Monthly Archives: June 2013

Experiential Education: The Augsburg College President’s Perspective

Augsburg College President Paul Pribbenow

Greetings from Augsburg College
As we enjoy the events and ceremonies of spring and look forward to the summer, I would like to take a moment to share with you some of the highlights of this season. As I’m sure you know, in April the College was honored to announce that it had received an unrestricted $10 million philanthropic gift from a 1965 alumnus. The gift—the largest in Augsburg’s history—furthered our campaign for the Center for Science, Business, and Religion, and increased to more than $23 million the funds raised for the academic building. Our students, faculty and staff, alumni, friends, and families were thrilled with this news, as the gift demonstrates resounding support for the College’s signature near-term construction project.

Our celebration continued this spring at May Commencement when we marked the graduation of nearly 400 undergraduate day college students and more than two dozen physician assistant master’s degree students. We look forward to the June 23 Commencement for our students in Weekend and Evening College, Rochester, and our other graduate degree programs.

At these ceremonies, as our students become alumni, I am reminded just how crucial it is for Augsburg to sustain its tradition of educating students by engaging in and learning from the world. In higher education, the term “outcome” has become a ubiquitous buzzword. (See for information about Augsburg student success after graduation.) The focus on outcomes underscores the importance of experience in a college degree program and highlights what we know people expect from an institution like Augsburg—that the College equips students to succeed, delivers on its promise to teach graduates the skills required in a modern workplace, and develops the intellectual framework students need for the successful pursuit of advanced careers and post-graduate education. Today our graduates are able to articulate what they have learned in their classrooms, labs, campus activities, and off-campus experiences and are able to translate how these experiences meet the expectations of graduate programs and employers.

Leading in Undergraduate Research
One key way we’ve delivered on our commitment to experiential education is through meaningful undergraduate research. This year, 60 Augsburg students are employing their talents and passions in on campus,faculty-led summer research projects. More than half of those students are funded through our Office of Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO). With the support of donors like Dean Sundquist ’81 and our sustained institutional commitment, we have grown the URGO program six-fold—from just five on-campus student researchers in 2005 to 32 this year. In addition, another 28 students’ projects are being funded this summer through the McNair Scholars Program—a U.S. Department of Education initiative that supports academic achievement among first-generation, low income, and underrepresented student groups—as well as National Science Foundation and corporate grants. In fact, in 2013, Augsburg was one of the top three Minnesota colleges and universities in National Science Foundation grant funding, positioning us as the leader in NSF grants among all private institutions in the state.

As we have so often witnessed, this type of robust experiential education has a marked influence and value in students’ applied learning, career exploration, professional growth, and preparation for their lives of meaningful work. We know that Augsburg’s faculty-led research catalyzes distinct opportunities that make a difference in the lives of our students—and, through their work, will shape advancements in science, technology, and other fields across the globe.

The tremendous impact of these research programs is evidenced by the growing number of students who leverage the skills they have learned in their on-campus experiences to obtain off-campus research positions. Two dozen of our students, in fact, have earned summer research positions at institutes, labs, and universities across the country and around the world. In early May, I had the privilege to meet with many of these students, including two of our international students who will engage in high-level malaria prevention research. Kirubel Frew ’14 and Promise Okeke ’15— Auggies from Zimbabwe and Nigeria, respectively—will conduct research at Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, which is connected to the College through Peter Agre ’70, the institute’s director and the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This will be Kirubel’s second summer at Johns Hopkins where he will continue to build his resume, network, and research skills. His work at Johns Hopkins will be topped off by an exceptional opportunity to spend time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well.

Kirubel and Promise are a natural fit for advanced malaria research. These students stand out in our science classrooms, have critical thinking and problem solving skills developed through research in Augsburg’s labs, and have a vested interest in understanding the real impact malaria plays in their home countries.

A Step Toward Graduate Studies
Just as Kirubel and Promise have discovered, Trevor Rodriguez Sotelo ’13 has found that practical experience on campus can lead to life-changing opportunities in other parts of the nation. Trevor came to Augsburg knowing since his childhood that his dream was to pursue a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related field. He was swept into undergraduate research after his sophomore year when the College’s director of STEM programs recognized his remarkable abilities, and he spent two summers working on biophysics projects with our science faculty just to get closer to achieving his dream job: designing automobile—specifically BMW— engines. Trevor’s work on campus bolstered his off-campus research applications and opened the door last summer to a prestigious automotive engineering position at Oakland University outside of Detroit. This May, Trevor became the first person in his family to earn a college degree, and in the fall he will take another step in pursuit of his dream by beginning Clemson University’s automotive
engineering graduate program on—get this—a BMW Fellowship.

Another fellowship awardee, Kayla Johnson ’13, exemplifies how seizing opportunities on campus can lead to tremendous opportunities after graduation. I had Kayla in the Honors Seminar course I again co-taught this past term with associate professor of sociology, Lars Christiansen. Kayla is the type of bright, inquisitive, and insightful student that professors love to teach. She excelled in her biology and mathematics degree programs; participated in research through McNair Scholars, Mayo Innovation Scholars, and the Baylor College of Medicine; and recently was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan—one of the 16 Augsburg alumni to participate in this highly competitive post-graduate program in the past several years. In addition to teaching in Taiwan, Kayla will spend some time learning about the health care system there before returning to the U.S. where she has already been accepted to medical school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

An Augsburg Education is Hands-On
For Kayla, Trevor, Promise, Kirubel—and so many other students—these educational experiences increase the depth of their knowledge, ignite a passion for critical inquiry, and prompt a lifetime of responsible leadership that shapes our changing world. Their accomplishments, our ongoing commitment to undergraduate research programs, and our success in securing NSF and other grants are just a few examples of how innovation in experiential education is woven into the story our College tells. I’m excited to see how this narrative will continue to develop with the addition of the Center for Science, Business, and Religion—a place that will embody our holistic approach to education across disciplines and that will accommodate a greater number and larger scope of year-round research projects for students like those mentioned above.

The Center for Science, Business, and Religion
We are sincerely grateful for all those who have invested their time and resources in the Center for Science, Business, and Religion capital campaign and look forward to sharing the vision for this building with others in our community who will reconnect with the College at Alumni Leadership Summits and additional events scheduled throughout the summer and this coming fall. (See for information about upcoming Summit dates.)

I invite you to watch for these and other opportunities to gather and to learn more about this incredible building project and about the key initiatives the Augsburg community intends to pursue as it develops an innovative, efficient, and cohesive structure that visibly represents the College’s values.

As always, thank you for your continued support and for positively influencing the lives of our students.

Faithfully yours,


The President’s Perspective is a periodic communication (approximately five times per year) from Augsburg College President Paul C. Pribbenow to select members of the Augsburg community. If you would like to be removed from this list or if you prefer to receive future issues via email instead of in print, please contact the Augsburg College Advancement Office at or 612-330-1171 and provide your desired email address.