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Navigating Lawrence’s three 10-week terms: Plan ahead, stay organized, relax

Plan ahead as you make your way through Lawrence’s 10-week terms. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

One thing I was nervous about while coming into my first year of college was Lawrence’s trimester system. Even though I had experienced a similar academic structure in high school, I knew that college would be different. I was worried about what the workload would be like, how to manage my time, and how to prepare for classes.

So, for any incoming first-year who has those same concerns, or for sophomores who are wondering what to expect from an academic year with fewer COVID restrictions, look no further. I’m a senior now, and I’m happy to share some insights to hopefully help you best traverse the weeks of each term.

What’s a trimester, again?

Lawrence is split into three terms: Fall, Winter and Spring, with students taking three classes per term. They’re all 10 weeks long with midterms held about the midpoint of the term and finals after the last week of classes. Ten weeks will fly by fast, so be ready.

As you start your journey as a Lawrentian, one thing you’ll learn is that both students and professors reference things by weeks. For example: I can’t believe it’s third week already. Students also say it to convey their stress level or indicate their workload. Naturally, the deeper you are in the term, the more work you will have and the more in depth your learning material will be, so some weeks carry more weight than others.

A general guide to how the weeks go are as follows: weeks 1-3 of any term are typically less stressful because everyone is adjusting to their new classes and course materials, including the professors. Weeks 4-6 are a little heavier in the workload because you are past the learning curve of knowing how your classes are structured and what’s expected of you. Midterms are generally held during this time so you’ll find students burying their noses in books or writing papers. Weeks 7-10 make up the final stretch to the term and it’s where students are usually at their busiest. Students will be working on presentations, final projects or papers, and then finals are right around the corner after 10th week.

I’m generalizing, of course, as the rhythms of any term will vary depending on your classes, including for those students in the Conservatory who might have recitals and other performances to account for. But you get the idea. The workload—and accompanying stress—tends to ramp up as the term goes on.

Fear not, this is doable

This might sound like a lot, but don’t panic. As a first-year, I was comforted in knowing that each term you only need to take three classes; a standard class is six units (we use units instead of credits) and in order to be a full-time student, you need 18 units. I always liked bragging to my college friends back home that I only had to take three classes at a time while they had to take five or more.

A chance to de-stress comes with the mid-term Reading Period. It’s essentially a four-day weekend at the end of sixth week, a break built into each term. Traditionally, it was intended for students to use to study for their midterms the following week, but it more often plays out as a needed breather. A lot of professors schedule their midterms before Reading Period, so many students go home during this long weekend; others, like me, will take this opportunity to catch up on sleep, relax, hang out with friends, and generally get refreshed. What I’m saying is, unless you’ve been slacking in your studies, there’s not much reading involved, despite its name.

Advice from someone who has been there

OK, advice time! I have five tips to help you best navigate the 10-week terms. I had to learn these the hard way.

1. Order your books with plenty of time to spare. Like I said, most professors are pretty lenient the first three weeks and understand that mishaps occur with the mail system, but it’s still a little embarrassing not having your books on the first day of class. So I recommend ordering your books at least two weeks before the term starts and sending them to your SPC box at Lawrence; that way they’ll be there when you arrive on campus. There are cheaper purchasing options than buying brand new editions; you can buy used versions, rent your books or see if any upperclassmen will lend or give you theirs.

2. Be organized from the get-go. This means investing in a planner or calendar of some kind and becoming best friends with it. You’ll want to write down your class schedule and times, and once you get your syllabus, write down the due dates of assignments. Being organized also means checking your school email daily. Almost every professor will email you with information about class, whether it’s changing an assignment or extending a due date or maybe canceling class—trust me, you don’t want to show up to a class that’s been cancelled and find out you could’ve slept in.

3. Don’t procrastinate. I know, easier said than done. My rule of thumb is if you can get it done in five minutes, do it now. Make a list of the assignments you have to do for the day or upcoming week and order them from which ones have to get done first, or from easiest to hardest. That way you’re not spending more time on something that’s due in a week versus something that’s due tomorrow. It also helps to set up a study schedule and block out chunks of time that you dedicate to finishing certain assignments.

4. Find your study spot. If you work best inside your room, then great! But sometimes your roommate will need to take a call or maybe they chew loudly and you can’t focus. It’s always good to have a backup or two that you can call your own. A good place to study, of course, is the library because the level of quietness goes up the higher the floor you’re on. Other nice indoor spots to study are the fourth floor of the Warch Campus Center, the Steitz Atrium, the Café or in the large venue rooms on the backside of Warch. When the weather is nice, some outdoor spots would be on the Main Hall Green, the Sage patio, or the tables outside both the library and the Café.

5. Take breaks. Even though these other tips are geared toward helping you with your studies, my last piece of advice would be to not let your work consume you. It’s important to take a breather every now and then. College life is stressful but it’s also a great time to meet new people and try new things. Also, remember to get involved with activities on campus. Each term has its own traditions and events that you don’t want to miss. Always keep an eye on the campus calendar for details.

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Lawrence’s Jesús Smith takes to the dance floor for annual Shall We Dance fundraiser

Jesús Smith, assistant professor of ethnic studies, rehearses with Pamela Cribbs at the Boogie Ballroom dance studio in Neenah. They are preparing for the annual Shall We Dance fund-raising event, set for this fall in Appleton. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

Jesús Smith is excited to show off his dance moves.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of ethnic studies is one of eight local community dancers preparing to compete this fall in the Sexual Assault Crisis Center’s annual Shall We Dance competition in downtown Appleton.

The work of the Appleton nonprofit spoke to Smith in many ways—he said he’s felt passionate about sexual assault advocacy since participating in a program called Men Can Stop Rape as an undergraduate at the University of Texas El Paso—and saw this fundraiser as a valuable opportunity. So, when the chance to enter the competition appeared, Smith grabbed his dancing shoes.

“It was a way to tie my passion with the things I do as a scholar and as a professor and make those connections in the community,” he said.

Shall We Dance, built on the same premise as ABC’s popular series, Dancing with the Stars, is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley. But the all-important fund-raising component and the months of practice and preparation are already in full swing.

See Jesús Smith’s Shall We Dance profile page here.

Jesús Smith said practices have been intense as he prepares for the Oct. 16 competition. “It’s hard, it’s different,” he said.

Shall We Dance is an entertainment event that aims to increase awareness about sexual assault while helping the Sexual Assault Crisis Center raise important funds. All of the money raised before and during the event will go to the center to help provide needed services to sexual assault survivors.

Each year, eight Fox Cities community dancers are selected to compete. They are paired with various dance organizations and each is matched with a professional dancer. A part of the competition consists of the community dancers raising at least $10,000 for the Crisis Center in the lead-up to the event.

Smith, a member of the Lawrence faculty since 2017, is partnered with professional dancer Pamela Cribbs from Boogie Ballroom, a dance studio in Neenah.

Although he never trained formally, Smith said he is confident in his dancing abilities. For him, the hardest part is learning the footwork; he and Cribbs meet about once a week to work on their moves. In between those sessions, Smith is spending a lot of time practicing on his own.

“So far, it’s going really fantastic,” Smith said. “It’s hard, it’s different. I have these little Cuban dance shoes that have these heels that I swear sometimes are going to break my ankles.”

Jesús Smith was featured in Lawrence’s On Main Hall Green With … series in January 2020. See it here.

Smith first heard about the competition through a friend, Cristi Burrill, who won it last year. He said he immediately thought that participating in Shall We Dance would be a great opportunity to incorporate what he learned about sexual assault advocacy as an undergraduate in Texas and share it with the Appleton and Lawrence communities—all the while sweating it out on the dance floor.  

Smith and the other dancers are currently seeking support while they rehearse in preparation for the dance-off in October.

With his fundraising, Smith said he wanted to take a more educational route to help promote the message of the Crisis Center. He is at the midpoint of hosting four virtual mini educational fundraisers, with discussions concerning different communities’ experiences with sexual assault and violence. The sessions include guest speakers. The next Zoom talk will be July 30 with Tommy Curry, a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, speaking on sexual assault and violence toward racialized boys and men. The final talk will be Sept. 26 and will focus on women, sexism, and surveillance labor with Melissa Ochoa-Garza, a scholar at Texas A&M University. Look for details on Smith’s social media accounts.

Jesús Smith: “I wanted to do a song and dance that was reflective of my cultural, ethnic, racial backgrounds.”

Smith also created a Patreon page where supporters can watch behind-the-scenes rehearsals and silly videos of him doing various workouts and activities to get into dancing shape.

The competition will include advance voting (via contributions on the Shall We Dance site) and voting at the Oct. 16 event.

When asked about the specifics of his dance performance, Smith was excited to share. He will be dancing to a Spanish trap song, A Palé, by Rosalía.

“I wanted to do a song and dance that was reflective of my cultural, ethnic, racial backgrounds,” he said.

The song starts slow and beautiful, with Smith and his partner doing a Viennese waltz. It transitions from there as the tempo picks up.

Smith earns Wilson Foundation Fellowship. See details here.

Smith said he wanted to perform a mix of dance styles to match the song and his upbringing, so the performance will include hip-hop, different waltzes, and various Latin-style dances such as cumbias and the Paso Doble, plus other surprises. He aims for their dance to tell a story through both the movements and the costumes.

“It’s just such a conglomeration of different things, which I love because it’s me,” Smith said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Summer research grows more robust across an array of academic departments

Tyler Scott ’23 adjusts a drone as part of a summer research project at Two Creeks Buried State Forest Natural Area on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Scott and several other students are working this summer with geosciences professor Jeff Clark. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

From mapping bluff erosion along the shores of Lake Michigan to translating theatrical works from French to English, Lawrence University students are diving deep into a wide range of research this summer.

The Lawrence University Summer Research Fellows Program has come roaring back following a year in which summer research was either limited or strictly remote because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100 students—most of them on campus but some still remote—are taking part in summer research, funded through Lawrence and its supporting partners and encompassing 17 academic departments across the college and the conservatory, all in collaboration with Lawrence faculty.

Elliott Marsh ’22, an environmental sciences and geosciences double major who is working with a team of students alongside geosciences professor Jeff Clark on the Lake Michigan bluff erosion project, said he loves the hands-on approach to summer research.

“In my case, I am learning a lot about drones, remote sensing, and GIS, which are very good skills to have in the job market these days,” he said. “Also, research is all about problem-solving, and being immersed in trying to answer a handful of questions in 10 weeks is a very different experience.”

Student participation in the summer research program has grown by 50% over the last six years, jumping from 70 students in 2015 to 105 this year. The number of academic departments taking part has grown from 11 to 17.

Through numerous grants, donations, and other funding, more than $350,000 was available for this year’s summer research. Faculty members applied for funding to support their research; students then applied to join faculty projects that interested them.

“Despite the pandemic, summer research at Lawrence continues to grow and flourish—we have more students participating in summer research with more faculty across more programs than ever before,” said Peter Blitstein, associate dean of the faculty.

The natural sciences continue to lead the way, but there is now more consistent participation year in and year out from the arts, humanities, and social sciences. That, combined with greater flexibility in how available stipends are used, has helped increase participation each of the past six years, with the exception of last summer.  

Relena Ribbons, an assistant professor of geosciences who is leading students in climate-based research in SLUG (Sustainable Lawrence University Garden), called the skill-development that comes with hands-on research a valuable piece of life-after-Lawrence preparations. Seeing it return this summer with such enthusiasm has been a welcome sight.

From left: Katie Mahorney ’22, Gillian Buckardt ’22, Relena Ribbons, assistant professor of geosciences, and Ella Lemley-Fry ‘23 work in SLUG as part of a summer research project.

“Summer research fellowships here at Lawrence provide students with the opportunity to fully engage with the entire research process, which is both a valuable stepping stone for connecting more deeply with academic research and a meaningful and enjoyable way to spend the summer months,” Ribbons said.

The work provides students with important insights into graduate school and allows them to explore career possibilities on a deeper level. In the process, it adds skills and experiences to their resumes.

“These experiences are especially valuable in helping students figure out if they might want a career in research, and if so, the work they do over the summer is an important part of their application for graduate school,” said Lori Hilt, associate professor of psychology. “The skills they gain—in data collection and analysis, communication, etc.—will help them in their lives after Lawrence, whether or not they decide to go to graduate school.”


To give you a look at the breadth of the research being done this summer by Lawrence students in collaboration with faculty across the college and conservatory, we’ve pulled together a “by the numbers” guide.

105: Number of students participating in summer research

Blitstein said the growth in the program stems from the diversity and creativity of the research projects and the influx of available funds over the past several years to support the students during the summer.

“I am delighted to see the range of projects our faculty and students are collaborating on this summer,” he said. “From the ceramics studio, to the biology laboratory, to the university archives, Lawrentians are engaged in hands-on learning, developing their skills, and supporting faculty in achieving their scholarly and creative goals.”

53: Total number of research projects under way

The program was renamed the Lawrence University Research Fellows Program in 2017, and with it came a greater emphasis in participation beyond the natural sciences, Blitstein said. That is playing out in a big way this summer.

“Overall, it has become more visible as a university-wide program in recent years,” he said.

46: Number of Lawrence faculty overseeing summer research projects

Hilt has been part of the research program every summer since joining the Lawrence faculty in 2011. She’s working with students this year on multiple projects that touch on mindfulness, rumination, and suicide prevention among school-age children and adolescents.

“I find it to be a rewarding opportunity to mentor students and have them contribute to my scholarship in a meaningful way,” Hilt said. “Many of my summer research students have been co-authors on published papers and have gone on to graduate school and careers in psychology.”

Jeff Clark, professor of geosciences, works with Itai Bojdak-Yates ’23 on research at Two Creeks Buried State Forest Natural Area in east-central Wisconsin. Clark is one of 46 Lawrence faculty members working with students on summer research.

17: Number of academic departments working with students on summer research

The departments involved touch almost every corner of Lawrence. In addition to the natural sciences, participation comes from Anthropology, the Archives, Art & Art History, the Conservatory, Economics, English, Film Studies, French & Francophone Studies, Government, History, Mathematics, Psychology, and Russian, plus outside partnerships with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

Midushi Ghimire ’24 is a biochemistry major spending her summer working with Mark Jenike, associate professor of anthropology, on research into the human biology of diabetes. The research is expected to contribute to a new course to be offered in 2022-23.

“The best part is that in order to understand the concepts, I have to sometimes revisit and refresh what I learned during my academic year,” Ghimire said of the work. “I feel that I have a stronger grasp on the topics I learned and am applying them to new areas. I am expanding my knowledge horizon and relating biology through a larger scope.”

50: Number of students taking part in science research (biology, chemistry, geosciences, and physics)

The Lake Michigan shoreline research that Clark is leading is part of an innovative NASA project that gives students the opportunity to conduct earth-observing experiments using remote sensing techniques. It ties in nicely with Lawrence’s newly launched environmental science major.

“We are using drones to map bluff erosion on the bluffs along Lake Michigan near Two Creeks,” Marsh said. “To do this, we are using not only a visual sensor but also a thermal sensor. That area is known for its distinct layers, and the sand layer is the weakest layer where the bluff is most likely to fail. So, with the thermal sensor, we are able to identify how saturated the sand layer is because the different moisture levels in the sand will yield different temperatures than 100 percent dry sand would.”

The students will analyze the collected data and by the end of summer prepare a paper on their findings.

13: Number of students taking part in Conservatory of Music summer research

Projects range from research into Brazilian drumming (with percussion professor Dane Richeson) to preparing arrangements for horn and mixed ensemble for publication (with horn professor Ann Ellsworth).

Claire Chamberlin ’23, a global studies major, is working with Eilene Hoft-March, the Milwaukee-Downer College and College Endowment Association Professor of Liberal Studies and professor of French, in the translating of short theatrical works from French to English. Kathy Privatt, the James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theater arts, and her theater students will then take some of those short plays to performance during Winter Term.

“I’m translating short contemporary retellings of four plays by Molière—who was essentially the French Shakespeare—from French into English,” Chamberlin said. “It’s valuable because it’s making art accessible to a new audience. All four plays are funny and incisive, and adapting them into English allows more people to enjoy them. For me, it’s a fantastic opportunity because I get to build my literary translation skills while learning more about Francophone cultures and the French language, especially its idiomatic use.”

7: Number of students involved with research that explores foreign languages and/or cultures

Parker Elkins ’22, a Russian Studies major, is one of three students working with Peter Thomas, associate professor of Russian Studies, to build assignments for Lawrence’s first-year Russian curriculum, including both written and video exercises.

“While I’m still unsure whether I intend to pursue higher education after Lawrence and teach Russian, this work is certainly helping me get a better understanding of some of what that job would entail,” Elkins said.

Researching the Russian text and breaking it down for possible use in future courses has not only proved beneficial in providing insight into possible career paths, it’s also helped give direction to a separate project, his senior capstone.

“I can say that for mine—a scholarly retranslation of Venedikt Erofeev’s novel, Moscow to the End of the Line—working on these (texts) has been immensely helpful,” Elkins said. “Erofeev’s prose shares very, very few similarities to these texts, but at the same time there’s been large parts of the process that I’ve been able to take from working on these first-year Russian assignments and apply to retranslating this novel.” 

23: Number of students taking part in psychology research, much of it focused on youth and adolescent mindfulness

John Berg ’22, an English and psychology double major, is working with Hilt in a study of mental health screening and suicide prevention among school-age children and adolescents in the Fox Valley. They’re partnering with community groups as they examine local screening data from the prior school year and look to develop new or improved screening instruments that can better identify students in need of help.

“I personally love doing this work,” Berg said. “I think that it is relevant and has the ability to help students who are at risk of self-harm and/or suicide.”

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

Upgrade of half-mile stretch of Lawrence’s Riverwalk Trail expected to begin next year

The section of the Riverwalk Trail behind Warch Campus Center, just east of Lawe Street, will be part of a trail upgrade project beginning in 2022. The project covers the half-mile stretch of trail that runs along the river on the south side of campus. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University will widen, pave, and light a campus trail that runs along the Fox River, with work on the project expected to begin in 2022.

The upgraded Riverwalk Trail will improve its year-round usability and allow the campus to better connect with adjacent trails for walking, running, and biking, said Christyn Abaray, assistant to the president.

Abaray called the project a significant benefit for the surrounding Appleton community as well as for the students, faculty, and staff who call the Lawrence campus home. It will further highlight Lawrence’s scenic location along the river, providing picturesque views, a natural get-away, fitness opportunities, and new avenues for environmental studies.

“A well-maintained path will increase experiential learning opportunities for students whose studies focus on the environment and public health and for our environmentally focused student organizations,” Abaray said. “And strengthening the connection between Lawrence and the city through contributions to the growth of the Fox Cities will help us to attract and retain talented students, faculty, and staff.”

The Riverwalk Trail between Drew Street and Lawe Street will be part of the planned upgrade that includes paving, widening, and lighting.

See more on trails and parks near the Lawrence campus here.

Fund-raising is already under way for the project. Philanthropic contributions from the Lawrence community have surpassed $150,000 so far. The Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region via its David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund has pledged $100,000, and a $1,000 grant was secured from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Lawrence continues to work closely with the City of Appleton as the project proceeds with its support, Abaray said.

The half-mile trail along the south side of campus—from Drew Street to an area behind Warch Campus Center just east of Lawe Street—has been designated as an unofficial trail for decades. Lawrence paved part of the trail in the 1990s, courtesy of a gift from the Class of 1998, and a wooden overlook was built, but that overlook is now closed because of needed repairs. The overlook will be repaired in the future via this project, Abaray said.

Lawrence began working on trail-related enhancements a year ago. Two entryways connecting campus with the trail, one between Briggs Hall and the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center and one just east of the Warch Campus Center, were renovated last summer.

The enhancements have made both the trail and campus easier and safer to access, but the trail still lacks the amenities for more robust use, Abaray said.

“While campus and Appleton residents still enjoy the existing unofficial trail for its scenic views, its narrowness, lack of lighting, and unpaved portions make it difficult to utilize the trail safely and fully year-round,” she said.

Once the upgrades to the trail portion of the project are completed, the Riverwalk Trail will provide easy access to other nearby trails, including the newly opened Lawe Street Trestle Trail, the Newberry Trail, North Island Trail, and the coming trail that’s part of the planned Ellen Kort Peace Park.

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

Decoda Chamber Music Festival to include eight public performances in Appleton

Members of Decoda will lead the Decoda Chamber Music Festival in Appleton. (Maria McColl photo)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

A two-week chamber music festival will bring 28 college-aged musicians to Lawrence University in late July and early August for an intensive training program that also will feature multiple free public performances.

The Decoda Chamber Music Festival, presented by the Lawrence Conservatory of Music and the musical collective Decoda, will take place in Appleton from July 28 to Aug. 6. The eight public performances at various Appleton venues—including as part of the Mile of Music Festival—will welcome live audiences. It comes following a year in which most live performances were canceled or moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re bringing nearly 30 young artists from around the world to Appleton for two weeks to study with eight amazing Decoda musicians, some of whom are based right here,” said pianist Michael Mizrahi, a professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory and a founding member of Decoda. “Students and faculty will work together to create immersive chamber music experiences at venues across the Fox Valley.”

Public performances will include:

July 28: Decoda in concert, Riverview Gardens, 5:30 p.m.

July 30: Decoda in concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 7 p.m.

July 31: Decoda Chamber Music Festival Young Artists’ Concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 7 p.m.

Aug. 1: Decoda Chamber Music Festival Young Artists’ Concert, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, 1 p.m.

August 5 and 6: Decoda Chamber Music Festival performances at Mile of Music. These include 11 a.m. Aug. 5 at Lawrence Memorial Chapel; 11 a.m. Aug. 6 at OuterEdge Stage; 1 p.m. Aug. 6 at Riverview Gardens; and 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at Heid Music. Mile of Music collaborators will include Wade Fernandez, Cory Chisel, and Bernard Lilly ’18 (B. Lilly).

“This kind of cross-genre collaboration will be a win-win for our students and our community,” Mizrahi said of the Mile of Music performances.

Decoda is a national collective of musicians committed to virtuosic performance and audience engagement. Their performances range from trios to large mixed ensembles, with much of the focus on audience outreach at venues that run the gamut from concert halls to schools to hospitals to prisons. Mizrahi and flutist Erin Lesser, associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory, are among the core members of the group.

As part of Decoda outreach, Mizrahi launched the Music for All program in Appleton in 2015. More than 100 free community concerts have taken place over the past six years in conjunction with various local organizations. Among others, it has highlighted the work of women composers at Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, created short educational music performance videos for the Appleton Area School District, and presented free interactive community concerts for families with young children at Riverview Gardens.

The success of Music for All led to discussions of bringing the Decoda Chamber Music Festival to Appleton.

“This festival lived on the East Coast for many years and was looking for a new home,” Mizrahi said. “Appleton has such a vibrant tradition of live music in the summer—I knew this community would welcome us with open arms.”

Multiple visiting members of Decoda will join with Conservatory faculty to work with the participating students. They will lead daily rehearsals and workshops, teach students how to use music to interact with different local communities, and develop students’ skills in instrumental technique, public speaking, and mission/vision development.

The timing of the festival allows it to mesh with Mile of Music, the all-original music festival taking place Aug. 5-8 at more than 40 venues and performance spaces in downtown Appleton. Lawrence Conservatory faculty have led the music education portion of Mile of Music since its launch in 2013, with the work of the Music Education Team focused on getting festival-goers to engage with and create their own music.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Mile of Music this summer—they’ve been doing live music here in Appleton for the better part of the last decade, and our program will allow for a rich cross-fertilization of artists from different backgrounds, all coming together to create live music for and of our community,” Mizrahi said. “This year in particular, after going so long without live music, we can’t wait to create new musical collaborations in front of a live audience.”

Support for the Decoda Chamber Music Festival includes grants from the John Scott Boren Memorial Fund for the Performing Arts, the Bright Idea Fund, and the Mielke Family Foundation, all within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

More information on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music can be found at More information on the Decoda Chamber Music Festival can be found at More information on Mile of Music can be found at

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

Hello, Class of 2025: It’s OK to be nervous; we’re all looking for ways to connect

Connecting with others on campus is part of the college journey. After more than a year of pandemic protocols, we may need a little help along the way. We’ve got some advice. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

For any incoming first-year, starting the journey as a college student can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. Throw in a year of mask-wearing, social distancing, and other pandemic protocols and you’ve got a recipe for added anxiety.

As the beginning of the new school year draws closer, you might be unsure of what to expect or worried about making friends. That goes for not only first-years but also for all those sophomores who spent their first year remote. I’m here to help. Here are nine things that helped me meet new people and form lasting friendships when I arrived on campus three years ago.

1Take advantage of Welcome Week: Welcome Week is as it sounds—a time when you and your fellow first-years will move into residence halls and be welcomed to campus. There are a myriad of activities over several days that are specifically designed to help you meet new people and aid you with the transition to college life at Lawrence. Engaging in these activities will provide you with an easy opportunity to start making connections with other first-years before the rest of the student body arrives on campus. You can ask someone from one of these activities to grab a bite to eat in the Warch Campus Center or go for a walk along the river or even tour the education buildings together to figure out where your classes will be held.

2Attend residence hall activities: A fun way to get to know the students in your residence building is to go to the events hosted by your community advisor (we call them CAs). In the dorm’s lobby during their night shifts, they will set up movies, have various game nights, order pizza, and sometimes make pancakes. There is no work involved for you. Just enjoy. All these activities are opportunities to mingle, and the best part is, you don’t even have to leave the building!

Student organizations offer a great way to meet new people. Here, students participate in a hike during Camping 101, an event hosted by the Lawrence University Outdoor Recreation Club in May. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

3Join student orgs: There are more than 100 student-run clubs and organizations on campus, all looking for new members. Click here for the list at Want to learn how to swing dance? Or do you really like improv theatre? Itching to go on a camping trip? There are clubs for all of these interests, but on the slight chance that Lawrence does not already have the club you’re looking for, no worries. You can form your own, and it’s really simple! Here’s a link for a how-to guide; on the page it’ll tell you to review the Student Handbook and then you simply have to fill out a club recognition request form. Joining a student org is a sure way to follow your passions and connect with other Lawrentians. You may even learn new skills along the way.

4Go to sporting events: Even if you are not athletically inclined, you’re in luck—cheering on the Vikings only requires your enthusiasm. Even if you have no idea what’s going on, it’s OK because there is usually someone sitting near you who is in the same boat. Making connections through shared confusion is a fun way to start those friendships while also showing support for the athletes. And as a captain for the women’s basketball team, I can attest to how much we appreciate it when we see the bleachers filled with students cheering us on. Lawrence provides a free shuttle service to take you to and from the athletic facilities, but here’s another tip for forging connections: Skip the shuttle and walk to the Banta Bowl or Alexander Gym. It’ll be quality time with your new friends.  

5Visit the Downtown Appleton Farmer’s Market: This weekly event is a great way to spend a Saturday morning in the fall (or summer if you stay on campus) with a friend. Beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 12:30 p.m., College Avenue from Appleton Street to Drew Street is closed off to vehicle traffic so vendors can sell a variety of goods. You’ll find everything from fresh produce and baked treats to handmade items and artwork—often while listening to live music. So, grab your roommate or a new acquaintance and take a stroll to experience one of Appleton’s summer and fall favorites.

Lawrence students volunteer at Feeding America in January 2020.

6Get out and volunteer: Volunteering is an awesome way for students to connect. Make friends while helping to educate kids, comfort animals, or save the planet. Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) works hard to educate students about their role as citizens in their community while also promoting a wide range of volunteer opportunities. The CCE is not the only an avenue for volunteering but it’s a great resource to meet others along the way.

7Go to the movies: Seeing a good movie is always a great option when building new friendships. The campus movie theatre on the second floor of Warch Campus Center features free movies for students every Friday and Saturday night during the school year. You can even fill out an online form to make suggestions for specific movies that you want to see, and there’s free popcorn. It’s a fun way to spend a weekend night and connect with others. Did I mention the free popcorn?

8Embrace the arts: I hope you’re not too attached to your socks, because they will be knocked off while watching a performance in the Conservatory, whether it’s our own students or visiting artists. Attending events in the Con with your new friends is a must. This is one of the true perks of going to Lawrence. We have a world-renowned music conservatory right here on campus. Not many schools get to say that. I’ve enjoyed watching many of my friends perform in various ensembles and have had my ears blessed while listening to music recitals. And there are amazing theatre and dance performances, not to mention opera and other musical feats. Music is quite literally happening all the time on this campus.

The Trout Museum of Art, located adjacent to Houdini Plaza in the heart of downtown Appleton, is a short walk from campus.

9Get outside the Lawrence bubble: There doesn’t need to be a special occasion for you and a fellow newcomer to step off campus and explore Appleton. College Avenue has a comprehensive selection of fun downtown spots, including coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, art and various crafting stores, and so much more—even I haven’t seen it all and I’ve been here for three years. But it’s not just shops. Check out the various trails and parks within walking distance of campus (the Lawe Street Trestle Trail is my favorite). Also, be on the lookout for student rush tickets for shows at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (nothing wrong with cheap tix to a touring Broadway show), book a tour of the History Museum at the Castle or visit the Trout Museum of Art, all short walks from campus. These are just some of the great ways to get to know other students who also are new to Appleton.

Bonus tip: Follow Lawrence and Appleton social media pages. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the Lawrence website, it’s a good idea to stay connected to your new community. Keep tabs on news updates, insights into your fellow students and the Lawrence faculty, and details of coming events on campus or nearby.

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

New era dawns as Laurie Carter begins tenure as Lawrence’s 17th president

President Laurie A. Carter (Photo courtesy of Shippensburg University)

Welcome, President Laurie A. Carter.

A new era at Lawrence University begins today as Carter steps in as the 17th president in the 174-year history of the university. She comes to Lawrence from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, where she had served as president since 2017.

Carter succeeds Mark Burstein, who closed his Lawrence presidency at the end of June after eight years, wanting to return to the East Coast to be closer to family.

Carter was named president following a national search conducted by Lawrence’s Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles ’92 and vice chair Sarah Schott ’97. The 17-member committee, which included alumni, faculty, staff, and students, delivered a unanimous recommendation for Carter to the Board of Trustees.

Since that announcement in early March, Carter has been communicating regularly with various members of the Lawrence community to help get her presidency off to a fast start.

She arrives with a work history that includes a 25-year stint in various leadership positions at the Juilliard School in New York City and several years as an executive vice president at Eastern Kentucky University.

The number 17 has been significant for Carter. She also was the 17th president at Shippensburg. Before leaving Pennsylvania, Carter and the Shippensburg University community held “17 Days of Kindness,” featuring blood drives, service days, community clean-ups, and food and school supply drives. It was a flashback to something the campus had initiated when she first arrived at Shippensburg, and she told the student newspaper it was important to her to do it again on her way out.

“I think it’s really significant to the world — kindness matters,” Carter said in the interview with The Slate before leaving campus. “And a little kindness goes a long way. It really softened the community, brought us together in so many ways. And I thought it appropriate for us to end in the same way, really focusing on how we treat one another and that mutual respect.”

As Carter’s tenure at Lawrence begins on July 1, we’re sharing some content that has helped us get to know her a little better over the past few months.

“As a sitting president, I am well aware of the challenges facing higher education, but I know the Lawrence community is ready to work together to continue the traditions of excellence while ensuring a bright future for the students, the university, and the community,” Carter said on that day in early March.

The things to know included her background in higher education, much of it spent in a liberal arts setting, her work as a lawyer, her early days in Student Life, her successes as a student athlete, her passion for the arts, and her enthusiasm for exploring all things Wisconsin.

President Laurie A. Carter joined outgoing President Mark Burstein for a video conversation.

Carter, her husband, Gary Robinson, and the new presidential pup, Pepper, are settling into the newly renamed Hamar House, previously known as the President’s House. An inauguration for Carter is being planned for Fall Term. Stay tuned for details.

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy of Olive Hamar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the house

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

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

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

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

Anxiety over registering for classes? Here are 11 tips from a student who’s been there

Thelma B. Jimenez-Anglada, assistant professor of Spanish, teaches a Spring Term Spanish class. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Planning your schedule is the first step in setting the tone for the academic year and there’s always plenty of course options for your first year at Lawrence. But registration can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. Don’t worry, though. There are people to help, and once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy, and these 11 tips will help ensure you get off on the right foot.

1. Think about your schedule OUTSIDE of classes. Are you leaving yourself time to stop by Andrew Commons for lunch? Do you plan to have a job that will impact your schedule? Make sure your class times don’t conflict with your life outside of academics.

2. Know yourself and how you learn best. Do you work best early in the morning? Do you want periodic breaks throughout the day or back-to-back classes? And no matter what, don’t forget to consider your sleep schedule.

3. Remember that classes are usually offered multiple times. Especially as a first year, even if a class isn’t offered every term or even every year, you’ll likely have multiple opportunities to take a course if you are trying to choose between two classes offered at the same time.

Tyler Scott ’23 takes notes during a Hot Rocks geology class. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

4. If you really want to take a class that is full, immediately get on the waitlist and reach out to the professor to let them know how excited you are about their course. There might be a bit of wiggle room in class capacity or someone else might drop the class, which will make room for you.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions when you meet with your summer advisor. That’s what your advisor is there for. They know the whole process is new to you, and they want to help you and share their expertise.

6. Trust your instincts. It can be overwhelming to look at the full course catalog and narrow it down to three classes (or two since you take First-Year Studies your first two terms) especially after years of having your schedule basically decided for you. Whatever classes stand out to you are probably going to be the best fit.

Danielle Joyner, assistant professor of art history, works with Maren Stone ’22 and Izzy Thompson ’22 during a Spring Term class in the Wriston Art Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

7. But at the same time … remember where you are in your studies. During your first year, you’ll mostly be taking 100- and 200-level courses as you accumulate the knowledge you’ll need to excel in more upper-level classes. That 400-level seminar will still be there when you’re a senior.

8. Try to have a good balance of subjects. Three lab courses or three writing-intensive courses within one term probably isn’t the best idea.

9. If you don’t have the necessary prerequisites for a class you want to take, reach out to the professor to ask if you might qualify in a different way. Sometimes, classes you took in high school or unique experiences you’ve had can be substituted for the pre-req. But remember that those pre-reqs are about making sure you have the background and experience necessary to succeed in the course, so really think about (and maybe check with your advisor) whether the class is a fit for where you are in your academic journey.

10. It’s OK if you don’t know your major yet. Explore a variety of different subjects! Even if you think you know your major, first year is a great time to dip your toe into other interests as you start to figure out your own college path.

11. There are lots of resources to help you. I’ve already talked about your advisor, but there are more people who can help. The Registar’s Office is a great place to ask questions about the ins and outs of registration. And if you need help with anything related to academics, from academic counseling to procedures, the Center for Academic Success is your one-stop shop.

Alex Freeman ’23 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Bright spots: How Lawrence is positioned to succeed amid higher ed challenges

President Mark Burstein delivers his final address during Commencement on June 13. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University’s willingness to adapt, to embrace change without uprooting its deep commitment to the liberal arts, has the school well-positioned to face an onslaught of coming challenges in a tumultuous higher education climate.

The recent close of the Be the Light! Campaign at $232.6 million, well above the $220 million goal, speaks to Lawrence’s strong support among its alumni and friends and its notable reputation as an innovative and supportive liberal arts college. Those are important strengths to lean on at a time when a once-in-a-century pandemic has added to the already sizable hurdles ahead for higher education—rising student debt, closings and mergers, and a shrinking college-age population among them.

The Be the Light! Campaign’s success comes as Lawrence prepares for leadership change. Mark Burstein, the university’s 16th president in its 174-year history, is set to step aside at the close of the academic year. Laurie A. Carter, the newly named 17th president, will begin her tenure on July 1 with those industry challenges front and center, but also with a string of successes to build on—$91 million in investments toward Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN), expanded and strengthened academic programs, a revitalized Career Center, and the refurbishing of facilities across campus.

Those successes, so central to the Burstein presidency and largely made possible by Be the Light!, will provide strength and structure as Lawrence pushes forward amid the headwinds that have dominated and reshaped the higher education conversation.

Lawrence, of course, isn’t immune to the volatility. But the narrative here is different. Lawrence’s endowment is healthy and growing, and its relationship with alumni is robust. The Full Speed to Full Need initiative continues to resonate, lowering student debt and improving accessibility for students of all economic backgrounds. Its enrollment numbers, even amid the pandemic, have remained steady thanks in part to a wider geographic focus. And it has successfully added key in-demand academic programs without sacrificing its liberal arts mission.

That isn’t to say there aren’t choppy waters ahead. For institutions of higher learning that have failed to adapt to changing demographics and the shifting winds of higher education in the 21st century, the results are proving perilous. Lawrence, though, believes it has positioned itself to buck the troubling trends, courtesy of strategic planning years in the making, much of it led by Burstein.

That, perhaps more than anything, will be Burstein’s legacy.

“He has led the university through unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities,” said David Blowers, chair of the Board of Trustees. “During Mark’s tenure, our curricular offerings became deeper and broader, applications and the endowment increased dramatically, and our community became more diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded.”

That important work, Burstein said, is and always will be a team effort.

“Thanks to extraordinary faculty, administrative, and volunteer leadership, Lawrence has been able to swim upstream in a very challenging environment for colleges and universities,” he said.

Today, we’ll explore the pressures that are tied to student debt concerns, financial strains that are proving difficult for a growing number of institutions of higher education, the realities of changing demographics that will dramatically reduce the number of high school graduates entering college over the coming decade, and the questioning in some sectors of the importance of a liberal arts education. And we’ll look at how and why Lawrence, despite the pandemic, has put itself in a position to confidently steer its way through those troublesome waters to serve not only current students but future Lawrentians as well.

Main Hall, Lawrence University

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Trend No. 1: Rising student debt changes the college conversation

The Lawrence reality: A commitment seven years ago to the Full Speed to Full Need initiative has student debt going down for Lawrence students.

Rising student debt has dominated discussions of higher education over the past decade, the last five years in particular. The burden on young college graduates, the number who are defaulting on loans, the economic repercussions due to an inability to save or to buy homes or make other substantial investments are points of debate in everything from politics to economic forecasting to family planning.

Student loan statistics, reported by Forbes in February 2020, before the pandemic hit and put student loan payments on pause, paint a daunting picture. Total student loan debt is at $1.56 trillion. The average student loan debt is $32,731. At private not-for-profit schools, that number is $32,300, 15% higher than in 2008.

Meanwhile, middle class wages across the country have remained stagnant since the Great Recession hit more than a dozen years ago, and the federal Perkins Loan Program, which provided low-interest loans for students who demonstrated exceptional financial need, has since been eliminated, adding to the financial pressures on many college-bound students.

The debt narrative has a more promising tone at Lawrence, though, where the answer has been to attack it head on with the help of the Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) campaign. Jump-started by a $25 million gift from an anonymous donor and later increased to $30 million as part of an ambitious and successful matching challenge, the campaign has raised more than $91 million since 2014. Alumni have stepped up, recognizing the seriousness of the student debt crisis and the potential barrier it poses for enrollment, said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development.

“It has resonated with this constituency unlike any other philanthropic priority,” he said.

Hundreds of Lawrence students have already been direct recipients of FSFN scholarships or have felt the impact of an increase in aid dollars available to students. The numbers will continue to grow.

In the process, the average debt for Lawrence graduates is going down—opposite the national trend—because the FSFN fund is allowing the university to provide additional scholarship aid, aimed at covering the gap between the full ticket price of enrollment and a student’s demonstrated ability to pay, meaning students are taking out fewer loans to cover that gap. In particular, there is less need to rely on burdensome private loans or to be overextended with multiple work-study expectations. It is leveling the playing field for families with limited resources.

The average student debt for Lawrence graduates has dropped to $29,118, its lowest mark in 10 years. It hit a high mark of $34,573 in 2015–16 and has dropped steadily each year since. The percentage of Lawrence’s students graduating with debt dropped to 56% in 2019–20, well below the 75% of a decade earlier.

About 70% of Lawrence’s students receive some level of need-based aid.

“We continue to offer competitive and generous merit-based scholarships and, at the same time, meet a high percentage of need for more students,” Director of Financial Aid Ryan Gebler ’02 said.

Over the past seven years, the percentage of first-year Lawrence students who had a demonstrated financial gap—the difference between financial aid and an individual student’s financial need—dropped more than 30%, from 70.9% to 38.69%. The scholarships have pushed the average gap down by $2,500, a 42% decrease, from $6,000 in 2014 to $3,500 in 2019–20.

The benefits also can be seen in academic performance as fewer students are having to deal with the added financial angst. The average GPA of FSFN recipients increased by .27 from 2016–17 to 2019–20.

Of the FSFN scholarships that have been awarded to date, 61% of the recipients have been students of color and 42% have been first-generation college students.

“I was a first-generation college student myself,” Husmann said. “I benefited from scholarships and took out loans. That’s one of the reasons I think Full Speed to Full Need as a core value of the college resonates with me. It’s just really exciting for me to see how it’s making such a positive impact on our students.”

The investments in FSFN are bolstering and providing momentum for other efforts to improve equity of experience at Lawrence. For example, financial aid, bolstered by FSFN and Be the Light!, now travels with a student who opts to study abroad, a change that has led to an increase in the number of students going to the London Centre and other off-campus destinations. In 2019–20, before the pandemic temporarily shut down in-person programs, Lawrence had about 150 students studying abroad, up from 89 the year before. Demographics from 2019–20 show a growing number of those students are first-generation college students, Pell Grant recipients, and domestic students of color.

Funding for experiential learning also has seen a dramatic uptick, courtesy of the Be the Light! Campaign. In summer 2020, 90 student internships and self-directed research projects were financially supported through the Experiential Learning Funds (ELF) program, more than double previous years, coordinator Emily Bowles said. The funds can help defray transportation costs, provide needed resources, or cover living expenses. It’s an effort to keep finances from preventing access to quality learning and career-building opportunities.

A new fund in the ELF program, the Equal Opportunity Fund for Career Exploration and Development, was launched last year to support BIPOC and first-generation students in new ways.

It’s all part of an investment in equity that has FSFN at its core.

Caitlin Zuehlke ’15, who worked in New York as a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch Private Wealth Management, said the growing student debt burden is hanging over every conversation about higher education these days, and to have Lawrence showing leadership in making real change is a point of pride for alumni.

“I’m excited that Lawrence is at the forefront of what I hope is a trend of universities helping to close that gap to make education more affordable to everybody,” Zuehlke said.

Be the Light!: A Reimagined President’s Handshake welcomed first-year students to campus in the fall. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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Trend No. 2: Financial strain leads to growing number of closures, mergers

The Lawrence reality: A growing endowment and tightening efficiencies in the operating budget have the university in a position of strength.

The numbers are daunting, and they speak to the reality of the financial crisis that has its grip on higher education.

From 2016 through the end of the 2018–19 academic year, 163 colleges or universities in the United States closed or merged, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Of those, 55 were private not-for-profit schools—41 closed, 14 were consolidated through mergers. (Lawrence itself is the product of consolidation with the merger of Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer Colleges in 1964.)

Even before the pandemic put a more intense squeeze on operating budgets, this trend was poised to accelerate. Private colleges with modest endowments and a heavy dependency on tuition income to pay the bills are running into turbulence as the student debt crisis alters the conversation for prospective students and the number of high school graduates begins a decline that’s expected to hit hard in five years.

As the economic chaos of the Great Recession exploded in 2008, family planning changed dramatically. Fewer people chose to have children, a trend that has continued. Do the math and you will see that those babies born in 2008 will be graduating from high school in 2026. Fewer graduates mean fewer college-bound students.

From 2026 to 2031, the number of high school graduates will decline 9%, putting new pressures on admissions offices and adding to the potential calamity for any college or university that hasn’t adequately girded itself for a changing marketplace.

Forbes’ College Financial Grades ranking, using data from the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics database, was released in late November 2019. It didn’t paint a pretty picture for many colleges, and this was before the pandemic hit. It measured the financial health of 993 private not-for-profit institutions, looking at “balance sheet strength and operational soundness.” Of the schools graded, 675 earned grades of C or D, up from 434 in 2013.

Lawrence earned a robust B+, putting it in company with DePauw University, Middlebury College, Oberlin College, and Smith College, among others. Only 74 schools across the country were ranked as more economically sound than Lawrence.

Lawrence’s overall endowment has grown by more than 75% since Burstein’s inauguration in 2013, jumping from about $230 million to about $414 million over the past eight years. Much of the growth comes from increased philanthropy, led by the Be the Light! Campaign, but it also has been boosted by good stewardship on the investment front and an increased commitment to fiscal responsibility.

The Be the Light! Campaign raised $232.6 million, which Burstein announced in February at a virtual We Are the Light! event that officially brought the seven-year campaign to a close. Of that total, about $100 million has already been added to the endowment. Combined with trimming more than $5 million from Lawrence’s operating budget through recent cost savings and adjustments focused on administrative efficiency, the campaign positions the school to grow stronger while facing the difficult financial environment ahead.

The higher ed marketplace is reflective of what Jenna Stone ’00, Lawrence’s associate vice president of finance, calls the industry’s economic reality and Lawrence’s well-positioned place within it. Lawrence isn’t in the financial company of a handful of ultra-wealthy schools, mostly on the coasts, with overflowing endowments. And it happily isn’t in the company of those schools with limited endowments that are making headlines because of their various financial woes.

“Lawrence is in an increasingly tiny middle class,” Stone said, stable enough to be positioned for good health but not so flush with cash that it doesn’t have to work hard to keep things moving in a positive direction.

It’s a familiar story, not specific to higher education.

“It’s the same growing wealth inequality that we see among households in America, where the bottom 50% has largely stagnated for the last 15 years while the top 1% has gotten far wealthier,” Stone said. “We’re seeing that same kind of growing inequality of wealth among colleges and universities, where the wealthiest schools are getting increasingly wealthier. They’re getting more mega-gifts, their endowments are getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

“On the other end, you have generally small, not well-resourced liberal arts colleges, entirely dependent on tuition revenues that did not cover their fixed operating costs, hoping for years that things are going to get better. It becomes a vicious cycle, a downward spiral financially. These are a lot of the colleges that you see closing, merging or being acquired, or they are in the news because their debt or bond rating has been downgraded.”

Lawrence, Stone said, is in a much healthier place. The Full Speed to Full Need scholarship initiative has helped to solidify the school’s position as a financially stable institution with a progressive approach to meeting academically qualified students where they’re at and setting them up for success after college.

Mary Alma Noonan, Lawrence’s new vice president of finance and administration, said the key has been philanthropy.

“In addition to the scholarships, we have been really successful in getting endowment support for capital renewal of the campus, for academic enrichment through funded professorships, for programming that will help our students be successful, and for life after Lawrence,” she said. “We are eternally grateful to the thousands of donors who have supported these efforts year in and year out.”

In September 2019, Lawrence placed No. 26 on Forbes’ 2019 edition of the Grateful Graduates Index, a measurement of alumni giving at private, not-for-profit colleges. Lawrence was the only Wisconsin school to place in the top 70. It speaks to the strong relationship between the school and its alumni, a key to building and maintaining an enduring endowment.

When the waters get rough, a healthy endowment remains a university’s stabilizing force. In good times, a strong endowment provides resources for continual investment and renewal. In leaner times, it provides the runway needed to make thoughtful, strategic course corrections in the long-term interests of the institution. It is the key to any private college’s future sustainability, and the importance of Lawrence’s endowment growth over the past seven years cannot be overstated.

Endowments, of course, are not static. They are invested with the expectation that they will grow.

Lawrence’s endowment has seen a five-year average return on investment of 6.6%, which is above the 5% national average for institutions with similarly sized endowments, according to an annual study recently released by the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Lawrence’s 10-year average return, meanwhile, checks in at 8.5%, above the 7.6% national average.

The Board of Trustees’ Investment Committee manages the Lawrence endowment.

The university strives for intergenerational equity in the investments, a philosophy aimed at managing the investments with a long-term eye, reasonably limiting risk, while spending prudently so as not to sacrifice future generations for the benefit of this generation.

“Our goal is to steward the endowment in a way that it will serve Lawrentians 50 years from now as faithfully and as well as it serves the Lawrentians of today,” Stone said.

Admissions wall in Chapman Hall.

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Trend No. 3: Changing demographics are reshaping the admissions landscape

The Lawrence reality: The university’s admissions reach has long been transitioning from regional to national. The foresight to do so is paying dividends now.

The admissions landscape has been altered dramatically, and the storm clouds keep coming: The rules of when and how schools can recruit students have changed; the Varsity Blues admissions scandal that involved numerous well-known schools, mostly on the east and west coasts, exposed a flawed process; and admissions offices across the country are staring down the approaching steep decline in the number of available college applicants. Add to that a global pandemic that halted travel, severely limited campus visits, and rewrote on the fly the entire process of student recruitment.

Lawrence, with an enrollment of about 1,425, draws students from across the United States—and around the globe—in far greater numbers than in decades past. New investments in national and international recruitment started years ago, giving Lawrence a strong base to build on. That’s no small thing as the Admissions team looks toward significant challenges on the horizon.

Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communication, said geographic flexibility is among the reasons Lawrence is well-positioned to navigate this ever-changing environment. But that’s not saying it’s going to be easy.

Consider that in 1999, more than 60% of Lawrence’s students came from the regional market of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. If you include the rest of the Midwest, that number was closer to 75%. That’s a much different story than today, with classes coming in with a wider geographic footprint. About 50% of Lawrentians now hail from the Midwest, with Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota comprising about 40% of the students.

The number of students coming from southern and western states or international locations, meanwhile, has more than doubled.

That doesn’t mean Lawrence has less interest in students from the Midwest. Rather, it’s been a strategic shift to reflect changing demographics, Anselment said.

“What you’re seeing is a shift where high school seniors in the country live, and the benefits of Lawrence’s national and international reach and reputation,” he said.

While the number of high school seniors across the country has generally been growing this millennium, from 2.85 million in 2001 to 3.77 million in 2019, that growth has not been evenly distributed. The western and southern parts of the United States have been growing while the rates of growth in northeastern and midwestern states have been flat to gradually declining, Anselment said. That’s all a precursor to the dramatic drop in numbers that is coming in five years, when those babies of the Great Recession begin hitting adulthood.

Lawrence has been preparing for that, and its admissions work has been purposeful in positioning the school to adapt to the changing market.

“This is the result of an institutional strategy we developed decades ago to raise Lawrence’s global visibility and, along with that, our enrollment of a globally diverse student population, which provides immense educational benefits in preparing Lawrentians to thrive in an increasingly interdependent global economy,” Anselment said.

The strategy, already paying dividends, allows Lawrence to approach the coming decline in college-age students from a position of strength. Not only does Lawrence have a great story to tell, it also has now firmly established itself in key markets.

The number of high school seniors in the U.S. is expected to peak at 3.93 million in 2025. From there, the decline will be sharp and prolonged.

“There will be far fewer of them, which means that an already competitive market for college students will become even more intense as we see a 10% drop in students from 2026 to 2037,” Anselment said.

That looks to be the new normal, with economics and lifestyle choices often cited for reasons that more young adults are opting not to have children. Birth rates fell to a 33-year low in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, the population of high school seniors is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse with each passing year. For Lawrence, that has increasingly become a point of admissions strength. From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of students of color at Lawrence has increased from 19% of the student body to 26%, said Kimberly Barrett, vice president for diversity and inclusion. The number of faculty of color also has grown over that five-year period, going from 13% of total faculty to 17%.

“Much work remains to be done,” Barrett said.

In addition to recruiting a student body and faculty that is more reflective of the nation’s demographics, Lawrence also is committed to better serving all members of its community. In the final years of his presidency, Burstein has committed the institution to ongoing antiracism work as both a strategic and moral priority.

Growing the campus’ diversity—racial and otherwise—has been an intentional part of Lawrence’s institutional commitment and bodes well for the challenges ahead, Anselment said.

“Much as the diversity of our academic and artistic offerings at Lawrence cultivate broad and deep intellectual competence, a diverse living and learning community at Lawrence reflects a global society,” he said. Anselment emphasizes that this drive to become a more diverse and inclusive university is not just for the educational benefit it offers. “This is a key component of our institutional values, one of which is to foster a diverse and welcoming learning community that embraces all members, including those marginalized by their identities.”

Anselment pointed to Lawrence’s strong partnerships with community-based organizations such as the Posse Foundation in New York, Achieve in San Francisco, Chicago Scholars, College Horizons, and the Davis New Mexico Scholars program, all of which work with students from historically underrepresented communities.

“We have surrounded our students with faculty, staff, spaces, and services to help create the kind of welcoming, inclusive, and equity-minded environment where they can thrive,” Anselment said.

The pandemic, of course, has altered everyone’s well-laid plans. For Lawrence, the commitment to geographic and cultural diversity continues even while the business of admissions is being rewired. The pandemic lockdown that came last March forced admissions offices across the country to find new, digital avenues for connecting to prospective students, from more elaborate online campus tours to video chats to digital college fairs.

None of it is perfect. But it’s not going away, even when the pandemic subsides. At least not all of it. New skills have been learned. New expectations have been built. New financial pressures are in play. Admissions offices will need to make adjustments, find the sweet spot between new-found efficiencies and time-honored traditions. What will become of standardized testing as more schools go test-optional, something Lawrence blazed a trail with more than 15 years ago? Will travel to college fairs and other face-to-face recruiting return to previous levels? Will students demand it? Will they ask for something different?

It’s all part of the daily conversation for Anselment and his colleagues.

“How can we use this time of upheaval to advance our cause?” he said. “Consider this a dress rehearsal for the markets so many of us will face in 2026.”

Students studying in the geosciences now have an option to major in environmental science. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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Trend No. 4: The rolling back of liberal arts offerings, rise of online-only education

The Lawrence reality: The university is staying committed to its liberal arts principles while adding or strengthening key academic programs and embracing a holistic, personal approach to educating its students.

The growth in jobs tied to coding, data science, and other STEM-related fields in recent years has put liberal arts programming as traditionally conceived in the crosshairs of those who believe a college education need be nothing more than job prep.

Cuts, or proposed cuts, to liberal arts offerings at, among others, the University of Akron, McDaniel College, and Ithaca College have drawn national attention. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, located 60 miles west of Appleton, was in the spotlight in 2018 when it floated a plan to eliminate 13 majors, mostly in the humanities, as part of campus-wide budget cuts. It eventually reversed course.

Online-only programming has pushed the same argument. Get a degree. Get a job. The end.

The pandemic, meanwhile, pushed colleges across the board, including Lawrence, to quickly move all or most of their classes to distance learning. That has reshaped conversations going forward about digital classrooms. It brought new skills and new comfort with distance learning technology, and as post-pandemic classes return to in-person interaction, some of that new-found digital know-how will surely be in play. But video classrooms also spotlighted a deep desire for face-to-face learning. A Stanford University study released in February reported that “Zoom fatigue” is a real thing that is taking a toll on our physical and mental well-being.

The past year of seclusion and isolation also has reminded us of the joys of an education that spans the disciplines. Even before the pandemic, there was a growing push-back in defense of a liberal arts education, one that not only leads students to successful careers but also preps them with the skills to navigate a well-lived life. Yes, the marketplace is asking for more computer science majors, but when those coders and data scientists come out of a liberal arts school, they come equipped with the ability to lead, to collaborate, to think critically, and to grow into well-rounded contributors in and out of their areas of study.

In a report released in January 2020, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce affirmed what Lawrentians already know—a liberal arts education is a worthwhile investment. The report, a rebuke of the short-sighted approach that suggests colleges should be doing nothing more than prep work for that first job, stated that the return on investment (ROI) for liberal arts colleges continues to grow at greater rates than other colleges over the course of a lifetime.

The study “finds that the median ROI of liberal arts colleges is nearly $200,000 higher than the median for all colleges. Further, the 40-year median ROI of liberal arts institutions ($918,000) is on par with those of four-year engineering and technology-related schools ($917,000) and four-year business and management schools ($913,000).”

Lawrence has continued to embrace the benefits of its liberal arts offerings while expanding programs to address areas of opportunity—among them a new major in computer science, a new minor in data science, enhanced offerings in neuroscience, a new degree program in music, expanded opportunities in creative writing, and the latest, a new major in environmental science. More are in the pipeline.

In 2021, The Princeton Review once again included Lawrence as one of 200 schools on its recommended list of Best Value Schools, based on return on investment. It considered more than 40 data points covering academics, affordability, and career preparation in making its recommendations.

“The liberal arts philosophy at Lawrence is as strong as ever,” said Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Gunther Kodat. “The widening mix of academic opportunities and a campus-wide effort to educate the whole student is the 21st-century liberal arts formula to best prepare students for a rapidly changing world. It’s what sets liberal arts institutions such as Lawrence apart, and why proponents of the liberal arts should continue to push back emphatically when critics question their value in today’s marketplace.”

“There’s an awareness of the full range of opportunities,” Kodat said of liberal arts schools. “To think about a career not just in terms of a job, but also the kind of person you want to be—the kind of artist or thinker or philanthropist, imagining yourself being in a place at some point in the future where you could do good in the world and envisioning how that would happen. Liberal arts colleges offer a course of study that is all about enabling that exploration. It’s a wonderful combination of open-ended exploration and directed study.”

A 2019 report from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation rallied to the defense of the liberal arts philosophy, but with the caveat that colleges and universities must continue to adapt to a changing world. The report, authored by Catharine B. Hill and Elizabeth Davidson Pisacreta, both economists with Ithaka S+R, called the perception that liberal arts colleges are not graduating students in math and science fields a myth. High-level education in STEM fields is alive and well.

Lawrence has long fit the bill. It has sought-after programs in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, and mathematics, to name a few, and has now added depth and range in areas of cognitive neuroscience, computer science, and data science. A $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative is helping to catalyze efforts to engage science students of all backgrounds and identities.

The recent additions or enhancements to those key academic programs have added strength to an already robust curriculum. Computer science, long a part of the mathematics offerings, can now be pursued as a major on its own. And data science, where demand in the marketplace has grown mightily over the past few years, was introduced as a minor in the 2020–21 academic year, strengthened by the recent additions of two talented faculty members—Andrew Sage and Abhishek Chakraborty, both assistant professors of statistics—with deep interest in studying large and often complex data sets. Meanwhile, the Dennis and Charlot Nelson Singleton Professorship in Cognitive Neuroscience has been added to serve as an important bridge between offerings in cognitive science, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.

Also, the J. Thomas Hurvis Professorship of Organizational Psychology and Collaboration is a new position that has applications across all departments on campus as it teaches business and management science through a liberal arts lens. A new creative writing track was introduced to add options for English majors. And the new environmental science major will add new paths for students seeking a more science-focused curriculum tied to environmental studies and the climate crisis. New programs including an international relations major and health and society minor have also just been added to the curriculum.

In the Conservatory of Music, the path in was widened with the introduction of the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, which offers a different auditioning landscape and puts a greater focus on improvisational performance and other music-related possibilities. Other changes in degrees for music majors are being explored, part of an attempt to encourage a greater breadth of musical exploration.

Those changes don’t soften the liberal arts approach; they strengthen it, Kodat said. It’s important to stay true to liberal arts principles while also remaining nimble enough to make strategic adjustments as the world changes. That’s particularly critical in some of the science and math fields, where Lawrence has long excelled and where pragmatic training is part of the drill.

Mixing those skills with the wider liberal arts education puts Lawrence students in position to not only excel in their first jobs out of school but to confidently transition to the job after that and the job after that as career demands and interests change.

“We are at a place right now as a world—in terms of technology, in terms of where the economy is going—where we actually don’t know what the big careers are going to be even five years from now,” Kodat said. “What I think employers are looking for are graduates who are creative thinkers, problem-solvers, can work in a group, understand what community is. That’s the kind of experience that only a liberal arts education can give you.”

On the Student Life side, meanwhile, the changes are already being implemented to strengthen the liberal arts experience, with more to come. The close, one-on-one relationships that have been a hallmark of a Lawrence education inside the classroom are extending outside the classroom.

Vice President for Student Life Christopher D. Card said Lawrence is adjusting its co-curricular experience to meet the needs of today’s students, adopting a holistic approach to Student Life that is strengthening the liberal arts experience.

The pandemic brought massive, if temporary, changes to life on campus, with mask-wearing and physical distancing being built into the safety protocols that came with the reopening of campus in the fall. As we look ahead with hopefulness to something resembling normalcy, Card said the commitment to a holistic approach to the student journey remains. That includes the ongoing transformation of career preparation, wellness services, mental health support, spiritual life, and academic advising, as well as a new emphasis on mentoring across campus.

“I think folks come here because they expect a particular relationship to emerge, certainly with solid academics and rigor,” Card said. “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.”

Wellness on campus, for example, was already being reimagined before the pandemic arrived.

“Right now, we have three entities under the proverbial umbrella of wellness—physical health, with the director of health and the nurses in that space; the counseling center, which focuses primarily on the emotional and mental well-being; and then recreation,” Card said. “That is an umbrella that is expanding more and more as we get into everything from nutrition to activities to exercise to diet to mindfulness, and so on.”

That includes being responsive to mental and emotional health concerns of students. That has been a priority before and during the pandemic and will continue to be when the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

“Mental health is going to be on our agenda for the foreseeable future,” Card said. “We want this to be a place where we minimize any stigma so we can eliminate any reasons for a student not to come in and say, ‘I need help.’ I think the critical thing families and prospective students need to understand is we’re supportive, this is a place that supports and affirms.”

That supportive and inclusive approach also has played out in tending to students’ spiritual or religious interests. Linda Morgan-Clement, the inaugural Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, and Terra Winston, associate dean of spiritual and religious life, now staff the Esch Hurvis Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. They played key roles in guiding students who had to go through quarantine or isolation in Kohler Hall during the pandemic.

Tending to spiritual needs has had an increased focus on campus since Morgan-Clement came on board in 2016, an endowed position that came out of the Be the Light! campaign. The increased programming at Esch Hurvis Center then led to the creation of the associate dean of spiritual life position in 2018.

Also, a $1.5 million investment courtesy of Be the Light! has relocated and modernized the Center for Academic Success on the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library. The new space offers more visible and efficient academic support for students, focused on everything from tutoring to accessibility services to academic counseling.

That’s all part of the approach of tending to the whole student, Card said.

Card said it’s increasingly important to meet the needs of students as they progress through Lawrence, from arriving as first-years to heading into life after Lawrence four years later. The mission of Student Life, he said, is to help guide that journey in positive, affirming ways.

“There’s a certain pattern and rhythm that goes along with student life,” he said. “I think what we’re trying to do now is better align how we train in that space.”

With that has come new investments in the Career Center, courtesy of $5 million from the Be the Light! campaign. The past two years has seen the launch of Career Communities, an online resource guide divided into groupings of related fields or potential career interests, and Viking Connect, an online platform to better connect students with alumni employed in fields of interest. And Mike O’Connor was hired as the first Riaz Waraich Dean for the Career Center & Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. That’s all brought new engagement between students and alumni and has resulted in an uptick in experiential learning opportunities.

“We’ve started engaging students earlier about careers,” Card said. “In this first full year of rolling out Career Communities, we’ve engaged more than 80% of the first-year class already. That’s space we knew we needed to get better at. We’re already seeing results.”

Part of that is encouraging and nurturing mentorship on campus. Lawrence has been blessed with a long tradition of positive mentoring relationships between faculty and students. That comes in part because of Lawrence’s 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The work in the Career Center, including via Viking Connect, is now clearing the path for similar relationships between students and alumni.

“A very good friend of the university, an alum, frequently asks me and asks students, ‘Who is your person?’, and by that he means, who do you count among your supporters here?” Card said. “Who is giving you good advice? Who is holding you to account? Who is one of the angels granting safe passage? I think that’s what we’re trying to do, to figure out; how do we install a whole bunch of angels who grant safe passage along the way?

“My hope is that a student will be able to come to Lawrence and find they can find strong and willing mentors in the classroom, that they’re in the halls, that they’re in organizations they become members of, that they’re on the athletic fields along with them. And when they look around, they realize that this is a place that offers more support than they probably imagined.”

That, Card said, is part of that synergy between the academic opportunities of a liberal arts campus and the student experience.

“I think what makes students sort of feel a better sense of place and purpose is when we infuse the academic journey with a focus on affinity, a deepening sense of belonging, building connections to those around you, and really forming relationships that are truly supportive,” Card said. “It’s going to be challenging. I’m not one who thinks college should be easy. I don’t think anyone ever promised that. I tell parents all the time, ‘The critical thing is, when things get tough, will your child find that there is ample support to navigate that?’”

Research and other experiential learning opportunities have grown in recent years, including here in the Briggs Hall greenhouse. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Eye on the future: Prepared to thrive

The coming months and years will not be easy. Lawrentians will be challenged time and again to stay committed to the things that have made Lawrence strong for the past 174 years.

But, thanks to Burstein’s leadership, the support of the alumni community, and talented and committed faculty and staff, the pieces are in place for Lawrence to thrive amid those challenges. The philanthropic support via the Be the Light! Campaign, the strategic growth of key academic offerings, and the university’s increasingly national and global reach has Lawrence prepared for these difficult waters.

Through it all, Card said, the focus will remain on the students—those who are here today and those who will be coming in generations ahead.

“We are catering to folks who love learning, who we want to prepare for life,” he said. “This is not just about these four years and the year or two after. This is a place that will embed you with some serious skills to navigate life.

“If you talk to alums, that’s what they’ll tell you. If you talk with faculty, that’s the approach they are taking. And I think, truly, when you get into the heart of what the student is coming here for, it’s not just about simply getting a college degree; it’s about getting a life degree.”

Continuing to make that happen will take an ongoing commitment from all of the Lawrence community, Burstein said. Lawrentians have already shown a willingness to rise to the occasion.

“Our efforts to enhance the education we offer and to make it affordable to all families has resonated in the marketplace,” Burstein said. “It’s allowed Lawrence to thrive while other institutions have struggled.”

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