Category: Faculty Profiles

On Main Hall Green With … Scott Corry: New frontiers for a mathematics scholar

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Scott Corry (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

Scott Corry is leading the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science into new territory.

The professor of mathematics is the chair of the newly renamed department, which has grown significantly, adding two faculty positions, one last year in statistics and one upcoming in computer science. Multiple new courses have been added to the curriculum, the mathematics major has been redesigned, including the addition of a statistics track, the computer science major has been reconfigured, and a new minor in statistics and data science has been launched.

Corry joined the Lawrence mathematics faculty in 2007. He returned to the department chair position in 2019 after previously holding that post in 2014-15 and 2017-18. He has taught calculus, algebra, number theory, and geometry courses while pursuing his research interests in analogies between Riemann surfaces and finite graphs. He was a visiting fellow at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, England, in 2009, and was recognized with Lawrence’s then-named Young Teacher Award in 2011.

He earned his doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his bachelor’s degree at Reed College.

We caught up with Corry 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?

Students should know that I believe they can enjoy math. Too often, people have fixed ideas about whether or not they are “math people,” and they carry anxieties about their mathematical abilities. This is the wrong approach. I want students to relax into the creative play that lies at the heart of mathematical exploration, and to feel the joy of solving problems and studying interconnections between ideas. As in all things, the more you enjoy your work, the more likely you are to succeed at it.

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

In recent years, more and more of my energy has been devoted to chairing the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, and I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy hiring and supporting new colleagues, working with them to revise our curriculum, and collaborating to support students in new and more substantial ways. My own mathematical work and teaching will always be the bedrock of why I love being at Lawrence, but the recent challenge of department-building and curricular revision is exciting.

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?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Symmetry and Quantum Mechanics that describes the exquisite mathematical structure underlying the central physical theory of the microscopic world. While I’ve been interested in physics for a long time—I started out as a physics major before switching to math—I never expected to make a scholarly contribution. But I found myself writing that book as a labor of love after embarking on a reading project with my good friend Doug Martin from the LU Physics Department. This is a great example of the power of collaboration to push us in unexpected directions, and it was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had with an intellectual project.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I think it would be nice to be a science journalist, doing the important work of explaining scientific developments to a popular audience. I’m thinking especially of someone like Natalie Wolchover and her writings for Quanta magazine. Over the past decade or so, I’ve discovered a real passion for writing, and I enjoy the challenge of learning and explaining new things.

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

There is a secluded bench next to the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center that looks out to the Fox River over the LU Sustainable Garden. Although I haven’t been there recently, in my early years at Lawrence I often ate my lunch there, weather permitting. It is a nice place to take a break, read a book, or simply catch your breath during an otherwise busy day.

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

Stanley Cavell’s The Claim of Reason. This ambitious and unusual book of moral philosophy traverses a wide swath of thought, beginning with Wittgenstein’s ideas about language, moving through the epistemological challenge of skepticism, and culminating in an exploration of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It had an immense impact on me as a college student, and I continue to return to it to this day.

Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of If I Can Help Somebody. Just listen.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. An ensemble cast delivers a complicated and touching performance tied together by an excellent Aimee Mann soundtrack.

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

On Main Hall Green with … Rosa Tapia: A passion for Spanish literature, cinema

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Rosa Tapia (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

Rosa Tapia has left her imprint on the Spanish faculty in a myriad of ways since coming to Lawrence University in 2002, but perhaps nowhere as visibly as her work with the annual Latin American and Spanish Film Festival.

Working in partnership with faculty colleague Cecilia Herrera, Tapia helped launch the festival in 2012, bringing award-winning films from Latin America and Spain to Lawrence and connecting the community to national and international filmmakers. It’s an extension of her ongoing study in contemporary Spanish and Latin American literature and cinema.

The professor of Spanish has been drawing rave reviews herself since arriving on campus 18 years ago. In 2005, she earned the University’s then-named Young Teacher Award. She also serves as a co-chair of the national Development Committee for the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam.

In addition, Tapia has been a leader in academic advising at Lawrence, receiving the Excellence in Advising Award in 2014 and serving as faculty director of advising from 2016 to 2020. She chaired a task force that developed a new guide and resource page for advising and led initiatives that improved connections between faculty advisers and students.

More faculty features can be found here.

Tapia holds a doctorate in Spanish from Penn State University, a Master of Arts in Spanish from the University of Delaware, and a Licenciatura in English philology from the University of Granada in Spain.

We caught up with Tapia to talk about her interests in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

Students should know that I’m very passionate about what I teach and I’m always looking for ways to share that passion with them. My Spanish classes and my work on literature and film are tightly connected. They naturally include a variety of academic and cultural perspectives, so I expect students to contribute their own point of view. They should come ready to jump into other cultural frameworks and ways to see and study the world.

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

I love being able to blend my research with my classes, with student projects, and with initiatives like the Latin American and Spanish Film Festival. It’s an amazing opportunity to interact with international filmmakers and it feels great to welcome such a diverse audience to campus. It was also energizing to participate in initiatives to improve academic advising for student success and I cherish my years as a Posse mentor.

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?

Oh, there are too many surprises to list here. Pursuing an academic career as an immigrant opened my eyes time after time. I learned to negotiate and inhabit a number of cultural, social, and symbolic borders, both in my everyday life and in my academic interests. These are not always easy to separate when one studies identity, power, and representation as a Spanish-born scholar of Latin American culture in the U.S. The flip side of the coin is, of course, the wonderful opportunity to see various parts of the world, meet incredible people, and be a lifelong student of other cultures. I had no idea this was going to be my life! I’d love to go back and tell my 18-year-old self when I was starting my own college journey in Granada, Spain.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I’d love to work on projects related to college access and success, or the promotion of cultural connections through the study of the arts, particularly film, across different communities and countries. Ideally, I’d like to do something that would allow me to keep growing and learning, travel, and collaborate with people from different origins and diverse backgrounds.

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

One of my favorite places on campus is the Cinema, because it brings me wonderful memories of the film festival.

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

Carmen Martín Gaite’s novel The Back Room, Caetano Veloso’s version of the song Cucurrucucú Paloma, and Pedro Almodóvar’s film All About My Mother.

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

Stunning talent, passion, wisdom guide John Holiday’s journey on “The Voice”

John Holiday found a home three years ago with the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

As contestants on NBC’s The Voice scrambled to pull together family and friends for virtual watch parties on the show’s opening night, John Holiday had other ideas.

The voice professor in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music knew he was about to catch lightning in a bottle. He knew the coaches’ response to his performance of Misty was off the charts, and he knew there was a pretty good chance his world was about to explode. He also knew with whom he wanted to share that moment—his students.

The John Holiday Tracker: Follow along on his journey on “The Voice.”

So, as Holiday watched from his Appleton home as John Legend, Kelly Clarkson, and Gwen Stefani all turned their chairs and showered his performance with such overwhelming praise that he became the show’s immediate favorite, 10 of his students, connected by Zoom, hooted and hollered along with him and his husband, Paul, and their two house guests, Brian Pertl and Leila Ramagopal Pertl. They screamed when Legend called Holiday’s voice “otherworldly,” and again when a surprised Clarkson dropped the “I didn’t know you were a dude” line.

“One of the things I wanted to do in doing this show is to show my students what’s possible when you stretch yourself beyond what you think is possible,” said Holiday, an associate professor of music who has been on the Lawrence faculty since 2017. “There are people who dare to dream bigger than themselves; they never stop learning, never stop growing. I wanted to show my students what that looked like.”

In the more than two weeks since his audition aired, much has changed in Holiday’s universe, even though he, like most of us, remains mostly homebound in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He continues to teach during Lawrence’s Fall Term, but he’s doing so while juggling multiple media requests and a growing social media presence. His path as part of Team Legend, under the guidance of the iconic singer, is still very much a secret, but viewers will begin to see it unfold as the battle rounds begin in the coming days. The show airs Mondays and Tuesdays.

On campus, Holiday has become the frequent focus of conversation, a welcome respite amid the frustrations of a year dominated by COVID-19. In the Conservatory offices and halls, faculty and students have been leading the cheers. Alumni have been reaching out. Even other music schools have been calling with congratulations.

“There is a definite buzz around John’s performance,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory. “Everyone is so excited that the rest of the world is hearing this remarkable voice.”

Holiday, a countertenor with the ability to hit the highest notes, made it to the televised blind auditions in front of the coaches—Clarkson, Legend, Stefani, and Blake Shelton—after being selected from among thousands of hopefuls who went through the open-call audition process. He said he opted to enter the TV fray in part because his busy performance schedule, mostly on opera stages, came to an abrupt stop when the pandemic shut down performances around the world.

The reaction was immediate

Holiday’s phone blew up as soon as his audition aired on Oct. 19. A clip from the show featuring his performance quickly drew more than 500,000 views, and posts on various media sites piled on the praise and dubbed him the favorite to win it all.

Success isn’t necessarily new to Holiday. He has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, and in 2017 received the Marian Anderson Vocal Award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Washington National Opera, given to a rising star in the area of opera, oratorio, or recital repertory. He knows his way around applause. But this reaction was different.

“My social media has gone kind of bonkers,” Holiday said. “And that is absolutely something I was not expecting. I didn’t know people were going to receive it that way. In general, I’m a person who doesn’t read reviews. I think even if they’re great, sometimes it can get to a person’s head, and if the reviews are bad, they can make you feel bad. So, I tend to be a person who, generally, if I feel good about what I’ve done, I won’t read anything. I just kind of sit in the moment and reflect on what I felt was good and what I felt needed some work. But from the moment this came on, it was kind of hard to not see the things that were going on.”

Hannah Jones ’22, a voice student from Houston who came to Lawrence in large part because she wanted to work with Holiday, was on that Zoom call, watching with classmates through the two-hour episode in hopes of seeing the man they affectionately call Prof. For an hour and 50 minutes, there was nothing. Until they saw the boots.

“As soon as we heard and saw Prof’s heeled boots, every single square erupted,” Jones said.

The only shriek that was louder came from Holiday himself.

“The one thing that truly made this moment special is the fact that Prof shared this huge moment in his journey with us,” Jones said. “He could have easily shared this unforgettable moment with his close family and friends, but he chose us.”

John Holiday arrives in The Voice spotlight having already performed in some of the world’s most iconic venues. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Building to this moment

That journey Jones speaks of is one that’s been building for Holiday. What heights he reaches via The Voice, and what doors they open, have yet to be revealed. But the transition from rising opera star to a performer who lives in a more mainstream music world is one that’s very much deliberate. Holiday has frequently dabbled in jazz and gospel genres, and he said he’s long felt the urge to wade into more pop-focused opportunities. The pandemic shut-down and the arrival of a new season of The Voice provided the perfect storm.

“There are a lot of people who feel like opera is elitist,” Holiday said. “As an opera singer, I can understand that. But I also believe that it is not elitist. Opera is music that makes you feel things, the same way that Nicki Minaj might make people feel, the same way Smokey Robinson might make someone feel, the same way that Coldplay might make someone feel. Opera has that same ability. So, for me, the reason I also want to cross over is because I’ve always longed to be the bridge between opera and jazz and pop and gospel music.”

The 35-year-old Holiday grew up in Rosenberg, Texas, learning to play the piano and singing in his church choir, all with enthusiastic encouragement from his beloved grandmother, who he calls Big Momma. He would later join the Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas, giving him his first introduction to classical music.

He held tight to family as he grew up amid frequent bullying. His high voice, now embraced, was often the source of ridicule from others, he said. He was harassed for being gay long before he knew in his heart that he is gay.

“I’m lucky to have my grandmother, Big Momma, in my life,” Holiday said. “She has been my biggest cheerleader.”

She was among the first to tell him that his voice was a gift, not a curse.

He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University, a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and an artist diploma in opera studies from Juilliard School.

He has since performed in operas—in four languages—at some of the most iconic venues in the world, from the Glimmerglass Festival to Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. He’s performed with the Los Angeles Opera, Dallas Opera, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Phoenix Symphony, among others.

About the time he was awarded the coveted Marian Anderson Vocal Award three years ago, the Washington Post called him “an impressive figure on an opera stage” and the New York Times hailed him as “an exceptional singer with a strong voice, even in its highest range.”

His left turn onto The Voice stage and into more mainstream circles isn’t out of character. He’s not running away from opera, he said. He’s simply drawing new fans to his journey.

“For me, I want to be able to change the narrative across the board and make opera more accessible,” he said. “Also make jazz more accessible because there are people who think jazz is far from opera, but it’s actually not. It’s very close to it.”

Holiday grew up singing gospel music and “hearing all the oldies and goodies.” Opera wasn’t something his family was initially drawn to. It wasn’t until he joined the boys’ choir that he gave much thought to classical music.

“It’s not something that was part of our fabric growing up,” he said.

Now, as he reaches his mid-30s and ponders new challenges, Holiday is looking toward those other musical influences. He understands that the ability to excel across the musical spectrum is a challenge with a high bar. He doesn’t want to shy away from it.

“I know that I am more than one-dimensional,” he said. “I feel like boxes are the death of art. … I want to go outside of the boxes in how people perceive the way I should sing. … For me, just singing opera, it would be inauthentic to who I am. I love opera in every fiber of my being. But I am also more than an opera singer. I am more than jazz. I am more than gospel. I am more than pop. Music is just a part of me. And I want to be able to give that in every single way that I can.”

John Holiday: “It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others.”

Landing at Lawrence

When Lawrence’s Conservatory had an opening in its voice department in 2017, Holiday was immediately intrigued. He had worked a number of times with Lawrence alumni in his opera and symphonic performances. He knew the school’s strong reputation was legit. And he had gotten a taste of teaching while working with the Ithaca College School of Music.

A chance to teach at Lawrence while still juggling a busy performance schedule was the dream, Holiday said.

It didn’t take long, Pertl said, for that interest to be mutual.

“John’s material immediately stood out,” he said. “The video samples he submitted were stunning, so we were very excited about his application. When he came to campus, he sealed the deal. His live recital was so moving that most of us in the audience were in tears, and the wisdom, connection, and compassion he demonstrated in his teaching made him the perfect fit.”

Three years later, Holiday continues to mesh seamlessly within the talent-filled Conservatory. From the start, he was often on the road due to his performance schedule, but he quickly grew adept at doing voice lessons remotely, connecting with students from back stages or studio locations or hotel rooms. It’s a skill set that other faculty members tapped into in the spring when the pandemic sent students home for Spring Term and all classes and lessons went remote.

Read more: John Holiday loves to recruit talented students to Lawrence

Holiday also serves as a de facto recruiter for the Conservatory while on the road, visiting high schools, particularly those that cater to the arts, whenever he can.

Jones, the third-year Lawrence student from Houston, said she first considered Lawrence after meeting Holiday her senior year when he visited her Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

“He came to my school to do a masterclass with some of the students,” Jones said. “At the end of the masterclass, Prof sat down at the piano and sang a Negro spiritual, Over My Head, I Hear Music in the Air. I went up to him after the masterclass ended to express how amazed I was, and then he started speaking life into me and dismantling the unspoken doubts I had in my mind at the time. I remember bawling in the restroom and making the decision to go wherever Prof was. Prof is the reason why I am at Lawrence.”

Holiday doesn’t take those words lightly. It’s building that connection with students, making them understand what’s possible, making them believe in themselves, that gives him his greatest joy, he said. Allowing them to now see him being coached while competing on The Voice is one more piece to that puzzle. The teacher has become the student.

“I am not a coach, I am a teacher,” Holiday said. “And a teacher is someone who is teaching the science of the vocal anatomy. … How to breathe, how to stand, what it means to have good posture, what it means to have good vocal health, and how to navigate the complexities of the vocal apparatus. It is the most amazing gift to be a teacher and to inspire others to be the best of themselves and discover who they are meant to be in the world.

“And what is really beautiful to me is now being able to be in a position to show my students what it looks like for me to be taught and coached on the biggest of levels.”

Jones said she and other students are well aware that they have to share Holiday with the world. That’s always been the case, his performance demands being what they are. It may be even more so now that The Voice is introducing him to a wider audience.

“There have been a few times where we have had to remind Prof to not spread himself too thin,” Jones said. “But Prof’s ability to teach never wavers. We were having Zoom lessons long before the pandemic. … He pushes us to be better versions of ourselves. ‘You are your own competition’ is one of Prof’s signature quotes, and it’s a quote that has changed my life.”

Embracing what’s ahead

Now comes the next step on The Voice, a show that in its 19th season still draws an audience of nearly 8 million viewers. The coaches have established their teams. The battle rounds are set to begin.

For obvious reasons, Holiday can’t reveal what’s ahead. But he can say the experience of working with Legend was spectacular, and the opportunity to get to know and work with the other contestants was a beautiful experience.

He was in Hollywood filming the show earlier this fall, connecting with his students for lessons but unable to reveal where he was or what he was doing.

“I haven’t missed a step,” Holiday said. “All of my students have gotten all of their lessons, and I’ve just enjoyed it. They didn’t know what was going on, and, of course, I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell anyone. My students are used to it. They’re used to me being on the road and teaching from the hotel or teaching from the studio where I’m at. I was teaching from the hotel room where I was staying in Los Angeles. That was an experience in itself, to be experiencing all these wonderful things and then also be teaching my students.”

Now, as the show progresses, he hopes his students will enjoy what they’re seeing—his commitment to the work and the music, even amid obstacles and challenges, his enduring love for Texas and his family, his attachment to Lawrence and his adopted home in Wisconsin, and his never-compromising eye for fashion. And he hopes other viewers looking on, 8 million strong, will share in the joy. After all, this is supposed to be fun.

“We’re living in such a time that can be devoid of hope and joy and peace, and I want to be able to give that with my music in every way,” Holiday said. “I don’t know if I succeed with that but I think that people who really connected with me can feel that. That’s my biggest hope and my biggest prayer.”

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

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

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jerald Podair (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jerald Podair knows his way around presidential politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

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

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

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

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

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

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

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

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion of Pride award shines light on advocacy work of Helen Boyd Kramer

Helen Boyd Kramer on hard-fought progress made on LGBTQ+ issues: “Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Helen Boyd Kramer jokes that it’s a “lifetime achievement award.”

There might be truth in that if her work was done. It is not.

Kramer, a lecturer in gender studies at Lawrence University since 2008, was named a 2020 Champion of Pride by The Advocate, a leading national voice on LGBTQ+ issues that each June honors 104 activists – two from each state and the District of Columbia.

Kramer joined Dane County’s Baltazar De Anda Santana as this year’s Wisconsin recipients.

A leading activist on transgender issues since publishing her first book, My Husband Betty, in 2003, Kramer was cited for her recent work advocating for the LGBTQ+ community in Appleton, including a successful effort earlier this year to get the Common Council to approve a ban on practicing conversion therapy on minors. That followed efforts in October to help make National Coming Out Day more visible in Appleton, resulting in a rainbow flag flying over City Hall for the first time.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Kramer said of being honored by The Advocate, but she sees it as a sign of progress in her efforts to advocate for diversity, the rights of transgender people in particular.

“When you’ve been in a movement that’s young but you were part of the original people doing it, you tend to get used to the fact that this is what you do, this is what you’ve been doing,” Kramer said. “So, this (award) kind of came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it. … The trans community was a baby when I started doing this work and when I wrote the book. Now the education about trans is at a whole different level. Every once in a while, as an activist and educator, it’s nice to go, hey, some of this education stuff works.”

An agent of change

Kramer arrived at Lawrence in 2008, a year after publishing her second book, She’s Not the Man I Married, chronicling her experiences with transgender spouse Rachel Crowl. The move took her from New York City to Appleton, necessitating a change in her activism. Here, she got to know the elected officials she would be pushing for change.

“Being an activist in Appleton was going to be a different thing,” Kramer said. “It was going to be more about personal relationships.”

In the 12 years since, she’s been a frequent voice on LGBTQ+ education, be it in the community before city councils and school boards or on campus in gender studies classrooms, Freshman Studies workshops, or in campus-wide Cultural Competency discussions.

Appleton, Kramer said, has grown in its understanding of and support for the LGBTQ+ community, perhaps fueled by the giant leap forward that came with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down same-sex marriage bans in 2015. The Common Council has gotten noticeably more progressive. The topics Kramer and other LGBTQ+ activists speak to, including the conversion therapy ban, no longer shock.

“Instead of being reactive, we actually have council members now who are bringing legislation forward,” she said. “That’s what happened with conversion therapy.”

Read more: 10 ways Lawrence celebrates Pride Month all year long

She singled out the work of Appleton alderperson Vered Meltzer ’04, a Lawrence alum who in 2014 became the first openly trans person to hold elected office in Wisconsin, according to Fair Wisconsin, a Madison-based advocacy group.

Meltzer returns the praise, calling Kramer tenacious in her efforts to support marginalized people in the Appleton community.

“Helen’s advocacy is effective because she never stops working, whether she’s on campus or off campus,” Meltzer said. “And one of the best things about working with her is that she doesn’t give up or get discouraged, no matter how much work there is to do or how long it takes to see results. Her tireless dedication, and her personal care and support for marginalized individuals in our community, has helped bring activists throughout the community together over the years with a sense of unity and shared goals.”

Kramer sees the progress happening in Appleton as reflective of what’s happening across the country. While there is much work yet to be done, momentum has been building in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from the same-sex marriage ruling five years ago to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that protects transgender, gay and lesbian employees from workplace discrimination.

“There has been an education of people in terms of civil rights,” Kramer said. “Poll after poll after poll say people believe that you shouldn’t be able to get fired for being gay or lesbian.”

The celebration of the Supreme Court’s June 15 ruling on workplace discrimination may have been a bit muted because of COVID-19 social restrictions, but there is little doubt it marked a major moment, one that arrived amid heightened awareness of equity issues. The ruling was delivered by a conservative-leaning court midway through Pride Month, 50 years after the Pride movement first emerged en masse.

“The movement has worked,” Kramer said. “The reason gay people started coming out and the reason gay people still feel the necessity to be out is precisely because the more straight people know them or more straight people know that they are related to someone who is LGBTQ+ the more likely it is that they would support same-sex marriage, employment discrimination rules, and such. This has been a long time coming.”

Helen Boyd Kramer on efforts to support LGBTQ+ students: “The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common.” (Photo by Rachel Crowl)

Education on campus

The enlightenment at Lawrence over the past decade hasn’t been quite as stark because the university has long been a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students, Kramer said. Again, it’s been a work-in-progress, but the work of inclusion has been in play here for a long time.

The dramatic change at Lawrence since she arrived a dozen years ago has come in the trans community. In 2008, it was mostly a curiosity, even on a liberal arts campus.

“It’s kind of hard to explain how much has changed in that time,” Kramer said. “The first class I introduced at Lawrence was Transgender Lives, and at that time I had one student who shyly admitted to doing drag once. I had a bunch of students who took it because trans was an interesting topic. A lot of them were future therapists, a bunch of psychology majors. Now, when I teach Trans Lives, half of the students in the class identify as LGBTQ+ as either trans or non-binary. … There’s been a giant cultural shift.”

All that progress doesn’t mean the fight is over. Far from it. Kramer points to the Trump Administration’s recent ruling that removed federal health care protections for people who identify as transgender. Protections written into the Affordable Care Act addressed sex discrimination, and in 2016, the Obama Administration interpreted that provision to include gender identity. But in early June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement saying it is returning to an earlier interpretation of sex discrimination, thus excluding the trans community.  

“This isn’t just for trans procedures,” Kramer said. “It’s for pneumonia or COVID. These stories are already common in the trans world, where doctors wouldn’t take what they had seriously, cancer in particular. It would just go untreated because doctors wouldn’t work with trans patients. Seeing HHS do this right now when everyone is scared of dying is particularly heartless.”

The COVID dilemma

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a cruel light on the LGBTQ+ world. Besides health care access issues, it has highlighted wealth disparities, which are particularly stark among Black LGBTQ+ people. The same systematic racism issues that have ignited nationwide protests are in play within the LGBTQ+ community, Kramer said.

“When we get to a point when we’re actually doing recovery, eventually, we’re going to have to figure out the wealth problem and the access to employment and training and education,” she said. “These are all systems that are so soaked in the same discrimination we’re talking about. It’s employment, it’s health care, it’s food on the table.”

The pandemic sent students home for spring term, put summer research and internships on pause, and infused uncertainty into almost all near-future plans. That, in turn, has heightened anxieties for LGBTQ+ students who don’t have adequate support at home. Kramer and other advocates on campus have tried to stay in frequent contact, but seeing students having to isolate in a home environment that’s toxic adds new layers of concern.

“The tremendous burden of family rejection is still really common,” Kramer said.

While a growing number of families are accepting and supportive, it’s those students who aren’t feeling that love who are particularly vulnerable right now.

“Some students used to refer to Lawrence as Hogwarts because they could be gay here,” Kramer said. “And they couldn’t always be at home. Now those students are at home during the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why there was more than one student I helped make sure they could stay on campus this spring because their home situation just isn’t good.

“How do you accept the fact that your family basically doesn’t like you so much? Sometimes they hate you. That’s a wounding you can’t really process. I think Lawrence has been amazing about that, being aware that we do provide acceptance in a way that some students are not always getting elsewhere.”

Lawrence recently introduced the LGBTQ+ Alliance House as a residential space. A Gender and Sexuality Diversity Center opened in Colman Hall late last year. Trans Rights United (TRU) became the University’s first trans student organization. Those additions are all built onto an already well-established support system.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes culturally that get reflected on the campus,” Kramer said. “I think the campus has done an amazing job for the most part in creating these spaces, and creating diversity training for everyone else. There are still pockets of education that’s needed, but I love the fact that we let students lead. They’re telling us what they need. They feel empowered, and we’re getting much better at that.”

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

On Main Hall Green With … Doug Martin: Discovering delight in physics

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Doug Martin (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 every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Doug Martin’s combination of curiosity and scientific know-how has made him a key member of Lawrence University’s physics department since 2007.

He teaches courses ranging from optics to quantum mechanics to experimental physics, among others. A biophysicist, his scholarly interests focus on the mechanics and dynamics of cellular processes — transport, motility, division and signaling — that explain how life works.

Physics faculty keep student connections alive amid distance learning. See story here.

Originally from Denver, Colo., Martin earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in mathematics and physics at Pomona College and completed his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Texas.

We caught up with Martin to talk about his work in the classrooms and labs of Lawrence and his interests away from campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I love physics. I’m astonished that we can understand the natural world, quantitatively, with relatively simple mathematics. I’m delighted by new discoveries – from the physics that causes flower petals to curl to the Higgs boson. And, more to the point, I think every Lawrence student is an intuitive physicist, whether they appreciate it or not. Music, sports, visual art – all involve physical processes that we grasp intuitively. So, why do I want students to know this? Because, despite the grind of mathematics, abstract reasoning, spatial visualization, approximation, and the worry about understanding, the worry about belonging – all the things that come along with a physics class – my hope is to help students in my classes claim or reclaim delight in physics.

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

Teaching! Whatever I’m teaching next is the best. As I answer this, I’m preparing to talk about diffraction and why optical telescopes are now 100 feet across, and why a radio telescope the size of the earth was necessary to capture the first image of a black hole. Why is teaching what gets me most excited? I have the privilege of teaching about our endlessly amazing world, and every class is an opportunity for me to recapture wonder. What could be better? Well, sometimes building microscopes is better, because then I get to see new things, too.

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?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m a little surprised by almost everything. So, let me pick an easy, Lawrence-centric, example. I taught at the London Centre in the fall of 2018. The surprise?  How great it was. I’d thought: London is in an English-speaking country, how different will it really be?  Here are two quick examples. First: one of my classes decided we should meet in a different coffee house every day, from the delightfully named Fuckoffee to the café in an abandoned public toilet to the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. With all due respect to Acoca and Lou’s, these are something new.  Second: everything was at our doorstep. Theater? A dozen premiere shows every night. The world’s oldest sewage plant? Yes! Museums? Free! Paris? Eurostar departs a 15-minute walk from the dorms. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised at how rich the experience was, but I was.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I really don’t know. Maybe working at a national lab doing fundamental research. Maybe calibrating the machines used in radiation therapy at a hospital. Maybe developing medical lasers. These were opportunities in the past, but now? Could be almost anything.

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

Bjork! The physical separation from home and office seems to let me leave stresses behind and just be present. My sense is that something like that is true for students too, so it makes it easier to interact informally.

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 pretty voracious when it comes to all three, so let me pick something good and recent, for me.

Book: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. It is set in London, so all of the exploring my classes did there took us to the neighborhoods in the book. And it is laugh-out-loud funny. And it borders on the strange line between the horror of watching a car crash and the very sweet.   

Recording: The Pet Shop Boys have a new album, Hotspot. I have a lot of nostalgia for the musicians of my childhood, and the Pet Shop Boys still put on a pretty good show. More to the point for this question: they’ve crafted an album that (after a bit of a rocky start) moves really well, from dance-y start to warm and fuzzy finish. And I’m old enough to enjoy entire albums at one sitting.

Film: Spaceballs. What can I say, Rick Moranis is a comedic genius. Or maybe that my laughter at this movie reveals that I am a 12-year-old at heart.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Claudena Skran: Deep connections in West Africa

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Claudena Skran (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 every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government, has been one of Lawrence University’s leading international scholars over the past three decades.

Sierra Leone has been a particular focal point for Skran, researching and teaching on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the 10-year civil war and post-conflict peace-building in Sierra Leone, and refugee entrepreneurship.

The 1983 Rhodes Scholar has visited Sierra Leone nearly 20 times since first going there in 2005 as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. Dozens of Lawrence students have accompanied her and participated in various research projects.

Her work often tackles international relations, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development, and African and European politics.

Skran, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 1990, has served as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Oxford University.

We caught up with Skran to talk about her passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I want each of my students to know that I think of education as an adventure. Whether we are sitting in a classroom in Briggs Hall or gathered in an African village, my students and I are on a voyage together. Our journey always starts with what is familiar and known, and it moves into areas that are much less so. There will be challenging questions, unexpected lessons, and surprising results, but along the way we will find both excitement and fun. Much of what we learn together will not be on the starting syllabus; instead deeper understanding will emerge as we travel together.

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

I love the point in a class or a course when everything “clicks.” This happens when a lecture point hits home, a discussion question takes on a life of its own, or when the students on a travel course all start to work together.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you that took you by surprise?

I first went to Sierra Leone as a Fulbright Scholar in October 2005. When I arrived, I thought that I would have a productive sabbatical, but I didn’t realize how much my life afterwards would change. Since then, I’ve worked as a consultant for the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, and collaborated with a global group of scholars studying refugees, women, and entrepreneurship. In addition, I have taught new courses on African politics and security, brought almost 200 Lawrence faculty and students into “traveling classrooms” in West Africa, and started the KidsGive scholarship program. In early March, I acted as the faculty guide for an alumni tour to Ghana, the first ever to an African country. One of the most meaningful parts of the tour was when the group visited the Cape Coast Castle, a former slave fort, and we left a memorial plaque from Lawrence University. Fifteen years ago, I did not expect to help create these deep connections between different parts of the Lawrence community and West African peoples and countries.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I have always thought of myself as both a teacher and a scholar. In regard to teaching, I am a strong believer in the value of experiential learning outside the traditional classroom. These kinds of experiences spark personal growth in young people, help them use the knowledge they already have, and give them direction and confidence to reach further. I hope that I will always be able to share my perspective with learners, even if I am not a full-time faculty member. But in answer to the question of what I would do if I weren’t teaching, let me just say that I have a few unfinished writing projects (both fiction and non-fiction) to complete. So, if I have any spare time, I plan to work on them, in this life rather than an imagined one, preferably in a scenic location.

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

Main Hall Green. The green is beautiful no matter the time of year. It always pleases me to know that generations of students and faculty have enjoyed sharing it. I especially like the sign that mentions Lawrence was the first coeducational institution in the state of Wisconsin.

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 taste in music is a very mixed bag, and contains such disparate things as hymns (“Amazing Grace”) and rap (Flo Rida) as well as ’70s ballads (Bette Midler’s “The Rose”). Maybe a common thread is an inspirational transcendence; Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” and Damien Marley’s “There for You” are two of my favorites. 

Film is Knives Out, for the sheer fun of it.

The book is Soft Power (2004) by Joseph Nye. It is still well worth reading. It offers the important lessons that ideals are a key source of power, and American values—not simply military might—helped the U.S. to win the Cold War.

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

Amy Ongiri addresses “Importance of Failure” in virtual Honors Convocation

Amy A. Ongiri will deliver her Honors Convocation address virtually.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Amy A. Ongiri isn’t shy about telling you she’s failed at various things in life.

But, then, so have you. So has everyone. And yet we are reticent to speak of it, to examine it, to embrace it.

Ongiri, the Jill Beck Director of Film Studies and associate professor of film studies at Lawrence University, calls that a missed opportunity. She’ll delve into the idea of embracing failure when she delivers the school’s annual Honors Convocation address,“The Importance of Failure.”

The Honors Convocation, which publicly recognizes students and faculty recipients of awards and prizes for excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, languages, music, athletics, and service to others, was to be held in Memorial Chapel. But due to campus facilities being closed and physical distancing practices being in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will instead be pre-recorded and presented here at 11:10 a.m. May 28.

Yes, at an event to honor great successes, failure will take center stage.

Ongiri will tell the audience that we grow from failure, and we need to be comfortable talking about that. That’s a particularly appropriate message for young people to hear as they set out on journeys full of uncertainty. Take chances. Be willing to fail.

“There’s a lot of stigma around failure and it is especially hard to fail as a young person because you are just learning about it as an experience,” Ongiri said.

What students will discover, Ongiri said, is that there is no road map for understanding or negotiating that experience. Some failures are big and bold. Others are slight and nuanced. All are part of the jagged, crooked, unpredictable path of life.

“As a culture, we have tended to value winning over all other experiences but we are all going to fail a lot in life, and we need to learn early on what it means and how to think about it,” Ongiri said.

As we mature, understanding failure and the strength that can come from it begins to make more sense. But that doesn’t mean we’re any more eager to speak of it.

“By the time you’re in your 50s, as I am, you have probably failed a lot at a wide variety of things,” Ongiri said. “But we don’t tend to value or talk about our failures as much as we do our successes.”

Ongiri, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2014 after more than a decade on the English faculty at the University of Florida, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Bryn Mawr College, a master’s degree from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her scholarship interests have focused on African American literature and culture, film studies, cultural studies, and gender and sexuality studies. She is the author of the 2009 book, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic.

She points to scholars such Judith Halberstam, Timothy DuWhite, and Scott Sandage as sources of insight and reflection on the topic of failure and the cultural dynamic at play. That sort of guidance is valuable at any time, but perhaps even more so as we navigate through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The global pandemic has not only provided a case study in notable failures around health care and public infrastructure, it has given us the time to reflect on what it all means,” Ongiri said. “It has also given us the chance to reconsider what states of being associated with failure, such as loneliness, mean to us individually and collectively as a culture.”

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

On Main Hall Green with … David McGlynn: Creative in, out of classroom

Portrait on Main Hall Green: David McGlynn (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 every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Professor of English David McGlynn teaches creative writing in the classroom. He lives it outside the classroom.

A member of the English faculty since 2006, McGlynn is the author of a number of well-received books — 2018’s One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood, 2012’s A Door in the Ocean, and 2008’sThe End of the Straight and Narrow. His books have earned honors from the Wisconsin Library Association and the Council for Wisconsin Writers. His writing has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Real Simple, Yale Review, and Best American Sports Writing. In 2009, he was awarded Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Creative Activity.

As chair of the English department, McGlynn played a key role in developing the new major within the English department, one that, beginning in the fall, will allow students to major in either Creative Writing: English or Literature: English.

For details on the new Creative Writing: English major, see here. For a story introducing the new program, see here.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from the University of California, Irvine, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Utah.

We caught up with McGlynn to talk about his interests and passions in and out of the classroom:

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

That I was once – and am, in many ways – just like them. I arrived at my own undergraduate university with dreams of becoming a writer. Plenty of people in my life, including members of my own family, thought that reading and writing were spurious, at best recreational, activities – not something on which to make a life. Intent on proving them wrong, I declared myself an English major and enrolled in creative writing classes certain that becoming a published writer ultimately came down to, well, wanting it enough. It took me a few years to understand that wanting to write – no matter how much wanting I did – wasn’t the key to success. The only way to become a better writer, it turns out, is to write. A lot. I had to write every day, regardless of whether I felt inspired, and I had to keep at it, especially when every word that landed on the page felt absolutely terrible. I failed and floundered for nearly 10 years before my work began to appear in print. The process is slow.

I spend a lot of time talking to students about the importance of persistence and patience and why those two qualities matter so much more than talent. I ask every student, in every creative writing class, to write every day, even if for only a few minutes, and I try to free them from the burden of judging whether their work is good or bad. Rather, I try to get them to pay attention to the world – to the sky and the weather and the way the evening light falls across the Main Hall Green. Zadie Smith writes, “You spend the morning reading Chekhov, and in the afternoon, walking through your neighborhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non­-sequitur, a dog dances in the street.” I can’t imagine a better training for a writer.

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

Beginning in the fall of 2020, Lawrence will offer two tracks within the English major – one in creative writing and the other in literature. Students on the Creative Writing track will take classes in poetry and/or prose at every stage of the major, from their first year to their senior capstone. Our brand-new Senior Seminar in Creative Writing will bring together students from across the major; they’ll spend a term reading one another’s work and revising and assembling their own work into chapbook-length thesis projects.

A number of supremely talented young writers have come through Lawrence in recent years – including several who have recently published books – and students have long augmented the English major with additional coursework in creative writing. I’m thrilled that future students will have the opportunity to major in a program specifically tailored to these interests.

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?

Several years ago, more or less on a whim, I began writing short pieces about fatherhood. I’d spent my first six years at Lawrence working on two books, both of which grappled with pretty heavy themes, and I needed a break. My two sons were 8 and 5 at the time, both with more energy than bugs in a jar, and I figured I’d just tell a few stories about teaching them to ride bikes and the time they figured out how much fun it is to cuss. I mean, what’s funnier than a toddler swearing? But the stories contained more depth than I expected, and they led me to insights and observations I didn’t know I thought until I literally wrote them down. Thanks to a few tremendous strokes of luck, several essays appeared in such periodicals as The New York Times, Men’s Health, O., The Oprah Magazine, Parents, and Real Simple, all of which led to a book, One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood, published in 2018. It’s a book I never expected to write, but I’m so glad I did.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I had an image of myself, back when I was in graduate school, teaching at a college exactly like Lawrence – small, serene, with close interactions with students. During my interview for the job, I looked out the window of Tim Spurgin’s office and watched the students strolling along the sidewalks, some with bassoon reeds in their mouths or violin cases beneath their arms. The sky was a shade of blue only visible north of the 44th parallel. I remember a student with a head of red curls walking by singing an aria so loudly I could hear it through the glass. I knew, right then and there, that Lawrence was my home. I can’t imagine doing anything else, at any other college.

But, for the sake of argument, I also think I would have made a pretty good Coast Guard rescue swimmer.

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

Step inside the Mudd Library and turn left. Follow the wall past Angela Vanden Elzen’s office (be sure to say hello) and you’ll come to the Lincoln Reading Room. The last chair on the right, closest to the window, is my favorite place on campus. I finished my first book, and wrote three others, in that chair, all while watching the leaves on the Japanese maple beyond the window turn from green to red and then fall to the ground, year after year.

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

One of the best things about Lawrence is that our own students have produced some of my favorite books and films. No one should miss The Soul of Power by Callie Bates ’09, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay ’09, or Return on Investment by Magdalena Wąż ’11. Magdalena and her partner, Micah Paisner ’11, co-created my favorite web series, My Astronaut, which is just uproariously hilarious. And I’m beyond excited to read Bread and Fish by Andy Graff ’09, due out early in 2021.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Andrew Sage: Mining data for the greater good

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Andrew Sage (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 every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Andrew Sage arrived at Lawrence at just the right time.

The assistant professor of statistics came on board in 2018 just as the school was looking to expand its offerings in the areas of statistics and data science to meet a growing demand surrounding all things data.

He was the first of a one-two punch in the mathematics faculty. When Abhishek Chakraborty joined the team a year later, plans moved quickly to launch a new minor in data science. That goes live in the fall.

Read a story about Lawrence’s new Statistics and Data Science minor here. Additional details on the program can be found here.

Sage has a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster, master’s degrees from Iowa State and Miami University, and a Ph.D. from Iowa State.

We caught up with him to talk about his vision for data education and his passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I want my students to know how much I learn from them. My students challenge and sharpen my understanding, and perhaps most importantly, teach me how to be a better teacher. Some of the most important changes I have made in my teaching have been the result of suggestions from students. I want my students to know that I am always listening, and I want to hear their thoughts on how we can work together to best help each other learn.

Through my students, I have also learned so much about topics I previously had little knowledge. In my applied statistics courses, students complete projects that connect the course material to topics they are interested in. Through these projects, I have learned about such topics as the economic impact of having babies in various countries, the nature and impact of volcanic eruptions, inconsistencies in media coverage of forest fires, and many more. We are all lifelong learners and I hope my students realize how much of a role they play in my own learning.

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

I am very excited about expanding the opportunities for students to study statistics and data science at Lawrence. In the 2020-21 academic year, we will be launching a new minor in statistics and data science, as well as a statistics track within the mathematics major. Abhishek Chakraborty and I are working together to develop new courses in rapidly advancing areas like data science, machine learning, and Bayesian statistics.

The statistics and data science minor could be paired with many different majors. The minor incorporates not only courses taught by statisticians, but also data-driven courses in other departments. Faculty and students all across campus use data and statistical software in their courses and research. I am excited about opportunities for collaboration that will result from our growth in this area. A data scientist must possess not only a strong statistical foundation, and programming skills, but also domain area expertise, and the ability to account for ethical considerations. I cannot think of a better place to develop this kind of reasoning than a liberal arts college.

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?

I always knew that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know what subject, or at what level. At various points, I thought I was going to teach history, or theoretical mathematics, before I arrived at applied statistics. I taught high school for four years, and enjoyed it, before I decided that that the college level would be the best place for me.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

If I wasn’t teaching, I would be umpiring baseball games. I love baseball, and umpiring was a great way for me to stay involved in the game and make a little money while I was in college. It’s been years since I last called a game, but every so often, I get the urge to be back on the diamond.

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

I love the bike path that runs along the river. It’s a great place to go for a run and clear my mind, and it offers a gorgeous view of 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?

Book: I’m a big fan of David Baldacci’s mystery crime novels. My favorite is The Simple Truth (1998)

Recording: Centerfield (John Fogerty). As I said, I love baseball.

Film: The Imitation Game (2014). The film highlights Alan Turing’s pioneering work in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as the persecution he faced as a result of being gay. While the film takes liberties in a biographical sense, it draws attention to a critically important figure who is often denied the credit he deserves.

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