Category: Alumni Profiles

Lighting the Way With … Andrea Lewis Hartung: When justice gets it wrong

Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05 (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law)

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 Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05, a lawyer and clinical assistant professor of law at Northwestern University who works with the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Even when Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05 wins a case, she finds it difficult to celebrate.

A lawyer specializing in post-conviction law, Lewis Hartung fights to overturn wrongful convictions, a small but growing field of law that garners attention whenever a wrongfully convicted client is exonerated, often after years of incarceration. But the slog through the legal system is long and difficult, and the reality of a win means an innocent person has had a large chunk of their life taken from them.

“I’d say the victories are bittersweet,” Lewis Hartung said. “The work is slow. These cases often take years to move back through the criminal justice system. There are a lot of road blocks along the way. So, it definitely feels good when there’s a win, when a client gets exonerated or otherwise released from prison, but at the same time there’s always the recognition that there’s a person who was in prison for a crime they did not commit. They’ve essentially lost their life.

“Things have to be relearned, and relived under this stigma of a prior conviction. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to rebuild a life after a wrongful conviction. So, even if we win, when an individual gets out of prison, that sense of relief is there, but there’s also an enormous struggle to rebuild a life that was lost.”

For more Lawrence alumni features, see here.

It is work that Lewis Hartung has a passion for, built on the liberal arts foundation she embraced while at Lawrence University, where she majored in psychology and Spanish. She would go on to study law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, working as a student in the school’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.

After graduating, she worked for a Chicago firm in the labor and employment law group, and did some pro bono work in criminal law and other areas. But the wrongful convictions work continued to tug at her heart. She returned to Northwestern and the Center on Wrongful Convictions in 2013 as a clinical fellow, a position focused on female prisoners who were believed to have been wrongfully convicted. She then transitioned into a faculty position two years later. She now teaches post-conviction law and works cases for the clinic.

A recent exoneration happened in the Arkansas case of Tina Jimerson, a woman who spent more than 26 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in 1992 of being an accessory to a 1988 murder and robbery. Jimerson and three other defendants had been sentenced to life in prison. After years of legal fighting, including a confession from one of the convicted that he acted alone and a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling affirming that prosecutors and police intentionally concealed a jailhouse informant interview, Jimerson and another defendant were exonerated.

Jimerson was released from prison in 2018. But it took until September of this year for charges to be formally dismissed.

“When we got word that Tina was exonerated, it was definitely worth all the work,” Lewis Hartung said.

The process is difficult. The end point can feel a long way off. But there are moments on the journey that provide reassurance, Lewis Hartung said.

“There are little steps along the way that make the work worthwhile for me,” she said. “Small things like a client thanking me for listening to their story, or telling me that no one has asked them what happened before, or no one has asked them to walk through their story before. They are thankful for that. … I think it’s worth joining them for that fight.”

The Center on Wrongful Convictions, launched in 1999, is one of dozens of organizations across the country dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions. Since 1989, nearly 2,700 convicted individuals have been exonerated in the U.S., according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Fueled by the Lawrence experience

When she was a student at Lawrence, Lewis Hartung knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She just hadn’t quite centered on where that might lead her. But she knew the liberal arts foundation would take her where she needed to go.

“One of the best parts of the Lawrence experience was that the educational process was a little bit entrepreneurial,” she said. “You pick a major along the way but Lawrence really encourages students to take courses that interest them and to develop as students. Having the opportunity to sort of push my own boundaries, take classes that may or may not have gone toward my major, and being at a liberal arts college in general, I think was helpful to becoming a lawyer later on. In much the same way, I work on my cases and I take on clients and I have to be pretty creative in determining what to do with cases and how a client may or may not be helped, and I do think having that liberal arts background and having sort of a broader education has helped along the way.”

It was just a matter of time until she found her calling. She initially held off on jumping into law school, instead taking another job in the legal field.

“I wanted to observe what lawyers did for a living, then make a decision from there,” she said.

That eventually led her to Northwestern, back to her Chicago roots. She continues to live near Chicago with her husband, Chris, and their young son, Rob.

Reconnecting with Lawrence

In that first decade after graduating from Lawrence, Lewis Hartung said she mostly lost contact with her alma mater. But when she got an email about efforts to organize a Black alumni reunion, she was intrigued. That eventually brought her back to campus, where she connected with President Mark Burstein and other campus leaders and engaged in conversations about getting and staying involved. She became active with the Black Alumni Network and was named to the Lawrence University Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Now she hopes to keep that momentum going, perhaps working through the Viking Connect program or Career Communities or other outlets in the Career Center.

“I know I, and other alumni, would really like to be a bit more involved with student mentorship,” she said.

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

Lighting the Way With … Dr. Ben Weston: On the COVID-19 front lines

Dr. Ben Weston ’05 (Photo courtesy of Medical College of Wisconsin)

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 Dr. Ben Weston ’05, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin who has been a leader in the Milwaukee area in the COVID-19 pandemic battle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When Dr. Ben Weston ’05 tells you “it’s been an interesting year,” know that is his understated way of saying it’s been an emotionally draining, frustrating, holy-cow-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened, gut-wrenching, exhausting, pants-on-fire sort of a year.

So, yes, interesting.

The Lawrence University alumnus is among the army of front-line health care workers who have been living the COVID-19 pandemic up close and personal on a daily basis, and he’s done it wearing three important but vastly different hats.

For two shifts a week, Weston works as an emergency department physician at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, part of his role as associate professor of emergency medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin. It’s here where he sees COVID patients fighting for their lives, where the latest surge threatens to overwhelm staff and space, where he and colleagues have to wear the same protective masks for multiple days for fear of resources running short.

He also lives it in his role as director of medical services for Milwaukee County, working through the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate 14 fire departments, ambulances, and other first responders in providing emergency medical care for a region with a population of nearly 1 million people.

For more Lawrence alumni features, see here.

And he lives it in his role as medical director of the Milwaukee area’s COVID-19 Unified Emergency Operations Center, working with the city of Milwaukee, the county, and a bevy of municipalities to coordinate responses to the pandemic and provide consistent messaging to residents.

Three hats, three perspectives of a pandemic that has shown no signs of abating, and a day-to-day schedule that has been dominated by the coronavirus since the earliest days of 2020.

And when Weston’s work day is over and he settles in with his wife and three young kids, can he move away from the brutal realities of the health care crisis? Well, not completely. His wife, Dr. Michelle Buelow, is a physician with Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers on the south side of Milwaukee, treating a heavily Hispanic population that has been hit hard by COVID-19.

“She’s been right in the thick of it as well,” Weston said. “So, the evenings usually start with a little pandemic conversation, and then we try purposely to shift to other things.”

Beyond the imaginable

Weston knew his world was about to change in January as the virus began its spread. What he didn’t know was that nearly a year later we would be staring into what could be a very dark winter as cases surge across the United States, hospitals are stretched to capacity and beyond, and the death toll nears 275,000.

“I don’t think anybody anticipated the longevity or the extreme impact that COVID would have,” Weston said of those early days before the virus landed in the U.S. “We would talk through scenarios about if long-term care facilities were hit or if there were outbreaks in regions of the community. I think it was certainly hard to imagine back then that we would be having this widespread outbreak everywhere like we have now. Every county in Wisconsin, every state in the United States, every country in the world is having these surges in cases right now, along with hospitalizations and deaths. We would have been naïve to think it wasn’t going to affect us at all, but I don’t think anyone anticipated this.”

Weston has been front and center in messaging to the public about the spread of the virus, the significance of the threat, and the need for personal responsibility. He’s spoken at news conferences and done dozens of interviews with media, locally and nationally. He’s done so while fighting conflicting messages coming from the national level.

“There have been a lot of novel aspects to the virus that makes it very challenging to control,” Weston said. “Biologic aspects of the virus, the incubation period, the asymptomatic spread. Things like that make it very hard to control, and difficult to message from a disease perspective. And then you compound that with messaging at the highest level and the national response that a lot of times is contradictory to the local response and the local messaging and you have a pretty difficult situation.”

There are consequences that come with that lack of a unified national response. One, of course, is the accelerated spread of the virus when segments of the population refuse to take it seriously, continuing to gather in confined spaces and refusing to wear masks. Another is the emotional toll it’s taking on health care workers. They not only face burnout because of the workload, but they also have to deal with backlash from people who see the pandemic as politics, Weston said.

“Everyone is really strained from a work standpoint,” he said. “Our public health infrastructure is not designed for this, nor is it funded, nor is it staffed in a way to manage something like this.”

To then receive hateful messages from someone taking exception to the daily news cycle adds to an already overwhelming burden, Weston said.

“It’s disheartening for public health practitioners when they are working these 60-, 70-, 80-, 100-hour weeks, and then at the end of the week when they feel like they’ve done something positive, they open up their email or listen to their voice mail and that’s what they hear.”

Through it all, though, there are opportunities to smile, Weston said. Health care workers need to cling to those moments. For him, it’s a kind email from a woman who opted to skip an indoor Thanksgiving gathering after hearing him speak on the dangers of such behavior. Or seeing multiple health care organizations across the state come together to share data and strategies, something that would have been unheard of a year ago.

“They come in somewhat small victories,” Weston said.

A path forged at Lawrence

Before Weston earned his medical and Master of Public Health degrees at the University of Wisconsin, he was a biology major at Lawrence. The classroom instruction prepared him well for medical school. But he points to campus experiences outside of the classroom that helped him develop the leadership and collaboration skills that are in play now. He worked his final three years at Lawrence in residence hall leadership positions, first in Plantz Hall and then in Hiett Hall, and chaired the Lawrence University Community Council’s Judicial Board.

“I loved my Lawrence experience,” Weston said. “I had the privilege of having leadership opportunities at Lawrence that I think helped to develop and hone my ability to be in these positions I’m in now.”

He cites then-Dean of Students Nancy Truesdell and current Dean of Students Curt Lauderdale as mentors who helped guide his journey.

“They were great mentors, and I saw great examples of principled leadership and steadfast collaboration from both of them that have certainly carried forward to my career,” Weston said. “Those were critical building blocks for me.”

Those lessons, he said, will be close at hand as the calendar flips to 2021 and he looks to help colleagues weather at least a few more months of distress before a vaccine hopefully brings some relief.

“It’s been hard the last few weeks to see the surges going up, knowing that no hospital can keep up with those sorts of numbers,” Weston said.

But the recent news of a vaccine that could be coming soon has buoyed spirits among health care workers, even though they know things will be difficult between now and spring.

“What changes is the perspective,” Weston said. “If we had talked back in July, August, September, we didn’t know when the end point was. We hoped it would be maybe in the spring, but we didn’t know. We had no evidence to point to, to say there’s an end to this, it’s coming. There was talk that this could go on for years.

“And now we see promising signs that there is an end point. We see the vaccine trials and we see this news and we start talking about how we’re going to distribute it. And I think that’s great news and we should celebrate it. But we also should recognize that the vaccination campaign isn’t going to take off and get everyone vaccinated this winter. We have to get through what’s going to be a really hard winter. So, the message has to be that we can celebrate the vaccine, but for the next few months we really need to buckle down. We have winter coming. It’s going to be a challenging time. But we know an end is in sight.”

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

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

Lighting the Way With … Samuel Wrenn: In search of a COVID-19 vaccine

Samuel Wrenn ’17, second from the right, poses with his research team at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. He has been working in IPD research labs since 2018.

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 Samuel Wrenn ’17, a research scientist in Seattle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Samuel Wrenn ’17 is doing work that most everyone on the planet has a deep interest in these days.

A research scientist at the Institute of Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington in Seattle, Wrenn is part of a team searching for a vaccine for COVID-19, the coronavirus that has put much of the world on lockdown for months.

Dozens of teams of scientists all over the world are racing the clock to find a vaccine. About 10 vaccine possibilities have been green-lighted for human trials and others are nearing that point, according to the World Health Organization. Until a working vaccine is delivered, a full return to normal daily activities is unlikely.

Wrenn, who majored in mathematics at Lawrence, spent eight months in New Zealand following his 2017 graduation, a chance to reconnect with his grandmother’s homeland. He then moved to Seattle in 2018 to live with a couple of fellow Lawrentians, and landed the job with IPD shortly thereafter.

His work took a severe turn when the COVID-19 crisis arrived. The virus was declared a global pandemic in March, and with his work to date in nanoparticle research, Wrenn was selected to join the COVID-19 vaccine development team.

Samuel Wrenn ’17 on chasing a vaccine: “We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.”

To date, the U.S. has seen more than 2.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 126,000 deaths. The death toll worldwide exceeds 500,000. Despite the push on research and testing, a vaccine isn’t expected to be available until sometime in 2021, at the earliest.

Wrenn shared with us information and insight about his job and the balance between urgency and patience in the search for a vaccine.

On his role on the IPD vaccine development team:

“We are developing a protein nanoparticle vaccine, and I work with a small team of people on purification process development and biophysical characterization of the vaccine candidates. In layman terms, each protein is different and needs to be purified under different conditions. I work to identify those conditions and then to validate that the proteins are behaving in the predicted manner once they are purified.”

On the sense of urgency to find a vaccine:

“My team is highly collaborative and, in my opinion, excels in communication. There is definitely a sense of urgency, but that feeling cannot outweigh the patient, calculated method in which proper science is conducted. We have at least one meeting a day to discuss results from that day’s experiments and discuss how those results shape our path forward and inform our next steps.

“I am fortunate that the leadership in my lab and on this project is very well informed, so there is a pretty strong sense of purpose and reasoning for every decision that is made. Having that guidance helps move the project along without feeling like we are flailing. That said, the workload and the amount of work expected from each of us has certainly increased since this project began.”

On his work before the pandemic hit:

“The institute employs a core structure of research scientists and engineers to facilitate research and project progression for the labs we are affiliated with. I have been a member of the nanoparticle core since October of 2018. We specialize in projects relating to the lab’s nanoparticle platform. Because the vaccine we are developing relies on that platform, which I have been working with in various capacities for the last year and a half, I was selected to be part of the vaccine development team.

“The projects I was most closely affiliated with before this were targeted cancer therapeutic drug delivery, endosomal escape, and a variety of structural projects relating to the architecture of our nanoparticles—their assembly and construction.”

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

“Kimmel” show, Instagram live all part of quarantine life for Tweedy family

Spencer Tweedy ’19 (Photo by David Zoubek)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Singing around the house isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Spencer Tweedy ’19.

He is, after all, part of a very musical family, his father being Jeff Tweedy, founder, singer, and guitarist of Wilco.

But singing with your dad and brother – in the bathroom – for a TV audience of nearly 2 million people? Well, that’s a little different for the young musician not quite a year removed from his Lawrence University commencement.

The 24-year-old Spencer joined his dad and brother, Sam, Monday night on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, singing Evergreen, a song from the elder Tweedy’s 2019 solo album, Warm. It was filmed as the Tweedys – including mom and wife Susan Tweedy – are hunkered down in their Chicago home amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and was shared widely by Rolling Stone and other media sites.

Wilco was supposed to appear Monday night on the Kimmel show, but, alas, the band’s tour has been paused and even late-night hosts are self-quarantined. Next best thing? Jeff Tweedy and his boys, live from the bathtub.

“It was super fun,” Spencer said. “We sing at home all the time, and we’ve been doing it even more lately on Instagram. So, it felt the same as any other time we’re singing at home except this video was going to end up in front of a much larger audience.”

The Instagram that Spencer speaks of is The Tweedy Show, a newly launched, quarantine-inspired look at the Tweedy household, filmed and narrated by Spencer’s and Sam’s mom and housed on her already well-followed @stuffinourhouse account. Music and antics from the Tweedy household are now front and center for the world to see on a nightly basis, streaming live at 9:30 p.m. and continuing perhaps as long as the coronavirus lockdown lasts.

“Thankfully, we all get along really well,” Spencer said. “The challenges of living in more or less close quarters aren’t too bad for us. So, I’m really grateful for that.”

A musical life

Spencer has been back in Chicago since graduating from Lawrence, working as a drummer-for-hire on a number of music projects. He released an EP of his own songs a year ago, songs that he worked on while in Appleton. The philosophy major split much of his time at Lawrence between his studies and playing music with friends in the Conservatory.

“One of the really, really cool things about my time at Lawrence was that the boundary between the Conservatory and the college is pretty permeable,” Spencer said. “I was really able to participate in all of the percussion ensembles that I wanted to. (Professor of Music) Dane Richeson was so welcoming. And I think the system is set up that way, where you can mix and match. I majored in philosophy and I was still able to play in things like the drum ensembles and in some of the jazz programs, too.”

Spencer also tapped into the recording facilities at The Refuge Foundation for the Arts in Appleton, which partners with Lawrence on a number of levels.

His philosophy studies, he said, provided him with avenues into his music and other passions. That continues to be true.

“The philosophy program really gave me a lot of skills to understand problems,” he said. “I feel like I really, really grew in my ability, to put it super crudely, to just think about stuff. Philosophy is sort of a big umbrella under which you can put all your other interests and any facet of the world you’re interested in and it gives you these frameworks for understanding them better.”

Initially drawn to Lawrence because of what he calls its “Midwestern humbleness,” Spencer said he walked away four years later with a deeper appreciation for the school’s commitment to its students.

“Everybody who is there cares,” he said. “I wish Lawrence was recognized more for having that quality. Every professor I interacted with was just so extremely dedicated and so extremely caring.”

A spring term like no other

Spencer said he’s thinking a lot about those Lawrence students who are about to embark on a spring term in which they’re living at home and studying from afar amid COVID-19 fears. He’s staying in contact with friends who are still in school as best he can.

“I can’t even begin to relate to some of the challenges people are going through,” he said. “I say this with no intention of paternalism or telling people what to do, but I just think any crisis benefits from people having patience and compassion, and also confidence that things are going to be OK as long as we can have that patience and compassion.

“I think Lawrence students who are being affected by this right now know what to do. They’re going to be able to do their work at home, and in the end, whether or not they get anything out of this weird term at home will depend on the strength of their relationships with their professors. And I have a lot of confidence in that because I know how strong those relationships can be.”

Building a career

In the meantime, Spencer will continue to put the building blocks on his own music career. Besides his dad’s band, he’s already put his drumming skills to work on behalf of Norah Jones, James Elkington, and Amos Pitsch, among others.

“It’s definitely a plus,” he said of entering the music business with a father who is so accomplished. “I’d be a fool to look at it as anything other than a plus. There are definitely challenges sometimes. There are people who struggle to see anything past that and what they know about my family and know about my dad, but that’s really far outweighed by all of the ridiculous privileges of being able to grow up in a family like mine.”

It’s a family you can get to know a little better in the coming days and weeks, one The Tweedy Show Instagram stream at a time.

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

Lighting the Way With … Emily Muhs ’12: Running toward excellence

Emily Muhs ’12

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Emily Muhs ’12, a consultant with Bain & Company in Houston.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Emily Muhs ’12 has always been focused on goals, whether in her career, in her classes, or in her running shoes.

At Lawrence, she was a government major while excelling as a student athlete in cross country, earning all-conference honors three times.

Her journey after Lawrence has included teaching for three years in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before going to Yale for her MBA. She now works as a consultant for Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm, in Houston, and, yes, continues to run. She’s added marathons, including last year’s Boston Marathon, to her growing list of accomplishments since leaving Lawrence.

We chatted with Muhs about the path she’s taken, the lessons learned as a runner, finding her way to a promising business career, and navigating the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On teaching in Abu Dhabi:

It was through Lawrence that l learned about teaching internationally, as several Lawrentians before me had taught abroad and enjoyed it.

I attended an international teaching fair while I was doing my 13th trimester student-teaching, and the offer to go to Abu Dhabi seemed like the best option. Not to mention there were a few Lawrentians in Abu Dhabi teaching there already. So, I decided to take the offer, and the next August I was off to the UAE.

One of the biggest things I took away from my experience was an increased appreciation for different perspectives, particularly as a history teacher. I taught students from all over the world who had learned history up to that point in a variety of countries. So, teaching history at an international school forced me to think and talk with my students about different perspectives and subjectivity in history, and, more generally, in the media.

The second takeaway I would say is it built my tolerance for taking risks. Before moving to Abu Dhabi, I had only really lived in Wisconsin — apart from studying abroad — growing up in Janesville and going to Lawrence. Moving to the Middle East was a culture shock, but taught me the importance of taking thoughtful risks, and that being uncomfortable can produce growth, which I try to keep in mind as I think about where my life and career will take me.

On getting her MBA at Yale

After three years in Abu Dhabi, I knew I wanted to come back to the United States but did not know exactly what I wanted to do. It was a natural time to pursue an advanced degree, and an MBA was the best option. I was looking for a path where I could grow and make an impact, and an MBA was the best choice to do this while setting me up for optionality long-term.

Yale had the additional benefit of being focused on “business and society.” I knew I had a lot to learn about the private sector but wanted to keep the connection to other sectors and gain a perspective on how the private, public, and nonprofit sectors interact and support one another. The MBA program at Yale was a great fit for my goals.

On how her Lawrence experience prepared her for those next steps

Reflecting back, it was the liberal arts skill set I gained at Lawrence that helped me going forward. I built my ability to learn and problem-solve. These two skills were very important as a teacher and continue to be important as a consultant. In both careers, you are required to learn very quickly, be able to tackle whatever problem is thrown at you, and adapt your approach to whatever students and clients need.

On what being a runner has taught her

My experience running has influenced how I think about goals. A big part of reaching your running goals is simply the miles and work you put in, similar to how you have to work toward your goals in many other aspects of life. At the same time, you will have bad races, and I grew to understand how to learn from them — when to see it as an off day versus when it is a sign you need to change something in your training, a mentality I try to take today into my professional life.

But honestly, the biggest thing that has carried over from my experience running at Lawrence is the community. The team was a great group of smart, motivated people who I have been lucky enough to stay connected with since leaving Lawrence.

On launching a business career at Bain & Company

We work in teams to help our clients solve challenges. For me, this has included a variety of different types of projects in technology, energy, retail, and, most recently, pro bono education work.

When I entered business school, I was not focused on a specific career path but knew I was looking for a job where I would grow, learn, and get to do analytical problem-solving while helping others. As I began to explore careers, it became clear consulting was a great fit, and Bain specifically stood out for the opportunities for growth and support. I was lucky enough to intern at Bain and decided to come back full time, where I have been since.

On COVID-19 pandemic and advice for Lawrentians

Like many others, the pandemic has changed the way I work and live, making most of my interactions virtual. As for advice for Lawrence students who are doing distance learning, there are a few things I would focus on.

First, use this extra time to invest in yourself as you are preparing to enter the workforce. Naturally, you are learning new ways to work with others online; keep building these skills and find other ways to continue to grow.

Second, stay connected to your classmates and professors at Lawrence both inside and outside of classroom time. For me at Lawrence, practices and team dinners were so important to my experience, and though those types of activities will not be quite the same, you can still set up virtual dinners or calls to stay connected and support one another.

Lastly, look for ways to support your community during this crisis. Looking online, it is clear that Lawrentians are already doing this through volunteer tutoring, donations, etc. It is a great way to continue the Lawrence culture of support and giving back, even if you are not on campus.

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

Lighting the Way With … Kir-Sey Fam: Into the tech fray with Disney+

Kir-Sey Fam '19 holds a laptop and a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy at the Disney+ headquarters in New York.
Kir-Sey Fam ’19 joined Disney+ in New York right after graduating from Lawrence in June. The software engineer was part of the team making the massive November launch of Disney+ happen.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Kir-Sey Fam ’19, a software engineer with Disney+.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Kir-Sey Fam ’19 has been a Lawrence University alumnus for all of eight months. But he already has stories to tell.

It’s not often that you step from the stage at Commencement and immediately land in the midst of one of the most talked about media developments in the world.

Welcome to Fam’s life since graduating in June — a bachelor of arts degree with majors in mathematics, computer science, and Russian studies. Before leaving Lawrence, he was hired as a software engineer with Disney+ in New York, meaning he was jumping into the fire as Disney prepared to roll out its much-anticipated streaming service on Nov. 12.

It reportedly had 10 million sign-ups the first day, a number that has grown to nearly 29 million in the three months since. Along the way, it’s introduced the world to Baby Yoda, put the Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar libraries at subscribers’ fingertips, and reshaped the high-stakes battleground for streaming services in ways we haven’t yet wrapped our eyes around.

As a kicker, a Disney+ original show is in the works that will be set in, yes, Appleton, Wisconsin. Kristin Chenoweth will take the lead in “The Biggest Star in Appleton,” playing a mom and waitress who gets her kicks as the star of local community theater.

Fam took some time to share what life has been like in the midst of all that wonderful chaos.

On his role at Disney+:

I’m currently working as a software engineer on the Growth Engineering team. What that means on a high level is that we examine each stage of the user experience, from when someone first lands on the Disney+ page, through to when they’re watching a show or interacting with other parts of Disney+. We then work to figure out what points of friction the user faces and experiment with changes to improve the user experience and increase retention.

The methods for accomplishing these goals are varied; the project I’m working on now involves using machine learning to improve how we handle billing for each user. 

Going in, I didn’t really know what to expect as I hadn’t done any prior internships in larger companies before working at Disney. I would say that though they’re put together differently, taking classes at Lawrence engaged me with a lot of the elements that I now use in my work. 

On being part of the Disney+ launch:

As you may know, we experienced some launch-day issues related in part to the huge demand for Disney+. So, there was a bit of firefighting going on in different areas during launch. Thankfully, the services my team developed didn’t face any issues despite the huge throughput. That was a bit of a relief since my team had been on a tight deadline leading up to the launch for developing a service integral to the super bundle combining Disney+, ESPN+, and HULU subscriptions, which saw a lot of usage. 

Following the launch, you could hear people talking about Disney+ on the subway, waiting in line at stores, just everywhere. And that really gave me a sense of accomplishment and excitement to hear so many people feeling enthusiastic about something that I had worked on.

On seeing a Disney+ show being developed that’s based in Appleton (no, he’s not a consultant … yet):

Yes, I’m excited to see what they do with the show. Unfortunately, as I’m on the engineering side of things, I don’t have much to do with direct content creation.

On how his Lawrence experience, including the growth in computer science and data science during his time here, prepared him for the Disney+ job:

I would say that the classes I found most helpful were the algorithms courses I took with Professor (Joseph) Gregg, and particularly relevant now in my current project, the machine learning courses I took with Professor (Andrew) Sage.

Technology changes rapidly, and I think that the fundamentals I learned in the math/computer science department have helped ensure that I can quickly pick up any languages and frameworks that I need to use in projects. 

Aside from that, although music and Russian literature are seemingly disparate subjects from computer science, I see a deep interconnectedness in my experience and knowledge from these fields that helps bring fresh perspectives to whatever I’m working on.

More alumni: Check out these recent alumni profiles in our Lighting the Way With … series: Evan Bravos ’10, Yexue Li ’10, Rana Marks ’12, and Terry Moran ’82.

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

Lighting the Way With … Evan Bravos: A Grammy nod on the road to a life in music

Evan Bravos ’10 calls Chicago home but he has performed all over the country and Europe: “The Midwest, and Chicago specifically, has always remained my musical epicenter.” (Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Evan Bravos ’10, an opera singer who is featured on an album nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Opera singer Evan Bravos ’10 has a new entry for his already impressive and growing resume — Grammy nominee.

The Greek-American baritone is prominently featured on a recording nominated for a 2020 Grammy Award for best choral performance. Sander: The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, composed by Kurt Sander, is an original recording of Russian Orthodox choral music in English language. It’ll be in contention for a Grammy at the Jan. 26 awards show in Los Angeles.

The nomination is the latest win for Bravos as he builds an opera career from his home base in Chicago. In the past year, he has debuted with the Milwaukee Symphony in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, sang the role of Inman in the West Coast premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain with Music Academy of the West, and made his debut with the Ravinia Festival in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.  

Up next is a production of The Merry Widow (Jan. 24-26) with New Philharmonic in Glen Ellyn, Illinois — Lawrence alumna Alisa Jordheim ’09 joins him in the cast — and then the Chicago premiere of Jake Heggie’s Two Remain with Chicago Fringe Opera in late March and early April before embarking on a series of performances of The Long View: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 9 Songs.

Another Grammy connection: Lawrence’s Albright featured on Bon Iver album.

Bravos came into Lawrence with the Class of 2010. He stayed for five years, graduating in 2011 with a double major in vocal performance and music education. He would go on to earn a master of music degree from Northwestern University.

“Lawrence prepared me for a life in music in more ways than I could have ever imagined,” Bravos said.

We caught up with Bravos in advance of the Grammys to talk about the Sander album, his blossoming opera career, and the work he put in at Lawrence to prepare him for the stage.

On being involved with the landmark Sander album:

Peter Jerminhov, music director at St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, asked me to join him in recording an album in the summer of 2017. Chicago has been my home base since graduating from Lawrence, and I had come to know many of the churches and directors in town. Peter has quite the extensive resume, and I was very excited to join his project.

For the Kurt Sander album, we rehearsed and recorded at the New Gračanica Monastery in Lindenhurst, about an hour north of Chicago. The week of recording was monastic in and of itself. We arrived on the grounds every morning at 8 a.m. and rehearsed well into the late afternoon. For daily lunch in the humble church hall, a few of the monks and nuns prepared us very filling traditional Serbian cuisine. We were completely absorbed into the culture. The majority, if not all, of the singers recruited for this project were of Orthodox heritage — be it Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian or Romanian — so it was really a very exciting and collective collaboration. 

On why the project was so personally satisfying:

I grew up attending an Orthodox church in the suburbs of Chicago, though my heritage is Greek, not Russian. Growing up, I sang in the church choir, occasionally cantered for baptisms and weddings and played as organist. I had always had a fondness for Orthodox music: simple and down-to-earth, but also divine. Professionally, I had sung some of the featured works in various choirs, but this was the first project dedicated exclusively to the genre that I had been fortunate enough to work on. 

While at Lawrence, I also served as choir director of St. Nicholas, the local Greek Orthodox parish in Appleton. The job served me twofold: it helped me maintain my cultural ties while allowing me to cultivate my musical tastes. By my fifth year, the choir had grown to be the focal point of that small church. Frankly, it was the glue holding the community together. This choir was made up of only six singers, but we always sang in four parts, a rarity in most Greek churches. I can honestly say that those five years were very important to my spiritual and musical growth.

On the excitement of the Grammy nomination:

There had been some earlier buzz about it potentially happening, but I was completely shocked the day that nomination was announced.

On how his Lawrence experience prepared him for the opera stage, this recording and a myriad of other musical opportunities:

The academic and musical rigor of the college/conservatory combo was invaluable in every way. Being fully immersed in a culture of curiosity and of unending learning and surrounded by other deep thinkers who even during their college careers wanted to do more than just think was infectious in the best way possible. When I think of Lawrence, I think of Midwestern work ethic meeting global perspective: Age-old, tried and true values intersecting with an ever-more-demanding modern world. My time at LU taught me how to organize words, thoughts, and time, not to mention my craft as a singer — thank you, Kenneth Bozeman — and how to help shape my own world as an artist and the world around me. 

More here on Lawrence Conservatory of Music

See more Lighting the Way With … features on these Lawrence alumni: Yexue Li ’10, Rana Marks ’12, and Terry Moran ’82, and additional alumni features here.

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

Lighting the Way With … Yexue Li: Mixing art, history, and a high-priced surprise

Yexue Li poses with a vase that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor in China.
Yexue Li ’10 holds a Qianlong vase that has gotten much attention in the U.K. Purchased by a thrift store shopper for $1.21, it sold at auction for more than $600,000 at the auction house where Li works.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence alumni. Today we catch up with Yexue Li ’10, whose love of art and history has taken her to a top auction house in England. A tiny vase had her in the news.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Yexue Li ’10 found herself at the center of international media attention earlier this fall.

Well, it wasn’t so much Li who was garnering all the attention. It was the tiny vase she was holding in her hands.

As the head of Asian art at the auction house Sworders in the United Kingdom, the Lawrence University alumna was the point person for the auction of a vase that had been purchased by an unidentified shopper for 1 pound ($1.21) at a thrift store in Hertfordshire. The buyer, having generated a bit of a frenzy after sampling the vase on eBay, eventually brought it to Li at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers to get it professionally valued.

It was quite the surprise when it was discovered that the vase once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor, a ruler in China’s Qing dynasty during the 1700s. A pre-auction estimate was set at £80,000 ($103,000), which wouldn’t have been a bad take on a £1 purchase.

Then came the Nov. 8 auction. A bidding war ensued, with the final price checking in at £484,000 (nearly $625,000). The thrift shop buyer was, to say the least, pleased.

“The gentleman vendor was in the charity shop and picked out the vase because he liked the look of it,” Li told MetroUK.

The vase is marked with a symbol that means it was destined for one of the emperor’s palaces.

“The vase is special because it comes with the inscription by the Qianlong Emperor, and he must have commissioned this vase,” Li said. “It’s a high-quality vase because it was court commissioned, so it would have been of a high value when it was made.”

Li, of China, was a studio art major at Lawrence. She initially joined Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, for an internship while she was pursuing her master’s degree. She was offered a full-time position when the internship finished.

We chatted with her via email about her work at Sworders and how her Lawrence journey prepared her for it.

On a favorite item she’s come across

We were invited to a house to look at their ceramic collection, and we saw a wood carving, which they used as a door stop. It turned out to be a zitan brush pot carved extensively with a “hundred boys” pattern, and it was later sold for £150,000.

On what she finds fulfilling about her work

I guess it’s the satisfaction after a long search of any relative documentation. It might be one sentence or a comment from the Archives of the Empirical Workshops, or a similar item in the corner of a painting. Any information that can help us understand the item better excites me. 

On how her studio art major helps guide her work

Art skills are very important in the decision-making during preparation for the sale. I am responsible for the layout of the catalogues, design of posters and other advertisements, etc. We do a lot of valuation days and house visits in the auction business. I need to be able to pick up one item and tell the owner how old it is and how much it is worth. A good communication skill is also required. In addition, there is a massive amount of research involved in my work. We need to find the previous sale records and any related documents or similar items for comparison. 

On one take-away from Lawrence that has paid dividends

It was the speaking and writing-intensive classes. Just the other day I was asked to bring the Qianlong vase to Asian Art in London headquarters to show it to the Board of Committee as a shortlist award for the most outstanding work of art of the year. I didn’t know until I walked in the room that I needed to do a presentation. My most precious experience at Lawrence was not learnt from a textbook but to always be ready and prepared for a situation like this. 

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu. Jaclyn Charais contributed to this story.