Month: March 2020

2 Minutes With … Andrew Foley: Finding the intersecting rhythms in math, music

Andrew Foley ’21 draws inspiration from music and math. (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

Meet Andrew Foley ’20, a computer science and math double major with a music minor.

This surprisingly common pairing of math and music challenges our too-indulged notion of STEM and the arts as polarized fields, and shows us how Lawrentians unite the two in perfect harmony every day.

Striking the right chord

Foley started playing bass in fifth grade in his hometown of Waunakee, Wisconsin. Despite playing piano as a child, and a brief foray with the saxophone in high school, he has stuck with the bass and has embraced the unexpected parallels between that and his fascination with math.

“The most intersection is in theory,” Foley said. “With the music minor, the first three terms out of five are in theory. You’re working on a scale of eight tones so you can sort of see the connection between playing with how the tones line up.”

To say it simply, being a musician calls for a quantitative type of thinking. Foley sees this in jazz turnarounds—moments of transition and resolve at the end of a section—numerically represented as 2-5-1 turnarounds, or 3-6-2-5-1, to name a couple.

“For me, it’s a mix of sequencing and thinking of numbers,” Foley said, “and also trying to hear a specific line and trying to play something that’s similar to it.”

He points to a particular learning style offered by this quantitative thinking. Where some musicians learn best with visuals or transcription, others may benefit best from numerical thinking.


Adding it all up

This is more than just a retrospective way of talking about music. In the moment, one is always listening for those turnarounds and mathematical intervals. Mathematical thinking especially applies, Foley said, when you’re improvising or learning a new tune.

“When you’re improvising, some people can hear a line and directly play what they hear,” he said. “Some people hear a finger pattern or an interval, which is a specific number of pitches apart, which is sort of a mathematical connection there. Whenever I improvise, it’s a little bit of familiar finger patterns that I’m used to that I know sound good or doing some patterns.”

The discovery of further intersections between math and music may lie in Foley’s future. He hopes to continue his hobby of playing bass, perhaps alongside a software development job. He also ponders getting into algorithmic composing, which allows one to create music with code.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Nancy Wall: Brainpower in neuroscience growth

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Nancy Wall (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

Nancy Wall, an associate professor of biology, has been one of the leading scientists at Lawrence University since joining the faculty in 1995.

In addition to her classroom teaching, Wall has worked closely with dozens of students in doing developmental and molecular biology research over the past 25 years.

She led the neuroscience program as its chair from 2011 to 2019. She’s now playing a lead role in the expansion of that program, one that will see a cognitive neuroscientist added to the faculty in the coming year, strengthening Lawrence’s offerings in both cognitive science and neuroscience.

Other leadership roles have included being Lawrence’s campus coordinator for the McNair Scholarship Program, which assisted low-income students and those from historically underrepresented communities, and serving for four years as associate dean of faculty.

Before arriving at Lawrence, Wall earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Presbyterian College in South Carolina, her master’s in biology education from the University of South Carolina, and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

We caught up with Wall recently to talk about her motivations 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?

As a college freshman, I struggled academically because I was underprepared for college. I had no study skills. But I developed a set of skills that helped me make the Dean’s List every semester after that year. I want any student who is struggling academically to realize if I could do it, they can do it, too.

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

Right now, I’m really excited about teaching the inaugural offering of NESC 200: Introduction to Neuroscience and the continued development of the Neuroscience program at Lawrence. I’ve always been curious about how brains work. How is it that this organ, along with its interconnected nerves and ganglia, processes information about an animal’s external — the world around it — and internal — the world within it — environments and coordinates its responses so it survives, even thrives? I’m particularly interested in learning about how such a complex organ system develops and connects to every other organ system in the body. So, I’m excited about the subject matter, but I’m also excited that next year we will be adding a cognitive neuroscientist to the faculty to further strengthen our program and give our students more options for studying human neuroscience.

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?

Well, ending up living in Wisconsin was a surprise. Before I interviewed at Lawrence, I was not seriously considering moving to Wisconsin. I’d never lived further north than Nashville, Tennessee, so I was not sure about living where the ground stays covered in snow for extended periods of time. But once I interviewed here, I knew that Lawrence was the kind of quality liberal arts college I was looking for. I was impressed by the great students, dedicated faculty, and supportive administration. I’ve never regretted coming here. I love Lawrence, and it turns out I’m cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, not to mention golfing and kayaking in summer and enjoying the occasional Friday night fish fry at the local supper club.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

That’s a tough one. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else, but maybe forensic science would be an option.

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

This probably sounds boring, but my office. I have a nice view of Main Hall and part of the Green and it is a little like my home away from home given how much time I spend there.

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

Another tough question. Only one of each? There are so many … OK, at least in this moment, I go with the following: book, The Little Prince; recording, Rhapsody in Blue; film, Schindler’s List.

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

2 Minutes With … Kenya Earl: Records on the basketball court, research in the lab

Kenya Earl ’21 poses for a photo in a science lab in Steitz Hall. (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

In pairing an impressive basketball career with research and study as part of her biochemistry major, Kenya Earl ’21 is forging a path at Lawrence that is anything but ordinary.

The junior from Iowa City, Iowa, is setting scoring records for the Vikings on the basketball court—she surpassed the 1,000-point mark earlier this season, the fifth player in Lawrence history to do so—while also carving a path on the academic side as she eyes a career in the pharmaceutical field.

She hopes to go on to pharmacy school after getting her degree at Lawrence.

Trailblazer on the court

In her freshman year, Earl set the single-season scoring record for women’s basketball at Lawrence with 433 points. Now, she’s on track to become the highest scoring player in Lawrence history, a milestone she could reach during her final season.

“It feels pretty good,” Earl said. “In freshman year, I didn’t know about any of these records.”

Earl has had her eye on the ball for as long as she can remember; she first started playing basketball at age 6—perhaps not surprising, considering her father, Acie Earl, starred at the University of Iowa before moving on to play four years in the NBA and then overseas. When he wasn’t playing, he was coaching his daughter in the sport they both loved.

For more on Lawrence athletics, see here.

For more on the biochemistry major at Lawrence, see here.

For more on Lawrence’s success in STEM fields, see here.

The big picture

Earl also puts a lot of focus on what she and other student athletes do off the court. She’s a member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which seeks to improve the student-athlete experience at Lawrence by strengthening ties with university administration and the community. Volunteering is a big part of that. Over D-Term, for example, Earl and her teammates held a fitness boot camp at Alexander Gym for families of cancer patients to promote fitness and wellness.

“It was pretty fun to see that and be a part of that,” Earl said.

Public wellness is familiar territory for Earl. Until she heads off to a pharmacy school, she continues to put in work on her major. Last summer, she did research with Associate Professor of Chemistry Stefan Debbert, where she worked on finding new pathways for medications for a parasitic disease that has similarities to malaria. The medication on the market has not been effective, so the search is on for alternatives. Her compounds were sent to a researcher in Switzerland for further testing.

That’s all part of the student journey for Earl. With her third basketball season now over, and winter term of her junior year winding down, she is looking forward to her next steps as a Lawrentian. That includes finishing a basketball career that will place her among the most accomplished student athletes in Lawrence history.

“It’s meant a lot,” she said of her time at Lawrence. “It’s been great to accomplish the things I have. I’m inspired by great coaches and teammates who help me along the way.”

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