Month: September 2021

On Main Hall Green With … Israel Del Toro: Lawrence’s champion of bees

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Israel Del Toro (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

Israel Del Toro loves bees.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of biology studies bees, researches bee habitats, teaches about bees, caters to bees on the Lawrence University campus, and advocates for bees across the Fox Valley and beyond.

His efforts earned Lawrence a Bee Campus USA designation two years ago and his advocacy for bees off campus has led to a growing embrace for No Mow May, a movement that calls on homeowners in the community to hold off on mowing their grass in spring to help the pollinators thrive.

Much of Del Toro’s research and data analysis has centered on those pollinators, and a growing number of Lawrence students have joined his research efforts since he arrived on campus in 2016.

We caught up with Del Toro to talk about his interests on and off campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

My classes are all about experimenting, trying different approaches to problem-solving, failing, trying something new, and learning from the previous attempts. I don’t stress too much about grades but rather focus on the experience of trial and error. Having said that, I’m an easy grader; all I expect from my students is that they put their best effort forward. Don’t stress about your grade, rather show me that you learned something new. In my classes, students learn to code, think about biological data analyses, and geek out about exciting new science. 

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

Bees! Our lab is all about pollinator research. If you want to learn about protecting the important little things that run the world, then this lab is the place for you. This is the style of teaching that I enjoy the most, working one-on-one with you to ask really nerdy questions. I live for the moment when my students branch out and ask their own interesting questions, develop an elegant and simple study and go get that data. To work with me you have to be self-driven, independent, and curious about the natural world.

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?

One of the things I love about being an ecologist is that I constantly get to be outside in cool new places. I’ve been privileged enough to see all seven continents and do field work throughout the world. From the Australian Outback to the Savannahs of Africa, to the frozen islands of the Antarctic, and now the adventure-filled forests of North America. It’s simply exciting to be in a new ecosystem and learn about all the critters in it. While at Lawrence, I also learned that you don’t have to go somewhere remote to do cool science and engage with nature. There’s a ton of biodiversity right here in our own back yard that is awaiting exploration.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Fishing my way around the world. I love to travel, see the world, and learn all about different cultures and people. I have found that by learning to fish in a new place, you learn a ton about the people in that community. I first realized this when living in Darwin, Australia. I caught my first big fish there and have been hooked ever since. I’ve fished and lived in Denmark, Wales, South Africa, New Mexico, and Massachusetts. At every place, I learned a lot about the community from their fishing practices. Now I’m all about fishing for nearly everything that Wisconsin has to offer.

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

If I need a moment to get away, you will find me hiking the wooded trails along the river. I love the sound of the rushing water; it is my moment of Zen. When life gets busy and I find myself overwhelmed, sometimes taking that little 15-minute hike helps me reset. Make time to just be still, quiet, and enjoy the ever-changing sounds of nature right on campus.

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 recommendation for any incoming student is E.O. Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist. Even if you are not planning to be a STEM major, this book is filled with great tips for succeeding as a college student, and developing a curiosity-driven, exploratory mentality. Lately, I’ve found myself jamming out to some funky folk music. Check out the Punch Brothers or GreenSky Bluegrass. But I have to say that sometimes you will find me jamming out to a good corrido or some classic Los Tigres Del Norte—it’s in my DNA. This time of year, you will find me watching all the creepy horror movies and TV shows. American Horror Story and The Exorcist are just perfection in the fall!

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

Stories in the night sky: Lawrence student tackles research on Celestial Histories

Avery Greene stands among chalk constellations drawn by Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, earlier this month on the Lawrence University campus. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Karina Herrera ’22

Many people enjoy stargazing without ever knowing that those twinkling dots in the sky hold stories and legends from cultures around the world.

Avery Greene, a Lawrence University sophomore from Edina, Minnesota, wants to share those stories, particularly those that are important to her fellow Lawrentians. She spent the summer on a research project called Celestial Histories, under the guidance of Megan Pickett, associate professor of physics, and is now creating an oral history of astronomy and of personal connections to the night sky. She’s building a website that will hold her research and the celestial stories shared by students, faculty, and staff at Lawrence.

A chemistry and history double major, Greene became interested in pursuing this project after hearing about one of Pickett’s astronomy classes, where students discussed different interpretations of constellations and stars. She had previously taken a historiography class that involved studying oral histories and learned how to create an exhibit in a narrative format. She had already taken numerous physics classes and felt ready to jump into the celestial research.

“I was able to take my education and my interests and put them together for this project,” Greene said.

She describes Celestial Histories as a collection of stories, traditions, and experiences of the night sky that people in the Lawrence community have shared with her. By collecting these different tales and legends, Greene is able to portray how students can celebrate different cultures in various forms — even in the sky.

“It’s a way that we can walk with other cultures, not only to a space where we’re acknowledging other cultures, but kind of creating a community centered around all these things that we have in common,” Greene said.

One such story that Greene pieced together is about the constellation Taurus. Often referred to as Taurus the Bull, one part of the constellation consists of a cluster of seven stars called the Pleiades. It might look familiar, Greene said, if you think of the Subaru logo. In Japanese, subaru means “united” or “gather together,” so when the Subaru Corp. was founded in 1953, its leaders adopted a logo with the united stars. One reason there are only six stars in the logo instead of seven is because the seventh star is not always visible to the naked eye.

The process for gathering these stories and experiences was twofold for Greene. Half of the project was spent researching and gathering historical information on her own, and the other half was spent interviewing people for their interpretations and accounts with the night sky.

Greene chose to focus her research within the demographics and populations that are represented at Lawrence so that her project would be more personal to the Lawrence community.

She reached out via social media to spread the word about her project, inviting Lawrentians to come forward with their stories. Now she’s creating a website so that people can experience for themselves the many traditions and legends connected with certain constellations.

Throughout her progress with Celestial Histories, Greene said Pickett’s guidance and support has been instrumental in keeping the project moving forward. Pickett provided the initial idea and a general outline of what she was looking for and continued to offer feedback at every stage of the project.

“She has an insane knowledge base of the actual sky, so she’s been a really good reference for me to check that what I’m actually saying is the right star,” Greene said.

Pickett had nothing but praise for Greene’s work.

“She put together the surveys, conducted the interviews, put together the website and archival access—and got us both IRB (Institutional Review Board) certified; she’s done an amazing job, and I am so proud of her,” Pickett said.

Greene aims for Celestial Histories to be an ongoing project. She is excited to continue interviewing students about their personal connection with the night sky. Both she and Pickett want it to be something that other students can continue after Greene graduates.

“I have learned so much,” Greene said. “I got to dig into something that I hadn’t really ever experienced before.”

Karina Herrera ’22 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

Building Brilliance With … Brittany Bell: Mentoring, supporting diverse voices

Brittany Bell (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

Brittany Bell, Ed.D., is all about the student journey.

As assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC) at Lawrence University, Bell is an important resource for students. In the D&IC, located in Memorial Hall, Bell and her staff provide a welcoming, inclusive, and creative gathering space for students of diverse backgrounds.

She came to Lawrence in early 2019 after six and half years on the staff at St. Norbert College, where she served as assistant director of multicultural student services and then student success librarian.

Since arriving at Lawrence, she has raised the profile of the D&IC, remodeled the space to make it a welcoming place where students can gather, study, and socialize, launched educational programming, and has become a valuable mentor for students and student organizations on campus.

Bell, the mother of three girls with her spouse, Chris, contributed a chapter to the recently published book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls. It was published by SAGE Publications and came out earlier this year. Her chapter, co-written by Ramycia McGhee, is on colorism in the classroom.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a doctorate from Edgewood College.

Find more Lawrence staff profiles here.

Outside of work, Bell and her family operate the De Pere-based God’s Purpose Apparel, designing and selling clothing and accessories that feature motivational and faith-inspired sayings, with monies being donated to nonprofits serving the homeless community.

We caught up with Bell for a Q&A to talk about her work on campus and what inspires her.

What’s excites you the most about the work you do with Lawrence students?

It’s getting to know our students, learning more about their stories and aspirations. As I listen, I capture those first moments and then do what I can to support them along their journey. It’s exciting to do it all over again year after year.

As director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center and assistant dean of students, you play an important role in our students’ college journeys beyond the classroom. Why is that so critical to their Lawrence experience?

The best way to describe it is I am an ally, mentor, and I serve as a resource for students. Part of my role is leading the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC). The D&IC is a space where students can come together. We promote programming that educates and encourages conversation, and celebrations that embrace culture and identity in oneself and others. The space and staff at the D&IC provide an inclusive environment for students to thrive personally, socially, and academically. An opportunity we’ve created is the Program for Leadership of Underrepresented Students (PLUS), a peer mentoring program that assists students during their first year.

What drew you to a career working in higher education?

My own experience. During my time in college I learned how significant it was to have college leaders and mentors who were supportive during my journey. One day after completing my internship at a news station, I remember sitting in my mentor’s office. It was the end of my junior year, and after the internship experience, I decided I no longer wanted to be a news reporter. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I had wasted time and money. My mentor sat with me and we talked, and it was that day that I learned that I had options, ones that included me doing what I loved—letting my light shine bright and helping students through their journey. 

What did the past year and a half—the pandemic, the social unrest—teach you about the work you and your staff do?

The pandemic and social unrest has magnified the importance of all voices being heard. We learned how important it is to invite peers, colleagues, and friends to join us on this journey as we continue work toward creating change in our community.

What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?

One thing I do when I’m away from campus, besides being with my spouse and children, that brings me joy is when I’m designing. As an artist, I’m always amazed by the process from start to finish. I get to listen to the creativity from others and I take their ideas and form it into something wonderful. Since I was 5 years old, art has always been my go-to, and now when I see people wearing apparel or using business projects I’ve designed, it brings me joy knowing I’m making an impact in multiple ways.

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