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Najeeba Syeed Appointed Augsburg University’s Inaugural El-Hibri Endowed Chair and Interfaith Director

Headshot of Najeeba Syeed. Najeeba is wearing a yellow headscarf and blue spiral earrings.Augsburg University is pleased to announce that Najeeba Syeed has been appointed as the inaugural El-Hibri endowed chair and executive director of Interfaith at Augsburg, effective on August 1, 2022. In this role, she will serve as a national ambassador for the interfaith movement and will partner with campus leaders as a change agent for interreligious learning and living. She also will serve as the faculty advisor for Augsburg’s Interfaith Scholars.

“Professor Syeed is an experienced mediator, a publicly-engaged scholar, a passionate educator, and a seasoned organizational leader,” said Augsburg President Paul C. Pribbenow. “This appointment represents a crucial and exciting step forward in our commitment to enhancing interfaith leadership on campus and nationally.”

For more than two decades, Syeed has been a professor and expert practitioner in the fields of conflict resolution, mediation, and interfaith studies. An award-winning educator, she has taught extensively on interreligious education and published articles on faith and community-based conflict resolution, restorative justice, and interfaith just peacemaking. She previously served for 10 years as an associate professor at the Claremont School of Theology. She also held faculty positions at Starr King School for the Ministry and Chicago Theological Seminary, where she was most recently associate professor of Muslim and interreligious studies. She has served as the co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Religion and Politics Section and was a member of the Academy’s Religion, Social Conflict, and Peace Section.

Syeed also brings significant executive experience in organizations focused on conflict resolution in community, higher education, and government settings, including the Western Justice Center Foundation and the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center. In 2021, she served as chief of staff to Nithya Raman, the first Asian American woman elected to the Los Angeles city council. She holds a law degree from the Indiana University School of Law and a bachelor of science degree from Guilford College.

“I am honored to serve as the inaugural El-Hibri Chair and Executive Director of Interfaith at Augsburg. This is a unique opportunity to extend and amplify Augsburg’s remarkable interfaith work and to honor the generous and visionary commitment of the El-Hibri family, “ said Syeed.

“My life’s work combines a commitment to scholarship, teaching, and community organizing,” she added.  “Listen, learn, partner, and co-create is the process I utilize to lead and build with fellow faculty, administrators, students, community leaders, and stakeholders from around the globe.”

Interfaith engagement is a core aspect of Augsburg’s academic mission and reflects the religious and secular diversity of the campus and surrounding community. Interfaith at Augsburg: An Institute to Promote Interfaith Learning and Leadership was established in 2019 to further the belief that religious diversity can be a constructive force serving the common good. In 2021, a significant gift from Fuad and Nancy El-Hibri allowed for the creation of the El-Hibri endowed chair and executive directorship for the institute.

Syeed’s appointment helps to fulfill one of the goals of Augsburg150, the university’s sesquicentennial strategic plan, to advance the public purposes of an Augsburg education by enhancing interfaith leadership on campus and throughout the nation. Building on the strong foundation established by Bishop Mark S. Hanson, founding director, she will lead a strategic planning process that strengthens, integrates, and extends the Interfaith Institute’s work on campus and beyond.

Spotlight on Green Chemistry at Augsburg

An organic chemist with a focus on systems-level thinking, Associate Professor Michael Wentzel is out to make science more sustainable.

“Chemistry doesn’t have to be the solution to the problems it created—it could just not create them,” he says in the June 2022 cover story in Private University Products and News Magazine.

Read the full profile to learn more about Wentzel’s path from his family’s Iowa hardware store to chairing Augsburg’s chemistry department, how green chemistry is “benign by design,” and why he’s on a mission to improve science communication.

Augsburg Professor Eric Buffalohead Discusses Native Americans in Film With ICT

In a recent newscast, ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) interviewed Augsburg University Associate Professor Eric Buffalohead about persistent stereotypes of Native Americans in film. Buffalohead chairs the Department of American Indian, First Nations, and Indigenous Studies and is the co-editor, with Professor Elise Marubbio, of the book “Native Americans on Film: Conversations, Teaching, and Theory.”

“I’ve been teaching “American Indian in the Cinema” for going on 30 years, and people have asked me, what’s the solution to some of these problems?” said Buffalohead. “And it’s contemporary representations. The big theme that you walk away from my course with is that most of our images are stuck in time, meaning that they’re somewhere in the past. People don’t see us as contemporary—they see us as these images in the old West and very much stereotypes of plains or southwest Indians. They don’t see the real diversity of Indigenous people in the Americas.”

The conversation with anchor Aliyah Chavez also touched on expanding representations in television through shows like “Rutherford Falls” and “Reservation Dogs,” translation of major films into the Navajo and Comanche languages, and Professor Marubbio’s work on representations of Native women in film. Find the full interview in the ICT newscast archive (segment begins at 6:15).

Augsburg Faculty Awarded Fulbrights in Ireland and Slovenia

George Dierberger headshot
George Dierberger
Joseph Erickson Headshot
Joseph Erickson

Augsburg faculty members George Dierberger and Joseph Erickson have been named Fulbright Scholars for the 2022–23 academic year. Each year, the Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board select roughly 800 U.S. citizens to receive the Fulbright Scholar award for international travel, study, and teaching.

A competitive Fulbright application requires strong academic merit, demonstrated leadership potential, and a good match between an applicant’s strengths and a host institution’s needs. But for both of Augsburg’s faculty recipients, there’s a personal connection that makes receiving the Fulbright particularly rewarding this year.

Dierberger, an associate professor of business administration who also directs Augsburg’s MBA program, is mindful of family history as he prepares to spend three months in residence at the Atlantic Technological University in Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland. While this will be his first trip to Ireland, his great-great-grandfather hailed from County Cork. During the fall semester, Dierberger will develop case studies, lecture on innovation, help to build out a curricular focus on entrepreneurship, and partner with the Letterkenny business community to create an advisory council and internship opportunities.

Erickson, a professor of education and a psychologist by training, first visited Slovenia in 1994 through connections made by former Augsburg colleague Magda Paleczny-Zapp. Several of the graduate students tasked with assisting the Erickson family during that trip are now faculty themselves—including a department chair at the University of Ljubljana. Erickson will spend the spring collaborating with a team in Ljubljana to adapt a tool used to measure racial attitudes in the U.S. for the Slovenian context. He and his colleagues will shape the new scale around nationalism, a key issue for a society at the crossroads of western and eastern Europe and a way station for refugee migration.

In addition to these faculty awards, Augsburg was recently named a top producer of Fulbright students among U.S master’s institutions, with three students receiving scholarships to teach English abroad in 2021–22.

The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program. For over 75 years, the program has provided more than 400,000 participants with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to challenges facing our communities and our world. ​​Fulbright alumni include 61 Nobel Prize laureates, 89 Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 40 who have served as a head of state or government. Learn more about the Fulbright Program here.

“People Do Their Own Healing”: Minnesota Women’s Press Features Prof. Melissa Hensley

The Minnesota Women’s Press recently featured an editorial by Melissa Hensley, associate professor of social work, on the value of peer support to reduce stigma in social service settings. The essay was part of a larger issue dedicated to stigma and addiction.

Hensley, who also serves as field director for Augsburg’s bachelor of social work program, spent many years as a provider of services to adults with serious and persistent mental illness in a residential setting.

“Peer supporters, who use their own experiences with addiction or mental health to help guide others, are an example of person-centered care … [They] fill gaps in traditional mental health services by providing essential knowledge about the recovery process, such as how to cope with symptoms, develop healthy relationships, and balance employment,” she writes.

“Social workers like myself need to understand that our role is not to “fix what is wrong.” People do their own healing, and our job is to offer tools and resources.”

Read the full piece in the Minnesota Women’s Press.

Andy Aoki Named Augsburg University’s Hawthorne Professor

Headshot photo of Andrew Aoki, who is an Asian man wearing a gray pullover over a collared shirt. In the background is a tree with bright pink flowers.Andy Aoki, professor of political science, has been named to the M. Anita Gay Hawthorne professorship of critical race and ethnicity studies, effective June 1, 2022. He succeeds Professor William Green, the inaugural holder of the professorship, who retires at the end of the current academic year. Recently elected to chair Augsburg’s Department of Critical Race and Ethnicity Studies, Aoki’s work as Hawthorne Professor will focus on building a strong foundation for the new department and strong connections with aligned disciplines.

A prolific writer and speaker on Asian American identities and racial politics, Professor Aoki joined the Augsburg faculty in 1988. He holds a BA in political science from the University of Oregon and an MA and PhD in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At Augsburg, he teaches courses on American politics, political theory, and racial and ethnic politics. He has served as department chair of Augsburg’s political science department for a combined total of 18 years and as a senior fellow in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship since 2014. He is currently serving as Faculty Senate President, a member of the faculty’s Budget Working Group, and chair of the workgroup charged with reviewing implications of the proposed “two college” structure for faculty governance. He co-founded the Asian Pacific American Caucus, bringing together scholars and community leaders, and has twice been president of the American Political Science Association’s organized section on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.

The M. Anita Gay Hawthorne professorship of critical race and ethnicity studies was created in 2020 on the recommendation of a working group of students, faculty, and staff who advanced, simultaneously, a vision for the creation of a new academic department in critical race and ethnicity studies at Augsburg. The professorship honors senior faculty with extensive records of achievement as well as demonstrated commitments to critical race and ethnicity studies. It seeks to embody the student and community orientation embedded in this interdisciplinary field of study, and it expresses Augsburg’s commitment to culturally-responsive pedagogy in the undergraduate and graduate curricula. It honors the legacy of Margaret Anita Gay Hawthorne (“Anita”) who drew upon the concept of Pan-Afrikanism to create a program at Augsburg unique to any college in the country.

President Paul Pribbenow offers these comments: “It is a great privilege to appoint Professor Aoki to the Hawthorne Professorship. His appointment, following Professor Bill Green’s inaugural tenure in the position, illustrates that Augsburg’s commitment to critical race and ethnic studies—now ensconced in a new department—has deep and abiding roots across the entire span of our academic mission. I am delighted to witness the many ways in which our focus on research and teaching that engages the lived experience of all our students is being taken up by faculty and students across the entire university.”

Augsburg Sociology Students Visit Holocaust Museum

Fourteen Augsburg sociology students recently joined the Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Tim Pippert, the Joel Torstenson endowed professor of sociology, led the Augsburg group, who were also joined by a group from Minnesota Hillel.

“For us, it provided the opportunity to show how sociology is applicable in lots of different ways,” Pippert said in an interview with TC Jewfolk about the group’s experience. “So I asked [the students] to think about this trip and the experience in the museum, as how does their sociological training inform what they witnessed? How did the theories that they’ve read about, how does that play out in the symbolic representation of a horrific tragedy? How do you choose to tell that story? And what are the symbols that are used to tell that story?”

Jeremy Myers Appointed to the Bernhard M. Christensen Chair in Religion and Vocation at Augsburg University

Headshot of Jeremy Myers wearing a gray button-down shirt over a black t-shirt against a background of windowsAugsburg University announced today that Jeremy Myers, associate professor of religion and executive director of the institution’s Christensen Center for Vocation, has been appointed to serve as the next Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation, effective on July 1, 2022. Myers will succeed Martha Stortz, PhD, who retired and was granted emerita status in 2020.

“It is a remarkable testament to Augsburg’s leadership at the intersection of faith, learning, and service that we have in our own faculty ranks a scholar so well prepared to continue the work begun by Marty and her predecessor, David Tiede,” said Augsburg President Paul C. Pribbenow. “Jeremy is an innovative problem-solver, a collaborative colleague, and a creatively critical theologian.”

The Christensen Chair was established in 2005 to honor the legacy of Bernhard M. Christensen, who served as president of what was then known as Augsburg College and Seminary from 1938 to 1962. The chair provides public leadership in interpreting and advancing Augsburg’s educational mission, pursues scholarship and teaches in the religion department, and serves as counsel to the president and Board of Regents.

“Jeremy has thought deeply about President Christensen’s legacy at this university and the lessons his leadership continues to have for Lutheran higher education in the current age,” Pribbenow said.

“Dr. Myers’ vision for the Christensen Chair is grounded and shaped by the five lessons of Bernhard Christensen, the Augsburg University mission statement, and the realities and challenges of the 21st century, especially the 21st century church,” said the members of a faculty and staff discernment committee that met with Myers about the role. “This vision aligns with his innovative work guiding churches in ‘place-based vocational discernment’ and will help guide our Augsburg community in new and rich reflection on our own—individual and communal—vocational discernment. In candid conversation with Dr. Myers, we explored the expectations and opportunities of this position and his ability to meet those expectations and expand the opportunities. We think he is the right person for the job.”

Myers, who earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota and his master’s and PhD from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a distinguished scholar in vocation and congregational ministry. In addition to many articles and chapters, he is the author of Liberating Youth from Adolescence published by Fortress Press and a sought-after speaker at conferences and in congregations. He has secured millions of dollars in grants to support the work of the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg and has served on the steering committee of the Association of Teaching Theologians and on the board of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network.

Myers said the concept of vocation is a critical lens for thinking about transformational solutions to the problems we face in today’s world. “The key ingredients of vocation—the neighbor, the self, the common good, and God (or something larger than us all)—give rise to a method of discernment and discovery that is different from any other method currently being used to address society’s biggest issues. These ingredients produce a creative tension that leads to innovation, accountability, mutuality, and hope, and this approach to public life cannot be reserved for those who claim to live a religious life. The tables where vocation is being discussed and discerned need to become long and wide.”

Myers will offer his inaugural address as the Christensen Professor at a symposium at Augsburg in September.

CGEE Instructor Antonio Ortega Featured on Public Television in Morelos, Mexico

Student groupAntonio Ortega, a longtime Center for Global Education and Experience global faculty member, was recently interviewed on “Noticias de la Tarde” (Evening News) on Channel 3, the public radio and TV station in Morelos, Mexico.

Ortega discusses CGEE’s work in Mexico and the importance of the relationship between the US and Mexico, particularly for students that will go on to work with the Latinx population in the U.S. in fields like social work, nursing, and teaching.

Watch the segment on YouTube. To view English subtitles, select Subtitles/Closed Caption and then, in the settings, choose Auto Translate > English.

Professor William Green Speaks About Minneapolis Teachers Strike on WCCO and MPR

William GreenWilliam Green, M. Anita Gay Hawthorne professor of critical race and ethnic studies at Augsburg University, shared his expertise as a historian and former superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools in a WCCO news story on the Minneapolis teachers strike.

Green took part in two contract negotiations during his time as superintendent between 2006 and 2010. “The trickiest moment is to persuade constituents the compromise they may have to negotiate may not be satisfying,” he told WCCO. Green’s most recent book, “Strike!,” covers the 1970 Minneapolis teachers strike and will be released this fall.

Green also was interviewed by MPR for their March 17 story, “Mpls. teachers strike of 1970 changed education across the state.” Speaking about the teachers who were involved in that strike, Green said, “They are the pillars of middle-class society, yet they went out on the street, many of them had never done anything demonstrative like this before. Many of them had never participated in radical politics, so this was a culture shock.”