$10.7 Million Gift Creates Global Center, Expands Resources for Off-Campus Study – St. Olaf College

St. Olaf College students in the Peruvian Medical Experience Program led by Associate Professor of Biology and Physics Jay Demas in January 2020. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Wolner ’21

A transformative gift will advance financial assistance for Oles studying off-campus and create a new global learning center at St. Olaf College.

Louis and Mary Kay Smith have committed $10.7 million to fund St. Olaf’s international and off-campus study office operations. Half will be donated over the next five years; the rest will be provided through their estate. In recognition of their gift, the international and off-campus study office will become the Smith Center for Global Engagement.

Once completed, the Smiths’ donation will fully cover the administrative costs that each student now pays as part of their off-campus study program. These fees range from $100 to $150 for interim to $1,200 for semester or annual programs. Currently, the total program costs an average of $2,796 (semester/year) to $4,545 (interim) more than on-campus studies. Costs not covered by scholarship assistance are paid for by Oles directly or by taking out loans.

“We are grateful for the generous support the Smiths have provided to increase access to off-campus education,” said President David R. Anderson ’74. “We want every Ole to have the opportunity to study off campus. The Smiths’ generous donation, combined with funding that others have provided, will help close the participation gap and ensure that off-campus study remains a vital part of the St. Olaf experience.

Increase accessibility for all
Funding provided by the Smiths and other donors will reduce the share that students pay – current endowed funds and annual giving provide $1.07 million a year in aid, a 47% increase from a year ago. only five years old. During the pandemic, this assistance has piled up as more than 120 programs have been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With these accumulated funds and the Smiths’ commitment, the college will begin waiving the $1,200 semester fee for students with high financial need beginning next fall, for students with high and medium financial need. 2023-24 and for all students of all levels. of financial need in 2024-25. The semester and interim fees will be fully covered for all those studying off-campus, regardless of their needs, once the second half of the Smiths’ donation is complete.

At the moment, the college expects to be able to cover up to 50% of the interim costs that students pay by 2026.

It would be a shame if students couldn’t even think of studying abroad just because they couldn’t afford it. Cost is a real barrier that we want to break down – we hope more students will have the chance to share in these wonderful experiences.Mary Kay Smith

Global engagement is an essential part of St. Olaf’s mission – students are challenged to develop their knowledge, values, and abilities as part of a global community. Off-campus studies integrate academic and experiential learning across language, culture, and place. It helps students foster their intercultural development, personal growth, adaptability, education, and professional and career discernment.

Typically, an average of 798 Oles study off-campus each year – about 74% receive a scholarship.

“The scholarships we provide, supported by donations, help Oles expand his liberal arts learning to all parts of the world,” says Jodi Malmgren, Director of International and Off-Campus Studies. “St. Olaf consistently ranks at the top of baccalaureate institutions by the number of students studying abroad, thanks in part to our commitment to scholarships and financial aid. It is a truly life changing experience for Oles and I am grateful to the Smiths for their gift.

Sharing the love of living and learning abroad
The impact of off-campus study and their family’s own experiences abroad inspired the Smiths to make their donation. Mary Kay audited lectures at the Sorbonne University in Paris and traveled to Europe after her freshman year at university. Later, she and Louis lived and traveled in Europe during his military posting in France. They eventually lived abroad with their family for 12 more years for Louis’s work in London, Norway and Saudi Arabia – work that over the course of his career included negotiating with governments over 30 countries.

Mary Kay and Louis Smith stand in front of their house.
Mary Kay and Louis Smith

“Our experiences living abroad influenced everything,” says Louis. “We love to travel to other parts of the world and meet people and learn and experience their varied customs and values. We wanted to create an environment that encourages others to have similar experiences.

“I studied in France for a summer thanks to a gift from my parents,” says Mary Kay. “This experience was formative – it made me braver and more willing to do new things. It would be a shame if students couldn’t even think of studying abroad just because they don’t have one. The cost is a real obstacle that we want to remove – we hope that more students will have the chance to share these wonderful experiences.