Dr. Ruth Johnson ’74, and Philip A. Quanbeck II, religion professor emeritus, will lead a pilgrimage tour to Israel and Palestine on May 20 – 31 with an optional extension to Jordan on May 31-June 3, 2023.
Dr. Ruth and Dr. Phil led four tours to Greece and Turkey with Augsburg University students in 2003, 2005, and 2007, and with adults in 2008. They also led an Augsburg alumni tour to Israel in 2012, and most recently, in 2017, they led their own tour to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, which included a number of Auggies.
“We had a good group ready to go in May 2020 but COVID hit and we had to cancel,” they said. Adding, that conditions are now very favorable again for travel to the Holy Land.
Currently, they are working with a travel agency in Bethlehem called Shepherds Tours, which is closely associated with Dar Al-Kalima University and the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. Mitri Raheb and Dar Al Kalima have ties to Augsburg. Several Augsburg faculty including Jacqui DeVries have been to Dar Al Kalima in recent years, and Mitri Raheb has visited Augsburg on several occasions.
Johnson and Quanbeck’s tours visit well-known biblical sites associated with both Old Testament and New Testament stories and figures. They will visit the Galilee region and Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, and Jerusalem. And Bethlehem on the West Bank. They also engage current realities in Israel and the West Bank (Palestine). The extension to Jordan will include Petra, the area of building carved in red rock.
“We also meet with the Parents’ Circle Family Forum which is an Israeli and Palestinian group of parents who share their losses of children in the struggle,” they said. “We visit an Israeli settlement on the West Bank and a refugee camp operated by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, camps which are a remnant of the 1948 war.”
Johnson and Quanbeck encourage Augsburg alumni and friends to join them on the next pilgrimage and experience the tour firsthand.
The Manely Firm, P.C. is excited to announce its new associate attorney, Alisha Esselstein. The Manely Firm proudly practices family law throughout the state of Georgia and has the unique expertise of handling international family law cases all over the world.
Esselstein is a graduate of University of Wisconsin Law School and received her undergraduate degree from Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota in International Relations.
About Esselstein, Founding Attorney Michael Manely said, “We are very excited about Ms. Esselstein joining the firm, her international experiences will add more depth and breadth to the diverse experiences of the firm.”
Esselstein has extensive past-experience working with human rights and advocating against gender-based biases and has lived on every continent in the world (except Antarctica) and gained immense experience and knowledge from her immersion in these cultures.
She says, “As your attorney, these experiences will allow me to understand the complexities of your situation and the legal knowledge to guide you through the processes to begin your new life.”
Esselstein will focus on Family Law and International Family Law in her new role with The Manely Firm, P.C.
Recently, WBUR 90.9 FM (NPR) spoke with María Belén Power ’07, Augsburg University alumni and associate executive director with the Chelsea-based environmental group Green Roots, about the groundbreaking work her organization is doing to tackle climate change.
“That [starting small] has really been an approach that we take in a lot of our projects,” says Power. “Piloting small scale and ensuring that we can replicate those models to really have a much broader impact.”
Green Roots is a community-based organization dedicated to improving and enhancing the urban environment and public health in Chelsea and surrounding communities. We do so through deep community engagement and empowerment, youth leadership and implementation of innovative projects and campaigns.
Colleen (Carstensen) Peterson aka “CeCe” graduated from Augsburg University in 2004 with a double major in Psychology and Religion and a triple minor. She has made it her life mission to help others see their strength through their trials and tribulations, something that she is infinitely familiar with. From being diagnosed with dyslexia at eight, being an Olympic-trained figure skater and enduring the abuse of her coaches, losing her brother at 25, to having a severely disabled son, CeCe has founded a non-profit and used art to find strength in challenging times.
The birth of CeCe’s son and her frustration with not getting the right adaptive equipment to learn, play, and grow inspired the creation of her non-profit, Children’s Organization of Lending Equipment (The COLE Foundation). This mission of COLE is “connect costly adaptive equipment from children with disabilities who outgrow the equipment to other children who need it, at no cost. COLE provides a resource for families to browse and then Lend from our library of equipment.”
Another outlet for CeCe has been her artwork. Her most recent work will be exhibited at Hallberg Center for the Arts (Wyoming, MN) from March 24 – April 16, 2022. Her intentions for her series, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, are to reveal the struggle and loneliness but also the strength of womanhood. CeCe’s bold color palette creates the female form representing light, shadow, and space. Taking a closer look at each shape and stroke, the big and small events in life become a harmonious dance on canvas. 50% of the profits from each purchased painting will go to the COLE Foundation. Check out CeCe’s website: Www.CeCegallery.com.
Caryn Quist’s (’09) passion for science began in high school, “I had a teacher named Mr. Rogers, I kid you not!” Caryn laughed. “It was during this class that I fell in love with chemistry. Everything came to life for me in the lab.” When it came time to decide where to go to college, Augsburg was the perfect fit. “I loved the well-rounded aspect of a liberal arts education in the heart of Minneapolis,” Caryn shared. She graduated in 2009 with a major in Chemistry and a minor in Biology.
At Augsburg, Caryn participated in a research project through the Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity (URGO) program. “I worked with the Biology Department where we studied orchid cloning in partnership with a local greenhouse.” Caryn shared. Her involvement with URGO and working as an assistant to Dixie Shafer, Director of URGO, made a lasting impression. “Dixie strikes the difficult balance of holding very high standards yet leading with empathy,” Caryn said.
Dixie instilled the importance of networking which led Caryn to connect with a variety of professionals in her field. “I got lucky and met with a Chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota who was doing collaborative work in civil and environmental engineering. He picked up on my curiosity and told me to look into that area further,” Caryn reflected. She went on to earn her masters in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University in 2011.
CLEARING THE AIR
Caryn accepted a job offer in California after grad school and has remained there since. She spent the first few years working on several soil and groundwater cleanup projects in California’s Central Valley. “It was a great experience, but I eventually realized it wasn’t something I wanted to become an expert in,” Caryn said. This led to her transition to the industry side where she focused on environmental compliance at an Intel semiconductor fab. Later she pivoted to a local government agency strictly focusing on regional air quality. She applies all this experience to her current position as an Environmental Manager at Meta (formerly Facebook). “I took this job because I wanted to have a say in how data centers were being designed from an air emissions perspective and make sure we are being good stewards of local and regional air quality.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The connection between air emissions and digital-driven corporations may not be given much thought by people, but it’s an extremely crucial component to operations and the decisions made now will weigh heavily on the future. “The data center sector is growing at a very fast clip and it’s very important to be cognizant of the environmental footprint they have during their entire life cycle,” Caryn stated.
Climate change and environmental justice are two interconnected issues that are central to the future trajectory of the civil and environmental engineering field. “Environmental justice is the concept that while everyone has a right to be protected from environmental pollution and live in a clean and healthy environment, studies show a strong disparity of who has access to that along lines of race, income, national origin, and language proficiency. Environmental justice populations continue to be vulnerable to the health risks associated with living in polluted areas and are also commonly disenfranchised to do anything about it politically. Climate change is projected to exacerbate all of this.” Although we have a long way to go in confronting these issues, the good news is that many are stepping up to collaborate in government, the private sector, nonprofits, and academia. Consumers have also become more savvy about greenwashing tactics and are starting to understand the lifecycle footprint of our everyday lives.
When asked what kind of legacy she wants to leave behind, Caryn simply stated: “Creating tangible changes on the road to a more sustainable future for future generations. For example, the data center industry, like many others requiring 24/7 operations, still heavily relies on backup diesel generators. I’d like to eliminate that need some day and work myself out of a job!”
Grant Niver graduated from Augsburg in 2013 with a degree in Communication Studies. He credits the decision to make the transition to Minnesota from his home state of Alaska as the top three decisions he has ever made. “Moving allowed me to experience living in a new state and I met my wife down here,” Grant shared. He also has strong family ties in the state with both his parents growing up in Prior Lake. Although he only spent two years at Augsburg, he developed lasting friendships and discovered his entrepreneurial drive through the courses he took. “In the more advanced communication classes, we talked a lot about marketing, business, and how to build your brand,” said Grant. And it was in these classes that the idea to start a business with his family began.
Starting when he was 11 years old, Grant has fished in Bristol Bay, Alaska on his family’s boat, Surrender. “I would always get seasick growing up, so fishing was never a favorite activity of mine,” he reflected amusingly. As he found his sea legs, Grant’s passion for catching fish (specifically salmon) and educating others on sustainable fishing grew. “One year, I brought back around 200 pounds of salmon for friends and family in Minnesota and it grew progressively from there.” Surrender Salmon was established in 2017 with the goal of bringing the world’s best wild salmon to Minnesotans, directly from the fisherman. Grant’s father, Mark, runs the boat and Grant and his two younger brothers, Blake and Bryce, make up the crew on deck.
Sustainability is a core tenet to the Surrender Salmon business. “We work closely with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.” Grant said. Bristol Bay is heavily regulated since it is the world’s largest sustainable salmon run. It accounts for roughly 75% of the world’s sockeye salmon supply. “They literally count each and every salmon that escapes up the river to spawn in the lake. Once they reach the targeted “escapement number”, the fishing season is open and we are fishing around the clock.” There is a short window to catch fish, and a typical run is from mid-June through the end of July. Flash freezing the salmon within 12-24 hours of catching it is crucial in making sure it stays fresh for consumers for up to two years. “If you’re buying salmon in the Midwest, it’s best to buy frozen and even better to know who caught it,” Grant said. On top of sustainability, all of the packaging they use to ship their salmon is 100% recyclable!
OPERATING A SMALL BUSINESS
Surrender Salmon previously worked with local businesses such as Lunds & Byerlys in 2018-2019, as well as other local restaurants, but they have since switched to e-commerce. “It was a hard pivot to make, but it has allowed us to have a more robust business where we could be in more control,” Grant said. Since transitioning to online-only purchases, they have been able to expand to nationwide shipping. “Our first shipping with FedEx is something I am extremely proud of. We’ve come a long way since tabling at farmers markets, gyms, and hand-delivering all of our orders,” Grant said. “Starting a business can feel insurmountable, but for anyone interested in pursuing this path, I recommend two things: 1) find a good mentor, and 2) find someone you can trust as a business partner. Having those resources will make a huge impact.” In fact, one of Grant’s high school friends, Stuart Krueger, moved to Minnesota in 2016 and has taken the lead on helping Surrender Salmon’s marketing and reach. “We definitely would not be where we are today without him.”
Now that Grant’s business has grown in recent years and he has found himself shipping salmon to some Auggies, he is thrilled to share his family’s story with more people in the community. “I am so grateful to Augsburg and I’m appreciative of any opportunities to pay it forward and make more connections by raising awareness about what Surrender Salmon is all about.”
Karim El-Hibri ’06 will be one of the newest members of Augsburg’s Board of Regents. He is the President of East West Resources Corporation, a small investment firm, as well as a trustee for the El-Hibri Foundation, a philanthropic organization that empowers Muslim leaders and their allies to build inclusive communities.
Karim is also a graduate of Augsburg’s StepUP program.
Karim’s path to a higher education was not clear-cut from the beginning. After a year at American University, he was forced to drop out due to failing grades. Knowing he needed to enroll in a treatment program, Karim sat down with his parents and discussed his options. They discovered the Wilderness Treatment Center, a place Karim found to be a very positive experience. After successfully completing that program, Karim was encouraged to go to a halfway house in Minneapolis called Progress Valley.
“I had no idea where Minneapolis even was, but I was learning that I needed to follow my higher power’s goal, so I went to Progress Valley for three months. They recommended I move on to Sober Living and I believe God speaks through the people around us, so I followed that recommendation. Sober Living is where I heard about Augsburg’s StepUP program,” says Karim.
Karim met Dave Hadden, former assistant director of StepUP, and Patrice Salmeri, former StepUP Director, both whom he credits as instrumental to his recovery. He says Patrice helped him become the student he wanted to be, but more importantly the person he wanted to be.
“Because I had failed engaging in school before, there was this drive to return to academia and thrive. I wanted an opportunity to prove that I deserved this second chance,” says Karim. “I was blown away by StepUP and having a community of peers who were sharing similar challenges, providing this counter-culture to the typical college partying experience. That network provided structure, and we didn’t want to let the community down.”
Karim took a variety of classes in his two years at Augsburg, including two that left lasting impressions.
“There was the Medieval Studies class with Phil Adamo, where we dressed up in medieval attire and walked around campus. And my biology class with Bill Capman experiencing the saltwater tanks with live coral and clownfish laying eggs, I’ve never seen anything quite as impressive.”
He was also a student fundraiser for the Oren Gateway Building. Karim spent a lot of time making sure that the building’s fundraising campaign was a success, knowing Augsburg would be able to house StepUP students in a safe and sober living space.
Karim graduated from the StepUP program in 2005 and in 2006 he transferred back to American University’s School of International Service to graduate with a degree in International Studies. Despite not graduating from Augsburg, Karim continued to stay engaged with the university.
“Augsburg’s culture and values align with our family’s values and has been a major motivator to stay engaged.”
In 2012, Karim brought his mentor, Professor Abdul Aziz Said, to the 24th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Professor Said was a professor at American University, teaching the value of peace and ecological balance, dignity, political pluralism, and cultural diversity.
“Augsburg is such a beautiful example of what a collegiate community can be. Augsburg has a culture of peace, which makes sense why the Nobel Peace Prize Forum was hosted on campus. Professor Said told me, ‘Why not expand Augsburg’s curriculum to teach peace?’ which has been a personal passion of mine ever since.”
Karim served on StepUP’s Advisory Board for a few years and is excited to begin his work on Augsburg’s Board of Regents this fall. He believes his work with East West Resources and the El-Hibri Foundation have prepared him for this new role.
“I’m fortunate because I get to work with my family; my father is the chairman, my mother and sister are on the Board of Trustees of the El-Hibri Foundation. And at East West Resources I love that I get to focus on so many different opportunities, and we get to bring our values into every business in which we engage. I am proud to say that East West Resources only focuses on businesses that have a humanitarian dimension – enhancing people’s lives in one way or another.”
Karim is grateful to Board Chair Matt Entenza and President Paul Pribbenow for the opportunity to become a Regent on Augsburg’s Board and deeply appreciates their confidence.
“I am deeply honored to participate in any way at Augsburg. I didn’t graduate from Augsburg, but the two years I was a student had such a profound impact on me,” says Karim. “StepUP saved my life. It is more than just an education; Augsburg really had an impact on who I am today.”
Kevin Fjelsted ’18, MBA ’20 is one of many Augsburg students who graduated during the pandemic. However, Kevin’s higher education story has a unique beginning. While most of Augsburg’s recent graduates started their higher education in the last four or five years, Kevin started in 1973.
Kevin graduated from high school in the 70’s and as he thought about college, he wasn’t particular about where he would go. He admits he wasn’t heavily involved in picking Augsburg.
“My grandparents wanted me to go to Augsburg. They told me to look at Augsburg and I said ‘fine,’” says Kevin.
He started at Augsburg in 1973 and took a few classes during the fall and January interim semesters. But Augsburg didn’t have what Kevin was looking for at the time, so he transferred to the University of Minnesota in 1974 where he also worked at the U of M’s Computer Center.
Shortly after, Kevin began working full-time as an operating systems programmer at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. Over the next fifteen years, he worked for a few companies – including IDS Financial Services, McGraw-Hill, and American Express – before going out on his own as a systems consulting and programming service provider. He took computer science courses here and there, but never focused on a degree because he was working full time.
In 2010, Kevin decided to go back to school and finish his degree in computer science.
“My default was to go back to the U of M,” says Kevin. “But there were two problems. One, the lecture size. There were over 100 people in my computer science classes. And two, I needed accessibility. I needed books in braille and although the U of M has a large disability resource center employee count wise, they didn’t have the experience accommodating a blind person.”
Kevin knew Kathy McGillivray from the National Federation of the Blind, and knew she was the director in Augsburg’s CLASS Office.
“We talked about smaller classes that were actually taught by the professors, unlike the U of M having Teaching Assistants do a lot of the teaching. Kathy knew what I needed for accommodations as well. She was an ally in the whole process. We worked together through accessibility for both my computer science undergraduate degree and the MBA program. Once we got that solved, it was great!”
Kevin completed his undergraduate computer science degree in 2018 and immediately started in Augsburg’s Master of Business Administration program, graduating in the winter of 2020.
Now he is working with a business colleague on building a couple company’s telecommunications space and Voice over Internet Protocol and Omnichannel call center solutions. Kevin is also excited about starting an A.I. venture in the near future.
Despite the process taking almost 50 years from start to graduation, Kevin is thankful for his time at Augsburg. He’s particularly thankful for the professors he studied with.
“I didn’t have a single negative experience with a professor at Augsburg, even going back to the 70’s. I had a great calculus professor and psychology professors. George Dierberger, the MBA director, has pulled in great adjunct professors who are the best in the industry. You can respect and trust the information from the professor because they have the knowledge and industry experience.”
When asked why others should consider a degree in computer science at Augsburg versus another university, Kevin pointed out that Augsburg uses the same program as the U of M for their undergraduate computer science program.
“They use the same textbooks, the same curriculum. At the U of M, you have 100 plus people in a class, but shrink that down to 25 people at the high end at Augsburg, and that is a significant difference. Yes, Augsburg has teaching assistants and tutors like the U of M, but they don’t have the same concept where the professor pushes all the work onto the teaching assistant. At Augsburg you have direct interface and direct communication with the professors.”
About a year ago, Olivia House ’20 and Silent Fox ’18 were approached by their art advisor at the time, Christopher Houltberg. He wanted to know if Silent and Olivia would be interested in doing an art project through a grant provided by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation. For them, it was an easy thing to say yes to.
“Right away, we knew we wanted it [the art] to have more than one output,” said Olivia.
Silent majored in Studio Arts and Graphic Design and Olivia majored in Graphic Design. Their time at Augsburg gave them the opportunity to meet various studio artists, explore their interests, and take a hold of their agency as artists. With graduation only shortly behind them, they are already establishing their artistic careers and sharing their experience about a recent project they completed in partnership with Augsburg.
Both Augsburg and the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation supported Silent and Olivia’s idea to expand their work beyond the singular campaign. Part of the grant went to the billboard art and the other half went to starting a Black Arts Collective, 13.4 Collective. As the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder was approaching, they wanted to create a piece that commemorated that historic moment.
“My goal was to vocalize the black experience in America and show authenticity to our lives,” added Silent.
Translating a powerful message into art may not be innately ingrained in all artists, but for Silent and Olivia, activism is at the core of their work.
“For me, activism is naturally intertwined into my art. It’s part of me, my history, and my community. I can’t imagine it not being part of my work,” reflected Silent.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Emory Douglas, the Black Panther Party’s designer,” Olivia added. “He knew how to create messages succinctly and that were accessible to people by using a lot of imagery and minimal words.”
As they created the ad campaign, they aimed to keep the art somewhat ambiguous and make others think about the deeper meaning. The billboards went up for the Juneteenth holiday and will be taken down in mid-July. Check out the locations their art is displayed.
In addition to their billboard campaign, Olivia and Silent shared their excitement about the future of the 13.4 Collective and other work they completed together. They recently wrapped up an outdoor exhibition they worked on with some graduate students at the University of Minnesota that touched on the history of mutual aid in the Twin Cities (top picture). Silent, Olivia, and Jalen Cannon (copywriter for the billboard), serve as contributors to the 13.4 Collective. They hope to continue expanding their reach with each project and sharing the messages behind the stories of the black community.
Dr. Ruth Johnson ’74 has been elected to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota, representing the First Congressional District. She credits her time on Augsburg’s board as a major contribution to her being elected to the U of M’s board.
Ruth had a number of influences that led her to choose Augsburg as an undergraduate. She grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, so she knew of Augsburg. Her family was also active in their large, vibrant Lutheran congregation, whereDr. Ted Hanwick, Augsburg’s first chairman of the Physics Department, was also a member. Ruth sought a college with excellent academics, a Lutheran faith background, with a preference for an urban location. Dr. Hanwick encouraged her to explore Augsburg.
Halfway through her senior year of high school, Ruth’s father passed away. During his illness, she spent time in hospitals with her father. Also, since age 16, she had worked in the hospital pharmacy where her father was Chief of Pharmacy. All these experiences pivoted her interests to pre-med.
“My first love was languages and I planned to pursue a Ph.D. in English or Spanish. But all I saw in hospitals moved me to a career in medicine. There’s so much a person can do in terms of advances in science and in patient care, all of which can make such a difference in people’s lives,” says Ruth.
After graduating summa cum laude with majors in chemistry and biology and a minor in religion, Ruth went on to graduate from Mayo Medical School and completed her internal medicine residency at Mayo Graduate School of Medicine.
Ruth was the first woman associate director of the Internal Medicine Residency program at Mayo Clinic and chaired the Bioethics Courses at Mayo Medical School. She later devoted 17 years to the Mayo Clinic MD-PhD Admissions Committee. She founded the Mayo Diagnostic Breast Clinic in 1993. It was shortly after this that then Augsburg President Charles Anderson invited Ruth to join the Board of Regents.Dr. John Holum, an Organic Chemistry professor and one of Ruth’s favorite professors at Augsburg, recommended her.
“I thought, ‘I love Augsburg and this is a great chance to re-engage in a new way and contribute to the college.’ It was a very meaningful experience,” says Ruth.
Early on in her stint as a board member, Ruth was involved in the fundraising and celebration of the Lindell Library, which opened in 1997. By the late 90’s, she was helping with foundational work that would lead to the creation of the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion. Among the work Ruth is proudest of during her time as a Regent is sparking the idea for Augsburg’s Rochester Campus.
“My work with nurses at Mayo Clinic made me aware that many nurses in Rochester were certificate RN’s without a baccalaureate degree. Because of this, their career advancement was limited and there was no readily available way to complete a BSN. Augsburg’s Weekend College had already had years of experience offering degree programs for adults. I went to then President Bill Frame and suggested Augsburg create a degree program in Rochester.”
University of Minnesota
In 2020, Ruth was approached by the alumni and friends of the University of Minnesota to join their Board. Her educational leadership at Mayo Clinic was well known, as was her 16 years on Augsburg’s Board of Regents.
“When you’re on a board, it’s about governance, higher level, big picture thinking. It’s not managing, that’s the administration’s job. My 16 years with three different presidents at Augsburg meant I knew how a board functions, this was a strong background for me,” says Ruth. “Augsburg also has a really excellent reputation among legislators, they know Augsburg has done good work and they know those values are part of my work.”
Augsburg will always be part of Ruth’s life, though. At Augsburg, Ruth loved getting to know fellow regents, alumni, faculty, and students. Ruth is also married to Phil Quanbeck II, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Augsburg University.
“It’s a great place and a privilege to be involved with such an incredible group of people.”
She is now looking forward to her work with the U of M, and to connecting to the people she will work with over the next six years.