Reimagined classroom brings new energy, creativity to intro science classes

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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 More specifically, how Room 121 in Youngchild Hall could be transformed from an outdated, tiered lecture hall with 150-plus forward-facing seats into an interactive classroom divided into a dozen tables, each seating four to six students and each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

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

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

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

Take a 360 tour of the Science Learning Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracking student progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back and Brighter Together: A Photo Essay

Claire Chamberlin, a junior, paints the face of Jose Otero, a first-year, during the Blue and White Weekend Block Party Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 on Main Hall Green. The Block Party started Saturday events for Blue and White Weekend. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

By Danny Damiani/Communications

As we close out Fall Term, I’m taking a look back at some of the photographs that I think best exemplify what it means to be Brighter Together here at Lawrence. I had the opportunity to join students, faculty, and staff as they returned to classrooms, stages, and athletic spaces over the past few months. It was a joy to be present for those early morning workouts with teammates and friends, the face-to-face classroom experiences, and the collaborations happening on and off stage in the Conservatory. I’ve gathered a collection of images here (in no particular order) that I hope represent the connections and moments that make this place come alive every single day.

Lili Hull and Zoë Boston, both seniors, play a game of cards at a picnic table on Main Hall Green Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.
Midushi Ghimire, a sophomore, and Raian Rith, a junior, help hang flags on Main Hall with Lawrence International in preparation for the President’s Welcome during optional Move-In Day Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021.
Orientation Leaders bring balloons to students with birthdays surrounding the President’s Welcome Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
Students drop off and pick up their bags outside of Andrew Commons Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
First-year students begin to take their places on the Memorial Chapel steps before the official photo for the Class of 2025 Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
Teammates surround Lawrence University’s Emma Vasconez, a sophmore, after scoring a golden goal in overtime against Monmouth College to send the team to Midwest Conference Tournament Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.
Thomas Canty, a senior, works with Daniel Schwandt, university organist and lecturer in music, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Memorial Chapel.
Students walk between classes Friday Oct. 8, 2021.
JEJ Vinson, a former contestant on The Voice, performs Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in the Warch Campus Center. JEJ Vinson performed as part of Welcome Week activities on campus.
Matthew Pavlik, a sophomore, talks with Myles Luedecke, a junior, while standing around a fire during the Welcome Back Bon Fire in the Wriston Amphitheater Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.
Kelly Foy, a senior, carries instruments into Kohler Hall during Move-In Day Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
Students hold signs before the Kaeyes Mamaceqtawuk Plaza and Otāēciah sculpture dedication at Lawrence University’s 6th Annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Celebration Monday, Oct. 11, 2021.
Katie Mahorney, a senior, and Dylan Delgado, a first-year, work together during Introduction to Physics Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2021 in Youngchild 121.
Nathan Ferguson, a senior, smashes a pumpkin with a golf club during a Beta Theta Phi charity event on The Quad Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Participants made donations to smash pumpkins and the proceeds from the event were donated to Pillars.
Reese Pike, Eli Elder, Owen Brady, and Mitchell VonEschen, all sophomores, play Glow Mini Golf in the Warch Campus Center Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
Nathaniel Scott, a junior, (center) rehearses with the Viking Bassoon Ensemble Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.
Relena Ribbons, Assistant Professor of Geosciences, shows students a worm during an Environmental Science lab Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.
Mahina Olores, a junior, sits in the afternoon sun and plays a ukulele on Main Hall Green Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.
Laurie Carter, Lawrence University’s President, greets Shelby Stoddard, a first-year student, during the President’s Handshake in Memorial Chapel Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.
Claude Mazullo, a sophomore, Cristiana Burhite, a sophomore, Jackie McShan, a junior, and Victorio Sirugo, a first-year, carry their boat back to shore after a morning of rowing with the LU Rowing Club Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Telulah Park.
Kuo-ming Sung, Wendy and K.K. Tse Professor of East Asian Studies, teaches Intermediate Chinese Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021 in Main Hall.
Madeline Markhem, a first-year, performs during violin studio Monday, Oct. 27, 2021 in Memorial Chapel.
Ryan Johnson, a senior, (center) works with a group of fellow students during Introduction to Physics Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2021 in Youngchild 121.
Lawrence University in the huddle after the team’s win against Beloit College Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at the Banta Bowl.

New International Relations major puts added focus on global diplomacy

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

See details of the International Relations major here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reframing of a music major adds greater flexibility for Lawrence students

Lawrence Conservatory of Music (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brian Pertl calls it a “true liberal arts music major.”

Lawrence University has reframed its bachelor of arts in music (B.A.Music) major to make it more open-ended in a student’s pursuit of whatever slice of the music world that interests them, a change the dean of the Conservatory sees as liberating.

“No big deal, just the coolest, most flexible B.A. music major on earth,” Pertl said.

The newly retooled B.A.Music major differs from the bachelor of music, bachelor of musical arts, and five-year double degree options in its flexibility. It is no longer centered around Western classical music and no longer requires an audition on a Western classical instrument.

“Anyone who is serious about any aspect of music or any genre of music could pursue this major,” Pertl said.

Not only is there no audition requirement, there are only three courses that are required—an intro course, a musicology course, and a Senior Experience course.

“Each student then designs their own unique musical pathway, with close consultation with a faculty advisor,” Pertl said.

This is the second significant addition to Lawrence’s musical offerings in the past three years. In 2019, the bachelor of musical arts (B.M.A.) degree was launched, focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation. It also widened the musical path into the Conservatory and has since drawn students interested in everything from jazz to bluegrass to mariachi.

Here are the varied ways you can pursue an education in music at Lawrence:

B.Mus: A pre-professional music degree, it allows students to major in performance, music education, theory, or composition. There also is a jazz emphasis in performance or composition. About two-thirds of the courses are in music.

B.M.A.: This also is a pre-professional music degree, but it is focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation. It allows for more genre flexibility beyond the classical Western canon and leans into musical fluency needed for life as a 21st century musician. About 50% of the coursework is in music, the other half in the liberal arts.

B.A.Music: This is a liberal arts music major, with one-third of the required coursework in music, the other two-thirds in fields of the student’s choosing.

Five-Year Double Degree: This is a five-year program that allows the student to combine a bachelor of arts degree in the college and a bachelor of music degree in the Conservatory. It’s one of the benefits of attending a university that features both a world-class Conservatory and nationally ranked liberal arts college.

Expanding the opportunities within the B.A.Music program offers a more varied path into Lawrence for music-minded students and a chance to build toward a wider array of careers within the world of music. That’s a win for Lawrence and a win for prospective students, Pertl said.

“A student still could be focused on classical music performance but it isn’t required,” he said. “Instead, they might be a singer-songwriter, a music producer or recording engineer, an aspiring composer, musicologist, ethnomusicologist, or music theorist. They might be interested in dance, arts management, music therapy, or music and entrepreneurship. They might play fiddle, or sitar, or modular synthesizers.”

Opening that door just a little wider to all musical experiences is what the Conservatory of Music is all about, Pertl said.

Another benefit, he said, is that the B.A.Music major brings new flexibility around ensemble requirements. That’s huge for student-athletes who also are interested in music. They can now craft a course schedule that doesn’t restrict their opportunities to participate in athletics.

Pertl applauded Associate Professor of Music Julie McQuinn and a team of Conservatory faculty for leading the effort to reshape the major.

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

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

Lawrence’s sustainability progress lands it on 2022 Guide to Green Colleges

Lawrence University (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University has landed on The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges’ 2022 edition.

Lawrence is one of 420 colleges across the country recognized for being among the most environmentally responsible schools.

Grace Subat, Lawrence’s sustainability and special projects fellow in the President’s Office, said the listing reflects ongoing sustainability progress at Lawrence but there is much more work to do.

“Staff, faculty, and students at Lawrence have worked hard to improve environmental sustainability on campus over the years,” she said. “I am proud of our progress, but we still have further to go. Through productive and positive collaborations, I am hopeful that Lawrence University will be able to take great strides toward a more environmentally sustainable campus this year.”

See more on Lawrence’s sustainability efforts here.

Lawrence’s Presidential Committee on Sustainability oversees efforts to instill a culture of sustainable long-range planning, working with student organizations and other departments across campus to develop and implement programs and practices that enhance good environmental stewardship.

Subat pointed to a number of initiatives that have seen progress in recent years.

  • Reducing use of pesticides and prioritizing native species by the grounds management team: A landscape framework for campus was developed several years ago that prioritizes the use of native and ecologically appropriate plants and reduces the amounts of pesticides used, Subat said. The work is ongoing.
  • Bon Appetit increasing percentage of food sourced locally: Bon Appetit works to source at least 20% of food offered in Andrews Commons locally. Lawrence has pushed that even further. It has set a goal to source at least 30% of food locally by 2025, Subat said. The percentage has already risen to 26%.
  • Net Zero Bjorklunden: This is an ongoing project that aims to have Björklunden become a net-zero carbon emissions educational facility, balancing any carbon emissions with equivalent carbon savings on site.

The Princeton Review has put out the Green Colleges guide each of the past 11 years. Lawrence has frequently been on the list. The company’s editors said they analyze more than 25 data points to select the schools included in the guide.

The education services company’s guide, released in late October, is accessible for free at

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

Conservatory faculty, students, alumni honored with five American Prize awards

Emily Richter as Countess Rosina and Emma Milton as Susanna dress Sam Gibson as Cherubino during a dress rehearsal for The Marriage of Figaro in Stansbury Theater in March 2020.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The Lawrence Conservatory of Music drew high praise in the recently released 2021 The American Prize Awards, with two faculty—and the students they direct—and three alumni being honored.

The American Prize annually hands out awards of excellence in the performing arts among nonprofit arts organizations and schools across the country.

This year’s recipients include:

Mark Dupere, director of orchestral studies, received a third-place honor for the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in the college orchestral category.

Copeland Woodruff, director of opera studies, received a third-place honor in the college opera category for the 2020 production of The Marriage of Figaro.

Evan Williams ’10 received a Special Judges’ Citation for Music Both Relevant and Thought-Provoking. He was honored for his piece, Dead White Man Music, in the orchestral performance category.

Nicolas Bizub ’16 received a Special Judges’ Citation for Social Relevance and Musical Quality. He was honored for his piece, Fill The Swamp, in the composition category.

Nick Fahrenkrug ’20 received a Special Citation for Artistic Achievement. He was honored for his short performance film, Dichterliebe: Within + Without, in the opera category.

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Dupere and the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra

Mark Dupere leads a rehearsal of the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra in the Shattuck Hall of Music in October 2019.

While Dupere’s name is on the award, he said it’s really an honor for the students who perform with the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra. The performances cited for the award pre-date the arrival of the pandemic in March 2020.

“I’m deeply proud of our students for receiving this honor and thankful for the opportunity to show the great things Lawrence students are doing,” Dupere said. “It is a privilege to work with these highly motivated students who are committed to pursuing an excellent level of playing and creating meaningful and memorable performances. I love coming to work every day with these students.”

See information on upcoming Lawrence Symphony Orchestra performances here.

Woodruff and the cast of 2020’s The Marriage of Figaro

Erik Nordstrom as Count Almaviva and Max Muter as Figaro during a dress rehearsal for The Marriage of Figaro in March 2020.

When The Marriage of Figaro took to the stage in early 2020, Woodruff heaped praise on the students in the cast for the way they embraced the challenges of staging the comic opera.

“It’s one of the most generous casts I’ve worked with in a long time,” Woodruff said. “They’re just generous with each other as far as sharing the stage space and working with one another.”

The American Prize called it a team effort between students and faculty worth celebrating, one that is seen often in Lawrence’s opera theatre program: “Recent productions have garnered national attention because of their well-crafted and dedicated musical and dramatic performances.”

Williams: Dead White Man Music

Evan Williams ’10

Williams, a composer and conductor, received the citation for his harpsichord concerto with chamber orchestra, which he says is at times a love letter to the classical music of Bach, Brahms, and Dowland and at other times a celebration of jazz, soul, and gospel. 

“Most of my musical training consisted of studying works of the Western canon—so mostly the music of dead European men,” Williams said. “As someone who doesn’t look like that, I started to question if I should continue to study and make music in this tradition. Dead White Man Music is me grappling with that question.”

Williams said he heard some negative feedback related to the title of the piece but otherwise has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.

“This special citation from the American Prize is further proof that this is a conversation worth having in the concert halls and music classrooms around the world,” he said.

Williams serves as assistant professor of music and director of instrumental activities at Rhodes College in Tennessee.

Bizub: “Radiance and light”

Nicolas Bizub ’16

Bizub describes his music as “dark, striving, and yearning, which also points toward radiance and light.”

For Bizub, music is one more outlet to speak up for social and environmental justice.

“Most of my work is concerned with advocating for rights within the LGBTQIA+ community, of which I am a part, as well as responding to the climate change crisis,” he said. “So, for me, receiving this particular honor from The American Prize was quite special and humbling, as it is affirmation that the social relevance I attempt to imbue in music I write is starting to hit an intended mark.”

It also speaks to the lessons he learned as an undergraduate at Lawrence.

“I began this journey at Lawrence, and the training I received from their composition department has stayed with me as I continue writing music today,” he said.

Bizub graduated in May from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati with a doctoral degree in music composition.

Fahrenkrug: A new vision

Nick Fahrenkrug ’20

Fahrenkrug began his Dichterliebe: Within + Without video project while a senior at Lawrence. It was conceived as a response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

“I was not interested in going through the motions of performing a voice recital to an empty room,” he said. “At the time, we didn’t even have the livestreaming system that Lawrence now uses.”

He began talking with professors and others about creating a voice project that would cater to a virtual, screen-based viewing experience. He quickly realized his initial recital repertoire wasn’t going to work, so he shifted his vision.

“From there I decided to pare down the music to only Schumann’s Dichterliebe, and took the following three months to realize and complete the entire video cycle, which very much realized itself in real time,” Fahrenkrug said. “What I mean by this is that while I was able to form a loose concept in the beginning, it really was more a set of guidelines and boundaries from which I could play in, rather than a preconceived vision of how everything would go. It was truly the most artistically liberating project I’ve ever worked on.”

Fahrenkrug is currently pursuing a master’s in vocal performance at Louisiana State University.

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interns step up

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

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

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

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robyn Bowers (Photo courtesy of Kenyon College)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Robyn Bowers, a leader in student recruitment at Kenyon College, has been named the new dean of admissions at Lawrence University.

She will lead the Lawrence admissions team beginning in early 2022.

“Robyn’s depth and breadth of experience, sharp strategic thinking, and strong connections in the college counseling community—not to mention her intelligence, warmth, and sense of humor—combined to make her an excellent match for Lawrence University,” said Ken Anselment, vice president for enrollment and communications.

Bowers currently serves as the senior associate dean and director of admissions recruitment and selection at Kenyon.

Before joining Kenyon in 2015, she worked in multicultural recruitment at Otterbein University; as the director of the Alpha Program at Western Michigan, where she directed a first-year student retention program for at-risk students; and as an assistant basketball coach and assistant director of sports information at Denison University.

Bowers called it an exciting opportunity to join Lawrence’s admissions team.

“Everyone I have met at Lawrence has impressed me with their warmth, intelligence, and deep commitment to the institution,” she said. “Lawrence’s rich liberal arts tradition, commitment to the arts, emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and welcoming community create an extraordinary learning environment. I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity and look forward to working with the admissions team to bring the light of Lawrence to prospective students.”

Bowers earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Latin at Denison and a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs at The Ohio State University. She also completed doctoral coursework in higher, adult, and leadership education at Michigan State as well as the year-long curriculum of the College Board’s Enrollment Leadership Academy.

“A frequent presenter at professional conferences, Robyn brings an engaging blend of research, analysis, and charisma to her work,” Anselment said.

Outside of work, Bowers calls herself an “amateur DIY enthusiast” and enjoys cycling. She will be moving to Appleton with her wife, Jillian, and their 2-month-old son, Auden.

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

Casey Korn ready to put in the hard work of building a hoops winner at Lawrence

Coach Casey Korn leads the men’s basketball team through drills in a late October practice in Alexander Gym. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Casey Korn knows where he wants to go, where he wants to take his Lawrence University men’s basketball team.


That’s the dream. That’s always the dream for college hoopsters. But Korn, about to begin his first season as the Vikings’ head coach, knows it’s the details and work habits tended to in summer, fall, and winter that will determine what success might come in spring.

“The goal is to try to be at the top of the Midwest Conference every year, which will give you the opportunity to play basketball in March,” Korn said. “From experience I can tell you, March basketball is a lot of fun. But you can’t skip steps. You have to work hard in February. You have to work hard in October. You have to work hard in July.”

Schedule and other information on Lawrence men’s basketball here.

That will be the message as Korn leads Lawrence onto the court for the first time at 5 p.m. Nov. 6, a game in Alexander Gym against Marian University. It comes just two months after Korn was hired to lead the program following Zach Filzen’s departure to take a coaching job in his home state of Minnesota.

It’s been both a dream and a whirlwind for Korn, who was already living close to the Lawrence campus when he accepted the job offer from Director of Athletics Kim Tatro in early September. A native of the St. Louis area, he and his wife, Ashley, had moved to Appleton three years ago when Korn took a job as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It reconnected him with his former college teammate, Matt Lewis, who was in the process of building a powerhouse program in Oshkosh.

Casey Korn came on board as Lawrence’s new men’s basketball coach in early September.

It was in Korn’s first year at UWO that the Titans won the NCAA Division III national championship. They would qualify for the tournament again the following year. Korn was taking notes every step of the way.

“Just the standards, the high expectations,” Korn said of what he learned through the UWO experience. “They have high standards and don’t apologize for them.”

It was on the recruiting side in particular that Korn said he got an education. He had been a high school coach prior to coming to UWO, so recruiting was new to him.

“I learned a lot about the relationship piece of it,” Korn said. “Helping 17- and 18-year-old high school students feel comfortable, and helping them to make a decision. Sometimes you are not the right choice or the right fit, but if you do right by people and you’re honest with people, it’ll work out. You are going to find the people who are right for your program and want to be here.”

Flashback to when March Madness gripped the Lawrence campus

Korn played both basketball and baseball as an undergraduate at Cornell College. He graduated from Cornell in 2009 and recently finished his master’s degree in athletic administration from Concordia University, Nebraska. He coached high school basketball at various schools in Missouri over the course of nine years before joining the UWO staff in 2018.

Now in his first head coaching position at the collegiate level, Korn leads a Lawrence team that features All-Midwest Conference standout Brad Sendell and two other returning starters, Brandon Danowski and Julian DeGuzman. But because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season last year, Korn is looking at nine newcomers among first-year and sophomore players.

His message to those players has been simple: Work hard, take care of your studies, and help build a program that you and your peers can take pride in.

“Overall, we just want them to set a standard for who they want to become and who we should be here at Lawrence,” Korn said. “Mistakes are going to be made along the way. But we’re going to continue to grow and continue to learn from them as we go. That’s what our philosophy is going to be. We want to excel on the court and in the classroom, and we’re going to put a product on the floor that people will be proud to come and watch.”

Men’s basketball coach Casey Korn said he’s focused on building a foundation for sustained success: “We will have high expectations.”

The ongoing pandemic has kept things from fully opening up. Lawrence’s winter sports policy will limit attendance for indoor events—each student-athlete will have a two-person pass list; other than that, only Lawrence students, faculty, and staff can attend.

That means another of Korn’s priorities is temporarily on pause. He wants to increase the frequency of youth basketball camps held in Alexander Gymnasium and make Lawrence basketball a more visible presence in Appleton. He wants his players to volunteer in local schools. He wants them to be seen.

“Once you start building some of those relationships—with the schools, the teachers, the students—all of a sudden maybe they’ll come and support what you’re trying to do,” Korn said. “Again, it’s that big relationship piece, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to get done.”

The next step for Korn and the program comes with the Nov. 6 season opener against Marian. The plan is to get better each day, each week, each month, and in the process build something that can be sustained, he said.

“Winning is fun, I will say that,” Korn said, reflecting on the March basketball he’s experienced. “We will have high expectations. This is a good league, the Midwest Conference. It’s not a one-bid league where you have to win your conference tournament to get into the national tournament, but that’s the easiest route to go. That’s where we want to be. We want to be a program that grows to be a staple in this conference and plays in national tournaments. … But you can’t skip steps.”

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

Jazz Celebration Weekend honors Sturm, adds events for campus community

The late Fred Sturm will be remembered during this weekend’s Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. He started the annual weekend jazz event at Lawrence 40 years ago.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

The annual Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend, a staple of the jazz program in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music for four decades, will be held Nov. 5 and 6 with a bit of a twist.

The 40th annual event comes with adjustments made to adhere to pandemic protocols. The two headline concerts in Memorial Chapel will be open only to the campus community, but the concerts will be livestreamed so the public can participate.

High school and middle school music students also will be accessing workshops virtually on Saturday.

And the twist comes with new involvement from the full campus community—an assortment of live workshops made available on Saturday to students, faculty, and staff, ranging from songwriting to dance to jazz singing.

“We have a lot of great things happening both virtually and on campus for this special 40th Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend,” said Patty Darling ’85, director of the award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble.

Find more on Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend here.

The Jazz Ensemble will join composer Dave Rivello in presenting a concert of his works at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Chapel.

Dave Rivello

Ike Sturm + HEART, with featured guest Donny McCaslin, will be in concert in the Chapel at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Sturm is the son of the late Fred Sturm, who helped launch and lead Lawrence’s jazz program during his more than 25 years on the Lawrence faculty. He passed away in 2014 following a long battle with cancer.

Saturday’s concert will be a special celebration of Fred Sturm’s legacy.

Ike Sturm + HEART

Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory, said the 40th anniversary is a special time to honor everything Sturm brought to Lawrence. Adding the campus-wide workshops was done with Sturm in mind.

“Fred Sturm loved jazz, improvisation, and the community it created,” Pertl said.

He launched Jazz Celebration Weekend in 1981 as a non-competitive music event, bringing high school and middle school students to campus to play, learn about, and celebrate jazz. The pandemic has altered things this year, but it has not dimmed the enthusiasm.

“We will still have our two amazing evening concerts, but since we couldn’t welcome the 1,000 high school musicians who usually attend, we came up with the idea to honor Fred by making the event a campus celebration of jazz and improvisation and musical exploration for our entire Lawrence community,” Pertl said. “In her matriculation convocation, President Carter urged us to find comfort with discomfort, to try new things, dive into new experiences. Here is our chance to try improvisatory dance, songwriting, jazz singing, Deep Listening, samba drumming, Balinese gamelan, a big band session for anyone who plays any instrument, and an improvising orchestra for classical strings players who have never improvised before. What better way to take a break from the stresses of eighth week than to move and groove and sing and dance. Fred would be beaming from ear to ear, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his love of jazz and his legacy as a virtuoso educator.”

Ticket information for the Friday and Saturday evening concerts can be found at the Lawrence Box Office.

There also will be Saturday concerts featuring the Lawrence University Jazz Combos and the Lawrence University Jazz Band. The Jazz Combos perform from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Harper Hall. The Jazz Band will perform from 1 to 2 p.m. in Room 163 of the Music-Drama Center. Both have free admission. You can access the livestream for the Jazz Band and Jazz Combos here.

The new workshops added this year for the campus community have free admission.

“Everyone on campus is welcome,” Darling said. “You need not play an instrument to attend.”

The Saturday workshops include:

  • Dance Collective with Margaret Paek, 10 a.m.-noon in Esch Studio;
  • Songwriting with Loren Dempster, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Shattuck 156;
  • Deep Listening with Brian Pertl and Leila Ramagopal Pertl, 2-3 p.m. in Shattuck 156;
  • Fundamentals of Jazz Singing with Janet Planet and John Harmon, 2-3 p.m. in Harper Hall;
  • Improv for All with Patty Darling and Lawrence jazz students, 3-4 p.m. in Shattuck 156;
  • Jazz for Strings with Matt Turner, 3-4 p.m. in Shattuck 163;
  • Balinese Gamelan with Sonja Downing and Dewa Adnyana, 3-4 p.m. in Mursell House;
  • Samba Drumming with the Sambistas, 4-5 p.m. in Shattuck 163.

“Several of these workshops and all of the concerts will be livestreamed so our Jazz Weekend high school and middle school students and directors can participate as well,” Darling said. “We are excited about this opportunity to bring everyone together to create, connect and explore, as well as showcase some of the great things happening in our Conservatory.”

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