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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 1 hour 8 min ago
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.
A new grant from the National Science Foundation will fund enhancements in St. Olaf College’s cyberinfrastructure.
St. Olaf Professor of Statistics Julie Legler and Director of Information Systems Craig Rice will utilize the $327,640 grant to make a tenfold increase in the college’s data transfer capacity, an upgrade that anticipates the steady integration of Big Data usage into St. Olaf’s undergraduate research training.
“St. Olaf students will be getting incredible experience in Big Data analysis,” Legler says. “There are not a lot of liberal arts schools with this data capacity.”
Faster access to data
“Big Data,” a term that has generated a lot of media buzz recently, encompasses all data so large that they are difficult to process using traditional database methods.
Large data sets can take days to download on a conventional computer network, but with St. Olaf’s increased data processing speed, these data sets could be available in just minutes.
“With this new upgrade, students and faculty will have faster access to large amounts of data, which they will be able to work with and pass around more efficiently,” says Rice.
Several St. Olaf research projects will benefit from the cyberinfrastructure enhancement — including investigations led by Assistant Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson and Professor Emeritus of Physics Robert Jacobel.
Hodgson is working to identify chronic medical conditions that contribute to the rising cost of hospital treatment. To achieve this, she and a team of undergraduate researchers are analyzing a data set that includes all discharges from every California hospital from 1994 until 2011, a large data set that will be more easily accessible with St. Olaf’s faster data processing speed.
Jacobel heads a research group that examines how Earth’s ice masses respond to climate change. Jacobel and his team use high-resolution images to construct digital elevation models of ice masses, which they can compare over time to measure ice gain or loss.
High-resolution imagery of Antarctica and Greenland is imperative to Jacobel’s research, but each image can take days to download. With St. Olaf’s new network in place, Jacobel’s team will be able to download images more efficiently, and expand their study to a much larger geographic area.
“These technology enhancements take St. Olaf to the next level of scope with Big Data,” Rice says. “I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with the new data network in place.”
Two St. Olaf College faculty members have been appointed to endowed chairs recently established with the support of gifts from alumnus Steven Fox ’77.
Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77 has been named to the Patrick J. Quade Endowed Chair in Theater and Associate Professor of Music Christopher Aspaas ’95 has been named to the Robert Scholz Endowed Chair in Music.
Fox established the two endowed chairs with gifts that will, through the Strategic Initiative Match, result in a $3 million commitment to support distinguished teaching. The Strategic Initiative Match is a St. Olaf Board of Regents program that provides matching funds for gifts above $50,000 that support the college’s strategic plan.
Aspaas joined the St. Olaf faculty in 2005 after earning his Ph.D. in choral music education from Florida State University, his M.M. in choral conducting from Michigan State University, and his B.M. in voice performance from St. Olaf.
He conducts the Viking Chorus, a 90-voice ensemble of first-year student men, and also leads the St. Olaf Chapel Choir, a 100-voice ensemble specializing in the performance of oratorio and larger multi-movement works.
In addition to conducting, Aspaas leads coursework in choral literature, choral conducting, and private applied voice. His travels as a guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator have taken him around the world. Aspaas is also active as a tenor soloist and has performed solo roles with a variety of orchestras, including the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic in Russia.
Scholz, a 1961 St. Olaf graduate, served on the college’s music faculty for nearly four decades before retiring in 2005. He led the Chapel Choir, Viking Chorus, Campus Choir (now Cantorei), and Chamber Choir in addition to teaching voice, choral conducting, and choral literature. In addition to his academic work, Scholz helped found the St. Olaf Summer Music Camp and assisted in planning the St. Olaf Christmas Festival. In 1995 Scholz received the F. Melius Christiansen Award for outstanding contributions to choral music from the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota.
Wilson earned her Ph.D. in theater at the University of Minnesota, garnering distinctions in philosophy of theater, acting, playwriting, and dramatic theory. She also holds a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf.
Since joining the St. Olaf faculty in 1979, Wilson has directed more than 30 productions and has developed more than 15 new courses, including an innovative class titled Who Owns the Arts? Censorship, Sponsorship, and Artistic Freedom. She was also instrumental in the establishment of the Minnesota Playwrights’ Center’s New Plays on Campus program, which brings emerging playwrights to colleges and universities across the country for full-scale productions of their scripts. She has directed four productions that she discovered through the program.
Quade, a 1965 St. Olaf graduate, served on the college’s theater faculty for nearly three decades and directed International and Off-Campus Studies for nearly a decade before retiring in 2005. He taught more than 20 different courses in theater and communication and directed more than 70 theater productions. His production of Godspell was a national winner in the American College Theater Festival.
In addition, Quade founded the St. Olaf Children’s Theater Institute, implemented a Fine Arts Elementary Education Program for public schools, and created a workshop that helps elementary and high school instructors teach writing.
Revista de Biología Tropical, an international journal of tropical conservation and biology, published a special volume dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Associated Colleges of Midwest’s Field Research Program in Costa Rica.
This special issue of the journal highlights nine research projects, three of which were written in part or in their entirety by St. Olaf researchers.
Students Lauren Carlson ’13, Emma Cornwell ’13, and Jonathan Henn ’12 conducted the research, under the guidance of Chris Vaughan, director of the ACM Program, and Shea, as a St. Olaf advisor. A preface includes comments by Shea and other former students of the program on its impact in their careers.
St. Olaf is one of 14 ACM institutions participating in this program in Costa Rica. The program gives undergraduates the unique opportunity to develop their own intensive research project. Henn says the program provides students with the freedom and independence to investigate a scientific question.
“We were able to think creatively and critically about what question you would ask and how you would go about answering it,” he says.
The students created a variety of research projects primarily in the natural and social sciences. Cornwell’s research focused on how different agricultural systems affected the soil quality in the province of San Carlos. Henn focused on food provided for the rare scarlet macaw and variegated squirrels by the introduced tree species, beach almond. Carlson explored high school students’ knowledge of cervical cancer in San Carlos through interviews with students and teachers.
In addition to field research opportunities, the program also gives students the opportunity for cultural immersion with two family stays.
“I observed directly how cross-cultural experience, Spanish language, and field research were brought together in this program,” says St. Olaf Professor of Spanish Leon Narvaez, past director of the ACM program in Costa Rica and a St. Olaf advisor, along with Shea. Narvaez was recognized for his decades of service to the programs at the 50th anniversary celebration of ACM in Costa Rica last June.
As a participant, Cornwell says she formed lifelong bonds with her two host families during the program.
Both Carlson and Henn received Fulbright awards after their work in Costa Rica. Henn researched forest restoration in Argentina after damage by North American beavers. Carlson conducted public health research with the Universidad de San Francisco Quito in Quito, Ecuador.
Cornwell has been working with Food Corps, a program in partnership with AmeriCorps that puts leaders in limited-resource schools to teach students about food with hands-on activities such as creating a community garden.
St. Olaf has been a pioneer and leader in international study for half a century. The college currently offers more than 110 programs in 44 countries, and more than two-thirds of St. Olaf students study abroad in one or more countries before they graduate.
St. Olaf College student Emily Witt ‘17 spent her summer researching the radioactivity of the sky with other undergraduates at the University of Chicago’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.
Witt was selected to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The team used the South Pole Telescope — one of the premier telescopes in existence — to measure the radiation of the microwave sky, a study that has a strong community of researchers.
As a math and physics major at St. Olaf, Witt utilized her skills to help create a code that sets the groundwork for future researchers. This code plots the temperature of point sources in the sky and then determines which of these sources are significant by comparing the variation of their radiation to the background radiation present throughout the universe.
In the future, researchers will use this code to search for astronomical transients, a phenomena where radiation is emitted for only a few days or hours. The code may even be fine tuned so that it can find variations in any pixel.
While working on this project, Witt had the opportunity to use a database created by NASA to research the significant sources.
She was also fortunate enough to attend the South Pole Telescope team’s annual conference in which researchers presented what they were working on and discussed solutions to issues they were facing.
“Getting to see the enormous amount of work going on in this project and to know that I was a part of it, if only a small one temporarily, was extremely exciting,” says Witt.
St. Olaf Professor of Physics Amy Kolan spent a year on sabbatical creating programs for a course titled Programming for Discovery, which she taught the following summer at the University of Chicago. Kolan encouraged Witt to the apply for REU at the University of Chicago.
REU programs allow select undergraduates the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in their field through the funding of the National Science Foundation.
Though Witt is interested in astronomy, she knows that, given her majors, she could explore a number of fields. In the future she plans to seek opportunities to gain experience in geology and planetary science.
For the last two years, St. Olaf College Professor of Music James McKeel has worked on bringing Canadian author Mark Frutkin’s award-winning novel to the stage.
Next week, a group of St. Olaf student actors and musicians will help him do just that — shortly after they have the opportunity to meet Frutkin himself at the show’s final rehearsal.
The ensemble will present Fabrizio’s Comet, a two-act operetta based on Frutkin’s award-winning novel, Fabrizio’s Return. The magical, time-bending narrative follows an Italian priest’s quest for sainthood and the Devil’s Advocate sent to investigate his candidacy.
This project is part of St. Olaf’s Lyric Theater season, a Music Department program that offers training and performance opportunities to undergraduate musical actors.
McKeel, who co-founded the Lyric Theater program at St. Olaf with Associate Professor Emerita of Music Janis Hardy, received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant to complete the second act of Fabrizio’s Comet.
McKeel and Frutkin spent a two-year period exchanging ideas about the operetta’s adaptation, libretto, and musical numbers. And while it was a time-consuming process, McKeel says it wasn’t hard to migrate Frutkin’s work to an operatic setting.
“Fabrizio’s Return already had a musical quality to it,” says McKeel. “Mark Frutkin is a very poetic author, skilled at creating colorful characters that naturally come to life on the stage.”
The production features a cast of 20 St. Olaf students, an orchestra led and formed by Natalia Romero ’15, and an undergraduate Creative Team.
Fabrizio’s Comet incorporates students from McKeel’s Advanced Acting for the Lyric Stage course, alongside other students who auditioned for the show. Members of the class will engage in a musical theater outreach program at local elementary schools after the St. Olaf premiere.
The October 18 performance on campus will also be streamed and archived online.
St. Olaf College is one of the nation’s top producers of physics degrees, according to a ranking by the American Physical Society (APS).
Granting an average of 24 physics degrees per year, St. Olaf ranked third among all undergraduate institutions in the nation and is the top-ranked liberal arts college on the list, coming in behind the United States Naval Academy and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“Our program is thriving, and students clearly find it attractive,” says Associate Professor of Physics and Department Chair Brian Borovsky ’94. “I think it reflects the energy we devote to the program, the attention we focus on students, and the high levels of interest in physics among St. Olaf students.”
The degree data the APS used in the ranking is representative of the most recent three years of available data. The APS is a nonprofit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics. Representing more than 50,000 members, the APS is the second largest society of physicists in the world.
Two long-time St. Olaf College faculty members have been appointed to distinguished professorships.
Professor of Classics James May has been named the Kenneth O. Bjork Distinguished Professor, and Professor of Mathematics Paul Zorn the Marie M. Meyer Distinguished Professor.
They are two of several faculty members that the St. Olaf College Board of Regents has chosen to recognize for distinguished teaching, professional work, and service to the college and community.
An expert in ancient rhetoric and oratory — particularly that of the great Roman speaker and statesman, M. Tullius Cicero — May joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1977 after earning his B.S.Ed. from Kent State University and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In addition to publishing numerous scholarly articles and books on Cicero and related topics and co-authoring two textbooks with his colleague Anne Groton, May served as provost and dean of the College from from 2002 to 2011. He has won the American Philological Association’s award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Classics, and the Sears-Roebuck Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership.
The chair honoring Kenneth O. Bjork was established in 2006. The author of two books, Bjork taught history at St. Olaf from 1937 to 1974 and served as editor for the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) from 1960 to 1980. The inaugural recipient of the chair was Professor of Mathematics Martha Wallace, and it has since been held by Professors of Religion Gary Stansell and Charles Wilson.
Raised by missionary parents in India, Zorn earned his B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle. He joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1981. He is past editor of Mathematics Magazine and recently completed a two-year term as president of the Mathematical Association of America. His 1986 paper “The Bieberbach Conjecture” was awarded the 1987 Carl B. Allendoerfer Award for mathematical exposition, and he has co-authored several calculus textbooks with his colleague Arnold Ostebee. His most recent book is Understanding Real Analysis.
The Marie M. Meyer Distinguished Professorship was also established in 2006. The former English professor taught Shakespeare and world literature, was one of the first St. Olaf recipients of a faculty Fulbright award, and for over a quarter of a century was a member and frequent chair of the faculty’s Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee. Professor Emeritus of Biology Henry Kermott was the first to hold this appointment.
“There’s a high degree of knowledge, of passion and appreciation for music in this community,” St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Music Francesca Anderegg tells Minnesota Public Radio. “The students are incredibly motivated to learn.”
That’s one reason Anderegg, a Harvard- and Juilliard-trained musician, chose to join the music faculty at St. Olaf. She tells the station that her students at St. Olaf are musically accomplished but also interested in having diverse academic experiences.
In addition to discussing her work with St. Olaf students, Anderegg talks with reporter Jay Gabler about the path she took to establish a career as a classical musician. In addition to her teaching, she frequently performs with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
“I love playing violin,” she says. “I am so lucky to have a job doing what I trained to do. Being a violinist profoundly connects you with other people, and leads you on adventures. I couldn’t have imagined the things I would do and see.”