St. Olaf Campus News
Evan Pak ’19 came to St. Olaf College with a love for the outdoors and a camera in his hand.
Even before classes started, Pak landed a job in the Office of Marketing and Communications as a student photographer. Once on campus, he enrolled in the Environmental Conversations program, and he joined the outdoors club, Oles Under the Sun (OUTS).
Pak even started a physics major, something he enjoyed in high school. However, he gradually realized it wasn’t a perfect fit. “I enjoy physics, but it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to dedicate that much time to,” he remembers.
So, in his sophomore year, Pak did a vocational 180. He declared an environmental studies major. He grabbed his camera, and shifted his focus from photons to photos.
Today, Pak’s photographs are featured regularly on the college’s website, and were recently used in the local magazine, Northfield NOW. “I provided them with quite a few photos. Some of them were scattered in the magazine, but a bunch were used in an article about my experience with photography,” he says.
Many of Pak’s photos are natural landscapes, and he hopes to one day blend his environmental studies major with his passion for photography.
This summer, he’s doing just that. Pak has secured an internship with the Minnesota Conservation Corps in Superior National Forest. Living in Ely, Minnesota, he now has daily opportunities to take stunning photos of the Boundary Waters and other national and state parks as he works alongside the U.S. National Forest Service.Evan Pak took this photo of an airplane at the U.S. Forest Service Seaplane Base, where his team was conducting canoe training as part of his internship with the Minnesota Conservation Corps.
“I believe that photography is incredibly important for environmental matters. I can’t think of a better way to share my appreciation for all of the natural beauty which we’re surrounded by,” Pak says.
This summer, he’ll gain an understanding of how the U.S. Forest Service operates by working on a crew that will handle everything from trail service to controlled burns to helping out in the visitor center. In the first few weeks of his internship, Pak has completed all of the requirements to be federally certified as a wilderness firefighter and is working on his U.S. Forest Service sawyer certification.
“At times, the work has been utterly exhausting, but I haven’t once regretted my decision to come here. Nothing is as rewarding as knowing that you’re making a difference for what you care about,” Pak says. “There are times where I feel like I’m dreaming. I’m living in a gorgeous area, spending tons of time outside, learning all sorts of new things, and getting paid for all of it.”
Kelsey Sims ’18 has played the violin since she was four years old. “It’s an excellent way to express myself,” she says. “Music can reach a wide array of people and spread happiness and joy to others.”
Sims, a music and environmental studies major from Columbus, Ohio, takes private lessons at St. Olaf and practices 12–14 hours a week on her own and as a member of the St. Olaf Orchestra’s second violin section. While she loves the violin, she doesn’t love the extensive pain in her arms, wrists, and back she experiences while playing it.
“The entire left side of my body is in almost constant pain,” she says. “No one ever teaches you how to relax and stretch your body before you play. You just sit down, start playing, and push through the pain.”Katie Marshall ’21, Kelsey Sims ’18, Jessica Folson ’21
It’s not surprising, then, that Sims was eager to join a new research study that assesses functional movement in violinists and dancers. The study is being conducted by Jennifer Holbein, an exercise science instructor at St. Olaf, and six student researchers. Holbein hopes to determine whether a regular, simple warm-up routine (whole body exercises and stretches that differ from playing scales or doing pliés) can relax muscle tension, reduce pain, and prevent injury in performing artists.
“Very little research has been done assessing the outcome of injury-preventative measures in performing artists,” says Holbein, who developed the study, which includes several six-weeks-long assessments of St. Olaf dancers and violinists, for a two-semester Directed Undergraduate Research (DUR) course she offered to students this year. DURs generally consist of a topic determined or guided by a faculty member, often based on his or her research interests. By exposing students to the rigors of research, a DUR course is one of the ways that St. Olaf provides undergraduate students with a high-impact educational experience.
Holbein, who marched in drum corps for many years, has long been intrigued by the idea of including performing artists in the same category as athletes: both groups put their bodies through punishing, repetitive use — whether in rehearsal and performance or athletic training and competition.
“Athletes receive so much education about preventing and treating injuries that isn’t yet available to performing artists,” Holbein says. “We know that musicians and dancers have injuries similar to those in sports, caused by muscle tension, overuse, and not warming up their bodies properly. This study is really driven by one question: how do we prevent those injuries in performing artists?”Connecting Art to Science
Nina Lautz, the lead student researcher on the functional movement study, is a senior exercise science and biology major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like Sims, she is a violinst, having played the instrument for 15 years. She was a member of the St. Olaf Philharmonia for three years and also has danced competitively for nine years.Abby Carpenter readies Nina Lautz for an EMG test.
During a fall 2016 biomechanics class taught by Holbein, Lautz and three classmates were tasked with conducting a small research project from concept to completion. The group chose to conduct a four-week study on how warming up the body might affect 10 violinists in the St. Olaf Philharmonia.
“We were told to choose something we are passionate about, and for me that’s violin,” Lautz says. “Musicians, even though they use their body as much as an athlete does, don’t really warm up their joints or muscles. They tend to fiddle around on their instruments, tuning or running through difficult passages in the music.”
Ann Dahl, an occupational therapist who works part-time at St. Olaf treating musicians’ injuries or stresses related to their hands, wrists, and upper bodies, worked with the student researchers to develop a series of warm-up stretches and exercises for the violinists to do twice a week before rehearsal, easily completed in less than 10 minutes.
“It was a short study, but the results were very good,” Lautz says, noting that after four weeks, the violinists reported experiencing a decrease in pain levels in the head, neck, shoulders, and wrist. “All of them said they enjoyed the exercises and would consider using them long-term,” says Lautz.
That 2016 class project, combined with Holbein’s interest in researching injury prevention in performing artists, became the pilot for the more in-depth, yearlong study currently underway by Holbein, Lautz, and five other students in the DUR course: Abby Carpenter ’18, Eric Bakken ’18, Kyle Leemon ’18, Andrew Thao ’18, and Emil Hiiri ’19.String Theory
Holbein expanded the pilot study to include research with both dancers and violinists. She also incorporated a new element — a before-and-after assessment of the participants in the study. Using a variety of methods, the study assessed the performers’ functional movement prior to running them through warm-up exercises for six weeks and then reassessed them to see if their functional movement improved.The functional movement EMG tests conducted by (L-R) Abby Carpenter ’18, Andrew Thao ’18, Kyle Leemon ’18, Eric Bakken ’18, Emil Hiiri ’19, and Nina Lautz ’18 (on violin) looks at muscle tension at rest.
The current research — the focus of the yearlong DUR course — began last fall with 14 St. Olaf Orchestra violinists, who completed several evaluations, both before using the warm-ups and after: the String Instrumentalist Pain Survey, the DASH (Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand) questionnaire, and the Kenny Music Performance Anxiety Inventory assessment. Northfield chiropractor Daniel Corbett also conducted electromyography (EMG) and thermography scans on the violinists to measure resting tension in specific muscles of the hand.
“The scans helped us see if the violin players had muscle spasms in their arms and back — while at rest — that we couldn’t detect or they couldn’t feel during playing,” says Carpenter, an exercise science major from Northfield who facilitated the collaboration with Corbett.
In Sims’s case, the EMG scan showed that she had a range of mild, moderate, and bad muscle tension in her left hip and throughout her upper back and neck.
“My results confirmed why I felt so awful,” Sims says. “It was eye-opening to see the tension we have from playing the violin, even when we’re not actually playing.”
The exercise science students also conducted what’s known as a functional movement screen (FMS), an assessment tool that’s commonly applied to athletes rather than performing artists. A standard FMS involves a set of seven movements that assess range of motion and help to identify areas of the body that need to be targeted for improved strength or mobility.
“Essentially, an FMS breaks down a body from head-to-toe to see what parts work well and what parts don’t work well,” says Holbein, noting that FMS is typically taught to physical and occupational therapists at the residency level but rarely taught to students at the undergraduate level.
To help her students learn FMS and modify it to fit the specialized needs of violinists, Holbein turned to Dahl and her colleague Dave Wieber, a physical therapist who partners with Dahl in the treatment of musicians and non-varsity athletes at St. Olaf. Wieber helped Holbein’s students adapt the Titleist Performance Institute’s functional movement screening developed for golfers so that it could be applied to violinists. He also taught the students how to demonstrate and assess the movements they’d be asking the violinists to perform.
“FMS assessment works sort of like a flow chart,” Wieber says. “If you pass a movement — say, touch your toes — you go on to perform the next movement. If you fail, additional movement tests are done to see where the problem lies before moving on.”
The 14 violinists participating in the study were divided into two groups, with seven forming an experimental group and seven forming a control group. After the initial evaluations of the 14 participants, which exposed common upper body problems such as with spinal and shoulder rotation, the seven violinists in the experimental group met with Lautz and her fellow students three times a week for six weeks before rehearsals to warm up their bodies. They worked through simple stretches such as arm circles, bear hugs with a head roll, and pushing their palms flat against a wall. Those in the control group did no warm-up exercises.
At the end of the six weeks, all 14 repeated the surveys, the scans, and the FMS assessment. The experimental group’s average FMS score improved from 81 to 87 percent. Their EMG scans decreased from an average of 145 microvolts (the amount of electrical activity or firing within a muscle at rest) to an average of 136 microvolts. A normal scan is about 115.6 microvolts, indicating that the violinists had higher resting muscle tension than the average person might have.
“It was a small study in a short time frame, so in order to get statistical significance, we’d need a much larger group of subjects,” Lautz says. “Even still, we were pleased with the improvement we saw and with the fact that we didn’t make anyone’s pain worse.”
Like the other student researchers, Kyle Leemon, an exercise science major from Lander, Wyoming, who has played soccer for many years, has a newfound appreciation for the athleticism involved in playing a string instrument.
“This study takes artists in the performance arts sector and treats them as athletes, which is really cool,” Leemon says. “It gives them the tools to properly warm their muscles.”
The work Holbein’s group did with the violinists has almost put Wieber and Dahl out of the business of treating string players, Wieber says. “Our patients have dropped off by 70 to 80 percent,” he says. “We were seeing a lot of students with wrist, hand, elbow, shoulder, and neck strain, and now we hardly see any string instrument students.”
“For our students to have training in functional movement screening — a tool often used in physical or occupational therapy — and to have used it in a research setting at the undergraduate level is extraordinary.” — Cindy Book
For Sims, the St. Olaf Orchestra violin player, the warm-up exercises changed the way she treats her body and have reduced her pain while playing. Her post-test EMG showed improved results, with her left hip tension now in normal range and the tension in her neck and upper back greatly reduced.
“The study helped me become aware of my body and to learn to not push through the tension or pain,” says Sims, who continues to use the warm-up stretches in her daily practice routine. “Now, whenever I notice my wrist starting to cramp up, I stop and stretch it out and do some deep breathing before I’m ready to jump back in. It has helped me gain control over my body while I’m playing and helped my muscles last longer throughout rehearsals and performances.”
She hopes more violinists are exposed to the benefits of warming-up. “There should be more focus on ways that violinists can maintain well-being in their bodies and prevent injuries, from a young age.”
Lautz agrees. She thinks that the research study has the potential to influence the development of young musicians.
“It is heartbreaking to hear my musician friends say they aren’t able to play certain repertoire or perform solo recitals due to their chronic pain,” Lautz says. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if through education and proper training, injuries in musicians could be prevented altogether?”Dance Moves
While the exercise science students were working with the violinists last fall, they were also assessing functional movement in 10 students in Artist in Residence Anthony Roberts’s Modern Dance II class.
Those 10 students were assessed only with the functional movement screen, both at the start and end of the study, and not with EMG scans or surveys. The student research team observed and scored the dancers while they performed specific movements — again, a set created by Wieber and the students specifically for dancers. The FMS tested such things as hip rotation, rotator cuff strength, and isolation of the neck musculature. The dancers earned higher FMS scores (an average of 97 percent) than the violinists, which wasn’t surprising to the research team.
“In general, dancers are hypermobile and very flexible because of their art,” Lautz says.
Roberts led all 10 dancers (there was no control group) in a 10-minute full-body warm-up routine twice a week before the start of his class. The routine was based on one developed at the University of Louisiana, which was customized for the St. Olaf dancers by the exercise science students and demonstrated on tape by Lautz and Leemon.
Even though the dancers’ initial FMS scores were high, their scores still improved at the post-test assessment after the six weeks of participating in the study’s warm-up techniques.
“It was encouraging to see positive results, with scores of 98 or 99 percent improving to 100 percent,” Leemon says. “Even those who scored 100 were able to maintain that score.”
Study participant Julianne Eckert ’20, a dance and women and gender studies major from Flagstaff, Arizona, estimates that she dances for more than 10 hours a week, either in class or in rehearsal for Companydance, St. Olaf’s modern dance company. Sitting on the floor, with her legs extended in front of her, Eckert has the uncanny ability to touch her toes to the floor when pointing them.Post testing with dancers includes a functional movement screen by Kyle Leemon and the other research students. This test look for injuries.
“I’ve always been told that my point is really nice for lines,” she says. “But during the FMS, I failed the ‘point your toes’ movement, because I was told it wasn’t normal to touch my toes to the floor. What I thought was good from a dancing perspective isn’t necessarily good from a healthy body perspective.”
Eckert says the warm-ups the dancers did as part of the study were different from a typical dance warm-up, focusing more on strength movements such as planks, lunges, and hamstring stretches, instead of cardio movements like running or leaping or genre-specific techniques like pliés or tendus.
“I found it interesting that my body was warm and ready to dance without doing much cardio,” she says, noting that she felt an overall “strengthening” of her body.
Roberts has long been interested in the intersection of dance and science. As early as 2014, he was investigating ways the Dance Department could collaborate with the Exercise Science Department, and so when this study was proposed, he was eager to have his dance students participate. He says that it’s not yet common for dance students to have a fundamental grasp on how to take care of their bodies, which includes warming up properly. Roberts also recognizes the importance of having dancers study anatomy and kinesiology.
“It’s crucial that they embrace dance science and learn the anatomically safe and sound structure and function of the body,” he says.
Holbein and her students have continued assessing dancers during spring semester in order to collect a wider-ranging data set. They’re working with 30 students — evenly divided into control and experimental groups — in three dance courses. As with the studies last fall, all the dancers will undergo a pre- and post-test FMS. The experimental group of dancers will complete the twice-weekly, six-week warm-up routine to test if it impacts their functional movement.
“My goal is for our dancers to learn the warm-up and then encourage them to do it consistently before every rehearsal and to become more mindful of treating their bodies well,” says Roberts, who has completed the warm-ups alongside his students. He has noticed a “weight drop,” or improved body alignment that allows him to feel more of his muscles engaging as he dances.
“In some ways, it’s like after you’ve had a good yoga class and you feel a different presence in the world as an embodied being,” he says.Training Lessons
Exercise science is a relatively new major at St. Olaf, having been first offered in 2002 after the department — previously physical education, then sports science — was revamped. Most students interested in becoming physical or occupational therapists choose to major in either exercise science, which graduates about 25 students each year, or biology or psychology.
“For our students to have training in functional movement screening — a tool often used in physical or occupational therapy — and to have used it in a research setting at the undergraduate level is extraordinary,” says Cindy Book, chair and associate professor of exercise science. “It’s also exciting to extend our department’s reach beyond Skoglund, as we’re often associated with only working in the sports realm. Bringing together the worlds of music, dance, and exercise science has been fabulous.”
“My goal is for our dancers to learn the warm-up and then encourage them to do it consistently before every rehearsal and to become more mindful of treating their bodies well.” — Anthony Roberts
Book noted that assessing functional movement in violinists and dancers isn’t the only research being conducted in the Exercise Science Department. She and Holbein are among the 2017–18 recipients of a Magnus the Good Collaborative Fellowship, which is supported by an endowed fund established in 2003 by friends of St. Olaf’s former Paracollege (the forerunner of the current Center for Integrative Studies). The fund supports projects that provide opportunities for collaborative work between students and faculty members.
Together with students Jordan Lutz ’18 and Randall Rude ’18, Book and Holbein are conducting research to develop strategies that may help people with Parkinson’s disease multitask while walking. Their study is using electroencephalogram (EEG) and EMG machines and video analysis to examine walking gait in human subjects at various levels of weight load while performing a cognitive task. Essentially, the study’s subjects mimic the gait of a Parkinson’s patient on a treadmill while attempting to complete a small task. At the same time, the student researchers measure their brain waves and muscle activity.
“Research shows that Parkinson’s patients cannot multitask while walking because they’re fixated on their gait,” Book says, “whereas you and I just walk, and if we see a rug, step, or dog, we just walk around it without having to think about it.”
So far, the group has found that if a Parkinson’s patient is harnessed while walking, he or she feels safe. When a task is introduced, such as a math problem or coin sorting, the person is able to multitask because he or she isn’t focusing as much on walking. Additionally, the harness’s ability to “un-weight” the patient — remove 10, 20, or 30 pounds of body weight — is also proving beneficial.Musicians play during a dance rehearsal.
Other research projects in the Exercise Science Department are student led. For example, Carpenter, one of the students working on the violinist/dancer study, is completing an independent research project as part of her senior seminar, a requirement for students in the department who want to earn distinction in the major. For her project, Carpenter is examining the effects of caffeine on endurance athletes.
Her participants — St. Olaf varsity athletes with an endurance background — chew a piece of caffeinated gum for about 20 minutes, allowing the caffeine to enter their bloodstream. She then puts them through a running endurance test, recording their time to failure (exhaustion) and testing the level of caffeine left in their system.
“With each caffeine dosage level, I compare it to the athlete’s baseline to see if their time to failure increased or not,” says Carpenter, who plans to work in cardiac rehabilitation after graduation.
Leemon, another student conducting the violinist/dancer study, plans to earn a master’s degree in exercise physiology. He has completed a literature review of the effects of altitude training on the maximal oxygen uptake in elite endurance cyclists. “I looked at whether a body increases the amount of oxygen it can use during a race at higher elevations,” he says.
Lautz, the lead student for the violinist/dancer study, is using the violin portion as her distinction project, which requires her to write a detailed account of the research, from literature review and methods to results and analysis. She has been accepted into the doctorate of physical therapy program at Mayo Clinic.
“I’ve been pleased with how driven these students are,” Holbein says. “They’ve been involved in every step of the research, and they understand the importance of bringing awareness about injury prevention to performing artists around the world.”
In late June, Holbein and the student researchers will present their data in a poster session at the international conference of the Performing Arts Medicine Association in Orange, California.
“I’ve been pleased with how driven these students are. They’ve been involved in every step of the research, and they understand the importance of bringing awareness about injury prevention to performing artists around the world.” — Jennifer Holbein
“The much broader question the performing arts world needs to address is whether these exercises and stretches to warm your body should be taught to children so that they become second nature, like warming up their instrument is,” Holbein says.
Holbein already has her eye on continuing the project in the fall of 2018. She and her students next fall, including junior Emil Hiiri, who joined the project in February to learn from the graduating seniors, will continue assessing functional movement in groups of violinists and dancers. Rather than assigning the same warm-up routine to everyone, Holbein hopes to implement individualized injury prevention strategies — in other words, create targeted therapies for an imbalance indicated in each participant’s FMS score. Eventually, Holbein would like to expand the music portion of the study to include players of all instruments.
“Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could screen an entire orchestra and create individual therapies for each player?” Holbein asks. “I’m not kidding when I say this could be a 10-year project.”
Marla Hill Holt ’88 is a regular contributor to St. Olaf Magazine. Photos by Tom Roster.
St. Olaf College Professor of Religion Charles Wilson lays out new guidelines for theologians and Jesus researchers alike in his latest book, Inventing Christic Jesuses: Rules and Warrants for Theology.
The book, published by Cascade Books, examines the existing pool of Jesus research to reveal how contemporary Jesus historians have transformed Jesus’ image. Wilson looks at images of Jesus in the Third Quest for the historical Jesus and uncovers our natural tendency to invest personal values, interest, and age in the constructed figure of Jesus.
“I’ve taken up that tendency as a kind of motto and tried to make theological sense of the retrojection of value onto the historical Jesus,” he says. “The figure of Jesus is the way in which some people produce a self and maybe a culture. They are in dialogue with themselves by way of a Jesus. I propose rules so that the retrojection may be done well, done better and non-manipulatively.”
Wilson goes on to discuss the role of popular values in supposedly objective historical work. Specifically, he highlights the danger self-portraiture poses to historical Jesus research.
“Suddenly we have our values confirmed to us. We have them valorized to us. We are staring into the water and seeing ourselves, and we name it Jesus,” and if we let this kind of imagination go, anything goes, he warns.
A guided display of rules and warrants, the book, the first volume, “Method,” of two, gives scholars a coherent methodology to use in their research: one that helps to create historically responsible Jesuses and that opens christology to historical work on Jesus.
Wilson is also the author of Feuerbach and the Search for Otherness.
The St. Olaf College campus might seem quiet these first few weeks of summer — but if you look in labs, classrooms, and the library, you’ll find dozens of talented students working on significant research and creative projects that range across a wide array of fields.
This summer 96 St. Olaf students are participating in the St. Olaf Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, which enables students from all academic disciplines to gain hands-on experience and close guidance from faculty mentors. Ten of these students are conducting their work as part of the St. Olaf TRIO McNair Scholars graduate school preparatory program. Another four students have earned a Steen Fellowship, which supports student-initiated projects that demonstrate independent scholarship, investigation, and creativity.
At the CURI Opening Symposium June 11, students provided an overview of their projects — 48 in total — and the questions they plan to investigate this summer. Their work includes efforts to understand a wide range of issues, from how dogs track human scent to how gerrymandering affects political discourse to how to use the latest digital filmmaking techniques to tell compelling stories. The CURI site includes a public directory of all of this year’s projects.
“It’s deeply rewarding to support the students and their mentors as they create new knowledge,” says CURI Director Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak, an associate professor of political science and Asian studies and chair of the Political Science Department.Melanie Thompson ’19 introduces her CURI project, which will utilize traditional stop motion, digital animation, and traditional projection mapping techniques to create small scale environments used to tell a story. She will work with Theater Department Designer and Technical Director Todd Edwards.
Minnesota Public Radio will air the St. Olaf College Institute for Freedom and Community’s recent forum featuring two prominent academics and public intellectuals, Amitabh Chandra and Tyler Cowen, on June 12.
The “MPR News Presents” program will broadcast the lecture, titled What Kind of Health Care System Should the U.S. Adopt?, at noon and 9 p.m.
Listeners can hear the broadcast live or listen to the archive on the MPR News broadcast web page.
Chandra is the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Public Policy and Director of Health Policy Research at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and is a frequent commentator in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other national publications.
Cowen is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and the Center for the Study of Public Choice and has earned numerous accolades, including being named a Top 100 Global Thinker by Foreign Policy and one of The Economist’s most influential economists of the decade.
The Institute for Freedom and Community held the discussion between the two scholars, moderated by St. Olaf Associate Professor of Economics Ashley Hodgson, April 26 in front of a packed auditorium on campus.
The event was part of the Institute for Freedom and Community’s spring series on “Freedom, Community, and Health Care,” and was the second of two forums examining what kind of health care system the U.S. should adopt.
MPR aired the first of the two forums, featuring leading health care policy scholars Joan Tronto and David Craig and moderated by Morrison Family Director of the Institute for Freedom and Community Edmund Santurri, on May 3. Listen to the archive on the MPR News broadcast web page.
As director of Swedish Water House and International Policy at the Stockholm International Water
Institute (SIWI) in Stockholm, Katarina Veem is laser-focused on the universal issue of water. It’s long been her vocation, having previously served as the CEO of Baltic Sea 2020 and program director at World Wildlife Fund Sweden.
Her worldview was shaped early in life. She was born to Estonian parents in Sweden, where her father — a pastor and archbishop in the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church — worked with Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Through his vocation and her family’s immigration story, Veem gained an awareness of vulnerable populations and the interconnectedness of the peoples of the world. This perspective made her a good fit for St. Olaf, which she learned about from her father. He’d known of the college through his relationships with St. Olaf Philosophy Professor Howard Hong ’34, a former director of the LWF Service to Refugees, and German Professor Gertrude Sovik ’31, a tireless advocate for Asian immigrant resettlement.
In 1982, as a first-year international student from Sweden, Veem found the diverse interests of students on the Hill thrilling. “I loved being surrounded by young people who were truly interested in the various topics that you have in a liberal arts college. The discipline and the excitement of all the intellectual pursuits — I loved it.”Stockholm, Sweden: St. Olaf College alumna Katarina Veem, Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute on the island of Djurgarden in central Stockholm. (Rob Schoenbaum/POLARIS)
Though she spoke English as a first-year student, Veem struggled to take notes during lectures, jotting down a mishmash of English, Swedish, and Estonian. The advantage of studying abroad is “to really understand how small and insignificant you and your life are in the great scheme of things,” Veem says. “It’s a really humbling experience, while at the same time it is so exciting. But bottom line, it makes you understand that your perspective is only one perspective.”
Gradually, her written language ability improved. But her salvation came in St. Olaf’s Paracollege, the forerunner to the current Center for Integrative Learning, which allowed students to develop individualized majors. “That one-on-one learning was absolutely instrumental for me,” she says. “It was a really rigorous but enormously educating and inspiring way of learning.”
Pursuing her interests in history, theology and art history (“I studied things that were entirely non-
Swedish. Swedes tend to study practical stuff, such as economics or engineering.”), Veem returned to Sweden knowing that her liberal arts education at St. Olaf had not only instilled in her a love of learning and critical thinking, but it also had prepared her for any number of careers.
“The advantage of studying abroad is to really understand how small and insignificant you and your life are in the great scheme of things.” — Katarina Veem ’86
She took an entry-level job at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in scientific exchange programs and found herself working on preparations for the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, during which the concept of sustainable development emerged. “Sweden was really a driver in that process,” she says. For her own part, Veem helped to arrange conferences and seminars for the academicians at the summit, an experience that sparked a newfound interest in environmental policy. After taking time off to attend Harvard Divinity School for a master’s degree in intellectual history, but now with an environmental twist, Veem again returned to Sweden. This time she took a position with the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, where she worked for the Swedish government, first on marine and fisheries issues and then on freshwater policy. It was just the beginning of what has become her life’s work and passion.
Stockholm is built across 14 major islands at the site where Lake Mälaren — Sweden’s third-largest lake — flows into the Baltic. “Stockholm is a city on water,” says Veem. “The water quality is excellent. You can dip a cup in the water and drink it. You can fish for salmon and trout in the middle of the city.”
The Stockholm International Water Institute was the brainchild of “a very creative mayor” to pr0mote and recognize freshwater conservation through research, project management, collaboration, and other work around freshwater policy. SIWI partners with both governments and businesses around the world and offers a variety of services, from scientific research and policy advice to capacity building, training, and advocacy support. At the core of the institute’s mission is to work extensively in developing countries, where it helps to ensure that water is accessible to everyone while also seeking to alleviate poverty and address the needs of the poor and the most vulnerable. SIWI also awards the annual Stockholm Water Prize to honor “women, men, and organizations whose work contributes to the conservation and protection of water resources, and to the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants,” according to the organization’s website. As Veem explains, the award is “like the Nobel Prize for the water community.”Archipelago off the western coast of Sweden.
SIWI places an emphasis on proper and just governance, a viewpoint rooted in Sweden’s strong societal link to nature and its reliance on government to protect the environment. “When it comes to the environment, Sweden has a completely different way of addressing the challenges, because we believe that government has a right and a role in preventing negative environmental impacts, or investing in remediation of negative effects,” says Veem. In crafting solutions to environmental problems, Veem notes that Swedes look reflexively to government. Americans, on the other hand, break down in debates over “big government” and “over-regulation.” The result is that American legislation defers to business interests, or it never gets passed.
In Sweden, there’s little debate about government regulation to protect the environment, “and that’s
how you can get a strong national, regional, as well as local enforcement which will address environmental challenges. There’s this fundamental trust that the government is going to help us and work for us,” says Veem. “The method of how that is most effectively done — that is something that we
dispute between the left- and the right-wing blocs. But the actual implementation is really only
marginally different from left to right.”
Swedish Water House, which Veem directs, is a department within SIWI that has a slightly different
mandate than the rest of the organization. According to its website, it “connects Swedish water stakeholders from different sectors with each other and with international processes and discussions.” To accomplish that goal, it hosts seminars and workshops in the field of water and development, facilitates Swedish participation in international meetings, and engages a broad spectrum of stakeholders in focused two- to three-year dialogues regarding global challenges.
One major concern, says Veem, is the effect that climate change has on water abundance and availability. “Climate change is first known to people through too much, too dirty, or too little water,” she says. On one end of the spectrum are the populations threatened by sea level rise. Veem cites the small Pacific nation of Kiribati, whose inhabitants have been forced to evacuate due to rising sea levels, and the Marshall Islands and the Maldives, which are in danger of sinking. On the other end of the spectrum, she says, are places like California and Ethiopia, which have suffered extended droughts. “In both cases — too much or too little [water] — the quality of the drinking water is frequently affected negatively.”
After working closely on these vital issues for more than 20 years, Veem is aghast at American science skeptics and climate change deniers, who also distrust government and expert authority of all kinds. “Science is foundational to policy and decision-making on all levels — whether it’s local, regional, or national. In the Scandinavian countries, there is no climate skeptic debate whatsoever. In Europe, there is nothing else but a focus on science in relation to environmental concerns. And there’s no other way to develop [environmental] policy. So that’s why it leaves me gaping. How else do countries make any decisions?”
It’s a challenge she hopes will soon be resolved, thereby enabling new opportunities for international collaboration to emerge that will address the most pressing environmental issues affecting populations worldwide.
Greg Breining is a Minnesota author, essayist, and freelance writer.
Graduates walk through campus, traditionally passing under the wind chimes, to the commencement ceremony.
On Sunday, May 9, 2018, nearly 700 St. Olaf College seniors walked across a stage set in front of Mellby Hall to receive diplomas and enter the world as graduates.
Despite a blazing sun and soaring temperatures, family and friends of the Class of 2018 filled the campus lawn to celebrate their graduate.
In his charge to the graduating class, President David R. Anderson ’74 focused on one phrase: “Oles Can. Oles Will.” He noted that the graduating class included 12 triple-majors and 215 double-majors. The Class of 2018 graduated with an average 3.42 GPA and was one of the most traveled graduating classes, with 75 percent studying abroad or off campus.
“The whole point of going to college isn’t to ‘go to college,’ rather the purpose is to prepare yourself for a productive, fulfilling, and useful life,” Anderson noted. “Ask anyone that knows an Ole. You’ll hear that not just the graduates of the college ‘can,’ but that they ‘will.'”
The Class of 2018 senior commencement address was delivered by Maggie Chen, an American studies major from Beijing, China. “As someone who is going to be one of the youngest Ole alumni, I can’t wait to tell everyone how St. Olaf has given me the most incredible and transformative four years of my life,” she told her fellow graduates. Her speech focused on the word “transformative,” and pointed to a story that helped her transform from an English language learner, to a qualified K-12 English as a Second Language teacher. She will pursue a master’s of education degree at the University of Minnesota in the fall.
After the Class of 2018 received their diplomas, Anderson asked all those graduating with cum laude honors and the St. Olaf international students, representing 36 countries, to stand and be recognized. Anderson also recognized the retiring faculty members.
As is tradition, graduates closed the commencement ceremony by singing Fram! Fram! St. Olaf and Um! Yah! Yah! Then, of course, they threw their mortarboards.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018!Click to view slideshow.