Once again, Kristin Dragseth Wiersma ’91 and her husband, Augsburg associate professor of religion Hans Wiersma, are leading the way with their three-year, $1,000 annual commitment to the Augsburg Fund. As participants in the Great Returns: We’re All In campaign, they are not only making their own commitment to Augsburg’s future, but also focusing on the “we” by inspiring others to do the same.
Kristin transferred to Augsburg in her sophomore year, after deciding that the party vibe at her first choice, the U. of Wisconsin, did not suit her. Augsburg was a much better fit. She thrived on the personal touch a small campus could provide and appreciated being able to integrate her campus ministry involvement with her studies. She also joined the volleyball team, and the senior year she spent living in a decrepit house with her eight teammates delivered indelible memories.
The house is gone now, but the friendship bonds remain. The teammates used to get together often, at least once a month, and still meet frequently, now with their families in tow. They share camping trips and enjoyed a vacation in Costa Rica last fall. With Kristin’s encouragement, they have also begun giving back, each in their own way.
“We’ve all had life-changing experiences, and we all love Augsburg. The way we met and grew—that’s been really fun. We’ve all known each other since we were 18, and now we’re in our 50s, but we really solidified our values and trajectory together at Augsburg,” explains Kristin, who earned her degree in social work, supplemented it with advanced leadership degrees, and now works with organizations to keep them healthy and on track with their goals.
With kids in college, she acknowledges, no one has a lot of cash to play around with. Her goal is to reacquaint her teammates with their alma mater and nurture their philanthropy in whatever form it takes. She has invited them back to campus on several occasions, often for homecoming, but also to tour the facilities, admire the new academic buildings, and recognize how education has changed. They even got to sit in the chairs like students and learn what today’s “upside-down” classroom is like.
“In the olden days, you’d go hear a lecture, then do the reading, then write the paper. Now the data dump is all on your own, with podcasts, books, media, etc. It’s quite diverse. Then you come to the classroom and apply the theory,” she explains.
Kristin and Hans are contributing to the Augsburg Fund, which provides academic scholarships for those in need. “You can do lots of cool things with endowments, but this one is the heavy lifter,” she says. Education today is expensive, and recognizing how hard students have to work to be in college at all, especially if they are first-generation, is important.
Some of her teammates are giving in new ways. Because women’s sports were so important to them in those early days of Title IX, together they supported a locker room rebuild. One, an avid golfer, made a major contribution to the golf locker room. “I want them to get closer to the University, whatever that means to them. I’m glad when they give—it’s just exciting,” Kristin says.
She notes that some potential donors may wrestle with what they perceive as a “crazy, liberal, progressive direction” that can feel alien to the traditional values they hold dear. But Augsburg, she argues, is “the ultimate place to learn about diversity.” It has amply demonstrated how it is possible to cling to core values while inviting others along on the journey, shifting just enough to support new populations. Hans, for example, still teaches religion—every kind of religion. He and Kristin want to ensure that others “appreciate the adaptation that Augsburg has made in response to a new day. It is working really hard to give everyone a solid education in a complex and ambiguous world. Providing the skills to navigate that ambiguity is the hardest part,” says Kristin. “Justice for me is creating access to education, giving students a chance to reach their potential and get a footing in this world. I want to be part of anything that helps people do that.”