Olson: Building programs and research on life experiences
Myrna Olson’s status as one of the nation’s top researchers
and scholars in the field of education was noted at spring commencement
when she and History Professor Gordon Iseminger received the University’s
highest faculty distinction, that of Chester Fritz Distinguished
Just 15 of the University’s 600-plus current faculty hold
the rank, created in 1973 with an endowment from Fritz, the legendary
former student, precious metals trader, and UND benefactor. A
modest stipend comes with the award; more important to the recipients
are the medallion to be worn at academic functions and the right
to use the title for life.
A professor of teaching and learning, Olson coordinates graduate
studies in the College of Education and Human Development and
teaches in its higher education doctoral program. She arrived
at UND in 1973 as a doctoral student and joined the faculty two
Her scholarly productivity over three decades has been impressive.
At last count, she had brought in 12 external grants to support
her work. Olson’s vita lists five books, three book chapters,
23 refereed journal articles, and 18 other articles. As an advisor
she has chaired the committees of 30 doctoral graduates and served
on the committees of an additional 40; at the master's level she
has advised 138 students to completion and served on the thesis
committees of an additional 20. Of the 25 classes Olson has taught
at UND, she developed 19 of them as new courses.
According to Vice President for Research Peter Alfonso, Olson’s
career demonstrates a sometimes overlooked truth at a research
university such as UND: A good portion of an institution’s
research, scholarship, and creative activity is fundamentally
a “bottom-up” process driven by the interests of individual
Thus, Alfonso says, a doctoral-research university needs to hire,
support, and reward faculty who are excellent teachers and who
also have a burning desire to share in the process of developing
new knowledge in their fields.
At times, even a professor’s personal life can play a role
in the topics they choose to explore.
Olson’s first journal articles were about improving the
teaching of Braille to the visually impaired. Some of her later
work, she says, evolved from a divorce, a second marriage, a change
of career focus, and knowing someone who was discriminated against
because of his sexual orientation.
Even the challenge of raising a child at an age when many women
already are grandmothers resulted in a research project, she says
with a smile. When her youngest son, Austin, now 14, exhibited
signs of anxiety in kindergarten, his professor mother and a colleague
decided to find out why. It turned out his stress – and
that of a number of other children – originated in the lunchroom.
Piped-in music worked wonders, she recalls.
Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors
currently serving on the UND faculty are:
Michael A. Anderegg, English; Michael C. Beard, English; Richard
D. Crawford, biology; Albert J. Fivizzani, biology; Gordon L.
Iseminger, history; David O. Lambeth, biochemistry and molecular
biology; Richard G. Landry, educational measurements and statistics;
Donald K. Lemon, educational leadership; Richard L. Ludtke, sociology;
James E. Mitchell, neuroscience; Myrna R. Olson, teaching and
learning; Brian O. Paulsen, art; Isaac Schlosser, biology; William
F. Sheridan, biology; Sharon C. Wilsnack, neuroscience.