Augsburg Regent Pam (Hanson) Moksnes ’79 remembers planting seedlings in Murphy Square with her six Auggie housemates more than 35 years ago. Today the trees’ roots run deep into the earth and their branches reach for the sky—not unlike Pam and her husband Mark ’79, who say their time at Augsburg empowered them to reach for their goals. “Augsburg prepared us to be courageous and do whatever’s next,” explains Pam. She and Mark are among Augsburg’s most loyal alumni leaders, as well as generous benefactors to initiatives such as the Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR). The Chanhassen couple counts 34 years of marriage, three children (including Auggie, Laura ’06), and three grandchildren. “God has blessed our lives together, our family, and our careers,” says Pam. “We have more than enough to care for our family and give back.” Continue reading
I decided for this month’s message to share some insights from key faculty members who have been working side-by-side with the campaign action team to secure our ambitious goal of $50 million for a new Center for Science, Business, and Religion. Their perspective gives us a window into the depth of teaching and research that is characteristic of an Augsburg education.
As biology professor Dale Pederson ’70 once shared at a gathering of faculty and alumni—the College has recognized it could not wait for the new Center to act on strengthening the three programs that will live in the new building.
All about connecting
As physics faculty member Mark Engebretson is quick to tell us, connecting science, business, and religion at Augsburg is an ongoing enterprise, and it is a very Lutheran thing to do.
“The earliest Lutheran leaders had no intellectual boundaries—science and theology were complementary areas of study, not competing ones. Today, our departments incorporate the three themes developed by the World Council of Churches in the 1980s to guide Christians worldwide in their actions in the world. Students are asked to create a society that is sustainable, just, and participatory. Science and technology, economic, social, and political organization, and religious faith are all important components of such a society; all these components must fit together well in order to enhance or even sustain the quality of human life.”
It was the summer of 1963 when Augsburg accepted two curious high school boys into its summer National Science Foundation course for high school students. The course sparked a deep interest in chemistry for Jon DeVries ’68 and his friend, Covey Hendrickson, who had polio.
That spark influenced the two tight-knit friends to enroll together at Augsburg to study chemistry.
Covey lost his battle with the after-effects of polio while the two were attending Augsburg, but DeVries’ love for chemistry lived on.
DeVries went on to earn a doctorate degree in organic chemistry from the University of Minnesota, and then spent the majority of his career as a scientist at General Mills, specializing in food safety and nutrition analysis.
“Augsburg provided me a very good baseline—very solid in math, science, and chemistry—which was great for launching a career in chemistry,” DeVries said.
DeVries and his wife, Sharon, hope to inspire other science-minded youth to become well-rounded contributors to society, whether it be in industry, government or academia, utilizing Augsburg-acquired scientific skills and other essential life competencies. They are acting on this hope by giving $50,000 for two faculty offices in Augsburg’s planned Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR).
“I think every person’s career should have a balance between societal responsibility, good business sense, and scientific knowledge—it’s important,” said DeVries, who looks forward to the CSBR being a place where students develop this balance.
“Contributing to the CSBR is an important effort,” DeVries said. “Building the CSBR is a necessary step for Augsburg to take, to stay current and be competitive in what’s a fiercely competitive environment for colleges.”
The couple also contributed $10,000 to help fund the CSBR’s Quantitative Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, which will be named to recognize Jon’s long-time colleague and mentor, Dr. Arlin Gyberg, Augsburg chemistry professor emeritus.
When reflecting on that influential summer on Augsburg’s campus in 1963, Jon can’t help but feel honored to have launched his career that now permits him and Sharon to contribute to the science legacy that will live on through the students who study in the CSBR.
Recently, I shared time with a Minnesota corporate leader, a man of great faith. He is not an Augsburg alumnus, but his company and personal values directly connect to the goals of the CSBR.
He introduced me to a CD, “God of the Impossible,” by Dr. David Gibbs, Jr.
It is a re-telling of back-to-back stories of Jesus performing two miracles in Matthew 14: the feeding of the 5,000; and Peter’s walking on water to join the disciples as they cross a turbulent Sea of Galilee. Jesus teaches the disciples that all things are possible through Him … a lesson that continued to be difficult for them (and us) to fully comprehend.
Gibbs begins by sharing that great things are done by many without belief in God.
However, he adds, God calls believers to do the Impossible through Him…even when the conditions don’t seem conducive (like having only 5 loaves and two fish to feed a multitude, or walking on water in a raging, tumultuous sea).
Gibbs confesses that most of his life he has prayed for God to change the conditions, the obstacles that are getting in the way of what he has been trying to accomplish.
The four key points in this moving CD are:
1) Ask God specifically for something Impossible.
2) Get your eyes off the conditions.
3) Forget Plan B.
4) You have to get out of the boat if you want to be a “water walker.”
Melodie Lane joined the Augsburg staff less than five years ago, but her team spirit makes it seem as if she’s been here much longer. She is both a generous donor to the Center for Science, Business, and Religion and a CSBR campaign cheerleader through and through.
“There are times when I’m the face of Augsburg in the athletics office. But then, we’re all the face of Augsburg,” says Lane, who serves as athletics business manager/program coordinator, is a current Master of Arts in Leadership student, and also coordinates the A-Club.
Her journey here covered several of her many interests. She taught elementary school, managed theater productions, became a real estate appraiser, and ran an appraisal business in Texas before following her brother-in-law, then an assistant football coach, and sister, who previously worked in the athletics department, to the inner-city campus.
“I think Jeff [Swenson '79, Athletic Director] knew we had a good work ethic in our family when he called, and I was looking for a change,” says Lane, who began as an over-qualified administrative assistant but happily pursues new responsibilities. “The reason why I’m still here is not so much the job I do—everyone wants to do meaningful work, and sometimes secretarial things just need to be done. It’s something about all the people here, the mission of the college, and the mission of the athletic department that makes you feel you’re part of the team. And that makes you want to stay.”
Lane didn’t hesitate when Swenson challenged his department to give the CSBR their full support. “I would say we mirror his passion and his commitment to the college being the best it can be. I believe the CSBR is the next big step for our entire campus,” she says. “I’m not a science or a business major, so it doesn’t connect for me in that way. It’s more about the college as a whole and what we can accomplish together as servant-leaders in the world.”
Lane is now an official Auggie, having finished her master’s degree in leadership in May. She is excited about collaborating with Athletic Department Chaplain Mike Matson ’07 on an authentic leadership project. She also manages to pursue her photography, gift, and card business in her spare time.
“I keep doing things I love. That’s just who I am,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been blessed in so many ways, over and over—not just my job, but my master’s degree, the people I work with, the entire Auggie family. So I want to give back, to carry this forward so that those who follow and want a great education can have it.”
Lane is convinced that the CSBR will attract more students. “I really do believe Augsburg is a diamond in the rough. We’re the middle-of-the-city school, probably the most diverse in the metro area. But we keep surprising people, and we don’t settle for mediocrity.”
She cites last year’s new field turf and this year’s “amazing scoreboard,” dedicated to the late Edor Nelson, as examples of striving for excellence. “The CSBR campaign brings us closer and closer to that every day,” she adds. “We are not a school that has large endowments. We work hard for our success, and when things turn out, we’re proud of it. We really are determined to be the best we can be.”
When my husband Jim ’51 returned from World War II, he planned to continue his education in pre-med. However, when he “mustered out,” Veterans Affairs discovered he had come home with tuberculosis. After three years in a sanatorium, he was considered well. Still, he learned that medical school would not accept him. Fortunately, a VA counselor suggested he look into becoming a science teacher, and referred him to Augsburg. Here he found his passion and pathway to lifelong service—his own way for making a brighter future for others as a teacher and administrator.
When Jim died in 1996, we received many generous memorial gifts in his honor. I was pleased to receive guidance from our pastor to collect them all and create an endowed scholarship to honor Jim. It made perfect sense to me!
Today that endowed fund has grown more robust. Now I can provide a more generous scholarship to our deserving students. I so enjoy learning about the students who receive support for their Augsburg education.
Sometimes we need someone else to show us the pathway and help us know how to activate our generosity and engagement. That pastor helped expand one aspect of my commitment to this great College.
Another wonderful example is found in the spirit of Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE).
What I love about AWE is that we are women of all ages coming together to connect, learn from one another, and give generously. Cumulative gifts of AWE have exceed our initial fundraising goal of $100,000, and include naming a student study lounge in the future Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR).
I don’t have the means to do big gifts. But I also know that active engagement and giving go together. I found ways to increase the level of my giving by using estate planning tools. I could not have imagined just how large a gift I can make because of this planning, and I am so satisfied to share with my family this decision to make a stretch gift in this way.
My passion in life is to facilitate the work of leaders, and I especially like to do that by continuing to meet and learn from the amazing students I meet on campus. I know, too, how essential it is to their future and ours to put my money to work to invest in the Center for Science, Business, and Religion, where the faculty, passionately dedicated to the vision and mission of our college will foster great leaders for tomorrow.
Please join me and take a leap to engage with Augsburg. Come back to Homecoming—there are so many opportunities to connect—attend a reunion, and be sure to give. For I believe that it is in giving we expand the circle that is a great Augsburg tradition. Read on to learn more stories of generosity for the Class Challenge effort.
Shelby Andress ’56
Several days each season, Steve Nielsen ’64 (pictured with his wife, Becky Nielsen ’65) can be found working his 80 acres of soybeans and corn in southwest Minnesota. “I like the serenity that comes with being out in the field: the time alone, sitting in a tractor cab, and the satisfaction that comes with the harvest,” he explains. He’s returning to his roots, working some of the same land he helped farm as a teenager. His roots also extend to Augsburg, where he has made gifts and pledges totaling $200,000 in support of the Center for Science, Business, and Religion. “I felt grateful that Augsburg allowed me to have some success in life, and I thought I should share that,” Steve says.
These days farming is a hobby and a chance for some quiet time on the tractor, but back in the day it was a way of life for Steve’s family and community. In the 1950s, most rural Minnesota schools weren’t focused on preparing young people for college. “I knew other people from my high school who attended one or two semesters at the U of M and flunked out,” says Steve, whose teachers had never asked him to write a term paper or read an entire book until he started college.
He was nervous about being underprepared, but he wanted to go to college and become a high school teacher and football coach. “That was all I knew: farming or teaching,” he says. At Augsburg, he played football (even going up against future Vikings tackle Gary Larsen in a game against Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.), and worked hard to make ends meet. One year during the football off-season, Steve and his roommate worked at a dairy processor in St. Paul, lugging 100-pound bags for eight hours, and getting home at 2 a.m. “That hurt my grades badly,” remembers Steve. “But once you get started [with college], you don’t quit, because it’s an admission of failure.” Attending chapel provided him with a respite from the whirlwind of work, classes, and football.
Cultivating a Career
After graduation Steve obtained a commission in the U.S. Navy and served four years, which included service in Vietnam. “When I came back, I realized that teaching wasn’t for me,” Steve remembers. “I didn’t have the patience.” He went to work as a field representative for Del Monte Foods, eventually rising to become vice president of vegetable production. He finished his career as vice president of supply chain management at Chiquita, and retired in 2006.
He is the immediate past chair of the Carver County Republicans, in which he has been active for many years. Steve and his wife Becky met at Augsburg, and have three daughters. They have 11 grandchildren; his granddaughter Morgan is just beginning her second year at Augsburg.
Planting the Seed for Future Students
Fifty years after graduating from Augsburg, Steve credits the college with helping him develop good judgment and teaching him how to work with other people. Steve’s support of the Center for Science, Business, and Religion boosts the Class of 1964’s response to the Class Challenge, which seeks to raise an average of $1 million from each class for the CSBR. “The only way that an institution like Augsburg can survive and thrive is with the support of alumni and friends,” says Steve.
“The Center for Science, Business, and Religion really encapsulates a substantial part of what Augsburg is about: an environment that celebrates both the mind and the spirit, and also celebrates the reality of Christian vocation,” says popular physics professor Mark Engebretson, who retired—sort of—in May. He and his wife tithe regularly, but have also pledged a substantial CSBR donation and urge other faculty to follow suit.
Today, academic and worldly endeavors cannot be separated. “As Christians, we’re here to make the world a better place or at least support it so it doesn’t fall apart, and that means the world of work. At the same time, we’re thinking beings and we’re curious,” he explains. “That’s a basic contrast to the way the world was 2,000 years ago. Education then was for elite thinkers and had no practical consequences; work was done by slaves.”
Deep thought about how disciplines intersect is nothing new for Engebretson, who joined the Augsburg faculty in 1976 after earning a Master’s in divinity at Luther Theological Seminary and a physics Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota. He declined to choose between science and religion.
“I was interested in too many things, and certainly both science and Christianity,” he says. “I applied to every ELCA college in the country and also inquired about posts at two international Christian colleges, in Tokyo and Beirut.” He chose Augsburg for its tenure track and the opportunity to teach courses such as Science and Ethics; Physics, Computers, and Society; and Issues in Science and Religion.
Subversives in Action
Science and religion have been connected for a long time, he says, citing initial Catholic church suspicions that Copernicus and Galileo were closet Lutherans whose theology was subversive. “Some people have trouble making those connections, and once in a while, there’s friction between the two,” he says. The ongoing brouhaha over the evolution theories of Darwin and others is another example. “The idea that life developed from simple forms bothered a lot of people and still does. The hope that I could shed light rather than heat on those topics is why I wanted to teach at an ELCA college.”
Engebretson studies the earth’s space environment and radiation belts, and was one of eight U.S., Canadian, and Japanese scientists chosen to consult with NASA on a recent satellite mission. Augsburg, one of the very first small colleges to give physics undergraduates the opportunity to do cutting-edge research, owns and manages experimental instruments that measure magnetic fields at remote sites in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Engebretson is delighted that outside sources have funded almost all of his research work, making scarce resources available to others. Since 2008, he has brought in more than $2.2 million in National Science Foundation grants.
Needs for Space Shifting
Building facility requirements used to be minimal. “Our space physics projects didn’t need a lot of specialized equipment in labs because it was all in space, all over the world. Research could take place in a college stretched for dollars,” he says. “But now that we’re doing more research in chemistry, biology and computer science as well as physics, we’re running out of room and confronting limitations in a pretty old building.”
He recalls the 1990s, when the Physics Department won National Science Foundation funding to renovate and expand its lab facilities. “Once that was done, enrollment increased almost immediately and has remained higher ever since, so we have a data point. Having attractive facilities and enough space means we can have a better program.”
Although he has officially given up teaching, Engebretson will still conduct research (two multi-year proposals were recently funded) at Augsburg, as well as in Maryland, where he will be a frequent visitor at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He will also continue to mentor students, a role he relishes.
“Having one-on-one relationships with students is a wonderful way of learning and growing as a professional. And to use that professional creativity in all those various ways, we need buildings,” he says. “The CSBR is a wonderful idea that exemplifies a lot of what I love about Lutheran Christianity, the theology that undergirds this place.”