A Walk Around Tomson Hall

For those of you who haven’t visited St. Olaf since December: NEWS FLASH! We have a new building! Now named Tomson Hall, the former science center was completely re-designed and renovated, and opened in mid-December.  In addition to many administrative offices and academic departments, those of us in Admissions are especially excited to welcome visitors with light-filled lobbies and great views of campus. Instead of snaking around the peripheral road to find our rather elusive former location, when you enter campus from Hwy 19 you will see a prominent sign at the top of the hill.

Since the semester began, and classes are now held in Tomson Hall, it has been fun for me to see the leisure spaces come alive with students. It’s something Oles do particularly well — make the campus their own, by finding study spaces and areas to congregate or catch a quiet moment alone. The student occupants of Tomson Hall are no different. Admissions is on the second floor, and overlooks a pretty great study space below. I walked around the building today and snapped some photos of the space on a particularly sunny, almost balmy early-spring day in Minnesota. I can’t believe that a space formerly so dark  and cramped has been re-energized in this way! Also, check out the Minneapolis Star-Tribune article featuring Tomson Hall and a great aerial photo.

Nikita Shah '14 enjoys the Admissions atrium lobby, with the glass wall and view below.
The first floor atrium hangout space, before a between-class rush.
Study tables scattered throughout the building depict various scenes from campus.
It's easier to focus with all that natural light!


Students enjoy some rays in the east side study "cube."
A student puts together a puzzle on one of the common tables. Don't those orange couches add a nice touch?

We hope to see you visit soon!





Reflections from January in Thailand

Semester two has commenced, and with it brings the return of hundreds of Oles who spent first semester and Interim abroad or off-campus. Students talk excitedly with each other and recount stories, new experiences, and tales of new friends and host families. I love taking a break from my desk to hear their stories.

When you applied to St. Olaf this year, you were asked to write an essay for us in which you design an interdisciplinary Interim course. We included this in the Supplement partly so we can learn what interests you, and partly to shed light on the way in which St. Olaf constructs its variety of courses during the month of January.

Karl Turnlund is a junior from Owatonna, MN, and majors in Social Studies Education and Sociology/Anthropology with a concentration in American Racial and Multicultural Studies (whew!). He traveled to Thailand for Interim 2011. I emailed Karl to ask for an update, and he replied with the following reflections while he recovered from jet lag.

Karl Turnlund '12 in Thailand

One of my favorite parts of spending my interim abroad was being able to be fully immersed in a culture for a whole month, without having to give up more than one credit–it’s the perfect combination of study abroad experience paired with a rigorous on-campus academic program.

I chose to do the Thailand interim program specifically because the course was through the Sociology/Anthropology department–one of my majors– and our studies there were entirely based on ethnographic observation-something I’ve come to love since studying anthropology.

Our group had a blast examining various facets of Thai culture. Starting with education, and continuing on into politics, religion, economics, healthcare, and non-governmental organizations, our class walked away from the experience fully understanding so many pieces of the Thai cultural mosaic.

The biggest personal learning for me however, happened during our stay in an Upland village, Ban Dang Nai. My very conception of what it means to be a “developing” nation, or an evolving culture changed entirely. I gained a new appreciation for how cultures have adapted to our rapidly globalizing world, and in turn was able to cast a critical eye towards my own place in it. It made all the difference to see all of the theories and ideas that I’ve read about being lived out right before my eyes, and what’s better is that I experienced it all in such a direct way, which is something I will never forget.

I’m returning to campus this February with a new sense of the world, a new perspective, new friends, and a new-found appreciation for our global society and my place within it.
Check back soon for another story!
– Maggie

Patience is a Virtue

Although all our dates and deadlines are on our website, I thought I would consolidate them and give them to you quickly here. I know the waiting period is the most difficult…and we all want to answer any questions you have in the mean time! So here’s a quick idea of what the spring looks like for you and for us:

  • February 1 (that was this past Tuesday!): CSS/PROFILE due (if you haven’t done that, do it ASAP here!)
  • February 15: Early Decision 2 candidates notified
  • February 18: Buntrock Scholarship finalist notifications mailed
  • March 11-12: Buntrock Scholars Weekend (by invitation only, for students who are finalists for the Buntrock Scholarship)
  • March 15: Regular Decision applicants notified…and the decision-making begins on your end!
  • Week of March 15-March 22: Letters about merit scholarships mailed
  • March 22: Financial aid packages mailed
  • April 9: Admitted Student Day #1 (optional but very encouraged)
  • April 16: Admitted Student Day #2 (ditto!)
  • May 1: National Reply Date, the date by which you must have made an enrollment deposit at your college of choice!

Whew! If it makes you feel better, I have a color-coded and highlighted calendar of the next three months on my desk as well…’tis the season. We know these next few months are nerve-wracking, and we know that different colleges have different timelines (we’re on a timeline similar to other small, selective private colleges). So in the midst of it all, take a deep breath, make an excel spreadsheet or print out this blog post or do whatever fits your organizational style, and get ready for a busy, crazy, and yes, actually exciting and fun spring.


p.s. here are some pictures from our Admitted Student Days from past years:

Admitted students and their parents attend an activities fair
An academic information session on Admitted Student Days
Student tour guides lead admitted students around campus
Admitted students and familes discover why St. Olaf's food is ranked 6th in the nation!

St. Olaf Music on the Road!

The admissions office thanks you for your application! Currently, we are deep in the throes of “reading season” — if you read my colleague Miriam’s post on the reading process, rest assured we are spending quality time with the work you did for us.

I, however, will be taking a bit of a break from reading to accompany the St. Olaf Choir on the first five days of its winter 2011 tour. That’s right: in a few short hours, I will board the bus and head out to witness first-hand the effects this incredible ensemble has on crowds around the country, starting first in Des Moines, IA. Also on the docket for me: meeting prospective Oles and their families as they stop by the admissions table and chat with me over dinner. It’s always a thrill to meet students on the road, and if they’re musicians or even just love music, these performances will definitely impress. Since this is my first time on board any kind of St. Olaf music tour, I’m looking forward to the behind-the-scenes action.

In addition to the St. Olaf Choir touring for two weeks, the St. Olaf Band will be hitting the road to the southeastern part of the country; first stop, Naples, FL, on January 30 (I’m sure the bandies are heartsick to be heading south during the lovely winter temperatures we’ve experienced lately on the Hill…). I’m always impressed by the creativity of St. Olaf students. Check out their YouTube promo:

Getting to play awesome music with all your friends in Florida in January?! Tough stuff.

Check out the tour and ticketing information for both the St. Olaf Band and St. Olaf Choir  — I recommend you reserve your tickets soon. Some venues are sold out, and some are nearly full!

See you on the road!


Interim Classes on Campus

in·ter·im [in-ter-uhm]. n. January Term, J-Term, Short Term. A one-month condensed academic period that falls between first and second semesters. Students take one class, on or off campus, often of an interdisciplinary nature.

Hello, Miriam here again! It’s hard to believe Interim is almost over–we have one week left and then a week-long break before second semester begins. Students take amazing classes during Interim, and we’ll share some of the off-campus opportunities in another post, but here are a few of the hundreds of Interim courses and the students who are taking them:

Thando reads a book on racism and sexism

Thando Kunene ’13 is from Bloomington, MN and is majoring in English and Sociology with Women’s Studies and American Racial Multicultural Studies concentrations. This Interim, she is taking Racism and Sexism and American Family Life.

One of my favorite things about interim courses are their intensity! I’m taking a social work course called “Racism and Sexism in American Family” with Professor Laura McKibbin. This class meets for four hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I love this schedule for two reasons… First, I have my Tuesdays and Thursdays free to do homework, knit with my roommates (a very popular hobby on campus!), and generally enjoy the relaxed atmosphere that interim brings to campus. Secondly, when I am in class, the learning we do is really intense. The way that my professor structures the class doesn’t allow for a dull moment. There are only fourteen of us in the class so our discussions are really comfortable but always thought-provoking. We have interactive group activities, watch pertinent video clips. and enjoy engaging and enriching lectures. Not only is the structure of the class great but so is the content. Throughout the term we have been discussing how issues of race and gender affect how people interact with each other and how these categories influence diverse families. As someone who is very interested in the social sciences, I’m so glad to be taking a course that focuses on such relevant issues to our society. This course feels like less of a class and more like a retreat that is teaching me more about the diversity of American society and how I can make a difference in the lives of those who are affected by the categories of race and gender. We’re about 3/4 of the way through the class and it’s been a wonderful experience growing and learning with my fellow Oles!

Phillip absorbs his chemistry material

Phillip Beardsley-Schoonmaker ’13 is from Salem, OR and is majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies; he is taking Atomic and Molecular Structure over Interim.

For most students at St. Olaf, Interim is a time for taking something out of the ordinary, but every once and a while there’s a class that you are required to take for your major. That’s why I’m taking Atomic and Molecular Structure (lovingly known as Chem 123) with Professor Mary Walczak this Interim. We spend a lot of time discussing the way atoms and molecules interact with each other to form new substances and how the resulting structures look on an atomic scale. The class can be tough at times, but my professor is extremely passionate about the subject and always manages to keep us excited about the subject material. Unlike most other Chemistry classes, Chem 123 doesn’t have a lab, which has made balancing studying, running on the Indoor Track and Field team and hanging out with friends easy. I’ve even had time for snowball fights, atomic chili-eating contests (a staple of any interim) and sledding down Old Main Hill.

Mollie reads about Freud

Mollie Link ’13 is from Shakopee, MN, is majoring in Psychology with a possible double major in Philosophy, and is taking The Philosophy of Freud and Human Behavior this Interim.

This Interim I am taking a fantastic philosophy course about Sigmund Freud, taught by a very prominent Kierkegaard scholar and professor named Gordon Marino; aka “Doc.” Not only do we spend time in class working through various in-depth readings of Freud’s original essays (combined with fascinating readings on real life case studies written by a practicing psychoanalyst), but we are able to discuss and interpret our own dreams with the class, as well as hear captivating presentations on various subjects like: lucid dreaming, hypnosis, and the psychoanalysis of fairy-tales. I think this class is an amazing supplement to any student’s coursework; philosophy major or not. The course combines various fields of study (such as philosophy, psychology, biology, and religion) into one class. Doc is very skilled at making sure that everyone understands the material to its fullest extent while simultaneously entertaining us with his own life stories concerning grad school, hypnosis, psychology, and his passion for boxing. I find myself leaving each class excited to begin the reading for the next day; knowing that it will be incredibly interesting and that it will give me plenty of time to hang out with my friends, go bowling, and watch movies.

Eliza, Kate and Sarah get jazzed about genetics and society in Fireside Lounge, a favorite student study and hang-out spot on campus

Kate Nesbit, Sarah McGivern, and Eliza McDermott are all juniors at St. Olaf and are taking Genetics and Society over Interim.  Kate is from Northfield, MN and is majoring in English and Women’s Studies; Sarah is from Wheaton, IL and is majoring in Sociology/Anthropology; and Eliza is from Sagamore, MA and is majoring in Political Science.

This interim we’re lucky enough to be taking “Genetics and Society” with Jean Porterfield. Especially as non-science majors, we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn about science in a relatable and practical context. Whether she’s making us laugh with her theatrical portrayal of gene expression or comparing the scientific method to a scene from “Monty Python”, Jean manages to keep us both entertained and informed. Using the same methodology applied in forensic science, we’ve been able to experiment in the lab with isolating our very own DNA, genotyping the entire class, and ultimately gaining a greater understanding of genetic variability even within a small group of St. Olaf students. Though Jerry Springer may not be calling on us to perform paternity tests for his clients any time soon, this course has furthered our understanding of the practical applications of genetics in our contemporary society.

Johnna reading all her Great Con books...at once!

Johnna Purchase ’14 is from North Richland Hills, TX and is majoring in Music.  She is participating in one of the first-year conversation programs called the Great Conversation, and is taking a class for that program over Interim.  Read more about the Great Conversation and American Conversations

For my first interim on the Hill, I’m diving into the world of Graeco-Roman literature with the Great Conversation: Romans and Christians. We’ve read a variety of texts including the steamy Amores, Art of Love and Cures for Love by Ovid and fantastical, non-canonical scriptures like the Gospel of Mary and The Acts of Thecla (complete with a pool of ravenous seals?!). We’ve also had several interactive experiences with our studies including watching Monty Python’s Life of Brian, spending the day at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and performing in/watching a staged reading of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses (based on Ovid), which I am directing and acting in. Besides all of the reading, class discussions and fun activities, we also give opinion speeches and declamations about the day’s reading. We’ve heard a battle-speech by Aeneas to the background of Holst’s Mars and have even had Jesus in a Snuggie preach to us! Needless to say, the texts are really coming alive and are challenging those of is who thought we already knew what the works said. Because the conversations programs’ students are housed together in the same residence hall, great conversations are being heard all around the dorm (pardon the pun!). Aside from all of the fun – and work – of the class, I’ve still managed to spend time with my friends, whether that’s at a hall council bonding night where we played with clay and made ice-cream sundaes or as we giggled across the table in the library at midnight while we tried to finish our reading!

Gretchen on her way to class!

Gretchen Becker ’13 is from Victoria, MN and is majoring in Biology with a Biomolecular Studies concentration.  She is in one of the sophomore conversations programs at St. Olaf called Science Conversations, which consists of one course (in addition to other regular courses) first semester, one course over Interim, and one course second semester.  Read more about the Science Conversation and Asian Conversations.

This interim I’m in the Science Conversation course. As a freshman, I took the Chem/Bio course sequence, so I was excited to stay on campus for another year-long class even though some of my friends studied abroad. It has been a great way to get to know people, and not only other science majors. Science Con encourages anyone to apply, from all backgrounds and disciplines, and since it’s only one section we all have a chance to discuss together. Our readings have ranged from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (fantastic book, and a must-read for anyone in the sciences) to primary works of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein as well as Marx and Popper. First semester worked to define scientific revolutions in history, and this interim’s goal is to understand science as it is practiced today. So now we’re in labs and learning about feminism, social sciences, the scientific method, and debates between science and religion. It’s fantastic, and definitely my favorite class so far at Olaf. It has also rivaled biology courses in its applicability to my career goals in stem cell research. The course challenges me to think philosophically about science, and we ask questions like, “What is scientific truth, and how does it differ from religious truth?” or, “Is there a scientific method?” or, “What are the limits of our knowledge?”. Outside of Science Con, this interim I’ve played a little intramural broomball, took horseback riding lessons with Equestrian Club, formed my own organization Pay it Forward on campus, fundraised for Haiti as a leader of Disaster Relief Effort, and tried not to miss my boyfriend in Thailand too much. : )

Gus (center back) performs with his classmates

Gus Connelly ’12 is from New Brighton, MN and is majoring in Theater and Norwegian. This Interim, he is taking a class called Opera Workshop.

“Omen, monster, prodigy, or nothing are, or, Jove, from thee!” As the lights go down and a ragtag bunch of weary wanderers trudge to the front of the auditorium, this stirring line from Eupolis’ Hymn to the Creator sets the scene for The Mysteries, a new oratorio composed by St. Olaf faculty member James McKeel. Late in January, the 19 members of the Opera Workshop class will give this grand new work its world premiere on the stage of Urness Recital Hall here at St. Olaf. I’m in this class, and it’s such an awesome experience! Class each day consists of learning songs, movement, blocking, etc., and the only homework is to memorize notes and words, something that can EASILY be done between games of Mario Kart and Catch Phrase. The best part about the whole thing is that there are as many non-music majors as there are music majors in the cast, and we’ve become a really tight-knit group of friends. I can’t wait for our performances–we’ve all had so much fun putting this together.

Johnna Purchase ’14 is from _______  and is majoring in ______.  She is participating in one of the first-year conversations programs called the Great Conversation, and is taking a class for that program over Interim.  Read more about the Great Conversation and American Conversations.