Month: February 2020

Lighting the Way With … Kir-Sey Fam: Into the tech fray with Disney+

Kir-Sey Fam '19 holds a laptop and a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy at the Disney+ headquarters in New York.
Kir-Sey Fam ’19 joined Disney+ in New York right after graduating from Lawrence in June. The software engineer was part of the team making the massive November launch of Disney+ happen.

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 Kir-Sey Fam ’19, a software engineer with Disney+.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kir-Sey Fam ’19 has been a Lawrence University alumnus for all of eight months. But he already has stories to tell.

It’s not often that you step from the stage at Commencement and immediately land in the midst of one of the most talked about media developments in the world.

Welcome to Fam’s life since graduating in June — a bachelor of arts degree with majors in mathematics, computer science, and Russian studies. Before leaving Lawrence, he was hired as a software engineer with Disney+ in New York, meaning he was jumping into the fire as Disney prepared to roll out its much-anticipated streaming service on Nov. 12.

It reportedly had 10 million sign-ups the first day, a number that has grown to nearly 29 million in the three months since. Along the way, it’s introduced the world to Baby Yoda, put the Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar libraries at subscribers’ fingertips, and reshaped the high-stakes battleground for streaming services in ways we haven’t yet wrapped our eyes around.

As a kicker, a Disney+ original show is in the works that will be set in, yes, Appleton, Wisconsin. Kristin Chenoweth will take the lead in “The Biggest Star in Appleton,” playing a mom and waitress who gets her kicks as the star of local community theater.

Fam took some time to share what life has been like in the midst of all that wonderful chaos.

On his role at Disney+:

I’m currently working as a software engineer on the Growth Engineering team. What that means on a high level is that we examine each stage of the user experience, from when someone first lands on the Disney+ page, through to when they’re watching a show or interacting with other parts of Disney+. We then work to figure out what points of friction the user faces and experiment with changes to improve the user experience and increase retention.

The methods for accomplishing these goals are varied; the project I’m working on now involves using machine learning to improve how we handle billing for each user. 

Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect as I hadn’t done any prior internships in larger companies before working at Disney. I would say that though they’re put together differently, taking classes at Lawrence engaged me with a lot of the elements that I now use in my work. 

On being part of the Disney+ launch:

As you may know, we experienced some launch-day issues related in part to the huge demand for Disney+. So, there was a bit of firefighting going on in different areas during launch. Thankfully, the services my team developed didn’t face any issues despite the huge throughput. That was a bit of a relief since my team had been on a tight deadline leading up to the launch for developing a service integral to the super bundle combining Disney+, ESPN+, and HULU subscriptions, which saw a lot of usage. 

Following the launch, you could hear people talking about Disney+ on the subway, waiting in line at stores, just everywhere. And that really gave me a sense of accomplishment and excitement to hear so many people feeling enthusiastic about something that I had worked on.

On seeing a Disney+ show being developed that’s based in Appleton (no, he’s not a consultant … yet):

Yes, I’m excited to see what they do with the show. Unfortunately, as I’m on the engineering side of things, I don’t have much to do with direct content creation.

On how his Lawrence experience, including the growth in computer science and data science during his time here, prepared him for the Disney+ job:

I would say that the classes I found most helpful were the algorithms courses I took with Professor (Joseph) Gregg, and particularly relevant now in my current project, the machine learning courses I took with Professor (Andrew) Sage.

Technology changes rapidly, and I think that the fundamentals I learned in the math/computer science department have helped ensure that I can quickly pick up any languages and frameworks that I need to use in projects. 

Aside from that, although music and Russian literature are seemingly disparate subjects from computer science, I see a deep interconnectedness in my experience and knowledge from these fields that helps bring fresh perspectives to whatever I’m working on.

More alumni: Check out these recent alumni profiles in our Lighting the Way With … series: Evan Bravos ’10, Yexue Li ’10, Rana Marks ’12, and Terry Moran ’82.

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

On Main Hall Green with … Jake Frederick: Learning through disasters

Jake Frederick poses for a photo on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jake Frederick (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

Fourteen years after his arrival at Lawrence, history professor Jake Frederick is fully established as a scholar on colonial Latin America.

Sparked in part by an experience fighting forest fires in Mexico prior to going to graduate school, Frederick has taken a deep interest in the history of Mexico, as well as Afro-Latino history and environmental history.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.

He joined the History faculty at Lawrence in 2006, and also now serves as co-director for Latin American Studies. His scholarship has included research on and presentations about fire and other environmental crises in Mexico and economic factors that have informed Mexico’s history. Published books include Riot! Tobacco, Reform, and Violence in Eighteenth-Century Papantla, Mexico, and, with Tatiana Seijas, Spanish Dollars and Sister Republics: The Money That Made Mexico and the United States. In 2017, he was awarded Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

We caught up with Frederick to talk about his work and his interests on and off campus.


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

I fancy myself a fairly demanding professor, and I have found in my years of teaching that when students work hard they learn a lot and produce excellent work. I know that you are capable of a lot, and that may be more than you think you are. Higher education should challenge what you believe and it should challenge your skills. You all volunteered for this, to learn ideas you don’t know already and to develop skills you don’t have. So bust your butt to get the most out of it.

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

Right now, I am teaching a seminar on Disasters that Changed the Americas, and I find that really exciting. I have always been interested in disasters, like major disease outbreaks, fires, earthquakes, and the like. They are not just exciting in and of themselves; they are also a great way to find out about societies: how they divided one another into different groups, how they reacted to challenges, and how they envisioned their futures. The in-class discussions have been great.

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 suppose being in the position I am in now is the big surprise. Before I went to graduate school I did a lot of different jobs, like working in a plastics factory, selling sporting goods, and working on an ambulance. I never planned on being a professor. I spent the longest time working as a forest fire fighter for the U.S. Forest Service. In 1998, when there was a terrible outbreak of forest fires in Mexico, they sent me to Chiapas to help train firefighters. That deployment came just before I went to graduate school, and was a big part of what led me to focus on Latin America. I thought that if that kind of thing was happening now, there must have been historical examples to study as well. Now, here I am more than 20 years later teaching about just those kinds of disasters in history.


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

Special effects makeup! I love doing it. I take Halloween far too seriously each year. And if I had the chance to make people up as ghouls, or zombies, or plague victims for a living, well, I’d have to give that some real thought.

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

It’s a secret, and it’s way better than any other place by far. But I can’t tell you because then everyone would go there. Honestly, it’s probably any view of Main Hall when I’m walking into work. I’m always struck by what a beautiful old place I work in.

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’d recommend Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. To me it’s some of the most beautiful writing in the English language.

The recording may well be The Grateful Dead live in Portland, Maine on March 31, 1985, at Cumberland County Civic Center (you can hear it at It was a great show, and it turns out that one of my best friends was there, though we wouldn’t meet for another 14 years. It also brings up interesting, if blurry, memories of my misspent youth.

For a film, it would have to be Jaws. I’d recommend it to anyone; because, who wouldn’t want to watch the best movie ever?

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

2 Minutes With … Andrea Arivella: Studying in London, interning at Parliament

Andrea Arivella ’20 is interning during winter term with a member of Parliament in the UK.

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

As a Lawrence University student from Italy, Andrea Arivella ’20 knew that studying in the United States was not going to be the end of his study abroad experience. The government major is now spending winter term studying in London at Lawrence’s London Centre and interning at Parliament. 

“I finished my requirements for my major in the fall,” Arivella said. “So, I thought it would be a nice experience to come to a different place. Also, because this is my senior year, I wanted to use this time to look for some careers. That’s why I applied to the internship program, to get some ideas on what I want to do and make some connections. In a city like London, I knew there would be lots of options.”

Arivella is interning with Wendy Chamberlain, a newly elected member of Parliament (MP). However, Chamberlain was not his original internship placement. 

“What they say in the office is, my MP died,” Arivella said. “Politically died. He was in office since the 1990s but did not get reelected.”  

Two weeks before the start of winter term, Tom Brake, the MP Arivella was supposed to be interning with, lost the election. This put the internship coordinators at the London Centre into a bit of a frenzy trying to coordinate a next option.

Pursuing the internship

While still in Appleton, Arivella had worked with two internship coordinators at London Centre via Facetime. 

“They looked over my resume and helped me to transfer it into a British CV. … A few weeks later they emailed me saying they found an internship.”

He was all set to work in Brake’s office. Then came a message from one of the internship coordinators that Brake had lost his re-election bid, but efforts were already under way to find a different internship placement in Parliament.

“She emails me saying, ‘I’m sure you know, but Tom Brake has lost his seat, but I’ve been scrambling, and I found you someone else,” Arivella said.

He would eventually land on Chamberlain’s staff. Despite the initial chaos, it was worth it in the end.  

“What I was told with [the previous MP] is I was just going to be writing back to constituents, so I was going to be behind a laptop all day typing stuff, which I hated,” Arivella said. “When I found out I was going to be working with someone new, especially because this is her first time getting elected, I knew it was going to be more interesting.”  

 Arivella said day-to-day activity moves at a fast pace as he helps to support his MP’s office.

This internship and being in London have given Arivella the opportunity to explore various ways he can put his government major to work after he graduates in June.   

“I already knew I wanted to have a professional career in Europe, but this experience has definitely further established that idea,” he said.  

More on study abroad: Financial aid changes clear hurdles

Tips on studying abroad

We asked Arivella to share some advice on studying abroad:  

“Just do it. Don’t be scared. I’ve talked to people and they’ve said to me, ‘You’re going to London for three months, doesn’t that scare you?’ No. Don’t be scared to explore. Make friends, meet new people, delve into new cultures.”

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

Teaching at LU, performing on world stages: Gomez living her best musical life

Holly Beemer '22 listens as music professor Estelí Gomez, seated to her right, gives feedback during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center.
Estelí Gomez gives feedback and instruction to Holly Beemer ’22 during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Estelí Gomez is having herself a February.

In addition to working with her voice students on the second floor of the Music-Drama Center, the Lawrence Conservatory’s newest music professor is in the midst of a whirlwind schedule that has her, among other things, sharing a New York stage this week with the iconic Renée Fleming and then visiting New Zealand and Australia with an opera featuring her Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble Roomful of Teeth.

Preceding all that was a concert last week with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center — her first public performance as a resident of Appleton — a brief stopover in New York to perform at the Lincoln Center on the American Songbook series, and an overnight to St. Louis for a recital with the Kingsbury Ensemble.

In between flights and performances, her teaching continues — from hotel rooms and rehearsal spaces she connects with her students remotely via Zoom for voice lessons, all the while showing them in real time what life as a working musician can look like.

“I’m living it,” Gomez said of the Conservatory’s mission to prepare students to live their best musical lives.

It’s a blistering schedule, but Gomez, an in-demand soprano, makes no excuses. This is what she signed up for when she accepted an offer last year to join the Conservatory faculty, her first full-time teaching gig after a decade living on the road.

“What I desired was that both sorts of existences — the academic and the performer — would feed one another,” she said.

A native of Watsonville, California, with a bachelor of arts from Yale and a master of music from McGill, Gomez spent 10 years in constant motion, touring with Roomful of Teeth and performing and recording with the likes of the Seattle Symphony and Silkroad Ensemble, among others. She won a Grammy Award with Roomful of Teeth in 2014 — the ensemble’s 2013 debut album also earned composer Caroline Shaw a Pulitzer Prize — and is featured on the Silkroad Ensemble album that scored a Grammy win in 2016.

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Estelí Gomez smiles as she talks with students in a studio class.
Estelí Gomez reacts as she works with students at the start of a studio class earlier in February. Gomez joined the Lawrence faculty in fall. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Chasing a dream

Gomez and her seven Roomful colleagues have served a number of teaching residencies and master classes at universities across the country, including two at Lawrence. The Lawrence experiences were so satisfying for Gomez that she listened intently when Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl in late 2018 first mentioned a coming opening on the Conservatory faculty.

“That was the beginning of this dream,” Gomez said. “What would it look like if I actually lived somewhere? I’d been living out of my suitcase for about a decade. I had a storage unit in Montréal, my parents live in California, my partner lives in Austin, Texas, and I have a crash pad in New York City.”

She was drawn to the idea of teaching in a Conservatory setting, especially one she held in such high regard.

“I had already been bitten by the bug of spending more time in an academic environment, for the resources, for the people who were interested in diving deep in creative ways,” Gomez said.

But she also wanted to continue to perform on stages around the world. At Lawrence, that’s a path that has already been paved many times over. Her performing would be embraced as an opportunity, not a problem. Pertl called her “a perfect fit for Lawrence, an exquisite musician with the heart of a liberal arts scholar.”

The Conservatory’s mantra to provide holistic music education for the 21st century, recognizing many paths to living a musical life, was all Gomez needed to hear. 

“It was the fact that my interests lined up so well with this place,” she said. “That’s what sealed the deal for me.”

Gomez knew she had huge shoes to fill as she was joining the voice faculty following the retirements of the talented and much-respected Kenneth Bozeman and Joanne Bozeman, whose influences on Lawrence University had been long and impactful. She’s tried to pick up where they left off.

“I’m so lucky they were my predecessors,” Gomez said. “They have such wonderful systems set up.”

She said she’s soaking in the talent, expertise, and teaching wisdom of her Conservatory colleagues. At the Fox Cities PAC performance last week, she was joined on stage by two of those colleagues, Steven Paul Spears, a tenor and voice professor, and Phillip Swan, the co-director of choral studies who serves as artistic director and conductor of newVoices, a semi-professional community choir.

Several of Estelí Gomez's students pose with her for a photo at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.
Several of Estelí Gomez’s students met up with her at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for her recent performance with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir. (Photo submitted)

A new sense of place

The reality of her new gig —and the lifestyle change it signified — began to sink in for Gomez shortly after she arrived in Appleton last summer. She had a kitchen all to herself. And a consistent place to sleep. It had been a long time since she could say that.

It took some time to adjust, she said. Fall term was challenging, learning new systems and meeting new people. It wasn’t until winter term that she began to settle into the rhythms of life on campus.

“There was a point where I slept better on airplanes than I did in my new place,” Gomez said. “I had to remind myself, this is what is normal. But, slowly, the normal is shifting. I’m still getting to tour, but now I have more of an essence of grounding here, which has been a blessing.”

Most satisfying, she said, is that it’s giving her a chance to spread her wings as an educator.

“Now I have this long arc of getting to work with students on a weekly basis and really connect with them as people,” she said. “It feels so much deeper. I so appreciate the chance to get to know them in a longer-form way than being a visiting master class artist.”

Several of Gomez’s students showed up at the Fox Cities PAC last week to show support for her performance with the Fox Valley Symphony and newVoices. That’s part of the relationship-building between faculty and students that is so pronounced at Lawrence, where class sizes are small and one-on-one sessions with faculty are the norm.

“They’re the building blocks for their singing life here,” Gomez said of those faculty-to-student relationships.

They also are where her performance life and her academic life can intersect to provide teachable moments for her students, who are exploring what their own musical paths might be. Her performances, Gomez said, help inform her teaching. And her teaching helps inform her performances, whether here in Appleton or on the other side of the world.

“I think it’s good for them to have somebody who is in it,” Gomez said of her students. “And it’s also good for my performing that I’m engaged with how to articulate what I believe is really good singing, really healthy singing, really efficient singing. I have to articulate that every day to my students over and over again and in a million different sorts of languages.”

Esteli Gomez listens intently as Mae Capaldi sings during a studio class.
Estelí Gomez, assistant professor of music, works with Mae Capaldi ’23 during a recent studio class. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Sharing the stage with Renée Fleming

That brings us to this busy stretch. It’s the three performances with the New York Philharmonic Feb. 20-22 in Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall that’s garnering the most attention.

Gomez is one of three soloists in the world premiere of a piece written by 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Reid. It was commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of Project 19, which is marking the centennial of the 19th Amendment by commissioning works by 19 women composers.

“It should be a really eclectic, innovative program,” Gomez said.

Fleming is featured in the second half of the concert, singing music of Björk.

Gomez has sung with the New York Philharmonic before, but this will be her first time performing on the same stage as Fleming, one of the country’s most renowned sopranos. They have plenty of connections, though. Gomez’s frequent duet partner has sung duet recitals with Fleming. And Gomez has sung with Susan Graham, Fleming’s frequent duet partner.

“And apparently she’s a Roomful fan, so I’m excited to meet her,” Gomez said.

From there, Gomez will be back in Appleton for three days to teach, and then reconnect with her Roomful of Teeth collaborators for the trip to New Zealand and Australia for the Peter Sellars-directed opera Kopernikus.

Interestingly, Gomez was performing in Kopernikus in Europe when she had her first interview — via Skype — for the Lawrence position.

“I think it was something like 11 p.m. for me; it was maybe 4 p.m. here,” she said. “We had just finished opening night in Toulouse, France. I joined for the champagne toast, ordered dinner at the cafe upstairs, then went down to the basement of the theater and said, ‘OK, let’s answer some interview questions.’ So, all this now feels really interconnected.”

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

2 Minutes With … Shonell Benjamin: Heart, hustle, and a passion to inspire

Shonell Benjamin, a member of the Lawrence women's basketball team, holds a basketball as she poses for a photo in the Wellness Center gym.
Shonell Benjamin, a biology major and women’s basketball player at Lawrence, is working toward becoming a physical therapist. She also plans to launch an athleisure brand. (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

Shonell Benjamin ’20 believes she’s found the perfect way to express her passion for basketball and empower members of the athletic community — she plans to launch her own brand of athleisure wear with a message built around “heart and hustle.”

This move is inspired by a lifelong love for the sport, she said. As a child, this biology major could be found playing streetball in her home streets of Brooklyn, New York. She first experienced the nuances of playing on a basketball team at her high school in 10th grade.

“Basketball gave me something to focus on and keep me motivated in school,” Benjamin said. “It taught me a lot of lessons — how to win, how to lose, and how to deal with adversity.”

She continues those pursuits now as a member of the Lawrence women’s basketball team.

Heart and Hustle

Her planned athleisure brand says it all — Heart and Hustle. It embodies the passion and hard work Benjamin puts into basketball and her academic pursuits. She hopes the name will encourage wearers of the clothing to put that same amount of heart into whatever they do. But the planned collection of comfortable hoodies and sweatpants isn’t just for athletes.

“It’s not only about basketball,” Benjamin said. “It’s about putting your heart and grind into whatever you’re passionate about.”

Benjamin believes building a brand is one way to give back to the community. That’s another motivating force behind her plans for the clothing line.

Working at basketball camps for three summers in Brooklyn introduced her to the joys of empowering younger players and strengthening their dedication to the sport. Inspired by that experience, the clothing is another kind of outreach that will allow others to wear the “heart and hustle” in their everyday lives, and perhaps share it with others.

Benjamin has designs ready and plans to get them produced as soon as she can. Basketball practice and applying to physical therapy schools have her attention right now, but she’s looking at summer for a possible release date.

Off the court

During the summer of 2019, Benjamin was on campus doing her senior capstone research with Assistant Professor of Biology Israel Del Toro, studying the thermal tolerance of different species of bees. Professionally, Benjamin would like to eventually start her own physical therapy practice.

But basketball, she said, will always be a part of her life.

“It’s molded me to become the person I am right now and the person I want to be in the future,” Benjamin said. “You can learn a lot through a game, and learn how to inspire people through it, as well. That’s going to translate into my brand. Wherever it ends up going, it’s going to be bigger than me.”

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

2 Minutes With … Esmeralda Liz: Study of art therapy draws her to London internship

Esmeralda Liz poses for a photo during a stop in Greece prior to Winter Term.
Esmeralda Liz ’20 is studying in London this term. She visited other overseas locales, including here in Greece, prior to the term to do art research for her Senior Experience capstone. (Photo courtesy of Esmeralda Liz)

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

About 11% of American college students study abroad, and even fewer partake in internships abroad. Esmeralda “Esme” Liz ’20 has joined the short list of students doing both.

Liz, studying during winter term at Lawrence’s London Centre, is taking part in a London internship focused on using the arts in the treatment of mental health. 

“I wanted to experience how to interact with different types of people,” Liz said of pursuing the internship abroad. “The way mental health might be approached in America may be different to the way it is in Europe. And I wanted to see how I can learn some of those things and bring it back.”  

More on study abroad: Financial aid changes clear hurdles at Lawrence. See story here.

Liz is a psychology and studio art double major from New York — and a Posse Foundation scholar — who became fascinated by the possibilities of art therapy.  

“I took studio art spring term of my senior year in high school,” Liz said. “I took it because it was one of my general requirements, but it became the only class I would look forward to, so I was like, I guess this is what it’s supposed to feel like going into your major. Psychology was my back-up plan. … Then I was in PPR (Posse Plus Retreat), and I had a dyad with a woman named Katherine. She was telling me about how one of her friends was an art therapist, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ She told me she felt this was something I should look into because you’re doing psychology and art. Then I looked into it and was, ‘Oh, this seems like fun.’”

Finding connections

Liz’s professors at Lawrence encouraged her to continue to explore the art therapy options. She soon realized having hands-on experiences would be important to understanding what the field might entail.

“It’s giving me a preview of what I plan on doing,” Liz said of the London internship at Core Arts. “I feel like this placement allows me to be hands-on and see what it’s like to both work with art and mental health.” 

Core Arts is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing through the arts.  

“Core Arts is an art therapy facility that focuses on mental health without speaking about,” Liz said.

The art therapist bonds with the participants through art, and consults with psychologists and counselors as needed.

“A lot of (the art therapists) get back to the counselors with things that they notice, but they don’t specifically talk to the people about their mental health; they just talk to them as artists.” 

Winter term abroad is not Liz’s first time in London. She was able to explore England and other parts of the region in late 2019 through her Senior Experience capstone. 

“Before we went on break for the winter, I made a proposal to the art department to do research while on break for my capstone,” Liz said. “It got approved, and I went around to a lot of the art capitals of the world, places like France, Italy, Spain, and London. While we were traveling, me and another studio art major, we were going to museums, talking to local artists, and collecting information for our capstones.”  

Tips on studying abroad

We asked Liz for a few tips on being a student abroad: 

1: Try to get a card with low or no foreign transaction fees.  

2: When in London, look right when crossing the street.

3: Bring spare luggage. You will buy things.  

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

On Main Hall Green with … Patty Darling: Jazz artistry, and so much more

Patty Darling poses for a photo on a snow-covered Main Hall Green, with Main Hall in the background.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Patty Darling (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

Patty Darling has had plenty of successes since joining the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty in 2007, but perhaps none speak louder than the rave reviews for the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, which she directs. The student ensemble has, among other honors, earned the prestigious DownBeat Student Music Award in the large jazz ensemble category each of the past two years.

The awards are reflective of Darling’s deep influences in the Jazz Department over the past 13 years, but they don’t tell the whole story. In addition to leading one of the nation’s most outstanding collegiate jazz groups, Darling continues to compose music that has been performed widely across the country, including in middle and high school music programs. And she played a big part in developing and launching the new Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, recently rolled out in the Conservatory after years of development.

See more on the B.M.A. degree here.

Darling is a Lawrence graduate, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in composition in 1985. She went on to study advanced composition at the University of Minnesota, where she also worked in the Electronic Music Department. 

We caught up with Darling to talk about her work in the Conservatory and her interests on and off campus.


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

I am committed to understanding and supporting your unique musical path here at Lawrence. There are countless opportunities to create, perform, and collaborate with students and faculty, giving you the chance to discover and pursue the music that speaks to you. You will find me deeply interested in your personal musical goals and aspirations, and I’ll do my best in our classes and lessons to help you along the way.

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

This is the first year of our Jazz Department’s new degree program, the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. It has been very rewarding to develop new courses in composition and arranging. My students are integrating improvisation in a variety of musical styles, experimenting with form and development, and practicing core musicianship skills in our piano and composition lessons. They share recordings of artists that inspire them, and I am excited to have the opportunity to explore these different genres together. In addition, I’m enjoying working with songwriters and getting back into electronic music production and recording.

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 love composing music for big bands, and did not expect to find such joy and satisfaction in writing music for younger students. I just finished a new piece titled Connections, which will be published by Sierra Music this summer. Many of my big band charts are designed for middle and high school musicians, and I’m motivated by the challenge of creating music that is fun to play while also teaching improvisation and jazz fundamentals. I enjoy traveling to different schools throughout the U.S. and working with students on these charts.


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

You would most likely find me working at a wildlife sanctuary — with big cats! — or perhaps delving into organic gardening/farming.

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

The “Jazz Room,” Shattuck 46. It feels like the heart of the Jazz Department; there’s so much happening there. Big band and combo rehearsals, improvisation and composition classes, percussion groups, auditions, recording sessions, meetings, and a lot more. During our Jazz Weekend festival, it is packed with young students performing and learning to improvise. Last year we did a side-by-side rehearsal there with the famous Vanguard Jazz Orchestra — that was a blast. Guest artists and LU jazz alumni come in to perform and share their stories. It’s an inspiring place even when it is empty and quiet.

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

Film: Cast Away. A powerful story of survival and the intense need for human connection. Alan Silvestri’s sparse, breathtaking soundtrack reinforces the impact of such extreme isolation.

Book: Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. “True simplicity as a life choice illuminates our lives from within.” A good friend gave me this book several years ago, and every so often I come back to it to read, reflect, and rebalance my life.

Song: Pretty much anything by Bon Iver — Woods, 715-Creeks. His music is incredible, beautiful and honest.

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

2 Minutes With … Kelvin Maestre: Work and play in the library’s Makerspace

Kelvin Maestre, wearing protective glasses, watches as a laser cutter starts its work on a piece of wood in the Makerspace on the first floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library.
Kelvin Maestre ’21, watches as a laser cutter starts its work on a piece of wood in the Makerspace on the first floor of the Seeley G. Mudd Library. (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 the Makerspace assistant is more of a lifestyle than a job for Kelvin Maestre ’21. He’s found the place where teaching, learning, and a passion for creativity merge — in a little corner of the Seeley G. Mudd library.

The Makerspace is a hub of creative technologies on the first floor of the library. Free for students to use, the equipment includes 3D printers, sewing machines, a laser cutter and a soldering iron.

“The Makerspace is a place for you to come if you want to make something, study, or if you want a creative outlet,” said Maestre, an anthropology major from Revere, Massachusetts. “Your personality really comes out when you’re in that small space.”

A passion that’s been building

It was a longtime interest in 3D printing that brought Maestre into the Makerspace for the first time.

“Where I grew up, there was no 3D printer, there was no Makerspace,” he said. “I heard about these machines years ago and I’ve wanted to get my hands on one for a long time, and when I finally came here and I saw one, that was it.”

That first sighting for Maestre happened on a tour of the library during Summer Institute, a three-week visit to Lawrence before his freshman year. The next day he contacted Angela Vanden Elzen, the Reference & Learning Technologies librarian and assistant professor who serves as the Makerspace coordinator. She didn’t waste any time training him on the 3D printers at the start of fall term.

By his sophomore year, Maestre was a regular at Makerspace. He was given a job there that summer; a role he continues today as the assistant.

Ever since, the boundaries between work and play have disappeared. Each day, Maestre is able to share his passion for 3D printing with his peers. He spends his time training people on the machines and taking on small projects for professors, as well as pursuing a few of his own. Some of his favorite 3D-printed work includes a model jet engine, an ocarina, and a skull soap holder.

“Once you’ve used a 3D printer for so long, you can’t live without it,” he said. “I feel like I can’t separate myself from the lifestyle. Now I want these things and they have to be with me when I leave, otherwise I just feel incomplete.”

Makerspace has helped grow use of VR tech at Lawrence

More than meets the eye

It’s not just the machines Maestre has bonded with. He and Vanden Elzen have become a dynamic Makerspace duo — in his words, “Like Angela is Batman and I’m Robin.”

And Maestre’s one-on-one time with Makerspace visitors forges relationships with students, too.

“The best part about my job is when I get to help people out,” he said. “It always makes me happy when I teach someone something and I see them do it themselves. They come to me for help and I help out, and you see them come back over and over again.”

Find everything you need to know about Makerspace here, and follow along on the Makerspace blog.

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