Category: Alumni

Looking to pitch in? 4 ways Lawrentians can help during COVID-19 crisis

Kate Zoromski, associate dean of academic success, restocks the student food pantry in Sabin House. The pantry makes food and other necessities available to Lawrence students in times of need. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The move to distance learning to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the midst of this global pandemic is a heavy lift for Lawrence students, faculty, and staff.

These are challenging, unprecedented times. But it’s a path we must take, and we must take it together.

“We have always risen to the challenges that face us with resilience and ingenuity,” President Mark Burstein said in a letter to the Lawrence community announcing the difficult decision to go to distance learning for Spring Term. “I know, as we have in the past, we will rise to this challenge and ensure that Lawrence continues to create a learning environment second to none.”

For details of COVID-19 response at Lawrence, see here.

As we lean into the values and commitment that have always defined the Lawrence experience, we ask everyone in the Lawrence community to do what you can to help our students navigate these uncharted waters. Among the ways we all can help:  

1. Donate to the Student Pantry: Whether for students on campus during spring break or those who will be here during Spring Term due to an inability to get home, the pantry can be an important connection. It offers supplies and food to students, but also needed items such as personal products. You can buy/donate directly through Amazon via a wishlist. Please note that Amazon has removed “non-essential” items from qualifying for rush shipping, but orders and deliveries are still being accepted and processed. More information about the Student Pantry is here: https://www.lawrence.edu/students/services/foodpantry

2. Contribute to the Lawrence Fund: The Lawrence Fund – Supporting Our Students (SOS) emergency fund has been established to aid students’ unexpected and urgent expenses related to the impacts of COVID-19. This fund will make available critical resources for immediate needs like our new distance-learning model, food, travel, housing, and other unexpected expenses. Every contribution helps support the University’s ability to assist students.

3. Be an alumni connection: Help Lawrence students network by signing up for our new Viking Connect program. Connecting with a current student and providing some positive guidance has never been more important. This is a chance to reach out virtually while still making a personal connection. See link here: https://vikingconnect.lawrence.edu/page/about

4. Support each other: Be supportive of other Lawrentians through use of the Alumni Directory. Stay connected in these difficult times and check in on one another using the directory and via Lawrence’s many social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Find the alumni directory here: go.lawrence.edu/profile

We are Lawrentians, now and forever. Let’s come together to be supportive as we grapple with difficult challenges and show our current students the path forward. In the darkness of uncertainty and deep angst, let us again be the light.

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

Lawrence alumnus brings classic Sam Shepard production to Cloak Theater

Paul McComas ’83 and Megan Corse star in Fool for Love, coming March 13 to Lawrence.

Update: This event has been canceled.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Playwright Paul McComas ’83 is passionate about a good number of things in this world, among them his alma mater and the work of the late writer and actor Sam Shepard.

Those two passions will come together on a Lawrence University stage on Friday, March 13, as McComas brings his adapted production of Shepard’s 1983 Fool for Love to Cloak Theater.

The play, set for 8 p.m. and starring McComas and fellow Chicago actor Megan Corse, begins with a set of “songs of foolish love,” followed by McComas’ 45-minute adaptation of Fool for Love, a sometimes funny, sometimes tragic rollercoaster of love and heartache that was a signature piece in Shepard’s 50-year career as a playwright, actor, director, and author. The play earned Shepard a Pulitzer Prize nomination, and it was later adapted to a feature film by Robert Altman.

To bring the touring production to Lawrence is a particular thrill for McComas, who counts the late Fred Gaines and other Lawrence faculty as mentors who set him on a course of creative exploration that has defined his career in the arts. The production will serve as a fundraiser for the Lawrence Conservatory’s Fred Gaines Student Playwright Series.

“There’s no education like a liberal-arts one,” McComas said of his time at Lawrence. “I see those lessons popping up daily — in every story or script I write, every stage or screen performance I assay, every song or instrumental piece I compose, every film I direct, every class I teach. I see it even in my thought processes and my most strongly held beliefs, namely the empathetic, altruistic, progressive ones.”

It was while at Lawrence that Gaines, the former theater and drama professor, introduced McComas to the work of Shepard. He’s been hooked ever since. He calls Shepard one of the great influences on his own writing and acting.

“Like him, I favor work that has one foot each in mainstream psychological family fiction and drama and material and themes that are more out there on the fringe,” McComas said. “I love the tension of that interplay in his work, and I aspire to it in my own.”

Productions of McComas’ Fool for Love have all been fundraisers for various causes since it premiered in 2018. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up. An audience conversation with the actors will follow the performance.

General admission tickets are $15 ($8 for seniors and non-Lawrence students), but free for members of the Lawrence community. For more information, call the box office at 920-832-6749 or visit www.facebook.com/events/696721090860700/.

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

Registration now open for wide range of Björklunden summer seminars

Summer seminar participants gather on the deck of the lodge at Bjorklunden during the summer of 2019.
Bjorklunden will host 37 seminars from mid-June to mid-October.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Björklunden, Lawrence University’s pristine northern campus in Door County, is once again beckoning visitors for summer seminars that feed a desire for lifelong learning.

Registration is open for 37 Bjorklunden summer seminars, presented by Lawrence faculty, alumni, and other experts. It’s a chance to learn while enjoying the peace and beauty of the 425-foot campus along the Lake Michigan shoreline, just south of Baileys Harbor.

Topics range from wildlife photography and the study of the stars to exploration of America’s racist past and the anatomy of a murder trial. The seminars begin in mid-June and carry through much of October.

“The seminar program embodies one of the most unique aspects of a liberal arts education — a commitment to lifelong learning,” said Alex Baldschun, an assistant director at Bjorklunden.

Visitors to the seminars, he said, come from all walks of life.

Some commute to the seminars. Others are Björklunden residents for the week, housed in the estate’s 37,000-square-foot lodge. Participants are able to explore the grounds and engage with the beautiful scenery in Door County.

Most seminars, which include meals prepared by Björklunden’s resident chef, begin Sunday evening and end Friday afternoon. Classes meet weekday mornings and some evenings, with remaining time available to enjoy Björklunden’s mile-long shoreline and wooded walking trails or to explore area cultural and recreational opportunities.

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, is among the Lawrence faculty leading seminars this year. She’s presenting an astronomy-focused seminar, The Stars: Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand, July 26-31. It’s something she’s wanted to do for years, calling the surroundings “singularly contemplative, especially for astronomy.”

To be able to do it in a relaxed atmosphere with a cross-section of deeply curious people, all the better.

“There’s something very freeing about being in a learning environment where there are no grades, just the love of learning,” Pickett said.

Complete seminar information, including registration, dates, course descriptions, and information on instructors, can be found at www.lawrence.edu/dept/bjork/ or by calling 920-839-2216. Questions can also be directed via email to mark.d.breseman@lawrence.edu.

The 2020 summer seminar lineup

Terry Moran leads a session during the 2019 summer seminars at Bjorklunden.
Terry Moran ’82 will be back to lead another summer seminar. The ABC News correspondent will present “The 2020 Verdict” Aug. 2-7.

June 14-19

Listen to the Birds / Don Quintenz

Wildlife Photography: Turning Passion into Productivity / John Van Den Brandt

June 21-26

Two Irishmen, Two Novels, Two Portraits / Robert Spoo ’79

July 5-11

Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp / Bob DeRosa

July 12-17

Give My Regards to Broadway – The American Musical / Dale Duesing ’67

The Great Patriotic War: World War II Through Soviet Eyes / Victoria Kononova

July 17-19

Family Weekend/Grandparent-Grandchild Weekend / David Stokes

July 19-24

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Susan Pappas ’69

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Joe Patterson ’69

African America in Slavery and Freedom: How our Racial Past Informs our Present / Jerald Podair

Poignant, Prosaic, and Possibly Pointless: The Stories of Anton Chekhov / Peter Thomas

Richard M. Nixon: The Triumph and Tragedy of an American Politician / Tim Crain

July 26-31

Stitches in Time: The Genius of Medieval Embroideries and Tapestries / Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg ’65

The Stars: Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand / Megan Pickett

Water Cycle: A Journey Around the Science and Policy of Earth’s Most Precious Resource / Peter Levi ’01 and Titus Seilheimer ’00

Aug. 2-7

The 2020 Verdict / Terry Moran ’82

The American Civil War in Historical Perspective / James Cornelius ’81

Aug. 9-14

Is Belief in God Rational? / Terry Goode

The Fall of Rome: From Caesar to King and From Jupiter to Jesus in 500 Years / Nikolas Hoel ’99

Aug. 16-22

Creative Photography / Philip Krejcarek

Family Ties – The Case of King David / Bill Urbrock

Watercolor: The Expressive Medium / Helen Klebesadel

Aug. 30-Sept. 4

Flirting with Disaster: Turning Personal Obsession into Memoir / David McGlynn

The Original Book Club: Literary Legacies of Medieval Women / Catherine Keene and Danielle Joyner

What Happens Next?: The Importance of the Strong Storyline in Classic Hollywood Films / Jack Rhodes

Sept. 13-18

Which Way to the White House? Presidential Campaign Parades from 1896 to 2020 / Charlie Schudson and Steve Bruemmer

Wildflowers, Birds, and Mushrooms / Don Quintenz

Wildflowers, Birds, and Mushrooms / Charlotte Lukes

Writing Poetry in Forms / Marilyn L. Taylor

Sept. 27-Oct. 2

A Brief History of Creatures that Rule the Earth (Hint: They’re not humans) / David Hines ’76

Anatomy of a Murder Trial / Steve Licata ’75

Hollywood Votes: Images from the World of Politics in Films of the Classic Era / Jack Rhodes

Oct. 4-9

SPQR: The Senate and the Roman People / Daniel Taylor ’63

The 2020 Elections: What Next for American Foreign Policy? / Christopher Murray ’75

Watercolor: A Fresh Start / Helen Klebesadel

Oct. 11-16

The Weimar Republic: Grandeur and Disaster / Jon Greenwald

Oct. 18-23

World Religions in the Contemporary World / Brian Smith

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

Lawrence hits No. 3 on Princeton Review’s ranking of Best Impact Schools in nation

Students work with chemistry professor Stefan Gebbert in class.
Rigorous classroom work combined with mentorship on the student journey helps prepare students for an impactful life after Lawrence.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When it comes to colleges and universities preparing students for an impactful life, few do it better than Lawrence University.

Lawrence is the No. 3 impact school in the country in a new ranking released by The Princeton Review. The 2020 Best Impact School ranking, one spot up from where Lawrence landed a year ago, focuses on both the student experience on campus and how alumni perceive their careers. It suggests Lawrence’s liberal arts vision is alive and well, that students are being prepared for a life well lived.

The ranking comes as part of The Princeton Review’s annual Best Value Colleges project, a listing of 200 schools that are considered to have exceptional return on investment. Lawrence again made the list. The 200 schools are not ranked in order; the editors highlight those that made the cut amid 656 colleges and universities that were evaluated on more than 40 data points covering academics, affordability, and career preparation.

Within those 200, The Princeton Review breaks down rankings in seven categories, one of them being the 25 Best Impact Schools in the country.

Climbing to No. 3 — only Wesleyan and Southwestern universities finished ahead of Lawrence — is particularly satisfying because of what it says about a Lawrence education and how that then transfers to the job market and career exploration. It measures on-campus experiences such as student engagement, service, government, and sustainability and then surveys alumni to rate how meaningful they believe their work life is.

“I see it and hear it when I meet with our alumni around the world,” said Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communication. “They point back to their time at Lawrence as unlocking something for them, discovering an interest or talent they didn’t know they had until they started working with professors here who helped guide them in that discovery. That’s one of the benefits of attending a college like Lawrence where our faculty are so deeply invested in helping our students become even better versions of themselves, and it’s a transformation that lasts a lifetime.”

A Lawrence student packages supplies during a volunteer shift at Feeding America.
Volunteer opportunities for Lawrence students, including here at Feeding America, help fuel the student experience.

Lawrence has doubled down on efforts to mentor students outside of the classroom throughout the college journey, taking a holistic approach in everything from wellness and spirituality to leadership and career preparation. With an 8-to-1 faculty to student ratio and a liberal arts mantra that prepares students for lifelong learning, Lawrence puts its students in positions to launch into careers and service work that are filled with meaning, said Christopher Card, Lawrence’s vice president for student life.

“There are enough colleges on the market where one can just go to it and do the basic academic requirements and move in and move out and go on to their next chapter,” Card said. “I don’t think that’s why students come to Lawrence. I think they come here because they expect a particular relationship to emerge — certainly with solid academics and rigor. They want to be challenged. They want to know they are getting a first-rate education but also a first-rate experience outside of the classroom in terms of their own personal growth and development.”

The Princeton Review data includes survey answers from alumni who speak to whether their jobs have “high meaning.” Lawrence’s high ranking reflects that alumni overwhelmingly say yes and that their career accomplishments have been fueled by their Lawrence education.

Lawrence has ramped up its efforts to better connect those alumni with today’s students. The 2019 launch of the endowed Riaz Waraich Dean of the Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement (CLC) position has accelerated efforts to re-energize career exploration and preparation. The newly debuted Viking Connect program is at the front end of those efforts, tapping alumni to serve as mentors for students interested in the same field.

“Our alums are coming back full force to offer their services,” Card said. “I think that speaks to their own experiences and wanting to give back to support our students here.”

This is the 13th year The Princeton Review has put together its list of the 200 Best Value Colleges. It factors in academics, cost, financial aid, graduation rates, student debt, alumni salaries, and alumni job satisfaction.

Lawrence continues to score well in the areas of cost and financial aid as its Full Speed to Full Need initiative continues to produce results. More than $82 million has been raised for scholarships that help cover the gap between a student’s ability to pay — based on family income — and other available financial aid.

While student debt nationally has risen significantly in recent years, the Full Speed to Full Need initiative, part of the $220 million Be the Light! campaign, has helped reverse that trend for Lawrence students. The average student debt for new Lawrence graduates has dropped to $29,504, its lowest mark in 10 years and below the national average of $32,731.

“This is one of those rankings that I’m really happy to share with prospective students and families, because it gets at one of those essential questions so many are trying to answer — even if they haven’t articulated it yet — which is, ‘How might our investment in this college set up our student to live a great life?’” Anselment said. 

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

Lawrence’s Great Midwest Trivia Contest ready to unleash the usual chaos

The 2020 Trivia Masters are dressed for the theme of Apocalypse.
The 2020 Trivia Masters, working under the theme of Apocalypse, will present the Great Midwest Trivia Contest beginning Friday night.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21 / Communications

Here are the numbers: 300 questions, 50 hours.

The 55th annual Great Midwest Trivia Contest will soon be underway, beginning at 37 seconds past 10 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24, and closing at midnight on Sunday, Jan. 26.

So, what exactly are you getting into when you register for the contest? The simple answer is, a whole lot of fun. And a little chaos.

The Great Midwest Trivia Contest probably isn’t trivia as you know it. All weekend, a team of Trivia Masters dishes out 300 questions that require teamwork and extensive searching to answer; all part of the fun. Nearly 100 teams from on and off campus call in with their responses.

Since the first game appeared on the WLFM airwaves in 1966, the contest has become a Lawrence tradition of legendary proportions. It continues to air each year on the digital broadcast of WLFM, the student station that can be found here.

The questions come almost non-stop for 50 hours. Highlights include hourly action questions. Imagine, for example, measuring the distance from Colman Hall to Trever Hall using copies of Plato’s Republic, the beloved work that’s part of Freshman Studies. On the final day of the contest come the Garudas — very difficult questions — topped off by the Super Garuda, the impossible finale question that returns as the first question of the following year’s contest.

This year’s theme is Apocalypse, as you may have guessed from the Trivia Masters’ photos that can be seen around campus.

One aspect of last year’s theme, Fast, will carry over into this year’s contest. Questions will be given at rapid-fire speed to ensure that all players are kept busy. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a single dull moment in the Great Midwest Trivia Contest, perhaps this year more than previous years.

Allegra Taylor, this year's Headmaster, poses with the Apocalypse theme.
Allegra Taylor ’20 is this year’s Headmaster, leading the team of Trivia Masters.

Take it from this year’s Trivia Headmaster Allegra Taylor ’20, a senior from Chico, California. She’s been playing trivia since she was a first-year student.

“Trivia was one of the reasons I came to Lawrence,” she says. “I got some friends together and started a team as soon as I got here.”

But she didn’t always have her sights set on being a Trivia Master, let alone the Headmaster.

“The thought of doing it was so scary because it was so much responsibility. I didn’t know if I wanted to take that on.”

The Trivia Headmaster oversees the planning of the contest, which has been in the works since May of last year. Taylor and her team of 13 Trivia Masters have been tirelessly coming up with questions. Taylor admits the duty of Headmaster feels all the more crucial at the 55-year landmark.

“That’s a 55-year tradition, so if you mess that up …,” she says as her voice drifts off. “But it’s been great. I have a great team of Trivia Masters so I’m really excited.”

Don’t let the fanfare scare you off. Taylor wants people to know that the contest is all about having fun.

“A lot of people think it’s a huge, overwhelming thing to play, but a lot of people have fun playing whenever they can,” Taylor says. “Just get some friends together and play for a couple hours on Saturday night. You don’t have to be competitive. It’s really fun no matter how much or how little you play.”

Mark your calendars: Registration for the Great Midwest Trivia Contest takes places at 8 p.m. on the first night of the contest. You can also set your alarms that morning to catch Taylor talking more about the contest on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Morning Show from 6 to 7 a.m.

Head here for all the trivia tidbits.

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

Lawrence mourns loss of Terry Franke, a dedicated leader, mentor over five decades

Terry Franke speaks during a careers training session at Lawrence in 2015.
Terry Franke ’68 was chair of the Board of Trustees at Lawrence from 2011 to 2015. Here he speaks during a career information session in 2015.

J. Terrence (Terry) Franke ’68, an impactful leader who helped guide Lawrence University through transformative changes and served as a mentor for past and current students, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the age of 73 with his wife, Mary, his three children, and siblings at his side.

Franke, of Evanston, Illinois, served as the chair of Lawrence University’s Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2015, a capstone to five decades of service in which he provided calm and insightful leadership and mentored countless students, alumni, and fellow trustees.

As Board chair, he delivered steady guidance during a time of great transition, leading to the 2013 appointment of Mark Burstein as the University’s 16th president.

“Terry’s passion, unbounded energy, and strategic vision have carried Lawrence successfully forward,” Burstein said. “His investment in countless student interns and persistent support of many aspects of our learning community has had an extraordinary impact on the University. I know many Lawrentians join me in remembering moments when Terry’s advice provided exactly what you needed to hear to be the best version of yourself.”

Terry Franke ’68

Franke’s accomplishments as chair of the Board were preceded by his long service to the University as a trustee, beginning in 2002. He also served an earlier term as an alumni trustee from 1995 to 1998.

Among other leadership efforts, Franke led the Board’s Investment Committee, stewarding the endowment through the Great Recession of the late 2000s.

He transformed the Investment Committee shortly after becoming chair, bringing in alumni who had expertise in the areas of private equity and real estate and opening the conversation to a wider range of voices. That had never been done before, and it reinvigorated the committee, bringing change that would pay off in a big way when the markets collapsed in and around 2008.

“I can remember being in a meeting in March of 2009, which was within a few days of the market low, and the endowment had fallen from about $200 million to something in the $130 million range,” recalled David Knapp ’89, who now serves as the Investment Committee chair. “We were unsure of where we were going to go from there. And Terry was calm and had a long-term view, and helped lead the conversation in a way that kept us all from panicking. What followed was a decade of sustained growth of the endowment through appreciation and new gifts that has brought it over $350 million today. … He stewarded the endowment through the roughest financial period of our lifetimes.”

Knapp took over the lead role on the Investment Committee when Franke was named chair of the Board of Trustees in 2011.

Franke strengthened the Board of Trustees while chair, recruiting and welcoming new Board members with wide ranges of experience and diverse perspectives, expanding the depth and breadth of the Board.

“Terry always answered the call of his alma mater with talent, energy, and passion for the Lawrence community,” said David Blowers ’82, the current Board chair. “He led the Board of Trustees during a critical period in Lawrence’s history. His ability to orchestrate a seamless presidential transition put the University on the successful path it enjoys today. I know that I speak on behalf of the entire Board when I say we will greatly miss his wisdom, energy, and, above all, his loyal friendship.”

It was during Franke’s time leading the Board of Trustees that Lawrence launched its Full Speed to Full Need campaign to support student scholarships. When he stepped down as chair of the Board in 2015, Franke received a surprise announcement: The establishment of the Terry and Mary Franke Scholarship Fund, courtesy of a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor. The money was put toward the Full Speed to Full Need campaign, to be used exclusively for endowed scholarships to help meet students’ demonstrated financial needs.

That was fitting because Franke’s commitment to Lawrence ran so deep, as did the respect for him among his fellow alumni. When he asked others to engage, the answer was most often a yes.

A committed mentor

Franke spent most of his professional career at Hewitt Associates, where he was a senior partner. He also served as a senior consultant for Productive Strategies Inc., a management and marketing consulting firm based in Northfield, Illinois, and Franke Associates.

He was a dedicated member of the Lawrence community from the moment he stepped on campus as a student in 1964. Since graduating in 1968, he has fostered and maintained connections, sharing his time and knowledge with alumni as well as current and future Lawrentians. Franke was ready to lend a hand as an event volunteer, admissions volunteer, and as a member of reunion committees and class leadership teams. He took particular joy in mentoring the student interns at his workplace, supported by the Franke Scholarship Fund.

A proud member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, Franke connected often with past and current fraternity members.

Jake Woodford ’13, special assistant to the president at Lawrence, first connected with Franke while a student in 2010. Those connections continued, and Franke proved to be a mentor and supporter as Woodford moved into Lawrence’s administration.

“One of the hallmarks for me was how much Terry cared about people and how much he kept track of people,” Woodford said. “He knew the projects they had going on. Their relationships and their passions in many ways became his.”

Franke would meet with fraternity members whenever he was on campus for Board meetings.

“He was always mentoring,” Woodford said. “That was a really special part of who he was.”

Henry Chesnutt ’14 was among the nearly 20 Lawrence students who served as interns over the past decade in Franke’s office.

“Interning with Terry was an apprenticeship to a life of integrity and hard work,” he said.

Chesnutt recalls struggling through much of his internship, but Franke was there to guide him along and prep him for his launch into the workforce. With Franke’s gentle prodding, he eventually found his bearings, and is now thriving as a software engineer with Bain and Company.

“You might think that after his 15th intern he might have stopped, relaxed, and rested on the fruits of his altruism,” Chesnutt said of Franke. “But even up to his passing, he was still mentoring students and offering internships to do all he could to pay it forward.”

In Lawrence’s Center for Career, Life, and Community Engagement, Franke long set an example of how alumni can positively impact the lives of current students. It’s those kinds of connections the office is striving to enhance.

“Terry’s efforts have helped countless students over the past decade, and have advanced the lives of individuals now working in health care, consulting, finance, and more,” said Mandy Netzel, assistant director of the CLC for employer and alumni relations.

In honor of his lifelong commitment to his alma mater and its students, Franke received Lawrence’s Presidential Award in 2018.

Details on a Lawrence gathering to celebrate Franke’s life will be announced at a later date.

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

— — —

Derrell Acon ’10

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

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

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Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

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

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

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Mei Xian Gong ’11

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

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

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Glen Johnson ’85

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

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

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Yexue Li ’10

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

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

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Rana Marks ’12

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

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

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Terry Moran ’82

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

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

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Madhuri Vijay ’09

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

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

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

More: Lawrence’s most-read stories of 2019

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

He survived one.

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

Mission accomplished. Sort of.

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

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

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

For info on studying history at Lawrence, see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lighting the Way With … Terry Moran: Amid chaos, storytelling is alive and well

Terry Moran looks at a display of bees with biology professor Israel Del Toro on the set of the 2019 Giving Day webcast.
Terry Moran ’82 (left) shares a moment with biology professor Israel Del Toro during the 2019 Giving Day at Lawrence.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we talk with ABC News correspondent Terry Moran ’82, who returned to campus recently to host our live Giving Day webcast.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Terry Moran ’82 is enjoying his return to the United States.

The ABC News correspondent spent more than five years living and working in London before he and his family moved back to Washington, D.C., in August 2018. With his daughter, Madeleine Moran ’18, now counted among Lawrence alumni and his three youngest children — ages 7, 5, and 3 — now in or nearing elementary school, the home neighborhood beckoned. Not to mention the unfolding political drama that consumes Washington these days, a draw for any journalist with a love of history and politics.

“Living in London was an adventure, a great adventure,” Moran said. “But it was time to come home.”

Moran, an English major while at Lawrence, moved to D.C. after graduation and wrote for The New Republic and other news magazines for a decade, then transitioned to TV, first covering high-profile criminal trials for five years for Court TV — O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, among others — and then going to work for ABC News for the past two decades. He co-anchored Nightline and spent nearly six years as the network’s chief White House correspondent before taking the overseas assignment in London.

“I’m kind of covering the whole city now,” Moran said of his return to D.C. “It’s really nice that I’m not assigned to one particular building. I’m at the White House a couple times a week. I’m over at Capitol Hill, I’m out on the campaign trail. I get to do the whole smorgasbord of political news, which I enjoy a lot.”

While back at Lawrence for Giving Day, the Chicago native chatted about his career, how his time at Lawrence ignited his love of journalism, and why he thinks all the turmoil in the media world might be a good thing in the long run.

On finding his career path

“Lawrence changed me in a lot of ways,” said Moran, who arrived as a freshman in 1978. “I had a career path in mind. I wanted to be a lawyer or something like that. … But then I started working at the Lawrentian, and had fun with that. A lot of fun. … The Lawrentian was where I got the bug. The Lawrentian taught me a lot. It was the thrill of it, the thrill of making a difference in your community with storytelling through news. It was exciting to see people pick it up.”

That experience, he said, led to post-graduation efforts to land a job with a news magazine. When initial rejections rolled in, he moved to D.C., took a bartending job, and started pitching story ideas to the editors at The New Republic.

“I wrote my way into a job at the magazine,” he said.

That and other magazine work led to Court TV, which led to ABC News.

Terry Moran poses with four Lawrence students in Andrew Commons.
Terry Moran ’82 met with students at Andrew Commons while on campus for Giving Day.

On how his liberal arts education continues to inform his work

“It was that sense that the world was available and fascinating and you could open your mind to it and go for it,” Moran said. “That is one of the things that drove me to journalism. It was Lawrence. Being able to write and think analytically is one of the things I learned to do here, and that was invaluable. It still is to this day.

“As a liberal arts grad, you learn how to learn. And how to express yourself and how to think about what you’re experiencing. I call on that every day. The qualities of empathy and looking past just the moment or the headline and seeing into the story. I think that comes from here.”

On covering politics during the Trump presidency

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Moran said. “It’s hard to keep your perspective. One of the things that I think was helpful for me is that I had been overseas for five years. So, not every day felt like the end of the world. I did feel like journalism in general, much of it, had decided their job was either to fight Donald Trump or to cheer for Donald Trump rather than to cover Donald Trump. … I felt like everybody on all sides needed to calm down a little bit. (Trump) thrives on the chaos and our attention to the chaos and the conflict, and I like to say the real hack of the 2016 election was not what the Russians did to the DNC but what Donald Trump did to the media. He became the major producer of media in a way that no other politician had.”

As wild as the ride is, there is history happening, for better or worse, Moran said.

“As a student of American history, this is a thrilling time to be a political journalist,” he said. “Something big is happening in our country. Whatever you think of it, this is a huge, transitional moment in our country.”

Terry Moran ’82 has been with ABC News for 22 years.

On the rapidly shifting dynamics of the media landscape

“It felt like over the last 20 years the mainstream media was dying, and I know some people say it still is and they’re rooting for it to die, but, actually, it kind of feels like we came through the eye of a needle,” Moran said. “There were budget cuts and staff cuts and more budget cuts and more staff cuts and it became harder to tell the stories you wanted to tell. But now with all of these digital platforms and social media platforms and docs and ABC News as a news provider on Hulu, all these different places, it’s like all of a sudden, the horizon is opening again.”

Being a legacy brand, be it network news or a daily newspaper or a news magazine, carries some burdens as you compete with newer and sometimes more nimble outlets, but it also can be a huge advantage amid all the media upheaval, Moran said. People will often look to something familiar, something they can trust.

“All that being said, I think we’re on a learning curve,” he said. “The audience and us. It’s really hard; it’s a steep learning curve with the pace of technological and media change. It might get worse before it gets better, but at the core I don’t think one election changed the American people. And I don’t think one election changed human nature. People still look for information they can count on. So, the good stuff will find a way to its audience, and people will learn how to read through the noise and the chaos. I’m confident of that.”

On his message to college students interested in journalism

“I think there is tremendous opportunity for the next generation of journalists because the cost of entering journalism is practically zero,” Moran said. “It’s your cell phone and a wireless package. As long as you can do that, you can make journalism. Now, can you make it pay? That’s the question.”

The paths to get there are many, he tells students. The tools at their disposal are changing and morphing and expanding by the day. But the tools are just tools. Do you have a story worth telling and the know-how, perspective, and confidence to tell it?

“I always tell young people, there are only two things you really need,” Moran said. “You need to know your stuff and care about it. And that is what people will respond to. Whatever the media, whatever the platform, if people can sense you know what you’re talking about and that it matters to you, they will lean in.

“Start doing it. Right now. If you want to make documentaries, go make documentaries with your phone. You love your community? You love issues that are hot in our country right now? Go tell a story about it. Put it on your phone. For the first two of them, throw them out. And then the next one will be better. And you’ll get better at it. … You can now have that in such a ready and instant way. Of course, there’s a downside to that. There’s a lot of dumb stuff out there. Just don’t be dumb.”

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