St. Olaf College

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A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Applying physics to the world of medicine

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 4:24pm

St. Olaf student Nellie Brovold’s internship at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Care Center has given her an up-close look at the work of medical physicists.

Until this summer, St. Olaf College student Nellie Brovold ’18 didn’t spend much time thinking about the important role that physics plays in treating cancer.

But her internship at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (SCCC) has given her an up-close look at the work of medical physicists — and an idea of how she might like to apply her physics major to a growing field after graduating from St. Olaf.

Brovold, a physics major and Miami native, has been working in the SCCC’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

During her time there, she’s shadowed dosimetrists, medical physicists, and radiation therapists, learning the intricate process of imaging, planning, approving, and administering radiation to cancer patients.

Hospitals have many different machines and techniques for administering radiation in the best way for a wide variety of patients — and Brovold has gotten an up-close look at what role experts can play in figuring out a treatment plan to pursue.

“The role of the dosimetrist, the medical physicist, and the radiation oncologist is to make decisions and compromises in the planning stages about certain cases,” she says. “Each patient is different and may present different constraints than a typical protocol patient would present.”

In the past few weeks, Brovold’s attention has shifted to solely looking at the role that statistical analysis can play in determining the best course of action for treating patients. To do this, her team is employing software that works by taking previously planned anonymized patients from the SCCC to create a model for future patients with similar characteristics.

“I have been learning how to use the University of Miami’s planning software to be able to analyze and understand methods dosimetrists and physicists use in treatment plans that are drafted to doctors and used in treatment for patients,” says Brovold.

Why do hospitals such as SCCC create models for planning cancer treatment?

“Our team wants to analyze how well such models can increase the overall quality and homogeneity of the plans for patients at SCCC,” explains Brovold.

Brovold illustrates the importance of hospitals creating efficient models for cancer treatment.

“Without this tool, it may take several iterations of planning for a dosimetrist to achieve a plan that a physicist and an oncologist will also approve. One patient may take hours to plan, and in a comprehensive cancer center, it still amazes me how many perspectives it takes to accomplish one job very well.”

As a physics major at St. Olaf, Brovold was well equipped for the work that she is doing this summer. The Modern Physics class that she took last spring was especially useful in preparing her for the work this summer, she says.

“I was so excited to recognize how quantum phenomena such as simple Compton Scattering play a role in calculating how X-rays in a linear accelerator disperse doses in a patient’s body,” she says.

Brovold has already been invited to return to the University of Miami next summer to continue her work.

“I am eager to continue learning more about the ever-growing physics applications in the medical field,” she says. “I’m glad that I had the opportunity to study a small part of a large field of interdisciplinary knowledge. It is so satisfying to see how radiation treatment immediately benefits those of all ages in their battles against cancer.”

Categories: Colleges

St. Olaf faculty members travel to Silicon Valley to study innovation

Thu, 08/25/2016 - 2:50pm

ACM faculty members — including St. Olaf Associate Professor of Chemistry Paul Jackson ’92 (third from right) and Entrepreneur in Residence Sian Muir (far right) — tour biotech incubator QB3@953 with Scientific and Operations Director Richard Yu (center).

Three St. Olaf College faculty members recently traveled to Silicon Valley — the global home of innovation and creativity — to investigate the connection between innovation and the liberal arts as part of an Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) program.

Professor of Art Irve Dell, Associate Professor of Chemistry Paul Jackson ’92, and Entrepreneur in Residence Sian Muir traveled to California for 10 days as part of the ACM’s 18-month seminar Silicon Valley as an Innovation Ecosystem.

The seminar is the fifth in a series of Seminars in Advanced Interdisciplinary Learning (SAIL) organized by the ACM colleges and funded through a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Participants in the seminar visited tech giants like Google and LinkedIn, as well as budding start-ups like Sprig, to get an up-close look at what drives innovation — something that liberal arts colleges are trying to capture.

ACM faculty members visited several Silicon Valley tech giants, including Google.

They also visited Stanford University to talk with researchers in their labs, and had a Q-and-A session with Terry Winograd, the Ph.D. advisor to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. There was even an opportunity to meet with the “Father of Virtual Reality,” Jaron Lanier.

The St. Olaf professors joined faculty from four of the other ACM colleges, which allowed for discussions about how what they saw in Silicon Valley could be applied to teaching and learning in the liberal arts.

Another important component of the trip was meeting with alumni from various ACM colleges who are currently working in Silicon Valley. These meetings enabled the professors to get an idea of how a liberal arts education prepares graduates to work in such innovative environments — and where teaching can be improved.

The three St. Olaf faculty members will use what they learned through this program to create a course module on innovation during the spring semester of the 2016-17 academic year.

“We are creating an integrated, multiple stage, design-thinking module,” Jackson says. “Three of our spring term courses — Marketing, Sculpture/Direct Metal, and Integration/Application in Environmental Studies — will come together to execute a shared experience in cross-disciplinary, creative design, and prototyping work. Students will then continue to refine some of the ideas in their individual courses.”

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Studying sleep at Mayo Clinic

Tue, 08/23/2016 - 1:24pm

St. Olaf College student Taylor Knopf ’18 (second from left) worked with a team of Mayo Clinic researchers this summer to study sleep.

Sleep was at the top of Taylor Knopf’s agenda this summer.

But the St. Olaf College junior wasn’t focused on getting rest — she was focused on studying it alongside a team of Mayo Clinic researchers.

Knopf spent her summer working in the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Sleep Medicine. She joined a team led by St. Olaf alumnus Erik St. Louis ’87 that is examining a wide range of issues related to sleep, particularly REM sleep behavior disorders and their connection to a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

Knopf, a Spanish major with concentrations in neuroscience and biomolecular studies, spent much of her time in the lab scoring polysomnographic data.

“Basically, patients sleep overnight in our lab with electrodes attached to parts of the head, face, arms, and legs,” she says. “All of the data taken from these electrodes are compiled into one file that I can read for movements in the body that would be representative of sleep disorder or disease.”

Taylor Knopf ’18 stands near a bronze statue of William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo outside the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The brothers, along with their father, built the world-renowned medical facility.

In addition to this hands-on work in the lab, Knopf also had the opportunity to interact with physicians at the world-renowned medical facility and attend conferences and lectures.

“One of my favorite talks was at a neurosurgery conference about the ethical dilemmas that neurosurgeons may often face,” says Knopf, who plans to attend medical school and pursue a career as a surgeon.

Knopf was connected to the lab and St. Louis through the pre-health advisor at St. Olaf, Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp. She received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to support her time at Mayo Clinic this summer.

In the past year, 107 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 107 students have received internship funding through college programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program, the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program, and the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund — all part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.

Knopf says her time at Mayo has reinforced her plans to pursue a career in health care.

“Throughout the summer, I’ve also had opportunities to spend time with Mayo Clinic physicians in clinics and the operating room,” she says. “This summer has offered me the chance to see newborn babies, tumor resections, and cancer-free announcements. As an aspiring surgeon, I’ve found these experiences to be informative in determining the path I want to take after my graduation from St. Olaf.”

Categories: Colleges

Shining a light on the sounds of Latin America

Wed, 08/17/2016 - 10:23am

A faculty-mentored project that Vanessa López ’17 is working on this summer aims to bring Latin American music to a broader audience.

Last summer, St. Olaf College student Vanessa López ’17 spent time in Barcelona studying alongside renowned Colombian-born soprano Patricia Caicedo.

This summer, she’s creating a website that brings the Latin American music she studied to a broader audience.

Working alongside St. Olaf Professor of Music Nancy Paddleford, who specializes in Latin American music, López is designing a website that will include Latin American music recordings, English translations, a note on the meaning behind the songs, and information about individual composers.

“I’m creating the website to expose people to the wonderful music of this region,” López says. “It’s not well-known because there is no easy access point, and this website will enable people to have that place where they can enjoy all the Latin American art song music that they want.”

López, a member of the St. Olaf Choir and president of the St. Olaf Student Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association, is pursuing this project as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars program, a graduate school preparatory program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by St. Olaf since 2007.

López, who is majoring in vocal music education and music elective studies in Latin American and Iberian vocal music at St. Olaf, received funding from the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund that enabled her to spend last summer in Barcelona under the tutelage of Caicedo and others, including highly acclaimed Brazilian tenor and musicologist Lenine Santos.

Vanessa López ’17 performs at the prestigious National Library of Catalonia as part of the 2015 Barcelona Festival of Song, one of several events that capped her summer in Spain.

She was one of only four students selected from around the world to study with Caicedo, whose program is typically reserved for established vocal performers.

López first met Caicedo when the famed soprano came to St. Olaf in 2014 to give master classes and lectures in Latin American and Iberian vocal music. That experience prompted López to apply for the program in Spain.

The two-week intensive program offered classes in an array of different areas, all designed to increase participants’ overall musical knowledge. Several hours of classes in vocal literature, history, and diction filled most of López’s time in Barcelona.

She also worked with linguists to learn to speak a range of different languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, and Spanish, in order to be able to sing the songs that she was learning about.

López’s experience in Spain culminated in two performances — one of which was held in the prestigious National Library of Catalonia — that enabled her to showcase both her singing talent and the language skills she learned during the program.

Vanessa López ’17 with the website she is creating this summer to bring Latin American music to a broader audience.

“The most enjoyable experience of being in Barcelona was being able to collaborate and work with musicians from all over the globe to present beautiful music in two final concerts, some of whom have become lifelong friends that I still am in contact with,” she says.

López continues to use the connections she made in Spain to track down and translate the music for her website.

“I am in constant connection and utilize resources from both Dr. Caicedo and Dr. Santos to aid in the creation of the website,” she says. “They help me in finding scores, performances, and granting access to digital libraries.”

Despite studying Iberian music under Caicedo and Iberian music being a component of her major, López decided not to include music from Spain and Portugal as part of the website. The reason?

“Most composers from Spain and Portugal are more well-known worldwide and their music is more easily accessible and found compared to Latin American composers,” she says. “Only a select few Latin American composers are known worldwide, and others are not known at all.”

She’s hoping her website will help change that.

Categories: Colleges

Dance professor to perform new work that examines aging

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 1:09pm

St. Olaf Professor of Dance Janice Haws-Roberts will perform a new piece, Approaching Winter, that will allow the audience to see a lifelong dancer come to terms with aging and performing her final concert.

Professor of Dance Janice Haws-Roberts left her full-time professional dance career in 1994, when she accepted a teaching position at St. Olaf College. Yet for the last 22 years, Haws-Roberts still considered herself a dance performer.

Age and the will of the body, mind, and spirit have a way of catching up with us all, and it has come to the point in her professional life where Haws-Roberts is facing the end of her performance career. She is creating an introspective dance performance that encapsulates the feelings she has when faced with this inevitability.

The piece, Approaching Winter, will allow the audience to see a lifelong dancer come to terms with aging and performing her final concert. Haws- Roberts will perform the dance on September 8 at 11:30 a.m. and September 9 at 7 p.m. in the Wagner-Bundgaard Studio One in Dittmann Center.

Haws-Roberts received funding to create the piece from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund made possible by the voters of Minnesota.

How did she come up with the idea for a performance about aging — a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about and that requires a performer to showcase their own vulnerability?

“When you look at the arts, it’s not uncommon to see an older person on stage, or an actor or even a musician. For dance, it’s simply not the same. So I began to think about the disparity between dance and the other forms,” says Haws-Roberts.

Her own relationship with being a dance performer is tinged with different emotions. Despite a career that enabled her to travel and perform all over the world, there is some pain — a result of the immense strain that dance puts on the body. Those conflicting emotions will be on view in the performance.

Haws-Roberts used her sabbatical this past year to ready the performance and also hone the meaning of the piece.

“It’s been a really interesting process. I wouldn’t say it was completely joyful; it was very difficult — lots of tears,” she says. “It’s been a learning process, coming to face-to-face with some really difficult topics such as my own aging process and maybe a nervousness about facing who I am now as a performer as opposed to who I used to be.”

With choreographer Keith Johnson, she has produced a melancholic piece that takes into consideration her own physical limits caused by a professional dance career that has spanned almost 30 years. Yet there are experiences that come with such a long career that Haws-Roberts can draw upon for the emotive performance.

“There are parts of this piece that I could not have performed when I was younger, because I did not have the life experience,” she says.

Haws-Roberts is hoping that the dance will foster a wider conversation around the topic of aging and the discourse that surrounds aging.

She has collaborated with the local Arcadia Charter School and Northfield Senior Center to bring together different generations to watch the September 8 performance. The September 9 performance will be open to a general audience, and admission will be free.

Immediately following each performance, there will be a discussion about aging that will encourage attendees to ask questions about the piece. Additionally, they will be able to able share their own thoughts on and experience with aging.

Categories: Colleges

Student joins Johns Hopkins research team examining how infants use math

Thu, 08/04/2016 - 3:21pm

Joy Smith ’17 is working alongside researchers in the Laboratory for Child Development at Johns Hopkins University this summer.

This summer, St. Olaf College student Joy Smith ’17 is working alongside researchers at Johns Hopkins University to answer an intriguing question: Can infants increase their working memory capacity through counting?

Early results indicate that the surprising answer is yes.

Smith — one of five research assistants in the Laboratory for Child Development in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore— says previous research has shown that infants ages 17-19 months can remember and keep track of up to three objects at a time, but fail with four or more objects.

Her research team has found, however, that infants can overcome this failure in working memory and keep track of four objects if they are counted out beforehand.

“Infants at this age have not yet learned to count, do not understand counting words, and do not have a lot of exposure to counting,” Smith says. “Yet it is remarkable that this research reveals that counting can still enhance their working memory capacity for objects.”

Smith, a psychology major at St. Olaf with a concentration in family studies, received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to support her time at Johns Hopkins this summer.

In the past year, 107 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 107 students have received internship funding through college programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program, the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program, and the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund — all part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.

Last summer Smith studied emotion expression in preschool-aged children alongside Associate Professor of Psychology Grace Cho as part of the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. That experience prompted Smith to pursue additional research experience, which led her to apply for the internship at Johns Hopkins.

She says her work this summer — which has included running studies with participants, making calls to families, coding videos, and analyzing data — has provided her with a better understanding of not only child development, but cognition in general. It also confirmed her plans to pursue a graduate degree in psychology and child development.

“It’s exciting to uncover new information about the way the human mind functions, and the extraordinary things it can do, even as an infant,” she says. “I have learned that child development research is vital to our understanding of the mind, and that it is the foundation for the best approaches to education. The more informed we are about child development, the better we can help children grow to their full potential.”

Categories: Colleges

St. Olaf refinances bonds, will use savings to fund campus projects

Thu, 08/04/2016 - 2:31pm

The Minnesota Higher Education Facilities Authority has issued $22,845,000 in Series Eight-N bonds on behalf of St. Olaf College, refinancing existing long-term debt to realize savings made possible by the current low interest rate environment.

It is projected that the college will save about $2 million a year with the reduced interest on these bonds. St. Olaf intends to direct a lion’s share of these savings to its ongoing commitment to funding capital renewal on campus.

As a prerequisite of the sale, Moody’s Investors Service reviewed the college’s operations and outlook and affirmed St. Olaf’s A1 rating with a stable outlook.

All of the bond maturities were fully subscribed within seven minutes of being open to the market, reflecting both the attractive terms of the bonds and the strength of the college’s financial position.

Categories: Colleges

Student travels to Paris to research historical sounds of the city

Tue, 08/02/2016 - 3:23pm

Carolyn Nuelle ’18 in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. She spent several weeks in the city this summer gathering source material for a St. Olaf research project.

The chance to explore Paris on a quest for hidden treasure sounds like a tale reserved for a novel. Yet St. Olaf College student Carolyn Nuelle ’18, a French and music major, did just that this summer — with the ‘treasure’ in this case being the source material for an ambitious research project.

She is part of a St. Olaf research team led by Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein that is using technology to create interactive, chronological maps of musical life in 1920s Paris that bring the city to life in a way that a paper map never could.

Nuelle spent two weeks in the City of Lights searching for historical records that can help the team recreate the feeling of being in Paris nearly a century ago.

Delving through the records of some of the city’s greatest houses of historical documents, Nuelle spent much of her time in the National Archives, National Library, Mahler Multimedia Library, and the Archives of the Police Headquarter.

Her objective was to locate primary sources — such as newspaper advertisements, noise complaints, and music manuscripts — that may be useful to Epstein’s team.

Nuelle was not only searching for documents; she spent time snapping photos of the historic sites of the city as well, with a keen focus on music venues and nightlife hotspots. She also recorded some of the sounds of the city that will be added to the maps.

“It was a unique experience to be able to sort through newspaper clippings or concert programs that are almost a hundred years old,” she says. “When you find familiar names or relevant information it gets exciting, like you’re solving some great mystery.”

All of this work will help inform the St. Olaf team’s mapping project, which is part of the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. The project is in its second year and has involved eight student researchers over the two years. This year’s team includes Emily Hynes ‘18 (who is conducting her work as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars program), Zhizhi (Stella) Li ‘17, Samuel Parker ‘18, and Nuelle.

Last year, the team’s focus centered on creating a single map covering all of the musical happenings of 1924 Paris. This year’s team is creating multiple maps to illustrate change over time, casting the spotlight on staples of 1920s Parisian musical life like Austro-Germanic music and the Ballets Russes.

“The most rewarding moments were times when everything kind of fell into place — when I recognized a newspaper clipping cited in a book we’d read earlier in the summer, or when I finally got to see hard copies of a collection of music hall programs rather than having to read them on microfilm,” Nuelle says.

Why the need to send someone to Paris? This points to one of the main problems that the research team has had to deal with.

“Many of the resources we’re using to conduct our research are available through the digital archive of the French national library, but there are always newspapers, music periodicals, letters, administrative records, and other primary sources that haven’t been digitized,” Epstein says.

Nuelle is the second member of Epstein’s team to travel to Paris to search for source material. Last summer Philip Claussen ’16, a music education major, spent two weeks in the city looking for similar information.

“I’d say the best part about going was the opportunity to explore the city with new eyes,” Claussen says. “I’d been to Paris in the past, but not with the sorts of things in mind that I had this time around as part of the team. Being in Paris to find performance venues and sites of former performance venues is really a very exciting experience, as you get a completely different perspective of the city than if you were there simply for tourism.”

The experiences that Nuelle and Claussen had in Paris are what the team ultimately wants users of the map to have.

Epstein says, “Whether someone is physically present in Paris or exploring its musical legacy through an interactive map, the city comes to life; the connections between the present and the past become tangible; and the hidden musical treasures of Paris are revealed.”

Categories: Colleges

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