St. Olaf College

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A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 36 min 22 sec ago

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

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.

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Longtime art faculty member Steven Edwins ’65 dies

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.

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Using computer science to better understand biology

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.

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Learning to turn a love for dance into a post-graduation plan

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 4:26pm

St. Olaf student Jacob Borg ’17 performs at the Teatro Comunale di Monfalcone in Italy with dance partner Cinzia Mazzotta.

Expression, communication, awareness.

These are some of the skills that Jacob Borg ’17 is learning as a dance major at St. Olaf College.

It’s his off-campus internship this semester, though, that is giving him a glimpse into dancing post-graduation.

Borg is learning the importance of the business and management side of the arts through his internship at Dance with Us America, a studio in the Twin Cities run by dance champions Elena and Gene Bersten.

The internship is giving Borg an inside look at the skills it takes to manage a studio, be a flexible instructor, and plan events.

Through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Borg arranged to receive academic credit for his internship at Dance With Us America. He worked with St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Dance and Department Chair Sheryl Saterstrom to bring an academic framework to his experience.

As part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths, the Piper Center offers numerous resources to help students secure internships that enrich their studies and 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.

Saterstrom says the skills and values learned in the dance major translate to Borg’s work in the studio. “His love of dance and desire to share it with others is being combined with the ‘real world of dance’ through his internship,” she says.

In addition to providing students with internship resources, St. Olaf brings nationally recognized arts professionals — many of whom are St. Olaf alumni — to campus each year to discuss innovation in the arts. The Making it in the Arts Conference focuses on how best to apply artistic interests and creativity for success in future business endeavors. This year’s keynote speaker was Stuart Pimsler, the artistic co-director of the Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater company.

All of these resources help students like Borg, who is the president of the St. Olaf Ballroom Performance Team and assists professors in several ballroom dance courses, think strategically about a career in the arts.

While Borg’s post-graduation plans are not yet set — the St. Olaf sophomore may stay in the United States or return to his native country of Malta — he knows he wants to turn his love for dance into a career.

“This internship has made it clear to me that in the future I would like to either work in or own my own dance studio,” says Borg.

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MPR piece provides first-person account of Christmas Festival

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:19pm

Students perform in the 2014 St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

“Now that I’ve attended the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, I feel like I understand a little bit more about my Minnesota neighbors and our peerless tradition of choral music — a tradition that’s especially treasured at the holidays,” Minnesota Public Radio digital producer Jay Gabler writes.

Gabler, who attended the St. Olaf Christmas Festival for the first time this year and wrote about the experience for Classical Minnesota Public Radio, notes that the event is “about as ancient as holiday celebrations get here in the bread basket of the New World.”

One of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival features more than 500 student musicians who are members of five choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

“With 102 years of history, the Christmas Festival has become a cherished tradition for generations of Minnesotans — and, whether through travel or through American Public Media’s syndicated radio broadcasts, for people across the country,” Gabler writes.

A previous MPR piece looked at the lasting impressions Christmas Festival leaves on both visitors and participants alike.

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Marino discusses cowardice on Connecticut public radio program

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 3:04pm

“While we’re not going to be on the Titanic or in the Civil War, we’re all going to be in situations where our ship is going under and the question is: Can you transcend that? Can you still be a loving person when you’re going under?” St. Olaf College Professor of Philosophy Gordon Marino asks in a Connecticut Public Radio discussion about cowardice.

Accompanying him on WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show were Chris Walsh, author of Cowardice: A Brief History, and Lesley Gordon, a professor of history at University of Akron.

While discussing what cowardice is, why it is rarely reported, and the role of gender in cowardice, the group used characters such as Star Trek’s Dr. “Bones” McCoy and The Iliad’s Hector to illustrate their points.

The discussion largely focused on cowardice in our everyday lives. Marino, who also serves as curator of the Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf, chimed in with the Danish philosopher’s opinion of cowardice, reminding listeners that for Kierkegaard cowardliness took many different forms, including pride and the need to be included in a group.

Marino also spoke about how bravery is overcoming cowardice — but not necessarily in a life-threatening situation such as war or a natural disaster.

Making reference to Peter’s denial of Christ, Marino emphasized that when we give in to fear and fall short, it takes courage to repent and resolve to do better next time. “It’s cowardly to give up on yourself,” Marino tells listeners. “The brave thing is to say, ‘I reacted that way and now I’m going to change.’”

Marino also noted that part of the reason he has been training boxers for more than 30 years is that the boxing gym provides a much-needed workshop in learning how to cope with fear.

“There’s a big cut off between the people who can take a punch… and be disoriented, but continue to soldier on and those who just melt down when that happens. It’s a huge issue in getting to the elite level in boxing,” says Marino.

Marino regularly contributes to publications like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Atlantic Monthly.

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MPR story looks at how Christmas Festival leaves lasting impression

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 8:04pm

“It’s a celebration, and just a chance to step back from our normal busy lives and share in those moments of music-making and beauty and connection,” Sarah Stevens ’15 tells Classical Minnesota Public Radio about the St. Olaf Christmas Festival.

One of the oldest musical celebrations of Christmas in the United States, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival features more than 500 student musicians who are members of five choirs and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

It’s an event that draws thousands of people to campus each year, notes the MPR story, many of whom have been attending for years.

And yet, St. Olaf Choir alumna Martha Kunau ’90 tells MPR, the experience of the St. Olaf Christmas Festival reaches far beyond those who are alumni of the college.

“It’s a place where thousands of people have gathered to experience something,” Kunau says. “And I think you leave changed whether or not you’ve signed off on all the theological dogma. I think it’s bigger than that. I think the message and the reach is much more universal.”

Categories: Colleges

Student wins prestigious award from American Geophysical Union

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 3:36pm

Megan Behnke ’16 takes water samples from a stream in Siberia as part of her research with the Polaris Project. Photo by Chris Linder/

St. Olaf College student Megan Behnke ‘16 has received the American Geophysical Union’s prestigious Lumley award.

The David E. Lumley Young Scientist Scholarship annually recognizes an exceptional student who is investigating global problems in energy and the environment.

As part of her award, Behnke will present her summer 2014 research findings at the AGU Fall Meeting. The conference, which runs December 15-19, is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world.

“I’m excited to share my research and meet with people who are experts in their fields,” says Behnke.

Summer in Siberia
This summer, Behnke participated in the Polaris Project, a multifaceted program that includes a field course and research experience for undergraduate students from around the world. As part of the program, Behnke spent a month at the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy, Russia, where she studied the breakdown of dissolved organic carbon released by melting permafrost.

Permafrost (soil that’s been frozen for more than two years) covers more than 60 percent of Russia, and contains large amounts of carbon. When permafrost melts, this stored carbon interacts with water to form dissolved organic carbon (DOC), which enters the active carbon cycle. The released carbon is often broken down into carbon dioxide or methane, two greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

In her research, Behnke studied where and how released DOC is broken down along Northeastern Siberia’s rivers and streams. This involved taking a multitude of water samples at various points along each river, measuring the level of DOC in each sample, and comparing DOC levels between samples. This semester, Behnke has been continuing her data analysis and learning new analysis techniques from Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kyle Whittinghill.

Pursuing diverse interests
Before coming to St. Olaf, Behnke took a gap year to explore her interests. She studied Shakespeare at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, backpacked throughout Europe for several months, and worked for a scientific education inventor in her hometown of Juneau, Alaska.

“I’m glad that I took a gap year,” Behnke says. “I came in to college more focused and ready.”

Behnke, a chemistry and theater double major, continues to pursue her interests at St. Olaf. She is a research assistant in two different labs, and also an active member of the college’s Theater Department. This February, Behnke will perform in St. Olaf’s production of Cymbeline, a late Shakespearean Romance.

In the future, Behnke hopes to incorporate her passions into a career as a research scientist.

“I hope to find work that combines my love of the North with the elegance of chemistry,” she says.

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St. Olaf student’s clinical research published in medical journal

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 3:29pm

As part of the Rockswold Health Scholars program, Beret Amundson ’15 (right) worked alongside Hennepin County Medical Center clinical chemist Fred Apple (left) to study the efficacy of the tests hospitals use to determine if a patient has experienced a heart attack. Their findings were recently published in a medical journal.

The research that Beret Amundson ’15 did this summer as part of a St. Olaf College internship program at Hennepin County Medical Center has been published in the journal of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.

As one of six students participating in the Rockswold Health Scholars program at HCMC, Amundson worked alongside clinical chemist Fred Apple to study the efficacy of the tests hospitals use to determine if a patient has experienced a heart attack.

Amundson worked as a research assistant in the Cardiac Biomarker Trials Laboratory. She examined immunoassays that hospitals use to measure the amount of cardiac troponin in a patient’s blood. Cardiac troponin is a protein released during and following a heart attack, so it acts as an indicator of a heart attack.

“This research is important because it allows hospitals to determine which immunoassay is best going to suit their needs, and which will give the most accurate results when determining whether a patient has had a heart attack,” says Amundson.

Apple and Amundson worked closely together throughout the summer. Apple recommended relevant clinical chemistry literature and discussed articles, the progress of her research, and the process of writing a paper on her findings. Her research was published in the October issue of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.

The Rockswold Health Scholars program was created through the support of Gaylan Rockswold ‘62, a highly distinguished neurosurgeon at the hospital who wanted to give students the opportunity to work with physicians, research scientists, and administrators in a variety of departments.

He and his wife, Mary Garnaas Rockswold ‘63, established an endowment to help fund the summer program, which aims at providing undergraduate students with training and immersion.

Students are invited to attend lectures and conferences typically reserved for medical school students and residents. They also get the opportunity to practice simulations and even watch doctors perform surgeries.

Through this program, Amundson came to recognize the need for collaboration between researchers and physicians or other healthcare providers.

“The implementation of findings of scientific research is necessary in order for health care to be more efficient, effective, and affordable,” she says.

Amundson will graduate this spring with majors in chemistry and biology. She plans to begin medical school after she takes a gap year — during which she hopes to conduct further research in the field of chronic disease.

“Though I ultimately want to be a physician, I hope that I will be able to do clinical research throughout my career,” she says.

Categories: Colleges

WCCO shares story of two students thankful for opportunity

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 10:07pm

Norbert Abayisenga ’17 and Halima Ingabire ’18 hold the Rwandan flag as they celebrate Africa Week at St. Olaf College.

“I do have a lot of things to be thankful for, but mostly it’s my opportunity to be here,” St. Olaf College student Halima Ingabire ’18 tells WCCO-TV.

The CBS affiliate profiles Ingabire and fellow student Norbert Abayisenga ’17, two students from Rwanda who overcame adversity to graduate at the top of their high school class and enroll at St. Olaf.

Just a few months into her first year at St. Olaf, “Ingabire is incredibly grateful for the chance to grow in such a peaceful and engaging setting,” WCCO reporter Bill Hudson notes. “She has quickly embraced why Americans devote a day for giving thanks for what they have.”

“I feel like I have family here,” she says.



Categories: Colleges

POLITICO highlights St. Olaf’s Outcomes initiative

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 4:30pm

“When St. Olaf College started formulating an idea to assuage concerns about the value of a liberal arts education, President Barack Obama hadn’t yet talked about a federal college ratings system, and his College Scorecard wasn’t around.

“It was 2008 or so, the height of the economic recession, and St. Olaf administrators were more concerned about prospective students, pundits and parents than policymakers or the president. But what they came up with — an ‘Outcomes initiative‘ — put the Minnesota liberal arts college ahead of the game,” begins a POLITICO story that looks at what colleges are doing to provide data on student success. [Subscribers can read the full story here.]

“Today, state and federal regulators are pushing or have signed on to at-times controversial policies basing college funding on student outcomes such as loan default rates, job placement rates and salaries,” continues reporter Allie Grasgreen. “And more institutions are, like St. Olaf, publishing data online to make the case that they prepare their graduates for good jobs.”

The college’s Outcomes initiative aims to clearly outline the return on investing in a St. Olaf education by measuring student success and making that information readily available online.

Other schools, ranging from American University to the University of Texas System, have recently launched similar initiatives, notes the POLITICO story.

U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell tells POLITICO it’s “perfectly fitting” that colleges would push out their own data ahead of any government accountability plan, and he applauds the effort.

“More transparency about learning outcomes is good for everyone,” Mitchell notes.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, tells POLITICO that for individual institutions to be identifying and documenting their aspirational outcomes — a trend he expects will only escalate — is “a very welcome development.”

The POLITICO piece ends by noting that “Anderson is well aware of the growing pressure — from the federal ratings system to performance-based funding in states from Hawaii to Maine — on colleges to show they’re worth the investment. But it doesn’t bother him. He’s only concerned about St. Olaf.”

“I’m still skeptical that we have any ability to influence what the federal ratings people are going to devise,” Anderson tells the publication. “I just don’t think they’re going to take into account what a liberal arts college with 3,000 students is going to do.”

Categories: Colleges

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