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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 53 min ago
St. Olaf College’s Flaten Art Museum is home to more than 4,000 objects, ranging from a collection of Andy Warhol photos to Southwest Native American pottery.
Yet the bulk of these objects largely go unseen by the greater public.
Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson ’04 and students Ola Faleti ’15 and Liz Brindley ’15 are working to change that. Through a new “Collection Stories” initiative, they have created video tours of the college’s extensive art collection.
In one story, Faleti highlights a woodcut by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
In another, Brindley relates a painting by Kurt Larisch to her personal experiences during her Manhattan Art Interim course.
“Instead of relying on art historical genres, or the linear ‘march’ of art history, we decided to pursue thematic stories that focus on how the objects in our collection speak to us today,” Nelson says.
The three recently shared their work at the Universities Art Association of Canada annual conference in Toronto.
Nelson co-presented a talk with Laurel Bradley, the director of the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College, as part of a larger panel called “Art Collections for engagement, teaching, learning, and research in the 21st century.”
Faleti and Brindley jointly delivered a presentation about the student perspectives behind the Collection Stories.
Nelson created the Collection Stories project after seeing a similar initiative at neighboring Carleton College.
“I wanted to present the pieces in Flaten Art Museum in a way that focuses on how the objects relate to our community,” she says.
The project is part of the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program. The team began the project by researching other existing models of digital collection engagement, including projects out of the Portland Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At an early field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, they met with TDX (The Digital Experience), a cross-departmental team dedicated to enhancing visitors’ digital learning experiences in the museum.
Telling the stories
As curators and storytellers, Faleti and Brindley played integral roles with the Collection Stories. They developed virtual exhibitions, narrated video slideshows, and published them as part of Flaten Art Museum’s online collection. Using artworks as a springboard for interdisciplinary inquiry, their work highlights thematic relationships among works from disparate periods, cultures, and media.
Faleti and Brindley found inspiration in themes that seemed to emerge from the collection as they created ideas for the stories. With Nelson’s guidance, they each developed a core topic, researched related objects, and developed scripts. They recorded their stories, and, after editing videos, they created a website to house the videos and object descriptions.
“My favorite part of this project was getting the unique and rare opportunity to look through our collection and find pieces that I connected with,” Faleti says. “Art is multipurpose, of course, but it also exists to elicit emotions and express the human experience, which can be difficult to remember within a scholastic setting. I’m glad that I got to tap into those feelings through the Collection Stories.”
Only the beginning
Two Collection Stories have been published thus far, featuring roughly two dozen pieces of art.
Nelson says that the published stories are only the beginning of this project. She envisions that the Collection Stories model could be adopted in various fields across the liberal arts.
“As a course assignment, the project would require thoughtful ‘curating’ of visual and interpretive material to create a cohesive whole. This is an important skill for the 21st century,” she says.
The Collection Stories are being screened continuously during the current Flaten Art Museum exhibition, Art Works: Gifts from Dan ’69 and Nancy Schneider, which runs through December 14.
“The intention of this project is to start the conversation around artwork, to begin telling our stories as an invitation for others to do the same,” Brindley says.
St. Olaf College sent more students to study abroad during the 2012–13 academic year than any other baccalaureate institution in the nation, according to the Open Doors 2014 Report on International Educational Exchange.
This marks the sixth straight year the college has ranked first among its peers in the total number of students studying abroad.
St. Olaf currently offers study-abroad programs in 45 countries, including 65 semester or year-long programs and nearly 25 off-campus courses during Interim. Faculty-led semester programs include Global Semester, Mediterranean Semester, and Environmental Science in Australia.
Open Doors is the comprehensive information resource on international students in the United States and on the more than 200,000 U.S. students who study abroad as part of their academic experience. The Institute of International Education publishes the Open Doors report annually with funding from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
St. Olaf College student Emily Butka ’18 is the second author of a research article published this fall by Scientific Reports, an online scientific journal from the publishers of Nature.
The article details the findings of a University of Missouri–St. Louis research lab that Butka worked in as member of the 2013 Students and Teachers As Research Scientists (STARS) program.
As a STARS participant, Butka spent six weeks of summer 2013 conducting research alongside a mentor at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. The research focused on measuring the number of triacylglycerols (the main components of fats and oils) in soybean seeds.
“One of my jobs was to prepare [soybean seed] samples — I did a lot of mortar and pestling that summer,” says Butka.
This past summer, Butka worked in the same research lab at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, but on a different project.
“It involved growing a lot of plants in petri dishes,” Butka says.
A college committed to research
In her college search, Butka looked for schools where she could continue to gain hands-on experience in biology.
“One of the reasons I picked St. Olaf is that undergrads can do research,” she says.
St. Olaf is committed to providing students with undergraduate research opportunities. In addition to the college’s own Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry program, the National Science Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and even the National Institute of Justice support research at the college.
Butka recently joined the lab of St. Olaf Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Charles Umbanhowar Jr., whose research involves using lake sediment samples to determine the environmental history of an area.
Butka is excited about her first scientific publication, and hopes to someday conduct plant research of her own.
“STARS was an exciting opportunity,” Butka says. “It was a great experience to watch the process of submitting a scientific paper for peer review.”
St. Olaf College oboe instructor Dana Maeda ’92 shaves the sides of a piece of cane with a small razor, carving off bits as if she were slicing a pepper. Luke Simonson ’16 sits to her left and looks on attentively — he’ll be trying this on his own in just a few minutes.
Maeda stops carving and picks up a spool of gold thread from her work station. She ties the thread’s free end to the table and unrolls the spool. Simonson hands her a small bar of beeswax, which she rubs along the length of the thread.
When she’s finished, Maeda pulls the line taught and leans down close to it. With her right forefinger, she gives the line a good pluck.
“Hear how high-pitched the tension is?” she asks.
Simonson nods. Today, he is learning how to wrap oboe reeds.
Every St. Olaf oboist learns some reed-making skills in their music lessons, but trying to fit both reed-making and playing in a half-hour time slot is difficult. Simonson, a music theory and composition major and principal oboist of the St. Olaf Orchestra, wanted more experience in crafting reeds. So this year he’s taking the college’s first independent study in oboe reed-making, and is using the Hall of Music’s new reed-making studio as his workshop.
An oboe is a woodwind instrument with a double reed, two pieces of cane that vibrate against each other when air is blown between them. The double reed is responsible for the oboe’s unique tone quality, and it has a large effect on an oboe’s overall sound and pitch.
As part of his course, Simonson is learning how to manipulate his sound by adjusting variables like shape, cane width, and raw materials. So far, he’s learned how to revive “dying” reeds and how to adjust store-bought reeds to fit his instrument.
After he’s done learning how to wrap reeds, Simonson will be ready to create reeds from scratch. For his final project, the St. Olaf junior will create a reed-making book that will serve as a reference for other oboists.
Maeda has noticed an increase in reed-making in recent years, a change that she attributes to St. Olaf’s new reed-making studio, which was completed in February 2012.
“The reed room is a huge draw,” says Maeda. “It provides a fun, collegial atmosphere for oboe and bassoon players. We are grateful to have such a wonderful space for our students.”
The reed room, located in the Hall of Music, is temperature and humidity controlled, and features seven work stations. It also has a mobile shelving unit where students can store their supplies in a personalized bin.
In the corner of the room is a “reed graveyard” — a circular, Styrofoam depository for unusable reeds.
“After you have a laundry basket full of reeds, then you’ll be a reed maker,” Maeda jokes.
Continuing the craft
As Simonson finishes wrapping his first oboe reed, he can’t contain his enthusiasm.
“Yeess!” he says. “This is so great.”
He places the beeswax and spool of thread in a small plastic bag, which he slips into the front pocket of his backpack. Maeda finishes class with a quick review of that day’s reed-making steps, and Simonson heads out of the studio.
“Reed making really is a craft,” Maeda says after he’s gone. “I want to make sure my students will continue to play after they leave St. Olaf. Learning how to adjust and make reeds is essential to making that happen.”
Forget about passwords or codes. Forget about even fingerprints or retinal scans.
If the technology that St. Olaf College student Congyuan “Billy” Ji ’15 is working on takes off, a person’s voice may one day hold the key to unlocking secure systems.
This semester Ji is interning at VoiceIt Technologies, a company that has created a high-technology security system using multi-layered voiceprints templates.
Ji’s work at VoiceIt Technologies focuses on analyzing voice biometrics tests for a performance report, which will be sent to clients. Essentially, he’s looking at whether the technology recognizes all the variables of a person’s voice. With data from more than 200 users, he is testing the technology’s success by creating a matrix for false positive and false negative tests.
The possibilities for the use of VoiceIt’s security system are endless. From Moodle to the CIA, all that would be needed to gain access to personal files is a person’s voice.
“Any website could use this system. If Google uses it, for example, we could log into our Gmail account through voice,” says Ji.
As a native Chinese speaker, he translates documents such as manuals and reports for the Chinese market. He also designs pricing charts for the company website using his Photoshop skills, which he acquired through his love for photography.
“I’m excited about working for VoiceIt because it allows me to work in different fields and use my knowledge outside my courses,” says Ji.
Through the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Ji arranged to receive academic credit for his job at VoiceIt Technologies. He worked with St. Olaf Associate Professor of Economics and Department Chair Anthony Becker to bring an academic framework to his experience.
As part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths, the Piper Center offers numerous resources to help students secure internships that 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.
Ji is majoring in mathematics and economics and earning a concentration in statistics at St. Olaf. His internship at VoiceIt Technologies embodies his interests by tying statistics and mathematics to the overall economic status of the company.
“I really enjoy the small business atmosphere of VoiceIt Technologies. I have gotten to know all of my co-workers and I have a great relationship with my boss,” says Ji.
Ji plans to work at VoiceIt Technologies after he graduates. His first task will likely be testing and analyzing data under different environments, such as different languages. He expects to be more focused on his economics and marketing skills once the company has finished the data analysis.
St. Olaf College will award an honorary degree to Knut Brakstad, private secretary to King Harald V of Norway, on November 7.
The honorary degree convocation, part of the college’s Founders Day celebration, will be streamed and archived online.
Brakstad was born in Molde, Norway, graduating from Rauma Folkehøgskole, Molde, in 1974 and Molde Gymnas in 1977. In 1983 he earned his master of divinity degree at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet in Oslo, as well as a divinity degree at the University of Oslo’s theological seminary. Brakstad pursued additional studies at St. Olaf College from 1979 to 1980.
In 1981 he studied philosophy at Augustana Hochschule in Germany before going on to study radio and television production at the National Radio and TV Centre in London the following year. He received a degree in family therapy from the Nic Waals Institutt in Oslo in 1990.
Brakstad’s year at St. Olaf was a transformative one for him. The college’s distinctive liberal arts education, grounded in academic rigor, global engagement, and the Lutheran faith tradition, shaped his personal philosophy of servant-leadership and provided the framework for his life journey as a humanitarian, civic leader, and theologian.
He began his professional career in 1984 as navy chaplain in the Royal Norwegian Navy, Navel District East (ØSD), and served for two years as a senior advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo. From 1987 to 1991, he was a Lutheran minister at Geilo in Hallingdal (Church of Norway), and was a project manager for the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee from 1991 to 1994. Brakstad became private secretary to His Majesty, King Harald V, in 1994.
Brakstad was on the board of Norwegians Abroad (Nordmannsforbundet) for 17 years, and from 1995 to 2012 served as vice president of the board. Through his work with Nordmannsforbundet and the 1994 Winter Olympics, and as a representative of Norway’s royal family, Brakstad has been a passionate advocate for Norwegian culture throughout the world — but always behind the scenes.
In 2005 Brakstad received the Knight’s Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, awarded by King Harald V in recognition of his accomplishments on behalf of Norway and humanity.
During this year’s fall Mellby Lecture, Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department Rebecca Judge will discuss the role of economic analysis — specifically, benefit-cost analysis — in environmental decision-making.
Though Judge describes herself as an “environmental economist who is unapologetically enthusiastic about the powerful insights that are the fruit of economic analysis,” her November 3 talk will aim to show the dangers of allowing environmental policy to be dictated by the simplistic outcomes of benefit-cost analysis.
Her lecture, titled Can Economics Save the Loon? Economics, Love, and the Environment, will be streamed and archived online.
Judge will argue that basing environmental policy on benefit-cost criteria will necessarily lead us to exchange too many irreplaceable environmental assets for replaceable assets whose scarcity and value will only to diminish over time.
“I’m concerned that our national and state environmental policies are increasingly relying on benefit-cost analysis to craft ‘reasonable’ or ‘defensible’ environmental policies, even though such reliance might itself be ‘unreasonable’ and ‘indefensible,'” she says. “I am hoping that people are inspired by this talk to trust the validity of their environmental commitments.”
She will use the loon to illustrate her argument.
“All we know is that loons, or any other irreplaceable environmental asset — by virtue of becoming more scarce — are likely to become more valuable, while whatever we’ve sacrificed them to — fossil-fuel-generated electricity, for example — is likely to become less valuable as replacements for this good become increasingly available,” she says.
“If we want to save the loon, or a couple thousand acres of boreal forest, or the quality of our air and water, or ecosystem stability, we cannot offer these entities the provisional support educed from the ‘reasonable’ conclusions of a benefit-cost analysis. Rather, we need to ‘love’ them,” she says. “We need to put them within a set of goods, like one’s voting franchise, whose allocation is determined, not by market principles, but in service to some other objective.”
Judge earned her bachelor of arts degree in music and biology from Smith College in 1976, her master’s degree in biology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1980, and her Ph.D. in economics from Duke University in 1987. She joined the economics faculty at St. Olaf in 1987, just in time to collaborate with a group of faculty who were preparing a proposal to launch the college’s environmental studies program. She remains active in both departments, currently serving as chair of the Environmental Studies Department, and having served as chair of the Economics Department from 2005 through 2012.
The Mellby Lectures
The annual Mellby Lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.
St. Olaf College Professor of Biology Eric Cole has consistently worked to provide his students with rich, hands-on laboratory experiences, ideally leading to publication.
Now, with the support of a new grant from the National Science Foundation, he is working to help faculty members across the country do the same.
Cole, along with members of the Ciliate Genomics Consortium, will develop and deliver advanced workshops to train cell biology teachers in the use of a model organism — Tetrahymena thermophila — within the classroom.
“This allows undergraduates to ‘publish’ data immediately in a novel form that can be accessed by the ciliate research community,” Cole says.
The goal of this work is to engage more undergraduates in research experiences through course-based projects. It will also create more opportunities for teaching-research integration and student publication.
The Ciliate Genomics Consortium is a student-centered, nationwide collaborative learning community that integrates genomics research into courses in a variety of biology sub-disciplines. The consortium utilizes Tetrahymena thermophila for discovering gene functions due to the cell’s easy growth and husbandry as well as its molecular similarity to human tissue.
Previously, the consortium developed modular course-based curricula that engaged greater numbers of students in research while simultaneously advancing the research efforts of faculty members.
“We were experimenting by linking classroom activities during the school year with research activities in the summer,” says Cole. “This time, we are trying to link resources across institutions, departments, and classrooms.”
Cole’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation in recent years. His Gene Stream initiative, which introduced bridge projects between courses, laid the foundation for current efforts with the consortium.