Bing tracking

COVID-19: Fall 2020 plans and student resources ›

Two Students Find Support and Mentorship from Augsburg Women Engaged

Checking your email can get tedious, right? But for two Augsburg students, the digital chore yielded unexpected benefits. Informed that they had been selected as recipients of this year’s Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) scholarships, they registered both shock and delight.

“I was very, very surprised. It was not something I had applied for, so I was very excited to hear I got it,” says Nayra Rios ’20. After earning an associate degree at Century College in White Bear Lake, she decided to transfer to Augsburg to major in biopsychology, the next step on her way to becoming a physician’s assistant. Unfortunately, the deadline for obtaining a transfer scholarship had passed.

“I was disappointed, but I figured I would just have to find other ways to pay for school. Then a month later, this email arrived,” Rios says. She was familiar with financial challenges. Her parents are laborers who grew up in Mexico but immigrated to California, where they met, married, and had three children. They moved to Minnesota when Rios was seven years old. She attended a charter school for Hispanic students before transferring to Tartan High school in Oakdale, a transition that carried its own culture shock. But Rios found friends and pursued academic success.

Although her older brother is now pursuing a degree in law enforcement, she was the first in her family to attend college. As a child, she had encountered health issues that scared her, but compassionate treatment relieved that fear; she has wanted to pursue a career in health care ever since.

“My parents always supported my dreams,” she says. They had their own dreams—her mother wanted to be a nurse and her father a lawyer—but lacked resources. In Mexico, she points out, families had to pay for everything related to school: books, uniforms, etc. These days, Rios helps support herself through her off-campus work with STAR Services, which supports young people with disabilities.

She has enjoyed meeting the women involved with AWE, which was formed in 2009 to unite women with shared interests and passions through events, mentorship, and philanthropy. “They are very kind, and they made me feel important,” says Rios.

Her sentiments are echoed by Sydney Fields ’22, who describes her benefactors as “really cool.” She, too, was surprised by the scholarship award, although she recalls meeting the person who recommended her through a multicultural diversity engagement group. A graduate of Champlin High School in Brooklyn Park, she chose Augsburg for its diversity, its proximity to home, and a chance to play on the basketball team. She is #10, a guard.

“I love playing at Augsburg. It’s such a welcome and supportive program,” she says. And although she got good grades in high school and was expecting to work hard at college, she was not quite prepared for the amount of schoolwork she would encounter. Studying, on top of basketball practice and her work as a housing specialist, “gets really exhausting!”

With four older and two younger siblings, all of whom have or are pursuing some sort of college degree, Fields did come to Augsburg prepared with goals. Currently a finance major and management minor, she wants to launch two businesses. One would be a college prep class for teens, to help them prepare for the onslaught of responsibility she is discovering. The other would be a nonprofit 24-hour childcare center, designed for low-income families who need extra help because they work nights or have other scheduling challenges.

As she navigates her college years, Fields is grateful not only for the financial support AWE has provided, but also for the connection to people who understand the various situations she will experience at Augsburg. “We participants know we have a resource in this group of women. They will help us with anything we need.”

link to AWE video

“Care is just a word if you don’t act”: Linda Giacomo Invests in Augsburg Women

Linda Giacomo with President PribbenowSometimes a match made in heaven requires a connection here on earth. Such is the case with Linda Giacomo, whose generous gifts to the Augsburg Women Engaged (AWE) Scholarship fund are the outcome of a chance meeting.

Giacomo, 67, is a retired clinical psychologist who speaks freely of her two passions: helping women get educated and helping them get elected to political office. When she met Catherine Reid Day, an Augsburg friend, donor, and strategic marketing consultant through her company, Storyslices, at a political event last May, the two talked about the interests they shared. What ensued was as unlikely—yet as likely—a serendipitous result as anyone could imagine.

In so many ways, Giacomo and Augsburg are a matched set. An Italian-American who hails from Port Chester, New York, Giacomo knew in her teens that she wanted to work with children, perhaps in elementary education. But a comment by her younger brother—“Stop talking to me like you’re a psychologist!”—led her to study psychology at SUNY-Buffalo, then earn a Ph.D. in child clinical and adult psychology at Michigan State University.

“It was fascinating,” she says. “It combined everything I’m interested in: people—what makes them tick, why they feel and do things, being intellectually challenged, and helping others. It was a perfect fit.”

After post-doctorate work in Philadelphia and other positions that proved too research-heavy, she moved to Minneapolis for a clinical position at Children’s Hospital, then went into full-time private practice five years later. After retiring, and with much appreciation for the area’s affordable real estate, bike paths, parks, and “just enough” theater, art, and music, she has stayed. So has her propensity for research.

After learning more about Augsburg, she did her homework. “I have had patients who went there, but I knew very little about it,” she says. “Having gone from having no money to probably being considered fairly wealthy, I was looking for an estate beneficiary. I have no loyalty to any particular institution, but I do have a great commitment to representation, especially of women in the faculty and administration.”

She studied Augsburg’s numbers—need, diversity, solvency, service—and visited campus to meet its leaders. What she found was common ground. Like so many Auggies, she was the first in her family to attend college, earning merit scholarships but still needing a decade to pay off student loans. She empathizes with immigrant struggles, recalling impoverished grandparents who left southern Italy to become naturalized U.S. citizens, and parents who could not afford their children’s college tuition despite her father’s three jobs and her mother’s one. She also inherited a legacy of service, after watching her family take in neighborhood children and offer help to anyone in need.

“There are people who say they care, but care is just a word if you don’t act,” says Giacomo. “In my practice, my one concern was to make sure I didn’t leave behind the people who had no money. I never turned a patient away for lack of funds. About a third of my patients paid whatever they could afford.”

Giacomo reviewed statistics revealing that college graduates’ increased earning potential could move them up two socio-economic classes. “Education is transformative in a way that gives you so much power and choice. People should not be denied that opportunity because they have no money,” she says. A prior visit to a small, struggling college in South Carolina “touched my heart, but it also woke me up. My family knows I love them and will help if they ever need money, but they are educated and affluent enough to help their children easily afford college or repay loans. I want to help people who have nobody.”

Noting that women earn 26% less than men but carry two-thirds of the nation’s college debt, Giacomo has placed them first, designating a $30,000 outright gift to the AWE Scholarship as well as her $1.5 million estate gift. In her current role as “village elder,” and when she is not busy tap-dancing and practicing Italian, she will share her significant wisdom with the AWE Philanthropy Council, which she has joined.

“I found it deeply satisfying to be able to provide emotional help and support to so many patients, who could then face their pain and make better, happier lives for themselves. What they could achieve was profoundly moving,” she says. “Now I am able to provide financial support as well. To not be generous, to not share what you have with those in need, is heartbreaking. In making these gifts to Augsburg, my heart is full.”