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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 14 min 23 sec ago
Starting in the fall of 2017, St. Olaf College students will be able to participate in the faculty-led Global Semester — which takes 20 students to six countries around the world — for the same cost as studying on campus. To make this possible, alumni Lynn and Lawrence (Larry) Stranghoener (both of the class of 1976) have established a new endowed fund that will underwrite Global Semester. Its earnings will be matched annually by St. Olaf’s Strategic Initiative Match program.
“The generosity of this gift is matched by its thoughtfulness,” says President David R. Anderson ’74. “This gift ensures the continuity of one of the college’s signature programs. It will enrich the experience of St. Olaf students for generations to come.”
Global Semester is St. Olaf’s longest-standing faculty-led study abroad program. Since 1968 it has taken Oles across Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia to gain insight into global issues. Through interdisciplinary academic coursework and intensive experiential learning, Oles immerse themselves in diverse cultures while gaining perspectives on how to live purposely as globally engaged citizens.
As one of St. Olaf’s most rewarding study programs, Global Semester requires extensive air travel and field excursions, which drive its additional costs. In recent years, total costs per student have ranged from $10,000 to $13,000 above the comprehensive fee, which places Global Semester out of reach for many students. Now the Stranghoener Family Fund will cover this additional cost for students.
The Stranghoener’s inspiration for their gift comes from their own study abroad experiences. Lynn had the chance to study in Avignon, France, and their daughter Rachel ’10 participated in Global Semester, an experience she described as life-changing, in addition to an Interim in Turkey and Greece.
“International travel has long been a part of our personal, academic, and professional lives,” share Larry and Lynn. “We have had global experiences that have shaped our world view and who we are. By supporting Global we hope to encourage students’ development of a global perspective, foster their learning about the world and other cultures, broaden their horizons, and enhance their self-discovery — and give them the joy and occasional frustration of living in close community with other students and professors over the course of a semester.”
International and off-campus study is an integral component of a St. Olaf education. Approximately 72 percent of St. Olaf students study abroad during their years at the college. This strong participation has ranked St. Olaf first among baccalaureate institutions by the number of undergraduates who study abroad, according to the most recent Open Doors 2015 Report on International Educational Exchange. St. Olaf has led this ranking for seven consecutive years.
The Stranghoeners’ gift is part of St. Olaf’s $200 million For the Hill and Beyond comprehensive campaign to raise endowed and annual funding in support of high-impact educational practices such as off-campus study. St. Olaf has raised more than $125 million toward this goal, which also includes funding to support residential learning, affordability and financial aid, and unrestricted gifts in support of St. Olaf’s mission.
In honor and remembrance of St. Olaf College graduate Army Staff Sgt. Adam Thomas ’07, Governor Mark Dayton has ordered U.S. flags and Minnesota flags to be flown at half-staff at all state and federal buildings in Minnesota on Saturday, October 15.
A highly decorated special forces soldier, Thomas died October 4 from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. He was 31 years old.
Thomas was a Green Beret assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson in Colorado. He joined the Army in 2008 and had two previous deployments — one to Iraq in 2008 and one to Afghanistan in 2011. He earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, multiple Army Commendation Medals, and the National Defense Service Medal, among other accolades.
He majored in biology and environmental studies at St. Olaf, where he was also an All-American swimmer. Thomas was a conference champion in 2004 and went to the national championships in 2005, swimming coach Bob Hauck told Minnesota Public Radio.
“He always had a great attitude. He was always a hard worker,” Hauck added in a WCCO-TV piece honoring Thomas. “When I think of him, I think of someone that was inspirational.”
Thomas is survived by his wife, Mackenzie, and his parents, Dr. Will and Candace Thomas of Marshall, Minnesota.
St. Olaf College student Don Williams ‘18 has received a National Dialogue Award from the Sustained Dialogue program in honor of the way that he has used dialogue and action to improve the campus community.
Williams is one of only three people to win the award this year — the other recipients are Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and congressional staff member Bre Swims. All three will accept their awards at a November 17 ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Ginsburg will give the keynote address.
The Sustained Dialogue program is a social change process that aims to transform dialogue about social issues such as identity, community, and inclusivity into action. The program was created by American diplomat Harold “Hal” Saunders, who contributed to peace processes in the Middle East.
Williams has been involved with Sustained Dialogue at St. Olaf since the program was first adopted by the college, where it is co-sponsored by the Center for Multicultural and International Engagement and the Institute for Freedom and Community. He served as a moderator for his first two years of participation, and he now works as a student co-coordinator.
In addition to leading Sustained Dialogue groups, attending conferences, training moderators, and recruiting participants, Williams hosted an event last year called De-Stereotype Me. This project encouraged participants to share their personal experiences with stereotypes and to consider how the St. Olaf community can transcend these stereotypes.
Williams says that his goal in hosting De-Stereotype Me was to “showcase that even though we are different in our personalities, we have some type of commonality.”
“Realizing our differences will allow us to appreciate the community that we have,” says Williams, “which in turn will give us the ability and opportunity to converse about harsh topics.”
Creating change through conversation
It is this dialogue about difficult subjects that Williams and many others involved with Sustained Dialogue find especially valuable for the St. Olaf community. “I feel like that’s what St. Olaf needs, being free to have hard conversations and being free to challenge yourself,” Williams says.
Sustained Dialogue participants work in six groups of around 15, meeting for an hour and a half each week for a 10-week period. Each group is led by two or three moderators who have completed an intensive two-day training program.
Throughout the semester-long process, Sustained Dialogue participants cultivate relationships that support effective problem-solving across differences. The first four weeks of the program are centered on “getting to know and trust your group,” Assistant Director of Residence Life Joshua Lee says. Groups also seek to understand the roots of conflict and misunderstanding of different aspects of our social identity. Sustained Dialogue directs participants to focus on the “Big Eight” social identifiers: socioeconomic status, gender and sex, age, race and color, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and ability.
Next, participants share their personal experiences and connect these to the larger community. The goal of the individual dialogue group is to create a space in which participants are able to “hear each other’s stories,” Director of Multicultural and International Engagement Sindy Fleming ’01 says.
Finally, “depending on what becomes a trend in that conversation,” says Lee, each group concentrates on a specific issue for the remaining six weeks.
“Each week, the Sustained Dialogue group begins their discussion where they left off at the end of the last meeting,” Fleming says. Participants work together to craft a plan of action to address the root causes of conflict.
As Lee says, the program is “not just about talking; it’s about changing as well.”
Dialogue groups from the first year of Sustained Dialogue focused on issues such as mental health and race, often connecting their conversations to the “Big Eight” social identifiers. Their final projects included a climate study of St. Olaf, a discussion about a new General Education requirement, and Donut Dialogues, a one-time event that invited members of the St. Olaf community to dialogue about campus issues.
“What we decided to focus on came about so naturally,” participant Aidan Zielske ‘18 says.
Building relationships through trust
Now in its third year at St. Olaf, Sustained Dialogue is “exponentially growing,” according to Lee. Since the program began, it has had a total of 267 participants — including 211 students, 12 faculty members, and 44 staff members.
According to Lee, the unique appeal of Sustained Dialogue lies in this combination of students, faculty, and staff. “In order to really change, you need to involve faculty and staff” as well as students, he notes. By creating a space for these blended interactions, Sustained Dialogue brings transformative potential to St. Olaf.
Williams believes that Sustained Dialogue enables participants to “reach someone past their title as faculty, staff, and or student. It’s an opportunity to leave those titles behind and really come together to talk about situations that are dear to our hearts.”
Participants also point to trust within dialogue groups as an indispensable element of the program. “It went beyond my expectations with getting to know people and just building that framework of trust,” says Zielske.
By establishing group norms that foster respect and understanding — such as “don’t be afraid of silence,” “argue about the idea rather than attack the person,” and “assume that everyone has the best intentions” — Zielske’s dialogue group was able to cultivate trusting relationships.
This year, Williams plans to build on the previous success of Sustained Dialogue by fostering dialogue with the broader St. Olaf community. “We have people who can’t get strictly involved and commit to the program for the year, but having a process here on campus that allows students, faculty, and staff to come to us about harsh topics is important,” he explains.
“Community is about conversation,” says Williams, “and that’s exactly what Sustained Dialogue provides.”
St. Olaf College has launched a $200 million comprehensive fundraising campaign to advance key programs and opportunities that directly benefit students — from faculty-mentored research and off-campus study to financial aid and interdisciplinary learning communities.
For the Hill and Beyond: The Campaign for St. Olaf has had immediate success, raising $125 million from more than 17,000 individual households, businesses, and organizations during an early leadership phase of the campaign.
The most recent gift, a generous commitment from Lawrence ’76 and Lynn Seifert Stranghoener ’76, will enable St. Olaf students to participate in the college’s signature study abroad program, Global Semester, for the same cost as studying on campus. The Stranghoeners have established an endowed fund that will underwrite program costs above the college’s comprehensive fee for the faculty-led program, which takes students to six countries throughout the world.
“This gift illustrates the kind of impact this campaign will have on our students — providing them with increased access to educational experiences that will continue to shape their life long after they leave the Hill,” says St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74.
For the Hill and Beyond, which is scheduled to reach its goal by 2020, focuses on four funding priorities:
- Advance High-Impact Learning ($68.5 million)
- Enrich and expand off-campus study, faculty-mentored undergraduate research, internships, and the Conversation Programs
- Strengthen Community ($31.5 million)
- Support the construction of the college’s first on-campus indoor ice arena, an increasing number of student organizations and clubs, and two centers to facilitate community-wide reflection and dialogue on complex issues
- Enhance Affordability ($65 million)
- Continue meeting the demonstrated financial need of every admitted student
- Sustain Our Mission ($35 million)
- Increase alumni participation and annual giving to the St. Olaf Fund, which helps bridge the gap between tuition and the actual cost of educating St. Olaf students
“These priorities reflect the promises we have made to our students — to help them find their purpose, and to prepare them to lead productive, fulfilling, and purposeful lives,” Anderson says. “In a time of change and uncertainty, a St. Olaf education sets graduates on solid paths to leadership in their lives. That is why the time is now, as we approach the college’s 150th anniversary, to build the financial resources that will position the college to continue flourishing in the decades ahead.”
Learn more about the campaign’s goals and priorities in the video below.
In his first two years on campus, College Pastor Matthew Marohl was asked the same question a surprising number of times:
Can you recommend a devotion book written for college students?
The query came from all kinds of students. Religion majors. Athletes. The leaders of student organizations.
“They all wanted a devotion book aimed at college students,” Marohl says. “And there are shockingly few.”
So the summer after completing his second year at St. Olaf College, Marohl sat down and wrote one. The book, titled Faith in Motion, included 50 prayers and 20 devotions that focused on everything from roommate problems and exam anxieties to the excitement of going home for a visit.
“I wanted to produce a devotion book that got to the heart of what college life is really like,” Marohl says.
He had 300 copies printed and set them out for students to take. They flew off the shelves.
When Associate College Pastor Katie Fick arrived the next year, they worked on producing a second volume together, titled Living Faith. They each wrote 30 prayers and included 20 new devotions, focusing on issues that they knew would speak directly to college students. This time they printed 500 copies — and by the end of the year, they too were gone.
This fall the St. Olaf pastors released the third volume of the book, titled Faith in College: Devotions and Prayers.
Like the first two editions, it includes prayers and devotions designed to help students connect their faith to the issues they’re actually dealing with.
Take, for example, a prayer titled “When Homework is Difficult”:
I really like what I am learning, God,
but this homework is so hard.
I thought that if I studied something I loved it would be easy,
but it takes much more effort than I realized.
Sometimes I think it means this isn’t what I am meant to do.
Other times I am determined to work hard and
keep pursuing my goals.
When I get frustrated, O God, be with me.
Encourage me to take a break and refocus.
Give me the determination to finish my work,
strengthen me in my vocation as a student and
help me discern which work I truly love to do.
Or a prayer titled “I Wish I Was Dating” that begins with a line many people might not think of including in a prayer:
Loving God, I really want a date.
Marohl says the goal of the book is to model that all of life’s experiences can be included in prayer.
“Why would you only pray for the health of your grandmother when what’s also on your mind is wishing someone would see you as interesting and creative and find you attractive?” Marohl says. “These prayers actually speak to college life.”
Fick notes that the topics included in Faith in College are not ones that she and Marohl simply think will resonate with college students.
“These are topics that we actually hear and answer questions about over and over again when we’re talking with students,” she says. “And to offer prayers on those topics means that we’re connecting faith with what they’re going through.”
The St. Olaf pastors — a lively, fun-loving duo popular with students — note that creating the devotional is a truly collaborative process. They have such similar styles and ideas of what students care about that in this third edition of the devotional, it can be hard for them to remember which pastor wrote which prayer or devotion.
But they can each easily rattle off the core components of faith life that the book touches on — things like grace, forgiveness, love, and serving one another.
“All students who come to campus will be wrestling on some level with questions of ‘What do I believe about the world?’ and ‘What is going to be meaningful in my life?'” Fick says. “And part of the Lutheran tradition is caring about that and helping all students address these questions.”
The devotion book, designed by Lisa Brown in the College Ministry Office with photos she’s taken all across campus, is funded by the Leif and Joen Mattila Jacobsen Endowment in Campus Ministry.
While Marohl and Fick have heard from students who read and use the devotion book, they note that — as with much of their work — they simply don’t know its full impact on campus.
“We certainly hope that they will get used, but part of our measure of success with it is that they get picked up every fall,” Fick says. “They disappear.”
St. Olaf College Professor of Religion and Philosophy Edmund Santurri has been appointed to the Martin E. Marty Chair in Religion and the Academy for the 2016-17 academic year.
The Martin Marty Chair symbolizes what it means to live and work at the intersection of faith and reason. The chair provides opportunities to address significant religious issues and to respond to wider cultural issues in a thoughtful and faithful way.
The theme of the chair this year is “Theology in a Pluralistic World: The Study of Religion at St. Olaf College.” Santurri chose this theme because, he explains, “the college has as one of its central academic missions the cultivation of theological literacy, and Christian theology has always fashioned itself in conversation with alternative ways of construing reality and the meaning of human existence.”
“But,” he asks, “what should that conversation look like at this point in our history, particularly at a college that is also committed to diversity and global perspective?”
In order to encourage the St. Olaf community to ponder this question, Santurri has begun to organize events such as the Symposium on Religious and Political Disagreement and Debating Religious Freedom Today.
These events also involve Santurri’s role as director of the Institute for Freedom and Community, whose spring theme “Religion and Public Life” harmonizes well with his charge as Marty Chair.
The Institute is dedicated to meaningful debate of important political and social issues and founded on the belief that civil discourse is essential in democracy. It promotes such discourse through academic coursework, public lectures and debates, scholarly and undergraduate research, and internships for students.
Santurri explains that he imagines four different kinds of pluralistic theological conversations — “ecumenical conversation among diverse Christian denominations; conversation among Christian and other religious worldviews represented in global community; conversation among competing construals of religious meaning that emerge from diverse cultural, ethnic, gender, social, and historical locations; and conversation between religious and non-religious worldviews.”
“I hope to stimulate some communal reflection on the theme and on how we should embody these theological conversations in the St. Olaf curriculum today,” Santurri says.