Professor of Ecocomics Steve Soderlind is popular on cam- pus for his cheerful demeanor and genuine care for students. He engages students with class materials through personal stories and random bits of humor. Soderlind believes that small, real- life anecdotes can sometimes be more effective for understand- ing than dry information written in textbooks. He identifies not so much as traditionally academic, but more whimsical and ex- plorative.
Soderlind was born and raised in Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with a double major in math- ematics and economics and went on to obtain his Ph.D in Eco- nomics from University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Before teaching at St. Olaf, Soderlind spent his time working as a carpenter and later as an IBM employee. Not a particularly academic person, Soderlind took a long time to acclimate into academia and become the thoughtful, scholarly person that he is now. When Soderlind came to St. Olaf he didn’t intend to stay for long, but he fell in love with the school’s history and tradition. In the 35 years that have passed since then, Soderlind’s apprecia- tion for the school has only grown. His teaching experience has helped him appreciate education as a meaningful endeavor and understand that school is a place where students can develop new skills and build relationships.
“I do care a lot about students, what they want to do in life and how they feel about the class, and I think my dedication and care for them does come off, and that’s genuine,” Soderland said.
To Soderlind, what makes education really worth it is study- ing what interests you and not just what interests the professors. His personal interests in economics tend to orient around consumer economics and urban affairs. Soderlind spends time weighing the pros and cons of tax systems and contemplating whether the current infrastructure is optimal. Soderlind is also a relativist, accepting that there is no one-size-fits-all economic
system or solution suitable for everyone.
His books Consumer Economics: A Practical Overview and
The Ascent of Regional Policy in Norway 1945-1980 reiterate this idea. In the former, Soderlind encourages people to know and think for themselves and to have the discipline to understand what works for them individually. The latter aligns with his in- terest in urban affairs. He uses Sweden and Norway as examples of countries that have implemented opposing public policy systems and argues that the best path forward differs for each country.
Soderlind is currently teaching his two last courses at St. Olaf College, Urban Economics and a seminar on welfare economics, both of which treat economics as a revenue and outcome of the world and integrate other disciplines such as religion, philoso- phy and sociology to help measure the efficiency of economic development.
When he’s not teaching, Soderlind enjoys biking and hiking with his wife. His spends the weekends kayaking with his friends or woodworking. When asked about future plans, Soderlind was excited to share that they are not yet fixed, but he knows what he wants to do. To him, the best plan is no plan at all. He enjoys working with children who are disadvantaged or facing tough situations alone. He also has a guitar he wants to play more.
Soderlind hopes all students at St. Olaf find their passions and create their own paths without limiting themselves with soci- ety’s expectations.
“Each of us is the most interesting conundrum in the world,” he said. He encourages students to appreciate life as a gift and not to succumb to the pressure of being good enough.