Category: Academics

Class of 2020 celebrated with virtual Commencement: Don’t lose the joy

(Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Lawrence University community gathered virtually on Sunday for a Commencement celebration unlike any other in the school’s 171-year history.

Held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic that moved Spring Term classes to distance learning, the ceremony celebrated the accomplishments of nearly 270 Lawrentians in the Class of 2020.

“We are at a time like no other, when both far too much—and not nearly enough—has changed,” President Mark Burstein told the graduates and their families, all looking in from locations around the world.

Watch the 2020 Lawrence University Commencement webcast in its entirety here.

Congratulatory messages from faculty and staff, shared via video and an online chat, were mixed with the traditional speeches and the conferring of degrees.

Commencement speaker Natasha Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose book, Native Guard, has been on the Freshman Studies reading list at Lawrence for five years, implored the graduates to find inspiration in the arts as they make sense of a world that has changed mightily since they first stepped on campus four years ago.


Divisive politics, a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in 100 years, and racial injustice protests that are shining new light on systematic inequalities have rocked the world. Find your voice, Trethewey urged the graduates. Seek inspiration in poetry, music, and other arts as a means to process and navigate these times.

“Art allows us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition, to see ourselves in others, evoking in us our noblest trait, the ability to empathize,” she said. “Art has always been a necessary part of our collective survival.”

Trethewey said she turned to poetry and other art in the aftermath of the murder of her mother, citing W.H. Auden’s poem, Musée des Beaux Arts, and Pieter Bruegel’s painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, as being particularly enlightening.

“It was the first time I understood that art could speak to me intimately about my own experience, that the language of a poem or a painting could save me from the feeling of overwhelming isolation brought on by trauma and grief,” she said. “In the midst of my despair, I suddenly felt part of something communal—ancient and ongoing.”

Cling to such beacons as you set out to make your mark in the world, Trethewey said. This moment in time isn’t an easy one, but it’s one that is ripe for change. And with it comes a need for compassion and empathy, and this generation is positioned to embrace each other wholly like none before.

“We are in a moment of shared national and international mourning and we are reminded of what links us to every other human being on this planet: our mortality, our need for justice, shelter, sustenance, sanctuary, air to breathe,” Trethewey said.

Samantha Lizbeth Torres ’20, selected as the senior class speaker, asked her classmates not to lose sight of the great accomplishment of graduating from Lawrence despite the global pandemic short-circuiting their final term on campus, not allowing for proper good-byes and celebrations. As a first-generation college student, a daughter of immigrants, missing out on an in-person Commencement has been painful, she said.

Samantha Lizbeth Torres ’20 delivers a Commencement address to her classmates.

“Like many of you, I am still grieving this loss. The act of physically walking across that stage to receive a hard-earned diploma is one of the pinnacle moments for first-generation families and our most marginalized students. Lawrence is not easy for us. It was never meant to be. But signing up for that challenge, whether that meant leaving home a mile away or a continent away, demonstrates the strength and audacity it took to make Lawrence your own. I implore you to recognize the sheer amount of work, dedication and heart you’ve poured into yourselves and this Lawrence community over the past four years. You may be tired, overworked, or even burnt out. Relish this moment and all you’ve accomplished. Recognize the sacrifices you and your families have made and remember the great joy you’ve experienced here.”

Torres, a Posse scholar from New York City, praised her classmates for raising their voices over the past four years on issues ranging from divisive politics and immigration to LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter protests.

“We followed in the steps of our ancestors and of the great Lawrentians who have paved the way for us to continue making Lawrence a safe haven for all identities to be embraced and celebrated,” she said.

Continue that work no matter where your journey takes you, she said. It’s a responsibility that comes with being a Lawrentian.

“When the world tries to dim your light, shine bright,” Torres said. “No matter what comes next, anxieties and all, shine your light as fiercely as you can.”

Burstein told the graduates that a virtual Commencement does not diminish in any way the celebration of their accomplishments. But he said he has agonized over the prospect of not celebrating in person, unable to shake the hands of each graduate as they cross the stage.

“Even harder,” he said, “is knowing that Lawrence graduates you today into a world more uncertain than many generations before you. As someone who graduated from college and graduate school in another moment of economic and societal stress, I have a sense of what you may feel as you face the future. I am confident saying that regardless of what happens next, I know you have all acquired the skills necessary to succeed in this increasingly complex world.  Your future homes and workplaces will benefit from your passion and skill. Your leadership will strengthen the world in which we live.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Ongiri to address “Importance of Failure” in May 28 virtual Honors Convocation

Amy A. Ongiri will deliver her Honors Convocation address virtually.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Amy A. Ongiri isn’t shy about telling you she’s failed at various things in life.

But, then, so have you. So has everyone. And yet we are reticent to speak of it, to examine it, to embrace it.

Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies at Lawrence University, calls that a missed opportunity. She’ll delve into the idea of embracing failure when she delivers the school’s annual Honors Convocation address, “The Importance of Failure.”

The Honors Convocation, which publicly recognizes students and faculty recipients of awards and prizes for excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, languages, music, athletics, and service to others, was to be held in Memorial Chapel. But due to campus facilities being closed and physical distancing practices being in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will instead be pre-recorded and presented here at 11:10 a.m. May 28.

Yes, at an event to honor great successes, failure will take center stage.

Ongiri will tell the audience that we grow from failure, and we need to be comfortable talking about that. That’s a particularly appropriate message for young people to hear as they set out on journeys full of uncertainty. Take chances. Be willing to fail.

“There’s a lot of stigma around failure and it is especially hard to fail as a young person because you are just learning about it as an experience,” Ongiri said.

What students will discover, Ongiri said, is that there is no road map for understanding or negotiating that experience. Some failures are big and bold. Others are slight and nuanced. All are part of the jagged, crooked, unpredictable path of life.

“As a culture, we have tended to value winning over all other experiences but we are all going to fail a lot in life, and we need to learn early on what it means and how to think about it,” Ongiri said.

As we mature, understanding failure and the strength that can come from it begins to make more sense. But that doesn’t mean we’re any more eager to speak of it.

“By the time you’re in your 50s, as I am, you have probably failed a lot at a wide variety of things,” Ongiri said. “But we don’t tend to value or talk about our failures as much as we do our successes.”

Ongiri, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2014 after more than a decade on the English faculty at the University of Florida, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Bryn Mawr College, a master’s degree from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her scholarship interests have focused on African American literature and culture, film studies, cultural studies, and gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of the 2009 book, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic.

She points to scholars such Judith Halberstam, Timothy DuWhite, and Scott Sandage as sources of insight and reflection on the topic of failure and the cultural dynamic at play. That sort of guidance is valuable at any time, but perhaps even more so as we navigate through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The global pandemic has not only provided a case study in notable failures around health care and public infrastructure, it has given us the time to reflect on what it all means,” Ongiri said. “It has also given us the chance to reconsider what states of being associated with failure, such as loneliness, mean to us individually and collectively as a culture.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

“Transformative impact:” Six Lawrence faculty members earn tenure promotions

From top left: Deanna Donohoue, José L. Encarnación, Dylan Fitz, Jonathan Lhost, Lavanya Murali, and Melissa Range.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Six members of the Lawrence University faculty, spread across numerous academic departments, have been granted 2020 tenure appointments.

President Mark Burstein and the college’s Board of Trustees, based on recommendations by the faculty Committee on Tenure, Promotion, Reappointment, and Equal Employment Opportunity, granted tenure to Deanna Donohoue (chemistry), José L. Encarnación (music), Dylan Fitz (economics), Jonathan Lhost (economics), Lavanya Murali (anthropology), and Melissa Range (English). All six have been tenured and promoted to associate professor.

“Since their arrivals at Lawrence, Deanna, Jose, Dylan, Jonathan, Lavanya, and Melissa have made fabulous contributions to the University — inspiring our students, bringing fresh vision to our mission, and having transformative impact in our programs in Chemistry, Jazz, Economics, Anthropology, and English/Creative Writing,” Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat said. “I’m absolutely delighted that their contributions are being recognized through the awarding of tenure and promotion, and look forward to continuing together our rich, rewarding work for years to come.”

To get to know them better, we asked each of the six to answer three questions.

Deanna Donohoue, chemistry


She has been at Lawrence since 2013, much of her time spent teaching via ARTEMIS (Atmospheric Research Trailer for Environmental Monitoring and Interactive Science), a mobile laboratory for atmospheric measurements. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a Ph.D. in marine and atmospheric chemistry from Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in chemistry?

I have been lucky to have amazing mentors in my life. I think my interest in chemistry was first sparked in high school. I had a high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Thomas, who took us to the Colorado School of Mines to mine for gold and silver. We got to help prepare the rock for blasting and then collect samples. We then brought those samples back to school and performed purity assays. It was at this moment that I discovered how chemistry was the perfect balance between practicality and creativity, and I could see myself pursuing a career.

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

I would hope that every student is taking the new challenge of learning in different ways as a chance to grow. I know that in my classes, I can see students gaining skills and experiences they would never gain on campus. We are asking you all to work on your own, and often work through ideas without professors and classmates, helping you see what is essential along the way. This independent work means students are finding where they have misunderstanding or misconceptions faster and more often.

 What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

I hope that my classroom would be known as a place you are pushed to meet your full potential while you are supported – sometimes by tough love – through the hard days. I think I am known for asking tough questions, having high expectations, and pushing students outside their comfort zone. I am the professor who gives extra credit for failure and someone who will help you with whatever you need. I do not expect or even want perfection. Instead, I expect and want each individual to push themselves into uncomfortable spaces so that they grow as a scholar and as a person.

José L. Encarnación, music


Lawrence’s director of Jazz Studies studied saxophone, flute and clarinet at the Free School of Music in San Juan, Puerto Rico, completed his bachelor of music degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and received his master’s in music from the Eastman School of Music, where he later taught as a professor of jazz saxophone.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My initial inspiration was my family and culture, since music in a Puerto Rican family has a strong presence. I grew up listening to music, in recordings as well as seeing family members, including my father, playing a combination of Latin percussion instruments at family gatherings, church and community. As I got older, I started to explore other music besides my folkloric roots. It was at this time I heard jazz, specifically saxophonist Dexter Gordon. From that moment I knew I wanted to do nothing else but be a professional musician. 

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

This is a challenging time for all humanity, and as an educator I commend students for living out these uncertain times with grace and maturity. My approach to the new challenges of distance learning is with love, compassion, and flexibility. I’m assessing every student’s needs, then adapting to what is possible, understanding that there will be limitations under the circumstances. The most important thing is that they are mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy and in a safe environment.

What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

I hope my students would say that my teaching style is individualized. I want to really know my students so that I may inspire them to grow as musicians as well as individuals. Truly knowing them will give me the sense of how to best prepare them for success and how to go about being their best selves. My goal for my students is for them to leave Lawrence with the skills, tools, and confidence to succeed when times are great, but also for times such as now.

Dylan Fitz, economics


A member of the economics faculty since 2017, he has done research and taught in the areas of development economics, social policy, and effective altruism, and has studied economies in Latin America and Brazil.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in economics?

As an undergraduate politics major, I was interested in how different countries design social policies to fight poverty. As I learned more, I realized that I was mainly interested in economic research and I was drawn to empirical evaluations of the effectiveness of programs. I’ve continued pursuing this interest, using empirical methods to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs on different social groups. Most people agree that we should reduce poverty, but deep disagreements arise over how to best accomplish this. I like the economic research that helps us design more effective and broadly-supported policies.

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

Fortunately for me, I’m teaching our intermediate macroeconomics course, which has a wealth of online resources that I am taking advantage of. Aside from adjusting how I teach with distance-learning, I’m developing a lot of new materials to help my students understand the effects of coronavirus through the use of macroeconomic models and current health and economic data. For example, we will develop a model of infectious disease growth and use it to learn about flattening the curve and herd immunity while tracking current health statistics. We will discuss how this crisis might impact long-run growth and explore how economies recover from crises.

What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

I hope that students find my classes to be challenging, fair, and fun. I try to push students to learn a lot while maintaining clear standards and offering plenty of support. Economics provides an interesting framework that allows us to better understand and improve the world, and it’s easy to motivate the content with relevant contemporary and historical examples.

Jonathan Lhost, economics


He joined the Lawrence faculty in 2014 and has pursued interests in industrial organization, game theory, and microeconomics, among others. He has a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Texas.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in economics?

A Law & Economics course I took at Amherst College first sparked my interest in pursuing a career in economics. I enjoyed the application of economic theory to legal issues. The course’s professor inspired me to become a professor at a liberal arts college as well.

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

Remote learning during a global pandemic is unprecedented. I have students all over the world, in different time zones, and in a wide range of circumstances. I know some students will be in some pretty difficult situations. My main goal is to do what I can to help all students make it through the term successfully. I’ve structured my courses in a way such that students can learn the material but without the added stress and fear of failing the class due to circumstances beyond our control. Flexibility will be important for everyone.

What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

It is my hope that students leave my courses believing they can accomplish things they previously didn’t believe they could do and with the confidence to tackle interesting problems. I hope that students will look back years after graduation and find what we’ve done together at Lawrence useful as they put their liberal arts skills to the test.

Lavanya Murali, anthropology


A member of the Lawrence faculty since 2010, her areas of study have been in linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and gender and sexuality, among others. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Delhi and a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in anthropology?

There are two people who are largely responsible, I’d say. One was my high school sociology teacher, Dr. Madhu Sharan, who was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Sociology in India draws a lot on social anthropology; they’re pretty closely taught. I loved her classes, and I absolutely fell in love with social anthropology and sociology. I haven’t looked back from that, really. The other was my father, S. Murali. He loved people, he loved culture and history, he loved a good argument. He’d drag us to museums, ruins, exhibits, and so on constantly—I suppose we’d either have come out of it hating that sort of thing or loving it, and I loved it.

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

My goal, as an anthropologist, is to inculcate in my students empathy and compassionate observation and analysis. That means I have to be empathetic and compassionate myself. These are stressful times, and my classes don’t need to be an additional source of stress. As I told them, we’re going to acknowledge that these are not normal times in the ways in which we teach and learn from each other. But I also want some things to stay normal, in terms of Lawrence culture — fun, community, closeness, flexibility, and care for each other. My goal has always been for learning to be hands-on, student work to be expressive and meaningful to them, and for my classroom to be a low-stress zone. This changes none of that — it only strengthens those commitments.

 What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

Ha! They have a lot to say about it, and they’re definitely not shy about sharing it with me. But I hope that they would say it was fun, relaxed, and real. It’s possible to be approachable and fun and still pedagogically comprehensive, and that’s what I shoot for. I care deeply about my students, about their well-being, and about their intellectual growth.

Melissa Range, English


An award-winning writer and poet, she has been on the Lawrence faculty since 2014. Much of her academic focus has been in poetry and creative writing, including contemporary American poetry and 19th century poetry. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing from the University of Tennessee, her master’s degree in creative writing from Old Dominion University and also holds a master’s of theological studies from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She earned her Ph.D. in English and creative writing from the University of Missouri.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in English/poetry/creative writing?

I knew I wanted to be a writer from an early age. I didn’t know anyone who was a writer. Actually, I’m pretty sure for a long time I thought only dead people could be writers, but still the desire was there. I think it must’ve come from reading. As soon as I learned to read, that’s what you’d find me doing — in my room, on the porch, at the supper table, in the hayloft of the barn, in the top of a pine tree I had climbed. I liked books not only for their stories; I liked them for their sentences, and their images, and the words themselves. The library was my natural habitat. As soon as I learned to write, I was always scribbling, not necessarily to make anything finished, just to explore my thoughts and emotions and to play around with language.

How are you approaching the new challenges of distance learning?

It’s a stressful time, and we need to take care of ourselves and one another, so I’m proceeding with flexibility, kindness, humor, and collaboration as my watchwords. We’re all new at doing this, and I hope we can try everything with a light touch. This term is challenging, but it’s also an opportunity for creativity, so I’m looking forward to trying lots of things I’ve never tried before in the classroom.

What do you hope your students would say about your teaching style?

I hope they would say that most of my jokes are funny . . . though you never know. I think they might mention my energy and enthusiasm, my high standards (true), and my particularly Appalachian brand of tough love (also true). I think they would say that my classes offer many elements of surprise, and that as a teacher I’m rigorous, yet playful, and often just plain wacky. There’s a bit of running around the room, and sometimes there are props like puppets and bonnets, as the occasion dictates. I hope they would say that while I expect a lot from my students, I am also prepared to give a lot. 

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Theater students get creative, use Zoom to present old-school radio drama

Theater professor Kathy Privatt (center top) and some of her students work through preparations for a radio drama to be performed live on Zoom on Friday night.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

As we all are adapting to the challenges that come with distance learning, faculty and students across campus are getting creative, including those who usually showcase their talents on the theater stage.

Despite students being spread across the globe this term, Lawrence University’s Theatre Arts department has found a way to host its annual spring theater show while adhering to physical distancing.

It’ll do so through a radio drama presented live on Zoom at 8 p.m. May 15, and then an edited/produced version will be available on the Department of Theatre Arts Productions web page, under the View Streaming Video link.

Update: See unedited version of the radio drama here.

The students will tackle The National Youth Administration: A Radio Drama, by Herb Meadow, a piece written in the mid-1930s that is essentially a series of vignettes embodying the effects of the Great Depression on young people.

But first, what would have been. 

“I had an entire production planned called The Domino Effect,” said Kathy Privatt, the James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theatre arts.

The COVID-19 pandemic scrapped that plan.

“Now, hopefully, it is going to happen next year instead,” Privatt said. “Yes, it is an interesting script, but half of it should be movement, so doing that one at a distance is not an option.” 

So, how to do a spring production when instruction and collaboration are happening via Zoom?

“I started thinking about radio drama” Privatt said. “Partly, because my colleague Tim Troy has a deep and abiding love for radio dramas. He’s done some at Lawrence, and at the end of winter term he had just done a sound recording of his production, Richard III. So, we’ve been talking about maybe we should just routinely do just a sound recording, because so many scripts stand beautifully as just a sound file.”  

That idea – to begin creating sound file versions of the plays the Theatre Arts department produces – planted a seed that would lead to Privatt’s decision to pursue a radio drama on Zoom with her theater students.

A quick history lesson: Radio dramas, dramatized acoustic performances, find their roots in the world of théàtrophone. Prior to the development of radio technology, between the 1900s and 1920s, people would set up a network of lines to listen to live performances. After the development of radio technology, A Comedy Of Danger became the first play written with the intention to be performed on the radio. It aired in 1924 on the BBC network. 

The National Youth Administration: A Radio Drama is a piece written in 1937,” Privatt said. “There was part of a whole set of programing that came out of the Great Depression and the Works Progress Administration, which more specifically had a unit that was the Federal Theatre Project.” 

The National Youth Administration (NYA) was a program geared toward providing jobs and education for people ages 16-25. This radio drama was propaganda to increase support of and knowledge about the program.

When deciding what radio drama to produce with her Lawrence students, Privatt remembered the Federal Theatre Project and its radio drama sector. This set of plays was especially interesting to Privatt because of the parallels that can be drawn between this global pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout and the era in which this play was written. 

Privatt decided the radio drama was “something we can really hone in on.” And when she found the Federal Theatre Project, she knew she struck the right chord.

“When I found that script it just felt right,” she said. 

“It’s been creatively motivating”  

Learning about the connections between America shortly after the Great Depression and our present situation has also been interesting for the students involved. Unlike the spring production in years past, where Privatt would have a year to prepare the piece that students would perform, she had roughly two weeks. With this, she decided to make the show a collaborative effort, where students have the opportunity to use their research skills to learn more about life during this time. 

“I love that we’re getting to learn about this new form of theater,” Maren Dahl ’21 said. “I also really love that it’s giving me the opportunity, one that I otherwise would not have had, to use my research skills. … I think that the best part about it for me has been that feeling of people working toward a common goal they really care about; it’s been creatively motivating.”  

Dahl is double majoring in theater and psychology and will be featured in the show.  She also is using this as her Senior Experience project. Dahl has been part of a multitude of theater productions at Lawrence and has fully embraced the new avenues this show provides. 

“I think the main difference is not having the face to face contact and not staging something,” Dahl said. “But, I think that opens some doors for us where because we don’t have to stage a full production we have the time to do certain things like deeper dives into the text or do something that is more research heavy and spend a lot of time talking through that.”  

The opportunities to explore has not been limited to the director and actors in the show.  

“I thought that this show was especially interesting because of the limitations we’re under,” said Grace Krueger ’21, a theater major who is working as the dramaturg, compiling historical background for the audience. “We’re able to create theater in a new way, and it’s something that hasn’t been done before on this campus, so I am glad to be a part of it.”  

Not staging a spring production wasn’t an option.

“It’s what we do,” Privatt said. “It’s one of the great joys of my job. Once a year I gather with a team of artists and we find a way to share a story with an audience that lets us be one big community for a while.”

Not even a global pandemic is going to keep Privatt and her students from making that magic happen.

If you want to see the production live: The National Youth Administration: A Radio Drama will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday on Zoom. To obtain a “ticket” (the Zoom meeting link and password), email Privatt at A limited number of people will be allowed in. It’ll later be shared on YouTube and on the Department of Theatre Arts Productions web page.

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

Lawrence’s Jesús Smith earns year-long Wilson Foundation Fellowship

Jesús Gregorio Smith has been awarded a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jesús Gregorio Smith, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at Lawrence University, has been awarded a 12-month Career Enhancement Fellowship that supports the career development of underrepresented junior faculty in the arts and humanities.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Fellowships – some year-long and others six-month – have been awarded to 30 tenure-track faculty and two adjunct faculty across the country.

Smith, who joined Lawrence in 2017 and helped to launch Ethnic Studies as a major, will use the sabbatical to continue his research and writing on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality online and how they influence sexual health.

“I believe in this work and its importance,” Smith said. “This fellowship will allow me to turn all the work I have collected into a book that presents my findings to the public.”

For more on Ethnic Studies at Lawrence, see here.

Smith has taught classes on such topics as research methods in communities of color, sociology of black Americans, and sociology of Latinx. He has organized the annual Continuing Significance of Race undergraduate conference.

“The courses Jesús teaches, which are deeply informed by his research, have had a tremendously positive impact on our campus community,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat. “It’s intensely gratifying to see his important, ground-breaking work acknowledged by the prestigious Wilson Foundation, and to envision how this fellowship will allow it to have an even greater, national effect.”

A native of El Paso, Texas, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in sociology at the University of Texas at El Paso, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Texas A&M University. A book he contributed to and co-edited, Home and Community for Queer Men of Color: The Intersections of Race and Sexuality, was published earlier this year through Lexington Books.

The Career Enhancement Fellowship, in place since 2001, seeks to increase the presence of underrepresented junior and other faculty members in the arts and humanities by creating career development opportunities based on promising research projects. The program provides Fellows with a sabbatical stipend; a research, travel, or publication stipend; mentoring; and participation in a professional development retreat.

Earning the Fellowship is testament to the growth of the Ethnic Studies program at Lawrence and the important work being done at liberal arts colleges, Smith said.

“I believe it’s time liberal arts colleges and ethnic studies programs get this level of recognition,” he said. “This fellowship is really about aiding teachers who are dedicated to diversity and racial justice in conducting and finishing their research so that their work is taken seriously in the academic community and so that their dedication to racial justice is amplified. This is the sort of work I do already in the Ethnic Studies program at Lawrence. That is built into the DNA of our program.”

He credits Ariela Rosa, associate director of corporate, foundation, and sponsored research support, for guiding him through the Fellowship application, and he applauds Carla Daughtry, associate professor of anthropology and chair of Ethnic Studies, and the professors from other departments who teach courses in Ethnic Studies for helping to make the path to this Fellowship possible.

“This win is a win for Ethnic Studies at Lawrence,” Smith said.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Ingenuity, energy, commitment mark transitions to distance learning at LU

Students in Allison Fleshman’s Chemistry of Art class show their paper cranes during a virtual classroom session.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Physics students in Margaret Koker and Doug Martin’s Advanced Lab class received a package at their homes just before Lawrence University’s Spring Term began, complete with an Arduino electronics kit and oscilloscopes, tools to take part in a range of physics experiments.

Students in Jason Brozek’s Intro to Environmental Policy class are using the locations of their homes as part of studies on topics ranging from EPA Superfund sites and pollution data to climate change and wind energy.

Chemistry professor Allison Fleshman is teaching a Chemistry of Art course that will lead up to a virtual art exhibit titled Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID, where students will highlight the chemistry of the art they’ve created over the course of the term.

Tim Albright is among the Conservatory of Music professors tapping into the expertise of professional musicians around the country who find themselves in lockdown at home, with time and energy to interact with his students via virtual masterclasses.

Art professor Ben Rinehart has created a library of how-to videos as part of an art book-making class.

Those are just a handful of examples of Lawrence professors shifting gears as they’ve taken Spring Term instruction virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has colleges and universities across the country using distance learning to mitigate the spread of a virus that has put much of the world on lockdown.

Keeping instruction in depth and relevant while maintaining close faculty-student collaboration has been key as Lawrence faculty have transitioned on the fly to a new reality.

Teaching through this pandemic is a challenge that all faculty can rise up to meet, said Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics and chair of the Physics Department. Students need that to happen. The world needs that to happen. And she likes the response she’s seeing from her colleagues, whether in the sciences or the humanities or the arts.

“We believe, now more than ever, that this is our time to shine,” Pickett said. “The circumstances aren’t ideal, but then (Isaac) Newton changed the world when he was at home in quarantine in 1665.”

On that note, here are five examples of Lawrence ingenuity at play, starting with Pickett and her physics colleagues.

1. A physics community

Providing students with some needed equipment was just one step in helping physics students stay connected during this strange time, Pickett said. Communication has been constant, starting well before the term began and continuing throughout. A “Virtual Zoom Commons” has been set up for physics students, an effort to keep the community together virtually despite the physical distance.

Physics faculty members are working in sync even more so than usual, collaborating and sharing across virtual classrooms so they’re ready to step in to assist if needed.

“The changes my colleagues and I have made are significant and a testament to their commitment to physics instruction, and, more importantly, how much we care about our students,” Pickett said. “Our introductory course has two lab sections, which include video demonstrations of the lab that the students then analyze, as well as a host of virtual lab experiences culled from respected online sources. Ahead of the term, we made sure each professor was provided an iPad and Apple Pencil, in order to more easily use as a digital white board in our lecture classes. We’re also exploring different ways to use phones as sensors in case we need to do more remote labs in the future.”

Physics faculty meet via Zoom before the start of Spring Term to prepare teaching strategies.

Zoom office hours and the virtual commons have kept the student-faculty connections tight and have allowed the students to study together in a virtual space.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how much we cherish the community we’ve created in physics, and how much we miss our students,” Pickett said. “We have been working for some time on inclusive excellence in physics pedagogy, which has shaped our view of hidden inequities and costs in our classes—so important now as we rely on technology in a way we haven’t before.”

2. A matter of geography

Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government, said he looked for ways to use his students’ varied locations as an advantage, or at least a teaching tool, during a Spring Term of distance learning. He set up class projects in his Intro to Environmental Policy class, for example, to allow students to do research and analysis that is connected directly to their home regions.

Each student has to choose two of three options for study, all tied to where they are living: Explore and interpret home region climate change data from Yale’s Climate Change Communication Program, which breaks down data all the way to the county level; use the EPA’s interactive Superfund map and Toxic Release Inventory data to dive into pollution in the student’s home region; and study wind turbine costs and policies and how that might play out in the student’s home area.

“I wanted to find a way to take advantage of our geographic distribution while also encouraging my students to engage in their local communities — safely,” Brozek said. “The course is already designed around concrete case studies that are deeply grounded in specific places — PCB pollution on the Fox River, for instance — so asking students to investigate their own communities was a natural fit.”

In his International Law class, meanwhile, Brozek is using the virtual format of Spring Term to zero in on digital topics. He has his students analyzing existing podcasts that range in topic from the Paris Climate Deal to LGBTQ asylum seekers to the International Criminal Court, then collaborating to create discussion guides for those podcasts that can be shared and used.

He said he aims to “help students have a bigger sense of purpose and connection” by having them collaborate on a virtual project that will result in useful content.

“The goal is to make all the episode links and guides publicly available at the end of the term,” Brozek said.

3. Musicians sharing knowledge

In the Conservatory, trombone professor Tim Albright is but one of numerous faculty members reaching out to fellow musicians to give students a bit of a bonus during this pandemic. With tours and venues locked down across the country, professional musicians and other artists who normally would be navigating busy schedules find themselves quarantined at home with plenty of time on their hands.

In that, Albright saw an opportunity. A former New York musician, he’s deeply connected to the NYC music scene, so he set out to invite some of those musicians into class sessions as special guests, providing his students with insights into the lives of working musicians.

The likes of bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton, jazz trombonist and composer Alan Ferber, and Carnegie Hall archivist (and LU alum) Rob Hudson ’87 said yes.

“Most of these folks are gigging, working musicians on the cutting edge of performance today, so for my students to get to interact with them in their living rooms is a huge opportunity that we wouldn’t have normally,” Albright said. “We’re turning lemons into lemonade. With no live performances happening around the world, their schedules are free and they’re jumping at the chance to connect with fellow musicians.” 

4. Art by design

When word came down that the world was going into lockdown and Lawrence’s Spring Term would happen via distance learning, art professor Ben Rinehart, a printmaker and book artist, went into tech hyperdrive. He quickly schooled himself on iMovie and Adobe Premiere software and began creating how-to videos for his students in intermediate and advanced artist book classes.

He sent each student a kit prior to the start of the term with tools and materials to complete each project. He also scheduled two virtual studio visits with colleagues in Florida and Washington.

“They are demonstrations to engage the students while we are all distance learning,” Rinehart said of his videos, which take the students step by step through various techniques in creating art books.

The first Rinehart video was on iMovie, the next 11 on Adobe Premiere, all done in the two weeks before classes started.

“Pretty proud of myself for never having worked with either program before,” he said.

For a sample of Rinehart demonstrating the Jacob’s ladder technique, see here.

5. Mixing science and art

Allison Fleshman is an associate professor of chemistry, and she’s a believer that there is plenty of room for creativity in the sciences. Hence, her Chemistry of Art, a lab science course for non-chemistry majors.

She pondered ways to teach lab in a virtual space.

“Well, the main take-away from a lab science is to practice the scientific method,” she said. “So, all of my students will make a piece of art or collection of art that inspires them, and the catch is that they must document their work — hypothesizing, observations, detailing the chemistry involved, and documenting the procedure — in a detailed laboratory notebook maintaining the highest level of scientific rigor.”

The creation of paper cranes was part of the first two weeks of the term, with each student then venturing onto their individual art projects. The Art and Chemistry Inspired by COVID virtual exhibition will be part of their final exam.

“The lab will also include many online simulations where they engage with the chemical concepts more rigorously,” Fleshman said. “But in the spirit of liberal arts, the Paper Crane Project, with a scientific flair, has connected the students using a symbol of hope known the world over.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence’s Dworschack earns 3-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Willa Dworschack ’20

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Willa Dworschack ’20 is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, providing full funding for up to three years of research at any institution of her choice.

The Lawrence University physics major from Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, continues to add to her impressive resume. Following her graduation from Lawrence in June, the prestigious NSF Fellowship will fully support three years of her research in atomic, molecular, and optical physics at the University of Colorado Boulder and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).

“The opportunity to conduct research at JILA is unparalleled, and the support of the NSF grants me freedom to pursue research in the quantum sciences,” Dworschack said. “I am thrilled about this honor and grateful for all the wonderful opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of as a result of being at Lawrence University.”

Lawrence continues to excel in the STEM fields. Details here.

The National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the federal government that supports research and education in the sciences. Its fellowship award, first launched in 1952, is given to approximately 2,000 recipients a year to support the next generation of STEM leaders as they pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees. 

A year ago, Dworschack was named a Goldwater Scholar, in part on the strength of her research in atomic and molecular optics. The Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields, is administered by the Goldwater Foundation.

Lawrence has a Goldwater Scholar in back-to-back years. Details here.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Conservatory named “hidden gem” as faculty find new ways to connect, teach

Lawrence University students, led here by Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Dupere, gathered for an impromptu performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah just as Winter Term came to an end. Faculty are now finding new ways to enhance music instruction and maintain connections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As Lawrence University treads new territory with distance learning for Spring Term, a consulting site for prospective music students has given the school’s Conservatory of Music a major salute.

Music School Central named Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music one of the best “hidden gem” music schools in the country. The top-10 ranking placed Lawrence at No. 3.

Bill Zuckerman, who oversees – he previously authored a column on the Conservatory titled, Is This the World’s Most Socially Conscious Music School? – called Lawrence “the definition of excellence in a liberal arts college music school.”

The ranking is music to the ears of Conservatory Dean Brian Pertl as he and his team launch into a Spring Term like none before. As are professors in departments across campus, the Conservatory faculty have taken up the challenge of keeping the community aspect of the Lawrence experience intact while shifting to distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Lawrence professor launches national fundraiser for artists shut down by COVID-19. See details here.

Tears were shed when word first came down that Lawrence, like other colleges and universities across the country, would be quickly transitioning to virtual instruction during the spring, Pertl said. But the conversation among faculty shifted almost immediately to ways in which the learning experience could still be marked with close faculty-student interactions, community building, and opportunities to tap into skills that will be in demand in the music world going forward.

What’s happened over the past four weeks – Spring Term began Monday following Winter Term finals and a two-week spring break – has been nothing short of amazing, Pertl said.

In the horns studio, Assistant Professor of Music Ann Ellsworth has taken her practice of group warm-ups each morning in Music-Drama Center 163 and transformed it into a daily Zoom session with her horn students. And she’s invited prominent horn makers and horn players from around the globe to interact with her students via Zoom masterclasses.

Horn students join Ann Ellsworth (top middle) for daily warm-ups via Zoom.

“So, horn makers from the U.S. and horn players from places like the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and at least one from Germany will be Zooming in to speak to her horn students,” Pertl said. “It’s sort of taking advantage of this opportunity that a lot of these great musicians in the world are stuck at home, too. They are actually eager to interact with students.”

Trombone professor Tim Albright is working on a virtual trombone ensemble project, recording Charles Ives’ Variations on America, arranged by Lawrence alumus Dominic Ellis ’17. Trombone students will be recording their parts remotely, and the music will be stitched together on campus, thus keeping the trombone ensemble alive, just in a different setting.

Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Arau, who is teaching a rehearsal techniques class for music education, is partnering with middle and high school music programs in Malaysia, led by Lawrence alumnus Dan Miles ’10, and Hong Kong. Lawrence students will direct those music students from afar.

A number of student music groups, most notably in the jazz and improvisation area, will be exploring live improvisation in virtual spaces, performing together even though they are spread across the country or around the world.

Students preparing for junior or senior recitals are re-imagining what those recitals might look like. While some remain on campus and will stream recitals from Harper Hall, others are prepping for remote recitals that incorporate elements and skills that might not otherwise have been considered, including turning a recital into an animation-infused music video.

“All of sudden our students, instead of throwing up their hands and being dejected or saying, ‘I can’t,’ they’ve taken up the challenge, and they’re saying, ‘I can, and not only can I, I am going to do something that is going to push my boundaries,’” Pertl said. “They’re redefining what a recital can be.”

Staying flexible and staying connected are front and center as faculty and students venture into these uncharted waters.

“It’s beautiful, creative flexibility,” Pertl said. “We’re working with our students all the time to say, ‘This is what you’re going to need out there in the world, and this is what’s going to be exciting about being a musician in the world today.’ And they are going to be taking all of these forward-thinking practices, and they’re just going to be doing them, which is a sort of neat and beautiful thing.

“Is it ideal? No, it’s not ideal. Nobody wanted this to happen. But can we make the very, very best of this and come away with skills and knowledge that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to acquire, but skills and knowledge that will be beneficial for our students once they leave here?”

Ellsworth said her daily warm-up sessions with horn students might seem like a small thing, but it’s that sort of personal connection that students most feared would be lost.

“I ask everyone to mute themselves and then choose one student for each exercise to unmute so we can all hear that one person,” Ellsworth said of the sessions. “I play a short exercise from our routine and they all repeat it after me. The purpose of the group warm-up for horn is that half of the benefit is getting the mouthpiece off the face in-between exercises; it slows us down, prevents injury while we’re still cold, and sets us up for the rest of the day.

“But it turns out the real purpose for distance group warm-up is the time after our 45 minutes of playing, when I leave the room but leave the meeting running. I tell them they can hang out or not and that I’ll be back in 20 minutes, and I’ll come back and they are still there, hanging out, talking about student stuff. We had a prospective student join one meeting and I left them there to get acquainted because they can’t come to visit the campus. It’s super productive.”

There are dozens of other examples of collaboration and creativity taking place across the Conservatory as Spring Term gets rolling, Pertl said, all of which speaks to the ideals that landed Lawrence on the “hidden gems” ranking in the first place.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Lawrence’s Dillon earns Goldwater award on strength of math research

Travis Dillon ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s Travis Dillon ’21, a mathematics major who has done significant research both on and off campus, has been named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar.

This marks the second consecutive year a Lawrence student has been among the national honorees in the Goldwater program, which honors the late Sen. Barry Goldwater and was designed to foster and encourage high-achieving students in the fields of math, natural sciences, and engineering. Willa Dworschack ’20, a Lawrence physics major, was named a recipient a year ago after doing extensive research in atomic and molecular optics.

2019 Goldwater recipient earns prestigious National Science Foundation award. Details here.

Dillon is being recognized with the 2020 Goldwater award for his undergraduate research in mathematics, much of it in partnership with his Lawrence math professors.

Claire Kervin, assistant professor of English and director of Fellowships Advising at Lawrence, called Dillon a “motivated and productive” student who turned in thoughtful and well-presented work on the Goldwater application while taking part in a high-level math program in Budapest during fall and winter terms.

“He is one of the best recipients of constructive criticism I’ve seen in 15 years of assisting college writers,” Kervin said. “He is obviously deeply invested in complex research ideas, but is also capable of, even enthusiastic about, conveying these erudite concepts to others with differing levels of expertise.” 

Dillon, now back in his home state of Washington working remotely during spring term, said his research speaks to his deep love of mathematics.

“Although they have all been in mathematics, their focus varies quite a bit,” he said of his research projects. “I think it’s perhaps not widely known, but research mathematics comes in a lot of flavors. At a high level, geometry studies the properties of rigid structures, topology studies what happens when you’re allowed to bend and stretch them, number theory investigates the properties of counting numbers, which contains surprisingly deep questions and interesting questions.”

Much of Dillon’s research has focused in an area known as combinatorics, including developing a new combinatorial theory of Gaussian blur, a commonly used technique in computer science to “filter out noise from data,” and investigating symbolic dynamics. His work has taken him to Texas A&M’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a research program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and, most recently, to Budapest to study in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program. He was to be there during spring term as well, but the COVID-19 pandemic rerouted him to his Washington home, where he is finishing the Budapest program online.

“I applied because it was recommended to me as the best mathematics study abroad program, and quite literally everyone I asked about the program had nothing but incredible praise for the program,” Dillon said of BSM.

Two of Dillon’s four undergraduate research projects have led to published papers with his professors. The other two have papers in the works.

He praised Lawrence’s math faculty for challenging and inspiring him, and highlighted his research work with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Elizabeth Sattler. He worked with her on the symbolic dynamics research.

“Our main goal was to answer a question from one of Professor Sattler’s previous projects,” Dillon said. “Over the course of the project, I introduced a much larger class of symbolic dynamical systems and answered the question in this more general setting. This was my favorite research project. I really enjoyed working with Professor Sattler, and my research ended up incorporating combinatorics, algebra, analysis, and even a hint of number theory. This sort of interdisciplinary thinking in mathematics is very exciting to me.”

After graduating from Lawrence next year, Dillon plans to attend graduate school in pursuit of a Ph.D. in mathematics.

The Goldwater honor will do nothing but help as he moves forward. It is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in the math and science fields, and is administered by the Goldwater Foundation, a federally endowed agency established in 1986. Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that garner the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs.

“It’s affirmation that I’m on the right track to accomplish my goals,” Dillon said. “I have also put a lot of work into my mathematical endeavors—taking advanced courses, enrolling in multiple reading courses at Lawrence, conducting research, some of it independently, studying mathematics intensely in Budapest. As with everyone, it’s really nice when these efforts are recognized.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email:

Convocation speaker: Imaginative thinking is political work, and it’s not easy

Masha Gessen talks at the podium on the stage of Memorial Chapel during Thursday's convocation.
Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and author, delivers a convocation address Thursday at Memorial Chapel. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Masha Gessen was up front that there would be no answers in this address. Only questions, be they political, socio-economic or otherwise.

The Russian-American journalist and author, delivering the winter term Convocation Thursday morning at Lawrence University’s Memorial Chapel, told the gathering of mostly faculty, students, and staff that in order to find answers to society’s most perplexing problems, we must first challenge our assumptions of what we think we know and then imagine a better world, a better way to connect the dots.

In other words, think. And think deeply.

Gessen is the author of more than a dozen books, including the National Book Award-winning The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Two more books are in the works, one coming this summer focused on the three years of the Trump presidency, and another that is still a work in progress on imaginative political projects around the world and what we can learn from them.  

It was the latter that was the focus of Gessen’s Convocation address, “The Parallel Polis.” It was the second of three Convocations in Lawrence’s 2019-20 series.

A staff writer at the New Yorker and an instructor at Amherst College, Gessen is a native of Russia, relocating to the United States at the age of 14.

Some things, Gessen said, seem so straightforward, so automatic, that we stop questioning it, stop thinking about it. It was an assumption about the former Soviet Union that kicked off the conversation that is now leading to the coming book.

“It started with this assumption I was raised with that I never, ever questioned,” Gessen said. “The assumption was that, not only communism and the communist idea, but any utopian idea would always lead to totalitarianism.”

Perhaps. But perhaps there are other ways to think about it, pieces to pull from it, ideas to reimagine in a different context. Can we challenge ourselves to dive deep and explore whether our assumptions are indeed correct and absolute?

Masha Gessen: “I was looking for very disparate projects that were united by the commitment to imagining something different.”

Gessen talked about reporting around the world, from a community-based urban farm in Detroit to experiments with universal basic income in Finland, all as imaginative political projects aimed at upsetting the paradigm.

“I wasn’t looking for projects that were solving a specific problem. I wasn’t writing about the problem itself. I was looking for very disparate projects that were united by the commitment to imagining something different.”

Gessen said people working on some of these projects had a difficult time telling their stories, in part because they were imagining something that didn’t yet exist. They didn’t have a language to make sense of it, so they struggled to articulate their vision.

“It got me thinking about different ways to think about imagination, which was my ultimate topic,” Gessen said. “How do we talk about things that we haven’t invented yet?”

Imaginative thinking is where real political change happens, Gessen said.

In late 2011, early 2012, when Russia was reeling in economic turmoil and there were mass protests and talk about the fate of Vladimir Putin, Gessen started pondering imaginative thinking, or the lack thereof. No one could really imagine what would come next in Russia should Putin be gone.

“The intellectual work of imagining what would happen after is actually political work,” Gessen said. “It’s essential for something to be able to move forward. But how do you imagine something that you don’t know, and then sort of will it into being?”

More questions. All the more important to think about at what Gessen called “this particularly vexing moment in history.”

The answers won’t ever come easy.

“I think things that are right in one place are really wrong in another, which is not to say everything is relative,” Gessen said. “It’s not. But it is to say there probably aren’t universal recipes. But what’s useful is figuring out what your assumptions are and thinking really hard about those assumptions and doing some experimenting in your mind.”

Ed Berthiaume is the director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: