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.

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

Andrew J. Graff ’09

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Andrew J. Graff ’09 speaks of gratitude as he watches the buzz grow for his debut novel, Raft of Stars, released today by Ecco-HarperCollins.

Gratitude for his experience as an English major at Lawrence University, gratitude for the instruction and guidance that led to his acceptance into the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and gratitude for lessons in and out of the classroom that helped him keep his dream alive when the waters got rough.

“I’m thankful for it and just really enjoying everything that is happening,” Graff said.

What is happening is that Raft of Stars has arrived as a much talked-about novel, standing tall among the spate of spring releases. It has been highlighted as a must-read by Parade Magazine and USA TODAY, was chosen by HarperCollins as its lead spring title, was named a “Indie Next” pick by the American Booksellers Association and a “Read This Next” pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and has drawn rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Kirkus, and PopSugar.

Set in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1990s, Raft of Stars tells the story of two 10-year-old boys who flee the scene of a shooting and embark on a wild adventure through forests and along rivers while being pursued by law enforcement and family, all with varying motivations and conflicted histories.

The Boston Globe says Graff’s detailed landscape and harrowing tale of boys on the lam has echoes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn while neatly finding its own path: “The art and craft of this narrative, apparent from the first page with its sublime constellations of images, offers brutal beauty, the glinting edge of truth, and the possibility of redemption for the fifth-grade boys, and also for the adults chasing them.”

The excitement surrounding the book’s release comes six years after Graff found himself at a daunting crossroads.

Before embarking on Raft of Stars, Graff had spent seven years writing a novel that was set in post-9/11 Afghanistan, where he had been deployed as an aircraft mechanic with the U.S. Air Force. He began it while a student at Lawrence and continued with it as he earned his master’s degree at Iowa.

He was back living in northern Wisconsin when his agent sent it to publishers. Graff eagerly awaited the offers.

“I thought, boy, here I come world,” he said. “And no one wanted it. No one. It was pretty unanimous.”

It was the rejection that his professors warned him would come. He remembers Lawrence English professor David McGlynn, himself an accomplished author, telling him that if you’re talented, passionate, and diligent, you can find literary success but it will most likely take 10 years or more. Embrace patience and hard work, McGlynn told him.

And yet there was no bracing for the rejection of seven years’ worth of work, Graff said. 

He stopped writing for a year and a half.

But then it was the voice of McGlynn in his head that brought him back and ignited the spark that would become Raft of Stars.

It was late 2014 or early 2015, in the dead of winter, and Graff and his wife, Heidi Quist Graff ’10, were living in an old house on the banks of the Peshtigo River. Graff had started a teaching job at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

As he rummaged through boxes in the basement, he came upon an old college assignment from McGlynn.

“I wasn’t writing,” Graff recalled. “I had failed at being a novelist, you know. I was lighting fires in the wood stove in my basement, and I was using old notes from college to light the fire. I had saved every single note and every handout from my time in college. I was hoping I would do something great with them but I ended up lighting fires in wintertime. I was about to put this one essay into the fire; it was called The Nature and Aim of Fiction by Flannery O’Connor. I remembered how much David loved that essay. So, I didn’t burn it and I set it aside instead.

“In the essay, Flannery O’Connor says it takes three sensory strokes to bring something fully to life on the page, like smell, taste, and touch. That night is when I wrote the first lines of what later would become Raft of Stars. I just wrote about two boys pushing their bikes down a gravel road and there was a blackbird hanging onto a cattail stalk and there were some bees in the ditch clover. I didn’t know who those boys were and I didn’t know where they were headed, but they are Bread and Fish, the two boys from Raft of Stars.”

Thus began a five-year journey that would land Graff a book contract with Ecco-HarperCollins in mid-2019.

“I felt like I had mourned the first book long enough and I knew I still wanted to write, and these boys seemed interesting to me,” Graff said. “So, once I got to know them and watch them kind of ride their bikes around town a little bit and light off firecrackers in silos, I thought, yea, there’s something here. And eventually the story formed, the drama came in, it became apparent that one boy had an abusive father and the other, his friend, would do something very big and drastic to rescue him. At that point, I felt like the story had enough pressure to get them deep into the wilderness, especially once the adult cast of characters came onto the scene.”

A journey of his own

Raft of Stars is set in a space Graff knows well. He grew up in Niagara, a rural city of 1,600 located near the Menominee River in Marinette County. He hunted, fished, and explored amid the beauty of the Northwoods, landscape that would become central to his story of the two runaway boys as they navigate terrain that is both dangerous and soothing.

Graff enlisted in the Air Force shortly after graduating from high school. When the attacks of 9/11 happened, life took an abrupt turn. He was deployed to Afghanistan.

“I just remember how surreal it was, to be sort of dropped off at this desert combat airfield,” Graff said. “We worked at nighttime, catching C-130s, these inbound cargo jets, to see if they needed any maintenance.”

After four years of service, he moved to Appleton and enrolled at Fox Valley Technical College to train to be a paramedic.

He was being practical, he said. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He yearned to be a writer. He’d drive past Lawrence and wonder what might be.

“After a year at Fox Valley Tech, which was a great start and I’m thankful for that place, it just became really clear that I have to do this,” Graff said.

He applied to Lawrence as a 22-year-old non-traditional student, got in, and immediately impressed. McGlynn, who joined the Lawrence faculty in Graff’s sophomore year, said the talent was noticeable, even if his writing at that point was a bit “young.” When he turned in an essay about a moment during his time in the Air Force, McGlynn said he could see Graff’s confidence growing.

“He began to believe he could become a writer and set his sights on graduate school,” McGlynn said.

Graff joins Madhuri Vijay ’09 (The Far Field) and Callie Bates ’09 (The Waking Land series) as former Lawrence classmates who have landed debut novels with major publishers, a point of pride for an English department that recently added a creative writing major. The three have built on the writing success of Lawrence alumni who came before and provide a relatable window to what’s possible for current and future Lawrence students who want to pursue creative writing, McGlynn said.

“He called me the day Raft of Stars sold, in July of 2019, and it was a big moment for us both,” McGlynn said of Graff. “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. A Lawrence student might not publish a novel while a student, but our record shows that something foundational is happening here. They begin the long journey toward the larger goal.”

Graff, now on the English faculty at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, said he’s thinking frequently of his Lawrence experience as he savors the excitement surrounding the book’s release.

“Without Lawrence, I wouldn’t be writing, hands down,” Graff said. “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.”

Graff said he will join one of McGlynn’s virtual classes as a guest during Spring Term. And, if pandemic protocols allow, he’ll pay a visit to campus in October when he’s back in Appleton to participate in the Fox Cities Book Festival.

Meanwhile, he’ll celebrate the release of Raft of Stars on March 23 by taking part in a 7 p.m. online launch event hosted by the Wisconsin Book Festival.

Graff said he’ll happily share with viewers what he took from his time at Lawrence, the joy of getting into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the hard work from then to now. And he’ll speak to the emotions that overwhelmed him on that summer day in 2019 when his agent told him the book had sold.

“It was raining that day and I was parked on the side of the road, and after the phone call I just sat in my pickup truck and cried,” Graff said. “It felt really sweet. I spent seven years working on the first book and five years working on this one. I thought, oh boy, if this one doesn’t sell, I will start again, but it’ll be hard. I’m thankful for every bit of attention the book is getting. It’s been pure fun.”

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

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.

Drier, Meyer earn President’s Award, lauded for keeping campus safe

2020-21 Presidential Award of Excellence recipients: Jillian Drier and Jon Meyer

Two Lawrence University staff members who have been instrumental in keeping the campus community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic have been honored with the annual President’s Award of Excellence.

Jillian Drier, director of health services, and Jon Meyer, director of campus services, are the 2020-21 recipients. The award honors a staff person for outstanding support, stewardship, innovation, and teamwork in service to the Lawrence community.

The President’s Award of Excellence Committee and President Mark Burstein announced the honors. In past years, the awards have been presented at the annual Service Award Luncheon, but for the second year in a row that has not been doable because of safety protocols tied to the pandemic. The awards were instead announced in a virtual all-staff meeting.

Staff members who nominated Drier and Meyer say they both have gone to great lengths to keep the community safe in a year in which the pandemic rerouted lives, incorporated an array of new safety protocols, and brought COVID testing into our lives.

Terra Winston, associate dean of spiritual and religious life, said Drier has been a shining light over the past year, providing care while being responsive and calm.

“She does it with thought and care and professionalism,” Winston said.

“One of the things I really appreciate about Jill is that she’s a planner, and that has been really helpful when working with her because, as you all know, this pandemic is constantly shifting. We’re shifting different pieces, the CDC is shifting different things, how we do our testing, when we do our testing, and she’s in every piece of this. And then she’s there for you when you have a cut or a scrape or a stomach ache as well. … She’s doing this work all the time with her whole heart.”

Lindsey Wyngaard, wellness services office coordinator, said Drier really became the focal point for a lot of the COVID work happening on campus. That has meant an exhausting schedule at times.

“She has put a lot of time and work into COVID testing on campus,” Wyngaard said. “Jill also did a lot of weekend work. Sometimes we would get results on Saturdays or Sundays and Jill wouldn’t hesitate to go contact those students, contact the people to make sure they got what they needed.”

Meyer, meanwhile, has led a Campus Services team that oversees safety on campus. Keeping the community safe during the pandemic, including prepping and cleaning public spaces while working with everyone on campus to adhere to the Pledge has been key. And Meyer has done it with the same professionalism he has brought to other roles at Lawrence, including being a longtime assistant men’s basketball coach.

“Talk to anyone who knows him and you know he’s in your corner and cares deeply about your experience … but also cares so deeply about the campus,” said Andrew Borresen, associate director of athletics giving.

Borresen said people on campus are frequently applauding Meyer, “his level of commitment and sacrifice and really the level of humility and work ethic in which he leads and how he influences others and brings his best every day for our campus community.”

That has grown even more pronounced during the pandemic.

“It’s very special to win this award in the midst of this year,” said Zach Filzen, men’s basketball coach. He pointed to the impact Meyer has had while juggling the “variety of hats he’s wearing and the roles he’s playing,” all tied to campus safety.

“He’s done a phenomenal job,” Filzen said. “He’s here to help Lawrence, he’s here to help the individuals who work at Lawrence, and he’s here to help the students.”

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

Laurie A. Carter (Photo courtesy of Shippensburg University)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Laurie A. Carter, a strategic, engaged, and experienced leader in public and private higher education, has been named the new president of Lawrence University.

She will become the 17th president in the 174-year history of Lawrence on July 1, succeeding President Mark Burstein, who announced in September that he would step away at the close of this academic year after eight years leading the liberal arts college.

Carter, whose appointment was announced at noon Thursday in a video introduction to the Lawrence community, comes with a deep and impressive resume in higher education leadership, including holding key positions at The Juilliard School and Eastern Kentucky University before being named president of Shippensburg University in 2017.

Carter, who is African American, will be Lawrence University’s first BIPOC president.

Upon her announcement, she called it an honor to lead a university so steeped in excellence.

“Lawrence’s integration of the college and the Conservatory has produced a rich campus culture informed by academics, athletics, and the arts and inspires creativity across all endeavors,” she said in a video message.

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

Carter rose to the top of a field of impressive candidates during the six-month search process. The Presidential Search Committee, led by chair Cory Nettles ’92 and vice chair Sarah Schott ’97, said the “breadth, depth, and diversity” of the candidate pool was robust.

“We wanted someone who would deepen the learning opportunities for Lawrence students, someone who was capable of managing the tremendous financial challenges that are buffeting liberal arts colleges all across the country, someone who would help us continue down the journey we’re on of diversity and inclusion and our goal to become an anti-racist institution, and someone who understands the hallmarks of a private, residential, liberal arts college,” Nettles said. “There was one candidate who rose to the top of our list and who stayed there, and that candidate is Laurie Carter.”

The Search Committee unanimously recommended Carter to the Board of Trustees as the 17th president of Lawrence, and the Board enthusiastically accepted the recommendation.

Carter’s tenure at Shippensburg, a regional, public university in south central Pennsylvania serving 6,500 students, has focused on prioritizing student success, building a positive relationship with the community, and enhancing overall quality. She has strengthened student success efforts by creating a first-year experience program, a first-generation college students’ program, a comprehensive student success center, and an academic center for student-athletes.     

In addition, she collaborated with the local business community to create a downtown location for Shippensburg University’s Centers of Excellence, transformed the gateway to campus into a new Alumni and Welcome Center, and renovated a decommissioned steam plant into a home for the state system’s first School of Engineering. 

Carter’s efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Shippensburg were recognized by the publication Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, which named her as one of 25 outstanding women in higher education. Her efforts have included the addition of an executive level chief diversity officer, renovation of a multicultural center, creation of a PRIDE Center, and expansion of the Title IX office. Most recently, she created an Anti-Racism Institute to foster racial understanding.  

“For the last three years, I’ve been leading a university with a laser focus on equitable student success,” Carter said. “It’s work that I’m passionate about and have spent my career committed to.”

The Presidential Search Committee, which included representatives from all areas of the Lawrence community—students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees—was impressed by Carter at every turn, Nettles said.

“Certainly, her experience as a sitting college president at Shippensburg University was among her top attributes,” Nettles said. “But we also found that Laurie has a calm, steely demeanor, she’s extremely collected, she’s thoughtful, she’s insightful, she’s a good listener. And most important, perhaps, she was a fan of our student representatives at every stage of the process.”

The announcement of Carter’s hire comes a week after Lawrence celebrated the close of its seven-year Be the Light! Campaign, which raised $232.6 million, making it the largest fund-raising campaign in the school’s history. These are exciting days for Lawrence, said David Blowers, chair of the Board of Trustees, calling the campaign’s success a big part of Burstein’s legacy and something that will provide momentum as the leadership baton is handed to Carter.

“The depth and breadth of his experience paired with his deft and compassionate leadership made him the right leader for Lawrence at the right time in our history,” Blowers said of Burstein. “He has led the university through unprecedented challenges and remarkable opportunities.”

Burstein said Lawrence will be in great hands as the transition to Carter takes place this summer.

“I believe her energy, experience, and shared values will move us forward in essential and important ways,” he said.

For Carter, the move to Lawrence brings her back to a private school setting, one with cherished investments in the performing arts and a deeply ingrained liberal arts philosophy. She spent 25 years in leadership positions at The Juilliard School, a prestigious private performing arts college in New York City. She was Juilliard’s first African American administrator and taught on the liberal arts and graduate faculty. She developed the institution’s student affairs program, launched diversity initiatives, created the Office of the General Counsel, and co-created the Jazz Studies program.

She was vice president and general counsel and executive director of Jazz Studies when she left Juilliard in 2013 to lead the nation’s third-largest arts education department at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She later joined Eastern Kentucky University as executive vice president and university counsel. And in 2017, she was named president of Shippensburg. 

“Excellence was a part of everything we did at Juilliard, and I bring that value with me to Lawrence,” Carter said. “My passion for an environment with liberal arts leanings that embraces the arts was born at Juilliard.”

A native of New Jersey, Carter attended Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where she received a bachelor of science degree in communications. She received her masters of arts in communications from William Paterson College and earned her JD from Rutgers University. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Snow College. A former track and field athlete, she is a member of the Clarion University Athletics Hall of Fame. 

During the interview process, Carter had the opportunity to spend time not only at Lawrence but also in the Appleton community. She said she came away impressed with the “good work taking place” in the Fox Valley.

“I am thrilled to be a part of this community and the people who care so much about it,” she said.

Carter will be joined in Appleton by her husband, Gary Robinson; their son, Carter, currently a senior in college; and their family dog, Pepper.  

“Ella Baker once said, ‘Give light and people will find the way,’” Carter said. “I have found my way to the light of Lawrence University and I am honored to serve as its 17th president.”

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