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St. Olaf College is a coeducational, residential, four-year, private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesotamarker. 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.

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.

History of the college

Founding of the college

Many Norwegian immigrants arrived in Rice County, Minnesotamarker, 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 Northfieldmarker 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 Collegemarker. 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.

Overview of the campus

Old Main
St. Olaf's wind turbine, which directly powers one-third of the campus.
Ecology and sustainability are top priorities on the St. Olaf campus, which includes woodland, prairie and wetlands. The college also owns adjacent of no-till farmland. The newest landmark on campus is the 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.
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") . 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 Kongmarker, Japanmarker, Costa Ricamarker, Vietnammarker, the Czech Republicmarker, Londonmarker, Florencemarker, Oxfordmarker, Aberdeenmarker, Manhattanmarker, Russiamarker 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 . (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 .

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) . 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.And, two-thirds of students on campus participate in at least one intramural sport.

Student government

One of the most visible student organizations on campus , 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 [36196], 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.

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

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 Norwaymarker in 1906. In 2010, the St. Olaf band will make its second tour to Japan. Timothy Mahr Previous to his 1994 appointment at St. Olaf College, Mahr was Director of Bands at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, for ten years and taught instrumental music at Milaca High School (MN) for three years. Mahr is the principal conductor of the Twin Cities-based Minnesota Symphonic Winds and, while in Duluth, was the founder and conductor of the Twin Ports Wind Ensemble. He is Past President of the North Central Division of the College Band Directors National Association (1999-2001), and has served on the Board of Directors of the National Band Association (1996-98) and was a founding board member of the Minnesota Band Directors Association. He is presently the North Central Division Representative on the CBDNA Commissioning Committee.

Active in 35 states as a guest conductor and clinician, Mahr has also appeared professionally in Norway, Mexico, Singapore, and Canada. He has been in residence as a guest composer/conductor on over thirty college and university campuses and has twice conducted performances with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra. In the past five academic years Mahr conducted all-state bands in Montana, Massachusetts, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas and North Dakota, and he has been engaged to conduct the Delaware All-State Band and the Florida 9th and 10th Grade All-State Band in 2006. His interpretations have earned the praise of notable composers such as Gian Carlo Menotti, Warren Benson, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen, David Maslanka, Dominick Argento and Dan Welcher. Under Mahr's baton, the St. Olaf Band traveled to Norway in 1996, Britain and Ireland in 2000, and took a study tour of Mexico during January, 2004. Additionally, the St. Olaf Band performed at the 1997 American Bandmasters Association Convention in San Diego, gave its New York City debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in 2003 and performed in Minneapolis at the 2004 National Convention of the Music Educators National Conference. The St. Olaf Band traveled to Norway again in June 2005, this time alongside the St. Olaf Orchestra and St. Olaf Choir in a tour celebrating the centennial of Norway's peaceful independence from Sweden. Since 1994, the St. Olaf Band has produced nine compact disc recordings, four of which have received international acclaim.

Mahr is well known as a composer and has over 50 works to his credit, many of which are published for band. He received the 1991 ABA/Ostwald Award for his piece, The Soaring Hawk. Five other works have been finalists in national band composition contests. His works have been programmed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall in New York, numerous national and international music conferences and in twenty countries on four continents. This year Mahr will premiere commissioned works with a consortium of the high schools of the Lake Conference in the metro area of the Twin Cities, and the Northfield High School Concert Band. He has recently contracted commissions with the Shakopee (MN) and Bowling Green (OH) high school bands, The University of Iowa Symphony Band and the Lawrence University (WI) Wind Ensemble. His works are recorded on the Sony, Citadel, Crest, Mark, GIA, Cafua and St. Olaf labels. He has been the subject of interview articles in Clarino: Internationale Zeitschrift für Bläsermusik (July/August, 1997), The Instrumentalist (March, 1995) and BDGuide (March/April, 1993) and has authored articles for major music journals. He is a contributor to the new text, Composers on Composing for Band (2002), edited by Mark Camphouse, and his scholarly and compositional work is cited in Frank Battisti's The Winds of Change (2002).

Mahr was the first recipient of a commission from the American Bandmasters Association Commissioning Project, and the resultant work, Endurance, was premiered by the United States Interservice Band in Washington, DC. He has received over 30 commissions including works for the U.S. Air Force Band, the Music Educators National Conference, Kappa Kappa Psi/Tau Beta Sigma (National Honorary Band Fraternities), the Nebraska and Indiana Bandmasters Associations, and a work celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the American School Band Directors Association. He is a recipient of the National Band Association's "Citation of Excellence" and was elected in 1993 to membership in the American Bandmasters Association. Mahr was recently inducted into his alma mater's Hall of Excellence at LaCrosse Central High School.

Mahr (b. 1956) graduated with two degrees summa cum laude from St. Olaf College in 1977 and 1978 (B.M. Theory/Composition and B.A. Music Education). In 1983 he received the Master of Arts degree in Trombone Performance from The University of Iowa, where in 1995 he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Instrumental Conducting.

Mahr is married to Jill Mahr, musician and educator, and they have two daughters, Jenna and Hannah.

The St. Olaf Orchestra, currently under the direction of Steven Amundson. Steven Amundson is in his 28th year on the faculty of St. Olaf College where he is Professor of Music and Conductor of the St. Olaf Orchestra. He also teaches courses in music theory, ear training and conducting, and conducts the Philharmonia. Before his arrival to Minnesota, Amundson held conducting posts at the University of Virginia, Tacoma Community College, and as Music Director of the Tacoma Youth Symphony. He is the also founding conductor of the Twin Cities' based Metropolitan Symphony that he led for five years, and served as Music Director and Conductor of the Bloomington (MN) Symphony from 1984 – 1997. He has held posts on the conducting faculty for the Interlochen National Arts Camp, the Lutheran Summer Music Program and has served as guest conductor for many All-State orchestra festivals throughout the United States. In Minnesota, Amundson has appeared as guest conductor with the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

A commissioned composer and arranger, Amundson is published by MMB Music and the Neil A. Kjos Music Co. His self-published compositions are available through Tempo Music Resource. His orchestral works have received over 400 performances by university, civic and professional orchestras in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia including the Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, San Diego, Toronto and BBC Symphonies.

A 1977 graduate of Luther College, Amundson obtained the Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from Northwestern University, and did further studies at the University of Virginia, the Aspen Music School and the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. In the 1980 International Conducting Competition hosted by the Mozarteum and Austrian National Radio, Amundson won the first (Hans Häring) prize. In 1992, the Minnesota Music Education Association named him "Minnesota Orchestra Educator of the Year." In 1995, Amundson received the Carlo A. Sperati Award from Luther College in recognition of his meritorious achievement in the field of music.was the first college orchestra ever to be a part of the Community Concert series.

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 . It is recognized as one of the premier collegiate ensembles in the United States. It has toured Europe several times, as well as Chinamarker, Koreamarker, 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.


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 Carolinamarker.

Rivalry with Carleton College

St. Olaf is a traditional athletic rival of its crosstown neighbor, Carleton Collegemarker. 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 Universitymarker, the University of California, Los Angelesmarker (UCLA), the University of Alabamamarker, the University of Texasmarker, Georgetown Universitymarker, Williams College, Georgia Institute of Technologymarker, and Boston Universitymarker (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 Collegemarker, 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.
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:

Church affiliation


Notable alumni

See also :Category:St. Olaf College alumni

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 Collegemarker, located nearby in St. Peter, Minnesotamarker. 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 began shooting scenes at St. Olaf for their film A Serious Man.


  1. Liberal Arts Colleges: Top Schools, US News & World Reports, Accessed October 16th, 2008.
  2. David T. Nelson, Luther College, 1861-1961 Decorah, Iowa: Luther College Press, 1961.
  4. Lecture by President David Anderson, April 28, 2008
After a long search of many campuses, the Coen brothers will be using St. Olaf's Science Center. A building that by most closely resembles the 1970s feel of the movie. St. Olaf has since built a new science center but, still uses the building for some of its classes.

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