Tag: Lawrence alumni

Virtual biotech conference first step for Kalsi brothers as they eye tech launch

Harsimran Kalsi ’20 and Satvir Kalsi ’17

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

The Kalsi brothers have a lot in common. 

Both are recent Lawrence University alumni. Both were biology majors. Both were first-generation college students. Both managed to graduate in three years. And both have a passion for science—and for using their skill set to address the world’s most pressing health concerns. 

Satvir Kalsi ’17 and Harsimran Kalsi ’20 have spent their summer working as a team, launching a biotechnology conference—it was to be hosted at Lawrence in April but has since moved to a virtual format—and finalizing the details on their own start-up business, tentatively called Otto, which is set to launch later in the fall. With a lifetime of experience learning each other’s habits, predicting each other’s moves, and adapting to each other’s situations and needs, the brothers are well-equipped to tackle any challenge thrown at them as business partners. 

Together, they’re keeping their eyes on a big goal: scientific innovation. 

Healthspan 2020, a virtual conference

The process of aging is arguably the most universal health concern there is, so it was the first issue on the Kalsi brothers’ agenda. Every day, the majority of deaths worldwide are caused by aging and/or age-related illnesses, and aging is, of course, something none of us can avoid.

At least, not yet. 

Even though the average lifespan has increased as modern medicine has continued to develop, age-related health problems have largely remained stagnant. Essentially, people are living sicker for longer. 

That’s where rejuvenation biotechnology, the subject of the Healthspan 2020 conference, comes in. Focusing on repairing the damage aging naturally does to the body, rejuvenation biotechnology aims to enable people to live healthier lives, regardless of their age. 

“The goal is not just to extend life; it is to make people healthier, longer,” Harsimran said. “So, if you’re chronologically 90, you’re biologically 60.” 

The Healthspan conference launched Aug. 26, with an emphasis on the current state of rejuvenation biotechnology research and innovation, as well as the specific health care developments in Wisconsin. Featuring expert speakers from the realms of industry and academia, the entirely virtual, nearly carbon-neutral conference aims to provide a comprehensive picture of the science behind aging—and the potential reversal of its effects—while also ensuring the information is presented in a concise and understandable manner. 

Admittedly, Harsimran did not plan for the conference to be completely online when he came up with the idea as a student back in 2018. The conference was originally scheduled for April 3 on the Lawrence campus, before Lawrence announced it would continue virtually for the Spring Term. But what the virtual conference lacks in direct, in-person communication, it makes up for in accessibility. The website is available to everyone. 

Although Satvir was not originally as involved with the April conference, when the change of date and format resulted in a change of the speaker lineup, Satvir was there to help bridge the gap as he took on the role of Healthspan’s final speaker. As a third-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he brings an interesting perspective to the conference: that of an advocate for comprehensive change in how the medical community, and those who influence it, approach aging. 

“There are still people out there who don’t know the problem exists, and that advocacy work is open to pretty much anybody,” Satvir said. “… I wanted to be able to put this problem into perspective and try to connect people to the science without getting bogged down by the specifics.” 

Pursuing entrepreneurship 

The Kalsis’ dedication to scientific innovation does not stop with the Healthspan 2020 conference. 

Especially at this moment in history, the need for speed and reliability in scientific discovery is brutally apparent. But, the Kalsis said, it’s become clear that there are some snags in the system, that the scientific community is not structured in a way that always facilitates fast, effective collaboration. 

“You can imagine, if someone made this process even faster, that could really save not just lives but a lot of time, a lot of money, and obviously the death toll would be decreased by almost any measure,” Satvir said. 

Back in the fall of 2018, after spending a few summers doing scientific research, Satvir and Harsimran said they noticed what others are now starting to see: scientific innovation doesn’t move as fast as it could. Due to a variety of barriers regarding collaborations, including financial and accessibility roadblocks, there is too often excessive red tape standing in the way of scientific discovery. 

“It typically takes 17 years for data on a lab bench to go to being an actual clinical therapy,” Harsimran said. “And, you know, where will we all be in 17 years? How about the oldest people we know? And then it also takes on average $2 billion. … If we can reduce these barriers, there’s a pretty good chance that we could speed up how quickly we get good medical care. I think everyone is realizing the importance of that.” 

That necessity for speed is the basis behind the Kalsis’ new tech start-up. After two years of development, entrepreneurship classes, and recruiting potential users, the brothers are just a few months away from the launch of their new platform, designed to facilitate access to scientific expertise and equipment and to streamline collaboration and communication between scientists. 

Through their website, users, including academic institutions, citizen scientists, and early-stage biotechnology and biopharmacology companies, will be able to work together in their research and experiments, potentially leading to faster and easier scientific discovery. With users from a variety of different fields of industry and academia, individuals and organizations can use the platform to find collaborators for research and to access otherwise expensive and hard-to-get equipment, making the field of science more accessible for more people. 

Although the website will initially be limited to pre-selected and approved users, if all goes well the plan is to expand and make the platform available to the public, facilitating further scientific innovation and discovery. 

“If it works out really well, it’s not only valuable, but it’s actually a catalyst for scientific discovery,” Satvir said. “. . . It’s causing us to discover new things very quickly and causing us to have new treatments very quickly. That could really change the landscape we deal with today.” 

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

Lawrence feels strength of support from alumni, friends amid ongoing challenges

Work is under way to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success. A $1.5 million fund-raising goal for the project has been met. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Financial support from Lawrence University alumni and friends hasn’t waned amid the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contributions to the Lawrence Fund, a key funding mechanism to support students, the work of faculty, and the upkeep of the campus infrastructure, set a record with just over $4 million contributed during the 2019-20 fiscal year that concluded at the end of June. That surpassed the previous high of $3.9 million in 2015-16.

The Lawrence Fund is key on a number of levels. The funding affects almost every student and classroom, supporting the daily operation of the campus and bolstering everything from scholarships and study abroad opportunities to infrastructure upkeep, Conservatory performances, and athletics. The alumni donor participation rates in the Lawrence Fund also have an impact on national rankings and future funding opportunities. It’s estimated that without the Lawrence Fund and endowment earnings, each student’s tuition would increase by more than $10,000 a year.

Topping the $4 million mark for that fund for the first time is no small thing, said Cal Husmann, vice president for alumni and development.

“The Lawrence community continues to impress with its fierce loyalty,” he said.

The support comes at a time when institutions of higher education across the country are grappling with financial challenges unforeseen at the outset of the year. As the spread of COVID-19 turned into a global pandemic, Lawrence joined other schools in sending most students home for remote classes during spring term, resulting in significant revenue losses. Lawrence trimmed more than $3 million from its operating budget through new efficiencies, cuts in travel and non-essential expenses, and assorted staff furloughs. President Mark Burstein took a 20% pay cut for six months, and the leadership team that comprises the president’s Cabinet each took pay cuts of 10% over that same time period.

The University recently announced that the campus would reopen in the fall, with both students and faculty being given the option to be on campus or continue with distance learning. Classes will be delivered in a mix of in-person and remote formats.

Through it all, the generosity of alumni and other supporters has helped keep Lawrence moving forward despite the ongoing uncertainties.

“Thanks to support from the Lawrence community and high demand from high school seniors for a Lawrence education, the university enters these turbulent times in a strong position,” Burstein said. “Each effort to support our students, faculty, and staff during the pandemic has been made possible through extraordinary investments from our community. Lawrentians’ belief in the future of the transformative education they themselves received motivates us every day.”

Besides the Lawrence Fund record, other notable end-of-fiscal-year examples of generosity include:

  • The Supporting Our Students (SOS) Emergency Fund, set up to help students with unexpected expenses caused by the pandemic, has raised more than $161,000 from nearly 600 donors.
  • The Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) campaign passed its $85 million goal and now sits at $87.3 million. The fund raises money to provide additional financial aid to students who show a demonstrated need.
  • The overarching Be the Light! Campaign, ongoing since 2014 and scheduled to conclude at the end of this calendar year, continues to push toward its $220 million goal. The campaign ended the fiscal year at $214.2 million, a mix of cash donations, pledges, and deferred commitments from more than 15,800 donors.

The generosity that continued as the pandemic brought deep challenges over the past five months highlights the importance of the long-nurtured relationship between Lawrence and its alumni and community supporters, Husmann said. That the support never wavered is a testament to the bonds that connect Lawrentians through generations and the commitment to meet the needs of current and future students.

“During the pandemic, we surpassed the $85 million goal for Full Speed to Full Need, which is allowing us to provide more financial support to our students and their families,” Husmann said. “The community also made additional gifts for the SOS Fund, which helped hundreds of students navigate the sudden shift to distance learning during third term.”

The SOS funds have helped students with expenses ranging from emergency travel and temporary storage to short-term food and housing needs.

Other highlights on the fund-raising front during the just concluded fiscal year:

  • When J. Thomas Hurvis ’60 established the endowed Riaz Waraich Dean for Career, Life, and Community Engagement, he challenged the Lawrence community to match the $2.5 million gift. Contributions toward that match now stand at $2.2 million, providing support for internships and other career exploration.
  • Contributions toward the development of a Science Learning Commons in Youngchild Hall have grown to $429,000. The goal is $1.4 million.
  • Kuo-ming Sung was named the first professor to hold the Wendy and KK Tse Professorship of East Asian Studies, established by Wendy and KK Tse ’81 as part of the Be the Light! Campaign.
  • The goal of $1.5 million to renovate the second floor of Mudd Library into the Center for Academic Success was met. Work on the center is under way this summer, with expectations for it to open by the start of Fall Term. Other campus renewal work supported by gifts during the fiscal year include Brokaw Hall renovations, new bleachers in Alexander Gym, and new landscaping in front of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center.

The Be the Light! Campaign saw new contributions totaling $32 million during the year, up from the $26 million to $27 million range in preceding years. To see that happen amid the uncertainties of the pandemic was particularly satisfying, Husmann said, noting that alumni and other supporters have shown an appreciation for the difficult challenges facing the University and its students as preparations are made for an academic year that’ll be unlike any that came before.

“I’ve been motivated and heartened to hear numerous accolades of support and encouragement from our community and the expression of this through financial support,” Husmann said. “We are grateful.”

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

50 years after graduating amid chaos, Class of 1970 offers hope to 2020 grads

A group of Lawrence University students, faculty, and staff march across campus following the May 4, 1970, shooting of anti-war protesters at Kent State University. (Lawrence University photo)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Graduating from college when it feels like the world is on fire isn’t a particularly comforting thing. Members of Lawrence University’s Class of 1970 can tell you something about that.

Fifty years after walking across the Commencement stage on Main Hall Green at an event that felt part celebration, part protest, part chaos, the Lawrentians of that class have nothing but words of encouragement for the 2020 graduates who are navigating their own moment of chaos.

Margaret Everist ’70 was one of those graduates 50 years ago. She feels the disappointment and pain of this year’s graduates, who had to finish their final term away from campus and watched the job market implode amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Her advice? Stay focused on what’s in front of you — the opportunity to change the world.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Everist said from Minneapolis, where she retired after carving out successful careers in health care and finance. “Go out into the world to make a difference, one small step at a time.”

Lawrence held a virtual 2020 Commencement on Sunday, honoring nearly 270 graduates. As the day arrived, racial injustice protests rolled across the country, a tipping point that is resetting public conversations on equality, inclusion, and police brutality. Combined with the ongoing pandemic, it added new context to Commencement and the graduates’ post-Lawrence journeys: “As we continue to settle into this uncertainty, maybe a little more uncertainty than we might’ve bargained for four years ago, I am confident that if any class has the strength to deal with the weight of the world, it’s the Class of 2020,” senior class speaker Samantha Lizbeth Torres ’20 told her classmates.

We feel your pain

The Class of 1970, meanwhile, was supposed to be on campus this week to celebrate its 50th anniversary, but, alas, Reunion fell victim to the coronavirus lockdown. The class that graduated amid a firestorm of anti-war protests following the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent shootings of student protesters on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State put plans to gather in person on pause. Instead, a virtual “re-Commencement” was held Sunday to bring the class together online. More than 100 members of the class took part.

For members of that class, the emotions of Commencement 50 years ago still linger. The ceremony took place but the divisiveness was palpable, the graduates recall. Many refused to wear their caps and gowns. Some wore black armbands. The Commencement speaker lectured the students, calling their generation self-absorbed, naïve, and humorless.

“The Vietnam War was raging and draft boards were aggressively seeking out young men whose service had been deferred during college,” Bill Hillburg ’70 recalled. “Baby boom demographics resulted in too many new grads chasing too few jobs and professional school slots. Inflation was devouring salaries. We were collectively freaking out.”

The 1970 Commencement went on as scheduled despite anti-war protests that had heated up in the weeks following shootings at Kent State and Jackson State. “It was a divisive mess,” Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70 said. The class, marking its 50th anniversary, held a virtual “Re-Commencement” on Sunday. (Lawrence University photo)

It was in the weeks leading up to Commencement that the bottom seemed to fall out. College campuses were already hotbeds for anti-war protests, and then on May 4, 1970, the improbable happened. Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on students on the Kent State campus, leaving four dead. Less than two weeks later, police fired shots on the campus of Jackson State, killing two students.

Protests would escalate on campuses across the country.

In Appleton, hundreds of protesters, many of them Lawrence students and faculty, flooded into the downtown the day following the Kent State shooting, the anger reflected on the front page of a special edition of The Lawrentian. Classes on campus would be temporarily suspended as the protests continued through the remainder of the term.

“Our college years were anything but perfect,” said Myra Krinke Hillburg ’70. “We were on the streets protesting the war and the racial and gender inequalities we could witness every day. Our country was as divided then as it is now.”

For her and her classmates, college had been tumultuous from the start. They saw the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., then Robert F. Kennedy. The Vietnam War was escalating and emotions were running raw.

“We finished out our senior year with suspended classes and bitter divides among the Lawrence administration, faculty, and student body,” Krinke Hillburg said. “Yes, we had a graduation ceremony, but it was a divisive mess, with many students wearing black armbands and donating the money that would have gone to cap and gown rental to the anti-war effort. Our Commencement address was given by a faculty member who chastised us for our naivete and privilege. Our idealism was ridiculed, our upheaval of cherished Lawrence traditions mourned. We were the least favorite graduating class of all time.”

A message of hope

For Bill Hillburg, it was a Lawrence staff member, a career adviser, who provided a sense of calm and hope amid all the chaos. You have a Lawrence education to cling to, and that is no small thing, he told students who had gathered for a spring term counseling session.

“He had no hot job tips or secrets for getting into grad school, which was not an option for the draft eligible,” Bill Hillburg said. “He also didn’t advise us whether to take up arms or flee to Canada. But he did give us hope. He assured us that our lives and careers would take us on paths we could not foresee and adventures and challenges we could not imagine, and through it all, we would benefit from being educated Lawrence grads. He was right.”

Bill and Myra would marry shortly after leaving Lawrence. Bill would go on to work many years as a journalist, mostly in California, and later with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Myra would become an accomplished teacher and girls’ golf coach.

“Along the way, we lived in several states and foreign countries and raised two talented daughters,” Bill Hillburg said.

John Fease ’70, a retired pastor who provided the benediction at Sunday’s “Re-Commencement,” said a lifetime of experiences has dulled the frustrations that surrounded Commencement. He, in fact, didn’t even graduate as expected that spring. He was short on credits, which pushed his Commencement to the following year. While his classmates went through with a fractious Commencement ceremony, he and his fiancee, Barb, got married.

So, as Fease and others on the 1970 Reunion Committee were meeting over the last year to plan their 50th reunion, he and Barb also were looking forward to marking their 50th wedding anniversary the same weekend. That celebration is not canceled.

“While there is great disappointment that we won’t be gathering for the reunion this year, Barb and I plan to shelter together to celebrate our 50th anniversary,” Fease said. “Surely, reason to rejoice.”

Fease, Everist, the Hillburgs, and their classmates are now delivering to the Class of 2020 a message of resilience: There are lifelong benefits to having a liberal arts education, and, thus, the uncertainty of the moment will give way to new opportunities and adventures. Krinke Hillburg said there’s much to be disheartened about right now, from the state of today’s politics to “the deterioration of our planet, another unending war, and unprecedented inequality in our society.” But just as it was true 50 years ago, today’s graduates have much to build on.

“Without our Lawrence education to see us through life, we could be inconsolable,” she said. “But the light of intellectual curiosity and the quest for knowledge Lawrence provided us with has seen us through many of life’s dark moments.”

For Everist, it was the ongoing connections with fellow Lawrentians that helped guide her journey once she left Appleton. Today’s graduates will feel the same, even if they fell separated at the moment, she said.

“It’s not the end,” Everist said of Commencement. “It’s the end of being at Lawrence, but it’s not the end of the Lawrence experience.”

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

Alumni Awards shine light on efforts to better the world, support Lawrentians

(Photo by Danny Damiani)

Seven Lawrence University alumni are being honored with 2020 Alumni Awards. While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the annual Reunion celebration, this year’s recipients are still being celebrated for their contributions to both the Lawrence community and the world. Full bios of the award winners can be found on the Alumni Awards page at Lawrence.edu.

The honorees include:

Riester

Jeffrey Riester ’70, Presidential Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna whose leadership has contributed to the betterment of the Lawrence community. An attorney and manager at Godfrey & Kahn’s Business Practice Group in Appleton, Riester has been an active community partner, including being a founding member of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. He also has provided exemplary leadership to Lawrence, including service on his 40th and 50th Reunion committees, the LUAA Board of Directors, the Björklunden Advisory Committee, and the Lawrence University Board of Trustees. In particular, he brought insightful leadership to the Board of Trustees as chair from 2002 to 2004, as chair of the More Light! campaign working group, and to the Björklunden Advisory Committee as co-chair alongside his wife, Jone ’72.

Chemel

Lee Dodds Chemel ’65, Lucia Russell Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna of more than 20 years for outstanding contributions to and achievements in a career field. Chemel, who served as Lawrence’s 2019 Commencement speaker, started her studies at Milwaukee-Downer College before transferring to Lawrence College during the merger. She would go on to have success as a theater director before embarking on a successful career as a television director, earning four Emmy nominations while working on such shows as “The Middle,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Arrested Development,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Spin City,” “Mad About You,” “Murphy Brown,” Northern Exposure,” and “Family Ties.” She is the recipient of three BET awards for outstanding direction in comedy and two Humanitas awards.

Reams

Zoie Reams ’14, Nathan M. Pusey Young Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger for significant contributions and achievements in a career field. Reams, who earned a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance at Lawrence, has been gracing the stage in some of the world’s most renowned opera houses. A Mezzo-soprano, she was lauded by Opera News for her “velvety mezzo” and for how she “phrase[s] with elegance and articulate[s] coloratura nimbly.” Of particular note and achievement for a young musician was her 2018-19 season debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago singing Flora in La Traviata. On the concert stage, Reams has performed with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, the Staatstheater Cottbus Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall, and the combined choirs of Auburn University and New Choral Society of Scarsdale, New York.

Colston

Brienne Colston ’15, George B. Walter Service to Society Award: This honor is presented to an alumnus or alumna who best exemplifies the ideals of a liberal education through its application to socially useful ends in the community, the nation, or the world. Colston is a black queer feminist youth worker, facilitator, and community organizer hailing from the South Bronx. She is the founder and executive director of Brown Girl Recovery, a non-profit collective dedicated to prioritizing healing justice and providing community spaces to women of color in the Bronx and other uptown areas through social justice programming and events. She also serves as a racial justice and political education facilitator for an array of small community-based organizations. With degrees in gender studies and history, Colston found her passion in grassroots organizing and resistance work. Her tireless work for her community and devotion to liberation has given many women of color a vital space for encouragement, support, and healing.

Hanley

Nancy Perkins Hanley M-D ’54, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Hanley crafted an impressive 31-year career as an occupational therapist in rehabilitation, psychiatry, and pediatrics. She also has brought her appreciation of Milwaukee-Downer College to everything she has done for Lawrence University. Since 1991, she has held the position of class secretary. For four years, from 1996 to 2000, she served on the LUAA Board of Directors as a member of the Alumni Programs Committee and Alumni Development Committee. In 2004, she was a member of her 50th Reunion Steering Committee. In 2008, she helped to organize the Milwaukee-Downer Legacy Circle reception for M-D alumnae in southern California. She is a former class agent, admissions volunteer, and organizer of regional alumni programming.

Katzoff

Ted Katzoff ’65, Gertrude Breithaupt Jupp Outstanding Service Award: Presented to an alumnus or alumna after a 20th cluster Reunion or beyond who has provided outstanding service to Lawrence. Katzoff, a theater major, started the fencing program at Lawrence. An actor, manager, director, and sword master, he has spent a lifetime sharing his passions for theater and fencing. He returns to Lawrence often to mentor the fencing team, lead master classes for the theatre program, interview prospective students and represent Lawrence at college fairs. He has served on multiple Reunion committees, as a campaign volunteer for both the More Light! and Be the Light! capital fundraising campaigns, served on the Alumni Board of Directors from 2009 to 2012, and volunteered every year for the 50-year Connection program that honors the merging of Milwaukee-Downer College and Lawrence College.

Tuan

Chiao-Yu Tuan ’14, Marshall B. Hulbert Young Alumni Outstanding Service Award: This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna celebrating a 20th cluster Reunion or younger who has provided significant service to the college. Tuan, an international student who majored in psychology and math-computer science, produced the documentary, 5000 Miles from Home, while at Lawrence, capturing the perspective of first-year international students. Since graduation, Tuan she has maintained close ties to Lawrence by creating platforms to help effectively communicate with current and prospective international students. Tuan works for Airbnb as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley. She has never hesitated to share her experience with Lawrence students, whether that means coming back to campus to speak to computer science classes or mentoring international students on life after Lawrence. Tuan is a longtime host for the annual Silicon Valley Trek, a spring break excursion taken by Lawrence Scholars in Business.

As they await medical school, these ’19 LU alums reach out a hand to children

From left: Nick Felan ’19, Madeleine Felan, and Lizzy Garcia Creighton ’19 started a nonprofit in Dallas called All in for Children. Nick and Lizzy also are preparing to enter medical school.

Story by Alex Freeman ’23

Nicholas (Nick) Felan ’19 thinks often of Tyce.

They met in the hospital, where Tyce was recovering from a car accident that he had been in while trying to steal pizza. When Nick came to see him as part of a volunteer program, Tyce told Nick how he was thinking about dropping out of school, even referencing suicidal thoughts. In the two weeks Tyce had been in the hospital, he had no other visitors.

Tyce was 12 years old.

“I think when I was 12, my only worry was what Pokemon cards I was getting for Christmas—nothing like that,” Nick said. “Seeing that different perspective, it really just opens your eyes as to how badly people need strong mentors and influential people in their life.”

Nick’s passion for helping children in need started as a Lawrence student, volunteering with classmate Elizabeth (Lizzy) Garcia Creighton ’19 at the Boys & Girls Club of the Fox Valley. After graduation, the two biology and biochemistry double-majors headed south to Dallas, where they have spent the last eight months volunteering while studying for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)—only to have it canceled three times due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With their futures abruptly put on pause and the world in the midst of a pandemic, Nick and Lizzy took the opportunity to start giving back in a more substantial way. On March 31, four days after they were originally scheduled to take the MCAT, Nick and Lizzy, along with Nick’s younger sister, Madeleine Felan, launched All in for Children, a nonprofit organization aiming to better the lives of young people and their families.

Getting started

When brainstorming potential projects for All in for Children, the first one seemed obvious: making masks. There was a huge need within the community, plus it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get more people involved with the organization.

After reaching out to their local children’s hospital to get an approved design for the masks, the founders got to work ordering supplies and learning how to sew. But they knew that if they wanted to make a substantial impact, they needed more people. With Madeleine taking the lead on spreading the word, All in for Children turned to social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Nextdoor to find their reinforcements—and their followers made sure they got plenty of shares. Altogether, more than 20 people contributed to their mask-making efforts, a connection that Lizzy hopes will be long-lasting.

Mask-making was the first priority for All in for Children.

“Once we move on from mask-making, people can still be involved,” Lizzy said. “All those people who made masks for us will see our posts and be like, ‘Hey, I made masks for them that one time, maybe I’ll donate $10, maybe I’ll go to that canoe race or 5K or whatever it is that we’re doing.’ We thought it’d be like a great way to kick-start everything.”

Through the combined efforts of the founders delivering packages of supplies (containing pre-cut cloth, elastic, clips, and pipe cleaners) and the volunteers sewing up the finished products, All in for Children has donated about 1,200 masks in total, split between the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas and their local Boys & Girls Club.

Moving forward

If All in for Children gets requests for more masks, those will be accommodated. But for now, they’re shifting their focus back to what their name suggests: bettering the lives of children.

Based on their volunteer experiences, Nick and Lizzy both feel that if they can work with someone while they’re still young, it’s possible to create a lasting impact on their future. To that end, All in for Children is looking for ways to provide mentoring and services where they can do the most good.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is fostering a growth mindset in kids,” Lizzy said. “Children are so malleable. We really want to make these kids believe that no matter where they come from, what their background is, what their home life is like, it’s not like life handed you lemons and now you’re bound to not achieve certain goals. We want to open those doors up, make them believe that they can pretty much do whatever.”

On the immediate horizon, this is likely to mean fundraising for other charitable organizations that provide important services to young people. With some ideas—like selling T-shirts and setting up 5Ks—already being discussed, All in for Children hopes to provide financial assistance for local nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club and the Agape Clinic, which provides inexpensive health care services for families in need.

Despite these developing plans, Lizzy, Nick, and Madeleine recognize that the current situation could shift rapidly. Still, they hope All in for Children will be able to adapt alongside it. With Madeleine graduating high school in a year and Nick and Lizzy still unsure where they will attend medical school, the future of All in for Children could take a variety of forms.

But no matter where they end up, All in for Children will remain focused on its key mission: doing the most good for the most impressionable among us. Kids usually live in environments where many factors are out of their control—but consistent mentorship can provide stability.

“That’s the area where we all think we can make the biggest impact,” Nick said.

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

One family’s generosity nurtures four new Lawrentian student journeys

Lawrence photographer Danny Damiani paid a visit to the Kaukauna front porches of each of the Paulson Scholars: From left top: Bailey Underwood ’20, Isaac Wippich ’21, Molly Ruffing ’22, and Enna Krnecin ’23.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Bailey Underwood ’20, Isaac Wippich ’21, Molly Ruffing ’22, and Enna Krnecin ’23 have a few things in common when it comes to their college paths.

All four are proud Lawrentians. All four hail from Kaukauna, a 10-minute drive east of the Lawrence University campus. All four are distance learning from their Kaukauna homes during spring term. And all four can point to a generous Kaukauna family as an impetus to their Lawrence journeys.

Four years ago, when Tom ’93 and Mary Paulson and their three children, Sarah, Nick ’14, and Erik ’16, committed $2.5 million to create a Lawrence scholarship fund, the dream was for four Kaukauna students to be attending Lawrence as Paulson Scholars year in and year out.

That dream has been building since 2016, one scholarship at a time. This marks the first year Paulson Scholars can be found in each of the four classes at Lawrence.

Underwood, the first recipient, is a fourth-year biology major. Wippich is a philosophy and psychology double major who was a visiting student at the University of Oxford in England before the COVID-19 pandemic brought him home. When he graduates next year, he will be the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Ruffing is a second-year student pursuing a psychology and English double major. And Krnecin is part way through her first year with her options wide open.

Bailey Underwood ’20

“Not only did the Paulsons make it financially feasible for me to attend college, they shared genuine compassion and support every step along the way,” Wippich said. “They brought us Scholars out to dinner and engaged with us about our passions with sincere curiosity.”

Similar thoughts are echoed by each of the Paulson Scholars, each of whom say the Paulsons helped them realize a dream of attending Lawrence. The annual scholarship provides the full demonstrated financial need for four years to a Kaukauna High School graduate attending Lawrence. If no Kaukauna students are eligible or interested, the scholarship expands to other Fox Cities students. It focuses on high-need applicants.

Tom Paulson said he and his family, so grateful for how Lawrence has impacted their lives, made the decision to create a scholarship fund after Lawrence launched its Full Speed to Full Need (FSFN) financial aid initiative as part of the Be the Light! campaign. The $85 million FSFN target has been reached, the university announced Monday.

The timing was right, the need was there, and the chance to support students in their Kaukauna hometown just felt right, Tom Paulson said.

“It just seemed like a great opportunity, and almost a responsibility to pay it forward.”

The commitment has been more than financial. The Paulsons annually invite the Paulson Scholars to dinner. They stay in touch, and offer advice, solace, and mentoring as needed.

Isaac Wippich ’21

Tom Paulson graduated from Lawrence in 1993 at age 32, completing a winding path that included going to school while working full-time and supporting a growing family. Two of his children, Nick and Erik, would later graduate from Lawrence.

“The Paulsons are genuinely interested in how to continue to improve Lawrence and also how we are all doing as individuals,” Ruffing said. “They remember who we are and what we’re passionate about and urge us to continue to reach our full potential.”

For Underwood, the opportunities she’s had at Lawrence go well beyond the classroom. The research she’s been able to do within the biology department is just the start.

“I was lucky enough to pursue my own research and experience the scientific process truly from beginning to end, and I’m seeing it in my Senior Experience project,” she said. “This would not have been possible had I gone to another school and had I not had the Paulson family supporting me. They have truly become a second support system, for which I am so thankful. Because of Lawrence, I can truly say I’m a scientist, but also a flautist, a Francophile, a psychology geek, and so many other things because the education Lawrence provides allows me to be all of those things.”

Krnecin, meanwhile, said attending college would have been “much more difficult and complicated” if not for the Paulson support. “Without their help, I would not be at Lawrence,” she said.

Molly Ruffing ’22

Tom Paulson’s unlikely path through Lawrence

Tom Paulson’s own Lawrence journey came about in a non-traditional way. He was working full-time at the Institute of Paper Chemistry, then located in Appleton, and took advantage of a tuition agreement between the Institute and Lawrence, whereas he could take a course per term on the dime of the Institute. He did that for six years, starting in the mid-1980s. But when the Institute relocated to Atlanta, the tuition agreement ceased.

“I was kind of out on my own, wondering how I was going to find my way through the rest of my degree,” Paulson said. “I had senior status but I would still have probably three-plus years of part-time schooling. It was incredibly expensive doing it that way.

“I had a growing family. We were a family of four at that time. That really wasn’t feasible and it looked like I maybe wasn’t going to make it.”

That’s when then-chemistry professor Jerry Lokensgard stepped up and said he and others would work with Paulson to see him through to graduation.

“I think the operable word was ‘we’,” Paulson said. “He was invested in this, which is really amazing to me. He had already talked to the financial aid department and talked to professors and looked my schedule over and did a lot of leg work on his own.”

They found a path where Paulson could juggle full-time work and school to complete his degree in a year.

Enna Krnecin ’23

“I just don’t think this could have happened anywhere else,” Paulson said. “It was incredibly humbling that he did all this. So, we ended up doing exactly that, enrolling full time for a year. And I had to continue working. My wife and I had just had our son, Nick, so we were struggling financially, as young couples do, but the financial aid that came through and the generosity of complete strangers really made it happen.”

Paulson would get that degree, setting him on a career trajectory that would include two successful business start-ups.

“It was really the most transformative, humbling, busy, crazy year of my life,” Paulson said of that 1992-93 academic year. “But, not only the financial support, but support from my professors was amazing. If I needed to miss a lab because I was traveling with my work schedule, they’d allow me to do it at night or on weekends. It seemed like a team effort to get me through this. To me, that’s the Lawrence difference.”

Seeds had been planted

Tom Paulson said he and Mary had talked for years about giving back to Lawrence when the time was right. When Nick and then Erik attended Lawrence, they both had transformative experiences that further solidified the family’s commitment to the long-term health of Lawrence.

“When Nick and Erik were both at Lawrence, we started talking as a family about this idea,” Tom Paulson said of making a financial commitment to the school.

They settled on the idea of an ongoing scholarship fund to support students from Kaukauna. It became part of the Be the Light! campaign, which to date has raised more than $208 million toward the $220 million goal.

For more information on the Be the Light! campaign, see here.

Tom Paulson speaks during a Be the Light! campaign event held during winter term in the Warch Campus Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

“It was a great thing for us as a family,” Tom Paulson said. “The kids know this is money that is somehow coming out of their pockets down the road. That was a real powerful motivator for us. The ability to sit down as a family and openly discuss this.

“Everything came together as a real magical moment. A match came in, the Be the Light! campaign was here, and everything just flowed together. I am overwhelmed at the response to the campaign, and I love the fact that we’re involved.”

For the four students now benefiting from the Paulson decision, the generosity is not taken lightly.

“It’s a wonderful experience having donor support from such caring people, and I honestly cannot imagine my Lawrence experience without the Paulson family,” Ruffing said. “It has made me truly feel valued and part of a community greater than just the current student body.”

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

The Paulson family (from left): Tom ’93, Sarah, Nick ’14, Mary, and Erik ’16.

Trip to Ghana combines experiential learning with deep alumni connections

A hike through a rainforest and photo beneath a massive waterfall were among the experiences for Lawrence alumni on a trip to Ghana earlier this year. (Photos by Jonathan Rubin ’19).

By Jonathan Rubin ’19

Earlier this year, before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and much of the world shut down, more than 20 Lawrentians and friends gathered in Accra, the capital of Ghana, to embark upon nearly two weeks of experiential learning, tours, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery.

It was led by Claudena Skran, Lawrence University’s Edwin and Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, and Stacy Mara, associate vice president of development. We traveled to almost all corners of Ghana, which is about a third as big as Texas but with two and a half million more people.

Our group was fortunate to have Sarah Ehlinger Affotey ’11 with us to help plan, coordinate, and engage the group. Sarah, who earned her first master’s degree from the University of Ghana and whose husband is Ghanaian, worked to ensure everything was set. Her insight and knowledge were invaluable.

Many of my travel companions are retired or decades deep into their careers. As a new Lawrence graduate (religious studies, 2019), it was fascinating to hear the perspectives and reactions of people far more experienced than my peer group. The adventures and discussions we shared will be with me forever.

For information on Lawrence alumni travel opportunities, see here.

I also was thrilled to find out that I would be traveling with my old friend and mentor, Wes Varughese ’16, who now lives and works in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Wes was the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) president when I first arrived at Lawrence. He helped me get my footing at Lawrence, and, most importantly, persuaded me to join a field experience in Sierra Leone.

Wes Varughese ’16 (left) and Jonathan Rubin ’19 reconnected on the Ghana trip.

Thanks to Wes’s guidance — as well as life-changing advising from Professor Skran (and from Professor Martyn Smith in Religious Studies) — I found myself traveling around the world, first with professors from Lawrence, then through Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) programs, and even as a U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholar in Indonesia. To share the Ghana trip with Wes gave me the sense of a circle brought around and completed.

Our exploration of Ghana was a rare opportunity to gather together as learners and thinkers from varied disciplines, industries, and career paths, and enjoy adventurous experiential education. As lifelong learners, Lawrentians know that these new experiences work their way into the fabric of our understanding, helping us to grow and connect with one another and with the world in new ways.

While Ghana might seem far from the banks of the Fox River in Appleton, Lawrence has deep connections to the first independent democratic nation in West Africa. Our trip followed in the footsteps of the December 2018 student field experience to Ghana.

Dr. Augustine Fosu ‘73 and his wife, Helen, hosted the Lawrence alumni group in Ghana.

One of our group’s first stops was to visit one of the first Ghanaian Lawrentians: Dr. Augustine Fosu ‘73. In 1968, as a young Ghanaian American Field Service (AFS) student in Milwaukee, he wrote to a Lawrence dean who happened to be coordinating the Peace Corps program in Ghana. A year later he would begin his undergraduate work at Lawrence. He would go on to receive his Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern, and today is one of the most decorated development economics professors in Ghana, while also holding positions at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and Oxford University in the UK.

Dr. Fosu invited us to the weekly graduate seminar at the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research at the University of Ghana Legon. He gave a fascinating and challenging presentation about Ghana’s history and development, and about the paths and challenges ahead: education vs. infrastructure, foreign interest vs. development goals. The presentation provided a strong framework for understanding the country we would explore over the course of our stay.

That evening, Dr. Fosu and his wife, Helen, hosted our group and guests from around the world at a dinner party at their home. We sat outside on a warm, clear night at a dozen tables and enjoyed a traditional Ghanaian meal.

“It was a great experience at Lawrence … so much so that 40 years later, I encouraged my son to go to Lawrence, despite being admitted to other top universities in the U.S.,” Dr. Fosu said, addressing the group that evening. “I so valued my experience, and so I sent my son as well.” His son, Kofi, graduated from Lawrence in 2013.

After a few days in Accra, we made our way to the Cape Coast Slave Castle, and had the privilege to bear witness to difficult history. Facing the dehumanization of Africans so viscerally in the halls of a dungeon or staring from battlements across the ocean toward the United States, the Caribbean, and South America, we were left with lasting impressions. The group presented a gift to the site, a plaque from Lawrence, dedicated as Susan Goldsmith ’65 read Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.” 

After touring another castle in Elmina, we continued on to the rainforest at Kakum National Park. After learning a bit about the environment, we walked across rope bridges suspended dizzyingly high above the rainforest floor. It was exhilarating to see the jungle from this perspective. While the swing and sway of the bridges made us all a bit nervous, everyone finished the canopy walk and we were on our way to our next stop: the City of Kumasi.

Rope bridges at Kakum National Park posed their own challenges.

After a good number of engaging tours, museums, and markets, we had the pleasure of a private dance performance from a popular local traditional dance troupe. The evening of drumming, dancing, and local club beer was a delight.

From Kumasi, we went on to the Volta River region and stayed at a wonderful riverfront eco-lodge hotel. Electricity for the entire country is generated by the Akosombo Dam and hydroelectric facility on the Volta River.

Our group was lucky to be joined for this part of our tour by another Lawrence alumnus, Momodu Maligi ’04. Maligi was appointed by former Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma as the first Minister for Water Resources in his home country of Sierra Leone. Maligi outlined for our group the stark realities around access to clean water and to other utilities, and issues surrounding government intervention and foreign cooperation.

After a long and bumpy bus ride, we hiked through the rainforest and swam beneath a massive waterfall. Just as we had all changed back into our dry clothes, it began to pour. Ever resilient, we marched our way out of the rainforest and back to our vehicles. Despite being thoroughly soaked, it was a favorite moment.

From the Volta region, we made our way back to Accra and really began to feel the weight and value of our experience together. Since I graduated only last year, I was the youngest alumnus on the trip. I was moved by the strong connections I witnessed between Lawrentians, and saw our shared Lawrentian values put to work in real time — lifelong, joyful learning, meaningful and ethical engagement with the world, and intercultural learning.

Professor Claudena Skran (center) and Stacy Mara (front left) led the alumni trip to Ghana.

Professor Skran’s experiential learning model for her students adapted beautifully to our tour. Not only were we able to see the sites, taste the food, and shop in the colorful markets, we were able to contextualize all our experiences through the prism of what we were learning and discussing. Most importantly, we had a number of talented guides and local contacts who allowed us to connect to the people in the places we were visiting.

“Rarely does one get the opportunity to collaborate with someone so passionate and knowledgeable about their field of work,” Wes said of Professor Skran. “Her resourceful nature, holistic approach in her academic work, but most importantly her respect and inclusion of her students is the reason why so many Lawrentians have and continue to take field experience courses with Professor Skran, for over 15 years now. … She’s been extremely influential in my career thus far.”

Like Wes, these experiences and opportunities as a student changed my life. This trip to Ghana with these amazing Lawrentians affirmed for me the value of my Lawrence education and my pride in membership in our community.

As we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective homes, COVID-19 was becoming a grave new reality for our world. Our group has stayed in touch — we have all remained well, and I feel somehow sustained by the connections we forged.

Jonathan Rubin ’19 is a writer and consultant based in Long Beach, California. Since graduating, he has used his liberal arts education to work on projects ranging from digital marketing to international development.

Woodford’s path to Appleton’s City Hall paved with lessons from Lawrence

Jake Woodford ’13 will be sworn in as Appleton’s mayor on April 21.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lessons in leadership have been plentiful over the last 11 years for Jake Woodford ’13, Appleton’s mayor-elect.

From his time as president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) as an undergraduate to his work at Lawrence the past seven years as secretary to the Board of Trustees and assistant to the president, Woodford has been a voice of insight, intellect, and reason on a myriad of issues impacting Lawrence and the city.

When the ballots in the Appleton mayoral race were counted Monday, nearly a week after the April 7 election, the 29-year-old Woodford was elected to a four-year term, garnering 54% of the vote. He will be sworn in April 21 and will succeed Tim Hanna, who has served as Appleton’s mayor for 24 years.

“I’m so grateful for the incredible support my campaign has had from not only the Appleton community but also members of the Lawrence community,” Woodford said.

It was in the fall of 2009 that Woodford, who grew up in Appleton, walked onto the Lawrence campus as a first-year student. He declared government as his major and never looked back.

“It was an area of passion for me,” he said.

It’s a passion that would grow over the next four years, blossoming in many ways as he forged his own academic path and worked to strengthen and enhance the Lawrence experience for his classmates and those to come. In addition to his classroom work, he would serve in multiple student leadership roles and would be elected president of the LUCC, a student governing organization that’s an integral part of shared governance at Lawrence.

“It really was a living lab for me in terms of leadership — elected leadership and also in terms of management,” Woodford said of his undergrad experience.

He would walk off the Commencement stage in 2013 and into an important role in the president’s office, one that had him in frequent collaborations with the City of Appleton and other regional government bodies on issues ranging from mobility studies to infrastructure development. It would all prove to be preparation for his entry into elected office.

Woodford delivered a letter of resignation to Lawrence President Mark Burstein on Tuesday morning, 10 hours after being declared the mayoral victor. He called it a “bittersweet moment.” For Burstein, it was a moment of deep Lawrentian pride.

“Many Lawrentians are called to public service and to roles that have direct impact on their communities,” Burstein said. “It has been a pleasure to watch Jake’s energy turn toward the city he loves. I know the mayor-elect will lead us into a great future.”

Woodford will assume Appleton’s top leadership position at a time of great uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic. His Monday night victory came amid the state’s safer-at-home orders and pleas for social distancing, leaving him to do media interviews in his driveway instead of at a packed victory party.

What comes next for Appleton and other communities navigating the fallout from the pandemic has yet to be written. But Woodford is confident the lessons learned at Lawrence over the past 11 years will serve him well.

“This is a complicated time to be taking office, but I feel well prepared for this work,” he said. “I feel well prepared for adjusting to the times and facing the challenges we face, and I credit a lot of that to the Lawrence education that I have, this education that has prepared me to think critically and to be able to adjust to the situations that I face and the circumstances as they change. And to be grounded in values, values of community and of building a community that can be home for all people.”

Appleton and Lawrence have long had a collaborative relationship. Their histories are closely intertwined and the health of one is critical to the health of the other. Burstein noted those ties as he applauded the passing of the city’s leadership torch from Hanna to Woodford.

“I also want to thank Mayor Hanna for his efforts to foster a more inclusive Appleton with a vibrant economic base, safe environment, and bustling downtown,” Burstein said. “Even though our aims have differed at times, we have always found a way to work together to improve the quality of life for the people we serve. I hope to have the same relationship with Mayor Woodford.”

As Woodford prepares to become the top elected official in the city that Lawrence calls home, he points to mentorship from Burstein and other campus leaders as key to his preparation for a leap into public office. Those are lessons he’ll lean into as he manages a city with more than 74,000 residents.

“The thing I’ve always been struck by about Lawrence is that it’s a place where people are treated with respect and trusted to do their work, trusted to lead,” Woodford said. “I went from being a student at the university to being a colleague, and to being a senior leader at the institution, and I always felt respected and supported and mentored by my colleagues, by the faculty, and that’s been such an important part of my Lawrence experience.”

Next stop, City Hall.

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

Eight alums, eight stories: Shining a light on amazing, inspiring experiences

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

We’ve had a lot of great interactions with Lawrence University alumni in 2019, and we’ve shared some of their stories in the Lawrence magazine, on the lawrence.edu news wire, and on our various social media channels.

Here are eight alumni we put in the Lawrence spotlight in 2019. There are plenty of others worthy of attention, of course, some of whom were honored during Reunion Weekend, some of whom we’ve connected with at alumni events, and others who are being the light wherever their journeys take them.

These eight — ranging from the Class of 1965 to the Class of 2012 — caught our attention in 2019. If you haven’t read their stories, we hope you will now (see story links below).

— — —

Derrell Acon ’10

Portrait of Derrell Acon
Acon: “It’s so in your face, it’s in your soul, it’s in your heart.”

We caught up with Derrell Acon ’10 as he was starring in Long Beach Opera’s The Central Park Five, an operatic retelling of the wrongful convictions of five New York City teenagers in the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. The case drew nationwide attention at the time, and the opera arrived just as a Netflix special had the case back in the national conversation. We talked with Acon about the production, his journey from Lawrence, and why the arts scene of southern California beckoned.

— — —

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65

Lee Shallat Chemel speaks at Lawrence's commencement.
Chemel: “Lawrence opened my eyes completely to the richness of the arts.”

Lee Shallat Chemel ’65 returned to Lawrence in the spring as the 2019 Commencement speaker. She was a student at Milwaukee-Downer College when the school merged with Lawrence. She spent her senior year at Lawrence before embarking on a career that would eventually take her to Los Angeles, where she would leave her mark as a producer on some of the most iconic television series of the past three decades. We chatted with Chemel in advance of her Commencement speech about her deep affection for Lawrence and Milwaukee-Downer, the circuitous route she took to television, and why certain celebrities she worked with (Michael J. Fox, Lauren Graham, and Jason Bateman) hold a special place in her heart.

— — —

Mei Xian Gong ’11

Head shot of Mei Xian Gong
Gong: “I would not be who I am today if I did not have the Posse plus Lawrence experience.”

Eight years removed from her Lawrence graduation, Mei Xian Gong ’11 furthered her connections with her alma mater when she was appointed to a three-year term as a Recent Graduate Trustee on the school’s Board of Trustees. What makes that appointment particularly notable is that she came to Lawrence in the fall of 2007 as a member of the school’s first group of Posse Foundation scholars. The appointment makes her the first Posse alum to become a Lawrence trustee. We talked with Gong about her penchant for being a “trailblazer” and how her Posse and Lawrence experiences have helped to shape her early career in business.

— — —

Glen Johnson ’85

Head shot of Glen Johnson
Johnson: “I came to Lawrence with the full expectation of being a reporter.”

Following his graduation from Lawrence, Glen Johnson ’85 spent nearly three decades as a working journalist, most notably at the Associated Press and Boston Globe. In 2013, John Kerry, freshly tapped by President Barack Obama to replace Hillary Clinton as U.S. secretary of state, asked Johnson to join his team as the senior communications advisor. It’s a job that would take him around the world — multiple times — and give him a close-up view of diplomacy at the highest levels. We caught up with Johnson as he was getting media attention for a new book on his experiences, “Window Seat on the World,” published last summer by Disruption Books.

— — —

Yexue Li ’10

Yexue Li poses with the tiny vase.
Yi: “My most precious experience at Lawrence was not learnt from a textbook but to always be ready and prepared for a situation like this.”

Yexue Li ’10, the head of Asian art at the auction house Sworders in the United Kingdom, drew media attention as the point person for the auction of a tiny vase that sold at a price a wee bit higher than previously purchased. Bought at a thrift store for 1 pound ($1.21), it turns out the vase once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor, a ruler in China’s Qing dynasty during the 1700s. It would go on to sell at auction for £484,000 (nearly $625,000). As part of our newly launched Lighting the Way With … alumni series, Li shared the experience with us and talked about how her time at Lawrence has helped prepare her for all sorts of surprises.

— — —

Rana Marks ’12

Rana Marks sits with her laptop at the Amazon headquarters.
Marks: “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of hours and a lot of reward.”

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced in September that the global behemoth was committing to an ambitious pledge to fight climate change and be transparent about its own carbon footprint, he pointed to the launch of a new public-facing Amazon website — sustainability.aboutamazon.com — that would report and track the company’s sustainability efforts. Rana Marks ’12, a Lawrence economics major who had gone on to get her MBA from Duke University, was hired to help shepherd the website to launch and beyond. We talked with her about the challenges and opportunities that come with her new role with Amazon.

— — —

Terry Moran ’82

Head shot of Terry Moran
Moran: “The qualities of empathy and looking past just the moment or the headline and seeing into the story.”

The longtime ABC News correspondent returned to the United States in mid-2018 after a five-year stay in London. He’s again covering Washington, D.C., and its strident politics. He returned to Lawrence this fall to host our live Giving Day webcast. We chatted with Moran about how his Lawrence experience, including working at The Lawrentian, turned him on to journalism, his views on the rapidly shifting media landscape, and what advice he has for students eyeing careers in journalism.

— — —

Madhuri Vijay ’09

Portrait of Madhuri Vijay
Vijay: “The whole thing feels somewhat surreal and a bit like a dream.”

Madhuri Vijay ’09 arrived on the worldwide literary scene in a big way in 2019. Her debut novel, The Far Field, was long-listed for the prestigious 2020 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, short-listed for the JCB Prize for Literature, long-listed for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and drew praise in book reviews from the Washington Post to the New Yorker. We talked with Vijay about her success, the path to get there, and how her time at Lawrence informs her writing.

19 superlatives: We highlighted some 2019 moments of brilliance at Lawrence. Read about them here.

More: Lawrence’s most-read stories of 2019

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

For this seafaring Lawrence alum, life has been one shipwreck after another

John Odin Jensen '87 poses for a publicity photo at the wheel of a ship.
John Odin Jensen ’87 is the author of “Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks.” He will return to Appleton Nov. 11 for a book event at the History Museum at the Castle and to speak to Lawrence students.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Odin Jensen ’87 knows his way around a shipwreck.

He survived one.

Jensen grew up in Alaska in the 1970s and early ’80s, immersed in his family’s fisheries business, an isolated and often danger-filled upbringing. Then he headed to Lawrence University in 1983, a history major determined to get an education that would allow him to explore a new way of life and leave the seafaring world behind.

Mission accomplished. Sort of.

He did find a new life, earning a bachelor’s degree at Lawrence, a master’s at East Carolina University, and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He’s now on the history faculty at the University of West Florida.

But he never did escape the sea, or more specifically, his insatiable interest in the sea. The history of North American mariners, ships, and shipwrecks would dominate his career, from working as an engineer aboard a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Great Lakes research vessel to surveying shipwrecks as an underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Now he’s written a book, Stories from the Wreckage: A Great Lakes Maritime History Inspired by Shipwrecks (Wisconsin Historical Society Press). A book tour will bring him to Appleton Nov. 11, where he’ll talk about shipwrecks and Great Lakes history from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the History Museum at the Castle, co-sponsored by Lawrence’s Cheney Fund for Excellence in History. He’ll also meet with Lawrence students in Monica Rico’s Intro to Public History class.

For info on studying history at Lawrence, see here.

We caught up with the Lawrence alumnus in advance of his visit to Appleton, which comes one day after the 44-year anniversary of the 1975 sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, arguably the most famous Great Lakes shipwreck thanks to singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot and his “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Jensen talked with us about his own harrowing early adventures at sea and how his academic experiences at Lawrence set the course for what was to come.

Q: You’ve been immersed in maritime history for your entire career. What inspired the book?

A: In terms of the book itself, the inspiration was obligation and gratitude. Early in my career I had the extraordinary opportunity of getting in on the pioneering years of public underwater archaeology in Wisconsin. My work with the Wisconsin Historical Society led me to pursue a Ph.D. in history, and I know it was repeatedly instrumental to my success getting academic positions in a difficult job market. I have preached the gospel of Wisconsin public maritime heritage in classes, academic conferences, heritage policy forums and through public programs across North America from Alaska and Hawaii to New England, as well as internationally.

Everywhere I went, people were surprised and amazed by the Wisconsin/Great Lakes shipwreck heritage story. I wanted the readers of this book, particularly those from Wisconsin, to be equally surprised and enthused about their history and proud of their state’s public investment in preserving it.

Q: Speaking of inspiration. Your family was involved in commercial fisheries. How did growing up in that environment affect the decision to study maritime history?

A: Well, the conceptual underpinnings of the book and nearly all of the deeper ideas and themes I have explored as a scholar are inspired by my experiences growing up on Alaska’s coastal frontier as part of a Norwegian-American seafaring family. I began working with my dad in commercial fishing at a very young age, and this became really the center of my life and identity.

We often worked ridiculous hours; vile weather was pretty routine, and economic uncertainty was the norm. Ships sank and people I knew died — not regularly — but it was not that unusual. Our community was isolated — literally the western end of the American highway systems. The quality of available health care was marginal at best and services limited. The norms of behavior among those in the fishing community were, at minimum, colorful. As a child and young man, I had no grasp of how extreme our lives really were.

I was luckier than many people, but I witnessed and I experienced many things connected with life and work in a coastal community that marked and haunted me. The study of history — not just maritime history — has provided me with endless opportunities to make sense of, and derive positive benefits from, these experiences. 

Q: You are a shipwreck survivor yourself. What did that experience teach you?

A: This is a tough one. The book is a history inspired by shipwrecks. Typical shipwreck books look only at the actual wreck event and their surrounding circumstances.  Although dramatic — it is pretty unsatisfying because the wreck is often only a footnote or afterward in a much richer set of human stories of imagination, innovation, and success.

Like many people from my old walk of life, I have lived the human stories and the shipwreck — but very few people that I know have had the opportunity to spend decades dissecting and learning from these experiences. I have gotten to build a truly great life and a satisfying career on the foundations of one very, very bad day at the office.

Q: Did you come to Lawrence with a maritime history career in mind?

A: Absolutely not. I came to Lawrence during the winter term of 1983 to escape my maritime history. However, I was probably accepted in the first place because of my application essay, where I described how the lessons of my shipwreck experience made me a good fit for Lawrence. I guess it was my first written shipwreck history story.

Q: How did your Lawrence experience later inform your work and your career path?  

A: It was through Lawrence — particularly some amazing faculty — that I eventually learned to see broader value of my early life experiences, and I internalized a liberal arts/interdisciplinary approach to thinking and problem-solving. As a professor at the University of West Florida, I struggle consciously on a daily basis to live up to and pass on the high standards that Lawrence faculty set for academic excellence, professional integrity, and extraordinary mentoring.  

Q: What advice would you give to today’s students interested in history?

A: Now more than ever, the country and the world need people who can think historically and who are historically literate. The person who understands history has real advantages in coping with and finding opportunities in a world of perpetual change. I am biased, but an imaginative and hardworking student who completes a history major at Lawrence University will never lack for meaningful opportunities in the workforce and to make a difference in the world.

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