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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 9 min ago
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Earshot radio program interviewed St. Olaf College Professor of Philosophy Charles Taliaferro about souls — a topic that, the program notes, “has bewitched philosophers since the dawn of human thought.”
Taliaferro, co-author of A Brief History of the Soul, tells the program that humans are “fascinated, first and foremost, with the mystery of who we are.”
“One of the reasons that the idea of the soul has such traction culturally is that it can play a double role,” Taliaferro tells the radio program.
“On the one hand, in the book I co-author, we’re concerned with the history of the idea of the soul as being the ground and the very heart of what it is to be a person or a self or a mind over time. And my co-author and I actually believe in souls. But the idea of the soul plays a double role here also because it does have a metaphorical meaning. It can stand for one’s integrity, one’s values. But both question what’s important, what’s valuable.”
Taliaferro is the author, co-author, or editor of more than 20 books and is the editor of the journal Open Theology, based in Berlin, Germany.
In one scene in the Academy Award-nominated film Selma, St. Olaf College alumnus James Reeb ’50 is shown lying on a dark street, having been beaten by white supremacists.
He would die from his injuries two days later.
A Boston minister who had answered the call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma and raise his voice in protest, Reeb’s death became an important milestone in the passage of the Voting Right Act of 1965.
As part of the national celebration marking the 50th anniversary of that legislation, St. Olaf will host a daylong commemoration of Reeb’s legacy March 12. His daughter Anne and granddaughter Leah will be on campus to speak about the role he played in the voting rights movement and how they honor the legacy of his work toward civil and human rights today.
The Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, an activist who traveled with Reeb to Selma, will also be on campus to speak about their experiences and the continuing struggle for inclusive civil rights.
‘We must substitute courage for caution’
James Reeb was a Unitarian Universalist minister working to improve housing opportunities for low-income black residents in Boston when he turned on the TV on the evening of March 7, 1965, and saw the coverage of Selma’s “Bloody Sunday.”
As someone who had spoken out for civil rights, desegregation, and an end to Jim Crow laws, Reeb was inflamed by what had happened in Selma. So when Martin Luther King Jr. called on clergy of all denominations to join him for a peaceful march in the city, Reeb left Boston and headed south.
That Tuesday, Reeb and the other marchers — led by King — started over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and stopped at the site of the Bloody Sunday attack. There they knelt, prayed, and sang “We Shall Overcome” before retreating to Selma.
That evening, Reeb and two other ministers visited a diner run by local black citizens. As they were leaving, four white men attacked them on the street with clubs. One of the attackers hit Reeb in the head, fracturing his skull. Reeb died from his injuries in a Birmingham hospital two days later.
Reeb’s death inspired a wave of nationwide protests, memorial services, and calls for federal action, helping to create the political groundswell that President Lyndon Johnson needed to introduce new voting rights legislation — a fact referenced in the film Selma.
On March 15, 1965, four days after Reeb’s death, Johnson invoked his memory — “that good man” — as he introduced the Voting Rights Act to a joint session of Congress.
At Reeb’s memorial service, held in Selma that same day, King delivered the eulogy.
“In his death, James Reeb says something to each of us, black and white alike — that we must substitute courage for caution, that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murder,” King told mourners.
“His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain.”
A campuswide commemoration
In addition to the celebration of Reeb’s legacy, St. Olaf is hosting a series of events to commemorate the role alumni and others played in the civil rights movement.
The events — collectively titled A Long Walk Home: 50 Years of Climbing the Hill to Freedom — include:
- An art exhibit that documents the Selma-to-Montgomery marches through 45 photographs from the archives of Stephen Somerstein.
- A discussion with St. Olaf alumni Jeff Strate ’66 and Sheryl Anderson Renslo ’66, the producers of a documentary film titled Alabama Return that chronicles the experiences of 65 St. Olaf students who volunteered for the Tuskegee Institute Summer Education Program in the summer of 1965.
- Screenings of the Academy Award–nominated film Selma.
Katherine Kroening ’17 wanted to spend Interim taking an up-close look at a wide range of careers in business.
So the Arkansas native designed a program that enabled her to shadow executives at companies ranging from Walmart — the world’s largest retailer — to a newly established brewing company.
Kroening, an economics major pursuing an area of emphasis in finance, designed the month-long job-shadowing experience with support from the Piper Center for Vocation and Career and St. Olaf alumni.
She set out to use the experience to discern her vocational interests — and, she says, she accomplished just that.
“I’ve discovered that a career in business that mobilizes change is something I want to pursue and grow into as I near graduation,” Kroening says.
Visualizing the impact
Kroening spent two days shadowing St. Olaf alumna Marie Paterson ‘84, a member of the Change Management team at Walmart’s corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas. While there, Kroening connected with Walmart team members from a variety of different fields.
“I really enjoyed that aspect of my time at the Walmart home office because I got to hear about different employees’ vocational journeys,” says Kroening. “It was exciting to see how passionate they were about their particular roles.”
Kroening also shadowed business leaders at the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, the Harvest Group, Arkansas Power Electronics International, Field Agent Inc., Ozarks Electric Cooperative, Core Brewing LLC, and the Parkhill Clinic for Women.
“Last month I learned the importance of analyzing consumer and product data, and how to make sales forecasts and plans based on that data,” says Kroening.
“It’s visualizing this impact, the evident change that the consumer has upon the products and that the products have upon the consumer, that really interests me.”
Discerning vocational interests
Kroening follows in the footsteps of several other St. Olaf students who organized similar monthlong shadowing experiences, including Will Raun ‘14, Lauren McDevitt ‘15, and Rachel Palermo ’15.
During the fall semester Kroening spoke with Piper Center Director Branden Grimmett ‘03 about her learning goals and the necessary steps to finalize her plans, and met with Associate Director of Service and Leadership Nate Jacobi to complete an academic internship plan.
“I was glad to have their guidance throughout the planning process,” Kroening says.
What do millennials look for when they hit the grocery store? Why do they enjoy cooking at home more? Why is a product being all-natural more important to them than it being organic?
And what do these questions have to do with their dairy consumption?
These are the questions Molly Fitzgerald ’15 spent her Interim researching for Kemps.
To find out what drives the buying habits of millennials — the generation of young people roughly between the ages of 15 and 35 — the Minnesota-based dairy company turned to a millennial for help.
Applying academics to the real world
In her month-long internship, Fitzgerald began by reading background research on how millennials think about dairy; business and marketing research journals; and books on food trends. She then designed a survey for millennials, asking questions on the consumption of dairy and nondairy milk, yogurt, ice cream, and frozen yogurt, focusing on the importance of health when making purchasing decisions.
Her research will help Kemps develop future marketing strategies.
It also gave Fitzgerald, a psychology major with a management studies concentration, the opportunity to apply her academic interests to a real-world setting.
“I am increasingly interested in consumers, and the truly interdisciplinary skills I have learned at St. Olaf allow me to dig deeper into understanding them,” she says.
Fitzgerald registered her internship for academic credit and received funding 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.
Looking at a future in the food industry
Fitzgerald’s internship provided her with a wealth of hands-on learning experiences. In addition to her research, she also learned about “bridging the gap between the companies and consumers,” which can be transferable to many other types of business. Her internship at Kemps helped her “gain insight into the process of marketing research and into consumer motivations,” she says.
“This type of research is thoroughly engaging and almost always piques my curiosity,” Fitzgerald says. “The employees at Kemps are extremely supportive and have taught me so much.”
Fitzgerald previously interned over the summer in both the Human Resources and Marketing departments at Kemps, where she was able to explore both fields and compare and contrast their work.
At the end of the summer, she was approached by St. Olaf alumna Rachel Meyer Kyllo ’84, senior vice president of sales and marketing, about designing a marketing research project for January. That led to her work researching millennial attitudes toward dairy.
“I am particularly interested in the food industry and could go on forever about how fascinating I find it. And I hope to pursue a career in the marketing realm, whether that be marketing, communications, or public relations,” Fitzgerald says. “So, I am currently trying to find a marriage of the two.”
But Emily Patterson ’15 designed her course that way.
Dawn is the best time of day for birds, after all.
Patterson has a passion for ornithology, and last spring she received a federal permit to band birds in Minnesota. Under the guidance of St. Olaf College Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kathy Shea, Patterson designed a semester-long research project that combined her love of birds and conservation.
Patterson’s project is just one example of the college’s commitment to fostering independent undergraduate research opportunities across the liberal arts. Students are encouraged to combine academic interests in their various independent studies.
Just as other students have created projects that combine mathematics with ceramics and psychology with linguistics, Patterson used St. Olaf’s integrated approach to learning to gain hands-on experience in the field of avian conservation.
In her independent research course, Patterson — who has worked at the bird banding station at Buffalo State Park near Moorhead, Minnesota, and at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory near Rochester, New York — focused on the distribution of birds in five sections of the St. Olaf Natural Lands that had been burned in different years.
Controlled prairie burns are a form of prairie preservation. Fire removes dead vegetation from the prairie and allows more plants to flower, make seeds, and grow taller. It also uncovers darkened soil, which heats up more quickly from sunlight, and lengthens the growing season for warm-season plants.
In her project, Patterson hypothesized that different species of birds would occupy different areas of the prairie, depending on the year in which each area was burned.
She set up a total of 10 nets in five different sections of the Natural Lands, and caught birds on 17 days.
Between September 13 and October 27 of last year, Patterson banded 98 birds of 23 different species. She recorded each bird’s species, age, sex, weight, and wing length, and blew on their collar bones and stomachs to look for fat.
“My findings suggest that continuing to burn smaller sections of prairie helps promote a greater amount of biodiversity in the Natural Lands as a whole,” says Patterson.
“I’m grateful that St. Olaf has given me the opportunity to unite one of my passions with research and conservation.”
A group of 25 St. Olaf College students spent part of Interim break in San Francisco, where they explored career opportunities and connected with alumni working at places like Google, Microsoft, Netflix, and the Institute for the Future.
The trip, part of the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s Connections Program, focused on careers in innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.
The Connections Program brings students to cities around the country to meet with alumni and see firsthand how Oles are succeeding in all sorts of endeavors.
“Employers are realizing that liberal arts students have skillsets that allow them to adapt to change, think creatively, and evaluate new opportunities,” says Kris Estenson, an associate director of the Piper Center and the program’s coordinator.
Students on the San Francisco program had the chance to learn about a wide array of growing fields in and around Silicon Valley.
Kirsten Schowalter ’15, a Spanish major, enjoyed learning about the “business” of innovation and the wide variety of opportunities that are available in that ever-changing field.
“Innovation looks different for different places and people, and manifests in different ways depending on the organization for start-ups, multinational corporations, etc.,” Schowalter says.
In addition to visiting companies, students were able to connect with alumni working in a variety of fields — including Zach Schendel ’01, a senior manager of consumer insights at Netflix; Adam Gettings ’04, who founded the robotics company RoboteX and the safety technology company Leeo; Donald Harder ’14, a financial analyst at Hewlett-Packard; and Cody Venzke ’10, a student at Stanford Law School.
“I met and connected with great people who are doing amazing things, and it is inspiring and energizing to now have that community,” Schowalter says. “It is truly creating an Olaf community somewhere beyond the Hill.”
This “community beyond the Hill” is exactly what Estenson is hoping to build through this program.
“While the Connections programs are in cities far from campus, the distance between students and alumni is shortening because of the strengthened communication these programs encourage,” Estenson says.
St. Olaf College Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor has announced that three faculty members have been promoted to the rank of full professor, four have been granted tenure and promoted to the rank of associate professor, and two have been promoted to the rank of associate professor.
Promoted to Professor
- Kathryn Ananda-Owens (Music Department), a classical pianist who is a leader in musician health, earned degrees from Oberlin College, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, where she studied with Julian Martin.
- Brian Bjorklund (Theater Department) specializes in design and technical aspects of theater. He earned his baccalaureate and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota.
- Rebecca Judge (Economics Department), whose research includes environmental economics and justice, earned her baccalaureate degree from Smith College, master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, and Ph.D. from Duke University.
Granted Tenure and Promoted to Associate Professor
- Ibtesam Al Atiyat (Sociology and Anthropology Department), who taught at the UN International Leadership Institute in Amman, Jordan, earned her baccalaureate and master’s degrees from the University of Jordan and Ph.D. from Freie Universitaet Berlin.
- Adam Berliner (Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department), whose academic interests include combinatorial matrix theory, linear algebra, and graph theory, earned his baccalaureate degree from Carleton College and master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- Abdulai Iddrisu (History Department), director of the Africa and the Americas program, specializes in African history. He earned his baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Ghana’s University of Cape Coast and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.
- Laura Listenberger (Biology and Chemistry Departments), whose research aims to understand cellular mechanisms of fat storage, earned her baccalaureate degree from Hope College and her Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.
Promoted to Associate Professor
- Eric Fure-Slocum ’79 (History Department), who specializes in 20th-century U.S. urban and working class history, incorporates community-based work in many of his courses. He is a St. Olaf graduate who earned a master’s degree from both San Francisco State University and Duke University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.
- Jamie Schillinger ’93 (Religion Department), whose research and teaching interests include the relationship between religion and politics and the philosophy of religion, is a St. Olaf graduate who earned a master’s degree from the University of St. Andrews and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He also studied at the Institut Français d’études Arabes in Damascus, Syria.
St. Olaf College is one of the top producers of Fulbright fellows among liberal arts colleges across the nation.
Six St. Olaf students won Fulbright awards for 2014–15, putting the college on a list of colleges and universities that produced the most fellows this year.
The list, compiled by the Institute of International Education on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. St. Olaf tied with Bowdoin and Kenyon colleges in the number of students at each institution who earned Fulbright fellowships.
Of the six St. Olaf students who earned the prestigious award this year, two are using their Fulbright awards to conduct research — one on environmental policy and the other on orchestral conducting. The other four students are performing English teaching assistantships through the program.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is sponsored by the Department of State and awards more than 1,800 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.
St. Olaf College Visiting Assistant Professor of English Kaethe Schwehn is a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award in the Memoir and Creative Nonfiction category.
Schwehn’s book, Tailings: A Memoir, chronicles the time she spent living at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains.
It is “a lyrical memoir of intentional community told from the front lines, a passionate and awkward journey about embracing the ‘in-between’ times of our lives with grace and hope,” according to Schwehn’s website.
The Minnesota Book Awards, established in 1988, are presented annually. This year’s awards gala will be held April 18.
Schwehn is also the co-editor of Claiming Our Callings: Toward a New Understanding of Vocation in the Liberal Arts, a collection of essays written by 14 St. Olaf faculty members.
A team of researchers that drilled through more than half a mile of ice in Antarctica made international news in recent weeks with their surprising discovery: a population of fish living deep beneath the ice sheet.
A KSTP-TV story notes that while many people might wonder what it’s like to drill a hole a few thousand feet deep, St. Olaf College Professor Emeritus of Physics Bob Jacobel doesn’t need to imagine.
Jacobel is a member of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) team that successfully drilled through 800 meters of ice to reach a subglacial lake in what the National Science Foundation called “a first-of-its-kind feat of science and engineering.”
“The hole is about six inches — it’s like an ice fishing hole,” Jacobel tells the ABC news affiliate. “But instead of being drilled with an auger, it’s drilled with hot water.”
After all that drilling, that’s when researchers discovered it:
“Fish,” Jacobell tells the affiliate with a laugh.
“It’s a serendipitous discovery, and we don’t really understand what the impact of that is yet,” Jacobel says.
As part of the WISSARD team, Jacobel was responsible for determining the geophysical characterization of the subglacial lake. The data he gathered, which shows the dimensions and hydrology of the lake, played a crucial role in helping the team determine where to drill.
Jacobel was among the authors of a paper published in the August issue of Nature that confirms that the lake 800 meters below the ice in Antarctica supports “viable microbial ecosystems.”
St. Olaf College President David R. Anderson ’74 recently announced that the college plans to lease 90 acres of land for the development of a new solar installation and will be one of the first and largest subscribers to the project.
Geronimo Energy, based in Edina, Minnesota, has proposed a plan to develop 15 one-megawatt Community Solar Gardens on college-owned land. Altogether, these solar panel arrays are expected to produce 26.2 million kilowatt hours per year and result in a carbon offset of approximately 12,500 metric tons.
St. Olaf has subscribed to 40 percent of the project’s output, the maximum allowable by state law. As a subscriber, St. Olaf will receive utility bill credits under Xcel Energy’s Community Solar Garden program.
St. Olaf’s involvement in this Geronimo project, along with an earlier 10 percent subscription to another Geronimo project and the energy drawn from the college’s own 1.65-megawatt wind turbine, will enable the college to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electrical power.
“Through these efforts, St. Olaf can become carbon neutral in our electrical energy usage by late 2015 or early 2016, and our leadership among liberal arts colleges in sustainability practices will take another step forward,” Anderson says.
Geronimo Energy is a utility-scale wind and solar energy developer. The company has three fully subscribed large community solar projects already in the works and recently won a bid to create additional capacity for Xcel Energy.
Read more about the college’s sustainability initiatives.
The Sherman Fairchild Foundation has awarded St. Olaf College a $360,000 grant for new scientific equipment.
The grant has enabled St. Olaf to acquire a suite of scientific equipment that will significantly enhance the college’s ability to engage students in interdisciplinary scientific explorations using advanced visualization techniques.
“Modern scientific equipment allows researchers — students and faculty alike and often from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds — to truly see key components of their research in ways that were not imaginable in the past,” says Professor of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Matt Richey.
A hallmark of the St. Olaf science program is its long-standing commitment to engaging students in research with faculty members, especially in ways that demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of modern science. The college has continually invested in state-of-the-art science infrastructure, and in 2008 opened Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, a $63 million, LEED-Platinum certified facility.
“Our students’ success depends upon access to modern facilities and equipment,” Richey says. “This generous grant from the Sherman Fairchild Scientific Equipment Program will help us continue to provide that.”
The award has enabled the college to acquire a differential interference contrast/fluorescence workstation; a spinning-disk, fluorescence workstation; and an inverted fluorescence/differential interference contrast workstation — which together allow researchers to perform advanced fluorescence microscopy.
The college has also used the grant to acquire an fNIR, or functional near-infrared spectroscopy, device, a multi-electrode array, and a gel documentation system.
The new equipment will be used in a total of 13 different courses in the Biology, Neuroscience, Chemistry, and Psychology departments, as well as in numerous collaborative student-faculty research projects.
“The fNIR provides St. Olaf with a way to measure brain activity that most schools do not have,” says Assistant Professor of Psychology Jeremy Loebach. “It taps into the same mechanism, the Blood Oxygen Level Dependent or BOLD signal, that the fMRI uses, giving our students direct hands-on experience with a technique that is fundamental to cognitive neuroscience. This in itself is a rare opportunity, as students would often have to be at a large research institution to work with similar technologies, which gives us a definite advantage in preparing our students for careers in psychology and neuroscience.”