St. Olaf Magazine | Winter 2023

How It Started … How It’s Going

Sarah Warren Then Sarah Warren Now

How many years has it been since you graduated? Two? Fifteen? Fifty? Are you the person you thought you would become after you left the Hill? I’m not. It’s a real shock.

In 1997, when I was supposed to decide on a major, I was convinced that choosing a course of study meant picking a path I’d follow for the rest of my life. How was I supposed to decide my whole future? I could barely keep track of my student ID. I asked around to see what all my friends were doing. Many were theater majors. I was more of a theater hanger-outer. That wasn’t a major. I copied my roommate until she joined the Paracollege. What even was that? I was on my own.

I wish I could tell my younger self to relax. My women’s studies classes, that mediocre stint as stage crew for the theater, the time I tried broomball and quit all sports forever — those experiences didn’t define me in the way I thought they would. (Well, the broomball one did. Man, that was a cold night.)

 Did any of us end up being the people we planned to be? How did we start out? How’s it going? I asked around. Ten generous Oles told me about the dreams and barriers that shaped their college careers. They described unexpected support systems and enduring lessons that gave them the strength and courage they needed to be themselves. They talked about how a liberal arts education prepared them to be dynamic thinkers and expansive doers who continue to grow and change. They talked about their friends. We made some pretty good friends, didn’t we?

I invite you to read these stories from our community and consider your own. How did you start? How’s it going?

As for me, I didn’t expect to become a children’s book writer, a literacy activist, or an artist educator, but here I am. Life is full of surprises. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Makenna Ash Then Makenna Ash Now


How It Started
Makenna Ash ’19 had no idea that her first roommate would become one of her biggest champions, but she knew she felt a little less homesick with Meg Andersen ’19 by her side. Ash’s family supported her too, making the seven-hour trip from home whenever they could for track meets and basketball games. Ash had big dreams: She wanted a career in medicine. Espresso chip ice cream from the Cage fueled late-night study sessions. “There was a tragic period during my junior year where we didn’t have it for about a year — thankfully that was resolved,” she says. Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp helped keep things in perspective. “I feel very lucky to have had a mentor who was honest, kind, and continued to remind me that although career is important, at the end of the day it is only a small part of what makes a fulfilling life,” Ash says. She decided to travel a little before she applied to medical school. She worried that once she graduated everyone would think she was a fraud. She couldn’t shake her imposter syndrome, but she didn’t let it stop her. 

How It’s Going
Life after St. Olaf was different. Really different. “There’s a sort of loss of structure, you’re not living surrounded by all your best friends anymore, you have responsibilities,” Ash says. She worked as a lab tech and interned at Regions Hospital. She waitressed in St. Paul. She traveled: road tripping around New Zealand in a tiny bright blue hatchback and hiking up mountain trails in Patagonia. She got into Emory University School of Medicine, where the skills she learned playing sports at St. Olaf are paying off. She’s good at getting along with people, communicating, and taking the lead. She still loves basketball, a sport she plays with the other med students. And even though they live hundreds of miles apart, Ash’s best friend Meg continues to cheer her on.

Jake Brown Then Jake Brown Now


How It Started
Jake Brown ’15 wanted his cross country and Nordic skiing teams at St. Olaf to win, and he did his best to help them do it. On one unforgettable night, he tasted victory on the ice alongside his fellow intramural broomball teammates. “Our team of Nordic ski bubs took down the hockey guys for the title in 2015,” he says. Brown spent a summer in Norway, where he saw how a culture can balance work, training, and play. Back on campus, he roomed with a running teammate. They challenged each other’s thinking. They prayed together. They considered the future. Brown wondered where he could do the most good. He daydreamed about competing in the World Cup, but being a professional athlete didn’t seem realistic. What if he failed? Then where would he be? What if he never tried? How would he feel then?

How It’s Going
Life after college was lonely at first. “I wasn’t totally ready for that as someone who had always had great communities around me. But it was also a learning experience for understanding how important community is for me and having the courage and humility to seek it out,” he says. Brown found new teammates: he’s a Team USA biathlete. He also serves as a volunteer coach at the Crafsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont. He became a regular on the World Cup and competed at an Olympics. He answered one big “what if.” Life keeps offering more. “I’ve learned to be content where I am and embrace the journey that I’m still on. In some ways I made it to where I want to be, but now I have new goals and aspirations.” Brown knows he can succeed as a professional athlete. What if he could help people at the same time? He’s determined to find the answer. 

Lee Bao Chu Then Lee Bao Chu Now


How It Started
Bao Chu Lee’s parents hoped their daughter’s time on campus would lead to a medical degree. She hoped to find new friends. Lee made connections and learned to put her experiences of racism and misogyny into words. “Those late-night study sessions and eating noodles … and sharing our struggles of being immigrant students who grew up in poverty were some of my most memorable times at St. Olaf,” she says. By senior year, Lee and her honor housemates facilitated events and talks about gender equity and racial justice. Lee made sure that the entire campus had the chance to get in on the conversation.

Lee needed to get a good job after graduation. She had loans to pay back, plus she was the first of 14 siblings to go to college. Her family had helped get her this far. She was determined to pitch in. She also needed to tell her parents she didn’t want to be a doctor. She wondered and worried about what she would say. 

How It’s Going
Lee’s first job didn’t pay well. She thought college was the ticket to financial security, so moving back in with her parents was a blow. But her work mattered. She was learning to educate and organize potential voters in marginalized communities. Now she’s the director of operations at Minnesota Voice, the largest civic engagement network in the state. Just like at St. Olaf, she focuses on building relationships. “I always operate from a place of connection,” she says. “Every person I talk to on the street while canvassing for voter registrations, I always try to figure out, ‘What are their values and how do I make a personal connection to that value?'”

The pandemic inspired Lee to think of ways she can improve public access to health care. She’s taking care of others, and her parents couldn’t be prouder.

Todd Coulter Then Todd Coulter Now


How It Started
Todd Coulter ’95 started out as a cello performance major, but he took classes outside the Music Department as he tried to figure out who he was and where he fit. He remembers the teachers who welcomed his inquisitiveness and nurtured his confidence.

“There’s a handful of professors who made passing comments that either kind of saved me, or helped me, or really resonated with me,” he says. Like when Coulter shared an oil pastel picture with Professor Emeritus of Art Mac Gimse ’58. “He didn’t bat an eye or treat me disdainfully or with any condescension at all, even though I wasn’t a studio or visual art person. He told me it looked like I had a voice, that I was trying to say something,” Coulter says.

Coulter’s friends in the Dance and Theater departments supported him too. He switched his major. He performed. He continued to play cello. Coulter loved learning. He loved the community he found on campus. He wanted it to last forever.

How It’s Going
Graduate school. It was the perfect answer. Before long, Coulter was teaching. His theater and dance students at Colby College had something to say. He helped them figure out how they wanted to say it.

He went on to teach at Wesleyan University and as a guest artist at Princeton. In 2019 he forged a space where artists could create without censorship. NOGO Arts was designed “to support and promote work in LGBTQ arts and humanities.”

Coulter loved teaching, but the 2020 uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police made it clear that our legal system was designed to protect some Americans and persecute others. Once again, Coulter wanted to help people speak up. Now in his first year of law school, Coulter can count on Nate, his husband of 15 years, for support. Coulter still plays cello; he’s the principal cellist for the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra. He’s busy building a community where he can’t wait to belong.

David Fullner Then David Fullner Now


How It Started
David Fullner ’00 had no plans for a major, so he joined the Paracollege, an interdisciplinary program that gave students the freedom to shape their concentrations. Fullner set his own course, and figured it out along the way. He took art classes. He danced, sometimes practicing for eight hours a day. He found friends who loved him and cheered him on. After graduation, Fullner knew he needed to live somewhere, probably a city, probably an expensive city, where he could continue to be his true self.

How It’s Going
Getting a graduate degree in the arts was out of the question. Fullner already had too many student loans to pay back. He traveled: from Minneapolis to Seattle to Arizona to New York. It wasn’t easy. “There were a couple of times that I paid my rent with the loose change that was on my dresser that was made out of a cardboard box,” he says. Still, he had faith in himself. He was eager to experience whatever came next.

In 2005 Fullner got a job at Nickelodeon (now Paramount Global) as a coordinator. Now he’s responsible for making sure we can watch their content on our tablets, phones, computers, and televisions. He still enjoys working in entertainment, but fatherhood gave him the chance to explore a new creative calling.

Fullner’s son Paul arrived eight weeks early and only weighed 3 pounds when he was born. Fullner was determined to create nutritious, palette-expanding meals for his growing child. At 6 months, Paul was eating chicken curry with potatoes and carrots. Friends commented that he was eating better than they were. Fullner and his husband, Danny, wanted to give more families access to better baby food. Now their online business, Kekoa Foods, sells purees based on those early recipes to customers all over the world. The veggie-forward fare is also a favorite for kids and grown-ups looking for a quick, healthy snack. Kekoa Foods donates food and offers free classes on nutrition in communities where food deserts make it hard to eat well. Fullner believes his ability to juggle the demands of his job and the new business are a testament to the Paracollege. And, once again, he’s surrounded by support and love. His family put down roots in a neighborhood where folks stop by, hang out, and cheer them on. Fullner isn’t sure what the future will bring, but so far, it’s been a fantastic ride. 

Allyvia Garza Then Allyvia Garza Now


How It Started
Allyvia Garza ’21 knew her family had her back. Her grandparents, her mom and dad, her stepmom, and her siblings were all there on move-in day to help her get settled into Kittelsby Hall. They made the trip every year. Garza could count on getting a phone call if she hadn’t checked in lately. She had a lot to report. Her English classes sparked an interest in storytelling, and she made art outside of class. “I wanted to listen to most speakers and poets who came to campus,” she says. “It was a great space to host ideas.” She joined a creative collective and connected with other artists. She played pool. She ate Impossible Burgers in the Cage with fries and hot sauce. She daydreamed. Someday she’d cook in her own kitchen. She’d travel. She’d move on with her life. She worried, too. “I was most worried about being professionally lost after college,” she says. “The pandemic was hard to cope with, and finding networks and mentors felt miles ahead of me.”

How It’s Going
At first, Garza’s fears came true. “COVID hurt a lot of my networking chances after junior year, and the world became kind of scary,” she says. Then Garza got a job in an animal hospital. It isn’t what she expected to do, but she loves it. She’s also editing stories for a local writer, and she’s joined a writing group. This spring she helped launch an outdoor picture book exhibit featuring BIPOC Minnesota artists. Garza knows she can find work that matters to her. She’s not lost anymore. 

Now that Garza is out of school, “Life is significantly less stressful.” She gets to spend time with the people she loves doing things she’s passionate about. She plans to do some traveling. Maybe she’ll move someplace warm. Her family still cheers her on, and now the doctors at the animal hospital, fellow artists, and new friends do too. She has her own kitchen. She cooks in it almost every day.

Maggie Goeglein Then Maggie Goeglein Now


How It Started
Maggie Goeglein ’99 planned to major in biology, but an early morning calculus class made her rethink her commitment to the sciences. A conventional approach to learning wasn’t the right fit anyway. She decided to try something different. “I had such a hard time narrowing any of it down. The Paracollege was the perfect fit because I could just pretend like I narrowed it down,” she says. Goeglein never believed she could pursue a career in the arts, but the Paracollege’s interdisciplinary, self-designed approach allowed her to explore creative writing and ceramics. She spent countless hours in the art building, throwing pottery, smoking cigarettes beside the gas-fired kilns, and looking out over the Hill. She wrestled with big ideas in the Great Conversation. She performed in musicals. When students chalked Bible verses all over campus to welcome the executive director of the Christian Coalition, Goeglein, a pastor’s kid, made a few corrections. She added some thoughts of her own. “I was such an interesting mix: overly confident in myself and completely insecure,” she says. She hid her terror from most people, but she knew she needed time after graduation to wander and figure out what came next.

How It’s Going
Goeglein’s charisma made her good at just about any job, but she missed being a student. She took a master gardening course that led to nonprofit work. Now she’s vice president of development and systems management at Edna Martin Christian Center. EMCC offers emergency assistance, childcare, intergenerational work with families, and a range of other social services. Her years in the Great Conversation come in handy. Goeglein’s clients depend on her ability to speak up, debate, write persuasively, and think on her feet. She’s had no formal training in nonprofit administration, and she still feels like the 19-year-old she was at St. Olaf. It’s hilarious. Who let her be in charge? It’s also comforting. “That core Maggie is still the Maggie that exists in the world,” she says. She still wrestles with big ideas, too. She wonders how organizations like hers can be better at following the lead of the community members they hope to serve. She doesn’t always get it right. But Goeglein knows the conventional approach isn’t necessarily the right one. She’s always ready to try something different. 

Dan Hagen Then Dan Hagen Now


How It Started
Dan Hagen ’17 knew how to have fun. He let joy and a soaring curiosity shape his academic career. He loved intramural sports, and he didn’t stick to just one sport. He played flag football and soccer and volleyball and basketball. He really liked basketball. He majored in math, but he didn’t stick to one academic department either. His widespread interests led him to the History Department, where he zoomed in on St. Olaf’s history for an independent study his senior year. Hagen spent as much time with his friends as he possibly could. When things got rough, he knew he could always turn to his parents. “They were always a phone call away, ready to listen,” he says. When Hagen started his college radio show, “something just clicked.” But he put that passion on pause after graduating.

How It’s Going
Hagen had a corporate job all lined up. But first, he hit the road. He drove to California and lived out of his 2005 Subaru Outback. He surfed. He didn’t have a care in the world. He realized he needed more.

He started working. For a while, the corporate life suited him. When it was time for something new, he brainstormed with his parents. After a long talk, they turned on the news. There was his answer. Reporting looked like fun! Hagen got a job at WJFW Newswatch 12 in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in 2019. He went from reporting, to hosting the lifestyle show, to anchoring the evening news and serving as the assistant news director. Hagen is thankful for his liberal arts education. He says, “I have such a robust and well-rounded base of knowledge that I can speak intelligently about many subjects.” His time at St. Olaf served him well, but he doesn’t miss the homework: “Guilt-ridden weekends full of playing and little studying are a thing of the past.” Hagen loves his work. He loves his city. He’s happy right where he is.

Jabri Whirl Then Jabri Whirl Now


How It Started
Jabri Whirl ’18 knew the right degree would mean job security later, but making art felt essential to understanding the world. It wasn’t long before they were getting up early most mornings to head into the art studio. Even Whirl’s customers at Starbucks could see their passion. One patron brought in the art section from his Sunday papers to get Jabri’s opinions. He shared his own stories from the art world.

Whirl valued connection, but “It was difficult being a Black student so far away from home and at a PWI, where there were a lot of assumptions about me because of my race.” While Whirl processed endless reports of police brutality, the other students went about their daily lives “as if everything was normal.” This normal was not okay. Whirl’s art professors guided them to study other creatives who used art to tell their stories, speak out, and build community. Whirl joined Sustained Dialogue and The Collective for Change on The Hill. They organized Oles and studied systems of oppression. An internship and an off-campus study program showed Whirl how their artistry could be leveraged to design more equitable societies, but what if employers weren’t interested in hiring someone with an art degree from a small liberal arts college? 

How It’s Going
Employers were interested. Whirl’s wide-ranging, in-depth knowledge made them a powerful communicator. They found new mentors and support, and a new sense of self. “I think my gender transition has really allowed me to gain confidence and find my voice,” Whirl says. While working to close the gap to homeownership, Whirl learned UX design. Now, they help lead strategy and innovation at Catchafire. Their team finds the right volunteers for nonprofits hoping to make a difference. Whirl daydreams about this work amplified. They want to help more organizations do good in the world. Whirl gets to use art and design to create connection. Their work gives them energy. It makes them happy. Whirl hopes they can help more people make their dreams come true.

Cynthia Zapata Then Cynthia Zapata Now


How It Started
Cynthia Zapata ’16 didn’t confine their passion for learning about gender and racial justice to the class offerings on campus. “I felt lucky that I met some great people in town who helped expand my social movement history and learning,” they note. Zapata didn’t want to confine their learning to just four years, either. What if they could earn their master’s degree, or maybe even a Ph.D.? Trey Williams ’06, who served as Zapata’s TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) advisor, encouraged Zapata to turn those dreams into a reality. “Stop saying if,” he said. “Start saying when.” Zapata worried about life after school: “I thought I wouldn’t do enough or feel accomplished. I don’t know what enough was, but I was scared that I would never do enough of what I needed to.”

How It’s Going
Zapata graduated and learned that not doing enough wasn’t going to be the problem. “I had to learn to scale back and pursue quality in the things I did instead of quantity. I learned to think about my capacity differently, and I learned what I valued so I would always be aligned with that.” They moved to St. Paul, determined to put down roots. “My biggest goal was to get plugged into the community, so that way I was not just an outsider in the neighborhoods I lived in.” Now, Zapata uses the critical thinking and problem-solving skills they learned in school in their work at Esperanza United, the designated National Culturally Specific Special Issue Resource Center, to target domestic and gender-based violence in the Latin@ community. Zapata teaches creative writing and volunteers for the Twin Cities Radical Monarch troop for girls and gender expansive youth of color. Zapata still cares deeply about race, gender, and justice. They have almost completed a graduate degree program at the University of St. Thomas, and their master’s thesis explores the role creative writing can play in trauma recovery and activism. Trey Williams was right. It was just a matter of time.