St. Olaf Campus News
Three St. Olaf College juniors have earned recognition in two science scholarship competitions.
Kieran Berton ’18 and Laura Moore ’18 received honorable mentions in this year’s Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Competition.
Berton and Emma Dawson ’18 received honorable mentions in the Rossing Physics Scholarship competition.
The highly competitive Goldwater Scholarships are awarded each year to students who have shown significant achievement and potential in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. Since 1995, 33 St. Olaf students have received the prestigious award. This year, Berton and Moore were among the 307 students out of the 1,286 applicants who were bestowed with Honorable Mentions.
Gifts from Thomas Rossing established the Rossing Fund for Physics Education Endowment in the ELCA Foundation in 2005. The goals of the scholarship program are to encourage top students to attend one of the 27 ELCA colleges and universities in the country, and to consider pursuing physics once they are there. Rossing taught at St. Olaf for 14 years, is a professor emeritus of physics at Northern Illinois University, and is currently a visiting professor of music at Stanford University. Berton and Dawson were among the 10 students chosen to receive the Honorable Mention award this year.
Berton, a music and physics major at St. Olaf, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in nanoengineering and become a career researcher.
Dawson also plans to pursue a Ph.D., with the intention of becoming a professor of physics in the future.
Moore, who is majoring in chemistry at St. Olaf, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry — preferably in aquatics, and with a possible emphasis on industry’s impact on aquatic environments.
Moore, who has spent the past four summer pursuing her interest in chemistry research at the University of Minnesota and Oregon State University, sees the Goldwater Scholarship application process as an opportunity to think about her future plans.
“It has really encouraged me to continue working toward a scientific career and helped me to clarify my own goals,” she says.
Although there is an abundance of research about affordable housing and an equal abundance of research about aging adults, there is surprisingly little data connecting the two topics.
So St. Olaf College student Amanda Vergara ‘17 teamed up with Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Lisa Moore to investigate multigenerational families living under one roof in affordable housing.
Vergara had an internship in the truancy intervention department at the Centro Tyrone Guzman, and she and Moore explored the connection between the topics of affordable housing and aging adults. The research, conducted through the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars Program, focused on analyzing current affordable housing policies, interviewing housing professionals, and conducting fieldwork to map the assets of each target area.
As the first students to assist with this project, Vergara and Natalia Soler ‘17 looked into background information on the topic. This research consisted of many interviews, archival research, and learning about specific neighborhoods.
While there is still work to be done, after this section of the project they found that affordable housing policies do not overtly support intergenerational caretaking, partly stemming from difficulties with the availability of resources and coordination of social services.
Through her time with Centro Tyrone Guzman, Vergara saw the demand for bilingual social workers, a career that she now plans to pursue. After graduating, she plans to earn her Master in Social Work degree.
For Vergara, at the beginning of her college career she — like many students — was not thinking about graduate school. St. Olaf Professor of Social Work Mary Carlsen ’79 identified Vergara as a strong applicant for the McNair Scholars Program her sophomore year. “It was touching that someone was looking out for me,” says Vergara.
The TRIO McNair Program aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who participate in undergraduate research, graduate with a B.A., and encourage them to pursue graduate studies and Ph.D.s.
In addition to a summer of conducting student/faculty research, Vergara spent a semester in Mexico with a study abroad program specifically for social work majors. The program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, aims to develop cross-culturally competent, ethical social work professionals with a global perspective by providing a semester of transformative, experiential learning focused on social and economic justice.
“I would like to return to Mexico someday and am interested in working in Spanish-speaking countries,” says Vergara.
This year Vergara also lives in the Diversity Awareness House, which aims to support multicultural students in order to promote and foster unity for students of diverse heritage and backgrounds. The group has monthly events on campus with the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement (CMIE).
“Through all of these experiences at St. Olaf, I really feel like I’ve found myself,” Vergara says. “I came here really not knowing what I wanted to do, but it’s been a transformative experience.”
A few weeks ago, Sean Heaslip ’16 briefly stepped away from his work on the United States Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee to talk to current St. Olaf College students about working in Washington, D.C.
The St. Olaf students were visiting the nation’s capital as part of the D.C. Connections Program, which brings students into alumni workplaces to explore careers and broaden their perspective on what they can do with a liberal arts education.
For Heaslip, the program is personal — he was a participant himself before he graduated last spring.
Now, as an alumnus working on Capitol Hill, he wants to provide current students with the same valuable insight he received through the program.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain insights into how Ole alumni have applied their skill sets in the wider world,” says Heaslip, who spoke as part of the program’s panel on domestic policy making. “Mostly, I shared the strategy that I developed for getting a job in D.C. My strategy highlighted the importance of face-to-face meetings and the value of previous internships in the D.C. area.”
The 28 St. Olaf students on this year’s D.C. Connections Program explored career opportunities and connected with alumni working at places like the Library of Congress, the World Bank, SKDKnickerbocker, and POLITICO.
The trip, organized by the college’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career, focused on careers in government, nonprofit, education, and international organizations. It was the final trip of this year’s Connections Program, following similar programs in Chicago, Madison, and San Francisco.
During their stay in D.C., students delved into the fields of domestic policymaking; international relations and development; national security (including defense, cybersecurity, and resource security/scarcity); social issues advocacy; economic and monetary policy; and political reporting. In each of these subjects, students had the opportunity to meet with alumni like Heaslip and learn how they ended up working in D.C.
“A memorable part for me was talking with alumni about how they got to where they were. It really put a human face on many of the challenges that I’m facing as I look to the future. It was awesome to hear their stories about how they navigated their way to D.C., and emboldened me to do the same,” says Griffin Edwards ’17.
Over three dozen alumni provided information about the workings of their fields and spoke of how they came to establish their careers in D.C.
“From this program I learned the importance of face-to-face interactions when searching for jobs. Networking is an essential part of the job search process, and it is not one of those things that naturally occurs to people,” says Guillermo Gorrin ’17, who particularly enjoyed meeting with Mark Dimunation ’74, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress, and Anthony Aldwell ’72, director of global security policy at Lockheed Martin. “Their stories really show how far an Olaf education can take you.”
Ethan Johnson ‘18 also found the trip to the Library of Congress to a memorable part of the program.
Johnson was thrilled when Dimunation showed students the Bible used by Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama at their inaugurations, as well as one of the very first copies of the Declaration of Independence. “It was an honor to get to be with him and see how much to this day he cares about connecting with Oles,” says Johnson.
Aside from the many ventures into different career opportunities, students were also able to experience the capital first hand.
“It’s one thing to listen to people talk about D.C., but to be able to contextualize it by actually being in the city is entirely something else. I think that’s one of the strengths of the Connections programs all around — for a lot of us it’s not just about wanting to work in government or public policy, it’s about wanting to do it in Washington, D.C.,” says Aidan Zielske ’18.
Heaslip can testify to this and he hopes by giving back to the program that students will see the value in St. Olaf connections.
“The understanding that ‘Oles help other Oles’ isn’t something that ends once you get your diploma. These students have our names, our business cards, and our stories. If they decide to pursue an employment opportunity in Washington, they will have plenty of us to reach out to,” says Heaslip.
For students like Johnson, this message rings true.
“I know first hand that there is a vast network of Oles who are out there waiting to help me along my journey and who know that I am a qualified and capable candidate wherever I may go,” says Johnson.
Karin and Bob Moe P ’90 so strongly believed in the Great Conversation program at St. Olaf College that they established the Moe Family Endowed Fund to deepen its impact.
With this funding, program director Douglas Casson and his fellow Great Conversation educators are now integrating new opportunities to expand student learning.
The Great Conversation is a two-year, five-course sequence. Students and faculty together tackle the major epochs of Western Civilization to trace its development from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews into the modern world. Conversation students live and study together to form an inclusive learning community to extend their examination of art, culture, history, philosophy, politics, and religion beyond the classroom.
“The Moe’s gift has been critical in sustaining and improving this program,” Casson says. “We are now able to think creatively about what we could do to enrich students’ encounter with these great works. For example, we are now planning an Interim course in Europe to see ancient objects that we have learned about like the flood tablet from Gilgamesh and think about why institutions like the British Museum continue to hold them.”
Faculty also increased access to expert lecturers and off-campus excursions, and integrated new historical resources on Christian/Islamic interactions during the Middle Ages. This helps build rich context and multiple pathways for students to consider how the development of Western Civilization impacts their world today.
“The Great Conversation is about gaining an appreciation for an established record of human achievement. Yet it is also about engaging that tradition thoughtfully and critically,” says Casson.
This collective investigation appealed strongly to the Moes. “We just believed it is a wonderful opportunity for young people to get that kind of background in great works with experts in the field and their fellow students — speaking, thinking, and learning together,” says Karin. “I think that really has to have quite an impact.”
The Moe Family Endowed Fund for the Great Conversation is part of St. Olaf’s $200 million For the Hill and Beyond comprehensive campaign to advance high-impact learning, strengthen its vibrant residential learning community, enhance the affordability of a St. Olaf education, and sustain the college’s mission.
A 1956 alumna of the University of Minnesota, Karin was the only female accounting major in its business school at the time. She took quickly to business, working summers in actuarial research for an insurance company, and augmented her required courses by taking history, sociology, and statistical psychology — classes she absolutely loved.
“I like business. I started reading my dad’s Business Week magazines growing up — but you miss some things when you settle quickly into your track,” she says.
Upon graduation, Karin was hired by IBM to write and oversee programming for a new mainframe machine purchased by the same insurance firm she worked for in previous summers. She left, though, when she had her first child. “Back then, there was absolutely no way you could work for IBM if you had a baby,” she says.
Her husband, Bob, worked and advanced through consecutive leadership roles at Polaris Industries, and retired as executive vice president and treasurer after working at the company for 22 years. He died in 2016 following complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Expanding horizons for students was important to them both. The Moes similarly supported the construction of Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, the renovation of Tomson Hall, and Psychology Department research — all in recognition of the positive experiences their daughter Kathryn ’90 had at St. Olaf. She took part in mentored summer research, as well as international study in Spain and Latin America.
“Kathy got really good mentoring. The faculty were instrumental in helping her select the right graduate schools that would further her interest — after St. Olaf she went to Carnegie Mellon and got her master’s degree in public policy and administration. It was just an all-around good experience for her,” Karin says. “I really believe in education — I think educating more women might bring peace to the world.”
St. Olaf College Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Fine Arts Mary Griep will deliver the spring Mellby Lecture, titled Descent Into Detail, on April 11.
The lecture, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Viking Theater, is free and open to the public. It will be streamed and archived online.
Griep’s professional work has been closely connected with her cross-cultural interests and travel with students. Over the past 18 years, she has created a body of drawings — the Anastylosis Project — inspired by sacred architecture of the 11th and 12th centuries from around the world. Her Mellby lecture is an exploration of careful observation and an homage to a thousand years of human creativity and attention to these particular places.
Griep earned her bachelor of arts degree in studio art from Macalester College and a master of arts in liberal studies from Hamline University. Before joining the St. Olaf Art and Art History faculty in 1988, she was a practicing artist with work in public and private collections, both national and international. As a faculty member at St. Olaf, Griep specializes in drawing and painting. She has been Associate Dean of Fine Arts, served as chair of the Art and Art History Department, and taught in the Paracollege.
A champion of international experiences for students and faculty alike, Griep has accompanied and led Interim courses in France, Italy, the Bahamas, Greece, and Turkey, and twice served as field supervisor for St. Olaf’s Term in Asia. She has been an artist in residence in the Dominican Republic and Austria and spent three years at the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture at Payap University in Thailand. She has also had residencies at the Ucross Foundation, the University of South Dakota, St. Catherine University, the Miles City Art Center, and the Anderson Center.
About the Mellby Lecture
The annual Mellby Lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.
St. Olaf College educates students who are more diverse, more globally engaged, and more digitally connected than ever before. So St. Olaf leaders and faculty members are asking a simple question: “How can we enhance teaching and learning for this new generation of students?”
The college’s work to answer that question has earned the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which recently awarded St. Olaf a four-year, $800,000 grant to examine and improve course offerings and modes of teaching.
The project, To Include is to Excel, undertakes faculty development and curricular improvements to serve a changing student body. The project reflects St. Olaf’s abiding conviction that excellence and inclusion are inextricably intertwined.
“Our goal is to renew what and how we teach, based on a nuanced understanding of who our students are, how they engage with knowledge and areas of study, and what makes them thrive as learners,” says St. Olaf Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor. “Faculty members have been deeply interested in this for some time, and we are thrilled with the opportunity this grant presents.”
The project will begin by developing a deeper understanding of current and future St. Olaf students, based on a wide variety of data. Then project leaders will consider this information alongside what faculty members already know about best practices in teaching.
On this knowledge base, St. Olaf educators will pilot and assess new approaches in teaching. What they learn will guide curriculum reform at the program level. Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Mary Carlsen ’79 will direct the To Include is to Excel project.
To lay the groundwork for faculty development, the college’s Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts (CILA) will sponsor three annual “Teaching Summits” that seed and sustain collaborations among St. Olaf faculty and with partner institutions. Associate Professor of Spanish Maggie Broner will oversee the summits in her role as associate director of CILA.
“The work funded by To Include is to Excel may be the most important work being done at the college in coming years as we look to shape the learning environment for a new generation of teachers and students,” says St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74.
St. Olaf College’s Flaten Art Museum will host the first Minnesota screening of the new experimental documentary film Ordinal (SW/NE) this Thursday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Viking Theater. It is free and open to the public.
The film, directed and produced by Minnesota filmmaker Rini Yun Keagy in collaboration with visual artist Miljohn Ruperto, explores relationships among land use, global climate change, and human health through an investigation of valley fever, a disease associated with a soil-dwelling pathogenic fungus in California’s Central Valley.
Following the screening of the 65-minute film, Keagy and Ruperto will lead a discussion about the documentary and their work.
The film screening is part of a larger Flaten Art Museum exhibition focused on the film. The exhibition, titled Black Sun: Rini Yun Keagy with Miljohn Ruperto, is open through April 16.
Black Sun transforms elements of the film Ordinal (SW/NE) into a rich sensory environment. The gallery is occupied by film stills, live-action video, animated sequences, soundscapes, and physical objects used in the film’s creation.
Watch a trailer for the film here:
Want to know all about Olaf? Just ask St. Olaf College student Elijah Verdoorn ’18.
Verdoorn led the creation of a mobile app called “All About Olaf,” which provides menus, building hours, calendars, and much more on an easily accessible platform for students’ convenience.
Verdoorn worked with Drew Volz ’16 and Hawken Rives ’16 to expand the capabilities of the app, which has been installed by more than half of the St. Olaf student body.
All About Olaf isn’t Verdoorn’s only contribution to campus life. He also serves as the chief technology officer for the Student Government Association (SGA), heading the team that keeps its site Oleville up and running.
Verdoorn first became interested in working with computers when his parents asked him to set up their home Wi-Fi router.
This interest in computers led Verdoorn to major in computer science and mathematics at St. Olaf and pursue a summer internship with Proto Labs, a Minnesota-based company that makes injection moldings. Proto Labs was founded by St. Olaf alumnus Brad Cleveland ’82, who helped the Piper Center for Vocation and Career develop an entrepreneurial competition called Ole Cup.
As a software development intern at Proto Labs, Verdoorn was tasked with writing code to manage manufacturing processes, quality assurance, and order management. Not only did he improve his software development skills through the internship, but he also learned more about the value of teamwork.
“In the professional world, there are no lone wolf programmers,” says Verdoorn. “You always work in a team.”
Verdoorn is considering software engineering and research as potential career paths after graduating from St. Olaf.
To further explore the software engineering field, Verdoorn recently accepted an internship with Pandora Media. As part of the Android team, he will be contributing to the development of the Pandora mobile app.
“I’m especially excited about this opportunity because it is out of Oakland, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley,” says Verdoorn. “Having traveled there with the Piper Center for the Connections Program trip over Interim break this year, I’m looking forward to returning to the Bay Area.”
The Piper Center’s Connections Program connects students with St. Olaf’s vast network of alumni nationwide, specifically in metropolitan areas. The trips are focused on industries in particular cities with a critical mass of alumni, who help students broaden their perspective on what they can do with a liberal arts education.
“My time at St. Olaf has taught me so much, not only in the classroom but also from student organizations and other out-of-the-classroom opportunities,” Verdoorn says. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to the St. Olaf community through All About Olaf, and I look forward to continuing my education through the many opportunities that St. Olaf has afforded me.”