Category: Faculty Profiles

On Main Hall Green With … Beth Zinsli: Excelling in the art of engagement

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Beth Zinsli ’02 (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

Beth Zinsli ’02 is a focal point for visual arts at Lawrence University.

As an assistant professor of art history, she is an important voice in the classroom. But more people may know Zinsli for her role with the Wriston Art Center Galleries, where she serves as curator, leading the staff that prepares and presents the public art exhibitions and oversees the University’s art collection. She also serves as program director for the Museum Studies interdisciplinary area.

Zinsli joined Lawrence in 2013, 11 years after earning her bachelor’s degree in history as an LU undergrad. She went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in art history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We caught up with Zinsli to talk about her work in the classroom and galleries and her 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?

My goal in the classroom is to get to the questions that really matter, the questions that will push students to think and engage more deeply with an idea. I don’t have all the answers; I want to work through the important questions with students. Learning to ask those sorts of questions is hard but it’s part of the joy of intellectual work. In the spring 2020 term, the added challenge is doing this at a physical and temporal distance from students, but in our current context, shared intellectual engagement and joy feels more important than ever.

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

I was excited and honored to help bring Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) to campus to install the “Indigenize Education” mural with students and give a convocation last spring. It was thrilling to see the positive reactions to the mural and her powerful talk. Public art is a vital form of representation that can compel important conversations – the “Indigenize Education” mural started the conversations we need to keep having as a campus. There’s more to come.

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 got to travel to Havana twice for dissertation research in graduate school. There is no way I could have fully prepared for the experience or for the surprising, profound conversations I had with Cuban artists, curators, and other folks while I was there.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Definitely something with food – chef, restaurant critic, food stylist, culinary historian. Cooking and baking are my creative outlets and I think about recipes and ingredients all the time. I have around 130 cookbooks, from a well-used copy of The Joy of Cooking to NOMA by Danish chef René Redzepi.

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

The art galleries, of course. I am biased, but they are usually peaceful and there is always something interesting to look at. There’s also a windowsill seat by the back gallery that looks out on the walkway between Memorial Hall and Wriston; if I need a break it’s the perfect spot to people-watch for a few minutes.

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 picked up Florida, Lauren Groff’s recent book of short stories, on librarian Colette Lunday-Brautigam’s recommendation. I was in New York checking out some museum shows; when I took a break for lunch I pulled it out. I didn’t come up for air until a couple hours later. I finished it the next day and then immediately started reading it again from the beginning.

What’s that you asked about a recording? I couldn’t hear you over ROSALÍA’s El Mal querer, which I have been blasting on repeat for the past few months. Her voice and stylistic versatility are totally energizing.

I find Chantal Ackerman’s film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, fascinating. It’s 201 minutes long and focused on a single woman’s seemingly mundane daily routines. She literally makes a meal in real time on screen. I’m interested in boredom and how we react to disruptions in our habits, two big themes in this film – so maybe it’s not for everyone, especially as we all cope with those very things – but it’s definitely on my safer-at-home screening list.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Nancy Wall: Brainpower in neuroscience growth

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Nancy Wall (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

Nancy Wall, an associate professor of biology, has been one of the leading scientists at Lawrence University since joining the faculty in 1995.

In addition to her classroom teaching, Wall has worked closely with dozens of students in doing developmental and molecular biology research over the past 25 years.

She led the neuroscience program as its chair from 2011 to 2019. She’s now playing a lead role in the expansion of that program, one that will see a cognitive neuroscientist added to the faculty in the coming year, strengthening Lawrence’s offerings in both cognitive science and neuroscience.

Other leadership roles have included being Lawrence’s campus coordinator for the McNair Scholarship Program, which assisted low-income students and those from historically underrepresented communities, and serving for four years as associate dean of faculty.

Before arriving at Lawrence, Wall earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Presbyterian College in South Carolina, her master’s in biology education from the University of South Carolina, and her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.

We caught up with Wall recently to talk about her motivations 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?

As a college freshman, I struggled academically because I was underprepared for college. I had no study skills. But I developed a set of skills that helped me make the Dean’s List every semester after that year. I want any student who is struggling academically to realize if I could do it, they can do it, too.

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

Right now, I’m really excited about teaching the inaugural offering of NESC 200: Introduction to Neuroscience and the continued development of the Neuroscience program at Lawrence. I’ve always been curious about how brains work. How is it that this organ, along with its interconnected nerves and ganglia, processes information about an animal’s external — the world around it — and internal — the world within it — environments and coordinates its responses so it survives, even thrives? I’m particularly interested in learning about how such a complex organ system develops and connects to every other organ system in the body. So, I’m excited about the subject matter, but I’m also excited that next year we will be adding a cognitive neuroscientist to the faculty to further strengthen our program and give our students more options for studying human neuroscience.

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?

Well, ending up living in Wisconsin was a surprise. Before I interviewed at Lawrence, I was not seriously considering moving to Wisconsin. I’d never lived further north than Nashville, Tennessee, so I was not sure about living where the ground stays covered in snow for extended periods of time. But once I interviewed here, I knew that Lawrence was the kind of quality liberal arts college I was looking for. I was impressed by the great students, dedicated faculty, and supportive administration. I’ve never regretted coming here. I love Lawrence, and it turns out I’m cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, not to mention golfing and kayaking in summer and enjoying the occasional Friday night fish fry at the local supper club.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

That’s a tough one. It’s hard to imagine doing anything else, but maybe forensic science would be an option.

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

This probably sounds boring, but my office. I have a nice view of Main Hall and part of the Green and it is a little like my home away from home given how much time I spend there.

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

Another tough question. Only one of each? There are so many … OK, at least in this moment, I go with the following: book, The Little Prince; recording, Rhapsody in Blue; film, Schindler’s List.

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

On Main Hall Green with … Jake Frederick: Learning through disasters

Jake Frederick poses for a photo on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jake Frederick (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

Fourteen years after his arrival at Lawrence, history professor Jake Frederick is fully established as a scholar on colonial Latin America.

Sparked in part by an experience fighting forest fires in Mexico prior to going to graduate school, Frederick has taken a deep interest in the history of Mexico, as well as Afro-Latino history and environmental history.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University.

He joined the History faculty at Lawrence in 2006, and also now serves as co-director for Latin American Studies. His scholarship has included research on and presentations about fire and other environmental crises in Mexico and economic factors that have informed Mexico’s history. Published books include Riot! Tobacco, Reform, and Violence in Eighteenth-Century Papantla, Mexico, and, with Tatiana Seijas, Spanish Dollars and Sister Republics: The Money That Made Mexico and the United States. In 2017, he was awarded Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

We caught up with Frederick to talk about his work and 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?

I fancy myself a fairly demanding professor, and I have found in my years of teaching that when students work hard they learn a lot and produce excellent work. I know that you are capable of a lot, and that may be more than you think you are. Higher education should challenge what you believe and it should challenge your skills. You all volunteered for this, to learn ideas you don’t know already and to develop skills you don’t have. So bust your butt to get the most out of it.

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

Right now, I am teaching a seminar on Disasters that Changed the Americas, and I find that really exciting. I have always been interested in disasters, like major disease outbreaks, fires, earthquakes, and the like. They are not just exciting in and of themselves; they are also a great way to find out about societies: how they divided one another into different groups, how they reacted to challenges, and how they envisioned their futures. The in-class discussions have been great.

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 suppose being in the position I am in now is the big surprise. Before I went to graduate school I did a lot of different jobs, like working in a plastics factory, selling sporting goods, and working on an ambulance. I never planned on being a professor. I spent the longest time working as a forest fire fighter for the U.S. Forest Service. In 1998, when there was a terrible outbreak of forest fires in Mexico, they sent me to Chiapas to help train firefighters. That deployment came just before I went to graduate school, and was a big part of what led me to focus on Latin America. I thought that if that kind of thing was happening now, there must have been historical examples to study as well. Now, here I am more than 20 years later teaching about just those kinds of disasters in history.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Special effects makeup! I love doing it. I take Halloween far too seriously each year. And if I had the chance to make people up as ghouls, or zombies, or plague victims for a living, well, I’d have to give that some real thought.

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

It’s a secret, and it’s way better than any other place by far. But I can’t tell you because then everyone would go there. Honestly, it’s probably any view of Main Hall when I’m walking into work. I’m always struck by what a beautiful old place I work in.

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’d recommend Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It. To me it’s some of the most beautiful writing in the English language.

The recording may well be The Grateful Dead live in Portland, Maine on March 31, 1985, at Cumberland County Civic Center (you can hear it at archive.org). It was a great show, and it turns out that one of my best friends was there, though we wouldn’t meet for another 14 years. It also brings up interesting, if blurry, memories of my misspent youth.

For a film, it would have to be Jaws. I’d recommend it to anyone; because, who wouldn’t want to watch the best movie ever?

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

Teaching at LU, performing on world stages: Gomez living her best musical life

Holly Beemer '22 listens as music professor Estelí Gomez, seated to her right, gives feedback during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center.
Estelí Gomez gives feedback and instruction to Holly Beemer ’22 during a studio voice class in the Music-Drama Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Estelí Gomez is having herself a February.

In addition to working with her voice students on the second floor of the Music-Drama Center, the Lawrence Conservatory’s newest music professor is in the midst of a whirlwind schedule that has her, among other things, sharing a New York stage this week with the iconic Renée Fleming and then visiting New Zealand and Australia with an opera featuring her Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble Roomful of Teeth.

Preceding all that was a concert last week with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center — her first public performance as a resident of Appleton — a brief stopover in New York to perform at the Lincoln Center on the American Songbook series, and an overnight to St. Louis for a recital with the Kingsbury Ensemble.

In between flights and performances, her teaching continues — from hotel rooms and rehearsal spaces she connects with her students remotely via Zoom for voice lessons, all the while showing them in real time what life as a working musician can look like.

“I’m living it,” Gomez said of the Conservatory’s mission to prepare students to live their best musical lives.

It’s a blistering schedule, but Gomez, an in-demand soprano, makes no excuses. This is what she signed up for when she accepted an offer last year to join the Conservatory faculty, her first full-time teaching gig after a decade living on the road.

“What I desired was that both sorts of existences — the academic and the performer — would feed one another,” she said.

A native of Watsonville, California, with a bachelor of arts from Yale and a master of music from McGill, Gomez spent 10 years in constant motion, touring with Roomful of Teeth and performing and recording with the likes of the Seattle Symphony and Silkroad Ensemble, among others. She won a Grammy Award with Roomful of Teeth in 2014 — the ensemble’s 2013 debut album also earned composer Caroline Shaw a Pulitzer Prize — and is featured on the Silkroad Ensemble album that scored a Grammy win in 2016.

See more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music here.

Estelí Gomez smiles as she talks with students in a studio class.
Estelí Gomez reacts as she works with students at the start of a studio class earlier in February. Gomez joined the Lawrence faculty in fall. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Chasing a dream

Gomez and her seven Roomful colleagues have served a number of teaching residencies and master classes at universities across the country, including two at Lawrence. The Lawrence experiences were so satisfying for Gomez that she listened intently when Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl in late 2018 first mentioned a coming opening on the Conservatory faculty.

“That was the beginning of this dream,” Gomez said. “What would it look like if I actually lived somewhere? I’d been living out of my suitcase for about a decade. I had a storage unit in Montréal, my parents live in California, my partner lives in Austin, Texas, and I have a crash pad in New York City.”

She was drawn to the idea of teaching in a Conservatory setting, especially one she held in such high regard.

“I had already been bitten by the bug of spending more time in an academic environment, for the resources, for the people who were interested in diving deep in creative ways,” Gomez said.

But she also wanted to continue to perform on stages around the world. At Lawrence, that’s a path that has already been paved many times over. Her performing would be embraced as an opportunity, not a problem. Pertl called her “a perfect fit for Lawrence, an exquisite musician with the heart of a liberal arts scholar.”

The Conservatory’s mantra to provide holistic music education for the 21st century, recognizing many paths to living a musical life, was all Gomez needed to hear. 

“It was the fact that my interests lined up so well with this place,” she said. “That’s what sealed the deal for me.”

Gomez knew she had huge shoes to fill as she was joining the voice faculty following the retirements of the talented and much-respected Kenneth Bozeman and Joanne Bozeman, whose influences on Lawrence University had been long and impactful. She’s tried to pick up where they left off.

“I’m so lucky they were my predecessors,” Gomez said. “They have such wonderful systems set up.”

She said she’s soaking in the talent, expertise, and teaching wisdom of her Conservatory colleagues. At the Fox Cities PAC performance last week, she was joined on stage by two of those colleagues, Steven Paul Spears, a tenor and voice professor, and Phillip Swan, the co-director of choral studies who serves as artistic director and conductor of newVoices, a semi-professional community choir.

Several of Estelí Gomez's students pose with her for a photo at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.
Several of Estelí Gomez’s students met up with her at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center for her recent performance with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra and newVoices choir. (Photo submitted)

A new sense of place

The reality of her new gig —and the lifestyle change it signified — began to sink in for Gomez shortly after she arrived in Appleton last summer. She had a kitchen all to herself. And a consistent place to sleep. It had been a long time since she could say that.

It took some time to adjust, she said. Fall term was challenging, learning new systems and meeting new people. It wasn’t until winter term that she began to settle into the rhythms of life on campus.

“There was a point where I slept better on airplanes than I did in my new place,” Gomez said. “I had to remind myself, this is what is normal. But, slowly, the normal is shifting. I’m still getting to tour, but now I have more of an essence of grounding here, which has been a blessing.”

Most satisfying, she said, is that it’s giving her a chance to spread her wings as an educator.

“Now I have this long arc of getting to work with students on a weekly basis and really connect with them as people,” she said. “It feels so much deeper. I so appreciate the chance to get to know them in a longer-form way than being a visiting master class artist.”

Several of Gomez’s students showed up at the Fox Cities PAC last week to show support for her performance with the Fox Valley Symphony and newVoices. That’s part of the relationship-building between faculty and students that is so pronounced at Lawrence, where class sizes are small and one-on-one sessions with faculty are the norm.

“They’re the building blocks for their singing life here,” Gomez said of those faculty-to-student relationships.

They also are where her performance life and her academic life can intersect to provide teachable moments for her students, who are exploring what their own musical paths might be. Her performances, Gomez said, help inform her teaching. And her teaching helps inform her performances, whether here in Appleton or on the other side of the world.

“I think it’s good for them to have somebody who is in it,” Gomez said of her students. “And it’s also good for my performing that I’m engaged with how to articulate what I believe is really good singing, really healthy singing, really efficient singing. I have to articulate that every day to my students over and over again and in a million different sorts of languages.”

Esteli Gomez listens intently as Mae Capaldi sings during a studio class.
Estelí Gomez, assistant professor of music, works with Mae Capaldi ’23 during a recent studio class. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Sharing the stage with Renée Fleming

That brings us to this busy stretch. It’s the three performances with the New York Philharmonic Feb. 20-22 in Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall that’s garnering the most attention.

Gomez is one of three soloists in the world premiere of a piece written by 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Reid. It was commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of Project 19, which is marking the centennial of the 19th Amendment by commissioning works by 19 women composers.

“It should be a really eclectic, innovative program,” Gomez said.

Fleming is featured in the second half of the concert, singing music of Björk.

Gomez has sung with the New York Philharmonic before, but this will be her first time performing on the same stage as Fleming, one of the country’s most renowned sopranos. They have plenty of connections, though. Gomez’s frequent duet partner has sung duet recitals with Fleming. And Gomez has sung with Susan Graham, Fleming’s frequent duet partner.

“And apparently she’s a Roomful fan, so I’m excited to meet her,” Gomez said.

From there, Gomez will be back in Appleton for three days to teach, and then reconnect with her Roomful of Teeth collaborators for the trip to New Zealand and Australia for the Peter Sellars-directed opera Kopernikus.

Interestingly, Gomez was performing in Kopernikus in Europe when she had her first interview — via Skype — for the Lawrence position.

“I think it was something like 11 p.m. for me; it was maybe 4 p.m. here,” she said. “We had just finished opening night in Toulouse, France. I joined for the champagne toast, ordered dinner at the cafe upstairs, then went down to the basement of the theater and said, ‘OK, let’s answer some interview questions.’ So, all this now feels really interconnected.”

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

On Main Hall Green with … Patty Darling: Jazz artistry, and so much more

Patty Darling poses for a photo on a snow-covered Main Hall Green, with Main Hall in the background.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Patty Darling (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

Patty Darling has had plenty of successes since joining the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty in 2007, but perhaps none speak louder than the rave reviews for the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, which she directs. The student ensemble has, among other honors, earned the prestigious DownBeat Student Music Award in the large jazz ensemble category each of the past two years.

The awards are reflective of Darling’s deep influences in the Jazz Department over the past 13 years, but they don’t tell the whole story. In addition to leading one of the nation’s most outstanding collegiate jazz groups, Darling continues to compose music that has been performed widely across the country, including in middle and high school music programs. And she played a big part in developing and launching the new Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) degree, recently rolled out in the Conservatory after years of development.

See more on the B.M.A. degree here.

Darling is a Lawrence graduate, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in composition in 1985. She went on to study advanced composition at the University of Minnesota, where she also worked in the Electronic Music Department. 

We caught up with Darling to talk about her work in the Conservatory and her 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?

I am committed to understanding and supporting your unique musical path here at Lawrence. There are countless opportunities to create, perform, and collaborate with students and faculty, giving you the chance to discover and pursue the music that speaks to you. You will find me deeply interested in your personal musical goals and aspirations, and I’ll do my best in our classes and lessons to help you along the way.

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

This is the first year of our Jazz Department’s new degree program, the Bachelor of Musical Arts (B.M.A.) in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. It has been very rewarding to develop new courses in composition and arranging. My students are integrating improvisation in a variety of musical styles, experimenting with form and development, and practicing core musicianship skills in our piano and composition lessons. They share recordings of artists that inspire them, and I am excited to have the opportunity to explore these different genres together. In addition, I’m enjoying working with songwriters and getting back into electronic music production and recording.

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 love composing music for big bands, and did not expect to find such joy and satisfaction in writing music for younger students. I just finished a new piece titled Connections, which will be published by Sierra Music this summer. Many of my big band charts are designed for middle and high school musicians, and I’m motivated by the challenge of creating music that is fun to play while also teaching improvisation and jazz fundamentals. I enjoy traveling to different schools throughout the U.S. and working with students on these charts.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

You would most likely find me working at a wildlife sanctuary — with big cats! — or perhaps delving into organic gardening/farming.

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

The “Jazz Room,” Shattuck 46. It feels like the heart of the Jazz Department; there’s so much happening there. Big band and combo rehearsals, improvisation and composition classes, percussion groups, auditions, recording sessions, meetings, and a lot more. During our Jazz Weekend festival, it is packed with young students performing and learning to improvise. Last year we did a side-by-side rehearsal there with the famous Vanguard Jazz Orchestra — that was a blast. Guest artists and LU jazz alumni come in to perform and share their stories. It’s an inspiring place even when it is empty and quiet.

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

Film: Cast Away. A powerful story of survival and the intense need for human connection. Alan Silvestri’s sparse, breathtaking soundtrack reinforces the impact of such extreme isolation.

Book: Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. “True simplicity as a life choice illuminates our lives from within.” A good friend gave me this book several years ago, and every so often I come back to it to read, reflect, and rebalance my life.

Song: Pretty much anything by Bon Iver — Woods, 715-Creeks. His music is incredible, beautiful and honest.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Jesús Gregorio Smith: Open mind, open heart

Jesús Gregorio Smith poses for a portrait near the front steps to Main Hall.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Jesús Gregorio Smith

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

Jesús Gregorio Smith, who joined Lawrence University in 2017 as an assistant professor of ethnic studies, helped to launch Ethnic Studies as a major.

He’s taught classes on such topics as research methods in communities of color, sociology of black Americans and sociology of Latinx. He has organized the annual Continuing Significance of Race undergraduate conference. And at last year’s Cultural Expressions, Lawrence students presented him with the Beta Psi Nu Faculty Excellence Award.

Smith also is a finalist for the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation’s 2020 Career Enhancement Fellowship for Junior Faculty.

A native of El Paso, Texas, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in sociology at the University of Texas at El Paso, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Texas A&M University. His initial thesis work looked at race and sexuality on the U.S.-Mexico border and the implications it has on dating and sexual health. At A&M, he broadened that work to examine online dating, sexual racism, and HIV/AIDS in quantitative and qualitative fashions. 

A book he contributed to and co-edited, Home and Community for Queer Men of Color: The Intersections of Race and Sexuality, was recently published through Lexington Books.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I want you to know that my goal is to touch, challenge and change every one of you in a different way. When you teach students about race and racism, often times you get young — or older — people who are deeply miseducated and undereducated on the U.S.’s racial history. As a result, many people misunderstand the racial present. So, it is my job to walk you through that history, and it can be painful, difficult and depressing much of the time. Yet, it can also be inspiring, powerful and influential other times. So, as long as you walk into my class with an open mind and heart, you may be challenged on old beliefs you may have held that were misguided, you may be touched by hearing a story from one of your fellow classmates of color who experienced something similar to whatever we are reading that day, and you may be changed forever from learning about something that is painful and important to know. If you put in the work, you will rise to the occasion and come out a better person for it. That is a big challenge for me, but I never back down from a challenge.

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

Since being at Lawrence there is so much I have accomplished and done that I am excited about. My Intro to Ethnic Studies class works with Beth Zinsli, the director and curator of the Wriston Art Center Galleries, to put together these historical and artistic exhibits on race and ethnicity. The class is broken into four groups, and each group covers a different stairwell on each floor of Briggs Hall with a different topic. Each year it is so awesome to see what the students produce. This past year, for instance, a group focused on ethnic hair and how it relates to identity, and they interviewed several students about their hair and even created a video that played on a loop about ethnic hair. A professor took her class to check out that exhibit because it went with a topic she was teaching in her class. Last year, a group looked at the injustices of the criminal justice system in the lives of people of color and imagined what their mug shots would look like if they were victimized by a system stacked against them. It was so powerful it brought a faculty member to tears. It’s become a highlight of the Ethnic Studies program here at Lawrence.

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 am a gay, Afro-Latino man from El Paso, Texas. The last place I’d imagine my life ending up is Appleton, Wisconsin! Yet, my partner, Michael Reed (animal and psychology lab technician), and I have made it a home. I have grown really close with some faculty of color (Thelma Jimenez-Aglada in Spanish, Sigma Colon in History, Israel Del Toro in Biology, and John Holiday in the Con) who help it feel like a home away from home. We have done so many fun things like walk across Lake Winnebago when it is frozen, attend a bunch of shows for really cheap at the Fox Cities PAC, and catch all the live music in the area like Jazz at the Trout or Mile of Music. My partner keeps a calendar of events so he can show me how busy we are all the time. I didn’t believe him, but now he has evidence that five times out of the week, we are usually doing something fun.

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 undoubtedly be a civil rights lawyer or a medical doctor for Doctors Without Borders. I say undoubtedly because I honestly can see myself getting another degree while I am a professor so I can make a bigger impact in my community. So, don’t be surprised if you find out I am taking online law classes somewhere.

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

I like working with my writing group in Youngchild 218. It’s nice and secluded and we don’t often get bothered. I also love the large wooden area by Briggs when it is open. It is just a nice place to chill and look at the water. I’m a Scorpio, which is a water sign so I love looking at the water and being by water.

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 Book: I love the book Annihilation. We read it in our book club and it is one of the weirdest, creepiest and most beautiful books I have ever read. It’s about this pristine part of nature that looks too good to be true, and it is. On the surface it is a scary book about this nightmarish landscape and potential predator, but underneath the surface is this beautiful meditation on life, relationships, nature, and regret. It is worth a read. The movie starring Natalie Portman is pretty good as well.

One recording: I love the song Iphone by Dababy and Nicki Minaj from his 2019 album Kirk. The bars in the song are deliriously good — Nicki kills it, man — and I feel like Dababy is having a moment right now in hip hop that is unforgettable. He reminds me of Nelly from when I was younger, just a young southern rapper who puts on a helluva performance. 

One Film: I saw the film Hustlers with a bunch of friends. It’s a JLo movie so I wasn’t expecting anything good, but it had Cardi B and Lizzo and a bunch of women of color headlining, so I gave it a shot. It was awesome.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Katie Schweighofer: Strength in gender studies

Katie Schweighofer poses for a photo on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Katie Schweighofer (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 faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Katie Schweighofer, who arrived at Lawrence in the fall of 2018, is playing a key role in growing and developing the Gender Studies department.

With deep interests in feminist and queer theory and LGBTQ studies, she has focused much of her academic work on the histories and geography of sexual identity, and the institutional and cultural messages that have and continue to frame those conversations.

Before joining Lawrence as an assistant professor of gender studies, Schweighofer taught at Dickinson College following appointments at Butler University and Indiana University. A native of Rochester, Mich., Schweighofer earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a certificate in women’s studies from Princeton University. She also holds a master of arts from New York University and earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in gender studies from Indiana.

We caught up with Schweighofer to talk about her work and her 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?

I’ve chosen to do this work because it is personally meaningful to me, and I hope each of my students is able to similarly connect with some of the ideas in my courses. Our lives and selves are shaped by gender, sexuality, race, class, and a myriad of other factors — identifying, deconstructing, analyzing, and rethinking those institutional and cultural messages is empowering and revolutionary work.  My work is most rewarding when I hear how our work in the classroom continues to affect students long after they’ve left the university. 

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

I’m thrilled to be here as the first full faculty member entirely in Gender Studies, both for what that represents — including decades of hard work by other faculty — and for the possibilities for the future the role offers. Right now, I’m focused on building our gender studies program, helping our students connect with one another and with our alums doing exciting work in the world. 

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

My career trajectory has taken me to places like Kathmandu, Nepal, where I worked with a group called the Women’s Foundation, a group of deeply passionate women who worked tirelessly to help others escape domestic violence and support themselves through sustainable agriculture and textile work. I have also found my way to material closer to my home in Michigan, studying Midwestern LGBTQ histories that challenge the narrative that queer life only happens in cities like New York and San Francisco.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Hmm, perhaps writing for the New York Times Gender & Society desk? Or training for a spot on the Great British Bake-Off. Or playing professional rugby. Honestly, all of those jobs would take a lot of work to get to but they sure would be fun.

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

My favorite campus spot was shown to me by a student on my interview visit — the path along the river, from below Briggs east to the old railroad trestle. It is a wonderfully peaceful walk with just the sounds of the river and the rustle of leaves to keep you company.

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 not really a person with all-time favorites, but on my nightstand recently are copies of Margaret Atwood’s new book The Testaments (the follow-up to her classic The Handmaid’s Tale), Jordy Rosenberg’s Confessions of the Fox (a queer story of an 18th century thief — I’ve donated a copy to LU’s library!), and the immigration story Mama’s Nightingale by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, which I’ve been reading with my twin 7-month-olds. 

I’ve been listening to The Highwomen’s debut album a fair amount recently — they’re a newly formed country music group of four independent artists who are writing smart and compelling songs with a feminist bent. Check them out.

I really like classical Hollywood cinema —American films from the mid-twentieth century — and recently re-watched the classic Calamity Jane (1953) and my wife’s favorite, Singin’ in the Rain (1952). If you haven’t seen them I highly recommend you watch The Celluloid Closet first, a 1995 documentary about LGBTQ people and representations in Hollywood. Then watch them with an eye to the ways in which the films portray gender and sexuality — and you’ll love Calam and Cosmo Brown even more.

See more On Main Hall Green With … features: Dominica Chang, Stefan Debbert, Tim Spurgin, Deanna Donohue, Abhishek Chakraborty.

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

NewMusic Initiative takes composer Asha Srinivasan on 3-year creative journey

Asha Srinivasan stands for a portrait in Memorial Chapel.
Asha Srinivasan, an associate professor of music at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music, has been commissioned to write a choral piece for East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Composer Asha Srinivasan has been no stranger to navigating the world of music creation over the past decade.

The associate professor of music at Lawrence University has composed 21 commissioned pieces since arriving at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in 2008, mostly at the behest of performance groups seeking new chamber music from emerging composers. But the request that came to her a year ago took her by surprise and kicked off a three-year musical relationship with students at a college more than a thousand miles away.

Srinivasan was chosen to write a piece of music commissioned as part of East Carolina University’s NewMusic Initiative. She’s now into the second year of a three-year process that is allowing her to stretch her musical boundaries and to represent Lawrence in new ways. She spent two days in Greenville, North Carolina, during Lawrence’s fall term reading period working with East Carolina composition students, a prelude to the choral music she’ll be writing in the months ahead.

“It’s a prestigious commission because it’s such a selective process,” Srinivasan said.

The ECU initiative works like this: Undergraduate and graduate students in the school’s music program spend the better part of a semester listening to music and surveying the landscape for composers they’d like to work with. Composers need not apply. Any composer from anywhere may be in the mix, unbeknownst to them until someone from the program reaches out.

Once a selection has been made, the school contacts the composer to make an introduction and an offer, to talk about committing to a three-year process and, if interested, to hammer out the details. The first year is about doing that groundwork, making the connection, and giving the composer the opportunity to choose which ECU music group he or she would like to write for. The second year involves interactions between the composer and the students — hence Srinivasan’s recent two-day trip to Greenville — and the start of the writing process. The third year brings the completion of the piece and eventually a premiere performance.

Through it all, the ECU students get an education in the commissioning process. Srinivasan gets a chance to tackle her work in a whole new way. And Lawrence gets an important connection with a new batch of young musicians.

One never knows when those types of connections will circle back, Srinivasan said, noting how she first came to the attention of the ECU students.

“It turns out that one of the cello graduate students had been an undergraduate at Western Illinois University when I was featured there as a guest composer several years ago,” she said. “She had heard a flute and cello piece of mine called Dviraag. She got interested in my music, and so she’s the one who first put in my name.”

For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here

Because it’s a three-year process — most of her commissioned work has happened in five- or six-month windows — this project gives Srinivasan new possibilities. Not only did she get to choose the ensemble she’d be writing for, but composer Edward Jacobs, a professor in ECU’s School of Music and the founding director of the NewMusic Initiative, encouraged her to try new things.

“He said, ‘This is a chance for experimentation,’” Srinivasan said. “It’s usually a performance group that commissions me, and it’s usually chamber music, and so the instrumentation is already a given. But in this case, I got to choose the instrumentation. I chose to write for their chamber singers, which is kind of like our concert choir. I haven’t done much work for the choir. That isn’t an opportunity that’s come my way, but it’s also something I’ve stayed away from or veered away from. So, I’m using this as an opportunity to embrace something that would be major growth for me and push myself out of my comfort zone a little bit.”

A new commission is launched in the three-year cycle each year. The process, ECU’s Jacobs said, benefits both the composer and the students, in part because of the collaboration that’s built in.

“The lengthy span of a commission allows a composer to become a part of our community through multiple visits to campus,” he said. “It allows for students and composer to collaborate on sketches during the work’s development, and allows the composer a longer time-span than usual for a commissioned piece to be written.”

Srinivasan said it was on her two-day excursion to the ECU campus that she realized how valuable this sort of thing was for the Conservatory here.

“I listened to their ensemble and talked to their composition students,” she said. “I gave nine private lessons. I met with master’s students. And I came as a representative of Lawrence, of course, so they got to know Lawrence.

“I think it helps give Lawrence more notice. People already know of it. But it helps to have that personal connection. People see my teaching and it represents Lawrence’s commitment to me as a composer and shows that my work as a composer is supported.”

Srinivasan said she’s in the early stages of writing. The composition will be finished in time for its premiere at ECU in the spring of 2021.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Abhishek Chakraborty: Diving deep into data

Abhishek Chakraborty stands on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Abhishek Chakraborty (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 faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Compiled by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Abhishek Chakraborty is a new data guru on campus.

The assistant professor of statistics joined the Lawrence University faculty this fall as the revamped computer science program was rolled out to students.

He arrives with a background in research focused on developing statistical methodologies for analysis of complex data sets, with broad work in the fields of machine learning, data mining, predictive modeling and the application of Bayesian variables.

Chakraborty has a Ph.D. in statistics from Iowa State University, a master’s in statistics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur, India, and a bachelor’s degree in statistics from St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata, India. 

As a welcome to campus, we threw six questions at him, part of our On Main Hall Green With … faculty series.

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I am here to help them learn and assist them in making their Lawrence experience a grand success. Undergrad life runs pretty fast and is one of the memorable phases in life. I have been there, and wish I could go back again. My greatest satisfaction is when I can support them in their journey and play my part in preparing them for the life ahead. My doors are always open. I have interesting stories to tell. They should never feel that they are alone in this adventure.

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

I am one of the two statisticians at Lawrence. I am working on developing new statistics courses (newest coming up in spring 2020) and plan to contribute toward proposing a statistics/data science minor in the upcoming years. In my short time at LU, I have seen a lot of interest among students about statistics. These courses will open up different avenues of interest. Diving deep into the world of statistics and preparing future statisticians really gets me excited.

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 learned as a student that knowledge has no boundaries. And my learning process still continues. There is some kind of inexplicable satisfaction when you stumble upon a realization. Having said that, I have come to believe that knowing and realizing are quite different things. Realization takes ages. I have become physically fitter during my grad student life. And that has helped in the development of my mind as well.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

Two years back, I would have said playing soccer or becoming a musician. Recently, I spend my free time cooking and learning about beers. So, maybe I would have been a chef or opened a brewery.

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

Firstly, I would say it’s my office. I have a great view of the Fox River. I like it best when the sun rays come in and light up my office. That’s usually during the mornings and early afternoons. I also like the walk along the river; very peaceful.

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: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I recommend everyone read it at least once in their lifetime.

Song: I am a big fan of the (now pretty old) British rock band Pink Floyd. It’s hard to choose just one of their songs. Maybe Poles Apart from the album The Division Bell. Marooned is another favorite. Chances are my choice of the song and the artist might change if you ask me another time.

Film: The Shawshank Redemption. Because, “… hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”

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

On Main Hall Green with … Deanna Donohoue: When science is in the air

Deanna Donohoue sits on a bench outside of Main Hall.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Deanna Donohoue (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 faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers. See more from the series here.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Deanna Donohoue isn’t ever too far from her beloved ARTEMIS.

The Lawrence University assistant professor of chemistry developed ARTEMIS — Atmospheric Research Trailer for Environmental Monitoring and Interactive Science — as a science lab on wheels. It’s a low-cost, mobile laboratory for atmospheric measurements, allowing her and her students to monitor and learn about air quality and the effects of things like oil and gas activity and sand mining.

Donohoue earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and a Ph.D. in marine and atmospheric chemistry from Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. She joined the chemistry faculty at Lawrence in 2013. Her work with ARTEMIS has included, among other things, monitoring air quality in the Bakken Shale basin in and around western North Dakota and eastern Montana and near a sand quarry in Fremont, Wisconsin.

When it’s not on duty, ARTEMIS is often being shown by Donohoue to school groups or others willing to listen — because science in fascinating and cool and fun, and Donohue has a deep desire to spread the love.

We caught up with Donohoue to talk about her work and her 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?

I give extra credit for failure. I think so often a student enters a class thinking that they should get every answer right and never make a mistake. But this is just not possible; we all come into a class with different experiences and backgrounds. My job is to push you all to grow in your knowledge. If you know or immediately understand everything I present in class, then I have failed you. I need to push you into spaces that you are unsure of the answer and into spaces where you make mistakes because it is through those experiences that you will learn the most deeply. So in my class, you do not get extra credit for knowing all the answers. You get extra credit for pushing yourself into the unknown and trying.

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

This is a hard one, as I love all of the work I do at Lawrence. But if I have to pick one to tell you about, it is the development of my mobile air quality lab — ARTEMIS. Before I started my Ph.D., I said I wanted a magic school bus, and now I have one. ARTEMIS is a small trailer filled with instruments that measure air quality that can be taken anywhere. Students and I have taken a 14-day trip through areas of heavy oil and gas development in North Dakota and Montana. We took it to Pennsylvania to look at the impacts of aging oil and gas wells on methane emissions and ozone production. More recently, ARTEMIS was sitting in a field about 30 minutes from campus to measure the impacts of sand mining on local air quality. It really is a magic school bus that lets me explore the world of atmospheric chemistry.

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 picked a field in chemistry that would let me travel and have many adventures. Last year, I had to replace my boots, and I thought about all the places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had wearing those boots. I wore those boots looking at faraway galaxies through a telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. They got all scratched up working on volcanos in Nicaragua and Italy. They carried me through the snow in Barrow, Alaska, and through the mud in the Florida Everglades. I was surprised about how much of my career was contained in those boots, and it was hard to let them go. But I did, replacing them with the exact same boots. Now I am ready to spend 15 years creating science and stories in these boots.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I would open a bakery. I love to create new recipes — which often fail — and share those treats. Students can tell you; you never know what treats might appear in the first floor Chem office suite.

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

I find Sabin House a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of campus. Whether working on my research, having a group meeting, or just finding some time to slow down, the open door of Sabin House helps me be my best self.

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

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry speaks to my soul, I can settle in and watch the TV show Leverage any day, and right now the song What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes is getting me ready for the day, and, more importantly, ready to dance!

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