Category: Student Profiles

2 Minutes With … Adya Kadambari: Putting a focus on Earth Week

Adya Kadambari ’23 on the Lawrence campus overlooking the Fox River. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

The COVID-19 pandemic may have kept us from celebrating together in 2020, but Earth Day and Earth Week festivities at Lawrence will spring back into action in the coming days. Adya Kadambari ‘23, chair of the new LUCC Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee, has played a lead role in organizing the events.

Formed this year, the LUCC Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee brings together students from Lawrence’s numerous environmentally-centered student organizations, including Greenfire, ORC (Outdoor Recreation Club), and SLUG (Sustainable Lawrence University Gardens), to discuss and support sustainability efforts.

Lawrence’s Earth Week schedule includes, among other things, LU Earth Hour, a lights-out event and gathering on Main Hall Green on the evening of Earth Day (April 22), a screening of the documentary film I Am Greta on April 23, and an Earth Day Gala on April 24.

A growing interest

While chairing this committee is Kadambari’s first environmental leadership role, she’s not new to the subject. When she was approached about taking on the chair duties, she had already sat in on many Sustainability Committee meetings, where she was involved in reducing plastic waste and facilitating use of reusable bags at Warch Campus Center.

Her environmental stewardship was nurtured before she came to Lawrence. While in school in her hometown of Bangalore, India, she completed a geographical research project through Cambridge Board on Lake Ulsoor. Her interest in environmental issues has continued to grow, she said.

Organizing in a pandemic

The ongoing pandemic makes this a complicated time to organize events meant to include many students.

“This entire thing is a challenge for me,” Kadambari said. “I need to take a lot of things into account. You need to reserve outdoor spaces and give a proposed plan for why your event is going to be COVID-safe.”

Despite technical roadblocks, Kadambari and the rest of the committee have worked hard to make the celebration safe for everyone.

For her part, Kadambari has planned a mass planting of native flowering plants behind Sage Hall Loft. She also helped put together the Greenfire-sponsored LU Earth Hour event, where students will be encouraged to turn off all the lights in their rooms and venture outside to look at the stars and talk about astronomy and energy conservation.

Other Earth Week favorites will return this year, such as the Saturday gala hosted by Greenfire, which can be enjoyed on Main Hall Green as well as virtually.

Kadambari looks forward to Earth Day as a time to celebrate our environment and encourage sustainability at Lawrence. But it has also taken on new meaning as a chance to safely step outside and enjoy the world in ways that haven’t been as available to us lately.

“I hope the student body comes out because it should be better weather,” she said. “Now that we’ve been cooped up for so long, they should come out and have fun.”

In the spirit of Earth Day, she also reminds students about the sustainability grants available to those who want to enact a sustainability project on campus.

“If you have any ideas that you want to put money toward, there are multiple grants you can apply for through the steering committee and LUCC. It’s just a matter of getting involved and being proactive.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Office of Communications.

2 Minutes with … Iyanu Osunmo: Insight into D.C. via Washington Semester

Iyanu Osunmo ’22 is participating in Washington Semester remotely.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Despite not being able to attend the Washington Semester program in person in the nation’s capital because of pandemic restrictions, Iyanu Osunmo ’22 is still embracing the off-campus program.  

She began her studies in January, working remotely from her home in Houston, and will continue into May.

“I am doing two seminars in the foreign policy concentration,” she said. “One of my seminars is about managing the pandemic in globalized societies and the other one is about political transition and political implications.”  

Osunmo, a government major focused on international relations, is taking classes with the American University faculty as part of the Washington Semester program, offered through Lawrence University’s Off-Campus Programs. The program is encouraged for government majors but is open to all students.

The Washington Semester enables students to participate in a thematic program of study at the American University in D.C. In addition to the core seminar, students pursue an internship related to the program topic and an independent study project. The Lawrence-approved program tracks include American Politics, International Environment and Development, International Law and Organizations, Justice and Law, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Islam and World Affairs Foreign Policy, and Global Economics and Business.

Typically, students participating in Washington Semester would be in D.C., giving them the opportunity to physically experience working and studying in the nation’s capital. That isn’t possible right now, with all classes being moved online.

Still, there is a lot she is gaining from the program, Osunmo said.

“I am taking seminars with people from many universities; for example, Lehigh University and students from other liberal arts universities across the country,” she said. 

Hearing from expert voices

The Washington Semester instructors have been able to bring in pieces of Washington.  

“The program has had to shift quite a bit due to the online nature of it, but I do believe our seminar instructors are doing all that they can to really engage us with D.C.,” Osunmo said. “For instance, they get a lot of speakers from the D.C. area and they tell us what Washington, D.C., is like. … Hillary Clinton’s speech writer came to speak to our class. Lissa Muscatine was the former chief speech writer and senior advisor to the secretary of state. She taught us a lot about the White House’s operations and about her experiences as a speech writer. I learned a great deal from her; that was a really valuable experience.” 

In addition to taking classes, Osunmo is participating in an internship, working for the National Democratic Institute’s Gender, Women, and Democracy office. The National Democratic Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works with partners in developing countries to increase the effectiveness of democratic institutions.

“Currently, I am helping them with a presentation that teaches women and people in the media about building coalitions and about violence against women in politics and the media,” Osunmo said. “It’s a nice training curriculum that I get to help put together, and it’s a really rewarding experience.” 

Preparing for the next step

The internship and the classes are prepping Osunmo for life after Lawrence. She said she cares deeply about democracy and the equitable treatment of oppressed people and sees herself one day holding elected office. 

“I do believe that my experiences at the Washington Semester program have not only deeply integrated me into the field I intend to go into, by enabling me to hear from government experts and foreign policy experts, but it also has taught me about what is more valuable with regard to governance,” Osunmo said. “Protecting human health and human security, ensuring democracy continually survives, and ensuring elections are fair and transparent.”  

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Jojo Maier: Judicial Board chair works to keep campus safe

Jojo Maier ’21 is chairing the Judicial Board remotely. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Jojo Maier ’21 is probably more present in your life than you think. As this year’s chair of the Lawrence University Judicial Board, the biochemistry major helps make tough decisions in tough times to keep everyone on campus safe.

The Judicial Board is a student-run LUCC committee that oversees alleged violations of the Social Code at Lawrence. While perhaps not as known as the Honor Code, the Social Code encompasses the rest of the Student Handbook, primarily protecting students’ personal safety and property rights. Violations of the Social Code vary from noise complaints to theft to threatening situations.

What doesn’t budge is the Judicial Board’s belief in member diversity and education over punishment. Maier was nominated to serve on the Judicial Board as a first-year student and elected chair this year as a senior. As a supporter of restorative justice, he regards the Board’s tenets highly.

“Part of why I enjoy the Board is because I’m able to bring justice to campus in a way that’s not completely punitive,” he explains. “It’s a nice feeling when you realize that you’re able to make some change on campus and make sure people are upholding the rules.”

Staying safe in a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has recast what it means to be safe on campus. The Judicial Board now refers to the Pledge in hearings regarding violations of COVID safety guidelines.

“This year, being able to help uphold the COVID policies really feels important,” Maier says.

With new policies come more potential violations. Cases totaled only two or three in previous years. By the middle of Winter Term this year, the Judicial Board already saw four cases. And that means Maier is busier; the chair must organize and attend each hearing, acting as a moderator and guiding the procedures.

Gaining problem-solving skills

Despite these changes, Maier emphasizes that maintaining safety on campus is just as important as any other year. Though currently off campus in his home of Eugene, Oregon, he still enjoys the experience Judicial Board has to offer.

“[Board members] appreciate the learning experience,” he says. “There’s a lot of critical thinking involved that prepares you for all sorts of jobs.”

Maier has gained problem-solving and leadership skills, particularly valuable to the hopeful future pharmacist. He encourages fellow and future students to exercise their right to voice their concerns on campus.

“I think Judicial Board is underutilized,” he says. “Often there’s the perception that people are making more complaints than are happening. But there are very few violations reported. That doesn’t mean there are very few violations happening.”

Know someone who can make difficult decisions? The nomination process for 2021-22 Judicial Board members will begin in Spring Term.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Daniel Toycen: “Emergency” is in the job description

Daniel Toycen ’21 has been working in Milwaukee as an EMT for the past year. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

The importance of first responders has become increasingly evident a year into the pandemic as hospitals and emergency rooms have remained all-hands-on-deck. Daniel Toycen ’21 is one of the many brave essential first responders tackling this pandemic head on.

The Lawrence University biology major has been working in Milwaukee as an emergency medical technician (EMT) since last March, balancing work with his studies. Toycen, who aspires to be a physician assistant, applied for the role right before the pandemic changed everyone’s lives.  

“I was looking to get patient-experience hours for applying to grad school and physician assistant programs,” he said. “I decided on EMT because you are seeing a wide range of patients and arguably seeing them at the most stressful point in their lives. I wanted to be able to develop my bedside manner with them during difficult times.”  

While he lives off campus in Appleton, Toycen opted to work in Milwaukee because of the high volume of calls.

“I also wanted to see the bigger hospitals in the area and how those hospitals work,” he said. “And I wanted to work with a more diverse patient pool.” 

When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic last March, Toycen, then a junior, knew hospitals were going to need more help. He started working as an EMT before COVID took a major a toll on Wisconsin hospitals, giving him a glimpse of EMT life “pre-pandemic,” he said.   

“A typical shift, you get there early to talk to the crew that is getting off shift,” Toycen said. “Then we check over the ambulance to make sure we have all of our supplies and the ambulance is working — all the lights are working, checking tires, things like that. Right after that we are put in service and are able to receive calls.” 

Important classroom lessons 

To qualify to be an EMT, Toycen took an accelerated course at Fox Valley Technical College. 

Toycen said he is particularly grateful for the skills he has learned in the classroom at Lawrence, as he finds himself tapping into those skills at work. In addition to his major in biology, he is pursuing a minor in biomedical ethics.

“My medical ethics courses and medical anthropology have both helped me be able to have knowledge on people’s backgrounds,” Toycen said. “[They taught me] how culture and health care intersect, and, being mindful of that, I am able to provide better care to the patients I do have. When I am out there in the field, I think back to lessons or discussions we had in class and I’m like, ‘Woah, this really applies here’.”  

When the pressure is on

Toycen has been on the call for some very high-pressure emergencies.  

“I was on a 16-hour shift and it was getting kind of late in our shift, and nothing exciting happened up until that point,” Toycen said. “Then we get a call, and we have no idea what we’re going for; it just says ‘assault in progress’. And then we get there, and the patient was stabbed four times in the back and obviously it was very serious. Right after we got done with that call, finished the report, this was probably at 4:30 in the morning, we get a call for a pedestrian that was hit by a car and the car was going like 50 miles an hour; so another call back-to-back at the end of a 16-hour shift super early in the morning.”

Toycen said his work as an EMT has reassured his path in the medical profession and he has even used his work as an EMT in his senior capstone project. Next up for Toycen is applying to physician assistant programs.  

Even though being an EMT is a high-pressure job, Toycen has not let it consume him. He continues to complete his course work at Lawrence remotely and plays on Lawrence’s men’s hockey team, all while maintaining health and safety protocols in the pandemic.

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Lauren Askenazy: First Lawrence goal forever frozen in time

Lauren Askenazy ’23 is a member of Lawrence’s first women’s hockey team. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Lauren Askenazy ‘23 has long waited for her chance to play college hockey. She didn’t know she’d be landing in the record books and doing it at a school with deep family roots.

The sophomore transfer student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, became the first player to score a goal in the newly launched women’s hockey program at Lawrence University.

The team faced off against the College of St. Scholastica in its Feb. 13 debut at the Appleton Family Ice Center, fulfilling Askenazy’s dream of playing college hockey. With 3:19 left in the game, she fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of the St. Scholastica goaltender, etching her name in Lawrence lore for evermore.

She followed that up by scoring a goal in each of Lawrence’s first four games.

Lauren Askenazy ’23 scores the first goal in Lawrence history on Feb. 13.

Finding a home

Askenazy was no hockey novice when she arrived at Lawrence. She started playing at 7 years old in her native Albuquerque. From those first shaky steps on the ice, she went on to become a three-year player with the HTI Stars in Canada, from 2016 to 2018.

Askenazy then enrolled at Connecticut College, but she kept her eyes open for a liberal arts school that was the right fit academically and had a women’s hockey team.

Everything fell into place. Vikings coach Jocey Kleiber was recruiting former members of the HTI Stars team when she learned of Askenazy’s interest in college hockey. The two connected and the recruiting process began.

It didn’t take long for her to feel at home on the ice here. She calls hockey a therapeutic outlet.

“I’m so happy every time I can step on the ice,” she said. “Especially since we’re all sitting in our rooms on our computers 24/7. As soon as everyone is together in the locker room, everyone cheers up.”

Family roots at Lawrence

Askenazy didn’t choose Lawrence on a whim. She continues a family legacy at Lawrence — her mother, uncle, and grandfather are alumni. When she was recruited for the newly created hockey team, Lawrence quickly became more than just a university she had always heard about.

“My family members are very excited about me coming to Lawrence and they are so happy I get to continue doing what I love while also making history,” she said.

It goes without saying that a new hockey team beginning its first season faces unconventional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s especially true, Askenazy said, in the realm of team relations.

“It’s been a lot more difficult, especially because we’re a brand-new team,” she said. “Usually, teams can hang out and do bonding activities, and we can’t do that. But we’re willing to do anything we can to be able to play. We’re appreciative that we can have games.”

Getting wins has been tough early on, but it’s a learning process for a new program, one that is filled with promise.

“Everyone on the team is so excited to be a part of a new program,” Azkenazy said. “We’re building the foundation.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Justin Williamson: Galaxies collide in simulation project

Justin Williamson ’22 used Lawrence’s Experiential Learning Funds to complete a computer science simulation project he had been working on for years. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

When he was in high school in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, Justin Williamson ‘22 spent lunch periods asking his physics teacher all kinds of questions about how the world works. Now, his curiosities about physics and space have culminated in his first big 3-D graphics project.

With the help of Lawrence’s Experiential Learning Funds (ELF), the computer science and French double major finished a long-running attempt to simulate two galaxies colliding. Supported by alumni and other donors, the fund helps students access summer internships, self-directed research and projects, and more opportunities that enhance their learning experiences.

The simulation Williamson completed over winter break is just one iteration of a project he has been tinkering with for about five years. His earlier version of the simulation depicted between 100 and 200 stars. That’s grown to about 50,000 stars in a collision that takes place over 750 million years. More stars mean more computing power and, well, more skill. The difference lies in programming on the CPU (central processing unit) versus the GPU (graphics processing unit).

“Most programs run on the CPU, which is good at running serial calculations, but not 50,000 of the same calculation,” Williamson said. “But the GPU is good at that kind of calculation. It’s very different because you have to think about everything happening at the same time, rather than sequenced.”

Help from the ELF

That’s where the stipend comes in. Williamson had been working with the Career Center to hunt down internships when they sent an email detailing the ELF. This was Williamson’s first time programming on the GPU, so some extra research, which comes with added expenses, was necessary to achieve his goal.

“[The fund] allowed me to get books very easily,” Williamson said. “Also, a little bit of hardware for my computer to make it run better. I don’t think I would’ve finished it over the break if I hadn’t had the stipend.”

Programming a simulation like this can be a gamble. Williamson put faith in his calculations. He recalled the final moment of truth: letting the simulation run overnight.

“I didn’t know if it was going to work the night before or not,” he said. “That day I encountered two or three subtle bugs. Once the calculation started, all the stars would instantly disappear. So, it all could’ve been for naught. But I was amazed at what was happening when I actually could see the simulation.”

A needed assist

It wasn’t just the financial boost that helped Williamson achieve his goal. His passion for programming was met with support from his past.

“I’m so thankful to my high school physics teacher,” Williamson said. “I spent two or three hours on the phone with him trying to fix my math.”

The successful simulation is a testament to Williamson’s growing skills in computer programming, but it’s anything but the end. He hopes to eventually simulate galaxies of one million stars. But those are calculations for another day.

Watch the galaxies colliding here.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Molly Ruffing: Meeting a “desperate” need for tutors

Molly Ruffing ’22 is running VITAL and other education-focused programs in the CCE.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

The Equal Access to Education coordinator position has always been a complicated student role. The COVID-19 pandemic has not made it any easier.

But that has not been a deterrence for Molly Ruffing ‘22, who has reintroduced the program in the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) in a big way.

“I knew they were hiring quite a few people in the CCE,” Ruffing said. “I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do it; I thought of all the requests for tutoring that would come in and how heart-breaking it would be. But I also knew it would be a great learning experience.”

A new path

Ruffing, a psychology and English double major from Kaukauna, was hired as the program’s coordinator last winter, before the pandemic hit and most students were sent home. Typically, the CCE does their hiring in Winter Term, and trains new employees during Spring Term. This was not the case for Ruffing. The pandemic changed everything, and Ruffing set out to create a new path.  

Over the summer, she worked on developing a plan for a re-envisioned version of the Volunteers in Tutoring at Lawrence (VITAL) program, which matches Lawrence students as tutors for K-12 pupils in the Appleton Area School District.

Molly Ruffing ’22 is among the Lawrence students supported as Paulson Scholars. Read more here.

“It was only 10 hours a week; I would just work on stuff for VITAL,” Ruffing said of her summer efforts. “A lot of it was thinking about how we wanted to do training, logistically can we have people meeting, what were the forms going to look like now, do different questions have to be asked? Talking with partners in Appleton to see what we could do, because it’s difficult to get an adult to be with a minor on video by themselves, so working through that.”

In the past, when students would sign up to be a tutor, they would meet with their student in the library on campus. With COVID, this was no longer an option.

“I was looking at our end-of-the-year reports, and seeing what we did in the spring,” Ruffing said. “That was a partnership with St. Norbert College, but we wanted to be independent in the fall. So, looking at that and seeing what we can actually apply to our own program.”  

The demand grows

More than 200 tutoring requests have come in since school began in the fall. Appleton students were accessing classes remotely, and many were struggling to keep up.

“There were always a lot of requests, but it seemed like the requests became more desperate,” Ruffing said. “Before it was like, ‘It would be nice to have help’, and now it’s like, ‘My kid is months behind because they didn’t learn in spring at all when we transitioned.’ It was really hard to read some of those requests, but at a certain point you have to remember you are doing the best you can.” 

To fulfill such a high demand for tutors this year, Ruffing began partnering with retired Appleton teachers and even some Lawrence alumni. Right now, there are more than 100 pupils who have been paired with a tutor through the program.

In addition to VITAL, Ruffing is in charge of other access to education-focused programs.  

“I worked on starting a new program, which I am really excited for,” Ruffing said. “It’s a first-generation student-mentorship program with Kaukauna High School, called First of Many, and it’s starting this term. Not everyone who’s passionate about education necessarily wants to tutor; I still want people to be able to pursue that passion and give that to the community.”  

Ruffing said this work has confirmed her passion for education. After Lawrence, she hopes to work as a high school counselor.

“I love [my job] a lot,” Ruffing said. “In the beginning, it was kind of stressful because it is a lot. I would look at the requests and be thinking about all of these kids who are waiting, and I would just feel awful. But then I had to remember, ‘No, think of all the kids that you are supporting.’ It taught me how to set up that boundary and it made me more mindful of the impact I am creating, and it has just made me more passionate.” 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Louric Rankine: Rolling with FilmNation internship

Louric Rankine ’21 is taking classes this fall while also doing a remote internship with FilmNation.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Louric Rankine ’21 is seizing an opportunity during Fall Term that became doable when most internships went remote. While taking a full class load at Lawrence, he also is doing a remote internship with FilmNation Entertainment.

The entertainment company funds, produces, and distributes films around the world.

Through his internship, Rankine, an English and Film Studies double major from Brooklyn, New York, has had the opportunity to work with international film distributors and other outlets on the company’s “screeners.”

“Screeners are unreleased films; so, films that haven’t been released yet I have access to them,” Rankine said. “… Films that are coming out with the Netflix team, we have to make sure their asset came in — this includes banners, music, trailers.”

He’s also part of quality control on those unreleased films.

“I would get a trailer or any type of visual and make sure the dialogue is fine, make sure the audio is correct, make sure there’s no pixelation.”  

Making connections

Along with his daily duties, Rankine has been working on a larger presentation to show to the senior vice president of worldwide delivery on a topic of his choice. Rankine will be presenting it at the end of November.

In addition to the skills he is developing, Rankine is making great connections that will help him with life after Lawrence.  

“I am currently applying to grad school,” Rankine said. “And one of the [intern seminar] workshop leaders graduated from the same program I am applying to. I am meeting with him soon to talk about the program and application process; he is a recent graduate so he knows all the professors and everything. He’s going to prepare me so I am equipped when applying for the program.” 

Though this internship is a great opportunity and Rankine is enjoying his work, it has not been easy balancing an internship with a full class load. But he has been making it work and gives thanks to his Posse mentor, Elizabeth De Stasio, for giving him the support needed to get it all done.  

The road to experience

Rankine worked with a film program called Hook Arts Media while in high school. It was those contacts that led to his internship with FilmNation.

“That’s where I learned about the technique of documentary film-making,” he said of Hook Arts Media. “… They sent a couple of us alumni links to a two-day seminar with FilmNation because they are partners.” 

That led to connections with FilmNation’s internship program. Despite knowing he would also be in school and it would be a lot of extra work, Rankine decided to apply because he knew it was a great opportunity. The remote nature of the internship was perfect.

“I’ve had interviewers (for other internships) say they’re denying me because I wasn’t going to stay long enough, and it’s been my dream to work with a major production company,” Rankine said.  

He went through a two-step interview online. In the first step, he had to review a 100-page script and send feedback, and then he had one-on-one interviews with a few leaders in the company.  

 Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Maggie McGlenn: Finding purpose, one mask at a time

Maggie McGlenn ’22 works on masks in the costume shop.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Maggie McGlenn ’22 keeps busy as a biology major and a data science minor. But you also can find her bent over a sewing machine in the Theatre Department’s costume shop, crafting face masks for people on campus and across the country as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

In some ways, McGlenn has always occupied this niche as a sewer and a creator. She got her first sewing machine at age 9 and later took lessons with a family friend in her hometown of Madison. She debuted in Lawrence’s costume shop in fall 2018 as a first-year student helping to create costumes for Lawrence’s theater productions.

It’s where she now spends time sewing masks, some in efforts to help mask up the Lawrence campus and others for family, friends, and other contacts near and far. McGlenn created an Instagram page to vend her surplus masks on a “pay what you can” basis.

Despite experience that’s years in the making, McGlenn said she continues to develop her skills.

“It’s taught me a lot about doing things consistently,” she said. “When I sell a mask, I have to be more critical and think, ‘Are all my lines straight? Does it look finished?’ It’s taught me to be diligent in sewing, and also try to increase my speed and make masks quicker.”

Finding comfort in the work

It was the initial mask shortage in March that spurred McGlenn’s foray into mask-making. In those early days, working at home, her goal was to ensure that her family and friends were equipped to be COVID-safe, especially as transmission rates rose throughout spring and the reality of the pandemic’s presence became more pronounced. When fall fell upon us, McGlenn discovered solace in bringing her skills to campus.

“I found it was something really comforting to me, feeling like I could still contribute in some way,” McGlenn said.

That extra contribution is more important than ever. For one, work in the costume shop has been unconventional. Productions have been socially distanced and on a scale that doesn’t require hefty original costuming work.

Stitching together a community

The project begs a humanitarian perspective.

“Trying to turn a profit is definitely not what’s most important,” said McGlenn, who is trying to cover her costs. “It comes down to, ‘How do I care for and support my community?’ I want to act in the world as I want to see the world become. Giving what I can in a time when it feels like a lot of things are going wrong or poorly.”

Hundreds of masks later, McGlenn has successfully shown us that providing for the community is a great way to stay in touch with others, even from a distance. It’s a means for connection we’re missing out on these days.

“Masks are a love language of that,” she said. “I’ll send masks to my great aunts or friends who aren’t on campus in my immediate vicinity, and it still feels like I get to connect with them and still maintain communities.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Meralis Alvarez: DIY soap in the time of quarantine

Meralis Alvarez ’22 researched how to make her own soap as the COVID-19 pandemic put new emphasis on the frequent washing of hands. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

In this pandemic, frequently washing our hands is a key to stopping the spread of the virus. That means a high demand for soap, something that caught the eye of Meralis Alvarez ’22 early on.

She decided to make her own.  

“It’s really funny when I tell people I make soap,” Alvarez said. “Yes, I do make my own soap products because soap is important.”  

Alvarez started making soap in June while home in Chicago. She wanted to be more aware of what she was putting in, and on, her body, and more certain that the products she was using were sustainable and not harmful to the environment. 

“I noticed that a lot of soaps have a lot of fragrances and dyes in them and just a lot of very harmful chemicals and additives,” Alvarez said. “These are not only harmful for the skin longer term, but also for the environment. Living in the city of Chicago and seeing the effects of environmental racism and being from Puerto Rico and seeing the effects of environmental racism and climate change, it really just inspired me to think about intentional living in every facet.”  

Looking out for family and friends

Alvarez said she also was inspired to start making soap by the people in her life and understanding the price-gouging that happens in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

“I’m not the only one in my house that has sensitive skin; my mom has sensitive skin … and she’s becoming more and more excited about taking care of herself as she ages,” Alvarez said. “And my dad is diabetic, and he’s becoming more intentional about his life choices. … So, one of the reasons I started making soap was more for him than it was for me.” 

Alvarez said she had limited resources while growing up in Chicago and had to teach herself how to conduct research because she “didn’t have the same access to journals as other kids.”  She has carried those same research skills with her to college and was able to tap into them to teach herself how to make soap.  

“Taking biology classes, taking online apothecary classes, online naturalist courses that were given by scientists and holistic natural gurus,” Alvarez said. “And really just doing my own academic research; there were so many academic articles and medical journals that I would hoard through to figure out what works and what doesn’t. … It’s a process that took months of research. I started making [soap] in June, but I was looking into making my own beauty products in the beginning of quarantine. It took some time to research and then I did it.”

From hobby to business

After her holistic research into soaps and skin, Alvarez started to make soap for herself and her family. Now she’s eyeing an LLC to make it a business. She said she’s able to tailor her soaps to the wants and needs of her clients.

Back on the Lawrence campus for Fall Term, Alvarez has continued making soap for herself. She finds it a relaxing activity, a break from the stresses of her classes.  

“I was thinking of not doing it throughout the school year because I knew how busy I would be,” Alvarez said. “But then, I was like, I don’t like spending money on soap. So, I knew I had to make it for myself.”

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.