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Olsons add significant gifts to family studies endowment

By Kari VanDerVeen
December 9, 2011

David '62 and Karen Olson recently provided the college with two significant gifts that will support an endowment in the Social Work and Family Studies Department that they established nearly a decade ago. Photo by Thomas Dunning '15.

Nearly a decade ago, David '62 and Karen Olson established an endowment in the St. Olaf Social Work and Family Studies Department aimed at helping students learn how to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

And they're no less passionate today about seeing St. Olaf invest resources in that area of study. The Olsons recently provided the college with two gifts that will be added to the Dr. David H. and Karen B. Olson Marriage and Family Endowment. The first is a planned gift that will become part of the endowment upon their deaths. The second, a current gift, is one of the top 10 new gift commitments the college received this year. That gift will be doubled through the Strategic Initiative Match, a St. Olaf Board of Regents program that provides matching funds for certain gifts above $50,000 that support the college's strategic plan.

Both gifts coincide with David Olson's 50th class reunion that will be held in June 2012.

The endowment's funds can be used for a wide range of purposes, so long as the proposed use fosters improved relationships, including those involving dating and married couples. "We want to encourage St. Olaf students to learn positive relationship skills like good communication and how to effectively resolve conflict," David Olson says. "These relationship skills will help them personally and professionally."

A longtime professor at the University of Minnesota, David Olson devoted his career to the study of marriage and family. He and his wife, Karen, started their own company, Life Innovations, that provides the PREPARE/ENRICH counseling tools for couples. A recipient of St. Olaf College's Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, David Olson is a leading national figure in the academic field of family science. He has written 20 books and more than 100 articles, and has appeared as a marriage and family expert on national television programs such as Today and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Professor of Social Work and Family Studies and Department Chair Mary Carlsen '79 says the endowment the Olsons established already provides students with access to national experts on family studies and opportunities to attend state and national conferences on family relations. The additional funding can further support undergraduate research in family studies and enhance teaching and learning opportunities in family relationships.

"These gifts to further the endowment value have the potential to be transformational," she says.

The Olsons say that the act of giving to the college is very gratifying for them as well. "We believe that in giving, you get back more than you give," David Olson says. "By investing in St. Olaf students, we hopefully help them lead happier and more productive lives."

Read more about the Olsons in a profile that appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of St. Olaf magazine.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or