2 Minutes With … Kelsi Bryant: New LUCC president embraces the challenge

Kelsi Bryant ’22 was elected president of the Lawrence University Community Council. (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

Being president of the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) has never been an easy role, but serving in the middle of a pandemic brings even more challenges and uncertainty. That didn’t stop Kelsi Bryant ’22 from stepping up when the position came open this fall.

She was elected in a student vote earlier in October. She now leads the campus’ shared governance council, working with class representatives and committee members in helping to shape campus climate. The president’s position gives her a seat at Board of Trustees meetings and she oversees a six-figure budget.

Bryant, from St. Louis, has had a long history with student governments, as she was involved in her high school’s governing body all four years. She wanted the same at Lawrence.

“I ran for class rep my freshman year, but I didn’t get it,” Bryant said. “So, I was like, I have always been involved, but I didn’t get it so I thought maybe it’s not for me anymore. But having the experience in high school really gave me the courage to try again.” 

In her short time as president, Bryant has already seen how significant this role is as she represents her peers across campus.  

“Student government in my old school was more focused on planning events, kind of like S.O.U.P. (Student Organization for University Programming),” she said. “It’s a lot of different now. I’m answering lots of emails 24-7 and going to a lot of meetings; however, I still love it.” 

Inspired to run 

Bryant said she became inspired to run for LUCC president as a result of some negative experiences in Appleton, both personal and hearing of them from friends.  

“Sophomore year I was walking down College Avenue, I was with a group of people and someone leaned out their window and threw a beer can at my head,” Bryant said. “I was lucky I ducked and it missed me, but it was really, really scary.”   

Bryant said she took this traumatic experience and used it as fuel to get to a position where she can help make a difference going forward. In her role with LUCC, she wants to build a better bond between Lawrence and the greater Appleton community, working directly with the mayor’s office to protect students and create a norm that experiences like hers are never OK.  

“I want our diverse students to feel safe on and off campus,” Bryant said. “Starting with on campus. … I’m going to challenge the campus to stand up for each other. … This way things would be nipped in the bud right away with a ‘that’s not right’.” 

Navigating the uncertainty

Bryant said she plans to work to keep campus safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and to encourage students to get more involved in LUCC.

“Overall, I just want the student body to interact with LUCC more,” Bryant said. “I want them to know who we are, and students to feel supported by us. Not in a way that LUCC is overshadowing all of campus, but in a way that students can feel comfortable coming to LUCC with any concern.”

Bryant said it’s important for students to feel connected even amid the safety protocols tied to the pandemic. She wants to use LUCC to keep the campus climate positive and fulfilling for all students.

“I still want our students to interact, safely of course, giving them some more of the college experience back,” she said.  

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

2 Minutes With … Dani Massey: Leaning into the transfer student journey

Dani Massey ’22 transferred to Lawrence a year ago. (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

When Dani Massey ’22 was working as a conductor’s assistant amid their college search, they decided to ask their music director about his college experience.

“He had this spark of how he treated people and how he taught, and I wanted that light,” Massey recalls.

It turns out he was a Lawrentian. And from that moment, attending Lawrence became Massey’s priority.

Ever since they transferred to Lawrence in fall 2019, Massey has been among the transfer students who help make Lawrence great. We’re highlighting their contributions to our community here for National Transfer Student Week, Oct. 19-23.

Balance is a science

Like many transfer students, the process of getting to Massey’s dream school was a journey. It began at Joliet Junior College, 30 miles southwest of their hometown of Chicago. While initially pursuing a music major, Massey was drawn to psychology instead, and developed an interest in neuroscience. Now, they hope to work with students in a teaching hospital in order to expand our knowledge of biology and behavior.

“It’s important we understand ourselves and how to help people learn,” Massey says. “Take care of oneself and each other.”

Juggling psychology, neuroscience, and Russian makes academic rigor a hallmark of Massey’s Lawrence experience. This course load has taught them much about personal and professional balance.

“It’s a lot of time management and knowing when to say no,” Massey says.

Now into their second year at Lawrence, the landscape has changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Adapting has itself been a learning experience.

“I’ve leaned into the discomfort of taking classes on Zoom,” Massey says. “Forgiving myself if things don’t go right.”

Finding a voice

There are many dynamic ways in which a student can feel at home on campus. Massey connects to their peers through their diversity column in The Lawrentian, titled Subculture on Main. It’s about providing a voice and a platform for students of different groups and backgrounds to share their experiences.

“The spectrum of experience is so vast,” Massey points out. “Each person has a story here. It’s a good way to let people who don’t leave their comfort zones be exposed to different worldviews.”

This Lawrentian gig also fulfilled Massey’s goal of having their writing published before they graduate.

A worthy journey

Pandemic or not, here’s what Massey wants transfer students to know: “Self-advocacy is something I can’t emphasize enough. Making those connections, communicating about your needs, and finding someone who will listen is really important.”

The journey as a transfer student has been one of persistence.

“Since I am a first-generation student, I have had to navigate higher education alone — everything from picking a school to balancing two jobs and full-time classes,” Massey says. “I knew when I began at Joliet that I would be working up to transferring to Lawrence. It’s my undergraduate dream school. I am immensely proud of becoming a Lawrentian. I worked very hard at my junior college and I continue to work hard at Lawrence because I am so happy to be here. Being a Lawrentian reminds me that I am capable of achieving my dreams, that I have a bright future ahead, that I can help someone else achieve their dream with the education I am getting here.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Yaw Asare: Childhood treat becomes tasty side hustle

Yaw Asare ’96 talks to customers about his Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle at the Downtown Appleton Farmers Market. The outdoor market continues on Saturday mornings through Oct. 31. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Yaw Asare ’96, who is putting his business savvy into a tasty new side gig.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Yaw Asare ’96 has added some new flavor to the Downtown Appleton Farmers Market.

His Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle has become a fixture at the market since July, an early step in a business proposition that has Asare thinking big.

The 47-year-old Asare, an economics major while at Lawrence University two and a half decades ago, works as a loan documentation specialist for Investors Community Bank in Appleton. But his nights and weekends are now dominated by what he calls his new side hustle, a long-simmering dream to bring the tastes of Ghana to the United States.

“Ever since I got to the U.S., I’ve wanted to do my own thing, start my own business,” he said. “It took me a little while to figure out what I wanted to do.”

Asare settled on the peanut brittle he grew up with in Ghana, crafted from a recipe book he got from his mother. He’s introduced the brittle at the farmers market and a handful of retail outlets around the Fox Cities and hopes to grow it into a national brand as he expands to various other taste treats inspired by his homeland.

“You have to start small,” he said. “We’re starting here in the Fox Cities and then we’ll go ahead and start branching out, first throughout Wisconsin and then the Midwest and beyond.”

He has two active business partners – Walt Nocito and Orson Fournillier – in Appleton and a third silent partner in California and has contracted with Sweet Ps Pantry, an artisan confectionery in Oconomowoc, to make and package the brittle.

Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle is now available in about 10 retail outlets in the Fox Cities.

An inspiration from childhood

Asare, who was born in Germany, lived in Ghana from age 7 until he came to the United States to study at Lawrence in the early 1990s. After first exploring the peanut brittle concept in 2016, it was a trip back to Ghana in 2018 that gave him the impetus to dive into his new venture. He ran into two former schoolmates who were operating their own peanut brittle business in Ghana, and he said they inspired him to push forward.

“What we’re talking about now is a company that takes Ghanaian products and packages them for the Western market,” Asare said. “This brittle thing is going to come first. There will be others we’ll come out with as time goes on and as we can get them developed.”

Asare worked with Sharon Pavich of Sweet Ps Pantry to perfect the recipe. The first batch came out in late 2019 with sales to friends, family, and co-workers and a deal with their first retail outlet, The Free Market, located on Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton. That led to the push into other local retail outlets and the farmers market this summer and the launch of a Sharay’s website.

“We started pushing into the Fox Cities in July of this year,” Asare said. “It’s brand new. That’s when we hit the farmers market and started getting into other retail outlets. We’re in about 10 retail outlets right now. There’s a game plan for broadening that beyond the Fox Cities. We want to be the premium provider of brittle products.”

Making that happen in the midst of a global pandemic has created its own obstacles. Not all retailers have been able to stay open. And the farmers market experience hasn’t been as robust as a typical summer season. But like many other small businesses, Asare said he’s learning to adapt.

“It’s been difficult,” he said. “At the farmers market, we can’t do taste tests or any of that sort of thing because of the regulations. We have to rely on our sales pitch and get people to buy it without first trying it.”

Yaw Asare ’96 (right) works a farmers market booth with business partner Orson Fournillier.

Finding a path

The Sharay’s recipe comes from a late 1970s Ghanaian cookbook. The name comes from Asare’s childhood nickname.

“We chop the peanuts so you get a more robust flavor from it,” Asare said. “We also use cane sugar instead of corn syrup. And then a little bit of water and salt. Some of the other extra ingredients you’d find in regular brittle like butter and corn syrup and some of the preservatives, you won’t find those in ours. When people bite into it, they find we use more peanuts than you would in a normal brittle. They find it doesn’t stick to their teeth as much, and that’s been pretty much everyone’s reaction. It doesn’t stick to your teeth is a little bit of a tag line for us.

“So far, we’ve gotten excellent response. The product is definitely different enough from regular brittle. Once people bite into it, they have a very positive reaction. … It’s pretty much on point with what I knew in Ghana.”

See more Lawrence alumni profiles here.

After graduating from Lawrence in 1996, Asare opted to stay in Appleton, and has worked in various banking, sales, and marketing roles through the years. He married Leslie, whom he met while at Lawrence. They have three children, two of whom are now in college, leaving more time for his new side project.

Asare said the lessons he learned at Lawrence and in his roles in the Appleton business community are all in play as he launches his new venture.

“This is a side job right now,” he said. “But if it grows into a full-time thing, that would be great. And if it’s nothing but a side business, well, that’s fine, too.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Jim Miller: Running where few have run before

Jim Miller ’80 runs the Old Mill Marathon through the countryside north of Burlington, Vermont, on Aug. 30.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Jim Miller ’80, whose love of running has, to say the least, been lifelong.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jim Miller ’80 caught the marathon bug while running cross-country for Lawrence University in the late 1970s. What he’s done with that passion over the 40-plus years since puts him in very select company.

On Aug. 30, just days before turning 62, Miller ran a marathon in 2 hours, 53 minutes, 59 seconds, making him one of only four runners known to have run marathons in under 3 hours in six different decades, according to data shared at PodiumRunner.com.

That is 26.2 miles of high-level achievement spanning more than 43 years and touching the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and, now, the 2020s.

“I set a goal to get that sixth decade and I was really excited to get it,” Miller said.

To do it, he had to get a bit industrious. He initially planned to run a marathon in North Carolina in March, but it was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc on running events across the country. He signed up for a marathon in Fargo, North Dakota, that was scheduled for late August, hoping the pandemic would loosen its grip by then. No such luck.

“At that point it seemed unlikely any marathons were going to be held the rest of this year,” Miller said.

He didn’t want to wait out the pandemic, knowing his training was on target and the body felt good.

“There’s no guarantee I’ll be healthy and fit next year,” Miller said. “I was very confident I could run a fast time right now. I’ve been in really good shape for six months, and it’s hard to maintain that indefinitely. So, I felt a sense of urgency.”

Jim Miller ’80 (center) organized the Old Mill Marathon and limited it to 14 runners.

Like Lawrentians are apt to do, he opted for ingenuity. He organized his own marathon near his home in Burlington, Vermont, named it the Old Mill Marathon, got it officially sanctioned, set up a COVID-19 safety plan, and recruited 13 local runners to run it with him.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in any marathon I’ve run,” he said.

And that’s saying something. Miller has run 40 marathons through the years. The enthusiasm for it has never waned, despite injury setbacks and that inevitable march of Father Time.  

The Lawrence difference

Miller said he was a decent but not great runner in high school in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He came to Lawrence for the academics, but he opted to run for the Vikings, and that experience lit a fire inside him.

He’d go on to have a Hall of Fame career at Lawrence, earning All-America honors in cross country and track and winning two Midwest Conference (MWC) championships. By the time he graduated with a degree in economics, he held school records in the 2-mile, 3-mile, and 6-mile distances.

It was a longer run Miller took early in his time at Lawrence, though, that set him on a different path. He ran the 1977 North Dakota Marathon, well before marathon running became the widespread boom it is today, and he won, posting a time of 2:34. It felt good. He wanted more. He won in North Dakota again the next year. Then, on the advice of Lawrence alumnus and advocate Chuck Merry ’57, he entered Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, and proceeded to run an eye-opening 2:19 that got him noticed nationally.

He quickly set a new goal—the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“My senior year at Lawrence I spent training for the Olympic Trials,” Miller said. “I got so much support on campus.”

Always chasing a goal

He moved to Vermont following Commencement in June of 1980 to continue his training. He took a number of odd jobs while focusing on his running. He worked at a store selling running shoes. He took temp jobs. He began working part-time as a janitor at a bank in Burlington.

“I became a ‘running bum’,” Miller said. “Not exactly your typical Lawrence post-graduation route.”

He set a personal record of 2:18:18 and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both 1980 and 1984.

He never did make the U.S. Olympic team, but that part-time janitor job led to opportunities at the bank to put his economics degree to work. He would go on to forge a more than 30-year career as a trust officer and financial planner with the Merchants Trust Company.

And the running would continue, always with goals in place. He’d run one or two marathons a year when injuries weren’t sidelining him. One decade ran into the next, and while that 2:18:18 time would become a distant memory, the sub 3-hour times would continue.

“One of the key factors is enthusiasm and passion,” Miller said. “To run at my best, I need to be excited about a goal. Without that, I won’t come close to my potential. It’s really setting new goals as I age and trying to find a goal that excites me. It’s certainly not to run faster than I’ve ever run before, but it’s pretty easy to find goals that will challenge me.”

Does he have his eye on stretching his sub 3-hour brilliance to a seventh decade? That, he said, might be difficult. He’ll be 71 when 2030 rolls around.

“Even a year out our bodies change so much at this point,” Miller said. “I haven’t written it off in my mind, but that would be some challenge.”

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

Champion of Pride award shines light on advocacy work of Helen Boyd Kramer

Helen Boyd Kramer on hard-fought progress made on LGBTQ+ issues: “Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Helen Boyd Kramer jokes that it’s a “lifetime achievement award.”

There might be truth in that if her work was done. It is not.

Kramer, a lecturer in gender studies at Lawrence University since 2008, was named a 2020 Champion of Pride by The Advocate, a leading national voice on LGBTQ+ issues that each June honors 104 activists – two from each state and the District of Columbia.

Kramer joined Dane County’s Baltazar De Anda Santana as this year’s Wisconsin recipients.

A leading activist on transgender issues since publishing her first book, My Husband Betty, in 2003, Kramer was cited for her recent work advocating for the LGBTQ+ community in Appleton, including a successful effort earlier this year to get the Common Council to approve a ban on practicing conversion therapy on minors. That followed efforts in October to help make National Coming Out Day more visible in Appleton, resulting in a rainbow flag flying over City Hall for the first time.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Kramer said of being honored by The Advocate, but she sees it as a sign of progress in her efforts to advocate for diversity, the rights of transgender people in particular.

“When you’ve been in a movement that’s young but you were part of the original people doing it, you tend to get used to the fact that this is what you do, this is what you’ve been doing,” Kramer said. “So, this (award) kind of came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it. … The trans community was a baby when I started doing this work and when I wrote the book. Now the education about trans is at a whole different level. Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.”

An agent of change

Kramer arrived at Lawrence in 2008, a year after publishing her second book, She’s Not the Man I Married, chronicling her experiences with transgender spouse Rachel Crowl. The move took her from New York City to Appleton, necessitating a change in her activism. Here, she got to know the elected officials she would be pushing for change.

“Being an activist in Appleton was going to be a different thing,” Kramer said. “It was going to be more about personal relationships.”

In the 12 years since, she’s been a frequent voice on LGBTQ+ education, be it in the community before city councils and school boards or on campus in gender studies classrooms, Freshman Studies workshops, or in campus-wide Cultural Competency discussions.

Appleton, Kramer said, has grown in its understanding of and support for the LGBTQ+ community, perhaps fueled by the giant leap forward that came with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down same-sex marriage bans in 2015. The Common Council has gotten noticeably more progressive. The topics Kramer and other LGBTQ+ activists speak to, including the conversion therapy ban, no longer shock.

“Instead of being reactive, we actually have council members now who are bringing legislation forward,” she said. “That’s what happened with conversion therapy.”

Read more: 10 ways Lawrence celebrates Pride Month all year long

She singled out the work of Appleton alderperson Vered Meltzer ’04, a Lawrence alum who in 2014 became the first openly trans person to hold elected office in Wisconsin, according to Fair Wisconsin, a Madison-based advocacy group.

Meltzer returns the praise, calling Kramer tenacious in her efforts to support marginalized people in the Appleton community.

“Helen’s advocacy is effective because she never stops working, whether she’s on campus or off campus,” Meltzer said. “And one of the best things about working with her is that she doesn’t give up or get discouraged, no matter how much work there is to do or how long it takes to see results. Her tireless dedication, and her personal care and support for marginalized individuals in our community, has helped bring activists throughout the community together over the years with a sense of unity and shared goals.”

Kramer sees the progress happening in Appleton as reflective of what’s happening across the country. While there is much work yet to be done, momentum has been building in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from the same-sex marriage ruling five years ago to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects transgender, gay and lesbian employees from workplace discrimination.

“There has been an education of people in terms of civil rights,” Kramer said. “Poll after poll after poll say people believe that you shouldn’t be able to get fired for being gay or lesbian.”

The celebration of the Supreme Court’s June 15 ruling on workplace discrimination may have been a bit muted because of COVID-19 social restrictions, but there is little doubt it marked a major moment, one that arrived amid heightened awareness of equity issues. The ruling was delivered by a conservative-leaning court midway through Pride Month, 50 years after the Pride movement first emerged en masse.

“The movement has worked,” Kramer said. “The reason gay people started coming out and the reason gay people still feel the necessity to be out is precisely because the more straight people know them or more straight people know that they are related to someone who is LGBTQ+ the more likely it is that they would support same-sex marriage, employment discrimination rules, and such. This has been a long time coming.”

Helen Boyd Kramer on efforts to support LGBTQ+ students: “The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Education on campus

The enlightenment at Lawrence over the past decade hasn’t been quite as stark because the university has long been a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students, Kramer said. Again, it’s been a work-in-progress, but the work of inclusion has been in play here for a long time.

The dramatic change at Lawrence since she arrived a dozen years ago has come in the trans community. In 2008, it was mostly a curiosity, even on a liberal arts campus.

“It’s kind of hard to explain how much has changed in that time,” Kramer said. “The first class I introduced at Lawrence was Transgender Lives, and at that time I had one student who shyly admitted to doing drag once. I had a bunch of students who took it because trans was an interesting topic. A lot of them were future therapists, a bunch of psychology majors. Now, when I teach Trans Lives, half of the students in the class identify as LGBTQ+ as either trans or non-binary. … There’s been a giant cultural shift.”

All that progress doesn’t mean the fight is over. Far from it. Kramer points to the Trump Administration’s recent ruling that removed federal health care protections for people who identify as transgender. Protections written into the Affordable Care Act addressed sex discrimination, and in 2016, the Obama Administration interpreted that provision to include gender identity. But in early June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement saying it is returning to an earlier interpretation of sex discrimination, thus excluding the trans community.  

“This isn’t just for trans procedures,” Kramer said. “It’s for pneumonia or COVID. These stories are already common in the trans world, where doctors wouldn’t take what they had seriously, cancer in particular. It would just go untreated because doctors wouldn’t work with trans patients. Seeing HHS do this right now when everyone is scared of dying is particularly heartless.”

The COVID dilemma

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a cruel light on the LGBTQ+ world. Besides health care access issues, it has highlighted wealth disparities, which are particularly stark among Black LGBTQ+ people. The same systematic racism issues that have ignited nationwide protests are in play within the LGBTQ+ community, Kramer said.

“When we get to a point when we’re actually doing recovery, eventually, we’re going to have to figure out the wealth problem and the access to employment and training and education,” she said. “These are all systems that are so soaked in the same discrimination we’re talking about. It’s employment, it’s health care, it’s food on the table.”

The pandemic sent students home for spring term, put summer research and internships on pause, and infused uncertainty into almost all near-future plans. That, in turn, has heightened anxieties for LGBTQ+ students who don’t have adequate support at home. Kramer and other advocates on campus have tried to stay in frequent contact, but seeing students having to isolate in a home environment that’s toxic adds new layers of concern.

“The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common,” Kramer said.

While a growing number of families are accepting and supportive, it’s those students who aren’t feeling that love who are particularly vulnerable right now.

“Some students used to refer to Lawrence as Hogwarts because they could be gay here,” Kramer said. “And they couldn’t always be at home. Now those students are at home during the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why there was more than one student I helped make sure they could stay on campus this spring because their home situation just isn’t good.

“How do you accept the fact that your family basically doesn’t like you so much? Sometimes they hate you. That’s a wounding you can’t really process. I think Lawrence has been amazing about that, being aware that we do provide acceptance in a way that some students are not always getting elsewhere.”

Lawrence recently introduced the LGBTQ+ Alliance House as a residential space. A Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center opened in Colman Hall late last year. Trans Rights United (TRU) became the University’s first trans student organization. Those additions are all built onto an already well-established support system.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes culturally that get reflected on the campus,” Kramer said. “I think the campus has done an amazing job for the most part in creating these spaces, and creating diversity training for everyone else. There are still pockets of education that’s needed, but I love the fact that we let students lead. They’re telling us what they need. They feel empowered, and we’re getting much better at that.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Samuel Wrenn: In search of a COVID-19 vaccine

Samuel Wrenn ’17, second from the right, poses with his research team at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has been working in IPD research labs since 2018.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Samuel Wrenn ’17, a research scientist in Seattle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Samuel Wrenn ’17 is doing work that most everyone on the planet has a deep interest in these days.

A research scientist at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wrenn is part of a team searching for a vaccine for COVID-19, the coronavirus that has put much of the world on lockdown for months.

Dozens of teams of scientists all over the world are racing the clock to find a vaccine. About 10 vaccine possibilities have been green-lighted for human trials and others are nearing that point, according to the World Health Organization. Until a working vaccine is delivered, a full return to normal daily activities is unlikely.

Wrenn, who majored in mathematics at Lawrence, spent eight months in New Zealand following his 2017 graduation, a chance to reconnect with his grandmother’s homeland. He then moved to Seattle in 2018 to live with a couple of fellow Lawrentians, and landed the job with IPD shortly thereafter.

His work took a severe turn when the COVID-19 crisis arrived. The virus was declared a global pandemic in March, and with his work to date in nanoparticle research, Wrenn was selected to join the COVID-19 vaccine development team.

Samuel Wrenn ’17 on chasing a vaccine: “We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.”

To date, the U.S. has seen more than 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 126,000 deaths. The death toll worldwide exceeds 500,000. Despite the push on research and testing, a vaccine isn’t expected to be available until sometime in 2021, at the earliest.

Wrenn shared with us information and insight about his job and the balance between urgency and patience in the search for a vaccine.

On his role on the IPD vaccine development team:

“We are developing a protein nanoparticle vaccine, and I work with a small team of people on purification process development and biophysical characterization of the vaccine candidates. In layman terms, each protein is different and needs to be purified under different conditions. I work to identify those conditions and then to validate that the proteins are behaving in the predicted manner once they are purified.”

On the sense of urgency to find a vaccine:

“My team is highly collaborative and, in my opinion, excels in communication. There is definitely a sense of urgency, but that feeling cannot outweigh the patient, calculated method in which proper science is conducted. We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.

“I am fortunate that the leadership in my lab and on this project is very well informed, so there is a pretty strong sense of purpose and reasoning for every decision that is made. Having that guidance helps move the project along without feeling like we are flailing. That said, the workload and the amount of work expected from each of us has certainly increased since this project began.”

On his work before the pandemic hit:

“The institute employs a core structure of research scientists and engineers to facilitate research and project progression for the labs we are affiliated with. I have been a member of the nanoparticle core since October of 2018. We specialize in projects relating to the lab’s nanoparticle platform. Because the vaccine we are developing relies on that platform, which I have been working with in various capacities for the last year and a half, I was selected to be part of the vaccine development team.

“The projects I was most closely affiliated with before this were targeted cancer therapeutic drug delivery, endosomal escape, and a variety of structural projects relating to the architecture of our nanoparticles—their assembly and construction.”

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

2 Minutes With … Emily Harper: Science, space, and a chance to explore

Emily Harper ’22 is doing summer research via the NASA Space Grant Program.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Amid the uncertainty of an unconventional Spring Term, Emily Harper ’22 received good news that’s keeping her eyes on the future. The Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) awarded her a stipend for a summer research program, the Elijah Balloon Payload Team Educational Experience.

The grant is provided by NASA’s Space Grant Program, which works with partner universities like Lawrence to fund educational opportunities in science and aerospace in order to prepare students like Harper for careers in space science.

Harper, of Westerville, Ohio, applied for the Elijah Balloon Team on a suggestion from Jeff Clark, a professor of geosciences. She was in the process of applying to other summer research programs when this one came her way.

She is spending nine weeks with a research team made up mostly of engineering students. They will decide together what they want to test with Elijah, WSGC’s high-altitude balloon used to collect data in near-space environments. As a chemistry and English major, Harper looks forward to sharing new learning perspectives with her interdisciplinary team.

“Engineers think a lot differently than a standard chemistry standpoint,” she said, “so it will be interesting to see how I can work on a team with engineering students and solve problems together.”

Sparking an interest

Her interest in field research took root in the fall when she did chemistry fieldwork with her advisor, assistant professor of chemistry Deanna Donahue. She learned to love working in rugged conditions and unpredictable weather.

Of course, things will look a bit different this time around due to COVID-19. The summer research will move to an online format, and perhaps be based more in the design and development of the project.

Looking forward

Despite some uncertainty, Harper is thankful for what she’ll be able to experience. She hopes this summer’s research will inform her future career interests.

“When the pandemic started to get more serious and we were sent home for Spring Term, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do anything in terms of research opportunities for summer,” she said. “So, I’m very grateful that this program is still able to happen virtually.”

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

On Main Hall Green With … Doug Martin: Discovering delight in physics

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Doug Martin (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

Doug Martin’s combination of curiosity and scientific know-how has made him a key member of Lawrence University’s physics department since 2007.

He teaches courses ranging from optics to quantum mechanics to experimental physics, among others. A biophysicist, his scholarly interests focus on the mechanics and dynamics of cellular processes — transport, motility, division and signaling — that explain how life works.

Physics faculty keep student connections alive amid distance learning. See story here.

Originally from Denver, Colo., Martin earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in mathematics and physics at Pomona College and completed his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Texas.

We caught up with Martin to talk about his work in the classrooms and labs of Lawrence and his interests away from campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I love physics. I’m astonished that we can understand the natural world, quantitatively, with relatively simple mathematics. I’m delighted by new discoveries – from the physics that causes flower petals to curl to the Higgs boson. And, more to the point, I think every Lawrence student is an intuitive physicist, whether they appreciate it or not. Music, sports, visual art – all involve physical processes that we grasp intuitively. So, why do I want students to know this? Because, despite the grind of mathematics, abstract reasoning, spatial visualization, approximation, and the worry about understanding, the worry about belonging – all the things that come along with a physics class – my hope is to help students in my classes claim or reclaim delight in physics.

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

Teaching! Whatever I’m teaching next is the best. As I answer this, I’m preparing to talk about diffraction and why optical telescopes are now 100 feet across, and why a radio telescope the size of the earth was necessary to capture the first image of a black hole. Why is teaching what gets me most excited? I have the privilege of teaching about our endlessly amazing world, and every class is an opportunity for me to recapture wonder. What could be better? Well, sometimes building microscopes is better, because then I get to see new things, too.

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?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m a little surprised by almost everything. So, let me pick an easy, Lawrence-centric, example. I taught at the London Centre in the fall of 2018. The surprise?  How great it was. I’d thought: London is in an English-speaking country, how different will it really be?  Here are two quick examples. First: one of my classes decided we should meet in a different coffee house every day, from the delightfully named Fuckoffee to the café in an abandoned public toilet to the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. With all due respect to Acoca and Lou’s, these are something new.  Second: everything was at our doorstep. Theater? A dozen premiere shows every night. The world’s oldest sewage plant? Yes! Museums? Free! Paris? Eurostar departs a 15-minute walk from the dorms. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how rich the experience was, but I was.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I really don’t know. Maybe working at a national lab doing fundamental research. Maybe calibrating the machines used in radiation therapy at a hospital. Maybe developing medical lasers. These were opportunities in the past, but now? Could be almost anything.

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

Bjork! The physical separation from home and office seems to let me leave stresses behind and just be present. My sense is that something like that is true for students too, so it makes it easier to interact informally.

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

I’m pretty voracious when it comes to all three, so let me pick something good and recent, for me.

Book: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. It is set in London, so all of the exploring my classes did there took us to the neighborhoods in the book. And it is laugh-out-loud funny. And it borders on the strange line between the horror of watching a car crash and the very sweet.   

Recording: The Pet Shop Boys have a new album, Hotspot. I have a lot of nostalgia for the musicians of my childhood, and the Pet Shop Boys still put on a pretty good show. More to the point for this question: they’ve crafted an album that (after a bit of a rocky start) moves really well, from dance-y start to warm and fuzzy finish. And I’m old enough to enjoy entire albums at one sitting.

Film: Spaceballs. What can I say, Rick Moranis is a comedic genius. Or maybe that my laughter at this movie reveals that I am a 12-year-old at heart.

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

2 Minutes With … Shania Johnson: A Met internship on the path of art history

Shania Johnson ’22 has been doing research this term on art history. (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

When COVID-19 got in the way of a coveted internship this summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Shania Johnson ’22 was determined not to let the opportunity slip away.

The Lawrence University sophomore from Rosedale, New York, worked with her faculty advisors to create a fall schedule that will allow her to move the internship to the fall while keeping her classwork on schedule.

“In high school, I did an internship at the Met,” said Johnson. “And at the time I wasn’t really considering a career in art history, but that internship really opened my eyes to the art world, or the contemporary art world at least.” 

But it wasn’t until her time at Lawrence that she realized that art history could be her potential career path.  

“It made me start to think about art history and curatorial work as a career path,” Johnson said. “But I never really took it seriously until I got to college and I realized I can actually make a living out of it.” 

Shifting plans

For this summer, Johnson was accepted into the internship offered to college students by the Met. But due to COVID-19, The Met will not be reopening until the end of the summer season and has transferred its summer internships to the fall. Johnson created a plan with Lawrence’s Art History department that allows her to work the internship without falling behind on her course schedule.

“This internship was really selective, and I didn’t want to give it away because I have to be at school,” Johnson said. “So, I’ll be living in Midtown, working at the Met. And, I have worked it through with faculty here … so I’ll be getting internship credits and independent study credits for the research and work I will be doing.”  

Johnson is excited to take on this experience with the knowledge she has gained during her time at Lawrence.  

“In high school, I felt really insecure, coming from my background and working with some of these other people who come from more fortunate backgrounds,” Johnson said. “But I feel like now being away at college, and being who I am now, more confident, I am really excited for this opportunity.” 

While at Lawrence, Johnson has been working closely with Beth Zinsli, the Wriston Art Center galleries curator, museum studies director, and art history professor.  

“At first I did all the formal things like gallery guard,” Johnson said. “Then I got the internship position where I work with the objects in the archive.” 

Through her internship with the Wriston, and now with the gallery being closed due to COVID-19, Johnson has been doing her own research that will directly connect with the research she will be doing in the fall.  

“I have the chance to do my own research, so that’s been great,” she said. “The paper that I am writing is kind of uncharted territory and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it, but it has turned into a pretty lengthy research paper talking about medieval abstraction. And the internship at the Met relates to global medieval art, so this is kind of my segue into the fall.”  

A vision for change

Johnson hopes to one day join the museum world, providing leadership and curating exhibitions, helping to create more accurate narratives for diverse populations.  

“The drive for me is, even today in the museum world, not a lot of people are represented,” Johnson said. “Not a lot of women of color or POC in general, and also not a lot of LGBTQ identities are represented. But I feel like people of color and LGBTQ identities should be part of the people who are making big decisions, curating exhibitions because you have the power to create narratives. When you create an exhibition, you are telling a story that you’re basically selling to people. And if people are not accurately represented the way they should be, that becomes a problem. I want to be able to create narratives for people like me, people from my background, so they can see themselves being represented the way they should be.”  

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

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