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Great Con announces recipients of Johnson Award

By Becca Heistad '09
April 14, 2009

Great conversations are born out of mindful observation, eager participation and attentive listening, Professor of English Karen Cherewatuk told those gathered at an April 8 event to announce the recipients of the Johnson Award.

GreatConStudYr09
This year's recipients of the Johnson Award, endowed by Professor Emeritus of English Lowell E. Johnson '52 (far left) and Barbara Schmidt Johnson '54 (far right) are Elizabeth Kerstein '11 (center left) and Stina Attebery '11 (center right).
Endowed by Professor Emeritus of English Lowell E. Johnson '52 and Barbara Schmidt Johnson '54, the award is bestowed annually upon the students who best exemplify the ideals of the Great Conversation. The room at this year's event was abuzz with speculation and anticipation as students mulled over which members of the sophomore class and participants in the Great Conversation program would be selected as recipients.

As director of the Great Conversation, Cherewatuk opened the evening by acknowledging the paradox of awarding one participant when the education gained in a learning community is the result of a collaborative effort. "This is a tricky thing, to sort out one out of so many exceptional students," she said.

Yet this year's "Great Con" faculty was up to the challenge, naming Elizabeth Kerstein '11 of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., from the Ellingson cohort and Stina Attebery '11 of Pocatello, Idaho, from the Kildahl cohort the Class of 2011 scholarship recipients.

What sets them apart
In its 28th year at St. Olaf College, the Great Conversation is a two-year program that introduces students to key elements in Western tradition through an integrated sequence of five courses. Students in the Great Conversation respond to great works through direct encounter and active discussion.

Associate Professor of English Mary Trull called Kerstein "especially distinguished" for her enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, excellent writing and a devotion to the subject matter that extends beyond the classroom. After hearing her name announced to resounding cheers from the crowd of her professors and peers, Kerstein spoke about her Conversation experience.

"These professors are such wise people and are so incredibly different from one another," she said. "As a cohort, we have loved learning from people who acknowledge differences in the great works." She then turned to her peers, saying, "Thank you for talking to me and for reading with me and for being my 'Con' family."

Then the first-time faculty team from the Kildahl cohort named their scholarship recipient. "There are some people who make Great Con look easy," Associate Professor of English Karen Marsalek '90 said. "And Stina Attebery is one such student."

Attebery enhanced the learning community with a seriousness of purpose balanced with a wry, dry humor, her professors noted. "I love the Great Conversation ... I would do it all over again, even if that means failing these last few weeks of class," Attebery joked.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.