Category: Students

As Great Midwest Trivia Contest evolves, students hold tight to cherished traditions

Riley Newton is leading the 2022 Great Midwest Trivia Contest as the trivia head master.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Great Midwest Trivia Contest arrives this weekend for the 57th consecutive year, built and nurtured by Lawrence University students with a passion for trivia traditions that date back more than five decades.

The student-produced contest will begin at 37 seconds past 10 p.m. Friday, streamed on Twitch instead of broadcast on WLFM for the second consecutive year due to pandemic protocols. It will continue for 50 hours, ending at midnight Sunday.

The contest, open to teams on and off campus, arrives in the year in which Lawrence is celebrating 175 years since its founding, giving added attention to the contest’s placement among the university’s most enduring traditions.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some adjustments the past two years, most of the hallmarks of trivia weekend remain—ridiculously obscure questions, the oddly specific starting time, useless prizes, trivia T-shirts, armadillo sightings, and sleep deprivation, among others.

“Some things with the contest have changed, but some things, like the energy of it, are still very much the same,” said senior Riley Newton, an economics major from Austin, Texas, and this year’s trivia head master.

A dozen trivia masters will gather in Briggs Hall during the contest, allowing for greater social distancing than is possible in the WLFM studios. The contest will stream on Twitch with calls coming in via a phone server on Discord. Some traditional phones may be in the mix as well. Registration for the contest will open at 8 p.m. Friday.

Find the Great Midwest Trivia Contest on Twitch here.

Join the official Trivia 57 Discord Server here.

The contest went fully digital last year because of the pandemic. It was a huge lift, done out of necessity and a deep desire to keep the contest and as many traditions as possible alive. Lessons learned are being put to use during this year’s contest, which comes as the omicron variant continues to keep campus closed to the public. Last year’s Twitch stream, for example, drew positive feedback, Newton said, in part because trivia players were able to see the questions instead of just hearing them on the broadcast.  Some of those elements will likely remain part of future contests even after the pandemic recedes and WLFM comes back in play.

But as the contest continues to evolve, it’s the long-standing traditions that will still connect generations of trivia players—some here in Appleton, others participating from around the world.

“This is a Lawrence contest; it’s a cornerstone of a lot of people’s Lawrence experience,” Newton said. “My Lawrence experience definitely would not be the same without having participated in this contest. It’s going to be one of the fondest memories I have from my time here.”

The contest was first held in the spring of 1966, the brainchild of student J.B. deRosset ’66, who saw it as a needed distraction for a stressed-out student body. When he returned to campus in 2015 for the 50th anniversary of the contest, he said he never expected it to have a second year, let alone become a beloved undertaking for decades to come.

“Going into that first contest, I don’t think any of us contemplated this happening a second time,” he said. “My mind was on being draft eligible for Vietnam, raging hormones, and where to go to graduate school.”

13 traditions that help keep Lawrentians connected.

One of the contest’s most esteemed traditions, the awarding of strange prizes, was launched in that first year—the winner received an old refrigerator filled with 45-rpm records. It set the tone that this was going to be weird.

That spirit has endured, as Jonathon Roberts ’05 said when he served as trivia head master in 2005, the contest’s 40th anniversary: “People love the prizes. I mean, where else can you win seven pounds of human hair and a broken TV in exchange for 50 hours of your life?”

The contest that deRosset launched, then 26 hours long and known as the Midwest Trivia Contest (the word “Great” wouldn’t be added until years later), rolled on indeed, picking up speed as it drew audiences and participants from on and off campus.

We caught up with Eric Buchter ’75 as we pondered the contest’s many traditions during this 175th anniversary year at Lawrence. He was the student manager of WLFM for three years during the early 1970s, a time when many of the contest’s traditions were launched.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the trivia contest T-shirt, Buchter said. It has become an annual staple on campus since the first ones were unveiled in 1972.

T-shirts and armadillos remain part of trivia tradition.

It also was 50 years ago that the tradition began of the university president delivering the contest’s first question, known then and always as the Super Garuda. That honor has gone to presidents Thomas Smith, Richard Warch, Jill Beck, and Mark Burstein, and this year, for the first time, Laurie Carter.

1972 also was the year when action questions were added to the contest, asking participants to go into the community to answer a question via a physical task. The first one: What is the width of College Avenue in front of Lawrence Memorial Chapel? The question was given at 3 a.m., Buchter said, best to do it at a time when traffic wasn’t flowing while participants were measuring the street.

The following year the contest was moved from Spring Term to Winter Term, launching a tradition that also has continued.

And in 1974, the armadillo became an enduring symbol of the contest, a mascot of sorts, that continues to this day. At the time, Buchter said, there was a running joke on campus of inserting the word armadillo into famous quotations—“Hark! What armadillo through yonder window breaks” was his favorite.

“That year’s joke fad was immortalized on the trivia T-shirt and, I guess, passed into trivia tradition,” Buchter said.

This year’s 12 trivia masters, led by Newton, have been working hard the past few months to prepare a contest that is both steeped in tradition and nimble enough to change course on a moment’s notice. That’s the reality of these times.

“As wild as things are right now, last year was even more so in terms of turning the entire contest on its head,” Newton said.

The appeal of all this trivia craziness? Well, each year, the trivia head master is asked to explain. Newton called trivia weekend an adrenaline rush that hooked them as a first-year and never let go.

Perhaps Weronika Gajowniczek ’15, serving as the head master during the 50th anniversary contest seven years ago, summed it up best: “Trivia is like a 50-hour super bug. You don’t want to eat; you can’t sleep and the whole weekend is pretty much a weird fever dream.”

Let the games begin.

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

10 reasons Winter Term will warm your heart and fill your to-do list

Dreamers’ Circus is scheduled to perform in Harper Hall on Jan. 31.

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Bundle up, Lawrentians—Winter Term has arrived.

While we’ve all spent the last two years adapting to the twists and turns of the pandemic, Lawrence students, faculty, and staff have been hard at work to make sure this term will be something to remember. Here are 10 moments you won’t want to miss:

Note: Be aware that events could change amid pandemic protocols. Keep an eye on the Event Calendar for updates.

1. THE GREAT MIDWEST TRIVIA CONTEST

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … sleep-deprived 21-year-old running around Main Hall Green wearing bright yellow? I don’t know, trivia gets weird. But that’s the fun of it! When the games begin at exactly 37 seconds after 10 p.m. on Jan. 28, the Great Midwest Trivia Contest will begin its 57th year and embark on another 50 hours of non-stop trivia, all streamed on Twitch. In-person components are to be determined. Stay tuned to the trivia blog at https://blogs.lawrence.edu/trivia/ for updates. In the meantime, study up, form your teams, and figure out your sleep schedule! There’s a reason why it’s the longest running college trivia competition in the world.

2. MOLIERE INSPIRED

If you’re a fan of French playwright Molière—or of Lawrence’s top-notch theater program—this one’s for you. In honor of Molière’s 400th birthday, Lawrence theater is going all out: first, with a production of Molière’s The Flying Doctor, and then with two Molière-inspired one-acts, Scapin’s Tricks: The Trial and A Misanthrope or All the World’s a Stage (and All the Men and Women Merely Players). The past will meet the present as we spend the evenings of Feb. 18-19 immersed in the French-translated Molière Inspired.

3. ALEXANDRA BELL CONVOCATION

When you Google the word “convocation,” the definition is focused on calling people together. And that’s what Lawrence’s convocation series is all about: the campus community is called together to explore an intellectually stimulating and vitally important societal topic. This term, the convocation will be led by the distinguished multidisciplinary artist Alexandra Bell. With work examining the ways in which media narratives shape discourse and policy surrounding race, politics, and culture, you can catch her convocation address on Feb. 18.

4. WINTER GALLERIES

A new year always blesses the campus community with a new collection of curated art work at the Wriston Art Center. With an opening set for later this week, three exhibits will be on display. The Leech Gallery will house “Manufacturing American Women,” a student-curated exhibit examining the connections between gender and consumerism in the early 20th-century. Over in the Kohler Gallery, “Crossing the Vertical Border: On the Central American Migrant Trail”* explores critical themes through the use of documentary photography paired with literary text.

And remember that Alexandra Bell convocation we just mentioned? Well, it gets even better. Select works from her “Counternarratives” series, which powerfully critiques the way in which harmful media narratives impact society, will be featured in the Hoffmaster Gallery.

* Note: This exhibition contains textual representations of both violence and sexual assault that some visitors may find upsetting.

5. ONE-ACT OPERAS

Two operas for the price of one! Well, for Lawrence students, faculty, and staff, admission is free, but you’ll still have the opportunity to see the award-winning opera program at work in two back-to-back one-act productions. Running March 3-6, the performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica is sure to leave you reaching for the tissues, while Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River will take you all the way back to biblical times as it constructs its own parable. After a year of virtual performances, this powerhouse of a show is the perfect welcome back to the theater for Lawrence’s singers.

6. GUEST PERFORMANCES

While there’s no shortage of talent within Lawrence University, it’s always nice to see some fresh faces—especially when those faces are of immensely talented, professional musicians. Lawrentians can see two guest performances this term: Nordic folk group Dreamers’ Circus on Jan. 31 as part of the World Music Series and contemporary classical group Third Coast Percussion on Feb. 4 as part of the Artist Series. Dreamers’ Circus will be in Harper Hall and Third Coast Percussion will be in Memorial Chapel. Both will be in person for Lawrence students, faculty, and staff. The public, meanwhile, will be able to purchase livestream tickets.

7. LUNAR NEW YEAR

You thought we were finished celebrating the new year? As a collaboration between Chinese Students Association, Vietnamese Culture Organization, Korean Culture Club, the Diversity & Intercultural Center, and the Office for Spiritual and Religious Life, the annual Lunar New Year celebration will be held on Jan. 29. With high-energy performances, an introduction to the tradition of the Lunar New Year, and special booths (and maybe gifts!) set up by the participating cultural clubs, this evening of fun provides the perfect opportunity to get involved and learn something new! Besides, who doesn’t want another chance to ring in the new year?

8. WINTER CARNIVAL AND PRESIDENT’S BALL

Ditch those snow boots and put on your dancing shoes! The music will keep you warm. The annual President’s Ball serves as the conclusion to a week full of winter-themed activities and games, as students dress to the nines, take some photos, and vibe to the sounds of the Big Band. Mark your calendars for Feb. 5. And watch the events calendar for information on other Winter Carnival happenings in the days leading up to President’s Ball.

9. STUDENT RECITALS

It wouldn’t be Lawrence without plenty of student recitals—like, nearly every day. Conservatory students are always showcasing their talents with the rest of the Lawrence community. If you’re ever looking for something to do on a Friday night, check the calendar to see which of your fellow students are performing and make sure to give them a standing ovation.

10. CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS

February is Black History Month, and Lawrence’s Black Student Union always works hard to create space for Black students to celebrate their roots and culture. With events planned throughout the month, including the annual Black Excellence Ball on Feb. 19, the celebration will culminate with Cultural Expressions on Feb. 26, which you definitely don’t want to miss.

In this cherished annual event, BIPOC students are given the platform to showcase their talent and their art, in whatever form it might take. Get inspired, and celebrate Black culture and history—no matter what month it is.

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

New partnership lets Lawrence students ride Valley Transit buses for free

Valley Transit buses have routes throughout the Fox Cities.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Getting around the Fox Cities just got easier for Lawrence students.

Beginning immediately, Lawrence students can ride Valley Transit buses for free with their student ID. The pilot program is a partnership between Lawrence University and the public transportation service that provides access to Appleton and surrounding communities.

“Lawrentians come to Appleton from all over the world, not only to further their education but to forge meaningful relationships in a new geography,” said Garrett Singer, director of Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. “This partnership will contribute to that experience by allowing students to explore the Fox Valley without limitation.”

For students who may be new to riding public transit, Valley Transit offers a free travel training program where students are partnered with a travel trainer who takes them through the process of riding the bus and navigating routes to where they want to go within the Fox Cities. To sign up for travel training, visit myvalleytransit.com/travel-training.

Lawrence President Laurie Carter called the partnership with Valley Transit an important connection for students who want to more fully engage with the community that Lawrence calls home. The school has long provided shuttle services and other connectors, but this new option gives students much greater flexibility, and at no additional cost to the student.

“I am grateful to Valley Transit for their partnership, which will make a meaningful difference in the lives of our students and their engagement with our surrounding community,” Carter said.

Valley Transit General Manager Ron McDonald hailed the new arrangement as a more accessible bridge to the community. The bus service has similar partnerships with a number of other schools.

“Our team works hard each day to help people find their place in the community by eliminating transportation barriers,” McDonald said. “This new partnership is truly a community-driven effort to expand access.”

The service gives Lawrence students new opportunities regarding off-campus employment, makes it easier to volunteer with local nonprofits, and improves access to retail and entertainment outlets across the Fox Cities. While students have always had easy access to downtown Appleton, it was more difficult to access other parts of Appleton or the downtown districts in other communities in the greater Fox Cities.

“Having access to safe and reliable transportation through Valley Transit will support off-campus employment and volunteer engagements, link our students with local businesses for shopping and entertainment, and—perhaps most importantly—deepen our students’ sense of belonging and connectedness to the Fox Cities,” Singer said.

Valley Transit has rules in place to help keep riders and drivers safe. Per a federal mask mandate, masks are required to be worn at all times while using Valley Transit services. In addition, there are air purification systems and driver barriers installed on the buses, and hand sanitizer is readily available on all buses and in the transit center.

With 18 bus routes spanning 117 square miles, Valley Transit provides transportation to the many communities that make up the Fox Cities including Appleton, Buchanan, Fox Crossing, Grand Chute, Kaukauna, Kimberly, Little Chute, Menasha, and Neenah. Valley Transit also offers options for paratransit and demand response services. To learn more, visit myvalleytransit.com.

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

Lawrence’s Dillon earns prestigious Morgan Prize for undergrad math research

Travis Dillon ’21 (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Travis Dillon ’21 is the recipient of one of the nation’s most esteemed awards for undergraduate students doing mathematics research.

Dillon, who majored in mathematics while diving deep into a wide range of research before graduating from Lawrence in June, will receive the 2022 AMS-MAA-SIAM Frank and Brennie Morgan Prize for Outstanding Research in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Student.

The Morgan Prize, presented jointly by the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), will be awarded January 5 in Seattle.

Now a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Dillon called the “incredible honor” a testament to the great mentors he had as an undergrad, including Lawrence math professor Elizabeth Sattler, with whom he collaborated frequently over the past four years.

“Liz Sattler has been, in more ways than I can count, an extraordinary mentor, advisor, and collaborator,” he said.

Travis Dillon named a National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellow.

Goldwater award goes to a Lawrence student for second consecutive year.

In making its announcement of the award, the AMS said Dillon earned the Morgan Prize for his “significant work in number theory, combinatorics, discrete geometry, and symbolic dynamics.”

“When I was told that I won, I was stunned,” Dillon said. “Every winner in the last 15 years had attended high-profile universities—either Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford or Yale.”

Sattler said she first recognized Dillon’s vast potential as a math student when he dove into an independent research project with her as a sophomore.

“I was shocked at his ability to solve challenging, high-level problems in such a short amount of time,” she said. “I had anticipated this project would last an entire summer for a full-time student, but Travis solved that problem and pushed it further in just 10 weeks while still taking classes in Spring Term. Every time I threw something new at him or pointed him in a different direction, he ran away with it. It was just amazing.”

For his Senior Experience project last year, Dillon wrote a book, Graphs, Groups, Infinity: Three stories in mathematics, that looked to explain math concepts in a way that people with minimal math experience could understand and appreciate. He did it, Sattler said, with a mix of authority, expertise, and humor.

“He finished with over 200 pages of creative and imaginative text complete with pictures, stories, and exercises,” she said. “It’s more fun than your standard textbook with things like Travis Dillon’s Rule of the Infinite—‘If you think it’s true, it probably isn’t’—and abstract multiplication tables filled in with rubber ducks with hats or scarves. This was a great way for him to finish his time here at Lawrence and allowed him to put all those wonderful quirks of a liberal arts student into a document that will be around for a long time.”

The book currently lives in a digital format, with a few printed copies at Lawrence courtesy of a print-on-demand service. Now Dillon is exploring options on how “to best get it out into the world.”

The book project, he said, was a great opportunity to meld his love of math with a growing interest in writing.

“There’s a certain Zen to selecting and arranging words that communicate an idea exactly; to crafting sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters in my own particular style; to being sly, quirky, serious, profound, and irreverent precisely as I choose,” he said. “It’s frustrating, too, at times, but so is math. To a certain extent, difficulty is part of the appeal.”

While at Lawrence, Dillon completed seven papers, six of them published or accepted, four single-authored. In addition to independent studies with Lawrence faculty, he attended summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) at Texas A&M University and Baruch College, and he spent a year in the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program.

Scott Corry, professor of mathematics and chair of the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department, called the Morgan Prize “a stunning and well-deserved achievement” for Dillon.

“Our goal at Lawrence is to help every student reach their full potential, and Travis’ potential is off the charts,” Corry said. “We are proud to have supported his development, through courses, mentoring, and research at LU as well as in off-campus programs, and we are eager to see his future contributions to mathematics and the broader world.”

This isn’t the first time Dillon has been honored for his math research while at Lawrence. Earlier this year, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) award that will assist his work at MIT. A year prior, he was named a Goldwater Scholar, also a highly competitive honor.

Besides Sattler, Dillon said he’s had incredible mentors every step of the way. He was first inspired to pursue math while growing up near Newport, Washington. Two summers spent at a Canada/USA Mathcamp set him on his way.

This fall, Dillon began his graduate work at MIT as an MIT Presidential Fellow. Since 1999, MIT has used its Presidential Fellowships to “recruit the most outstanding students worldwide to pursue graduate studies at the Institute.” It currently supports 110 to 125 new graduate students as Presidential Fellows each year.

The Morgan Prize, awarded annually to an undergraduate student for outstanding research in mathematics, was established in 1995 and is entirely endowed by a gift from Mrs. Frank (Brennie) Morgan. Learn more here about the prize and previous recipients.

The award is one more step on the journey, Dillon said. Whether it’s more research or elevating the writing he started with his book project, the possibilities going forward are plentiful.

“I really enjoy working on research, but explaining and getting people fired up about math, leading them to their own aha! moments—that’s a different kind of joy,” he said. “Fortunately, these things often go hand in hand, and I’m looking forward to a long career in both.”

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

Best of 2021: Eight stories show resilience, creativity of Lawrence community

A reimagined Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall was three years in the making. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Sure, the ongoing pandemic kept things a bit weird in 2021. But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for telling the stories of Lawrence University and the Lawrentians who make this world a better place.

Today we’re going to spotlight eight Lawrence stories from the past year that speak to resilience, ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness. These stories are among our favorites of the year. If you read them the first time around, consider this a reminder of how amazing this place can be. If you missed them earlier, now is the time to catch up.

See Lawrence’s 20 most-viewed stories of 2021 here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey through 2021 as much as we have.

1. Rising to the challenge

COVID-19 testing in the Wellness Center gym was part of the routine to keep campus safe. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence had welcomed about 800 of its students back to campus in the fall of 2020 at a time when COVID outbreaks in Wisconsin were spiking. Classes remained remote and students needed to adhere to strict safety protocols, but the opportunity to resume a semblance of campus life was a big step forward. How did Lawrentians manage to keep campus safe while the surrounding community was struggling with outbreaks? We took a closer look.

“We’ve all read the stories from other places where decisions that students make really do make or break what happens,” Assistant to the President Christyn Abaray said. “We have students who get it. They’re making some of the most mature decisions that we could ask for.”

2. A need for flexibility

Hoa Huynh ’19, De Andre King ’20, Maria Poimenidou ’20

Diving head first into a job search upon graduation can be daunting enough in the best of times. Now do it in the midst of a pandemic when the job market is in turmoil. We caught up with three newly graduated Lawrentians, Hoa Huynh ’19, De Andre King ’20, and Maria Poimenidou ’20, to talk about navigating the job search in these strange days.

“There is a lot of uncertainty that comes with that and you can fall into a spiral of worries, but the way I adapted to everything was by becoming more flexible,” Poimenidou said.

3. Debut novel brings national buzz

Andrew Graff ’09

Catching up with Lawrence alumni who are doing creative things is always a pleasure. Andrew Graff ’09 leaned heavily on the lessons learned as an English student at Lawrence as he wrote his debut novel, Raft of Stars. It arrived among the spring releases with national shout-outs from the likes of the New York Times and USA Today.

“His work is a testimony to the fact that inspired, artful writing happens over time and is not the product of a flash of genius or a single good idea,” English professor David McGlynn said. “A Lawrence student might not publish a novel while a student, but our record shows that something foundational is happening here.”

4. A new sound in the Conservatory

Jando Valdez ’24 (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Jando Valdez, a sophomore at Lawrence, has had a passion for mariachi music since his freshman year at Appleton North High School. How he turned that passion into the newly launched Lawrence University Mariachi Ensemble (LUMÉ) speaks to the beauty of the Conservatory of Music and the growing flexibility built into its various degree programs.

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.

5. Pandemic rock stars

Rob Neilson and Jake Frederick became the Junkyard Tornadoes. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

This was fun. When Rob Neilson, an art professor, and Jake Frederick, a history professor, had their sabbaticals canceled by the pandemic, they hunkered down in a storage garage on campus and wrote and recorded an album. Never mind that they knew very little about writing music and even less about recording it. It was new territory, but it gave them a chance to channel some energy and creativity at a time when there was nothing much to do and nowhere to go.

“We were in shock about how crazy the world had suddenly become,” Frederick said.

6. New visibility for Indigenous students

Otāēciah, a sculpture created by artist Chris Cornelius, is gorgeous inside and out. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The creation of a new piece of public art raises the profile of the Native community on campus to new levels. The sculpture, known as Otāēciah and located on the renamed Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza between Mudd Library and the Wriston Art Center, was dedicated on Indigenous Peoples Day.

Once they see themselves, they kind of have that reinforcement that we’re here, and we’re always going to be here,” Taneya Garcia, a senior who is president of Lawrence University Native Americans (LUNA), said of Native students’ reaction to the sculpture.

7. Raising profile of Latin American composers

Natali Herrera-Pacheco and Horacio Contreras are leading the work of SOLA from Lawrence. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The level of talent and commitment from Lawrence faculty is always impressive. We’ve highlighted some of that through the year. The story of Horacio Contreras, a cello professor in the Conservatory, and his wife, Natali Herrera-Pacheco, a research and intern coordinator for SOLA, stands out. They launched SOLA (Strings of Latin America) to build catalogs, biographical materials, and pedagogic tools to help raise the visibility of Latin American composers in classical music. Their efforts are paying off, with catalogs for cello and viola now available, and more on the way. Lawrence students are working as SOLA interns to move the project forward.

“Society is made up of Hispanic and Black and Asian and South Asian and all these other populations,” Contreras said. “When they go to a concert, they want to see themselves represented as well.”

8. A classroom with a purpose

Students work together during an Introduction to Physics class in the remodeled Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Lawrence science faculty announced three years ago that they were launching an initiative to reimagine and remodel a lecture hall in Youngchild Hall to make it more inclusive and more engaging for intro-level STEM classes. With funding from donors through the Be the Light! Campaign and an assist from a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), they set out on a journey that would come to fruition at the outset of Fall Term 2021. We took a look at how this modern classroom moves STEM teaching forward and raises the bar across campus.

“We’re pushing some of our students out of their comfort zones intentionally,” chemistry professor Stefan Debbert said.

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

Most-viewed Lawrence stories of 2021: Arrival of a new president leads the way

President Laurie A. Carter speaks in front of Main Hall during a new student welcome event in September. Carter was named Lawrence’s 17th president in March and began her tenure July 1. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

From the early March announcement of a new president being named to Lawrentians doing amazing things on and off campus, there has been no shortage of Lawrence stories to tell in 2021.

The Lawrence community (and beyond) has been hungry to read about it every step of the way. We perused the analytics so we can share today the 20 most viewed stories of the year. The list includes new faces, creative approaches to the pandemic, and the brilliance of our students, faculty, and alumni.

If you missed a story earlier, take a look now. If you read it already, take another look as a reminder of the many reasons Lawrentians are brighter together.

1. Laurie A. Carter named 17th president of Lawrence University; begins July 1

“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.” – Laurie Carter

2. 10 new tenure-track faculty join Lawrence University for 2021-22 academic year

“I am absolutely thrilled to be welcoming such a talented, dedicated group of scholars to the Lawrence faculty. Our new colleagues will fortify strengths in existing academic programs and help us develop new areas of focus.” – Catherine Gunther Kodat

3. Lawrence debuts new athletics logo; Viking ship gives nod to school history

“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. This is a logo for all who love and support LU; I believe it represents all of us.” – Tony Aker

4. Lawrence places high in value, teaching, first-year experience in U.S. News rankings

“Lawrence’s faculty are not only terrific scientists, artists, and scholars—they are also first-rate teachers. It’s extremely gratifying to see them receive this much-deserved national recognition for the extraordinary work they do with their students.” – Catherine Gunther Kodat

5. “Impressive” class welcomed to campus on busy opening day of student orientation

“This class has some of the strongest academic credentials we have seen in a long time. Considering that they have performed at such a high level while learning in the midst of a pandemic speaks volumes about the resilience and readiness of our newest Lawrentians. They are going to do great things.” – Ken Anselment

6. 17 things to know about No. 17: An introduction to President Laurie A. Carter

“I want to eat cheese curds; I want to do it all. Snowmobiling, too. I want to try that. I really just want to get a sense of the culture; the unique things about Wisconsin. I can’t wait. I’m very excited.” – Laurie A. Carter

7. Kenyon’s Robyn Bowers to join Lawrence as its new dean of admissions

“Lawrence’s rich liberal arts tradition, commitment to the arts, emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and welcoming community create an extraordinary learning environment.” – Robyn Bowers

8. Mayes joins Lawrence as vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion

“To realize the unique value of a liberal arts education, you need to have an environment where people feel welcome, where people feel supported, where people can bring their authentic self to the classroom, to campus, and their presence and contributions are welcomed, valued, and celebrated.” – Eric Mayes

9. “Dedicated and richly talented:” 10 Lawrence University faculty earn tenure

“The breadth of ability and skill represented in this year’s tenure ‘class’ is truly extraordinary, both in terms of individual achievement and in how those achievements support our broader efforts to expand and enhance our curriculum to support diversity, inclusion, and excellence.” – Catherine Gunther Kodat

10. Lawrence lands on The Princeton Review’s 2022 list of best colleges in nation

“While being considered one of the best is great, we’re even more excited that The Princeton Review continues to acknowledge the important work we do every day on behalf of our students, which is providing top-notch preparation for a meaningful life after college, and doing so in a way that families can afford.” – Ken Anselment

11. Five retiring Lawrence faculty members to be honored at 2021 Commencement

“What was true when I arrived in 1998 is still true today—you have to ask the question ‘why?’ over and over, in every class you take. And that goes for the professors, too. The ‘why?’ question is the central one in critical thinking, which is the essence of the Lawrence experience.” – Jerald Podair

12. Great Midwest Trivia Contest carries on amid daunting obstacles, new rules

“It’s very difficult to balance the needs of the contest with this year’s restrictions, and, in some cases, we have had to make changes to trivia that go against tradition. Our main focus is making sure the contest happens this year and that it can be a positive experience for everyone.” – Grace Krueger ’21

13. Class of 2021 celebrated for courage, resilience: “You have shone brightly”

“Your responses have made you stronger, have tested your resolve, and have tempered you so that you will turn future challenges into opportunities. And you have validated the Lawrence experience as formative and essential to who you are, and who you will be.” – Dr. John Raymond

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

OK, this one was a little bit of April’s Fools fun with departing President Mark Burstein. We were excited that people enjoyed it (if they read to the very end).

15. Pandemic canceled their sabbaticals; they channeled their rock star dreams instead

“The university stopped all travel. I was going to Scotland; Jake was going to Chicago. I also had a public art project that got canceled. My gallery shut down. The whole world shut down. That was the moment we realized, well, maybe we should record these tunes. We don’t have anything else to do.” – Rob Neilson

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

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

17. Sculpture adds visibility to journey of Indigenous people; brings new conversations, reflection

“I would hope the Indigenous community here on campus would see it as a place to gather, to have as a physical symbol that they are being acknowledged, and to open those conversations up about how land was acquired and who was Indigenous to it and how do we begin to reconcile that with one another.” – Chris Cornelius

18. Building community: A study guide to Lawrence’s 2021-22 First-Year Studies

“I would like to suggest that our experience of the pandemic has thrown a new light on the works chosen for First-Year Studies. They continue to serve as an ambitious introduction to the liberal arts, but we can now see a strong sub-theme of community that runs throughout these works.” – Martyn Smith

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

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

20. Reframing of a music major adds greater flexibility for Lawrence students

“The beauty of this major is that it welcomes a much broader variety of music and music makers into the Conservatory, and that’s great news and more great music for everyone.” – Brian Pertl

Bonus story: NIH fellowship lets Lawrence alum take her neuroscience research to new levels

“It wasn’t just my science course work at Lawrence that has deeply shaped my career as a scientist today. It was that experience of being in the double-degree program, having to constantly negotiate being in two different worlds.” – Katherine Meckel (This story isn’t in our 2021 top 20 yet, but it’s been our most-viewed story during December and is definitely worth reading.)

Read more: Best of 2021: We’re highlighting 8 stories that speak to resilience, creativity at Lawrence

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

Digging into tropes, stereotypes part of deep immersion during 2021 D-Term

Jana Casey, a sophomore, gives a final presentation during Introduction to Tropes and Stereotypes in Theatre, Film, and Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, part of D-Term at Lawrence University. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Once upon a time, there was a yankee. Clad in striped pants and a patched vest, this country-bumpkin character was immediately recognizable on stage, created by British authors in the colonial period to represent—and often mock—Americans at large.

But it didn’t stay that way. Rather than taking offense, Americans embraced the yankee, adopting the character as their own.

Now, as time has moved forward, the yankee has continued to evolve. One could argue that in the modern day, the yankee has morphed into the character of the redneck, stereotypically portrayed with a shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other.

From insult to patriotic symbol and then back to a new kind of insult, this trope has evolved over time while remaining immediately identifiable, giving the audience a clear picture of who that character is and how he behaves through stereotypical mannerisms—a phenomenon that Lawrence’s Introduction to Tropes and Stereotypes in Theatre, Film, and Media: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly class has been studying this December Term (D-Term).

As an optional two-week addition to the academic calendar, this year running from Nov. 28 through Dec. 10, D-Term gives students the opportunity to take a focused, three-unit course of their choosing during winter break. For students who choose to stay, they often work with professors who are diving deep into a particular subject of interest within their field. Six courses were offered during this year’s D-Term, ranging from Food, Politics and Culture, to The Science of Superheroes, to Happiness: Meditation and Science.

Learn more about Lawrence’s D-Term here.

In the case of Introduction to Tropes and Stereotypes, Austin Rose, lecturer of theatre arts, built the course based on his M.F.A. research into tropes and stereotypes in American theatre, focusing on gay and lesbian, Black, and Latino representation.

With only two weeks at their disposal, the class moves fast by necessity, providing an overview of how tropes and stereotypes function, which common tropes persist in American media, and how to stop the perpetuation of harmful and negative portrayals.

“We consume so much media that there are stereotypes and tropes everywhere, and it’s really hard to recognize them when you haven’t learned about them before and how harmful they are,” said sophomore Lucie Peltier, a philosophy and creative writing major enrolled in the course. “I’m hoping to become more aware of all the tropes in everyday life, in film, in theatre, in media.”

With each trope covered and each piece of media introduced, Rose will turn to the class and ask, “What are your thoughts?” Through this discussion-based structure, students said they are able to process the information verbally with their classmates to understand the trope in all its forms, whether positive, negative or neutral. The course culminates with in-depth student presentations on a specific trope of their choice, enabling students to do their own research and supplementing the surface-level introductions that have occurred throughout the week.

As well as the structure of the class itself, the format of D-Term has allowed students to focus more time and energy on the subject matter, becoming closer with classmates in the process. After every class period, the nine-student class will go to lunch together, where discussions of the class material often continue, according to sophomore Nayla Brunnbauer, a film major enrolled in the course. Since students are also only taking one course during the two-week period, they go to each class feeling more energized, Peltier said, and can take the time to understand the subject better.

“I think one of the big appeals of a D-Term course is that you don’t have all the other stuff hanging over your head,” Rose said. “It feels a little more relaxed and a little more privileged, I would say, than the regular term feels.”

That said, D-Term can also serve as a way to experiment with introducing a new class, workshopping the format and gauging student interest, before expanding the course to 10 weeks for a standard term—an idea that Peltier and Brunnbauer both supported. They hope that future students will get the chance to delve even deeper into the complex world of tropes and stereotypes.

“Identifying these different tropes and different characters, maybe we can identify something about ourselves and how we fit into our society,” Rose said. “Along the way, we can try to knock out the goofy stuff and not perpetuate the bad stuff anymore. We’ve learned why it’s bad, so let’s stop it.”

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

Reimagined classroom brings new energy, creativity to intro science classes

Nicole Legman, a sophomore, Ryan Johnson, a senior, and Haleigh Andrews, a first-year, work with other students at their table during an Introduction to Physics class in the remodeled Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Stefan Debbert will tell you he got a little emotional when he addressed the introductory chemistry class on the first day of Fall Term.

Part of that might have been tied to the emotions of standing in front of a classroom full of students for the first time since the pandemic had rerouted lives a year and half earlier. But mostly, he said, it was about the room he was standing in.

For three years, Debbert, an associate professor of chemistry, and his science colleagues have worked with architects to reimagine how a science lecture hall could and should work. More specifically, how Room 121 in Youngchild Hall could be transformed from an outdated, tiered lecture hall with 150-plus forward-facing seats into an interactive classroom divided into a dozen tables, each seating four to six students and each equipped with technology to keep every student engaged and involved, be it a lecture or a lab. Work on the classroom project was completed just as Fall Term arrived in September.

“I kind of had to collect myself a little bit,” Debbert said of that first day. “It was a great moment.”

Debbert played a lead role in bringing the transformation of the classroom—now called the Science Learning Commons—to fruition. Lawrence donors funded the renovation, part of the successful Be the Light! campaign that came to a close at the end of 2020. Preparations for how to best utilize the remodeled space was supported by a $1 million grant to Lawrence University from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) through the Science Education Program to implement its Inclusive Excellence Initiative. It’s aimed at encouraging colleges and universities to explore new ways to bring underrepresented students into the sciences.

An important piece of Lawrence’s strategy has been in reimagining this lecture hall, which is now home to intro courses and a smattering of upper-level courses across the sciences. By creating a more interactive and inclusive environment, the science faculty are hoping to spur the imagination and showcase the collaborative beauty of the sciences, all catered to students who are just beginning their college journeys.

Take a 360 tour of the Science Learning Commons

Students work in groups at individual pods in the Science Learning Commons, located in Room 121 in Youngchild Hall.

First-year students often come in wide-eyed, not sure what to expect, Debbert said. If that intro class in physics or chemistry or biology doesn’t light a fire, they may never come back. For students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, research has shown that that’s often been the case.

“Having a situation like this where we can emphasize the social aspect of science is so important,” Debbert said. “Part of being a scientist is talking to other people and working together, putting stuff on the board, being wrong. It’s amazing how much of that attitude and emotional work we do in these science courses, but that’s a big part of the job.”

STEM-to-Ph.D. rankings, pedagogy changes build excitement in the sciences

Any student hoping to sleepwalk through an intro science class in the back of a sterile lecture hall may be a bit surprised. But the science faculty are betting that in the end it’ll be a welcome surprise.

 “We’re pushing some of our students out of their comfort zones intentionally,” Debbert said.

The room is now equipped with two massive projector screens, allowing the professor to use them for different purposes simultaneously. Each of the student tables have their own screens, connected to the big screens up front. Microphones at each table allow for easy interaction across the room. Document cameras give faculty new options for sharing materials. David Berk, director of instructional technology, has led the implementation of the equipment and guided faculty through a learning curve in how to utilize it.

“It’s like flying an airplane up there,” Beth De Stasio, the Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and professor of biology, said with a laugh. “There are a lot of buttons to push. The technology is amazing.”

Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, and Margaret Koker, assistant professor of physics, tap into new technologies in the Science Learning Commons as they teach Introduction to Physics.

Intro science classes are among the largest classes at Lawrence. This Fall Term, Introduction to Chemistry has 50 students. Introduction to Physics is closer to 70. The reconfigured Science Learning Commons can seat about 75 students if needed.

Faculty have long infused interactive elements into those intro classes. But doing so in a lecture hall not equipped for that interaction was often awkward or inefficient, De Stasio said.

Now the interaction is happening organically. It can be seen at the individual tables. No one is working solo. Discussions and debates are robust, and the ability for the professor to connect with each group is seamless.

“There’s this sharing that’s happening,” De Stasio said. “But what’s really important about that is you’re getting each individual student, as much as possible, to think during class and not be a passive receiver of knowledge, but rather be a creator of understanding. That’s when learning is deeper, when it’s something you’ve wrestled with yourself and not just been told. That is what scientists do.”

De Stasio said lessons learned during the four terms of distance learning are finding their way into how the Science Learning Commons is being used. The individual table with the built-in technology is the in-person version of Zoom’s breakout room, she said.

“In terms of inclusion, I think it’s a huge step forward,” De Stasio said. “We can have students in groups, we easily monitor who is talking, who’s not; is anyone being left out? It becomes obvious right away.”

Tracking student progress

Junior Difei Jiang collaborates with sophomore Connor Phelps during an Introduction to Physics class session.

How the students learn in this new environment will be tracked and studied. The HHMI grant includes follow-up, analyzing grade gaps and performance of underrepresented minority students and first-generation college students, studying whether students feel welcomed or engaged in those classes, whether they then aspire to take higher level STEM courses.

In other words, this is just the start, Debbert said.

“We’re not posting the mission accomplished banner and saying we’re done,” he said. “We’re tracking everything we can think of.”

Alex Rothstein, a senior biology and music performance double major, took two courses this term in the Science Learning Commons—one was an upper-level biochemistry course, the other an Introduction to Physics course that had more than 70 students.  

“Physics was the largest class on campus this term, but the classroom didn’t make it feel like that,” he said.

The classroom setup is going to pay dividends for years to come because it changes the dynamics of those early science courses, which in the past could often be intimidating, Rothstein said.

“Being able to work in small pods enhanced my experience this term, as it started to feel like a small group versus a class of roughly 70,” he said. “Overall, I feel like this classroom enhances students’ abilities to work together creatively without intimidation, which I feel is important for happiness and success in the sciences.”

The classroom, designed with a hexagon motif that makes Debbert smile, is in use almost constantly. When classes aren’t in session, students are encouraged to use it for group study sessions or tutoring.

“We call it a Science Learning Commons because we want this to be a gathering place,” Debbert said. “We ask these students to work together during class and hopefully that carries over and they’ll work together outside of class.”

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

New International Relations major puts added focus on global diplomacy

Jason Brozek and Ameya Balsekar led a traveling classroom trip to Hong Kong in 2018. 

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has launched an International Relations major that will allow students to focus their studies on global diplomacy, economics, health, and security.

It’s a field of study that speaks to growing student interest, said Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government and one of the architects of the new major.

“We know it’s something students are looking for,” he said. “And they’re looking for it because so many of the 21st century’s biggest challenges are rooted in international politics. The International Relations major is grounded in concepts like power, security, conflict, and international law, which are all crucial for understanding and addressing things like the climate crisis and the displacement of refugees around the world.”

See details of the International Relations major here.

The new major, which began this fall, is part of Lawrence’s Government department. Government students can now major in either government or international relations.

Brozek and colleagues Ameya Balsekar, associate professor of government, and Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, have been working toward the creation of this new major for several years and will be the primary faculty teaching within the major. They’ll work in concert with the Career Center as students prepare for careers tied to international affairs.

“I’m jazzed about the way we’ve folded in professional development and career preparation as central, integral parts of the new major,” Brozek said. “Students who declare an IR major are required to take a new course called The Practice of IR, which directly connects the academic discipline with career paths in diplomacy, foreign policy, global nonprofits, multinational businesses, and international affairs. The major is also closely tied to all sorts of different study abroad programs and faculty-led field experience programs.”

Collaborations with the Career Center will connect students with internships, alumni networking, and other opportunities through the Government, Law & International Affairs career community.

Lawrence has a deep history of alumni excelling in the field of international diplomacy. Four alumni have been appointed U.S. ambassadors by presidents: Walter North ’72 was U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Republic of Vanuatu from 2012 to 2016; Christopher Murray ’75 was the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of the Congo from 2010 to 2013; David Mulford ’59 served as U.S. ambassador to India from 2004 to 2009; and Shaun Donnelly ’68 was U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka from 1997 to 2000. 

Donnelly, who served with the U.S. Foreign Service for 36 years, returned to Lawrence during Fall Term as the Distinguished Visiting Scarff Professor. He is the latest in a line of distinguished public servants, professional leaders, and scholars who have shared insights and collaborated with students and faculty since the Scarff Professorship was established at Lawrence in 1989.

“My message is that I think a good liberal arts education is about the best preparation you can have for working internationally,” Donnelly said during his two-week visit to campus. “The world is constantly changing and you’ve got to be able to adjust.”

International relations courses explore topics ranging from security and treaties to politics and trade. The major pairs well with study in economics, history, languages, and global and public health, among others.

Part of the International Relations program could involve a traveling classroom or field experience, which takes students abroad for focused study. Past traveling classrooms have gone to Sierra Leone, Hong Kong, and Jamaica. Students also are highly encouraged to study abroad when and where they can.

The International Relations major differs from the Global Studies major in that it more squarely focuses on political science, government, conflict, cooperation, and institutions on a global scale. Global Studies, meanwhile, is a draw for students interested in an interdisciplinary approach to global issues and networks that broadly combines social sciences, arts, humanities, and language.

“The Government major and the new IR major are both political science degrees, but with a slightly different focus within the field,” Brozek said. “The Government major offers more breadth across the discipline, while the IR major is a deep dive into a specialty. That specialization in a particular field is also what makes the IR major distinct from Global Studies, which is broad and interdisciplinary.”

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

Lawrence at center of global efforts to raise profile of Latin American composers

Natali Herrera-Pacheco, the Lawrence/Sphinx research and intern coordinator and director of research for SOLA, and her husband, Horacio Contreras, associate professor of music at Lawrence and artistic director of SOLA, stand outside of Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Horacio Contreras was at a music workshop for high school students in South Carolina recently when a young cello player tapped him on the shoulder to offer a heartfelt thank you.

The student told Contreras he had been desperately searching for a piece of music with Latin American roots that he could incorporate into his cello repertoire. It was a search that in the past had been, if not impossible, surely daunting—not because classical music from Latin America doesn’t exist but because it is often unavailable through traditional publishing houses and poorly documented on the Internet.

Enter Contreras, an associate professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, and his wife, Natali Herrera-Pacheco. They launched SOLA (Strings of Latin America) three years ago to build catalogs, biographical materials, and pedagogic tools to help facilitate the use of the music and in the process raise the profile of Latin American composers. It picks up on work originally started by Germán Marcano, a Venezuelan cellist, teacher, and conductor.

SOLA, working with student interns from Lawrence and elsewhere, has now released online music catalogs for cello and viola, with others on the way.

The South Carolina teen, Contreras said, was thrilled to find the cello catalog, The Sphinx Catalog of Latin American Cello Works. “He said he wanted to say thanks because, ‘it was through your catalog that I found a piece that I really love and I am practicing it right now.’”

Contreras lights up at the mention of that exchange. As word of the catalogs spreads, so does interest in the classical music repertoire written by Latin American composers, whether it’s in the musical selections of a kid in South Carolina or in the concerts of a cello ensemble or an orchestra in a major music hall. The catalogs, built in partnership with The Sphinx Organization, are just a slice of what SOLA is looking to develop; music directories and video interviews also are in the works, and it’s all centered here in Appleton.

“People have reached out to us asking for presentations in different countries,” Contreras said. “We have done things in Peru, in Colombia, in Panama, in Puerto Rico, in Spain. We’ve been in Chicago. We’ve done workshops online.”

The web site cellobello.org, a leading site for cellists, has thrown its support behind SOLA, sharing the Sphinx Catalog of Latin American Cello Works as one of its resources, calling it a “comprehensive database, the most extensive source of its kind with more than 2,000 entries to date.”

Horacio Contreras works with first-year student Josue Koenig during a recent cello studio session in Memorial Chapel. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Contreras, SOLA’s artistic director, and Herrera-Pacheco, director of research, work closely with Sphinx, a social justice organization that has been addressing the underrepresentation of people of color in classical music for more than two decades. SOLA was launched three years ago as an offshoot that could focus on building materials for strings music from Latin America.

“It gets at the larger issue of privilege,” Contreras said of SOLA’s mission.

He notes that the world of classical music has traditionally been dominated by European and American composers, and the major publishing houses traditionally support those known composers. Meanwhile, the resources in Latin America are much more limited. When music schools or band leaders or performance spaces seek out music, they most often go to where the information is readily available.

“There’s the problem of representation that arises from that,” Contreras said. “We know society is more complicated than that, than just European and American and white composers. Society is made up of Hispanic and Black and Asian and South Asian and all these other populations. When they go to a concert, they want to see themselves represented as well.”

Interns step up

Herrera-Pacheco heads up the day-to-day efforts of SOLA, overseeing the work of interns from several colleges, including Lawrence, as they research composers—some living, some not—and build profiles for the catalogs.

“In their activities, they not only get in touch with the music heritage from Latin America, they also learn about the challenge that comes when you actively work in the promotion of underrepresented repertoire,” Contreras said.

Two Lawrence interns have worked with Contreras and Herrera-Pacheco during recent summers. This year, they got funding for a Lawrence intern for the academic year as well, plus two more from Louisiana State University.

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Contreras, a celebrated cello player originally from Venezuela, has been on the Conservatory faculty in the cello studio since 2017. He taught for 10 years at Universidad de Los Andes in Merida, Venezuela, before receiving his doctor of musical arts in cello performance from the University of Michigan in 2016.

Herrera-Pacheco, also a trained cellist from Venezuela, was hired last year as the Lawrence/Sphinx research and intern coordinator. She praises Lawrence and the other participating schools for providing the resources to allow the work to happen.

“We are trying to work in two different spaces,” Herrera-Pacheco said of the interns. “One, the creation of those catalogs with information on these composers and making it available to everyone for free. But the other thing that is very important to us is to show the interns the sweet part and the hard part of finding information on these composers. Sometimes they can’t find any information. So, that’s the problem. It’s a problem of power. These composers don’t have profiles, they don’t have bios, they don’t have stories—all these things that here in the States we take for granted.”

The students then do the work of tracking composers through social media and other contacts as they begin to build profiles for use in the online catalogs.

Nora Briddell, a junior from McFarland who studies in Contreras’ cello studio at Lawrence, did a summer internship with SOLA that she called empowering.

“I am a double-degree student, studying cello performance and history, and I was really excited that the internship allowed me to bring my two interests together,” she said. “I also saw the internship as an opportunity to develop my own research skills.”

In Winter Term, Briddell will be performing a piece by Andres Soto, a Costa Rican composer she connected with as part of her summer research. It will be a featured part of her junior recital.

“I loved building personal relationships with living composers because it makes me feel connected to them and their music in a way that I don’t get to experience when I play music from the standard canonic repertoire,” she said.

Sarah Smith, a senior cello student from Wichita, Kansas, is working as a SOLA intern this term. She said being part of developing a long-needed resource has been both inspiring and eye-opening.

“It’s taught me the level of earnest patience you need when you’re working to make positive change,” she said. “Researching underrepresented composers isn’t often easy; you won’t always find what you need with a simple online search, or sometimes even with a thoughtful search in a library database. Sometimes you won’t even get an email back. … Nevertheless, I’ve learned the power of self-motivation and continual commitment to being the progress you want to see in your corner of the world.”

Contreras said he appreciates the enthusiasm the student interns have brought to the work of SOLA. That energy is contagious, and he hopes it helps draw prospective students to Lawrence who want to continue the work.  

“Knowing you can work side by side with people who are working to develop the most important resources for Latin American composers for strings; I think that’s appealing to students,” Contreras said.

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