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Justin Grammens ’96 Helps STEM Students By Giving

Justin smalls for the photo in front of a blurred backgroundJustin Grammens ’96 is a mathematics major who grew up in Minneapolis. His mother was a teacher for Minneapolis public schools, and his father worked as a doctor at Fairview Riverside, located across the street from Augsburg.

Grammens said he was familiar with the area and Augsburg, and one aspect that drew him to the school were the small class sizes which gave him a better connection to his classmates and instructors.

“My original plan was to start at a liberal arts school [Augsburg], then transfer to an engineering school,” Grammens said. “But when I transferred from Augsburg, I was sitting in a classroom with hundreds of other students and being taught by a TA, and I felt like why am I here?”

He ended up transferring back to Augsburg and completing his degree. But Grammens said it wasn’t just the small class sizes that inspired him to return to Augsburg, it was also the urban environment and the abundance of diversity that Augsburg offers.

At Augsburg, Grammens was able to build relationships with many different people that he maintained after graduation. He has even come back to campus on multiple occasions and spoken with students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields about his career.

Grammens is an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas, teaching a class for their masters of software engineering program. He said that he is proud to bring the skills that he learned at Augsburg and share them with his students.

“A lot of the classes at Augsburg were exploratory and non-traditional,” Grammens said. “It was really about thought process, application, collaboration, and problem solving.”

Around 2006, he started a company that was one of the first in the Twin Cities to develop mobile apps for major companies, and that’s when he said he felt like he had the income to give back.

“It breaks my heart if somebody is kicking butt in math, chemistry, or physics, and they know they want to be an engineer, but the barrier is just that they don’t have the money,” Grammens said. “I’m passionate about giving to STEM programs because those students are working with technologies that are changing our lives, and I want to support that.”

Grammens continues to make a positive impact on the lives of Augsburg students with annual donations to STEM programs, and you can too.

Donate to STEM programs and support Augsburg students as they conduct research with faculty, attend and present at national conferences, and hear from leading researchers.

Any gift made to any program will automatically count towards your class’ total for the Alumni Class Challenge!

Learn more ways to give.

Lewis Nelson ’00 Encourages You to Get Involved with Giving

Over one thousand miles away Lewis Nelson ’00, a history major, sat in front of a map in his office, which was posted behind him on the wall, meticulously pinned with various places he had visited.Lewis Nelson kneels on a football field with football and a helmet posing for the photo

Graduating high school from a small town in Wisconsin, Nelson reflected on why he initially chose Augsburg University–because of the urban environment, sense of community, and football.

But during his freshman year, Nelson, like many freshmen, felt the struggle of adapting to the new environment at first.

“And then, I started meeting more people,” Nelson said. “I began to participate in activities and student organizations, and I just got more involved on campus.”

His pitch rose with excitement, speaking about how he became an orientation leader and joined the Augsburg Student Activity Council.

Once he was fully immersed in the culture, Nelson said he was enamored by Augsburg’s diversity, and through it he learned that he could get along with anybody from anywhere.

Not long after graduation, Nelson joined the U.S. Army, where his experience at Augsburg gave him a leg up on his peers, he said.

“Augsburg helped me cultivate vital skills such as critical thinking and leadership,” said Nelson. “Skills that continue to serve me today, and that’s why I give.”

Lewis in a cap and gown holding his diploma poses for a photo under a tree with his mom.Nelson’s giving journey began when he received a call from a student about the Augsburg Fund. Since then, Nelson has made a habit of giving.

He said giving to Augsburg gives him a sense of pride and keeps the legacy alive, and upholds the value of a degree that has meant so much to all the students that attend Augsburg University.

“The feeling of giving back to the place that made me who I am today not only gives me personal pleasure, but it brings joy to other people’s lives’,” Nelson said. ”I encourage anyone to give what they can.”

You can donate to the Augsburg Fund and/or student organizations like the ones that made such an impact on Nelson’s life by visiting Augsburg’s giving page.

Any gift made to any program will automatically count towards your class’ total for the Alumni Class Challenge!

Experience a life of giving with Wayne Kendrick ’68

When Wayne Kendrick ’68, a religion and math major, enrolled at Augsburg as a junior, he was in the process of change. Wayne Kendrick smiles for a photo in front of a wooden backdrop

He spent years working towards becoming an actuary, but not long after his adult baptism, Kendrick would hear life calling him in a different direction. 

That’s when he started searching for Lutheran schools to attend. Kendrick said he wanted one with a different atmosphere than that which he had been accustomed to, mostly growing up in western South Dakota. 

Before even visiting Augsburg, Kendrick was drawn to the idea of a Lutheran college located in an area with vast cultural diversity and educational opportunities.

“I had a saying that I went by when I was in college,” Kendrick said. “Education shouldn’t get in the way of your life’s education.”

Kendrick recounted doing volunteer night patrols with the Way Center on the troubled streets of North Minneapolis and participating in a march for fair housing in Milwaukee with his college roommate and Father Groppi. He attributed these memories to an enriched college and life experience. 

“Although I only attended Augsburg for two years, it had a real profound impact on my life,” Kendrick said with a look of fondness and appreciation. 

After graduating, his giving journey began when he purchased a life insurance policy with Augsburg as the beneficiary. Kendrick would go on to enroll at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul and would later become a pastor. 

Kendrick continues to give back to the community that has influenced his life so immensely with multiple donations to the StepUp® program and an annual gift to the Augsburg Fund. 

“I know without our [donor’s] gifts, large or small, Augsburg simply wouldn’t exist,” Kendrick said. “It’s not just enough to be appreciative, one must also make sure that others can enjoy the benefits that we, ourselves, have enjoyed.”

Join Kendrick and ensure students have an opportunity to receive the educational and life experiences they deserve by making your donation today! 

Any gift made to any program will automatically count towards your class’ total for the Alumni Class Challenge!

Learn more ways to give.

ANNE RICHTER SUPPORTS THE TEAMWORK IN GIVING

Like many Augsburg University alumni, Anne Richter 86 said she was thankful to have professors and mentors that were passionate about teaching and giving students opportunities to excel in academics and athletics. Anne Richter smiles for a photo in a dark room on the couch

Now, Richter wants to give present and future students the same opportunities and wonderful experiences she had at Augsburg.

“Augsburg helped me grow up and experience the world and was an important next step in my life,” Richter said. “It’s a place where you find community, friendship, and a foundation.”

This is the 40th year anniversary from when Richter chose to attend Augsburg in 1982 for academics and to play volleyball and softball. She graduated with a degree in psychology and would later go on to be inducted into the Augsburg Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.  

After graduation, Richter got a graduate assistantship at St. Cloud State as an assistant volleyball coach. A position that her volleyball coach at Augsburg, Marilyn Pearson Florian, helped her secure.  

Richter started giving back to Augsburg a few years ago when a gift officer approached her about supporting construction for a new volleyball women’s locker room, a cause that spoke to her.

Since then, Richter has given to the women’s softball and volleyball programs. She also made contributions to the Patricia Piepenburg ’69 Women’s Locker Room, which recently opened during the Great Returns: We’re All In – All School Reunion.

Richter knows that giving is a team effort, that’s why she reaches out to other Augsburg alumni, friends, and athletes and encourages them to give.

One of her favorite giving campaigns is Give to the Max, Augsburg’s annual day of giving. Richter said she enjoys seeing all the different opportunities there are to give and is excited to know that Augsburg students are receiving help from people who care.

“Our [donor’s] gifts are critical to the foundation of Augsburg,” Richter said. “They allow the university to provide the best professors and facilities to support the best students.”

Give to the Augsburg University Volleyball program and/or join A-Club and support Augsburg athletes as they strive to excel on and off the field, and any gift made to any program will automatically count towards your class’ total for the Alumni Class Challenge!

Learn more ways to give.

Donnie McCarthy ’09 Gives back to URGO

When it comes to Augsburg’s Undergraduate and Graduate Opportunity (URGO) program, things have really comeDonnie smiles for the picture in front of trees and wearing a suit full circle for Donnie McCarthy ’09. One of the program’s first student researchers, Donnie is now the first URGO alumnus to serve as a sponsor, making the same experience he had as an undergraduate possible for current Augsburg students. “I’m thrilled that I can help someone–and hopefully, help a lot of people over the years–get access to that kind of experience,” he says.

Donnie was one of the first Augsburg students to participate in URGO in the summer of 2008. It was his first experience undertaking research, working alongside now-retired Biology professor Ralph Butkowski. “It was really my first exposure to doing biological research; my first exposure to doing research in a lab setting, and really got me excited about that concept—being able to carve into the unknown a little bit,” says Donnie.

Donnie also went on to undertake asthma research with Biology professor Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright, sparking an interest in pharmacology and immunology. “My experiences at URGO were career-influencing and what resulted in me going to graduate school to do basic research. I was fascinated by the idea of asking questions and experimentally answering them. To be at the frontier of our understanding of a biological pathway seemed akin to being an explorer, albeit of the molecular type,” he says.

While a student at Augsburg, Donnie developed time management skills as he juggled school, a six-day work week, research, and playing on the men’s soccer team–another pivotal experience for him. “Coming from Michigan, not really knowing anyone at Augsburg, getting thrown into the first pre-season training session, you create a family away from your family, and that was super valuable to me, getting really close with the whole team.” 

Donnie has also been a supporter of the men’s soccer team over the years and admires head coach Greg Holker’s dedication to create a strong sense of community among students and alumni. “[Holker] really requires excellence, has a really strong standard for being a person–he really does foster a fantastic environment,” says Donnie.

After Augsburg, Donnie studied at Albany Medical College before receiving his doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of New York. If he hadn’t participated in URGO, Donnie says, he would have been at a disadvantage with his fellow graduate school classmates. “Having an idea of not just the scientific process, but being able to read and interpret scientific literature–there’s really no other way to get good at it, so having done it before (in URGO) definitely helped,” he says. 

Today, Donnie works at Samsara Biocapital in San Francisco, where he serves as Vice President. In his work at Samsara, Donnie works with both company creation and more traditional investing in life sciences companies, helping companies developing early-stage drugs, take an interesting idea and how it might translate into a therapeutic concept, how it will position relative to things that are already out there. His URGO research provided the skills necessary to thrive in his career–“doing research is an excellent way to learn how to think about something critically.”

Donnie believes that a program like URGO sets Augsburg apart. “It truly does differentiate from most other small liberal arts schools–it’s not an opportunity you get at every place, for sure, and enriches the overall experience for students. It was just that impactful for me, and if I can help one person in my lifetime have that same sort of experience, I’ll do it a hundred times over.” 

URGO is just one of many ways to give back, and any gift made to the program will automatically count towards your class’ total for the Alumni Class Challenge. Join the Challenge!

Learn more ways to give. 

Dennis ’78 and Bev (Ranum) Meyer ’78 Welcome the Challenge

Dennis and Bev stand next to each other smiling for the photoBev (Ranum) Meyer 78, who graduated with a degree in mathematics, paused to collect her thoughts before recounting memories of when the Augsburg Choir practiced in the Old Main Chapel, back when fans took the bus to Parade Stadium to watch Auggie football games, and students lived in the big old houses on campus before they were all torn down. 

“When I think of our era at Augsburg, I think about how much this University has evolved since then,” said Bev. “And even though many aspects have changed, much of what we appreciated about Augsburg still remains.”

Dennis Meyer 78 majored in communications and social work and is the co-chair of the Alumni Class Challenge. He and Bev met each other at Augsburg during their undergraduate studies, and both of them experienced the benefits of grants, scholarships, and the power of generosity. 

Dennis and Bev began giving back to Augsburg in 1978 when they signed up for the Senior Challenge, which encouraged them to give a small gift every year. They became even more invested in giving when their son chose to attend Augsburg. 

“There are many reasons people give,” Dennis said. “For us, we want to pay back a place that provided us with many opportunities, experiences, and lifelong friendships.”

They mentioned the importance of paying it forward and their hope that others will have a chance to experience Augsburg for themselves and create their own memories. 

The Meyers continued to ensure their dream became a reality by contributing to the Jeroy and Lorraine Carlson Atrium Lounge, a designated space in the Hagfors Center where the Augsburg community can gather, foster relationships, and build community. They also gave contributions to the Beverly Durkee Mathematics Scholarship. 

Dennis noted there are multiple ways to give such as endowments, the Augsburg Fund, professorships, and numerous other programs.

Currently, Dennis and Wayne Jorgenson 71 are on the Board of Regents, and co-chairs of the Alumni Class Challenge, which is a part of Augsburg University’s Great Returns Campaign. The Almni Class Challenge kicks off at the All-School Reunion on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, and will last for three months. 

The goal of the larger campaign is to raise $125 million. The Alumni Class Challenge is a competition to see which class will have the highest participation rate with the winning class receiving bragging rights. A gift of any amount is appreciated and counts toward that class’ total. 

Learn more ways to give.

A Generous Family

A Portrait of Jean and Phil Formo
Jean and Phil Formo

“Go west, young man!” was the mantra guiding the young Philip Formo in his college selection. But after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University in 1968, he must have heeded a different axiom: “Yes, you can go home again.” Home again he came, not only to finish a special education degree at St. Cloud State University and a divinity degree at Luther Seminary, but also to pick up the Formo family legacy where it left off—at Augsburg.

Now a retired ELCA pastor, Phil, his wife, Jean, and their niece, Dawn, are the primary Formo forces behind not one, not two, but three separate scholarships honoring various family members and extending generosity to future Augsburg students.

“I was the first person on both sides of the family not to go to Augsburg,” says Phil. “My mother met my father in chemistry class there. She was in nursing and needed help, and he was good in chemistry. They also both sang in the first Augsburg choir concert that ever took place, after the men’s chorus and the women’s chorus merged.” His parents, Jerome and Winifred, both ’37, were extremely dedicated to Augsburg and stayed deeply involved in all things Auggie throughout their lifetimes. Jerome received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983 and was also a Regent Emeritus.

In 2009, Phil designated proceeds from their estate to establish the Jerome and Winifred Formo Scholarship for music majors or those with a strong interest in choral music directing. Seven students have already benefited from this fund, but it was not the first Formo scholarship. That distinction belongs to the David J. Formo Scholarship, which was established in 1979 and is awarded annually to a junior or senior student who has successfully overcome adversity to achieve academic and extracurricular excellence.

“My brother David graduated from Augsburg in 1964 and became a U.S. Navy commander whose plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea on November 3, 1979, the same day that Iran took U.S. captives. Before that, he had delivered to the Shah of Iran the gift of a new jet. It’s really a small world,” mused Phil.

The scholarship to honor his brother was the first for the Formo family, but not the last. When Phil retired in 2011, he decided to write a book about his maternal grandfather, Andreas Helland, who immigrated from Norway in 1889, attended Augsburg Seminary, and served there as New Testament professor for 35 years. “He was also very involved in fundraising. In those days you did everything, and he was really good at stewardship. One of his daughters, Beatrice, married Norman Anderson, who was the fundraiser for the first science building at Augsburg, and they were all there for the groundbreaking. My grandfather was the first to give a major gift,” Phil recalls.

Proceeds from Phil’s book, Papa—A Life Remembered, along with contributions from his own family and his parents’ estate, fund the Andreas Helland Scholarship, established In 2012 for students with financial need and academic achievement. “Education is so important, but we all know how expensive college is,” Phil says. “If students can get through in four years instead of five or six, they will have saved the equivalent of two years’ salary.”

Phil is sold not only on the value of affordable education, but also on the value of Augsburg. “I’ve always been amazed by what Augsburg, long known as a conservative Lutheran school, has become. What they are today is just awe-inspiring—their involvement in the community and openness to everyone is incredible. Culturally, they have really been able to reach out, to take minorities seriously,” he says. “For the only ELCA college in the city, what a unique opportunity.”