I’m an Ole!

Chris Casey ’18 initially thought St. Olaf was the last place where he’d end up for college. However, everything changed when he visited campus. After further research, Chris knew St. Olaf College was the best school for him, and he applied for St. Olaf’s first Early Decision deadline. If you believe that you’re ready to become an Ole, you can still apply Early Decision to St. Olaf. The second deadline is just around the corner, January 8th. Why wait until March? Speed up your application process. Apply Early Decision today!

It was junior year. Minnesota Private College Week. The time had arrived for me to start looking at colleges. My first official visit to any school was St. Olaf. As my parents were driving down Highway 35, I remember telling them there was no way they could get me to go to a school out in the country! I wanted a big city with thousands of people and a school with a business program. They said I at least needed to get a feel for a different setting to see if it was something I would like. I’m forever grateful they took me to see St. Olaf because guess what: the moment I walked into Buntrock Commons I had that feeling that this was the place for me. That feeling was right. A year and a half later I applied Early Decision to St. Olaf.


2015-09-27 20.57.24
​​I’m grateful my parents told me I needed to give St. Olaf a chance!

There are several reasons why I love St. Olaf and knew it was the place for me.

One aspect that made me want to come to St. Olaf was the fact I would be in an academically rigorous setting where many classes were focused on discussion and posed challenging questions. During one of the Visit Days I attended, a professor gave a lecture similar to a TED talk, where she explained that this was how a typical class at St. Olaf would feel like. I knew I wanted this environment: small classes with accessible professors where I would be challenged.

While St. Olaf does not have a business major, I learned this wouldn’t be a problem after meeting with a professor. I am now an economics major with an emphasis in management and a concentration in media studies. This combination allows me to gain experience in a vast number of business related topics instead of being an expert in one specific topic.

I also applied Early Decision because of all the fun events and speakers St. Olaf brings to campus. As I mentioned earlier, I thought going to a small rural school would mean there would be nothing to do and people would go home on the weekends. I found that not to be true. Whether we are having a concert (such as Hoodie Allen), a DJ led dance, or a Twins game with discounted tickets, there are endless events sponsored by our Student Activities Committee during the week and on the weekends.

​One of the highlights of my freshmen year- the Color Run as part of Olepalooza! on the Hill!
​One of the highlights of my freshmen year: the Color Run as part of Olepalooza! on the Hill!

In terms of speakers, a number of political speakers have come to St. Olaf to share ideas and create discussion among the student body. Last year, it was Reverend Al Sharpton. The year before: Newt Gingrich. Two weeks ago, we hosted Admiral James G. Stavridis. It’s a great opportunity for students to how St. Olaf to learn about a variety of different beliefs.

Finally, I applied early decision because I had the chance to play baseball. Continuing your sport is something I highly recommend to anyone on the fence deciding if they want to play in college. The baseball team has allowed me to meet a great group of guys while playing the game I love. I also joined the Student Athlete Advisory Board this past year. This group is in charge of creating “Ole Pride Events” for our athletic teams, such as cafeteria tray races on the rink during hockey games.

​St. Olaf Baseball showing their support at the Women’s Hockey Ole Pride event.

I still remember the day. December 14, 2013. A big, yellow enveloped with the address, 1500 St. Olaf Avenue, came in the mail. I was so nervous and desperately hoping I would be an Ole. When I slid the slip of paper out of the envelope and the letter said, “I’m an Ole”, I was thrilled with joy. I had made it! In 2013, Christmas came eleven days early.



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: U-Swap.org. It’s an online campus marketplace that allows students to buy and sell books with others on their campus.

unnamed 1
John presents U-Swap.org 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”!

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!

How to do research at a liberal arts college

Liberal arts colleges do not always come to mind when considering undergraduate research. However, research flourishes at colleges like St. Olaf because we’re able to offer small class sizes and personal attention from professors. There are no graduate students at St. Olaf, so professors devote their time and resources to undergraduates. This allows students from a variety of departments to pursue independent research projects. In this post, Henry Burt ’16 describes his connection to professors and the research that followed.

The first class period I had at St. Olaf was on a bright, sunny morning in Regents Hall of Natural Sciences. It was Personality Psychology, 8AM, Professor Carlo Veltri. Not only was I new to the school, but so was the professor teaching the course. He had a thick brownish-red beard and mustache, round glasses, and a soft-spoken disposition. I won’t get into the details of the course, but I will let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Regents Hall of Natural & Mathematical Sciences

Carlo and I passed each other in the Psychology Department and in the Cage cafe from time to time throughout the rest of my freshman and sophomore years, exchanging the usual greetings and news about upcoming vacation plans. It wasn’t until the first week of junior year when our interactions became much more frequent.

He had recently returned to his dissertation data on personality inventories examining the traits of compulsivity, rigidity, obsessiveness, and perfectionism in a large sample of college students. Carlo was interested in exploring if there were certain underlying “factors” that correlated with these traits. Subsequently, he called upon me that first week of junior year to help him identify these factors using a statistical factor analysis.

But why me? Well, over the spring semester of sophomore year, I had been in contact with psychology faculty about the possibility of assisting professors with their current research. I had taken enough psychology courses in my major to feel confident that I was headed into a career as a psychologist. Now I wanted some hands-on experience and taste of what this profession would entail. Furthermore, my academic advisor mentioned that having undergraduate research would set me apart from other applicants when the time came to apply to graduate school. Eventually word got around that I was on the hunt, and I am sure that the faculty whom I had taken courses with put in a good word for me as they were talking with one another about open positions for professors’ research assistance.

My small classes and relationships with my professors helped me take on this research opportunity. Carlo and I are now meeting on a weekly basis to pare down and fine tune our factor analysis. We plan on presenting a poster of our current findings at a regional symposium this coming year. Many professional psychologists will be there scrutinizing our work, but I’ll also be able to network and explore future collaboration in the field of clinical psychology. I’ll be happy to represent St. Olaf College by sporting a black and gold tie!

My college days began well that first day in Professor Veltri’s class, and I expect it to end well alongside him as I undertake my senior year!

You can find more information about undergraduate research at St. Olaf (including an exciting list of recent projects) here.

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.