it’s a three-year process — most of her commissioned work has happened in five- or six-month windows — this project gives Srinivasan new possibilities. Not only did she get to choose the ensemble she’d be writing for, but composer Edward Jacobs, a professor in ECU’s School of Music and the founding director of the NewMusic Initiative, encouraged her to try new things.

“He said, ‘This is a chance for experimentation,’” Srinivasan said. “It’s usually a performance group that commissions me, and it’s usually chamber music, and so the instrumentation is already a given. But in this case, I got to choose the instrumentation. I chose to write for their chamber singers, which is kind of like our concert choir. I haven’t done much work for the choir. That isn’t an opportunity that’s come my way, but it’s also something I’ve stayed away from or veered away from. So, I’m using this as an opportunity to embrace something that would be major growth for me and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

A new commission is launched in the three-year cycle each year. The process, ECU’s Jacobs said, benefits both the composer and the students, in part because of the collaboration that’s built in.

“The lengthy span of a commission allows a composer to become a part of our community through multiple visits to campus,” he said. “It allows for students and composer to collaborate on sketches during the work’s development, and allows the composer a longer time-span than usual for a commissioned piece to be written.”

Srinivasan said it was on her two-day excursion to the ECU campus that she realized how valuable this sort of thing was for the Conservatory here.

“I listened to their ensemble and talked to their composition students,” she said. “I gave nine private lessons. I met with master’s students. And I came as a representative of Lawrence, of course, so they got to know Lawrence.

“I think it helps give Lawrence more notice. People already know of it. But it helps to have that personal connection. People see my teaching and it represents Lawrence’s commitment to me as a composer and shows that my work as a composer is supported.”

Srinivasan said she’s in the early stages of writing. The composition will be finished in time for its premiere at ECU in the spring of 2021.

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

For Lawrence alum, “Jeopardy!” success bolstered by Quizbowl, trivia experience

Alex Damisch is seen on the set of "Jeopardy" during her fourth and final game.
Alex Damisch ’16 competes during her fourth and final game on “Jeopardy!” The screen shows what at the time were her winnings through three games. The episodes aired in late November. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Alex Damisch ’16 is a big fan of knowledge games. Now more than ever.

Her gaming history, which included stints at Lawrence University as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest and president of the Quizbowl club, paid off recently with a run on Jeopardy! that included three days of winning and a tally of $35,549. The episodes featuring Damisch on the popular TV game show aired in late November.

“I’ve been a fan of competitive knowledge games for as long as I can remember,” said Damisch, who lives in Chicago and works as a data analyst for Underwriters Laboratories.

She was drawn to the games while growing up — Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were favorites — but it was her experience with Quizbowl while a student at Lawrence that really prepped her for her shot when the Jeopardy! cameras rolled.

Quizbowl is a team knowledge competition. Students at Lawrence meet regularly to practice and they travel to compete against other schools.

“Quizbowl asks about a wider range of academic subjects, and with greater depth, than anything you’d see on TV,” Damisch said. “I was never a dominant player, but it broadened my range of knowledge and got me reading about things I would have never imagined.”

That wasn’t the only Lawrence connection contributing to her success as she fielded questions from Alex Trebek on the set in Los Angeles. She credits her fiancé, John O’Neill ’18, with prepping her in the three weeks leading up to her Jeopardy! taping. She and O’Neill met at Lawrence when she was a sophomore and he was a freshman. He, too, is a big fan of the Jeopardy!-style games.

“After I got the call, we dropped wedding planning and pretty much everything else but work for the three weeks that we had to prepare,” Damisch said.

She used a standup desk and held a click pen to simulate a buzzer while playing along to old episodes of Jeopardy!, with O’Neill coaching and keeping score along the way.

“John worked in various capacities at the library for all five years at Lawrence, and he’s particularly gifted at finding resources on any topic you can imagine,” Damisch said. “That really came in handy when we tried to attack some of my weaker subjects, like animal science and older pop culture. … It says a lot about John that he would, for example, quiz me on Canadian provincial capitals and major cities well into the night without complaint.”

This marked the fourth time Damisch had auditioned for Jeopardy! — once as a Lawrence student and three times since graduating in 2016. It’s not an easy process. This time, she felt she was ready.

“The day after I came back from vacation, I got the call,” she said. “I admit that my first thought was exasperation at having to take more vacation time. But for Jeopardy!, you make it work.”

Damisch is used to juggling tight schedules. While at Lawrence, she completed a B.A. degree in mathematics and a B.Mus. degree in clarinet in four years — and served as a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest in both 2015 and 2016. She went on to earn a master’s degree in predictive analytics from DePaul University.

Now she plays trivia games with co-workers and continues to volunteer for organizations that work with Quizbowl competitions. When she receives her Jeopardy! winnings in a few weeks, she said she plans to set aside a little for a honeymoon trip, donate some to Orthodox Christian causes that are important to her, and invest the rest.

And she’ll look back fondly on her Jeopardy! experience, even if much of it is a bit fuzzy.

“I’d say I probably remember one or two distinct moments from each game, the rest is a blur,” Damisch said. “It doesn’t take that much longer to tape an episode of Jeopardy! than it does to watch one. … After I taped the shows, I thought to myself, ‘Man, it went by so fast, and I was always so focused on my next move, I hope I remembered to smile.’ Spoiler alert: I did not.”

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

Lawrence students “Pop the Bubble” to bring together campus, community artists

A Lawrence student plays guitar during a Pop the Bubble event at The Draw in Appleton.
Lawrence students performed at The Draw in mid-October as part of a Pop the Bubble event. (Photos by Sebastian Evans ’21)

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

If you’ve ever talked to Lawrentians about their relationship with the Appleton community, you’ve probably heard a reference to the “Lawrence bubble.” In the Lawrence University lexicon, the term refers to campus as its own world in which some students may feel a disconnect from the surrounding community.

Emily Austin ’20 challenged this sentiment by starting Pop the Bubble.

Twice a month, this student-run program puts together an evening of various artistic performances by Lawrence students at The Draw, a multipurpose venue located along Lawe Street just a short walk south of campus. Each event centers around a theme chosen to spur conversation and build relationships between students and community members.

“Creating that open space and communication is the main goal of this project,” Austin said. “I think we often get stuck in the bubble, yet we have so much to learn from the community and they have so much to learn from us.”

Austin, a double major in music performance (voice) and English, was inspired to pop the bubble last spring when she took American Roots Music, a Conservatory of Music course co-taught by Grammy-nominated musician Cory Chisel and Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl. Students in the class bonded through writing and performing their own American roots music.

It was the students’ final performance at The Draw that inspired Pop the Bubble. Organizers at the venue invited the Lawrentians back to perform any time they wanted for free. A new door into the Appleton community was opened, and Austin jumped at the opportunity.

“I thought, ‘This is so cool, we have to do this,’” Austin said. “It would be an opportunity to bridge the gap between Appleton community artists and Lawrence University artists. It would also give musicians on campus a space to perform and feel comfortable outside of the Con and campus spaces.”

Two visitors look over artwork on display at The Draw during a recent Pop the Bubble event.
Pop the Bubble events are a mix of music, art, spoken word, and more.

The first Pop the Bubble show resembled an open mic night where Lawrence students performed for a local audience. The shows have since developed to focus on a theme that unites performers and audience, Lawrentians and community members alike. The most recent show, Stories of Home, asked all to share their personal experiences and memories from home. Performances included spoken word, music and film. Audience members wrote and drew their stories from home on Post-it notes that were collected at the end of the night; just one of the ways Pop the Bubble works to collaborate and connect with the people of Appleton.

The Pop the Bubble team has grown to include student artists of many disciplines, including a dancer, a visual artist, and creative writers. And it’s not just students who are interested. Community members, especially local artists, have reached out to the Pop the Bubble team expressing a desire to work with Lawrence students.

“The community we’ve found here has been so welcoming and excited about the project,” Austin said. “There’s a desire to get our students out and working and making those connections.

“I think if the Appleton community knew about what we were doing on this campus, especially in the Con and in the arts, there would be a little bit more acceptance of each other. It would become a way to share those ideas and collaborate on a human level.”

Two participants fill out Post-it Notes as part of a "Stories From Home" theme at a recent Pop the Bubble event.
Participants at a Pop the Bubble event at The Draw in October use Post-it notes to share stories, part of a “Stories of Home” theme.

Singer-songwriter and theatre major Caro Granner ’20 has been on the Pop the Bubble team since the beginning.

“When I came in, I felt this really warm, inviting energy,” Granner said of the Stories of Home event during fall term. “People were able to come together and enjoy each other’s company and create some really cool stuff together. To feel that welcoming, joyful energy at the end of a long week was really rewarding for me.”

Austin and Granner hope to increase student involvement with Pop the Bubble and expand their efforts, including doing fundraising for local nonprofits and arts groups.

Pop the Bubble will schedule its next event in winter term.

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

New faculty hires, guide to Freshman Studies top list of most-read 2019 stories

Hoa Huynh, Jordyn Pleiseis, and Miranda Salazar pose in cap and gown in front of Memorial Chapel on Commencement morning.
The Class of 2019, including (from left) Hoa Huynh, Jordyn Pleiseis, and Miranda Salazar, helped make 2019 a special year at Lawrence.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A story announcing the hiring of five new tenure-track faculty at Lawrence University was the most-read story at lawrence.edu in 2019, followed closely by a guide to the books on the reading list for Freshman Studies.

The new faculty story, posted in May, welcomed Abhishek Chakraborty, statistics; Estelí Gomez, Conservatory of Music (voice); Vanessa D. Plumly, German; Relena Ribbons, geosciences; and Austin Segrest, English. All five started their new appointments at the start of Fall Term.

It heads our list of the top 10 most popular stories of 2019 on the Lawrence news wire, a list that includes Lawrence landing high in national rankings, a nod to tradition, the arrival of a new degree, and an embrace of the school’s commitment to the sciences.

Here, then, are the top 10 stories for 2019 at lawrence.edu, based on analytics that track readership:

  1. Lawrence announces the hiring of five new tenure-track faculty.
  2. Garth Bond, associate professor of English and director of Freshman Studies, guides us through the 2019-20 Freshman Studies reading list.
  3. Princeton Review ranks Lawrence among the best colleges in the country.
  4. Lawrence unveils its new Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree.
  5. Excitement builds in the sciences as Lawrence ranks high on a STEM-to-Ph.D. ranking and works to implement inclusive pedagogy in the sciences.
  6. The Rock, a boulder with history on campus dating back 124 years, gets some new attention.
  7. An anthropology professor and his students work in partnership with a historic site in Kaukauna.
  8. Lawrence ranks among “Best Value” schools in the country, places fourth on “Impact Schools” list.
  9. Getting to know Lawrence’s Class of 2023, by the numbers.
  10. We caught up with players and coaches from the men’s basketball team that made a thrilling run through March Madness 15 years ago.

More: Eight alums, eight stories: Shining a light on amazing, inspiring experiences

19 superlatives: As 2019 closes, we celebrate a year of Lawrence brilliance

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

Eight alums, eight stories: Shining a light on amazing, inspiring experiences

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

We’ve had a lot of great interactions with Lawrence University alumni in 2019, and we’ve shared some of their stories in the Lawrence magazine, on the lawrence.edu news wire, and on our various social media channels.

Here are eight alumni we put in the Lawrence spotlight in 2019. There are plenty of others worthy of attention, of course, some of whom were honored during Reunion Weekend, some of whom we’ve connected with at alumni events, and others who are being the light wherever their journeys take them.

These eight — ranging from the Class of 1965 to the Class of 2012 — caught our attention in 2019. If you haven’t read their stories, we hope you will now (see story links below).

— — —

Derrell Acon ’10

Portrait of Derrell Acon
Acon: “It’s so in your face, it’s in your soul, it’s in your heart.”

We caught up with Derrell Acon ’10 as he was starring in Long Beach Opera’s The Central Park Five, an operatic retelling of the wrongful convictions of five New York City teenagers in the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. The case drew nationwide attention at the time, and the opera arrived just as a Netflix special had the case back in the national conversation. We talked with Acon about the production, his journey from Lawrence, and why the arts scene of southern California beckoned.

— — —

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

Lee Shallat Chemel speaks at Lawrence's commencement.
Chemel: “Lawrence opened my eyes completely to the richness of the arts.”

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65 returned to Lawrence in the spring as the 2019 Commencement speaker. She was a student at Milwaukee-Downer College when the school merged with Lawrence. She spent her senior year at Lawrence before embarking on a career that would eventually take her to Los Angeles, where she would leave her mark as a producer on some of the most iconic television series of the past three decades. We chatted with Chemel in advance of her Commencement speech about her deep affection for Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer, the circuitous route she took to television, and why certain celebrities she worked with (Michael J. Fox, Lauren Graham, and Jason Bateman) hold a special place in her heart.

— — —

Mei Xian Gong ’11

Head shot of Mei Xian Gong
Gong: “I would not be who I am today if I did not have the Posse plus Lawrence experience.”

Eight years removed from her Lawrence graduation, Mei Xian Gong ’11 furthered her connections with her alma mater when she was appointed to a three-year term as a Recent Graduate Trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees. What makes that appointment particularly notable is that she came to Lawrence in the fall of 2007 as a member of the school’s first group of Posse Foundation scholars. The appointment makes her the first Posse alum to become a Lawrence trustee. We talked with Gong about her penchant for being a “trailblazer” and how her Posse and Lawrence experiences have helped to shape her early career in business.

— — —

Glen Johnson ’85

Head shot of Glen Johnson
Johnson: “I came to Lawrence with the full expectation of being a reporter.”

Following his graduation from Lawrence, Glen Johnson ’85 spent nearly three decades as a working journalist, most notably at the Associated Press and Boston Globe. In 2013, John Kerry, freshly tapped by President Barack Obama to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. secretary of state, asked Johnson to join his team as the senior communications advisor. It’s a job that would take him around the world — multiple times — and give him a close-up view of diplomacy at the highest levels. We caught up with Johnson as he was getting media attention for a new book on his experiences, “Window Seat on the World,” published last summer by Disruption Books.

— — —

Yexue Li ’10

Yexue Li poses with the tiny vase.
Yi: “My most precious experience at Lawrence was not learnt from a textbook but to always be ready and prepared for a situation like this.”

Yexue Li ’10, the head of Asian art at the auction house Sworders in the United Kingdom, drew media attention as the point person for the auction of a tiny vase that sold at a price a wee bit higher than previously purchased. Bought at a thrift store for 1 pound ($1.21), it turns out the vase once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor, a ruler in China’s Qing dynasty during the 1700s. It would go on to sell at auction for £484,000 (nearly $625,000). As part of our newly launched Lighting the Way With … alumni series, Li shared the experience with us and talked about how her time at Lawrence has helped prepare her for all sorts of surprises.

— — —

Rana Marks ’12

Rana Marks sits with her laptop at the Amazon headquarters.
Marks: “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of hours and a lot of reward.”

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in September that the global behemoth was committing to an ambitious pledge to fight climate change and be transparent about its own carbon footprint, he pointed to the launch of a new public-facing Amazon website — sustainability.aboutamazon.com — that would report and track the company’s sustainability efforts. Rana Marks ’12, a Lawrence economics major who had gone on to get her MBA from Duke University, was hired to help shepherd the website to launch and beyond. We talked with her about the challenges and opportunities that come with her new role with Amazon.

— — —

Terry Moran ’82

Head shot of Terry Moran
Moran: “The qualities of empathy and looking past just the moment or the headline and seeing into the story.”

The longtime ABC News correspondent returned to the United States in mid-2018 after a five-year stay in London. He’s again covering Washington, D.C., and its strident politics. He returned to Lawrence this fall to host our live Giving Day webcast. We chatted with Moran about how his Lawrence experience, including working at The Lawrentian, turned him on to journalism, his views on the rapidly shifting media landscape, and what advice he has for students eyeing careers in journalism.

— — —

Madhuri Vijay ’09

Portrait of Madhuri Vijay
Vijay: “The whole thing feels somewhat surreal and a bit like a dream.”

Madhuri Vijay ’09 arrived on the worldwide literary scene in a big way in 2019. Her debut novel, The Far Field, was long-listed for the prestigious 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, short-listed for the JCB Prize for Literature, long-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and drew praise in book reviews from the Washington Post to the New Yorker. We talked with Vijay about her success, the path to get there, and how her time at Lawrence informs her writing.

19 superlatives: We highlighted some 2019 moments of brilliance at Lawrence. Read about them here.

More: Lawrence’s most-read stories of 2019

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

Tony Aker named football coach at Lawrence University: “I’m beyond thrilled”

Tony Aker

Tony Aker, a former football standout in Wisconsin at the high school and college levels, was announced Tuesday as the new head football coach at Lawrence University.

Director of Athletics Christyn Abaray said Aker, who has spent the past four years on the coaching staff at Carroll University, will bring with him a deep knowledge of Wisconsin and Midwest recruiting.

“We are excited to have Coach Aker and his family join the Lawrence University team,” Abaray said. “Tony is the right person at the helm to steer our program forward – implementing the steps to build, piece by piece. His experience, knowledge and energy represent what we will do — bring our Wisconsin and regional talent to Lawrence while continuing to embrace our national footprint, grow and develop our football scholar-athletes into leaders of the world and be active members of the community.”

Aker is the 29th head coach in Lawrence history.

“I’m beyond thrilled and excited to be named head football coach at Lawrence,” Aker said. “I want to extend my thanks to President (Mark) Burstein, Christyn Abaray and the search committee for entrusting me to lead this great program. I look forward to developing our current Lawrentians both on and off the football field, establishing great relationships with our many alumni and working relentlessly to bring the best and brightest future Vikings from our great state, region and beyond.”

Aker was an All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection as a wide receiver during his playing career at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In high school, he was a standout athlete at Brown Deer High School and was named the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Wisconsin Athlete of the Year in 2005. Before transferring to UWSP, he spent two years at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota, where he was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and two-time all-region performer, helping to lead his team to the 2007 NJCAA national championship.

Aker was on the coaching staff at UWSP before moving on to Carroll, where he worked as associate head coach/offensive coordinator and coached the quarterbacks. He was most recently serving as the interim head coach at Carroll. 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UWSP in 2012 and is working toward a master’s degree in education.

“My family and I are excited to become members of the Lawrence community as well as our greater Fox Valley community,” Aker said. “It truly is a great time to be a Viking.”

For a complete story on the Aker hiring, see here.

19 superlatives: As 2019 closes, we celebrate a year of Lawrence brilliance

Patty Darling leads the Lawrence Studio Orchestra during Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend at Memorial Chapel..
Patty Darling leads the Lawrence Studio Orchestra during Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend at Memorial Chapel. The success of the jazz program provides the foundation for a new Bachelor of Musical Arts degree introduced at Lawrence in 2019. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

We’ve had a lot of fun on the Lawrence news wire during 2019, getting to know students and faculty, catching up with alumni, and showcasing the innovative work being done in classrooms, performance spaces, and athletic venues across campus.

As we bid adieu to the year and prepare to welcome 2020, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite moments of the past 12 months, superlative style. (Also look in the coming days for favorite alumni moments and our top 10 most-read stories.)

Let’s start with the superlatives — 19 strong, with story links — in no particular order:

1 … Most boastful moments of the year

Main Hall is reflected during the first snow fall of the season.
Lawrence University reflected nicely in 2019. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Rankings continue to put Lawrence in elite national company. In the Princeton Review’s “Best Value Schools,” Lawrence came in at No. 4 in the category of best schools for making an impact. It also put Lawrence on its list of the best 385 colleges in the country. Only about 13% of eligible four-year schools make that list. With five recent graduates teaching abroad on Fulbright awards, Lawrence landed on a prestigious list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced the most Fulbright students. And Lawrence landed at No. 26 in Forbes’ 2019 edition of the Grateful Graduates Index, which follows the money in terms of alumni giving at private, not-for-profit colleges.

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2 … Most emphatic reminder of bonds between Lawrence, Appleton

The bonds between Lawrence and the Appleton community are deep and important. A Report to the Community in April highlighted a study that shows Lawrence’s annual impact on Appleton and the greater Fox Cities totals nearly $70.3 million — from employee earnings, goods and services, construction projects, off-campus spending and visitor spending. It also showed contributions to the community go well beyond economics, highlighting ongoing cultural and charitable relationships, including work on Mile of Music.

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3 … Most likely weekend to be filled with sleeplessness

Group photo of trivia masters in advance of 2019 Great Midwest Trivia Contest.
Miranda Salazar ’19 (center) led the Great Midwest Trivia Contest team.

When we talk about traditions that continue to engage and amuse, it’s hard to beat Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest. For the 54th edition, we gave you 37 reasons to love trivia weekend, the 37 being a nod to the very specific start time of 37 seconds past 10 p.m., the kickoff to 50 hours of madness that is annually a highlight of winter term.

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4 … Brightest lights of Lawrentian generosity

There are many such examples. It’s tough to narrow it down. But we highlighted a few that were particularly notable in 2019, from the Be the Light campaign (continuing after being launched in late 2018), to an endowed position to teach the psychology of collaboration, to a record-setting Giving Day. There is much to be thankful for.

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5 … Newest degree on the block

Daniel Green '20 records during a session in Houston on the Presto tour.
Daniel Green ’20 was part of the Presto! tour to Houston. (Photo by Garrett Katerzynske)

The unveiling of a new degree program is no small thing. The Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree was introduced this year, opening the Conservatory of Music to a more expansive group of student musicians. With a foundation in jazz and contemporary improvisation, the degree is built to accommodate a wider range of music making. The possibilities are many, and the excitement is palpable.

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6 … Favorite hometown connection on a Presto! tour

Voice professor John Holiday returned to Houston as part of the Lawrence Conservatory’s annual Presto! tour, a spring outing that embraces both performance and community outreach. For Holiday, doing so in his hometown made it all the more special and presented opportunities to share his love of Lawrence with prospective students. For the Conservatory, it was one more opportunity to showcase its mantra of music with a mission.

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7 … Strongest embrace of a Wisconsin winter

A view from above shows the ice rink in the Appleton yard of Chuck and Lesley McKee.
Chuck and Lesley McKee ’68 share their ice rink. (Photo by Garrett Katerzynske)

Have you seen the ice rink that is the annual handiwork of Chuck McKee ’68? It’s a sight to behold. He and his wife, Lesley McKee ’68, have deep bonds with Lawrence that continue to this day. They live a couple blocks north of campus. Each winter for the past 25 years, Chuck, a retired doctor and Lawrence Hall of Fame football player, has turned their yard into an elaborate skating rink, drawing a bevy of friends and acquaintances for pickup hockey games (and from time to time Lawrence hockey players looking for ice time). They’ve also been known to throw a party or two on the ice, one of which landed their rink in the pages of Better Homes & Gardens magazine.

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8 … Most eye-opening testimonial to Lawrence’s strength in STEM

A report from the Council for Independent Colleges put Lawrence in some pretty notable company regarding the number of students earning degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields on their way to successful completion of doctoral degrees. 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.  

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9 … Best use of a camera in a garden setting

A goat chews weeds in the SLUG garden.
Students brought goats to the SLUG garden for weed control. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

There’s nothing like a midsummer arrival of goats to liven up one of the quietest stretches of the campus calendar. When the students tending to the SLUG garden garnered a sustainability grant to bring in 10 goats to do some weeding, well, we turned a GoPro camera into our very own Goat Cam. The goat initiative was just one of numerous sustainability projects on campus, and played a part in Lawrence’s upgraded sustainability rating.

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10 … Most madness-filled athletics flashback

In the college basketball world, March Madness shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. Fifteen years ago, the Lawrence men’s team went where no Vikings had gone before, winning an NCAA tournament game (and then some) for the first time in the program’s 101 years. We revisited the magical run to the NCAA D-III Elite Eight on the 15th anniversary, catching up with that 2003-04 team that had Lawrence dancing like never before.

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11 … Biggest artful addition to campus

Native students pose in front of the indigenous education mural on the side of the Buchanen Kiewit Wellness Center.
Native students highlight indigenous education. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

When Matika Wilbur of Project 562 came to campus to share a journey that has taken her to tribal lands across the country (and beyond), she was looking to redirect the narrative on indigenous people. In addition to a convocation address on her work with photography and art installations, she led Native students in the creation of a gorgeous mural on the side of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

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12 … Most toast-worthy Lawrence tradition

A lot was happening back in 1969. Among the changes at Lawrence was the transition of the Viking Room from an alcohol-free student hangout to a full-fledged campus bar. The popular spot in the lower level of Memorial Hall marked its 50th anniversary as a bar.

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13 … Funkiest alumni celebration of Lawrence roots

Porky's Groove Machine performs in downtown Appleton.
Porky’s Groove Machine keeps it quirky. (Photo by Ken Cobb)

We love it when Lawrence alumni stay connected, return to campus, and share their passion for this place that helped shape them in their adult lives. If it gets a little quirky, so be it. Members of Porky’s Groove Machine, a funk band that started at Lawrence and is now based in Minneapolis, wear their quirkiness like badges of honor. The Porky’s crew — seven Lawrentians strong — returns often, and we are forever thankful.

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14 … Best use of a swimming pool in a non-traditional way

The opera presented at Lawrence in late March was probably a bit different than any you’ve experienced before. For starters, the musicians — and some instruments — were in the water. Held in the pool at the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center, the opera included violins and cellos and keyboards and fancy attire — and water. Lots and lots of water. We chatted with the creative artists behind Breathe.

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15 … Newsiest inspirations in the sciences

Megan Pickett poses in front of physics equations on a white board.
Megan Pickett tapped into Nobel inspirations. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

When the Nobel Prizes were announced this fall, there were some scientists and economists at Lawrence nodding in agreement. Research being done by faculty members Megan Pickett, Allison Fleshman, Dylan Fitz, and Hillary Caruthers — and their students — is closely tied to or inspired by the work of Nobel winners in chemistry, physics, and economics. A book that is part of Freshman Studies also got Nobel attention.

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16 … Most savvy change in study abroad opportunities

Lawrence students continue to thrive with study abroad opportunities. A change in how financial aid is tied to studying abroad has eased the path for some students, resulting in an uptick in numbers over the past year. Students continue to share how the experiences abroad have enriched their lives and their college experience.

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17 … Newest on-stage effort to embrace inclusivity

American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE) are used during a Lawrence Opera Theatre Ensemble performance of "Mass."
Lawrence Opera Theatre utilizes sign language in “Mass.” (Photo by Ken Cobb)

When Lawrence reimagined Leonard Bernstein’s Mass in early 2019, it came with a significant twist that drew in a slice of the population that often feels left out. The production by Lawrence’s Opera Theatre Ensemble, led by Copeland Woodruff, incorporated a Deaf character played by a professional Deaf actor. The students in the production spent considerable time learning American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE), used throughout the live performances.

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18 … Rockiest tradition that endures

The Rock has been part of Lawrence since the class of 1895 first hauled the big boulder to campus and carved their signature into it 124 years ago. While the traditions and squabbles that have been part of that history haven’t always been embraced by school administrators, that history was finally recognized with signage that went up this summer. With it came this rock-solid history lesson.

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19 … Most buzz-worthy research on campus

Biology professor Israel Del Toro ramped up Lawrence’s efforts in bee advocacy, securing a bee-friendly campus designation via the Bee City USA initiative. His research work includes assists from students and outreach to the Fox Cities community.

Bonus: We’ve connected with a lot of fascinating alumni over the past year. Here are eight who caught our attention.

Lawrence’s top 10 most-read stories of 2019

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

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