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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 9 min 33 sec ago
When Matthew Nienow ‘05 enrolled in the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, he didn’t expect to finish with his first full-length collection of poems.
“During this immersive experience I was thrown into the new-to-me language of wooden boats and old tools, and the metaphors and striking names were astounding,” says Nienow, who majored in English at St. Olaf College. “I couldn’t help but sit in my truck during lunch breaks and begin to write from the experience.”
Many of the poems that Nienow wrote while earning his associate degree in boatbuilding eventually made their way into his new collection, titled House of Water.
House of Water, Nienow says, is about “the love of making.” When he had written several poems from his experience with boatbuilding, he showed a rough manuscript to a fellow Ole, Todd Boss ‘91. “Todd asked, ‘Where are the people?’ I had been so focused on things that I forgot about the people who might use the things that I wrote about,” says Nienow.
This comment led Nienow, who also has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Washington, to begin writing from “the struggle of my life situation, growing into full manhood in a small town on the Salish Sea.”
Nienow and his wife had just moved to Port Townsend, Washington, with two young boys.
“Family became another focus in the poems,” he says. “Being a father is the most challenging and rewarding part of my life, and my poems attempt to honor that work, even as they don’t sugarcoat the struggle.”
“Life was overfull and overwhelming. Good things were everywhere, but we were, in many ways, floundering,” adds Nienow, who won a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010. That struggle, though, helped him to write some of the best poetry of his career.
It makes sense that Nienow’s advice to other writers is simple: “Live. If you are paying attention, everything — every little thing — will feed your writing.”
Watch one of Nienow’s poetry films, which features a piece from House of Water, below.
St. Olaf College student Colin Scheibner ’17 remembers the exact moment that he and his fellow researchers realized that they had discovered a new dwarf planet.
“We saw the small smudge on the screen of the monitor that represented our dwarf planet,” says Scheibner.
“Suddenly,” he goes on, “there was an intimate sense of connection between our circle of collaborators and this small icy world on the distant edge of our solar system.”
This summer, Scheibner was part of a research team headed by David Gerdes, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Michigan. The team analyzed tens of thousands of images collected by the Dark Energy Camera, a powerful digital camera on a four-meter telescope in Cerro Tololo, Chile.
Scheibner’s role in this research was the development of a web-based tool for examining distant objects in the images collected by the camera, which was originally commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. With his tool, Scheibner identified the earliest known observation of the new planet, officially known as 2014 UZ224 and nicknamed DeeDee, short for “distant dwarf.”
DeeDee is approximately 330 miles across and 8.5 billion miles from the sun — about half as big and twice as distant as Pluto. The dwarf planet’s discovery attracted attention from national news sources, including National Public Radio, The Washington Post, and Wired.
“That attention has been incredibly gratifying,” says Scheibner, who joined the research team through the University of Michigan’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Scheibner says, “As scientists, we spend hours, days, and years slaving away in classrooms and laboratories. And we want so badly to share our excitement, discoveries, and fundamental sense of curiosity with broader audiences.”
Learning about the coalescence of our solar system
Much of the news coverage about DeeDee revolved around the implications of the University of Michigan team’s discovery for future research. Scheibner explains, “If you look at the most distant objects in our solar system, like DeeDee, you notice that their orbits are aligned in such a way that suggests that they are being pulled by a massive, distant, slow-moving body.”
This body is known as Planet Nine, which has been hypothesized to exist but never directly observed. Scheibner says that “such an object, if spotted, would be the astronomical discovery of the century.”
And the team’s discovery provides compelling evidence that Planet Nine, which is about ten times more massive than Earth, could be spotted. In fact, Gerdes claims that any image taken by the Dark Energy Camera might contain a picture of it.
“The fact that we can find a very distant object like DeeDee in our data is a promising sign that if there are more things like this out there, we have a good shot at finding them,” Gerdes explains to The Washington Post.
He goes on, “These dwarf planets are kind of the primordial globs of stuff that formed the rest of the planets, so by studying them, we can learn about that primordial solar nebula out of which the other planets coalesced.”
Forming scientific habits of mind
Scheibner says that opportunities at St. Olaf have “equipped me with both the habits of mind and the scientific expertise to be successful on this research team.”
As a physics and mathematics major, Scheibner has taken many classes at St. Olaf that have prepared him well for an advanced research experience like the University of Michigan REU.
“I think that the introductory physics laboratories here are pedagogically effective because of their coding emphasis, which gives students the skills to be effective scientists in the field,” he says.
Scheibner has also pursued opportunities outside of St. Olaf. In the summer of 2014, Scheibner participated in the University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center REU, where he wrote image analysis algorithms to track vibrations in ultrafast electron micrographs.
“Although I went from nanometers and femtoseconds to kiloyears and astronomical units, my experience in coding and data analysis at the University of Minnesota MRSEC transitioned smoothly into this research experience,” says Scheibner.
In addition, his research at the University of Minnesota MRSEC helped Scheibner earn the Rossing Physics Scholarship in 2015.
Scheibner plans to pursue further research opportunities and earn his Ph.D. in theoretical physics or mathematics after graduating from St. Olaf.
Scheibner says, “A huge part of my program was learning about life as a graduate student — and I can’t wait!”
What does it take to produce a live broadcast of a concert featuring more than 450 choral singers, nearly 100 orchestral musicians, and five conductors?
Just ask St. Olaf College. For the first time, it will offer a live video stream of the December 4 St. Olaf Christmas Festival concert — meaning that people around the world will be able to watch the renowned event in real time on their computer, tablet, or mobile device.
“Our goal is to make viewers feel like they have the best seat in the house,” says St. Olaf Director of Broadcast Media Services Jeffrey O’Donnell ’02, who is overseeing the production of the live stream. “To do that requires an enormous amount of planning, equipment, and expertise.”
That includes 10 HD cameras throughout the performance space, each individually controlled from new, high-tech video studios in Skifter Hall; an Emmy Award–winning director/producer team; and 17 skilled broadcast technicians, including 11 current St. Olaf students and three alumni.
“The Christmas Festival includes such a wide variety of music performed by six different ensembles — and there’s a huge range of mood and emotions throughout the program,” O’Donnell says. “We want to create a broadcast program that does it justice.”
The annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival is one of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States, and tickets to the highly anticipated concerts are always in high demand.
While the festival is regularly broadcast nationwide on public television and radio, until now the only way to see it live each year has been in person.
As the college’s streaming operation and infrastructure have expanded — it now broadcasts concerts, lectures, and athletic events throughout the year — it became possible to think about broadcasting a performance as complex as the St. Olaf Christmas Festival as well.
“The live stream allows us to bring this message to those who have never experienced Christmas Festival, or people who have not experienced it for a very long time,” says Christmas Festival Artistic Director Anton Armstrong ’78. “It allows us to share the power of this message of hope, love, kindness, and justice. The festival transcends entertainment and it transforms the human spirit.”
O’Donnell’s team, which includes Chief Engineer Joshua Wyatt and Lighting Supervisor Sean Tonko, brought the director/producer team of Philip Byrd and Janet Shapiro on board to lead the video stream production.
The Emmy Award–winning duo has been involved in previous St. Olaf Christmas Festival broadcasts on PBS and has already spent tens of hours creating a shooting script and meticulously planning each camera shot. Making sure each camera operator knows where to go for the next shot — down to the specific row of musicians in a specific section of a specific ensemble — is the most complicated part of recording the two-hour-long Christmas Festival, Byrd says.
“I approach directing this almost like its own performance,” he says. “If you’re running a camera, you have a list of your shots and can think of me as the conductor.”
This attention to detail will create a production in which viewers at home will be able to see the performers much closer than they would in person.
“You’ll be able to see their facial expressions, see them play the flute or cello in detail,” O’Donnell says.
And if the video stream is done well, Byrd notes, what viewers at home see on the screen will only enhance the emotionally moving music of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
“Our goal is to use people’s eyes to open up their ears,” he says.
For most of his college search, Sam Viguerie ’17 was set on going to a music conservatory.
“The more that I looked, the more that I realized the importance of getting a broader education,” Viguerie says. “A week before the decision deadline, I decided that I wanted to go to a school with a diverse array of educational opportunities — like St. Olaf.”
While on the Hill, Viguerie has had ample opportunities not only to hone his exceptional musical talent but also to major in computer science and participate in various student organizations.
Viguerie, who studies cello with Professor of Music David Carter, was the national winner of the 2016 MTNA Young Artist Competition, and he captured top prize at the 2016 Thursday Musical Competition as well as the 2015 Schubert Club Competition.
Viguerie’s performances have been featured on Minnesota Public Radio and National Public Radio. Last summer, he attended the the Centre d’Arts Orford in Quebec and the Heifetz International Music Institute in Staunton, Virginia, where he studied with renowned musicians Richard Aaron, Laurence Lesser, and Amit Peled.
But for Viguerie, “An education spanning subjects beyond music has been an integral part of my development as a cellist and a musician.”
And while Viguerie has certainly proven himself as an individual performer during his time at St. Olaf, he has also become part of an equally excellent music community. He says, “One of the most profound and positive experiences that I’ve had here is being in the St. Olaf Orchestra,” led by Conductor Steven Amundson.
The St. Olaf Orchestra tours nationally every year and has performed throughout Europe, Scandinavia, and China. In the fall of 2015, Viguerie performed as a soloist with the orchestra on its tour to California, Oregon, and Washington.
“In the orchestra, everyone knows each other as a person, not just as a player,” Viguerie says. “There are also dozens of long-lasting traditions within the ensemble — it really adds to our music-making.”
And Viguerie has been able to connect his musical talent with his interest in computer science at St. Olaf. He was part of a team of researchers led by Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein who are creating a multi-sensory, interactive digital tool to illustrate the musical geography of 1920s Paris.
Viguerie worked on a High Performance Computer in Context (HiPerCiC) team that developed an interactive GIS to plot the events taking place in this musical scene.
HiPerCiC is an initiative led by Professor of Computer Science Richard Brown that uses web applications to fulfill the computational needs of St. Olaf faculty and students, empowering their research with cutting-edge technology.
Viguerie says that “as developer for that project, I wasn’t dealing directly with the musical data, so it was cool to be on the other side.”
In addition to his connections with the music community and with the computer science community, Viguerie serves as president of the Honor Council.
The honor system at St. Olaf asks students to pledge their honor on examinations that they have neither given nor received assistance not approved by the professor.
“Serving on the Honor Council has been deeply fulfilling,” Viguerie says. “We’re challenged to constantly exercise and improve our critical thinking and moral judgment, ultimately serving as advocates for both the student body and the honor code.”
Music, along with computer science and the Honor Council, have certainly shaped Viguerie’s experience as a St. Olaf student. But at the end of the day, he says, “My favorite part of being an Ole is living on such a tight-knit campus full of intellectually stimulating and warm-hearted individuals.”
Watch Viguerie perform Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 Prelude:
At the Farm to Fork Dinner this fall, guests got a taste — literally — of why St. Olaf College routinely ranks near the top of “Best Campus Food” lists.
They were treated to a local meal that began with a spinach salad with sherry shallot vinaigrette, balsamic red onions, local goat cheese, and roasted strawberries. The main course included red wine braised duck with mushrooms and capicola, roasted rib eye with smoky heirloom tomato salsa, roasted squash sprinkled with “Charles Dickens dust,” and mashed potatoes with cheese.
The meal featured squash from Open Hands farm, Amablu cheese from Faribault Dairy Company, and mushrooms from Forest Mushrooms Incorporated in St. Joseph, among a plethora of other local ingredients.
The Farm to Fork Dinner, an annual event for alumni hosted by St. Olaf food service provider Bon Appétit, showcases the college’s commitment to preparing fresh, locally sourced meals for its students.
In St. Olaf’s Stav Dining Hall, students routinely have turkey from Ferndale Turkey Farm, beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., and cream from Hastings Co-op Creamery Company — some of the nearly 20 local farms, bakeries, creameries, and co-ops that the college buys its ingredients from. Students know not only where the food is from, but also if it’s vegetarian, vegan, made without gluten-containing ingredients, or on the seafood watch list.
This commitment to quality is why St. Olaf regularly appears on “Best Campus Food” lists in national publications — including a No. 5 place in this year’s Princeton Review. The college’s top-notch fare has also been mentioned in Food & Wine, The Street by the Independent, and The Daily Meal, which highlighted menu options including “sage-crusted turkey with rustic raisin stuffing; beef- and rice-stuffed peppers; and chicken Florentine with penne pasta, artichokes, spinach, crimini mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese.”
“The accolades we get are because of the team. We all have a vision and work together,” says St. Olaf Bon Appétit Chef Matthew Fogarty.
Designing delectable dishes
Fogarty decides what will be on the dining hall menu by thinking about what students would enjoy — and then he “tricks it out.” Student favorites include gado gado, an Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce; made-to-order breakfast omelettes; crunchy sweet potato fries; and dense, gluten-free brownies.
St. Olaf’s Stav Hall, the main dining facility on campus, cooks up more than 70 entrees each week along with a wide selection of desserts each day.
It offers eight different food lines in addition to always-available soups, sandwiches, and salads.
The “Grains” line specializes in vegetarian options ranging from curry tofu to chickpea salads to tandoori vegetables. The “Tortilla” line has burritos and tacos, with specials ranging from stuffed peppers to roasted fall vegetables. The “Bowls” line offers stir fry, egg rolls, and potstickers. And the “Home” line offers the variety — and often the comfort food — of home, with options like tater tot hot dish and chicken pot pie.
A commitment to locally grown food
And all of this is done with a commitment to the Farm to Fork philosophy. This means that at least 20 percent of ingredients used in the cafeteria are from small, owner-operated farms and ranches located within 150 miles of the kitchen, with even higher rates during the growing season.
Among these local farms is St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works (STOGROW), a student-run farm founded in 2004 through an entrepreneurial grant provided by the college. The farm aims to practice sustainable farming methods; provide fresh, local vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers to the St. Olaf community; foster agricultural awareness; and educate students and the broader community about sustainable food production.
The college also works with the local farm just a few miles off campus, Open Hands. Two years ago Bon Appétit awarded Open Hands Farm a $5,000 grant to build a root storage facility and purchase washing and packing equipment. This grant has enabled the farm to increase the amount of root vegetables it sells to St. Olaf and to supply the college all winter long. The root storage facility holds about 100,000 pounds of carrots, beets, parsnips, and other roots.
Bon Appétit also purchases all of its shell eggs from cage-free farmers; uses fair trade organic coffee; only purchases seafood that is on the Seafood Watch “good” list, ensuring that the product has zero air miles and comes from within North America; and uses fair trade bananas from Ecuador. All of the chicken and liquid dairy products purchased are free of growth hormones and antibiotics.
Another important focus of food at St. Olaf is the commitment to sustainability. Each year about 175 tons of food waste is composted. All the compost that is generated is used on college-owned land in the landscaping and maintenance of the grounds.
All of these things — from the locally grown ingredients to the creativity of St. Olaf Bon Appétit chefs — play an important role in feeding thousands of St. Olaf students and visitors each year.
When Dorothy McIntyre was a young teacher at Eden Prairie High School during the 1960s, interscholastic sports didn’t exist for female students.
So McIntyre organized informal games in various sports between girls’ teams from neighboring high schools. Since they needed transportation, she asked the principal for permission to use a school bus. He refused. After much debate, he reasoned that the boys’ teams used the bus only because their coach drove it.
You can imagine what happened next. McIntyre called the head bus driver, whose daughters wanted to play competitive sports, and he taught her to drive a bus. A week later, she returned to the principal’s office with her bus driver’s license in hand. She and her students were soon on the road.
McIntyre’s story is one of eight featured in St. Olaf College Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Diane LeBlanc’s new book, Playing for Equality: Oral Histories of Women Leaders in the Early Years of Title IX.
LeBlanc is the director of writing at St. Olaf, where she teaches first-year writing, women’s and gender studies, and American studies. The book, co-authored with St. Catherine University Professor Emerita of Exercise and Sport Sciences Allys Swanson, features the oral histories of female athletes, coaches, teachers, and administrators during the formative years of Title IX — the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in all education programs and activities.
“The women featured in our book share a common impulse: when asked to lead, they led,” LeBlanc says. “Their courage is a reminder of how social change actually happens.”
With her new book hot off the press, LeBlanc answered a few questions about what sex-based discrimination women and girls often faced before Title IX and why understanding the history of Title IX is essential in applying it today.
Could you explain the origins of Title IX?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was a response to sex-based discrimination in education. Girls and women faced overt discrimination through such practices as denying girls and women access to courses and programs that historically enrolled boys and men, tying financial aid to sex-based opportunities, hiring on the basis of sex, and excluding girls and women from competitive sports and athletics. And those are only a few examples.
After Title IX became law, educational programs that received federal money had to demonstrate compliance with nondiscriminatory practices or risk losing their funding.
Title IX was not created specifically to address inequity in sports and athletics, but once physical educators, coaches, administrators, and athletes realized its potential to create change in sports, they began tailoring implementation to specific inequities involving girls and women in sports. There’s still work to be done to address ongoing discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
What sparked your interest in interviewing women involved in or affected by Title IX during its formative years?
Our book and its focus on Title IX evolved from a much larger oral history project. My co-author Allys Swanson was interviewing past presidents of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
I joined the project as an editor many years ago and soon discovered a pattern in the women’s narratives. They recalled limited sport and competitive athletic opportunities before Title IX, and they described social norms that discouraged careers in math, science, and physical education. When we began to brainstorm a book, Title IX was the common historical moment that helped us shape the narratives and frame the sequence of oral histories.
Has Title IX had any personal impact on your life?
Title IX has impacted me as an athlete and an academic. I began running as a teenager because girls’ sports were still quite limited. I love to run, so in a way, a limitation enabled a strength.
I don’t believe gender studies, one of my areas of specialty, would exist as it does if Title IX hadn’t forced higher education to address discrimination against women. And it ignited social change that would open doors for many of the students I teach today.
How have the applications of Title IX expanded since its origins, and how can its history inform our understanding of the law today?
Because Title IX prohibits all forms of sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, its application evolves. Many of the questions and ambiguity that surround its current application to situations involving sexual misconduct and sexual assault are similar to complications that informed its earliest application to sports. I believe that anyone involved in current interpretation and application of Title IX should know this history. And we are living an opportunity to bring together people who navigated Title IX’s impact on sports with people finding their way through new territory with the same law. We hope our book can contribute to that conversation.
Kelly Meza Prado ’16 has been named a Hawkinson Scholar by the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation for Peace & Justice.
She is one of just five students who will receive the scholarship that is awarded each year to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate a commitment to peace and justice.
Meza Prado, who graduated from St. Olaf this spring with a degree in economics and environmental studies, will use the award to create and implement a more efficient and sustainable collective stove and kitchen design for people living in the Andes region of Peru.
“Approximately 82 percent of the rural Peruvian population is affected by indoor pollution,” says Meza Prado, who hails from Concepcion, Peru. “Typical cook stoves’ combustion of biomass fuels emits pollutants that cause respiratory diseases, asthma, cataracts, and cardiovascular diseases — and this problem disproportionately affects women who are exposed to the pollution for longer periods of times.”
With her new design, Meza Prado aims to change this.
The collective stove and kitchen design will also provide an efficient source of heat to counter the effects that climate change is having on the Andes region.
“This past July temperatures reached as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very worrying considering the average for the month of July has been 20 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 15 years,” she says. “Thus, this collective design will aim to be a solution to issues of health, gender, and climate change.”
In addition to the creation of the innovative stove and kitchen model, she will also be conducting research on the effectiveness of the design and will summarize her work in a paper that outlines how it can be part of a wider solution to the obstacles that people in the region face.
To achieve all of this work, she founded an organization called The Sustainable Rural Dwellings Project.
“It’s an association of young professionals — mainly architects and environmental engineers — that I established this summer to seek solutions to environmental issues, largely through innovative design. The collective design, which is still in process, will be the product of the joint collaboration of my organization, the local university, and a local indigenous association,” Meza Prado says.
Meza Prado has already led a project aimed at promoting peace in Peru. In 2014 she received a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace initiative that she used to build greenhouses aimed at addressing agricultural issues in rural Peru. By using local resources and involving local engineers and communities, the project supported the design and construction of a greenhouse to support the growth of vegetables all year round, despite Peru’s volatile weather.
“It gave me the opportunity to implement a project for climate change adaptation using a greenhouse design to tackle food insecurity challenges — and that was when I was just a sophomore,” Meza Prado says. “My work this time, which being a Hawkinson Scholar allows me to do, builds on the opportunity that the Davis Projects for Peace gave me to explore concepts of peace and justice in the context of climate change and environmental challenges overall.”
And it’s not just her own prior project experience that can she draw upon for this new endeavor — finding solutions to the challenges of climate change has become a part of Meza Prado’s everyday routine. Upon graduating from St. Olaf, she joined the Natural Capital Project at the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment.
The Natural Capital Project is a collaborative partnership between Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund that seeks to increase and more efficiently allocate the world’s investment into natural capital.
“It has helped me to connect to a wide array of academics, software engineers, sustainability educators, and development and conservation practitioners. This network includes people who have studied indoor pollution and cookstoves in different parts of the world and who have implemented improved-cookstoves projects in the developing world,” Meza-Prado says. “I will be reaching out to this valuable network to learn from their successes and failures, and incorporating these lessons into my project.”
The very first time Levi Wick ’19 visited St. Olaf College, he sang alongside hundreds of students and community members as part of Choral Day.
He was mesmerized by the beautiful sound.
“I knew at that moment — as a high school freshman — that I wanted to join a choir in college,” he says. “When it came time to look at schools, St. Olaf was at the top of my list.”
He has not been disappointed. Now in his second year at St. Olaf, Wick says being a member of a St. Olaf choral ensemble provides “a sense of community, the chance to sing with amazingly talented and dedicated individuals, and the opportunity to touch people’s hearts through music.”
And nothing embodies all of those things like the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
One of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States, the festival features more than 500 student musicians who are members of five choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra. Each group performs individually and as part of a mass ensemble, and the event is regularly broadcast nationwide on public television and radio.
This year, for the first time, the college will also offer a live video stream of the December 4 concert.
Wick, a member of Chapel Choir, says he’s looking forward to bringing the joy and beautiful music of the Christmas Festival to an audience that reaches far beyond the nearly 10,000 people who travel to campus each year to attend. The theme of this year’s festival — Light Dawns, Hope Blooms — is especially powerful, he notes.
“I hope that our music can help people heal, give people hope, and help remind them that everything will eventually be okay,” Wick says. “I hope they are reminded that love conquers all, and love, compassion, and acceptance within our communities are what’s most important.”
Performing in the Christmas Festival for the first time last year as a member of Viking Chorus was a “surreal experience,” Wick says, that was punctuated by the tradition of ending each of the four concerts with a performance of Beautiful Savior — a deeply moving arrangement by St. Olaf Choir founder F. Melius Christiansen.
“Throughout the year, we work hard together to create music that moves our audience, that touches each of their lives in a special way,” Wick says. “And at the same time, the music touches each of us while singing.”
Wick, a political science and French major, says the opportunity to sing in a choral ensemble at St. Olaf — while pursuing majors outside of music and getting involved in campus organizations like the Political Awareness Committee — is everything he had hoped for in a college experience.
“I am so glad I chose St. Olaf. There is no place I’d rather go,” he says. “I will take the memories, the experience, and the life lessons I’ve learned with me as I head out into the world. No matter what I do after I graduate, I will always be an Ole.”
Watch Wick’s choral experience unfold in the video below.
St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Religion David Booth will deliver the fall Mellby Lecture, titled On the Public Usefulness of Theology: Making Sense of North Carolina’s “Bathroom Wars.”
The lecture will be held November 17 at 7 p.m. in Viking Theater. It will be streamed and archived online.
Booth will cover two main topics in the lecture. The first will analyze theology as a way of reasoning about religion that is valuable for particular religious communities, as well as for the general public. “Theology allows us to understand the underlying circumstances of our lives, and to envision a future where everyone has a chance at the blessing of life,” Booth argues.
The second topic focuses on demonstrating the efficacy of theology in public life through the ongoing controversy of bathroom access for transgender people. Booth plans to provide a political and theological analysis on the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to pass House Bill 2 in March 2016. The bill essentially requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate, thus stigmatizing and marginalizing trans-people as a result.
“I will argue that a richer and more satisfying religious worldview would welcome and celebrate trans-people as the promise of a more jubilant, flourishing humanity,” Booth says.
Booth has been teaching in the fields of theology, feminist theory, and religion and culture. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago before joining the St. Olaf faculty in 1985. His scholarship explores historical and contemporary instances when religious communities have stigmatized marginal subgroups. In recent teaching, Booth has been addressing intersections of theology and environmental studies.
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 sent more students to study abroad during the 2014–15 academic year than any other baccalaureate institution in the nation, according to the Open Doors 2016 Report on International Educational Exchange.
This marks the eighth straight year the college has ranked first among its peers in the total number of students studying abroad.
“St. Olaf is delighted to once again top the list of baccalaureate institutions for the number of students studying abroad,” says Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Jodi Malmgren ’92. “Our strategic plan highlights participation in high-impact practices such as study abroad and fostering a global perspective. Even more importantly, our focus goes beyond sheer participation numbers to ensuring all members of the St. Olaf student body have access to high-quality learning opportunities.”
St. Olaf currently offers study abroad programs in nearly 50 countries, including about 65 semester or year-long programs and 25 courses during Interim. Faculty-led semester programs include Global Semester and Environmental Science in Australia.
According to the Open Doors report, St. Olaf also ranked first in short-term study abroad numbers for baccalaureate institutions.
Open Doors is the comprehensive information resource on international students in the United States and on the more than 200,000 U.S. students who study abroad as part of their academic experience. The Institute of International Education publishes the Open Doors report annually with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Spending seven weeks in Norway as part of the Peace Scholars Program gave Jauza Khaleel ’18 a greater understanding of the complexities of conflict and the barriers to achieving peace and reconciliation.
Just as importantly, it also gave her a better idea of what she can do about it.
“The program opened my eyes to new ways in which individuals can work to help those in need,” she says.
Khaleel and fellow St. Olaf College student Paul Sullivan ‘17 were selected to participate in the program, which aims to expand students’ awareness of current issues relating to peace, justice, democracy, and human rights through a series of educational experiences in Norway. Two students from each of the six Norwegian-American Lutheran colleges — Augsburg, Augustana, Concordia, Luther, St. Olaf, and Pacific Lutheran University — are chosen to participate each year.
Students at St. Olaf receive funding to participate in the program through the Philip C. Smaby Peace Scholars Endowed Scholarship.
Khaleel and Sullivan kicked off their time in Norway by spending a week at the Nobel Peace Prize–nominated Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue in Lillehammer. While there, the two were able to learn from the principal of the Nansen Center, Steinar Bryn, and his colleagues. They learned all about the process of peace and reconciliation in the Balkans.
For Sullivan, the week spent in Lillehammer was a particular highlight of the trip.
“It was such an intense week, both intellectually and emotionally, and I learned so much,” he says. “The group of American and Balkan students came out of the week as a tight-knit friend group, which I imagine will last a long time.”
After their first week had in Norway had concluded, it was time to move from Lillehammer to Oslo in order to attend the University of Oslo’s prestigious International Summer School. At the school, both St. Olaf students took a seminar on Norwegian aid and refugee policies, which involved its own research project.
Aside from the seminar, they were given the chance to pursue an additional class of their choosing. Sullivan took a class on Norwegian history and Khaleel took a class on Scandinavian government.
Over the course of the summer, the two also explored other areas of Norway.
“We visited the Peace Research Institute Oslo, where we were given a lecture on Norway’s foreign policy and the Right to Protect by Henrik Syse. We also visited Freedom House, where we met with multiple organizations that do a wonderful job raising awareness, lobbying, and petitioning,” says Khaleel.
There was even an opportunity to visit the Karibu Foundation that is headed by St. Olaf alumnus Tyler Hauger ‘08. The Karibu Foundation is an organization located in Oslo that works on building connections between developing countries in the global south.
“My visit to Karibu and to all of the places were transformative as these field visits broadened my understanding of what I could do after I graduate and the ways in which I could work in the field of building peace,” says Khaleel.
Two years ago, West Africa experienced the largest Ebola outbreak in history — and for months, the deadly disease struck fear around the world and dominated the international news cycle.
Earlier this year, long after the media frenzy subsided and most of the world had moved on, the World Health Organization officially ended the public health emergency associated with Ebola.
The survivors, however, still deal with the effects of the disease on a daily basis. St. Olaf College student Leonard Vibbi ’17 is working to assist those who are still dealing with the impact of the disease — particularly women, who face more obstacles to rebuilding their lives.
Vibbi received a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace initiative that he used this summer to support female survivors of Ebola in Sierra Leone, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.
“Female survivors are more vulnerable, especially those who lost their husband or brother during the outbreak. Most women lost their business, home, and other property during the curtailment of the outbreak — through the burning of those properties by the government,” says Vibbi.
“As a result of those events, they were more vulnerable and needed assistance in getting back on their feet,” he adds. “Male survivors will, for example, acquire jobs much more easily than women because of the patriarchal nature of Sierra Leonese society — hence, the need to empower and support the female community.”
The $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grants are awarded to students who use creativity and innovation in the development of a project that both promotes peace and addresses the root cause of conflict.
Vibbi, a native of Sierra Leone who attended UWC Red Cross Nordic in Norway and has designed his own Technology Innovation in Civic Development major at St. Olaf, used his grant to lead a series of workshops in his hometown of Kenema. The workshops aimed at empowering female survivors of Ebola so that the women and their families may return to some sense of normalcy.
“There are development strides being made, both from local partners and international organizations, but most are focused in the west and north of the country. One reason for this may be due to the limited resources available to the government in order to both help survivors and revive the economy that plummeted as a result of Ebola,” says Vibbi. “Irrespective of that, the irrefutable fact is that like all survivors in Sierra Leone, female survivors need urgent help.”
Bringing survivors together
Vibbi, along with leaders of the local community, selected 25 women to participate in the workshops.
Vibbi’s first action was to bring the 25 women together for the initial workshop. Both literally and figuratively, it was a task easier said than done. Heavy tropical rain batters Sierra Leone during the summer months, making it difficult for the women to get to the workshop.
In the more metaphorical sense, survivors of Ebola often feel like outsiders because of the social stigma that still surrounds the disease. While unable to change the weather, Vibbi was able to bring the survivors emotionally closer together through the first of the workshops.
“We started with asking the survivors to share their stories and experiences with one another. We later found out this approach to be very successful as the group started bonding and there was an establishment of solidarity, friendship, and sisterhood among the participants,” he says.
After the initial workshop session had concluded, the group turned its attention toward the economic toll that the disease placed on the survivors and their families.
To overcome this, Vibbi aimed to give the 25 women the means to create their own businesses. He partnered with the Kenema Survivors Organization and Catholic Relief Services to provide the women with the necessary training required to start a business, the space to cultivate ideas for businesses, and the financial capital to get the businesses off the ground.
After initial brainstorming sessions had concluded, the women split into teams and created six business proposals focused on goods such as wood fuel, palm oil, and clothing.
Each program participant received a loan of approximately $200 to purchase the materials and machinery required to get her businesses to market.
The newly created businesses were also paired with longtime business owners from the local community who acted as mentors to the first-time business owners, a big form of assistance in a difficult economic climate that Ebola had a large role in creating.
With the programming concluded and women now ready to do business, Vibbi has high hopes for what lies in the future for Kenema.
“The long-term impact of the project will be to focus on helping other vulnerable women in Kenema,” Vibbi says. “I believe it will work because there is strong community mobilization around the project, which will keep it going and help other women in the near future.”