Class of 1990-1999 Alumni

Eric Bartsch ‘90

I enrolled at St.Olaf in 1986 as an 18 year-old product of public education.  I did not know what “Philosophy” was.  In the Archer House basement restaurant, during first semester of my freshman year, I recall telling my father of my plans to take Narum’s C.S. Lewis interim in January so I could “get my philosophy credit out of the way.”

Boy was I wrong.  We read Lewis’ Mere Christianity, Miracles, the Problem of Pain, the Abolition of Man, the Great Divorce, and many more essays and works, all crammed into one cold January.  That immersion framed and answered many of the great questions of life which, as true today as it was then, not nearly enough of our friends and colleagues really ask or answer.  Kierkegaard called it “Despair” in Sickness Unto Death.

You were randomly assigned to me as my advisor when I enrolled, which was providential (do you remember having your freshmen over to your house for espresso?  You were young in your career back then!), as I was hooked.  Philosophy is not an excursion into pointless abstractions.  I tell younger lawyers that every problem of law or life, reduced five times, presents a philosophical question.  What is law?  What is justice?  What is the proper function of government?  What is virtue?  Is diversity a virtue?  What is an entitlement?  Should people be accountable?  At what cost?

Those questions and more invigorated an appetite, probably typical of all your students, but then new to me, to learn much, much more.  I took Stromseth’s two semester course on the History of Philosophy.  Harper taught me Logic.  Langerak taught me Ethics (we read Alisdar MacIntyre’s “After Virtue” in seminar).  Stoutland taught me Metaphysics (I remember him has a committed physicalist–did he really teach Sunday School?).  Steve Evans taught me the Philosophy of Religion, in one course, and Kierkegaard and Existentialism in another.  I tried to enroll in your Leibnitz and Locke course, but was conflicted out by a core curriculum requirement.  I did spend some time in the Kierkegaard library (at the top of Holland Hall), where I met Howard Hong.  It was not until I left St. Olaf that I came to appreciate the college and, especially, its fortunate congregation ofphilosophy faculty.

Dostoevsky once wrote, “if God does not exist, everything is permissible.”  I left St. Olaf with a lifelong love for Christian Apologetics, which I continue to read today.  I am an amateur, dues-paying member of the Society of Christian Philosophers (I get Faith & Reason, but am mostly confounded by the technical nature of the articles!).  I read more Lewis, Plantinga, Swinburne, and others.  I find the Philosophy of Science especially fascinating, knowing that “science” has a cult-like following, even if most people cannot define it (I think Lawrence Principe, at Johns Hopkins, has made nice contributions to the Science and Religion discussion).

I graduated from Olaf in 1990, Phi Beta Kappa, with majors in Philosophy and Political Science (the latter, I thought, being practical–and I enjoyed the government philosophy courses).  I clumsily took the LSAT and enrolled in law school.  After my first year, I married the girl I dated in high school, and then graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 1994 (full-time my first year, part-time thereafter, working days as a law clerk at the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office in St. Paul).  I entered law school believing I wanted to work for a glamorous government agency–the FBI–but, after a taste of the public sector, left somewhat more adroit to begin a career in private practice.  That career washed me, mostly without a determined plan, into commercial law.  Agricultural commodities, food processing, and consumer packaged goods, to be precise.

Josh Baltzell ‘91

I graduated in ’91 with degrees in Philosophy and Economics.  After getting an MBA from the Univ of Minnesota (’93) I spent several years in marketing and business development roles for medical device companies based in Minnesota.  I then went on to become an investment banker for Piper Jaffray for a couple years before finding my way into the world of venture capital where I have been for the better part of the last 12 years.  I am based in Silicon Valley and focus on investments in emerging healthcare companies.

I thoroughly love my job and have the distinct pleasure of being the “dumbest guy in the room” simply because most people I interact with have four digit IQ’s.  So what does all this have to do with the study of philosophy?  Well first and perhaps most important is I love it.  Some of my most rewarding learning experiences at Olaf came from the study and discussion of philosophy.  It gave me a framework to develop a World view on life.  I still enjoy picking up my various philosophy texts from Olaf and emerging myself in critical thought.

Second, I think the skills learned through the study of philosophy are incredibly important in today’s business environment.  Speaking as a someone that has “Capitalist” in his job title I understand the pressure and need to get a job out of college and pursue the almighty buck.  That being said I am concerned that many institutions of higher learning have shifted their curriculum and culture to focus almost exclusively on whatever it takes to get a job immediately post graduation.  In the process, my observation is that many graduates don’t have any significant skill in constructing or communicating rational thought.  What they gain in aptitude for a job immediately post graduation, they might give up in their ability to thrive long term.  I frequently interact with recent college graduates that are absolutely brilliant and can optimize the outcome of almost any quantitatively oriented test.  Unfortunately, there is no answer key in business and when it comes to synthesizing a complex situation and communicating a suggested direction they are relatively inept.  This phenomenon is happening at the same time that businesses are in increasing need of leaders possessing these skills.

I firmly believe that my study of philosophy at St. Olaf helped provide me with the skills needed to think critically and communicate clearly in business.   So, for any of your prospective students that wonder if a major in philosophy is beneficial or even relevant in seeking a job, my response would be that it might be the best long term personal and professional investment they could possibly make.

Marc Santa Maria ‘91

I’m Marc Santa Maria, graduated ’91 with Philosophy & Spanish major.

I currently live in NYC and am an actor/film-maker and fitness consultant, serving as the National Director of Group Fitness for a gym chain called Crunch.  I graduated from NYU School of Law in ’95 and clerked for two federal judges and was a litigator at a mid-size firm for a year.  My secretary would cover for me to take a hip hop class or audition for a film and I knew it was time to leave the law. I LOVE being in the entertainment world. My life has been really fun ever since.

It could be quite possible that I’m the Ole Philosophy major who got the LEAST out of studying the Philosophy courses at Olaf.  I look back and really see that I was always after the grade instead of the learning or the experience. That said, I do recall the many times I’d be in Professor Taliaferro’s class or presence and I’d be wowed by his passion for Philosophy and teaching.  As I have matured and find my focus on leadership, helping other connect and in storytelling – I do find myself referencing concepts I was first exposed to as a Philo major.  I love those full-circle moments and have so much gratitude for my time in Northfield and in Minnesota.

Lisa Banitt ‘92

I am currently a physician in private practice doing mostly gynecology as I transition away from a dual obstetrics and gynecology practice.  I started at St. Olaf as a chemistry major, like my dad and brothers before me.  However, once I started organic chemistry, I quickly changed my mind.  In searching for another area in which to major, I found the philosophy contract major appealing in that I could get “credit” for some of the science courses I was taking as a considered a career in medicine while still doing something “different”.  It did not take me long, however, to find that the same analytical thought processes are utilized for both philosophy and chemistry, just using different subject matter.  I found philosophy made much more sense to me, though, and at that time in my life, I enjoyed thinking deeply and critically about fundamental questions – “what is god?”, “how to we define right from wrong?”.  Now, alas, I just don’t have the time.

In choosing a career, I considered biomedical ethics after taking the interim class with Karen Gervais, and spent one summer as her intern at the University of Minnesota Center for Biomedical Ethics, which at that time (1990) was directed by Arthur Caplan.  I did research and provided her with data regarding a medication that was then called RU-486 (and now is named mifepristone) and its potential impact on abortion services.  I found that I was much more interested in the medical data than anything else, and therefore made the decision to go to medical school.  After participating in the March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C in 1992, I knew I wanted to provide healthcare to women.  I graduated from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1996, completed residency in OB/GYN at Banner Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ in 2000.  I tried a stint of academic medicine back at Iowa for 2 years, but I found teaching wasn’t for me.  I have now been in part time practice at McFarland Clinic in my hometown of Ames, Iowa for the last 11 years.

I practice part time in order to be available after school for my 3 daughters aged 13, 11 and 11 (identical twins!) and their busy dance and music schedules.  My husband of 18 years is also a physician who helps as he can, but his position as a Hospitalist gives him less flexibility on the days that he works.

A major in philosophy was never a hindrance in entering medical school so I would not discourage anyone who wants to pursue both – just do well in your science classes, and get a good score on your MCAT!  In fact, the disciplined mind that results from the study of philosophy will only help when analyzing a multitude of information, gleaning out the pertinent factors and making a diagnosis – a variation on the theme repeated by everyone who has responded to this  request.

As an aside, I would suggest that someone set up a St. Olaf philosophy alumni facebook page, as there seems to be a real desire to connect and share our stories!

Kathleen Doughtery ‘93

What a wonderful testament this thread has been to the fact that one really can earn a living in the humanities! I graduated from St. Olaf in 1993, and from there went on to complete a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma in 2000. My areas of specialization are ethics (especially virtue ethics) and Ancient. I work primarily in the connections between character-based approaches to ethics and philosophy and literature.

Upon finishing a Ph.D. I moved to the Washington, DC area, and taught several years at George Washington University, several years at Bowie State University (a state historically black college), and then was hired as an outside chair at Notre Dame of Maryland (a Catholic women’s college). I stayed at Notre Dame of Maryland six years, and have just returned to the Midwest this fall. I became Dean of Humanities at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee in August. My daughter, Emma (13), and I are rapidly adjusting to life in the Midwest.

A central part of my position as Dean is to advocate for the value of the humanities disciplines, both internally and externally, and to make sure that the humanities remain thriving disciplines on our campus. I am firmly committed to the view that philosophy has radically enriched my life in a way no other discipline could have: it has given me critical thinking skills, excellent writing skills, and the ability to communicate effectively. Perhaps even more importantly, philosophy has given me an intellectual grounding and a reflective approach to living for which I am always grateful and appreciative. Though I am sure I will eventually miss my teaching, I am excited for the new opportunities for advocacy that my current position is giving me. I am working hard to keep my writing alive, though it is a constant challenge.

Nina Palit ‘93

Hello everyone. My name is Nina Palit and I was class of 1993, Philosophy with a Math concentration. Reading these emails over the last few days has been so inspiring. Forget Linked In, the St Olaf Philosophy Alumni is where it’s at for networking. What an amazing group. For those of you that live in the Chicago area I will be happy to open up my house for a monthly Philosophy meeting just to keep this conversation going. Drop me an email if you are interested.

To anyone thinking of going into Philosophy I would say that Philosophy is not going to get you a job out of college. But once you get that job, a Philosophy major will probably help make you CEO of the company. After college I floundered around for a while and then went to Boston University to do a Masters in International Relations. During my senior year I had gone to the Term in the Middle East and my life long love of travel and history began there. I thought International Relations would be my ticket to having a career that involved traveling to exotic places. Sadly without a PhD it just lead to a series of low paying temp jobs.

After several more years of floundering around my parents told me to get a ‘real’ job and I decided to do second bachelors in Computer Science. This was right around 1999 where anyone and everyone was getting a job in IT. I discovered that even though I was a mediocre student at best (I failed my first computer science class and got a D on the retake), I was a rock star at work because I could take a problem, analyze it and most importantly explain the issues to non technical people. This is where I credit my Philosophy degree. Computer Science taught me a skill but Philosophy taught me how to be a nimble thinker. I was able to succeed in my career because my attitude to everything I was given was ‘let me see if I can figure this out’. Knowing how to think and solve problems is not a skill that everyone has. I am very grateful for St Olaf education because it allowed me to have a satisfying career and a great life. I would encourage everyone who is planning on studying Philosophy to pick up a second major in something ‘practical’. You will be surprised at how many different fields you can branch out in if you have Philosophy as your foundation.

Deepa Upadhyaya ’93

I went on to get a masters degree in Midwifery after becoming a nurse. I worked with Doctors without Borders in Afghanistan and married the Irish physician who was on the mission. We have 2 daughters of our own, who were born in the rural west coast of Scotland. I have delivered babies in the Oregon, Washington, Ireland, Afghanistan, and and now in British Columbia, Canada. I am in the process of applying for a tenured Midwifery faculty position in Calgary, Alberta. If I am lucky enough to land the job, it is my hope to inspire students like you inspired me.

CLICK HERE to read a true story that sums up Deepa’s life right now

Karl Rosenquist ‘94

 I am a leading a Software Development Team for a major healthcare payer.  Reflecting on my experiences at St. Olaf, I would assess that having studied philosophy has given me the ability to be clear and critical about conceptual models and an interest in subtleties of language that might otherwise have been skipped.  It certainly needed some practical implementation and augmentation before I was able to eat by it, but I do believe studying philosophy has fundamentally served me in ways that other disciplines would only skirt.  For me, philosophy was in large part about coming to develop an appreciation for the nature and role of language and systems.  That has certainly been helpful in becoming more than just another technical software guy, and would be essential in many practices where language and other forms of symbolism are key.

I have fond memories of philosophy at Saint Olaf.  I recall writing a story about my dying aquarium fish for a final paper in a class on Kierkegaard, had intense dreams after arguing for a materialistic explanation of the soul in a consciousness class, and attained some lasting satisfaction in what I view as Wittgenstein’s transcendence of philosophy.   Thank you for those memories and those life-lessons.

Ellen Zweig ‘94

 After graduating from Saint Olaf, I began a career working as an analyst for a consulting company conducting Market Research and Sales Forecasting for consumer packaged goods companies (companies like Ocean Spray, Reynolds Metals, various personal care products).

Some years later, I met my husband while taking an evening stroll on Greenwich Point Beach in Greenwich, Connecticut.  This was when you could stand on the point, look west towards NYC across the sound, and see the outlines of the skyline, including the trade center towers, against a pink sky.

I now have two elementary school aged kids, and am living outside of Seattle.  I am one of those very involved PTA Soccer moms.  I volunteer at the school, drive my kids to soccer practice and music lessons.  I’ve been an elected PTA board member for the past three years, and am in my second year coordinating the school art program.  My proudest accomplishment, possibly even more than graduating college (sorry!), was leading and helping to design the creation of a large outdoor mural for kids to work on during recess (see below or attached).  I am now hopefully getting started on a ceramic tile mural, which will be another collaborative art project (though much less difficult).

I was able to use my philosophy degree to look for trends in Market Research data, and communicate them to a client (basic statistics and research methods are helpful too).  I’m still using my philosophy degree as an active PTA board member, advocating on issues that effect the education of children in our community.  It may be that my philosophy major helps me to think of a large project (such as the mural), and see how to divide it into small parts that groups can work on.

I’ve recently started taking art classes, and am enjoying them a great deal.  At this point in my life (maybe it took a long time), I think it is more rewarding to create than to analyze.

Alison Gerlach ‘95

I graduated with a Philosophy degree in 1995 — Phi Beta Kappa and with distinction.  After panicking a few weeks before renewal, when one of the jobs I’d been counting on fell through, I landed a job at a specialty insurance brokerage in Mpls. I was lucky enough to join a group whose specialty was selling insurance to architects and engineers. In a million years, I never would have expected insurance to be my career–it hadn’t even occurred to me as a choice.  But now, almost twenty years later, I can say it’s been incredibly interesting and rewarding.

Along the way, I:
1) Got my Masters of Liberal Studies degree at the U of MN — with a thesis on the topic of architects as “knowledge workers”

2) Moved to Chicago in 2001 and spent five years working for a couple of professional associations before returning to insurance

3) Became a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation

4) Serve on the board of an interfaith environmental organization (Faith in Place)

5) Got married in 2011 to a fellow Ole (class of ’97)

6) Had our son in January of 2013

Insurance may seem like an unlikely path to many, but there are a few things in particular that can make it compelling:

1) it allows you to be a consultant to an industry or profession that might itself interest you. Although I never had any inclination to be a design professional, I am an architecture buff, and every day I get to interact with and support a fabulous and talented bunch of professionals by helping them manage their risk. Another example —  I talked to a man who was an underwriter for an insurance company in their fine arts division.  He had been an art history major (arguably a major just as “impractical” as philosophy), and he had been able to find a job that paid well, and that let him deal with things involving fine art every day.

2) it’s something you can do anywhere. It may not always be glamorous, but it’s portable!

3) There’s a very low barrier to entry (obtaining your insurance license) and significant upside to earning power.

4) This kind of insurance brokerage is actually risk consulting — this is not the stereotypical equivalent of used car salesmanship.

I joke that being an insurance consultant is a bit like being a teacher of philosophy (particularly when it comes to get students through their “gen ed” requirement level philosophy.)  You spend a lot of time analyzing very convoluted things in order to be able to turn around and explain them in a succinct and practical level to others.

It’s been a fun ride and my time on the Hill got me off to a great start.