Bing tracking

COVID-19: Updates and Plans ›

Alumni Spotlight: Karim El-Hibri

Karim El-Hibri HeadshotKarim 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.”

Karim presenting at the El-Hibri Foundation’s Marshall Ganz Public Narrative workshop.

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.

Karim and his family golfing.

“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.”

Alumni Spotlight: Max Marcy ’03

Max Marcy headshotAt the beginning of December 2020, Max Marcy was promoted to Global Corporate Treasurer at H.B. Fuller. He started with H.B. Fuller over eleven years ago, initially managing foreign currency and investor relations. His leadership skills were quickly noticed and by 2018, Max was recognized as a top investor relations professional by Wall Street analysis.

From a young age, Max knew he wanted to go to school for finance.

“My goal was always to be an investment banker; I’ve always been a finance guy. I’ve always been interested in numbers.”

Max is a graduate from 2003. After spending one year at Luther College in Iowa and one year off, he found Augsburg’s StepUP program and began in the fall of 2000. StepUP was a relatively new program at the time, but Max fell in love with the program and with Augsburg, particularly the fitness center.

“Being in StepUP wasn’t like what it is today, it was a new program. The fitness center was a level playing field where we were all out there trying to do the same thing, trying to stay active. It was a great meeting ground, and I met a lot of people from all over campus,” says Max.

Max also had the opportunity to play in Augsburg’s Jazz and Concert bands. He enjoyed playing at Sunday gospel praise group and had the chance to travel to Ireland with the Concert Band under Professor Bob Stacke.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Finance and a minor in Management Information Systems, Max joined Valspar Corporation. Max had the opportunity to go back to school with Valspar’s education benefits and earned his MBA in Corporate Finance at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in 2008. This degree, along with his experience as a Senior Treasury Analyst, got Max on H.B. Fuller’s radar.

“Corporate treasury is the finance you study in undergrad and in business school. Learning how to issue bonds, operating bank accounts, projecting cash flows around the world. That’s what I do, that’s what I like to do.”

Today, Max is the Corporate Treasurer for H.B. Fuller.

“I’m the company piggy bank!”

Max is responsible for oversight of the funds his company generates, which can get very complicated when operating businesses in over 100 countries.

When COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, Max spent most of his time studying a multitude of scenarios to make sure the company could weather the pandemic. Now, his focus has shifted to looking more at how to work remotely while bringing back some of the engagement lost in a virtual landscape.

“I’m not your typical finance person. I’m very analytical, but I don’t sit behind a desk all day. I like talking to people and socializing, and that’s more difficult when you can’t run down the hallway to talk to them. People now are scheduling all sorts of calls all the time, booking calendars up, so instead of the two-minute hallway conversation we are having long meetings. How do we fix that? We need to figure out how we connect more efficiently through all this remote working.”

When looking back at his time at Augsburg, Max believes the best thing he did and the best thing students can do today is to take in the full experience of class.

“The easiest thing you can do is go to class, learn what you’re paying to learn. I wasn’t always the best at spending time with homework and studying, but my butt was always in the chair. Get in your chair or on your computer and just listen.”

Max also credits talking to others and asking questions for helping him get to where he is today.

“Reach out, ask questions. Ask what people do in their job. Figure out what it means to be a business analyst, what it means to be an IT professional, what it means to be a Treasurer, so that you have a little more direction.”

Max had a clear direction of where he wanted to go – finance – so he put himself in career opportunities to learn. He wanted to understand what jobs actually entailed before he just took a position.

“It’ll give you a leg up to know more. You’ll have more of a work/life balance, and more job satisfaction. Take the opportunities, and that will go a long way versus being frustrated with what you’re doing and always waiting for a payday.”

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

Healing Waters

Jason Kusiak standing in front of the ocean holding a very large fishJason Kusiak spends late winter and early spring long-lining for cod and haddock, and most of the year catching lobster. Fishing in some of America’s oldest seaports near Gloucester, Mass., gives Kusiak an appreciation for the area’s rich history, and a healthy respect for those who made a living fishing the Atlantic in earlier times. He relishes the hard work, excitement, and competition of constantly driving at something, and “with fishing, you can see the direct result of your work ethic,” he says.

Also, the waters seem to provide the environment for a thoughtful transition. Kusiak is the first to admit that his career plans are still evolving, and that, at 33, he’s not sure what lies ahead. He states with conviction that he always wants to be growing, and “to be present” in his own life in order to experience much and maintain great relationships. Oddly enough, a few years ago, he wondered if he would live to be 27.

Very active as a youngster, Kusiak had earned a black belt by age 9 and had placed first at nationals. In high school he played football, basketball, and lacrosse. He pushed himself to excel. But at the end of his senior year and on the eve of a big recruiting summer for lacrosse, a high school party became the proverbial “fly in the ointment.” Racing through the woods in the dark with a friend, Kusiak ran into a fire-road steel gate, resulting in a double-compound fracture of his leg and the shattering of his elbow.

Jason Kusiak smiles for a selfie in front of a sunset over the ocean. Two birds soar overhead.Kusiak became addicted to painkillers, and it was a struggle not only to discontinue use of opioids but to obtain help from insurance companies to do so.

He eventually sought help and treatment at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. Shortly thereafter, he learned about the StepUP® Program, Augsburg’s residential collegiate recovery community, and he began his studies in 2006. “That fellowship of walking through this together” (in the same residence hall as other students dealing with substance abuse) made academic success much more likely, and Kusiak felt as if the “whole school bought into it and that’s why Augsburg is unique.” He is especially grateful to StepUP’s director Patrice Salmeri and former director Dave Hadden and to professors John and Peggy Cerrito for the “great impact” of their entrepreneurial class, particularly the focus on learning through experience and connections. Continue reading “Healing Waters”

Because You Believed in Me

Anne Thompson Heller with her family at Augsburg College graduation
Anne Thompson Heller with her family at Augsburg College graduation

Before Anne Thompson Heller ’08 began her studies at Augsburg, she hadn’t even visited the College. But she knew Augsburg was where she needed to be, because of the StepUP® Program on campus. Honestly, she says, she’s not sure she would have been able to go to college when she did without the support of StepUP, Augsburg’s residential recovery program.

Now, while completing a doctoral program at the University of Connecticut, Thompson Heller helps other young people in recovery to achieve academically and thrive. With two master’s degrees (one in educational leadership, higher education, and student affairs; the other in marriage and family therapy), she works tirelessly to support youth recovery. Though she hadn’t intended to pursue multiple advanced degrees, she did so when she discovered an undeniable passion for helping others facing addiction issues, just as she had been helped in her StepUP experience.

When she moved back to Connecticut, she served CTYF (Connecticut Turning to Youth and Families) as a board member, and eventually as its vice president, advocating for youth services with several state and other influential agencies, and attempting to raise awareness of the problem. Her involvement with CTYF led to her current work on the board of directors for Connecticut Community of Addiction Recovery (CCAR).

In 2010, after speaking at the National Education Recovery Summit, Thompson Heller was invited to join the board of the Association of Recovery Schools (a “phenomenal” organization, she says), where she led the advocacy committee and worked to enhance youth leadership in recovery schools. In that role, she was able to support the development of YPR (Young People in Recovery), a national advocacy organization, as one of the organization’s founding members. YPR now has chapters across the country, which emanated from several national conferences that sought to address addiction recovery and related issues such as leadership training and organizational development. Continue reading “Because You Believed in Me”

Jill and Robert Thomas Make $1 Million Challenge Grant for StepUP

Thomas familyJill and Robert Thomas of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are on a mission to erase the stigma associated with addiction and recovery—and it starts at Augsburg. They’ve made a $1 million challenge grant for Augsburg’s nationally recognized StepUP® Program, which helps students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success, and thrive in a community of accountability and support. “The StepUP program is the Gold Star standard for collegiate recovery,” says Jill.

The couple is leading the drive to raise $10 million in endowment for the program and challenging others to “step up” to the plate to meet the urgent need for effective collegiate recovery programs.

Philanthropy + Advocacy = Change

Jill and Robert envision StepUP emerging as the program of choice for students in recovery and the employer of choice for top professionals in the field. They want to lift up StepUP as a model of excellence and see it replicated on campuses across the nation. They hope to see misconceptions about addiction and recovery shattered by the success of adults with addiction in their past. It all adds up to profound change. “First we have to start talking more openly about addiction and recovery, and then we have to start supporting it financially,” says Robert.

“We believe that our efforts can help organizations make a difference and move the needle in some very important things for people,” explains Robert, who served on the Alzheimer’s Association National Board and received the Maureen Reagan Award for outstanding Alzheimer’s Advocacy in 2010. Both he and Jill are leaders in Alzheimer’s advocacy and involved in several community organizations, including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma and the Tulsa Area United Way.

They are parents of daughters Allie Thomas ’14 and Olivia Jordan, who currently serves as Miss USA.

Desperation, Love, and Hope

Jill and Robert learned about StepUP the hard way, through daughter Allie’s struggle with chemical dependency and her eventual recovery. “The despair and the fear of all it was all encompassing,” says Robert of that time in their lives.

Allie was living out of state when she hit the proverbial rock bottom.

“My dad swooped in and we came home to Tulsa,” says Allie. I had a series of stints in treatment centers, then stints of relapse. I was really unwell. It’s is so sad to think back on the person that I was.” Continue reading “Jill and Robert Thomas Make $1 Million Challenge Grant for StepUP”

StepUP® Program Gala Recognizes Jill and Robert Thomas

Gala Web Banner_2Two leaders in the addiction recovery community will be recognized for their commitment and generosity to Augsburg College’s StepUP® program for students in addiction recovery.

Jill and Robert Thomas, residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will receive the Toby Piper LaBelle Award at the Augsburg College StepUP Program Gala on October 24.

Thomas familyStepUP program alumni and families are invited to a special program, brunch, and open house to begin the Day of Gratitude at 9:30 a.m.

Alumni, parents, and friends are invited to an evening of inspiration, entertainment, and fellowship at the StepUP Program Gala celebration in Si Melby Hall on the Augsburg College campus at 5:30 p.m.

Married more than 30 years, Jill and Robert Thomas are the proud parents of two daughters: Allie, age 28, and a 2014 graduate of Augsburg College and the StepUP program, and Olivia Jordan, age 26, currently serving as Miss USA 2015.

Robert Thomas co-owns Senior Star, a company that owns and operates senior living retirement communities throughout the Midwest. Jill and Robert are both graduates of the University of Tulsa, Robert with a BS degree in 1974, and Jill with a BS degree in 1977 and a JD degree in 1986.

They have both been actively involved in Alzheimer’s advocacy through the Alzheimer’s Association. Robert has served on the National Board and been the recipient of the Maureen Reagan award for outstanding Alzheimer’s advocacy in 2010. They are actively involved in several community organizations including the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, Alzheimer’s Association, and the Tulsa Area United Way, to name a few.

The Thomas family has given significant time and resources to the College’s program, which is a leader and award-winning model for residential addiction recovery communities at campuses across the nation.

The Toby Piper LaBelle Award is given to a person or family that has consistently supported young people in recovery. It is named in honor of the first recipient, Toby Piper LaBelle ’96, for his insight and ability to advocate for the needs of recovering college students on a college campus. LaBelle was a lead advocate for students in recovery while he was a student at Augsburg College.

To attend the Gala, and to celebrate the contributions of the Thomas family, please register at augsburg.edu/stepup/gala.

The Education that Keeps on Giving

John Baudhuin '70

As John S. Baudhuin ’70 reflects on his student years, he finds that he is increasingly grateful for what (and how) he learned more than 40 years ago—more now than ever before. This was reinforced when a friend and fellow retiree recently said he was a little jealous that Baudhuin was enjoying such a wide variety of interests in retirement—fishing, sports, opera, reading, writing, and so on. It occurred to Baudhuin that Augsburg had opened up many of these interests to him, once again solidifying his belief that a good liberal arts education doesn’t just teach someone stuff; rather, it teaches us “how to think about stuff and to find stuff interesting.” It doesn’t answer a lot of questions, but instead gives us better questions to ask. He was impressed that some professors would even give credit for wrong answers if there was evidence of having employed a careful thought process.

Seeking solid information for various papers taught persistence and resourcefulness, says Baudhuin, who once trekked to the U of M to explore its 10-story library in order to validate a single factoid for a paper. Such skills later served him well as an addiction professional, who more than once encountered a patient whose first interview was “less than truthful.” A recovering alcoholic himself, Baudhuin celebrates more than 42 years of sobriety and is “more than thrilled” to see that Augsburg has become a national leader for students in recovery with StepUP®. Years into his recovery, he was invited back to campus to teach some classes, and to consult regarding cases. He is pleased to report that the “students in recovery” concept has inspired a similar program in his home state, Florida. Continue reading “The Education that Keeps on Giving”