Month: May 2020

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.


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.


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:  

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

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

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

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Ongiri addresses “Importance of Failure” in virtual Honors Convocation

Amy A. Ongiri will deliver her Honors Convocation address virtually.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Amy A. Ongiri isn’t shy about telling you she’s failed at various things in life.

But, then, so have you. So has everyone. And yet we are reticent to speak of it, to examine it, to embrace it.

Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies at Lawrence University, calls that a missed opportunity. She’ll delve into the idea of embracing failure when she delivers the school’s annual Honors Convocation address,“The Importance of Failure.”

The Honors Convocation, which publicly recognizes students and faculty recipients of awards and prizes for excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, languages, music, athletics, and service to others, was to be held in Memorial Chapel. But due to campus facilities being closed and physical distancing practices being in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will instead be pre-recorded and presented here at 11:10 a.m. May 28.

Yes, at an event to honor great successes, failure will take center stage.

Ongiri will tell the audience that we grow from failure, and we need to be comfortable talking about that. That’s a particularly appropriate message for young people to hear as they set out on journeys full of uncertainty. Take chances. Be willing to fail.

“There’s a lot of stigma around failure and it is especially hard to fail as a young person because you are just learning about it as an experience,” Ongiri said.

What students will discover, Ongiri said, is that there is no road map for understanding or negotiating that experience. Some failures are big and bold. Others are slight and nuanced. All are part of the jagged, crooked, unpredictable path of life.

“As a culture, we have tended to value winning over all other experiences but we are all going to fail a lot in life, and we need to learn early on what it means and how to think about it,” Ongiri said.

As we mature, understanding failure and the strength that can come from it begins to make more sense. But that doesn’t mean we’re any more eager to speak of it.

“By the time you’re in your 50s, as I am, you have probably failed a lot at a wide variety of things,” Ongiri said. “But we don’t tend to value or talk about our failures as much as we do our successes.”

Ongiri, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2014 after more than a decade on the English faculty at the University of Florida, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Bryn Mawr College, a master’s degree from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her scholarship interests have focused on African American literature and culture, film studies, cultural studies, and gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of the 2009 book, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic.

She points to scholars such Judith Halberstam, Timothy DuWhite, and Scott Sandage as sources of insight and reflection on the topic of failure and the cultural dynamic at play. That sort of guidance is valuable at any time, but perhaps even more so as we navigate through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The global pandemic has not only provided a case study in notable failures around health care and public infrastructure, it has given us the time to reflect on what it all means,” Ongiri said. “It has also given us the chance to reconsider what states of being associated with failure, such as loneliness, mean to us individually and collectively as a culture.”

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

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

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

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

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

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

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

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

Building connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

An important tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding balance

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

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

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

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

Looking forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New ways of connecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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