Seattle native Dr. Alex Olson brings a passion for democratic education to the Honors College. His dissertation, The People’s Classroom: American Modernism and the Struggle for Democratic Education, 1860-1940, from the University of Michigan focused on educational experiments in California that sought to improve access, often by imagining alternatives to the traditional classroom and laboratory. He found a perfect fit instructing the ‘Citizen and Self’ class housed in WKU’s Honors College.
After completing a capstone project on Native American history during his undergraduate studies at Stanford, Olson was inspired to make the opportunity more accessible to students everywhere. Capstone projects provide the chance to “become the person who creates knowledge rather than being a passive learner,” he said.
The final project of Citizen and Self, called the State of the City Report, requires students to partner with community members so they can create knowledge together. “The city becomes the classroom,” he explained. Recent student projects include reports on domestic violence, historical preservation, and water issues in the Bowling Green community.
Olson has secured an Honors Faculty Engagement grant to take students to Rough Draft Farmstead in Monroe County, Kentucky. The trip will allow students focusing on sustainable agriculture, local food, and related projects to see the farm, talk with the farmers, and apply the experience to their State of the City reports and capstone projects.
Olson is considering leading a trip to Latvia to enhance study abroad options for students. Studies would focus on the links between environment, economics, and Latvian history and culture.
Olson attributes his passion for public education to his mother. A Latvian refugee, Olson’s mother raised him after his father died of cancer. She is now a principal in an elementary school near Seattle that educates many immigrants and students living in poverty. As Olson stated, “I grew up in an environment that strongly championed public education, so debates over the public value of education are not just theoretical to me.”
Next up for Olson is a project examining the categories of history and heritage, questioning the public role of historical knowledge and how these categories work together. He is interested in how history and heritage construct racial identities in specific places rather than uniformly across the country.
A former member of the Detroit Curling Club, Olson hopes to bring the sport to WKU someday. He shares his life in Bowling Green with his wife and dog.