Gustavus Campus News
The Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Karin Olofsdotter, visited Gustavus Adolphus College on Monday, September 17, as part of her three-day trip to Minnesota. During her time on campus, Olofsdotter hosted a public lecture in the Jackson Campus Center, which nearly 100 people attended. The audience, made up of Gustavus students, staff, and members of the Saint Peter community, piled in to experience an intimate discussion with Sweden’s top U.S. diplomat.
Olofsdotter opened by asking the members of the audience to raise their hand if they were of Swedish descent. “We are probably related!” the ambassador joked, explaining that nearly a quarter of the country’s population immigrated to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As the United States and Sweden celebrate 200 years of international relations, Olofsdotter updated the Gustavus community on the state of affairs in Europe today. She spoke about the recent Swedish elections, the country’s balance of individualism and social welfare, taxes, immigration, and trade. Olofsdotter stressed the importance of Sweden and America’s transatlantic link as well as concerns the country has with proposed U.S. tariffs on European goods, pointing out the massive effect that foreign policy can have on smaller nations like Sweden.
After her prepared remarks, Olofsdotter answered questions from the crowd before sharing fika, a Swedish coffee break, with students and staff. Following the open session, she toured the campus with Scandinavian Studies and history professor Glenn Kranking and lunched with President Bergman and invited guests. The visit to campus was facilitated by Bruce Karstad, the president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
“At Gustavus, we’re proud of our distinctive Swedish heritage and are thankful for the opportunity to share that living connection with our students,” senior director of institutional events Barb Larson Taylor ’93 said. “We’re grateful to Ambassador Olofsdotter, the Swedish Embassy, and the American Swedish Institute for making this engaging visit possible.”
The warm and approachable Olofsdotter is Sweden’s first-ever female ambassador to the United States, but she’s no stranger to the country. This is the fourth time she’s lived here, including stints as an exchange student and in graduate school. Olofsdotter’s primary focus as ambassador is to maintain and strengthen the strong bonds between Sweden and America, so trips like this help deepen her understanding of American culture so she can relay her knowledge back to the people of Sweden, she explained.
And her analysis? “I think we are very much alike,” the ambassador said.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Gustavus Adolphus College will have the privilege of hosting Dr. Ron McCurdy, a professor of music at the University of Southern California, for a multimedia concert called The Langston Hughes Project on Wednesday, September 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Bjorling Hall. Through video, spoken word, and jazz music, McCurdy brings to life Langston Hughes’ epic poem, “Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz.”
Before the concert, McCurdy will spend the day on the Gustavus campus interacting with students in multiple English and theatre classes and spending time in the Diversity Center.
“It is most appropriate that Mr. McCurdy, an esteemed Jazz artist and creative who has contributed so much to our own homegrown American art form, jazz, would come to Gustavus and offer his words and music dedicated to the works of one of the 20th century’s most important poets, Langston Hughes,” English professor Phil Bryant said.
“Ask Your Mama” is a masterpiece written by Hughes and dedicated to famed jazz trumpet player Louis Armstrong. Hughes used influences from gospel songs, Latin music, blues, progressive jazz, and many other areas of music to create this piece to portray his struggle for freedom in the 1960s, but the piece was left unfinished at the time of Hughes’ death in 1967.
McCurdy put together The Langston Hughes Project in order to display a great work of art by an iconic jazz poet. This project brings to life the influential music of Hughes and sheds new light on a poem left unfinished.
“It will be a great opportunity for students to learn about Hughes, American jazz and poetry, African-American culture and history, and why all of the above is what makes America truly great,” added Bryant.
McCurdy has been in high demand for his extensive jazz knowledge. Besides his background as a teacher and artist at universities across the country, he is also a consultant for both the Grammy Foundation and for the Walt Disney All-American Summer College Jazz Ensemble. McCurdy was formerly the president of the International Association for Jazz Education and has had multiple publications, including his book Meet the Great Jazz Legend.
The multimedia concert is free and open to the public and held in Bjorling Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 19. The Langston Hughes Project is brought to Gustavus through the partnership between the Diversity Center and the Office of Fine Arts Programs.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Tucked away on the northwest corner of the Gustavus Adolphus College campus, bracketed by athletic practice fields and the facilities management shop, sits the Big Hill Farm.
Founded by students in 2009, the 3/4 acre patch has grown over its decade of existence to create a campus footprint much larger than its physical boundaries would indicate. In addition to providing curricular and co-curricular sustainability experiences to students, the organic farm grows approximately 1,500 pounds of food that ends up being used by the Gustavus Dining Service each year.
All summer, student interns work the land. They plan garden plots, plant fruits and vegetables, and harvest produce for use in the cafeteria and catering office and – new this year – for sale to the Saint Peter Community. The students also do some weeding. Lots of weeding.
“After working at Big Hill Farm for two summers, I have a much greater appreciation for the things on the farm that we don’t purposely put there, things like weeds and bugs,” senior Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies major Andie Kukacka said with a grin.
“I’ve learned that we domesticate plants, but plants also domesticate us,” they said, explaining how vegetation responds to different cultivation techniques and that some weeds rely on humans tilling the land in order to grow. “It’s about working with weeds and bugs in a holistic manner, trying to attract the right ones instead of just trying to destroy things we think are undesirable.”
“The students who have gardened before on a small scale are learning how to plan and grow for a market,” Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation and Big Hill Farm adviser Jim Dontje said. “They learn the daily challenges of agriculture – too much rain, not enough rain, plant diseases – but they also learn about leadership and management. How do you keep going when conditions are difficult? How do you adapt when things don’t go as planned?”
“It’s an equal apprenticeship among the interns regardless of experience,” Kukacka added.
But the work doesn’t just take place in the field. This summer, Kukacka spent about two hours each day on a computer updating records, communicating with Dontje and other interns, and managing day-to-day logistics and long-term planning for the farm. They also met regularly with administrators in the Gustavus Dining Service to discuss the College cafeteria’s daily needs while also planning ahead for big events like the Nobel Conference and Christmas in Christ Chapel.
Extending the growing season beyond just the summer, interns are working with Dontje to grow microgreens, kale, lettuce, and spinach throughout the year using hydroponics and temperature-controlled soil in the Big Hill Farm greenhouse. Eventually, they hope to produce food year-round.
As the Big Hill Farm continues to spread its roots after a decade of growth, Kukacka knows that the lessons learned go beyond just soil and seeds.
“It’s difficult in our highly industrialized world to get your hands on food that been planted, grown, and prepared all in one place,” they said. “There’s a euphoria in being able to see the results of your labor and bring things into this world that benefit other people.”
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
Come and consider—with leading world experts—the complexity of soil and the global challenges we face protecting it. Attend this year’s Nobel Conference on Living Soil: A Universe Underfoot.
There are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on Earth, than there are stars in the sky. Some estimates put the number of organisms at 100 million times more.
Let that sink in for a moment.
“It really is a universe,” says Laura Triplett, geology and environmental studies professor at Gustavus. Rocks, air, water—we could all come up with a shortlist of items found in soil. But there’s so much more. “And it’s not at all dead,” says Triplett. “By definition, soil is alive, with life processes, chemical processes, and geologic processes.”
The scope of life contained in the world’s soil is so vast that scientists are just now beginning to understand it. And the more they discover, the more we can see soil’s potential to help and heal our environment, our food and agricultural systems, and our bodies.
Soil may be a very thin layer on our planet, but it is an integral base layer of life. “Soil is the basis of all life as we know it,” says Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rattan Lal, scientist and professor at The Ohio State University and the University of Iceland.
And at this moment in our scientific history, you might say we are on the ground level of discovery of soil’s potential, propelled by new scientific understandings of life at the smallest level. With new knowledge of soil, we are imagining answers for some of the world’s greatest challenges—from how to grow the most nutritious food to how to combat climate change.
Through science, we are now uncovering soil’s tremendous importance, and it’s incredible potential.Healthy Soil = Healthy Planet
The science of soil may be microscopic, but the problems of soil misuse are enormous, global, and very serious.
“Climate change, food insecurity, water quality, species extinction—all have a base problem in soil,” says Lal.
When soil is rich, yield is high—in both volume and nutrients. With the advancements of modern farming during the past century, particularly with nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium fertilizer and tilling machinery, “we got it half right, with chemistry and physics,” says David Montgomery, geologist and professor at the University of Washington and a MacArthur Fellow. “But we left biology off the table.” With a richer understanding of soil’s biological processes at the microbial level comes better solutions for caring for it. Says Jack Gilbert, founder for the Earth Microbiome Project and a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, “We live on a microbial planet. If we don’t understand microbes, we don’t understand the world at all.”
Case in point: water filtration. A one percent increase in soil organic matter (microorganisms, decaying plants, etc.) helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre. In water-scarce climates, enriching the soil makes an uninhabitable landscape habitable.
From literally the ground level, these issues of soil health fall within the farmer’s purview. Farming is where science meets people, notes Frank Uekotter, a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. “You get factors that are imminently local and distinctive,” he says. Take, for instance, our American Midwest—the best soil in the world plus the most developed economy in the world equals opportunity for both wealth and disaster, for innovation and corruption, with the safety of the world’s food production at risk.
If we want a safe food, a safe world, and a habitable planet, we need to pay heed. Says Lal, “You cannot improve the health of people and the environment without improving the health of the soil.”The Story of Soil
The science is new, but our cultural stories and world histories seem to have always known of soil’s importance.
“When you look at the scriptures—Hebrew, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam—they all recommend that Mother Earth be cherished,” says Lal.
“The history of soil is the history of civilization,” says Uekotter. It is not always a pretty one. “One civilization after another declined because it did not use the soil properly,” he says. Montgomery concurs. “The degradation of soil impacted societies from Mesopotamia to the Dust Bowl.”
And yet, the dangerous undervaluing of soil persists. Uekotter points to the “mind of monoculture” pervasive throughout history in a variety of societies and commodities—from bananas to soybeans. We know the science and history that argues against monoculture, yet we continue with systems and mindsets that perpetuate it.
Our preferred narratives of soil are often the result of differing perceptions and interests. As professor and researcher Claire Chenu, at AgroParisTech, told the U.N. in 2015, “Land planners see soils as a surface that can or cannot be built on. Farmers see soils as the medium where plants grow, and people involved in water quality see soils as buffers.”
And many of us don’t see it at all. “Soil is a hidden part of nature,” says Lal. “We cover it with buildings, we mine it, we take it for granted.” When soil’s essential functions in our world are unknown and unseen, “then we have no value for it.”
As we begin to understand the secrets of soil at the microscopic level, soil’s value rises. At least in the communities with their ears to the ground on perspective shifts, like scientists and farmers. But what about educators, artists, corporate leaders, and policymakers? What story are they being told, and telling, about the importance of soil to the world?
If we are to value what we know is an integral part of life here on Earth, “We need to think about soil between both the lenses—the humanities and the scientific knowledge,” says Uekotter. “Learning about the complex factors that are coming together in the soil—what a balancing act it is.”
On Friday, August 31, an early-morning thunderstorm swept across the Minnesota River valley. It passed over the hilltop campus of Gustavus Adolphus College and ushered in a pleasant late-summer day as the community welcomed nearly 700 members of the Class of 2022.
Hailing from 35 states and 17 countries, the new Gusties arrived on campus as Gustie Greeter orientation leaders cheered and waved them on. The students, 22 percent of whom hold a high school GPA of 4.0 or greater, unloaded their cars in front of Pittman, Sohre, or Norelius Hall and were helped into their rooms by the Gustie Move Crew, a new volunteer group of returning students, faculty, and staff. After lugging futons and mini-fridges up flights of stairs, meeting their roommates for the first time, and assembling bed lofts, the Gusties settled in as parents, grandparents, and siblings unpacked totes or were dispatched to the grocery store or nearby Mankato for last-minute provisions.
After lunch in Lund Center, the families descended on Eckman Mall, snapping selfies with President Rebecca Bergman, taking traditional photos at the Gustavus sign on Old Main Hill, and eating ice cream treats provided by the Center for Career Development. Other Gusties took advantage of the afternoon to finish unpacking, explore the campus, or get to know their new classmates.
Amid the hustle and bustle of move-in day, first-year student Daniel Wang found a moment of respite in Christ Chapel, where he and his father walked among the pews, taking in the quartz-and-concrete pillars and stained glass accents, before Daniel sat down to play the Steinway piano near the pulpit. “This is a beautiful place,” his father said quietly.
An hour later, the chapel was brimming with people as President Bergman was joined by Dean of Admission Richard Aune ’81, Provost Brenda Kelly, Vice President for Student Life JoNes VanHecke ’88, and other members of the community for a convocation service for new students and families.
“Your family has brought you here for the biggest adventure of your life. And we at Gustavus Adolphus College are proud to have you,” President Rebecca M. Bergman said. Then, with a grin, she advised them: “Stay on top of your homework, eat only healthy foods, and brush your teeth twice a day.”
The students, who included fourth-generation Gusties and those who were the first in their family to go to college, rose for a blessing at the conclusion of the service. Christ Chapel was filled with wistful smiles and proud tears as parents, guardians, and families wished their new Gusties well.
“May you wake each morning here at Gustavus with the realization that your life is freshly yours to live,” President Bergman said. “I wish for each of you gathered here today the fullness of wellbeing and wholeness, an abundance of joy, and the blessings of grace and peace.”
“Beginnings are indeed exciting times,” the President continued. “So let’s get started on this amazing Gustavus journey.”