St. Olaf Campus News
Last summer, St. Olaf College student Vanessa López ’17 spent time in Barcelona studying alongside renowned Colombian-born soprano Patricia Caicedo.
This summer, she’s creating a website that brings the Latin American music she studied to a broader audience.
Working alongside St. Olaf Professor of Music Nancy Paddleford, who specializes in Latin American music, López is designing a website that will include Latin American music recordings, English translations, a note on the meaning behind the songs, and information about individual composers.
“I’m creating the website to expose people to the wonderful music of this region,” López says. “It’s not well-known because there is no easy access point, and this website will enable people to have that place where they can enjoy all the Latin American art song music that they want.”
López, a member of the St. Olaf Choir and president of the St. Olaf Student Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association, is pursuing this project as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars program, a graduate school preparatory program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by St. Olaf since 2007.
López, who is majoring in vocal music education and music elective studies in Latin American and Iberian vocal music at St. Olaf, received funding from the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund that enabled her to spend last summer in Barcelona under the tutelage of Caicedo and others, including highly acclaimed Brazilian tenor and musicologist Lenine Santos.
She was one of only four students selected from around the world to study with Caicedo, whose program is typically reserved for established vocal performers.
López first met Caicedo when the famed soprano came to St. Olaf in 2014 to give master classes and lectures in Latin American and Iberian vocal music. That experience prompted López to apply for the program in Spain.
The two-week intensive program offered classes in an array of different areas, all designed to increase participants’ overall musical knowledge. Several hours of classes in vocal literature, history, and diction filled most of López’s time in Barcelona.
She also worked with linguists to learn to speak a range of different languages, including Brazilian Portuguese, Catalan, and Spanish, in order to be able to sing the songs that she was learning about.
López’s experience in Spain culminated in two performances — one of which was held in the prestigious National Library of Catalonia — that enabled her to showcase both her singing talent and the language skills she learned during the program.
“The most enjoyable experience of being in Barcelona was being able to collaborate and work with musicians from all over the globe to present beautiful music in two final concerts, some of whom have become lifelong friends that I still am in contact with,” she says.
López continues to use the connections she made in Spain to track down and translate the music for her website.
“I am in constant connection and utilize resources from both Dr. Caicedo and Dr. Santos to aid in the creation of the website,” she says. “They help me in finding scores, performances, and granting access to digital libraries.”
Despite studying Iberian music under Caicedo and Iberian music being a component of her major, López decided not to include music from Spain and Portugal as part of the website. The reason?
“Most composers from Spain and Portugal are more well-known worldwide and their music is more easily accessible and found compared to Latin American composers,” she says. “Only a select few Latin American composers are known worldwide, and others are not known at all.”
She’s hoping her website will help change that.
Professor of Dance Janice Haws-Roberts left her full-time professional dance career in 1994, when she accepted a teaching position at St. Olaf College. Yet for the last 22 years, Haws-Roberts still considered herself a dance performer.
Age and the will of the body, mind, and spirit have a way of catching up with us all, and it has come to the point in her professional life where Haws-Roberts is facing the end of her performance career. She is creating an introspective dance performance that encapsulates the feelings she has when faced with this inevitability.
The piece, Approaching Winter, will allow the audience to see a lifelong dancer come to terms with aging and performing her final concert. Haws- Roberts will perform the dance on September 8 at 11:30 a.m. and September 9 at 7 p.m. in the Wagner-Bundgaard Studio One in Dittmann Center.
Haws-Roberts received funding to create the piece from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund made possible by the voters of Minnesota.
How did she come up with the idea for a performance about aging — a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about and that requires a performer to showcase their own vulnerability?
“When you look at the arts, it’s not uncommon to see an older person on stage, or an actor or even a musician. For dance, it’s simply not the same. So I began to think about the disparity between dance and the other forms,” says Haws-Roberts.
Her own relationship with being a dance performer is tinged with different emotions. Despite a career that enabled her to travel and perform all over the world, there is some pain — a result of the immense strain that dance puts on the body. Those conflicting emotions will be on view in the performance.
Haws-Roberts used her sabbatical this past year to ready the performance and also hone the meaning of the piece.
“It’s been a really interesting process. I wouldn’t say it was completely joyful; it was very difficult — lots of tears,” she says. “It’s been a learning process, coming to face-to-face with some really difficult topics such as my own aging process and maybe a nervousness about facing who I am now as a performer as opposed to who I used to be.”
With choreographer Keith Johnson, she has produced a melancholic piece that takes into consideration her own physical limits caused by a professional dance career that has spanned almost 30 years. Yet there are experiences that come with such a long career that Haws-Roberts can draw upon for the emotive performance.
“There are parts of this piece that I could not have performed when I was younger, because I did not have the life experience,” she says.
Haws-Roberts is hoping that the dance will foster a wider conversation around the topic of aging and the discourse that surrounds aging.
She has collaborated with the local Arcadia Charter School and Northfield Senior Center to bring together different generations to watch the September 8 performance. The September 9 performance will be open to a general audience, and admission will be free.
Immediately following each performance, there will be a discussion about aging that will encourage attendees to ask questions about the piece. Additionally, they will be able to able share their own thoughts on and experience with aging.
This summer, St. Olaf College student Joy Smith ’17 is working alongside researchers at Johns Hopkins University to answer an intriguing question: Can infants increase their working memory capacity through counting?
Early results indicate that the surprising answer is yes.
Smith — one of five research assistants in the Laboratory for Child Development in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore— says previous research has shown that infants ages 17-19 months can remember and keep track of up to three objects at a time, but fail with four or more objects.
Her research team has found, however, that infants can overcome this failure in working memory and keep track of four objects if they are counted out beforehand.
“Infants at this age have not yet learned to count, do not understand counting words, and do not have a lot of exposure to counting,” Smith says. “Yet it is remarkable that this research reveals that counting can still enhance their working memory capacity for objects.”
Smith, a psychology major at St. Olaf with a concentration in family studies, received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career to support her time at Johns Hopkins this summer.
In the past year, 107 St. Olaf students have received Piper Center funding for unpaid or underpaid internships. Another 107 students have received internship funding through college programs such as the Rockswold Health Scholars Program, the Svoboda Legal Scholars Program, and the Johnson Family Opportunity Fund — all part of the college’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths.
Last summer Smith studied emotion expression in preschool-aged children alongside Associate Professor of Psychology Grace Cho as part of the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. That experience prompted Smith to pursue additional research experience, which led her to apply for the internship at Johns Hopkins.
She says her work this summer — which has included running studies with participants, making calls to families, coding videos, and analyzing data — has provided her with a better understanding of not only child development, but cognition in general. It also confirmed her plans to pursue a graduate degree in psychology and child development.
“It’s exciting to uncover new information about the way the human mind functions, and the extraordinary things it can do, even as an infant,” she says. “I have learned that child development research is vital to our understanding of the mind, and that it is the foundation for the best approaches to education. The more informed we are about child development, the better we can help children grow to their full potential.”
The Minnesota Higher Education Facilities Authority has issued $22,845,000 in Series Eight-N bonds on behalf of St. Olaf College, refinancing existing long-term debt to realize savings made possible by the current low interest rate environment.
It is projected that the college will save about $2 million a year with the reduced interest on these bonds. St. Olaf intends to direct a lion’s share of these savings to its ongoing commitment to funding capital renewal on campus.
As a prerequisite of the sale, Moody’s Investors Service reviewed the college’s operations and outlook and affirmed St. Olaf’s A1 rating with a stable outlook.
All of the bond maturities were fully subscribed within seven minutes of being open to the market, reflecting both the attractive terms of the bonds and the strength of the college’s financial position.
The chance to explore Paris on a quest for hidden treasure sounds like a tale reserved for a novel. Yet St. Olaf College student Carolyn Nuelle ’18, a French and music major, did just that this summer — with the ‘treasure’ in this case being the source material for an ambitious research project.
She is part of a St. Olaf research team led by Assistant Professor of Music Louis Epstein that is using technology to create interactive, chronological maps of musical life in 1920s Paris that bring the city to life in a way that a paper map never could.
Nuelle spent two weeks in the City of Lights searching for historical records that can help the team recreate the feeling of being in Paris nearly a century ago.
Delving through the records of some of the city’s greatest houses of historical documents, Nuelle spent much of her in the Archives nationales, Bibliothèque nationale, Médiathèque Musicale Mahler, and the Archives de la Préfecture de Police.
Her objective was to locate primary sources — such as newspaper advertisements, noise complaints, and music manuscripts — that may be useful to Epstein’s team.
Nuelle was not only searching for documents; she spent time snapping photos of the historic sites of the city as well, with a keen focus on music venues and nightlife hotspots. She also recorded some of the sounds of the city that will be added to the maps.
“It was a unique experience to be able to sort through newspaper clippings or concert programs that are almost a hundred years old,” she says. “When you find familiar names or relevant information it gets exciting, like you’re solving some great mystery.”
All of this work will help inform the St. Olaf team’s mapping project, which is part of the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. The project is in its second year and has involved eight student researchers over the two years. This year’s team includes Emily Hynes ‘18, Zhizhi (Stella) Li ‘17, Samuel Parker ‘18, and Nuelle.
Last year, the team’s focus centered on creating a single map covering all of the musical happenings of 1924 Paris. This year’s team is creating multiple maps to illustrate change over time, casting the spotlight on staples of 1920s Parisian musical life like Austro-Germanic music and the Ballets Russes.
“The most rewarding moments were times when everything kind of fell into place — when I recognized a newspaper clipping cited in a book we’d read earlier in the summer, or when I finally got to see hard copies of a collection of music hall programs rather than having to read them on microfilm,” Nuelle says.
Why the need to send someone to Paris? This points to one of the main problems that the research team has had to deal with.
“Many of the resources we’re using to conduct our research are available through the digital archive of the French national library, but there are always newspapers, music periodicals, letters, administrative records, and other primary sources that haven’t been digitized,” Epstein says.
Nuelle is the second member of Epstein’s team to travel to Paris to search for source material. Last summer Philip Claussen ’16, a music education major, spent two weeks in the city looking for similar information.
“I’d say the best part about going was the opportunity to explore the city with new eyes,” Claussen says. “I’d been to Paris in the past, but not with the sorts of things in mind that I had this time around as part of the team. Being in Paris to find performance venues and sites of former performance venues is really a very exciting experience, as you get a completely different perspective of the city than if you were there simply for tourism.”
The experiences that Nuelle and Claussen had in Paris are what the team ultimately wants users of the map to have.
Epstein says, “Whether someone is physically present in Paris or exploring its musical legacy through an interactive map, the city comes to life; the connections between the present and the past become tangible; and the hidden musical treasures of Paris are revealed.”
While working at a leprosy clinic in Karigiri, India, as part of St. Olaf College’s Biology in South India program, Hunter Lin ’16 was struck by the suffering he saw.
“I saw how awful these patients felt, how sad they were, and I thought to myself, ‘Is there no way that we can change this?'” says Lin, a biology major with a biomedical studies concentration.
Knowing that early detection of the disease would prevent the long-term disabilities associated with leprosy, Lin set out to develop a simple diagnostic tool.
Along with fellow St. Olaf student Leah Plasek ’16, Lin founded atPoint. The company is developing the PhorEX1, an immunologic multiplex system that utilizes a vast array of biotechnologies for toxicology, infectious disease, and drug testing. Put simply, the device aims to more efficiently diagnose patients using a blood-based test — and, Lin hopes, “to reimagine diagnostics.”
The business venture was a finalist in this year’s Ole Cup, the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s annual student entrepreneurial competition.
It also provided Lin with ample business and biotech experience that he’ll use as he heads to Johns Hopkins University this fall to pursue a postgraduate degree through the School of Nursing. Johns Hopkins has granted Lin access to the labs and tools he’ll need to continue advancing atPoint.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be part of an amazing community of doctors, nurses, and faculty at Johns Hopkins that focuses on providing the highest level of health care to their patients,” Lin says.
The road to St. Olaf
Lin’s success at St. Olaf is remarkable by any standards — but especially so considering the incredible obstacles he’s overcome.
Born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory situated just off the Philippines, Lin grew up in Fujian, China. By the age of 11, he was working two jobs: one on a tennis shoe factory assembly line and the other installing locks in bank vaults.
His mother, seeking a better life for her children, sent Lin and his sister to live with a family member in California. When that living situation deteriorated, the siblings found themselves homeless.
Despite the challenges of housing insecurity, Lin continued to excel academically and eventually graduated from high school in the top 5 percent of students in California. He struggled, though, with the college application process — until Jessica Javelet, a volunteer at the homeless center for teens that Lin was staying at, connected Lin with her family. They took him in, and his new foster father, Jeff Javelet, connected Lin with his longtime friend and St. Olaf Regent John Grotting ’71.
The support that Grotting provided was pivotal. He helped Lin arrange a visit to St. Olaf, where an in-person admissions interview enabled him to showcase his strengths. And Lin was instantly taken with the campus and people.
“I fell in love with the campus the moment I saw it,” he says. “I just knew in my mind that I was home.”
Calling St. Olaf home
With the door to college finally opened, Lin was determined to make the most out of every opportunity possible.
And in four short years, he did.
As part of Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp’s research team, he constructed a minimalistic electromyography (EMG) device that records the electrical activity of muscles to detect abnormalities.
“We are able to produce our devices at a cost of $5, while a conventional device can cost upwards of $50,000,” Lin says.
The team hopes to provide affordable access to electromyography for researchers and clinicians who lack the funds for this vital piece of diagnostic equipment. It could have a significant impact for patients like those Lin met at the clinic in Karigiri, given that monitoring muscle activity is a critical part of leprosy patient care.
Lin conducted this research as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars program. McNair is a graduate school preparatory program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and sponsored by St. Olaf since 2007. It provides low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students with research opportunities, summer research funding, and graduate school support and preparation.
“McNair was critical in my time at St. Olaf because it gave me the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research with a faculty member, provided me with resources for applying to graduate school, and guided me through my application process,” Lin says.
A presidential thank-you
In addition to McNair, Lin was also heavily involved in the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program at St. Olaf. Having benefitted early on from the support the program provides first-generation college students as they navigate life on the Hill, Lin devoted time during his junior and senior years to providing similar assistance to younger SSS students.
“The TRIO programs were important because they provided me with resources that otherwise wouldn’t be available to me due to my background, and I became part of a caring community,” Lin says. “TRIO gave me the fighting chance to succeed in college.”
Lin capped his connection to the program by constructing a case study to analyze the effectiveness of federal intervention programs such as TRIO. The case study was seen by many — including President Barack Obama, who sent Lin a letter congratulating and thanking him for his efforts.
Despite all that life has thrown at him, Lin says he’s leaving St. Olaf equipped with the mindset and skills that ensure there are no bounds to what he can achieve.
“My path has not been an easy one,” he says. “However, I know that my journey has made me who I am, and I am glad that I found hope, wisdom, and love from everyone at St. Olaf to open the door.”