44 Student Experiences, Learning Opportunities | Kate Knutson

I have been an active participant in a wide array of campus activities and have intentionally developed a thematic approach to my service in which my activities are linked and synergistic.  The primary theme of my service to the Gustavus campus involves student life on campus.  During my five years here, I have served as the Head Resident (HR) of Rundstrom Hall.  It has been a pleasure to take on this additional role as it has given me the opportunity to learn firsthand what life is like for students at a residential, liberal arts college.  It has also, of course, come with its fair share of challenges, such as middle-of-the-night fire alarms and late-night requests for help with homework.  As a Head Resident, I am responsible for community development within my building and I supervise a small staff of Collegiate Fellows (CFs) in helping to plan developmentally-appropriate social and educational events.  My position as a HR has also led to my participation on a variety of hiring committees for CFs, other Head Residents, and one Area Coordinator.

Because of my experience living in the residence halls, I was drawn to service on the Faculty Committee on Student Life.  The tasks assigned to this committee fit within my broader thematic goals for service and I felt my unique experience as a Head Resident would be an asset to the committee.  I served on this committee for two years and was chair of the committee during my second year of service.  As committee chair, I helped design and implement the “Intersections” program, which brings together faculty and student affairs professionals to discuss issues of concern to both constituencies such as high-risk drinking, mental health challenges, and the busy lives of students.

My interest in student life also led me to volunteer for service on the College Judicial Board, of which I have been a member for two years.  I also serve on the Grade Appeals Board.  Service on both of these boards has challenged me personally and professionally through several difficult cases, but I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with colleagues across campus on these tough issues.

I currently advise two student organizations—Proclaim and Democracy Matters.  Proclaim is the largest student organization on campus and I have greatly enjoyed my role as adviser for the past three years.  Because the group is so large, I primarily work with the student leadership team, which has ranged from 7-12 members.  In addition to attending the Proclaim service on Tuesday nights at 9:00 nearly every week, I attend approximately one leadership meeting each month.  Over the past two years, I have also taken a more intentional role in mentoring and developing the student leaders through hosting regular Bible studies, book studies, and fun activities for the group.   I have taken a more hands-off approach with Democracy Matters, which was started by two of my Rundstrom residents in the spring of 2006.  When they approached me about being their adviser, I agreed, but was upfront about the fact that I didn’t personally support the goals of the national organization (to create a full publicly-financed campaign system).  Each year I give the new incoming presidents the same disclaimer and give them permission to find an adviser who can be more committed to the mission, while letting them know that I am still happy to serve as their adviser and to support their interest in politics.

Working with others on campus, I have helped organize two campus-wide events: Day at the Capitol and the Gubernatorial Candidate Forum.  The Minnesota Private Colleges Council sponsors an annual Day at the Capitol event in which students travel to St. Paul to advocate for the Minnesota State Grant Program.  Gustavus benefits tremendously from this program as over one-fourth of our students are beneficiaries of a State Grant.  In 2008, I encouraged my Public Policy students to attend the event and they returned saying that it was very interesting but that they felt unprepared to talk to their legislators about the issue.  Building on this feedback, I approached Gwen Freed in Marketing and Communications about the possibility of turning the Day at the Capitol experience into a service-learning project for my spring Public Policy class.  She was excited about the potential and for the past two years, we have worked together (along with a team of students, faculty, and administrators) to organize the event.  My students take a leadership role in educating participating students about the Minnesota State Grant Program, their elected representatives, and tips for advocacy success.  Based on our experience working together on this endeavor, Gwen floated the possibility of Gustavus hosting a gubernatorial candidate forum in the fall of 2009.  Again, we worked with a team of students, faculty, and administrators to plan this successful event.  I moderated the forum, which drew twelve gubernatorial candidates and nearly two hundred audience members.

One aspect I have particularly enjoyed about working at Gustavus is the opportunity to work with those outside of my discipline.  Over the past five years, I have had the chance to participate as a guest speaker in a variety of curricular environments.  At the request of students, I participated as a panelist in a Developmental Psychology class for Dick Martin and as a witness in a mock trial for a Legal Argumentation class taught by Terry Morrow.  I visited Elizabeth Baer’s Ethnic American Literature course in 2007 to speak about the politics of immigration reform and spoke to Lori Carsen Kelly’s Individual and Society class (CII) about social scientific approaches to research.  I gave a continuing education lecture on the politics of immigration in 2006 and presented on religion and politics in America in the continuing education seminar “The U.S. and the Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The Public Role of Religion” sponsored by Darrell Jodock in 2009.  This willingness on the part of my colleagues to reach beyond disciplinary lines is something that has inspired me.

From participation in first year orientation Gustie Greeter groups for the past four years to being a server at several Midnight Express events to helping with  Presidential Scholarship interviews for the past three years, I have enjoyed opportunities to meet students and serve in memorable ways.  I have had the opportunity to register incoming students register during summer registration and have helped ease their transition into college during a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters.  I have also helped to dream big about ways to improve their experience on campus through participation on the Commission Gustavus 150 Task Force on Student Life and the Living-Learning Task Force. In all of these activities, I have worked to develop all aspects of the student experience on campus into learning opportunities for our students.

Service to the Political Science Department.  In addition to service to the larger campus community, I have also been an active member within the Political Science Department.  It has been my personal goal over the past five years to help develop and nurture a strong community within the department.  This has taken the form of initiating small changes such as purchasing art work for our office suites and classroom space to make the area more hospitable to students and supporting community-building events such as the annual cookie bake-off, department coffee hours, and the Polstitutional Olympics (an annual competition between my Public Policy course and Alisa Rosenthal’s Constitutional Law course).  I look for ways in which my colleagues and I can facilitate community building among our students because I believe that students who feel a strong sense of community outside the classroom will be more engaged and participatory inside the classroom.

I also participate in more practical ways within the department.  I serve on the Technology Committee for the department, have served on selection committees for our writing and service awards, participated in writing our self-study report for our ten-year department review, participated in hiring a new tenure-track faculty member, and served as a chaperone for the Model UN team’s trip to Boston.  One of my most significant contributions to the department has been my role as co-adviser of Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science honor society.  I have served in this role for the past four years during which we have coordinated many events benefiting the campus community and political science students.  In the spring of 2010, I co-organized the Midwest Political Science Undergraduate Research Conference, an annual conference for students of political science that is hosted by a rotation of Midwest colleges and universities.  Though I had not participated in the conference in other years, I, along with my co-organizer Alisa Rosenthal, was able to draw upon the experiences of my colleague Richard Leitch as well as some notes from past conference organizers to plan all aspects of the conference.  The event was a success and drew over 40 participants from twelve schools from around the Midwest.