St. Olaf College

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A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

New network will give St. Olaf researchers a ‘Big Data’ boost

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:31pm

St. Olaf students Alex Everhart ’15 (second from left) and Lacey Etzkorn ’15 (third from right) are working with faculty members Ashley Hodgson (far right) and Jessica Musselman (far left) to analyze hospital data. They are one of several research teams on campus that will benefit from a tenfold increase in the college’s data transfer capacity. Professor of Statistics Julie Legler (second from right) and Director of Information Systems Craig Rice received a grant to fund the enhancements to the college’s cyberinfrastructure.

A new grant from the National Science Foundation will fund enhancements in St. Olaf College’s cyberinfrastructure.

St. Olaf Professor of Statistics Julie Legler and Director of Information Systems Craig Rice will utilize the $327,640 grant to make a tenfold increase in the college’s data transfer capacity, an upgrade that anticipates the steady integration of Big Data usage into St. Olaf’s undergraduate research training.

“St. Olaf students will be getting incredible experience in Big Data analysis,” Legler says. “There are not a lot of liberal arts schools with this data capacity.”

Faster access to data
“Big Data,” a term that has generated a lot of media buzz recently, encompasses all data so large that they are difficult to process using traditional database methods.

Large data sets can take days to download on a conventional computer network, but with St. Olaf’s increased data processing speed, these data sets could be available in just minutes.

“With this new upgrade, students and faculty will have faster access to large amounts of data, which they will be able to work with and pass around more efficiently,” says Rice.

Enhancing research
Several St. Olaf research projects will benefit from the cyberinfrastructure enhancement — including investigations led by Assistant Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson and Professor Emeritus of Physics Robert Jacobel.

Hodgson is working to identify chronic medical conditions that contribute to the rising cost of hospital treatment. To achieve this, she and a team of undergraduate researchers are analyzing a data set that includes all discharges from every California hospital from 1994 until 2011, a large data set that will be more easily accessible with St. Olaf’s faster data processing speed.

Jacobel heads a research group that examines how Earth’s ice masses respond to climate change. Jacobel and his team use high-resolution images to construct digital elevation models of ice masses, which they can compare over time to measure ice gain or loss.

High-resolution imagery of Antarctica and Greenland is imperative to Jacobel’s research, but each image can take days to download. With St. Olaf’s new network in place, Jacobel’s team will be able to download images more efficiently, and expand their study to a much larger geographic area.

“These technology enhancements take St. Olaf to the next level of scope with Big Data,” Rice says. “I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with the new data network in place.”

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Two faculty members named to distinguished professorships

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:28pm

Associate Professor of Music Christopher Aspaas ’95 has been named to the Robert Scholz Endowed Chair in Music.

Two St. Olaf College faculty members have been appointed to distinguished professorships recently established with the support of gifts from alumnus Steven Fox ’77.

Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77 has been named to the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair in Theater and Associate Professor of Music Christopher Aspaas ’95 has been named to the Robert Scholz Endowed Chair in Music.

Fox established the two endowed chairs with gifts that will, through the Strategic Initiative Match, result in a $3 million commitment to support distinguished teaching. The Strategic Initiative Match is a St. Olaf Board of Regents program that provides matching funds for gifts above $50,000 that support the college’s strategic plan.

Scholz Chair
Aspaas joined the St. Olaf faculty in 2005 after earning his Ph.D. in choral music education from Florida State University, his M.M. in choral conducting from Michigan State University, and his B.M. in voice performance from St. Olaf.

He conducts the Viking Chorus, a 90-voice ensemble of first-year student men, and also leads the St. Olaf Chapel Choir, a 100-voice ensemble specializing in the performance of oratorio and larger multi-movement works.

In addition to conducting, Aspaas leads coursework in choral literature, choral conducting, and private applied voice. His travels as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator have taken him around the world. Aspaas is also active as a tenor soloist and has performed solo roles with a variety of orchestras, including the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic in Russia.

Scholz, a 1961 St. Olaf graduate, served on the college’s music faculty for nearly four decades before retiring in 2005. He led the Chapel Choir, Viking Chorus, Campus Choir (now Cantorei), and Chamber Choir in addition to teaching voice, choral conducting, and choral literature. In addition to his academic work, Scholz helped found the St. Olaf Summer Music Camp and assisted in planning the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. In 1995 Scholz received the F. Melius Christiansen Award for outstanding contributions to choral music from the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota.

Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77 has been named to the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair in Theater.

Quade Chair
Wilson earned her Ph.D. in theater at the University of Minnesota, garnering distinctions in philosophy of theater, acting, playwriting, and dramatic theory. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf.

Since joining the St. Olaf faculty in 1979, Wilson has directed more than 30 productions and has developed more than 15 new courses, including an innovative class titled Who Owns the Arts? Censorship, Sponsorship, and Artistic Freedom. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Minnesota Playwrights’ Center’s New Plays on Campus program, which brings emerging playwrights to colleges and universities across the country for full-scale productions of their scripts. She has directed four productions that she discovered through the program.

Quade, a 1965 St. Olaf graduate, served on the college’s theater faculty for nearly three decades and directed International and Off-Campus Studies for nearly a decade before retiring in 2005. He taught more than 20 different courses in theater and communication and directed more than 70 theater productions. His production of Godspell was a national winner in the American College Theater Festival.

In addition, Quade founded the St. Olaf Children’s Theater Institute, implemented a Fine Arts Elementary Education Program for public schools, and created a workshop that helps elementary and high school instructors teach writing.

Categories: Colleges

International conservation journal highlights St. Olaf researchers

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 5:32pm

An international conservation journal recently highlighted the research that three St. Olaf College students and Professor of Biology Kathy Shea conducted in Costa Rica.

Revista de Biología Tropical, an international journal of tropical conservation and biology, published a special volume dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Associated Colleges of Midwest’s Field Research Program in Costa Rica.

This special issue of the journal highlights nine research projects, three of which were written in part or in their entirety by St. Olaf researchers.

Students Lauren Carlson ’13, Emma Cornwell ’13, and Jonathan Henn ’12 conducted the research, under the guidance of Chris Vaughan, director of the ACM Program, and Shea, as a St. Olaf advisor. A preface includes comments by Shea and other former students of the program on its impact in their careers.

St. Olaf is one of 14 ACM institutions participating in this program in Costa Rica. The program gives undergraduates the unique opportunity to develop their own intensive research project. Henn says the program provides students with the freedom and independence to investigate a scientific question.

“We were able to think creatively and critically about what question you would ask and how you would go about answering it,” he says.

The students created a variety of research projects primarily in the natural and social sciences. Cornwell’s research focused on how different agricultural systems affected the soil quality in the province of San Carlos. Henn focused on food provided for the rare scarlet macaw and variegated squirrels by the introduced tree species, beach almond. Carlson explored high school students’ knowledge of cervical cancer in San Carlos through interviews with students and teachers.

In addition to field research opportunities, the program also gives students the opportunity for cultural immersion with two family stays.

“I observed directly how cross-cultural experience, Spanish language, and field research were brought together in this program,” says St. Olaf Professor of Spanish Leon Narvaez, past director of the ACM program in Costa Rica and a St. Olaf advisor, along with Shea. Narvaez was recognized for his decades of service to the programs at the 50th anniversary celebration of ACM in Costa Rica last June.

As a participant, Cornwell says she formed lifelong bonds with her two host families during the program.

Both Carlson and Henn received Fulbright awards after their work in Costa Rica. Henn researched forest restoration in Argentina after damage by North American beavers. Carlson conducted public health research with the Universidad de San Francisco Quito in Quito, Ecuador.

Cornwell has been working with Food Corps, a program in partnership with AmeriCorps that puts leaders in limited-resource schools to teach students about food with hands-on activities such as creating a community garden.

St. Olaf has been a pioneer and leader in international study for half a century. The college currently offers more than 110 programs in 44 countries, and more than two-thirds of St. Olaf students study abroad in one or more countries before they graduate.

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Student’s research examines radioactivity of the sky

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 1:26pm

St. Olaf College student Emily Witt ‘17 spent her summer researching the radioactivity of the sky with other undergraduates at the University of Chicago’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

Witt was selected to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The team used the South Pole Telescope — one of the premier telescopes in existence — to measure the radiation of the microwave sky, a study that has a strong community of researchers.

As a math and physics major at St. Olaf, Witt utilized her skills to help create a code that sets the groundwork for future researchers. This code plots the temperature of point sources in the sky and then determines which of these sources are significant by comparing the variation of their radiation to the background radiation present throughout the universe.

In the future, researchers will use this code to search for astronomical transients, a phenomena where radiation is emitted for only a few days or hours. The code may even be fine tuned so that it can find variations in any pixel.

While working on this project, Witt had the opportunity to use a database created by NASA to research the significant sources.

She was also fortunate enough to attend the South Pole Telescope team’s annual conference in which researchers presented what they were working on and discussed solutions to issues they were facing.

“Getting to see the enormous amount of work going on in this project and to know that I was a part of it, if only a small one temporarily, was extremely exciting,” says Witt.

St. Olaf Professor of Physics Amy Kolan spent a year on sabbatical creating programs for a course titled Programming for Discovery, which she taught the following summer at the University of Chicago. Kolan encouraged Witt to the apply for REU at the University of Chicago.

REU programs allow select undergraduates the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their field through the funding of the National Science Foundation.

Though Witt is interested in astronomy, she knows that, given her majors, she could explore a number of fields. In the future she plans to seek opportunities to gain experience in geology and planetary science.

Categories: Colleges

Music students bring Canadian author’s award-winning novel to life

Thu, 10/09/2014 - 2:38pm

Eric Broker ’15, who plays the title role of Fabrizio Cambiati, is featured on posters for the operetta.

For the last two years, St. Olaf College Professor of Music James McKeel has worked on bringing Canadian author Mark Frutkin’s award-winning novel to the stage.

Next week, a group of St. Olaf student actors and musicians will help him do just that — shortly after they have the opportunity to meet Frutkin himself at the show’s final rehearsal.

The ensemble will present Fabrizio’s Comet, a two-act operetta based on Frutkin’s award-winning novel, Fabrizio’s Return. The magical, time-bending narrative follows an Italian priest’s quest for sainthood and the Devil’s Advocate sent to investigate his candidacy.

This project is part of St. Olaf’s Lyric Theater season, a Music Department program that offers training and performance opportunities to undergraduate musical actors.

McKeel, who co-founded the Lyric Theater program at St. Olaf with Associate Professor Emerita of Music Janis Hardy, received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant to complete the second act of Fabrizio’s Comet.

McKeel and Frutkin spent a two-year period exchanging ideas about the operetta’s adaptation, libretto, and musical numbers. And while it was a time-consuming process, McKeel says it wasn’t hard to migrate Frutkin’s work to an operatic setting.

Fabrizio’s Return already had a musical quality to it,” says McKeel. “Mark Frutkin is a very poetic author, skilled at creating colorful characters that naturally come to life on the stage.”

The production features a cast of 20 St. Olaf students, an orchestra led and formed by Natalia Romero ’15, and an undergraduate Creative Team.

Fabrizio’s Comet incorporates students from McKeel’s Advanced Acting for the Lyric Stage course, alongside other students who auditioned for the show. Members of the class will engage in a musical theater outreach program at local elementary schools after the St. Olaf premiere.

The October 18 performance on campus will also be streamed and archived online.

Categories: Colleges

St. Olaf a national leader in producing physics majors

Wed, 10/08/2014 - 5:04pm

Gus DeMann ’12 (left) and Noah Mitchell ’12 are among the physics students who have graduated from St. Olaf recently. A new set of data from the American Physical Society shows that St. Olaf is a national leader in producing physics majors.

St. Olaf College is one of the nation’s top producers of physics degrees, according to a ranking by the American Physical Society (APS).

Granting an average of 24 physics degrees per year, St. Olaf ranked third among all undergraduate institutions in the nation and is the top-ranked liberal arts college on the list, coming in behind the United States Naval Academy and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

“Our program is thriving, and students clearly find it attractive,” says Associate Professor of Physics and Department Chair Brian Borovsky ’94. “I think it reflects the energy we devote to the program, the attention we focus on students, and the high levels of interest in physics among St. Olaf students.”

The degree data the APS used in the ranking is representative of the most recent three years of available data. The APS is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics. Representing more than 50,000 members, the APS is the second largest society of physicists in the world.

Categories: Colleges

Two faculty members named to distinguished professorships

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:46am

Professor of Classics James May has been named the Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor.

Two long-time St. Olaf College faculty members have been appointed to distinguished professorships.

Professor of Classics James May has been named the Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor, and Professor of Mathematics Paul Zorn the Marie M. Meyer Distinguished Professor.

They are two of several faculty members that the St. Olaf College Board of Regents has chosen to recognize for distinguished teaching, professional work, and service to the college and community.

Bjork chair
An expert in ancient rhetoric and oratory — particularly that of the great Roman speaker and statesman, M. Tullius Cicero — May joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1977 after earning his B.S.Ed. from Kent State University and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles and books on Cicero and related topics and co-authoring two textbooks with his colleague Anne Groton, May served as provost and dean of the College from from 2002 to 2011. He has won the American Philological Association’s award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Classics, and the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership.

The chair honoring Kenneth O. Bjork was established in 2006. The author of two books, Bjork taught history at St. Olaf from 1937 to 1974 and served as editor for the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) from 1960 to 1980. The inaugural recipient of the chair was Professor of Mathematics Martha Wallace, and it has since been held by Professors of Religion Gary Stansell and Charles Wilson.

Professor of Mathematics Paul Zorn has been named the Marie M. Meyer Distinguished Professor.

Meyer chair
Raised by missionary parents in India, Zorn earned his B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle. He joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1981. He is past editor of Mathematics Magazine and recently completed a two-year term as president of the Mathematical Association of America. His 1986 paper “The Bieberbach Conjecture” was awarded the 1987 Carl B. Allendoerfer Award for mathematical exposition, and he has co-authored several calculus textbooks with his colleague Arnold Ostebee. His most recent book is Understanding Real Analysis.

The Marie M. Meyer Distinguished Professorship was also established in 2006. The former English professor taught Shakespeare and world literature, was one of the first St. Olaf recipients of a faculty Fulbright award, and for over a quarter of a century was a member and frequent chair of the faculty’s Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee. Professor Emeritus of Biology Henry Kermott was the first to hold this appointment.

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Minnesota Public Radio profiles St. Olaf music professor

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 4:14pm

“There’s a high degree of knowledge, of passion and appreciation for music in this community,” St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Music Francesca Anderegg tells Minnesota Public Radio. “The students are incredibly motivated to learn.”

That’s one reason Anderegg, a Harvard- and Juilliard-trained musician, chose to join the music faculty at St. Olaf. She tells the station that her students at St. Olaf are musically accomplished but also interested in having diverse academic experiences.

In addition to discussing her work with St. Olaf students, Anderegg talks with reporter Jay Gabler about the path she took to establish a career as a classical musician. In addition to her teaching, she frequently performs with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

“I love playing violin,” she says. “I am so lucky to have a job doing what I trained to do. Being a violinist profoundly connects you with other people, and leads you on adventures. I couldn’t have imagined the things I would do and see.”

Categories: Colleges

Religion professor awarded NEH fellowship

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 10:21am

St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Religion Mara Benjamin has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship that will enable her to complete her second book, Parental Obligation, Power, and Care in Jewish Theological Perspective.

“In my new book, I intend to synthesize critical reflection on parental caregiving with contemporary Jewish thought,” Benjamin says. “My project investigates how pre-modern Jewish sources can aid in constructing a useful description of parental obligation toward children.”

This new work will be primarily geared toward scholars and graduate students in feminist studies, Jewish thought, and religious studies, but Benjamin hopes to also attract readers who would like to reflect on childrearing in philosophical and religious studies.

Benjamin is spending the 2014–15 academic year on sabbatical in New York, where she will draft her manuscript and collaborate with other scholars.

“While I’m in New York, I am working with people who are helping me understand some of how classical Jewish texts, such as the Talmud, shape the discussions in the pre-modern period,” she says.

Benjamin’s initial research was supported by a 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend. This project builds on Benjamin’s previous work and her book Rosenzweig’s Bible: Reinventing Scripture for Jewish Modernity, but will bring a specifically feminist angle to the question of how religious thinkers accommodate pressures of modernity.

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