FAQ: Conversations and Learning Communities

At this point in your college search as an admitted Ole, you’ve likely heard of the Conversations and Learning Communities. We’ve talked about them with you in interviews, during visit days, and we mailed out information (including all you need to know to apply) last week. There will also be informative sessions led by faculty from these programs during both of our upcoming Admitted Student Days. However, as the first application deadline approaches on April 14, I wanted to be sure you got your burning questions answered to best inform you as you consider your four years at St. Olaf.


What are the Conversation programs? Which programs can I take during my first year?

Interdisciplinary and unique, the Conversation programs are sequences of courses that take place over more than one semester. There are five Conversations overall; The Great ConversationAmerican Conversations, Environmental ConversationsAsian Conversations, and The Science Conversation. The first two — AmCon and Great Con, as they’re known on campus — are two year programs that students begin during their first year at St. Olaf; Environmental Conversations takes place during the first year only. So, those are what we’ll talk about here. Keep in mind: Asian Conversations and Science Conversation are sophomore year-only courses; Asian Conversations requires that a student take Japanese and/or Chinese during their first year at St. Olaf (as there is a study abroad component over Interim of the sophomore year). As always, it’s good to visit the web pages for the Conversation programs to get the basic information about course offerings and general focus.

What is CH/BI?

CH/BI – or Integrated Chemistry and Biology – or “Chubbi,” as it’s pronounced, is a sequence of three courses taken during your first year, including your interim during the month of January. Students work together to explore the fundamentals of chemistry and cellular biology. As a learning community, students and faculty explore ideas in the lab, through group-based problem solving and discussions. In addition to basic texts, readings from a variety of sources enrich discussions and illustrate the interdisciplinary nature of science. There isn’t a residential component to CH/BI.

What’s this about a “residential component”?

Students who are involved with Great Con, AmCon, or EnCon live among each other in specific residence halls during their first year only (though non-Conners live there too, so you won’t have a Con roommate). Hoyme Hall is typically where AmCon students live; Kildahl and Ellingson are where Great Conners reside; and you can find EnCon students in Kittlesby, which is designated the “green” dorm on campus. There is a lot of writing, reading, thinking, discussing, and debating in the Conversation programs — and much of it happens in the residence hall lounges where the students reside. It creates a fun and dynamic intentional learning community that can also aid in the transition to college life during your first year.

How do I apply for one of these programs?

To apply, you need to log in to your Admissions account (which is different from your St. Olaf account; the Admissions account is what you’ve been using to monitor your application status, and where you’re also able to make your enrollment deposit). Once you log in, you’ll be able to locate the applications for the four programs for first years on the right-hand side. Each application requires a short original essay component with prompts specific to the program. Need help logging into your Admissions account? Contact your admissions officer.

Can I apply for all Conversations and Learning Communities if I’m not sure of which one I want to do?

Yes. If you are accepted to them all, you’ll be able to do a little more research before choosing the one you want. Generally, one of the questions on the application requires students to rank their Conversation preference.

…And which deadline should I apply for if I’m unsure I want to do a Conversation program at all?

It’s always encouraged that if you have even a shade of desire to be involved with one of these programs, you should apply by the first application deadline. The majority of students are admitted from that first application round on April 14; but there is still room as well for students who decide by the later deadline of May 12.

I love the concept of the Conversation programs and CH/BI, and I want to do THEM ALL! Can I?

Wow, we admire your gumption! However, even if you are an incredibly motivated genius, it’s impossible to do CH/BI, The Great Conversation, American Conversations, and Environmental Conversations alongside each other. However, it is possible to do either CH/BI or Great Con or AmCon or EnCon AND Asian Conversations or The Science Conversation. Generally, there only are a handful of students who double-up on a two year and one year Conversation program.

How many students are accepted who apply to the Conversation programs?

Not all students who apply are accepted, but there are wait lists that exist throughout the summer as students change their minds or decide to opt out of the program. There are two cohorts of 60 students for Great Con, one cohort of 40 students for AmCon, and roughly 30 students in EnCon. Generally, both programs are able to accept half to a third of students who apply.

How are applications reviewed?

The professors who teach in the programs review all applicant essays completely separate from any other consideration. They don’t look at your high school GPA, your test score, or essays you submitted in the fall. Their reasoning: you were admitted to St. Olaf, so you’re smart enough. It’s just about who puts together a compelling essay and how well it’s written.

Are these programs considered “honors” programs?

While there is a considerable amount of reading and preparation for each class (for Great Conversation, you read upwards of 80 extra pages of reading per night); no, St. Olaf doesn’t have any honors program. As a selective, academically rigorous college, every course sequence provides the rigor and opportunities you’d find at a typical “honors” level program.

What if I don’t do a Conversation program?

All in all, only 25% or so of Oles are involved with a Conversation program when all is said and done. While they are awesome for the students who are involved, they are not the only way you’ll get a rigorous, interesting, compelling education at St. Olaf. Evaluate if it fits what you want and how you learn best; if it doesn’t, you won’t be looked down upon or judged for not being a Conner.

Is there a cool visual aid to help me get a better sense for the Great Conversation program in particular?

Why, yes! Enjoy.

Hopefully this is helpful! Enjoy crafting your clever essays… I know our professors are excited to read them and welcome the next group of Conners and CH/BI students to campus.

Why attend Admitted Student Day?

Maybe you think, “Well, I’ve been to campus, why should I come to one of these Admitted Student Days?” or “I’ve already deposited… should I still come?” or possibly “Why should I spend a weekend of my valuable time visiting St. Olaf?” Good questions! Below, I’ve highlighted a few reasons why Admitted Student Days are particularly special. From an admissions perspective, my colleagues and I — who will be wearing matching blue shirts, by the way — love the energy and enthusiasm of these days. We finally get to meet students with whom we’ve worked for months (and sometimes years). Whether or not it’s your first time meeting us, we have gotten to know you by reading your application, emailing with you, and talking with you on the phone. It’s fun for us to see the next class of future Oles explore campus with the knowledge that they could actually be students here in a few months.

Here are a few reasons (of many) to attend Admitted Student Day:

1. Meet your future classmates… and roommates… and teammates…

From informally meeting during registration, to the students-only lunch in the Pause, you’ll meet the students who will become part of the community in the fall. Around 30% of the students who attend Admitted Student Days have already decided on St. Olaf (how to tell? see #5).

2. Learn about the beginning of your beginning here: Week One!

From Move In Day to the first day of class, Week One is a time of transition. From socializing, adjusting to dorm life to registering for classes and finding level 3 1/2 in the library, there is a lot to do. Learn about the support systems in place to ensure your arrival and adjustment to college life at St. Olaf goes smoothly.


3. Hear from faculty in every academic discipline about what makes the St. Olaf experience unique.

There will be breakout sessions from faculty in Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Sciences, Natural Science & Mathematics, and Interdisciplinary & General Studies. One – or a few – of these professors may soon have you as an advisee, lead your study abroad program, or teach you in the classroom. Get a sense for who will be teaching you during your four years on the Hill.


4. Taste the food. Make sure it still suits your palate. And, take a free St. Olaf Cookie for the road.

Breakfast in the Caf, lunch in the Pause, and a St. Olaf cookie to go — you will be well-fed and get a true sense for the culinary atmosphere at St. Olaf. Princeton Review recently ranked us #5 for Best Campus food, but you should see – and taste – for yourself.

5. Get your “I’m an Ole!” button.

Committed students who have given us their enrollment deposit will receive this button upon check-in to wear during the day’s events. Attach it to your shirt and let everyone know you’re official. If you get to the end of the day and decide you’re ready to become an Ole, you can deposit and we’ll bestow this valued trinket upon you. Also, we have buttons for your parents, as well.

6. Update your Ole gear: the Bookstore will provide a 15% discount.

Wear your name tag into the Bookstore, and grab the St. Olaf signature sweatshirt, black and gold sweatpants, and a pennant to hang in your future dorm room. These guys below definitely took advantage of the discount…

7. Mingle with current Oles and start planning what clubs and organizations you’ll join.

Over 20 student-led clubs will be present for the Co-Curricular Fair during the student lunch. Volunteer organizations, special-interest groups, intramural sports, multicultural and religious organizations — a sampling of our 250+ clubs and organizations will be present. You’ll be able to walk from table to table and meet current students who can tell you about their groups. You’ll even be able to sign up for the clubs that look interesting to you and get a head-start for next fall. Check out the full listing of current student organizations!

8. Learn about resources for mapping out life after St. Olaf.

We are proud to have the Piper Center for Vocation & Career on campus to advise and connect Oles to their future jobs and vocations. Attend the informative presentation from the Piper Center staff, and hear from current Oles’ experiences at St. Olaf and how the Piper Center’s support has helped prepare them for the future. Your college career is imminent, but it’s important to know what St. Olaf can do to prepare you for life after your four years here.

9. Scope out a residence hall.

Check out a residence hall tour. As part of the continuing effort to provide an even better residential experience than we already have, you’ll be able to see one of our newly renovated first-year residence halls. Start to plan your room decoration theme, packing list, and how you’ll move into your new shared living space.

10. Get the answer to your question: “What are the Conversations programs, anyway?” 

Now is your chance to learn more about the interdisciplinary Conversations and Learning Communities directly from the professors who teach in these unique-to-St. Olaf programs. There are two application deadlines for the first-year programs – April 14 and May 12 – so it’s good to get all your questions answered before you apply.

11. Take a stroll around our hometown, Northfield.

We’re located about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis St. Paul, but there are a lot of special reasons why our students choose our town of 20,000. Walk down historic Division Street, grab a coffee or tea at Goodbye Blue Monday, try a cupcake at Cakewalk, peruse the shoes at the Rare Pair, and learn about the town’s unique history at the Northfield Historical Society. The community of Northfield employs St. Olaf students as interns, babysitters, baristas, servers, and much more – discover it for yourself.

12. Discover your favorite spot on campus.

The official tours will show you the key places on the Hill; feel free to use that time — or time to wander on your own — to see where your new study place, meet-up spot, or meditation location will be. You can — and probably will — have more than one favorite place. I encourage you to take time to investigate the nooks and crannies of campus, from an outdoor spot in the Natural Lands, to the space under the Memorial Chime Tower, to a study corner of Regents Hall.



In addition to the highlights above, there will be a luncheon for parents, various information sessions about life on campus, such as study abroad, fine arts, and athletics, and lots of time to hear from current students and faculty. The basic schedule is on the registration page; you’ll receive a complete and detailed schedule upon check-in at Buntrock Commons. We look forward to welcoming you — see you soon!

Congratulations, 2019 Oles!

Congratulations to the St. Olaf Class of 2019! By now, St. Olaf admissions notifications have reached their destinations, and we are excited about the incredible group of students admitted to be future Oles. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting you on campus and during our Admitted Student Days on April 11 and 18; additionally, we’re always available via phone and email to answer questions that arise as you continue narrowing down to your final college choice. The National Candidate Reply Date is May 1, so be sure you take all the time you need between now and then to decide.

If you applied for need-based financial aid, the majority of those awards will be mailed by the end of this week. Merit-based scholarship notification occurred with your notice of admission; however, Fine Arts Scholarship awards will be on their way to finalists soon.

As you share your excitement about St. Olaf, be sure to use #stolaf2019 and #futureOle in your Instagram and Facebook posts. Also, if you’re a Facebooker, join the conversation in the St. Olaf College Class of 2019 group.

Enjoy a few words of welcome below:


Reflections on the Mediterranean Semester

The second semester is in full swing on campus, and with it comes a time of reflection for students who studied abroad during the fall semester or participated in January interim courses abroad and off-campus. Here, Marcus Newton ’16 shares a few favorite photos and reflections from his months away on the St. Olaf-led Mediterranean Semester program. 


Marcus Newton ’16

Here I am in the Ksar (fortified city) of Ait Benhaddou, which is dated to have been created around the 17th century.


Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou is a beautiful city, and it is filled with beautiful winding streets and little artisan bazaars. For Game of Thrones fans, it was the filming location for the city of Yun Kai, and it is also where multiple scenes from the movie Gladiator were filmed. We saw it on our 14 day excursion in Morocco.


The American Language Center in Fes

This is one of our classrooms at the American Language Center in Fes. It features beautiful tile work and other Moroccan art. At ALIF we studied Moroccan Sociology and Arabic.  We also lived with a Muslim host family for four weeks where we were able to get an idea of what daily family life looks like in Morocco.  All of the families were so welcoming and warm that we made wonderful connections despite the large language and cultural barriers. My host  mom and I would often sit together and drink tea while watching Moroccan news. I didn’t understand a word of the news, but it was still such a memorable experience to get to spend so much time with such a wonderful, welcoming and loving woman.



This is the Moroccan city of Chefchaouen, known as the “blue city.” I had an amazing time exploring their medina and looking at a bunch of different artwork from local artists.  Several shop owners invited us in for mint tea in order for us to get a taste of Moroccan hospitality. We spent a day here while on a break from the American Language Center in Fes.



We took a three-day trip from Israel to Jordan, and Petra is one of the most amazing places I’ve been to. This is a photo of what is believed to be the treasury for the ancient city. Most of this city is carved into caves like this and even features ancient piping that allowed the cave homes to have running water.

Sammi & baily

Our tailor friend, Sammi (left).

We discovered a small tailor shop when walking back to our guest house one evening and stopped in to talk to the tailor, Sammi. It turns out that he has a history with St.Olaf! He has been connecting with Oles who come to stay in the Old City since the 70s, and he even sewed some custom suits/jackets for a few Olaf profs. He reached into a drawer in his work table and pulled out a stack of photos, many of which were of different Ole groups.  He also has a collection of business cards from past professors from the Term in the Mediterranean/Term in the Middle East program. Sammi is a Palestinian Christian who speaks the Aramaic language, and every time we stopped by to see him he insisted on reading the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic and playing Aramaic music for us. He was also sure to offer us candy and a good story or two. He has been a tailor in the old city for over 50 years.

St. Olaf study abroad programs offer a fantastic way to get to know the world. Every year, hundreds of Oles like Marcus make global connections and see remarkable places with their own eyes. Want to learn more? Check out the student-written blogs from other programs!

You applied… now what?

Last week: January 15. After writing, editing, soliciting recommendations from teachers, and figuring out how to cleverly answer the St. Olaf Supplement questions, your application is finished. You take a deep breath and hit the “Submit” button. Then… what happens?

Sunrise on the big day: January 15.

Sunrise on the big day: January 15.

Your application comes to us. For the past few weeks, we each have spent quality time with the applications we receive. Each officer is assigned a specific geographic “territory,” which determines which applications are read by which officer. This is the official first look we have at a student’s writing, teacher recommendations, and high school performance. We dissect the transcript and recalculate the core academic GPA, weighted and unweighted – giving a bump to Honors/AP/IB/PSEO classes. Many times, we have already met you in person, or emailed back and forth, so finally reading your application is especially fun. Personally, I love reading well-written essays from the Common Application and the St. Olaf Supplement. I’m always amazed by what intelligence and creativity is demonstrated.

After your application is first-read, it is sent to a second reader who is a senior staff member. After another read, the application is then considered by the scholarship and admissions committees. We put a lot of work into reviewing each student’s application holistically. We also understand that our office doesn’t operate like some others; there are colleges and universities who are on a rolling admission basis, and you may already have a few letters of admission. However, as St. Olaf is single-notification, we will notify all of our Regular Decision applicants on the same day, around March 15. Early Decision 2 students will be notified earlier, at least by February 1.

While you wait, continue your research! Schedule a visit to St. Olaf — we’ll arrange an overnight, classroom visits, and meetings with professors if you desire. Keep up with our Facebook page and Instagram. Share your Ole excitement with us on Instagram by adding #stolaf2019 and #FutureOle to your pics. Be in touch with your admissions officer with updates and questions. We are excited to get to know you even better. If you are interested in applying for need-based financial aid, be sure to complete the required forms by their respective deadlines.

We look forward to reading your stories, and hope you’ll be in touch with updates or questions!

48 hours until the application deadline: don’t miss out!

The application deadline is two days away – it’s an exciting week in our office! As January 15 approaches, here are a few things to consider:

1. It’s not too late to apply.

2. If you have applied, double/triple/quadruple check that your application is complete by checking your online application portal or contacting us.

3. If you have application pieces that will arrive after January 15, just keep your admissions officer updated. Even if a few things arrive after the deadline, we still want to be able to consider you as an applicant.

4. Watch the vibrant clip below to see just a few reasons why it’s a good idea to apply to St. Olaf. You’ll be glad you did.

We look forward to reading all about you and getting to know you throughout this process!

Exploring the St. Olaf return on investment

By Chris George, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to southern California to present at the Sage Hill School’s Financial Aid and Scholarship Night. I enjoy having a dialogue with students and parents about paying for college. When I present, much of my time is focused on how to apply for financial aid and what type of financial aid is available, but I also talk about why they should invest in a college education and to advise them to look for schools that demonstrate a return on that investment. During my first three months on campus, I have explored how St. Olaf does that for Oles while they’re on the Hill and after they’ve graduated.

To begin, I had a lunch meeting at the Cage in Buntrock Commons with Branden Grimmett, Director of the Piper Center for Vocation and Career. In that meeting, I quickly realized that St. Olaf has put a tremendous amount of effort into quantifying the return on investment and the efforts that go into preparing a student for life after graduation. In our meeting, I learned about the Piper Center’s four year approach to assist Oles in “leveraging their liberal arts education to achieve their full potential.”

Oles and Piper Center staff on the Chicago Connections program in 2013

Oles and Piper Center staff on the Chicago Connections program in 2013

It begins from the first semester students spend on campus. The first-year student experience centers on building a foundation and self-exploration. The Focus on the First-Years program held in January is designed to assist students in getting the most out of their time on the Hill.

The sophomore year is designed to transition students to think about potential careers through activities and experiential learning opportunities. Students are encouraged to explore internships, research, and service opportunities that align with career aspirations. The Quo Vadis retreat program gives sophomores the chance to step away from campus to reflect on who they are, what has been most important in their experiences so far, and explore where they’re going in life.

The junior and senior years focus on making connections, identifying post-graduation plans and putting those plans into action. The Connections Program gives students the chance to travel to cities such as Denver, Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, DC to meet with alumni in career fields that are of interest. Ample opportunities to network with St. Olaf alumni from the Twin Cities area – only 45 minutes from campus — are also available through the Ole Biz, Ole Med, Oles for Public Interest, and Ole Law programs. These receptions offer students that chance to make professional connections and hear two minute “pop-up” speeches on alumni’s career experiences.

After graduation, each class is asked to respond to a post-graduate plans survey from the Piper Center. This fact is amazing: within 9 months of graduation, more than 90% of the graduating class has informed us of their post-graduation plans. Of those grads, 97% are employed, in full-time service programs, or enrolled in graduate school or professional school. So, while you consider your list of colleges to apply to this winter and ultimately attend next fall, I encourage you to explore the Piper Center and Outcomes websites. I think you will see the tremendous value in choosing St. Olaf.

‘Tis the season to apply

The holiday season is upon us. December brings the arrival of Christmas Festival; the first dustings of snow (or sprinkles of rain, as is the case this year); and festive campus-wide gatherings. It’s also the arrival of application season, when the Class of 2019 begins to take shape. We admitted the first members of the next class two weeks ago – welcome, Early Decision 1 Oles! – and are well on our way with application review for our other admission rounds. Our application deadline for Early Decision 2 and Regular Decision are January 1 and January 15, respectively.

Maybe you are going over the final version of your essay with a fine-toothed comb. Or, you could be sitting in your PJs during your first few days of winter break, staring at the Common Application and wondering where to start. However far along you are on your college applications, take our advice: don’t wait until the night before the deadline to apply. Take a bit of time each night in the coming few weeks to work on your application — write and re-write your essays, formulate your thoughtful responses to our prompts in the St. Olaf Supplement, and compile your activities resume in a concise and informative way. Then, hit the submit button! If you apply well before the deadline, you’ll give yourself time to communicate with your teachers, college counselor, and registrar’s office to ensure that all parts of your application have reached us. There are a lot of application components that are outside of your control, and trust me: a complete application a month before January 15 is much less stressful than scrambling on January 16 to get a teacher recommendation submitted.

While we won’t send admission notifications for the Regular Decision deadline until mid-March, you have time to visit campus, communicate with one of us, peruse our website, check out Facebook and Instagram pages, and get a sense for the smart and well-rounded students we have in the St. Olaf community.

Here are a few more reasons to apply:

Home on the Hill for the holidays

By Aleece DeWald, Admissions Officer


To echo my colleagues’ previous posts, I also experienced the thrill of admissions fall travel season. As the admissions officer for all of Wisconsin, I spent my fall exploring one the Midwest’s hidden gems. I was captivated by the finest fall colors in Wausau, indulged in tasty burgers and cheese curds in La Crosse, and interviewed numerous intelligent and engaging prospective students in Appleton, Madison, and Milwaukee.

While it was bittersweet to say goodbye to the adventures of travel season, I can’t help but agree with Judy Garland’s statement at the end of The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

My statement may sound a bit cliché. I’m certainly not the first recent graduate to refer to her alma mater as home. But it’s hard for me to think of St. Olaf as anything different. The sense of community and conversation resonate with me as much as the rigorous academics and valuable opportunities – which are great benefits too.

St. Olaf felt most like home to me this past weekend, when the campus celebrated its annual Christmas Festival. For those unfamiliar, Christmas Fest is a four-day musical event that invites all St. Olaf students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests to celebrate the joy and the spirit of Christmas.


A couple of things come to mind when I think of Christmas Fest. Unsurprisingly, the first of these is the music. The weekend revolves around the large festival concert, which features the 500 talented student musicians, who participate in the orchestra and various choirs. Each year, I am awestruck by the talent of our students, who produce such beautiful and inspiring sounds. Even more shocking is when I remember that most of them do not even major in music. About one third of St. Olaf students participate in music; however, only one third of our musicians are music majors. If you have the opportunity to attend Christmas Fest or any St. Olaf music event in the future, I encourage you to read through the list of student majors in the concert program. You’ll see everything from music performance to physics, to nursing, to English, to environmental studies to even our most popular first-year major, Undecided.

In Admissions, we believe that aspect to be a special feature of St. Olaf. My colleagues and I love meeting prospective students with multiple interests—who find the time to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, such as music. Because extracurricular involvement is vital for students in high school, we believe it’s just as important for them to continue developing their interests in college—even if they don’t plan to make a career out of them. If you’d like to learn more about music at St. Olaf, I invite you to visit the website. You’ll find great information about our ensembles and music scholarships, which are open to students of any major.

Now, let’s talk about my second favorite element of Christmas Fest: tradition. Christmas Fest is one of the oldest musical celebrations in the United States. Over the last 102 years, thousands have flocked to St. Olaf College to experience the joy of being part of such a musical tradition that has lasted throughout generations.


This year’s festival theme was The Word Renewed with Love Divine, which I found especially poignant when thinking about the magnitude of the Christmas Fest tradition. I attended the concert this past Friday. While preparing for the performance to begin, I flipped through the pages of the festival program and stopped on the first page. Inside the front cover was text describing different types of circles. The image stuck with me throughout the performance as I imagined how, like circles, the Christmas Fest tradition seems never ending. The celebration is renewed each year with a new group of first-year musicians, who fill the spots of graduated seniors. I’m already looking forward to next Christmas Fest, when I look to the Viking Chorus and Manitou Singers, the first-year choirs, and see the faces of the students whom I am meeting this year. I cannot wait to welcome them into this special community.

Mostly, the tradition reminds me of home. It’s unique and real, and there’s nothing quite like it. A few months ago, I was speaking with prospective student who was applying to St. Olaf for Early Decision 1. (By the way, here’s a link to our application deadlines. If you think St. Olaf might be your top choice, there’s still time to apply for Early Decision 2.) During our conversation, I asked what it was about St. Olaf that stuck out to her. She replied that St. Olaf is a school with a “real personality.” In addition to Christmas Fest, several parts of the school – the students, the architecture, the traditions, the fight song – contribute to St. Olaf, giving it a unique identity among the hundreds of colleges in the United States. And, as the holiday season progresses, I can’t think of a better place to be than home.


From Thailand to travel season

By D.J. Erickson, Admissions Officer

Most of the time that I’ve traveled in the past two years, I’ve needed my passport. After serving some motivated and tenacious Twin Cities high school students for two years with St. Paul-based College Possible, I packed a bag for Gwangju, South Korea, and then Chiang Mai, Thailand. This fall, as my colleagues and I in the St. Olaf Admissions Officer hit the road, drivers’ licenses in hand, I was excited to visit some new and familiar places in the country I call home. My national territory involves most of the states on the East Coast from Maine down to Virginia, including Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.


One of the greatest pleasures of visiting the high schools and college fairs along the way is getting to know the next generation of Oles, one at a time. Although I would be a little too optimistic to imagine every student I met on our campus in Northfield, it’s fun to sit down and imagine that possibility with each of them. Whether students are considering physics majors or English majors, whether they play football or the French horn, or whether they want to study abroad in Jamaica or Japan, I enjoy taking the time to wonder out loud where their lives might take them after high school.


As I stopped at high schools and college fairs along the way, I kept thinking about how many different places and experiences Oles bring with them when they arrive on campus. Over the course of the week, I met students who grew up hundreds of different places, speaking several different languages, but sharing one common goal: to continue to explore their passions – both in and outside of the classroom. And I kept thinking about what a wonderful opportunity it is to be able to surround yourself with equally passionate people who push you to grow and learn.

Some of my favorite people to talk to are those who have never heard of St. Olaf. Many times, I was asked, “Where is St. Olaf exactly?”, but my favorite question came from the younger sibling of a current high school senior in northern Virginia: “Is your mascot a snowman?” A native Minnesotan myself, I never realized just how famous for cold my home state is. “How cold does it get there?” “How much does it snow?” Everyone wanted to talk to me about winter.

So allow me to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post for a public service announcement:


MINNESOTA HAS FOUR GORGEOUS SEASONS, of which winter is just one. My only regret while on the road was missing one of the best weeks of the year in Minnesota: the last week in September. The leaves are gorgeous here. Vermonters: we may not have your incredible mountainous canvas for the foliage, but our fall colors are worth gawking all the same.


I have to admit that when it came time for me — as a high school student — to look at colleges, I was tempted to dismiss what Minnesota, and St. Olaf in particular, have to offer. I know I certainly underestimated the passion and purpose of this place. In just the four years since I’d been away, St. Olaf has exploded with an incredible new array of scientific research, alumni career connections in business, medicine, law, and public service, and artistic and athletic success than I could have imagined when I moved in to my first year dorm in 2006. It has been such a pleasure to return to an even more vibrant St. Olaf than I knew — and most of all — to share that vibrant world of possibilities with all of those considering St. Olaf in their college search.

I feel fortunate that it’s now my job to share my St. Olaf pride with all of you. A glance at recent higher education-focused New York Times articles calls into question much of what a liberal arts education is intended to accomplish. The kinds of personal growth and development possible when you bring together a group of driven, passionate, caring, and community-oriented young people is really remarkable. It’s a unique environment because the growth isn’t limited to the private intellect of each student. There are so many different kinds of students who flourish in this place, and the way they learn from each other and alongside one another is part of the magic of this community. As I look back on my four years at St. Olaf and where they have taken me post-graduation, I would have never imagined the places to which I’ve been catapulted. I guess that’s the risk and the reward in a liberal arts education.


I wish I could stop by every high school where we get applicants, to try to imagine the enormous variety of people and passions who make this place what it is. American poet Walt Whitman set out on that task on his rambling walks through New York City. As an Admissions Officer, I get a small opportunity to do that out on the road visiting your home states and hometowns. The best way for you to do that would be to come for a visit and see for yourself what life is like for our 3,100 Oles.