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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 31 min 49 sec ago
Two St. Olaf College scientists are among the authors of a paper published in the new issue of Nature that confirms that a lake 800 meters below the ice in Antarctica supports “viable microbial ecosystems.”
It’s a finding that “has implications for life in other extreme environments both on Earth and planets elsewhere in the solar system,” notes Nature, a highly regarded international journal that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields.
St. Olaf Professor of Physics Bob Jacobel and postdoctoral scientist Knut Christianson ’05, who taught at the college from 2010 to 2012, are members of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team that wrote the paper.
The team, which includes 13 principal investigators from eight academic institutions and additional collaborators from around the world, spent several years studying the subglacial lake in Western Antarctica.
Last year, in what the National Science Foundation called “a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering,” the team successfully drilled through nearly half a mile of ice to reach the subglacial lake. Through that process, they retrieved water and sediment samples that had been isolated for thousands of years. Jacobel and Christianson, who gathered remotely sensed geophysical data on the dimensions and hydrology of the lake, played a crucial role in helping the team determine where to drill.
“We were pleased to see the project achieve exciting results after many years in the planning stages and two years carrying out the geophysical studies that led to the successful drilling,” Jacobel says.
The two St. Olaf researchers have continued to play an active role in distilling the data they collected in Antarctica, with Christianson heavily involved in the writing of the Nature paper and Jacobel working with a team of St. Olaf students this summer to analyze and compile all of the geophysical data collected.
The summer project, supported by the National Science Foundation, is part of ongoing research at the college’s Center for Geophysical Studies of Ice and Climate (CEGSIC), which Jacobel directs.
“For 90 minutes last week, a select group of juniors and seniors from St. Olaf College in Northfield got a rare inside look of what life, and work, is like at Piper Jaffray, the investment banking firm in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of a new St. Olaf summer program called Finance Scholars — one of a growing number of crash courses for liberal arts majors to help smooth their way into the job market,” notes a Star Tribune story highlighting the program.
Kirsten Cahoon ’98, senior associate director of the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, organized the program by asking St. Olaf graduates working at some of the biggest corporations in the Twin Cities — UnitedHealth, Thrivent, General Mills — to give students a sneak peek at what various business careers are really like.
Alumni like Jon Salveson ’87, Piper Jaffray’s vice chairman of investment banking, stepped forward, offering St. Olaf students both their time and insight.
The result is a program that gives students an “unvarnished” picture of these kinds of jobs, as well as a chance to do some networking with people on the front lines, Cahoon tells the Star Tribune.
For students, it’s an invaluable opportunity.
“You start to get a sense of where you might thrive, and where you might fit in,” program participant Kelly Montoya ’15 tells the paper.
A gift from St. Olaf College alumnus Steven Fox ’77 will establish the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair in Theater.
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.
His commitment to helping St. Olaf students become global citizens who, as he wrote in the Star Tribune in 2002, “appreciate the complexities, similarities, and differences that exist in our ever-shrinking world” has left a legacy that extends far beyond any classroom.
That impact led Fox to provide a gift that will, through the Strategic Initiative Match, result in a $1.5 million commitment for the endowed chair in Quade’s honor. 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.
During his 37 years at St. Olaf, Quade 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. He served as chair of the college’s fine arts division for six years and chair of the Theater Department for 10 years.
Quade received more than two dozen grants to develop initiatives that allow young people to explore theater. Among other projects, he 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.
In addition to his service as director of International and Off-Campus Studies, Quade acted as field supervisor for the Global Semester, the Term in the Middle East, and the Theater in London Interim program (which he led 10 times).
He continues to lead St. Olaf Adult Study Travel around the world, the most recent being Theater in London in 2014.
That’s what an internship at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate meant for Sam Schonberg ’15.
This summer Schonberg secured a George Washington: Entrepreneur Internship at the revolutionary general, statesman, and farmer’s plantation, now on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I worked five days a week, and I spent most of the day discussing the history of the area with visitors,” says Schonberg. “The rest of my time was spent taking part in small chores on the farm, such as weeding or chopping wood. I dressed up in accurate 18th-century apparel to give the image of what the farm may have looked like during Washington’s time.”
In addition to immersive historical interpretation, the internship incorporated study and research, and Schonberg is completing a paper on 18th-century agriculture and industry.
“I’m studying historic trades, essentially looking at how historic processes were in the late 18th century as opposed to now,” says Schonberg. “One of the most fascinating things that I have found is how innovative Washington was and how he truly believed that he defined himself. To Washington, he was neither a general nor a president first and foremost. Before all else, he considered himself a farmer.”
One of Washington’s goals, Schonberg says, was to establish new farming techniques that could potentially make the United States the “storehouse for the world.” One such innovation was the 16-sided treading barn.
“It is essentially a method of extracting wheat seeds from their stalks that uses gravity as one of the main ways to sort it upon separation,” says Schonberg of the complicated structure. “I usually use a lot of gestures when I talk about it.”
“I’m also fascinated with the issue of slave life at Mount Vernon,” he adds. “By the time of his death, Washington had 316 slaves. It is clear that he was a conflicted man, and studies into his life really reflect this.”
Thanks to this academic tilt, the internship will fulfill the experiential component of Schonberg’s environmental studies concentration at St. Olaf, which requires students to engage in “an experience that applies basic knowledge in a setting beyond the classroom.”
“I am personally very fascinated with the meeting of economic feasibility and environmental sustainability, and it seems to me that Washington succeeded in achieving both,” says Schonberg. “Not only did he run a strong economic enterprise, but he successfully managed his forests in a manner that was absolutely sustainable. It is a model that proves to be successful and the fact that one of the founders of our country chose to utilize it is fascinating to me.”
Schonberg says he never thought of Washington as a conservationist before beginning his research, and gaining that kind of insight into such a significant historical figure was one of the most rewarding parts of the internship.
“Washington was just extremely multifaceted and interesting, which makes it awesome to study him,” says Schonberg. “I love delving into this history and trying to discern what he was like and how he truly felt.”
To top it all off, Schonberg and the other interns were given the opportunity to live on the estate for the duration of the internship.
“We spent many evenings sitting on the back piazza of the mansion, and it was wonderful,” he says. “I had an absolute blast and am incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to study and live there.”
In a new environmental studies course taught last fall, students learned about green building and remodeling techniques. This summer, a group of those students is putting that knowledge into action on campus.
The course, called Green Building and Remodeling, was co-taught by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Paul Jackson ’92 and Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg. As their final project for the course, students created a plan to renovate Swanson House, currently used as the Norwegian language honor house, to make it more environmentally sound.
Now they’re carrying out that plan, as well as several other ideas to make the St. Olaf campus more sustainable, such as constructing a labyrinth on the Hill and restoring a vegetable garden behind another honor house.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for students in the course to take their collaborative ideas to the implementation phase,” says Jackson. “It is one thing to test them on a paper and another to actually translate their knowledge into practice and to do so creatively and collaboratively.”
Sandberg was able to include a team of summer interns in the budget for the Swanson House renovations, and when he and Jackson proposed the idea to the class, the response was overwhelming.
“When we asked the class how many would be interested in exploring such an opportunity, about 90 percent of the students said yes,” says Jackson. “Out of that interest group we ended up with a group of eight for whom the logistics and interest level worked well.”
That group of students is calling themselves Rebuilding Green, and they are far from a glorified construction crew.
“Our mission is to foster a collaborative and educational relationship between the St. Olaf Facilities team and the academic community,” says Regan Keller ’14. “Our goals are to research, design, and construct intentional spaces that encourage environmentally friendly ideals and action, and to continually assess and make sustainable changes to our campus to drive our college’s proactive environmental leadership.”
Improving Swanson House
The work the group is doing on Swanson House this summer relates to the house’s basement building envelope, reconfiguring the main level common areas, and making adjustments to the hot water radiators.
“We anticipate that in the coming year, a full exterior renovation that addresses the remainder of the building envelope and incorporates hydronic and photovoltaic solar energy will occur,” says Jackson.
Additionally, the group has done work relating to water management in the entire neighborhood around the house.
“During our class work, we discovered that water issues plagued the basement at Swanson House, and the class quickly discovered that water issues were pertinent to the entire neighborhood between First Street West and St. Olaf Avenue,” Jackson says.
The class proposed the creation of a backyard swale to encourage water infiltration and keep water away from the foundation of the houses in the neighborhood, as well as a secondary swale on the Swanson House site to divert water away from the foundation and terminate in a rain garden adjacent to First Street West.
“By addressing the site issues at the outset, this sets up more effective work on the interior of the house,” says Jackson.
Creating a connection
In addition to the Swanson House renovation, the organization is constructing a labyrinth on campus west of Boe Chapel. Intended as an outdoor meditative space, the group hopes it will foster a feeling of connectedness with the environment as well as enhance students’ sense of well-being.
“We chose a spot near the chapel for practical reasons that also reflect our values,” the group says on their website. “We want to make it very clear that the labyrinth is meant to have a meditative, spiritual purpose. The entrance to the labyrinth will be accessed by a path extending from the sidewalk right outside of Boe’s side doors.”
Jackson and Sandberg hope to offer the Green Building and Remodeling course every three years, with each class developing a design to renovate a new honor house and producing a new group of interns to implement those designs as part of the Rebuilding Green team.
In addition to these projects, the group highlights other proposals that it hopes will also be implemented on campus on its website, such as converting the east entrance to campus into a roundabout and bringing the Theater Building up to more sustainable standards.
“A group of collaborative interns holds a lot of promise for assisting the college with particular projects and goals and provides the interns with the kind of work experience potential employers highly value,” Jackson says. “This kind of working and learning experience is tremendously rewarding.”
An invaluable hands-on experience
“We’ve now done a lot of things that most people our age probably can’t say that they’ve done,” says Laura Willodson ’14. “I mean, we built a labyrinth! We’ve retrofitted a house!”
The students say this hands-on experience makes working with Rebuilding Green a valuable opportunity.
“A lot of the stuff that we study at St. Olaf is very theoretical, as it should be,” says Matt Johnson ’14. “But I think the draw of this program is that it’s very practical. It’s a meeting of theory and actually putting that theory into practice, and that’s an experience that not a lot of people get to have.”
“The labyrinth is a good example of that,” he adds. “We researched the design just like we’d research any other academic project, we gathered the history of labyrinths and all that. But now we’ve actually gotten to do it, to physically construct it — and that’s really fulfilling.”
But the students also say the rewards of working on the Rebuilding Green team go beyond the merely career-furthering.
“It’s been great to learn these new skills that I think will be very useful later in life, things like figuring out how to operate in your own home, how to fix things up,” says Mark Emmons ’14. “And then, being able to leave a mark on campus — a 50-foot diameter mark like the labyrinth — that’s very cool.”
Katherine Fitzgerald ’15 has landed a sweet internship this summer — but her work at the Hershey Company has nothing to do with chocolate Kisses.
Fitzgerald is one of two interns organizing the final event of the Hershey’s Track and Field Games. The largest youth sports program of its kind in North America, the Games hosts hundreds of thousands of competitors every year and culminates with the North American Final in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“The meet is one of Hershey’s largest and most celebrated initiatives, built in the company’s heritage and mission to improve the well-being of children,” says Fitzgerald, who is working with the iconic chocolate company’s Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility Department.
Fitzgerald’s work involves coordinating with USA Track & Field, the national governing body for those sports, to plan — down to the minute — the schedule of events for the North American Final. But Fitzgerald says her internship is about more than just organizing a major athletic event.
“Although it seems unrelated, working and focusing on corporate communications and corporate social responsibility is a perfect marriage of my sociology/anthropology major and management studies and media studies concentrations,” says Fitzgerald.
“It allows me to work in a large-scale corporate setting with matrix management systems where I can utilize the skills I learned from management studies. Since I am working in corporate communications, I am able to put theoretical readings from media studies to practical use. And I have the opportunity and resources to work with Hershey to give back to the community, both locally and across the globe, tying in sociology and anthropology.”
Fitzgerald registered her internship for academic credit through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career. As part of St. Olaf’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths, the Piper Center offers numerous resources to help students secure internships that will enrich their studies and help them hone their professional skills.
Last year 151 students earned academic credit for their internships. In addition to providing students with the ability to register their internships for academic credit, the Piper Center offers students funding for unpaid or underpaid internships.
Fitzgerald is working with Associate Professor of Theater Bill Sonnega, who directs the college’s film and media studies programs, to put her internship into an academic context and prepare a final project.
“With Professor Sonnega’s guidance, I’m working on identifying how this can fit into my future plans,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to learn transferable skills that will carry me through life, as well as discover more of what I want to do with my career.”
“If you have information that can help your students make the choice that is right for them, why wouldn’t you give it to them?” St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson ’74 asks in a new piece published in U.S. News & World Report.
The piece, written by Daniel Greenstein, the director of Education for Postsecondary Success at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, argues that colleges and universities need to do a better job of measuring student success and making that information readily available.
And St. Olaf is already doing just that, Greenstein points out.
The college publishes an annual report on the activities of recent graduates as part of its Outcomes initiative, which aims to clearly outline the return on investing in a St. Olaf education.
St. Olaf College student Alexa Roemmich ’15 is one of 40 undergraduate students from around the world selected to participate in the 2014 Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) Internship Program, which provides participants with a challenging summer research experience in a cutting-edge stem cell science laboratory.
Roemmich is spending 10 weeks in the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary laboratory of faculty member Zheng-Yi Chen, known for his research on age-related and noise-induced hearing loss.
Roemmich’s project this summer is to grow adult mouse inner ear stem cells in a laboratory dish — something that has never been done before — with the goal of persuading these cells to become the sound-converting cells that are lost in an aging or damaged ear.
“I’m working on a project that no one has succeeded at before,” Roemmich says. “It’s very exciting. I’m able to experience the scientific process in a very real way — my results are unknown, and any new result is something that can be learned.”
“I’ve had excellent opportunities at St. Olaf, and also from my summers at the University of North Dakota and the Mayo Clinic, that prepared me to design and carry out multi-week experiments,” she adds. “I cannot wait to continue my scientific journey in graduate school and beyond.”
Over the course of the HSCI program, interns participate in a stem cell seminar series, a career pathways presentation, and a weekly stem cell companion course. They present their summer research findings, both orally and in poster format, at an end-of-program symposium.
“This program represents an exciting opportunity for undergraduates to gain hands-on experience in stem cell research while working in an HSCI laboratory under the supervision of an experienced researcher,” says HSCI Internship Program Co-Director M. William Lensch.
The Harvard Stem Cell Institute is a collaborative of more than 1,000 leading scientists, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students who are affiliated with one or more of the university’s schools and affiliated hospitals and medical institutions, and are working to advance the understanding and use of stem cells in basic research and regenerative medicine.