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An opportunity for discernment in D.C.

By Catherine Monson '12
April 15, 2011

The 10 St. Olaf students who traveled to Washington, D.C., stand in front of the White House with the Center for Experiential Learning's Kristine Estenson (back row, center), who organized and led the trip.

Whether it's summer, fall, or Interim break, St. Olaf students are actively preparing for life after graduation. That process involved more than job hunting, however, for the 10 Oles who attended the Innovation Scholars Leadership and Vocational Externship to Washington, D.C., earlier this semester.

With the help of the Center for Experiential Learning and a $10,000 grant from the Target Foundation, the attendees were able to spend five days in the nation's capital exploring future careers and the concept of vocation, meeting with St. Olaf alumni, and hearing from a number of government officials, including U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

Students in the program also completed "externships," or extensive job-shadowing experiences, with St. Olaf alumni working in Washington. Kai Hansen '11 spent a day working alongside C-SPAN Executive Producer Peter Slen '85. Leon Clark '12 worked with Barbara Bowles Biesecker '79, director of the counseling program at the National Human Genome Research Institute. Several students got an up-close look at government service organizations. No matter what career they explored, however, all of the students came away with valuable insight.

"I learned a lot about not only what I want to do when I graduate, but also about how I see myself being involved in this global community," Clark says. "This experience puts what I learn during the school year into a broader context."

Mark Dimunation '74 shows students some of the treasures housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, which he oversees.

St. Olaf alumni welcomed the students into their homes as well as their workplaces. Philip Moeller '63 hosted a special dinner at his house, which once belonged to Abraham Lincoln's deputy postmaster, Madison Davis. Students also had the privilege of touring the Library of Congress with Mark Dimunation '74, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

They also visited the Federal Reserve Building, where they met with Federal Reserve Board Governor Betsy Duke and former Federal Reserve Board Governor Mark Olson '65. Hearing their experiences reminded Frances Xin '12 that while it's important for students to pursue their passions, it's also important to keep an open mind along the way. Duke, for example, originally had a passion for acting. "She took on a side job as a bank teller, and it never crossed her mind that this job would completely shift her career path and lead her to where she is today," says Xin.

On the nonprofit side, students met with Rev. Michael Wilker '86, executive director of Lutheran Volunteer Corps and Charles Solem '50, the organization's founder; and with Richard Rortvedt '69, board member of Luther Place Memorial Church, which runs a number of community programs.

The opportunity to hear from such a wide variety of people impressed Nick Kang '12. "The highlight of every day was the sharing of stories — not short stories of what happened that day at work, but life stories, the successes, the failures, the barriers of each individual in their quest to fulfill their vocational desires," Kang says. "Whether they were St. Olaf alumni at places such as the Library of Congress, renowned senators on Capitol Hill, homeless women at the N Street Village, or CEOs of multimillion dollar companies, each story that I was able to listen to catalyzed further thought and reflection of my own vocational path and the decisions and choices I will sooner or later have to make regarding my goals in life."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or