Update from the Hill

October 24, 2007

It’s a beautiful autumn day in Northfield.  Fall break has passed, midterm exams, papers and projects have been completed, and the campus has settled in for the work of the rest of the semester.  Students will register for their Interim courses later this week.

As I travel the country visiting with alumni, parents and friends of the college, I am struck by a recurring theme: members of the St. Olaf family are taking pleasure in the energy and momentum they observe at their college. Each of us connects with the college through our own interests and experiences, but — whether we see St. Olaf’s momentum expressed through the rigorous and engaging campus conversation this fall about “Liberal Arts in Times of War,” or through the progress of the new science building, or through the success of our athletic teams this fall, or through the initiative to simulcast a live performance of the Christmas Festival to nearly 200 movie theatres across the country, or through the College’s red-hot admissions numbers, or through the rapid growth of the endowment — there is a palpable excitement about the direction and pace of the college’s forward movement. It’s hard to quantify a spirit, but here are some quick metrics:

  • attendance at Homecoming and Family Weekend this year was up 25 percent over last year
  • the amount given thus far to Partners, the college’s annual fund, is up by forty-five percent over this date last year, and
  • the percent of alumni participating in Partners thus far is up 30 percent over this time last year.

These are all good indicators about how Oles are feeling about their college, and the Partners results in particular constitute a challenge, which we embrace, to sustain these giving and participation trends throughout the fiscal year.

How are we being perceived by others? Prospective students and their families constitute one important external constituency, and granting agencies represent another. The news on these fronts is equally encouraging. We’ve hosted more than 2,000 high school seniors (and 300 juniors) here on campus since June 1, and  the number of current high school seniors who have expressed an interest in St. Olaf is up 50 percent over this same point in the admissions cycle last year.  As for grants, the National Science Foundation recently awarded St. Olaf $600,000 over five years for scholarships for biology majors from populations that are under represented in the sciences and the U.S. Department of Education awarded St. Olaf $220,000 for the first year of five-year grant (the expectation is that we’ll receive at least that amount each year of the grant) for a NcNair Scholars program that provides faculty mentoring and other support to encourage and enable certain eligible students to prepare for graduate studies and to earn the Ph.D.

St. Olaf is a complex organization with many constituencies, but at the end of the day we do one thing well: we provide a rigorous residential liberal arts education in an environment where our faith commitments support students in their spiritual development and vocational discernment. By focusing our resources, time and energy upon our students and their intellectual, social and spiritual development, we provide an environment that prospective students seek, an education that enables current students to flourish, and an experience that alumni are passionate to support. These are good times at St. Olaf, and for good reason.

David R. Anderson ’74