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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

Over the hill on the Hill

By April Wright
Variety Editor

Friday, November 30, 2007

It is relatively rare that a member of St. Olaf faculty or staff is willing to get down in the trenches. It takes guts to live in the dorms, and, perhaps more importantly, to shower in them once you've grown accustomed to the outside world.

But that is exactly what Michael Stitsworth is doing.

Stitsworth joined the St. Olaf community as the Vice President for Improvement earlier this year. He came to us after 25 years as a dean in the College of Engineering at Purdue University.

At St. Olaf, Stitsworth oversees all the departments that help make our campus visible in the public eye. Activities covered under the "Improvement" umbrella include fundraising, making viewbooks, alumni and parent relations and even getting Christmas Fest syndicated in theatres across the country. It's a rapidly expanding department, between increasing St. Olaf's broadcasting capabilities (especially Internet streaming content such as audio and video) and using Facebook as a way to reach students and alumni, Stitsworth says the college is "doing more now than it has ever done."

"At the end of the day, we advance the college," Stitsworth said. "We make it a better place for students, parents and the community."

But he didn't just arrive to do a job -- he moved right on in with the students.

"It gives me great insight into what it's like to be a St. Olaf student," Stittworth said of living in the Hilleboe-Kittlesby apartment. "It's been a great experience."

I was a little skeptical. Would incoming college students really accept an adult as part of their residence hall? As it turns out, they did.

Already, Stitsworth has become integrated into the busy lives of Hill-Kitt students, being treated as both a peer and someone students can turn to for advice in school and relationships.

"It all gets at the need to serve," Stitsworth said.

Stitsworth's need to serve has helped him integrate into campus life. "I have really enjoyed the opportunity to work with student groups," Stitsworth said.

In his short time here, Stitsworth has started a book club for men. Right now the group is reading "Wild At Heart," which deals with issues of masculinity and Christianity. He also is formulating plans to start a group called the Black and Gold Corp, which will be composed of about 12 students who will assist with presidential events on campus, as well as receive an introduction to philanthropy and leadership.

Beyond his need to be involved with organized groups, Stitsworth has found plenty to do on campus to help smooth over his transition into pseudo-student life. Each day, nestled between meetings and other activities, Stitsworth finds time to go to services in Boe Chapel. After a long day in the office or traveling to different off-campus events, he comes back to enjoy the array of activities in the evening.

From sitting in on Christmas Festival rehearsals to attending a StoGrill event, Stitsworth has had plenty to keep him busy. "This is a vibrant place with a lot going on," he said. "I'm loving it!"

But not everything has been perfect in his return to student life. On a lighter note, Stitsworth has struggled with a common concern of students: bedtime. "In the 'res' hall, no one goes to bed," Stitsworth joked.

But soon enough, life in a residence hall will be behind him. At the end of the semester, his wife, who was tying up some last loose ends at her job, will join Stitsworth. When she comes out, dorm life is history, as he'll be moving into a condominium. "I'm really going to miss it," he said.

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