Smaby Peace Scholars celebrate more than a decade of dialogue
Up until the pandemic, several St. Olaf College students had traveled to Norway every summer since 2011 for the annual Smaby Peace Scholars Program. The pandemic forced the 2020 session online for the first time, and it has remained in that format as organizers grapple with the uncertainty of global travel during COVID-19.
Nevertheless, the fruitful dialogue and insightful learning experiences that stem from the Smaby Peace Scholars program have continued. A 10-year anniversary celebration was set up virtually in the summer of 2021, with more than 120 alumni of the program invited to participate — including St. Olaf alumni Jauza Khaleel ’18 and Paul Sullivan ’17.
The Peace Scholars Program is typically a seven-week long experience that begins at the Nansen Centre for Peace and Dialogue in Lillehammer, Norway. Scholars participate in week-long discussions, before continuing their program at the University of Oslo’s International Summer School (Oslo ISS) with a Peace Scholar Seminar and an undergraduate course. Each year, six Norwegian-American colleges and universities — Augsburg, Augustana, Concordia, Luther, Pacific Lutheran, and St. Olaf — select two students to participate in the Peace Scholars program.
The participation of students at St. Olaf College is funded through the Philip C. Smaby Peace Scholars Endowed Scholarship. Philip Smaby, who the scholarship was founded in honor of, attended St. Olaf on an athletic and academic scholarship in 1936.
Khaleel and Sullivan were both St. Olaf’s nominees for the 2016 Peace Scholar program. Five years after their participation in the program, the two were able to reunite with Steinar Bryn, principal of the Nansen Centre. Bryn had first met the duo in Lillehammer back in 2016, and held a talk during last year’s alumni workshop.
Sullivan was pleased to reconnect with his fellow peace scholars many years on. “It was amazing to see so many familiar faces — I hadn’t seen many of my fellow Peace Scholars in years, and as always it was great to see Steinar and hear him talk again,” he says.
During his time at St. Olaf, Sullivan participated in the Asian Conversation program, studied abroad in China, and was a research assistant in the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program, among many other activities. His global and wide-reaching experiences have led him to pursue his Master of Human Rights degree at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Khaleel’s career path was similarly shaped by the dialogue and peace studies. Having served as Student Government Association President at St. Olaf, Khaleel went on to work as a policy researcher in the office of the president of her home nation of the Maldives, where she currently resides. Last summer, she eagerly took the chance to reconnect with her Peace Scholar program peers.
“I especially loved the different insights on the issues discussed — in the middle of the summer, there were several incidents of police brutality that had taken place in the U.S., and listening to Steiner and other participants’ views on having meaningful dialogue regarding this was very captivating,” Khaleel says.
Oslo ISS Program Administrator Michelle Fredrickson says a number of the program’s participants have pursued meaningful careers related to peace and justice. “Several have gone on to go to law school and nonprofits,” she says.
Peace Scholar Buäy Tut ’14, who participated in the program in 2012, is currently working for the United Nations Development Program. Gabrielle Simeck ’18, who participated in the program in 2017, completed a year of service at the legal nonprofit Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C., before enrolling at the University of Michigan Law School. Annie Halloin ’18 participated alongside Simeck, and is currently pursuing a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School. Manuela Novoa Villada ’21, who participated in the program in 2019, is a gender-based violence advocate at Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES), Minnesota’s largest Latino-led nonprofit organization. Ulises Jovel ’20, who participated in the program in 2018, is a counselor at the El Salvadoran Embassy in Australia.
While there will be no Peace Scholar program in 2022, there are tentative plans to return to an in-person program in 2023. In the meantime, Fredrickson is working to set up new initiatives, including an advisory board to examine how Peace Scholars can still work together and possibly contribute back to the program. There are also plans to introduce a podcast created by Peace Scholar alumni this year. This would give former Peace Scholars a platform to talk about and discuss their rich experiences, as well as highlight what they are working on now.
“Instead of new Peace Scholars being chosen this year, we are thinking of developing an information base, a way to connect and to share what they are learning and experiencing,” Fredrickson says, noting that celebrating 10 years of Peace Scholars energized her and other organizers. “The conference left me feeling filled up after being depleted.”