Category: Feature

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Microsoft president at LU: Tech industry needs “best of humanity” to help guide it

Microsoft President Brad Smith sits in a chair on stage as he talks with the audience in Stansbury Theatre.
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft Corp., discusses his new book, “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age,” Friday morning in Stansbury Theatre at Lawrence University. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brad Smith is a tech guru. His title, president of Microsoft Corp., would tell you that.

But he’s also a student of history and a writer, a thread that was front and center as he spoke Friday morning to a packed Stansbury Theatre on the Lawrence University campus, drawing on parallels between lessons learned in the 20th century and the anxieties that come with new frontiers in artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, and the explosion of data science.

As he does in his new book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, Smith compared the needed expansion of broadband access into still-underserved rural communities to the electrifying of rural America in the 1930s and ’40s. And he said the transformation of our daily lives by artificial intelligence over the next 30 years will have similarities to the arrival of the combustion engine in the first half of the 20th century. But with AI comes the potential for abuse that could rock the world in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

“The book is really about the collision between technology and society,” Smith said.

A 1977 graduate of Appleton West High School, the 60-year-old Smith returned to his hometown as part of a book tour with co-author Carol Ann Browne. He was introduced by Brian Pertl, the dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music who previously spent 16 years as an ethnomusicologist with Microsoft.

Smith was then joined on stage by host Scott Corry, a Lawrence professor of mathematics, who said Tools and Weapons carries a message about the evolution of the tech industry and the people it will employ in the future, something that should get the attention of today’s students no matter their field of study.

“The challenges laid out touch not only everyone in this room but everyone on the planet,” Corry said. “What I was impressed with in the book was the focus on how all sorts of other skills need to be put in place if we’re going to solve these problems. Among those are the ability to communicate across groups and understand other cultures, global relations, and policy. These are all things that we put front and center here at Lawrence as a liberal arts school.”

Smith echoed that sentiment, saying the liberal arts approach is already alive and growing in the tech sector, with new hires coming in with backgrounds in philosophy, history and music, among others. Data scientists and software engineers are important, but it’s not their game alone.

“The future of technology and future of these issues is going to be much more multi-disciplinary,” Smith said.

Brad Smith laughs with students from Appleton West High School on the Stansbury Theatre stage.
Microsoft President Brad Smith shares a laugh with students from Appleton West High School on the stage of Stansbury Theatre following his book discussion. He graduated from West in 1977. The school, he said, set him on his career course.

Find more photos from Brad Smith’s visit to Lawrence here.

The coming boom in artificial intelligence means this is the first generation creating machines with the power to make significant decisions previously handled solely by humans. That’s a huge responsibility, with all sorts of technical and ethical trouble spots to navigate, Smith said.

“Once you put it in those terms, you realize that you hope these machines will make decisions that will reflect the best of humanity,” he said. “And how do we bring the best of humanity into technology, into these products? Well, it has to be with more than just computer and data science. It has to be with a sense of social sciences and a sense of history and the humanities.”

Smith pointed to advancements that have been made in facial recognition technology. It’s already being used for good in some sectors. He noted its seemingly simple use in unlocking a phone or laptop, but also more expansive uses in hospital emergency rooms, where it can potentially help reconnect families when someone has gone missing.

But the prospect for abuse of the technology, including a breach of privacy, is very real and must be addressed, Smith said.

“Our argument is that people should have the opportunity to know when there are facial recognition systems at work,” he said.

And then there is the concern of authoritarian governments using facial recognition systems to control the populace.

“Even though it’s completely unprecedented, it is not unimaginable because it was completely imagined — 70 years ago when George Orwell wrote his novel, 1984,” Smith said. “You might remember the description of Big Brother in that book. There’s a scene where the only way people could organize themselves civically and politically was literally to find their way separately to a blackened-out room and then communicate by tapping on each other’s wrists in code.”

Don’t discount that as mere fiction, Smith said.

“We are heading rapidly into a world where there are cameras everywhere, there are microphones everywhere, and it raises fundamental constitutional questions and human rights questions about how facial recognition will be used by governments around the world,” he said. “And these are fundamental issues for tech companies. We have to decide, what are the lines we are prepared to draw? We’ve stood as a company as saying there must be lines that we draw if we are going to ensure that this technology protects people and that it’s not a weapon to subvert them.

“It’s going to take more than companies standing up. You can never get every company to stand together. It’s going to take the democratic countries of this world to stand up. This is potentially the greatest tool that an authoritarian regime has ever had at its disposal and could fundamentally change the character of human rights protections around the world if we don’t act quickly to address it.”

Hence the title of the book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age. The issues surrounding new technology are, well, complicated.

“I think it’s actually fitting that we’re having this conversation in a conservatory,” Smith said. “All of these things [at a liberal arts college] reflect the various parts of humanity that need to come together.”

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

Path to Trump? Podair co-authors book that finds answers in legacy of Spiro Agnew

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly three years ago, in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, as the results of one of the most stunning election nights in U.S. history began to come into focus, Jerald Podair sent an urgent email to two fellow history scholars.

They were his co-authors on a book project, in its early stages, about Spiro Agnew, the oft-dismissed former vice president who they believe served as a harbinger for the modern Republican party.

“Our book just became very, very relevant,” Podair wrote in that email as the clock ticked past 3 a.m. and it became clear that Donald Trump would become the nation’s 45th president.

Three tumultuous years later, that book, Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America, has arrived, set to be published Oct. 18 by University of Virginia Press.

Portrait of Jerald Podair in Main Hall.
Lawrence University history professor Jerald Podair partnered with two other history scholars on a new book on Spiro Agnew, detailing how Richard Nixon’s one-time vice president set a path to the era of Donald Trump. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

In the book, Podair, the Robert S. French Professor of American Studies and professor of history at Lawrence University, and co-authors Zach Messitte, president of Ripon College, and Charles J. Holden, professor of history at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, detail how the ascent of Trump and his populist base can be traced back to Agnew, whose political star burned bright briefly in the late 1960s and early 1970s before crashing hard.

Agnew was much maligned in his day and is often referenced among the worst vice presidents in history. But Podair, Messitte, and Holden argue that historians and political observers need to take a closer look. Agnew’s populist “everyman” appeal, his very public disdain for political correctness and the academic class, his depictions of the media as the enemy, and his ability to rally supporters by railing against uncomfortable cultural change woke up a political base that would eventually lead the Republican party into the era of Trump.

Agnew was considered a joke by many political pundits of the day when Richard Nixon surprisingly tabbed him as his running mate in 1968. Time magazine called him “a narrow and dangerous man with a genuine capacity for bigotry.”

“That’s how he was viewed,” Podair said. “Just like Donald Trump is viewed in many ways today. But, like Trump, Agnew had much more substance to him and really had a powerful populist message that resonated very deeply with middle Americans at the time — the Trump voters we’d call them today — and may very well have swung the 1968 election to Nixon.”

Interest in the book is already ramping up. An op-ed about Agnew written by the three co-authors appeared in the Baltimore Sun in late September and has since been picked up by numerous other media outlets across the country. A book event featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Warch Campus Center Cinema at Lawrence.

The timing of the book’s release, just weeks after Democrats in the House launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, should give it prime exposure. It wasn’t necessarily planned that way.

Podair, Messitte, and Holden began conversing about the Agnew book before Trump even declared his bid for the presidency. Its focus was more about Agnew’s role in the transition of the Republican party from one focused on economics and the business elite to one focused on cultural unease and an angry populist reaction.

Messitte and Holden have long studied the political waters of Maryland, from whence Agnew emerged. And Podair is well-versed in the politics and cultural dynamics of the 1960s and the various arcs and swings of politics through the 20th century.

Thus, they agreed to team up on a book project that they believed was important, whether Trump was in play or not.

“We divided the book into sections,” Podair said. “My portion was to explain how the Republican party changed from the 1930s, when it was viewed as the party of the economic elite, to the 1960s, the late ’60s, when it began to be viewed as the party of the average man, the working man. Not necessarily economically populist, but certainly culturally populist.”

The Democratic party, meanwhile, had seen its own role reversal, becoming the party of “cultural elitism” in the 1960s as the country navigated race riots, student rebellions and an anti-war movement that divided much of the country, Podair said.

“Spiro Agnew was uniquely positioned to take advantage of that,” he said.

Agnew would become Nixon’s “point of the spear,” Podair said, ridiculing protesters in often crude and seemingly mean-spirited ways, all the while working up what was a growing base of resentment against the cultural transformations that were taking place in the U.S.

“That flies in the face of the traditional view of Agnew as some bumbling, inarticulate clown,” Podair said. “He did say some things that were gaffes. But there was much more to him than these gaffes, which is what the media focused on. He was able to bring a culturally populist message to the American people and get people who had normally voted for Democrats their whole lives — the New Deal Democrats — and get them to vote for Republicans. And that’s the way I think he shifted the political ground.”

If that sounds very much like 2016, Podair said you are not wrong, and that’s why historians and others who are studying the unfolding drama that is the Trump presidency would do well to zero in on Agnew, from the time he first garnered attention as a national political figure in the late 1960s to his resignation from the vice presidency in late 1973 amid revelations that he committed income tax fraud while governor of Maryland.

“When Trump took the escalator ride and started speaking the way he did, he was really tapping into a welter of cultural resentments,” Podair said. “Whatever you want to call his typical voter — blue collar white voter or alienated working class voter — well, he was tapping into a welter of cultural resentment that Agnew had definitely tapped into. And I would argue that if you took the name off of Agnew’s speeches and updated it a little — obviously there was no Twitter in those days and the media that Agnew was railing against was the three networks, that’s it — these are words that Donald Trump could have spoken.”

All the more reason for historians to take a deeper dive into the makings of Agnew, Podair said. With an impeachment inquiry under way, a 2020 election campaign heating up, and emotions running high, Trump is a daily fixation, for better or worse. Republican Populist may provide a little context as to how we got here.

“Our general thesis is, if you want to understand where Donald Trump came from, he didn’t come out of nowhere,” Podair said. “He has, in fact, deep roots in the changes in the Republican party that go back more than 50 years. If you want to understand Donald Trump, you’ve got to understand Spiro Agnew. He is actually a pivotal figure, and, I think, a very understudied and underrated political figure.”

Book event: A book discussion featuring Podair, Messitte, and Holden will be held at Lawrence University on Oct. 28. The Main Hall Forum begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center Cinema. It is free and open to the public.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Dominica Chang: Heavy lifting in French studies

Dominica Chang poses for a photo while standing on one of the paths cutting across Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Dominica Chang (photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Dominica Chang, the Margaret Banta Humleker Professor of French Cultural Studies and an associate professor of French, is a classroom favorite, whether leading study abroad trips to Senegal or diving deep into French literature.

But she also has a variety of interests outside the classroom, not the least of which is the pursuit of some serious weightlifting skills. She was recently certified as an Olympic-style weightlifting coach.

Chang has a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree from Middlebury College, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We fired off six questions for her as part of our new On Main Hall Green With … faculty series. She was kind enough to help us get the series started.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I hope that every student knows that I truly want them to succeed, not only in my class but also in life. I want them to master the content of the specific course, certainly, but also to learn how to think critically and independently, to speak with intelligence, confidence and humility across differences, and to be sensitive and generous to each other. These basic principles guide my pedagogy, from Freshman Studies to French 101 to French Senior Capstone. My hope is that when a student believes that a teacher is in their corner, hoping they will succeed, they will also better understand — and therefore better conquer — the intellectual and social challenges we will engage in together.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Spending 10 weeks in Senegal with Lawrence students has been a wonderful experience for me. While there, we spend most of each day as well as many weekends together, so I am able to get to know the students in a completely different environment. It’s very fulfilling to help such bright, enthusiastic young people experience and navigate a culture that is so different from our home campus.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

Dakar, Senegal! I could never have predicted that my training in 19th-century French literature and cultural studies would have led me to spending 10 weeks every few years leading our Francophone Seminar in Senegal. Each time I’ve gone, I have as much of a transformative experience as the students I accompany. I’ve made lifelong friends there and consider myself incredibly fortunate to have these opportunities.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

I think a lot about the random contingencies in life that affect what we do and who we become, so I love this question. If I weren’t teaching, I would most likely be rescuing animals or working as an animal welfare advocate of some sort. Either that … or perhaps helping to run a local pizza joint!

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

My intellectual side loves my office; my home away from home. When I need a break from thinking too hard, I love spending time in the Alexander Gym weight room, especially since I’ve gotten more seriously into weightlifting this past year. It’s a great facility and I enjoy running into our hardworking coaches and student-athletes.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: Sentimental Education (1869) by Gustave Flaubert. It’s the text that took my love for French studies to the next level and inspired my graduate work in the field. I am very fortunate to be able to teach it on occasion in The Long Novel, a course that I co-teach with professors Tim Spurgin and Peter Thomas.

Recording: New Order, Substance (1987). I’m a child of the ’80s. Just the other day, I realized that at least a few songs from this album have made it onto every single playlist I’ve put together since 1987.

Film: The Battle of Algiers (1966) by Gillo Pontecorvo. Perhaps my favorite film of all time. Time and again, I am astounded by its cinematic beauty and especially by the sensitivity and complexity with which it represents the brutality of colonial occupation.

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

Sixth annual Giving Day brings record support for Lawrence and its students

Terry Moran '82 interviews Dominica Chang (far right) and the four Lawrence University students who studied abroad in Senegal during the spring term.
As the cameras roll during Thursday’s live one-hour Giving Day webcast, host Terry Moran ’82 interviews Dominica Chang (far right) and the four Lawrence University students (from left) who studied abroad in Senegal during the spring term, Bronwyn Earthman, Tamima Tabishat, Greta Wilkening, and Miriam Thew Forrester.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University saw a huge outpouring of support Thursday as alumni, faculty, staff, students and other supporters contributed more than $1.94 million on the school’s annual Giving Day, the most ever in the event’s six-year history.

Giving Day was highlighted with a one-hour live webcast on Thursday evening, hosted by Terry Moran ’82, a national correspondent for ABC News and the parent of a 2018 Lawrence graduate.

The $1,940,586 in contributions that arrived over the course of the day came from more than 3,100 donors. Records were set in the amount raised, the number of overall donors and the number of participating faculty and staff.

“Wow, what a day for Lawrence,” President Mark Burstein said. “The funds we raised will support our students in countless essential ways. Thank you to the Lawrence community for your investments in the university. Our game changers, the Classes of 2003 to 2023, and faculty and staff blew the roof off.”

Giving Day drew attention to the myriad of ways financial contributions support Lawrence students, among them campus improvements, enhanced study-abroad opportunities, burgeoning sustainability efforts, new and diverse classroom and research innovations, music and other arts activities, and athletics.

Faculty, staff, and students pitched in over the course of the day, holding engagement events on campus and reaching out to alumni around the world, capped by the evening webcast that featured videos on campus construction projects, the school’s Full Speed to Full Need initiative, the Conservatory of Music’s Presto! tour, and the athletic department’s camaraderie and enthusiasm. Burstein, faculty and students joined Moran as guests to talk about the many ways in which the funding supports the liberal arts experience for today’s students.

“We are beyond excited and grateful that the whole Lawrence community came together to break records,” said Amber Nelson, associate director of Annual Giving and a key organizer of Giving Day. “It is always impressive seeing so many people rally around Giving Day. From alumni reaching out to their classmates, encouraging them to give, to staff answering phones, to students running events on campus, to countless other ways people showed their support, it really takes so many different people coming together to make this day so special for Lawrence.”

President Mark Burstein (right) talks on the Giving Day set with host Terry Moran ’82.

The Giving Day success is the continuation of momentum that has been building since the $220 million Be the Light! Campaign first launched, quietly in January 2014 and then publicly in November 2018. Last month, Lawrence landed at No. 26 on Forbes magazine’s 2019 edition of the Grateful Graduates Index, which follows the money in terms of alumni giving at private, not-for-profit colleges. Lawrence was the only Wisconsin school to place in the top 70, one more sign of the enduring bonds between the school and its alumni.

Most of the monies raised Thursday will go to the Lawrence Fund, which is used to support the day-to-day operations of the campus and the student experience. The Lawrence Fund is one of the pillars of the Be the Light! Campaign.

Monies donated Thursday were matched by supporters who agreed to be “game changers” in the Giving Day campaign. For contributions from the Classes of 2003 through 2023, they matched $500 for every contribution, no matter the amount. For all other contributions, they matched dollar for dollar.

Lawrence’s 2018-19 fiscal report showed support topping $24.4 million, the fourth highest year to date. The Be the Light! Campaign has surpassed $185 million to date in gifts and pledges.

The Be the Light! Campaign includes the Lawrence Fund as one of its four cornerstones, along with the Full Speed to Full Need initiative to make Lawrence accessible and affordable to all academically qualifying students, the Student Journey, which has welcomed numerous endowed positions aimed at supporting cutting edge programs and course offerings, and Campus Renewal, targeting facility and infrastructure upgrade projects on campus.

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

Lawrence experience inspires, informs Madhuri Vijay’s path to “The Far Field”

Portrait of Madhuri Vijay
Madhuri Vijay ’09 has earned critical praise for her debut novel, “The Far Field,” including being long-listed as a semifinalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. The 24 semifinalists will be narrowed to six on Nov. 4. (Photo courtesy of Manvi Rao)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Madhuri Vijay ’09 was taken aback by the critical praise that accompanied the January arrival of her debut novel, The Far Field.

Now, nine months and a multi-continent book tour later, comes the announcement that her novel, published by Grove Press, has been long-listed for the prestigious 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, a literary honor that could push her visibility to new heights.

“The whole thing feels somewhat surreal and a bit like a dream,” Vijay said by phone from her home in Hawaii, where she and her husband are preparing for the imminent arrival of their first child. “It’s always hard to take (the honors) seriously because it always seems like someone is going to call and say, this has all been a big mistake.”

That is not going to happen.

Ten years removed from her days as a Lawrence University undergrad, Vijay has arrived as a significant young novelist. The Far Field has been short-listed for the JCB Prize for Literature, long-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and has drawn stellar praise in book reviews from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, and others. On Nov. 4, the 24 books long-listed for the Carnegie medal in the fiction category will be narrowed to six finalists.

Along with accolades from the literary awards circuit comes much admiration from faculty members at Lawrence who nurtured Vijay’s storytelling skills a decade ago, not to mention current students who see her as a rock star in the making.

“When Madhuri visited my creative writing class last winter — she read at LU on the day her novel was officially released — my students saw her as a kind of superhero: glamorous and whip-smart and on the verge of international fame,” said professor of English David McGlynn. “But they only glimpsed the end result of an awful lot of work and an endless amount of dedication and determination.”

The publishing of The Far Field came after a six-year writing and editing process that Vijay called grueling, exhausting, and exhilarating. The book, set mostly in Bangalore, a metropolitan area in southern India where Vijay grew up, and the more remote, mountainous regions of Kashmir, tells the story of Shalini, a restless young woman, newly graduated from college and reeling from her mother’s death, who sets out from her privileged life in Bangalore in search of a family acquaintance from her childhood. She runs smack into the unsettled and volatile politics of Kashmir.

When Vijay launched her book tour early this year, Lawrence was an important stop. She points to her time as a student here as the impetus to a life of writing. She will tell you she arrived in the fall of 2005 as a determined but narrowly focused freshman. She’ll then tell you she left four years later having explored, sampled, and embraced every nook and cranny of the liberal arts experience, a creative enlightenment that rerouted her plans, turned her focus to fiction writing, and led her to the story that became The Far Field.

She double-majored in psychology and English at Lawrence, but it wasn’t until she was midway through a 12-month Watson Fellowship following graduation that she called off her plans to go to graduate school for psychology, applying instead to the Iowa Writers Workshop, a highly focused two-year writing residency at the University of Iowa.

Details on Lawrence’s English major here

“Lawrence itself was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Vijay said. “I grew up in India, and our system of learning is in some ways very good because it’s very thorough and it’s science-based and it’s very rigorous, but it doesn’t allow for a lot of experimentation and play.

“So, when I got to Lawrence, I was overjoyed to discover that I could just dabble in all of these different things. I would take biology and Latin and I would sing in the choir and I would do all of these different things, which is the foundation of a liberal arts education. But it’s also, as I see it now, the foundation for being a good fiction writer, in that you have to be interested in everything all of the time and that nothing is divorced from the other thing. … Everything is worthy of study and everything is worthy of interest. That’s the thing I discovered at Lawrence.”

McGlynn was in his first year on the Lawrence faculty in 2006 when he first encountered Vijay, then a sophomore in his English 360 class. He recalled her being smart, poised and articulate, but her writing was far from polished.

“Her writing showed promise, but it also needed to be refined and to mature,” he said.

What made her stand out, though, was a willingness to work. That was evident from the get-go.

“She recognized her intellectual capacity, but she also knew capacity was only the beginning,” McGlynn said. “She knew she needed to work. She knew she needed to walk the path. That, more than anything, was her great gift. She remains one of the most dedicated and passionate students I have ever taught in my 13 years at Lawrence.”

With additional guidance from Tim Spurgin, the Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English Literature and associate professor of English, Vijay applied to and was selected for a Watson Fellowship, funding a year of travel and study. Her Watson study was focused on people from India living in foreign lands. Her travels took her to South Africa, Malaysia, and Tanzania, among other places, and her desire to write and create grew along the away.

Details on the Watson Fellowship here

“Being on the Watson means you are alone for a year,” Vijay said. “You’re absolutely independent in that nobody is looking over your shoulder. You either do the work or you don’t, which, in a nutshell, is what it means to be a writer. No one is waiting for you to produce anything. You either do the work or you don’t. All the urgency has to come from you, and it’s a lonely profession.”

Interestingly, it was during her Watson year that she first encountered Shalini and some of the other fictional characters that would eventually become key players in The Far Field. And it was her continued correspondence with McGlynn that in part set the wheels in motion.

“I wrote a short story during the Watson that had some of these same characters in it,” Vijay said. “It was very bad. But David McGlynn read it. He is one of the few people I trust to read even my worst writing. He was the one who literally suggested, ‘Why don’t you make this a novel?’ So, I wrote about 30 pages, and that’s how I got to Iowa, on the strength of those 30 pages. But it was a very different version. It had nothing to do with the book that eventually got published.

“After I got into Iowa, I didn’t touch those 30 pages, and I didn’t think about those characters for two years. It was only after Iowa when I was thinking about what to do next that I began thinking about those characters again. … If David hadn’t said that to me, I probably wouldn’t have written this book. I may have written something different, but not this book.”

Vijay is now a year into a follow-up book project that she says has yet to fully take shape. She knows the positive reaction to The Far Field assures nothing. It’s about continuing to put in the work.

“There is no point where you arrive at some sort of certainty where you say, ‘OK, this is a guarantee,’” she said of her life as a novelist. “Every single day feels like a gamble, feels like a risk, feels like you could fall at any given moment. That point (of certainty) hasn’t arrived, and I don’t think it ever will. And I don’t think it ever should. … You should always feel like you might fall flat on your face. That is the only way to do it honestly.”

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

Moran to host Giving Day webcast; campus engagement activities planned Thursday

Aerial shot of the Lawrence campus, featuring Main Hall in the forefront.
Maintaining Lawrence’s beautiful campus takes an ongoing commitment. The annual Giving Day, which engages alumni, faculty, staff, students, and other supporters, is a big part of that commitment. A one-hour live Giving Day webcast begins at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Story by Isabella Mariani ‘21

The sixth annual Lawrence Giving Day kicks off on Thursday, Oct. 10, and it promises to be the biggest one yet, highlighted by a one-hour live evening webcast on lawrence.edu, hosted by ABC News journalist Terry Moran ’82.

Terry Moran ’82

The schedule for this one-day fundraising event is packed with exciting events designed to highlight all that’s good about Lawrence University.

“It’s about celebrating Lawrence in general,” said Amber Nelson, associate director of Annual Giving. “I’m so happy with how it’s grown. Last year was a record-breaking year for us with dollars and donors due to the great outreach we were able to do.”

The goal is to make each year more successful than the last; Lawrence is always adapting to meet the needs of students, therefore always in need of funding. This means ramping up engagement with potential givers, and, of course, with the students who are doing great things on campus, showcasing just how important those gifts are.

Here’s a rundown of Giving Day highlights so you won’t miss a moment. Use the hashtag #LUGives on social media to spread the word.

An assist from a beloved alum

As the host of Giving Day, Moran will take the lead on the 7 p.m. live show and will meet with students throughout the day to talk about experiences they’ve had at Lawrence that are made possible by Giving Day contributions.

Moran, who has remained engaged with Lawrence through the years and frequently teaches summer seminars at Bjorklunden, has covered the world as a journalist with ABC News for the past 22 years. He is a senior national correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He was previously based in London and served as the network’s chief foreign correspondent. Earlier in his career he was an anchor on Nightline, World News, and other ABC News broadcasts.

An editor at The Lawrentian during his time at Lawrence, Moran also has written for a number of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and The New Republic.

New campus engagement events

Student participation in Giving Day is of high importance for the overall success of the fundraiser. After all, it’s students who see the impact of gifts each day at Lawrence. This year, students will have multiple opportunities to get involved with engagement events, with a chance to win sweet prizes.

For one, the Student Ambassador Program will host a game of the Price is Right, where students can guess the prices of various items on campus and win some Lawrence gear. It’s happening from 8 to 9 p.m. Thursday in the Warch Campus Center.

Other events on Thursday include Spin the Wheel Trivia (11 a.m.-1 p.m. in Warch); Make Some Noise for Giving Day, a chance to play musical instruments and offer a personalized thank you to donors (2 to 3 p.m. outside of the Conservatory of Music); and What’s on the Menu for Giving Day, a food spread catered by The Jerk Joint (5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Diversity and Intercultural Center).

Giving Challenges

Giving Challenges are the key to connecting with the community on Giving Day. Keep an eye out for five challenges you can participate in on Facebook, where you can help reach a goal by sharing posts and tagging friends to spread the word about Giving Day.

Supporting the Lawrence Fund

You can give to numerous areas on Giving Day, but the Lawrence Fund is the primary repository for gifts. The fund distributes gifts to four key areas of need — affordability, academic excellence, student experience and caring for campus.

“It keeps everything going on campus” Nelson said of the Lawrence Fund.

Gifts are matched by Game Changers

The name Game Changers is no joke. This Giving Day, these generous supporters boost every gift. Every gift. Gifts from the Classes of 2003 through 2023 will be matched with $500, while all others are matched dollar for dollar. These alumni, family and friends are a huge inspiration.

“It’s wonderful to see the community coming together and supporting this,” Nelson said. “Alumni understand they’re paying it forward. It’s cool to see their willingness to give back and that they’re proud to be a Lawrentian. It’s a really uplifting day altogether.”

Exciting live shows

Don’t miss any of the live shows on Facebook that will be happening throughout the day. Student hosts will take our virtual audiences along for the ride to campus events and behind the scenes of the live evening webcast.

“Seeing the impact of (the gifts) and what they can do is one of the great things,” Nelson said of the significance of Giving Day. “Being able to hear students share about a research project they’re able to do because of the money raised or the scholarship they got. … Seeing how the support for Giving Day factors into that really plays a role.”

It’ll all be topped off by the live show on the Lawrence website from 7 to 8 p.m., hosted by Moran.

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

Deep friendships, new studies follow a life-changing term in Senegal

From left, Greta Wilkening '21, Dominica Chang, Bronwyn Earthman '21, Miriam Thew Forrester '20, and Tamima Tabishat '20 pose for a selfie in Chang's office.
Senegal selfie: Dominica Chang, second from left, is teaching an independent study course on Wolof this term with, from left, Greta Wilkening ’21, Bronwyn Earthman ’21, Miriam Thew Forrester ’20, and Tamima Tabishat ’20.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When they began gathering in preparation for their Spring Term abroad in Dakar, Senegal, they were acquaintances at best — fellow Lawrence students, yes, but close friends, no.

Ten weeks in Senegal changed that in ways that Bronwyn Earthman ’21, Tamima Tabishat ’20, Miriam Thew Forrester ’20, and Greta Wilkening ’21 never saw coming. The study abroad experience, a full immersion in Senegalese life and culture and French and Wolof languages, created deep bonds that continue now that they’re back on campus in Appleton, dramatically altering post-Lawrence plans for at least one of them, maybe more.

“We bonded,” Tabishat said. “We moved as a unit; we checked in on each other. … When one of us wasn’t there, it was like incomplete. It’s crazy because even at Lawrence now, we all do our own thing but when we see each other there’s just this connection.”

Learn more about Lawrence’s biennial study abroad program in Senegal here

That connection has led to something that Dominica Chang, the Margaret Banta Humleker Professor of French Cultural Studies and an associate professor of French, has never seen in her time leading the Lawrence immersion program in the West African country. Friendships blossom all the time during study abroad experiences. But this was different. Consider that all four of these students are now taking an independent study course with Chang during Fall Term to continue their studies in the Wolof language. That has never happened before.

“I reached out to Dominica about doing a Wolof tutorial just to continue learning Wolof,” Earthman said. “I mentioned it in a group chat, and then within a day everyone was like, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”

Wolof is one of a dozen indigenous languages in Senegal, a francophone country with deep ties to France. While French is the dominant language, Wolof is spoken by many of the locals in Dakar, where the students were living and learning during their time abroad.

For the four students, the draw to continue with Wolof lessons this term comes from a place of shared passion, deeper than any of them would have anticipated when they set out on their study abroad excursion in late March. The time in Senegal created intellectual and emotional connections with the place and the people of Dakar, and all four said they wanted to embrace and build on that. And to do it together in Appleton, as a group, or unit.

“When Bronwyn proposed the Wolof thing, I was like, well, I already have 18 credits,” Tabishat said. “And they’re all saying, ‘I’m doing it,’ ‘I’m doing it,’ ‘I’m doing it.’ So, I adjusted my schedule because we don’t do anything with just three of us. I can’t just not. I had to justify that to my advisors. I said, ‘The other girls are doing it, and I don’t want to miss out because it’s just as important to me.’”

Earlier story: Students checked in midway through term in Senegal

They now meet with Chang weekly for Wolof lessons in an independent study program designed to pick up where they left off when they departed Dakar in early June. Chang had accompanied the foursome to Senegal, teaching in the Baobab Center while there.

Celebrating the Wolof language was one of the students’ big takeaways from their time in Dakar. For 10 weeks, they met every day with instructors at the Baobab Center, learning terms and phrases and proper usage. They did their best to speak Wolof when greeting people at the market or in their neighborhoods, where they were living with host families.

“It’s something we all value a lot and something we want to continue,” Wilkening said of the new studies with Chang. “For us, we learned it there and lived it there. It’s not just a language but more about how we communicated with our friends who we became so close to while we were there.”

The students gained the respect of Dakar residents because they made the effort to learn and use Wolof. Friendships grew from there.

“There’s that point of preserving something you started,” Tabishat said of her motivation to sign up for the independent study this term. “I think it’s partially academic but also emotional because we communicated with people who couldn’t speak French, which is the colonial language, so you had to use Wolof, and that’s such a deeper connection. In the market and other places, the reaction people have when you are able to speak Wolof is crazy. They are shocked, which is insane to me because French people have been there forever and yet they’re still shocked when you speak Wolof. It’s something we value because we value those people so much.”

The four students — they dub themselves the SeneGals on Instagram — come from different disciplines. Earthman is studying biology, Tabishat is in global studies, Thew Forrester has a double major in government and English, and Wilkening is in environmental studies. Each dived deep into an academic service project that related to their majors while in Senegal.

For Thew Forrester, that service project involved studying artistic identity and how government, politics, and language in Senegal interact with the pursuit of art and personal expression. That will now become a key focus of her graduate school studies, and she plans to return to Senegal to pick up on what she started.

The idea of going back wasn’t on Thew Forrester’s radar when she first arrived in Dakar. Not even close. She was more than a little anxious about the 10-week commitment, she said, having signed up only because she thought the immersion in the French language would help her in pursuit of a French minor.

“I almost didn’t go,” she said. “I think now about what I would be doing, where I’d be if I hadn’t gone there and had that experience.”

Her SeneGals nod in agreement.

“I think all of us have a dream of going back at some point,” Tabishat said. “If possible, maybe together.”

Want to hear more from Earthman, Tabishat, Thew Forrester, and Wilkening? Tune in to the live Lawrence University Giving Day webcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10. The four students will be talking with host Terry Moran ’82 about their Senegal experience.

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

From tailgate party to Silent Disco, Blue and White Weekend is a time to celebrate

Lawrence football players prepare to come onto the field in a game at the Banta Bowl earlier this season.
Lawrence football will be a big part of Blue & White Weekend. A tailgate party at the Banta Bowl will precede the 1 p.m. game.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Get your gear ready, Lawrentians, because Blue & White Weekend is fast approaching.

What was formerly known as Fall Festival has been transformed into a weekend that celebrates all things Lawrence, with tons of fun things to do on campus — from a Friday night comedy show to a campus-wide tailgate party before Saturday’s football game to a Silent Disco Party.

The three-day celebration starts on Friday (Oct. 4).

When there is a lot going on it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, so I have compiled a list highlighting five key things to look forward to this Blue & White Weekend. 

1) Intercollegiate Athletics Viking Hall of Fame Dinner, reception at 6 p.m., ceremony at 7 p.m. Friday at Warch Campus Center: 

A tradition that was once part of the Fall Festival is continuing into Blue & White Weekend. The dinner is a way to celebrate those being inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.  

“Induction into the Lawrence University Hall of Fame is the highest athletics honor that Lawrence can bestow upon an individual,” Athletic Director Christyn Abaray said. “It is a marker signifying that the inductee was and will always be the cream of the crop in how they represented Lawrence on the field of play with distinct recognition at the conference and national levels.

“We forever look at those in the Hall of Fame as the beacons for Lawrence University athletics and inspirations for our current and future Lawrentian Vikings.” 

Meet this year’s inductees here.

For information on ticket availability, call the Office of Alumni and Constituency Engagement at 920-832-7019. 

2) Comedian Mandal, 8 p.m. Friday in Warch Campus Center: 

S.O.U.P. is known for bringing great acts to campus throughout the year. They are continuing that mission this Blue & White Weekend by bringing in Atlanta-based stand-up comedian Mandal, known for energetic performances and wacky humor.   

3) All-Campus Tailgate Party, 11 a.m. Saturday at Banta Bowl: 

Let’s go, Vikes! This is the second annual Blue & White Weekend tailgate party! It leads into the 1 p.m. football game. Food and camaraderie will be available. Grab something to eat, jump around in the bouncy house and enjoy the music provided by DJ King SZN.    

DJ King SZN is De Andre King ’20.

4) Football game, 1 p.m. Saturday at Banta Bowl: 

Touchdown! The Lawrence University Vikings will be competing against Illinois College. This will be their second home game of the season. Lawrence has not played against Illinois College since 2016, so be sure to go out and support our Vikings.  

5) Silent Disco Party, 8 p.m. Saturday in Warch Campus Center: 

This party is new to Blue & White Weekend, hosted by S.O.U.P., and promises to be loads of fun. Silent Discos are headphone parties, giving party-goers the opportunity to choose from three music options to rock out to. The music is controlled by DJs who will be in the room, and one of the DJs will be our very own DJ King SZN!

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

VR at 50: 1969 brought much change, including debut of a beloved campus bar

Mark Catron '69, a student bartender when the Viking Room opened as a bar in 1969, stands behind the bar with Jake Yingling '20 during Reunion Weekend.
Past meets present: Mark Catron ’69, a student bartender when the Viking Room opened as a bar in 1969, joins current student bartender Jake Yingling ’20 behind the bar during Reunion Weekend in mid-June. “Fridays and Saturdays were very, very popular,” Catron said of that first year.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Viking Room, a cherished on-campus hangout for generations of students, is carved deeply into the history of Lawrence University.

The names of students past and present cover the tables and booths, carved with affection, a metaphor of sorts for the deep bonds that alumni have with the place best known as the VR. Tucked in the lower level of Memorial Hall, it has served as a gathering place for students of drinking age — and faculty and staff — for five decades.

The VR is celebrating its 50th year as a bar. It had long existed as an on-campus lounge, but it didn’t serve alcohol until the first beer was tapped on March 7, 1969.

Mark Catron ’69 remembers it well. He was one of the original student bartenders, pouring beers during his senior year while “Bad Moon Rising” and “Sugar, Sugar” blasted from the speakers.

“The response was overwhelming. It was terrific,” said Catron, who visited the VR in early June while back on campus for his 50th class reunion. “People would come in after their afternoon classes and sit around and talk and have a beer or study.

“Fridays and Saturdays were very, very popular. There would be dances and a lot of music.”

The times they are a-changin’

When Lawrence successfully sought a city liquor license and remade the VR into a bar, it was new territory. Not many college campuses featured their own bar. The drinking age was 18 at the time, which meant most every student was a potential customer.

It arrived at a time when college campuses were hotbeds for social change and political demonstrations. There was no shortage of talking points in the spring of ’69 as students gathered in the VR.

“The four years I was here, there were terrific changes in powers, dormitory living and arrangements,” Catron said. “And clearly, this was part of the liberalization of the campus. Between the time we came and the time we left, there was a lot of turmoil, a lot of change going on, a lot of people questioning the way things had always been.”

Introducing a bar on campus amid all that, well, that was either going to prove to be genius or crazy, Catron said.

“From the administration point, maybe it was a sort of experiment to see if the students were capable of handling it in a responsible way,” he said. “I never had the impression there was ever any doubt about that. But I’m sure there had to be some questions among the adults in the room.

“This was the same time we were occupying the dean’s office. Lots of challenges were going on from a social standpoint. … The campus was different when we left from when we arrived, and the bar was just part of that change.”

Susan Jasin ’69 was another of the original student bartenders. When she went to Appleton City Hall to get her bartender’s license, she said the workers there told her she was the first woman in the city to be licensed as a bartender.

“I kind of got a giggle out of that at the time,” she said.

“It was fun to do because it was different and nobody else was doing it. I was just me. I was just Susan. I was doing it because it was fun.”

A new dynamic

While the VR remains a big part of campus life 50 years later, much has changed from its heyday in those early years. When Wisconsin’s drinking age increased to 19 in 1984 and then 21 in 1986, the dynamic in the VR changed, with much of the student body no longer old enough to legally drink.

The VR managers began to more actively market the bar to faculty and staff. A 1988 memo from the then-managers of the VR implored faculty and staff to increase their use of the bar, either as their own hangout or as an alternative classroom space.

“Keep in mind that the room is large, we play tapes upon request, and that our stereo does have a volume control if the music proves to be too loud,” the memo read. “Simply put, we would enjoy seeing more faculty and administrators using the VR on a regular basis, whether you choose to drink or not.”

Thirty years on, some faculty and staff continue to heed those words. And some jump in as guest bartenders, a long VR tradition.

The VR has gone through numerous changes in its management structure over the years. Presently, the bar is again managed by students, with oversight from Greg Griffin, director of the Warch Campus Center.

Jake Yingling ’20 frequents the VR with friends, and works bartending shifts as a student worker. While he understands the crowds in the VR may be smaller now than in the ’70s and ’80s, there are still nights when the place is hopping. And he appreciates it being on campus.

“The busier nights are the better nights,” he said.

“Now being 21, I can come here to do work, I can hang out with friends. It’s a good place to kind of hang out and relax.”

Five decades worth of alumni would raise a glass to that.

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

Two Lawrence hockey players launch Little Vikes, a wellness outreach for kids

Jordan Boehlke and Danny Toycen stand in front of the net on a hockey rink at Appleton Family Ice Center.
Jordan Boehlke ’20 and Danny Toycen ’21 stand for a portrait during a recent hockey practice at the Appleton Family Ice Center. Boehlke and Toycen started the Little Vikes student club last year and are looking to grow it this year.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

How do you get Lawrence students out in the community while also promoting the health of children in the Appleton area? Little Vikes has it figured out.

The club, founded by two Lawrence University men’s hockey players, provides opportunities for athletics and general wellness education to children in the Fox Cities through mentoring and support from Lawrence students. The Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) approved Little Vikes as an official club last spring, making it a new addition to the school’s repertoire of more than 100 student organizations.

Danny Toycen ’21 and Jordan Boehlke ’20 founded Little Vikes in the summer of 2018. The club isn’t Toycen’s first experience with volunteer work. When he was a junior hockey player in La Crosse, he connected with his community as a peer mentor for younger players.

“We’d bring little kids and youth hockey players into the locker room,” Toycen recalls, “and they’d give us a pep talk or we’d give them fist bumps and stuff like that. They loved it.”

Toycen also assisted Coulee Region Sled Hockey in La Crosse, where individuals with disabilities that prevent them from skating can navigate the ice on sleds. He was moved by seeing people overcome obstacles to be active and have fun playing the sport they love.

He took these experiences with him to Appleton, where he saw a need for mentors for children needing wellness education.

“Getting to do stuff like that is what I really loved,” Toycen says. “I just wanted to do something like that here at Lawrence.”

Thus, Little Vikes was born. It’s still in its infancy, but Toycen and Boehlke say they hope it’ll grow well beyond its dozen members and will establish itself as an active student program that will live on at Lawrence long after they’ve graduated.

The mission is simple, yet has the potential for high impact in the lives it touches.

“We’re trying to promote an active and healthy lifestyle, while still putting an emphasis on education and things like that,” Toycen says. “We want the kids being active, learning sportsmanship and being on a team. Things that come from being an athlete I’ll definitely take into any job or career I choose to follow.”

Since becoming an official club, Little Vikes has been able to plot a clearer course for community outreach. The most recent development is a budding partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. The club plans to host weekly activities and events at the nonprofit youth organization’s local facilities.

Toycen also is setting his sights on working with SOAR Fox Cities, a local nonprofit and Special Olympics agency that provides a range of programs for disabled individuals.

In the meantime, the club’s activities are geared toward connecting with kids in the Fox Cities and spreading the word about its mission. In November, Little Vikes will hold its second annual Toy Drive for the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin-Fox Valley. The group also will visit classrooms at Horizon Elementary School in Appleton in February to make valentines.

These activities have something to offer the kids involved. And Toycen says Lawrentians need the community exposure that Little Vikes provides.

“It’s always good to help and serve your community in whatever way you can,” he says. “Especially people coming from out of state and out of the country, for them to get a real feel for the Midwest and the Wisconsin lifestyle.”

Despite the focus on athletics, the Little Vikes club is open to anyone on campus dedicated to supporting wellness in Fox Cities youth. The organizers are setting their sights on growth.

“I want to see the club grow,” Toycen says simply. “Part of the reason we went through LUCC is to make sure it stays here. I feel like there’s a need for it. I want to see that need be served each year well after both of us move on.”

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