Tag: Lawrence alumni

Lighting the Way With … Tom Zoellner: NBCC award shines light on storytelling

Tom Zoellner ’91

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 Tom Zoellner ’91, a journalist, author, and English professor who this spring won the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Tom Zoellner ’91 carved out an impressive run as a journalist by seeing stories where others didn’t, drilling down to the why, and always being present, all things he first explored as a Lawrence student three decades ago.

In addition to investigative work, he has relished telling stories that on the surface might seem mundane—ordinary landscapes, he said—but speak to the deeper fabric of life, connections that span generations or unite communities or otherwise tell us something about ourselves that we didn’t know or understand.

“There’s great value in ordinary America,” Zoellner said.

Lawrence alumni ready to unite for 2021 Virtual Reunion. See details here.

He told those stories while interning at The Post-Crescent in Appleton while a student at Lawrence and again and again while working at newspapers, large and small, across the country for 20 years, from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Savannah Morning News to the Arizona Republic and San Francisco Chronicle.

That ability to look beyond what’s visible was front and center as Zoellner, 30 years removed from his Lawrence graduation and now an English professor at Chapman University in Los Angeles, recently authored his seventh non-fiction book, The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America (Counterpoint Press), a collection of essays based on his travels across the United States.

A huge literary honor

The National Road has been well-received—the New York Times called Zoellner an “old-fashioned American vagabond”—but it’s book No. 6, Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire, published in early 2020, that has earned him some particularly heady attention this year. The book was named the winner of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award for Nonfiction in March, a prestigious honor. It beat out such notable finalists as Walter Johnson (The Broken Heart of America), James Shapiro (Shakespeare in a Divided America), Sarah Smarsh (She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs), and Isabel Wilkerson (Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent).

“It was a thrill, considering the field,” Zoellner said of the honor.

Island on Fire is a book that saw the light of day only for the bulldog spirit Zoellner honed during his newsroom days. It tells the story of an 1831 rebellion by enslaved people in the Caribbean, led by Samuel Sharpe, a Baptist deacon. Thousands would die in their pursuit of liberty from the British empire.

Zoellner shines a light on Sharpe, who is a hero in the Caribbean but has been a largely unknown figure to readers in America and elsewhere.

“I’m not a trained historian,” Zoellner said. “I approached the story almost like a journalist.”

At the outset, Zoellner was simply looking to write about sugar and the ways in which the British colonies grew and sold it in abundance. That eventually led him to the history of forced labor and other atrocities in the region and the eventual rebellion by the enslaved Sharpe and his followers.

“Books on sugar had already been done; I really couldn’t find an angle into that that was going to say anything new,” Zoellner said. “But I came across in Caribbean history the accounts of the 1831 uprising. I just couldn’t seem to let go of it. There was such incredible heroism, and it was a really consequential event on which very little attention, outside of Caribbean history, has been paid and no one book dedicated to it.”

He decided to dig deeper. He booked a flight to Jamaica, with some hesitation.

“I’m a Caucasian guy who lives in California,” Zoellner said. “A question arose internally for me, is this really my story to tell? Can I go to this venue and write with any credibility? I decided I could because this was really a global story. Sam Sharpe, who is at the center of this book, ought to be better known. He ought to be regarded as a hero on the level of Gandhi, or some of the Irish revolutionaries against British tolerance in Ireland, or some of the Polish revolutionaries against Russian rule. He obviously belongs to Jamaica, but I considered him a figure of global stature.”

Zoellner, who in addition to his teaching responsibilities serves as politics editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, had a tough time finding a publisher who met his enthusiasm for the project. They didn’t see the story connecting with readers in the United States.

He finally landed at Harvard University Press and went through a difficult peer-review process.

“It was a matter of being stubborn enough to push forward,” Zoellner said. “I resolved that the book was going to get done. It wasn’t that I thought I had to rescue Sam Sharpe. No, please; the story had been told, but it had been told in the context of larger Caribbean history and not for a U.S. audience. I was just determined that the story of those five weeks of rebellion was going to be between two covers and would hopefully become a tiny part of the conversation.”

The National Book Critics Circle Award gave Zoellner some reassurance that his work had indeed resonated.

“It was a vindication of sorts,” he said. “Not of me but of the story; that the timeless ways of resistance to oppression is something that should be part of the dialogue. It’s incredible heroism that is mostly lost to history. Even with as much documentation as we have, there is so much about it we don’t know. This is a way those rebels can speak from beyond the grave.”

The art of storytelling

Zoellner’s most recent book, meanwhile, has been garnering its own attention. When it came out in mid-2020, with a pandemic in full fury and a bitter election season fraying the public mood, The National Road seemed like a needed tonic. It introduced readers to a series of off-beat places and the people who live or work or hide there, infused with joy and anger, hope and despair.

“Over the past two decades, he has made some 30 cross-country drives and hundreds of ‘lesser partial crossings,’ both as a journalist on assignment and as a tourist with a taste for obscure landmarks and truck-stop breakfasts,” the New York Times wrote in a review of Zoellner’s book. “The National Road is a chronicle of Zoellner’s wanderings and wanderlust, what he calls his ‘unspecified hunger’ to cover the lower 48 states with ‘a coat of invisible paint.’ It’s also a sneakily ambitious book whose 13 ‘dispatches’ present a sweeping view of the American land and its inhabitants—how each has shaped, and deformed, the other.”

National Public Radio called The National Road “a fascinating investigation into American places and themes; metaphors for our country.”

Zoellner followed up the release of The National Road with an essay of another sort of travel, one that told of a trip he and a classmate took to Spillville, Iowa, during spring break while students at Lawrence in 1991. Unexpected Lessons from the Back Roads of the American Midwest was featured on lithub.com in October, giving Zoellner a chance to connect some dots from that quirky road trip to the twists and turns and heartbreaks that would color a life’s journey.

It all adds to an impressive resume that includes earlier books on the diamond trade (The Heartless Stone), how uranium changed the world (Uranium), the Gabrielle Giffords shooting (A Safeway in Arizona), and the history and influence of trains (Train).

Lessons from Lawrence

This is where Zoellner takes his thoughts back to his undergrad days at Lawrence and the early exploration of his newspaper career. His curiosity, his keen ability to observe, and his desire to make sense of it all 1,000 words at a time were first nurtured here, in and out of the classroom.

He came to Appleton in 1987 from his home state of Arizona, having never before been out of the Southwest.

“Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota; it all seemed exotic to me,” Zoellner said. “I was provincial and had not traveled at that point. So, the landscapes my classmates considered totally ordinary and boring, like dairy farms and silos and lakes, I thought they were wonderful, incredibly picturesque. Even parts of the industrial plumbing such as paper mills, locks on the river, various other kinds of factories, I thought they were beautiful. That probably sounds pretty weird to somebody from northeast Wisconsin, where it’s just part of the wallpaper, but for me it was like walking into a different world.”

He vowed to explore Appleton and the rest of Wisconsin and not to isolate himself on campus. He wrote for The Lawrentian, eventually becoming its editor. He pestered editors at The Post-Crescent to give him an internship.

The lessons, he said, flowed from there.

“A big part of my education at Lawrence came from the marination in the Fox Valley, thinking of myself not as a tourist but as a resident of the Fox Valley,” he said. “Working at The Post-Crescent was a huge education in the way government worked there, the way society fit together, the wonderful people in the Fox Valley. For students, it’s easy to miss out on that.”

Zoellner came to Lawrence knowing he wanted to be a journalist. He bypassed traditional journalism schools because he wanted the liberal arts experience, a wide-ranging course of study infused with historic sensibilities, context, and critical thinking. That, he believed, would inform his ability to tell stories others weren’t telling.

“That’s why I picked Lawrence in the first place,” Zoellner said. “Not just because it was in the upper Midwest and a long way from Arizona but because of that classic liberal arts emphasis. I still believe that. Getting that sort of multi-faceted approach, which is not vocationally driven, is the winning way to go.”

As he marks his 30-year Lawrence anniversary, Zoellner remains connected to Lawrence. He talks periodically with some faculty; he struck up friendships with Monica Rico in the History Department and David McGlynn in the English Department, both of whom arrived after he had already graduated. He applauded Lawrence’s recent decision to create a creative writing major as part of its English program. It speaks, he said, to all the things that helped him find his voice all those years ago.

Lawrence, after all, was the first stop on a winding journey that continues to reveal itself in unexpected ways.

“That sense of fascination with what many consider ordinary landscapes, that’s something that still gives me great pleasure today,” Zoellner said.

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

Find more Lawrence alumni profiles here.

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

Lighting the Way With … Poonam Kumar: Path leads to global law success

Poonam Kumar ’04

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 Poonam Kumar ’04, a corporate partner in the global law firm of DLA Piper.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Poonam Kumar ’04 came to Lawrence University at the outset of the millennium intent on being a lawyer.

An international student from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, in India, she came from a family of doctors and engineers. But it was corporate law that grabbed her attention early and never let go.

“I enjoyed analytical thinking and critical reasoning and that drew me to the law,” Kumar said.

It also drew her to Lawrence. She knew she wanted the path to law school to go through a liberal arts college, and she found what she was looking for at Lawrence. She double-majored in economics and political science and minored in philosophy, all the while feeding an appetite for analytics and reasoning that would serve her well in law school and beyond.

She pointed to professors such as Minoo Adenwalla in Government, Bertrand Goldgar in English, Tom Ryckman in Philosophy, and Karen Carr in Religious Studies in challenging her to think critically and communicate clearly on subjects that spanned the disciplines.

“At Lawrence, I learned about being a critical thinker and a critical reader, being analytical, and being able to write clearly and effectively,” she said. “All the things they focus on as freshmen and then over the course of our time at Lawrence. Those skills really helped me to make good impressions at the various internships I had before I got to law school, and then during law school. And then when I started working.”

That path from Lawrence led Kumar to the University of Texas School of Law and eventually to DLA Piper, one of the largest global law firms in the world. The firm has offices in 40 countries, including in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific. Kumar, working out of the firm’s Minneapolis office, was named a partner in 2018, less than a decade and a half after graduating from Lawrence.

Her work at DLA Piper focuses mostly on advising large global companies on a variety of corporate transactions.

“Because of the global nature of my work and clients, I work primarily with people outside the U.S.,” she said.

Kumar again points to her experiences in and out of the classroom at Lawrence for preparing her to work in a global, intense, and fast-moving environment. The lessons learned as an undergrad, she said, set a base for everything that would follow, allowing her to pivot effectively no matter the subject or location.

“For the fundamental skills of reading critically, being able to express yourself in an effective way, peer communication; all that at Lawrence was very helpful,” she said. “And still is helpful. I see other people who struggle with those basic skills and I found that it had helped me to have gone to a good liberal arts school.”

Kumar said her time at Lawrence also helped in the decision of her family moving to the Twin Cities. She learned to value the charms of the Midwest while at Lawrence. She spent considerable time in New York after her parents moved there, but she was drawn to the upper Midwest as a place where she and her husband wanted to live, work, and raise their child – a daughter who is now 8.

“I think people downplay how unique Lawrence is, even by its location,” Kumar said. “We really bring a different mindset and a different perspective when we go out to the coasts; or to other cities. I think the Lawrence training was spectacular. … I think Lawrence really does do a good job at training us and giving us a good perspective on things.”

In addition to her legal work, Kumar also has been active in advocating for diversity and inclusion at her firm and within the larger legal community in the Twin Cities. She serves on the board of directors for Minnesota Women Lawyers, an organization geared toward supporting women lawyers across Minnesota, and chairs an affinity group for diverse partners and counsel at her firm.  

“I have always believed, and happily experienced, that having a diverse set of viewpoints, experiences, and backgrounds always makes for a richer discussion and a richer problem-solving effort,” Kumar said. “So, I’ve always tried to help create that mix of people.”

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

For other Lighting the Way With … features on Lawrence alumni, see here.

Lighting the Way With … Tom Coben: When Kimmel calls and statues dance

Tom Coben ’12

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 Tom Coben ’12, a motion graphics artist whose work in the past week has been viewed more than 5 million times.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Nearly a decade after leaving Lawrence University with a growing portfolio of 3D graphics and other visual effects, Tom Coben ’12 has gone viral.

Well, his creative skills have gone viral, if not his name.

A freelance motion graphics and visual effects artist in the Twin Cities, Coben hooked up earlier this month with the creative team of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! They were looking for an artist who could animate statues dancing and singing for a video they were making to mark the end of the Trump presidency.

Coben delivered 14 shots of statues, monuments, and paintings that became the heart of the video – the Statue of Liberty, the faces on Mt. Rushmore, the statue of Martin Luther King Jr., among them – all in full celebration mode. Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the late-night talk show, posted the video late last week, and it quickly bounced around social media, racking up more than 5 million views on YouTube in the first four days.

See the Jimmy Kimmel video here.

“I sent a sample video of the Statue of Liberty dancing as a proof-of-concept on spec and they hired me for the bit,” Coben said. “We used a type of motion-capture technique where they filmed an actor with facial tracking markers and I used that information to apply the facial motions to the different sculptures and paintings.”

From there, he watched the final product roll out, and the social media shares and video views quickly grow, all in the days following the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Between social media and TV views, it’s the widest his work has been seen. But Coben said he did have one other brush with the power of the internet when Will Smith shared on his Instagram account an animation Coben made of a robot bowling. That got him a ton of exposure and some new freelance work, which is always a good thing.

“But this Kimmel video is definitely the most amount of attention any of my work has had,” he said.

It started at Lawrence

Coben first got a taste for motion graphics and 3D visual effects while studying at Lawrence.

An environmental studies major, Coben developed an interest in animation and 3D artistry. Lawrence’s Film Studies program was launching just as Coben was graduating. He was able to put together a self-directed film/animation-related minor.

“One of my favorite experiences at Lawrence was during the summer after my sophomore year when I got the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for five weeks with my advisor, (Associate Professor of Biology) Jodi Sedlock,” Coben said. “She knew I was interested in film production and asked if I would come and produce a short documentary about cave-roosting bat species and conservation of cave ecosystems on the island of Siquijor. Besides just being rad as hell, that experience helped me get a job the following summer at the Smithsonian National Zoo making promotional videos for their YouTube channel, filming the different exhibits.”

Then during his senior year, Coben took an intermediate sculpture class with Rob Neilson, the Frederick R. Layton Professor of Studio Art and professor of art, and was given the green light to focus on using 3D software to create digital sculptures that he would incorporate into footage taken around campus.

It got wonderfully weird. There was a supersized octopus clinging to the cupola atop Main Hall. And snow goons waging a battle on the snow-covered campus green.

Neilson said he recalls Coben taking to heart the prompt he gave to the class at the outset of the term: “Construct a sculptural piece in any medium you choose that somehow closes — or exists within — the gap between art and life and addresses sculpture as a ‘thing’ in all its ‘objectness’.” Coben chose to use 3D modeling and video, and Neilson said he was all in.

“My approach to teaching art has always been: Sculpture can be anything we, the students and I, collaboratively decide it is,” Neilson said. “While I certainly love to ‘make things;’ to me sculpture is more about ideas than objects. Indeed, this is the fundamental beauty of sculpture; its ability to carry and convey meaning through material — even if the material is bits and bytes in a computer. Otherwise, it’s just an object.”

Coben took that approach and ran with it. He’s still running with it.

“After I graduated, I used some of those animations along with some other personal work to put together a reel, which got me my first few freelance jobs out of college,” Coben said. “After that I worked at a small video production company for about three years before deciding to get back into freelance animation, which I have been doing for the past five years.”

Much of his work is with local clients in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, doing 3D product renderings, motion graphics for commercials and online marketing videos, and visual effects for music videos.

He’s also designing custom 3D-printed sculptures, selling them on Etsy under the name Tomforgery3D. 

“They’re based on the classics but I’ve screwed with them to make them more absurd,” he said.

It might not draw the 5 million views of a Kimmel video, but it’s interesting, challenging, and creative work, Coben said.

“I had a lot of very cool opportunities at Lawrence and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’d be doing what I am doing today if my professors hadn’t given me the ability to pursue my interests with as much freedom as they did,” he said.

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

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

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

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Andrea Lewis Hartung ’05, a lawyer and clinical assistant professor of law at Northwestern University who works with the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

For more Lawrence alumni features, see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fueled by the Lawrence experience

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

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

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

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

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

Reconnecting with Lawrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Dr. Ben Weston ’05, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Medical College of Wisconsin who has been a leader in the Milwaukee area in the COVID-19 pandemic battle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

So, yes, interesting.

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

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

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

For more Lawrence alumni features, see here.

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

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

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

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

Beyond the imaginable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A path forged at Lawrence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lighting the Way With … Yaw Asare: Childhood treat becomes tasty side hustle

Yaw Asare ’96 talks to customers about his Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle at the Downtown Appleton Farmers Market. The outdoor market continues on Saturday mornings through Oct. 31. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Yaw Asare ’96, who is putting his business savvy into a tasty new side gig.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Yaw Asare ’96 has added some new flavor to the Downtown Appleton Farmers Market.

His Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle has become a fixture at the market since July, an early step in a business proposition that has Asare thinking big.

The 47-year-old Asare, an economics major while at Lawrence University two and a half decades ago, works as a loan documentation specialist for Investors Community Bank in Appleton. But his nights and weekends are now dominated by what he calls his new side hustle, a long-simmering dream to bring the tastes of Ghana to the United States.

“Ever since I got to the U.S., I’ve wanted to do my own thing, start my own business,” he said. “It took me a little while to figure out what I wanted to do.”

Asare settled on the peanut brittle he grew up with in Ghana, crafted from a recipe book he got from his mother. He’s introduced the brittle at the farmers market and a handful of retail outlets around the Fox Cities and hopes to grow it into a national brand as he expands to various other taste treats inspired by his homeland.

“You have to start small,” he said. “We’re starting here in the Fox Cities and then we’ll go ahead and start branching out, first throughout Wisconsin and then the Midwest and beyond.”

He has two active business partners – Walt Nocito and Orson Fournillier – in Appleton and a third silent partner in California and has contracted with Sweet Ps Pantry, an artisan confectionery in Oconomowoc, to make and package the brittle.

Sharay’s Ghana Style Peanut Brittle is now available in about 10 retail outlets in the Fox Cities.

An inspiration from childhood

Asare, who was born in Germany, lived in Ghana from age 7 until he came to the United States to study at Lawrence in the early 1990s. After first exploring the peanut brittle concept in 2016, it was a trip back to Ghana in 2018 that gave him the impetus to dive into his new venture. He ran into two former schoolmates who were operating their own peanut brittle business in Ghana, and he said they inspired him to push forward.

“What we’re talking about now is a company that takes Ghanaian products and packages them for the Western market,” Asare said. “This brittle thing is going to come first. There will be others we’ll come out with as time goes on and as we can get them developed.”

Asare worked with Sharon Pavich of Sweet Ps Pantry to perfect the recipe. The first batch came out in late 2019 with sales to friends, family, and co-workers and a deal with their first retail outlet, The Free Market, located on Wisconsin Avenue in Appleton. That led to the push into other local retail outlets and the farmers market this summer and the launch of a Sharay’s website.

“We started pushing into the Fox Cities in July of this year,” Asare said. “It’s brand new. That’s when we hit the farmers market and started getting into other retail outlets. We’re in about 10 retail outlets right now. There’s a game plan for broadening that beyond the Fox Cities. We want to be the premium provider of brittle products.”

Making that happen in the midst of a global pandemic has created its own obstacles. Not all retailers have been able to stay open. And the farmers market experience hasn’t been as robust as a typical summer season. But like many other small businesses, Asare said he’s learning to adapt.

“It’s been difficult,” he said. “At the farmers market, we can’t do taste tests or any of that sort of thing because of the regulations. We have to rely on our sales pitch and get people to buy it without first trying it.”

Yaw Asare ’96 (right) works a farmers market booth with business partner Orson Fournillier.

Finding a path

The Sharay’s recipe comes from a late 1970s Ghanaian cookbook. The name comes from Asare’s childhood nickname.

“We chop the peanuts so you get a more robust flavor from it,” Asare said. “We also use cane sugar instead of corn syrup. And then a little bit of water and salt. Some of the other extra ingredients you’d find in regular brittle like butter and corn syrup and some of the preservatives, you won’t find those in ours. When people bite into it, they find we use more peanuts than you would in a normal brittle. They find it doesn’t stick to their teeth as much, and that’s been pretty much everyone’s reaction. It doesn’t stick to your teeth is a little bit of a tag line for us.

“So far, we’ve gotten excellent response. The product is definitely different enough from regular brittle. Once people bite into it, they have a very positive reaction. … It’s pretty much on point with what I knew in Ghana.”

See more Lawrence alumni profiles here.

After graduating from Lawrence in 1996, Asare opted to stay in Appleton, and has worked in various banking, sales, and marketing roles through the years. He married Leslie, whom he met while at Lawrence. They have three children, two of whom are now in college, leaving more time for his new side project.

Asare said the lessons he learned at Lawrence and in his roles in the Appleton business community are all in play as he launches his new venture.

“This is a side job right now,” he said. “But if it grows into a full-time thing, that would be great. And if it’s nothing but a side business, well, that’s fine, too.”

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

Lighting the Way With … Jim Miller: Running where few have run before

Jim Miller ’80 runs the Old Mill Marathon through the countryside north of Burlington, Vermont, on Aug. 30.

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Jim Miller ’80, whose love of running has, to say the least, been lifelong.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Jim Miller ’80 caught the marathon bug while running cross-country for Lawrence University in the late 1970s. What he’s done with that passion over the 40-plus years since puts him in very select company.

On Aug. 30, just days before turning 62, Miller ran a marathon in 2 hours, 53 minutes, 59 seconds, making him one of only four runners known to have run marathons in under 3 hours in six different decades, according to data shared at PodiumRunner.com.

That is 26.2 miles of high-level achievement spanning more than 43 years and touching the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and, now, the 2020s.

“I set a goal to get that sixth decade and I was really excited to get it,” Miller said.

To do it, he had to get a bit industrious. He initially planned to run a marathon in North Carolina in March, but it was canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc on running events across the country. He signed up for a marathon in Fargo, North Dakota, that was scheduled for late August, hoping the pandemic would loosen its grip by then. No such luck.

“At that point it seemed unlikely any marathons were going to be held the rest of this year,” Miller said.

He didn’t want to wait out the pandemic, knowing his training was on target and the body felt good.

“There’s no guarantee I’ll be healthy and fit next year,” Miller said. “I was very confident I could run a fast time right now. I’ve been in really good shape for six months, and it’s hard to maintain that indefinitely. So, I felt a sense of urgency.”

Jim Miller ’80 (center) organized the Old Mill Marathon and limited it to 14 runners.

Like Lawrentians are apt to do, he opted for ingenuity. He organized his own marathon near his home in Burlington, Vermont, named it the Old Mill Marathon, got it officially sanctioned, set up a COVID-19 safety plan, and recruited 13 local runners to run it with him.

“It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in any marathon I’ve run,” he said.

And that’s saying something. Miller has run 40 marathons through the years. The enthusiasm for it has never waned, despite injury setbacks and that inevitable march of Father Time.  

The Lawrence difference

Miller said he was a decent but not great runner in high school in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He came to Lawrence for the academics, but he opted to run for the Vikings, and that experience lit a fire inside him.

He’d go on to have a Hall of Fame career at Lawrence, earning All-America honors in cross country and track and winning two Midwest Conference (MWC) championships. By the time he graduated with a degree in economics, he held school records in the 2-mile, 3-mile, and 6-mile distances.

It was a longer run Miller took early in his time at Lawrence, though, that set him on a different path. He ran the 1977 North Dakota Marathon, well before marathon running became the widespread boom it is today, and he won, posting a time of 2:34. It felt good. He wanted more. He won in North Dakota again the next year. Then, on the advice of Lawrence alumnus and advocate Chuck Merry ’57, he entered Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, and proceeded to run an eye-opening 2:19 that got him noticed nationally.

He quickly set a new goal—the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

“My senior year at Lawrence I spent training for the Olympic Trials,” Miller said. “I got so much support on campus.”

Always chasing a goal

He moved to Vermont following Commencement in June of 1980 to continue his training. He took a number of odd jobs while focusing on his running. He worked at a store selling running shoes. He took temp jobs. He began working part-time as a janitor at a bank in Burlington.

“I became a ‘running bum’,” Miller said. “Not exactly your typical Lawrence post-graduation route.”

He set a personal record of 2:18:18 and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both 1980 and 1984.

He never did make the U.S. Olympic team, but that part-time janitor job led to opportunities at the bank to put his economics degree to work. He would go on to forge a more than 30-year career as a trust officer and financial planner with the Merchants Trust Company.

And the running would continue, always with goals in place. He’d run one or two marathons a year when injuries weren’t sidelining him. One decade ran into the next, and while that 2:18:18 time would become a distant memory, the sub 3-hour times would continue.

“One of the key factors is enthusiasm and passion,” Miller said. “To run at my best, I need to be excited about a goal. Without that, I won’t come close to my potential. It’s really setting new goals as I age and trying to find a goal that excites me. It’s certainly not to run faster than I’ve ever run before, but it’s pretty easy to find goals that will challenge me.”

Does he have his eye on stretching his sub 3-hour brilliance to a seventh decade? That, he said, might be difficult. He’ll be 71 when 2030 rolls around.

“Even a year out our bodies change so much at this point,” Miller said. “I haven’t written it off in my mind, but that would be some challenge.”

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

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

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

About this series: Lighting the Way With … is a periodic series in which we shine a light on Lawrence University alumni. Today we catch up with Samuel Wrenn ’17, a research scientist in Seattle.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On his role on the IPD vaccine development team:

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

On the sense of urgency to find a vaccine:

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

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

On his work before the pandemic hit:

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

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

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

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

Emily Muhs ’12

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

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

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

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

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

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

On teaching in Abu Dhabi:

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

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

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

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

On getting her MBA at Yale

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

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

On how her Lawrence experience prepared her for those next steps

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

On what being a runner has taught her

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

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

On launching a business career at Bain & Company

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

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

On COVID-19 pandemic and advice for Lawrentians

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

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

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

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

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