Rockswold Health Scholars Program

Summer 2022 Rockswold Health Scholars, L-R from back row: Yuzi Mi, Ellie Moon, Ben Borchard, Chloe Pak, Ian Derauf; Andrew Mollison, Dr. Gaylan Rockswold, Noah Massanari

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.

2023 Program Details

  • Dates: Tuesday, May 30 – Friday, August 4, ten weeks of hands-on experience
  • Deadline: Friday, Feb. 10 at 11:59pm
  • Stipend: $4,500 paid to each student
  • Housing:  Provided at a St. Thomas Residence Hall (Tommie East)  (participants will have their own room and will share a kitchen and living room with other participants)
  • Final project (paper, poster, presentation) to be determined by student and HCMC faculty mentor
  • How to Apply (see below)

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. 

The goal of the program is to provide students with hands-on experience with research and healthcare in a variety of settings. Some placements may require students to have completed specific coursework and/or 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 or healthcare unit.

Projects/mentors for summer 2023 are:

Descriptions of Projects from Previous Students and/or Mentors

Cardiac Biomarkers

The research position on the Cardiac Biomarkers project involves working with Dr. Fred Apple and Dr. Amy Saenger on their continuing work with troponin, a regulatory protein indicative of some form of myocardial injury. My research this summer involved exploring the impacts of the implementation of a high-sensitivity cardiac troponin test at HCMC, a new type of test that is more sensitive than the previous testing used for people who may have myocardial injuries. The research involved background reading, sorting and creating data sets, and analyzing data on Excel and R. If Dr. Apple is available in this upcoming summer, I anticipate the research will additionally involve some laboratory procedures. My summer was spent in the lab, surrounded by kind and supportive individuals who were willing to answer all the questions about the research, medical school, or life as a researcher/healthcare professional. When not in the lab, there was ample opportunity to shadow physicians or any other healthcare workers throughout HCMC. I shadowed in the Emergency Department, STAB (critical care), Neurosurgery, Obstetrics, General Surgery, at People Serving People (in their clinic for people experiencing homelessness), did an ambulance ride-along, and more. There are also a wide variety of opportunities outside of research that supplemented this internship: weekly seminars from inspiring speakers, meetings with doctors and other participants of the program, STAB conferences, tours of the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, procedural practice in the Simulation Center, scrubbing in for surgery (if you can convince them you won’t pass out!), among others.


Traumatic Brain Injury

 Most of my time this summer was spent with the neurosurgery team at HCMC. I typically followed the residents and attendings all day, beginning at rounds and ending at the last surgery of the day. I had the opportunity to see some amazing surgeries. Additionally, I spent time attending participant checkups for the E-Stand trial, which looks at how spinal cord stimulators help paraplegic patients regain movement in their legs. We usually had 1 or 2 of these appointments a week. The data from this study is what I used for my research poster. Having a good understanding of R studio was important in creating my poster. Overall, I feel I was able to connect with some of the most amazing people ever this summer. I came in with two assigned neurosurgeons as mentors, Dr. Galicich at HCMC and Dr. Darrow, but I left with six different neurosurgeons I now see as mentors. If you are interested in neuroscience and neurosurgery, this is the greatest program in the country.


Interdisciplinary Simulation and Education Center

 As an intern in the simulation center, I was heavily involved with the simulations. I was able to play nurses, patients, and family members as an actor, and after the simulation concluded I sat in on the debriefing sessions. This was an amazing learning opportunity, and over time I got to interact with faculty from many different departments and see many unique medical scenarios play out. I also learned how to “jockey” simulations (running the computer that controls the mannequins), which was an interesting and exciting way of being involved with the simulations. Additionally, I had a project reorganizing some of the medical supply storage cabinets and did some other more hands-on tasks to be a helpful set of hands in the sim center. My day-to-day supervisors were the manager (Mindi) and technician (Russ), but my research mentor was Dr. Paetow. The research I conducted involved analyzing the effectiveness of simulations that were done in the hyperbaric oxygen department, and I worked on my paper and poster with Dr. Paetow. I also shadowed Dr. Paetow in the emergency department a couple times, and shadowed in adult psychiatry and surgery. My schedule was very flexible, which was helpful when I needed to get time-sensitive work done or wanted to shadow for the majority of the day. The simulation center supervisors are incredibly nice and understanding, and they really appreciated the extra help this summer. The sim center has an awesome work environment that is incredibly welcoming to students, and I cannot speak highly enough of my time here.


Chronic Disease Research Group – (Student must have completed STAT 272)

Unlike the other positions in the Rockswold Scholars program, CDRG is primarily data-driven and requires only an interest in the field of health, not a plan to attend medical school.  My internship relied heavily on my knowledge of R and allowed me to build on my knowledge of statistical models to create an interactive tool for physicians related to kidney transplant outcomes. It is incredibly valuable to see something that you made have potentially life-changing effects for patients.  In addition to my statistical work, I was able to shadow in several different departments and get a feel for how doctors use and have a need for the kind of data analysis that I worked on.

Next Step

Student will work with the Next Step team which is a hospital-based violence intervention program that connects victims of violent injury to resources and support. See more about Next Step here. The goals of Next Step are to:

  • Reduce re-injury and re-hospitalization for youth who are victims of violent injuries.
  • Support positive development and holistic healing for youth and families who are affected by violence.
  • Help interrupt the cycle of community violence.


Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (New for Summer 2023)

PM&R also known as physiatry or rehabilitation medicine focuses on restoring and improving functional ability and quality of life to individuals with disability from conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments. During this rotation, a student will be able to experience an interdisciplinary team approach that may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, clinical psychology, neuropsychology and other specialties in improving and maximizing function and quality of life.  The rotation includes acute inpatient rehabilitation, inpatient consultation and outpatient clinic within department of PM&R. The common conditions that you will experience include brain injury, stroke, amputation, multiple trauma, burn, concussion, etc. A student will have a chance to spend some time in injection clinic (Botox injection for spasticity/migraine headaches), electrodiagnostic studies, traumatic brain injury clinic and Long COVID clinic.

Dr. Israni – Role of the Microbiome in Drug Metabolism of Immunosuppressants Used in Kidney Transplant (New for Summer 2023)

One student will have the opportunity to work with a research team that is studying the microbiome of the gut looking at how medicine is absorbed and used in the gut. The lab is working with human microbiome samples (stool samples) and studying role of microbiome in drug metabolism of immunosuppressants used in kidney transplant. This is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Health. This project is specifically focused on metabolism of a commonly used immunosuppression medication called mycophenolate mofetil. This medication is re-activated in the gastrointestinal tract by the beta-glucuronidase enzyme in the microbes. The student will help us measure beta-glucuronidase activity in stool samples of kidney transplant patients. The student may also help with better understand how microbes metabolize this medication using model organisms in the laboratory. Student will also have the opportunity to shadow a transplant nephrologist in the kidney transplant clinic.

How to Apply

  • Current Junior or Sophomore or (Class of 2024 or 2025)
  • 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. 10 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. Handshake Application, Resume and Unofficial Transcript
    • In Handshake, complete and submit the application AND upload your resume (one page) and your unofficial transcript (access SIS and save as a .pdf) and apply for the position.
  3. Fill out the Online Application – Google Form
      • Complete this online application, which 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 15-20 minutes in length.

Note: The St. Olaf orientation session for selected students will take place 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 Dana Rechtzigel (, Associate Director, Piper Center, Career Development and Coaching, TOH 270.