For most people, trolls, the environment, International Cinema and general education do not have a lot in common. But for Christopher “Chip” Oscarson, associate dean of General Education, these things have shaped his life and helped him create unexpected connections.
“He’s a really well-rounded person, and he always has a story for everything,” said business manager Shaunna George, who works with Oscarson at BYU.
Oscarson is in charge of redesigning BYU’s general education program, which according to the the program’s website, “provides the skills and knowledge derived from a robust broad-based education.”
As the office of Undergraduate Education works to help students have a well-rounded education at BYU, Oscarson’s co-workers pointed out how his background and personality have helped prepare him for the role.
“Working with Chip feels very comfortable. It’s very much a family or friend setting; I love it,” dean’s office assistant Ryen Hunsaker said. “I’m able to connect with him on different levels and it’s more of a personal connection.”
Oscarson joined the undergraduate education team in 2020 as associate dean of general education with the job of redesigning the program, he said.
“He really understands the concept and the purpose of general education. He has that great foundation of having knowledge about a lot of things,” George said.
Before becoming a dean, Oscarson had a lifetime of experiences preparing him to step into the role. His father was called as a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, causing his whole family to move to Sweden. Oscarson learned important lessons during those young years of his life living in another country.
“The experience of living in different places, getting to know them and finding out what’s unique about a place opened me up to the world in a way that was really formative and continues to shape how I live my life today,” Oscarson said.
While living in Sweden, Oscarson learned to appreciate Scandinavian culture and Swedish, as well as care for the environment. Living close to the forest, he attended summer programs in nature.
“Once or twice a week, we would get together and they would teach us about mushrooms and about trees and taking care of the forest. A troll, the spokesman, would show up out of the forest dressed in a hat and reinforce what we’d been taught,” Oscarson said.
The Skogsmulle, or local wood troll, instilled in him a love for the environment which has grown since those summer camps in Sweden.
“He’s just such a green thumb and his plants in the office are just thriving,” George said.
Oscarson cares for the environment by being active in organizations such as LDS Earth Stewardship and the BYU Sustainability Committee.
“We have a responsibility to be wise stewards over these resources. I feel strongly that we have a really unique theology in the Church that gives us reasons why these questions should be important. And it’s deeply, deeply embedded in our theology,” Oscarson said.
Nature was not the only thing Oscarson learned to value during his time in Sweden. Eventually, Oscarson was called on a mission for the Church, where he returned to Sweden and learned to appreciate Scandinavian culture more deeply.
After returning home and finishing his studies, he began teaching Scandinavian literature and film classes at BYU. He said teaching from his love of Scandinavian culture, the Swedish language and international film, was a great way for him to combine his interests.
“When I was sick, Chip said, ‘Well, I’ll hold my thumbs for you.’ Which is Swedish for ‘Wish you get better.’ It’s great to hear his knowledge of Swedish culture come through when he speaks,” George said.
Oscarson was director of the International Cinema at BYU for three years where he watched and chose different movies to stream. He focused primarily on Scandinavian films and still gives movie recommendations to the program today. His wife, Marie-Laure Oscarson, is now assistant director of International Cinema.
As he taught classes and worked in International Cinema, he connected with plenty of students before becoming associate dean of general education.
“Chip is a very genuine person, he makes it easy to talk to him about anything. And I think anyone feels comfortable talking with him, regardless of if they know him or not. He’s very approachable,” Hunsaker said.
Now, using his vast background and love for learning, Oscarson focuses on redesigning the general education program and working with different entities on campus. It has been about 50 years since the last revision and according to George and Hunsaker, Oscarson has made a lot of headway with the redesigning project.
“Just stepping into the role with general education, he just ran with it and moved forward with it, so it’s been really fun to watch. He’s very positive when things don’t go as they should, which is a lot of the time with general education,” George said.
The redesigning of general education started in May 2018 and is in its fourth year of revisions. Although there have been a lot of obstacles in redesigning the program, Oscarson keeps pushing forward with positivity.
With his knowledge of Scandinavian culture, Swedish, caring for the environment, International Film and teaching, Oscarson brings it all together to help students become more well-rounded and make unexpected connections.