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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 38 min 57 sec ago
“Julia Valen maybe doesn’t fully understand it now, but there will be in a time in her life when she will look back on the summer of 2015 and be awestruck,” begins a St. Paul Pioneer Press story that highlights the young St. Olaf College alumna’s new acting role.
“Valen, a recent St. Olaf College grad, plays Essie Carmichael in the Jungle Theater’s current production of You Can’t Take it With You. She and a couple of other young performers have the great good fortune to be surrounded by a veritable Who’s Who of Twin Cities theater. The company comprises one of the warmest and strongest ensemble casts in recent memory in the service of a chestnut from the canon that retains the power to provoke laughter and thought.”
And Valen isn’t the show’s only connection. The production is directed by St. Olaf Artist in Residence Gary Gisselman, who the paper praises for his “wise-eyed handling” of a large and talented cast.
In addition, the Jungle Theater itself will soon be led by another St. Olaf theater alumna, Sarah Rasmussen ’01, who takes on the role of artistic director on July 1. Rasmussen, who has worked in theater venues around the country, tells Minnesota Public Radio that the Twin Cities is “an incredibly dynamic place with such a great ecosystem of theaters.”
That ecosystem provides ample opportunities for St. Olaf theater and dance alumni to demonstrate their talent on stage. Earlier this summer, the Star Tribune took note of the performance Grace Wehrspann ’15 gave in a Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater production just weeks after graduating from St. Olaf.
“Wehrspann’s acting skills demonstrate an understated melancholy and vulnerability,” notes the paper, calling her performance “compelling.”
St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Lynn Steen, who spent more than four decades making mathematics accessible to all students and shaping the way teachers approach the discipline, died June 21.
Steen was born in Chicago and grew up on Staten Island, New York. In 1965, four years after graduating from Luther College, Steen completed a Ph.D. in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined the St. Olaf faculty.
Early in his career, Steen focused on teaching and developing research experiences for undergraduates. One result was the widely used reference book Counterexamples in Topology, co-edited with J. Arthur Seebach Jr. and partly authored by St. Olaf students.
Another was a gradual change in mathematics at St. Olaf from a narrow discipline for the few to an inviting major of value to any liberal arts graduate. By broadening the major and focusing student work on inquiry and investigation, Steen and his departmental colleagues grew mathematics into one of the top five majors at the college — and one of the nation’s largest undergraduate producers of Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences.
As his teaching led Steen to investigate links between mathematics and other fields, he began writing about new developments in mathematics for audiences of non-mathematicians. Many of his articles appeared in the weekly magazine Science News and in annual supplements to the Encyclopedia Britannica, and he penned a groundbreaking report for the National Research Council on the challenges facing mathematics education in the United States.
Steen held numerous leadership posts in national mathematics organizations, serving as president of the Mathematical Association of America and director of the Mathematical Sciences Education Board, a National Academy of Sciences entity that works on improving math education. In 2013 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
In addition to his teaching, Steen served as head of institutional research at St. Olaf and as special assistant to the provost before retiring from the college in 2009.
A memorial service for Steen will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 26, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield. A visitation will be held one hour prior to the service.
Read Steen’s obituary.
“Julia Irons was not just bitten by the travel bug; she was infected,” begins a Chicago Tribune story highlighting the Fulbright fellowship that will take the recent St. Olaf College graduate to Bulgaria this year.
Irons, one of nine recent St. Olaf graduates who have been named Fulbright fellows for 2015–16, will use the prestigious award to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria, to investigate Thracian sociocultural identity during the Roman period.
It follows a series of study-abroad opportunities that Irons has taken advantage of during her time at St. Olaf, the Chicago Tribune story notes.
Last summer she spent four weeks at an archaeological excavation site in Turkey studying ancient history as part of the college’s Archaeological Methods course. Taught by St. Olaf Associate Professor of History Timothy Howe, the course introduces students to Mediterranean archaeological field techniques and methods and gives them the opportunity to unearth ancient artifacts.
Before that, Irons spent four months in Costa Rica during her junior year, where she studied attitudes toward Nicaraguan immigrants.
Those experiences, she tells reporter Dayna Fields, gave her the confidence to pursue her Fulbright studies in Bulgaria.
“It’s having that experience of living with people whose life experiences and perspectives are different from yours,” says Irons, who is among the 70 percent of St. Olaf students who study off campus. “And I’ve always found that really challenging and scary but also really exciting and enriching.”
During his four years at St. Olaf College, Bradley Sancken ’15 immersed himself in Asian studies.
He participated in the college’s Asian Conversations program, studying in Beijing and Tokyo. He learned Korean through the St. Olaf Alternative Language Study Option (ALSO) program, then spent a semester studying at Yonsei University in Seoul. He was involved in interdisciplinary projects focused on environmental issues in Asia. And he’s been a member of the Korean Culture Association and Vietnamese Organization: Inspiring Cultural Engagement (VOICE).
Now he’s applying those experiences to an internship at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., that works to promote dialogue and understanding of economic, political, and security relations between South Korea and the United States.
After his internship at KEI, Sancken will move to Japan for a position with the Labo International Exchange Foundation. The Japanese organization promotes cross-cultural understanding by exploring global narratives in the English language and promoting and organizing homestay exchanges. Sancken will be able to help students in Japan participate in the same homestay exchange opportunities he was able to have.
“I am hoping to combine the hard skills I will develop in my internship in D.C. with the soft skills of cultural competency and language that I plan to refine in Japan. My goal is to return to D.C. to work with an international organization,” Sancken says.
A wealth of opportunities
While at St. Olaf, he took advantage of a number of opportunities to learn more about Asia.
He joined Asian Conversations, an interdisciplinary program that integrates the study of the Chinese and Japanese languages with investigations into the culture, history, language, and societies of Asia. Through the program, students spend Interim studying in Beijing and Tokyo. Sancken also took classes in Japanese.
Over the summer in 2013, Sancken further embraced the liberal arts and obtained a different perspective about Asia by going to East Africa and interning in Tanzania and Rwanda.
There he saw, experienced, and researched firsthand the impacts of East Asia’s globalizing efforts in East Africa, expanding his perception of Asian Studies beyond the Asian continent. He received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to work with Mwangaza Education for Partnership and Global Youth Connect as part of a technology training seminar and human rights advocacy development and training program.
The Alternative Language Study Option (ALSO) program at St. Olaf also enabled Sancken to learn Korean, which prepared him for his study-abroad experience at Yonsei University in Korea in the spring of 2014.
Throughout his time at St. Olaf, he has also been a member of the Korean Culture Association, Vietnamese Organization: Inspiring Cultural Engagement (VOICE), and Environment-Asia Connections, which he started as an earlier part of the Henry Luce Foundation grant. Through that organization, he created events that facilitated discussion of environmental issues in Asia. He also worked as an international student counselor for two years.
“I recommend taking advantage of the Asian language classes and cultural immersion opportunities on campus, not only because East Asia is growing politically and economically as a region and will continue to be influential into the future, but also because the St. Olaf Asian Studies Department’s professors have served as inspiring mentors and have challenged me to expand my thinking and skills over the past four years,” Sancken says. “Students can gain many different work and travel experiences through St. Olaf connections.”
St. Olaf College Professor of Mathematics Paul Humke has received a National Science Foundation grant to support the 39th International Summer Symposium in Real Analysis.
The annual symposium includes lectures about research progress and discoveries by various academics from around the world. Among this year’s presenters are mathematics professors Marianna Csörnyei from the University of Chicago, Alexander Olevskii from the University of Tel Aviv in Israel, and Miklós Laczkovich from Eötvös Lorand University in Hungary.
The more than 50 researchers attending the symposium hail from 13 countries, and all work in an area of mathematics known as real analysis, a branch of mathematical analysis dealing with the real numbers and real-valued functions of a real variable.
The St. Olaf Mathematics Department has an active group of researchers focused on analysis. Humke is the current editor-in-chief of the Real Analysis Exchange Journal. Professor of Mathematics Paul Zorn, whose professional interests include complex analysis and mathematical exposition, has written a book titled Understanding Real Analysis.
The St. Olaf mathematics program is recognized nationally for innovative and effective teaching. The program was cited as an example of a successful undergraduate mathematics program by the Mathematical Association of America, and St. Olaf consistently ranks as a top producer of students who go on to complete Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences.
Humke says the Summer Symposium in Real Analysis can show students what a research community looks like and how it operates. Moreover, he added, students can see firsthand the nature of an international research community and how it connects individuals.
“It’s good for students to see that mathematics is not something that you learn out of books in class alone. As a science, it is alive, and there are people behind it,” Humke says.
This is the first time St. Olaf has hosted the symposium since 1984.
St. Olaf College Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Reinaldo Moya has been awarded the 2015 McKnight Composer Fellowship, which provides recognition and financial support for mid-career composers working in any musical genre.
Moya received $25,000 of unrestricted funds through the award, in addition to an opportunity to devote up to one month of concentrated time to work in an artist residency setting of his choice.
“In a state where we have so many wonderful composers writing all kinds of truly beautiful and amazing music, I feel very fortunate and thankful to be recognized,” he says.
Moya earned a bachelor of music degree in composition from West Virginia University, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in composition from The Juilliard School, where he studied under the tutelage of Samuel Adler and Robert Beaser.
His music has been performed in Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Australia, and throughout the United States. Some of his well-known works included the orchestral piece Siempre Lunes/Siempre Marzo (Always Monday/Always March), the chamber music Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold), and the opera Generalissimo.
Moya is also the recipient of Meet the Composer’s 2011 Van Lier Fellowship, as well as multiple Morton Gould Young Composer Awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His orchestral work Aurora Australis was awarded the Walter Friedman Memorial Prize for Orchestral Composition in 2008. In November 2013, Moya’s selections from Generalissimo were performed as part of the Amazonas concert series at Carnegie Hall in New York.
Moya will use the McKnight fellowship to explore his current interests more deeply, among them the immigrant experience in America. He is working on an opera that draws from his own experience as an immigrant, as well as the experiences of others.
“It’s very important and eye-opening to see other realities and try to really understand an issue deeply. Only then can we as artists really hope to do something meaningful, moving, and artistically resonant,” Moya says.
Moya is one of just four 2015 McKnight Composer Fellowship recipients. One of the other recipients of the fellowship is St. Olaf alumna Abbie Betinis ’01. Betinis has been commissioned by more than 40 music organizations, including Cantus, the Dale Warland Singers, and the Schubert Club, where she has been the composer-in-residence since 2005.
From working alongside law students and attorneys as part of St. Olaf College’s Legal Scholars Program to researching juvenile law in her Legal Aspects of Business course, Brianne Power ’15 has had numerous opportunities to closely examine the legal field.
And what she’s discovered is that majoring in mathematics at a liberal arts college has provided her with many of the skills she’ll need to be a successful attorney.
“I found that legal professionals find patterns, make predictions, and solve problems every day,” Power says. “Pure mathematics also involves a lot more writing and analytical reasoning than I think most people realize. And St. Olaf’s dedication to the liberal arts ensures that students from every discipline graduate with the necessary reading, writing, and analysis skills.”
She’ll put all of those skills to work at Harvard Law School, where she will enroll this fall. Power — who also pursued a concentration in family studies at St. Olaf — was particularly drawn to Harvard Law’s programs in mediation and child advocacy work, as well as its dedication to service.
“The commonality among the students there seems to be their passion for effecting some sort of positive change, which is definitely energizing,” she says.
Power is no stranger to service work herself.
As a student at St. Olaf, she has volunteered with organizations including Story Circle, which helps local retirees share the stories of their lives; the Nightingale Project, which pairs St. Olaf women and Northfield middle school girls with the goal of building ongoing relationships and mentoring; and Blue Key Honor Society, which focuses on scholarship, leadership, and service. She was also president of the Honor Council.
And this year Power lived in the Gender Equality and Empowerment Honor House, which provides a safe space for people on campus to discuss gender issues. Through the honor house, she volunteers at Thursday’s Table, a weekly dinner hosted by the Northfield Community Action Center to aid community members in transition.
Hands-on legal experience
In addition to her volunteering and classroom experiences, Power participated in St. Olaf’s Svoboda Legal Scholars program last summer. The program provides an opportunity for a select group of undergraduate students to perform intensive legal research and serve in a legal support role to social impact–oriented clinics at several institutions.
Power worked under four rising third-year law students at the University of Minnesota Legal Clinics — mostly serving in the Civil Practice Clinic and the Child Advocacy Clinic — and was supervised by professors of the law school.
“There are not very many opportunities to spend a significant amount of time actually in a law school before being admitted as a student, so I really appreciated gaining familiarity with a law school as an undergraduate student,” she says.
She also spent several summers interning at a law firm in Iowa.
Power gained hands-on legal experience in the classroom, too. Through her Legal Aspects of Business class, taught by local attorney and Visiting Assistant Professor of Management Studies John Ophaug, she developed a research project that investigated the role of Guardians ad Litem in Iowa and Minnesota.
Through legal research and interviews with attorneys, Guardians ad Litem, social service providers, and a juvenile court judge, Power “created a portfolio outlining experiences and recommendations for the revision of statutory Guardian ad Litem requirements to better serve children’s best interests,” she notes.
All of these things, as well as her time in the St. Olaf mathematics program — which is nationally recognized for its innovative and effective teaching — have left Power well-prepared to join one of the nation’s top law schools.
And she’s not alone. Two Oles entered Harvard Law School last year, including a 2012 math major. Other law schools that members of last year’s graduating class enrolled in include New York University School of Law; University of California, Berkeley School of Law; the University of Michigan Law School; Vanderbilt Law School; and the University of Minnesota Law School. Nearly 90 percent of St. Olaf students who applied to law school from 2008 to 2012 earned acceptance.
Of this year’s graduating seniors, Bayley Flint ’15, Elizabeth Archerd ’15, and Caroline Bressman ’15 also will be attending top 20 law schools in the fall. Flint will be attending Washington University School of Law, Archerd will be attending Emory University School of Law, and Bressman will be attending the University of Minnesota Law School. Bressman also participated in the St. Olaf Legal Scholars Program with Power.
St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson ’74 will travel to Germany next week to speak at the Hamburg Transnational University Leaders Council.
Anderson is one of four Americans invited to the conference, which will bring together 50 presidents of leading universities around the world. He will be the only liberal arts college leader in attendance.
The presidents participating in the meeting will spend two days discussing common issues such as the financing and cost of higher education, expanding access, and expected outcomes for graduates, as well as how prepared universities are to meet the challenges of the future.
The event is hosted by the German Rectors’ Conference, the Körber Foundation, and the Universität Hamburg.
German Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will deliver the keynote address at the event. Other distinguished attendees include Pierre and Marie Curie University President Jean Chambaz; Kyoto University President Juichi Yamagiwa; Marco Antonio Zago, rector of the Universidade de São Paulo; and Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg.
The other Americans attending the council are Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education; Daniel Fallon, professor emeritus and former provost and vice president of the University of Maryland, College Park and former chair of the Carnegie Corporation Education Division; and Suzanne Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools.
Elizabeth Bews ’15 signed up for St. Olaf College’s summer Archaeological Methods course three years ago thinking that it would be a fun way to fill a general education requirement.
The five-week program, based in Antiochia ad Cragum in southern Turkey, introduces students to Mediterranean archaeological field techniques and methods. It’s taught by St. Olaf Associate Professor of History Timothy Howe, an associate director of the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Project.
But the course quickly became more than just “fun” for Bews — it helped her discover a passion for ancient history and a potential career path.
Bews will return this July for her third summer in Antiochia, where she has participated as both a student and teaching assistant.
She will also serve on staff at the American Research Center in Sofia, a Bulgarian archaeological field school whose mission is to bring together North American and Southeast European scholars and institutes.
She says these experiences — combined with those at St. Olaf, where she majored in history, French, and Russian area studies — have given her an excellent foundation for a future in archaeology.
“After working in both Bulgaria and Turkey, I discovered that archaeology fused all my interests in a way that I had never dreamed possible,” Bews says. “The combination of independent coursework at St. Olaf based on my applied fieldwork abroad provided me with invaluable insight into what a career in archaeology would entail.”
Returning to Turkey
This year Bews will return to Turkey as the St. Olaf program’s head teaching assistant.
“One of the most enjoyable parts of being a TA is to watch your students go from enthusiastic observers to skilled archaeologists who can perform complex excavations, enjoy their work, and answer questions about what they are doing in an informed way,” says Bews.
Last summer, in addition to serving as a TA, Bews conducted an independent research project that focused on how residents of Antiochia articulated their unique identity while living under Roman occupation.
Bews’ search for evidence involved climbing through bushes and up mountains to access remote ruins, sometimes on cloudless days when the temperature reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The research required patience, creativity, and a lot of critical thinking.
“When you run into something you’ve never seen before, there are a lot of little calls every day that influence your research,” says Bews. “You use your academic background, but you also have to come up with answers on the fly. You’ll find a pile of rocks and you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it significant? Or is it just a pile of rocks?’”
Bews says it requires knowledge in numerous disciplines — ancient history, geography, textual analysis, geology, soil typography, and modern and ancient languages — to uncover the answer. A liberal arts education enabled her to study all of those things and more, she says.
“St. Olaf allowed me to constantly work to apply my major coursework in a vocational setting, making my lessons in the classroom that much more meaningful,” she says.
Bews plans to study archaeology in graduate school. Her archaeological areas of interest are Roman Thrace (located on the present-day borders of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) and Roman Anatolia (present-day western Turkey).
In the future, she would like to spend part of each year working in academia and the other part running an archaeological field school.