"Working with curious, creative, and energetic students is absolutely the best part of being a professor."
It’s no surprise that Maren Johnson, associate professor of Nordic studies, found a home at Luther College. After graduating from a close-knit Lutheran liberal arts college, she earned her Ph.D. with the intention of teaching in a similar atmosphere. “I hoped I could be part of that kind of environment again,” she says, “where learning is done in community and creativity, innovation, and excellence in teaching are valued."
Johnson formed meaningful relationships with her professors during her undergraduate years. As a faculty member at Luther, she strives to make similar connections with her students. “Working with curious, creative, and energetic students is absolutely the best part of being a professor,” she says. “Luther students inspire me on a daily basis with their commitment to education, passion for their subject areas, and their enthusiasm for learning!”
Johnson’s Norwegian heritage also plays a significant role in her teaching. As a great-granddaughter of immigrants, she was raised hearing stories of the wonders of Norway. “I protested my heritage vehemently until a trip to Norway sparked my interest in the contemporary role the country plays in the world as a leader in conflict resolution, social democracy, and green energy,” she says. That spark grew into a lifelong interest in Norwegian culture and identity.
The Nordic Studies Department at Luther is home to a variety of courses on Nordic language, literature, and lifestyle. Their topics range from the works of Henrik Ibsen to contemporary Nordic television. In the future, Johnson will co-teach a Paideia course in Sweden and Norway that explores the ethics of sustainable organizations. All in all, she most enjoys teaching the foundational Norwegian courses. “I love watching students grow astronomically in their language skills between September and May,” she says.
Johnson believes that language learning is essential in our increasingly globalized world. "The Nordic region is a pioneer in many areas, and learning Norwegian is a cornerstone of the Nordic Studies program at Luther,” she says. “Foreign language provides an essential key to accessing new cultures, new systems of living, and new people."
Johnson recently headed a collaborative student-faculty research project to develop an innovative curriculum for Luther’s Norwegian language classes. Together Johnson and her students researched Reacting to the Past, an interactive simulation-style learning method developed by Barnard College. “Our simulation was set in 1836 in Norway, when the Parliament was trying to decide how to collect all the folk tales and create a national canon.” The curriculum is currently being used in class, where students act out this complex scene in Norwegian, gain new language skills, and have a little fun at the same time.
When she’s not teaching, you can likely find Johnson exploring Decorah. “As a native Seattle-ite, I fuel my coffee addiction through the great local coffee shops,” she says. “My family and I also love running or cross-country skiing through the trails.”
Johnson currently serves as the Luther College representative to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum Board of Trustees and is also the advisor of Norskklubb.