Author: My Khe Nguyen

Proposed railway picks up steam

The proposal for a passenger rail line between Northfield and the Twin Cities is curently up for debate and in need of public support if it is to make the leap from the drawing board to reality. Minnesota State Representative from District 20B, David Bly, has been a long and relentless proponent for the rail that would help connect Northfield and the Twin Cities.

In the 1930s there was a commuter train between Northfield and Minneapolis called the Dan Patch line. Unfortunate timing played a role in the train’s reputation as a “complete economic failure” – the project was carried out in the midst of the Great Depression. The dire state of the economy, combined with high operating costs and competition from highways contributed to the project’s infeasibility.

“They actually made a celebration of burning the trains,” Bly said, describing the period after the rail line was decommissioned.

Around 2000, a commuter rail system from Northfield to Minneapolis based on the Dan Patch Line was proposed. Although the project received some support, a similar rail system linking St. Cloud to Minneapolis received funding instead.

Meanwhile, state legislators received pressure from residents along the area of the Dan Patch Line to stop any proposal of a rail system. This pressure culminated in the Dan Patch Gag Rule, passed by the state legislature in 2002, which prohibited the “study, planning, preliminary engineering, final design, or construction [of] a commuter rail line between Northfield and Minneapolis.”

Legislation aside, there are several advantages of a passenger rail line connecting Northfield to the Twin Cities. The project could ease congestion on interstate 35, and as commuters choose the train over individual cars, the rail line could have a positive environmental impact.

“Another thing that I think becomes more and more important to people today is climate change, to deal with so many cars on the road, in comparison with a train that could be electric,” Bly said.

A campaign to use state funds to research the benefits of the rail line has experienced opposition in the legislature, however.

“Senator Dahle did get the measure passed to the senators,” Bly said “but the man who put the gag order in place in the first place is still in the House, and I am having trouble getting by it.”

Not all hope is lost, however. A new project was recently proposed called the Statewide Passenger Rail Plan. The proposed system, based on the Dan Patch Line, would connect Northfield and the Twin Cities through existing rail lines and the Amtrak system, a network of railroads that stretches across the nation.

“We would have the ability for people to get on a train in Minnesota and ride that train all the way down to Dallas and make connections to trains that can take you to San Francisco, Los Angeles, to New York City, so that you have much more flexibility,” Bly said. “The [transit] authority told me that they could manage to upgrade the rail to go 80 to 90 miles per hour.”

Proponents of the rail system have cause to be optimistic. The federal rail authority is considering moving the project up its budget, while St. Paul’s legislators have voiced their interest in seeing the rail line become a reality. Together, these developments give the project a real chance of being included in the state’s budget, which is experiencing an 800 million dollar surplus.

Supporters of Statewide Passenger Rail Plan are hoping that the 20 million dollar preliminary study for the line could use the state surplus for funding.

“The fact that [the state] is in the black instead of in the red makes it easier to talk about and argue for some money,” Bly said. “You have to have a study in order to do the work. When the study is done, the funding will be more likely to happen.”

The rail line’s campaign encourages student involvement. Those who are interested in learning more about the project are encouraged to visit mnrail.org.

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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Aviation Club helps young pilots get off the ground

Even though it’s usually true that “the sky’s the limit,” St. Olaf’s Aviation Club, has been aiming far higher since 2015.

The club’s founder, Frances Ann Rose ’17, sat down for an interview to share the story of her experience in aviation and the recent history of the club.

The rules and philosophy of flying have profoundly affected Rose’s life. Her enthusiasm is understandable given her early exposure to aviation – both her grandfather and her father were pilots, and Rose first flew in a small plane when she was just four months old.

“I had the idea for [starting the club] two summers ago when I had the flying instruction,” Rose said. “I was hoping to find other people on campus who are either like me, students who are in the process of learning to fly and getting their licenses, or finding students who would like to learn how to fly but either don’t have the contacts or resources to be able to achieve that goal.”

Aviation Club’s mission is to provide Oles with “a place to explore navigation” and “a forum for pilots of different experience levels to be able to sit down and share stories with each other.”

After a year of development, the club currently has three main activities: sessions on basic aviation knowledge, education on aviation safety and “discovery flights.”

“As you can probably tell, safety is … really important in aviation,” Rose said. “We are constantly learning. No matter how many hours someone flies, they are not a master of that discipline. To get into that sort of mindset is dangerous.”

Discovery flights are what the club calls the flying sessions at Stanton Airfield, where members have a chance to fly in an actual plane with Certified Flight Instructors. The activity is meant to provide inspiration for beginners as well as experience for those who are interested in getting a license.

Regarding the development of the club, Rose paid special thanks to economics professor Anthony Becker and religion professor Jim Hanson for their “invaluable” help. They are licensed pilots who have provided the club with insightful information, local events and personal contacts.

Despite the passion of its members, the Aviation Club is facing a financial problem. Until now most of the club’s resources, including training materials and the costs associated with discovery flights are covered by Rose’s own funds. The Student Government Association refused to fund the club, which Rose found understandable as they “don’t want to put their students in potentially dangerous situations.” The club does not approach the Piper Center since most of its members consider flying to be recreation more than career preparation.

The club is seeking a sponsor from outside of the school, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Meanwhile, it is thinking of creating a pool of funds among its members.

Despite financial strain the club is still active with upcoming activities, such as biweekly meetings, watching “Sully” – a recent film about aviation – and more discovery flights, in hope of inspiring people to pursue a pilot license.

“There are a lot of things you can do even when you are not a professional pilot that are beneficial to the community at large,” Rose said. Mercy Flight, a nonprofit organization which enables volunteer pilots to fly patients, primarily cancer patients, to their hospitals for free, is an example.

The existence of Aviation Club shows that the sky is not the limit at St. Olaf.

Contact the club at stolafaviationclub@stolaf.edu for further information.

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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Theology at St. Olaf in need of diversification

The debate on the Biblical and Theological Studies – Bible (BTS-B) and Biblical and Theological Studies – Theology (BTS-T) General Education (GE) requirement is not new, but it is always lively.

As a Lutheran-affliated college, St. Olaf requires its students to enroll in two courses where they “study major biblical texts and their interaction with theology, religious practice, ethics and social values [in order to] understand the essential content of Christian belief in a critical and coherent manner.”

These courses used to be appropriate when the majority of St. Olaf students were descendents of Norwegian immigrants and practicing Lutherans. However, as the world becomes more pluralistic and St. Olaf diversifies its community of faculty, staff and students, the college faces a problem: Are the BTS-B and BTS-T requirements still relevant to a liberal arts education and reflective of St. Olaf’s diversity?

It is necessary to clarify that BTS-B and BTS-T requirements are not problematic themselves. In fact, they can be a valuable academic experience for many students, both religious and secular. The goal has never been to convert students, but to foster an intellectual and critical environment where diverse views are accepted through the efforts of the college administration and religion professors. Yet Christianity as the principal focus of the theology requirements is a problem.

When reflecting on St. Olaf’s history, Christianity has shaped the college in more ways than just hosting a daily chapel service or a Bible reading. Lutheran values have shaped St. Olaf’s education philosophy as well.

A former professor of Lutheran studies at Gustavus Adolphus College Darrell Jodock argues that there is a unique relationship between Lutheran studies and a liberal arts education. Jodock believes that Lutheran tradition “serves the community … [encourages] academic excellence … and honors freedom of inquiry.”

Rather than obstructing academic curiosity or isolating non-religious people, Lutheranism has encouraged an open and welcoming environment at St. Olaf.

I admit that the Lutheran philosophy, with its emphasis in liberal learning and vocation for community, is valuable. However, I don’t believe that students must read the Bible to benefit from a liberal arts education. One might say that Luther originally recommended reading the Scripture as a way for Christians to exercise their freedom. However, on a newly diverse campus, a sole focus on Christian scripture is no longer appropriate. Others might say that a large part of the student body is still Christian; therefore, it is best to keep the current BTS-B and BTS-T requirements. I would respond by arguing that the freedom to study whatever religion you want is important, even if the students choose Christian theology. As much as Christianity benefits us intellectually and spiritually, other religions have many valuable tenets as well. The opportunity to study other religions should not only be given to religion majors.

The Christian emphasis of the theology requirements can be attributed to St. Olaf’s identity as a Lutheran college. These courses exist partly to remind students of the college’s history. It would be regrettable for St. Olaf to lose sight of its Lutheran heritage. Without these requirements, is St. Olaf still St. Olaf? I believe that the college can still maintain its Lutheran identity as long as it educates its students of the founding principles of the college and adjusts to its more diverse community by defining “Lutheran” in a broader sense, as a liberal spirit and service for the community. This adjustment can be made by the diversification of the religion GE requirements.

My Khe Nguyen ’19 (nguyen7@stolaf.edu) is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. She majors in political science.

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Dark comedy to open the theater season

On Oct. 7 through Oct. 9, the St. Olaf theater department will run its first show of the 2016-17 season, “Fuddy Meers” by David Lindsay-Abaire.

The play, guest-directed by Randy Reyes, tells the story of Claire, a woman who suffers from memory loss. As Claire struggles to regain her memory, she is bombarded by a cast of kooky characters including her pothead son, her speech-impeded mother and an escaped convict with a sock puppet.

Reyes comes to St. Olaf not only to direct the fall Haugen show, but also to teach this semester’s beginning directing class. Reyes is the artistic director of Mu Performing Arts in Minneapolis and serves as a theater educator at institutions across the country, including the Playwrights’ Center, the New York University graduate acting program and the University of Minnesota/Guthrie bachelor’s acting program. In short, he is a brilliant professional actor and director.

The process for “Fuddy Meers” has been atypical compared to the St. Olaf norm. Rather than rehearsing a few hours a night throughout the week, the cast has rehearsed only twice a week for eight hours at a time. Though intense, this process has not become tedious for anyone involved.

“It perfectly fits the show because it really lets [the actors] get into the characters which are really bizarre and which are not easy to just take off and put down easily,” assistant director Aaron Lauby ’19 said.

“There was no atmosphere or hesitation around it. We were into it from day one,” stage manager Shelby Reddig ’17 said.

“No one ever realizes how fast the time has gone,” Lauby said. “Every time we practice we find a new thing about the language.”

Reddig agreed that the team is enjoying their hard work: “You get funny moments in the rehearsal with misunderstanding,” she said. “Actors have to make big choices to make it an interesting show. And then the directors have to say, ‘Thank you for making that choice but it is a little weird so we are not going to do that.’”

“Fuddy Meers” is a dark comedy that promises to keep the audience laughing for long stretches, whether it be out of mirth or of nervousness.

“[‘Fuddy Meers’] is supposed to make you think of important things but not in a really heavy way,” Reddig said.

For instance, Claire’s psychological status is not simply a source of entertainment, as Tara Maloney ’19, who plays Claire, pointed out.

“It’s finding the balance between being innocent and also being skeptical,” Maloney said. “I read it like she is completely happy but in real life someone would not be just completely happy. She is just trying to be. So I have to show that she is trying.”

Other members of the cast include: Ian Sutherland ’18 as Richard, Ash Willison ’17 as Kenny, Chaz Mayo ’18 as Limping Man, Christine Menge ’18 as Gertie, Will Ibele ’18 as Millet and Avery Evangeline Baker ’19 as Heidi.

“Fuddy Meers” will perform in Haugen Theater from Oct. 7-9. Tickets are free for students and can be reserved online or at the Theater Building’s box office.

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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Re-examining language education

Professor Lourdes Ortega was hesitant to visit St. Olaf after hearing about the intensity of Minnesotan winters. Fortunately she visited on a beautiful September day, avoiding any exposure to the region’s extreme weather. Ortega, who teaches linguistics at Georgetown University, traveled to St. Olaf to give a presentation titled “Aptitude and Motivation: How Important for Foreign Language Learning Success?” The event was held in Viking Theater and was attended by approximately 100 St. Olaf faculty members and students.

When the list of Ortega’s awards and publications in flagship journals, such as the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, Foreign Language Annals, The Journal of Second Language Writing and others were shown as part of the introduction, she joked that it reminded her why she is always tired. Indeed, she was at St. Olaf to present the research to which she devotes her life: the study of foreign languages, particularly the relationship between aptitude and attitude in foreign language study.

Based on her research in the field, Ortega asserted that some have a natural gift for language and are able to quickly adapt. This ability, however, is multidimensional; it includes implicit learning, an ability for analysis and memory capacity.

“Some people are strong at analyzing and some at memorizing,” she said. “If you teach people with the method in which they have aptitude in, they will have a chance to learn faster, better and happier.”

Regarding students who are not blessed with any of these abilities, Ortega proposed to “help them figure out their goals, what they want to accomplish, in a realistic, but inspiring way.”

The Georgetown scholar introduced two popular linguistic tests, the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and High Level Language Aptitude Battery (HiLAB). Given St. Olaf’s requirement that all students enroll in a foreign language course, the question was put to Ortega of whether these tests need to be administered to students. She responded by deeming the question “politically and ethically dangerous,” and recommended against such mandatory testing, as it could result in discouraging students and create an unhealthy relationship between professor and pupil.

The research of other scientists, such as Guilloteaux and Dornyel in South Korea and Moskovsky in Saudi Arabia also show the large role motivation plays in foreign language learning.

“What teachers do with their students in the classroom actually matters,” Ortega said.

She went on to discuss how her discoveries regarding motivation were gained through extensive interaction with students as a language teacher. Students have a wide range of incentives to learn, varying from integrative motivation (the willingness to integrate with native people), to instrumental motivation (grades), to intrinsic motivation (the self-satisfaction of learning), to identified motivation (pressure imposed on them by others). Knowing about these incentives can help teachers “identify students’ motivation and cater to it to help them learn better.”

In her conclusion, Ortega emphasized the equal importance of aptitude and motivation, and how the study of foreign languages is not a completely internal process but is also affected by external factors, the most important of which is the contribution of teachers. Regarding aptitude and attitude, she said teachers should provide suitable assignments and activities for each type of ability and remain encouraging.

Presented as it was to the St. Olaf community at the beginning of the new academic year, the speech promptly reiterated the college’s commitment to excellent foreign language education. Hikari Sugisaki ’17 found the speech insightful because it broke the conceptualization of language learning as solely a matter of diligence.

“I found that it was really nice that her presentation covered how motivation and aptitude affects language learning for both the teacher and the student,” Sugisaki said. “Her talk gave me good insight into how I could be a better tutor for Japanese, as well as be a better student for Chinese.”

The talk was hosted by the Department of Asian Studies with sponsorship from the Robert Laraas Fund.

nguyen7@stolaf.edu

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