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Friends to the End

For these student superstars, finding the perfect senior-year roommate was a fitting finale to a stellar four years.

  • Jordyn and Esther Jordyn Arndt (bottom) and Esther Moss (top) pose in their Whitby Hall room.
  • Moss digs for clams in Ecuador.
  • A diverse collection of artifacts on Moss' dresser.
  • Arndt decorates her desk with pictures from her travels.
  • When Arndt studied in Senegal, she often traveled on a brightly painted bus locally known as a car rapide.
  • On a J-term trip to India, Arndt visited the taj mahal.
  • In January 2011, Moss won a grant to conduct research in Ecuador with Spanish Professor Kristina Bønsager, left.

BY ANDY STEINER | PHOTOS BY DAWN VILLELLA

It's hard to believe now, but Jordyn Arndt and Esther Moss became roommates almost by accident. Heading into their senior years at St. Kate's, the globetrotting honor students had already settled on other roommates to round out their college careers. Then things went awry.

"We were both studying abroad," Arndt recalls. "We were coming back to St. Paul in the fall, and, coincidentally, both of our roommate plans fell through. I started sending out frantic emails, trying to find someone who needed someone to live with."

The two had friends in common, Moss adds. "But in many ways she was an unknown quantity. It could've gone horribly," she laughs, smiling slyly at Arndt, "but I didn't really have another option."

After exchanging a series of intercontinental emails, the young women decided to give the arrangement a try. When they returned to St. Paul late last August, the new roommates moved their belong- ings into 419 Whitby Hall, a large sunny double with a tree-level view of the St. Paul campus.

Both serious, focused students, Moss and Arndt had big plans for the upcoming year, plans that included applying for research grants, gaining admittance to honor societies and figuring out post-graduation plans. It didn't take long for the new roomies to realize that, although they had distinctly different styles and personalities, they shared a common commitment to aca- demic excellence combined with social responsibility.

As the year progressed, Moss and Arndt became fast friends, as well as supporters and ad- vocates for each other. "It's rare to connect with someone on the level that I've connected with Esther," Arndt says. "Our study-abroad experiences are so similar. Our outlook on the world is similar. She's the perfect roommate."

"At the beginning, we had to trust the word of mutual friends who said that we'd get along. And we did," Moss says now. "Quite honestly, it was serendipitous. And lucky."

Serious Scholars

Arndt and Moss share a commitment to hard work and to making the most of their time at St. Catherine University. Arndt is double-majoring in French and international business and eco- nomics, with a concentration in women's studies. Moss is double-majoring in women's studies and Spanish at St. Kate's and has completed a Latin American studies major at Macalester College. Both have demonstrated a willingness to go the extra mile in their research and writing.

Their efforts have earned them a number of honors and awards, including admittance into the national academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa (Arndt and Moss), the French national honor society Pi Delta Phi (Arndt) and the Antonian Scholars Honors Program (Arndt); recognition for best paper in women's studies in 2010 (Moss) and excellence in undergraduate writing (Arndt); and the 2007 Presidential Scholar award (Moss) and Research and Creative Work on Women award (Arndt). Clearly, no slackers dwell in room 419.

Each has found ample time to collaborate with faculty on aca- demic projects — a perk they chalk up to the relatively intimate size of the University's College for Women — and to a "we're in this together" ethos that seeps into every corner of campus.

"The faculty and staff here are extremely supportive," Arndt says. "They are there for you in so many capacities."

Moss has felt the same support and encouragement. "The faculty responds very well to motivated students," she says. "Once I indi- cated that I was really going to go out there and be serious about my work, there was an outpouring of support from professors."

Kristina Bønsager, Moss' academic advisor and chair of the Department of International Languages and Literatures, is among the professors who have stepped forward to support the budding scholar. Most recently the two have collaborated on a research project based in rural Ecuador.

"Esther is in the top 5 percent of students I've worked with," Bønsager attests. "I've collaborated with other students who are also inspirational, but Esther's interests perfectly parallel my own. I find it extremely enjoyable to work with her, encourage her and support her in all her endeavors."

Arndt's academic advisor, Professor of Economics Deep Shikha, has taught Arndt in several classes and led her on a trip to India in January 2010 as part of a "Global Search for Justice" course on women and work. "Jordyn is absolutely focused and driven," Shikha says. "She's always looking for opportunities. Sometimes when there are no opportunities she makes them for herself."

This past academic year, Moss and Arndt decided to apply for University-sponsored student-faculty research grants to fund in- ternational research they hoped to conduct over J-Term. The two wrote separate pro- posals for their projects: Moss, to conduct the study that she and Bønsager proposed about gender and cosmology in the indig- enous Andes, and Arndt, to conduct re- search on the impact of vocational training on women in Mewat, India.

This particular grant program was not originally intended to fund international research, explains Associate Professor of Psychology Lynda Szymanski, associate dean of the School of Hu- manities, Arts and Sciences. She warned the young women that their chances of receiving grants through the program would be low. Moss and Arndt applied anyway.

"They are incredibly persistent young women," says Szymanski, who also directs the Office of Collaborative Research at St. Kate's. "They are driven to do their research, and it clearly shows."

Eventually, Moss and Arndt's self-confidence, enthusiasm and determination —combined with the eloquent way they explained their projects — won Szymanski over. "They both convinced me that that they were worth fund- ing," she says. And because the grants focus on student-faculty research collaboration, it helped that Arndt and Moss had strong faculty support — in the form of Bønsager and Shikha — for each of their projects.

"They have extraordinary mentors who are committed to this work just as much as they are," Szymanski says. "In this program, our goal is to have students and faculty working on a project that is a mutually beneficial experience. This is not designed for the students to be helping faculty members with their own research. The students and the professors must be colleagues who collaborate together."

When she returned from India this past January, Arndt completed a paper with Shikha's help called "The Impact of Vocational Training on Women's Empowerment and Livelihood in Mewat, India"; they hope to submit it for publication in an economics journal. Moss presented a paper she'd written about her research, titled "Entre la Luna y la Tierra: Re-examining Gender and Cosmology in the Indigenous Andes," at two academic conferences. She plans to do more work on the project after graduation.

"Esther presented her paper very successfully," Bønsager says. "An average student would have considered her research complete at that point, but Esther wants to strive for the next level. I admire her greatly for that persistence."

Szymanski is delighted with the results of Arndt and Moss' re- search projects. "There is no question that both our students and faculty benefit from this kind of collaboration," she says. "The scholarship in which our faculty members engage improves their teaching. The students gain valuable, real-world experience that they can carry with them wherever they go. It's a win-win situa- tion for everyone."

Why St. Kate's?

Moss and Arndt, both high school honors students near the top of their classes, could have had their pick of colleges. Why did they choose St. Catherine University?

"I was not initially interested in a women's school," says Arndt, who grew up in Farmington, Minnesota, "at least not until I toured St. Kate's. During my tour, I fell in love with the campus. My guide did an amazing job of emphasizing the women's leadership and social-justice aspects of the school. The minute I left campus, I decided I wanted to go to school at St. Kate's."

Arndt's mother, Andrea Hopkins, still marvels at her oldest daughter's single-minded determination that she had found the perfect fit after touring the campus with a friend and the friend's mother. "When Jordyn got home, she was filled with stories about Mother Antonia [McHugh, the University's first president], about social justice and building powerful women. She was hooked."

Moss felt especially drawn to the campus-wide commitment to activism and justice. "Before I came to college here, I had this infantile sense of the importance of social justice," she says. "It was something I was interested in. I felt like it was cool. I was a veg- etarian, all those kinds of things. But since I've been at school here, I've built a much more deep and complex relationship with justice and activism. It's something I want to build my life around. It all comes from the CSJ legacy of those uppity nuns who started the school all those years ago."

Arndt cuts in excitedly: "You know, Mother Antonia building this big, beautiful Chapel and going against the Bishop's wishes. These are tough, determined women. That's how we want to be."

"I grew up in Sioux City, Iowa," Moss adds. "Attitudes like these were not always that welcome. Here I was on a college tour and the guides were saying things like, 'Of course women should be powerful. Of course we should lead.' I felt really excited about coming here."

Moss and Arndt also appreciated the quality of the St. Catherine faculty — and the close-knit, community feel in the University's College for Women. When the time came, Arndt even encouraged her younger sister, Devon, to apply. Devon Arndt is now a first-year student at the University.

"At first I was hesitant to come because I didn't want to be in Jordyn's shadow," Devon says. "But Jordyn always raved about St. Kate's, and I knew it was a good school where the faculty really cared about the students. It's turned out to be a great fit for me, too."

The Odd Couple

The calendar says it all. Stuck to the wall beside Arndt's desk in 419 Whitby is a color-coded, sub-divided, dry-erased work of art representing the minutiae of a very busy college student's life.

"My calendar is important to me," Arndt says with a wry smile. Meticulous, down-to-the-minute planning is how this self-described "super-type-A personality" manages her life. According to her mother, Jordyn has been that way since middle school.

"I'm a list-maker," Arndt concedes. For years, she's plotted out everything, from her plans for college (among the goals she's achieved: study abroad, apply for honor societies, get mentioned in SCAN) to her post-graduation plans (Peace Corps, Foreign Service, teach English abroad). "Success doesn't just happen," she explains. "Sometimes you have to plan for it, be ready for opportunities and then take advantage of them." So far, that approach has worked.

Moss takes a more relaxed approach to life. "Jordyn has to plan everything," she says. "I have more of the attitude," she shrugs: "'I don't know. It will work out.' Jordyn forces me to be more on top of my stuff. On the other hand, I'm working on getting her to get out in the world and be more social."

Another way Moss and Arndt differ is in their wake-up styles. Their beds are on either end of their large room — a former triple — so they do their best to give each other space first thing in the morning.

"The alarm goes off and Jordyn just jumps up, ready to go," Moss says with a sigh. "I'll hit the snooze button. I like to lie in bed with my blankets tucked around me for half an hour. Jordyn is always wide-awake, chirping 'Good morning!' I understand that's just the way she works, and she understands that's how I work. I think we balance each other out."

Lead and Influence

Professor of English Cecilia Konchar Farr knows Moss and Arndt well. "I often tease honor students like Jordyn and Esther about what makes them different from other students. It's their four-year plans. They all have them," she says. "That's what sets them apart."

After graduation, Moss will spend the summer working as a Spanish-language counselor at the Concordia Language Villages camps in Bemidji. Arndt will be working as a summer advocacy intern for Jubilee USA, a grassroots debt-relief organization.
In the fall, Arndt will travel to Reunion, a small French-speaking island off the coast of Madagascar, where she will teach English to secondary-school students through the Teaching Assistantship Program, an international teaching program sponsored by the French Embassy. She's also passed the Foreign Service exam and awaits notification of an interview opportunity. After that, Arndt's got a list (of course) of goals she'd like to achieve: "My goal is to do a fellowship in economic development in Senegal," she says. "Then I'd work for an NGO for a few years and then do graduate school in international development."

Shikha is confident that her young protégée will make a positive impact. "One of the perks of being in this profession is we get to work with brilliant young people with goals and ambitions who really want to change the world," Shikha says. "When we can help with that in some small way, it's a wonderful thing."

Characteristically, Moss' post-graduation plans are a bit less firm. "Long-term I'm thinking grad school, but not right away af- ter this summer," she says. "I'm hoping to find a job in the Cities, doing something 'real,' living my life, having a paycheck and paying off loans. I'd like to find work in the Latino immigrant community. I believe in the power of working in your local community."

That goal personifies Moss' worldview, says Sharon Doherty, chair of the Department of Women's Studies: "I hope and believe that Esther will make great contributions to her communities and to the world, and that as she grows she will continue to be the joyful, compassionate person she is now."

No matter what these two young women end up doing after graduation, they'll be successful. But neither is likely to measure success by conventional means.
"Esther and Jordyn are both exceptionally talented students," says Konchar Farr. "Their academic excellence paired with their distinct commitment to social justice is what makes them model St. Kate's graduates.

"That's the kind of success we look for at this school," she says. "They may or may not go into the business world and make a million dollars, but I am confident they will go out into the world and make it a much better place."


Andy Steiner is managing editor of SCAN.