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St. Olaf College
Motto Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn
(Adapted from the Old Norse battle cry of St. Olav, King of Norway: "Forward! Forward! Men of Christ, Men of the Cross")
Established 1874
Type Private liberal arts college
Endowment $247.2 Million [1]
President David R. Anderson '74, Ph.D.
Students 3,007 undergraduates (approximation)
Location Northfield, Minnesota, USA
Campus 3.72 square kilometres (920 acres)[1]
Colors Black and Old Gold          
Nickname "Oles" (Oh'-lees)
Mascot St. Olaf Lion
Affiliations MIAC, ELCA.

St. Olaf College is a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota. It was founded in 1874 by a group of Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, led by Pastor Bernt Julius Muus. The college is named after Olaf II of Norway, former king and patron saint of Norway.

An average of six St. Olaf students are awarded the Fulbright Scholarship each year. Additionally, the college has produced nine Rhodes Scholars since 1910, including two in 2007.[2]

St. Olaf ranks as one of the top 20 small colleges (those with 5,000 or fewer students) for the number of students who go on to serve in the Peace Corps.

St. Olaf College is listed in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives.

According to current U.S. News and World Report rankings, St. Olaf College is the #47 liberal arts college in the United States. St. Olaf ranks 8th overall among baccalaureate colleges in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees, placing first in mathematics and statistics, second in education and religion/theology, third in art/music and physical sciences and fourth in chemistry and foreign languages.[3]


History of the college


Founding of the college

Herman Amberg Preus, (1825 – 1894), a key figure in organizing the Norwegian Synod.

Many Norwegian immigrants arrived in Rice County, Minnesota, and the surrounding area in the late 19th century. With nearly all the immigrants being Lutheran Christians, they desired a non-secular post-secondary institution in the Lutheran tradition that offered classes in all subjects in both Norwegian and English. The catalyst for founding St. Olaf was the Reverend Bernt Julius Muus, and he sought out the help of the Rev. N.A. Quammen and H. Thorson. Together they petitioned their parishes and others to raise money in order to buy a plot of land on which to build this new institution. The three men succeeded in receiving around $10,000 in pledges, and thus went on to form a corporation and to buy a plot of land and four buildings (old Northfield schoolhouses) for accommodations for the school.

St. Olaf, then called St. Olaf's School, opened on January 8, 1875 at its first site under the leadership of its first president, Thorbjorn Mohn, a graduate of Luther College. Herman Amberg Preus, President of the Norwegian Synod, laid this foundation stone of the St. Olaf School on July 4, 1877. During 1887 the Manitou Messenger was founded as a campus magazine and has since evolved into the college's student newspaper.[4]

Overview of the campus

Old Main
The center of St. Olaf's campus.
St. Olaf's wind turbine, which directly powers one-third of the campus.

Ecology and sustainability are top priorities on the 300-acre (1.2 km2) St. Olaf campus, which includes woodland, prairie and wetlands. The college also owns 600 acres (2.4 km2) adjacent of no-till farmland. The newest landmark on campus is the 350-foot (107 m) tall, 1.6 megawatt wind turbine that began generating one third of the college’s electricity in fall 2006.

A new Science Complex, Regents Hall, opened in early fall of 2008. It joined some 14 academic and administrative buildings and 11 residence halls spread across the "Manitou Heights" hilltop on the western edge of Northfield. Many St. Olaf students also live in 18 “honor houses" on the campus periphery. These home-like residences offer students the chance to develop personal interests through local volunteer work or through such organizations as Jewish Student Outreach, the Story House and St. Olaf Cancer Connection. Other honor houses, such as the French, German, Russian, and Asian Studies houses, allow students to further immerse themselves in academics.

Two buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Old Main, designed by Long and Haglin (#76001073); and Steensland Library, designed by Omeyer & Thori (#82003020).



Before graduating, St. Olaf students complete nearly 20 required courses in foundation studies (writing, a second language, oral communication, mathematical reasoning, physical well-being) and core studies that include studies in Western culture, human behavior and society, biblical and theological studies, artistic and literary studies, and studies in natural science. Many of the courses are, by nature, interdisciplinary. St. Olaf offers 39 major areas of study for the bachelor of arts degree, four for the bachelor of music degree and nineteen areas of concentration.

The average student-to-faculty ratio is 12.8:1. The average class size is 22 students.

Study abroad

Steensland Hall has had multiple purposes for over a century. A symbol of the college's past, it presently houses International & Off-Campus Studies.[5]

St. Olaf College is recognized nationally for the quality of its international studies programs. It is ranked 1st nationally out of bachelor-degree institutions in the number of students who study abroad (according to statistics from the "Chronicle of Higher Education")[citation needed]. Seventy-eight percent of the class of 2006 studied off- campus; 71% studied abroad. The college offers more than 120 international and U.S. off-campus study programs in Hong Kong, Japan, Costa Rica, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, London, Florence, Oxford, Aberdeen, Manhattan, Russia and many other locations. Unique study abroad programs offered by the college include the "Global Semester", "Term in the Middle East", and "Term in Asia". Students participating in these programs visit several different countries during the course. They are accompanied by a St. Olaf faculty member and complete academic coursework relevant to the destinations they visit.

Academic distinctions

According to the National Research Council’s "Survey of Earned Doctorates", St. Olaf ranks eighth among bachelor degree colleges in the number of graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees[citation needed]. (This represents the years 1995–2004.) St. Olaf was also first among baccalaureate colleges in mathematics, second in religion and theology, seventh in chemistry, third in foreign languages, third in art and music and fifth in life sciences as an undergraduate supplier of Ph.D.s[citation needed].

U.S. News & World Report's “America’s Best Colleges 2009” ranked St. Olaf among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges in graduation rate performance (33rd), academic reputation (35th), freshman retention (25th) and percentage of incoming students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class (53rd)[citation needed]. The school's overall US News ranking is 47.

Campus Life

Student organizations

The college is home to over 130 student organizations, including an on-campus organic farm, an improv comedy troupe (Scared Scriptless), and an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) organization that is the first responder for campus emergencies. There are 16 religious organizations, over a dozen multicultural organizations, and many academic, service and political groups.[6] And, two-thirds of students on campus participate in at least one intramural sport.[7]

Student government

One of the most visible student organizations on campus[citation needed], St. Olaf’s Student Government Association (SGA) finances many student activities and organizations on campus.

SGA operates through ten branches, each of which is managed by an elected executive. The branches include Diversity Celebrations Committee, Volunteer Network, Music Entertainment Committee, Student Activities Committee, Student Organizations Committee, Board of Regents Student Committee, Student Alumni Association, and Political Action Committee. Besides these committees, students can serve on Student Senate to vote on issues such as constitutional bylaws changes and dorm capital improvement funds.

SGA also maintains [2], a student-oriented site that has gone consistent and significant changes throughout its existence. Due to the instability of the webmaster position, however, updates infrequently.

Dry Campus Policy

St. Olaf College has what is called a "Dry Campus" Policy. St. Olaf College desires to have a campus free of alcohol and illicit drugs and to operate all of its academic and co-curricular programs accordingly. St. Olaf's policy states that the possession, distribution or consumption of alcoholic beverages on the campus, on land owned by the college, and in college-owned honor and language houses is prohibited. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited at all college-sponsored functions, no matter where located, that include students as guests.[8]

While the policy is in place and generally enforced, students who choose to drink continue to do so despite the policy.[9]

Music at St. Olaf

St. Olaf's music program, founded by F. Melius Christiansen in 1903, is world-renowned. Its band, choir and orchestra tour the continental U.S. annually and have made many critically-acclaimed international tours. International tours regularly occur every three years. The St. Olaf Band, currently under the direction of Dr. Timothy Mahr, was the first American college musical organization to conduct a concert tour abroad when it traveled to Norway in 1906. In 2010, the St. Olaf band is scheduled to make its second tour to Japan.

The St. Olaf Orchestra is currently under the direction of Steven Amundson, who is in his 28th year on the faculty of St. Olaf College where he is Professor of Music and Conductor of the orchestra.

The St. Olaf Choir, currently directed by Anton Armstrong '78, was founded by Christiansen in 1907 as the St. John's Lutheran Church Choir in Northfield, and is regarded as the pioneer a cappella college choir in the United States[citation needed]. It is recognized as one of the premier collegiate ensembles in the United States.[10] It has toured Europe several times, as well as China, Korea, and Australia, performing before heads of state and producing over a dozen recordings. The choir performs in the nationally broadcast annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival, along with the St. Olaf Orchestra and four of the college's other choirs. The St. Olaf Choir can also be heard performing Mozart's Requiem with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in the new Nike commercial "Jordan XXII-Takeover". In 2005, the St. Olaf Choir was invited to perform at the White House on May 5 for President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and guests to commemorate The National Day of Prayer.

Other student musical ensembles include Chapel Choir, Cantorei, Manitou Singers, Viking Chorus, Collegiate Chorale, Philharmonia, Norseman Band and many smaller vocal and instrumental ensembles. Two student-run music ensembles at St. Olaf that receive the most recognition are the men's and women's a capella groups: The Limestones and Agnus. These groups are not a part of the college's music program, but operate independently.

In 2005 the St. Olaf Band, St. Olaf Orchestra and St. Olaf Choir toured throughout Norway to help that country celebrate its centennial of independence from Sweden.

A few ensembles that sprouted their roots at St. Olaf include the Minnesota Symphonic Winds and the a cappella choral groups Cantus, Inpulse and Magnum Chorum.


American football at St. Olaf in 2009.

St. Olaf College is a member of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). St. Olaf athletic teams and students are nicknamed the "Oles." St. Olaf's Swimming and Diving team is traditionally the strongest of its sports teams, having won a majority of its MIAC conference championships, and is strongly competitive at the national level, often finishing within the top ten NCAA Division III schools at nationals. St. Olaf competes in the following sports:

Fall Sports:

Winter Sports:

Spring Sports:

St. Olaf also has many student coached club and intramural teams that compete within the student body and also inter-college. Most notable are the St. Olaf ultimate teams The Berzerkers and Durga, which make an annual trip to a national collegiate tournament (Spring Ultimax) in North Carolina.

Rivalry with Carleton College

St. Olaf is a traditional athletic rival of its crosstown neighbor, Carleton College. Each year in American football, Carleton and St. Olaf compete in a contest recently dubbed the "Cereal Bowl" in honor of the Malt-O-Meal production facility that is located in Northfield. In this contest, the Oles had a winning streak 1995-2007 before losing in 2008 21-7. The annual winner receives the "Goat Trophy" (created by a St. Olaf carpenter in 1931) as well as the silver Cereal Bowl trophy.

The rivalry between St. Olaf and Carleton, which began with a Carleton victory over St. Olaf in 1919, is one of the oldest in all of college football, and the only to feature two colleges from the same ZIP code.

A lesser known fact about the Cereal Bowl is that Northfield's veterans' memorial (located in Bridge Square) features an eagle that is turned to face the college that wins the annual football match between the two schools.

These football teams are also significant for constituting the only NCAA-sanctioned metric football game in history (which St. Olaf won).

College fight song

Based on a Norwegian folk tune, the college song, Um Yah Yah, is the only college fight song in the United States to be in 3/4 (waltz) meter. It is also one of the few college songs to mention another college in its lyrics. Other fight songs that mention rival schools include those of Texas A&M University, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Alabama, the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Williams College, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Boston University (in the "unofficial" lyrics to the fight song).

The lyrics to the St. Olaf song include the unofficial St. Olaf "battle cry" - "Um Yah Yah!". The most common version uses the name of traditional cross-town rival, Carleton College, but the current opposing institution's name is inserted when sung at athletic competitions.

We come from St. Olaf, we sure are the real stuff.
Our team is the cream of the colleges great.
We fight fast and furious, our team is injurious.
Tonight Carleton College will sure meet its fate.
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!

The unofficial St. Olaf fight song is commonly known and is popular amongst the student body.[11]

We come from St. Olaf, we wear cashmere sweaters,
We live on a hill to be closer to God.
We don't smoke, we don't drink,
At least that's what they think,
And under the covers we Um Yah Yah YAH!

Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!

Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!
Um Yah Yah YAH!

Presidents of the college

St. Olaf has had 11 presidents since its founding:

  • Thorbjorn N. Mohn 1874-1899
  • John N. Kildahl 1899-1914
  • Lauritz A. Vigness 1914-1918
  • Lars W. Boe 1918-1942
  • Clemens M. Granskou 1943-1963
  • Sidney A. Rand 1963-1980
  • Harlan F. Foss, Ph.D. 1980-1985
  • Melvin D. George, Ph.D. 1985-1994
  • Mark U. Edwards Jr., Ph.D. 1994-2000
  • Christopher M. Thomforde, D.Min. 2001-2006
  • David R. Anderson, Ph.D. 2006 to Present

Church affiliation


Notable alumni

See also Category:St. Olaf College alumni
Crown Prince Haakon of Norway speaking at St. Olaf in 2005

St. Olaf College in popular culture

St. Olaf is mentioned in the works of Minnesota author F. Scott Fitzgerald. His character Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby attended the college briefly and worked as a janitor. It also is mentioned in Garrison Keillor's radio program A Prairie Home Companion.

The fictional Minnesota city of St. Olaf was the hometown of Rose Nylund in the TV show The Golden Girls. In the TV show the fictional city's sister city was St. Gustav, Minnesota, a nod to rival Gustavus Adolphus College, located nearby in St. Peter, Minnesota. Betty White, the actress who played Rose, visited the St. Olaf campus on one occasion and was given an honorary membership in St. Olaf's chapter of the theater honorary society. Rose's role on the show as the stupid one frustrates many alumni, as many outside of the Midwest only know the name St. Olaf as a sign of stupidity and air-headedness, a stark antithesis to the highly selective and acclaimed liberal arts college that bears the same name.

In October 2008 the Coen Brothers shot scenes at St. Olaf for their film A Serious Man.[12][13] After a long search of many campuses, the Coen brothers chose St. Olaf's old Science Center because it had the 1970s look of the movie. St. Olaf has built a new science center but still uses the old building for some of its classes.


  1. ^ St. Olaf College | Northfield, Minnesota, USA
  2. ^ Ferraro, Nick (November 18, 2007). "Education / Apple Valley woman named Rhodes Scholar; She and another St. Olaf student give the college a record two recipients". Pioneer Press: p. B1. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  3. ^ Liberal Arts Colleges: Top Schools, US News & World Reports, Accessed October 16th, 2008.
  4. ^ David T. Nelson, Luther College, 1861-1961 Decorah, Iowa: Luther College Press, 1961.
  5. ^ "Steensland Hall: A century of service". St. Olaf College. 2008. 
  6. ^ "St. Olaf College Student Organizations". St. Olaf College. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  7. ^ "Good Game" (PDF). St. Olaf College. 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  8. ^ "Policy on Alcohol and Illicit Drugs". St. Olaf College. 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-27. 
  9. ^ "St. Olaf students address drinking on and off “dry” campus". Locally Grown Northfield. 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Lecture by President David Anderson, April 28, 2008
  12. ^ Henke, David (2008-08-19), "Coen brothers will use St. Olaf for movie", Northfield News, 
  13. ^ Gonnerman, David (2008-10-09), "St. Olaf gets 'Serious'", St. Olaf College News, 

External links

Coordinates: 44°27′34″N 93°10′50″W / 44.45944°N 93.18056°W / 44.45944; -93.18056


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