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A Love of Life Through Science and Math

Tamra and Bravo
Tamra and her horse, Bravo

Tamra (Pederson) Pyrtle ’86 had a love for science and math that went well beyond practical uses for the subjects. She excelled in school, and later, in her career. Yet Tamra always made time for the fun side of science and math.

At an early age, Tamra developed a talent for playing the piano, despite not possessing a natural ear for music. However, she did have a methodical mind that allowed her to do well in mathematics. And as music and math are close cousins, she developed that musical talent through piano lessons and diligent practice. Tamra played Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer for her piano recital and finished without making a single mistake, earning her a solid round of applause.

When it came time to choose a college, Tamra had her choice of St. Olaf, Concordia, Gustavus Adolphus, and Augsburg, among others. Like many of Augsburg’s students, Tamra chose Augsburg in part for the community atmosphere. She felt the campus vibe at Augsburg fit her personality better than any other college.

At Augsburg, Tamra blossomed. Chemistry was her first academic love, mathematics was second, and German was third. The faculty at Augsburg, particularly Arlen Gyberg and John Holum, were inspirations for her thirst of knowledge. Tamra was encouraged to pursue a chemistry major based on the American Chemical Society standards for a bachelor of arts graduate. This was a great challenge, particularly for a student with a double minor in mathematics and German. But Tamra’s persistent nature helped her earn a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, graduating with honors in 1986.

“Obviously she was not afraid of a challenge. There is a saying of which she was particularly fond. It went like this: ‘Go ahead, underestimate me, that will be fun,’” says Brett Pyrtle, Tamra’s husband.

Tamra 1984 - Augsburg yearbook photo
Tamra 1984 – Augsburg yearbook photo

Tamra’s exceptional knowledge wasn’t always reserved for schoolwork. One night in 1983, she and her friends convinced members of the Augsburg football team to carry a Volkswagen Beetle into the student center. Tamra was able to direct the crew so they could do this without taking the doors off the entry. The geometry of this feat was lost on the maintenance staff, who had to remove the entrance doors to get the vehicle back out.

The orange Volkswagen Beetle, owned by Auggie Chuck Rath, snuck into the student center in the spring of 1983.
The orange Volkswagen Beetle, owned by Auggie Chuck Rath, snuck into the student center in the spring of 1983.

Tamra enjoyed using her science skills in the kitchen. She was a scratch baker and would purchase pumpkins and process them to make pies. She preferred working with raw materials so she could control the process to the fullest extent. Her family still fondly remembers her superb home-made pizzas, which were made entirely from scratch.

Tamra honed her skills from the ground up. In her first professional job, she was hired as a lab supervisor for Buckbee-Mears-St. Paul. She was the first college graduate to hold the job, and learned quickly how to balance her book knowledge with the fast-changing demands of metal etching production. She also learned how to stand up for herself in a plant where she was the only woman in technical management.

After that role, Tamra broadened her skills by mastering the use of HPLC, ICP-MC, and GC instrumentation in a consulting lab, before being hired by Innovex to supervise the etched metal operations in Litchfield. She was tasked with specifying, designing, and supervising the construction of an onsite analytical laboratory, as well as training lab support to help operate it.

Tamra shifted careers to science education for a few years, teaching AP Chemistry at Robbinsdale and Benilde-St. Margaret’s high schools, then returned to the lab as a quality assurance analyst for Paddock Laboratories, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in New Hope. She worked nearly a decade for this firm, was promoted twice, and earned her American Society for Quality (ASQ) designation as a Certified Quality Auditor.

In 2012, Tamra moved from pharmaceuticals to medical devices, joining Medtronic’s Neuromodulation division as a Senior Quality Engineer. She was quickly promoted to Principal Quality Engineer and developed a reputation among her colleagues as the go-to resource for tough quality engineering and analytical challenges.

Despite her technical jobs, Tamra continued to maintain the fun side of science and particularly loved how science and nature intersected. Growing up, she coveted the opportunities to visit her grandparents’ farm to be around the dogs, calves, and cows. She also loved visiting her uncle’s horse.

Tamra and Bravo
Tamra and Bravo at Paradise Ranch

“It was not really a surprise when she sold her collector car to buy a horse. And what a horse it was! A thoroughbred with a blood line to the 1978 triple-crown winner ‘Affirmed’ whose given name is ‘One Smoother Talker,’ also called Bravo,” says her parents.

Tamra learned as much as she could about veterinary care and medicine. She regularly administered Bravo’s shots and saw to it that he had regular visits from his chiropractor, veterinarian, and farrier.

“The communication between Bravo and Tami was something special. They would have conversations and both knew full well what the other was saying. Bravo would perk up when he saw Tami coming, he even recognized her vehicle. They had a ritual when together that both depended upon. Bravo was a 1,200 plus pound pet!” says her parents.

Establishing a Lasting Memorial to Tamra Pyrtle

On December 13, 2018, Tamra passed away at the age of 55 after battling cancer for more than two years. She left behind her husband of 24 years, Brett; her parents, Wayne and Lynette; her brother, Carey Pederson ’88; and her sister, Kristin (Pederson) Merkel ’91.

For her family, choosing a way to honor their memory of Tamra was a difficult task. She was far too young when she passed away, and she was at a point in her life where recruiters were seeking out her extraordinary knowledge and skills.

“All three of our children are Augsburg graduates, and our family ties to Augsburg run deep,” said Wayne. “Augsburg was a significant contributor to Tami’s success. We wish for other students to have the opportunities Tami had, and what better place to provide some assistance than at Tami’s alma mater.”

Wayne and Lynette wanted their children to have the freeing experience that a solid values-based education can provide. Tamra was the first in their family to do so.

“I knew from playing with her and watching her play that she was uniquely talented and creative. She was not one to back down from a challenge – in a good way. She studied hard and earned every A in her classes, which in high school were mostly college preparatory. She took the hard classes and excelled in all of them. That, in turn, earned her a membership in the National Honor Society. She graduated salutatorian in her class of about 700 people.”

Wayne and Lynette Pederson, along with their son-in-law, Brett, established the Tamra Lynn Pederson Pyrtle Endowed Scholarship at Augsburg. This scholarship will be used to support students interested in pursuing a major in chemistry and who maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Wayne, Tamra, and Lynette at Christmas. Brett and Tamra.
Wayne, Tamra, and Lynette at Christmas in 2015. Brett and Tamra in 2014.

The El-Hibri Family to Fund an Endowed Chair and Executive Directorship for Augsburg’s Interfaith Institute

Fuad & Nancy El-Hibri
Fuad & Nancy El-Hibri

In 2019, Augsburg University established Interfaith at Augsburg: An Institute to Promote Interreligious Leadership. This program illustrates the many ways in which our commitment to interfaith learning and leadership can shape our work on campus and in the wider community, and this work requires a strategic leader and distinguished scholar to provide direction. Today we are pleased to announce that a significant gift has been made to make this leadership position possible: the El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director for the Interfaith Institute.

Fuad and Nancy El-Hibri first learned of Augsburg while researching higher education options for their son Karim, who was in recovery from substance issues. The family was looking for a university that could provide both a college education and a supportive program. 

“Nancy and I diligently explored universities for our son which offered programs like StepUP. We were surprised that we could only find a handful of schools that had anything close to what Augsburg offers. StepUP clearly stood out with its reputation, scale, and program scope,” says Fuad.

Once Karim graduated from the StepUP program, Fuad and Nancy continued to stay engaged with the university. Initially, their support was focused on StepUP, including a significant gift towards the Oren Gateway Center where the program is housed. Fuad was among the sincere supporters who encouraged the university to create a StepUP Program Endowment, a fund that has since raised nearly $10 million to support the program’s unique offerings and outstanding staff.

“We are grateful for the StepUP program and the opportunities it provides to students in recovery. Karim is now the President of East West Resources Corporation, a business development and private equity firm. We are proud of his leadership skills and successful management of the business,” says Fuad.

As they learned more about other programs at Augsburg, the El-Hibris were impressed with how the university cares about its incredibly diverse student body. They were inspired by Augsburg’s philosophy which is embodied by the newly built Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, integrating three crucial pillars of study.

“Our family values higher education tremendously. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of engaging with several academic institutions, including American University and Yale School of Management,” says Fuad.

Great Returns Campaign Chair Dr. Paul Mueller '84, Fuad and Nancy admiring the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Dr. Peter Agre '70 on display in Augsburg's Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion.
Great Returns Campaign Chair Dr. Paul Mueller ’84, Fuad and Nancy admiring the Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Dr. Peter Agre ’70 on display in Augsburg’s Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion.

Augsburg holds a special place in their hearts though, and they have admiration for its leadership, including its tenth president, Paul Pribbenow.

“Paul is an extremely impressive and effective president. He is community-minded, strategic, and a true visionary.”

The El-Hibris aim is to support the university’s overall strategic direction, not just individual projects. They encouraged President Pribbenow to form the President’s Council, a small group of professionals and industry experts who serve as advisors to Paul and provide insights on strategic and operational matters. Fuad and Nancy currently serve as co-chairs of the council and have enjoyed getting to know the members and connecting more deeply with Augsburg’s programs and possibilities. 

Now, Fuad and Nancy are generously establishing the El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Directorship for the Interfaith Institute. President Pribbenow plans to launch a comprehensive search for a candidate who will serve as a national ambassador of the interfaith movement and partner with campus leaders as a change agent for interreligious learning and living. This position will lead the Interfaith Institute while simultaneously participating as a member of the faculty. 

Fuad and Nancy’s gift will help to fulfill one of the goals of Augsburg150, the strategic plan, to advance the public purposes of an Augsburg education by enhancing interfaith leadership on campus and nationally.

Nancy with a group of Augsburg's Interfaith Scholars
Nancy with a group of Augsburg’s Interfaith Scholars: Abbey Garofalo ’21, Ava Fojtik ’20, Oluwatofunmi Oteju ’21, Abdikhaliq Sahal ’20, and Isaac Tadé ’21.

“We live in a world that is religiously diverse, and allowing religions to thrive is a step in the right direction. But it is not enough. Interfaith dialogue, learning from one another, and engaging together in meaningful work is what it’s truly all about. The timing now is critical and we hope this is just the beginning,” says Fuad.

This sort of strategic philanthropy will help to fulfill Augsburg’s vision: As a new kind of urban, student-centered university, we are educating Auggies as stewards of an inclusive democracy, engaged in their communities and uniquely equipped to navigate the complex issues of our time.

“We have a unique opportunity to build an interfaith learning community that will be a model for all of higher education. The combination of Augsburg’s interreligious student body, with Fuad and Nancy’s support and counsel, will create the sort of academic and community leadership the world needs today,” says President Pribbenow.

The El-Hibris believe interfaith competency increases social capital and creates a thriving society. They see this gift as a catalyst for interfaith dialogue on campus and hope more people will become involved in supporting Augsburg’s Interfaith Institute, both as advisers and with financial contributions.

Two students talk with Fuad after his presentation
Abdirahman Aden ’20 and Zakariya Abdullahi ’21 talk with Fuad after his presentation to a group of students, faculty, and staff in October 2019.

“The Interfaith Institute at Augsburg is not just about one individual or two or three, but a whole critical mass. The tools gained will not only solve immediate problems, but empower a whole generation of young people to respect one another’s differences, find commonality, and connect with one another for the greater good,” says Fuad.

Fuad and Nancy are delighted with what this gift will mean for the Interfaith Institute at Augsburg. They have given special praise to President Pribbenow, Matt Entenza, and Sarah Erkkinen for offering an opportunity to create what they believe will be a significant impact on society.

“This gift could have a real ripple effect,” says Matt Entenza, Chair of Augsburg’s Board of Regents. “The El-Hibris have a remarkable vision for Augsburg to lead the way by valuing faith within a pluralistic world and actively working together to create a better society. I know this is just the beginning, and look forward to growing this effort collaboratively.”

El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director

The El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Executive Director position is now open. You may view the position details through Augsburg’s HR website here: http://augsburg.interviewexchange.com/jobofferdetails.jsp?JOBID=137435. Interested candidates may apply for the position here: http://augsburg.interviewexchange.com/candapply.jsp?JOBID=137435

Supporting Global Education

Lee and John Roper-Batker
Lee ’88 and John Roper-Batker

Lee ’88 and John planned early on in their lives to give back to a program that affected them so dramatically: Augsburg’s Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE).

“It’s where we met and fell in love! John was a student at Pacific Lutheran and I was at Augsburg,” says Lee. “Our experiences in the program allowed us to recognize our shared values and commitment to equity, while enjoying life.”

Lee and John made lifelong friends through their CGEE trip to Central America, people who are still their good friends today. Their experience had a major impact on both of their careers. Before the trip, John planned on getting his PhD in plant ecology and doing research. However, he was so drawn to what he learned in Central America that he decided to become a teacher instead.

“Studying Freire and seeing the impact of liberating education in Mexico and Nicaragua opened my eyes to what education can bring about in a person’s life. CGEE allowed me to see teaching as an impactful, inspiring career,” says John.

For Lee, the experience reinforced everything she was already doing.

“I was committed to advance gender and racial equity and justice. CGEE helped me realize the importance of listening to communities and centering their wisdom as the foundation of change. I also witnessed the courage to act. I have applied these principles throughout my career,” says Lee.

CGEE also impacted how Lee and John would raise their daughter.

“We have a family mission statement! It’s written on a cocktail napkin somewhere… but basically it’s: create a family that is supportive and provides agency, love, kindness, joy, and growth as we move through the world and do our part to create change,” says Lee.

Lee and John enrolled their daughter in a global exchange program in Guatemala when she was in high school, where she helped with the local community and learned Spanish. Their daughter, Astia, had such a good experience that she went on to do a semester in Ecuador during college. Both of these experiences impacted her life and career in much the same way as her parents. Lee and John are proud that today Astia provides bilingual medical care as a doctor.

“My parents raised me with the practice of tithing. I think that’s part of the reason I have a very comfortable relationship with using money as a resource for change. Philanthropy is just tithing on a macro level,” says Lee.

Financially, Lee and John barely made their trip to Central America work. Lee was working full time and going to school full time. The reason they are giving back to Augsburg’s CGEE program today is to make the same experience available to students who might not otherwise be able to go. 

“There are scholarships and grants that help with tuition, but things like living expenses, incidental money, airline tickets, and lost income from not working are generally not covered and can present a big barrier. We’re delighted to make this gift in the hope that it will help remove barriers. And we hope others will join us in supporting CGEE,” says Lee.

The Roper-Batker family wants to use their resources to create more equitable outcomes in this world. 

“To me, the question is how do you align your values with your philanthropy. It’s important to John and me that our legacy changes systems in order to multiply opportunities for many people; our wealth is not for family inheritance. It feels great to know that we will have a small part in creating a more level playing field so that any student can enjoy the transformative experience of immersion study abroad.”

If you are interested in giving back to Augsburg, please visit our giving page: https://www.augsburg.edu/giving/how-to-give/.

“We’re all interconnected. We all need each other to survive and to create a world that’s free of violence, with equal opportunities, and full of love and kindness.”

Supporting Future Student Experiences

Carol Seiler ’90, ’93 MAL
Carol Seiler ’90, ’93 MAL

Carol Seiler’s personal mission is to contribute to the greater good. Whether this is through her job, through volunteer work, or through donations, she feels she must contribute through all aspects of her life. Her Augsburg experience, particularly in her undergraduate courses, affirmed this. 

“I always need to feel like I’m contributing to something. I think we would all like to leave the world a better place,” she says.

Carol has been supporting women’s organizations since the 70’s. Having a service frame of mind is something she remembers from an early age, and something she learned from her father through his involvement in their local government. 

When she graduated from high school, Carol was not encouraged to go to college. Instead, she was told what many women were told in that time: become a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. But Carol wanted more. After working for many years at Honeywell, she wanted a change.

“I just woke up one morning and decided it was time [to go to college]. I looked at a few schools and found Augsburg. Augsburg was perfect for me because it was urban, diverse, had a small campus, classes were available nights and weekends, and I liked the curriculum. Once I stepped in a classroom I didn’t want to leave.”

Carol joined Augsburg’s Weekend College and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications in 1990. She continued at Augsburg to earn a Master’s Degree in Leadership, graduating in 1993.

“The whole experience was really life changing. That’s why I want to leave this gift so that other people can have that experience. Especially women, and especially women of color who are historically underserved.”

Carol is gifting a portion of her estate to the Augsburg Women Engaged Endowed Scholarship.

“I want to leave my estate gift to an organization that’s going to do good things in the world. I had such a wonderful experience at Augsburg and to help give someone else that opportunity is very rewarding.”

When asked what she wishes to pass along to future generations, Carol said to never stop learning. 

“Recognize and acknowledge your value in the world.”

Carol worked for Honeywell for 35 years in their human resources department and credits Honeywell’s excellent education benefits for her success. She hopes that her estate gift will enable young women in the future to earn a degree and follow their passions.

Why I Give to the Augsburg Endowment Fund

An anonymous donor sent a letter to us, along with their generous gift to the Augsburg Endowment Fund. We believe their words ring true to the heart of Augsburg, and ring true to the goal of raising our endowment fund.

I give to the Augsburg Endowment Fund with thanks and fond memories of my four years there. My husband and I have given scholarships to Augsburg for many years, even though we did not live in Minneapolis after our college days. Augsburg has always been valued and it is my hope that the school will always be there to educate and direct people to be responsible citizens of the world.

In grade school and high school, I was always the youngest in my class and became the first of my family to get a college education. The years at Augsburg actually became the place where I grew up and formed an outlook for life. The professors were there to educate, but also to motivate and guide me. The friends I made at Augsburg became my friends for life.

It is always a pleasure to see and hear the great things Augsburg students achieve. I specified these funds go to the Augsburg Endowment Fund for two reasons. First, Augsburg competes with many other small schools and the Endowment Fund should be much larger. Secondly, I want Augsburg to exist and thrive for many more years.

The school today serves the same purpose it did when I was in school, but it reaches a larger variety of people. It offers the opportunities of a city and still motivates great ethics. My Augsburg education taught me that life is an Avocation – a responsibility to the world.

Matching Challenge: Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies Scholarship

Eleanor and John Yackel

Eleanor and John Yackel first became acquainted with Augsburg through the Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE). They took a trip to Nicaragua with the CGEE founder and first director, Professor Joel Mugge, and loved the connections they made with Auggie students through travel. When they returned from their trip, they discussed ways to stay connected with students, stay connected with Augsburg, and ways to encourage travel in higher learning.

“Eleanor had the heart for sharing with others,” says John. “She was the driving force in guiding our philanthropic interests and goals.”

In 1998, Eleanor and John established the first of many endowed scholarships to support students engaging in educational experiences through CGEE. Both believe that higher education serves a purpose greater than just getting a job and making money. Higher education is where students discover their passions and commit to social justice and service to the world.

So when John heard about the Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies Scholarship initiative this fall, he knew Eleanor would have wanted to help.

“My first reaction when hearing about the Students of Color crowdfunding campaign was, ‘Oh I like that!’ It’s timely and necessary right now. Eleanor and I believed in Augsburg. Augsburg is a shining example of an institution that really cares. Their acceptance for all goes way back. Augsburg reaches out to those who are typically ignored. Their focus on their urban neighbors, reaching out to students of color, as well as students in recovery and students with disabilities. Racial and social justice was always important to my wife especially, which is why I’m offering $50,000 as a matching challenge for the Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies Scholarship initiative in her honor.”

John is calling on the Augsburg community to support students through the new Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies program. You may give online by clicking here, or you can contact Ilse Rolf ‘93 in our Institutional Advancement office at 612-330-1512 or rolfi@augsburg.edu.

A Family Tradition of Giving – Kristine Pearson Endowed Scholarship

Kris Pearson ‘78, established the Kristine Pearson Endowed Scholarship
Kris Pearson ‘78

Kris attended Augsburg carrying on a family tradition of Auggies majoring in Psychology. Her parents Jim E. Peterson ’50 and Gladys M. Dahlberg ’52 met at Augsburg, fell in love, and were married after Jim completed seminary at Luther Seminary.

“I remember my first week at Augsburg I called and said I want to come home. I missed my mom’s home cooked meals, I hated living in the dorms. My dad said no, you have to live there at least one year and have that college experience and then you can decide next year. He was right. Two weeks in I absolutely loved it,” says Kris.

Kris pursued a career with the airline industry for many years. Then in 2009, she left to pursue a career in real estate with faith-based company Keller Williams. Faith has always been important to Kris and her family. Kris’s grandfather, uncle, and great-uncle were also Lutheran ministers.

“My parents tithed 10% regardless, before food or anything else. That was instilled in me very young. To the church, Augsburg, etc. In order to keep things running, they need money. I think it’s important for all alumni to give at any level. You don’t need to give $25K. Even $20 is important. If everyone gave that much, think of what that adds up to,” says Kris.

Over the years, Kris has continued to stay involved with Augsburg, serving on the Board and Augsburg Women Engaged Advisory Council. And now she has established a new scholarship – the Kristine Pearson Endowed Scholarship – to support women becoming ordained ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

Jim '50 and Gladys '52 Peterson
Jim ’50 and Gladys ’52 Peterson

“My parents have a scholarship at Augsburg in memory of their parents, in Physicians’ Assistant studies. As I was doing estate planning I was thinking about where I would want some of my money to go. Augsburg means a lot to me because I’m an alumna, but also because my parents met there,” says Kris. “I’m an ELCA delegate to my church, we have a female bishop which I love, and we don’t have enough women going into seminary.”

Kris hopes her scholarship will help students overcome the financial burden of a higher education. She also hopes her scholarship will encourage others to think about endowing scholarships – now or as part of their retirement or estate plan.

“Thankfully we have those that can give big gifts and we need them, but in order to serve our students, we need everyone to participate. My generation, the Boomers, are not the tithers our parents were. But I think we need to get back to giving more. I would encourage people to look at what $20/month would look like in their budget.”

“I love Advent Vespers. I’ve been going for 30+ years. This year, we’re not going to have Vespers, Velkommen Jul, and some of those things that rejuvenate us as an Augsburg community. So I would encourage people to take some time to go back and study the history of Augsburg and how Augsburg was founded, the campus, Murphy Square, and Luther Seminary’s affiliate history with Augsburg and be proud of the fact that you are part of a great institution.”

Supporting Students in the Sciences – Karen ’67 and David ’67 Haugen

David and Karen (Jacobson) Haugen Endowed Scholarship Fund supports students majoring in science.

Karen’s family has a long history with Augsburg. She attended Augsburg, graduating in 1967. Karen’s brother and nephew also went to Augsburg. Her uncle, Conrad Sunde, left his estate to Augsburg after multiple conversations with Jeroy Carlson, a senior development officer for Augsburg known as “Mr. Augsburg.”

“I have always thought of giving to Augsburg,” Karen says.

Philanthropy also runs deep with her family. When Karen was 10 years old, her small town raised money to build a hospital. She remembers her family not having much money, but her parents still made a pledge.

David was the first in his family to go to college. Growing up in Minneapolis, Augsburg was the obvious choice for higher education because he could live at home and still work while in school. David’s parents also regularly gave to their church and supported missionaries, instilling a sense of philanthropy in him at a young age.

The Haugen’s both credit Augsburg’s great education as the start of their successful careers. David went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for biochemistry and felt he was as well prepared as any student.

“The buildings, campus, so many accommodations for people with disabilities, so much diversity. All the emphasis on working with people in the neighborhood is so inspiring. And seeing the new building and labs now is so impressive,” says David.

The couple established the David and Karen (Jacobson) Haugen Endowed Scholarship Fund through a portion of their estate. The scholarship will support students majoring in the sciences.

“For us, giving a large sum of money now is not possible. But, we’re so glad we can do it from our estate, because that is possible. I’m glad this is an option,” says Karen.

Karen and David hope that the scholarship will encourage students to consider a career in science, or at least an opportunity to be literate in science.

Participating in His Estate Gift

<em>Augsburg students in Vanuatu, including Mark Johnson ’75 and Professor Tim Pippert</em>
Augsburg students in Vanuatu, including Mark Johnson ’75 and Professor Tim Pippert

A few years ago, Mark Johnson ’75 updated his estate plans to include Augsburg. He wanted his estate gift to honor Professor Joel Torstenson, the “father” of Sociology at Augsburg who started the Metro-Urban Studies program at Augsburg in 1971. Mark was one of the first students to graduate from Augsburg’s Metro-Urban Studies program, now called Urban Studies. He also went on Augsburg’s first Scandinavian Urban Studies Semester trip to Oslo, Norway. Mark’s gift will fund a professorship for faculty in the Urban Studies or Sociology departments.

Mark has been very involved at Augsburg since graduating in 1975. Along with joining the Board of Regents, Mark has been in constant contact with the Urban Studies and Sociology departments. And his connection has gone above and beyond monetary gifts.

“Community involvement is important,” Mark said. “My job was a chance to encourage people to reach out beyond themselves and to seek ways to be a bridge builder of relationships.”

As Mark witnessed the impact of quality faculty in today’s educational environment, he wanted to support the transformational effect of an education rich in experiences. This is why he started the Torstenson Scholars in 2015.

Professor Joel Torstenson
Professor Joel Torstenson

Joel Torstenson came to Augsburg as a history major from rural West Central Minnesota. After graduating in 1938, he worked in education for farmer’s co-ops. He began teaching part-time at Augsburg upon earning a master’s degree in history and sociology. During the war years, he became involved in the peace movement and participated in establishing a cooperative farm community, which led to employment with Midland Cooperatives as an educational director and community organizer. In the fall of 1947, President Christensen invited him back to Augsburg to develop its programs in social work and sociology while completing his doctorate in sociology at the University of Minnesota.

Today, the legacy of Joel Torstenson lives on through the Torstenson Scholars program, sociology and metro-urban studies majors, the Strommen Center for Meaningful Work, HECUA, and the college-wide “Engaging Minneapolis” requirement. Torstenson’s work also gave birth to the college-wide requirement that started as the “Urban Concern,” which was succeeded by the “City Perspective,” and is now known as the “Engaging Minneapolis” requirement.

Students in the Torstenson Scholars program are financially supported for one academic year, which includes a research trip with the Sociology or Urban Studies department. Mark’s funding has been used in four significant trips: a research trip to Vanuatu in September of 2018; two research trips to Williston, North Dakota, in 2017 and 2019 to study the effects of the oil boom on a small town; and a community research project in Two Harbors, Minnesota, Mark’s hometown.

As a Regent, Mark came to understand the significant positive impact of philanthropy at Augsburg.

“The question always has been: How can we manage change for the good of all?” says Mark.

He didn’t want to wait for the day when the estate gift would arrive at Augsburg’s door. Instead, he decided to launch the Torstenson Professorship now so he can actively participate in the things that will be supported by gifts in his estate plan. Mark also wants to encourage his fellow Auggies to join him in honoring Professor Torstenson.

Mark has seeded the endowed professorship fund with a gift of $50,000 and an available match of another $100,000. He hopes others will join him by giving to the fund to remember Joel’s legacy.

“Joel touched many lives and I think a contribution to the professorship is a great way to commemorate that. All contributors to this fund – a small gift or large gift – will be acknowledged equally,” says Mark.

Until the endowed fund reaches $250,000, Mark is funding the professorship annually.

Briana Mitchell ‘19, Britta Andress ‘19, and Sociology Professor Tim Pippert in Vanuatu
Briana Mitchell ‘19, Britta Andress ‘19, and Professor Tim Pippert in Vanuatu

“We are so grateful to Mark Johnson for his generosity and vision in honoring the Torstenson legacy at Augsburg with this professorship,” says President Paul Pribbenow. “It is particularly meaningful to me that Professor Tim Pippert will be the first incumbent of the Torstenson Endowed Professor. I have had the privilege to teach with Tim and to witness his commitment to our students.”

Professor Timothy Pippert joined the Augsburg faculty in 1999.  He holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His teaching interests center on family systems, juvenile delinquency, homelessness and affluence, statistics, research methods, and race, class, and gender. In 2011, he received the Distinguished Contributions to Teaching and Learning – Excellence in Teaching Award.

If you would like to donate to the Torstenson Professorship, or are interested in funding a new professorship, please contact Amy Alkire at alkirea@augsburg.edu or 651-323-4844.

Life Lessons Through Study Abroad

Dennis and Anita King
Dennis and Anita King

Dennis King ’70 credits Augsburg with helping him develop the tools and mind-set needed to succeed in life.

“I did not fully realize this during my professional career. It hit me when I retired and looked at my life in retrospect.”

His career, first in Spanish Language Education and then International Business in Latin America, stretched his mind to work successfully in other cultures, languages, and with divergent points of view.

Dennis studied at Augsburg in the late 60’s when the Canadian Philosopher, Marshall McLuhan, was widely read regarding media. He coined the phrase “Global Village” and in many respects predicted the World Wide Web and the inevitable move toward globalization.

“All of this transformed me along the way.”

Dennis established the Dennis and Anita King Endowed Fund to honor his wife, Anita. Dennis met Anita at Augsburg before she transferred to the University of Minnesota. Anita supported and participated in Dennis’s professional journey throughout their 42 years of marriage. Dennis hopes that this gift will help other Auggies on their path to find the same kind of fulfillment that he found.

“I believe the Study Abroad Program at Augsburg University is the vehicle to do this.”