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By Jeff Shelman

Students chat in an apartment kitchenWe believe we are called to serve our neighbor. That is Augsburg’s statement of institutional vocation.

Live the experience. Love the city. Learn by living. Those words hang on banners along Riverside Avenue.

While the first is formal and the second much more conversational, both, however, sum up what Auggies do.

On a near daily basis, Augsburg students spend part of their afternoon at Trinity Lutheran Congregation helping young Somali children with topics ranging from spelling and sentence construction to subtraction and social studies. Several times a week, Auggies serve food in the gym at the Brian Coyle Community Center as part of the Campus Kitchen program. First-year Auggies in the Bonner Leaders program work with nonprofit organizations, most within a mile of campus.

Across the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and the nation, stories of neighbors and colleges clashing bubble to the surface featuring real town vs. gown tension. Augsburg’s philosophy, however, is very different.

Augsburg isn’t building walls or installing large steel gates on campus to keep the outside world out. Instead, Augsburg is reaching further out into the Cedar-Riverside and Seward neighborhoods and, in the process, the College founded by Norwegian Lutherans is working closely with the largest concentration of Somali immigrants in the United States.


Let’s say one person wanted to match the amount of community service that was completed by Augsburg students during the 2008-09 school year. What would it take?

Since Auggies performed 67,000 hours of community service last year, someone would have to work for 2,791 24-hour days—more than 7.5 years—or 8,375 eight-hour work days. That’s a staggering total for a college with 2,000 traditional undergraduates and 4,000 total students.

That work has led to Augsburg’s inclusion as one of the top 25 schools in the country for service-learning by U.S.News & World Report and the Carnegie [Foundation] Classification for Community Engagement. Earlier this spring, Augsburg became the only Minnesota college or university and one of only four ELCA schools to be named to the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. The President’s Honor Roll is the highest federal recognition an institution can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.

“We are very proud and honored to be included in the President’s Honor Roll,” Augsburg president Paul C. Pribbenow said. “Civic work and serving our neighbor are at the core of Augsburg’s efforts to educate students for democracy.”

Last school year, 900 Augsburg students participated in service-learning and 1,200 students participated in more than 20 hours of community service per semester. Much of the community service takes place in course-embedded service-learning, something that has been part of education at Augsburg for years.


Augsburg’s work in Cedar-Riverside and Seward, however, is about more than simply donating time; it is also about trying to make the neighborhood safer, more vibrant, and create opportunities for the state’s newest immigrant population.

Pribbenow currently chairs the Cedar- Riverside Partnership, a group that includes larger institutions in the neighborhood including Augsburg, Fairview hospitals, and the University of Minnesota.

“There’s a level of trust being built,” said Steve Peacock, Augsburg’s director of community relations. “There are conversations taking place that weren’t before. There’s the coordination of infrastructure and planning among the institutions.”

Much of the work has been around safety in the neighborhood. Last summer, for example, the members of the partnership provided funding to ensure security at the Brian Coyle Community Center. There has been much more communication among security at Fairview and Augsburg, the University of Minnesota, and Minneapolis Police Departments.

Augsburg has also worked in the neighborhood in other ways, ranging from providing meeting space to sometimes even trying to build bridges. Last year, more than a dozen reporters and editors from the Minneapolis Star Tribune sat in a room in Oren Gateway Center with a dozen or so Somali community leaders and elders.

The Somali leaders talked of good things going on in their community that don’t get covered. Star Tribune editors said they would like to tell more stories, but finding Somalis willing to talk is challenging. The Somali leaders—who arrived in the United States having never experienced freedom of the press—gained a better understanding of how the media work. Reporters and editors left with new contacts and resources.


Augsburg’s involvement in Cedar-Riverside has led to a change on campus as well. With each passing fall, the number of Auggies of Somali descent grows. This fall, there are about 50 Somali students on campus. For some of them, Augsburg was the first college they ever knew. For others, there is a comfort in attending Augsburg.

Halimo Adan is a first-year student who grew up in Seward and can see the Augsburg sign atop Mortensen Hall from her home. She’s among the growing number of students on campus wearing both an Augsburg sweatshirt and a hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women.

“People don’t ask stupid questions, they’re very open minded,” said Adan, who came to the U.S. when she was 9 years old. “Even though I’ve been here most of my life, when you get asked questions all the time, you feel like you don’t belong.”

But at Augsburg, neighbors are always welcome.

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