Meet a St. Olaf Entrepreneur

John Bruer ’16 recounts how St. Olaf’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career helped him to grow one idea into a campus-wide success. The Piper Center is committed to helping all students leverage their liberal arts education to achieve their full potential after graduation. To learn more about the Piper Center, click here

“There has to be a better way.”  Maybe it’s just my curiosity, but I find myself saying that line quite often.  I’m always willing to give something new a shot, whether that involves figuring out a better way to enjoy a cookie in the Caf– the result, a Panini-pressed peanut butter cookie sandwich– or trying to save a few bucks on my own textbooks. Who knows, it may be the next big thing.

During my freshman year, after forking over hundreds of dollars to the bookstore for textbooks, I started searching for a cheaper way to purchase textbooks.  I called up a classmate of mine, and we began talking about creating a space for students to buy and sell their books with other students safely and quickly. Hours later, we landed on the concept for a preliminary solution: It’s an online campus marketplace that allows students to buy and sell books with others on their campus.

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John presents to the judging panel at annual the Ole Cup competition

Over the following few weeks, I picked the brains of students, professors, and staff from our Piper Center for Vocation and Career in hopes of entering into the world of entrepreneurship with this new idea.  Their responses were incredible, and several encouraged my classmate and me to enter into the 2014 Ole Cup (a brand new entrepreneurial competition with $20k in prize money).  We received $5,000 to help launch our business, which allowed us to expand into student housing as well.  In its first few months following the competition, U-Swap actively saved students over $17,000 on textbooks.  And, with the help of several entrepreneurs across campus, a textbook exchange is scheduled to hit St. Olaf in the coming year.

Now in its second year, the Ole Cup helps advise and support over 50 student business ideas. St. Olaf’s culture of entrepreneurship has helped U-Swap and several other student ideas grow through connections with alumni, funding, and has even helped ventures gain recognition from competitions like the Minnesota Cup, one of the largest statewide entrepreneurship competitions in the country. Campus is packed with students who are constantly generating new ideas and are surrounded with faculty and staff resources all working to bring those ideas to fruition.

The coveted Ole Cup award
The coveted Ole Cup award

Besides the Ole Cup, the college has tons of other resources for entrepreneurs, including the Ole Ventures Club and the Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant program. Thousands in seed money are available for innovative ideas each year through the Finstad Grants, which help get ideas, like U-Swap, get off the ground.  The Ole Ventures club meets weekly to help innovators test drive new ideas with other students. Each week, a top idea is selected and the students receive a $50 gift card to the St. Olaf bookstore.

Everyone at St. Olaf loves the cutting edge, whether that’s in science, technology, or the arts. So, if there’s something you’re passionate about, find a community that will support you and your idea, and get after it.  Who knows, it may be the new “better way”!

Religious diversity at St. Olaf

In this post, Hoda Al-Haddad ’18 discusses her experience as a Muslim student at St. Olaf. Though St. Olaf is affiliated with the Lutheran church, students with a wide variety of religious experiences and beliefs make up our campus community. Check out some of our most recent first year religion courses here.

Hello everybody! I am a student at St.Olaf, and I come from a Muslim background. I am writing this blog to tell you about my experience during my first year.  When I first applied to St. Olaf, I did not know what to expect when I arrived. To be honest I was worried about how people might react or treat me based on my religion, considering the fact that the media nowadays does not work to our favor as peaceful Muslims. However, regardless of my fear, I was pleasantly surprised at how the St.Olaf community was warm and welcoming to different beliefs, including those outside the Abrahamic religions.

My journey as a freshman was full of surprises and learning experiences. It all started with me taking my first year religion course called “Abraham’s Children.” Basically, it was about similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I had never read the Bible before this class, so it was very interesting for me to notice all the similarities between those religions. It has been always a mystery to me why there is conflict between these religions, and after taking this class I realized it is because we do not know anything about each other! Of course, there were challenging times in the class.  For example, I had to read the Quran from a different perspective or a perspective from a person who was not born a Muslim or can’t read the Quran in Arabic. These experiences have shaped how I think about religions, and I am very grateful that I took that class. However, that is not the only class in the religion department–we have lots of other classes such as “Nature in the Bible” or “Jesus in Screen Plays.” I am definitely looking forward to take my theology course next semester and increase my knowledge about different faiths.

My journey did not just evolve around classrooms, but it also went into my daily life. I was paired with a roommate from a Catholic background, which was a good experience for me. It was fun when she would read verses from the Bible to me as an encouragement. Sometimes we would have religious discussions were I would tell her things about Islam, and she would do the same with me about Christianity. I really enjoyed those conversations. It did not feel like we were different; we just got to enjoy and inform each other. I felt very welcomed here. I was free to express my own beliefs. I love to talk about religion, and I feel sad that people feel it is a taboo topic to talk about. St.Olaf is different, which I admire, because I think it is so important to be able to discuss religion freely and without fear.

The meditation room beneath the chapel
The meditation room beneath the chapel

I like to talk about the chapel because I find it a great example of how I feel about religious diversity here at the College.  We have daily services that we offer at the chapel. I do not attend them all, but sometimes students will come and talk about their study abroad experiences or their projects. I find it amazing that students talk about different topics in chapel because I initially thought it would be entirely religious. It was heartwarming to find out that the chapel was a place for everybody. Our chapel is very pretty and spiritual. I have found myself sitting there sometimes at 2 AM just reflecting about my life or praying to God. This does not mean we do not have another places to do that–we have a meditation/prayer room, and we also have a Musalla (equivalent to a small Mosque) that I got to go to a lot and we have our Friday prayers in.

Pillows in the meditation room

Finally, another event that I really appreciated this year was Interfaith Week, where each day of the week was dedicated to a specific faith. We had speakers and presentations for people to attend and increase their knowledge. During Islam day, we opened the Musallla so people could come see how we do our prayer. We also had an outside speaker come and talk about Islam and answer questions. Thanks to everyone who worked hard, this week went smoothly! Not only that, but we Muslims here at St. Olaf have our own radio show called “Ask A Muslim Anything!” It is a radio show that some of my wonderful peers host for an hour every week where they discuss topics about Islam. The mission of this radio show is to spread awareness about the religion, and we really love when people send us questions about things they want to know about.

I highly recommend if you are coming to St.Olaf to take the chance to learn about different opinions and faiths.  And don’t forget to come to me if you have any questions or concerns!

Two perspectives on residence life

Jacob Vincent ’17 reflects on his experience with St. Olaf’s residence life–both as a first year and as a Resident Assistant. At St. Olaf, 95% of students live on campus for all four years, which creates a vibrant, supportive campus community. Learn more about residence life here

When I arrived at St. Olaf, it didn’t take me very long to figure out how closely knit our community really is. I saw my friends walking around campus, students gave me directions when I got lost, and my professors cared about me and wanted me to succeed. I also learned that, here on The Hill, each Ole has his or her own way of participating in the community that we’ve built together.

My first interaction was with the students who have chosen to act as guides and mentors for students on campus: the Residence Life staff. My Junior Counselors (often referred to simply as JCs) were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic people, and I could not have asked for a better first impression to residence life at St. Olaf. I was quickly learning that I had signed up not only for four years at one of the best colleges in the country, but also for a community that would embrace me, push me, and support me, throughout my college adventure.

Snowy Hoyme Hall, a first year dorm

These past two years truly have been an adventure. During my first year on campus, my Junior Counselors welcomed us all and made us feel at home in our dorm and on campus. They organized fun events for us to do as a corridor (like going to dinner in Northfield), events for the entire second floor of my dorm (such as going to a basketball game together), and even a few events for the entire dorm (All-Hall-Fall-Ball was a fun dance we had in the dorm lounge, DJ’d by one of the residents). It was through these events that I bonded with not only my neighbors living in the rooms right next to mine, but also residents on different floors or on the opposite side of the building. In my second year, the Resident Assistant for my floor (commonly known on campus as an RA) took my experience with Residence Life staff members, and kicked it up a notch. He made us fudge multiple times throughout the year, took us into the wrestling room for a yoga session, and even did an impromptu event one night with chips and salsa, just because he thought it would be a fun thing to do.

I got along with my JCs and RA really well. After two years of great experiences, I decided that this was how I wanted to participate in our community. I applied and was accepted to be a member of the Residence Life staff as a Resident Assistant for the 2015-2016 academic year. I am incredibly excited to put on events of my own (including Mario Kart tournaments, S’mores night, and a Lego event during Finals week) and to get to meet and make connections with the students living on my floor throughout the year. With a little luck, I will be able to give back to the community that has been so wonderful to me!

Take a closer look at St. Olaf!

Get a great liberal arts education, be part of a diverse campus community, and travel around the world on one of the best international study programs in the country.

You’ll find arts and athletics, internships and research, active campus life, small classes, and great teaching faculty. And best of all… a strong financial aid program to make a St. Olaf education affordable.

Start your application with the Part One today.

Beyond the Ball Field

Christopher Casey ’18 shares his perspective on being a student athlete at St. Olaf. You can learn more about our 27 NCAA Division III varsity sports here. Not sure you want to play on a varsity team? We also have awesome club and intramural sports.

One of the best parts of my St. Olaf experience has been playing a sport. I am a member of the baseball team and enjoy the chance to practice and play the game I love. However, what I like the most is that our coaches recognize we are student-athletes and emphasize the student part first.

Cereal Bowl

Throughout the year, my coach tells us we need to succeed in the classroom first and that baseball comes second. For example, if you have a lab that runs late, you don’t miss the lab for practice–you come to practice when the lab is done. It also occasionally works the other way around. During the year, you may have to miss a class for a game. When I had this scenario with baseball, I appreciated all the work my professors did to help me get caught up. You learn that office hours are very valuable! When the team went to Florida for a couple games, my professors told me to e-mail them if I needed anything or had questions.

Ole Basketball

Another part of being a student-athlete is the importance of participating in a variety of activities. Beyond baseball, I also have my own radio show, “Turning Two,” every Wednesday night at six on our radio station, 93.1 KSTO. For an entire hour, I talk professional sports, Ole sports, play pop and country music, and have a special segment at the end. I don’t think any of the listeners will forget our duets (especially our Thanksgiving version of the song “Timber,” which we called “Turkey.) In addition, I am a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and love to attend many of the Political Action Committee events. Of course, our intramural broomball is something I like to be a part of during our January term. Check out my radio show here!


When it is time to train and practice for a sport, St. Olaf is a great spot. Ole athletes are lucky to have top-notch facilities. The Jim Dimick Baseball Complex is a wonderful place to play with our main field set alongside a hill where students and families like to bring blankets and watch a game on a nice day. We have brand new batting cages beyond left field and a small field for infield practice beyond the cages. When the cold weather hits and we are forced to move inside, Tostrud and Skoglund Center are some of the best places to train in Minnesota. Tostrud consists of a large field house, two tracks, a two-level weight room, a rock climbing wall, and many basketball hoops. Skoglund is home to our basketball court and second field house. We also have Porter Hall on the other side of campus that houses another weight room. My favorite part is the two large batting cages we have that are almost always available to hit!

Mornings in Tostrud

I love being a St. Olaf athlete and appreciate that my coaches focus on our academics while still having the chance to play competitively throughout my college years. If you are looking for a school that is academically rigorous and want the chance to compete on a team, St. Olaf is the place for you!

Go Oles!!!