Conversation Programs & Learning Communities

Shape Your Experience

St. Olaf’s Conversation programs and learning communities take students on distinct intellectual journeys that expand beyond the classroom.

You’ll be able to choose the Conversation program you want after you send us your enrollment deposit and confirm your place in the class. There are a number of options that are available for first-year students. Explore our programs below!


This program is not accepting students for the 2023-24 academic year.


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From politics to pop culture, economics to the environment, never has Asia been more important to the world, as we embrace an increasingly interconnected and globalized 21st century. Asian Conversations (Asian Con) seeks motivated and adventurous students who are interested in joining a high-impact learning community about Asia, along with a sequence of Chinese or Japanese language study for their first two years of college.

The program is committed to providing students with a dynamic and inclusive global perspective with exceptional disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches on Asia (such as art, history, linguistics, literature, political science, and religion) as well as a faculty-led experiential January interims to China and Japan during the sophomore year. Students from all academic backgrounds and pathways are welcome, as long as they are committed to the study of Asia.

Asian Conversations highlights critical thinking, inclusive conversation, and cross-disciplinary collaboration in the better understanding of not only Asian societies and cultures but also the development of our students to become skillful, thoughtful, and impactful global citizens.

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Environmental Conversations (“EnCon”) is a learning community organized around regular elective and required courses, open to incoming first-year students, and focused on questions of environmental policy, science, and values. Through courses and co-curricular opportunities, EnCon prepares students to think about moral, scientific, and practical dimensions of human relationships with the rest of nature.

EnCon is a three course sequence. In the fall and spring, students complete two regular requirements of the first-year curriculum: First-Year Seminar and Writing and Rhetoric. EnCon sections of these courses focus specifically on environmental themes. In the January Interim, students take Environmental Studies 137 Introduction to Environmental Studies. Throughout the year, EnCon students engage in student-led sustainability initiatives, and learn about environmental questions and opportunities facing the college.



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Would you like to act in a Festival of Dionysus? Argue about Plato? Discuss what the Bible meant to its first readers? Go on a journey to hell and heaven with Dante, beyond good and evil with Nietzsche, or to the lighthouse with Virginia Woolf, in the company of classmates who have become friends?

In Enduring Questions (formerly known as the Great Conversation) all this is possible. Including philosophy, literature, religion, and the arts, the program moves chronologically from the beginnings of human history to the present day. In a series of five discussion seminars, students discuss enduring topics like what it means to be human, what constitutes a good society, the relation between the human and the divine, happiness, suffering, beauty, and freedom.

All majors benefit from this program; the five Enduring Questions courses, taken one per term for the first two years, fulfill seven of their Ole Core course requirements, including First-Year Seminar and Writing and Rhetoric.

All students selected to participate in the program live together in the same residence hall, with non-Enduring Questions roommates, during their first year at St. Olaf. This living arrangement not only allows great conversations to continue outside the classroom but also helps create friendships based on shared experiences. 

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The Public Affairs Conversation (PACON) pursues an interdisciplinary perspective on American public policy. The PACON goes beyond the political tug of war to explore the roots of contemporary controversies in historical debates and ideals, and to develop the complex relationship between the moral, theoretical, and scientific dimensions of public affairs.



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Race Matters is an interdisciplinary learning community for first-year students dedicated to the examination of the role of race, ethnicity, and related “race matters” in twenty-first-century American life. Many of these “race matters” occur at the intersection of race with one or more related axes of identity, such as gender, sexuality, religion and class.

With a first-year seminar in the fall, a sociology-focused course during interim, and a writing seminar in the spring, the thoroughly integrated curriculum bridges the humanities and the social sciences, offering students a deep and broad engagement with race and ethnicity in the contemporary world.


Frequently Asked Questions

If you have questions about these opportunities, this is a good place to start.