The Oracle

“How’s that for an answer?”

Hamline says goodbye to Mark Olson.

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“How’s that for an answer?”

Mark Olson stands in front of his signature board of notes.

Mark Olson stands in front of his signature board of notes.

Kat McCullum

Mark Olson stands in front of his signature board of notes.

Kat McCullum

Kat McCullum

Mark Olson stands in front of his signature board of notes.

Kat McCullum, Senior Reporter

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“As you ask questions like this faces just appear, like this kaleidoscope of faces and conversations and little things that were so helpful,” English Professor Mark Olson reflected.

Olson’s office acts as a place of refuge from the sometimes brisk and curt atmosphere of higher education in Giddens Learning Center. Olson, even as he rapidly approaches his retirement, remains a lively presence on this campus.

“I spend half of my time in his office talking to him; he listens, offers advice. He’s advocated for me in a lot of ways when I didn’t feel I could, and I don’t know that he knows how much I appreciate that,” said English assistant professor and Director of the Women’s Resource Center Jen England.

Her description of Olson nearly likens him to a father-like figure on this campus, as someone who both pushes and encourages those around him but also knows when it is their time to step forward.

“That’s the saddest thing, to be leaving all of these talented new faculty members,” Olson said.

Even in this moment of unfortunate reflection, Olson remained that beacon of light, continuing to praise those around him.

“Hamline’s in good hands with the new faculty members. I feel so honored just to have spent time with some of them,” Olson said.

Learning for Olson expands beyond just his fellow educators and into the greater campus community.

“I learned as much from staff as from anybody else. I find their skills, knowledge and abilities not recognized nearly enough for how much they teach us all, how much they participate in the academic project around here,” Olson said.

Wendy Werdin, a current staff member and 2002 Hamline alumna, who worked with Olson as a colleague and a student was eager to share her thoughts on Olson.

“He got really excited with the essay I’m working on right now… He makes you feel heard,” Werdin said. “He makes you feel like you are valuable and I appreciate that.”

Colin Haley, 2004 Hamline alumnus and Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, echoed Werdin’s sentiments.

“He is always willing to take time to work things out with you,” Haley said. “Further, I will always be grateful that Professor Olson fielded my call – even a year plus after graduation – and agreed to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf for my law school application package. I know that his recommendation was a big help to my acceptances.”

Haley’s anecdote only adds strength to England’s position on Olson’s retirement.

“It’s one of those retirements where you’re happy for the person and also really sad that they’re leaving,” England said. “He’s been like an institutional force of the department since before I was around. It’s going to be a different department, but hopefully, we can honor all his work by the things we keep doing and the programs we keep building.”

If there was one thing Olson respected and advocated for, it was his students and the support they needed to succeed.

“The students often don’t know how good they are and how much they can accomplish. There is something really wonderful about working with a population like that; to say you can do collaborative research, be a scholar, be a researcher, be an activist in your community, you can have success,” Olson said.

But he knows the stress and strain of higher education and asks one thing of his students. “Could you all just watch out for each other? Make sure you all are safe and taken care of?”

For as much as he has pushed students, the students here have pushed him.

“I’ve learned from students day after day how to be passionate…I have learned so much in ways of seeing from students…there’s always new possibilities and new opportunities to do things,” Olson said.

With all those personal encounters and all that he has learned from those around him, Olson vows to do only one thing in this new phase of his life.

“I’m going to work on being a better person. How’s that for an answer?”

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“How’s that for an answer?”