Wahlstrom Lecture makes its return

Elliot SteevesStaff Writer

The Matthias Wahlstrom Lecture took place this last Tuesday, April 18th. The lecture was given by Biology Professor Pamela Kittelson, entitled Every New Beginning Comes From Another Beginning’s End. Professor Kittelson was introduced by President Rebecca Bergman and was open to a discussion with refreshments after the lecture.

The lecture is an annual occasion led by a Gustavus faculty member that focuses on the possibilities of liberal arts in the 21st century. It has been delivered by faculty since 2015.

“It is an honor to be asked, and talk about the role of liberal arts in the 21st century. I also have great respect for the people who have chosen in the past to be a part of this group,” Professor Kittelson said.

The process of selecting Professor Kittelson was an extensive one that focused on her on-campus involvement, as well as how to showcase what the Liberal Arts could do.

Provost Brenda Kelly, who took part in selecting Kittelson, explained that the selection process was based on who had been heavily involved in the Liberal Arts for an extensive period of time at Gustavus.

“She is in Biology, she is in Environmental Studies, she is part of the FTS program, she is the Fellowship director, and she has engaged with students at all different levels. The office of the provost elected her, and she has a broad, insightful view of the Liberal Arts,” Kelly said.

Professor Kittelson was also the 2017 recipient of the Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Junior Biology major Mckenna Schoberg was very happy that Kittleson had the opportunity to represent the Biology department with her lecture. She was confident that Kittleson was an enormous expert in her field.

“Right now, she is my professor in Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior. She also teaches Plant Systematics next semester. Her specialty is in the life and death of nature; this means that she studies the processes in organisms that make life on our planet so unique,” Schoberg said.

While Professor Kittelson delved into ecology, talking about the liberal arts more broadly was not normally something she was accustomed to as a professor in the sciences.

“Because I am a botanist-and this goes for the whole of Nobel, frankly-we are probably one of the only disciplines on campus that do not talk solely about humans. What I am trying to do tonight is use ecology as a framework to talk about humans. I see connections in people’s lives, and in the jobs that we do here,” Professor Kittelson said.

“Part of being a liberal arts institution is exposing students to a multi-disciplinary perspective, and they can carry that into their future self. I view Biology as a valuable perspective within the liberal arts; just as topics in the past, such as Religion and Modern Languages,” Kelly said.

Professor Kittelson’s specialty topics in class are ecology and evolution. Her class is currently learning about topics such as the Galapagos Islands, evolution, genetic drift, mutation, and natural selection. These are part of a broad spectrum of topics that deal with evolution.

The annual lecture is an opportunity for Gustavus to give students a unique explanation of what the Liberal Arts are, and why we engage in them at university. This year’s lecture was no exception.

“I hope that this evening will be an opportunity for me to discuss how I value the liberal arts, how I value their impact for young people, and how I internalize that value,” Professor Kittelson said.

“What the audience will see is an embodiment of the liberal arts as a whole… As an administrator, I have chosen to work at a liberal arts college; that, and I also have to value learning myself, and this is an opportunity for that,” Kelly said.

President Rebecca Bergman’s introduction emphasized that the college was dedicated to promoting Liberal Arts in the 21st century.

“We believe that the college, and the liberal arts in particular, are full of possibilities. There might be people questioning those possibilities. Here, we know that the liberal arts are abounding, and full of these possibilities,” President Bergman said.

Professor Kittelson, in her lecture, sought to demonstrate how she saw the Liberal Arts through the lens of cycles, as she saw in ecosystems, community, and ecology.

Professor Kittelson first discussed the cycles present in biological systems. She talked about how they were greater than the sum of their parts and were present in sunlight, the CO2 to the atmosphere cycle, and the ways in which plants and trees decompose.

Professor Kittelson then pivoted to talk about how this was present in cycles that humans perpetuate amongst themselves. This was the core observation that she made about the Liberal Arts.

“The liberal arts, in my mind, are from finding shared experiences in perception. How do you remember spring, for example?… I find common experience at Gustavus in how we communicate that sense of awe to our students,” Kittelson said.

Professor Kittelson finally discussed how Gustavus can sell the liberal arts. This is where the lecture’s theme of cycles came to a full circle.

“A degree-any degree, frankly, from any institution, can aid in obtaining a job. But in my opinion, college is not wholly transactional. For many graduates, what they are doing now never existed prior to college,” Professor Kittelson said.

She discussed how, in the wake of certain jobs not becoming viable, the Liberal Arts can prepare students for a new beginning in the wake of that ending.

“The liberal arts is a frame of mind…It is a meaning that may never be associated with a career. I believe that, instead of having silos for STEM, and the arts, we should have a ‘yes, and’ way of thinking,” Professor Kittelson said.

The lecture is named after the president who, from 1881 to 1904, transformed the college from an academy into a university that grants degrees. Wahlstrom not only expanded the college’s facilities, but he also broke the gender barrier and turned the university into one that allows both males and females into its student body.

Past editions of the lecture have varied in topic, from Diversity in the Liberal Arts to the Liberal Arts and Class Warfare. The most recent professors to deliver the lecture before Kittleson are Paschal Kyiiripuo Kyoore of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, and Debra Pitton of Education.

Interested students can visit the Greenhouse for plant research in Nobel Hall..

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