Gustavus Looks Back on 2021

From two commencement ceremonies to the return of in-person classes, fine arts events, and athletics, 2021 was a historic celebration of resilience.
Posted on December 31st, 2021 by

A Class of 2021 graduate in a custom-made mask and full robes holds her Gustavus diploma as she exits the stage during outdoor Commencement ceremonies.

Each year, we look back at the highlights of the last 12 months. As you reflect, think back to 2019 and 2020. How much has changed? How much remains the same?

The year 2021 was one of growth and transformation, optimism and resilience. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we are all seeking ways to capture a “new normal,” to balance safety with human connection, and perhaps most of all, to find reasons to celebrate. Set against the backdrop of near-constant change, Gustavus Adolphus College found ways to stretch, to improve, and to reach new heights in 2021.

No matter what, Gusties shine.

Here we go…

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture was offered in a new format in which Gustavus students, faculty, and staff took part in a virtual workshop with Team Dynamics, a Minneapolis-based racial equity training firm.

The Department of Communication Studies’ Public Dialogue and Deliberation Program equips students with “the capacity to talk to one another about, with, and across our differences,” says Dr. Pamela Conners—a skillset that is increasingly important in today’s world.

Frederick Smith joined the Gustavus community as the new Director of Campus Safety after beginning his career as an NYPD officer and most recently serving as police chief for the Hualapai Tribe in northwest Arizona.

Junior Christopher Ortiz was accepted into the Public Service Fellowship Program and completed the Junior Summer Institute Fellowship at the University of Michigan.

Junior Nathan Baring was named a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship.

Students in Dr. Paul Estenson’s January Term class, “Economics in the Media,” created mini documentaries about personal and community experiences of COVID-19.

Gustavus Center for Inclusive Excellence assistant director Kareem Watts (left) and director Tom Flunker (right) in the new space.

The Center for Inclusive Excellence (formerly the Diversity Center) was relocated into the space formerly occupied by The Dive. The new space is more than four times larger than the CIE’s previous location in the Jackson Campus Center and includes 966 square feet of new offices and 3,127 square feet for program offerings and common areas. The iconic wood floor and pool tile of “The Dive,” a remnant of the building’s history and favorite of generations of Gustavus alumni, remains.

In March, Gustavus announced a search for a new senior leadership position, the inaugural Vice President for Equity and Inclusion. In May, the College introduced the first person to hold the role, Dr. Doug Thompson. Thompson leads diversity, equity, inclusion, and racial justice strategy and alignment across the College, chairs the President’s Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and manages a team of professional staff charged with building a welcoming and supportive campus for all Gustavus students, faculty, and staff.

Amid a growing need for nurses and other healthcare professionals, the Otto Bremer Trust supported the Department of Nursing with a $111,791 grant for a new high-fidelity patient simulator in Mattson Hall. The computerized manikin can be programmed to exhibit realistic medical symptoms and respond to care from student nurses.

Gustavus was the only liberal arts college in Minnesota and one of only 235 colleges and universities in the country to be designated as 2021-2022 Voter Friendly Campus by national nonpartisan organizations Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project (CVP) and NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

The 26th annual Building Bridges Conference, “Revolutionizing Tomorrow: Envisioning a World of Collective Liberation,” took place virtually on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

Center for Career Development Executive Director Andrew Coston met with a Gustavus student before COVID-19 changed how the office operates.

The Center for Career Development, like many departments and offices on campus, adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting job market with new ways of supporting students.

Sophomore biochemistry and molecular biology major Haley Jostes won a DAAD RISE Scholarship to conduct research on clay-organic nanocomposites and how they can best be used to improve water quality and water health issues in Germany.

Senior history major Ja’de Lin Till was selected as a recipient of the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in Mandarin Chinese. The CLS program offers students an immersive study abroad experience to learn languages that are important for America’s engagement with the world.

Gustavus Adolphus College senior Kaitlyn Gruber was named a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) honoree. A chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology double major from Eden Valley, Minnesota, Gruber will began graduate work at the University of Wisconsin in Madison this fall.

Melanie Kistnasamy ’22, an environmental studies major and geographic information systems (GIS) minor, was one of 60 undergraduates from across the nation to present her research to members of Congress at the annual Posters on the Hill event.

The Lund Center expansion and renovation core team at the ceremonial groundbreaking on April 9.

In late April, Gustavus broke ground on the Lund Center expansion and renovation project. When completed, the multiphase project will provide Gustavus with one of the top small-college wellness, academic, and athletic facilities in the nation.

The annual Honors Weekend celebrating research, scholarship, and creative inquiry moved to a hybrid event. The weekend included music and art shows, an awards ceremony in Christ Chapel that was livestreamed around the world, and the Gustie Entrepreneur Cup.

Co-founder of March For Our Lives and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Jaclyn Corin highlighted the annual MAYDAY! Peace Conference. The virtual event, “Voices of Change: Our Generation of Student Activism,” focused on student organizers today and in the past.

Gustavus hosted two on-campus commencement ceremonies—one for the Class of 2020 (delayed a year due to COVID-19) and one for the Class of 2021. Political science professor Dr. Kate Knutson was recognized with the Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching at the 2020 commencement, while longtime English professor, poet, and alumnus Phil Bryant ’73 received the 2021 edition of the the Carlson Award, the College’s highest honor for teaching excellence.

Dr. Maddalena Marinari, a professor in the Department of History and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Program, was named the winner of the 2021 Faculty Scholarly Accomplishment Award. Marinari’s research focuses on the historical restriction and mobilization of immigrant populations, most recently exploring the experiences of immigrant, refugee, and other marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, a project that was awarded a rapid-response grant by The Social Science Research Council.

Quincy Yangh ’21 won a Fulbright Award to teach in Taiwan. The Fulbright English Teacher Assistant (ETA) program gives recent college graduates and young professionals the opportunity to assist in teaching English in primary or secondary schools or universities internationally. ETA participants not only help improve foreign students’ grasp of the English language but also increase their own language skills and knowledge in their host country.

Dr. Barbara Weissenberg Achter ’66 and her husband, Dr. Morton Achter, gave a $150,000 gift to the Department of Nursing, enabling the program to make improvements to its simulation lab.

Students in Dr. Dwight Stoll’s analytical chemistry lab.

The newly expanded and renovated Nobel Hall of Science hosted summer student researchers working on collaborative projects with Gustavus faculty members, including in chemistry professor Dr. Dwight Stoll’s high-performance liquid chromatography lab.

Forty Gustavus students received fellowship awards or other recognition after partnering with biology professor and fellowships coordinator Dr. Pamela Kittelson. Read the q-and-a interview with Dr. Kittelson to learn more about how the College supports high-achieving students across all disciplines.

Gustavus was ranked #20 in the nation among liberal arts colleges—and best in Minnesota for social mobility and “Best Bang for the Buck”— by Washington Monthly.

The Gustavus Class of 2025 arrived at their home on the hill on Friday, September 3. Welcomed, as always, by the Gustie Greeters, the Class of 2025 came to campus with an average high school GPA of 3.7, an average ACT score of 28, and with 40 percent of its members graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

The College began its 160th academic year with opening convocation on Tuesday, September 7. “Today we celebrate a new beginning, and we do so with enthusiasm and dogged determination to moving forward in the safest and best way we can, ever mindful of the fact that we are still coping with and responding to a global pandemic,” President Rebecca Bergman said during her remarks to the assembled students, faculty, and staff.

The Nobel Hall expansion and renovation was named a 2020 Top Project by Finance & Commerce based on the project’s degree of difficulty, creativity in design, innovative construction techniques, cooperation among contractors and management, and sustainability efforts.

The Center for Career Development’s Office of Health Professions moved into a new office suite that has been optimized to support the 30 percent of students who come to Gustavus with an interest in healthcare. Health professions specialists Heather Banks and Heidi Selzer-Bahr bridge experience and academics by helping students choose the right prerequisite courses and apply for graduate school. They hold application workshops, review personal statements, give tips for interviews, and provide application assistance.

The 57th Nobel Conference, “Big Data REvolution,” dug into the science and ethics of the proliferation of data that both promises breakthroughs in medicine and social science while also raising concerns about privacy in the digital age.

The Gustavus Adolphus College Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the College’s arboretum. The decision came after a deliberative process in which members of the College community explored how the institution should recognize the legacy of Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century Swedish botanist who is best known for popularizing the modern binomial nomenclature system of naming living things. In recent years, Linnaeus’ writings on human taxonomy have come under scrutiny as an example of scientific racism based on his classification and description of human varieties in his seminal work, Systema Naturae.

Students presented research on a range of subjects at the Fall Research Symposium.

The Fall Research Symposium and Career Expo gave Gustavus students the opportunity to present their scholarly work and professional experiences to fellow students, faculty, and staff.

Computer science and statistics major Josie Bierbaum ’23 was named one of 27 undergraduate students in the Midwest to win a scholarship from MinneAnalytics to support her continued work in data science.

Physical plant project coordinator Dale Flemming, chemistry professor Dr. Dwight Stoll, and director of media relations and internal communication JJ Akin ’11 were recognized with employee awards at the annual Founders Day Celebration on October 29, 2021.

Former Gustavus President Jim Peterson ’64 passed away at the age of 78 on Friday, October 29. Peterson’s legacy at Gustavus includes strengthening the College’s relationships with Sweden and the Lutheran Church, introducing a new provost-led academic leadership model, and growing the College’s endowment value as it surpassed $100 million for the first time. He also oversaw the creation of the John S. Kendall Center for Engaged Learning and the Glen and LaVonne Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation along with the the construction of a new football stadium and renovation of several other athletics and wellness facilities.

Learning for Life @ Gustavus, the College’s podcast hosted by history professor Dr. Greg Kaster, surpassed 11,000 streams since the project was launched in May 2020. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and more, the podcast explores the intersections of liberal arts learning, current events, and real-world problem solving through interviews with alumni, students, staff, and leading experts from around the world.

Astrid Axtman ’22, a management major with minors in political science and dance, was named a finalist for the 2022-2023 Schwarzman Scholarship, which funds a one-year master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, with the aim to address geopolitical needs in the modern world and foster leadership skills.

Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, Gustavus students are still taking advantage of study away opportunities to further their academics and explore new cultures. “Study away programs give students a global perspective and better intercultural communication skills,” Center for International and Cultural Education director Bryan Messerly said.

Gustavus was awarded a $498,005 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Gustavus grant proposal, titled “The Humanities at Gustavus Adolphus College: Meeting Challenges with Excellence,” was led by Dean of Arts & Humanities Dr. Elizabeth Kubek and Assistant Dean of Research Dr. Sarah Bridges. The project is one of only two at higher education institutions in Minnesota selected by the NEH for funding.

Dr. Elisabeth Cherland leads the choirs during a rehearsal for Christmas in Christ Chapel.

After a virtual performance in 2020, Christmas in Christ Chapel returned to an in-person setting in 2021. “We Shall Go Forth Singing” celebrated resilience, light, and the power of song. The 2021 worship service is available online for on-demand streaming.

Gustavus students won the Deloitte Accounting Case Competition, defeating teams from Augsburg, Concordia Moorhead, Bethel, Luther, and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. This is the Gustavus team’s fourth win in the competition’s seven-year history.

Abby Joy Neptun ’24 was crowned the 2021 St. Lucia during the College’s 81st annual Festival of St. Lucia on December 9, 2021. A communication studies major from Glenview, Illinois, she is a member of the Gustavus Choir, Gustavus Women’s A Capella, and is involved in numerous Christian ministries on campus.

Assistant Director of Campus Safety Scott Reiten was recognized with a Lifesave Award alongside Saint Peter Police Department officers and Allina Health emergency medicine personnel after they combined to save a person suffering cardiac arrest in the Saint Peter Community Garden, which is located on the north end of the Gustavus property near the Physical Plant.

The College continues to manage COVID-19 by partnering with the Minnesota Department of Health and other public health officials, offering on-campus testing each week, and providing case management support as necessary for students, faculty, and staff who need to navigate the isolation/quarantine process. More information, including historical case numbers on campus, are available at the College’s COVID-19 website.

What awaits us in 2022?

Visit the Gustie Newswire page and follow the College on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube to keep up with all that’s happening on the hill.


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


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