Matilda Koeller receives Luther College’s Jenson Medal

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Luther College graduating senior Matilda Koeller received the college’s Elizabeth A. and Paul G. Jenson Medal for the class of 2024. The announcement was made during the commencement ceremony on May 19.

 

“It feels really significant to receive the Jenson Medal. I’ve been honored to receive other accolades, but this feels especially significant in coming from my peers at Luther,” Koeller said. “I tear up thinking about how people I see around campus selected me for this award.” 

 

Luther’s Elizabeth A. and Paul G. Jenson Medal is presented each year to an outstanding senior, selected by the graduating class, who best demonstrates the ideals of the college through service to students and the college community. Established through an endowment gift from Luther alumni Paul, class of 1948, and Elizabeth (Dybdal) Jenson, class of 1949, of Vassalboro, Maine, the Jenson Medal supports Luther College’s mission of service.

 

Koeller majored in identity studies and is the first cohort to graduate with the program, which was established in 2020. She came to Luther from McGregor, thinking about majoring in music education. However, after taking an introductory identity studies class from Char Kunkel, the head of the department, she found her major. She described Kunkel as a “mentor and role model who is incredibly kind.” 

 

“The identity studies curriculum is inherently multidisciplinary. You engage with everything socially from the lens of you and what you bring to the table,” Koeller said. “It’s impacted by my lived experience. We want to centralize the lived experiences of all students in the class and of others from marginalized communities.”  

 

For Koeller, forming identity is an ongoing process, and at Luther she has uncovered and discovered a lot about herself. 

 

“I came to Luther, like many entering undergrad, uncertain about my identity. I didn’t realize how much room there would be for self-discovery,” Koeller said. 

 

Koeller socially transitioned in gender identity during her sophomore year. She became involved in activism for transgender students beginning her junior year, as she was inspired by the community she was a part of in her residence hall. 

 

She wanted to represent student interest in the issues, so she wrote the petition “Demand Action for Transgender Students at Luther” on change.org and organized a rally on campus attended by nearly 100 students. 

 

“I first really connected with Matilda while she was a resident assistant in Brandt advocating for gender neutral restrooms and housing. She has advocated for policy change and spurred us to be more active in our defense of trans lives and has tirelessly advocated for equity and inclusion for all on campus,” Kunkel said. “We are very proud of Matilda and her service for the college in becoming more inclusive and equitable.”

 

Koeller also talked to administrators and Student Senate and made policy recommendations for campus to be more inclusive of transgender and gender nonconforming students. She also spoke at a Decorah rally in spring 2023 on the courthouse steps. As a result of her activism, there is now an expanded gender-inclusive floor in Brandt, where Koeller worked as a resident assistant for two years. 

 

Koeller was also a member of the Beautiful Mess a capella group and the Pound Ultimate Frisbee group, where she made her friends around campus and became a pillar of the Luther community.

 

After graduation, Koeller plans to work in student services or social services, with the ultimate goal of pursuing her master’s in social work.  

 

“When you engage with a community in a way that connects with people, that is service,” Koeller said. “And the community has served me.”

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