Travis Dillon ’21 has received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) award that will assist the mathematics major as he heads to graduate school and pursues a doctorate.
The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award, which provides three years of financial support to any institution of his choice, comes a year after Dillon was named a Goldwater Scholar, also a highly competitive honor. It also marks the second consecutive year that a Lawrence senior has received an NSF GRFP award. A year ago, Willa Dworschack ’20, a physics major, earned the honor.
The NSF Fellowship is among the most coveted in STEM fields. Students heading into graduate school as well as students already in a Ph.D. program are eligible to apply for the award from the NSF, an independent agency of the federal government that supports research and education in math and the sciences. Its fellowship award, first launched in 1952, is given to approximately 2,000 recipients a year to support the next generation of STEM leaders as they pursue research-based master’s and doctoral degrees.
No matter where Dillon goes to graduate school—he’s been accepted at and is deciding between Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California-San Diego—he said the award will give him flexibility, most notably not needing to work to cover expenses.
“I’ll be able to repurpose that time to focus on my classes and research,” he said.
Lawrence has impressive track record with STEM-to-Ph.D. success. Read more here.
The Newport, Washington, native has excelled in mathematics research during his time at Lawrence. He pursued an independent project that led to two published papers. He took part in a high-level math program in Budapest during his junior year. His work has taken him to Texas A&M’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a research program sponsored by the NSF, and he’s done research with noted City University of New York professor Pablo Soberón. Along the way, he’s worked closely with Lawrence Assistant Professor of Mathematics Elizabeth Sattler and counts her as an important mentor.
Much of his research has focused on a branch of math known as combinatorics, which involves the study of discrete and finite objects.
“If you want to count or enumerate, arrange or rearrange, or really just understand the inner workings of some finite structure, combinatorics is what’s called for,” Dillon said. “It might sound simplistic or wishy-washy, but it’s not. Combinatorics has grown from a collection of ad hoc techniques to a fairly comprehensive body of knowledge with connections throughout the many subfields of mathematics, and it provides much of the mathematical basis for theoretical computer science and those algorithms that make our fancy-schmancy laptops and phones do so many things so quickly.”
Dillon finished his Lawrence graduation requirements during Winter Term. He’s spending the spring working on various research projects and preparing for a grad school journey that could open a myriad of doors in the world of mathematics. He expects to make a decision on where he’ll attend grad school in the coming days. It’s all part of a deep dive into mathematics that he is relishing.
“I derive a lot of satisfaction from completing projects; I really like stepping back from the finished product and seeing that I’ve created something,” Dillon said. “So, I get a lot of fulfillment from the work itself. When I heard that I was selected for an NSF fellowship, though, I was, as the kids say, pumped. No matter how much individual satisfaction I get from my work, it’s always affirming to hear someone else say that you’re on the right track, especially when this someone else is a panel of experts in the field. It’s encouraging and energizing.”
Lawrence University debuted a new athletics logo Tuesday that will gradually replace the Viking head that has been a fixture on the school’s uniforms and apparel for more than 50 years.
The new logo, featuring a Viking ship that incorporates the antelope from the crest on the Lawrence coat of arms, is an adaptation of a design that was part of the recent makeover of the basketball court in Alexander Gymnasium. The shield from the same coat of arms adorns the side of the vessel, and on the massive sail is the familiar interlocking LU.
A campus unveiling of the logo took place outside of Warch Campus Center.
Ceara Larson ’21, a softball player and biology-physics major, called it “sharp and intimidating” and said it catches the essence of Lawrence athletics.
“For me, using the Viking ship logo emphasizes the importance of teamwork and the family atmosphere we have within athletics,” she said. “I am so excited for us to start using it.”
Above: A video to celebrate the unveiling of the new logo was created with the help of Tom Coben ’12, a freelance motion graphics and visual effects artist in the Twin Cities.
The unveiling, which comes on National Student-Athlete Day and during DIII Week, is an exciting moment for Lawrence athletes, said Director of Athletics Kim Tatro. Coming as spring sports teams are again competing after a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most athletic competitions is all the sweeter.
“The rebranded logo is uniquely ours and it moves away from a Vikings logo that is used by many others,” Tatro said. “While the logo is modern and fresh, it incorporates significant pieces of our Lawrence history.”
It’s also “more inclusive and gender-neutral” than the Viking head that adorns the current logo, an important consideration in the rebrand, she said.
The new logo will appear on fan gear immediately. It will be featured on uniforms for many of the 22 Lawrence sports teams as those uniforms come up for replacement in the coming years.
“Our staff will have the option to incorporate the logo in ways they feel best suit their program needs,” Tatro said.
Football coach Tony Aker applauded the new logo, saying it will connect the entire campus, something that’s important to student-athletes and coaches.
“The ship is the perfect illustration of our great campus, and having the antelope, shield, and LU all part of the design connects every corner of our campus,” he said. “This is a logo for all who love and support LU; I believe it represents all of us.”
The design of the logo was led by Art Director Matt Schmeltzer of the Office of Communications. He worked with Fox Valley illustrator Mike Tessmer to plan out the initial design for the Alexander floor.
“We started with a handful of concepts and sketches and continued to build from there,” Schmeltzer said. “None of this would be possible without Mike’s help.”
It was the strong, positive reaction to the Alexander floor that led to discussions about rethinking the existing Vikings logo, which has been part of Lawrence athletics since the late 1960s. The ship design on the Alexander floor was initially meant to be a complementary design element, nothing more.
“But when the court was revealed, it seemed to really resonate with the community,” Schmeltzer said. “We received a lot of requests to use the ship graphic on apparel, merchandise, and in social media posts. That positive energy made us step back and say, ‘Maybe we have something here’.”
The new design modernizes Lawrence’s logo while still celebrating the school’s history. All that was taken into consideration during the design process, Schmeltzer said.
“By including stylized elements of the Amos Lawrence family crest and the coat of arms—the shield on the side of the ship and the antelope head on the prow—we’re left with a unique mark that nods to our institution’s history,” he said.
Women’s soccer coach Joe Sagar said he thinks pride in the new logo will extend well beyond the athletics teams, calling it a “modern and creative take” on the current logo.
“The fact that it is going to draw in our entire campus community rather than being ‘just’ an athletics logo is awesome,” he said.
D’Andre Weaver ’21, a football player and economics major, said he’s happy Lawrence will move away from a Vikings logo so closely aligned with a certain professional football team to the west.
“The new logo separates us from them and adds a separate identity to who we are,” he said. “I love how the logo is honoring the Nordic past of the Vikings and celebrating what is to come for Lawrence and Lawrence athletics.”
“I love how the Viking ship innately incorporates the notion of teamwork — something that all Lawrence athletes do well,” she said. “And it was time for an update. I mean no disrespect to the old logo—the Viking head was the prominent logo during my time at LU—but as the athletics department enters a new, post-pandemic era, an updated logo seems appropriate. And the tie-in to main campus, with the coat of arms and antelope head, makes sense as well; this is a logo all Lawrence students can be proud of.”
Dr. John R. Raymond Sr., president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and an important guiding voice for many during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be Lawrence University’s 2021 Commencement speaker.
Dr. Raymond will address Lawrence’s graduates in an in-person Commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. June 13 in the Banta Bowl, with health and safety protocols in place.
The resiliency shown by young people through the pandemic will be part of his message, said Dr. Raymond, who oversees a Milwaukee-based School of Medicine with regional campuses in Green Bay and Wausau, a School of Pharmacy, and a Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences—encompassing a total enrollment of almost 1,500 students.
“The resiliency that students show is an example for the rest of us about how to be flexible when we face challenges, as well as how to persevere through our social networks, through finding our passion for making a difference, and for being innovative under duress,” he said. “In general, I believe that students and young people are more resilient than individuals who have greater decision-making responsibilities, so it has been refreshing for me to be recharged and redirected by our students, who have been thinking differently about opportunities during the pandemic.”
Dr. Raymond, who became MCW’s sixth president in 2010, has been among the leading medical voices in Wisconsin over the past year, providing advice and updates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it’s not a role he necessarily sought, but he opportunely stepped up when disinformation and confusion were hindering efforts to get needed information to citizens, employers, and elected officials.
“We needed multiple voices in science and medicine to share well-curated information so that individuals, businesses, and communities could make critical decisions,” he said.
Among those who leaned into Dr. Raymond’s advice and insights were the members of the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team. They talked frequently with Dr. Raymond, as well as with ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi, as decisions were made about going to remote classes in the spring of 2020, closing campus to the public, establishing Honor the Pledge protocols, and bringing nearly 60% of the students back to campus in the fall.
Dr. Raymond provided high-level insight into the spread of the virus in Wisconsin, how hospitals and others in the medical community were responding, and how institutions such as Lawrence could help keep their communities safe. As a president of a health sciences university, he also brought an important educational perspective.
“When the pandemic first began, there were few clear voices that provided direction,” Lawrence President Mark Burstein said. “John was there ready to offer insight and essential health context for the decisions that faced Lawrence. He not only stayed current with the constant updates in research and policy changes, he also saw each decision through the lens of leading an academic community himself.”
An in-person ceremony
While not all Lawrence students are on campus during Spring Term, all members of the senior class are being invited back to campus to participate in the Commencement ceremony. Each graduate can have up to two guests. The ceremony is being moved from its usual location on Main Hall Green to the Banta Bowl to accommodate health and safety protocols.
It will be streamed live via Lawrence’s YouTube channel.
“As we end our last year at Lawrence, together, I am deeply thankful for your leadership of our learning community,” Burstein said in a letter to seniors announcing Commencement plans. “I am particularly grateful for your commitment to Honor the Pledge, which has allowed us to consider an in-person celebration of your time here.”
A nod to science, medicine
As part of the ceremony, Dr. Raymond will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
At MCW, Dr. Raymond leads a health sciences university, including Wisconsin’s only private medical school, with a total operating budget of about $1.2 billion. Approximately 50 percent of Wisconsin’s practicing physicians graduated from MCW or trained at the Medical College of Wisconsin Affiliated Hospitals. MCW is ranked in the top third of all medical schools nationwide for National Institutes of Health research funding.
A practicing nephrologist, Dr. Raymond also is a medical researcher studying the basic mechanisms of kidney cell function. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees with honors from The Ohio State University and performed his internship, residency, chief residency, and nephrology fellowship training at Duke University Medical Center.
It’s fitting, Burstein said, that this year’s Commencement speaker is someone steeped in science and medicine and who played such an important role in helping to guide Lawrence leadership through the uncertainties of a once-in-a-century crisis.
“John’s advice, counsel, and good common sense provided and continues to provide an invaluable resource for the Lawrence community,” Burstein said. “I look forward to welcoming him to campus for our Commencement celebration.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Center for Academic Success (CAS), a staple of student learning at Lawrence in recent years, is newly relocated and renovated and is ready to host more students as soon as pandemic protocols allow.
The second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library has been remade courtesy of a $1.5 million investment that was part of the recently concluded Be the Light! Campaign. Even though most staff continue to work remotely, a peek inside shows the possibilities ahead. The renovations have added nine offices, a classroom, a testing room, a conference room, a general tutoring area, a remodeled Help Desk, and a computer lab. The center offers support in areas that range from tutoring to accessibility services to academic counseling.
CAS staff have been working with students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but much of that has been virtual or by appointment. When the free flow of students returns, the users of the CAS are going to find a space that is more efficient, flexible, and accessible than the former Briggs Hall location.
Above: Explore the CAS in this 360 video. Click and drag on the video to tour the new space.
Since its opening in the mid-2010s, the CAS has been focused on tailoring services to the needs of students. That isn’t changing. The center will continue to act as a one-stop shop for students’ academic needs, helping students to reach their academic goals, said Monita Mohammadian Gray ’92, dean of academic success.
Shortly after it opened in its original location, conversations turned to the need for a larger space that would make more sense for students,
“The past space on the first floor of Briggs evolved in segments, and you could feel that when you were in the space,” Gray said. “Several staff members had offices on the external hallway, intermingled with the Education Department, and the internal space was developed as department needs emerged. It was hard for students to see and understand that we were all connected in the same unit.”
As CAS and university leaders were planning a new space, they wanted to ensure the office would be better connected and visible, centering the needs of students. They also recognized that they had outgrown the space in Briggs. They set their sights on the library.
“One of the primary purposes of moving to the library was to gain more visibility and access for students,” Gray said.
In the new space, they were able to “reconfigure” in a way that allows for more efficiency and effectiveness between CAS staff. Some of the staff have yet to physically be in the renovated space because of the pandemic, but there is a collective excitement, Gray said.
The new space has plenty of added amenities for students.
“We have a large, flexible tutoring space for students to study individually, in small groups or work with our tutors,” Gray said. “We also have more dedicated testing space for students who need reduced distraction, isolated space or extra time for a test because of a disability.”
The new space includes a classroom for use by CAS staff.
CAS moved into the library during Fall Term following construction last summer. Because of the pandemic, most students have not been able to use the new space, making it difficult to gauge student response. But Gray and her staff trust that this move will be a welcomed improvement for students.
“We’re now part of the library space, where students frequently pursue their academic research,” Gray said. “We have an integrated academic learning center. The synergy of these resources—innovative library services, information technology, academic technology, and the Makerspace—is going to be incredibly helpful to all students, and for future academic collaboration.”
Gray called the larger and more efficient CAS a reflection of how the university’s relationship with its students is always evolving.
“When I was a student here, most of the services offered by the CAS were nonexistent,” Gray said. “We [students] had to support each other. Now we have a full suite of services and professional staff who are ready to support students academically.
“At the heart of our work, we take a holistic approach to consider other factors and challenges individual students could be facing that hinder them academically. We then help students work through what is holding them back from maximizing their success.”
Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.
Two Lawrence University seniors have been named national recipients of prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowships, setting them up for a year of global travel and immersive learning.
Ricardo Jimenez ’21, a biology and music performance (trumpet) double major from Barrington, Illinois, and Ben Portzen ’21, a music composition major from Rosemount, Minnesota, were announced as part of the 53rd class of Watson Fellows, making them the 67th and 68th Lawrentians to be awarded a Watson since 1969.
This marks the first time Lawrence has had two Watson recipients in the same year since 2005.
“The Watson is all about chasing one’s dreams,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory and lead advisor for the school’s Watson applications. “This year, perhaps more than any other, it feels good to know that two Lawrentians will travel around the globe to do just that.”
The Watson provides $36,000 in funding for a year-long wanderjahr of independent travel and exploration following college graduation.
Jimenez will travel to China, India, Mongolia, and Brazil, exploring the ways voice can help people rediscover their roots: “How do we communicate beyond language?” he said in his proposal. “How do the ways we express ourselves inform who we are and where we belong? I will explore these questions through the voice, singing around the world to engage with the life and culture of the voice, as well as my own roots.”
Portzen will travel to Japan, Nepal, France, Germany, and Iceland to explore how art can help inform our journey: “What role can art play in imagining and building a more equitable, sustainable, and compassionate future?” he said in his proposal. “I will explore how — across a variety of traditions, locales, and media — art makes space for the unknown to be embraced, and transformed from feared into fascinating.”
Jimenez: “I was humbled”
Jimenez has excelled in the Conservatory as a trumpet player, but he also found his voice in jazz and Latin-influenced music with encouragement and guidance from Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación and lecturer of music Janet Planet.
The Chicago-born Jimenez has family roots in Puerto Rico and he said his journey to understand how singing can express who we are and where we are started for him as far back as pre-school. When he sang a song in class in Spanish, a teacher scolded him, telling him he could only sing in English.
“That was a very humiliating moment and it’s just stayed with me,” Jimenez said. “It was so powerful to me that I actually stopped speaking Spanish for a number of years. I wanted to fit in. In a way, some of my cultural identity died that day.”
By the time he got to high school, he was singing, but only privately, only with his family as an audience. But when he arrived at Lawrence as a trumpet player, he was encouraged to sing as well, to embrace salsa and the other Latin music he adored.
“He allowed me to sing and play percussion and that was like the most alive and the most myself that I had ever felt on a stage,” Jimenez said. “That’s how I knew there is something really powerful to this and I have to figure out if this is just me or if this is something that perhaps is innately human, that all cultures and people share.”
That led him to the highly competitive Watson application. The news came earlier this week that he had been accepted.
“It was such a surreal experience,” he said of getting the message from the Watson Foundation. “It was something I was not expecting just because I know it’s so competitive and I know the kind of applications they get are from some of the brightest young minds around the country. I was humbled, to say the least.”
Portzen: “I’m still riding high”
Portzen’s Watson journey will be all about discovery. He said he’s fascinated by the unknowns in our lives and the ways art can help define and inform our journeys.
“My project takes as its departure point the intersection of art and the unknown,” he said. “In my four years at Lawrence, studying composition, improvisation, art history, and dance, I’ve found this relationship increasingly compelling both intellectually and personally.”
Gaining insights through the arts can lessen the fear that often accompanies the unknown, Portzen said. He hopes his exploration of different cultures and locales will shed light on that concept.
“While I am deeply passionate about exploring this in my own art-making, what drove me to channel this passion into a Watson Fellowship is the recognition that in our world of globalized unknowns – from environmental degradation to racial injustice to global pandemics – expansive creativity is not a luxury but a necessity as we imagine a more sustainable, equitable, and compassionate future for our world,” he said.
“As I immerse myself in the unique artistic cultures of Japan, Nepal, France, Germany, and Iceland, studying everything from the relationship between light and shade in traditional Japanese architecture to artificially intelligent music making in France, my aim is to experience art’s role in this process; its power to keep us in touch with our humanity, to inspire and challenge, to heal – to take us into the unknown with arms open ready to embrace it.”
Portzen said he was a bit late getting word that he had been named a Watson Fellow. For two weeks he had been checking his phone constantly, awaiting a yes or a no. When the announcement was made on Monday, he didn’t see the message immediately, instead finding out in a congratulations Facebook message from Meghan Murphy ’19, Lawrence’s most recent Watson winner.
“Twenty-four hours later, I’m still riding high on the news but have already gotten to work solidifying plans with my contacts in each country,” Portzen said.
The journey begins
Jimenez and Portzen are among 42 graduating seniors selected for Watson Fellowships out of 158 finalists. The recipients come from 22 states and eight countries.
The announcement of the 2021 Watson class comes even as the COVID-19 pandemic persists. If international travel conditions are deemed safe, all of the fellows are expected to depart Aug. 1. If conditions do not allow that, the fellows will be granted a deferral period.
Watson Fellows are selected from 41 private colleges and universities across the United States that partner with the Watson Foundation. More than 3,000 Watson Fellows have been named since the inaugural class in 1969.
The Watson Foundation dates back to 1961, created as a charitable trust in the name of Thomas J. Watson Sr., best known for building IBM. It works with students to develop personal, professional, and cultural opportunities that build their confidence and perspective to be more humane and effective leaders with a world view.
Being a Watson Fellow is a special life-changing opportunity, said Pertl, himself a Watson Fellow in 1986.
“Ricardo has a special knack for building community through his music,” he said. “This will serve him well as he explores the world, and himself, through song. And Ben, he is part philosopher and part composer with a wildly playful approach to the creative process. When he told me he wanted to explore how art-makers could explore the vast unknown, hold space for the vast unknown, I knew he had found his perfect Watson.”
Two Lawrence University staff members who have been instrumental in keeping the campus community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic have been honored with the annual President’s Award of Excellence.
Jillian Drier, director of health services, and Jon Meyer, director of campus services, are the 2020-21 recipients. The award honors a staff person for outstanding support, stewardship, innovation, and teamwork in service to the Lawrence community.
The President’s Award of Excellence Committee and President Mark Burstein announced the honors. In past years, the awards have been presented at the annual Service Award Luncheon, but for the second year in a row that has not been doable because of safety protocols tied to the pandemic. The awards were instead announced in a virtual all-staff meeting.
Staff members who nominated Drier and Meyer say they both have gone to great lengths to keep the community safe in a year in which the pandemic rerouted lives, incorporated an array of new safety protocols, and brought COVID testing into our lives.
Terra Winston, associate dean of spiritual and religious life, said Drier has been a shining light over the past year, providing care while being responsive and calm.
“She does it with thought and care and professionalism,” Winston said.
“One of the things I really appreciate about Jill is that she’s a planner, and that has been really helpful when working with her because, as you all know, this pandemic is constantly shifting. We’re shifting different pieces, the CDC is shifting different things, how we do our testing, when we do our testing, and she’s in every piece of this. And then she’s there for you when you have a cut or a scrape or a stomach ache as well. … She’s doing this work all the time with her whole heart.”
Lindsey Wyngaard, wellness services office coordinator, said Drier really became the focal point for a lot of the COVID work happening on campus. That has meant an exhausting schedule at times.
“She has put a lot of time and work into COVID testing on campus,” Wyngaard said. “Jill also did a lot of weekend work. Sometimes we would get results on Saturdays or Sundays and Jill wouldn’t hesitate to go contact those students, contact the people to make sure they got what they needed.”
Meyer, meanwhile, has led a Campus Services team that oversees safety on campus. Keeping the community safe during the pandemic, including prepping and cleaning public spaces while working with everyone on campus to adhere to the Pledge has been key. And Meyer has done it with the same professionalism he has brought to other roles at Lawrence, including being a longtime assistant men’s basketball coach.
“Talk to anyone who knows him and you know he’s in your corner and cares deeply about your experience … but also cares so deeply about the campus,” said Andrew Borresen, associate director of athletics giving.
Borresen said people on campus are frequently applauding Meyer, “his level of commitment and sacrifice and really the level of humility and work ethic in which he leads and how he influences others and brings his best every day for our campus community.”
That has grown even more pronounced during the pandemic.
“It’s very special to win this award in the midst of this year,” said Zach Filzen, men’s basketball coach. He pointed to the impact Meyer has had while juggling the “variety of hats he’s wearing and the roles he’s playing,” all tied to campus safety.
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Filzen said. “He’s here to help Lawrence, he’s here to help the individuals who work at Lawrence, and he’s here to help the students.”
Laurie A. Carter, a strategic, engaged, and experienced leader in public and private higher education, has been named the new president of Lawrence University.
She will become the 17th president in the 174-year history of Lawrence on July 1, succeeding President Mark Burstein, who announced in September that he would step away at the close of this academic year after eight years leading the liberal arts college.
Carter, whose appointment was announced at noon Thursday in a video introduction to the Lawrence community, comes with a deep and impressive resume in higher education leadership, including holding key positions at The Juilliard School and Eastern Kentucky University before being named president of Shippensburg University in 2017.
Carter, who is African American, will be Lawrence University’s first BIPOC president.
Upon her announcement, she called it an honor to lead a university so steeped in excellence.
“Lawrence’s integration of the college and the Conservatory has produced a rich campus culture informed by academics, athletics, and the arts and inspires creativity across all endeavors,” she said in a video message.
“… 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 rose to the top of a field of impressive candidates during the six-month search process. The Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles ’92 and vice chair Sarah Schott ’97, said the “breadth, depth, and diversity” of the candidate pool was robust.
“We wanted someone who would deepen the learning opportunities for Lawrence students, someone who was capable of managing the tremendous financial challenges that are buffeting liberal arts colleges all across the country, someone who would help us continue down the journey we’re on of diversity and inclusion and our goal to become an anti-racist institution, and someone who understands the hallmarks of a private, residential, liberal arts college,” Nettles said. “There was one candidate who rose to the top of our list and who stayed there, and that candidate is Laurie Carter.”
The Search Committee unanimously recommended Carter to the Board of Trustees as the 17th president of Lawrence, and the Board enthusiastically accepted the recommendation.
Carter’s tenure at Shippensburg, a regional, public university in south central Pennsylvania serving 6,500 students, has focused on prioritizing student success, building a positive relationship with the community, and enhancing overall quality. She has strengthened student success efforts by creating a first-year experience program, a first-generation college students’ program, a comprehensive student success center, and an academic center for student-athletes.
In addition, she collaborated with the local business community to create a downtown location for Shippensburg University’s Centers of Excellence, transformed the gateway to campus into a new Alumni and Welcome Center, and renovated a decommissioned steam plant into a home for the state system’s first School of Engineering.
Carter’s efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Shippensburg were recognized by the publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, which named her as one of 25 outstanding women in higher education. Her efforts have included the addition of an executive level chief diversity officer, renovation of a multicultural center, creation of a PRIDE Center, and expansion of the Title IX office. Most recently, she created an Anti-Racism Institute to foster racial understanding.
“For the last three years, I’ve been leading a university with a laser focus on equitable student success,” Carter said. “It’s work that I’m passionate about and have spent my career committed to.”
The Presidential Search Committee, which included representatives from all areas of the Lawrence community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees—was impressed by Carter at every turn, Nettles said.
“Certainly, her experience as a sitting college president at Shippensburg University was among her top attributes,” Nettles said. “But we also found that Laurie has a calm, steely demeanor, she’s extremely collected, she’s thoughtful, she’s insightful, she’s a good listener. And most important, perhaps, she was a fan of our student representatives at every stage of the process.”
The announcement of Carter’s hire comes a week after Lawrence celebrated the close of its seven-year Be the Light! Campaign, which raised $232.6 million, making it the largest fund-raising campaign in the school’s history. These are exciting days for Lawrence, said David Blowers, chair of the Board of Trustees, calling the campaign’s success a big part of Burstein’s legacy and something that will provide momentum as the leadership baton is handed to Carter.
“The depth and breadth of his experience paired with his deft and compassionate leadership made him the right leader for Lawrence at the right time in our history,” Blowers said of Burstein. “He has led the university through unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities.”
Burstein said Lawrence will be in great hands as the transition to Carter takes place this summer.
“I believe her energy, experience, and shared values will move us forward in essential and important ways,” he said.
For Carter, the move to Lawrence brings her back to a private school setting, one with cherished investments in the performing arts and a deeply ingrained liberal arts philosophy. She spent 25 years in leadership positions at The Juilliard School, a prestigious private performing arts college in New York City. She was Juilliard’s first African American administrator and taught on the liberal arts and graduate faculty. She developed the institution’s student affairs program, launched diversity initiatives, created the Office of the General Counsel, and co-created the Jazz Studies program.
She was vice president and general counsel and executive director of Jazz Studies when she left Juilliard in 2013 to lead the nation’s third-largest arts education department at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She later joined Eastern Kentucky University as executive vice president and university counsel. And in 2017, she was named president of Shippensburg.
“Excellence was a part of everything we did at Juilliard, and I bring that value with me to Lawrence,” Carter said. “My passion for an environment with liberal arts leanings that embraces the arts was born at Juilliard.”
A native of New Jersey, Carter attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor of science degree in communications. She received her masters of arts in communications from William Paterson College and earned her JD from Rutgers University. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Snow College. A former track and field athlete, she is a member of the Clarion University Athletics Hall of Fame.
During the interview process, Carter had the opportunity to spend time not only at Lawrence but also in the Appleton community. She said she came away impressed with the “good work taking place” in the Fox Valley.
“I am thrilled to be a part of this community and the people who care so much about it,” she said.
Carter will be joined in Appleton by her husband, Gary Robinson; their son, Carter, currently a senior in college; and their family dog, Pepper.
“Ella Baker once said, ‘Give light and people will find the way,’” Carter said. “I have found my way to the light of Lawrence University and I am honored to serve as its 17th president.”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: email@example.com
The mariachi sounds coming twice-weekly from a rehearsal space in Lawrence University’s Music-Drama Center have been a long time in the making. A dream, Jando Valdez ’24 calls it.
The impetus for that dream goes back to 2016, when Valdez, then a freshman at nearby Appleton North High School, started a mariachi band with a few Latinx classmates, celebrating and sharing a genre of music with deep roots in Mexico.
It picked up momentum a year later when Valdez’ group, Mariachi Jabalí, connected with the music education team at Mile of Music, beginning a relationship with Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty, students, and alumni that would continue through three iterations of the popular Appleton music festival.
It accelerated in the fall when Valdez enrolled at Lawrence in pursuit of a Bachelor of Musical Arts (BMA) degree. He quickly found himself in conversations with Alex Medina ’21, Willy Quijano ’22, and Ricardo Jiménez ’21 on the possibility of launching a mariachi ensemble in the Conservatory.
The idea aligned with discussions that had already begun in the Conservatory, where Associate Professor of Music Matthew Arau, fresh off delivering a keynote address at the International Mariachi Summit in San Diego in August 2019, was all in on adding mariachi to Lawrence’s robust roster of student ensembles. He would help guide Valdez and the other students as they put together a plan and began recruiting other students.
It came to fruition early in Winter Term, when the new Lawrence University Mariachi Ensemble (LUMÉ) launched. Numbering upwards of 30 students during any given rehearsal—roughly half music majors, the others from across the college—the ensemble began playing together twice a week in the Music-Drama Center, with pandemic protocols in place.
“The first time LUMÉ was able to meet in person, it felt as if a piece of myself and my family’s heritage had been reignited,” Valdez said.
He said the ensemble aspires to do more than play mariachi music at a high level. The students also want to learn about the music, where it comes from and what it means to those native to it.
“The difference between LUMÉ and a traditional ensemble is that we want to dive deep into the roots of the music we play and focus heavily on history through research and knowledge from qualified mariachi educators,” Valdez said.
That is music to the ears of Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. He called the Mariachi Ensemble a great fit with the Conservatory as it allows students to explore their musical passions in an intellectual, creative, and meaningful way.
“It is such a great example of what I call empowered learning,” Pertl said. “Lawrence is so good at helping students make their musical dreams a reality.”
The ensemble also aligns well with ongoing Conservatory efforts to teach and explore music from around the world. That is no small thing. Look no further than Gamelan Cahaya Asri, Lawrence’s Balinese gamelan, an ensemble featuring gongs, drums, and bamboo flutes of Indonesia. Then there’s the Conservatory-led music education efforts that are part of Mile of Music, spearheaded by music education instructor Leila Ramagopal Pertl, much of it tied to exposing festival-goers to global music.
“The dream of LUMÉ was perfectly aligned with our commitment to broadening our ensemble offerings beyond our outstanding classical music and jazz offerings,” Brian Pertl said.
Arau, who chairs the Music Education Department and serves as associate director of bands in the Conservatory, said he was inspired while taking part in the International Mariachi Summit two years ago. He met mariachi music educators from across the United States and heard high school mariachi ensembles perform. It’s a musical genre that has rarely been taught or otherwise nurtured in major music conservatories.
Why not? Arau asked. And why not at Lawrence?
“I was blown away by the musicianship and performance presence of these groups, and I realized that it would be fantastic for students at Lawrence to get to learn how to perform this incredible music of Mexican heritage,” Arau said.
He began talking with Conservatory students about launching a mariachi ensemble, but when the pandemic hit a year ago and classes went remote in Spring Term, the idea was put on pause.
Then Valdez reached out to Arau over winter break with an offer to take the lead in making the ensemble happen, even during the pandemic. Arau began meeting with Valdez on Zoom, piecing together the particulars of getting it up and running. He connected Valdez with Fredd Sanchez, a mariachi music educator in San Diego who agreed to regularly Zoom in as a guest artist and teacher. (Sanchez even brought his professional mariachi group, Mariachi Continental de San Diego, onto a Zoom session to perform for the students.)
Rehearsals kicked off Jan. 25 and now take place on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Masks are worn. Musicians are spaced throughout the room. Some join via Zoom on giant screens.
“There is a lot of excitement about the new group because the music is so engaging and inspiring,” Arau said.
That enthusiasm for world music, mariachi in particular, is what drew Valdez to Lawrence when it came time to choose a school. He said he got a sense of community and support within the Conservatory while working with Lawrence’s Mile of Music team.
“The emphasis on mental health and connection to one’s spirit, the importance of effort, broadening your musical horizons, and, most importantly, the words of Leila Ramagopal Pertl, ‘Music is a birthright’,” Valdez said. “And there was a possibility of a mariachi ensemble being formed here at LU, so that became one of my goals if I was fortunate enough to be accepted.”
The new ensemble aims to explore a range of sounds within the mariachi genre. The musicians are incorporating standard mariachi instruments such as trumpets, violins, voice, guitar, and bass as well as some nontraditional instruments such as flute, tuba, euphonium, and double bass.
“This term we are focusing on the style of rancheras, which are songs typically about living in rural Mexico and have a waltz feel,” Valdez said. “In addition, we are learning tunes in the style of son jalisciense—a style that switches between 2-beat and 3-beat rhythms—and polka, which is influenced directly by German polka.”
For the moment, the pandemic is keeping LUMÉ from debuting in front of a live audience. Instead, the students have been working toward a debut livestream performance, set for 9 p.m. March 10.
Lawrence University raised $232.6 million in its seven-year Be the Light! Campaign, surpassing the $220 million goal and strengthening the school in myriad ways going forward.
The final tally was unveiled Thursday night at a virtual We Are the Light! campaign-closing event that drew an audience of Lawrentians from all over the world. It was a significant moment in the 174-year history of the private liberal arts college, and it comes in the midst of a pandemic that has tested the resolve and financial fluidity of colleges and universities across the country.
“What is most heartening about the Be the Light! Campaign is the alignment of donor interests and University need,” President Mark Burstein said of the generosity of alumni and other supporters. “The Lawrence community fundamentally cares about this place, the education we provide and the students we serve.”
This wasn’t a campaign to build a new building or expand the campus’ physical footprint. Rather, it was about the renewal of existing facilities, about strengthening and expanding academic offerings, about enhancing the student experience, and about providing scholarship resources to lower student debt and open new avenues for all academically qualified students to be able to attend Lawrence.
“This campaign has touched every aspect of the Lawrence experience,” Burstein said. “Scholarship, internships, religious and spiritual life, endowed faculty chairs, bricks and mortar projects, athletics, Bjorklunden. It’s just really touched every aspect of who we are and what we can offer to students.”
Flash back to 2014, when a $25 million matching grant from an anonymous donor (it would later grow to $30 million) kindled the possibilities to come. Earmarked for the newly launched Full Speed to Full Need scholarship initiative, the grant was matched by donors in less than 16 months, kickstarting the “quiet” phase of the Be the Light! Campaign.
Then, as Lawrence leadership prepared to go public with the campaign, the boldest fund-raising effort in the school’s history, outside voices urged them to pump the brakes a bit for fear that any goal beyond $200 million would be an invitation to failure. Burstein huddled with campaign tri-chairs David Blowers ’82, Cory Nettles ’92, and Charlot Nelson Singleton ’67, and Vice President for Alumni and Development Cal Husmann. With confidence in the vision of a transformed university, they opted to dream big.
“We were afraid if we set the goal too low it wouldn’t raise the aspirations of the Lawrence community,” Burstein said. “We knew that every dollar would have a direct impact on our students and the quality of the education we offer.”
They settled on a goal of $220 million as the campaign went public in late 2018. It was an audacious undertaking, designed to grow the endowment and support scholarship in ways that would sustain the school’s academic mission for decades to come, even as higher education braces for a multitude of challenges.
“I think we all decided to take the leap of faith together,” Burstein said.
“Exceeding our expectations”
On Thursday night, the fruits of that faith were revealed and celebrated.
More than $91 million was raised for Full Speed to Full Need, providing endowed scholarships that help bridge the difference between a student’s financial aid and their demonstrated need. Burstein called that a core piece of the Be the Light! Campaign, one that drew an enthusiastic response from donors as contributions pushed past the initial goal of $85 million.
“This idea of supporting each of our students and their families to the level that methodology says we should, that just resonated in a way far exceeding our expectations,” Burstein said.
The results are already evident. The Full Speed to Full Need contributions have led to a decrease in the average student debt for graduating seniors each of the past four years, dropping from a high of $34,573 in 2016 to last year’s $29,118. That decline in debt for Lawrence graduates comes as reports show student loan debt trends continuing to rise across the country.
The campaign drew another $31 million to support the college’s day-to-day operations through the Lawrence Fund.
Nearly $26 million was raised for campus renewal, including renovations to Kohler Hall, Lawrence Memorial Chapel, Warch Campus Center, Ormsby Hall, Mudd Library, Brokaw Hall, Banta Bowl, and Alexander Gymnasium, among others. Classrooms are being upgraded in Youngchild and Briggs halls. Landscaping was or will be replaced in multiple spaces across campus. And the Net-Zero Bjorklunden Initiative has been launched, which will eliminate the generation of greenhouse gases from the Door County campus.
The campaign also has delivered five new endowed professorships, strengthening academic disciplines across campus. The Esch Hurvis Center for Spiritual and Religious Life was created. An investment of $5 million has revamped and invigorated the Career Center, a major push following a 2018 Life After Lawrence study.
The breadth of the investments is what stands out, making “a profound impact on almost every aspect of the Lawrence experience,” said Blowers, who serves as chair of the Board of Trustees as well as a tri-chair on the campaign. He applauded the vision and the work that went into making it happen.
“It has been such a privilege for me to be involved with our development staff, our tireless volunteer leadership, and President Burstein to mount the most successful campaign to date in Lawrence’s history,” he said.
Burstein, who announced last summer that he would step away from Lawrence following this academic year, said the ebb and flow of the campaign has been amazing to watch. It was launched a little more than a year after his arrival as Lawrence’s 16th president.
“You start out with the prospectus, but that was seven years ago,” Burstein said. “That intervening time has allowed us to refine the needs and interests. Some things have stayed constant, like Full Speed to Full Need. But the Life After Lawrence Task Force, for example, defined the way forward for career services. That happened after the campaign launched. … Even the things we added, like Spiritual and Religious Life or the investments in the Career Center or going carbon neutral at Bjorklunden, all those move central aspects of the University forward.”
Campaign contributions came from more than 16,000 donors, including nearly 9,000 alumni. While large, multi-million-dollar donations drew the headlines and were critically important, nearly 70% of the gifts came in at $100 or less. For more than 4,000 of the donors, it marked the first time they had given to Lawrence.
Singleton, one of the tri-chairs providing leadership throughout the campaign, called the response from alumni, faculty, staff, and other supporters “historic and transformational,” and said all Lawrentians should take pride in what they have collectively accomplished.
“The results of the campaign are already at work as we provide scholarships, create new professorships, develop our co-curricular options, and see our campus being renewed,” she said. “Hats off to each of you who have so faithfully contributed to the success of the Be the Light! Campaign.”
Nettles, also a tri-chair of the campaign, said the investment in student support alone will bolster generations of Lawrentians.
“By every measure, the campaign was a success and exceeded our expectations,” he said.
Meeting an unexpected challenge
The COVID-19 pandemic was nowhere in sight when the Be the Light! Campaign launched. But as he prepared to unveil the final tally on Thursday, Burstein said he couldn’t help but look at the campaign results through the lens of what has transpired over the past year – a Spring Term fully remote; Fall and Winter terms in hybrid mode; students, faculty, and staff striving to maintain the high quality of a Lawrence education through never-before-seen obstacles.
Campaign investments have done more than provide financial flexibility during what Burstein called “a 100-year crisis.” The contributions funded numerous enhancements that have proven to be invaluable as the campus has navigated the pandemic — improvements in air quality in buildings across campus; the Spiritual and Religious Life leadership team that has been key in caring for students isolating or quarantining in Kohler Hall; the growth of the Career Center that has worked closely with new and soon-to-be graduates seeking employment amid economic upheaval.
The architects of the campaign envisioned investments that would prepare Lawrence for the known and the unknown, for the short term and the long term. The pandemic put that to the test even before the campaign concluded.
“Just so much gratitude,” Burstein said. “The campaign is so hard for me to separate from this past year in the pandemic, how central the investments have been in sustaining this institution and student learning.
“This is what it means to strengthen an institution; it strengthens it for the challenges that come.”
Christyn Abaray knew she and her Lawrence University colleagues were walking a fine line when they welcomed 800 students back to campus in early September for the start of Fall Term.
After going fully remote during Spring Term, the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT)—a campus leadership group led by Abaray, assistant to the president—spent late spring and much of the summer sifting COVID-19 data, studying options, consulting with experts on and off campus, and eventually drafting a multi-layered strategy that would allow for a mix of in-person and remote study.
But as Fall Term neared, with roughly 60% of the school’s nearly 1,500 students opting to return to the Appleton campus, news reports were painting a bleak picture. Wisconsin was the No. 1 hot spot in the country for new COVID cases, with Appleton being one of eight Wisconsin cities making the New York Times’ top 10 list.
Abaray watched those reports with understandable concern. LPPT members began fielding queries from concerned students and parents about how safe it was to return to Appleton.
But Abaray and her team stayed confident in the strategic plan they had put together, which included the initial testing of all students, faculty, and staff on campus, weekly random testing throughout the term, ample space for quarantining and isolation, and strict requirements to Honor the Pledge, including wearing a mask and adhering to physical distancing.
As the COVID test results came in through September and into October, the difference between what was happening in the Fox Valley—and, really, most of Wisconsin—and what was happening on the Lawrence campus could not have been more stark. While Appleton case numbers blew up, the campus emerged as arguably the safest place in the city.
“We were regularly just in awe of what the testing was showing,” Abaray said. “We were just blown away.”
Positive cases on campus through Fall Term stayed below 1% even while cases surged in the surrounding community. And while reports of bars and restaurants filling with unmasked patrons were frequent in the Fox Valley and across Wisconsin, Lawrence students overwhelmingly stayed true to the pledge they signed to follow safety protocols.
Campus buildings were closed to the public. Signage reminded all to wear masks anytime on campus. Students were asked to socialize mask-less only in their pods, with all other interactions requiring masks and distancing.
Now, midway through Winter Term, with six months of experience to lean on and protocols still in place, Lawrence continues to have success in limiting the spread of the virus on campus, with cases detailed weekly on its digital dashboard. There have been slight upticks, but nothing that has been sustained.
At its most problematic point during Fall Term, Lawrence counted 20 positive COVID cases among its students. That number fell back to two a few weeks later and never went above 10 the rest of the term.
In Winter Term, which began with the return to campus of about 900 students the first week of January, there was a quick increase, with 30 students testing positive and going into isolation during the week of Jan. 11. It was a potential tipping point, Abaray said, and the LPPT quickly communicated concerns, reminding the Lawrence community how precarious the situation was and how important it remained to adhere to safety protocols.
The message hit home. The feared spread never happened, with positive tests and needed isolation quickly dropping again into single figures. As of mid-February, there was one active student case.
Abaray and her team know this is not a victory lap. There remains a long way to go. New COVID variants spreading across the U.S. pose new threats, and losing focus on what got Lawrence to this point could send things south quickly. But they also know the strategy they adopted last summer works.
Testing, testing, testing
Despite a hefty price tag, Lawrence committed to testing early and often and has stayed with it. The LPPT, which consulted frequently with Medical College of Wisconsin President and CEO Dr. John Raymond and ThedaCare President and CEO Dr. Imran Andrabi, identified testing as key to keeping the plan on track.
Everything else would fall in place based on what the testing numbers told them, Abaray said. If they could mitigate the spread of the virus, then they could launch academic programs as envisioned in various modalities and they could take steps to make the student experience as robust as possible despite the obvious limitations that come with safety protocols.
“The big piece of making all that happen was testing,” Abaray said.
Every student and employee who planned to set foot on campus at any point during the term was required to be tested before the term began. After that initial round, at least one-third of the campus population was tested weekly.
During Fall Term, that meant nasal swabs administered by Bellin Health. For Winter Term, the LPPT opted to switch to saliva-based PCR tests that could be administered by Lawrence staff in partnership with Concentric.
“This allows us to be much more efficient and able to scale our staffing patterns to match the testing numbers for the given week,” said Richard Jazdzewski, dean of Wellness Services and an LPPT member. “This has resulted in less time waiting in line on site for our LU community.”
It’s also allowed Lawrence students to work as part of the testing team. Meralis Alvarez-Morales ’22 jumped at the chance to don protective gear and go to work. She’s now working between four and five hours a week, gathering needed information on site from Lawrentians being tested.
“I choose to work as a testing assistant not only because of the opportunity to be paid, but also because I wanted to do my part in giving back to my community,” Alvarez-Morales said. “We are still in a global pandemic after all, and many hands do make light work.”
The testing, which is set up in the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center gymnasium, will continue in Spring Term, Abaray said. The cooperation to date from students and employees has been stellar. The push to stay the course will continue even as COVID numbers in the surrounding community continue to go down and a growing number of people are being vaccinated.
“The only way our testing strategy works is because we have a group of students, faculty, and staff who are adhering to all it means to be in the Pledge,” Abaray said. “It’s an interwoven group of things that all have to be happening for us to be where we are right now. Holding each other accountable is a big piece to that.”
Honor the Pledge, launched before Fall Term began, is a pact between the University and all students, faculty, and staff who opted to or needed to be on campus. It lays out 10 promises tied to safety protocols, from mask-wearing to social distancing to testing.
Violations of the Pledge have been addressed on an individual basis, Abaray said. And while there have been occasional violations among students, the vast majority of Lawrentians on campus have stayed true to the Pledge. That, more than any other factor, is why Lawrence has had success mitigating the spread while some universities across the country have struggled.
“Student adherence to what we’re asking them to do, for the most part, is what’s making this possible,” Abaray said. “We’ve all read the stories from other places where decisions that students make really do make or break what happens. We have students who get it. They’re making some of the most mature decisions that we could ask for.”
Being a small campus certainly helps. Abaray and the rest of the LPPT know it’s easier to get that buy-in from a student body of 1,500 than it is for a campus with 50,000 students. But it’s still impressive. And the work continues.
A new incentive program launched through Wellness Services, called #VIKINGSCARE, gives Lawrence community members an opportunity to recognize their peers for behavior that keeps the campus community safe.
“Students who have been nominated can win weekly prizes, including free dinner with five friends from a local restaurant, an Apple watch, a Bluetooth speaker, LU gear, and more,” Jazdzewski said.
Alvarez-Morales, a Global Studies and Spanish double major, speaks with pride about her fellow students. She said students’ willingness to adhere to the Pledge, as limiting as it is, is what has separated Lawrence’s success in mitigating virus spread from what’s happened off campus.
“Lawrence overall has done a great job enforcing safety protocols and guidelines on campus,” Alvarez-Morales said. “Lawrence has also done a great job of providing students with the resources to obtain masks, reusable dinner bags, food, and sanitizing products to clean their spaces.”
The vast majority of students have taken the virus seriously. They understand that masking up and following protocols are selfless acts aimed at keeping others safe and the campus functioning. Alvarez-Morales said she wishes that was the case everywhere.
“In short, yes, I feel safer on campus now than I did when I first thought of returning to campus. But I do not feel safe in the surrounding community.”
Isolation and Quarantine Space
Lawrence limited the number of students who could live on campus – roughly 800 opted in for Fall Term and about 900 for Winter Term – so adequate housing space could be dedicated to isolation and quarantine.
Kohler Hall has been that space, with students being moved into the hall for isolation if they test positive and for quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who tested positive.
Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life and chaplain to the University, Terra Winston, associate dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, and Curt Lauderdale, dean of students, have been instrumental in creating a responsive and caring space for students entering Kohler. Bon Appetit, Lawrence’s on-site provider of campus meals, has been essential in providing food delivery.
Abaray praised Morgan-Clement and Winston for their ability to provide comfort—physical and emotional—for students going through isolation or quarantine. And she called Bon Appetit employees unsung heroes for their willingness to adapt in ways that serve those students.
“Their planning and their ability to adjust their planning for our students who are in Kohler in quarantine or isolation has been phenomenal to watch,” Abaray said. “We had a plan going in, and that wasn’t providing the best experience for the students, so they pivoted. It illustrates how much adjusting you need to do. It’s OK to adjust. You don’t have to have all the answers on the front end. You won’t. Adjusting is part of that.”
The making of the LPPT
Leadership and communication via the LPPT have been critical from the beginning. The group includes President Mark Burstein and most of his cabinet, as well as key personnel from Wellness Services, the faculty, and other points across campus. In all, more than 50 voices have been part of that team, including a number of student leaders.
“We figured out very quickly that we needed to have a lot of stakeholders around the table if we were going to do this the right way,” Abaray said.
The group met twice weekly through the spring and summer as it drafted a strategy to, if at all possible, bring students back to campus. It split into five subgroups to explore in detail various aspects of that challenge—a group focused on the campus calendar and curricular issues; a co-curricular group focused on student life, housing, meals, and student engagement; a group focused on visitors to campus; a health group that included faculty members with expertise in the biomedical field; and an employee group that explored potential workplace issues.
Those subgroups met regularly, then reported back to the LPPT as the strategy slowly evolved.
“All of it needed to come together by the middle of summer to have an idea of what direction we wanted to go for the fall,” Abaray said. “That was the first big decision that needed to be made.”
Once the decision was made to proceed with at least a portion of the student body on campus, the LPPT went to work drafting particulars, communicating the plan in detail to students, families, faculty, and staff, and answering an onslaught of questions.
That work is ongoing, with the LPPT continuing to meet weekly.
“We feel somewhat comfortable with where we are,” Abaray said.
But as it was nearly a year ago when the pandemic first arrived, there are more questions than answers. LPPT members know they must continue to listen, learn, respond, and adjust.
“Everything changes by the day,” Abaray said. “It’s that level of living in the gray. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to people. You hear, ‘You all said this on this day and now you’re saying this.’ Yes, we did. We learned something. It’s not that we were wrong. It’s that we’ve learned something, and that’s moving us forward. We are making decisions with the best information we have at that particular moment, and the moment we have more information we are going to adjust. I know that’s not comfortable and it’s not ideal. For the control freak in me, it’s unnerving. But you have to be able to be in that space right now if you’re going to be productive.”
Vaccines are on the horizon. Jazdzewski said Lawrence will continue to work with city and county health officials in efforts to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines on campus, but how and when has yet to be determined.
In the meantime, preparations are under way to launch a Spring Term that will look very much like Winter Term. Students are again being given the option of living on campus or staying remote. If living on or visiting campus, adherence to the Pledge will remain a must. Adjustments in protocols will be made as conditions dictate.
Confidence in the strategy that has gotten Lawrence to this point is strong, Abaray said. But she and others on the LPPT know there will be more hurdles and more questions as winter turns to spring and impatience grows. The finish line remains murky at best.
“Every day we doubt everything because we just don’t know,” Abaray said. “We still don’t know what’s going on with this virus; still don’t know a lot of things. But I trust and I have confidence in our protocols and our strategy.”