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2019 Fall Dean’s List

Kudos to the StepUP students who made the Deans list fall semester of 2019. The Deans List recognizes full time students who achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. This past semester a number of our students achieved just that. We offer you all a wholehearted congratulations, keep up the hard work! If you’d like to see the list in its entirety, visit the 2019 Fall Dean’s List

Jourdan C.

Logan D.

Kramer D.

Evelyn D.

Simon E.

Savanna F.

Cole F.

Sam G.

Colin G.

Rochfort K.

Ben L.

Erin M.

Annie M.

Sam M.

Alexa N.

Michael P.

Anthony P.

Maty R.

Tucker R.

David R.

Patrick R.

Isabel S.

Tyler S.

Abbey U.

Joey W.

Tommy W.

Student Spotlight: Sam G.

The student spotlights are not only an excellent way to depict life among the current StepUp collective to alumni, family and friends. Above that, they also have the potential to show another young person in recovery that someone just like them is thriving in a collegiate environment.

For this month’s Spotlight, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sam G. If you’ve spent much time on the Augsburg campus, or more specifically in OGC, you may have seen Sam around. If you’re a StepUp student, there’s a good chance you know who he is. Not only is he part of leadership team, but he is also the advisor for the men’s flat. Sam was born and raised in the greater Saint Paul metro area, attending Cretin Durham High School and following that with a brief stint at Saint Thomas University. This was all prior to getting sober and enrolling at Augsburg. Now, he is 23 and has been a stellar example of recovery throughout his three years at StepUp and Augsburg University. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have sat down with him.


“Did you find that there was a lot of use at Cretin? As a Catholic School?”

Yea, I would say there was a pretty big group of us. I guess I don’t really know what it’s like compared to other high schools, but it definitely wasn’t hard to find a group of people to party with.


“How did you do in highschool?”

I did okay, I was a pretty smart kid, at least early in high school. But, I gradually started to not do as well over time. I don’t remember what I got my senior year, all I remember is that I didn’t get my diploma when I walked. They gave me an empty frame when I got to the podium. I ended up having to put in 90 hours of work, like cleaning. We didn’t have truancy, so each day of school I skipped, I got two or three hours of detention.


“Do you feel like the decline in grades overtime correlated with your use?”

Yes, definitely.


“How long were you at college originally?”

I was at St. Thomas for two months, that’s all it took me, two months. Some might say failing out after two months is harder than getting a four year degree. It was the one school I applied to. I spent most of my time with my friends from high school in Saint Paul.


“At this point, had your use graduated to a point of total isolation? Or was there still a social aspect to it?”

I had a roommate at school, who I had known for a long time. But I did isolate a lot, both by choice and not by choice. I wouldn’t say I became a strictly isolated drinker, but there were definitely times I drank alone.


“After getting sober, was another crack at college in your initial plans?”

No, it wasn’t. After getting kicked out of college after my first go at it, I had a huge fear based resentment, where I just resented the idea and talked openly about how stupid college was. Mostly because I was just too afraid to fail again.


“How did you first hear about StepUP?”

I did the traditional Plymouth and Fellowship route. Fellowship still did the StepUp tour at the time, but I skipped it, mostly because I still thought I really wasn’t ever going to try to go back to school. I ended up moving from Fellowship into a sober house and stayed there about nine months. Which gave me time to think about what the heck I was doing with my life.


“Where were you working at the time?”

I was working at Schuler Shoes, and I was making pretty good money, but it just started hitting me that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. Which was pretty cool because for the first time I felt like what I wanted actually mattered. It’s not just that I can go to college, but I deserve that if I want it.


“That’s gotta be a pretty good feeling right? Going from a place of resentment towards college to a place where you felt like you deserved it?”

It’s like a giddy feeling. I have a twin sister who is super successful, my parents wanted that for me. But I just constantly told them no. It felt good to get to that point where I started to feel like not only I deserved it, but I could actually do it. It was an exciting feeling, making that decision for myself.


“What did you find enticing about StepUp initially?”

I had a really close group of friends over in Saint Paul. But out of my friend group, I was the only one that ended up going to college. To me, at that point, it was either live in a sober house and drive to community college every morning or go to StepUp. I mean the most enticing thing was the idea of being able to live somewhere with other people my age in recovery that wasn’t a sober house. It was such an upgrade over that.


“What does your work ethic look like now, compared to when you were in active addiction?”

The anxieties of the first semester back at college were so real. Like the unwarranted “I’m destined to fail” attitude. But it was really just focusing on whatever I was doing in that moment, class or otherwise. Sort of like a refinement of the “Just for today” mindset. Taking it moment by moment, even if it sucked. Figuring out work and school, figuring out what schedule worked best for me. I was in school most of the week and if I wasn’t doing school I was working. I sort of screwed myself over originally. But as time has gone on, I’ve really figured out how to schedule and manage my time better. Which is something I’d never done before. It makes me more productive to have work in my life. What I realized when I first got here was there’s a lot of extra time in college. Before, I would’ve loved that. But now, I need to fill that time with work to keep me productive.


“What have been some of the “highs” of your recovery and conversely, what have been some of the “lows?” Has StepUp played a role in either of those?”

One year was lit. That was an unreal feeling. Anniversaries are obviously all a big deal, but there was something about that one year that was different. Other than that, I would say, getting relationships with my family back. It’s the little things, in the past I had always been careless, but it felt really good to be able to teach my little brother how to drive when he turned 16. A month ago, I got an accounting internship at a pretty big firm in Minneapolis. I kid you not, when I got that call, I screamed in my apartment. Sometimes I start to get that thought like: “What are we working towards?” Then there’s just those glimpses where I feel like everything has been totally worth it.

Honestly, doing generals in school, you don’t always feel like it’s worth it. So, things like this feel really cool. I met with the Stronmen Center people, because they have a program specifically for StepUp students and something that she said that really stood out to me was: “Make excellence the norm.” Like, we all celebrate when people do something cool, which is important, but what if everybody had that opportunity.

For lows, I’d say, a couple years ago my dad got pretty sick. That was hard. The lows for me are the ones that are unexpected. November of 2017, my first semester here, I felt like I lost my mind. I remember that moth as being a big low for me. I was still in school obviously, and the guys in the flat really helped get me through that.

The role StepUp has played, I have class, I have friends in the building that I do stuff with on a weekly basis. So, if I do feel down, there’s always people to drag me out and pick me back up.


“Where are you most likely to be seen off campus?”

Depends on the time of year, in the summer I play a lot of softball and travel for that. I like to play soccer, I like to skate. All things that I’ve got back into over the course of my sobriety. I like to be active.


“Finally, have these activities helped give you a better sense of self?”

A hundred percent, I’ve simplified my life to an extent. What I perceive as other people’s expectations of me don’t really matter to me anymore. The amount I’ve aged from 21 to 23 I feel like is so much more than from 10 to 21. I used to like going out dancing with my friends at 11 pm, but now my back hurts, ya know? My life is busy today, but I have a better sense of my priorities and what’s important to me.



2019 Spring Dean’s List

In an effort to up the activity on the StepUP blog, we figured we would start on a high note and give kudos to the SteUP students who made the Deans list spring semester of 2019. The Deans List recognizes full time students who achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher. This past semester a number of our students achieved just that. We offer you all a wholehearted congratulations, keep up the hard work! If you’d like to see the list in its entirety, visit the 2019 Spring Dean’s List


The Dean’s List recognizes:

Maxwell B.

Alex C.

Jack D.

Simon E.

Colin G.

Rochfort K.

Thomas L.

Erin M.

Anne M.

Samuel M.

Alexa N.

Madeline R.

Tucker R.

Patrick R.

Tyler S.

Abbey U.

Joey W.

Chase W.

Tommy W.

Fall 2017 Dean’s List

Last semester, Fall 2017, 39 StepUP students made it on the Dean’s List. For full time students, that means that they earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher over the semester. Coming to college as a person in recovery is already worth celebrating, but getting noteworthy grades while you do it is impressive. Congratulations:

Alexa A. Katie D.
Annie M. Abby U.
Micah V. Tyler S.
Manford F. Jon M.
Jamie P. Michael R.
Ben S. Taylor S.
Chris B. Julia C.
Lindsay E. Sam E.
Connor F. Cole F.
Aaron H. Henry J.
Erin M. John M.
Mitch R. Tony S.
Phil S. Chase W.
Tommy W. Chad B.
Brien B. Matt C.
Sam G. Derek G.
Quinn H. Jamie H.
Neil K. Danny M.
Sam P. Arlo R.
Sam W.

A Reflection by StepUP Student Owen Harrison

One of the hardest things about being in recovery is when friends go back out or even die. Being in recovery for four years now has provided me the honor and privilege of getting to meet some amazing people. Every drug addict and alcoholic I have met has been incredibly smart, talented and passionate. Some are passionate about social justice issues, others in bodybuilding or basketball, but everyone has something. Every drug addict and alcoholic I have met who even briefly found recovery had dreams. I want to humanize what a drug addict or alcoholic looks like. We are people, we have families, and we have dreams.  All too often our lives are cut short. In 2018 I have already had two friends pass and it’s not even the end of January.


As a busy college student who is invested in a little bit of everything from classes and research, to friends and family, to preparing for the future and trying to remain socially engaged, it is easy to get caught up in the little things. It’s easy to get pulled into the drama and the fear around me.


The longer I spend in recovery and the more time I spend out in the “real world,” it’s not difficult to find examples of how destructive fear can be. Fear is divisive, it makes the spaces between us larger and more difficult to close. A personal example of this is when I wasn’t doing well in a class last semester I started telling myself that the professor doesn’t like me, or that they had it out to get me. When in reality, I was afraid that I couldn’t learn the material or that I wasn’t smart enough to succeed. Fear stopped me from asking for help and ultimately prevented me from receiving the grade I wanted. Luckily, with this being a two semester course I was presented the opportunity to try again and to break down the wall that fear had created for me and ask for help. I am pleased to report that I am doing significantly better in this class this semester.


Last night while sitting in my living room I was discussing the newest offshoot of drama with my roommate. By the end of our conversation we found out that a former StepUP student had passed. This served as a not so gentle reminder that I am lucky to be here, to be alive, and to be in StepUP. There are plenty of people who wish they had the opportunity of another chance at life. Around here we are in the business of saving lives. The drama and the fear doesn’t promote a recovery community, it will only continue to separate us. Without each other we have nothing. May we continue to grow and recover. May those of you out there struggling be reminded that help will always be here when you are ready for it. And to those we lost too soon, may you rest easy now that your demons are gone.

Student Spotlight: Emma S.


Hi Emma, tell us about yourself

My name is Emma S. and I am a Junior at Augsburg majoring in Psychology and minoring in Business Administration. I am originally from Colorado and I’ve been in StepUP for three years. I love playing intramural soccer, to paint and to draw. Also, I like green apples. Photo of Emma S

Why did you come to StepUP?

I came to StepUP because I wasn’t going to stay sober as a freshman in college without it. I first heard about StepUP from students that came to speak at the treatment center I was in. There were other schools I checked out, but StepUP had such a large sober community compared to the others, and Augsburg seemed really cool.

What keeps you going?

My higher power is definitely number one, although it can be hard to stick to it and have faith during difficult times. I have found that when I have faith, I always turn out ok. I also go to meetings and have a sponsor. I don’t litter, because I used to litter a lot. It’s easy to tell when I’m not on the right track because I tend to think about littering more often, along with participating more in gossip and negative self talk. I know that when my recovery needs work, I’ll be able to tell by paying attention to what is going on in my thoughts or my school performance. If I need help, the StepUP community, wider recovery community and my family are always there to support me.

Advice to incoming students?

You need to come in wanting success, in school and recovery, for yourself. Doing it for someone else will not work. Get involved! Keep up momentum! These things will lead to happiness and continued sobriety. Connect with people, don’t isolate. StepUP is going to be what you make it, so putting in the work will pay off.

Speaking of getting involved, what is up with Leadership Team?

I’ve been a part of leadership team for a little over one year. We are a group of StepUP students who volunteer our time to help improve our community. There are three ways that we do this, and each has a “chair” on leadership team who is responsible for it. These are service, events and advocacy. Service chair was my position for most of my time on the team, it was my job to go out into the community and find opportunities for StepUP students to be helpful to others, especially to those in recovery. When I found service positions, we would announce them during StepUP’s Big Circle meeting so people could sign up to volunteer. Service is very important because you are essentially the face of StepUP to the city. That goes for the service chair and the students volunteering. Another position is Events Chair. They are responsible for organizing an event for StepUP students once a month, which has been very important for connecting the community. And finally there is Advocacy Chair. Their job is to hear students needs and to communicate them to staff.

I am now the Leadership Chair, so I “manage” the 3 chairs, and connect with the StepUP director, Tam, to update her on what we are up to. We are always taking applications for leadership team! You can attend one of our meetings the day you apply.

What music have you been listening to lately?

Angus & Julia Stone. And some G-Eazy because he is my husband. Some Billie Eilish. I’ve always listened to a lot of rap music but I’ve been slowing down on that because a lot of it has some really negative messages. Good vibes and positivity is what I need.

What has been your favorite class so far?

Abnormal Psych. I want to do clinical psychology so it’s exactly what I will be dealing with in my career.

Plans after graduation?

I want to go to graduate school for clinical psychology. There are a lot of possibilities still, so I am focusing on the semester for now.

Anything else?

Just remember to take it one day at a time. If we can just finish today sober, we’re golden. It’s important never to forget that.

Thanksgiving 2017

I’m not sure how we manage to pull off a full thanksgiving dinner for dozens of students every year, but somehow we did the impossible again: got a bunch of addicts and alcoholics to cooperate and organize a nice meal.  And it went off without a hitch!

StepUP students sitting at table

I honorably did my duty with my roommate Bryan and made about one and a half gallons of gravy. The ingredients included gravy powder, water and butter. Complexity of that recipe aside, Bryan looked very stressed watching the massive stockpot full of water barely budge in temperature with only 30 minutes to spare before dinner. I told him that a watched pot never boils but he didn’t seem consoled.

Each dish was assigned to one apartment or group of flat mates. Five turkeys in five ovens. Owen showed off his cutlery skills and carved up every one of them himself! I’ve heard reports that StepUP student and Thanksgiving enthusiast Ben founded the “clean plate club”, of which he was later denied membership due to not meeting its one qualification. Tragic.

StepUP students sitting for thanksgiving dinner

Although the subject is controversial, there has been some consensus about which dish was the best. The dish described to me as an “Oreo pudding thing” was a massive hit.  I would love to give my compliments to the chef, but it’s a bit of a mystery who brought it (according to the one person I asked about it). Maybe the Oreo pudding was always there?


StepUP students in the flat

The true heroes of this story are Daniel, Emma, Alexa, Sophie, Moses and Annie. They were the main people responsible for the cleanup. Thanks guys!

I’ll make a better gravy next time.

Trollhaugen 2017

It’s a StepUP tradition to take our new fall students to conquer the ropes courses at Trollhaugen in Dresser, WI. The goal of the ropes course is simple, get from point A to point B. Of course, most of the course is made up of wooden platforms anywhere from 12 to 48 feet in the air, connected by bridges made of zip lines, tires, ropes and wooden planks. Our new students, their mentors, StepUP Peer Advisors and some StepUP staff suited up in safety equipment and took to the trees to kick off the new school year!

Two StepUP Counselors standing on a wooden platform attatched to a pole.

On the bus ride there, emotions were varied. Among the attendees we had hikers, mountain climbers, and people with a serious fear of heights (and everything in-between). “Not every fear needs to be conquered”, new student Tommy told me as the coach bus pulled into the parking lot. I told him that conquering a fear with no significance in your daily life may seem pointless, but it’s a good workout nonetheless. I say that now, but when I came to Trollhaugen last year as a new student, I convinced myself that we hadn’t enough time left to try one of the more difficult courses (we did), and that I wasn’t skipping it because I was scared (I was). This time I was on a mission: successfully complete the most difficult route.

A photo of the ropes course from below

After a quick run through the intermediate blue courses, another student and I approached the elevated platform that led to either the secondary blue course, or the black. We both decided to just hop up the ladder to the black before we could talk ourselves out of it. The first obstacle was a short set of monkey bars, 48 feet in the air. Even with the nearly fool-proof safety equipment, dangling from that height by our fingers was quite the barrier to entry. Ahead of me were two new students, Foster and Sophie, and behind me was another new student named Moses. While waiting for Foster to swing over to the next structure,  I was able to divert some of my own anxiety by delivering a pep talk to my apprehensive new friends. The four of us all made it over and we were on our way.

About halfway through the course, Sophie had her first anxiety inducing moment. She wasn’t particularly afraid of heights, but bees were a different story. The two of us were sharing a tiny platform on a nearly 50 foot pole when a wasp took a keen interest in her. The only escape was to zip line across about 25 feet to the next platform, but she would have to wait until Foster was finished clipping to the next “element” of the course. After a couple tense minutes of buzzing, she finally launched off of the platform under siege, and on to the wasp-free one.

Two people climbing on the ropes course

After the four of us completed the course, I met back up with Tommy, the new student with a serious fear of heights. He told me that yes, he had completed the course. When I asked him if it felt great to conquer his fears, he chuckled and told me no, it didn’t feel that great. I suppose that is the reality of pushing your boundaries of fear and proficiency. Sometimes you don’t get a pleasant rush as a reward. But it does often make it easier to approach something threatening next time, even in a completely different domain, like applying for a high status job, or being honest and vulnerable in a relationship. When I came to Trollhaugen as a new student, I thought I already knew my own competence and ability. My experience shows, however, that I have absolutely no idea what I’m capable of until I’ve measured my expectations against reality. That is- just try it. It risks sounding like a platitude, but most of the students I talked to had a similar experience on the ropes course. All of us had some expectation of what it would be like, and how we would perform. And to some degree, we were proven wrong. Here’s to carrying that memory into our recovery and our educations.


How Media Hype Can Hurt Addicts

We are once again falling into the trap of waging war against inanimate substances. And we will continue to lose.

It was about three months after I had a major surgery, and I had just stumbled upon the surplus Percocet tucked away in my parent’s bathroom closet. The surgery was called the Nuss procedure, which necessitates the controlled fracturing of the entire sternum and most of the upper ribs. Pain management is a serious concern. Oddly enough, my pediatric surgeon sent me home from the ICU with exactly double the amount of oxycodone that my painkiller regimen actually called for. He also made a cheeky joke about “being careful” because these “sell for a lot on the street”.

I imagine it was just a miscalculation of the sense of humor a 15 year old might have. But I knew the truth behind the quip. I had already experimented with numerous drugs at that age, but never an opiate. Opiates were the forbidden fruit. I fancied myself an “educated” drug consumer, and all of the others like me that I had met online repeatedly said never to play around with benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, or opiates. Too risky. When I found the bottle of 30 five-milligram oxycodone tablets in that closet, my first thought was “well, I better just be very careful”.

That is how I found myself googling the proper dose for a first time recreational user of oxycodone. You see, I was very methodical about it all. I was certain that addiction was a consequence of carelessness, and could be avoided with the prerequisite knowledge and planning. Two friends of mine and I took 15 milligrams of oxycodone that summer before high school, and I ate the fruit.

Those three white tablets were the final handshake I made with the devil. When I felt the first wave of euphoric bliss pass over me, I had the keen sense of making a secret agreement. The feeling of relief from existential angst, depression, soreness, embarrassment, and insufficiency was so profound that my barely developed brain absolutely folded in submission.

I tell stories like this to other addicts seeking recovery, because it highlights a type of powerlessness over substances that I have found crucial to recognize in my own recovery. In the wrong hands however, stories like this throw gasoline on to a media-hype inferno that can contribute to policy decisions that hurt addicts. I spend a lot of time reading news and editorials on the opioid epidemic, and I am continually unimpressed. There is something about the narrative surrounding it that is eerily familiar. I’m just old enough to remember the last drug epidemic: crystal meth. There was a blueprint for writing about it:

  1. A (not-so) new drug- crystal methamphetamine
  2. A new demographic being ravaged- rural Midwestern communities (which is supposed to be shocking because it is not the inner city)
  3. Someone to blame – first clandestine meth labs, then imported Mexican cartel meth.
  4. Subtle support for the status quo – “crack downs”, raids, new laws.

If you have read any reporting on the opioid epidemic, you might recognize that pattern. We have a not-so new group of drugs being pitched as a new scourge on society, a new demographic being effected, an evil cabal of pharmaceutical companies fueling the epidemic, and some status quo interventions being marketed as revolutionary.

So I ask myself, is this a case of an evil drug, or just a continuation of a general addiction epidemic that responds to demands for different substances from decade to decade? I think it is almost certainly the latter. Dr. Joseph Lee of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation agrees. In an interview with MinnPost he says “Addiction has never really been about drugs. Addiction is about the people who are at high risk for becoming addicted to those drugs.” Dr. Lee, a psychiatrist and expert on addiction, thinks the focus on specific drugs or classes of drugs is completely misguided and will lead to more panicked tail chasing while people continue to die. “If we invested in people as opposed to focusing on drugs, I think we’d have a much, much smaller problem on our hands”, Lee explains.

The focus on opioids in isolation is not exclusively the product of ignorance and hype. The fact is, someone that becomes addicted to heroin is at a much higher risk of an early death than someone addicted to cocaine. This is just a function of the physiological effects of opiates (overdose, combining with other respiratory depressants). Despite my concerns, the urgency of watching a rising death toll has been put to good use. As far as I can tell, there has never been so much media and political attention on recovery and addiction treatment. Public acceptance of Narcan distribution is incredible. There have also been real crimes and failures of foresight in the medical industry that needed to be brought to light. But along with the good, there is some bad. Besides addicts, many people get caught in the crossfire. Legitimate pain patients have a harder time getting effective medication and impoverished neighborhoods get more dangerous as the drug war increases in intensity. We are once again falling into the trap of waging war against inanimate substances. And we will continue to lose.

When I took those three tablets, and felt all of my teenage discontent vanish, I was having an entirely different experience than my two friends. My brain was primed for addiction long before that day and no single person or entity is to blame. We can do better when engaging in public discourse about addiction. Well known recovery writer and researcher William White recently published a piece spelling out just how we can do that. To him, the one-at-a-time method of talking about drug addiction does not work, never has worked, and never will work. The blind spots we produce when talking about addiction that way turns drug policy into a game of whack-a-mole. Bill says “As the opioid epidemic evolves, all of us involved in the front lines of policy responses and clinical or recovery support interventions should remain aware that it is more than an opioid epidemic and that we must be prepared to respond as it continues to evolve in ways not yet clear. “

When the media subtly anthropomorphizes heroin and other opiates as predatory agents in society, it props up the narrative which justifies the draconian, misinformed and (most importantly) failing policies of the war on drugs. Nobody has been more thoroughly failed by these policies than the addicts themselves. Approaching addiction this way is myopic, and will once again catch us by surprise in the next decade when a different drug becomes popular. Whether we are using the framework of hereditary predisposal, economic despair, corrupt pharmaceutical giants, or spiritual maladies, we must never forget what we are actually talking about when we talk about addiction: human beings.