Educating a Community Through the Nobel Conference

Posted on September 28th, 2012 by

The 2011 group from Appleton, Wisconson, This year, the group will feature 82 attendees.

In a typical year, more than 5,000 people descend on St. Peter and the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College during the first week of October for the annual Nobel Conference. Amongst those 5,000 people are unique stories: families who have attended every Nobel Conference for the past 30 years; scientists who first became interested in a particular area of study after attending the Conference as a student; high school science teachers who bring bus loads of students to the Conference each year hoping to spark an interest in a young mind. And then there is the story of the city of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Situated about 30 miles southwest of Green Bay in the eastern half of the state with a population of around 72,000, city leaders and the Appleton Education Foundation have developed a unique program that utilizes the Nobel Conference in an attempt to help educate a community.

The story begins with John Mielke, an Appleton native and cardiologist active in his local community who has served on several community boards and committees including the Appleton Education Foundation. Just over a decade ago, at the urging of his sister, Mielke attended the Nobel Conference for the first time along with several students and teachers from Two Harbors where his sister called home.

“My sister used funds from my family’s foundation that my father started in the 1960s to allow students from Two Harbors to attend the Nobel Conference,” Mielke said. “I thought it was an interesting idea so I initiated a similar idea in Appleton.”

Mielke says that in the first year of the program a few students attended, which prompted him to attempt to recruit more students.

“That’s when we began to develop a concept of an inter-generational trip for our community,” Mielke said. “From the very beginning we asked ourselves, ‘how do you educate a community that has three or four generations living in it?’ It struck me that in today’s world young people and older people don’t spend concentrated periods of time at an educational event enriching each other’s experience.”

In the months leading up to the Nobel Conference, the Appleton Education Foundation periodically brings in individuals to the local Rotary Club who can speak to the theme of that year’s Conference as a way to generate interest in the October voyage to Gustavus.

As word has spread around the Appleton community about the Nobel Conference, the number of people in Mielke’s group has grown considerably. The group now includes constituents from three Appleton area public high schools, two private high schools, Lawrence University, Fox Valley Technical College, the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, and unaffiliated members of the community. This week, two busses with 82 people, both young and old, will make the six hour trip from Appleton to St. Peter to not only listen to distinguished scholars present their research on topics related to our oceans, but also to converse with one another.

“Gustavus has taken really good care of us. It’s really a great experience for everyone involved,” Mielke said. “The conversations on the bus ride home are entirely different from the conversations on the bus ride to the conference. It’s absolutely astonishing how the Nobel Conference triggers such deep conversations among our community members who attend.”

The Appleton Education Foundation is an independent organization that aims to improve the well-being of Appleton’s children, teachers, and community by enhancing the quality of education. The Foundation attempts to accomplish this by collaborating with others to receive or initiate, plan and fund educational projects for the Appleton Area School District that would not be provided by public resources. To date, the organization has awarded grants totaling more than $2.7 million to fund educational programs not financed by public sources.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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