Najeeba Syeed joined Augsburg in August 2022 as the inaugural El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director for the Interfaith Institute. She recalled hearing about the national search for this position through a direct message on Twitter from an adjunct faculty member. “One day I received a message saying ‘there’s a position opening and it sounds like your life story written in the job description!’” Najeeba reflected amusingly. After learning more about the role, she realized how reflective it was of her life’s work.
Although she hadn’t spent much time in Minneapolis, Najeeba was familiar with Augsburg through her interfaith work and noticed the cultural and demographic changes that had taken place over the years. “For a lot of us who are Muslim American, it [Minneapolis] has become this dynamic place that is a center for culture and community, as well as political organizing,” she said.
This observation was reinforced through Augsburg’s demonstrated commitment to various communities on campus and its core mission support surrounding equity and inclusion. “What makes Augsburg special is how its diversity connects students to the neighborhood and really the world.” After a campus visit and lunch with students, Najeeba felt called to this opportunity.
Najeeba brings her non-profit background and expertise in working with cross-cultural and interreligious groups to her role at Augsburg. “Ultimately, we all want similar things,” she stated. “Safety, a place of belonging… At the Institute we talk about the idea of pluralism. How do we bring different people together and find common purpose?” This overarching inquiry is what Najeeba hopes to explore and find tangible solutions to. “The work is never done, but by harnessing the power of different viewpoints, faith traditions, and moral perspectives, many of our problems can be solved.” Examining these complex topics and creating sustainable outcomes is a privilege that comes with an endowed position.
Endowed positions strengthen Augsburg’s financial resiliency, attract and retain talented faculty, and expand our capacity for leadership in specific areas. Since the inception of Augsburg’s Great Returns: We’re All In campaign, there have been five endowed positions established by incredible donors and seven endowed positions created overall.
The importance of philanthropy remains at the forefront of Najeeba’s mind as she envisions the future of Augsburg being a central leader for interfaith leadership, dialogue, and peacebuilding. “I feel blessed in this role. The El-Hibris’ [Fuad, Nancy, and Karim] vision for this chair to have a place both in academics and the campus life of students, faculty, and staff is exciting.”
Since beginning her role, Najeeba has found ways to engage in Interfaith discourse with students in class and through experiential opportunities including, guest lecturing in classes across campus, traveling around the country to educate on the importance of interreligious dialogue and leadership, and teaching the Interfaith Scholars course. “Our students are so eager about the opportunities they have been given, there is so much energy and hunger to learn!”
Augsburg’s first Interfaith Symposium took place on March 2 where Najeeba served as the keynote speaker and addressed the topic of interfaith leadership and healing in times of crisis. “My hope is that this annual tradition will attract intellectual leaders from around the globe and bring their voices on campus,” she said.
“We’ve accomplished a lot already! The diversity of our student body coupled with a long-term investment in helping our students, faculty, and staff build intentional and caring communities will further amplify the work we’re doing.”