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St. Olaf College
A private liberal arts college of the Lutheran church in Minnesota
Updated: 23 min 20 sec ago
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded St. Olaf College student Serina Robinson ’15 a prestigious three-year Graduate Research Fellowship that will support her work in microbiology and immunology.
NSF Graduate Research Fellowships support the most promising graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Fellows are expected to become experts in their field who can contribute significantly to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.
Past recipients of the award include numerous Nobel Prize winners, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.
“I’m very proud of how well our students are prepared for graduate school,” says St. Olaf Associate Dean for the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Mary Walczak. “The NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are very competitive, and to have one of our students recognized in this way is a testament to how our programs are viewed nationally. Serina Robinson has demonstrated her exceptional talent and dedication here on campus, and it is wonderful that she is also being recognized with this fellowship.”
Robinson was also named a Fulbright fellow to Norway for 2015–16. She will work in a lab at the Arctic University in Tromsø, where she will study the Arctic bacterium Methylobacter tundripaludum. The bacterium is capable of converting methane into carbon dioxide at very low temperatures. This conversion process is of interest to scientists who wish to understand how rising temperatures in the Arctic will impact the bacterium’s metabolism.
After her year in Norway, Robinson will return to Minnesota to pursue her Ph.D. through the MICaB (microbiology, immunology, and cancer biology) program at the University of Minnesota. She hopes to join a lab that focuses on using computational approaches to study the human microbiome and its connection to disease.
As a Beckman Scholar at St. Olaf, Robinson received funding for research spanning two summers and an academic year. She spent the summer of 2013 in Denali National Park, where she performed research under the guidance of Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Schade. Last summer, Robinson investigated the effects of a chemical pollutant (MBT) on retinal pigmentation and development.
Robinson also received a prestigious two-year research fellowship from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which she used to examine methods of reusing valuable nutrients found in agricultural runoff. The fellowship is part of the EPA’s Greater Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program.
A chemistry and Norwegian major, Robinson studied abroad in January 2014 at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. There she “used genome-scale metabolic modeling to identify drug targets in the tuberculosis pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis,” she says.
Robinson currently works in the lab of St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Biology Lisa Bowers, where she studies the genetics of outer membrane transporters in the bacteria Caulobacter crescentus. She has also worked with Associate Professor of Computer Science Olaf Hall-Holt on the development of the St. Olaf course Computer Science for Scientists and Mathematicians, and in March they presented at the 2014 Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education conference in Kansas City. Robinson hopes to become a university professor and research advisor.
Three St. Olaf alumni — John Erich Christian ‘14, Hannah Marti ‘14, and Christine Nervig ‘14 — also received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.
Christian is pursuing a Ph.D. in glaciology at the University of Washington. In his project he will analyze the relative contributions of human-driven climate change and natural climate variability in forcing glacial changes. This work involves examining records of recent glacial changes, as well as analyzing “sources of uncertainty in predictions for how glaciers will respond to continued climate change.”
Nervig is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of Utah. In her research she utilizes a variety of physical organic techniques to examine reaction mechanisms. Based on her results, she predicts how reaction efficiency and selectivity can be increased during methodology development. Nervig is especially interested in how catalysts can be derived to enhance reaction conditions.
Marti studies the evolution of social organization in ant colonies. She is pursuing her Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Texas at Austin.
At a place like St. Olaf College, where one-third of students are involved in music, just scheduling all the lessons for a particular studio can be half the battle.
Alexandra Best ’15, a computer science major and voice student, saw the struggle firsthand with her own music instructor, Karen Wilkerson, who has the largest studio on campus.
Best, at the time in a parallel and distributed computing course taught by Professor of Computer Science Dick Brown, decided to turn to coding to solve the problem.
What began as a project for her computer science class became not only a completed program for her voice instructor to actually use, but also a winning presentation at MinneWIC, the Regional Celebration of Women in Computing in the Upper Midwest.
Best’s project was based in part on parallel computing, which uses multiple processing units, known as cores, working together at the same time, in order to work faster on larger amounts of data (read about how St. Olaf became a leader in parallel computing education in this magazine story). The difference between single-core computers and multi-core ones is similar to the difference between eating an entire pizza by yourself and having having several friends help you eat it. In a project that deals with this amount of data, parallel computing was key.
By taking the professor’s schedule, student preferences, and lesson lengths into account, Best created a computer program that provides multiple conflict-free schedules where almost all students have their top choices in times, all done in under a minute.
“The instructors get greater control over what their lesson schedules look like, and students are much more likely to be assigned a lesson time that they ranked as highly preferable,” Best says.
Brown encouraged her to present her program at MinneWIC, and the “Time-Efficient Lesson Scheduler” she developed took the top prize for the undergraduate division of the poster presentation contest. It also earned her a trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston, Texas, this October.
The national conference provides “an opportunity for young women to explore opportunities in computing, to network with other women from academia, industry, and government, and to create friendships among women in the region who share the same interest and passion for computing.”
Best says conferences like these are fundamental to getting more women involved in computer science.
“There needs to be a conscious effort toward improving the industry’s gender discrimination and gender disparity issues before we can really break out of that cycle,” she says.
St. Olaf will host a new honor house this fall focused on promoting equal access to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Members of the house plan to reach out to girls in grades three through five to help spark their curiosity and interest in these disciplines. They will also put on events for St. Olaf students from all backgrounds and disciplines to make these topics more accessible.
“We want to reduce the stigma that you have to be a ‘science person’ or a ‘math person’ in order to learn about these topics,” says Emma Schnuckle ’16, who will serve as president of the honor house.
When members of the Pavia Wind Quintet visit St. Olaf College April 13, they will premiere a piece that Professor of Music Timothy Mahr ’78 wrote just for them.
Mahr composed A Mythological Suite for Woodwind Quintet based on discussions he had with members of the Pavia Wind Quintet following their recital at St. Olaf several years ago. After the idea of creating a work that the ensemble could use in their many performances for young people took shape, Mahr received a grant for the project from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.
“With this Individual Artist Grant, I have been able to create a new work that is structured to be an effective vehicle for demonstrating the separate instruments within the ensemble to school children,” says Mahr, who also serves as conductor of the St. Olaf Band.
The concept, Mahr says, was to create a multi-movement work wherein each instrument could be featured in a solo capacity. A Mythological Suite for Woodwind Quintet uses the Sasquatch, Rainbow Snake, Thunderbird, Unicorn, and Imp to individually feature the clarinet, bassoon, oboe, horn and flute.
“Throughout the history of human existence, there have been mysteries in the natural world that begged explanation. Often these were understood as being the result of the presence of creatures that lived at the outer edges of reality – what we now call mythological creatures,” Mahr says.
“It didn’t take long to center the project on this collection of creatures — certainly interesting subject matter for young (and not so young) minds, full of drama and easily imagined adventures.”
The Pavia Wind Quintet is a semi-professional ensemble of young musicians — including St. Olaf graduates Erica Bennett ’99 and Justin Windschitl ’02 — interested in exploring a variety of repertoire for wind soloists with an increasing focus on contemporary music.
In addition to premiering Mahr’s new piece, their upcoming recital will feature music by Timothy Takach ’00, Jacob Dominguez-Nelson, and Aaron Levine.
The St. Olaf College Theater Department will use integrated computer technology to bring the Broadway musical Big Fish to life this week.
That technology, along with training from Minnesota Opera choreographer Heidi Spesard-Noble and special matinee performances for high school students, was made possible through an institutional Arts and Cultural Heritage Grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.
The Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council exists to encourage, promote, and assist regional arts development by providing leadership, outreach, advocacy, mentorship, grants, and services.
The Big Fish production is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, which was made into a major motion picture in 2003 and later into a Broadway musical.
Big Fish tells the larger-than-life story of Edward Bloom, whose tales of his life include witches, mermaids, and giants. His son, Will, is searching for what it means to be a parent, and attempts to make sense of these narratives from his father’s life. When Edward’s health declines, Will must decide what kind of relationship he wants to have with his father, and what kind of father he wants to be himself.
“It is a wonderful, imaginative storytelling adventure, and this is what really drew me to the piece,” says St. Olaf Professor of Theater Karen Peterson Wilson ’77, who is directing the production. “The music is magnificent, there is a fabulous range of dances, and the characters are beautifully written.”
Joining the cast of St. Olaf students is Northfield sixth-grader Peder Lindell, who plays the young Will Bloom. The 25 college actor/dancers and Lindell worked with Spesard-Noble to learn some seldom-performed dances, including country western clogging, the “Alabama Stomp,” and a “USO” tap dance.
In addition to the unique choreography, the production incorporates a level of technology that has never been used by the St. Olaf Theater Department.
“We are tremendously excited to try this new integration of technology and to experiment with how it interacts with actor/dancers,” Wilson says. “The resulting computer enhancement to the scenery will symbolize Edward Bloom’s imagination, helping to create a magical, storytelling atmosphere.”
The production schedule includes special matinee performances for southeastern Minnesota high school students to help bring the theater to life for them and allow them to see the inner workings of the show. The 320 visiting students from up to 15 area high schools will have the opportunity to ask questions of the cast, crews, designers, director, and choreographer; tour the backstage and the theater; and see some of the behind-the-scenes processes of the computer integration used in the show.
“In this age when theater audiences tend to be composed of older individuals, it is imperative that we draw younger audiences to live theater with interesting productions,” Wilson says.
The regular performance schedule includes shows at 7:30 p.m. on April 9, 10, and 11; a 2 p.m. show on April 11; and a 1 p.m. show on April 12.
A “talk back” session will be offered after the 2 p.m. performance on April 11 to give audience members an opportunity to learn about the technology used and the behind-the-scenes efforts that make the show possible.
Criminologist George Kelling ’56, who co-authored the “broken windows” theory of policing that has come under sharp criticism in recent months, will speak at St. Olaf College April 14.
Kelling’s lecture will examine the broken windows theory — which argues that preventing relatively minor crimes like vandalism and public drinking prevents more serious crimes from happening — and its role in American policing. After outlining the theory, he will invite questions.
The lecture will be streamed live and archived online.
The broken windows theory has been criticized by observers who think it has contributed to over-policing in America. Kelling and others contend that it has led to crime reductions in New York and other places.
The theory, which Kelling co-authored with James Q. Wilson more than three decades ago, “called for police and community engagement to prevent local crime, down to petty offenses, and to create order as an end in itself,” notes a recent profile in the Los Angeles Times.
The strategy has been widely used for decades by major police departments, including those in New York City and Los Angeles. But, the Los Angeles Times story notes, “since fatal police encounters with black men in Missouri and New York began with small offenses — walking in the street, selling untaxed cigarettes — there have been calls to end ‘broken windows’ policing.”
In that article, as well as in an interview with the New York Times and a piece he co-wrote with New York Police Commissioner William Bratton, Kelling maintains that the broken windows theory still works.
Kelling, an emeritus professor at Rutgers University and currently a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is the second speaker in a St. Olaf lecture series titled Community, Race, and Policing in America.
The series, hosted by the college’s new Institute for Freedom and Community, brings highly regarded academics to campus to discuss their research and engage in thoughtful conversation.
University of California, Santa Barbara Associate Professor of Sociology Victor Rios, the author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, kicked off the series with a March 4 lecture that questioned the “broken windows” theory (watch it here). He discussed his research, which tracks the effects of policing and the criminal justice system on low-income young people of color.
A week after Kelling visits campus, Northwestern University Associate Professor of Political Science Traci Burch will wrap up the lecture series with a talk examining the effects of the criminal justice system on low-income communities. Her April 20 lecture — which is organized by Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society — is titled The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment.
Burch, who is also a research professor at the American Bar Foundation, is the author of the award-winning book Trading Democracy for Justice: Criminal Convictions and the Decline of Neighborhood Political Participation.
Reece’s teaching and research focus on Homeric studies, New Testament studies, comparative oral traditions, and historical linguistics.
His scholarly work includes research done at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Lord Fellowship), the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri (National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship), the American Academy in Rome (Fulbright Fellowship), and the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.
Reece is the author of a book about the rituals of ancient Greek hospitality titled The Stranger’s Welcome: Oral Theory and the Aesthetics of the Homeric Hospitality Scene and a monograph on early Greek etymology titled Homer’s Winged Words: Junctural Metanalysis in Homer in the Light of Oral-Formulaic Theory, for which he received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.
He is currently engaged in two projects: one on handwriting styles among ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish letter writers, the other on allusions to classical literature in the letters of St. Paul.
Reece chaired the St. Olaf Department of Classics and directed the programs in Medieval Studies and Ancient Studies for two years. He earned his baccalaureate and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii and his Ph.D. in classics from the University of California-Los Angeles. He joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1994.
The Boldt Chair was established in 1994 by contractor Oscar C. Boldt and his wife, Patricia Hamar Boldt. It is offered to a current faculty member whose scholarship and professional endeavors advance the teaching and learning of humanities at the baccalaureate level.
The Boldt Chair is awarded for terms of three years; prior holders are James Farrell (History), Carol Holly (English), Edward Langerak (Philosophy), Gordon Marino (Philosophy), Diana Postlethwaite (English), Solveig Zempel (Norwegian), and John Barbour (Religion).
St. Olaf College student Daniel Hickox-Young ’16 has been named a Rossing Physics Scholar for 2015–16, and Jordan Dull ’16 and Emily Witt ’17 each earned an honorable mention.
Hickox-Young will receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Foundation through the Rossing Fund for Physics Education Endowment. Dull and Witt will each receive a $5,000 scholarship from the foundation.
The award is given each year to outstanding physics students selected from across the nation.
Hickox-Young is a mathematics and physics major. He spent last summer researching spintronics at the University of Minnesota, and this summer he will participate in a research program titled “Optics in the City of Light.” As part of the program, Hickox-Young will spend two months in Paris performing research with a variety of ultrafast lasers. After graduating from St. Olaf, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics or materials science.
Dull is majoring in physics and mathematics. Last summer he worked at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he developed a simulation of an x-ray microscope with the goal of better understanding image artifacts. This summer he will perform research in particle physics as an intern at the Argonne National Library. Dull plans to attend graduate school for physics or engineering.
Witt is a physics and Latin major. She spent last summer performing research on the South Pole Telescope Project at the University of Chicago. This summer Witt will work on a prototype telescope for the Cherenkov Telescope Array as part of a research program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics.
Last fall Hickox-Young, Dull, and Witt all presented their summer 2014 research at the Midstates Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Physical Sciences, Math, and Computer Science.
Gifts from Thomas Rossing established the Rossing Fund for Physics Education Endowment in the ELCA Foundation in 2005. The goals of the scholarship program are to encourage top students to attend one of the 27 ELCA colleges and universities in the country, and to consider pursuing physics once they are there. Rossing taught at St. Olaf for 14 years, is a professor emeritus of physics at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, and is currently a visiting professor of music at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Parish, who is currently the general manager of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, has more than 25 years of experience in performing arts administration. In her new role at St. Olaf, she will direct and promote the creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial direction of the college’s music organizations, St. Olaf Records, and the St. Olaf Christmas Festival.
She will join the college May 11.
“I am deeply honored to be offered this opportunity to serve St. Olaf College and its music organizations,” Parish says. “I look forward to working collaboratively with faculty, staff, and students, to further the mission and goals of the college, and to build on the tremendous legacy of the music organizations.”
A vocal performance major at St. Olaf, Parish also earned her master of music degree in choral conducting from the University of South Florida.
She began her career as an arts administrator in orchestra management for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra before moving on to serve as the director of operations for the Chicago Children’s Choir. She then served as the tour and media manager of the New York Philharmonic, where she managed and executed the annual international tours and media activities of the orchestra.
After leaving the New York Philharmonic, Parish spent nearly a decade working as a freelance arts administrator.
Parish has been the general manager of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra since 2009, where, as a senior member of management, she has helped to lead the strategic direction, culture, and evolution of the orchestra. She has oversight of the areas of Operations, Education and Community Engagement, the Liquid Music series, Human Resources, IT, Administration, and Facilities, and throughout her work continually strives to advance the ensemble’s role as a leading advocate for classical music in the Twin Cities.
She will take over at St. Olaf for Bob Johnson, who is retiring this spring after directing the college’s music organizations for 37 years.