Month: October 2020

On Main Hall Green With … Jerald Podair: Explorations in American history

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jerald Podair (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 each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jerald Podair knows his way around presidential politics.

The Robert S. French Professor of American Studies and professor of history has studied, taught, and spoken frequently on the subject of American politicians and other examinations of United States history since joining the Lawrence University faculty in 1998. It has made him one of Lawrence’s most visible professors.

Political history, after all, is a topic he loves almost as much as baseball and his native New York.

A two-time winner of Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Podair co-authored 2019’s Republican Populist: Spiro Agnew and the Origins of Donald Trump’s America (University of Virginia Press). That followed his award-winning 2017 book that explored slices of both baseball and political history, City of Dreams: Dodger Stadium and the Birth of Modern Los Angeles (Princeton University Press).

Much of Podair’s academic work has focused on 20th-century American history. Other books he has authored include The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis and Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer, a biography of the civil rights leader who planned the 1963 March on Washington.

He earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University, a law degree from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

We caught up with Podair to talk about his love of teaching history at Lawrence and his interests away from the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

That I was in my mid-30s before I decided what I wanted to do with my life. So, they have much more time to make that decision than they may realize.

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

I love writing history, and love when I’m able to connect what I’m writing to what I’m teaching. When students are as excited about history as I am … well, it doesn’t get any better than that.

I’m also excited when a student starts a course in one place and ends it in another – richer in knowledge, insight, and understanding. It’s always great to see that and share their sense of accomplishment.

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?

Growing up as a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, if anyone had told me I’d spend 23 very happy years in northeast Wisconsin, I wouldn’t have believed them. Before I came to Lawrence, I had never spent more than two consecutive weeks outside the New York metropolitan area. So, I’m surprised at where I am, but pleasantly so.

I also have never finished writing a book where I expected to be when I began it. Historical writing never loses its capacity for surprise and wonder. 

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I’m living the life I’ve imagined, teaching and writing American history. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. I gave an Honors Convocation address a few years back titled, The Only Life: Liberal Arts and the Life of the Mind at Lawrence University. That’s how I still feel. This is the only life, and we Lawrentians are fortunate to live it.

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

My favorite spot is Rik Warch’s portrait at the entrance to the Campus Center. Rik was full of warmth and humor, and a wise, generous friend — not only to me but to everyone on the Lawrence campus. He was unforgettable, and seeing him in the Campus Center, a place that vibrantly reflects his spirit, always lifts my own spirits. From time to time I give Rik a nod or a wink as I pass by, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one who does. 

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

Book: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. The great American novel of the 20th century and the work of a courageous and honest man.

Recording: Bill Evans’ version of Here’s That Rainy Day. It’s been said that the melancholic Portuguese-Brazilian word “saudade” defies translation, but Evans comes closest.

Film: The Lives of Others. German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s story of human redemption for our time and all time.

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

2 Minutes With … Jonathan Hogan: Working hard to get out the vote

Jonathan Hogan ’23 is working in Student Life to provide voter information to students in advance of Election Day on Nov. 3. (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

Jonathan Hogan ’23 had lots of downtime during his summer job as a pool worker in his hometown of Warrenville, Illinois. To pass the time, he often took refuge in political reports from The New York Times and German public radio. This is how the government and German major found himself submerged in the world of election campaign news like never before.

It drew him to his current fellowship with Lawrence’s Student Life office, serving as an essential student resource for voting information.

For more information on voting, see here.

The fellowship’s objective is simple: increase voter turnout among students. Jonathan understands that voting takes time, energy, and effort. It’s his job to ease concerns and equip students with the tools to exercise their constitutional right.

“It’s been my goal primarily to deliver the simplest message as possible and decrease the cost (in time, energy, and effort) of voting as much as possible,” he said.

Gaining new experience

As a government major, Jonathan is learning about ways to address the needs of voters, though he admits his governmental interests lie more in analytics than abstract engagement tactics. So, he’s found there’s much to learn from this experience with Student Life.

“I’ve never been good at doing big social or public events,” he said. “So, it’s been rewarding to learn how to design posters, get the word out, and attract attention and participation from the community.”

Jonathan’s Fall Term position has been ideal for practicing those skills. Before Election Day rolls around, he must host four events under different topics: voter registration, voter information, early/absentee voting, and Get Out the Vote. His impressive first move was coordinating with President Burstein to get students the day off from classes on Nov. 3 so students are more likely to be free and able to vote. It’s now one of the Mid-Term Reading Period days. You’re welcome.

Of course, this year these events must be contactless. Recently, Jonathan put up posters with information on candidates running in local races. He then brought a “one-stop shop” table to Warch Campus Center where students could get voter registration forms and other voter information; within one week, he helped 150 students complete their registration. Keep an eye out for the table in the coming days to get information on early voting or to get questions answered on other election-related topics.

Large bags of popcorn in Jonathan’s residence hall room await the final upcoming event, a virtual ballot-counting watch party.

A promising platform

With these efforts in mind, one’s thoughts turn to the ongoing difficulty in connecting with others due to the pandemic. Jonathan’s outreach campaigns are no exception. Though he’s been successful in spreading the word on voting, he still notes a lack of communal feeling when we’re trapped in a virtual world, forced into indirect means of communication. Nonetheless, he emphasizes that he’s making it work.

“It’s been rewarding in general contributing to something I feel is very important for the future of all Americans,” he said. “Engaging in communal politics in an elementary fashion is really cool.”

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

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