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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 43 min ago
St. Olaf College kicked off the new year with new On the Road events in Minneapolis and Seattle.
In Minneapolis, three highly accomplished alumni — former Mayo Clinic Health System CEO Rob Nesse ’73, LifeSource CEO Susan Gunderson ’79, and Zipnosis CEO Jon Pearce ’01 — provided insight into the issues facing America’s health care system during a panel discussion moderated by St. Olaf Associate Professor of Biology and Health Professions Committee Chair Kevin Crisp. (Listen to the full discussion here.)
In Seattle, St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74 sat down with David Rossow ’05 — a senior officer for program-related investments at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — for a conversation about strategic philanthropy.
More than 400 people attended the two January St. Olaf On the Road events, which followed the inaugural event in New York City this fall that featured a conversation with economist Dean Maki ’87.
The On the Road program — which brings alumni, parents, and friends of the college together with prospective students for conversation and networking — will hold its final event of the year in Denver on March 19.
Watch the full Seattle On the Road conversation below.
The honorary degree convocation, which will begin at 10:10 a.m. in Boe Memorial Chapel, will be streamed and archived online.
The St. Olaf Band has performed and recorded many of Maslanka’s pieces, including Give Us This Day and A Child’s Garden of Dreams, as well as having performed consortium premieres of Maslanka’s Symphony No. 5, 7, 8 & 9.
Most recently, the St. Olaf Band commissioned Maslanka to compose a piece for its 125th anniversary tour. The band performed the world premiere of that piece, Angel of Mercy, at the January 23 concert that kicked off the anniversary tour. The commission was supported by the Miles Johnson Endowment.
A graduate of the Oberlin College Conservatory, Maslanka spent a year studying at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, before earning master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from Michigan State University.
Maslanka has served on the faculties of the State University of New York at Geneseo, Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York, and since 1990 has been a freelance composer.
Among his more than 130 works are 48 pieces for wind ensemble, including seven symphonies, 15 concertos, a Mass, and many concert pieces. His chamber music includes four wind quintets, five saxophone quartets, and many works for solo instrument and piano. In addition, he has written a variety of orchestral and choral pieces.
Maslanka has received three National Endowment for the Arts Composer Awards, five resident fellowships from MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and the National Symphony Orchestra regional composer-in-residence award. He is also a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
“Vibration is the core of everything, and musical vibration is the element that allows for transformation at the entry level of our being — spiritual, emotional, physical,” Maslanka noted in an interview posted on his website. “My music has been an important focusing element for many, many people, especially young people, as they move through transformation points in their lives.”
One of the most sophisticated new research devices at St. Olaf College is able to assist with faculty research, student research, and class projects — and it all started with a meter stick taped to the wall and three students willing to go out of their comfort zone to create something groundbreaking.
The device, called the SoLoArc, tests sound localization in the vertical and horizontal planes. In other words, it is able to present sound systematically so that researchers can test how well subjects are able to discriminate the location of the sounds they are hearing.
The system has 37 individual speakers and 73 LED lights on a 12-foot arc that can present sound and light every five degrees, and then subjects point to where they think the sound is coming from.
The ambitious project all started when Roman Tyshynsky ’16, Mari Balhorn ’16, and Jake Westerberg ’16 approached St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Psychology Jeremy Loebach about continuing a small research project that took place in the span of a three-hour lab in their Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience class in which they taped a meter stick to the wall, blindfolded subjects, and had them localize the sound of a pen click.
Loebach agreed to work with the students as a series of independent research projects to create the apparatus, and the end result was a device worlds more sophisticated than a meter stick and a clicking pen.
According to Loebach, the SoLoArc will be used in classes such as Sensation and Perception, Psychology of Hearing, and Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, as well as his own research and student research projects. For example, Loebach will use the device in his research studying how people with cochlear implants localize sound in situations where their implants do not communicate with one another, or when they have a cochlear implant in one side and a hearing aid or normal hearing in the other.
The team presented two posters on the device at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Chicago, and are writing two papers on the build process: one focusing on collaborative research and creative engagement of students in research, and another on the device itself.
“I’ve wanted to build something like this for a while — we do activities with it in class, so this is a great way to involve the students and get something out of it that’s much bigger than what I would do on my own,” Loebach says.
The students worked closely with Devin Lackie, a technician from the Physics Department, as well as Loebach to design and build the device in the metal shop in Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. Lackie worked tirelessly with the students, engaging them in the design process, challenging them in the build process, and teaching them how to do the work themselves and think through the problems critically.
“Both Professor Loebach and Devin did not simply do the work for us, but guided us through the process, taking our input as equals and modifying the construction process accordingly or explaining why an idea may not work,” Tyshynsky says. “It has been by and far the best collaborative project of which I have been a part.”
Loebach says this project illustrates what sets St. Olaf apart from other schools: the college has invested heavily in physical spaces like the metal and wood shops in Regents Hall and knowledgeable, talented support staff like Lackie.
“This project could not be done at most schools, and we are incredibly lucky to have the physical resources and amazing support staff to collaborate with to allow the creation of such a device,” Loebach says.
Although the students initially expected to be done with this project in one semester, the design turned out to be a lot more complicated, and it took them a full year to complete.
“We put a lot of hours in over the year it took to build it, and watching it all come together was one of the most satisfying and exhilarating experiences of my college career,” Balhorn says.
According to Loebach, the students created a device that was much more usable for maybe a tenth of the cost to buy something pre-made.
“We can do more with the investment that the college made, and we can do a lot more with the money than we would have been able to do otherwise,” he says.
Everyone involved in the project expressed great pride in the finished product.
“The most rewarding aspect was creating something that will outlast us with respect to our time at St. Olaf,” Westerberg says. “Students five, 10, even 20 years down the road could use this device to further their education. It is satisfying knowing that we have left a sort of legacy.”
On a single day at the beginning of December, Esmé Marie ’14 welcomed 17 Syrian refugees to Switzerland.
Among those selected for resettlement are mothers who have lost children, victims of torture, and people in need of medical attention.
For the next two years, Marie will help this group of refugees get the help they need and settle into their new environment as part of her work with the Immigrant Services of Baselland in Switzerland.
In neighboring Austria, Mirwais Wakil ’15 is doing similar work as a humanitarian advisor with the Austrian Red Cross. Each day he works to help hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and other countries with basic needs and legal problems.
The work is often overwhelming, the two recent St. Olaf College graduates told an audience of current students and faculty members during a video chat organized by Associate Professor of Political Science and Asian Studies Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak. Yet, they noted, it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Marie and Wakil discussed the challenges they face in helping a small fraction of the more than one million immigrants and refugees currently in Europe, how they find hope in their work, and what Americans can do to help the refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.
Marie’s work with the Immigrant Services of Baselland is through a governmental pilot project created in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
So far, her work has focused on helping refugees with immediate needs like gaining access to health care. She is contacting health care providers, arranging and accompanying refugees to appointments, and dealing with insurance companies. Moving forward, her work will focus on helping this group of refugees learn the local language and integrate into the workforce.
Although many of the people she is working with have lost everything — often including family members — they persevere.
“I’ve seen refugees carry on with such great strength in a graceful way,” Marie says.
For Wakil, the work he is doing in Austria reflects his personal experience. He fled from Afghanistan to Austria at age 15 after six years of living under the Taliban regime.
Now he serves hundreds of refugees — many of whom fled the Taliban — living in a temporary housing unit in Vienna.
“Most importantly I ensure that it’s safe in the house and that people receive the dignity they are entitled to as human beings. It is somewhat difficult to say exactly what my typical day looks like because there is no typical day,” says Wakil.
A political science major at St. Olaf with a concentration in Middle East studies, Marie learned Arabic through the college’s Alternative Language Study Option program.
She uses those skills, which she honed through the U.S. State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship Program and the time abroad it supported in Jordan, on a daily basis to connect with refugees. She has found that language creates a sense of trust and familiarity between herself and the refugees she’s working with.
Wakil, who majored in political science, studio art, and economics at St. Olaf, wrote an extensive paper for the Immigration and Citizenship course taught by Tegtmeyer Pak on the reception mechanisms of unaccompanied minors in Austria compared to those in the United States. With his knowledge of this topic, he was able to find a number of jobs with nongovernmental organizations in Austria.
Despite being surrounded by such loss and history of fear and violence, Marie and Wakil are still optimistic about the future.
“There are many cases of Austrian families essentially adopting people in the house,” says Wakil, who notes that he finds hope in watching these refugees find new families.
Marie and Wakil say Americans who want to help with the refugee crisis can reach out to political leaders to advocate for policy changes in the United States, volunteer with marginalized refugees who are already in the country, and support national nonprofit organizations.
Wakil plans to continue his work with the Austrian Red Cross until next fall, when he will use a Rotary Global Grant Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in international relations at the London School of Economics.
After completing his graduate program, he would like to work with the International Committee of the Red Cross or the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Marie will be working with the resettlement program in Switzerland until the end of 2017, after which she plans to resume her studies and complete a master’s degree program in a politics.
“My bottom line is sustainable institutional and societal progress,” she says.
The upcoming St. Olaf Band Winter Tour will culminate in a February 6 performance in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The event will help celebrate the ensemble’s 125th anniversary, which happens to coincide with the same anniversary for the storied concert hall (buy tickets here).
Tim Mahr ’78, conductor of the band, is excited for his students to play where Dvorak’s New World Symphony was first heard, and where Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Plácido Domingo, and David Bowie all have performed. Author J.K. Rowling even read on stage from her book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it was published, and the New York Philharmonic has played more than 5,000 concerts in the hall.
“Playing at Carnegie will be an experience that our musicians won’t soon forget,” says Mahr. “In addition to it being the most historically significant concert hall in the United States, the acoustics are stunning and we can’t wait to make music in that iconic space.”
The band’s tour program features the premiere of American composer David Maslanka’s Angel of Mercy, which was commissioned for the 125th anniversary with funding from the Miles Johnson Endowment. Other stops along the tour will include Milwaukee, Chicago, and Philadelphia. (See complete program, itinerary, and ticketing information.)
The 95-member St. Olaf Band is the college’s oldest music organization and has toured nationally since 1904. Their 30-concert tour of Norway in 1906 made them the first American collegiate band to tour Europe. They have toured extensively throughout Europe and Asia.