On Main Hall Green With … Claudena Skran: Deep connections in West Africa

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Claudena Skran (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, has been one of Lawrence University’s leading international scholars over the past three decades.

Sierra Leone has been a particular focal point for Skran, researching and teaching on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the 10-year civil war and post-conflict peace-building in Sierra Leone, and refugee entrepreneurship.

The 1983 Rhodes Scholar has visited Sierra Leone nearly 20 times since first going there in 2005 as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. Dozens of Lawrence students have accompanied her and participated in various research projects.

Her work often tackles international relations, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, and African and European politics.

Skran, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 1990, has served as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Oxford University.

We caught up with Skran to talk about her passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I want each of my students to know that I think of education as an adventure. Whether we are sitting in a classroom in Briggs Hall or gathered in an African village, my students and I are on a voyage together. Our journey always starts with what is familiar and known, and it moves into areas that are much less so. There will be challenging questions, unexpected lessons, and surprising results, but along the way we will find both excitement and fun. Much of what we learn together will not be on the starting syllabus; instead deeper understanding will emerge as we travel together.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will be doing at Lawrence that gets you most excited?

I love the point in a class or a course when everything “clicks.” This happens when a lecture point hits home, a discussion question takes on a life of its own, or when the students on a travel course all start to work together.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you that took you by surprise?

I first went to Sierra Leone as a Fulbright Scholar in October 2005. When I arrived, I thought that I would have a productive sabbatical, but I didn’t realize how much my life afterwards would change. Since then, I’ve worked as a consultant for the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, and collaborated with a global group of scholars studying refugees, women, and entrepreneurship. In addition, I have taught new courses on African politics and security, brought almost 200 Lawrence faculty and students into “traveling classrooms” in West Africa, and started the KidsGive scholarship program. In early March, I acted as the faculty guide for an alumni tour to Ghana, the first ever to an African country. One of the most meaningful parts of the tour was when the group visited the Cape Coast Castle, a former slave fort, and we left a memorial plaque from Lawrence University. Fifteen years ago, I did not expect to help create these deep connections between different parts of the Lawrence community and West African peoples and countries.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?

I have always thought of myself as both a teacher and a scholar. In regard to teaching, I am a strong believer in the value of experiential learning outside the traditional classroom. These kinds of experiences spark personal growth in young people, help them use the knowledge they already have, and give them direction and confidence to reach further. I hope that I will always be able to share my perspective with learners, even if I am not a full-time faculty member. But in answer to the question of what I would do if I weren’t teaching, let me just say that I have a few unfinished writing projects (both fiction and non-fiction) to complete. So, if I have any spare time, I plan to work on them, in this life rather than an imagined one, preferably in a scenic location.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Main Hall Green. The green is beautiful no matter the time of year. It always pleases me to know that generations of students and faculty have enjoyed sharing it. I especially like the sign that mentions Lawrence was the first coeducational institution in the state of Wisconsin.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

My taste in music is a very mixed bag, and contains such disparate things as hymns (“Amazing Grace”) and rap (Flo Rida) as well as ’70s ballads (Bette Midler’s “The Rose”). Maybe a common thread is an inspirational transcendence; Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” and Damien Marley’s “There for You” are two of my favorites. 

Film is Knives Out, for the sheer fun of it.

The book is Soft Power (2004) by Joseph Nye. It is still well worth reading. It offers the important lessons that ideals are a key source of power, and American values—not simply military might—helped the U.S. to win the Cold War.

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

2 Minutes With … Ghania Imran: A renewed desire to stay involved

Ghania Imran ’21 is studying at home in Chicago during Spring Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Life off campus at her Chicago home is pretty different for biology major Ghania Imran ’21.

After juggling classwork, research in the biology labs, and service on the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC), she’s finding distance learning during Spring Term to be a bit of an adjustment.

It’s also motivating her to reconnect with student government when students return to campus.

Imran has spent most of her Lawrence career connected to campus through LUCC, Lawrence’s student government organization. Though her once-active university life has slowed a bit, Imran still thinks fondly about her extensive involvement with LUCC.

Imran first found a long-lasting niche in LUCC when she became a class rep in her freshman year. This wasn’t unfamiliar ground when she ran for the position that winter. Imran was a debater in high school and has always had an interest in student government.

“I think I very naturally gravitate toward leadership,” she says. “I like to do things outside of biology in my free time.”

She discovered an enthusiasm for campus involvement as a class rep, which inspired her to run for president in her sophomore year. Her efforts landed her the vice president position, which she served this past year. That included the role of Finance Committee chair, where Imran managed a budget of half a million dollars and approved financial requests from campus clubs. She also served on the Steering Committee, approving new and existing clubs. She was hooked.

“I learned to love it really quickly,” Imran says. “It was so fun.”

LUCC furnishes students with the special opportunity to impact the student handbook. Exercising her right as a Lawrentian is one of the things she misses most about student government.

“It’s really cool that students get to do that,” she says. “I miss it, I love being super involved.”

Having been so active in LUCC, Imran thinks about her peers as they do their work while quarantined.

“I can’t imagine what LUCC is going through. Student body engagement is already difficult while you’re on campus in person. We worked so hard on that.”

Though there’s no doubting Imran’s passion for student government, genetics and cell biology is where she stakes her future. Last summer, she joined associate professor of biology Brian Piasecki in the lab to genotype the behaviors of a microscopic worm called C. elegans. This research helped her realize her abilities to do biology research in grad school.

Now that she’s home, the LUCC veteran is considering running for JBoard, LUCC’s judicial board. She would take the position next year.

“It feels weird not having a hectic schedule,” she confesses.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Sarah E. Navy: BSU president keeps connections alive

Sarah E. Navy, a music performance major, is president of Lawrence’s Black Student Union.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Sarah E. Navy ’22, president of Lawrence University’s Black Student Union (BSU), has been on a mission during Spring Term to keep members of the student organization connected.

It’s the continuation of efforts that were in play on campus before the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone home.

Those efforts have included keeping alive an important tradition in bidding farewell to senior members of the BSU, the Kente Cloth Ceremony. Navy has been working to overcome the roadblocks, mapping out a Zoom alternative to the group’s beloved senior celebration.

Building connections

While still on campus, Navy, a music performance (voice) major from Houston, and the BSU board had made major strides as an organization in building stronger connections as a community.

“We have hosted a game night, we have gone roller skating; that was super fun,” Navy said. “We have had various community events. During one meeting, we had the Title IX coordinator come and speak with us. One of the big things I wanted to do was to redefine what community meant to us as a community on campus.”

With everyone separated this term, hosting events has been difficult, but not impossible. Navy has worked to keep lines of communication open between herself and BSU members.    

“I send out a lot of emails to our organization as a whole,” Navy said. “I feel like with us being so far away, the least I can do is to continue to send out those messages for our community to know there is still some sort of lifeline to connect with.”  

Navy and the BSU board have also been active on the organization’s social media accounts.  

“The DIC (Diversity and Intercultural Center) just had their virtual party, so spreading that around for everybody to see,” Navy said. “Just keeping everyone as engaged as possible.”  

An important tradition

The annual Kente Cloth Ceremony is among the group’s most cherished traditions. During this celebration, the BSU community comes together to say goodbye to BSU seniors and celebrate their accomplishments. Seniors are presented with a kente print stole that is worn at graduation. Though unable to come together and celebrate in person, Navy still believed it was important for this year’s seniors to have a ceremony and to receive a cloth.  

“When I found out we were getting quarantined, I was like, OK, we have to figure out how to get the seniors their kente cloths,” Navy said. “And I remember being in Sankofa and talking to a senior, Jacelynn Allen, and she was so upset about it all, and I was like, ‘You know we’re going to figure out a way to give you guys your kente cloths.’

“And she was like, ‘You’re going to try and get us our kente cloths? I didn’t think that was possible. When we were told to go home, I thought that was done.’ To be able to provide that for someone, and not for personal gain but just so they know they are accounted for, that matters.”  

BSU will be hosting the Kente Cloth Ceremony through Zoom later this term. They will produce a video of people chosen by the seniors to speak on their behalf. The video will be shown during the Zoom ceremony, and then others in attendance will have a chance to congratulate the seniors and bid them farewell.  

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Oryan Brown: Leading Lawrence students in midst of a crisis

Oryan Brown ’21 was elected president of the LUCC during winter term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Being president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) is a hefty responsibility as it is. Now, Oryan Brown ’21 must be a leader and a student while navigating the obstacles of a global pandemic.

The move to the virtual world is a big one for the LUCC. The council relies on communication with students and the LU administration to address important issues on campus. Brown himself is responsible for overseeing communication between the five committees within LUCC. Elected during winter term, he’s also the bridge between university administrators and the student body by which concerns and ideas flow.

Lately, that means video meetings and lots of emails. Lots of emails. It’s tough to have discussions and make sure everyone is heard. But, while it’s not ideal for student government, Brown retains hope.

“We’re still working,” he says, “and we’re going to try to make sure things run as smoothly as possible once we’re all back on campus together.”

LUCC is an important part of Lawrence’s shared governance. Its decisions help shape campus climate for students, faculty, and staff. The council includes elected class representatives and appointed student committee members who speak for and with their peers.

For Brown, the LUCC has been a lifeline despite the communication obstacles.

“LUCC feels like I’m doing something real right now,” he says. “That’s appreciated because everything else feels like a bad dream.”

Finding balance

Brown is one of the 100-plus students experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic from the Lawrence campus this term. The native of Brooklyn, New York, petitioned to be allowed to remain on campus.

Being a student and LUCC president under the tensions of distance learning can be complicated.

“On the one hand, I’m a student who’s trying to get through all this,” Brown explains, “and also as the LUCC president, I’m helping to make sure things will run smooth in the fall. That’s a lot of important work I also have to do. I kind of have to switch between them.”

Distance learning hits especially hard for the math major, who attributes much of his academic success to meeting with other students to work on problems. Plus, he says, losing the classroom experience makes it more difficult to grasp the material.

Looking forward

But the outlook isn’t all bad. Brown finds solace in connecting with family and friends by phone. And LUCC is making strides in the storm. It recently held its first general council meeting of the term, where it passed legislation that will make LUCC responsibilities more manageable for students.

So, Brown keeps the faith, knowing better days are ahead.

“There are these little nuggets of things we’re getting done, and every little thing we get done feels like a major accomplishment given the circumstances,” he says.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

On Main Hall Green with … David McGlynn: Creative in, out of classroom

Portrait on Main Hall Green: David McGlynn (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Professor of English David McGlynn teaches creative writing in the classroom. He lives it outside the classroom.

A member of the English faculty since 2006, McGlynn is the author of a number of well-received books — 2018’s One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood, 2012’s A Door in the Ocean, and 2008’sThe End of the Straight and Narrow. His books have earned honors from the Wisconsin Library Association and the Council for Wisconsin Writers. His writing has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Real Simple, Yale Review, and Best American Sports Writing. In 2009, he was awarded Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Creative Activity.

As chair of the English department, McGlynn played a key role in developing the new major within the English department, one that, beginning in the fall, will allow students to major in either Creative Writing: English or Literature: English.

For details on the new Creative Writing: English major, see here. For a story introducing the new program, see here.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Utah.

We caught up with McGlynn to talk about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom:

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

That I was once – and am, in many ways – just like them. I arrived at my own undergraduate university with dreams of becoming a writer. Plenty of people in my life, including members of my own family, thought that reading and writing were spurious, at best recreational, activities – not something on which to make a life. Intent on proving them wrong, I declared myself an English major and enrolled in creative writing classes certain that becoming a published writer ultimately came down to, well, wanting it enough. It took me a few years to understand that wanting to write – no matter how much wanting I did – wasn’t the key to success. The only way to become a better writer, it turns out, is to write. A lot. I had to write every day, regardless of whether I felt inspired, and I had to keep at it, especially when every word that landed on the page felt absolutely terrible. I failed and floundered for nearly 10 years before my work began to appear in print. The process is slow.

I spend a lot of time talking to students about the importance of persistence and patience and why those two qualities matter so much more than talent. I ask every student, in every creative writing class, to write every day, even if for only a few minutes, and I try to free them from the burden of judging whether their work is good or bad. Rather, I try to get them to pay attention to the world – to the sky and the weather and the way the evening light falls across the Main Hall Green. Zadie Smith writes, “You spend the morning reading Chekhov, and in the afternoon, walking through your neighborhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non­-sequitur, a dog dances in the street.” I can’t imagine a better training for a writer.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

Beginning in the fall of 2020, Lawrence will offer two tracks within the English major – one in creative writing and the other in literature. Students on the Creative Writing track will take classes in poetry and/or prose at every stage of the major, from their first year to their senior capstone. Our brand-new Senior Seminar in Creative Writing will bring together students from across the major; they’ll spend a term reading one another’s work and revising and assembling their own work into chapbook-length thesis projects.

A number of supremely talented young writers have come through Lawrence in recent years – including several who have recently published books – and students have long augmented the English major with additional coursework in creative writing. I’m thrilled that future students will have the opportunity to major in a program specifically tailored to these interests.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

Several years ago, more or less on a whim, I began writing short pieces about fatherhood. I’d spent my first six years at Lawrence working on two books, both of which grappled with pretty heavy themes, and I needed a break. My two sons were 8 and 5 at the time, both with more energy than bugs in a jar, and I figured I’d just tell a few stories about teaching them to ride bikes and the time they figured out how much fun it is to cuss. I mean, what’s funnier than a toddler swearing? But the stories contained more depth than I expected, and they led me to insights and observations I didn’t know I thought until I literally wrote them down. Thanks to a few tremendous strokes of luck, several essays appeared in such periodicals as The New York Times, Men’s Health, O., The Oprah Magazine, Parents, and Real Simple, all of which led to a book, One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood, published in 2018. It’s a book I never expected to write, but I’m so glad I did.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing? 

I had an image of myself, back when I was in graduate school, teaching at a college exactly like Lawrence – small, serene, with close interactions with students. During my interview for the job, I looked out the window of Tim Spurgin’s office and watched the students strolling along the sidewalks, some with bassoon reeds in their mouths or violin cases beneath their arms. The sky was a shade of blue only visible north of the 44th parallel. I remember a student with a head of red curls walking by singing an aria so loudly I could hear it through the glass. I knew, right then and there, that Lawrence was my home. I can’t imagine doing anything else, at any other college.

But, for the sake of argument, I also think I would have made a pretty good Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

Step inside the Mudd Library and turn left. Follow the wall past Angela Vanden Elzen’s office (be sure to say hello) and you’ll come to the Lincoln Reading Room. The last chair on the right, closest to the window, is my favorite place on campus. I finished my first book, and wrote three others, in that chair, all while watching the leaves on the Japanese maple beyond the window turn from green to red and then fall to the ground, year after year.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

One of the best things about Lawrence is that our own students have produced some of my favorite books and films. No one should miss The Soul of Power by Callie Bates ’09, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay ’09, or Return on Investment by Magdalena Wąż ’11. Magdalena and her partner, Micah Paisner ’11, co-created my favorite web series, My Astronaut, which is just uproariously hilarious. And I’m beyond excited to read Bread and Fish by Andy Graff ’09, due out early in 2021.

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

2 Minutes With … Sabrina Salas: Keeping connections alive with most vulnerable

Despite being home in New York City during Spring Term, Sabrina Salas ’22 has kept active a student organization focused on interacting with Appleton area elderly. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Opportunities to volunteer from home amidst our new normal are tougher to find. However, Sabrina Salas ’22 has found a way to give Lawrence University students the chance to give back while social distancing. 

As president of Building Intergenerational Relationships (BIR), a student organization that fosters connections with elders in the Appleton area, Salas has organized remote connections between student volunteers and residents of area homes for the elderly.

Despite no longer being able to participate in in-person programs, the anthropology major from New York City still wanted to keep alive the connection between elders in the Fox Cities and Lawrence students during the COVID-19 lockdown.  

“I reached out to both of the elder homes [that we have partnerships with], and I was like, ‘Hey, what are some things we can do to support you guys and help from home?’” Salas said. “One of the staff members responded by saying, ‘It would be nice if you guys sent stories or something.’ That gave me the idea to create a Google forum as a place for students to send stories, photos that are important to them, a painting, or a drawing they made to share.”  

For a directory of student organizations at Lawrence, see here.

It was especially important to provide a space for students to connect with elders during this crisis, Salas said. She’s trying to make it easier to engage with some of the most vulnerable people, helping them feel less alone.  

“That was the idea behind it,” Salas said. “To give something to elders to make them happy and make them smile, especially now because they are definitely not getting visitors, and getting lonely during this time. So, that was kind of the idea behind reaching out. We are in this together.”   

New ways of connecting

The BIR group was formerly known as Glamour Gals. It focused mostly on painting nails and giving manicures to the elderly.

“But the president last year wanted to make the organization more inclusive,” Salas said. “She wanted to include more things, not just painting nails. And since I’ve been president, I have definitely changed the organization from what it was.” 

During non-pandemic times, BIR hosts events at two elder homes and on campus, allowing students to gain volunteer hours while brightening someone’s day.  

“We only do fun events,” Salas said. “Part of our new mission statement is, ‘Students and elders are going to brighten up each other’s day.’ I feel like BIR has lived up to that statement. Every student who was maybe hesitant about volunteering, and they ended up volunteering, they have had fun and leave with a smile.”  

Since taking over the club in the fall, Salas has made the organization more accessible to students, increasing student participation in the process. Unlike previous years, where students would meet with the elders every week, Salas decided to spread out the interactions, making them more intentional. Rather than students going to Brewster Village just to chat, for example, there are now full events for students and elders to participate in. 

“We do paintings with the elderly, we’ve kept up with the spa from Glamour Gals, and we went for a casino day, which turned into a carnival day,” Salas said. “On Martin Luther King Day, we had an event and we did random acts of kindness. There were little stations for the students and elders to create things with the intention of giving away what they created.” 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Naomi Torres-Solorio: Exploring climate crisis while at sea

Naomi Torres-Solorio ’22 spent a portion of Winter Term in New Zealand.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

One morning earlier this year, while on dawn watch aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, miles from New Zealand shores, Naomi Torres-Solorio ’22 spotted dolphins. It was a welcome sight and a moment of peace for this environmental studies major from Oakland, California, who was researching the climate crisis on the other side of the world.

SEA Semester, one of Lawrence University’s beloved study abroad opportunities, sends students around the globe to spend a portion of an academic term at sea. SEA Semester programs encompass a range of academic disciplines from anthropology to marine science, but all concentrate on specific ocean-related themes and give students the tools to take on real-world problems. This is possible thanks to the efforts of the Sea Education Association (SEA), a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that promotes environmental literacy in high schools and undergraduate programs.

Eye-opener on other side of the world

Torres-Solorio was among the first students to try out SEA Semester’s new humanities program, Climate in Society, which allowed her to study the effects of the climate crisis on New Zealanders’ way of life. New Zealand is an island nation that is already feeling the effects of rising sea levels and warming temperatures.

But the students didn’t jump into research right away. They spent the first half of the term on the SEA Semester campus in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Here they prepared for their time at sea by taking global ocean classes and learning the ins and outs of safety on the boat. Then, after a long flight, Torres-Solorio and 30 other students from around the country spent a week on New Zealand’s south shore. This is where Torres-Solorio first had the chance to speak to islanders about their personal experiences with climate change. It’s when she realized the gravity of what she was there to do.

“It was really eye-opening,” she said. “It’s very important to recognize what’s going on and be able to talk to people about it.”

Much of the SEA Semester experience for Naomi Torres-Solorio ’22 was spent on a boat off the shores of New Zealand. There was plenty of work and study, mixed with a little bit of fun.

Living life at sea

Torres-Solorio has long been interested in human impact on the environment. But getting out of her comfort zone was what drew her to SEA Semester in the first place. That is, spending the final five weeks of her term living and working on the vessel, the SSV Robert C. Seamans.

“I never imagined myself living on a boat,” she said. “I’m a city girl. But it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences I’ve had.”

Of course, life on the boat wasn’t a vacation. Torres-Solorio and the other students were responsible for daily chores and rotating watch shifts. But Torres-Solorio found plenty to love in this new routine. Even staying awake for dawn watch from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. turned out to have its perks.

“You see everything,” she said. “You get the night and the stars, and by the end of your watch a sunrise. It’s so nice. Anything can happen in that single watch.”

When they weren’t maintaining the vessel, students attended class in the afternoons. This offered opportunities to share data they collected on various aspects of their journey, such as keeping track of organisms they saw along the way.

That data is for students to use in two projects that finish off the program: one in science and one in humanities. Using the collective data, Torres-Solorio focused on the abundance of chlorophyll A and phytoplankton on the cruise track. She capped off the humanities component with a paper on the psychological effects of climate migration, using data from her interactions with New Zealanders.

To students considering a term abroad with SEA Semester, Torres-Solorio offered these words of advice: “Talking about it doesn’t do justice to how amazing the program is. All the things you see and do, the people you talk to, it’s just incredible. If you like adventure and the environment, go for it.”

For more on Lawrence’s study abroad options, see here. For more on SEA Semester, see here.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

On Main Hall Green With … Andrew Sage: Mining data for the greater good

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Andrew Sage (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Andrew Sage arrived at Lawrence at just the right time.

The assistant professor of statistics came on board in 2018 just as the school was looking to expand its offerings in the areas of statistics and data science to meet a growing demand surrounding all things data.

He was the first of a one-two punch in the mathematics faculty. When Abhishek Chakraborty joined the team a year later, plans moved quickly to launch a new minor in data science. That goes live in the fall.

Read a story about Lawrence’s new Statistics and Data Science minor here. Additional details on the program can be found here.

Sage has a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster, master’s degrees from Iowa State and Miami University, and a Ph.D. from Iowa State.

We caught up with him to talk about his vision for data education and his passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I want my students to know how much I learn from them. My students challenge and sharpen my understanding, and perhaps most importantly, teach me how to be a better teacher. Some of the most important changes I have made in my teaching have been the result of suggestions from students. I want my students to know that I am always listening, and I want to hear their thoughts on how we can work together to best help each other learn.

Through my students, I have also learned so much about topics I previously had little knowledge. In my applied statistics courses, students complete projects that connect the course material to topics they are interested in. Through these projects, I have learned about such topics as the economic impact of having babies in various countries, the nature and impact of volcanic eruptions, inconsistencies in media coverage of forest fires, and many more. We are all lifelong learners and I hope my students realize how much of a role they play in my own learning.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

I am very excited about expanding the opportunities for students to study statistics and data science at Lawrence. In the 2020-21 academic year, we will be launching a new minor in statistics and data science, as well as a statistics track within the mathematics major. Abhishek Chakraborty and I are working together to develop new courses in rapidly advancing areas like data science, machine learning, and Bayesian statistics.

The statistics and data science minor could be paired with many different majors. The minor incorporates not only courses taught by statisticians, but also data-driven courses in other departments. Faculty and students all across campus use data and statistical software in their courses and research. I am excited about opportunities for collaboration that will result from our growth in this area. A data scientist must possess not only a strong statistical foundation, and programming skills, but also domain area expertise, and the ability to account for ethical considerations. I cannot think of a better place to develop this kind of reasoning than a liberal arts college.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I always knew that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know what subject, or at what level. At various points, I thought I was going to teach history, or theoretical mathematics, before I arrived at applied statistics. I taught high school for four years, and enjoyed it, before I decided that that the college level would be the best place for me.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

If I wasn’t teaching, I would be umpiring baseball games. I love baseball, and umpiring was a great way for me to stay involved in the game and make a little money while I was in college. It’s been years since I last called a game, but every so often, I get the urge to be back on the diamond.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

I love the bike path that runs along the river. It’s a great place to go for a run and clear my mind, and it offers a gorgeous view of campus.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: I’m a big fan of David Baldacci’s mystery crime novels. My favorite is The Simple Truth (1998)

Recording: Centerfield (John Fogerty). As I said, I love baseball.

Film: The Imitation Game (2014). The film highlights Alan Turing’s pioneering work in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as the persecution he faced as a result of being gay. While the film takes liberties in a biographical sense, it draws attention to a critically important figure who is often denied the credit he deserves.

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

2 Minutes With … Caroline Garrow: Designing her own Lawrence path

Caroline Garrow ’21 worked with Lawrence professors to design her own course of study.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

One of the many great features about Lawrence University is the ability to self-design your own academic path. If a student is interested in taking a specific class or pursuing a major that is not readily available at Lawrence, there are options.

Caroline Garrow ’21 took advantage of the self-design aspect of Lawrence while studying at London Centre during Winter Term, before COVID-19 brought about social distancing restrictions. 

“It’s really nice to have the independence to work on your own time and to have the immersive experiences,” Garrow said. “I went to the British Film Institute, down by Southbank, and they have lots of other resources for film. It was super cool to be able to just get up and do something like that.” 

Garrow, of Evergreen, Colorado, is a film and self-designed cognitive science double major.

“I have two professors on campus who are ‘sponsoring’ me,” Garrow said. “I coordinate my assignments with them.” 

For information on Lawrence’s student-initiated options, including tutorials, independent study, and academic internships, see here.

Being independent

With her independent study, Garrow has been able to focus on specific topics of interest. 

While Garrow’s independent classes during Winter Term didn’t directly connect with the city of London, taking an independent study abroad opened the opportunity to better understand an aspect of the place where you are studying.

Garrow had planned to stay in London for spring term, but she headed home because of the closures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. She hopes to do more studying abroad in the future, including in Copenhagen.

“My family lived in Copenhagen and London,” Garrow said. “I think it’s really cool to see where you grew up from a completely different perspective.”  

During her time at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Garrow hopes to be able to take classes pertaining to her self-designed major.    

“I’ll be taking cyber-psychology, neuropsychology of social behaviors and innovation through design thinking,” she said. “These are courses that are not specifically offered at Lawrence but do have connections with what we are studying and will help to enrich the major I have established at Lawrence.”  

Willing to explore

Study abroad opportunities will eventually come back. So, we asked Garrow for some tips for students who are considering it: 

Say yes. “My favorite trips have been when I wasn’t in charge,” Garrow said. “I went to an Afro beats club; I wouldn’t have done that on my own. A friend took me hiking; I wouldn’t have done that on my own. I would say talking to the people around you, getting to know people and see what they’re interested in, and just being Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man.”  

Think about food. “Things can get expensive if you get take-away or eat out every day. Think about what it is you like to eat and what would keep you healthy”. 

Pack light. “You will buy things to bring home with you; make sure you have enough room for it.” 

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

Lighting the Way With … Emily Muhs ’12: Running toward excellence

Emily Muhs ’12

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Emily Muhs ’12, a consultant with Bain & Company in Houston.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Emily Muhs ’12 has always been focused on goals, whether in her career, in her classes, or in her running shoes.

At Lawrence, she was a government major while excelling as a student athlete in cross country, earning all-conference honors three times.

Her journey after Lawrence has included teaching for three years in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before going to Yale for her MBA. She now works as a consultant for Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, in Houston, and, yes, continues to run. She’s added marathons, including last year’s Boston Marathon, to her growing list of accomplishments since leaving Lawrence.

We chatted with Muhs about the path she’s taken, the lessons learned as a runner, finding her way to a promising business career, and navigating the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On teaching in Abu Dhabi:

It was through Lawrence that l learned about teaching internationally, as several Lawrentians before me had taught abroad and enjoyed it.

I attended an international teaching fair while I was doing my 13th trimester student-teaching, and the offer to go to Abu Dhabi seemed like the best option. Not to mention there were a few Lawrentians in Abu Dhabi teaching there already. So, I decided to take the offer, and the next August I was off to the UAE.

One of the biggest things I took away from my experience was an increased appreciation for different perspectives, particularly as a history teacher. I taught students from all over the world who had learned history up to that point in a variety of countries. So, teaching history at an international school forced me to think and talk with my students about different perspectives and subjectivity in history, and, more generally, in the media.

The second takeaway I would say is it built my tolerance for taking risks. Before moving to Abu Dhabi, I had only really lived in Wisconsin — apart from studying abroad — growing up in Janesville and going to Lawrence. Moving to the Middle East was a culture shock, but taught me the importance of taking thoughtful risks, and that being uncomfortable can produce growth, which I try to keep in mind as I think about where my life and career will take me.

On getting her MBA at Yale

After three years in Abu Dhabi, I knew I wanted to come back to the United States but did not know exactly what I wanted to do. It was a natural time to pursue an advanced degree, and an MBA was the best option. I was looking for a path where I could grow and make an impact, and an MBA was the best choice to do this while setting me up for optionality long-term.

Yale had the additional benefit of being focused on “business and society.” I knew I had a lot to learn about the private sector but wanted to keep the connection to other sectors and gain a perspective on how the private, public, and nonprofit sectors interact and support one another. The MBA program at Yale was a great fit for my goals.

On how her Lawrence experience prepared her for those next steps

Reflecting back, it was the liberal arts skill set I gained at Lawrence that helped me going forward. I built my ability to learn and problem-solve. These two skills were very important as a teacher and continue to be important as a consultant. In both careers, you are required to learn very quickly, be able to tackle whatever problem is thrown at you, and adapt your approach to whatever students and clients need.

On what being a runner has taught her

My experience running has influenced how I think about goals. A big part of reaching your running goals is simply the miles and work you put in, similar to how you have to work toward your goals in many other aspects of life. At the same time, you will have bad races, and I grew to understand how to learn from them — when to see it as an off day versus when it is a sign you need to change something in your training, a mentality I try to take today into my professional life.

But honestly, the biggest thing that has carried over from my experience running at Lawrence is the community. The team was a great group of smart, motivated people who I have been lucky enough to stay connected with since leaving Lawrence.

On launching a business career at Bain & Company

We work in teams to help our clients solve challenges. For me, this has included a variety of different types of projects in technology, energy, retail, and, most recently, pro bono education work.

When I entered business school, I was not focused on a specific career path but knew I was looking for a job where I would grow, learn, and get to do analytical problem-solving while helping others. As I began to explore careers, it became clear consulting was a great fit, and Bain specifically stood out for the opportunities for growth and support. I was lucky enough to intern at Bain and decided to come back full time, where I have been since.

On COVID-19 pandemic and advice for Lawrentians

Like many others, the pandemic has changed the way I work and live, making most of my interactions virtual. As for advice for Lawrence students who are doing distance learning, there are a few things I would focus on.

First, use this extra time to invest in yourself as you are preparing to enter the workforce. Naturally, you are learning new ways to work with others online; keep building these skills and find other ways to continue to grow.

Second, stay connected to your classmates and professors at Lawrence both inside and outside of classroom time. For me at Lawrence, practices and team dinners were so important to my experience, and though those types of activities will not be quite the same, you can still set up virtual dinners or calls to stay connected and support one another.

Lastly, look for ways to support your community during this crisis. Looking online, it is clear that Lawrentians are already doing this through volunteer tutoring, donations, etc. It is a great way to continue the Lawrence culture of support and giving back, even if you are not on campus.

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