Olseth Family Foundation aids Oles studying abroad
The biennial Environmental Science in Australia and New Zealand leads Oles on a scientific odyssey through Australasia. Travel, lodging, and exchange rates make it one of St. Olaf’s most expensive programs, yet gifts made through For the Hill and Beyond, including grants from the Olseth Family Foundation, help defray costs for students.
Great journeys start with enduring questions.
“For us, those questions are ‘What don’t I know about the places I inhabit? How can I know if they are functioning appropriately?’” explains Associate Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Chair Paul Jackson ’92.
Oles get to explore these questions through Environmental Science in Australia and New Zealand. The semester takes Oles through coral reefs, remnant Antarctic forests, mangroves, mountains, and rain forests — as well as farms, legislative chambers, and power stations — to study interdependencies among organisms and their landscapes, and environmental policy, cultures, and practice.
“Diversity matters, in all things,” says Jackson. “Understanding that is important to envisioning solutions.”
Jon Olseth ’90Global study helps students reshape their worldview and be locally involved citizens. For us, the question was how do we help more students participate?
Oles are in the field half of their time, and continually present the research they gather to their peers, local practitioners, and faculty. This complements classroom learning in terrestrial ecology, marine biology, cultural anthropology, and environmental policy. Through their study, they come away knowing how to see systems, measure change, engage cultural complexities, and conceive of different outcomes by changing behavior.
While most of the semester is in Australia, a month in New Zealand enables Oles to compare significant cultural differences expressed in the daily life and policies enacted by these neighbor nations. New Zealand’s Māori seats in Parliament, nuclear free zone, renewable energy, and personhood status for a national park and a river are in stark contrast to Australia’s extractive industries (coal and minerals), limited acknowledgement of its First Nations, urban sprawl, and contested immigration of refugees and asylum seekers. Oles often connect experiences in both countries to their own.
“I have definitely started thinking about the world differently and thoroughly consider my place within it,” says Ella Doud ’20. “Seeing these ecosystems, and meeting a range of people who support them, has been very inspiring. What has also made this great are all of the amazing folks I get to do this with.”
Ella Doud ’20I have definitely started thinking about the world differently and thoroughly consider my place within it. Seeing these ecosystems, and meeting a range of people who support them, has been very inspiring. What has also made this great are all of the amazing folks I get to do this with.
The International and Off-Campus Opportunity Fund, established by the Olseth Family Foundation, helps 20 Oles every year study abroad, including several on Environmental Science in Australia and New Zealand. Uniquely, it awards funds before students select programs to keep costs from restricting opportunities.
“[Professor Emeriti of Music] Charles Forsberg ’72 encouraged me to go on Global Semester,” shares Jon Olseth ’90, who directs the foundation’s giving with his sisters Karen ’87 and Cheryl ’84. “I was nervous — there was a risk in going abroad. But that invitation, and that incredible experience, changed my life. I came back to campus a better person.”
Jon’s parents, Nancy and Dale Olseth (a former St. Olaf Regent), established the foundation before they died to support causes and organizations important to their family, including St. Olaf.
“Global study helps students reshape their worldview and be locally involved citizens,” says Jon. “For us, the question was how do we help more students participate?”