Alumni Spotlight: Darin Rowles ’04, ’15 (MSW)

Darin RowlesRowles Named New Head for State’s HIV Services

Darin Rowles ’04, ’15 (MSW) has worked in the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) sector since 1995, a time when an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. He worked very closely with many people whose lives were coming to an end due to HIV. But in 1995, the first advanced HIV treatment became available—“a game changer in HIV,” says Rowles. Things have changed dramatically since then, and he now has a new opportunity to spread the hopefulness.

On Halloween 2018, Rowles stepped into a new position that will bring to bear his 23+ years of experience in direct-service and management of HIV—and to a much wider audience. As Manager of HIV Services for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), Rowles now oversees the administration of numerous services for people living with HIV, but on a statewide basis. The work includes the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Part B and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

Ending the Epidemic

Rowles says we now have the treatment options and knowledge needed to end the HIV epidemic. Though there is still no cure or vaccine, two major assets have recently been added to the HIV toolbox.

The first is a concept known as “U=U” (undetectable equals untransmittable), based on research that has shown conclusively that people living with HIV who are able to engage in medical care can maintain an undetectable HIV viral load, thereby preventing them from passing on the virus to sexual partners.

The second new tool is PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a daily medication for those not living with HIV who want to remain HIV-negative. Rowles says that now we also know how to provide HIV treatments that enhance quality of life for those already living with the virus and prevent transmission to others.

But Rowles acknowledges that some of the greatest HIV challenges we have today are with young people, who are both less likely to use preventive measures like PrEP, and less likely to have the resources to manage their HIV and maintain an undetectable viral load. He knows that much work remains to be done in the HIV sector to raise awareness. In Minnesota alone, there are about 300 new HIV infections each year. In 2017, about a third of the 284 new cases were individuals under age 30, and about one-fifth were 24 or younger. The majority of those 24 or younger were male-identified, and almost all of these identified sex with another male-identified person as their primary risk.

Rowles’ work is cut out for him, and he is excited about this opportunity to gain experience in administering service to the public sector. His new role will include supervising, mentoring, and teaching emerging social work professionals, as well as overseeing the administration of contracted support services, insurance assistance, medication-access programs, capacity-building programs, and policy initiatives–plus monitoring compliance with federal funding, and activities that engage the community.

Previously, much of Rowles’ work involved relating one-on-one to people living with the disease. From 2002 to 2018, he worked in multiple roles with MAP (the Minnesota AIDS Project, now called JustUs Health). In addition, he has done focused worked with people living with serious and persistent mental health issues in residential settings. For five years, he served on the Minnesota HIV Services Planning Council and was an active part of the community planning process in allocating federal funding for HIV services within Minnesota. Currently, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Professional Association of Social Workers in HIV/AIDS.

Minnesotan, Through and Through

Rowles values his Minnesota roots, and confesses to being a “massive Prince fan.” He feels fortunate to have seen Prince over 100 times, often at late-night parties at his Chanhassen studio. In addition to his love for music, Rowles has “geeky” interests, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Marvel-verse. These interests recharge him for his day-to-day work, he says, as do his husband and three cats, who live with him in South Minneapolis.

Rowles’ ongoing relationship with Augsburg began with some “post-secondary” classes during his senior year in high school. When he put his academic life on pause partway through his freshman year, he took some time to “experience life,” before returning to complete his Bachelor’s degree, and later, his Master’s in Social Work. He has stayed in touch with various professors and with Auggies from his Master’s cohort and has supervised a number of social work undergrads in internship roles. This trimester he is back on campus as a co-facilitator for an Intergroup Dialogue. He says that both of his social work experiences at Augsburg made a major impression on him, and he continues to be a cheerleader for the university and the social work program.

Perhaps Rowles’ greatest contribution as a Minnesotan is yet to come, as he pursues his new work with DHS. In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, DHS is implementing a statewide strategy to end HIV in Minnesota. As Rowles says, “We have the tools to end this epidemic, and now is the time.”

 

–by Cheryl Crockett ‘89

Augsburg Family Spotlight: Bruce ’91 and Michael Rivers ’19

Rivers
Michael Rivers ‘19

Facing an Unexpected Tragedy

When Michael Rivers graduates from Augsburg this spring, he plans to do some private investigative work for criminal lawyers, and then enroll in law school. His goal of becoming a criminal defense attorney with a private practice would seem like a natural progression, especially since that’s what his father has done since 1998. But his pathway to this decision was a long and painful one—and never a given.

Rivers recalls that growing up in the southwest Minneapolis house once occupied by his great-grandparents, he sensed a strong bond between his parents (both Auggies who went on to earn doctorates), and he enjoyed many childhood pleasures—skiing, baseball, and biking the Minnehaha Parkway weekly to Lake Harriet. Life seemed simple then.

But he remembers a lot of fighting, too. When Rivers was five years old, his parents divorced. In the beginning, that wasn’t very troubling for a five-year-old—it meant two birthday celebrations, two Christmas gatherings, two homes, and several “double events.” But within the year, his mother died and—even though the full impact of having her “gone forever” didn’t really sink in—he managed to continue with sports and many of his other activities, including regular attendance at his dad’s Sunday School class. He also participated in an “amazing grief group” at his elementary school, which helped him talk about death with peers and contributed greatly to healing and an understanding of death.

As Rivers was entering his teens, he was told the truth about how his mother had died. She had not been sick, as he had been led to believe. She had taken her own life—just as his grandfather and uncle had done. This new information—and the intentionality of those deaths—forced him to reconstruct everything on which he felt his life had been based.

Trying to Cope

He began drinking at age 13, becoming intoxicated regularly to calm the chatter in his brain. During his teen years (the “trouble phase”), Rivers quit going to church. He no longer had any interest in academics, and his grades plummeted. He resented and disregarded authority and started lying to his father. Expelled from one high school for possessing a taser, he ended up attending three others. He was arrested four times. He ran away from home four times, once ending up in Omaha where he was arrested for shoplifting and being a runaway, another time in Colorado where the $6,000 he had stolen from his father funded a weeklong drug ride, and twice in Florida. He “went through a lot of friends” and surrounded himself with people who had low expectations of him.

The fire that fueled the animosity he then felt toward the world was his understanding of his mother’s death. He felt betrayed and lied to. He was haunted by the image of his mother in her casket: the lifeless body that once held his life inside of her, and the burn marks on her lips from the gun she used—and the images still inhabit his dreams today.

While in an after-care treatment program, Rivers learned there were school programs that could help him earn a GED—a fact that became enticing only when he discovered he could possibly get into Augsburg as well. Though his high school academic record held little promise, his optimism increased as he recalled nostalgically the stories from his parents about how much they had enjoyed Augsburg. He also learned more about the StepUP program, Augsburg’s residential collegiate recovery community.

When Rivers began his studies at Augsburg, he lived in the dorms. He ended his first year with a 2.1 GPA, a slight improvement from high school. But he knew he could do much better. In terms of the required sobriety in StepUP, he had relapsed the first time and had to join the program again. But soon he began to thrive and discovered that there was great value for him in the communal connection he found in the StepUP community, even with substantial staff turnover in the program and some gossiping that can come from living in close proximity.

The Road Ahead

Throughout his Augsburg years, he has gone through waves of emotions, thinking about his mother and the strong possibility that he has likely sat in the same classrooms as she did, interacting with some of the same professors (like Dr. Nancy Steblay, the psychology professor for whom his mother once wrote a meta-analysis).

And he has changed. His outlook on his mother’s death has gone from intense grief and resentment of her and the world to a fuller understanding and admiration of the person she was, and a respect for the world around him. Now, as he approaches graduation time, Rivers can taste victory. Of the last 15 classes he has taken, he has earned a 4.0 in 13 of them, putting him on the Dean’s List for four consecutive semesters and likely resulting in a 3.5 GPA when he graduates.

In the years ahead, Rivers sees himself working on hard criminal cases, owning property, working at both passive incomes and vacation destinations, and traveling the world with the one he loves. Given his skills in photography, he may even start a film production company. But as he pursues law school and a career, his work in Augsburg’s student government will likely be useful, as will advice and encouragement from his lawyer father, Bruce ’91, who is especially pleased about his son’s progress. Bruce says, “It is only through hard work and perseverance that this fine young man has achieved all that he has.” He must be especially gratified that Michael has chosen to pursue the same career path as he did.

–by Cheryl Crockett ‘89

Alumni Spotlight: Matt Swenson ‘91 and the Minnesota Art Truck

Matt by art cardsMinnesota Art Takes to the Road

Picture yourself in your favorite Minnesota town, enjoying one of those great community festivals—relaxing while you peruse a wide range of art and crafts for sale, connect with old and new friends, and discover some remarkable local talent. Who doesn’t love those festivals? What may surprise you is that you may be doing all this while standing inside the Minnesota Art Truck!

Instead of expecting you to go to a museum or store to find a piece of art to your liking—which may or may not be original or fit your budget—Matt Swenson ’91 has found a way to turn the tables and let Minnesota art come to you.

In 2018, the first full calendar year of his new business, Swenson took his MN Art Truck to 90+ events throughout the state, providing a unique shopping opportunity for not only the local residents seeking unusual and affordable art, but for artists seeking a wider audience for their creations. And by “art,” we mean much more than old paintings and marble busts. Swenson finds artistry in jewelry made from flatware, digital illustration, wooden jewelry, wire sculptures, every type of painting, doodle drawings, coloring, writing, calligraphy, fiber work, handmade paper, photography, screen printing, T-shirts, fused glass, ornaments, greeting cards, pillows, alcohol ink, metal work, welding, and stained glass, to name a few.

As Swenson searched over the years for the perfect creative outlet for his own art, the ideal medium kept eluding him. Then, about five years ago, he was introduced to “assembled art,” which combines two disparate objects into a new form—say, perhaps, a robot automaton made from some cast-off item from yesteryear. That was it—the medium for which he had been searching! And the art form continues to give him amazing joy and fulfillment to this day.

inside the art truckMany Artists and a Truck

As Swenson connected with more artists, he realized how difficult it is for most of them to connect with consumers. He decided to “steal a page from the now-booming food truck phenomenon” and sell art from a truck—more specifically, original local art displayed in a friendly, welcoming truck.

Earlier, when Swenson had reached out to galleries in hopes of forging some kind of partnership, he was disappointed to find very little interest in anything that wasn’t “fine art.” By contrast, when he took his MN Art Truck to communities across the state, he discovered that people—rural and urban— found his unusual sculptures appealing and were willing to purchase them—even people who weren’t his relatives. They seemed to find his art more approachable and less intimidating than some traditional art forms can be. He has also been gratified that his “nutty sculptures” have been accepted in juried Minnesota art shows, and have been part of three different curated art exhibits. Some have been purchased around the world, and others added to some permanent corporate collections.

As an Augsburg student, Swenson had gained invaluable practical business experience, particularly through internship programs—which served him well in this unique business venture. But, even more importantly, he had learned how to recognize important areas of interest for him that were underdeveloped, and then move to develop them further.

the art truckRunning a mobile business meant plenty of new learning experiences for him—finding the right truck, getting it DOT-approved and roadworthy, and setting it up per his business model. Securing insurance was tricky since insurers are accustomed to insuring a fleet, not a single truck. Then, of course, he needed to find artists who wanted to have their art onboard, and then schedule events. He took on every event that came his way.

But no business is likely to move forward unless there are good ways to get the word out, and in this case, to convince Minnesotans that it’s okay to climb aboard a truck and try out this new model for buying original art. Some of the best responses to the MN Art Truck have been found at rural art and book festivals, farmers’ markets, wineries and breweries, and corporate “Art Stop” events. There has been moderate success using Facebook to spread the word, though word-of-mouth communication seems to be the most effective—artists sharing success stories within their peer groups, satisfied customers telling friends, businesses posting notices, etc. In 2019, Swenson will be partnering with new local groups, such as The Loft, LOLA Art Crawl, 4 Angels Creations, Dundee Floral, Anoka Food Truck Festival, and Holidazzle.

Support artists sign on the truckLooking Long-Term

Swenson is thoroughly enjoying his vocation and wants to franchise the Art Truck concept across the country. Doing so, however, will require profitability so that the endeavor doesn’t simply become a hobby. Though many of the artists whose work he carried on the truck enjoyed success last year, Swenson knew that his numerous start-up expenses would make profitability in 2018 much less likely for him. Now, with those expenses behind him, profitability in 2019 looks promising. Since he and his wife are currently covering the costs of the operation from their retirement and their daughter’s college funds, a banner second year would be a blessing.

Swenson’s hope for 2019 is to find a corporate partner that would like to support local arts, and could make use of Swenson’s business and marketing background—maybe something, he says, like the “Explore Minnesota Art Truck” or “General Mills Art Truck.” Minnesota artists of all stripes would certainly benefit! And think of all the communities that could enjoy original Minnesota creations!

 

–by Cheryl Crockett ‘89

Bring Your Passion for Augsburg to the Alumni Board

Augsburg Alumni BoardIf you’ve ever had ideas about how to better engage the alumni at Augsburg or wanted to reconnect with your alma mater and current students, you would be a perfect candidate for our Alumni Board. Serving on the Augsburg Alumni Board is a fantastic opportunity to connect with other alumni and influence the programming we offer to our alumni, parents, and friends.

The Board allows you to become an Augsburg Insider and to build close connections with alumni from various class years and majors. As a Board member, you will regularly hear from the President and Senior Leadership. The board’s ideas and opinions have also been sought around topics such as the name change to Augsburg University and our next strategic plan.

The Alumni Board is currently accepting applications for volunteers to join the board and alumni are welcomed and encouraged to apply.

The board has different committees focused on all areas of engagement, giving and more for you to serve on and focus on what you are most passionate.

To  find out more you can read the job description or contact Alumni Director Katie (Koch) Code’01 at codek@augsburg.edu

the board at homecomingThe Board’s mission

The Alumni Board is a governing body of the Augsburg Alumni Association. The board exists to guide the Office of Alumni and Constituent Relations of Augsburg University in serving the valued alumni, parents and friends by providing resources and opportunities to engage alumni with the College and each other through consistent communication, inclusive programming, and intentional relationship building.

_____________________

It is the desire of the Augsburg Alumni Board that the board is well represented in regards to class years, colleges (day school, AU/WEC, graduate programs) community diversity and experiences. All applications will be reviewed in conjunction with the current make-up of the board at the time the application is received. In the event that you are not selected, your application will remain on file and you may be contacted later to gauge your continued interest.

It is the policy of this organization to provide equal opportunities without regard to race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual preference, age, or disability.

3M’s CFO Nick Gangestad ‘86 Shares Sound Advice for Augsburg Business and Accounting Students

Nick Gangestad talking to students and facultyEarly in his career, 3M’s CFO Nick Gangestad ‘86 created an excel spreadsheet to map out his professional development and possible future jobs. As a planner and an accountant, Gangestad jokes that excel seemed like the only application to use.

Augsburg’s Business Administration Department recently welcomed Gangestad to campus to share with students his advice as they begin their careers. The room was eager to hear about Gangestad’s vocational journey and the steps he found most valuable during his impressive career at 3M. Gangestad encouraged the students to have goals and a plan in mind and to share those goals with their future supervisors. He said there were a number of times in his career when sharing his future hopes opened doors to new and fruitful experiences.

Among the key takeaways from Gangestad’s talk were to establish a personal brand. Gangestad said there were more than 1000 accountants working at 3M back when he was just starting out at the company. He worked to establish a brand that was true to him but also differentiated him.

“I had a brand around being a teacher,” Gangestad said, “and that I could explain concepts to people that most other people couldn’t and I could do it in a way that people could understand.”

Gangestad talks to students and facultyHe told students that it’s important to try to be the first to do something and to think about what you want to be known for. He also encouraged them to take risks. Gangestad has enjoyed the times in his career when he has worked abroad and found value in the challenges and opportunities that made him uncomfortable allowing him to grow as a person.

Gangestad also mentioned the ways in which he has chosen to get involved and give back to his community which includes serving on the Board of Regents at Augsburg.

“The Business Administration Department is very grateful that a man as busy as Nick Gangestad would take so much time to share his extremely impressive vocational journey with our students,” Professor of Economics Jeanne Boeh said after the talk. “Our students left with so many good ideas and strategies for their career moving forward in addition to the important meta message of giving back to the community.”

About Nick Gangestad (from 3M’s Corporate Officer’s page)

Nick Gangestad, 3M’s chief financial officer, grew up on a farm in Iowa intending to pursue a traditional accounting practice. That’s certainly the path he started down, earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting followed by an MBA. But when he was in college, Nick participated in a corporate student program at 3M that started him down a different path. That was almost three decades ago.

“Three aspects of 3M changed my mind,” Nick recalls. “This place operates like a family. I saw opportunities to do it all while working for one company. And I liked how 3M developed people.”

Now, he’s such a big believer in the company that he has a framed copy of the McKnight Principles hanging on his wall at 3M headquarters. William L. McKnight was a longtime 3M CEO whose management philosophy – of allowing room for the kind of experimentation that leads to breakthrough innovations – has shaped the company.

Innovation is clearly appealing to Nick, who was the first student in his high school to buy a computer. He was almost certainly the first student to start his own business, when he began programming videogames and selling them to his classmates. But he also hasn’t wandered too far afield from his first love of accounting.

Nick began at 3M in 1987 as a systems analyst in the company’s finance office. He became a plant accountant a few years later, followed by financial analyst and financial manager roles in various divisions in the U.S., Latin America, and the Asia Pacific regions. In 2003, Nick was named vice president of Finance and Information Technology for 3M Canada. In 2007, Nick returned to Minnesota to direct corporate accounting for the company, followed in 2011 by a new role as corporate controller and chief accounting officer. In 2014, he was named 3M’s chief financial officer.

Outside of work, Nick and his family enjoy sailing, supporting the arts, home renovation, traveling and hosting travelers and – of course – cheering on the Minnesota Twins.

Alumni Spotlight: Augsburg Professor Goes Above and Beyond for Alumnus Will Walker ’17

Walker at HCMC
Walker at HCMC

Will Walker ’17 knew as a boy that his grandfather had experienced some kidney issues, but he had no idea that the disease was hereditary, or that one day it would send him on a critical ambulance ride from his Augsburg dormitory to HCMC (Hennepin County Medical Center).

As a boy growing up in the South, Walker had watched his family struggle to make ends meet. When he was 10, they moved to Minnesota, and he sensed the opportunity for a fresh start. Survival still had its challenges, but as a teen, Walker learned how to fend for himself. To avoid confrontations with neighborhood gang members, he found ways to dress and act that kept him “under the radar.” He developed a sense of “street smarts” that served him well.

Walker knew about Augsburg, and he learned more when some of his friends became students there. With some scholarship assistance, eventually, he himself became an Auggie. Inclined toward either the physician assistant program or a business degree, he chose business. He also became involved in sports.

At one of Walker’s business classes, an evening class, he asked his professor if she would teach him how to be a businessman. He sought her advice regularly, often after class as he walked her to her car in the parking lot as a safety precaution. Thus began an enduring friendship between Walker and his professor, Dr. Karen Tangen.

One day in the dormitory, tragedy struck. Walker began vomiting. He kept on vomiting and then couldn’t breathe. He knew this was severe. Something was definitely wrong, so he called 911. The ambulance came to the dormitory and whisked him away to HCMC.

Fortunately, Walker’s emergency was addressed by a seasoned pulmonary specialist, who happened to be on hand when Walker arrived at HCMC. He drained two-and-a-half gallons of fluid from Walker’s lungs. What he had vomited was not blood, but fluid. It was at this time that Walker learned about the hereditary disease that could shut down his kidneys—the same disease that had caused his grandfather’s problems years earlier. The physician told Walker that, when he had made the 911 call, he was within a couple of minutes of losing his life.

Walker and Tangen at graduation
Walker and Tangen at graduation

Walker’s name was put on the kidney transplant list. Though he was younger than most individuals meriting a spot on the list, he had shown himself to be very responsible—eating right, exercising regularly to keep up his strength, and following physicians’ orders. However, in order to be eligible to receive a kidney, he would need to have a sponsor and undergo a psychological exam—plus he would need to have all his wisdom teeth pulled since transplant patients are more prone to oral health complications. Tangen agreed to serve as his sponsor and she helped him find the resources to have the teeth pulled. But waiting for a kidney requires patience.

While waiting, Walker continued his Augsburg studies. In addition to managing his class load, handling a regular job, and working his student job in food service, he was also receiving kidney dialysis three times a week. Each four-hour dialysis session had to be capped off by a four-hour period of rest. The schedule was grueling, but he somehow managed it all. And he was nearing the finish line at Augsburg.

Then he got the call. HCMC had a kidney for him. The first person he called to “get down here right away” and join him was Tangen. Her mad rush to be there for him was successful, and the three-hour transplant surgery went well. He was put in isolation during recovery, and Tangen faithfully “guarded” his space, when his resistance would be low. He began taking 13 medications, a regimen he will need to continue the rest of his life. The recovery from surgery took two months, and two months after that, he graduated from Augsburg.

Walker shopping for interview clothes
Walker shopping for interview clothes

As Walker searched for employment, Tangen stepped in to help again. They went shopping together for appropriate interview clothing, practiced “lunch out” with a fictional prospective employer, and attended a job fair. She gave him tips on how to handle an interview, helped him write a solid resume, and showed him how to search online for jobs.

All the preparation paid off, and Walker’s search yielded his current position in finance for Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis, where he handles revenue and statements for the parking department. He and his new kidney are doing just fine.

 

–by Cheryl Crockett ‘89

Lois Hofstad Esselstrom Ph.D. ’58 Publishes “An Intimate Journey with Our Father: Walking and Talking with God”

Book cover for An Intimate Journey with Our FatherAlumna Lois Hofstad Esselstrom, Ph.D., has recently published “An Intimate Journey with Our Father: Walking and Talking with God,” available on Amazon for purchase. Before earning her bachelor of arts from Augsburg in 1958, Lois grew up in the home of a pastor and educator and says her family walked and talked with God through Bible reading and prayer. She went on to earn both an M.A. and Ph.D. from Western Reserve University. She has been a church parish worker, a publish school teacher and a professor of English at Indiana University South Bend. She and her husband Michael Esselstrom have two children and are now retired in Florida.

About this Book (from the author)

To walk life’s road with the Almighty God, engaged in intimate conversation with Him? Can it be? As astonishing, indeed shocking, as this concept is, it is simple enough for a child to experience. I know because I was that child. When I was very small, Mother found me on a chair talking to Someone she could not see. “Who are you talking to?” she asked. “I’m talking to Jesus. You said He was here.” Ever since that day decades ago I have known that I may talk to Jesus, or more precisely, with Jesus, with God. God chooses to engage with children, men, and women in intimate dialogue. Sometimes He initiates the conversation through words of the Bible as we read or remember them. Sometimes words from morning devotional reading steady me all through the day. Our answer is amazement and gratitude. Or we speak to Him first, through conscious prayer or through longings which He hears in our hearts. He answers according to what is best for His child. Jesus was very specific about God’s intentions. He said that He and His Father would “come and make our home” with those who love Him. It occurred to me that God, Who is Love, may enjoy being welcomed to be at home in our personal lives even more than we limited mortals can rise to being glad He has come. Thus, as the almighty God lives in our lives, we, together with believers of all ages, bear witness to the reality of An Intimate Journey with Our Father: Walking and Talking with God.

Augsburg Hosts Bruce Shoemaker ’82 Book Launch for “Dead in the Water: Global Lessons for the World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos”

Dead in the Water coverSponsored by the McKnight Foundation and the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, a book launch for the release of “Dead in the Water: Global Lessons for the World Bank’s Model Hydropower Project in Laos,” by Bruce Shoemaker ’82 will be held on Thursday, Nov. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Student Art Gallery in the Christensen Center.

The book “offers a new understanding of Laos in a difficult period of nation building and development [and] a vital lesson to policy planners, scholars, and INGOs encountering the illusory success of a globalizing economy,” according to the forward by Yos Santasombat.

About the Author

Bruce ShoemakerBruce Shoemaker is an independent researcher based in far northern California who focuses on natural resource conflict issues in the Mekong Region. Among his current projects is the preparation of an edited volume on the World Bank’s involvement in the Nam Theun 2 hydropower project in Laos, to be published by University of Wisconsin Press. He has lived in Laos for eight years and Thailand for three while working for a number of NGOs and subsequently was employed, for more than ten years, as the program advisor for the Southeast Asia Grants Program of The McKnight Foundation, helping the foundation focus its grant making around natural resource rights issues as well as support for Indigenous Peoples organizations and other grassroots community organizing. He has a particular interest in the impacts of large hydropower projects on the lives and livelihoods of local communities in the Mekong Region and has authored or co-authored numerous articles and reports in this field.

Meet Distinguished Alumni Award Winner David J. Melby ‘68

David Melby '68David J. Melby ’68, Ph.D., is a psychologist, executive leader, professional volunteer, and advocate who embodies faithful service in true Augsburg University form.  Melby attended Augsburg, graduating in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and philosophy. Following his graduation, Melby attended graduate school in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, receiving both MA and Ph.D. degrees.

Melby’s career centered around providing and promoting the development of outpatient community mental health, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities services for people of all ages, as well as adult residential services. In 1974, he joined Mental Health Services of Franklin and Williamson Counties, Inc. (now known as Centerstone of Illinois) as a clinical psychologist. His role expanded the following year to include that of division director of mental health services; he served as CEO of that agency from 1996 until his retirement in 2006. Prior to his retirement, Melby served six years on the board and one year as president of the Illinois Association of Community Mental Health Agencies.

One of Melby’s nominators says, “His professional leadership in community mental health has made the lives of many who struggle with these issues brighter and more hopeful because of his nearly 50 years of service. David brings a selfless approach to volunteerism that inspires and supports those in our community’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve.”

For almost two decades, David has served as a volunteer for the American Heart Association (AHA).  He twice served as chairperson of the Southern Illinois Heart Walk and once of a Southern Illinois Heart Gala, raising awareness regarding heart-healthy lifestyles and fundraising for heart research, education and life-saving equipment, such as Automated External Defibrillators in public places. He currently serves as a member of the Illinois Advocacy Committee of the AHA, advocating for a heart-healthy state and federal legislation.

Throughout his career, Melby has been influenced by his father’s ministry and involvement in clinical pastoral counseling and the death of his infant brother, who was born with a heart defect and Down Syndrome. He was also motivated by the growing needs of his parents in their last years. He has consistently demonstrated his concern for people marginalized in society, often the poorest, sickest, and most stigmatized among us.

In retirement, David has become more involved in the work of not-for-profit and governmental agencies whose missions he supports. They include multiple terms on the Williamson County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, including as chairperson, and on the River to River Residential Communities Board, providing independent living, assisted living, supported living, and memory care services for seniors in multiple communities across southern Illinois. He has served since 2012 on the Board of Directors of Centerstone of Illinois, one of five Centerstone state service entities that, collectively, comprise one of the largest and most influential not-for-profit behavioral healthcare enterprises in the nation. Since 2014, David has also served as a board member and, now, current board chair of the Centerstone Research Institute (CRI), based in Nashville. CRI is currently developing evidence-based best practices for addressing the national opioid crisis, developing its first Center of Excellence for the treatment of depression, and reducing the “science-to-service cycle” in the treatment of behavioral health disorders.

Melby exemplifies servant leadership and the Augsburg value of being educated to serve.  For decades, he has served his church community in many capacities, including as president of the church council for over 10 years, co-chair of the building committee during construction of a new sanctuary, and delegate to the 2013 ELCA churchwide assembly. Whether through his contributions to the field of behavioral health care or his volunteerism, David has worked tirelessly to serve his community and embodies the values we work to instill in Auggies. In his life as a thoughtful steward and responsible leader, he has used his skills and gifts to impact communities and create healthier, more fulfilling lives for all.

Meet Distinguished Alumni Award Winner Brynn A. Watson ‘89

Brynn WatsonBrynn A. Watson ‘89 is an award-winning leader in the aerospace industry, nationally recognized for her technical expertise, executive leadership, and advocacy for STEM education. She currently serves as Lockheed Martin’s vice president for the Future Enterprise Program overseeing the corporation’s transformational digital technology operations.

In her nomination letter, the Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) Council said, “Brynn’s accomplishments during her career at Lockheed Martin stand for themselves. We are so proud to see an Auggie woman pioneering for other women in STEM.”

Watson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in mathematics from Augsburg University and a Master of Science in applied mathematics from the University of California at Riverside.

In prior leadership roles at Lockheed Martin, Watson was vice president of Navigation Systems Operations and deputy for the Global Positioning System (GPS) III program for Lockheed Martin Space. GPS III is the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation program improving position, navigation, and timing services to all users.  Before that, she was vice president of an engineering organization in the Space line of business leading more than 5,300 engineers, responsible for personnel management and development, engineering and technology strategy, engineering processes, tools and training, and product technical validation. Prior to that assignment, she served as director of software engineering, responsible for the execution and strategic direction over 1,200 software engineers; leading a strategic initiative focused on maximizing digital integration and end-to-end system modeling. Additionally, she served as director of engineering, collaboration, and operations for Corporate Engineering and Technology, and deputy to the vice president of Engineering.

Watson began her aerospace career as an engineer at Aerojet Electronic Systems in Azusa, Calif., where she held positions in a variety of systems and software engineering areas.

Watson is a member of Women in Aerospace, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Lockheed Martin Women’s Impact Network.

She has been recognized for her leadership, receiving the 2013 Lockheed Martin Space NOVA Full Spectrum Leadership Award; the 2012 Tribute to Women Honor by the YWCA of Silicon Valley; and the 2008 Lockheed Martin Space Ed Taft Diversity Leadership Award. In 2015, Watson’s essay, “A Look Inside Lockheed Martin’s Space-Age Operations,” was published by the Harvard Business Review.

Watson’s enterprising spirit and accomplishments mirror the tenacity of Auggies around the world, who, through study, experience, and hard work, ascend to prestigious positions among today’s leading companies.

Watson credits her time at Augsburg as helping her to think big and believe that she can accomplish anything with hard work and perseverance. She also feels that her strong advocacy for women was built by the dedicated women she interacted with during her time at the university.