Lezlie Weber (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lezlie Weber joined Lawrence University as its director of Off-Campus Programs not long before the coronavirus upheavals began.

As COVID-19 was headed toward global pandemic status and study abroad programs began shutting down in early 2020, Weber and her team were working to bring Lawrence students home quickly and safely. It was a wild way to begin a new job. Weber was commuting at times from her home in Waukesha while preparing to move to the Fox Valley.

“I remember sitting at my dining room table at about 9 p.m. on a Friday night and seeing alerts going out about the conditions in Italy and about how program providers were starting to evacuate students,” she said. “I had dealt with emergencies in the past but nothing quite like this. For the next several weeks, our office was working on evacuating students around the clock. I remember responding to urgent emails at rest stops on the way to work early in the morning. Hundreds of emails, phone calls to students, parents, and leadership. There were Lawrence students in many parts of the world and some with trickier evacuations than others.”

That led into a Spring Term in which most international and non-essential travel had ceased and very few study-abroad programs were in-person. A number of Lawrence students signed up for virtual programs, including via the London Centre, but for most, study abroad was on pause.

Some of that has since returned, including 10 students at London Centre during the current Spring Term, with pandemic protocols in place. Weber is looking with optimism toward the coming Fall Term, when more of the off-campus programs are expected to return, both internationally and in the United States.

“We know students are ready to explore and have transformational experiences again,” Weber said. “Students are starting to dream about future travel, and we are excited about what’s to come.”

Study abroad at Lawrence. See details here.

Weber arrived at Lawrence with a deep love of travel and an unwavering belief in global and cross-cultural study. She came to LU from Carroll University, where she served for four years as assistant director of cross-cultural experiences.

As an undergraduate at State University of New York at Buffalo, she studied studio art in Australia through an exchange program. She earned a master’s degree in international education from SIT Graduate Institute, and later lived and worked in Lima, Peru. 

We talked with Weber about her work in Off-Campus Programs.

What excites you about the work you do?

Working closely with staff in our office in Appleton, the London Centre, faculty, and other departments on campus, as well as partners from all over the world, I get to help students define their personal goals and find, apply, and engage in meaningful experiences off campus. That can mean helping them travel to our own London Centre, participate in a research-based science program on the East Coast, or go overseas to learn at a university in another country. We do everything from advising on which program to choose to re-entry back into the U.S post program. A day in the Off-Campus Programs office is never the same. It’s what keeps it interesting and fun.

What’s the current status of the programs, including London Centre?

We currently have 13 students abroad on off-campus programs and one student taking a virtual domestic program. Students who are attending the London Centre had to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, start their classes online and continue that for another few weeks until they could take some classes in-person. A lot of the time is spent in small groups outside, using London as a classroom. There are 10 students and Jeff Stannard (associate dean of the Conservatory and professor of music) at the London Centre right now.

How do you approach your job to best serve students?

First, I like to learn what the students’ goals are for both their off-campus program and plans after graduation. They don’t always have the life-after-Lawrence piece figured out, and that is completely fine. In fact, it’s a good reason to go off campus—to explore existing and new passions and interests. I try to support students through problem-solving and helping them break down the logistics of international and domestic programs, which sometimes seem overwhelming—knowing that being supportive and encouraging means different things to different students.

What work or life experiences led you to this role at Lawrence?

During my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad as an undergraduate student and have since worked in educational travel in many different capacities, including a position in Lima, Peru. My favorite part is watching students grow and learn through new experiences and develop their intercultural skills. I have worked in international education for the last eight years and was so excited to join Lawrence. I am a strong believer in the liberal arts, and I love how creative the Lawrence community is.

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