Service and Leadership: The St. Olaf Alumni Achievement Awards
Each year, St. Olaf College recognizes alumni whose service and leadership exemplify the ideals and mission of the college. In honoring these graduates for their exceptional achievements and professional contributions, they become an integral part of college history and a testament to St. Olaf’s tradition of excellence.
The 2021 recipients are National Public Radio journalist Jason DeRose ’97, Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist Kristen Rosdahl Ehresmann ’84, health care entrepreneur Tony Miller ’89, and digital product innovator David Rose ’89.
The 2020 recipients are The Simpsons animator Utit Choomuang ’75, New York Times data editor Amanda Cox ’01, cancer treatment researcher Branden Moriarity ’07, behavioral scientist Nicholas Epley ’96, and pediatric nephrologist and Vietnam War veteran Michael Solhaug ’67.
While on campus to receive their awards this fall, these alumni sat down with students Belky Hernandez ’23, Iya Abdulkarim ’22, Abby Otten ’22, and Anna Brown ’23 for a conversation about the powerful, impactful work they’re doing around the world — and how St. Olaf prepared them for the path they took after college. Watch those discussions here, and then read more about their incredible accomplishments, careers, and service to others below.
2021 Distinguished Alumni Award | Jason DeRose ’97
Journalist and National Public Radio Western Bureau Chief Jason DeRose ’97 believes in the power of journalism to tell people’s stories authentically.
“People should be characters in their own stories, not anecdotes,” he says. “Their experiences, feelings, and beliefs should be taken seriously. Public radio and other forms of nonprofit journalism are mission driven, rather than profit driven, which enables us to connect with the people at the heart of any story.”
DeRose, who holds a B.A. in English and religion, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from St. Olaf and a master’s of divinity degree from the University of Chicago, has worked in radio since high school. At St. Olaf, he worked as a technical board operator at WCAL for NPR’s All Things Considered, while also studying literature, history, philosophy, religion, and the arts in the interdisciplinary Great Conversation program.
“Great Con was a deep dive into what it means to be human, and working at WCAL was a fantastic hands-on experience, and where I first learned how to do much of what I do now, professionally,” DeRose says. During college, he interned on NPR’s Washington Desk in Washington, D.C., where he also temped as a producer on All Things Considered.
As western bureau chief, DeRose oversees and edits news coverage from member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii. He also edits NPR’s coverage of religion and LGBTQ rights. He previously was a business editor at the network during the Great Recession of 2009–10 and an editor on the NPR midday news program Day to Day. Prior to joining NPR, DeRose worked as a reporter and editor at WBEZ in Chicago and KPLU in Seattle.
Over the course of his career, DeRose has reported on stories of national importance, such as views toward Islam in post–9/11 America and clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. “In covering important issues, journalism can have a lasting impact and do good in the world,” he says.
In covering important issues, journalism can have a lasting impact and do good in the world.Jason DeRose ’97
While in college, DeRose also interned as an oral history interviewer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was a journalism trainer at the International Center for Journalists. He has taught journalism ethics, radio reporting, multimedia storytelling, and religion reporting at DePaul University in Chicago and at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
DeRose holds leadership roles at his church, St. Paul’s Lutheran in Santa Monica, California, where he works with LGBTQ pastoral ministry interns. He also supervises interns at NPR and regularly teaches the art of storytelling at Holden Village, a retreat center in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. He has been on Holden’s board of directors since 2009.
DeRose remains engaged with St. Olaf through his friendships with several of his former professors and his participation in alumni travel programs. He recently was part of an alumni panel on journalism careers and supports both the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion and the Great Conversation.
2021 Outstanding Service Award | Kristen Rosdahl Ehresmann ’84
Epidemiologist Kristen Rosdahl Ehresmann ’84 has led a life of service guided by an abiding faith and servant ethic. As director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), she believes the role of public health is to foster strong and healthy communities.
“Every person matters, and we care for them, no matter their circumstances,” she says. “That mission fits with my faith perspective — following the commandments of love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself — and helps me fulfill who I was meant to be.”
Ehresmann has spent her entire career at MDH, where she is currently responsible for its HIV/STD, tuberculosis, refugee health, and immunization programs, as well as its activities related to emerging infection and infection prevention and foodborne, waterborne, and zoonotic diseases. Her research and publications have focused on vaccine-preventable disease in both children and adults. She is a recipient of MDH’s Achievement Award and its Star Honors Award for Exceptional Leadership.
As an educator, Ehresmann holds an adjunct faculty position at the University of Minnesota and, until 2020, held a community faculty position at Metropolitan State University, which honored her with a Faculty Excellence Award in 2009. She regularly appears in statewide media and before the state legislature to discuss public health initiatives. “The liberal arts were foundational in teaching me to communicate effectively, as a large part of my job is educating others on the science of infectious diseases and their prevention,” she says.
The liberal arts were foundational in teaching me to communicate effectively, as a large part of my job is educating others on the science of infectious diseases and their prevention.Kristen Rosdahl Ehresmann ’84
Ehresmann’s team at MDH has been particularly visible during the pandemic, assisting in the planning and coordination for the prevention, management, and mitigation of COVID-19. The work has been equally difficult and rewarding, she says. “My motivation is that we’ve helped people be healthier by preventing disease and death,” she says.
While earning a bachelor of science degree in nursing from St. Olaf, Ehresmann studied abroad in Vellore, India. The experience piqued her interest in working in public health.
“Working in India transformed my worldview and awakened my desire to ‘get upstream,'” she says, referring to the health care approach that examines and addresses root causes rather than symptoms to improve outcomes. After graduation, Ehresmann volunteered for Eat Smart for Your Heart, a summer community outreach program geared toward encouraging healthy eating and activities to improve heart health, an experience that further cemented her desire to go into public health.
She has worked as a registered nurse at several hospitals and clinics and earned a master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from the University of Minnesota in 1990. She began her career at MDH as a graduate student worker and has risen through the ranks to her current position as division director. “I’ve had a lot of continuity in my career,” she says, noting how much she’s enjoyed working with many dedicated science professionals over the years.
At the national level, Ehresmann is a member of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials Infectious Disease Policy Committee and the National Vaccine Advisory Committee and is a liaison member of the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. She also is a voting member of the Council for Outbreak Response: Healthcare-Associated Infections and Antimicrobial-Resistant Pathogens. From 2008 to 2012, Ehresmann was a voting member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Ehresmann has been a consistent steward of St. Olaf, hosting interns at MDH and giving lectures in the nursing program, as well as volunteering with the Piper Center for Vocation and Career for events related to health care.
2021 Alumni Achievement Award | David Rose ’89
David Rose’s peripatetic career highlights the value of his liberal arts education. Since graduating in 1989, he has been a five-time technology entrepreneur, an MIT educator, a two-time author, and an international speaker. He is an expert in digital product innovation for the Internet of things, inventing products that help millions of people every day.
“I’m always interested in emerging categories,” Rose says. “I’m constantly thinking about how technology might improve people’s lives.” Recently he has been working on using augmented reality to show people things they otherwise find hard to visualize or imagine, such as more sustainable landscapes or new designs for walkable cities.
Rose recently assembled a team to create ClearWater AR, the first augmented reality experience for boating and fishing. The company is developing smart tech that helps people see underwater topography and the location of fish and increases the visibility of hazard buoys in lowlight and fog.
“Augmented reality can paint a ‘Yellow Brick Road’ on the water to help people navigate more safely,” Rose says.
Rose has worked as an innovation consultant to invent new products for Fortune 500 companies and founded five companies across the consumer electronics, health care, and social shopping industries. He was vice president for vision technology at Warby Parker, where he developed an online vision testing business and a virtual try-on app. Most recently, as a futurist at EPAM Continuum, he created prototypes with emerging technologies, such as computer vision for at-home physical therapy, and affective computing to help autonomous cars understand driver attention.
Rose’s computer vision company, Ditto Labs, developed tools to identify products in shared photos and videos so that people could “ditto” their friends and shop for similar items. His health care company, Vitality, invented the GlowCap, smart medication packaging that nudges people to take prescription medications for diabetes or transplants. His other companies have created products for digital photo sharing, interactive science museum exhibits, and smart toys like Guitar Hero and LEGO Mindstorms. His company Ambient Devices fused physical product design with digital connectivity in the Ambient Orb, which changes color to represent information, such as weather forecasts, stock market trends, energy consumption, blood sugar levels, and number of steps walked.
Rose holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and studio art from St. Olaf and a master’s of education from Harvard University. During his time on the Hill, he sang in the St. Olaf Choir and was the photo editor of The Mess.
St. Olaf is an incredible sandbox. I nurtured so many interests. The liberal arts made me curious and interested in diving down the rabbit hole about everything. Whether it was physics, art history, architecture, Eastern religions, or music, St. Olaf offered a depth and rigor that made each subject irresistible.David Rose ’89
“St. Olaf is an incredible sandbox,” Rose says. “I nurtured so many interests. The liberal arts made me curious and interested in diving down the rabbit hole about everything. Whether it was physics, art history, architecture, Eastern religions, or music, St. Olaf offered a depth and rigor that made each subject irresistible.”
Rose’s first book, Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things, is a blueprint for a future filled with animate everyday objects. His second book, SuperSight, explores the impact of computer vision and smart glasses. He has taught at the MIT’s Media Lab, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Yale University’s Graduate School of Design, and the Copenhagen Interaction Design Institute in Denmark. He holds five patents, and his inventions have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art, in the New York Times, Wired, and the Economist, and on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
2021 Alumni Achievement Award | Tony Miller ’89
Entrepreneur Tony Miller ’89 is the founder and managing partner of Lemhi Ventures, which leverages venture capital to change the health care services industry. Lemhi’s portfolio includes 15 companies that utilize disruptive innovation, technology, and data to deliver better health outcomes, lower costs, and greater control to people over their health care decisions.
“We work to change the products of health insurance, not the operating side of it,” Miller says. Lemhi’s first two venture capital funds raised $450 million, which is fully invested. The firm is currently in the process of raising its third fund.
Until June 2021, Miller was the founder and CEO of Bind Benefits, Inc., a Lemhi-invested company that partnered with UnitedHealth Group to pioneer personalized health plans that allow people to pay for coverage and services as they need them. Previously, he was cofounder and CEO of another Lemhi-invested company, Carol Corp., which introduced health care shopping and provider comparison tools for consumers.
Miller calls himself an “accidental Ole.” His first choice had been to go to the University of North Carolina, but St. Olaf afforded him the chance to compete on the football and track teams for all four years. “Playing sports at St. Olaf was a phenomenal experience that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” he says. “My teammates are still some of my best friends.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and went on to earn a master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois. He also holds an M.B.A. from Cornell University.
The liberal arts foundation I got at St. Olaf helped me develop a questioning perspective that is nuanced and analytical. It taught me to have a point of view and to be purpose-driven in using my skills to be part of the solutions to societal problems.Tony Miller ’89
His early career includes a stint as a wellness coordinator for Medica Health Plans — an experience that opened his eyes to how health insurance might be restructured, he says. He also worked at UnitedHealth Group and for Deloitte and Touche, where his main project was helping Kaiser Permanente buy and sell health plans nationwide.
“All of those experiences exposed me to the inner workings of the health care services industry, and how its products might be improved,” Miller says. “I started to wonder, ‘What if the consumer was more in control of the dollars spent on health care?'” That curiosity led Miller to cofound Definity Health in 1998, which became a pioneer and national leader in consumer-driven health benefit programs, before it was sold to UnitedHealth in 2007.
Miller regularly shares career advice with St. Olaf students as a guest lecturer in St. Olaf’s Interim entrepreneurship class, taught by St. Olaf Entrepreneur in Residence Sian Muir.
“I tell the students that even though I have a business degree, everything I apply in business I learned from the liberal arts,” Miller says. “Cornell taught me the hard skills of business, like finance and microeconomics, but the liberal arts foundation I got at St. Olaf helped me develop a questioning perspective that is nuanced and analytical. It taught me to have a point of view and to be purpose-driven in using my skills to be part of the solutions to societal problems.”
2020 Distinguished Alumni Award | Utit Choomuang ’75
Animator Utit Choomuang ’75 has led a life of intellect and curiosity about the world around him. His artistic talent, work ethic, and easygoing personality sustained a distinguished career as an animator for such shows as The Simpsons and the Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. He now lives near his childhood community in Thailand, where he is continually seeking ways to bolster the village of his ancestors.
Choomuang first came to the United States in 1971 as a Rotary Club exchange student at Northfield High School, sponsored by Sigurd Fredrickson, a music professor at St. Olaf, and his wife, Margit. They recognized his artistry, curiosity, and intellect, and helped him apply for and receive a scholarship to attend St. Olaf in the fall of 1972. “Not in my wildest dreams did I think I could go to college,” Choomuang says. “At St. Olaf, I was allowed to dream and given the freedom to speak, think, and do. I had access to unlimited subjects and discovered the ability to think and learn for myself.” He graduated in three years with a B.A. degree in art and art history.
While developing his burgeoning animation skills and learning the art of moving pictures, Choomuang was mentored by the late Professor Emeritus of Art Arch Leann, who told Choomuang he could be a filmmaker. “I was fascinated that you could make a drawing walk and talk,” Choomuang says. As a senior, his animated film By and Bye about his first experience flying in an airplane won first prize in a WCCO-TV film competition.
Choomuang’s career as an animator has included stints with independent filmmaker Barry Nelson, CBS-TV’s Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, and Disney Television’s Goof Troop. He joined The Simpsons on a trial basis before getting paid to work in character layout, drawing images from storyboards to define a scene’s action.
“My first drawing of Bart walked too much like Charlie Brown, so I practiced day and night, trying to get better at drawing the Simpsons,” Choomuang says. Eventually, he was promoted to overseas animation director at Akom Animation in Seoul, South Korea. Choomuang managed three subcontracted studios with hundreds of artists who were responsible for animating every frame of each episode of the show. He retired from The Simpsons after 16 years.
I’m a problem solver. I knew camera work, sound work, background, ink and paint, every aspect of animation. I’m proud of having worked on a famous show.Utit Choomuang ’75
“It was the perfect job for me,” Choomuang says. “I’m a problem solver. I knew camera work, sound work, background, ink and paint, every aspect of animation. I’m proud of having worked on a famous show.”
Today, Choomuang lives in Nongnokkai, Thailand, his childhood home, which has been overdeveloped and stripped of trees by the shrimp farming industry, and devastated by a recent typhoon. After pursuing sustainable shrimp farming and reforestation efforts for several years, he now cultivates and maintains land and waters that support local farming and fishing projects. He also is developing an English immersion school for local villagers, which is currently paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many people helped me to come to the United States and to study at St. Olaf,” Choomuang says. “I was lucky to meet the right people at the right time, which has led to a magical life. I want to create that magic for others. Thailand is the place I know, and I’ve gone home again to help people have the same chances I did.”
2020 Alumni Achievement Award | Amanda Cox ’01
As the New York Times’s data editor, Amanda Cox ’01 leverages and presents data in reader-friendly formats, such as charts, graphs, and interactive news.
Cox got her start in journalism when she took over the humor page of St. Olaf’s student newspaper, The Mess. “My roommate was dating the editor, and I often told him the page wasn’t funny,” Cox says. After the students responsible for the page left abruptly over a disagreement, Cox was asked to fill in. “I’d see an older couple regularly read the St. Olaf student newspaper together after church on Sundays,” she says. “The same feelings I saw watching them are now evoked in seeing my Times work being read on the subway.”
I’d see an older couple regularly read [the St. Olaf student newspaper] together after church on Sundays. The same feelings I saw watching them are now evoked in seeing my Times work being read on the subway.Amanda Cox ’01
Cox earned a B.A. degree in mathematics and statistics at St. Olaf and a master’s degree in statistics at the University of Washington, during which she interned with the graphics department at the New York Times. She was hired as a graphics editor in 2005 before joining The Upshot in 2014, the Times’s website featuring articles that combine data visualization with conventional journalistic analysis. In 2019, she was named data editor, coordinating data work across departments and serving as an adviser when questions arise about how to think about and use data thoughtfully.
“Certain types of scale, context, and patterns are best understood in forms beyond words alone,” Cox says.
Known for her statistical expertise and rigor, programming skills, and artistry, Cox’s work has been recognized with several honors and awards in the field of data visualization. In 2012 she received the Excellence in Statistical Reporting Award from the American Statistical Association. In 2013 she gave the keynote address at the inaugural meeting of OpenVis, a conference on open-source data visualization tools and techniques. She spoke there again in 2017 and 2018.
Cox is continually imagining new ways to inform readers with data, and is proud that she has a conference room named in her honor at Google headquarters.
2020 Alumni Achievement Award | Nicholas Epley ’96
Behavioral scientist Nicholas Epley ’96 is the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and faculty director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also is a Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow at the university.
Epley’s work in social cognition — how thinking people make inferences about what other thinking people are thinking — is helping us understand each other better. His experimental research focuses on investigating the accuracy of those inferences and the common mistakes we make in attempting to read other people’s minds. He is the author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.
“Our beliefs and our mental states are invisible, and yet everyone makes inferences about others’ minds as easily as we breathe,” Epley says, noting that his research has shown that people tend to use their own perceptions, biases, and egos as the basis for often incorrectly interpreting others’ behavior. “I investigate the gaps between what we think others think of us and what they actually think of us.”
Epley earned a B.A. degree in psychology and philosophy at St. Olaf. “St. Olaf inspired me in academics like nothing else I’ve experienced in life,” he says. “I was given the independence to do my own research and to pursue the things I was interested in.” He conducted his first behavioral science research with psychology professors Mark Sundby and Charles Huff, publishing his first scientific paper with Huff. He also completed an independent study in moral theory — studying why good people do bad things — with Professor of Philosophy and Religion Edmund Santurri. “We just plowed through books from Alasdair MacIntyre to Dostoevsky. It’s what inspired me to become an academic,” Epley says. “I loved having the independence to figure out what I was interested in and to test my ideas.”
St. Olaf inspired me in academics like nothing else I’ve experienced in life. I was given the independence to do my own research and to pursue the things I was interested in.Nicholas Epley ’96
Epley went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology at Cornell University and worked as a professor in the psychology department at Harvard University before joining the Chicago Booth faculty in 2004. He teaches an ethics and well-being course to M.B.A. students called Designing a Good Life, but research remains his core focus. A recent study, conducted on Chicago public transportation, found that people who engaged in conversations with the strangers sitting next to them had a more pleasurable commute than those who did not.
“Our brains are uniquely equipped to connect with the minds of others, and that connection is a major source, maybe even the dominant source, of well-being for us,” Epley says. “It’s critical to our mental health and also surprisingly powerful for our physical health.”
Epley’s research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Templeton Foundation, has been published in both the mainstream media and peer-reviewed journals. He is the recipient of the 2018 Career Trajectory Award from the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, the 2015 Book Prize for the Promotion of Social and Personality Science, the 2011 Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association, and the 2008 Theoretical Innovation Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. He was named a Professor to Watch by the Financial Times, one of the World’s Best 40 under 40 Business School Professors by Poets and Quants, and one of the 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics in 2015 by Ethisphere.
2020 Alumni Achievement | Branden Moriarity ’07
Branden Moriarity ’07 is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics/Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the director of the Moriarity Lab, which has garnered widespread attention for its cutting-edge work in preclinical drug testing, genome engineering, gene therapy, and cancer immunotherapy. The lab is known for developing novel cellular therapeutics for the treatment of cancer and genetic diseases.
“I’ve been interested in cancer research since I started in the sciences,” Moriarity says. “Everyone knows someone — or is someone — who has had cancer, so that’s what drives me.”
St. Olaf gave Moriarity his start in scientific research. While earning a B.A. degree in biology and chemistry with a concentration in biomolecular sciences, he was a research assistant in Professor of Chemistry Doug Beussman’s lab and a summer Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) International Research Scholar in the Czech Republic, studying the way certain chemotherapy agents interacted with DNA and publishing a paper on his findings. He also participated in St. Olaf’s Biology in South India study abroad program. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in molecular, cellular, developmental biology, and genetics from the University of Minnesota Medical School in 2012, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship from 2012 to 2014.
“I was taught graduate-level science at St. Olaf, especially in my upper-level courses,” Moriarity says. “I was surprised during my first year in graduate school to be rehashing what I’d already learned. That allowed me to focus more on my research, and to propel it faster and further.”
I was taught graduate-level science at St. Olaf, especially in my upper-level courses. I was surprised during my first year in graduate school to be rehashing what I’d already learned. That allowed me to focus more on my research, and to propel it faster and further.Branden Moriarity ’07
Throughout his time at St. Olaf, Moriarity was supported by the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program, a federally funded, college retention program designed to help ensure academic success for first-generation students or those from low-income backgrounds.
“The SSS program’s impact on me was huge, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it,” Moriarity says.
Moriarity also holds academic appointments in three of the University of Minnesota’s graduate programs: Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology; Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology, and Genetics; and the Comparative and Molecular Biosciences. These are in addition to appointments in the university’s Stem Cell Institute, the Center for Genome Engineering, and the Masonic Cancer Center, at which he co-directs the Genome Engineering Shared Resource.
Moriarity has authored or co-authored more than 60 peer-reviewed publications on pediatric cancers, osteosarcomas, cancer immunotherapy, and genome engineering. Among his many awards are recent honors from the University of Minnesota, including a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, an Early Innovator Award, and an Innovator in Translational Research Award. He has received the TRIO Achievement Award from the Midwest Federal TRIO program and Minnesota’s Federal TRIO program.
In addition to his demanding research and teaching schedule, Moriarity has started three genome engineering and cancer immunotherapy biotech companies out of the University of Minnesota, including Catamaran Bio, a Boston-based startup that manufactures genetic therapies to treat cancer based on research conducted at the university’s medical school. Catamaran Bio recently raised $42 million in venture capital, a record amount for any company rooted in the university’s scientific research. Moriarity was the chief scientific officer of B-MoGen Biotechnologies, which was acquired by Minneapolis-based Bio-Techne Corporation in 2019. He currently is a founder and chief innovation officer of Luminary Therapeutics, which is focused on nonviral autologous CAR-T cell therapies.
“These companies allow us to place critical focus on designing and engineering new therapies, and then getting them to the clinic safely,” Moriarity says. “They’re providing hope.”
2020 Outstanding Service Award | Michael Solhaug ’67
Pediatric nephrologist and Vietnam War veteran Michael Solhaug ’67 has led a remarkable life of service as a humanitarian and healer. His distinguished career in pediatric medicine includes work as a clinician at Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters (CHKD) in Norfolk, Virginia, and as an educator and administrator at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). He was among a handful of Vietnam vets on the first Operation Smile medical missionary team to visit Vietnam in 1989 to provide corrective facial surgery to thousands of children, returning to the country on three subsequent trips with the organization in 1990, 2007, and 2014.
“I was able to use my skill and my heart in a different way for the Vietnamese people,” Solhaug says. “The missions developed friendship and understanding between the Vietnamese and the Americans, and transformed the vets from soldiers to healers.”
A talented hockey and football player, Solhaug graduated from St. Olaf with a B.S. degree in biology and chemistry in 1967 and was inducted into the St. Olaf Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. While he focused on sports and social activities in college, Solhaug says that, in hindsight, his years at St. Olaf were “incredibly formative.”
“I learned the innate worth of every human being and that there is vitality in honest human relationships. St. Olaf also instilled in me the importance of service to others,” Solhaug says.
I learned the innate worth of every human being and that there is vitality in honest human relationships. St. Olaf also instilled in me the importance of service to others.Michael Solhaug ’67
After graduation, Solhaug continued a family tradition of military service, enrolling in the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School and volunteering for Swift Boat duty in Vietnam. He spent most of 1969 in command of a five-man patrol crew. He was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V for valor during a 1969 riverine operation, and later received the Navy Commendation Medal for valor and meritorious service. He currently serves on the Swift Boat Sailors Association Board of Directors.
Solhaug says his wartime experiences in Vietnam shaped his desire to become a doctor. In an essay at the time of his 30th St. Olaf Reunion in 1997, Solhaug wrote, “I witnessed the extremes of human behavior… and also discovered the nobility of the human spirit … especially [in] the children. [They seemed to be saying,] I am strong enough to heal, if you will be my healer.”
After a stint as a middle school substitute science teacher further cemented his passion for working with children, Solhaug attended the University of Minnesota Medical School, earning an M.D. in 1975. He began his career working jointly as a specialist at CHKD and in primary care at Tidewater Children’s Associates in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Solhaug founded CHKD’s pediatric nephrology department to provide specialty care to children with acute and chronic kidney-related diseases, and has served as both its medical director and academic director. He currently is professor of physiology and professor of pediatrics at EVMS, where he has conducted National Institutes of Health–funded research. He is vice chair of education in the Department of Physiological Sciences, and his past administrative roles include associate dean positions in academic affairs and admissions, as well as serving as president of the Faculty Senate, among others.
Medical school admissions work has been particularly satisfying for Solhaug. “Helping young men and women find pathways to medicine is important to me,” he says. He shares that passion with St. Olaf, mentoring students as they prepare for medical school, including 15 Oles who have attended EVMS. His service to St. Olaf also includes mentoring student-athletes, supporting the Ice Arena project, and serving as co-chair of his 50th Reunion committee.