Gustavus Campus News
Two Gustavus Adolphus College alumni were recently named to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal‘s annual list of “40 under 40” of the most influential contributors in business and economic ventures throughout Minnesota. The list highlights exemplary young leaders, sifting through hundreds of contenders to selecting 40 who have made a name for themselves in their respective fields and communities. Leah Wong ’02 and Ari Silkey ’99 were named to this year’s list and will be honored at the 23rd annual 40 under 40 reception on Thursday, March 16, at Minneapolis Event Centers.
Wong is a member of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, serving as vice president of events. She works with a planning committee to organize large-scale public events for Minneapolis and the metro area, including the popular Holidazzle parade.
Silkey currently leads more than 50 employees at the Amazon technology development center in downtown Minneapolis. He reflects fondly on his years at Gustavus and considers his experiences on the Hill invaluable in shaping his early career.
Here, Wong and Silkey answer a few questions…
Gustavus: What is your job like now? What are your responsibilities?
Silkey: I’m the general manager of transportation technology at Amazon in Minneapolis, which opened downtown last summer. I lead a team of software development engineers and managers as we develop cutting edge software applications that fuel Amazon’s rapidly growing operations, fulfillment, and delivery capabilities.
Wong: My job is a new adventure each day! I am blessed to lead an incredible team and work with impactful partners. I am the vice president of external relations at the Minneapolis Downtown Council, a non-profit business association aimed at creating an extraordinary downtown. I have four key areas of responsibility; partnerships, marketing, events, and communications/public relations. I love the excitement, challenges, and relationships each day brings.
Gustavus: How did your time at Gustavus influence your interests and career decisions?
Wong: My freshman year First Term Seminar class happened to be in the communication studies department. Needless, to say…I ended up taking more communication classes and falling in love with this area of study, certainly not my plan, but I’m so thankful for the journey and where it has taken me. I also had the opportunity to participate in many organizations at Gustavus. My involvement and leadership opportunities as part of campus activities and organizations provided me with experiences and insights that helped to shape the future direction of my career.
Gustavus: Did you have any mentors at Gustavus who helped you or offered good advice when you first entered the industry?
Wong: I had great mentors and classmates at Gustavus! Phil Voight and Leila Brammer are two professors that stand out. Both were always willing to help me navigate my next steps and constantly challenging me to do my best. I also had the opportunity to work at Mary’s Flowers in town. I was struck by the incredible passion Mary had for her work and she inspired me to pursue finding a career I enjoyed.
Silkey: Bob Douglas (retired geography professor) was a mentor for me early in my career as I entered into the GPS technology field.
Gustavus: Do you have any advice for current Gusties starting off on new careers?
Silkey: Work hard, take risks and don’t forget to have fun along the way. Pick a subject area and become an expert, opportunities will evolve from there.
Wong: I would encourage current Gusties to start building your networks early, reach out and get to know others within your areas of interest. Tap into your Gustavus connections! Set high goals for yourself, work hard, and build your village with those who will help and support you personally and professionally. On a side note, I’d encourage current Gusties to soak up their time on campus (and don’t take yourself too seriously), it goes too fast!
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford ‘80 will return to her alma mater to deliver a lecture at Gustavus Adolphus College on March 16 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wallenberg Auditorium. As the speaker for the 2017 Christenson Lectureship in Politics and Law, Bransford will examine the effect of implicit bias, address the increase in bias-motivated incidents, and offer strategies to challenge acts of explicit bias and confront our own unconscious biases. Hosted by the Department of Political Science, the event is free and open to the public.
“Her extensive experience in the Minnesota criminal justice system gives Judge Bransford unique insight into how questions of bias relate to criminal cases but also to society in general,” said political science professor and faculty host Chris Gilbert. “This is an especially opportune point in time for us to consider bias incidents and to understand how our own unconscious biases influence our decisions and behavior.”
In advance of her visit, Judge Bransford answered a few questions.
Gustavus: How does implicit bias affect our everyday decisions and behavior?
Judge Bransford: As humans, we only use a portion of our brains in conscious thought. Our brains control activities such as our breathing, vision, hearing and many other things without us thinking about it. It only comes to our conscious brain if there is a problem. We do the same thing for objects, people and groups of people. When we see a person, we subconsciously assign some characteristics to that person that are based on our experiences, including what we have heard other people say or images that we have seen in the media. Implicit biases are basically unconscious stereotypes that we have about a group of people. Implicit bias affects our daily behavior when we make decisions or judgements based upon the implicit bias. Affinity bias is our preference to associate with people that are like ourselves. This bias comes into play in hiring decisions and maybe for college students, decisions like who to choose for student government or who to choose as a member of a sorority or fraternity.
Gustavus: What has contributed to the increase in bias-motivated incidents throughout our country?
Judge Bransford: I believe that the increase in bias-motivated incidents throughout our country is a result of several factors. One factor is the backlash from having a Black president. There were numerous incidents where President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were disrespected apparently due to their race, including the questions about whether he was born in the United States. Instead of a “post-racial society” after Obama, some people apparently felt that it was time to get white people back in power. I also think that the current president’s campaign, where he mocked a disabled person and said disparaging remarks about women and people of color, allowed people who shared those beliefs to become more vocal and act upon those beliefs.
I also believe that the anti-immigration rhetoric has also contributed to the increase in bias-motivated incidents in our country. I do not have a ready answer to the dramatic increase in anti-Semitic bias incidents around the country including bomb threats of Jewish community centers and widespread vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, except that the neo-Nazis who were always present on the fringe of our society now feel emboldened to come out from the shadows into the mainstream.
Gustavus: What can students and others do to address explicitly biased acts?
Judge Bransford: Students and others can and should confront examples of explicit bias when they occur. If you see someone being bullied or discriminated against, you can stand up for that person. You can also write letters, protest, and show different ways that you stand in solidarity with people who are victims of discrimination. The people in the Muslim community who publicly supporting the Jewish people after the vandalism of the Jewish cemeteries are a perfect example of this. We have various areas that are publically declared as free of guns, smoke, and peanuts. In a similar method, we can declare bias free zones, as well, in your dorms, your organizations, and your school.
Gustavus: Reflecting on your own Gustavus experience, how did it prepare you for your path and current position as a District Court Judge?
Judge Bransford: When I was a student at Gustavus, I was interested in pursuing a career in law or journalism. I worked with the school newspaper and took pre-law, business law, and constitutional law classes from Professor Ron Christensen and other excellent professors. The various classes prepared me to be a good writer and critical thinker, which are traits that I use every day as a District Court Judge. I also developed leadership skills by serving as the President of the Black Student Organization and as a member of the Guild of St. Lucia. One of my favorite classes was a course on Comparative Religions. It taught me that many religions are based upon similar principles such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Similar basic principles of fairness guide me every day in life and at work.
For the Christensen Lecture’s inception in 2015, the political science department hosted David Cole, then a Georgetown University law professor and now the national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. Created and funded by Kathryn Christenson to honor the late Ron Christenson, both former Gustavus professors, the Christenson Lectureship seeks to connect the Gustavus and Saint Peter communities with speakers who can share their own perspectives on the intersection of politics and laws. Judge Bransford will continue this tradition by exploring bias in the court system as one of the major issues facing society today.
“Her life and career are yet another example of a Gustavus alum making her life count in so many meaningful ways, which is a great example to promote to our current students,” Gilbert said. “It is so wonderful to welcome back one of Ron’s former students to deliver this second lecture in honor of him and his work.”
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Gustavus Adolphus College is seeking comments from the public about the College in preparation for its periodic evaluation by its regional accrediting agency. Gustavus will host a visit from a team representing the Higher Learning Commission March 13-14. The College has been accredited by HLC since 1915. The team will review the institution’s ongoing ability to meet HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation.
The public is invited to submit comments regarding the College at the following address:
Public Comment on Gustavus Adolphus College
Higher Learning Commission
230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500
Chicago, IL 60604-1411
The public may also submit comments on HLC’s website.
Comments must address substantive matters related to the quality of the institution or its academic programs. Comments must be in writing.
All comments must be received by March 27, 2017.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Dr. Robert George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and leading Christian scholar, recently visited Gustavus Adolphus College as the 2017 Lindau Resident in Conservative Thought.
A former Judicial Fellow to the Supreme Court of the United States, George served as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 until 1998. In 2002, he was appointed to and served on the President’s Council on Bioethics. More recently, George has become a prominent voice in conservative thought with leading work on pressing social issues.
For George, the visit to Gustavus brought back memories of his own college career. With degrees from Harvard College and Oxford College, George began his post-secondary education at a liberal arts school similar to Gustavus, Swarthmore College.
“As the product of liberal arts education, this was a great opportunity to be able to meet students face to face in a smaller setting. I am not able to do this type of discussion in the larger classes that I currently teach at Princeton,” George said.
While on campus for his day and a half visit, George led formal discussions and lectures in four classes. He also held office hours for further conversation with students and faculty. Focusing on his area of research and thought, George engaged students from all majors and classes with questions of philosophy, morality, and ethics. This provided a unique opportunity for students to move beyond typical class discussions by directly engaging with the author of their assigned readings. George also met student groups and faculty during lunch and dinner sessions where a range of topics were explored and discussed.
“I am a complete outsider, yet I was welcomed with great warmth,” George said. “I was impressed by the students. They were uniformly thoughtful, open-minded, and well prepared to critically discuss the problems presented to them.”
In one of the final sessions of the visit, George sat down with faculty representing various departments on campus in an informal question-and-answer format. Engaging issues of contemporary concern and importance to the U.S. and the rest of the world, the central theme of the discussion fell under the necessity of civil dialogue and a movement away from partisan policy.
A strong advocate for civil discussion and debate, George appreciated the willingness of the College and its students to engage all viewpoints regardless of ideology. In his own work, George frequently collaborates with prominent scholar and colleague Dr. Cornel West, a leading voice in liberal thought.
“I have a strong appreciation for the faculty at Gustavus. During my visit, it was clear that they love to what they do and that the College prioritizes teaching as their true vocation,” George said. “At many universities, the focus for professors centers on research and scholarly work. It was promising to see that the importance of teaching remains.”
The Lindau Residency was created with generous funding from Phil and Nancy Lindau and the Lindau family and has enabled Gustavus students to engage with notable conservative scholars since its inception in 2009. Over the last few years, the Departments of Political Science, Religion, and Economics and Management have hosted Dr. Jay Sekulow, Dr. Arthur Brooks, and Dr. Charles Krauthammer on campus and created a learning environment that promotes broad-based dialogue and cultivates a respect for civil discourse of all viewpoints. Visit the Lindau Residency in Conservative Thought webpage to learn more about the annual program.
At first catching was a punishment.
“I played outfield when I was 10, and my coach noticed I was looking at the grass,” Boissiere says. But after she begrudgingly suited up as catcher, something clicked. Suddenly she was the primary social support for her team on the field, and in every single play. “I really liked being there—helping to pick the team up, telling them that it’s okay, it’s not all on you, there are eight other people on the field for a reason.”
As a student-athlete at Gustavus, Boissiere was given many opportunities to reflect on her own reason for being on the field and in the world. Through college and sports she discovered her love of people. She thrived at any task “where I get to talk to people all day.” She became a sociology and anthropology major. She took internships working with immigrant families at the YWCA, and with the leadership and coaching organization Good Leadership Enterprises, where she helped develop a marketing strategy on leadership for college students by asking them, “Where do you see goodness?” In 2016, she was named All-Conference. In addition to this year’s role as a Gustavus assistant coach, she’s developing her own creative services company.
Like those many years in the outfield, she had to drop a few balls in college before she caught herself. An only child, “I was very homesick,” she says of that first year. She got a tattoo to remind herself that her family and faith are always with her, including her grandfather who was a student-athlete. My light in the darkness the tattoo says. It has helped her remember it’s not all on her, and to listen more closely to the people and world around her. “The universe just puts up walls when you stop listening,” she says.
“I have learned that we were put on this planet to interact and share our goodness with one another. As cheesy as it sounds, people matter.”
Gustavus Adolphus College students Carolyn Del Vecchio, Carl Cusack, and Laura Isdahl have been named semifinalists for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program. All three have cleared a competitive first round of evaluations and their applications have been forwarded to the countries they applied to teach in for the 2017-2018 academic year, where they will undergo final review.
Fulbright’s ETA program places recent college graduates and young professionals as English teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools or universities overseas. These ETA participants improve foreign students’ English language abilities and knowledge of the United States while increasing the U.S. students’ own language skills and knowledge of the host country.
“This is the second consecutive year Gustavus has had three Fulbright semi-finalists. It’s an honor to work with these Gusties, all of whom are eager to learn more about the world, to become ambassadors for the U.S. by working hard within communities around the world, and to impact the world by teaching and building relationships with young people in such varied locations,” Gustavus Fellowships Coordinator and Associate Professor of Chemistry Amanda Nienow said. “I am excited and proud to see Carolyn, Laura, and Carl get this far in a long and difficult process.”
Del Vecchio, a political science major from Bismarck, N.D., has applied to serve in Vietnam through the Fulbright program. Her interest in the opportunity springs from her study away experience in Tanzania last spring. “I didn’t realize what it meant to be an American until I studied abroad,” Del Vecchio said. “Basically all of my identities were challenged when I went somewhere where I looked different and was in a different environment.” She encourages other students to do the same: “Go beyond to engage in these experiences,” she said.
Del Vecchio has been involved at Gustavus as a Gustie Greeter, member of the Handbell Choir, on the Building Bridges committee, and through Gustavus Women in Leadership. Eventually, she hopes to work in foreign service or pursue a law degree.
A history major from Cottage Grove, Wis., Cusack hopes to use the Fulbright scholarship to teach in Estonia next year. 2017-2018 is the first year that the ETA program will be active in Estonia, which Cusack finds intriguing. “Estonia is a member of NATO, but it’s right on the border of Russia, so there are a lot of geopolitical factors,” he explained. “Part of the Fulbright program is cultural diplomacy, so it’s really cool to have the opportunity to be selected for the first group to teach in the country.”
Cusack, who also minors in film and media studies, is involved on campus as a member of the College Democrats and through the chaplains’ office. He studied in Penang, Malaysia, last spring and has also interned in the Minnesota office of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Cusack hopes to work in international risk management or foreign service.
Isdahl, who grew up in Plymouth, Minn., and studies English, seeks to teach in Malaysia during the 2017-2018 academic year. Like the other Fulbright semifinalists, her interest was piqued during her travels abroad. Isdahl has been to South Africa and Italy during her time as a Gustavus student. “I’ve known a lot of people who have applied for the Fulbright that I’ve really admired, so I’m excited to be named a semifinalist,” she said. “It would be a really good opportunity to not only contribute to international education, but to learn more about myself.”
An editor of Firethorne and Writing Center tutor, Isdahl has also been involved as a Gustie Greeter, Gustavus Ambassador, Building Bridges committee member, and member of the Guild of St. Lucia. She hopes to work in publishing or in non-profit administration. Her interests include marketing, editing, and fundraising.
“Laura, Carolyn, and Carl have worked hard to reach this point in the evaluation process and I wish them the best of luck in the next evaluation round,” Nienow said.
The Gustavus Fellowships Office works with students and alumni to identify and to apply for appropriate nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. Each year, Gustavus students apply for and receive these prestigious awards, enabling them to engage in a variety of activities including spending time overseas, conducting independent research, earning money toward their undergraduate tuition, and attending graduate school. Along with a team of faculty and administrators, Nienow supports students from all majors in applying for and securing fellowships both domestically and abroad. She encourages students to contact her directly to learn more about the Fulbright and other programs.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is the largest U.S. exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.