West End Improv brings a new style of comedy to campus

Manitou Messenger - Sat, 12/20/2014 - 10:32am

Improvisational comedy is becoming one of St. Olaf’s hottest commodities, as packed houses at this year’s Scared Scriptless shows can attest. So when posters appeared around campus advertising the debut of West End Improv, students were understandably excited and filled the Hoyme Upper Lounge to capacity on Nov. 21.

The format of the show was a family dinner lasting about half an hour.  Each improviser (Denzel Belin ’15, Preston West ’16, Allison Lonigro ’16, Tom Reuter ’17, Liam Gibb ’17, Swannie Willstein ’18 and Christian Conway ’18) had a secret none of the other family members knew, from an affair with Bill Clinton to theft from charity. The combination of familial chaos and these secrets was employed to great comedic effect and elicited plenty of laughter throughout the show.

Those who attended West End’s opening show noticed that the format was very different from Scared Scriptless shows. That is because the two groups perform different styles of comedy. Scared Scriptless uses “short form improv,” which involves three- to five-minute games and short sketches, while West End uses “long form,” in which there is one premise for the entire show. This form relies on improvisers to create the scene (and the humor) on their own. For the improvisers, it is a good way to work with a set group and learn each person’s individual style.

West End was formed by Belin after a conversation with Lonigro.

“I did some long form one or two years ago and wasn’t getting enough of it in my life,” said Belin. “I was like, ‘What happened to the other two long form groups?’ and then thought, ‘I bet I could do that. Who would I want to work with?’”

“It was remarkably easy to gather the group,” Lonigro said.

As for the name “West End Improv,” it was a group decision made after a long night of brainstorming. Many other group names were rejected, from P-SPLAT to West Side Booty, but the group settled on West End for four reasons:  all the players live on the west side of campus, it sounds classy, it is an homage to the West End theater district of London and it is also a hint at Preston West’s rear end.

It is clear from talking to the improvisers and watching them perform that the camaraderie and cooperation of the group is remarkable, with everyone pitching in for the benefit of the group. Belin, a self-described “big idea person,” delegates smaller details, such as social media, to the rest of the group.

In addition, they each bring a unique style of comedy to the table that the other improvisers can build upon, from Conway’s over-the-top matriarchs, to Willstein’s Russian and German accents, to Reuter’s taciturn and physical characters to Gibb’s clever and wordy quips.

“It’s very rewarding.  We can feel comfortable enough to introduce aliens because we trust in ourselves,” Belin said.

The one rule of improve is that the improvisers must do whatever they can  to further a scene with their scene partners, and be open to anything in order to do so.

“Cthulu might make an appearance and we would all go ‘yes, and,’” Belin said.

“No matter how much our voices tremble, we always say ‘yes, and,’” Gibb added.

If you are interested in watching West End perform, you might have to be patient. The group has no plans for a show the rest of the semester or over Interim, but wants to perform lots of shows second semester featuring all sorts of new improv games they are excited to try.

Keep your ears open; when West End announces its next show you will have to get there early because you are not going to want to miss it.

Categories: Colleges

Carleton’s Perlman Teaching Museum opens 2015 with “A Collection Embodied,” featuring recent acquisitions to the College’s Art Collection

Carleton College News - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 4:52pm
Carleton College opens 2015 with a new exhibit in the Weitz Center for Creativity’s Perlman Teaching Museum. “A Collection Embodied” is a student-curated exhibit featuring recent acquisitions to the College’s Art Collection, offering over forty prints, photographs, ceramics and other works. The exhibit opens Friday, Jan. 9 with a reception from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Admission to the exhibit and the reception, as well as other related events, is free and open to the public.
Categories: Colleges

Carleton brings internationally acclaimed Danish design collective N55 to campus for a five-week residency

Carleton College News - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 4:04pm
Carleton College will host the internationally acclaimed Danish art, architecture and design collective N55 for an arts residency focused public space from January 9 to February 5, 2015. N55 members Ion Sørvin, Till Wolfer, and Anne Roome will collaborate with Carleton students to set up a design laboratory focused on public space by imaging a hypothetical new building complex for the College’s Cowling Arboretum. The residency will include public lectures and events, culminating in an exhibition in the Braucher Gallery of the Perlman Teaching Museum.
Categories: Colleges

Shaw releases new biography of St. Olaf College’s second president

St. Olaf College - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 3:49pm

Professor Emeritus of Religion Joseph Shaw ’49 has published a biography of St. Olaf College’s second president, John Nathan Kildahl.

St. Olaf Professor Emeritus of Religion Joseph Shaw ’49 has published a biography of the college’s second president.

John Nathan Kildahl is a careful investigation into the life and times of a gifted servant of the college and the church. Drawing primarily on resources from the St. Olaf College Archives, Shaw presents a very personal record of Kildahl that reads much like a narrative — but one with historical substance. The project was assisted by a grant from the Nygaard Foundation.

Shaw felt compelled to complete this biography for many reasons. Having already written a centennial history of the college in 1974, as well as biographies of St. Olaf founder Bernt Julius Muus and first President Thorbjorn Nelson Mohn, among other works, Shaw took John Nathan Kildahl as the natural next step for publication.

While doing research for his previous books about St. Olaf, says Shaw, he came across numerous references to the second president.

“I became aware that Kildahl was simply a very important and pivotal leader in St. Olaf’s early history,” Shaw says.

After immigrating to America from Norway, the Kildahl family soon settled in Northfield. John Nathan Kildahl studied at Luther College and Luther Seminary in Madison, Wisconsin, to become ordained as a pastor. After serving congregations in southern Minnesota and Chicago, Kildahl was president of St. Olaf College from 1899 to 1914.

Called by the church to be a professor of theology in 1914, he taught at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, until his death in 1920.

Shaw says Kildahl left the college a significant legacy that the campus community can be grateful for today. Kildahl enriched St. Olaf’s academic program, expanded the campus, saved coeducation, built a strong faculty (including Ole Rolvaag and F. Melius Christiansen), organized student leadership outlets, established an endowment fund, and solidified the college’s relationship with other academic institutions, with the Lutheran church, and with Norway.

John Nathan Kildahl can be purchased at the St. Olaf Bookstore.

Categories: Colleges

Science historian and psychologist Michael Shermer examines why people believe weird things in Carleton Convocation

Carleton College News - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 3:41pm
Dr. Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the executive director of the Skeptics Society, will present Carleton’s first convocation address of 2015 on Friday, Jan. 9 from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, when many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory and alien abduction, Shermer’s presentation will wage a no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, debunking nonsensical claims and exploring the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. Entitled “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time,” Shermer’s presentation is free and open to the public. Carleton convocations are also recorded and archived online at
Categories: Colleges

Nature and faith collide at lecture

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:00am

On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Valhalla ballroom hosted the Green Faith Conference, an event sponsored jointly by the Interfaith and Environmental Coalitions. The purpose of the event was to promote discussion of how one’s personal religious beliefs inform and affect environmental attitudes. The featured speaker of the evening was Instructor of Religion Jacob Erickson. He teaches REL 121: The Green Bible, a first-year religion class that discusses similar topics to those of the Green Faith Conference. Erickson believes that discussion of the topic is long overdue.

“Connections between religious dialogue and environmental ethics have been happening for decades,” he said, “But it’s not brought up around here. Not in chapel or even around campus.”

Erickson outlined how religious traditions harbor ecological concerns and how many faiths call for practitioners to “love the Earth” and have an obligation to non-human life. He juxtaposed these viewpoints with traditions that exacerbate environmental problems, such as a sense of non-attachment to the physical world. As an example, he used the Bible verse Genesis 1:28, which says that humans are given “dominion to subdue the Earth.”

In reference to these harmful practices, Erickson said, “traditions are like large spice cabinets, and sometimes you need to try some new recipes.”

He then concluded his speech by discussing two movements he believes have done exceptionally well in promoting religious-environmental relations. The first was recent reforms by the Catholic church. The Vatican is the world’s first carbon-neutral state, and Pope Francis has declared that water is a basic human right. Pope Francis has also engaged in unprecedented communication with the Eastern Orthodox church on environmental topics.

The second movement mentioned was Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that collects environmental statements from hundreds of congregations to show the varying religious perspectives on environmentalism.

After the conclusion of Erickson’s speech, attendees of the Green Faith event divided into smaller groups for discussion. Each table was given discussion questions. The discussion questions were divided into three categories: personal, inter-religious and contemporary context.

The personal values category primarily discussed how upbringing affects environmental beliefs. Much of the discussion of this topic involved the rural versus urban dynamic. Those from small towns appeared to have a strong belief in the necessity for environmental balance. Also discussed was how growing up specifically in Minnesota is a large factor in many students’ ecological beliefs due to the extreme weather conditions.

The inter-religion category sought people’s thoughts on how various faiths cooperate on environmental issues. The general consensus was that churches do not communicate with each other nearly enough. Erickson explained to his discussion table the contradicting ways religion impacts the environment by using elephant poaching as an example. On one hand, the mystical and spiritual symbolism of the elephant has prompted many Western countries to take action to end elephant poaching. On the other hand, Christians often enable poaching through demand for ivory church ornaments.

The contemporary context category asked how religious environmentalism could be further explored at St. Olaf. The group members concluded that student clubs and organizations could weave this issue into their discussions and events.

Eventually, time was up for discussion and everyone regrouped to hear Emma Burck ’17, who offered the concluding remarks.

“We’re hoping to continue this discussion into next semester, next year,” she said. “Maybe we’ll even have a panel of speakers in the future.”


Categories: Colleges

Letter to the Editors

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:49pm

I write regarding your article on the new public affairs Institute, the Institute for Freedom and Community. As you correctly reported, I believe the Institute will provide great opportunities for students. A faculty task force designed the basic framework of the Institute which is to focus on public affairs in a way that encourages civic discourse and engagement with diverse perspectives. This vision is consistent with the mission of St. Olaf College which is to “respect those of different backgrounds and beliefs” and to encourage and challenge students to be “seekers of truth” and “responsible and knowledgable citizens of the world.” While the task force designed the framework, the Institute will be defined by what it does. Working with the task force, the faculty, students, and administration of this college will determine the direction of this project. To support our efforts, we are fortunate to have received external support from generous friends of the college and a major national academic foundation.

The Institute has resources for new courses (a new conversation program tentatively titled the Public Affairs Conversation) which must be approved by the faculty. It also includes a conference with a topic yet to be determined. There will be paid internships for students, lectures, visiting fellows, and other student activities. We have some introductory lectures and visiting fellows planned, but there will be a long line of visitors and public events yet to be determined.

The article included the view that we are following an unprecedented process to launch the Institute. I respectfully disagree; we are following a long-established standard operating procedure. This college has received thousands of external grants and gifts. The curriculum committee and faculty have never vetted the pursuit of grants and gifts. When the grants include resources for courses and curricular academic programs, the Curriculum Committee and the entire faculty must approve the courses and curricular programs. The task force of the new Institute continues this process and respects the power of the faculty to approve courses and academic programs.

Grants also often include co-curricular programs that have never depended upon a faculty vote. Faculty can advise and plan co-curricular events and programs, but they do not approve them by vote. Student governance structures also allow students to plan co-curricular events. Potentially, the Institute could co-sponsor events with students. For example, the Institute might fund and co-sponsor an event with PAC. This would require approval by PAC. Students also organize groups and events such as a debate team, political groups, town hall meetings, etc.. These events and groups are premised on the approval of student government with limited administrative and faculty oversight. The Institute looks forward to working with students on new co-curricular ventures.

We have begun to define this project and have sought community input. There have been four open faculty forums, discussion at faculty meetings, an introductory conversation with the Curriculum Committee, and a beginning discussion with PAC and SGA,. The task force has much consultation and other work yet to be done. We hope to engage this community as we define and develop this project. In the end, the Institute will provide more opportunities for Oles to be involved in public affairs. We will be more thoughtful citizens and many more of us will enter vocations and careers in public affairs. Fram Fram.

Dan Hofrenning
Professor of Political Science
Associate Dean of the Social Sciences
Director, Institute for Freedom and Community

Categories: Colleges

Perspectives: On the Threshold of a New Era in U.S.-Cuban Relations

Carleton College News - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 4:00pm
President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba could not come at a more opportune time for the struggling Cuban economy and for a political regime on the verge of a transition in leadership. President Barack Obama’s decision to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba could not come at a more opportune time for the struggling Cuban economy and for a political regime on the verge of a transition in leadership. The fall in oil prices this year put pressures on Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela to reduce its oil subsidy to Cuba, a sure sign to the Cuban government that a fundamental change in strategy was necessary.
Categories: Colleges

Longtime art faculty member Steven Edwins ’65 dies

St. Olaf College - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 3:57pm

Longtime St. Olaf College art faculty member Steven Edwins ’65, whose architectural firm played an instrumental role in redesigning Boe Chapel, died December 14.

A funeral service was held December 18 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield.

After graduating from St. Olaf, Edwins went on to earn his professional M.Arch. in architectural studies from Yale University. In 1976, after years of working to improve housing conditions in Appalachia and teaching architecture at the University of Kentucky, he returned to Northfield and became a partner in SMSQ Architects. He eventually became principal and then owner of the firm.

In addition to his work at SMSQ, Edwins taught architectural drawing and design at St. Olaf for more than 25 years.

While Edwins worked on many different project types, his passion was church architecture and historic preservation. As principal at SMSQ, he led the 2007 renovation of Boe Chapel that gave new life to the college’s most visible symbol of faith and worship. He also oversaw additions to St. John’s Lutheran Church, First United Church of Christ, and All Saints Episcopal Church, and was one of the founding members of the Northfield Heritage Preservation Commission.

Read Edwins’ obituary.

Categories: Colleges

High school seniors apply to more colleges, hope to get in

Manitou Messenger - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 10:17am

It’s a process that we remember all too well. In the fall of my senior year of high school, there was a sense of dread and of relief when I hit “submit” on each of my college applications. Dread, because of the potential news to come. Relief, because, “Thank [insert preferred higher power here] I didn’t have to write another essay.” 

The graduating class of 2015 is going to hit “submit” on more college applications than ever. Over the last few years, the number of colleges a high school student applies to has been on the rise. It used to be that six was not unusual, and even ten was not unheard of. To nervous high school students now, those numbers belongs in the minor leagues.

And why not? The Common Application has made applying to multiple schools convenient, and the tough economy has sent students on a scavenger hunt for scholarships and financial aid to fit high tuition within their means. On the surface, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for high school students to up the number of applications.

Beyond more convenience and an increase in need for financial aid, plain old fear could be the biggest factor. College becomes more difficult to get into each year. As a result, kids panic and think that they need to apply more places to ensure an acceptance somewhere. Then, the surplus of applications actually just draws acceptance rates even lower, making next year’s students even more panicked. It is a downward spiral.

This fall, there were many stories of kids applying to 20, even 30 schools. However, with such high numbers of applications, the question becomes one of quality versus quantity. In this case, it appears that quality trumps quantity. Some college-bound seniors have the notion that more applications mean better odds of acceptance.

College counselor Lisa Sohmer says that when kids file over 20 applications, many of them have loaded on lots of very competitive schools. She, along with many others, feels that it is more beneficial to carefully select a smaller list of schools and get serious about them. Many colleges are generally eager for more applications for a variety of reasons. Higher numbers of applications mean they are ranked higher in the annual “best college” rankings.

As a result, “demonstrated interest” – tiny indications of how badly a student wants to attend – has become a vital part of a student’s application. Visits, contact with an admissions counselor or even filling out a card at college night give colleges an idea of a potential student’s interest. To be a strong applicant, you must demonstrate sincere interest, which is just not possible to do for twenty schools.

At the end of the day, many college counselors say that they do not encourage students to apply to a host of schools. It has reached a level in many high schools where the administration is considering putting a cap on the number of applications a student can send out.

Brandon Kosatka, a director of student services in Alexandria, Va., said, “The kids who try to game the system just end up getting played in the end.” The system is just too large to be manipulated.

Sydney Padula ’17 ( is from Barrington, Ill. She majors in history.


Categories: Colleges

Winter Break Trip to Florida Highlighted by Pentathlon Meet

Carleton Sports - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 10:06pm

The Carleton College swimming and diving teams took part in the Pentathlon Meet versus Kalamazoo (Mich.) College in conjunction with the Knights’ annual Winter Break trip. This year’s competition was held at the Jacobs Aquatic Center.

Categories: Colleges

Knights Second-Half Rally Falls Just Short at St. Olaf

Carleton Sports - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 9:50pm

After missing four games due to injury, senior Shane McSparron returned to action and scored 15 of his game-high 19 points after halftime. That was almost enough as the Carleton College men’s basketball team nearly erased a 16-point deficit in the second half before the Knights ultimately dropped a 73-70 result at rival St. Olaf College.

Categories: Colleges

Knights Rally Past St. Olaf to Re-Claim the President’s Cup

Carleton Sports - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 8:34pm

A season-best 16 points off the bench from Michele Arima provided the necessary spark as the Carleton College women’s basketball team re-claimed the President’s Cup with a 52-51 victory over rival St. Olaf College.

Categories: Colleges

Branden McGarrity Named to All-Region Team for Third Time

Carleton Sports - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 1:24pm

Branden McGarrity became the third Carleton College men’ soccer player to be named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s (NSCAA) All-North Region team three times and the only one to do so in each of his first three seasons.

Categories: Colleges

Boeing Boeing Preview

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:57am

Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti is the play of choice this semester for Deep End, the student-run theater production organization on campus. Directed by Memo Rodriguez 16’ and Dylan Stratton 16’, the show centers on Benard, a Parisian seducer, who has three fiancés, all airline hostesses. Benard keeps his fiancés on strict schedules until unexpected changes bring all three to Bernard’s apartment at the same time. Memo and Dylan chose the show because it appeals to many different audiences and has strong comedic appeal. After rehearsing for many late nights, the cast is ready to display their hard work. The show is a fast-paced romp that is sure to delight.      

The sold out Boeing Boeing will be performed Dec. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m in Ytterboe 50. Rush tickets are a possibility but not a guarantee.

Categories: Colleges

An app with all the answers

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:00am

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy way to find out the dinner menu in Stav Hall, if Skoglund was still open and where Flaten House is located? Well, now, there’s an app for that. On Sunday, Nov. 28, an ambitious and self-motivated Ole released a new iPhone application for St. Olaf students called All About Olaf. Drew Volz ’16, a math and computer science double major, is working to make campus-relevant information and news more easily accessible for St. Olaf students.

Volz began developing the application during his sophomore summer. After completing a few summer courses he was looking for a project to fill the remaining month before returning to the Hill.

“I thought that I would like to try getting involved in iPhone programming,” said Volz. “It really started out as a white screen. I wasn’t anticipating for this project to become this big.”

He began creating a map of the St. Olaf campus, which featured labeled campus buildings, residence halls and houses. A GPS feature allowed users to view their current location with respect to their destination. From there, the project grew to include other useful tools to improve student life on the Hill.

Now, almost a year after the project began, Volz has developed a fully functional iPhone application that students can download directly from the iTunes App Store. The app also provides instant access to the St. Olaf Directory, the Student Information System (SIS) and three college news sites, among other things. Do you need to look at the bus schedule? The app has it. Do you need the number for Safe Ride? The app has it. Do you want to check out the “Hi Mom Camera” live feed? You guessed it: the app has it.

One of the most useful features of the app is the “Schedules” tab. Not only does it include links to the hours of operation for the main buildings on campus, but it also features a stoplight indicator that tells users at a glance if the building or service of interest is open.

“I was tired of getting to the Caf and finding out it was closed,” Volz said. “A lot of this app was inspired by a bunch of little pet peeves like that.”

Volz was intentional about collecting feedback before making All About Olaf available to the public. A test group of 19 peers downloaded the app several months ago and has been providing Volz with useful, constructive criticism.

“Their feedback has helped develop and shape the app, and smoothing out some of the problems has given it a much better chance of success,” he said.

The test group’s suggestions have helped Volz improve and refine the app. From fixing a glitch when accessing SIS, to adding a twenty minute warning feature to the “Schedules” tab, Volz has made several savvy alterations over the past few months. Additionally, Volz has sought advice from several of St. Olaf’s faculty and staff in hopes of targeting student needs.

“It has been a journey because I have spoken to so many administrators here,” Volz said. “They have all contributed ideas. Everyone had something in mind for the app, and through gathering people’s different ideas the project came together the way it did.”

Currently, the application is not officially supported by or associated with the college. Volz has agreed not to use any official logos. Because the college did not sponsor the creation of the app, it is unlikely that it will adopt it for official use. Regardless, as Volz hoped, students are finding the application useful.

“It has so many resources that I frequently use – SIS, the directory, the Stav menu, etc. – all in one place, and that place is on my phone, which I nearly always have on me,” Madisen Egan ’16 said.

Although he currently works five jobs, with Webmaster for Student Activities Committee (SAC) being one of them, Volz developed this application completely on his own time. His main goal was to make a useful app, and he has therefore decided to offer it free of charge.

“I’ve been doing this all on my own. I’ve put this much work into it and I want people to use it,” said Volz. “I don’t want to charge people for it. If I put it out there for money, it is almost like not putting it out there at all.”

At this time, it appears that All About Olaf is off to a successful start. In the first day and a half of availability, the app received 356 downloads and 10 five-star ratings. Within the first five days, it had been downloaded 625 times. In only one day, the All About Olaf Facebook page garnered 110 likes.

Volz has several plans for future improvements. Although he already went through the tedious process of reviewing, editing and uploading every individual entry in the St. Olaf dictionary, he hopes to create a submission section for students to record other Olaf-specific vocabulary. He is also working on making the map searchable and more interactive, in hopes that it will be useful for visiting students and alumni alike. Additionally, Volz is considering working out an “Ole Offers” tab, which would allow local businesses to advertise and offer deals for students.

“I hope it helps people,” said Volz. “That is the end goal: to make people more informed about what is going around them. Providing news and information is definitely the purpose of the app – but if being more informed ties us together in some way, that would be a great thing that could happen.”

Download All About Olaf for free from the iTunes App Store, and check out the companion Web site, which explains several features of the app in detail:

Categories: Colleges

St. Olaf basketball remains undefeated

Manitou Messenger - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:00am

The St. Olaf men’s basketball team took on Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. on Nov. 29, looking to continue its undefeated start to the season. The Oles led for almost the entirety of the contest and proved to be far too strong for the Wildcats, capping off a strong performance with a 77–61.

The encounter was tense early on, and the Oles seemed to have a battle on their hands when the Wildcats took an 11–9 lead with 11:52 left in the first period. However, Justin Pahl ’16 hit a three–pointer just nine seconds later to give St. Olaf a 12–11 advantage, and the Oles were in front for the remainder of the contest. The score at the break was 36–24 in favor of the Oles.

St. Olaf maintained its control of the contest in the second half, pulling ahead of the Wildcats by 24 points with just over five minutes remaining. Linfield managed to reduce the deficit a little, but St. Olaf was ultimately rewarded for a dominant performance by recording a 16 point victory.

Pahl led the Oles with 18 points, going 5–for–9 from beyond the arc. Sterling Nielsen ’15 had 17 points and seven assists, going an impressive 8–for–14 from the floor. Other key contributers for St. Olaf were Riley Aeikens ’16 with 11 points and Ben Figini ’16 with nine.

St. Olaf had three turnovers while forcing 12 from Linfield, a statistic that proved crucial in the end for the Ole victory.

St. Olaf will return to Bob Gelle Court on Dec. 13 in a clash with rivals Carleton College, in what shapes to be a vital MIAC contest. This will follow a pair of away games for the Oles against Bethel University (Dec. 6) and Saint John’s University (Dec. 10).

Categories: Colleges

Using computer science to better understand biology

St. Olaf College - Fri, 12/12/2014 - 7:56am

Associate Professor of Biology Steve Freedberg began using computer simulation modeling to teach population evolution several semesters ago. His students have developed computer programs that provide a sophisticated research tool for understanding biological systems.

Many of the students in Associate Professor of Biology Steve Freedberg’s bioinformatics course aren’t computer science majors. Many have little experience writing code.

Yet all of them have developed computer programs that provide a sophisticated research tool for understanding biological systems.

As part of the course, many of the students use simulations to describe genetic processes, but others have used them to study population biology and evolution as well.

Freedberg began using computer simulation modeling to teach population evolution several semesters ago. The programs work by running a series of loops representing population situations.

As students continue to build off the coding done in previous semesters, their programs have begun to reach surprising levels of sophistication and usefulness.

“The students are impressively autonomous on these programs,” says Freedberg. While he guides their research questions and helps them interpret their results, the students have to be creative in their writing of programs.

Elaine Rood ’15, for example, worked with Freedberg through the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program to develop a computer program that starts with two populations of a species that are identical except for their sex ratio. The program loops through these populations’ many lifecycles until one of the populations goes extinct. The results illustrate how the sex ratio of a population affects its competitive ability.

Her program might, for instance, start with one population of butterflies that has more females than males, while the other has an equal sex ratio. She would simulate these butterflies living for many generations until one of the populations goes extinct — a sort of survival of the fittest.

“It’s exciting when you’ve been debugging for a long time and your code finally works like it’s supposed to. Then you actually get to see your results, which can be really interesting,” Rood says.

The simulations can be made less hypothetical by including real genetic and ecological parameters. “The results of these simulations may shed light on processes that would be impossible to study in living populations,” says Freedberg.

The evolution of these programs occurs not only through Freedberg’s courses, but also through individual student research opportunities.

Under Freedberg’s advisement, Spencer Debenport ‘10 took the backbone of a model that examined sex ratio theory and incorporated genetics into it. Incorporating genetics the program “allows us to make important insights into how sex determining systems evolve,” says Freedberg. Debenport and Freedberg’s research was published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology earlier this year.

Most recently, Rood repurposed the model from Debenport and began studying systems characterized by uniparental sex ratio distortion, a widespread phenomenon potentially associated with the success of some invasive species.

Freedberg says that in the future he hopes to write a grant proposal to fund student research centered around this program. He also hopes to integrate computer simulation modeling as a study system that will allow students to work on a range of questions that couldn’t be addressed with living organisms.

“This type of freedom can really get students excited about biology because their methodology is only constrained by their imagination,” says Freedberg.

Categories: Colleges

Self-control redefines addiction “safety net”

Manitou Messenger - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 10:13am

I remember watching the movie Flight, a film about a pilot battling alcohol addiction, with my friends a few years ago. The pilot would promise to change and get his life together, only to relapse as he took out one last stash of booze he had kept hidden. This happened repeatedly throughout the movie, so much so that my friends started mocking the predictability of the plot. They were laughing, but I was not. It pained me to see the pilot go through that, because this was exactly the kind of frustration that is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been addicted to anything. You commit to breaking free and start to feel the shackles of your desire slipping off, until you taste the bitterness of relapse again and again.

This is exactly the same kind of frustration that violinist Gabi Holzwarth describes in her article “The Constant Hero’s Journey” in the Huffington Post. She had recently given a TED Talk about her recovery from food addiction. She stood in front of thousands retelling her story of fighting her inner demons and winning. Her success story inspired so many with their own addiction problems to press on and keep trying, hoping that one day they too would live free of their addictions. However, despite having reached a point where she felt empowered to help others, she relapsed soon after her talk. Her views on addiction shifted. She no longer thought there was a safety net for those in recovery for long enough.

“I do not believe that the end feels like a safety net. I do not believe that there is an end,” Holzwarth said in her article. The idea that addicts are forever bound to their desires sounds like a very grim view. One might even call it nothing more than an excuse for failure, but I believe Holzwarth’s view could not be closer to the truth. In fact, believing that a safety net exists at some point can only be detrimental. Someone struggling with addiction will let his or her guard down at a vulnerable time, which can lead to relapse. Addictions become a part of you, no matter how deeply tucked away they might be. They are still present and can be awoken at any time.

If anything, this gives me hope. Once you come to terms with this reality and realize that addiction will always going to be a part of you, you learn to deal with it. You learn to avoid triggers or risky activity when you’re not in your strongest of times. It’s a constant struggle you learn to live with, with its own ups and downs. You never stop being an addict, you just fight it every day. In a strange way, I see the same pattern in the road to achieving success.

Overcoming addiction and achieving success both feel like a feasible goal. We often think we can overcome an addiction and live free of those desires. We see the same principle in Nobel Laureate John Nash’s life as portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Nash suffers from schizophrenia for much of his life. He is never cured; he just learns to live with his schizophrenia. Nash becomes more aware of his condition as it invades and disrupts his family life, but must choose to resist the hallucinations. In this way, Nash is technically “free” from his disease, but only because he chooses to resist it.

What we do every day is what defines us. I would argue that it is true that you can be free of an addiction, but only insofar as you can resist it every day of your life. You’re only as free as you are today, and you’re only as strong as you are today.

This fleeting nature might seem depressing, but it gives me hope, knowing that I can shape myself into whatever I want, and all I need is to do it today.

Omar Shehata ’18 ( is from Alexandria, Egypt. He majors in computer science.


Categories: Colleges

Despite Chen’s Scoring Outburst, Knights Fall to Gusties

Carleton Sports - Wed, 12/10/2014 - 9:35pm

Tianen Chen tallied a game-high 21 points to go along with a career-best three blocked shots, yet the Carleton College men’s basketball team could not hold off Gustavus Adolphus College, falling 63-57 at West Gym.

Categories: Colleges

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