Class of 2010-2013 Alumni

Kelsey Brust, Class of 2011

I work with litigation and corporate communications at Medtronic.

Philosophy (and the way of thinking it encourages) adds color to my world! It is the informed compass of my decision making, it’s the anecdote to any difficulty, confrontation or frustration I encounter. The question is not how I use my philosophy major, rather what would I ever do without it?! It is like asking a fish- so how is the water you swim in?

Jon Lambert, Class of 2011

I’m currently in my third year of a PhD program studying evolutionary biology in Cornell University’s Neurobiology and Behavior department. Specifically I’m interested in how new species form, and am using a group of rapidly speciating Hawaiian crickets to address this question. In addition to being a well-suited system for my interests, studying these crickets has the added bonus of going to Hawaii for field work, which has been a lot of fun! The study of speciation has a significant philosophical component, as the notion of what constitutes a species is a hairy issue where definitions and assumptions often confuse even the most distinguished biologists. I’ve found that my training at St. Olaf in philosophy has prepared me well to hone in on the language and assumptions of arguments in science to understand their fundamental meaning.

The idea of majoring in philosophy came to me rather suddenly towards the end of my sophomore year, while I was contemplating the fact that Great Con ending would halt my study of philosophy! Once it occurred to me I didn’t give it a second thought, and I count pursuing a major in philosophy as one of the best decisions of my collegiate career. Through studying philosophy I became much better at distilling arguments down to their bare assumptions and logical structure. This ability is crucial to any area of study, but I find it especially useful in science when thinking about hypotheses and predictions, and the methods used to test them. Studying philosophy also greatly enhanced my writing skills, and I felt I had a leg up starting grad school when it came to constructing clear and persuasive written arguments. Aside from these practical skills, and most importantly, I simply love studying philosophy. Doing philosophy enriches my life through the thoughtful contemplation of life’s most interesting issues – How should we live? How do we know what we know? What is the nature (if any) of God? Solid answers are almost never reached, but the process of analyzing these issues in a rigorous manner forever changed how I think about everything, and has added an invaluable depth and richness to my experience of life. While I’ve shifted professional focus to science rather than philosophy, I like to think that I’ll never really stop doing philosophy.

Miriam Brown, Class of 2012

I am currently getting my Masters at Purdue University in School Counseling. I am interning as a school counselor at a local middle school, and for my assistantship I work half-time as Purdue’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Education Coordinator. In my free time I ride and coach a high school equestrian team.

My philosophy background has prepared me well for graduate school and set me up to be a better counselor. My philosophy classes forced a lot of self-exploration and helped me clarify my beliefs about human nature and human agency for change. This self-awareness is essential if one is to be a competent counselor, and many of my classmates are only beginning their self-exploration now. I was lucky and embarked on that journey during my undergrad philosophy classes.

Similarly, my counseling courses are heavily based in theory. There are many different ways in which counselors can conceptualize human suffering and pain, and these theories have separate epistemological foundations. Some of my classmates struggle which this concept, but I find it easy to navigate the different theories and models thanks to the rigorous instruction in my philosophy classes.

Finally, my philosophy classes taught me how to read and write. I can be an informed consumer of research related to counseling, and I can write case conceptualizations of clients which ease thanks to the skills and techniques I learned from my philosophy professors.

I am indebted to all in the department!

Fran Deram, Class of 2012

My name is Frances Deram and I am probably one of the youngest in this group of alumni, having graduated only a year ago (2012). At St. Olaf, I majored in Philosophy and Asian Studies, with a concentration in Chinese. Although I still have much of my life ahead of me, I can say for certain that I will never forget my classes with Professor Harper, Grenberg, Fuerstein, Taliaferro, Marino, Rudd, Swain, and Cunningham. With their help and patience, I was able to flourish as a confident, independent thinker.

Immediately after graduation, I fulfilled a high school dream and left for rural and impoverished Yunnan province in China as a fellow in the Teach for China cohort (a non-profit organization that falls under the “Teach for All” programs, within which Teach for America also resides). In my village, I teach oral English to over 600 elementary and middle school students. I am fluent in Mandarin Chinese and have picked up some of the local dialect – Dachaoshanese. A quieter student in college, I found a voice for public speaking out of necessity.

Since my and my cohorts’ arrival at the Dachaoshan Middle School, we have drawn in an unexpected amount of publicity and commotion (especially because I am the first and only foreigner living in the area). My brushes with stardom include hosting Zhang Xin, the CEO of SOHO and China’s “Oprah”, being invited to participate in a well-known Chinese game show, participating in a local filmmaker’s mini-documentary about our volunteer work (*link below, subtitles in English), and appearing on the local news network and newspaper. While I am not in the classroom teaching or washing my clothes by hand, I am visiting my students and their families at their homes, many of whom live a walking distance of six hours away. My time hiking up and down terraced rice fields has almost made up for the time spent in Rolvaag writing papers for my philosophy classes…

Philosophy helped me in the way that I expected and hoped it would: to live life beautifully and teach others how to live beautifully. In their lives, my students face suffering in the forms of poverty, malnutrition, loneliness, broken families, and, at some times, corporeal punishment and death. Everyday that I teach is an important one–one that can move them out of economic inequality to a live a life they dream of. It matters that my students become independent, rational thinkers equipped with the curiousness for learning. Ultimately, my students are the future of their village and part of a brighter future for China. I know now, in light of my students’ oftentimes suffocating situations, that philosophy enables a person to find freedom. Soon, although I will end my fellowship with Teach for China, I hope to continue to work for freedom and for those who do not have it. I am indebted to the St. Olaf Philosophy Department and many St. Olaf professors to help me become an aspiring human rights worker, lawyer, and vignette writer.

Casey Keyes, Class of 2012

I graduated in 2012 and have been serving with AmeriCorps VISTA since I graduated (except for a brief internship with the Mayo Clinic). I serve as the program coordinator with the Saint Paul EMS Academy. The EMS Academy is a non-profit program that recruits low-income, under-served, and culturally and ethnically diverse youth to train as EMTs and firefighters in order to create a medical workforce in Twin Cities that reflects their diverse populations. My philosophy major has a substantive impact on my service with the EMS Academy. The analytical and writing skills I acquired while studying philosophy have helped me  raise more that $67,000 for the ongoing operation of the program and an additional $4,000 in equipment through grants. The philosophy major has also endowed me with an investigative lens through which I view the world.

I doubled my Philosophy major with a Chemistry major and I am currently applying to medical school where I will be able to apply my philosophical worldview in a sector that I believe could use some more philosophical consideration. Although I doubt I will ever be an academic philosopher, I am infinitely gracious for the education I gained during my time at Saint Olaf.

Matt Sperry, Class of 2012

At the Philosophy Graduation picnic at Prof. Swain’s home I proudly declared that I was going back to Boston to become a professional hobo. This was a mix of playful optimism and awareness that the job market today is ruthless and uncertain. 19 philosophy classes (including Great Con) didn’t seem like the most marketable skill set so I was hedging my bets.

Upon returning home I went back to my summer camp and then began, very lazily, the job search. It’s brutal. Nothing can overcome the fact that after college, employers want you to already have entry level experience. My first gig was working behind the meat counter at Whole Foods Market. Jimmy, Vinnie, Tony and Bob weren’t exactly concerned with the epistemology of the cows we butchered, or the metaphysics of cutting an object, but they had their own curiosities that had depth and complexity to them. Applied philosophy is more important now than ever in a world that is constantly being reinvented by new technologies and quickly shifting global politics. Everybody tries to do it, but as a philosophy major you have access to advice from ancient men and women whose ideas literally have shaped history.

One of my customers worked in Sports Ethics (that’s a real field!) and when he finally gave me his card I sent him an email applauding his work and dropping a line about how Camus said that everything he learned about ethics he learned from sports. This email circulated his office and two months later I was an unpaid intern working for Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. While working there, facilitating conversations on men’s violence against women, bullying, cheating in sports and whatever scandal reared its ugly head in the news, I was slowly running out of money. Enter: Craigslist.

Five random job applications and one phone call later I was interviewing to become the Household Coordinator, or rather the Butler, to a former U.S. Ambassador. What is amazing about this story is that when I finally met Amb. Hunt, the connection that sealed the deal was that her favorite theologian was the good old Dane: Søren Kierkegaard. After 8 months as the Household Coordinator I am now Personal/Administrative Assistant to Ambassador Swanee Hunt and what got me there is philosophy. One of the many activities I am privileged to witness here is a thing called Cambridge Conversations. C2’s as we refer to them are essentially lectures where a leader in some field comes and speaks to a group of people on topics ranging from how to engage faith based communities to domestic workers rights to how to reimagine school for those with traditional learning difficulties. The audience members are movers and shakers, but the experience is an overwhelmingly academic format. There is a speaker and microphones being passed around, Q&A, and a deep understanding that we are discussing ideas. Of this I am now certain: Philosophy exists outside of academia and it is the heart of business, politics and art.

Cody Hedstrom, Class of 2013

I’ve been working at Target as a Business Analyst since June, and recently accepted an offer from Deloitte to come on as a Strategy and Operations Business Analyst within their Management Consulting practice.

Philosophy catches a lot of flak for being highly theoretical and not nearly as applicable as some other majors may be. While the content itself may not have real-world application outside of an academic setting, I’ve found the skills gained through the completion of a philosophy major to be highly transferable. Throughout my four years of philosophy classes, I saw marked improvement in both my written and oral communication skills, as well as the ability to think critically when evaluating a problem or question. These are skills that I’ve taken with me into the business world and will undoubtedly continue to help my career.

While it may seem unorthodox, I would highly recommend that anyone considering a career in business  include philosophy as a major aspect of their studies.