Karin and Bob Moe P ’90 so strongly believed in the Great Conversation program at St. Olaf College that they established the Moe Family Endowed Fund to deepen its impact.
With this funding, program director Douglas Casson and his fellow Great Conversation educators are now integrating new opportunities to expand student learning.
The Great Conversation is a two-year, five-course sequence. Students and faculty together tackle the major epochs of Western Civilization to trace its development from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews into the modern world. Conversation students live and study together to form an inclusive learning community to extend their examination of art, culture, history, philosophy, politics, and religion beyond the classroom.
“The Moes’ gift has been critical in sustaining and improving this program,” Casson says. “We are now able to think creatively about what we could do to enrich students’ encounter with these great works. For example, we are now planning an Interim course in Europe to see ancient objects that we have learned about like the flood tablet from Gilgamesh and think about why institutions like the British Museum continue to hold them.”
Faculty also increased access to expert lecturers and off-campus excursions, and integrated new historical resources on Christian/Islamic interactions during the Middle Ages. This helps build rich context and multiple pathways for students to consider how the development of Western Civilization impacts their world today.
“The Great Conversation is about gaining an appreciation for an established record of human achievement. Yet it is also about engaging that tradition thoughtfully and critically,” says Casson.
This collective investigation appealed strongly to the Moes. “We just believed it is a wonderful opportunity for young people to get that kind of background in great works with experts in the field and their fellow students — speaking, thinking, and learning together,” says Karin. “I think that really has to have quite an impact.”
The Moe Family Endowed Fund for the Great Conversation is part of St. Olaf’s $200 million For the Hill and Beyond comprehensive campaign to advance high-impact learning, strengthen its vibrant residential learning community, enhance the affordability of a St. Olaf education, and sustain the college’s mission.
A 1956 alumna of the University of Minnesota, Karin was the only female accounting major in its business school at the time. She took quickly to business, working summers in actuarial research for an insurance company, and augmented her required courses by taking history, sociology, and statistical psychology — classes she absolutely loved.
“I like business. I started reading my dad’s Business Week magazines growing up — but you miss some things when you settle quickly into your track,” she says.
Upon graduation, Karin was hired by IBM to write and oversee programming for a new mainframe machine purchased by the same insurance firm she worked for in previous summers. She left, though, when she had her first child. “Back then, there was absolutely no way you could work for IBM if you had a baby,” she says.
Her husband, Bob, worked and advanced through consecutive leadership roles at Polaris Industries, and retired as executive vice president and treasurer after working at the company for 22 years. He died in 2016 following complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Expanding horizons for students was important to them both. The Moes similarly supported the construction of Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, the renovation of Tomson Hall, and Psychology Department research — all in recognition of the positive experiences their daughter Kathryn ’90 had at St. Olaf. She took part in mentored summer research, as well as international study in Spain and Latin America.
“Kathy got really good mentoring. The faculty were instrumental in helping her select the right graduate schools that would further her interest — after St. Olaf she went to Carnegie Mellon and got her master’s degree in public policy and administration. It was just an all-around good experience for her,” Karin says. “I really believe in education — I think educating more women might bring peace to the world.”