These six stories illustrate the variety of gifts and talents students bring with them to campus, their contributions to life at Luther, and the immense potential they now present to the world as Luther graduates.
James Ostlie: “It was fun to geek out”
Decorah’s Renaissance man.
That’s how the Cedar Rapids Gazette described James Ostlie in a 2011 profile touting the academic, athletic, and musical talents he displayed as a student at Decorah High School.
Spend some time chatting with Ostlie today, and that three-word description rings just as true, perhaps more so. Ostlie is as comfortable talking about blocks and blitzes as he is Norwegian fairy tales, and nearly any topic in between.
But it took a bit of prying to get him to talk about his impressive list of accomplishments at Luther. A magna cum laude graduate and biology major (with minors in environmental studies and Nordic studies), Ostlie earned induction into the Phi Beta Kappa and Beta Beta Beta academic honor societies, served as a board member for the PALS youth mentoring program and a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and garnered four letters for his outstanding play on the offensive line for the Norse football team, which he served as cocaptain. He was also a three-time All-Iowa Conference and Academic All-Iowa Conference honoree.
So what’s the key to his success, other than old-fashioned hard work?
“The obvious answer is time management—I have always done better academically while I was in season, when I have deadlines and need to be really productive,” says Ostlie, son of longtime Luther staffer Lori Ostlie. “I expect to be busy.”
That level of motivation was useful last January, when Ostlie drove several times a week to a forested property outside Decorah, strapped on snow shoes, and spent hours alone doing research for his senior paper—“Tree Species Composition of Old-Growth Sugar Maple-Basswood Forests in Northeastern Iowa”—which he was invited to present at an Iowa Academy of Science meeting in the spring. “I recognize it’s a topic that’s not inherently interesting to many,” he says with a smile, “but it was fun to geek out with some of the experts who really know their stuff at that meeting.”
Since graduation, Ostlie has spent even more time outdoors, making tree stand improvements, removing invasive species, and improving riverbanks on state land in Rochester through Conservation Corps Minnesota. He plans to follow a year of service work there with graduate studies in forest ecology, and ultimately has his sights set on project management for an organization like the Iowa DNR or Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
“All the broader concepts and the moving parts involved in that type of work really interest me,” he says. “I like the idea of working with land owners and local and state governments on projects from start to finish, and I can envision putting my own stamp on some of those projects, creating them almost like an artist.”
Or, perhaps, like a Renaissance man.
Gifty Arthur: Confident and rewarded in a faith setting
“Take a look at me—I’m a wonder,” proclaims the inviting introductory text of Gifty Arthur’s Facebook page.
Look quickly, because this Ghana native doesn’t stay still for long—and that’s exactly the way she likes it. “I’m a very active person,” says Arthur, whose brother, Kevin, joined her at Luther in 2016. “I like to stay busy, and I believe that’s how I function best.”
At Luther “staying busy” encompassed completing a computer science major (and French minor), taking part in the Launching Luther Leaders program, holding a job in technical services in Preus Library, and playing intramural soccer, all while juggling leadership roles in numerous campus organizations, most prominently College Ministries.
A three-year member of the Congregational Council, Arthur served as deacon of spiritual formation before assuming the roles of vice president and, finally, president in her senior year. “I am a person of faith,” she says, “so being able to immerse myself in a faith setting was extremely rewarding for me.”
Her passion for faith-based work also allowed her to become more comfortable in the spotlight. “In high school, I more often worked behind the scenes, so my work in College Ministries showed me I could move to the forefront,” she explains. “I learned to be confident in my leadership abilities and step out if I believe I can contribute in a meaningful way.”
Arthur used those skills as a student representative on the college’s Hearing Board too. She worked alongside faculty, staff, and other students to decide cases involving student conduct. “It was an invaluable experience for me—I learned that every decision has consequences, and sometimes they are irreversible,” Arthur says. “It also helped me to be more open-minded and see things from different perspectives.”
She says serving on the Hearing Board is the activity she most enjoyed at Luther because it gave her the opportunity to speak up for her fellow students. It also helped her pinpoint a possible career path—after gaining work experience in Columbus, Ohio, where she recently moved, she plans to apply to law school.*
“I discovered I really enjoyed being a voice for people and working to make the campus safe for all,” she says. “I also realized the importance of having sanctions that actually teach people, not just punish them, and feel driven to advocate for that in the legal community.”
*Arthur was hired by Garden City Group, a legal services administrator, as a case specialist.
Pablo Alonso: At the intersection of language and science
Pablo Alonso is a language whiz. He grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in Mexico City, then Cuernavaca. He started learning English at five years old, and today he speaks it flawlessly. He studied Italian during his two years as a United World Colleges student in Italy, where he frequently picked the brains of his friends who spoke Arabic, Hungarian, Finnish, or other languages, trying to puzzle out through their brief language lessons how he might say other things.
Back home in Mexico, during a gap year between high school and college, he started taking German lessons. When he enrolled at Luther, he knew he would major in German and minor in linguistics. What came as a surprise, however, was that he would also study a language he’d never even heard of.
During Alonso’s sophomore year, Laurie Zaring, associate professor of modern languages, literatures, and linguistics, encouraged him to present a paper at the Minnesota Undergraduate Linguistics Symposium. There, he and Zaring met Yolanda Pushetonequa, a master’s student at the University of Minnesota and a member of the native American Meskwaki Nation. She sent out a plea for help in preserving the endangered Meskwaki language. There were about 200 speakers left, she said, as well as some students eager to learn, but they weren’t sure how to teach it.
With that in mind, Alonso and Zaring applied for a Luther summer student/faculty collaborative research grant. In summer 2016, they traveled 250 miles south once or twice a week to the Meskwaki settlement at Tama, Iowa. They made hours of recordings, which Alonso transcribed into the International Phonetic Alphabet, and they created some teaching materials and methods. Alonso presented his research at Luther’s faculty and student research symposiums and at the National Undergraduate Research Symposium in Memphis, Tenn.
In September, Alonso heads to Munich, Germany, to work as an au pair while gaining German-language practice before applying to PhD programs. He has enjoyed his research in language revitalization but is especially interested in the heady intersection where language, linguistics, cognitive science, and computer science meet. “A lot of the way we understand language and cognition now has come from computer science and vice versa,” he says. Because of all the current technologies that work with language and speech recognition, he says, there’s a growing need in tech companies for people who know linguistics and computer science.
“The exciting thing about it,” he says, “is that this technology is very new, and as a future linguist, a lot of the careers I’ll be able to have don’t even exist yet.”
Allison Meier: Promoting wellness at Luther and beyond
Allison Meier is optimistic, reflective, and methodical. In her drive to nail down what she wants to do in life, she’s secured four different wellness-related internships and been a leader in Luther’s Dance Marathon organization and Alpha Pi Omega service fraternity. At every turn, she’s kept her mind open to opportunities that might have something to teach her.
Meier entered Luther with plans to pursue physical therapy. She has been a lifelong dancer, and physical therapists have nursed her through a number of injuries. She wanted to give back to that community. After what she describes as a “typical mid-college career freak-out,” she approached Luther faculty and Career Center staff to ask for help navigating her career goals. This is how she ended up interning with Chandra Jennings ’08, director of Luther’s Nena Amundson Lifetime Wellness Program. As Jennings’s first intern, Meier took on a big role, creating and administering a staff assessment that would help shape the program during Jennings’s tenure.
“In the midst of that,” Meier says, “we dreamed up what we now call the Wellness Ambassador program.” Last academic year, Meier was one of six students tasked with wellness education and outreach on Luther’s campus. The ambassadors write newsletters, work event tables, create bulletin boards, speak at staff meetings, train RAs, and educate the Luther community on topics important to well-being, such as stress, alcohol and drug abuse, movement and exercise, and more.
Last summer, Meier interned with Geoffrey Lauer ’82, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa. Her final semester at Luther, she interned with Flannery Cerbin-Bohach ’09, wellness program manager at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar. Simultaneously, she interned with the substance-abuse prevention team at Helping Services for Youth & Families in Decorah. Each of these experiences, Meier says, helped her think more broadly about opportunities and approaches to wellness.
“In my written reflection for my internships, I had to answer the question: What did you learn in your internships that you couldn’t learn in a classroom? And I was like, Literally everything.”
While Meier plans eventually to get a master’s degree in public health, she was busy in May applying for jobs in her hometown of Eldridge, Iowa.* “I’m very comfortable with moving on in three weeks and not knowing exactly what I’m going to do but having lots of doors open for possibilities,” she says. “I might not get that ideal job right after college, but I’m totally okay with that because I can join different volunteer groups or get involved with support groups. There are opportunities to continue with hands-on and experiential learning without having that one job that would give them to me.”
In Meier’s case, truer words were never spoken.
*Meier was hired as a sexual assault advocate at Family Resources in Davenport, Iowa.
Brody Vogel: Problem-solving in multiple ways
The storied bricks and mortar of Oxford University were always impressive, the weekly one-on-one tutorials with faculty often daunting.
So daunting, in fact, that two years later Brody Vogel still remembers exactly how his first such tutorial during his yearlong study-away experience at the university went down.
“I started reading an essay I had prepared and made it through maybe two paragraphs in the entire hour because my tutor kept stopping me to ask questions, forcing me to defend my writing,” he recalls. “That type of intense, one-on-one learning environment helped me become both a better writer and a better interlocutor—I learned how to express myself more articulately and more confidently.”
And that was exactly the outcome Vogel was seeking when he applied (through Arcadia University) to spend his junior year at Oxford upon the advice of Matthew Simpson, then a member of the Luther Philosophy Department and a former Oxford student himself. “I can remember Professor Simpson telling me my specific aptitudes and shortcomings would be well suited for Oxford’s unique tutorial system,” he recalls. “I’m rather quiet, so he and I both thought a one-on-one academic setting would go a long way toward helping me come out of my shell as a student, and I believe it did.”
The experience, Vogel says, also meshed perfectly with the three years he spent learning in community at Luther. “Luther did a great job of fostering raw skills necessary to be successful in any discipline,” he reflects. “I expanded my problem-solving tool belt, was challenged in my classes and by my classmates, and gained even more confidence in my ability to do quality work.”
Make that top-quality work—Vogel graduated summa cum laude with a double major in mathematics/statistics and philosophy this May. He was back in the classroom by July, immersing himself in a “computer programming boot camp” before beginning a master’s program at Georgetown University in data science and analytics, a field Vogel describes as “pulling together the common threads of giant data sets and making predictions based on what you find.”
If all goes as hoped, he will be making those predictions on Wall Street as a quantitative analyst in the not-too-distant future. And as much as Vogel will draw on skills gained at Oxford and Georgetown universities to succeed in that fast-paced, competitive environment, he will also rely on the very different, but equally important, experience he had in Decorah. “Luther taught me how to think about a problem in multiple ways and not just to come at it from one hardline direction,” Vogel says. “That’s a lesson I can apply throughout my life, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.”
Jaime Webb: Giving advocacy an operatic voice
For Jaime Webb, an opera singer, the decision to major in music was easy. What she didn’t expect was that her first-year Paideia professor, Lindsey Row-Heyveld, would recognize her most for her academic intellect. “She really inspired me to tap into that side of my life too,” Webb remembers. Webb decided to try out a philosophy minor, and it stuck. “I love finding connections and analyzing information—and, of course, getting academic credit for a lot of the mental work I do every day,” she says.
The more Webb learned, the more she wanted to engage socially and politically. She found a study-abroad program in Thailand her junior year that focused on community land rights. She wrote a 25-page paper that was distributed to United Nations members to educate them about the issue. She and her program cohorts also started an international study-abroad magazine, Common Ground.
When Webb returned to Luther, determined to pursue a career in community development or advocacy, she sang the title role in The Merry Widow. “I thought, Oh, I can’t give this up! I was really having this cognitive dissonance. My goal was to be both a performer and an arts advocate, but how could I make it work? Finally, I realized, Jaime, the arts are connected to communities!”
Webb attended a career fair on campus that semester and landed an internship with Lanesboro Arts in Minnesota, where she helped write grant proposals and funder reports and acted as education assistant director for a community art-making initiative called Surprise Sculpture. “It really combined my passion for the arts and my passion for community development and service,” she says. During her final year at Luther, she telecommuted as coordinator of Lanesboro Arts’ artist relocation program.
This summer, Webb attended AIMS, a pre-professional vocal-training program in Austria. This fall, she will be working as a chorus member, cover, and arts administrator with Mixed Precipitation, a Minneapolis-based company that performs socially engaging, accessible opera in public spaces such as libraries and prairies. “Unfortunately, opera has become very elite and separatist, but Mixed Precipitation works in innovative ways to bring people together through opera,” she says.
And after that? “It’s hard,” Webb says, “because I feel sometimes like I’m getting pulled in two directions—opera and advocacy—but you can do them both, merge them together, and have them inform each other. Luther does a great job of teaching that, and I think my philosophy education helped—suddenly I was seeing how I can synthesize things and make sense of what seems to be an incredibly complicated entanglement and figure out how they can coexist.”