Rockswold Health Scholars Program

Dr. Gaylan Rockswold ’62 and his wife, Mary Garnaas Rockswold ’63, have established an endowment and created a clinical and research internship program that provides current St. Olaf students an unparalleled hands-on experience at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN.  HCMC is known for its dedication to providing care to vulnerable, diverse, and underserved populations regardless of their ability to pay for medical services. According to Dr. Rockswold, “students would be exposed to the concept of healthcare as a service and as a calling to be a ‘healer’.” Students will expand their professional networks and improve their knowledge regarding potential paths within the healthcare field. Learn more about HCMC’s mission here

 A unique aspect of this program includes the opportunity for selected participants to live in an apartment together in the spirit of support and mutuality. Community living is intended to foster supportive relationships in an environment of reflection and intentionality. Students will work together to make decisions about grocery shopping, meals, apartment upkeep, and social activities.  As part of their commitment to learning from and with each other, participants will be expected to take part in a weekly community meal and community conversation. 

Program Philosophy

The two Health Scholars programs are made possible by the generosity of distinguished alumni. The Rockswold Health Scholars program and the Health Scholars at the Mayo Clinic program are designed to support students in their vocational discernment within healthcare, provide an intensive internship opportunity to enhance their academic profile, and expand their professional network. As a cohort internship program, students will be selected on their ability to contribute positively to the community. Competitive students have demonstrated their commitment to serving others, strong communication and teamwork skills, and the ability to take initiative. Additionally, students will be assessed on their fit with specific research projects, based on coursework, lab, and other experience. Preference is given to students with an academic profile that does not preclude admission to professional school, students who will be rising seniors, and students pursuing medicine.

2022 Tentative Program Details*

  • Dates: Tuesday, May 31 – Friday, August 5, ten weeks of hands-on experience
  • Deadline: Friday, Feb. 11 at 11:59pm
  • Tracks:  Research (6-7 students)
  • Stipend: $4,000 paid to each student
  • Housing: TBD; We hope to provide housing but will update when we know
  • Final project (paper, poster, presentation) to be determined by student and HCMC faculty mentor
  • How to Apply (see below)

* Details for summer 2022 will be finalized later in the semester.

Read Dr. Rockswold’s original proposal for a clinical and research experience at the Hennepin County Medical Center.

St. Olaf alumna Allison Christie ’96 describes in a thank-you message how interning with Dr. Rockswold her sophomore year at St. Olaf influenced her future career path.

2021 Tracks (2022 TBD) 


The goal of the research experience is to provide students with hands-on experience with research in a variety of settings. Some placements may require students to have completed scientific coursework with laboratory experience. These placements will allow students to be exposed to biomedical and other research directly pertinent to patient care. The students may develop research techniques, be involved in manuscript preparation, and have a general exposure to a research unit.

Students will work with a faculty mentor from HCMC. Projects/mentors for summer 2021:

Descriptions of Projects from Previous Students and/or Mentors

Cardiac Biomarkers (1 student)
With the guidance of Dr. Apple, I began investigating the issues with diagnostic coding for myocardial infarctions. I first identified significant differences between ICD-9 and ICD-10 coding for MI. Next, I wrote a paragraph on the need to include a T2MI code in ICD-10 that was included​ in a paper that in Clinical Chemistry (July 2016) titled Discordance Between International Classification of Diseases (ICD) Coded Myocardial Infarction. I then worked with the UTROPIA dataset to identify cases where ICD coding varied between editions from a real patient cohort. I compiled this information into my final poster for this program. This study helped give me a greater understanding of the ​complex way research, clinical care, public health, and health care policy all interact in the storage and analysis of information and how flaws can be propagated in these areas.

Behavioral Health/Addictions Research (1 student) – New for Summer 2021
This research, conducted by a clinical psychologist and behavioral health researcher, studies cigarette smoking and related diseases.  The lab has two ongoing studies: The first is a study examining why rates of lung cancer screening are so low compared to other cancer screenings aimed at the same age group. For this study, we are surveying patients and providers in MN to ask them about their experiences with lung cancer screening. The second study is developing a strategy to implement smoking cessation treatments into MN community mental health centers.

Students in this lab would have the opportunity to help mail, fax and email surveys to patients and to conduct surveys over the phone. This would be a great opportunity for someone who wants a career in the healthcare field to get experience interacting with patients. We will also be conducting qualitative interviews of community mental healthcare patients and staff, and students could have the opportunity to sit in on those interviews and to help with coding and data analysis. If the student contributes meaningfully to either project, they could be included on publications that come out of the projects.

​Traumatic Brain Injury Research (1 student) – New for Summer 2021
Students rotating through the Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Research Center at Hennepin County Medical Center will get to work on cutting edge traumatic brain injury research. Brain recordings from patients with severe brain injury are currently being analyzed for pathologic brain waves, and students will aid the lab in detecting these waves through both visual detection and through listening. Helping to detect periods of abnormal brain activity is the first critical step in aiding clinicians and researchers in providing new treatments for brain injuries, which can occur after high-speed car accidents or falls. If permissible, the Rockswold Scholar will also be able to shadow on the busy Neurosurgery Service where they will witness clinical trials and treatments for acute traumatic brain injury.

Infectious Disease Division Research (2 students) – New for Summer 2021
Two summer interns within the HCMC Infectious Disease Division will gain experience in both clinical care as well as laboratory infectious disease research. The laboratory bench research will involve immunological assays to investigate the immune response to infections such as SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 and Plasmodium/malaria. The interns will work closely with research assistants to perform the laboratory studies. The clinical research experience will include shadowing an infectious disease physician in the clinic and in the hospital.

 Interdisciplinary Simulation & Education Center (1 student) – New for Summer 2021
This summer internship program will introduce students to key strategies and modalities used in health professions education, with a focus on healthcare simulation science. Based on their interests, students will choose from a number of curricular programs to observe and be involved with the creation and implementation of simulation scenarios and procedural workshops across multiple disciplines. In addition to regular involvement in educational programming, students will produce a publication highlighting the use of simulation, to be submitted to MedEdPORTAL by the end of their rotation. Finally, there will also be opportunities to shadow providers in the Emergency Department for interested students. In general, ISEC is operational from 7a-4p M-F. We expect you to be a part of all required Rockswold Scholar meetings/sessions, but otherwise be present in the Simulation Center during business hours.

How to Apply

  • Current Junior or Sophomore or (Class of 2023 or 2024)
  • Good academic standing (minimum GPA of 3.0, not on academic probation or academically dismissed according to the Registrar’s Office and Dean of Students Office)
  • Students selected for an interview will be asked to complete the Consent and Disclosure Form
Desired Qualifications

The selection committee will consider the following:

Application Deadline and Process

This program’s application and interview process will be joined with the selection process for the Health Scholars Program at the Mayo Clinic. Professors Mary Walczak and Greg Muth will served on the selection committee. The Piper Center Pre-Health Coach will also be present for the interviews.

Students will apply through a video, Handshake, and a Google Form (see details below) by Friday, Feb. 11 at 11:59 p.m. All three components are required for a complete application. 

  1. Two-Minute Video
    • Create a two-minute (or less) video addressing the following questions:
      • Tell us more about your interest in your top choice internship placement. Why do you believe this is the best internship placement for you, and how did you go about making that decision? What do you know about the HCMC, and how does this knowledge contribute to your choice?
    • Students should consider this a formal video. Students are strongly encouraged to use the Video Recording Room in the DiSCO to create their videos. You can make reservations here. Students may also use their computers or phones, but they should make every effort to present themselves professionally wherever they create their video.
    • Upload your video to YouTube. You may make the video Public or Unlisted. If it is Unlisted, only people with the link will be able to view it. In your Google Form Application, we will ask you to provide the link to your video so the selection committee can see it. We will not share your videos with anyone else. For more information on YouTube and privacy settings, please click here
  2. Resume and Unofficial Transcript
    • In Handshake, upload your resume (one page) and your unofficial transcript (access SIS and save as a .pdf) and apply for the position.
    • Fill out the Online Application (coming later this year) 
      • This form includes essay questions, faculty references, rank ordering of internship positions, and space to provide your YouTube video link.

Selected candidates will be invited to interview. Interviews will be 15 minutes in length.

Note: The St. Olaf orientation session for selected students will take place sometime in April. Selected students will participate in an orientation session at HCMC at the end of April or early May. St. Olaf staff will coordinate transportation for the orientation. Students should plan on 4-5 hours, during which they will travel to and from HCMC, complete paperwork required for HCMC to perform a background check, and meet faculty mentors.

Questions? Contact Mary Walczak (, Faculty Supervisor and Professor of Chemistry, RNS 302A, or Katie Hughes, Associate Director, Piper Center, Career Development and Coaching, TOH 270.