St. Olaf College

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A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 52 min ago

St. Olaf student awarded Rotary Global Grant Scholarship

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 3:59pm

St. Olaf College student Mirwais Wakil ’15 has received a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship that will help him pursue a graduate degree at either Oxford University or the London School of Economics.

The $30,000 award from Rotary International supports graduate-level studies related to the organization’s focus on humanitarian issues. Wakil will use the scholarship to pursue either a master’s degree in international relations at the London School of Economics or a master’s degree in refugees and forced migration at Oxford.

“I will also be interning with organizations such as Refugee Resource or Oxfam to help contribute to development and refugee assistance,” Wakil says.

Before enrolling in one of the two graduate programs in the fall of 2016, Wakil will spend a year in Vienna, Austria, working with an organization he co-founded called Ready Power.

Ready Power employs immigrants and refugees and helps them better integrate into Austrian society. Employees and their families also receive advice and help with their legal cases, government paperwork, and education. Wakil helped establish the organization three years ago and continued to work on it throughout his St. Olaf career.

In addition to his work with Ready Power, Wakil hopes to be involved over the next year with ORS Service, an Austrian organization that houses refugees before they receive asylum. He also plans to volunteer with the United World Colleges (UWC) National Committee of Austria.

A native of Afghanistan, Wakil moved to Austria at age 15, where one of his teachers suggested that the United World Colleges — international baccalaureate high schools that educate students in an environment of shared learning, collaboration, and international understanding to promote positive social action and build a more equitable and peaceful world — would be a good fit for him.

He attended the UWC in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, before coming to St. Olaf as a Davis UWC Scholar.

At St. Olaf, Wakil majored in studio art, political science, and economics, and was a member of Pi Sigma Alpha. He earned a Magnus the Good Fellowship to support his work on a project that re-examined international relations through the eyes of individuals affected by war, power, statecraft, and international law.

Wakil was a Nobel Peace Prize Scholar at the University of Oslo, where he researched peace and reconciliation regarding the ex-Yugoslavian countries with the Nansen Dialogue Center.

He also participated in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School Junior Summer Institute. The institute is part of the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program, a national consortium of the top public policy and international affairs graduate schools that prepare college juniors for advanced degrees and careers serving the public good.

After he completes his graduate program in England, Wakil would like to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross or the United Nations Refugee Agency.

“I hope to help improve the life quality of refugees and ensure their protection in conflict zones,” he says.

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Alumnus provides $2.5 million gift to support theater, off-campus studies

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 8:57am

Steven Fox ’77 outside the St. Olaf Theater Building during this spring’s production of the Broadway musical “Big Fish.” Fox’s recent gift to the college will more than double current funding for student theater productions.

A $2.5 million gift from St. Olaf College alumnus Steven Fox ’77 will provide significant support for the theater program and students interested in studying abroad.

Fox’s gift will establish two endowed funds. The first fund of $500,000 will benefit the St. Olaf Theater Department. The second fund of $2 million will provide financial aid for students participating in international and off-campus studies programs.

The spendable income from each of the two endowments will be doubled each year through the Strategic Initiative Match (SIM), a St. Olaf Board of Regents program that provides matching funds for gifts above $50,000 that support the college’s strategic plan.

With those matching funds, the Steven Fox Fund for Theater will more than double current funding for student theater productions. It will be used to cover expenses related to lighting, sound, sets, costumes, props, and guest artists who serve as choreographers, designers, and dramaturges.

“This is an astounding gift,” says Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77. “The impact will directly affect St. Olaf students, faculty, staff, and the community long into the future. We are all profoundly grateful to Steven.”

The Steven Fox International Studies Fund will also have a significant — and direct — impact on students. With the matching SIM funds, the endowment will provide enough financial aid to fully support the international or off-campus studies of up to 55 students each year who may not otherwise be able to afford to participate in these life-changing programs.

“A gift of scholarship dollars is the single most valuable investment that can be made in our off-campus studies program,” says International and Off-Campus Studies Director Jodi Malmgren ’92.

She notes that Fox’s gift will help the college educate globally engaged students, maintain a high level of participation in off-campus study, and ensure equal participation by students of all financial need levels. More than two-thirds of all St. Olaf students study abroad before graduating, and the college regularly sends more students to study abroad each year than any other baccalaureate institution in the nation.

Last fall, Fox established two endowed chairs — the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair in Theater and the Robert Scholz Endowed Chair in Music — in honor of St. Olaf faculty members who devoted their careers to the college and made a positive impact on hundreds of students. Wilson is the first holder of the Quade Chair, and Associate Professor of Music Christopher Aspaas ’95 holds the Scholz Chair.

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St. Olaf student selected for Fulbright UK Summer Institute

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 3:14pm

St. Olaf College student Anna Perkins ’18 has been selected to participate in the prestigious Fulbright UK Summer Institute program.

Each year, the US-UK Fulbright Commission selects an average of 60 undergraduate students from the United Kingdom and the United States to undertake a demanding academic and cultural summer program at leading institutions in both nations.

As part of the program, Perkins will spend four weeks this summer studying archaeology and early medieval history at Durham University in England. She will participate in the excavation of the Roman fort and town at Binchester and study early medieval cultural history through Durham’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies.

The program is complemented by weekend excursions to London and significant historical sites in Northern England such as Hadrian’s Wall.

“I am very excited and honored to have received a place in the Durham University Summer Institute,” Perkins says. “I think it will be fascinating to investigate processes of historical change and the intersections of past and present identities. And as second-year Great Con progresses through the Renaissance and Modern eras, I hope to enrich the conversation with my summer experience.”

The Great Conversation — or “Great Con” — is a two-year St. Olaf program that introduces students to key elements in Western tradition through an integrated sequence of five courses. Students in the Great Conversation respond to great works through direct encounter and active discussion.

Participants in the UK Fulbright Summer Institute Program are selected for their academic excellence, involvement in extracurricular and community activities, and demonstrated ambassadorial skills.

“To receive a nationally recognized scholarship at any point in one’s student experience demonstrates a high degree of excellence. Anna has been accepted as a first-year student to a program that accepts applications from both exceptional first-years and sophomores across the nation and is known for its rigorous selection process. Anna deserves high praise for her achievement,” says Grant Eustice, the assistant director of fellowships in St. Olaf’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career.

The US-UK Fulbright Commission was created in 1948. The Fulbright Program aims to promote leadership and foster mutual cultural understanding through educational exchange between the US and the UK.

“I look forward to exploring the UK and its culture, and meeting new friends and colleagues from both sides of the Pond,” Perkins says.

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Course combines software design, ethics, and real-world clients

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 11:13am

St. Olaf College Professor of Psychology Chuck Huff (center) talks with students in his Ethical Issues in Software Design course.

Most people don’t associate computer software with issues of discrimination or physical safety.

But the way software is developed — if it includes a bias in the algorithm used for making flight reservations, for instance, or causes programming errors in radiation therapy machines — can produce serious ethical issues.

How can software designers know their programs will be used in the way they intend? And how can they reduce the “digital divide,” or the gap in access to computing technology between various populations?

These are the questions that students in St. Olaf College Professor of Psychology Chuck Huff’s Ethical Issues in Software Design course spent the semester examining.

In this project-based course, students act as computing consultants for real-world clients. The programs they analyze include everything from key-card access systems to software for students with disabilities.

Using what they learn in the course, students delve into concepts such as ethical dissent, intellectual property, and free speech. The goal, Huff says, is to teach students to think about the ethical issues associated with software while they design it.

Students in the Ethical Issues in Software Design course work together on their project. Using what they learn in the course, students act as computing consultants for real-world clients.

“The course content spans multiple fields,” says Nick Nooney ‘16. “ It’s a mix of legal issues, ethical issues, and technology that is very practical and informative.”

At the end of the course, they present their clients with an ethical analysis report that also includes their suggested solutions and a feasibility analysis of those solutions.

“I don’t have to convince the students in this class that ethics are important; they see it through the work they do,” says Huff. “They see it in real software other people are designing and using. They see real people who have been hurt or whose privacy has been compromised.”

One example that Huff uses to illustrate this is Therac 25, a machine used for radiation therapy that administered several fatal overdoses due to improper design. The machine was not properly fixed until Fritz Hager, one of the medical physicists using the machine, blew the whistle by informing other users — and federal regulators — of the system.

As part of a research project, Huff interviewed Hager about the case. Nooney and Xandra Best ‘15 worked with Huff this semester to publish the interview as part of an argument for proper software error reporting.

“We’re looking at recent software error reporting literature to understand how the technology has changed since this case, and we are arguing for the need for human intervention in software error reporting systems,” says Nooney.

Best says Huff’s course and this research project taught her an important lesson.

“Several rounds of thorough user testing, including a wide variety of users in accurate field conditions, is crucial to designing a usable, ethical product,” she says.

Huff studied computer science and moral psychology separately, but didn’t think to put them together until he was on a National Science Foundation panel that helped create a curriculum in computer ethics that is now being used nationwide. He has even been described as “one of the founding fathers of the field.”

“St. Olaf students care about the ethical aspect of their work,” says Huff. “It’s one of the reasons I like teaching here.”

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St. Olaf student awarded Goldwater scholarship

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 4:17pm

St. Olaf College student Megan Behnke ’16 has been awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the 2015-16 academic year.

Behnke was chosen from a field of 1,206 applicants to receive one of the 260 scholarships worth up to $7,500.

The Goldwater Scholarships are awarded each year to students who have shown significant achievement and potential in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. Since 1995, 33 St. Olaf students have received the prestigious award.

Last 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 (DOC) released by melting permafrost.

Last fall Behnke received the American Geophysical Union’s prestigious Lumley award. As part of her award, Behnke presented her summer 2014 research findings at the AGU Fall Meeting, which is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world.

In March Behnke presented her research at the American Chemical Society meeting. She was the only undergraduate presenter in her session, which was attended by top DOC scientists from around the country.

This summer Behnke will return to Siberia to study how DOC from thawing permafrost is broken down by light. She will also investigate how light processing affects microbes’ ability to consume newly freed DOC.

In the fall she will take a semester of leave from St. Olaf to participate in the new Semester at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Program.

“I will be taking graduate-level oceanography courses and doing research on how iron melting out of Greenland glaciers affects ocean chemistry in the North Atlantic,” says Behnke. “I am excited to explore another possible direction for my future work.”

Behnke, a chemistry major, is a research assistant in two different labs at St. Olaf and is also an active member of the college’s Theater Department. In February she performed in St. Olaf’s production of Cymbeline, a late Shakespearean romance.

Categories: Colleges

Eight St. Olaf students win Fulbrights

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 3:34pm

St. Olaf students (from left) Ida Sobotik ’15, Sarah Beam ’15, Nels Thompson ’15, Serina Robinson ’15, and Julia Irons ’15 have been named Fulbright Fellows for 2015-16. Beret Amundson ’15, William Wertjes ’15, and Clarissa Angeroth Franks ’14 (not pictured) were also accepted into the prestigious program.

Eight St. Olaf College students have been named Fulbright fellows for 2015–16.

Five of the students will use their Fulbright awards to conduct research, and the other three will take on English teaching assistantships.

All but one of the St. Olaf Fulbright recipients are current seniors. The group brings the college’s Fulbright total to 107 since 1995.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the Department of State and awards more than 1,500 grants to U.S. students every year. The program operates in more than 140 countries, seeking to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and people of other countries” and “contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.” Program participants are chosen based on many factors, including leadership potential and academic merit.

The St. Olaf Fulbright recipients and their projects:

Beret Amundson ’15 will carry out her research in Recife, Brazil, and will be studying the therapeutic effect of a novel recombinant protein on schistosomiasis infection. She is a chemistry and biology major.

Sarah Beam ’15 will work as an English Teaching Assistant in Peru and will collaborate with professors and future teachers in a teacher training college. She is majoring in Spanish, with concentrations in race and ethnic studies, ELL education for licensure, and linguistics.

Julia Irons ’15 will be conducting an investigation into Thracian sociocultural identity during the Roman period in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is majoring in history and political science, with a concentration in Latin American studies.

Serina Robinson ’15 will conduct a project in Tromsø, Norway, that employs transcriptomics and bioinformatics to investigate the impact of rising Arctic temperatures on the metabolism of methane-oxidizing bacteria. She is majoring in chemistry and Norwegian.

Ida Sobotik ’15 will work as an English Teaching Assistant in Taichung, Taiwan, and also plans to volunteer in a local garden, where she will exchange gardening messages with the community. She is a studio art major with concentrations in educational studies and China studies.

Nels Thompson ’15 will work in the Gade Laboratory at University of Bergen in Norway, where he will assess rare variants in two genes, HNF1A and HADH, known to be involved in certain forms of diabetes. He is a biology and Norwegian major.

William Wertjes ’15 will conduct organic chemistry research under Professor Ben Feringa at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He is a chemistry major.

Clarissa Angeroth Franks ’14 will work as an English Teaching Assistant in Russia and also plans to create a young women’s empowerment group. While at St. Olaf, she majored in French, Russian area studies, and earned a concentration in Africa and the Americas. This past year she has worked in French Polynesia with World Service Corps. Her projects with World Service Corps have included working as an instructor at peace camps, translation, donation documentation, and teaching English.

In addition to these award recipients, Lara Palmquist ’13 was named a Fulbright alternate. She applied to work as an English Teaching Assistant in Poland, and her proposal included organizing a book drive to broaden the range of texts available in Polish prison libraries.

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St. Olaf students honored at undergraduate research symposium

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 9:34am

Kate Seybold ’15 explains her findings at the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium. The Minnesota Academy of Science awarded her the Arthur N. Wilcox Award for Excellence in Ecology and Environmental Science.

Three St. Olaf College students were honored by the Minnesota Academy of Science for their research achievements at the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Kate Seybold ’15 received the Arthur N. Wilcox Award for Excellence in Ecology and Environmental Science, and the team of Dylan Leonard ’16 and Miles Smith ’16 received the Thomas B. Magath Award for Excellence in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Five other students from St. Olaf — Nora Flynn ’15, Malika Jaiswal-Dale ’16, Sievhong Penn ’15, Emily Patterson ’15, and Lauren Roelike ’16 — also presented research at the symposium.

Seybold worked with St. Olaf Professor of Biology Kathleen Shea on a study of nitrogen fertilizer and nitrification inhibitors on soil nutrients, yield, and profit in southeastern Minnesota cornfields. The research evaluated two strategies for improving nitrogen management to reduce excess nitrogen use. Using four fertilizer rates and a nitrification inhibitor, Seybold determined that the effectiveness of the nitrification inhibitor varied depending on the fertilizer rate. “The most cost-effective strategy for improving nitrogen management was to apply less fertilizer,” she says.

Leonard and Smith, advised by St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Bowers, examined if the presence of essential heavy metals in the growth media for Caulobacter crescentus, a bacterium, regulated the expression of three putative TonB dependent receptors. The results of the study contribute to understanding TonB-dependent receptors in C. crescentus and related human and animal pathogens.

The 28th Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium was held in conjunction with the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Academy of Science. At the symposium, students presented research on topics ranging from cellular and molecular biology to physics and computer science.

In addition to the presentations, students attended a keynote lecture on Building Cell Simulators by University of Minnesota Professor of Biomedical Engineering David Odde.

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Udall Foundation honors two environmental studies students

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 1:22pm

Mari McClelland ‘16 has been named a Udall Scholar.

St. Olaf College student Mari McClelland ‘16 has been named a Udall Scholar for 2015–16, and student Kalyn Dorheim ‘16 earned an honorable mention.

Udall scholarships are awarded to students who have demonstrated leadership, public service, and a commitment to careers related to the environment, American Indian health care, or tribal public policy. This year 50 students from 43 colleges and universities across the United States received the award.

McClelland has the opportunity to travel to Tucson, Arizona, in early August to receive her award and meet policymakers and community leaders in environmental fields, tribal health care, and governance. Both Dorheim and McClelland will have access to the Udall alumni network.

Kalyn Dorheim ‘16 earned an honorable mention from the Udall Foundation.

McClelland is an environmental studies and Asian studies major and president of the St. Olaf environmental studies honor house. Last summer she completed a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in Guangzhou, China, that focused on the biological and chemical remediation of e-waste recycling byproducts.

“A ton of my learning has come from great experiences I’ve had living, working, and studying in East Asia,” says McClelland. “I took a gap year as an exchange student in Taichung, Taiwan, had the REU opportunity in Guangzhou, and studied abroad this Interim in the St. Olaf course Environmental Sustainability in Japan.”

This summer McClelland will participate in a Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program at St. Olaf. Under the supervision of Assistant Professor of Economics Seth Binder, McClelland and Udeepta Chakravarty ‘17 will research Earth’s human carrying capacity.

McClelland also writes for the Manitou Messenger and dances with the St. Olaf swing club, and last September she participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City. She plans to pursue a graduate degree in environmental economics and/or policy.

Dorheim is a biology and environmental studies major and a member of the St. Olaf women’s swim team. She also volunteers with Supporting Special Needs, a club that collaborates with the Laura Baker House in Northfield and raises awareness for people with special needs. Dorheim plans to become an environmental educator.


Categories: Colleges

Sociology professor earns National Endowment for the Humanities grant

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 9:21am

St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Sociology Ibtesam Al Atiyat has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the fieldwork for her forthcoming book, Body Politics and Nation Building in Modern Jordan: An Analysis of Public Discourses on Honor Killings and Rape.

The book analyzes the different discourses that are framing the laws and legal procedures about rape and honor killings. It also examines the circumstances that have led to public debates around these issues, and how the amendment or preservation of laws has been presented as essential to special visions of progress.

“I argue that the clash between groups — often classified as traditionalists and modernists — regarding women’s sexuality, is actually a struggle for legitimacy and power, shaped by national and global factors such as the expansion of Western hegemony in the Arab World,” says Al Atiyat.

This summer she will travel to Amman, Jordan, where she plans to examine court trial scripts in cases of rape and honor crimes. She will also be interviewing women’s activists, Islamists, tribal leaders, judges, and lawyers.

This research will be published in her book, which Al Atiyat hopes will benefit undergraduate and graduate students interested in the Middle East and Islam.

Al Atiyat earned her B.A. and M.A. in sociology from the University of Jordan and her Ph.D. from Freie Universitaet Berlin in Germany. She has taught at the UN International Leadership Institute in Amman and German Jordanian University. She joined the St. Olaf faculty in 2009.

NEH Summer Stipends support individuals pursuing advanced research that contributes to scholarly knowledge and the public’s understanding of the humanities. Recipients produce scholarly articles, monographs on special subjects, books on broad topics, archeological site reports, translations, editions, or other scholarly tools.

The award is highly competitive, accepting just 8 percent of the proposals it receives. Al Atiyat is the second St. Olaf faculty member to receive an NEH Summer Stipend award in the last two years.

Categories: Colleges

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