On Main Hall Green With … Marcia Bjornerud: Knowledge to save the planet

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Marcia Bjornerud (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Marcia Bjornerud’s deep interest in the Earth—what rock formations tell us about the health of our planet and its history, for example—has led to scholarly work that has drawn accolades far and wide since she joined the Lawrence faculty in 1995.

The Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Studies and professor of geology has become a sought-after writer on a range of geology topics, her work appearing in the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

She’s drawn rave reviews for her books, including 2005’s Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth and 2018’s Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World, the latter named to the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards Short List and selected as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the category of Science and Technology.

She was named a Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters (2016), was named a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (2003), and twice was named a Fulbright Senior Scholar, first in Norway (2000-01) and then New Zealand (2009). She was named Outstanding Educator by the Association of Women Geoscientists (2011) and was recognized with Lawrence’s Excellence in Scholarship or Creative Activity Award (2007).

Bjornerud was the founding director of Lawrence’s degree-granting program in environmental studies and helped in the creation of the newly launched environmental science major.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in geophysics from the University of Minnesota and master’s and doctoral degrees in structural geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I have high expectations for students, and the demands of labs, exams etc. no doubt loom large for those in my classes. But I hope students recognize that my earnest aspiration is simply to help my fellow Earthlings understand how their planet works. Why? Because this is urgently important to the future of humanity.

I’d also like students to know that besides being a professor, I’m a mother of three sons in their 20s and have great empathy for the challenges and stresses of early adulthood in these times.  

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

Some of my fondest Lawrence memories, and things I look forward to again in post-pandemic times, are field trips and field courses with students to places near and far—the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Minnesota, western Ontario, the southern Appalachians, the Montana Rockies, Scotland, Italy and elsewhere. Because I was a single parent, my kids came on many such trips when they were young, so these adventures are family memories as well.  Doing geology in the field, with nature as the authoritative textbook, is the very best way to develop a deep understanding of the earth and its immensely complex, interconnected systems. 

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’ve had the privilege as a geologist of traveling to fairly inaccessible places in the high Arctic (northernmost Ellesmere Island in Canada and protected parts of Svalbard). Since I’ve been at Lawrence, I’ve also been lucky enough to have sabbaticals—again with my kids along—in Norway and New Zealand. But perhaps the most important way my “life itinerary” has changed since I came to Lawrence has been discovering my voice as a science writer. My academic scope has been greatly expanded by immersion in the liberal arts environment at Lawrence, and in particular by teaching First-Year Studies, which initially terrified me as a bachelor of science graduate in geophysics who had barely taken any humanities courses in college. I can safely say that I would not have written my books Reading the Rocks and Timefulness nor had a stint as a contributing writer for the New Yorker if I hadn’t come to Lawrence.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I’d be on the shores of Lake Superior looking at rocks, picking wild berries and cross-country skiing according to the season—but wait, I guess nobody would pay me to do that.

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

I live not far from Alexander Gym, and in the winter, if there is too much snow for me to bike to campus, I walk to work via a path near the gym down to the river. On the way, I pass through the grove of old white oaks just west of the former soccer field. I think those oaks are among the oldest in the city, probably older even than Lawrence. Every time I walk under those trees, I say a word of gratitude for them.

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

Just one of each? I’ll stretch the definition of a “book” a little and say the collected works of Louise Erdrich, an Ojibwe writer from North Dakota and Minnesota. Many of her books are in a sense one large book, the stories of multiple generations of the same interconnected families, a tangled skein of characters linked through time. Her novels have an evolutionary, almost geological, sensibility, which obviously appeals to me. But that would feel cold and analytical without Erdrich’s extraordinary capacity for empathy—her deep insight into the interior lives of so many different kinds of people—which makes her characters from a reservation in North Dakota feel like a microcosm of all of humanity.

Recording:  The Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers album. I actually remember my dad buying the record when it first came out in 1967. Its exuberant, non-formulaic creativity stands as an inspiration whenever the forces of conformity seem to be closing in. 

Film: Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (1975). Set in the Russian far east in the first decades of the 1900s, it’s based on a true story of the friendship between a native hunter (Dersu) and a Russian surveyor (Arsenyev) charged with mapping the remote territory. Arsenyev respects Dersu’s deep understanding of the harsh but magnificent landscape, which is as much a protagonist as the human characters. The two don’t even share a language but grow to truly love each other across vast cultural differences. The film is also about the discord between the cyclical, continuously renewing character of natural processes vs. the irrevocable industrial alteration of landscapes. And it’s simply beautiful to watch.

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

See more profiles of the Lawrence faculty here.

2 Minutes With … Finn Witt: Science, art, creativity meet via NASA internship

Finn Witt ’21

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

Right now, a peculiar asteroid is swinging slowly around the sun. Meet 16 Psyche—with a diameter of 140 miles, scientists suppose it is the core of an ancient protoplanet, blown away by rocky collisions long ago.

Last year, here on Earth, Finn Witt ’21 interned with NASA’s Psyche Inspired program and helped spread the word about this space giant.

An asteroid first discovered in the 1850s, 16 Psyche has drawn much attention through the years for its unusual metallic makeup. NASA is set to launch a Psyche probe to orbit the asteroid in 2022—arrival time, 2026—to learn more about the goings-on of rocky planet cores.

Witt, a biochemistry major from Kinnelon, New Jersey, was familiar with this mission before he landed the internship with Psyche Inspired. Based at Arizona State University, Psyche Inspired recruits undergraduate students of all disciplines to share the Psyche mission with the public through a variety of creative projects.

“It was a nice crossroads between getting the public excited about what was going on and science,” Witt said.

Getting creative

The internship program takes place over one academic year. During this time, students must create four projects of their choosing that represent the Psyche mission in an artistic way. These projects are shared on the Psyche mission’s social media platforms to get the public engaged with the upcoming launch.

Witt’s projects bear witness to the creativity afforded by Psyche Inspired. He completed a string quartet composition and three paintings, one of which had to go digital when his work was interrupted by the pandemic. But even that was a learning experience.

“It pushed me into digital art, and I do it more now,” Witt said. “It was a new technique for me.” 

Making connections

The communication and collaboration involved in Psyche Inspired stand out to Witt. The students met each week via video chat to discuss their projects. They also met with researchers and reviewed their findings.

“I really enjoyed getting to meet different people in different fields,” Witt said. “I had a lot of fun talking to engineers who worked for NASA and other institutions.”

The internship may be over but Witt’s career in science is just getting started. He is on track to complete the first portion of his dual-degree program; after earning his biochemistry major, he will move on to Washington State University to complete a degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently finishing up his capstone, studying whether bacterial species can survive on Mars.

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

Lighting the Way With … Zach Ben-Amots: On history, truth, storytelling

Zach Ben-Amots ’16 (Photo by Allyssa Suter)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Zach Ben-Amots ’16, a TV journalist in Chicago who produced a documentary on a 1940s lynching in rural Georgia, now featured on Hulu.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Zach Ben-Amots ’16 found his passion for documentary-style storytelling while digging through the archives as a student at Lawrence. Old newspaper and magazine clippings and other materials from days gone by had his head spinning with ideas.

“I just love digging,” he said.

That Lawrence experience led Ben-Amots to the journalism graduate school program at Northeastern University in Boston, where documentaries became his focus and where he connected with Northeastern’s School of Law on an investigation into the late 1940s lynching of a Black farmer in rural Georgia.

Ben-Amots was recruited to produce a short-form documentary on the case. Two students from the law school’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic had uncovered evidence that Henry “Peg” Gilbert had been beaten and lynched by law enforcement after being jailed on bogus claims that he aided a Black man being sought in the killing of a white farmer.

The ensuing documentary detailed the atrocities of his jailing and death and featured interviews with surviving family members who previously had no idea what had really happened to Gilbert.

It was a student film project that became part of the law school’s restorative justice library, and Ben-Amots left it there when he graduated. But he didn’t forget about it when he jumped into his first post-college journalism job, a reporter with ABC 7 in Chicago. When George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer last May and Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the country, he approached his editors with an idea to update the documentary in the context of what was happening in the moment.

“I told my producer I have this great story on the shelf and if we bring in some protest footage and if we show people the obvious connection between historical killings of Black men and present-day killings of Black men by police, then I think we have a great and timely documentary,” Ben-Amots said. “And then to my surprise, it got picked up by Hulu.”

The 18-minute documentary, The Lynching of Henry “Peg” Gilbert, a production of ABC 7 Chicago and the Northeastern University School of Journalism, would initially air on ABC stations in Chicago and Boston. But beginning in April, it got a much wider audience when the streaming service Hulu added it to its lineup. It’s expected to be available to subscribers for a year.

The Lynching of Henry “Peg” Gilbert can be found on Hulu. It’s also available here on ABC 7 Chicago.

The Gilbert story is powerful and emotional. It tells of Gilbert’s success as a farmer, which included significant land ownership, a rarity for Black families in Georgia at the time. The story speaks to the hatred and discrimination he and his family faced in the community. Gilbert would eventually be jailed on phony charges, and when he was later found dead in his jail cell, public records indicated he attacked a sheriff and was killed in self-defense.

The law students at Northeastern, exploring the case seven decades later, would document that Gilbert did not attack a sheriff and was in fact tortured and lynched while in custody. His family was forced to sell the 111 acres of land for a small percentage of its value and move out of state.

Gilbert’s wife, Mae, would have an emotional breakdown following her husband’s death, and their four young daughters would be separated, each going to live with a different family member.

One daughter remains alive today.

“The one living daughter of Henry and Mae Gilbert never ever talked about this,” Ben-Amots said. “She never spoke about (her father’s death). Apparently, she watched the documentary and really liked it … and began talking about it. I hope a lot of people see it on Hulu, but to me, the biggest thing is just that this family now knows what happened. These daughters grew up being told all kinds of things about their father. Now the truth is out there, that their father did nothing wrong and was killed simply for being Black.”

The law school investigation led to a public apology to the Gilbert family from the sheriff of Harris County, Georgia, in early 2019.

“It’s a story that relates really strongly to the moment we’re in right now,” Ben-Amots said.

An eye for storytelling

Ben-Amots came to Lawrence in 2012 knowing he wanted to be a video journalist. Lawrence’s Film Studies program was being built during his years on campus and he crafted a self-designed major that included elements of what is now the film studies major. He wrote for and served as editor of The Lawrentian, and he minored in religious studies with an emphasis in Buddhism, which further fueled his interest in research, history, and storytelling.

“That was probably the place where I really fell in love with research,” he said of religious studies. “Reading historical documents on Buddhism and trying to analyze them, trying to pick out little details that I can understand in dense texts.”

When he discovered the joys of the university’s archives, that intersection between history and storytelling took his interest to another level. He dug into files in the archives with news clippings and other documents that provided insights into the experiences of Black students at Lawrence through the years. That led him on a journey that involved interviewing nine Black alumni as part of the making of Forgotten History, his 2014 documentary film that explores the historical challenges faced by Black students on campus and in the surrounding Appleton community.

“I definitely found a real passion in archiving, for digging through history,” Ben-Amots said. “To me, that’s the real appeal of the work. By the time I went to J school, I was eager to dig through data.”

When Ben-Amots graduated from Northeastern two years ago—he had volunteered with AmeriCorps in Boston for a year following his Lawrence graduation—he landed the job at the ABC station in Chicago, where he works as a one-person crew focused on documentary-style reporting.

“Journalism is a fascinating thing to be in,” he said. “It’s been a crazy year to be in it, for sure. I pick a lot of my own stories; I film my own stories; I’m the reporter, and I edit them. So, I have a lot of creative control. … I love being behind the camera.”

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

2 Minutes With … Jessica Toncler: Involvement brings new connections

Jessica Toncler ’22 (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 / Communications

Lawrence provides a lot of opportunities for students to participate in important decision-making on campus. From the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) to the Judicial Board (J-Board) to the recent Presidential Search Committee, Jessica Toncler ‘22 has repeatedly seized the opportunity to take part in that decision-making process. 

“I’d always been really interested in student government,” Toncler said. “I was in student government all throughout high school; I was student body president my senior year. It is something I was already really passionate about.” 

Toncler, a government and music performance (violin) double major from Columbia Station, Ohio, is serving as the council’s parliamentarian this year.

“I just kept trying to become more involved,” she said.

A presidential search

That involvement led Toncler to being part of the most recent big decision Lawrence made, the hiring of a new university president. 

“It was a lot of work; there were weeks we put in 20-plus hours on Zoom meetings,” said Toncler, who joined Shaun Brown ’21 as students named to the 17-member Presidential Search Committee. 

She and Brown worked alongside faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Trustees, narrowing down potential candidates, eventually recommending Laurie A. Carter to become Lawrence’s 17th president. 

“I think this was one of my favorite memories at Lawrence thus far,” Toncler said. “Working with the Board of Trustees, I made so many new connections and relationships. I met a whole new group of professors that I would have never met otherwise because I wouldn’t have taken classes in their discipline.” 

Toncler said the experience is something she’ll continue to build on.  

“I had my junior [violin] recital in March, right after we announced Laurie as the new president, and all the trustees came to the livestream and were emailing me,” Toncler said. “It was a little community; it was so great.” 

Embracing student government

Toncler joined LUCC her first year at Lawrence as a class representative.  

“My first year, I ran for class rep, either the first or second week of school,” Toncler said. “I remember it was really stressful because no one knew me, all they would know was my 150-word statement.” 

Toncler was elected a class representative during her first year and has been a part of LUCC ever since. She has worked toward expanding her reach on campus, joining other committees and boards geared toward improving campus.  

“I got really involved in [LUCC] and it was because I really enjoyed it,” Toncler said. “My sophomore year I ran again and was re-elected [a class representative], and I joined the Curriculum Committee and got to meet a lot of the people who are part of the administration. My sophomore year I also joined the Judicial Board.” 

Toncler was excited about the teams she joined because she knew she was having a real impact in advancing Lawrence as a student.  

“One of the interesting things about Lawrence is they give the students a lot of free reign,” Toncler said. “Curt [Lauderdale, dean of students] and Chris [Card, vice president for student life] sit in on LUCC meetings as advisors, but it really is a student-run entity.” 

After Lawrence, Toncler is planning on pursuing law school and feels as if her experiences at Lawrence have prepared her well. 

“The parliamentarian role has set me up really well,” Toncler said. “Feeling like I have some relevant experience to bring to the legal sphere. I have also learned how to communicate in a professional setting, how to talk to administrators, how to talk to board members.” 

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

Building Brilliance With … Lezlie Weber: Putting a focus on global experiences

Lezlie Weber (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lezlie Weber joined Lawrence University as its director of Off-Campus Programs not long before the coronavirus upheavals began.

As COVID-19 was headed toward global pandemic status and study abroad programs began shutting down in early 2020, Weber and her team were working to bring Lawrence students home quickly and safely. It was a wild way to begin a new job. Weber was commuting at times from her home in Waukesha while preparing to move to the Fox Valley.

“I remember sitting at my dining room table at about 9 p.m. on a Friday night and seeing alerts going out about the conditions in Italy and about how program providers were starting to evacuate students,” she said. “I had dealt with emergencies in the past but nothing quite like this. For the next several weeks, our office was working on evacuating students around the clock. I remember responding to urgent emails at rest stops on the way to work early in the morning. Hundreds of emails, phone calls to students, parents, and leadership. There were Lawrence students in many parts of the world and some with trickier evacuations than others.”

That led into a Spring Term in which most international and non-essential travel had ceased and very few study-abroad programs were in-person. A number of Lawrence students signed up for virtual programs, including via the London Centre, but for most, study abroad was on pause.

Some of that has since returned, including 10 students at London Centre during the current Spring Term, with pandemic protocols in place. Weber is looking with optimism toward the coming Fall Term, when more of the off-campus programs are expected to return, both internationally and in the United States.

“We know students are ready to explore and have transformational experiences again,” Weber said. “Students are starting to dream about future travel, and we are excited about what’s to come.”

Study abroad at Lawrence. See details here.

Weber arrived at Lawrence with a deep love of travel and an unwavering belief in global and cross-cultural study. She came to LU from Carroll University, where she served for four years as assistant director of cross-cultural experiences.

As an undergraduate at State University of New York at Buffalo, she studied studio art in Australia through an exchange program. She earned a master’s degree in international education from SIT Graduate Institute, and later lived and worked in Lima, Peru. 

We talked with Weber about her work in Off-Campus Programs.

What excites you about the work you do?

Working closely with staff in our office in Appleton, the London Centre, faculty, and other departments on campus, as well as partners from all over the world, I get to help students define their personal goals and find, apply, and engage in meaningful experiences off campus. That can mean helping them travel to our own London Centre, participate in a research-based science program on the East Coast, or go overseas to learn at a university in another country. We do everything from advising on which program to choose to re-entry back into the U.S post program. A day in the Off-Campus Programs office is never the same. It’s what keeps it interesting and fun.

What’s the current status of the programs, including London Centre?

We currently have 13 students abroad on off-campus programs and one student taking a virtual domestic program. Students who are attending the London Centre had to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, start their classes online and continue that for another few weeks until they could take some classes in-person. A lot of the time is spent in small groups outside, using London as a classroom. There are 10 students and Jeff Stannard (associate dean of the Conservatory and professor of music) at the London Centre right now.

How do you approach your job to best serve students?

First, I like to learn what the students’ goals are for both their off-campus program and plans after graduation. They don’t always have the life-after-Lawrence piece figured out, and that is completely fine. In fact, it’s a good reason to go off campus—to explore existing and new passions and interests. I try to support students through problem-solving and helping them break down the logistics of international and domestic programs, which sometimes seem overwhelming—knowing that being supportive and encouraging means different things to different students.

What work or life experiences led you to this role at Lawrence?

During my sophomore year of college, I studied abroad as an undergraduate student and have since worked in educational travel in many different capacities, including a position in Lima, Peru. My favorite part is watching students grow and learn through new experiences and develop their intercultural skills. I have worked in international education for the last eight years and was so excited to join Lawrence. I am a strong believer in the liberal arts, and I love how creative the Lawrence community is.

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

On Main Hall Green With … Dane Richeson: Lawrence’s percussion maestro

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Dane Richeson (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Dane Richeson, professor of music in the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, has crafted a performance and teaching career that has allowed him to explore music around the world and share performance space with a widely diverse array of talented artists.

As director of percussion studies since 1984, he leads the Lawrence University Percussion Ensemble (LUPÉ), which has released two well-received albums and has been honored by the Wisconsin Music Educators Association and the Percussive Arts Society. He was given Lawrence’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2015.

As a performer, Richeson has been featured as a solo marimbist, contemporary chamber music percussionist, world percussion specialist, and jazz drummer and has performed with such notable artists as Bobby McFerrin, Gordon Stout, Nancy Zeltsman, and Gunther Schuller.

His research has allowed him to live, study, and teach in three distinctly different cultures: Ghana, studying the music and dance of the Ewe people; Matanzas, Cuba, where he worked with celebrated Afro-Cuban drummers; and Salvador and Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he studied the drumming traditions of the State of Bahia.

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

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

That I care about them as individuals and understand—and am sympathetic to—the challenges they will face during their undergraduate journey. I think most students don’t realize that some of their professors have had very challenging experiences in their own college years. My mentors held high standards that helped me get through challenging periods and improved my chances of a career in music.

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

Creating music with my colleagues and students. Witnessing the progress and growth of each student in my studio across the four years. Encouraging my students to not be afraid of taking chances and making mistakes. In addition, traveling abroad to research the music traditions of indigenous cultures outside of Europe.

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 have been fortunate to have performed in many countries around the world with a variety of great artists and in many styles of music. I never thought that I would have had these experiences as a performer. Being afforded to take sabbaticals to places I dreamt of visiting while very young to study the drumming traditions, e.g., Ghana, Brazil, Cuba, has been a life-changer.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. 

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

Alexander Gym’s all-weather track. I am usually the only one there when going for a slow run; always a nice breeze—geese, hawks, and eagles keeping you company while running in circles. 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?

Hard to narrow it to one. For books, Black Elk Speaks; Essays and Poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. For recordings, Alina by Arvo Pärt; Love Supreme by John Coltrane. For viewing, Battlestar Gallactica (2004–09) series; Cinema Paradiso.

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

See more faculty profiles here.

2 Minutes With … Sterling Ambrosius: Looking out for student welfare

Sterling Ambrosius ’22

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

Leadership at a distance has its share of challenges and rewards. Sterling Ambrosius ‘22, who is fulfilling duties as chair of the Student Welfare Committee and as a student member of the Lawrence Pandemic Planning Team (LPPT) from their home in Milwaukee, knows that well.

The Student Welfare Committee (SWC) serves the student body as a resource for accessibility, sustainability, transportation, wellness, and more. Ambrosius became chair in their first year at Lawrence and has stayed with it. But Ambrosius is quick to credit fellow SWC members with the committee’s successes.

“Every year my committee impresses me,” Ambrosius said. “I want them to know their work has a positive impact.”

Visible impact

Chances are, you see that impact every day on campus. For one, in 2018, the SWC implemented and expanded gender-inclusive facilities in common spaces. The committee branched off into the Gender Inclusive Facilities Task Force in order to focus energy on the project. For Ambrosius, a gender studies major, this project was well worth the extra effort required to complete it.

“It was a labor of love,” they said.

Then, when Ambrosius was a sophomore, the SWC made improvements to the operation of the Shopping Shuttle, a vital transportation service for students to access Appleton amenities such as Woodman’s and Target. This year, the shuttle service was expanded to include Appleton International Airport, a 15-minute drive from campus. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the change; the shuttle enables students to travel to the airport without relying on ride-sharing with other students.

Pandemic safety

Being part of the LPPT, meanwhile, has allowed Ambrosius to see up close the importance of good communication with the campus community. Efforts to reach all students regarding COVID safety can be complicated.

“We’ve tried to get more engagement, but it’s difficult,” Ambrosius said. “There’s something disconnected about screen-to-screen connection. I want to give everyone my undivided attention, but I can’t.”

However, working with student welfare concerns in this challenging environment has brought out strength and creativity in many students.

“Though it’s a lot of work, I see great ideas come to light,” Ambrosius said. “And I get to see them from start to finish.”

As we repair and grow from this disconnected environment, Ambrosius encourages students to connect with the campus community. Having recently been reappointed as SWC chair for their senior year, Ambrosius looks forward to future projects that will keep positive changes alive at Lawrence.

“You don’t need to run as a candidate, but I think you should know what’s going on,” Ambrosius said of getting involved. “Especially for marginalized students. It’s important to get involved in communities where you will feel safe and supported.”

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

2 Minutes With … Earl Simons Jr.: Following passions in music, Japanese

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 (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 Awa Badiane ’21

One of the best parts of the Lawrence experience for many students is getting a chance to explore a deep interest even if it’s not in your primary area of study. Earl Simons Jr. ’22 can attest to that.

The junior from Queens, New York, isn’t working toward a degree in music—he’s majoring in international relations and minoring in Japanese—but has had the opportunity to nurture his trumpet skills with the Conservatory of Music. He’s played with the award-winning Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, and this term is taking trumpet lessons as an independent study with trumpet professor John Daniel. 

Simons has been playing the trumpet since fourth grade and has gotten instruction along the way from some accomplished trumpet players, including Peter Archer, the New York City middle school teacher who was an inspiration for the Disney-Pixar film, Soul. 

“He has had a big influence on my life; he is also a Black trumpeter,” Simons said of Archer. “Fun fact, he was a big inspiration for the movie Soul. The middle school in the film is almost an exact replica of our middle school band room. Really proud of him for that.” 

Earl Simons Jr. ’22 isn’t pursuing a music degree but he still follows his music passions in the Conservatory of Music. It is one of the things that drew him to Lawrence, he said.

A common misconception with the Conservatory is you have to be majoring in music to take part in ensembles or other aspects of the music program. That’s not the case.  

“For two years I was part of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble,” Simons said. “When I was looking into Lawrence, I was in contact with Ken Anselment (vice president for enrollment and communication), and he told me about the jazz program. He also got me in contact with Patty Darling, director of the Jazz Ensemble.”  

Studying abroad in Japan

Along with following his passion in music, Simons has been able to explore his interest in East Asian culture.  

“I’ve always been interested in East Asian cultures, ever since I was a kid,” Simons said. “For elementary and middle school, my schools were prominently Asian. So, I was always engaged in and had a deep apperception for the cultures. It wasn’t until high school where I focused on Japanese culture and language. I knew I wanted to pursue it in college.”  

Simons started studying Japanese at Lawrence his first year and had the opportunity to participate in an eight-week summer immersion program with the Middlebury Language Schools in Vermont.  

“My professor, Akimi Adler, told me about it and I got in,” Simons said. “When you do this over the summer, it’s an immersion program, so it’s eight weeks of the language, no English. For eight weeks you have to honor a pledge to only speak in the language you are studying. And that really helped.”  

During this program, Simons realized how much he enjoyed learning Japanese and has decided to take his study of Japanese language and culture to Japan. He will be participating in the Waseda University semester program for Fall and Winter terms.  

“At the Middlebury Language Schools is where I really fell in love with Japanese,” Simons said. “A lot of the professors there were asking me, ‘Are you going to go to Japan?’ That’s when I thought about it and decided I wanted to study abroad in Japan.”

Simons will be taking classes at Waseda University. He then will participate in a cultural internship before returning to Lawrence in mid-March.  

“I want my experience in Japan to enlighten me about new opportunities I could take,” Simons said. “That’s what I am most excited for; I want to be inspired to do more things.” 

Simons will be bringing his trumpet with him to Japan.  

“I want to see their jazz clubs,” Simons said. “I don’t know what the jazz scene is like in Japan, but I heard it’s good.” 

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

On Main Hall Green With … Alyssa Hakes: Digging deep into plant ecology

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Alyssa Hakes (Photo by Danny Damiani)

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Alyssa Hakes, an associate professor of biology, has focused on plant ecology since joining the Lawrence faculty in 2012.

Much of her research has involved plant-insect interactions. She involves her students in that research, using observational studies, field experiments, and computer models to understand how the spatial location of plants and plant traits might influence interactions with other organisms and what that might mean for plant reproduction and trait evolution.

Over the past year, Hakes has used goofy costumes to lighten the mood and help her students on Zoom get through the pandemic.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.

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

IN THE CLASSROOM

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

I always get nervous and excited on the first day of class. I’m nervous because I care about you and your learning experience and I want to do a good job. I want our classroom—whether in Steitz, Youngchild, or on Zoom—to be a fun and welcoming space. My office is overgrown with potted plants and if you visit me, I will likely offer to give you one. 

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

My lab conducts field work at Whitefish Dunes State Park located near Bjorklunden. I study a rare plant called Pitcher’s thistle and an invasive insect, an evil weevil, that is eating their seeds. We discovered areas of the dunes that are more susceptible to weevil infestation and are studying how weevils move and select their plant hosts so that we can use this information to develop conservation strategies. It’s exciting research in a beautiful natural area. 

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?

As a college freshman, I knew I wanted to become a biologist but I was worried that learning about evolution in my classes would damage my religious faith. I was surprised to find support and acceptance from both my church—turns out my denomination is fine with evolution—and science mentors who insisted that I belong. It turned out not to be the issue I thought it would be. Now, evolution is one of my favorite topics to teach.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

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

I would want to work for the Girl Scouts of the USA organization. I’m a lifetime member of Girl Scouts and I benefited from their girl-centered mission and programming. When I was a graduate student at LSU, I volunteered for Girl Scouts and led local scouts on several backpacking and canoeing adventures. 

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

The Briggs greenhouse is one of my favorite spots on campus, especially during the Winter Term when I’m missing green plants and warmth. We have a nice teaching collection of desert and tropical plants that are used in several of our biology classes. My favorite plants are the cycads and the Amorphophallus titanum corpse flower plant, which I hope will grow large enough to flower someday and bless our campus with its famous stench.

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 going to focus my answer to the art that got me through this past year. My favorite book and movie of 2020 were Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi and The Forty-Year-Old Version, respectively. During the pandemic I also turned to the nostalgia and comfort of familiar music and TV. I listened to a lot of David Bowie and laughed along to old episodes of MST3K.

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

See more faculty profiles here.

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.