Category: Students

On any given day: April 22 is packed, offering glimpse of campus life to come

Tai chi sessions began in the fall on Main Hall Green. They continue indoors in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

April 22 is shaping up as a day to remind us of the breadth and depth of the Lawrence experience.

It’s often been said that on any given day Lawrentians have at their fingertips a richly satisfying array of academic, arts, athletic, recreational, and social opportunities. When paired with the school’s small size and close community connections, it speaks to the transformational experience that has long defined Lawrence.

That has been tested at times during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But April 22 provides a hint that campus activity, all done with Honor the Pledge protocols in place, is again becoming robust.

This is just one day; a moment in time. But it has us remembering what’s to come when we return to something resembling normalcy on campus.

Let’s take a guided walk to see what April 22 has in store, in addition to classes.

11:15 a.m.

Yoga, anyone? Physically distanced, of course. Yoga sessions are a regular thing on campus, adapted this year for Honor the Pledge protocols. They’ve been held outdoors on campus when the weather has made that doable; otherwise in the gym in the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

“We know that movement and experiences that are not on screen are beneficial to the overall health and well-being of our students,” said Erin Buenzli, director of wellness and recreation. “Not only can physical activities help us connect socially, it helps improve our sleep, our mood, energy, and, most of all, should be fun.”

12:30 p.m.

Let’s move on to tai chi, which follows yoga in the Wellness Center. It also has been held outdoors at times. It’s organized by Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, and this term is being led by fencing coach Eric Momberg.

Upwards of 40 students have turned out for sessions that Morgan-Clement calls socially distanced and physically present.

“Tai chi is internal awareness, opening energy, and connecting beyond oneself,” she said. “This year, tai chi has made us aware of our connections even when we are not able to be together, of our bodies in motion through opening and grounding, and of gratitude for breath and the possibilities in each inhale and exhale.”

3 p.m.

Here’s a chance to support Lawrence athletics on a beautiful spring day. The softball team plays a doubleheader against St. Norbert College at Whiting Field. Lawrence is now allowing two guests per LU student-athlete at spring sporting events. There are some rules. Guests will be checked in on a pass list, masks are required, and spectators will need to bring their own chairs. Go Vikings!

4:30 p.m.

OK, as we make our way deeper into the afternoon, we’ve got some decisions to make. Several options are on tap—one is the return of a notable lecture series from the Government Department, one is a chance to connect with classmates, one encourages you to connect with yourself, and one will deliver some knowledge courtesy of an accomplished mathematician.

Option 1: The Povolny Lecture Series will be held in Wriston Art Center. Lt. General William Troy will present “Three Challenges for the U.S. Military: The Rising Importance of Soft Power; Urbanization; and The State of Civil-Military Relations.” Open in person to Lawrence students, faculty, and staff (socially distanced), it is part of a Povolny Lecture Series that’s named in honor of former government professor Mojmir Povolny. It promotes interest and discussion on issues of moral significance and ethical dimensions. Troy was an Army officer for 38 years; he rose to the rank of lieutenant general (three-star) and went on to become a CEO in the private sector. His talk also is available via Zoom: https://lawrence.zoom.us/j/99033963657

Option 2: The Mudd Library staff will host a one-hour Zoom chat focused on fiber arts. Work on your knitting, needle point, cross stitch, or any other art or craft activity while enjoying connection with others. Join here: https://lawrence.zoom.us/j/91889764762?pwd=eFgyYlI1ak9VZlRBQ21nbEcxek5kQT09#success

Option 3: Gather outdoors at the Esch Hurvis Center for Spiritual and Religious Life for guided meditation.

Option 4: A McDougal Lecture features Lillian B. Pierce, a Duke University math professor whose research connects number theory with harmonic analysis. She’ll speak on, “What we talk about when we talk about math.” It’ll be presented via Zoom: https://lawrence.zoom.us/j/95898853704. The McDougal Lecture is in honor of alumnus Kevin F. McDougal ’79, a leading math scholar before his death in 2004.

6:30 p.m.

All campus community members will have the opportunity to join a two-hour virtual Courageous Conversations Workshop for skill-building and discussion toward being an antiracist, equity-minded institution and community. A Zoom link will be sent to community members earlier that day. Simon Greer, founder of Bridging the Gap, a Courageous Conversation at The Neighborhood Project, will facilitate the workshop. It will launch Courageous Conversations at Lawrence, to be followed by a four-week boot camp for Lawrentians who want to take on leadership roles in ongoing antiracism efforts.

“Recognizing that engaging in these dialogues is much easier said than done, we sought out a program that would equip our campus community with the skills and tools necessary to have these often intense and emotion-inducing conversations,” the Office of the President and Public Events Committee said in an invitation sent to all students, faculty, and staff.

7 p.m.

Intramural sports offer chances to get some exercise, connect with other students, and scratch that competition itch. The Wellness Center gym will feature intramural volleyball on this night.

“We have been able to safely operate the Wellness Center since last summer,” Buenzli said, noting that that includes personal training programs for students, all with health and safety protocols in place. “Offering a place where students can get out of their rooms, concentrate on their wellness, and see others has been important.”

8 p.m.

We’re all well aware of the richness of arts opportunities available at Lawrence because of the Conservatory of Music. Nothing speaks to the Conservatory experience quite like a student recital, putting into practice all that has been learned in classroom and studio spaces. This night’s recital, available via livestream, will feature Ben Hiles ’22 and Melanie Shefchik ’23, both on saxophone. Among the works they will perform is one composed by a Lawrentian who came before them, Evan Williams ’10.

“Having a joint recital during the pandemic comes with obvious logistical challenges in working with each other and other musicians, but we have found a way to make it work,” Hiles said. “This opportunity to work on a recital with one of my closest friends has been so rewarding.”

Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl notes that this will be one of 73 student recitals taking place during Spring Term.

“Some students will play live recitals with limited audiences—no more than 10 people in Harper Hall—but also webcast; others webcast their recitals from home; others use the opportunity to create feature-length films that incorporate their recital repertoire. They provide a portal from the upside-down world of the pandemic into a space of music and magic and community.”

8:30 p.m.

LU Earth Hour in celebration of Earth Day will bring students to Main Hall Green after dark. Sponsored by Greenfire, a student organization dedicated to environmentally-conscious initiatives, Earth Hour aims to be a global energy-saving activity in response to climate change. For this hour, all of Lawrence’s nonessential lights will go dark around campus. Students are encouraged to turn out their lights and come together on Main Hall Green to watch the stars and learn about astronomy with associate professor of physics Megan Pickett. Glow sticks will be provided.

“We need to use less energy to combat climate change, and this event will allow students to do that while still having a good time together,” said Grace Subat, sustainability and special projects fellow in the president’s office. “Even unplugging your electronics and turning off your lights for one hour can make a difference.”

Need more motivation? “There also will be free stuff for all who attend,” Subat said.

That’s a full day.

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

Environmental Science major launches; adds path to climate-focused research

Catherine Wagoner ’22 sifts soil during hydroponics research in December. She was among the Lawrence students doing research with geosciences professor Relena Ribbons, who is part of the faculty group that built the new Environmental Science major. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has launched a new Environmental Science major, giving science-minded students with an interest in environmental research a more concentrated path.

The major, running parallel with Lawrence’s long-established Environmental Studies major, taps into deep expertise in Lawrence’s science faculty on topics ranging from urban ecology and tectonics to soil biology and atmospheric chemistry. Approved in a recent faculty vote following two years of study, the new major will be available beginning in Fall Term, said Environmental Studies chair Jason Brozek, the Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs and associate professor of government.

The new major speaks to the growing interest and career paths tied to the climate crisis and the desire by students to do hands-on research in environmental protection. For some students, it will provide a clearer path to graduate school.

“Environmental Studies has always evolved to fit the needs of students, and we see this as a step that builds on our strengths and makes our long-standing program even more robust,” Brozek said. “One of the goals is to help students feel prepared for graduate programs and careers in the environmental sciences—without sacrificing the interdisciplinary perspective that our Environmental Studies program has been built on for more than two decades.”

Lawrence continues to excel in STEM fields. Read more here.

The particulars of the major came out of a working faculty group that involved numerous science professors—Marcia Bjornerud, Jeff Clark, Andrew Knudsen, and Relena Ribbons from the Geology Department, Israel Del Toro from Biology, and Deanna Donohoue from Chemistry.

As has been done elsewhere on campus, this was an opportunity to create space for more than one major under the same umbrella. The Environmental Studies program remains, but under that banner students will be able to major in Environmental Studies or Environmental Science.

“Both are interdisciplinary majors made up of courses from a wide range of different disciplines, and both will guide students from early exploration through advanced independent research,” Brozek said

The Environmental Studies major will continue to explore environmental issues through a multitude of lenses—scientific, political, economic, and cultural. The Environmental Science major, meanwhile, will focus more on hands-on scientific research.

The annual BioFest: Senior Symposium allows biology students to showcase their research. (Photo by Ellie Younger)

There are opportunities here in Appleton and in the surrounding northeast Wisconsin region for students to engage more broadly in authentic, meaningful, and focused environmental science research, Clark said. The research not only provides valuable hands-on learning experiences for the students but also serves important public service functions.

“Our students want to be engaged in real-world problem-solving, and the Environmental Science major provides the background to tackle these problems,” Clark said.

Attention to the climate crisis is growing as evidence of distress becomes increasingly perilous. Employment opportunities are following suit, with career paths expanding in everything from climate modeling and environmental engineering to water resource management and sustainability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 8% growth in employment of environmental scientists and specialists over the course of this decade. 

For some students with an eye on the environment, the interest is in the political, policy, or economic realm. For a growing number of others, it’s in the science. Thus, Lawrence providing a new path of study that focuses squarely on environmental science is reflective of what more and more students are asking for, Brozek said.

“I think all of us do feel the urgency of the climate crisis, and we see that in our students who are looking for the sort of hands-on, experiential learning that can help them become more effective environmental advocates, experts, and leaders,” he said.

Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and professor of geology and the author of the 2018 book, Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, said the makeup of the new major shows how environmental study has evolved since Lawrence launched its Environmental Studies program more than 20 years ago.

“In that time, scientific understanding of climate, ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, and human interaction with these complex natural phenomena has become far deeper and more nuanced,” she said. “Students today need a different conceptual tool kit to be ready for work or graduate study in the environmental studies. Fortunately, Lawrence science faculty members have expertise spanning all aspects of the environment, from the chemistry of the atmosphere, water and soils; to terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems; to climate and global change over a wide range of time scales.”

Current students interested in switching to the Environmental Science major can do so, but they’ll want to consult with their advisor first to see how the major’s requirements mesh with courses they’ve already taken, Brozek said.

For prospective or incoming students, it’s one more option to consider if they’re exploring the rapidly expanding career paths tied to the environment and climate change.

“Whether students picture a career in environmental justice or hydrology or policy analysis—or all three—we hope they see Lawrence as a good fit for them,” Brozek said. “Environmental Science is another springboard for the next generation of environmental leaders.”

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

Lawrence’s Dillon receives prestigious NSF Fellowship to pursue math research

Travis Dillon ’21 (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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.”

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

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

The Rock first came to the Lawrence University campus in 1895. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

The Rock, a 2-ton boulder that has been part of Lawrence University lore for 126 years, is being gifted to departing President Mark Burstein.

In searching for the perfect gift for a leader whose rock-solid leadership has helped guide Lawrence to new heights, the university community opted to follow the lead of Burstein’s previous employer. When he left Princeton University to join the Lawrence family eight years ago, Burstein was given small honed pieces of material that were used in the many building and landscape projects constructed and renovated during his nine-year tenure there. These pieces form a small square that resides on his desk in Sampson House. 

It’s hoped he’ll proudly display The Rock in similar fashion as he leaves Lawrence and moves back east to begin a new adventure.

“I’ll need a bigger desk,” a gracious Burstein said. “Or David will have to design a garden with The Rock as a center point.”

The Rock came to Lawrence as a gift from the Class of 1895, plucked from a field during a geology trip near New London. It made the 30-mile trip east to Appleton and has since been painted, buried, hidden, and moved. But mostly revered.

Now it’ll go further east with a president who also is revered. The gift didn’t include a means of moving The Rock because of ongoing budget constraints. So, come June, volunteers, fully masked and following The Pledge, will be needed to hoist The Rock atop Burstein’s car for the 900-mile drive. A sign-up sheet can be found on the fifth floor of the Mudd Library in the Center for the Advancement and Study of Humor, Hijinx, and Fools.

Dr. Raymond, a top medical voice during pandemic, to be Commencement speaker

Dr. John Raymond

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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.

See Commencement weekend details here.

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: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Newly renovated Center for Academic Success better serves student needs

The Center for Academic Success can be found on the second floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

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 seniors named Watson Fellows, set for year of global learning

Ricardo Jimenez ’21 and Ben Portzen ’21 are part of the 53rd class of Watson Fellows.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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”

Ricardo Jimenez ’21

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.

Two years ago, Encarnación redirected the Lawrence University Jazz Band into a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble. The group went on to earn a coveted Downbeat award in the Latin Group category, and Jimenez was inspired.

“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”

Ben Portzen ’21

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.” 

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

The Lawrence experience: 17 ways we embrace college life in 4 short years

Lauren Chamberlain ’24 and Pearl Sikora ’24 take a break from studies on Main Hall Green in September. Hammocks on the green is a long Lawrence tradition. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Everyone’s college experience is different. We’re all charting our own path, finding our own niche, figuring out what we can see ourselves doing for the rest of our lives. My four years at Lawrence University will vary dramatically from yours, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to explore our interests, whatever they may be.

But as unique as we all are, some parts of college life are practically universal. Whether it’s a walk down memory lane or a glimpse of what’s to come, here are 17 quintessential college experiences that unite us.

1. Embrace First-Year Studies

To Plato or not to Plato: First-Year Studies always brings conversation.

Get to know First-Year Studies a little better.

Let’s be honest, there’s no way I could start a Lawrence listicle of iconic college experiences with anything other than First-Year Studies, the introductory, multidisciplinary course which every Lawrentian takes during their first year. While several other colleges have their own version of First-Year Studies, I don’t know of any others that are able to unite a student body quite as much as ours.

Whether you’re a first-year student, a senior or an alumnus, you know you can always find a connection in the form of First-Year Studies. Controversial opinion: Plato’s Republic should be removed from the curriculum, but Angels in America and Native Guard taught me more about art and justice than any philosopher ever could. And this decades-old debate among Lawrentians is all part of the fun! Whether you’re pro-Plato or anti-Plato, you’ll always have this shared bond with the Lawrence community, and you can be sure that by the end of Winter Term, you’ll be a better writer and thinker than you were at the start.

2. Explore the local community

Jones Park is a short walk from campus.

Get to know trails and parks near campus.

To be honest, I really dropped the ball on this one during my first year. I’ve memorized the walk down College Avenue from Main Hall to Walgreens, but my knowledge of Appleton essentially stops there. While the restaurants and shops along that mile-long stretch definitely hit the spot (I’m always craving Katsu-Ya’s Red Dragon roll), I’m only scratching the surface of what the Fox Cities have to offer. You can be sure that I’ll be spending the rest of my college career making up for lost time and exploring Appleton as far as my feet (or Uber) can carry me.

3. Join or start a student organization

Members of the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) put in some work.

Let Lawrence students tell you about student orgs.

What better way to make new friends and converse with like-minded individuals than by joining a student organization? United under a shared purpose, you have a guaranteed opportunity to explore your passion with classmates who care just as much as you do. And if none of Lawrence’s 114 existing student organizations feel just right, you can always take the initiative and start your own! Any takers for a YA Lit book club?

4. Live the dorm life

Ormsby Hall is among the residence halls housing students on the Lawrence campus.

The lovely ladies of Sage Hall fourth floor were my first friends on campus, and now, they’re some of my best friends in the world. There’s something special about the bond that comes from living in close quarters that can’t quite be replicated in any other setting.

Where can I even begin with this one? I have so many treasured memories of dorm life: playing pool in the lounge, knocking on my neighbor’s door every night for Commons dinner dates, buying marshmallows and cereal from the Corner Store to make the world’s densest Rice Krispies treats. And, of course, I’ll never forget the many Saturday nights that started as dance parties and turned into a dozen people crammed in a dorm room, sharing our childhood memories and deepest insecurities until the sun began to rise.

5. Find volunteer work

Volunteer opportunities abound at Lawrence.

One of the first things I did when I started college was look for volunteer opportunities, and luckily for me, GivePulse and the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change made that easy. The Wednesday nights I spend tutoring Appleton Area School District students through the VITAL program have been among the most rewarding times of my college career, as I contribute to the community, develop new skills and get to know some pretty great kiddos. And with Lawrence’s six diverse volunteer communities, every student is sure to find the volunteer program that inspires them to give back.

6. Enjoy life outside of class

Snow angels, anyone? Enjoying winter’s first snow is always a thing.

If college was just about the academics, I have a feeling the retention rate would be a lot lower. It’s also about that classic college student lifestyle, swiping into the Commons for meals, hammocking with friends on Main Hall Green, enjoying winter’s first snowfall, and, most importantly, participating in student life events. From annual events like Winter Carnival and LUAroo to the smaller scale events that pop up every week (caricatures, anyone?), student life events are the best way to keep yourself connected to the campus community. Plus, they almost guarantee free food, which I’m certainly not going to pass up.

7. Choose a major

Did you know you now can major in creative writing at Lawrence?

Some people come to Lawrence knowing exactly what they’re majoring in, and then there are those of us who maybe tend to be indecisive (I call it multi-interested) and push off declaring a major until well into sophomore year—and that’s OK! Lawrence doesn’t require a major declaration right away, giving you time to explore. Choosing your major impacts your entire college experience, and you want to make sure you’ve had a taste of everything before you make the (flexible) commitment. But when you come to the conclusion for yourself (and you can finally stop marking that awful “undecided” box on every form), it’s a moment of pure pride and an exciting look into your future.

8. Play intramural sports

Intramurals are open to all students. Athletic ability is optional.

OK, hear me out on this one—I couldn’t find my high school’s swimming pool or football field until my junior year, and even I’ve participated in intramural sports at Lawrence. If you’re actually an athlete, show off your skills in an official capacity on one of Lawrence’s 22 fantastic sports teams. Or if you, like me, faked sick to get out of gym class, there’s no shortage of lower intensity, recreational sports that any Lawrentian can try. Test your coordination on the broomball rink or join me on Main Hall Green for a friendly game of ultimate frisbee!

9. Cheer on classmates at athletic events

Women’s hockey became the 22nd varsity sport at Lawrence this year.

If I didn’t convince you with that last one, this is a great alternative for my fellow bench-warmers. As a native of the lower Midwest, I went to my very first hockey game last winter to cheer on the Vikings, and I’ve got to say, nothing quite instills school spirit like praying it won’t be your guys who get pushed into the wall. I’m happy on the sidelines, thank you very much!

10. Study abroad

London in January 2020.

My 61-year-old father still talks about his college study abroad experience, and my mom says her biggest college regret is not making time to study abroad, so I’m starting to get the feeling that this is the type of experience that stays with you all your life. I, like every other 20-something, don’t want to make the same mistakes as my mother.

Since financial aid travels with you (plus additional scholarships) and major requirements can be fulfilled with any number of Lawrence’s affiliated off-campus programs, many of the traditional barriers to study abroad have been mitigated at Lawrence. At this point, it’s mostly just a matter of planning ahead to fit it in your schedule! Whether you want to follow the path of many fellow Lawrentians and study at the London Centre or you want to find a program that’s uniquely you, it’s never too early to seek some guidance from the Off-Campus Programs office.

11. Get to know faculty

Senior banquet is just one of the cherished traditions that allow students to interact with faculty outside of class.

When my CORE leaders told me that part of the Lawrence experience was personal student-professor relationships, I was a little skeptical, but I’ve been proved wrong 10 times over. As you start to specialize and narrow your field of interest, Lawrence faculty members are there for you every step of the way as both teachers and guides. Whether it’s a studio pizza night at your professor’s house or an impromptu discussion sparked by guest speakers, you have ample chances to get to know your professors outside of the classroom. Plus, it also makes it a whole lot easier to forgive and forget when the Geoscience faculty steals the last table at Bowl 91.

12. Attend concerts and performances

Richard III was presented in Winter Term 2020.

Everyone knows that the Conservatory is pretty amazing, and no Lawrentian’s college experience is complete without attending a few incredible concerts and performances. In addition to supporting classmates in choir, band, and orchestra concerts (not to mention musicals, operas, and plays), Lawrence brings in a variety of professional musicians each year to perform in the World Music, New Music, Dance, Jazz and Artist series. I can’t say that I ever expected to see a Balinese Gamelan and dance performance, but I can say that it has undoubtedly enriched my college experience.

13. Be a student worker

Student employment opportunities are plentiful across campus.

Trust me on this one—I spend 15 to 20 hours each week working for my three on-campus jobs, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. It’s the perfect baby step into the job market as you gain real-world work experience, develop technical and professional skills, and start to fill up some of that dreaded white space on your resume. (Of course, it’s also the best way to ensure you’ll be able to afford that weekly coffee from Seth’s.)

14. Learn from impressive speakers

Masha Gessen delivered a convocation address in January 2020.

You know when your friend is talking about something that they really care about, and their passion is so infectious that you can just listen to them go on for hours? That’s like every speaker that comes to Lawrence, except this time they’re an expert in their field and they came prepared. From convocations to cultural competency lectures, from course-specific guest speakers to talented alumni, attending these speaking events is the best way to dive into the deep end of any given subject.

15. Get an internship

Stephany Pichola ’21 landed a remote internship last summer with The Commons, a Milwaukee nonprofit initiative.

Students talk about internship experiencesand students tap into experiential learning funds.

Welcome to the real world! No college experience is complete without this first taste of postgraduate personal and career life. Sure, you might be underpaid and overworked (though employers are thankfully starting to treat their interns a whole lot better), but you’re learning more about your future job prospects than you could in any classroom, while also gaining professional contacts and starting to build a life for yourself as an independent young member of the workforce. And if you want to make sure you find that perfect internship, where you spend your time getting paid for valuable, stimulating work instead of coffee runs, the Career Center is always available to help you find the right job and apply for any supplemental funding.

16. Take a class that has nothing to do with your major

Taking a class outside your area of study is among the joys of Lawrence.

So, at this point you’ve declared your major, and it’s all about squeezing those graduation requirements into your schedule. Maybe in your first couple of years, you spent some time exploring different disciplines, trying to figure out that one true passion—after all, academic exploration is a core principle of the liberal arts! But now, term after term of classes in the same area of study start to pile up.

The good news is, the opportunity to try something new doesn’t end as you get deeper into your major. In fact, it’s the perfect time to give yourself a little break, and sign up for a course because you want to take it, not because you have to take it. I love my government and anthropology classes (after all, there’s a reason I declared the major!), but I, for one, can’t wait for the term when I finally manage to fit a dance class into my schedule.

17. Bring it all together with Senior Experience

The Senior Experience can involve research, collaboration, writing, technology, and more, all designed to show what you’ve learned in your course of study.

I couldn’t have ended this story with anything other than the Chandler Senior Experience. It’s the culmination of our academic careers. Tailored to your personal interests and expertise, Senior Experience is an exhibition of all that you have become as a scholar, encompassing hours and hours of independent and collaborative work, many late nights, and probably a few too many scoops of ice cream from the Cafe—but in the end, you will have become a better and more accomplished student, expert, and person. Four years of learning and living the college experience all leads up to this, and there’s no way you can leave Lawrence without an empowering and well-deserved sense of pride.

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

Launch of new Mariachi Ensemble is a dream realized in Lawrence Conservatory

Jando Valdez ’24 leads a Lawrence University Mariachi Ensemble rehearsal in the Music-Drama Center. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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.

Ricardo Jiménez ’21 claps to the beat during a LUMÉ rehearsal.

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. 

Jando Valdez ’24 (left) and Marya Wydra ’23 perform during rehearsal. The ensemble is a mix of music majors and students from across the college. Wydra is a biochemistry major.

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.

Willy Quijano ’22 helped bring the ensemble to fruition.

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.

That, Valdez said, is the next step in the dream.

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