Will Benton, Class of 2000
I graduated from St. Olaf in 2000 with majors in philosophy and music and a computer science concentration. As part of my PhD work in computer sciences at Wisconsin, I did minor courses focusing on early analytic philosophy, nonclassical logics, and vagueness. My dissertation work relied on automatic proof search and was informed by intuitionistic, modal, and mathematical logics. Since graduating in 2008, I’ve been working in industry, engaged in research and development related to large-scale distributed computing.
Of course, I rely on the philosophy I did at St. Olaf daily (although mostly avocationally): Rick Fairbanks’ excellent philosophy of science survey changed the way I think about human knowledge and has provided a long-lasting inoculation against positivism in popular-media science reporting, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche continue to illuminate obstacles on the path to true Christianity, and I’m always happy to revisit the presocratics when I want to puzzle and delight my young children.
Matt Williams, Class of 2000
My name is Matt and I graduated in 2000 in philosophy and statistics minor. Wow, that was 13 years ago. So much has happened since then it’s hard to summarize here but to make things short I went on to study statistics at Iowa State. I moved out to California and spent 8 years there working in academics, government, and industry. Today I am a computer programmer and I am trying to learn more about databases.
Being a philosophy major was a great decision for me when I was in college. It allowed me to think outside the box and introduced me to new ways of approaching and thinking about problems. Even though I have developed interests outside of academics I do have fond memories of some of the intermediate philosophy classes. Studying the humanities does not usually have a direct tie to the working world and in my case statistics became the focus of my work.
Luke Anderson, Class of 2002
Philosophy was the spice in my otherwise numbers-filled academic life at St. Olaf. I was on pace to wrap up my Math and Economics majors with most of my senior year to spare, and I had been so enthralled by Prof. Taliaferro’s Philosophical Theology class as a sophomore that I said, “Why not?” and decided to spend most of my senior year on the fifth floor of Holland Hall. Looking back, even though I headed straight into a finance career, I can say unequivocally that it was the one major that I would not trade for anything.
Back in Taliaferro’s class, by the way, I had earned the affectionate nickname “The Evil One” from him after compiling a list of a couple dozen of the most colorful things he had said over the class’s first several weeks and handing it out to my classmates. Good times. I then fell madly in love with the study of logic, and also philosophies of math and science. Math and philosophy DO go hand in hand!
After college, I ventured slightly north to spend four years at Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis, during which time I learned a lot about the financial markets and got pretty good at spreadsheets, but ultimately found little else in that world to keep my flame burning brightly. So I made a leap of faith into… wait for it… college administration!
I returned to St. Olaf for two very satisfying years of bringing spreadsheets and predictive models to the world of admissions & financial aid strategy. My wife and I then took another leap of faith, heading east to a strange land called Boston (we are both from Colorado), where I spent four years working at Harvard in its Treasury group and also earning a master’s degree there (an Ed.M. in Higher Education). I was working in the heart of Harvard’s administration during its historic financial collapse in 2008-09. I could write a book about that fascinating year, and everything I saw and learned about leading and managing through crisis. Unforgettable stuff that continues to shape my career.
Finally, in 2012, I found a professional path back to my home state of Colorado, wife and two kids (now three!) in tow. I’m the finance director of a division of the Univ. of Colorado in Boulder, and I’m enjoying it immensely. My long-term goal is to reach that highest financial post in a college or university someday.
I love the relentlessly messy nature of higher ed finance. When any organization tries to do essentially the same thing for hundreds of years, each of its internal processes (especially the financial ones) inevitably grows brittle, begins to crack, and and threatens to crumble until we bothersome administrators roll up our sleeves and try to reinvent it in a way that minimizes the impact on, and perhaps even improves the lives of, those around us who are actually doing all the teaching, researching, and learning. It’s a lot of fun.
On a final note, I am also a famous rapper. No, really. I have a little side gig where I speak to kids, college students, and adults around the country each spring on or near Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14). I talk about the history and mystery of the number, and my talks sometimes include songs I’ve written as tributes to it. A rap song, “Lose Yourself (In The Digits),” has been played on national TV, turned into music videos and stage performances by high schools, and generally become part of the Pi Day tradition. You can find all of this kooky stuff at TeachPi.org.
I recently challenged myself to come up with a minimally-hokey personal mission statement in the fewest words possible, and I arrived at this: “Conveying the meaning of numbers with zeal.” I owe much of the conveying part and plenty of the zeal part to the Philosophy Department in particular, and to St. Olaf College in general. I am grateful to both, on so many levels.
Sarah Clymer, Class of 2002
After graduating from St. Olaf in 2002 with a double major in English and Philosophy, I joined the Peace Corps and taught English as a second language for two years at a high school in the beautiful Silk Road city of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Following my Peace Corps Service, I studied at the University of Chicago Divinity School and earned my A.M. in 2007. My dad, Doug Schuurman of the St. Olaf Religion Department, encouraged me to apply to the University of Chicago as he did his PhD there. When I went to visit the Divinity School, one professor told me that they know St. Olaf students and especially those of us from the Great Con! I found that St. Olaf was excellent intellectual preparation for graduate work. I focused on ethics and politics and also took classes in the University’s human right’s program. I was especially interested in Bonhoeffer and Kierkegaard. During grad school, I interned at the Chicago ELCA office of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.
Since 2008, I have been working as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. I worked at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, India, and am currently working at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile. As a Consular Officer, my job is to facilitate international travel. I work on visas and assistance to U.S. Citizens living and traveling abroad. We visit U.S. prisoners and hospitalized people abroad, attend court cases to ensure that U.S. citizens are treated fairly by foreign courts, work on international child abduction cases, assist with mental health cases, and follow up on on-going human rights cases. We are currently working on a visa waiver program with the Government of Chile. My St. Olaf philosophy courses taught me to think critically, to form a cohesive argument, to understand conflicting views and create a substantive dialogue, and to appreciate the intrinsic value of the life of the mind. These skills are crucial to my work as a Consular Officer and diplomat.
I am married and have a 2-year-old son, Noah. St. Olaf has been an important part of my life, since we relocated to Minnesota for my dad’s job and I grew up in Northfield with Ed Langerak’s son as my babysitter and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with Professors Santurri (religion), Marino (philosophy), former English Professor Frey, and their families as our “surrogate relatives” in Northfield. My mom has worked at St. Olaf in the admissions office and the alumni office. My sister Krista is also an Ole grad and my sister Laura is a Luther grad. I am thankful for my St. Olaf education and the values that it instilled in me. I try to have reunions with my friends from the Felland House, where I lived senior year, as often as possible, in spite of the fact that we now scattered to Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Colorado, California, France, Saudi Arabia, and Chile.
Amber Griffioen, Class of 2002
I graduated from St. Olaf in 2002 with majors in Philosophy and German and a concentration in Linguistics. After graduating, I spent a year teaching English at a German high school in Münster, Germany, on a Fulbright Scholarship, where I also took a few philosophy courses. In 2003 I returned to the US and did my PhD in Philosophy under Sarah Buss at the University of Iowa. In 2009, while I was still working on my dissertation on self-deception, I was able to secure a scholarship to finish up the diss in Marburg, Germany, under the further supervision of Prof. Dr. Dietrich Korsch (Systematic Theology). I spent 1.5 years in Marburg with the theologians, after which I moved down to Konstanz (near the Swiss border) to take up a 2-year position under Prof. Dr. Dina Emundts in Philosophy. In 2013, I received a 5-year fellowship from the Margarete von Wrangell Habilitationsprogramm für Frauen to write myHabilitationsschrift on the emotionality of religious experience under Frau Emundts’ supervision in Konstanz.
I teach courses for undergrads and grad students in both English and German. This semester I’m teaching an upper-level seminar in German on “German Mysticism: Eckhart, Seuse, Tauler” and an undergrad seminar in English on “Integrity”.
My main areas of research interest are Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Action, and Philosophy of Sport. (I’m currently writing an article on the Euthyphro Dilemma and the ontology of balls and strikes in baseball.) I also just received an Analytic Theology Cluster Group Grant from the Templeton Foundation and the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame to form an international reading group on emotion and religious experience, led by myself, a German theologian, and an American philosopher of emotion. This reading group will culminate in a 2-3 day workshop next July in Konstanz.
Studying at St. Olaf opened up many doors for me, both personally and professionally. My first philosophy class was with Gordon Marino on Kierkgaard and Existentialism. After that, I was hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed all my philosophy classes at Olaf, but I never thought I’d be living abroad, shaping young minds philosophically in another language. The many opportunities St. Olaf provides to study abroad and the encouragement I was given to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship made it possible for me to take advantage of professional opportunities that might have otherwise remained out of reach.
St. Olaf still has an exchange program with Konstanz, so I try to meet up a few times a semester with the Oles in town. It’s always fun to hear the latest news from the Hill! I’m also currently trying to organize a religion or philosophy interim course with the International Office to be held in Konstanz. 2014 marks the 600th anniversary of the beginning of the Council of Constance (1414-19), which is very important for the history of Christianity. Konstanz was also home to 14th-c. German mystic, Heinrich Seuse (Henry Suso). The hope is to be able to offer a course for German and American students alike that incorporates some of these historical elements and gives students the opportunity to experience some of this history first-hand.
Of course, I miss baseball and American football, but I love hiking in the Alps and biking around the Bodensee. And it’s always an adventure to make one’s way in a foreign land. But one of these days, I hope to make it back to Northfield!
Rachel Hooper, Class of 2002
I came to St. Olaf as a young artist, and after graduating in 2002, I have stayed engaged with the arts as a contemporary art curator (Walker Art Center and Blaffer Art Museum), art critic (art ltd magazine and Glasstire), and now teaching art history as a PhD student at Rice University. (Fingers crossed that I will move to PhD “candidate” in 2014 as I once again endeavor to make sense of Derrida for my qualifying exams. Heaven help me.) The texts I read as a philosophy major at St Olaf have had a magnetic pull for me even after leaving the hill, and I often find myself discussing ideas such as Plato’s ascent to Beauty, Kant on the sublime, or Kierkegaard on repetition with artists, editors, curators, and educators. Aesthetics deeply informs creative practices, and a background in philosophy has been invaluable in helping me elucidate my own perspective on critical issues in the arts.
Some of my most rewarding experiences at St Olaf were in seminars with professors Taliaferro, Grenberg, Poling, and Langerak. They are role models for learning and life. I remember meeting with Professor Langerak in his office surrounded by bookshelves. Naively, I asked “Wow, have you read all of these books?” He replied with a warm smile, “Sometimes more than once.” Blew my mind. I decided then and there to create my own library of books read, but I doubt I will ever get to Langerak level.
Another memory that has stuck with me was from the reception the philosophy department held for us at graduation. A visiting scholar asked me what I would like to do now that I have graduated. I replied that I would like to be a professor. With the appropriate amount of skepticism, he inquired as to why I would want such a thing. I quipped, “Because being a professor would allow me to do what I love without requiring me to sacrifice my eccentricities.” He laughed, “You learned that at St. Olaf.” And so I did. In the philosophy department, one was free to be oneself. Indeed, one learned to express the most authentic and compassionate parts of oneself without fear, and that is a gift I will never take for granted.
Sarah Campbell, Class of 2003
Highlights of my philosophy experience were my senior seminar with Taliaferro on Wittgenstein and writing my thesis on Simone Weil. My participation in the Great Con was also a huge reason I loved (and chose) philosophy. I really enjoyed my college experience, but got out not knowing where to head next (everything was appealing!). So I traveled, mostly to Asia over the next few years (especially Nepal), did some volunteer work, hiked, met some wild and beautiful people, and then decided to get a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Management from Concordia University in Montreal. Loved Montreal, and learning that beautiful Quebecois French, but did not unfortunately love the degree. Did finish it, and then went on to use it on the west coast of Vancouver Island working for a First Nations Band, the Tla-o-qui-aht. An incredible experience, in which I helped with a public planning process for their traditional territory which they were designating as a Tribal Park with a lot of different stakeholders involved. Very interesting work, but too much of the work was in front of the computer and not working with people, and with children. More and more I realized how much and how easy it was for me to interact with young people, of all ages. I became very interested in the work of Maria Montessori and I decided to get a certification in Montessori education. I am so glad I did. I have been teaching now for 3 years and I truly love it. I am currently teaching the youngest age group, 3-6, which is an amazing experience, though not one I can do for too long. I plan on, during these next two years of taking care of our second child (our oldest is 3 and the newest one is due April 30th), to get my 1st through 3rd grade training, teach that for a few years, then get the next level up, get more experience at that level, etc….until the high school level, at which point, hopefully, I will start my own school. That’s the plan anyway. Talk to me in 30 years and see how its worked out.
Philosophy works and study left me feeling humbled and grateful, both fine ways of being if one’s goal is to be happy with one’s life.
Timothy Nelson, Class of 2003
I graduated from St. Olaf in 2003, with majors in Philosophy and Psychology. In 2006, I graduated from the Yale Law School, and then returned to Minnesota to clerk for Judge James B. Loken on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and Judge John R. Tunheim on the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. After clerking I worked for a brief time in politics, and then took a job as an Assistant County Attorney in Isanti County, the rural county where I grew up. At present, I’m the legal counsel to our County Planning Commission (which handles land use and development issues), our Board of Adjustment (which handles requests for zoning variances), our Child Protection and Children’s Mental Health departments, and our Assessor’s Office (which handles property valuations and property tax appeals), along with handling a share of our appellate work, civil litigation, and criminal work. Alongside my work for the county, I also was selected as a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs for 2012-2013.
Although I’m obviously not formally engaged with philosophy in the course of my job with the county, I think it’s made a difference in my path and in my work. When people ask about my work as a lawyer, I often tell them that when I walk into the courtroom as a prosecutor, my objectives — or my “clients,” so to speak — are justice and fairness. Put another way, I think it’s our job to win when we should, not merely when we can. That’s all easy enough to say, but the challenge of sorting through exactly what that means requires an ability to sort through evidence and arguments in a reasoned way, and a willingness to seriously engage with questions about values and rights. A background in philosophy helps with that. My work also brings me to many questions about community. I decided to come home after years where I’d helped build an alumni community for my high school, and after work in an anti-poverty program in this area managed by the University of Minnesota Extension. Now, I deal every day with the institutions and practices that collectively constitute this area’s identity, and mark out both its potential and its meaning for the people who live here. The people working in civic institutions here don’t necessarily walk around quoting John Rawls or Aristotle — just like the guy who helped fix my deck didn’t walk around talking about quantum physics — but those philosophical underpinning are still here, at work. And I think that having spent a good deal of time working with those ideas has made my experiences in law, government, and politics more enriching, and has also made me better at what I do. I’m thankful for that, and for all of the terrific professors at St. Olaf who so skillfully cultivated a sense of intellectual rigor and practical judgment in their students. They’ve contributed greatly to St. Olaf, as well as to the world.
Dan Schramm, Class of 2004
My name is Dan Schramm and I graduated in the class of 2004 as a philosophy major with an emphasis in theology, a concentration in environment studies, and perhaps a reputation for prowling the piano practice rooms late at night (or the organ practice rooms if I got lucky and someone left the doors unlocked).
I am currently an attorney in the Office of General Counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency. At the moment, I spend most of my time working with new programs for restoring the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. In addition to oil spills, emergency response and natural resource restoration, my specific law office also provides legal support to the EPA programs managing Superfund cleanup sites and implementing hazardous waste regulations. When I’m not at the office, Amanda and I are active in the movement to make DC the 51st state in the Union (ambitious, sure, but call me a Young Hegelian…hey, pending bills in the House and Senate tell me we’re not crazy and someday DC too might have taxation with representation). With our new old house (1919 vintage), I am also finally learning the fine arts my dad always tried to teach me, like fixing leaky pipes and repairing an old washing machine.
Speaking of Hegel… you know I avoided that Hegel seminar taught by Professor Gorham my senior year all because of Prof. Marino’s Kierkegaard and Existentialism class–studying Hegel after that just seemed like it would be so… wayward. That’s how they hook you into the philosophy major at St. Olaf, I finally figured out, with Prof. Marino, staring down his nose, looking you dead in the eye and demanding to know what you feel about the fact that Abraham is about to kill his only son because God told him to. You’re sweating bullets and all of your 19-year-old life is suddenly so immediate and intense. And then, after that, after you’re signed up, and like, practically bleeding from your brain, it’s nothing but those dreary Anglo-American empirical philosophers all the way out the door.
OK, of course I’m kidding. One of those classes that followed Kierkegaard was Philosophy of Theology, which I had the good fortune to take from Prof. Taliaferro. This would be in the fall of 2001. Like September of 2001. It’s been over ten years, so my facts may be a little fuzzy, but I believe it was that very day, September 11, news of something, some kind of attack, was just reaching us on the Hill. Classes hadn’t been canceled, not yet, and a dazed group of students found their way into Prof. Taliaferro’s classroom. And instead of sending us off, instead of shrinking from it, or ignoring it, sticking to the syllabus, he insisted on leading an ad hoc discussion on what? It was hard to focus, and yet I remember it to this day. Why is there evil? Where is God? How do we make sense of this? And ultimately, can you understand the Other, and can you forgive? I still don’t know whether it was already in his plans or not for the fall, but later that semester, our class read the great Islamic philosophers, and Prof. Taliaferro taught us that before there was Aquinas, there was Averroes and Avicenna.
For that alone I am grateful for my degree in philosophy from St. Olaf. But to answer the question of how I got from there to here: well, instead of that Hegel seminar, I did an individual study with Prof. Rick Fairbanks on environmental philosophy. This was just prior to his going to Northland College, and a couple years before his untimely passing. I had already taken environmental ethics. I wasn’t interested in anything so pedantic as ethics (says the lawyer). I was interested in the relation of the parts to the whole, the nature of the system itself, and Prof. Fairbanks, with his bald dome silhouetted in the sunlight coming through the trees behind Holland Hall, introduced me to some of the great contemporary environmental thinkers, people like J Baird Callicott, Donald Worster, and William Cronon. Knowing after that course of study that I wanted to work in the environmental field, but that I had no interest in being an actual scientist, pursuing environmental law felt like a natural vocation, and after a year of travel and odd jobs, I went to Vermont Law School, which specializes in the field. To cut a long story short, that’s how I got here today.
Brandon Crase, Class of 2005
I’m a 2005 graduate with a double major in philosophy and political science.
After St. Olaf, I went to law school and graduated from Georgetown Law in 2008. I have since moved to Chicago and joined the law firm of Latham & Watkins, where I am a 5th year associate. Latham is a global, full service law firm representing mostly larger corporations. Personally, I do litigation, and have focused on environmental and securities litigation.
Without a doubt my philosophy background has positively influenced even my law practice. I think the analytical skills, logic, and reasoning – and, of course, writing skills – I began developing at St. Olaf have been critical in both law school and my practice.
Brian Collins, Class of 2006
After graduating from St. Olaf in 2006 (Philosophy & Psychology) I accepted an offer from Teach For America. I was placed in Los Angeles, CA and taught 6th grade math & science as well as 8th grade algebra for three years. In 2009 I started graduate school (in philosophy) at the University of Iowa. I received my MA in 2012 and anticipate defending my dissertation July 2014. My Area of Specialization is in Ethics and Political Philosophy and Areas of Concentration are in the History of Early Modern Philosophy and Ancient Philosophy. As I am in my final year of the PhD program I am currently working tirelessly on my dissertation (“A Utilitarian Account of Political Obligation”).
My philosophical education at St. Olaf has prepared me extremely well for my endeavors thus far. The critical thinking and problem solving skills which were taught in my philosophy classes helped me succeed at the new and challenging task of teaching middle school to groups of students who were greatly underachieving. When I was applying to grad school the faculty which I had worked with at St. Olaf were again extremely accommodating and gracious with their time in writing letters of recommendation, answering questions, and offering recommendations about different schools and philosophy programs. I am looking forward to starting my career in philosophy. I can only hope that I will be able to help my students develop and succeed in the ways which the St Olaf philosophy department has helped me!
Kelly Robbins, Class of 2007
After graduating from St Olaf in 2007, I completed the Master’s portion of my PhD program in political-ethical philosophy at UW Madison. While Philosophy is my first love, I realized that most of my students would go in to other fields – the private sector, non-profit work, or government – and there was a lot to learn outside the ivory tower in order to build an effective conversation about how practically to do ethical works.
Therefore, I thought I better strike out for the Island of Misfit toys, as it were. I have since worked in non-profit illegal immigration advisory and private sector international development in 5 countries. What an adventure! And I am glad to say that these experiences have already made my views about performing ethical work much more nuanced.
At the moment, I have landed in Berlin, Germany. While I continue my development work here, in preparation for my return to academic philosophy, I am now pursuing a second Master’s in post-colonial culture and development.
Kelsey Watt, Class of 2007
I graduated from the University of MN medical school in 2011, and I am now a third year pediatric resident at the Children’s Hospital Colorado. I will complete residency in June of 2014.
My philosophy major continues to play an important role in my journey through life because it made me more perceptive and analytical, which are critical skills in medicine and life in general. Philosophy also made me comfortable with not having all of the answers and realizing that things are not always black and white, which has been vital to my medical career. Also, I am currently starting a research project looking at the ethical issues encountered at a quaternary children’s hospital. The philosophy department at St. Olaf provided me with wonderful mentors, and I cherish the exceptional education that I received at St. Olaf.
Hannah Woldum, Class of 2007
I graduated from St. Olaf with degrees in philosophy, English, and medieval studies in 2007. I then pursued a MA degree in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (2009). In the summers, I taught reading classes to students of all ages (4-55!) and worked at a theater camp in Duluth though Americorps. Then, after working for 2 years as the director of communications at a Catholic parish in the Twin Cities area, I moved to Berkeley, CA, where I am currently writing my thesis for a dual degree program (MA in philosophy, MA in theology and the arts). I intend to do doctoral work in theology beginning in 2014 or 2015. My interests in philosophy are primarily in aesthetics, classical metaphysics, epistemology, and the relationship between philosophy and theology. On the theology side, I am most interested in the theology of Joseph Ratzinger; I am writing my thesis on him, entitled “The Way of the Logos: Beauty, Faith and Reason in the Theology of Joseph Ratzinger.”
David Moon, Class of 2008
After graduating in 2008 and temping my way through the worst of the Great Recession, I was accepted into graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (philosophy and law). In winter 2013 I completed the M.A. portion of the philosophy program. I’m currently writing my prelim paper on value incomparability and incommensurability, and this spring (2014) I’ll finish my J.D. with the law school. After that, I’ll begin the (daunting but exciting) process of writing a philosophy dissertation. I’m more than happy to chat with current St. Olaf students who have questions about grad school, law school, or anything else.
Jason Smith, Class of 2009
I have entered the doctoral program in religious studies at Harvard Divinity School, having finished my MTS degree from the same institution last May. I’m based in the comparative religion subfield, with a regional focus on South Asian religion. The program has been an excellent fit for me academically, and I’ve really enjoyed my time in the program thus far. I have an excellent group of student colleagues in my cohort, and I’ve found a wonderful set of mentors among the faculty here. Thank you for all your support several years ago when I was applying to master’s programs! I could not have made it this far without the help of St. Olaf faculty members.
As for some reflections on my time in the Philosophy Department: I graduated from St. Olaf in 2009 with a degree in philosophy and religion. If there is one thing I gained from my philosophy major, it is undoubtedly a strong set of writing skills that have served me well both professionally in a non-profit setting and academically as I’ve gone on to pursue graduate work in religious studies. In particular, I credit Jeanine Grenberg’s “Modern Philosophy” course with training me on how to read a text closely, analyze it carefully, and write a carefully-crafted interpretive paper based on that text; I also credit Charles Taliaferro’s “Philosophy of Religion” seminar with teaching me how to think creatively in new and exciting ways, engage with peers in a rigorous yet respectful intellectual environment, and unite my passion for the study of both philosophy and religion. As I pursue graduate work in religious studies at Harvard Divinity School, I am constantly grateful for the excellent education I received from the Philosophy Department and the faculty within it. I certainly would not be the graduate student I am today without my St. Olaf education, and I will always look back fondly on my days studying philosophy.