Category: Alumni

Legacy of Olive Hamar to live on with renaming of President’s House

The president’s residence at Lawrence will now be known as Hamar House. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s President’s House is being renamed the Olive Hamar House in honor of a student who a century ago sought to create a new social space on campus and advocated for women’s rights.

The house that serves as the residence for Lawrence’s president and is often the site of campus gatherings takes on its new name courtesy of a $2 million endowed gift from Patricia (Pat) Boldt ’48, niece of the late Olive Hamar.

Part of the City Park Historic District, the house along North Park Avenue has served as the president’s house since 1956, when Sampson House was converted from a presidential residence to administrative offices. Outgoing President Mark Burstein is the sixth Lawrence president to call it home; Laurie Carter, joining Lawrence as its 17th president on July 1, will be the home’s newest resident, the first under the name Hamar House.

Hamar was a student at Lawrence when she died of meningitis in March 1925. She had been active with student organizations and with the local YWCA and was leading a push to open a hospitality center on campus.

An article in The Lawrentian described her as “one of the most beloved girls on the Lawrence campus. … She dreamed of a place where Lawrence students could meet on a common ground, unhampered by distinctions of any kind, in a house that would offer them that homelike atmosphere missed at college.” 

The endowed gift in her honor will now fund the upkeep of Hamar House as well as the maintenance of several other Lawrence-owned homes along North Park Avenue.

Legacy of Olive Hamar

This portrait of Olive Hamar, part of Lawrence’s art collection, was on display in the President’s House for the past eight years.

Because the president’s house is often a gathering place for campus celebrations and meals with Lawrence guests, it’s appropriate that it will now carry the name of a student who put such emphasis on hospitality and friendship.

Boldt, who followed her aunt’s path to Lawrence, said family stories and cherished letters detail the kindness and generosity of Hamar, including her love of Lawrence.

“Olive was a beloved girl,” Boldt said. “And not just by her family. If you read all the stuff that I’ve got, you can tell people were really fond of her. And when you read some of these letters, you see that she was a darling and a wonderful woman, so generous and humble.”

The story of Hamar and her quest to create a social center on campus—it eventually happened after her death, with a building at the northeast corner of Union Street and College Avenue serving as a gathering place for Lawrence students and members of the Appleton community—became a frequent topic of conversation over the past eight years. Before settling in at Lawrence, Burstein and his husband, David, selected the painting of Olive Hamar from the university’s art collection to hang over the mantel in the living room. They were unaware at the time of her history or her connection to the Boldt family, longtime supporters of Lawrence.

“The spring before we arrived, David and I had the wonderful opportunity to look through the art in Wriston Gallery storage to pick out pieces for the President’s House,” Burstein said. “Our goal was to display the quality of Lawrence throughout the house. We fell in love with a portrait of a young woman. We were drawn to the idea of giving the work a prominent place over the mantel in the living room. We also liked the idea of having a woman in this location given Lawrence’s history as one of the first co-educational institutions in the country.”

Boldt, meanwhile, was plenty familiar with the painting of her aunt. She has letters that document the commissioning of that portrait for Lawrence following Hamar’s death. An almost identical painting, created by the same artist using the same photograph, was on display at her grandparents’ house for as long as she can remember, she said.

Shortly after Burstein assumed the Lawrence presidency in 2013, he and David hosted Pat Boldt and her husband, Oscar C. Boldt, for a social event at the house. It was then that Pat noticed the painting of her aunt on display. The stories flowed from there.

The Olive Hamar stories have now been told and retold—the joy she found on campus, her work with the YWCA, her advocating for women’s rights, her generosity of spirit, the mourning of her death—and they will live on as the house transitions to Hamar House.

“Both David and I have had the honor of retelling Olive’s story and describing the impact she had on the Lawrence community,” Burstein said. “Her care for individual community members and her passion for women’s rights resonated with us and with the many visitors we’ve hosted at the house. It is a pleasure to know this connection to Olive will live on with the naming of Hamar House. That this naming also links the house to Pat Boldt, someone renowned for hospitality and also someone so generous to us and other past presidents in so many ways, was such an added bonus.”

About the house

The Queen Anne-style house was built in 1904—the same year Olive Hamar was born—and acquired by Lawrence in 1947. Designed by architect George W. Jones, its initial occupant, the house is described as an English-inspired mansion with touches of the Victorian era thrown in for good measure.

After Lawrence purchased the house, it briefly converted it into a residence hall, known as the Park House Dormitory. That lasted until 1956, when then-President Douglas Knight and his family moved into the home. It has been renovated multiple times over the years, including a complete renovation in 2000, and has housed, in addition to Knight, presidents Curtis Tarr, Thomas Smith, Richard Warch, Jill Beck, and Burstein.

Carter will be joined in Hamar House by her husband, Gary Robinson, and their family dog, Pepper.

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

Board of Trustees welcomes two new members; Nettles begins term as chair

Cory Nettles ’92, here speaking at the June 13 Commencement, will begin his tenure as chair of the Lawrence University Board of Trustees on July 1.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Two new members will join the Lawrence University Board of Trustees beginning July 1.

Francesca Romero Siekman ’11 will serve as a Recent Graduate Trustee and Sachin Shivaram as a Term Trustee.

The board also is welcoming a new chair. Cory Nettles ’92, the current vice chair, will succeed David Blowers ’82, who will remain a member of the board.

The Recent Graduate Trustee is a three-year position filled by an alumnus within two to 10 years of graduation. A Term Trustee position is for a three-year term, with eligibility to be re-elected for up to four consecutive terms.

“On behalf of our entire board, I would like to welcome Francesca and Sachin to our Board of Trustees,” Nettles said. “They both will bring their considerable talents and invaluable perspective to our board and help to make Lawrence University even better.”

President Mark Burstein, who is ending his eight-year tenure at Lawrence at the end of the month, praised Blowers for his work as chair and welcomed Nettles to the leadership post.

“One signal of institutional strength is the level of experience and creativity provided by trustee leadership,” Burstein said. “Lawrence has been blessed with very talented board chairs including Dave Blowers, who has offered council, leadership, and careful direction at a critical juncture in the University’s history. Both Dave and I believe that Cory Nettles will continue this tradition of strong, experienced, and creative trustee leadership into the future.”

Nettles said he’s thrilled to take on the new leadership responsibilities at a time when Lawrence is transitioning to Laurie Carter as its 17th president.

“Our sincerest thanks to Dave Blowers, who steps down as board chair while continuing his distinguished service to Lawrence on the board,” Nettles said. “Lawrence is at an important and exciting inflection point. I am excited to accelerate our positive momentum under President Carter’s new leadership.”

Sarah Schott ’97 will be the new vice chair and Bill Baer ’72 the new board secretary.

Meet the new trustees:

Francesca Romero Siekman ’11

Francesca Romero Siekman ’11, of Guanajuato, Gto, Mexico, is a film producer and entrepreneur. She has worked on films such as Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón; The Untamed, directed by Amat Escalante; Gasoline Thieves, directed by Edgar Nito; and Prayers for the Stolen, directed by Tatiana Huezo.

She also is the co-founder of Cornelia B Natural Cosmetics.

Romero Siekman graduated from Lawrence in 2011 and got her masters in 2021 in film producing from Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. She serves on the board of the Film Commission of the State of Guanajuato, Mexico.

Lawrence has been a big part of her family’s history. She and her brother, David Romero Siekman ’15, are fifth-generation Lawrentians. Their mother, Faffie Siekman Romero ’74, their grandmother, Martha Boyd Siekman ’43, their great-grandfather Charles Boyd 1893, and their great-great-grandfather, Samuel Boyd 1859, all graduated from Lawrence, as did other members of her extended family. Martha Boyd Siekman is a past member of the Board of Trustees.

Sachin Shivaram

Sachin Shivaram is CEO of Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, a 115-year-old family-owned manufacturing company in Manitowoc.

He is a first-generation American, his parents having immigrated to the U.S. from India in the 1970s. He grew up in Milwaukee and attended Harvard University, majoring in history and literature, focusing on Afro-American history. Shivaram went on to earn a master’s degree in political science from the University of Cambridge and a J.D. from Yale Law School. He has worked in the metals industry for many years in North and South America.

A desire to return to Wisconsin led Shivaram in 2016 to join the Marinette-based Samuel Pressure Vessel Group as president. In 2019, he joined Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry as the company’s first non-family CEO.

Shivaram and his family live in northeast Wisconsin. He teaches a course on Business Ethics and Values-Based Leadership at St. Norbert College. He serves on multiple boards, including IndUS, an organization dedicated to promoting Indo-American friendship and goodwill in the Fox Valley, and New North. He also has been active on boards through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and was recently elected as a supervisor in the Town of Ledgeview.

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

Alumni Award winners to be honored as annual Reunion weekend goes virtual

Trees frame the Main Hall cupola on the Lawrence University campus. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence University alumni will come together June 17-20 for a Virtual Reunion that will include honoring eight 2021 Alumni Award winners.

Pandemic protocols are keeping Reunion from being in person again this year, but virtual programming will allow alumni to join together for various events and to celebrate this year’s award winners. Details can be found on the Reunion page at

The 2020 Alumni Award recipients also will be honored during the Virtual Reunion. For a look back at last year’s winners, see here.

The 2021 award winners are:

Presidential Award (2 recipients)

(Presented to an alumnus or alumna whose exemplary leadership and notable actions have contributed to the betterment of the entire Lawrence community.)

Patricia (Pat) Hamar Boldt ’48: She is being honored for “unwavering dedication” to not only Lawrence but to the Fox Valley and the state of Wisconsin as well. She has long been a beacon of goodness and generosity in civic life and volunteer service, partnering with her late husband, Oscar C. Boldt, in strengthening Lawrence and its position in the community.

She has served as president of the Founders Club, the campaign working group for the More Light! Campaign, and with O.C. as an honorary steering committee member of the recently completed Be the Light! Campaign. She was recognized in 1994 with the Jupp Outstanding Service Award, and both Pat and O.C. received honorary doctor of law degrees from Lawrence in 2003 and the Richard Warch Outstanding Service to Bjӧrklunden Award in 2015.

Pat has provided important counsel to every Lawrence president over the past four decades. She has long embraced the value of breaking bread together as more than sharing a meal; it’s a means of coming together. She has frequently cited the lessons learned as a Lawrence student in the ’40s with informing her journey of philanthropy, outreach, and kindness.

Susan (Susie) Stillman Kane ’72: The former Board of Trustees chair has been a passionate advocate for education, focusing volunteer efforts on helping students with financial need obtain access to higher education.

For example, she has worked closely with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in Massachusetts, a network of free, open-enrollment public charter schools helping students in underserved communities. Several KIPP students have enrolled at Lawrence. KIPP also has provided internship opportunities for Lawrence students.

A tireless advocate for Lawrence, she began serving on the Board of Trustees in 2003. She has served on most every committee and served as vice chair before beginning a three-year term as chair in 2016. She served on the Presidential Search Committees that selected both Lawrence’s 16th and 17th presidents, as well as the Task Force on Life After Lawrence, President’s Advisory Committee, and campaign planning and steering committees.

Lucia Russell Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award

(This award is presented to a member of the alumni community after their 20th Cluster Reunion for outstanding contributions and achievements in their career field.)

Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr. ’77 P’10’13: The business career of the former economics and mathematics double major has been impressive, first at Northwest Industries, then at Baxter International Inc., and now as a professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and as an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners.

Kraemer has published articles on leadership and business in Fortune Magazine and authored three books on values and leadership, From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership (2011), Becoming the Best: Build a World-Class Organization Through Values-Based Leadership (2015), and Your 168: Finding Purpose and Satisfaction in a Values-Based Life (2020).”

Often praised for his ability to open doors and forge lasting connections, Kraemer has remained an effective voice among Lawrence alumni. He has served on the Board of Trustees and the Lawrence University Alumni Association Board of Directors and has been active on multiple Reunion committees, through leadership roles during the More Light! and Be the Light! capital campaigns, and in providing student support.

Nathan M. Pusey Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

(This award is presented to a member of the alumni community celebrating their 20th Cluster Reunion or younger for significant contributions and achievements in a career field.)

James J. Moran ’00: A chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, he serves as lead for the Isotope and Chemical Analysis team within the Environmental Transformations and Interactions group. He works with scientists around the world, providing insight into isotopic analyses and how they can address challenging questions in fields such as stable isotope geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and microbial ecology, among others.

In 2016, he received the United States Department of Energy Office of Science’s Early Career Award in Biological and Environmental Research. In addition to his accomplishments as a scientist, he has been a mentor for aspiring scientists. Through multiple programs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the United States Department of Energy, Moran has worked with high school students, undergrads, and graduate students, many of whom have continued their educations and careers in the sciences.

Moran studied geology and chemistry at Lawrence. He has remained connected to Lawrence, serving as a class officer, class agent, and Class Leadership Team member. He has helped others give back to his alma mater, stewarding them through his 10th Reunion Gift Committee, the Viking Gift Committee, and Giving Day.

George B. Walter ’36 Service to Society Award

(This award is presented to a member of the alumni community who best exemplifies the ideals of a liberal education through its application to socially useful ends in the community, the nation, or the world.)

Andrew H. Motiwalla ’96: He is the founder of several organizations focused on sustainable and immersive service programs for teens and adults. In 2006, he founded Terra Education, an experiential education company that offers travel programs throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Its flagship program is Global Leadership Adventures, a service-learning program that allows high school students to learn first-hand about social issues in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America. In 2011, he created Discover Corps, a travel program for families to engage in community service as part of their international vacations. And in 2016, he founded Summer Springboard, a hands-on exploratory program whose mission is to help pre-college students make informed decisions about college selection, academic majors, and careers that stay true to each student’s personal vision.

Motiwalla remains closely connected to each of these organizations and continues to serve as the executive chairman of Terra Education.

Motiwalla also co-founded monitorQA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an inspection and auditing software platform to improve health and safety operations in the workplace. The company seeks to help organizations around the world achieve operational excellence. As chief revenue officer, Motiwalla leads sales, marketing, and customer success efforts for the company.

Motiwalla studied Spanish and anthropology at Lawrence.

Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp M-D’18 Outstanding Service Award (2 recipients)

(This award is presented to a member of the alumni community after their 20th Cluster Reunion who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence within or apart from the Lawrence University Alumni Association.)

Dorothy E. Fischer ’77: She graduated from Lawrence with a focus in economics. After earning her MBA from the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business and beginning her career as a manager of financial analysis for a division of The Standard Oil Company, Fischer turned a keen sense for the business world into her own consulting firm. As the owner of InnerAwareness Inc. Fischer has helped thousands of clients create positive change through consultations, workshops, seminars, and training classes.

Fischer has given back to Lawrence in a number of volunteer capacities. She has held the role of class secretary, served on her 30th and 40th Reunion committees, connected with peers through her Class Leadership Team, and held a seat on the Founders Club National Council, and has given her time to help prospective students through college fairs, interviews, and admitted student receptions.

Donna M. Weltcheff Schroeder M-D’54 P’79: She has been a loyal supporter of the university and a stalwart champion of upholding Milwaukee-Downer College’s legacy at Lawrence. Immediately after graduating from Milwaukee-Downer College, Schroeder began a long and successful career in the U.S. Social Security Department.

Since her graduation, Schroeder has consistently supported current and future generations of Lawrentians, as well as shared her belief in a liberal arts education with her son and granddaughter, both Lawrentians themselves.

Through her volunteer efforts, Schroeder has served as class secretary, a member of the 2014 Lawrence University and Milwaukee-Downer Anniversary Consolidation Celebration committee and 50-Year Connection committee, as a Class Agent from 1998 to 2001, and as the chair of her Reunion Gift committee in 2005. Her leadership in these capacities, and in more personal conversations with other Downer alumnae, has encouraged many to connect to Lawrence for the first time.

Marshall B. Hulbert ’26 Young Alumni Outstanding Service Award

(This award is presented to a member of the alumni community celebrating their 20th Cluster Reunion or younger who has provided significant service to the college within or apart from the Lawrence University Alumni Association.)

Chuck Erickson ’02: A double major in Spanish and music education with a focus in choral music while a student at Lawrence, Erickson has devoted significant time to guiding prospective students in making their college decisions.

His passion for education and for his alma mater ultimately led him back to Lawrence, where he provided leadership in the admissions department for more than 13 years, working with hundreds of prospective students, keeping track of diversity and college-access programs in partnership with the university, and providing support to domestic transfer students.

In 2015, Erickson began working as an independent educational consultant. In this role he helps clients and their families through each step of the college search and application process, supporting them with honesty and compassion.

He has been an active volunteer at Lawrence and in the Appleton community. He’s served, among other organizations, the Friends of Appleton Public Library, the A Better Chance house, and Appleton Noon Optimist Club. At Lawrence, Erickson has been a leading voice for his 10th and 15th Reunion committees, connected with classmates as a member of his Class Leadership Team, planned events with the Fox Cities Regional Club, and facilitated important fundraising and stewardship efforts through the Viking Gift Committee, Reunion, and Giving Day.

Looking to take a fun photo on campus? We’ve got some ideas (10 of them)

Main Hall and the green that surrounds it provide a plethora of photo opportunities for those living on or visiting campus. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

A picture is worth a thousand words—at least that’s what Instagram has taught me.

This article was made for me: I’m the friend who insists on the group photo every time we go out. I scroll through my camera roll when I’m trying to remember that one student life event from freshman year. I always have my phone camera ready (and my hair and outfit lookin’ cute), because you never know when that perfect photo op will present itself.

We did an earlier version of great campus photo ops. Check it out here. (These nine plus our new 10 give you 19 great ideas)

Every photo is a memory saved for later, and I want to make sure I remember it in all its glory. So basically, I’ve been scouting out Lawrence’s best photo spots since I first visited campus. Whether you’re looking for the “undeniably Lawrence” backdrop or one of campus’s many hidden gems, get ready to smile, because these 10 destinations (we tried not to duplicate the above version; and please remember of follow all safety protocols) will guarantee your pic is worthy of the rinsta.

1. Ready the Ship window in Warch

As the newest addition to my collection of campus backdrops, it’s only fair that the new logo decal in the front window of Warch Campus Center tops the list. The Viking Athletics ship logo incorporates so many aspects of Lawrence history—the antelope of the Amos Lawrence Family Coat of Arms as the figurehead, the university crest holding up the mast, the immediately recognizable LU decorating the sail—and honestly, it just looks pretty freaking cool.

Insider Fun-Fact: Starting this piece with the viking ship lets me make a cheesy joke about setting sail with the rest of this list!

2. Colman/Brokaw bridge

The Colman/Brokaw bridge is the type of photo spot that you walk by every day but probably don’t appreciate how photogenic it is. This one is all about the angles. Whether you’re taking a selfie against the railing, sitting in the middle of the path with a friend, or looking over the edge at the photographer standing down below, there’s no shortage of opportunities to capture a top-notch and uniquely-you photo.

3. Mural on Drew Street

Who doesn’t love a little surprise in their life? Just below the aforementioned bridge is a mural, regularly repainted to showcase varying on-campus events and phenomena. A mural celebrating Earth Week was up when I had my photo shoot, but this location is unique in that the shot will always provide the context of a special moment in time—you never know what you’re going to get, but it will always be distinctly Lawrence.

4. Basically, anywhere on Main Hall Green

As soon as the sun comes out and the temperature hits 60 degrees, I’m busting out the picnic blanket, some sunscreen, and a good book and heading over to Main Hall Green. From there, I can look straight in any direction to find a top-notch photo spot. Quaint benches are scattered around the yard for traditional family photos, or of course, you can always just lie in the grass if you can’t resist the temptation. Trust me, you’ve never seen another scene that’s quite this green.

5. Steitz atrium

Natural light enhances any photo, but the weather doesn’t always agree with me. When I found an indoor location with brilliant natural light from the skylight (which, well, takes up the whole ceiling), I knew it was a keeper. Soaring three floors up in Steitz Hall’s atrium, this photo spot promises a compelling backdrop of geometric patterns, accent plants, and the comfiest chairs on campus.

6. Trever woods

The Trever woods are easily the most secluded, unknown photo location on campus. I, a self-proclaimed photo-aficionado, only found this spot a couple weeks ago, so I know it’s past time that the Trever woods are exposed for their full glory. Right behind Trever Hall, on the very edge of campus, a short trail leads down to the Fox River, and the surrounding trees offer the perfect backdrop of foliage, with glimpses of blue water and sky peeking through the branches.

Location-scouting tip: Exploring is a great way to find new photo ops! Because campus is constantly evolving, there’s always something new to find, no matter how long you’ve lived here.

7. Chapman Hall welcome wall

There’s a reason why the first thing prospective students see when they start their campus tour is Chapman Hall, and I think it’s just to show off the “Bring Your Light” wall. And after seeing it myself, I can understand why. The word I keep coming back to is just “stunning.” Showcasing a stunning aerial photo of the Lawrence campus, lit up by a stunning sunset, the wall flows neatly into a stunning series of photographs of Lawrence’s stunning accomplishments. Do you see what I’m going for here? It’s pretty stunning.

8. Briggs Hall overlook

My first photo shoot on campus was at the Briggs Overlook, and freshman-me knew what she was doing. Jutting out over the hill Briggs Hall is built into, the overlook offers the best view on campus: towering bridges, treetops extending for miles, blue sky as far as the eye can see, and of course, the beautiful Fox River.

9. Ledge between Memorial Hall and Wellness Center

The Briggs Overlook is a classic for any photo, but just a short walk to the east leads you to one of Lawrence’s most criminally under-utilized photo backdrops. With a view of Appleton that rivals that of Briggs, the stone ledge between Memorial Hall and the Wellness Center provides an impressive frame for a deserving view, curved in a way that makes the background look even more expansive.

Posing tip: Any location that gives you the opportunity to sit down makes it easier to answer the age-old question: What do I do with my hands???

10. Sage patio

I know, I know, more views of Appleton and the Fox River—but hear me out! This one is special. The metallic, industrial staircase and railings provide an eye-catching contrast to the serene view of trees and water below. Just behind Sage Hall, this patio area is the most underused of all the prime river photo locales, so you know you’ll have plenty of time to snap as many photos as you want without getting side-eye from passersby. And when you’re done, you can just head straight down the steps for a stroll along Lawrence’s very own river path!

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Office of Communications. Thanks to Alex and her friends for supplying all these great photos.

Lawrence’s beloved Rock is heading east, a gift to university’s departing president

The Rock first came to the Lawrence University campus in 1895. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The Rock, a 2-ton boulder that has been part of Lawrence University lore for 126 years, is being gifted to departing President Mark Burstein.

In searching for the perfect gift for a leader whose rock-solid leadership has helped guide Lawrence to new heights, the university community opted to follow the lead of Burstein’s previous employer. When he left Princeton University to join the Lawrence family eight years ago, Burstein was given small honed pieces of material that were used in the many building and landscape projects constructed and renovated during his nine-year tenure there. These pieces form a small square that resides on his desk in Sampson House. 

It’s hoped he’ll proudly display The Rock in similar fashion as he leaves Lawrence and moves back east to begin a new adventure.

“I’ll need a bigger desk,” a gracious Burstein said. “Or David will have to design a garden with The Rock as a center point.”

The Rock came to Lawrence as a gift from the Class of 1895, plucked from a field during a geology trip near New London. It made the 30-mile trip east to Appleton and has since been painted, buried, hidden, and moved. But mostly revered.

Now it’ll go further east with a president who also is revered. The gift didn’t include a means of moving The Rock because of ongoing budget constraints. So, come June, volunteers, fully masked and following The Pledge, will be needed to hoist The Rock atop Burstein’s car for the 900-mile drive. A sign-up sheet can be found on the fifth floor of the Mudd Library in the Center for the Advancement and Study of Humor, Hijinx, and Fools.

“Raft of Stars,” Lawrence alumnus’ debut novel, arrives amid growing buzz

Andrew J. Graff ’09

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Andrew J. Graff ’09 speaks of gratitude as he watches the buzz grow for his debut novel, Raft of Stars, released today by Ecco-HarperCollins.

Gratitude for his experience as an English major at Lawrence University, gratitude for the instruction and guidance that led to his acceptance into the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and gratitude for lessons in and out of the classroom that helped him keep his dream alive when the waters got rough.

“I’m thankful for it and just really enjoying everything that is happening,” Graff said.

What is happening is that Raft of Stars has arrived as a much talked-about novel, standing tall among the spate of spring releases. It has been highlighted as a must-read by Parade Magazine and USA TODAY, was chosen by HarperCollins as its lead spring title, was named a “Indie Next” pick by the American Booksellers Association and a “Read This Next” pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and has drawn rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Kirkus, and PopSugar.

Set in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, Raft of Stars tells the story of two 10-year-old boys who flee the scene of a shooting and embark on a wild adventure through forests and along rivers while being pursued by law enforcement and family, all with varying motivations and conflicted histories.

The Boston Globe says Graff’s detailed landscape and harrowing tale of boys on the lam has echoes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while neatly finding its own path: “The art and craft of this narrative, apparent from the first page with its sublime constellations of images, offers brutal beauty, the glinting edge of truth, and the possibility of redemption for the fifth-grade boys, and also for the adults chasing them.”

The excitement surrounding the book’s release comes six years after Graff found himself at a daunting crossroads.

Before embarking on Raft of Stars, Graff had spent seven years writing a novel that was set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, where he had been deployed as an aircraft mechanic with the U.S. Air Force. He began it while a student at Lawrence and continued with it as he earned his master’s degree at Iowa.

He was back living in northern Wisconsin when his agent sent it to publishers. Graff eagerly awaited the offers.

“I thought, boy, here I come world,” he said. “And no one wanted it. No one. It was pretty unanimous.”

It was the rejection that his professors warned him would come. He remembers Lawrence English professor David McGlynn, himself an accomplished author, telling him that if you’re talented, passionate, and diligent, you can find literary success but it will most likely take 10 years or more. Embrace patience and hard work, McGlynn told him.

And yet there was no bracing for the rejection of seven years’ worth of work, Graff said. 

He stopped writing for a year and a half.

But then it was the voice of McGlynn in his head that brought him back and ignited the spark that would become Raft of Stars.

It was late 2014 or early 2015, in the dead of winter, and Graff and his wife, Heidi Quist Graff ’10, were living in an old house on the banks of the Peshtigo River. Graff had started a teaching job at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

As he rummaged through boxes in the basement, he came upon an old college assignment from McGlynn.

“I wasn’t writing,” Graff recalled. “I had failed at being a novelist, you know. I was lighting fires in the wood stove in my basement, and I was using old notes from college to light the fire. I had saved every single note and every handout from my time in college. I was hoping I would do something great with them but I ended up lighting fires in wintertime. I was about to put this one essay into the fire; it was called The Nature and Aim of Fiction by Flannery O’Connor. I remembered how much David loved that essay. So, I didn’t burn it and I set it aside instead.

“In the essay, Flannery O’Connor says it takes three sensory strokes to bring something fully to life on the page, like smell, taste, and touch. That night is when I wrote the first lines of what later would become Raft of Stars. I just wrote about two boys pushing their bikes down a gravel road and there was a blackbird hanging onto a cattail stalk and there were some bees in the ditch clover. I didn’t know who those boys were and I didn’t know where they were headed, but they are Bread and Fish, the two boys from Raft of Stars.”

Thus began a five-year journey that would land Graff a book contract with Ecco-HarperCollins in mid-2019.

“I felt like I had mourned the first book long enough and I knew I still wanted to write, and these boys seemed interesting to me,” Graff said. “So, once I got to know them and watch them kind of ride their bikes around town a little bit and light off firecrackers in silos, I thought, yea, there’s something here. And eventually the story formed, the drama came in, it became apparent that one boy had an abusive father and the other, his friend, would do something very big and drastic to rescue him. At that point, I felt like the story had enough pressure to get them deep into the wilderness, especially once the adult cast of characters came onto the scene.”

A journey of his own

Raft of Stars is set in a space Graff knows well. He grew up in Niagara, a rural city of 1,600 located near the Menominee River in Marinette County. He hunted, fished, and explored amid the beauty of the Northwoods, landscape that would become central to his story of the two runaway boys as they navigate terrain that is both dangerous and soothing.

Graff enlisted in the Air Force shortly after graduating from high school. When the attacks of 9/11 happened, life took an abrupt turn. He was deployed to Afghanistan.

“I just remember how surreal it was, to be sort of dropped off at this desert combat airfield,” Graff said. “We worked at nighttime, catching C-130s, these inbound cargo jets, to see if they needed any maintenance.”

After four years of service, he moved to Appleton and enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College to train to be a paramedic.

He was being practical, he said. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He yearned to be a writer. He’d drive past Lawrence and wonder what might be.

“After a year at Fox Valley Tech, which was a great start and I’m thankful for that place, it just became really clear that I have to do this,” Graff said.

He applied to Lawrence as a 22-year-old non-traditional student, got in, and immediately impressed. McGlynn, who joined the Lawrence faculty in Graff’s sophomore year, said the talent was noticeable, even if his writing at that point was a bit “young.” When he turned in an essay about a moment during his time in the Air Force, McGlynn said he could see Graff’s confidence growing.

“He began to believe he could become a writer and set his sights on graduate school,” McGlynn said.

Graff joins Madhuri Vijay ’09 (The Far Field) and Callie Bates ’09 (The Waking Land series) as former Lawrence classmates who have landed debut novels with major publishers, a point of pride for an English department that recently added a creative writing major. The three have built on the writing success of Lawrence alumni who came before and provide a relatable window to what’s possible for current and future Lawrence students who want to pursue creative writing, McGlynn said.

“He called me the day Raft of Stars sold, in July of 2019, and it was a big moment for us both,” McGlynn said of Graff. “His work is a testimony to the fact that inspired, artful writing happens over time and is not the product of a flash of genius or a single good idea. A Lawrence student might not publish a novel while a student, but our record shows that something foundational is happening here. They begin the long journey toward the larger goal.”

Graff, now on the English faculty at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, said he’s thinking frequently of his Lawrence experience as he savors the excitement surrounding the book’s release.

“Without Lawrence, I wouldn’t be writing, hands down,” Graff said. “It was an interest of mine. I loved books; I always loved reading; I loved daydreaming. But it was at Lawrence where I thought, yes, I really want to try this. I got so much guidance from professors like David McGlynn and (former Lawrence professor) Faith Barrett and others that I couldn’t have done it without those years. It was absolutely informative.”

Graff said he will join one of McGlynn’s virtual classes as a guest during Spring Term. And, if pandemic protocols allow, he’ll pay a visit to campus in October when he’s back in Appleton to participate in the Fox Cities Book Festival.

Meanwhile, he’ll celebrate the release of Raft of Stars on March 23 by taking part in a 7 p.m. online launch event hosted by the Wisconsin Book Festival.

Graff said he’ll happily share with viewers what he took from his time at Lawrence, the joy of getting into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the hard work from then to now. And he’ll speak to the emotions that overwhelmed him on that summer day in 2019 when his agent told him the book had sold.

“It was raining that day and I was parked on the side of the road, and after the phone call I just sat in my pickup truck and cried,” Graff said. “It felt really sweet. I spent seven years working on the first book and five years working on this one. I thought, oh boy, if this one doesn’t sell, I will start again, but it’ll be hard. I’m thankful for every bit of attention the book is getting. It’s been pure fun.”

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

Connections, resiliency pay off as new grads navigate job searches in pandemic

Hoa Huynh ’19, De Andre King ’20, Maria Poimenidou ’20 (submitted photos)

Three recent Lawrence grads talk about
anxieties, changed plans, delayed successes
as they job-hunted in the time of COVID

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Launching into a post-college career is no easy thing in the best of times. Now do it amid a global pandemic, the job market suddenly fractured, travel frowned upon, interviews only by Zoom, the family’s basement turned into a makeshift workspace.

“There are six of us in the house working or studying,” said De Andre King ’20, who pursued software engineering jobs from the basement of his family’s New York City home in the months following his June 2020 graduation from Lawrence University. “It meant stuffing a towel under the door to make sure no noise was coming into the room while I was doing the interview. I had to position my table to where the water meter behind me wasn’t showing. It took a lot of planning.”

King is far from alone, of course. We’re closing in on a year since COVID-19 complicated things for new and soon-to-be graduates, adding urgency to the work of Lawrence’s Career Center and importance to connections forged with the school’s alumni.

In some ways, strange as it might sound, the pandemic has lowered the temperature a bit on the pressure to land that perfect job out of school, said Grace Kutney, associate director of the Career Center.

“What I hear from a lot of students, and one of the reasons their shoulders are so tense, is that they feel like they are doing something wrong if they give themselves permission to explore during that first year or two after graduation,” she said. “But I think because of the pandemic, people kind of knew things were going to be weird. I think their families understood that things were going to be weird. And there was the anticipation of bracing themselves for it. … So, it takes a pandemic to be, ‘Oh, it’s OK to find something that is maybe short term.’ But if you look at the statistics nationally, taking a position for a year or two and then shifting to something else is normal; it’s totally normal.”

With that backdrop, we caught up with three recent Lawrence graduates, all of whom leaned heavily on the Career Center and other campus resources as they navigated these uncertain days before landing jobs. Their journeys are all different, but with some shared threads.

^ ^ ^

De Andre King ’20

De Andre King ’20: “It took me a little while to pick myself back up”

King was in Atlanta in early March for the fourth and final round of interviews for an internship with a music company, a software engineering position the computer science major believed would set him on his post-college path.

He nailed the interview. Then everything came crashing down.

The recruiter pulled him aside with a warning. The spread of COVID-19, having recently arrived in the United States, was exploding. The internship was about to be nixed.

“Literally, that world for me was ending,” King said. “And then to check back into reality and see that the world as we know it was possibly ending as well, it was really tough. I was really, really banking on that opportunity. In all of my job-searching experiences, it was something down to the T what I wanted to do.”

He returned to Appleton just as Lawrence was announcing that it would be going to remote classes for Spring Term, and King joined his fellow seniors in scrambling to say goodbyes and honor their college experiences while taking finals amid chaos and tears.

“I wasn’t even able to be fully present for those moments because I was so worried about what was going to happen next,” King said. “Once that opportunity in Atlanta fell through, I was down and out. I’m not going to lie; I was really disappointed and it took me a little while to pick myself back up and keep going. I think I took two or three weeks off before starting back on my job search.”

After going home to New York, he reconnected with the team at Lawrence’s Career Center. Kutney would help guide him through an all-out blitz of job applications, making new connections with alumni, updating application materials, and identifying opportunities that were shifting by the day as companies tried to make sense of life in the pandemic.

“It wasn’t starting from the ground up again, but more so making a pivot and seeing what worked and what didn’t work up to that point,” King said.

He worked through his resume and application letters with Kutney. He circled back with Michelle Cheney, his former advisor in the Career Center who had moved to a position in the Annual Giving office. He reconnected with Cory Nettles ’92, a Lawrence trustee who had been a mentor to him, picking his brain on networking and other skills. He talked with Gary Vaughan, coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, who had been an important conduit to the Atlanta interviews.

“In the earlier search, I was more specifically looking toward the music industry and the music tech industry,” King said. “But after that opportunity fell through, I widened my scope of industries to look into.

“Michelle and then Grace, they were amazing. They took the time to really review each of my materials — my cover letter, my resume, my LinkedIn, my Handshake profile. They also provided me with the tools that helped me manage my time better.”

In all, King sent out about 200 applications.

His efforts eventually led him to Bloomberg LP, where he landed a job in October as a software engineer with the media company’s Princeton, New Jersey office. In November, the Wall Street Journal featured him in a story about the hard work of job searches in the pandemic.

King, still working from the family’s basement, has yet to set foot in the Bloomberg office, but he hopes it’ll happen soon.

“I drove past it one day but I haven’t been inside yet,” he said. “Yea, I’m looking forward to going into the office.”

^ ^ ^

Maria Poimenidou ’20

Maria Poimenidou ’20: “You can fall into a spiral of worries”

Poimenidou has been in Houston since mid-September, working as a research assistant for the Experimental Therapeutics Department in Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Like King, the pandemic not only added new levels of stress to the job search, it also delayed the process.

“While I was hoping that by graduation I would know exactly where I would be, my interviews and job offers were all pushed back until after graduation,” Poimenidou said. “There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with that and you can fall into a spiral of worries, but the way I adapted to everything was by becoming more flexible.”

She leaned even harder into her Lawrence experience and the resources in the Career Center. 

“One of the most valuable lessons you get out of Lawrence is learning how to be flexible and open-minded,” said Poimenidou, a biochemistry and economics double major. “While I waited for my job offers to come back, I reached out to alumni and applied for different unpaid internships that were not directly tied to the job sector I was interested in. I was fortunate to be able to take on an unpaid internship and grateful to receive two job offers by the end of the summer, one in Chicago and one in Houston.” 

Advice from Kutney and Cheney was helpful, she said, keeping her focused on her priorities while letting go of things she couldn’t control.

“Both Michelle and Grace were more than just career advisors, they were life coaches,” Poimenidou said.

Her job interviews were all virtual, which Poimenidou said she found oddly comforting.

“To be honest, I enjoyed the virtual aspect of the application process because in a way it felt more personable,” she said. “I had interviews with people that were in their homes and I was in mine, where I could hear their dog bark or some commotion in the background. It felt less intimidating and I actually had amazing, easy-going conversations.” 

^ ^ ^

Hoa Huynh ’19

Hoa Huynh ’19: “I’ve become much more comfortable in networking”

Huynh is set to begin a new job as a finance trainee with ING in the Netherlands in April. It follows a just-concluded internship with a small U.S. company based in Amsterdam, an internship she landed after the pandemic put her post-Lawrence plans in disarray.

An economics major at Lawrence, she had wanted to add another internship to her resume. She began looking to large companies, exploring data analytics, finance, and marketing opportunities. That all changed as the pandemic arrived, shutting down hiring at many companies.

“I did a lot of reflection about myself and talked to many people, including peers who were also struggling in the pandemic and those who already succeeded in job applications,” Huynh said.

She reconnected with the Career Center and zeroed in on the finance field, where she already had some experience.

“I diversified the types of companies and applied to smaller businesses and startups,” she said. “After changing strategy, I finally got the internship.”

That led to the opportunity at ING, a multinational banking and finance company. Without the internship and the added experience, it would not have happened, she said, noting that she’d been rebuffed by ING prior to the internship.

“I think the pandemic has definitely made the job search more competitive than before, especially at the beginning when companies were also struggling with changes the pandemic posed,” Huynh said. “I had to adjust my goals.

“More importantly, I had to be even more active in networking to build connections and gain more insights, to make sure that I could prepare the best resume and cover letters. Thanks to networking skills that Grace taught me during my time at Lawrence, I’ve become much more comfortable in networking and reaching out to people, and that hugely helped me land the traineeship at ING.”

Huynh said she now hears herself echoing the lessons she learned via Kutney and the Career Center as she talks with peers who are launching job searches during the pandemic.

“Try to build connections, deepen the connections, and don’t be afraid to show that you’re vulnerable,” Huynh said. “For those who are intimidated by networking, like I was in college, think of it simply as asking about other people’s experiences and information; they would love to share that with you.”

Lessons learned

The pandemic is hammering home the important connections Lawrence students and recent graduates have in the Career Center, where Career Communities, Viking Connect and other recent innovations have improved life after Lawrence planning.

Numbers from Lawrence’s 2020 class are not in yet, but Kutney said of the 2019 graduates, 95% are employed or continuing in their education. That is just shy of the 97% average over the past five years, which is good news in a pandemic that started eight months after that class graduated.

Mike O’Connor, the Riaz Waraich Dean for the Career Center & Center for Community Engagement and Social Change, said he was seeing an influx of student interaction even before the pandemic hit. It continues to grow. In September, more than 250 first-year students attended a Career Center orientation, and 150 first-year students paid follow-up visits, an all-time high.

The Career Center’s Instagram account, where important career planning and job search information is shared, has seen an increase of nearly 700 student followers since fall 2019.

“What I say to students in the pandemic is, be prepared to pivot to industries that are hiring,” O’Connor said. “Many are surging. Think tech, health care, even education. Related to that is skill-building for those opportunities. There are tons of ways to approach this, including remote opportunities and internships. And build your network; that is so key. Colleges with ready-to-tap alumni mentors and contacts are super valuable.”

Those conversations are becoming more frequent in the pandemic, Kutney said. The message is often about staying calm and focusing on the next steps.

She talks to students about not stressing over the perfect job. Is the short-term need to earn a certain amount of money? Is the need to gain experience in a particular area? Is the need to be in a particular geographic area?

“In an ideal world, the position would fill all of those things,” Kutney said. “But right now, in a pandemic, that might not be the case. So, we’re really encouraging them to give themselves permission to go, ‘This is what I’m focusing on for this season of time, and then I can shift.’ That’s part of releasing from their shoulders this burden that they have to have it all figured out before June.”

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

Great Midwest Trivia Contest results: “We are so proud of what we pulled off”

Grace Krueger ’21 (center) led her team of trivia masters through a very challenging but successful Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The 56th annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest thrived over the weekend in its first all-digital edition.

Forced to make changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team of trivia masters led by Head Master Grace Krueger ’21 stayed true to many of the weird and beloved traditions that have been part of the contest for five and a half decades. Bizarre questions that focus on information searches, useless prizes, nods to the contest’s history, and interactions between players and trivia masters all lived on.

“All in all, the weekend went fantastically well,” Krueger said. “Despite some hiccups that are always going to happen with the adaption of new technology and the restrictions we were under this year, the contest was a complete success and we are so proud of what we pulled off.”

For a wider sampling of the 2021 trivia contest, see this playlist.

With the WLFM studio unavailable and trivia masters socially distanced, the contest was held on Twitch. The action questions were all virtual and players called in answers via a virtual phone line on a Discord server.

“Teams adapted to all the changes this year so well, and we want to thank them for learning with us,” Krueger said.

What, if any, changes will be rolled into the traditional format next year will be at the direction of Riley Newton ’22, who was announced as the head master for the 2022 contest.

Despite going all-digital and teams not being able to gather together per usual, this year’s contest remained a big draw. It drew 77 off-campus teams and 14 on-campus teams, featuring a total of 551  players.

Here are the winning teams (yes, the tradition of long and strange names continued):


1: Team 3, At this point, Why not trust an Aquarius Microwaving and Peeling and why IS [REDACTED] ON FIRE-oh yes, YES, Flambéing and society of bones and pyromaniacs (owo) cinematic Universe (TM). The previous name has burst into flames; like a phoenix from the ashes has risen as a virgo: 1,650

2: Team 1, The Gaming House Special Featuring the Nipples of Knowledge: 1,415

3: Team 6, joe and ethan funtime bonanza team: 1,315


1: Team 135, Delguigi: 1,710

2: Team 112, are you the onesie #comfycrew: 1,665

3: Team 106, Hobgoblin of Little Minds: This One is for Sheila: 1,650

The Super Garuda was among the traditions that continued. The Super Garuda is annually a weirdly obscure question that serves as the final question of the weekend and then as the first question of the following year’s contest. Here’s your head start for 2022:

Q: The person who installed Pepsi machines on set played a Prohibition agent in a black-and-white film where Peter sets out to prove that he isn’t a boob. The title of this silent comedy is a featured comical word in a 2018 linguistics paper published by Canadian university researchers. A building at this university is named after a man whose last name is the first name of an actor who played a one-eyed man in a movie once described as having “all the appeal of a seaweed sandwich.” In this building, there is a large room on the mechanical floor directly below 2A2. In the southwest corner of the room, a red, graffiti-covered beam crosses the path near a door. A message is written on the wall next to the beam informing the reader of their odor. What, according to the author, do you smell like?

A: Cabbage

(It was answered correctly by Team 142: Beedough Beedough Beedough.)

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

Lighting the Way With … Tom Coben: When Kimmel calls and statues dance

Tom Coben ’12

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Tom Coben ’12, a motion graphics artist whose work in the past week has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly a decade after leaving Lawrence University with a growing portfolio of 3D graphics and other visual effects, Tom Coben ’12 has gone viral.

Well, his creative skills have gone viral, if not his name.

A freelance motion graphics and visual effects artist in the Twin Cities, Coben hooked up earlier this month with the creative team of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! They were looking for an artist who could animate statues dancing and singing for a video they were making to mark the end of the Trump presidency.

Coben delivered 14 shots of statues, monuments, and paintings that became the heart of the video – the Statue of Liberty, the faces on Mt. Rushmore, the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., among them – all in full celebration mode. Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the late-night talk show, posted the video late last week, and it quickly bounced around social media, racking up more than 5 million views on YouTube in the first four days.

See the Jimmy Kimmel video here.

“I sent a sample video of the Statue of Liberty dancing as a proof-of-concept on spec and they hired me for the bit,” Coben said. “We used a type of motion-capture technique where they filmed an actor with facial tracking markers and I used that information to apply the facial motions to the different sculptures and paintings.”

From there, he watched the final product roll out, and the social media shares and video views quickly grow, all in the days following the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Between social media and TV views, it’s the widest his work has been seen. But Coben said he did have one other brush with the power of the internet when Will Smith shared on his Instagram account an animation Coben made of a robot bowling. That got him a ton of exposure and some new freelance work, which is always a good thing.

“But this Kimmel video is definitely the most amount of attention any of my work has had,” he said.

It started at Lawrence

Coben first got a taste for motion graphics and 3D visual effects while studying at Lawrence.

An environmental studies major, Coben developed an interest in animation and 3D artistry. Lawrence’s Film Studies program was launching just as Coben was graduating. He was able to put together a self-directed film/animation-related minor.

“One of my favorite experiences at Lawrence was during the summer after my sophomore year when I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for five weeks with my advisor, (Associate Professor of Biology) Jodi Sedlock,” Coben said. “She knew I was interested in film production and asked if I would come and produce a short documentary about cave-roosting bat species and conservation of cave ecosystems on the island of Siquijor. Besides just being rad as hell, that experience helped me get a job the following summer at the Smithsonian National Zoo making promotional videos for their YouTube channel, filming the different exhibits.”

Then during his senior year, Coben took an intermediate sculpture class with Rob Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Studio Art and professor of art, and was given the green light to focus on using 3D software to create digital sculptures that he would incorporate into footage taken around campus.

It got wonderfully weird. There was a supersized octopus clinging to the cupola atop Main Hall. And snow goons waging a battle on the snow-covered campus green.

Neilson said he recalls Coben taking to heart the prompt he gave to the class at the outset of the term: “Construct a sculptural piece in any medium you choose that somehow closes — or exists within — the gap between art and life and addresses sculpture as a ‘thing’ in all its ‘objectness’.” Coben chose to use 3D modeling and video, and Neilson said he was all in.

“My approach to teaching art has always been: Sculpture can be anything we, the students and I, collaboratively decide it is,” Neilson said. “While I certainly love to ‘make things;’ to me sculpture is more about ideas than objects. Indeed, this is the fundamental beauty of sculpture; its ability to carry and convey meaning through material — even if the material is bits and bytes in a computer. Otherwise, it’s just an object.”

Coben took that approach and ran with it. He’s still running with it.

“After I graduated, I used some of those animations along with some other personal work to put together a reel, which got me my first few freelance jobs out of college,” Coben said. “After that I worked at a small video production company for about three years before deciding to get back into freelance animation, which I have been doing for the past five years.”

Much of his work is with local clients in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, doing 3D product renderings, motion graphics for commercials and online marketing videos, and visual effects for music videos.

He’s also designing custom 3D-printed sculptures, selling them on Etsy under the name Tomforgery3D. 

“They’re based on the classics but I’ve screwed with them to make them more absurd,” he said.

It might not draw the 5 million views of a Kimmel video, but it’s interesting, challenging, and creative work, Coben said.

“I had a lot of very cool opportunities at Lawrence and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today if my professors hadn’t given me the ability to pursue my interests with as much freedom as they did,” he said.

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

Eight alumni, eight stories: Endurance, vision, and brilliance show the way

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

One of the great joys in the Communications office is being able to catch up with Lawrence alumni who are shining their light brightly along whatever paths their journeys have taken them.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have canceled our 2020 Reunion weekend, but over the course of the year we had the chance to talk with and write about many amazing Lawrentians, graduating as far back as 1954 and as recently as 2019.

Most-viewed Lawrence stories of 2020: Read here.

Here are eight who caught our attention in our second annual Eight Alumni, Eight Stories end-of-year feature.

If you haven’t read these stories, we invite you to do so now. See story links below.

_ _ _

Jack Nilles ’54

Jack Nilles ’54: “We’re still in the middle of a giant experiment.”

Living amidst Los Angeles’ traffic congestion, Nilles floated the wild idea that employees could be productive working from home or in neighborhood offices instead of commuting to corporate headquarters. This was in the early 1970s. He studied it. He wrote books about it. He was called the father of telecommuting. But corporate America mostly shrugged. Then, in 2020, when the pandemic sent employees en masse to home offices, people started paying attention. “I keep saying lately, ‘after 48 years, I’m an overnight success,’” Nilles said.

_ _ _

Jim Miller ’80

Jim Miller ’80: “I felt a sense of urgency.”

The one-time Lawrence cross-country star has been running marathons ever since he caught the bug while an undergrad here in the late 1970s. It turns out he was pretty good at it, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon in both 1980 and 1984. He hasn’t stopped running. In August, just days before turning 62, Miller ran a marathon in 2 hours, 53 minutes, 59 seconds. That’s significant because it made him just the fourth runner in the world known to have run marathons in under 3 hours in six different decades.

_ _ _

Katy Hopkins ’85

Katy Hopkins ’85: “I said I’d love to help out, but I can’t keep up.”

Like many in the arts world, Hopkins found her livelihood at a standstill when the pandemic hit in the spring. The operator of Yahara River Woodwinds, an instrument-repair shop in Stoughton, Wisconsin, Hopkins quickly learned that musicians don’t need instruments repaired when much of the music world has shut down. She quickly pivoted and began making masks, which led to requests for specially made masks that music students could wear while practicing and performing. When her alma mater reached out, Hopkins, already overwhelmed with orders from around the country, agreed to teach students in the Theater Department Costume Shop to create the masks. Those masks are now being worn by students across the Conservatory.

_ _ _

Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05

Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05: “I’d say the victories are bittersweet.”

As a student at Lawrence, Lewis Hartung knew she wanted to go to law school. She just hadn’t quite centered on what path she would take in law. She eventually landed at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, where she worked as a student in the school’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. It’s there that she found her passion in post-conviction work. She would eventually join the faculty at Northwestern and now spends her days both teaching and working cases for clients believed to have been wrongfully convicted.

_ _ _

Dr. Ben Weston ’05

Dr. Ben Weston ’05: “Our public health infrastructure is not designed for this.”

A biology major while at Lawrence, Weston credits his work in the classroom and as a leader in Student Life with preparing him for the lead role he’s taken in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides teaching at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, working two shifts a week in the emergency department at Froedtert Hospital, and serving as the Office of Emergency Management’s director of medical services for Milwaukee County, Weston has taken on the temporary role of medical director of the Milwaukee area’s COVID-19 Unified Emergency Operations Center. To say the least, he’s had a busy year.

_ _ _

Alex Damisch ’16

Alex Damisch ’16: “For Jeopardy!, you make it work.”

While at Lawrence, Damisch was a regular in the Quizbowl student club. She also was a trivia master for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest. If there was a brain game to play, she was in. It turns out that was great training. It paid off when she finally got her shot at Jeopardy!. For three straight days, she was on a roll, winning more than $35,000 along the way. “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.”

_ _ _

Spencer Tweedy ’19

Spencer Tweedy ’19: “Thankfully, we all get along really well.” (Photo by David Zoubek)

When you grow up a Tweedy, singing around the house is just the way life happens. So, when the pandemic hit and Spencer and his brother, Sam, were homebound with their famous father, Jeff Tweedy, founder, singer, and guitarist of Wilco, and their mother, Susan, entertainment ensued. A bathroom rendition of Jeff Tweedy’s Evergreen featuring Jeff, Spencer, and Sam ended up on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tweedy Show debuted on Instagram.

_ _ _

Kir-Sey Fam ’19

Kir-Sey Fam ’19: “There was a bit of firefighting going on in different areas during launch.”

Even before he graduated from Lawrence in June 2019, Fam had himself a job offer as a software engineer at Disney+. The streaming service hadn’t yet launched, but the buzz was huge. It’s not often you step from the stage at Commencement and immediately land in the midst of one of the most talked about media developments in the world. When it launched, Disney+ had 10 million sign-ups the first day, 29 million in the first three months, and a new bankable star in Baby Yoda. Fam was part of the team that made it all happen.

See 2019 edition of Eight Alumni, Eight Stories here.

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