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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.