Month: April 2021

2 Minutes With … Earl Simons Jr.: Following passions in music, Japanese

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 (Photos 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

One of the best parts of the Lawrence experience for many students is getting a chance to explore a deep interest even if it’s not in your primary area of study. Earl Simons Jr. ’22 can attest to that.

The junior from Queens, New York, isn’t working toward a degree in music—he’s majoring in international relations and minoring in Japanese—but has had the opportunity to nurture his trumpet skills with the Conservatory of Music. He’s played with the award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, and this term is taking trumpet lessons as an independent study with trumpet professor John Daniel. 

Simons has been playing the trumpet since fourth grade and has gotten instruction along the way from some accomplished trumpet players, including Peter Archer, the New York City middle school teacher who was an inspiration for the Disney-Pixar film, Soul. 

“He has had a big influence on my life; he is also a Black trumpeter,” Simons said of Archer. “Fun fact, he was a big inspiration for the movie Soul. The middle school in the film is almost an exact replica of our middle school band room. Really proud of him for that.” 

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 isn’t pursuing a music degree but he still follows his music passions in the Conservatory of Music. It is one of the things that drew him to Lawrence, he said.

A common misconception with the Conservatory is you have to be majoring in music to take part in ensembles or other aspects of the music program. That’s not the case.  

“For two years I was part of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble,” Simons said. “When I was looking into Lawrence, I was in contact with Ken Anselment (vice president for enrollment and communication), and he told me about the jazz program. He also got me in contact with Patty Darling, director of the Jazz Ensemble.”  

Studying abroad in Japan

Along with following his passion in music, Simons has been able to explore his interest in East Asian culture.  

“I’ve always been interested in East Asian cultures, ever since I was a kid,” Simons said. “For elementary and middle school, my schools were prominently Asian. So, I was always engaged in and had a deep apperception for the cultures. It wasn’t until high school where I focused on Japanese culture and language. I knew I wanted to pursue it in college.”  

Simons started studying Japanese at Lawrence his first year and had the opportunity to participate in an eight-week summer immersion program with the Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont.  

“My professor, Akimi Adler, told me about it and I got in,” Simons said. “When you do this over the summer, it’s an immersion program, so it’s eight weeks of the language, no English. For eight weeks you have to honor a pledge to only speak in the language you are studying. And that really helped.”  

During this program, Simons realized how much he enjoyed learning Japanese and has decided to take his study of Japanese language and culture to Japan. He will be participating in the Waseda University semester program for Fall and Winter terms.  

“At the Middlebury Language Schools is where I really fell in love with Japanese,” Simons said. “A lot of the professors there were asking me, ‘Are you going to go to Japan?’ That’s when I thought about it and decided I wanted to study abroad in Japan.”

Simons will be taking classes at Waseda University. He then will participate in a cultural internship before returning to Lawrence in mid-March.  

“I want my experience in Japan to enlighten me about new opportunities I could take,” Simons said. “That’s what I am most excited for; I want to be inspired to do more things.” 

Simons will be bringing his trumpet with him to Japan.  

“I want to see their jazz clubs,” Simons said. “I don’t know what the jazz scene is like in Japan, but I heard it’s good.” 

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

On Main Hall Green With … Alyssa Hakes: Digging deep into plant ecology

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Alyssa Hakes (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

Alyssa Hakes, an associate professor of biology, has focused on plant ecology since joining the Lawrence faculty in 2012.

Much of her research has involved plant-insect interactions. She involves her students in that research, using observational studies, field experiments, and computer models to understand how the spatial location of plants and plant traits might influence interactions with other organisms and what that might mean for plant reproduction and trait evolution.

Over the past year, Hakes has used goofy costumes to lighten the mood and help her students on Zoom get through the pandemic.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.

We caught up with her to talk about interests 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 always get nervous and excited on the first day of class. I’m nervous because I care about you and your learning experience and I want to do a good job. I want our classroom—whether in Steitz, Youngchild, or on Zoom—to be a fun and welcoming space. My office is overgrown with potted plants and if you visit me, I will likely offer to give you one. 

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

My lab conducts field work at Whitefish Dunes State Park located near Bjorklunden. I study a rare plant called Pitcher’s thistle and an invasive insect, an evil weevil, that is eating their seeds. We discovered areas of the dunes that are more susceptible to weevil infestation and are studying how weevils move and select their plant hosts so that we can use this information to develop conservation strategies. It’s exciting research in a beautiful natural area. 

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?

As a college freshman, I knew I wanted to become a biologist but I was worried that learning about evolution in my classes would damage my religious faith. I was surprised to find support and acceptance from both my church—turns out my denomination is fine with evolution—and science mentors who insisted that I belong. It turned out not to be the issue I thought it would be. Now, evolution is one of my favorite topics to teach.


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

I would want to work for the Girl Scouts of the USA organization. I’m a lifetime member of Girl Scouts and I benefited from their girl-centered mission and programming. When I was a graduate student at LSU, I volunteered for Girl Scouts and led local scouts on several backpacking and canoeing adventures. 

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

The Briggs greenhouse is one of my favorite spots on campus, especially during the Winter Term when I’m missing green plants and warmth. We have a nice teaching collection of desert and tropical plants that are used in several of our biology classes. My favorite plants are the cycads and the Amorphophallus titanum corpse flower plant, which I hope will grow large enough to flower someday and bless our campus with its famous stench.

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

I’m going to focus my answer to the art that got me through this past year. My favorite book and movie of 2020 were Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and The Forty-Year-Old Version, respectively. During the pandemic I also turned to the nostalgia and comfort of familiar music and TV. I listened to a lot of David Bowie and laughed along to old episodes of MST3K.

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

See more faculty profiles here.

2 Minutes With … Adya Kadambari: Putting a focus on Earth Week

Adya Kadambari ’23 on the Lawrence campus overlooking the Fox River. (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

The COVID-19 pandemic may have kept us from celebrating together in 2020, but Earth Day and Earth Week festivities at Lawrence will spring back into action in the coming days. Adya Kadambari ‘23, chair of the new LUCC Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee, has played a lead role in organizing the events.

Formed this year, the LUCC Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee brings together students from Lawrence’s numerous environmentally-centered student organizations, including Greenfire, ORC (Outdoor Recreation Club), and SLUG (Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens), to discuss and support sustainability efforts.

Lawrence’s Earth Week schedule includes, among other things, LU Earth Hour, a lights-out event and gathering on Main Hall Green on the evening of Earth Day (April 22), a screening of the documentary film I Am Greta on April 23, and an Earth Day Gala on April 24.

A growing interest

While chairing this committee is Kadambari’s first environmental leadership role, she’s not new to the subject. When she was approached about taking on the chair duties, she had already sat in on many Sustainability Committee meetings, where she was involved in reducing plastic waste and facilitating use of reusable bags at Warch Campus Center.

Her environmental stewardship was nurtured before she came to Lawrence. While in school in her hometown of Bangalore, India, she completed a geographical research project through Cambridge Board on Lake Ulsoor. Her interest in environmental issues has continued to grow, she said.

Organizing in a pandemic

The ongoing pandemic makes this a complicated time to organize events meant to include many students.

“This entire thing is a challenge for me,” Kadambari said. “I need to take a lot of things into account. You need to reserve outdoor spaces and give a proposed plan for why your event is going to be COVID-safe.”

Despite technical roadblocks, Kadambari and the rest of the committee have worked hard to make the celebration safe for everyone.

For her part, Kadambari has planned a mass planting of native flowering plants behind Sage Hall Loft. She also helped put together the Greenfire-sponsored LU Earth Hour event, where students will be encouraged to turn off all the lights in their rooms and venture outside to look at the stars and talk about astronomy and energy conservation.

Other Earth Week favorites will return this year, such as the Saturday gala hosted by Greenfire, which can be enjoyed on Main Hall Green as well as virtually.

Kadambari looks forward to Earth Day as a time to celebrate our environment and encourage sustainability at Lawrence. But it has also taken on new meaning as a chance to safely step outside and enjoy the world in ways that haven’t been as available to us lately.

“I hope the student body comes out because it should be better weather,” she said. “Now that we’ve been cooped up for so long, they should come out and have fun.”

In the spirit of Earth Day, she also reminds students about the sustainability grants available to those who want to enact a sustainability project on campus.

“If you have any ideas that you want to put money toward, there are multiple grants you can apply for through the steering committee and LUCC. It’s just a matter of getting involved and being proactive.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Poonam Kumar: Path leads to global law success

Poonam Kumar ’04

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 Poonam Kumar ’04, a corporate partner in the global law firm of DLA Piper.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Poonam Kumar ’04 came to Lawrence University at the outset of the millennium intent on being a lawyer.

An international student from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, in India, she came from a family of doctors and engineers. But it was corporate law that grabbed her attention early and never let go.

“I enjoyed analytical thinking and critical reasoning and that drew me to the law,” Kumar said.

It also drew her to Lawrence. She knew she wanted the path to law school to go through a liberal arts college, and she found what she was looking for at Lawrence. She double-majored in economics and political science and minored in philosophy, all the while feeding an appetite for analytics and reasoning that would serve her well in law school and beyond.

She pointed to professors such as Minoo Adenwalla in Government, Bertrand Goldgar in English, Tom Ryckman in Philosophy, and Karen Carr in Religious Studies in challenging her to think critically and communicate clearly on subjects that spanned the disciplines.

“At Lawrence, I learned about being a critical thinker and a critical reader, being analytical, and being able to write clearly and effectively,” she said. “All the things they focus on as freshmen and then over the course of our time at Lawrence. Those skills really helped me to make good impressions at the various internships I had before I got to law school, and then during law school. And then when I started working.”

That path from Lawrence led Kumar to the University of Texas School of Law and eventually to DLA Piper, one of the largest global law firms in the world. The firm has offices in 40 countries, including in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. Kumar, working out of the firm’s Minneapolis office, was named a partner in 2018, less than a decade and a half after graduating from Lawrence.

Her work at DLA Piper focuses mostly on advising large global companies on a variety of corporate transactions.

“Because of the global nature of my work and clients, I work primarily with people outside the U.S.,” she said.

Kumar again points to her experiences in and out of the classroom at Lawrence for preparing her to work in a global, intense, and fast-moving environment. The lessons learned as an undergrad, she said, set a base for everything that would follow, allowing her to pivot effectively no matter the subject or location.

“For the fundamental skills of reading critically, being able to express yourself in an effective way, peer communication; all that at Lawrence was very helpful,” she said. “And still is helpful. I see other people who struggle with those basic skills and I found that it had helped me to have gone to a good liberal arts school.”

Kumar said her time at Lawrence also helped in the decision of her family moving to the Twin Cities. She learned to value the charms of the Midwest while at Lawrence. She spent considerable time in New York after her parents moved there, but she was drawn to the upper Midwest as a place where she and her husband wanted to live, work, and raise their child – a daughter who is now 8.

“I think people downplay how unique Lawrence is, even by its location,” Kumar said. “We really bring a different mindset and a different perspective when we go out to the coasts; or to other cities. I think the Lawrence training was spectacular. … I think Lawrence really does do a good job at training us and giving us a good perspective on things.”

In addition to her legal work, Kumar also has been active in advocating for diversity and inclusion at her firm and within the larger legal community in the Twin Cities. She serves on the board of directors for Minnesota Women Lawyers, an organization geared toward supporting women lawyers across Minnesota, and chairs an affinity group for diverse partners and counsel at her firm.  

“I have always believed, and happily experienced, that having a diverse set of viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds always makes for a richer discussion and a richer problem-solving effort,” Kumar said. “So, I’ve always tried to help create that mix of people.”

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

For other Lighting the Way With … features on Lawrence alumni, see here.