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Notes from President Pribbenow

On serendipity in education

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Presidents-headshotI vividly recall the moment in 1977 when a conversation with a religion professor at Luther College, my alma mater, offered me a way of thinking about my vocational journey that has changed my life. When I admitted my doubts about following my dad’s path to the ministry, the professor shared his own journey to divinity school and the study of theology, the sort of study I had begun to explore in his class. The rest is history, as they say. I went on to study ethics and theology in divinity school and to pursue my own calling for leadership in higher education.

A moment of serendipity that changed my life—unexpected, unplanned, and so very meaningful—made possible by a teaching and learning community and a teacher that created the opportunity for such moments.

Such serendipity in education is a hallmark of the educational experience at Augsburg. I’m sure you have your own stories of the faculty or staff member, maybe the fellow student, or perhaps the community member who offered you the insight, the experience, the counsel, or the challenge that shaped your path.

This issue of Augsburg Now reminds us of the people and experiences that continue to offer Augsburg students the promise of serendipity in their education. From award-winning teachers and researchers like Phil Adamo of the History Department and Henry Yoon of the Psychology Department to inspiring guest speakers like LeVar Burton (yes, the “Star Trek” and “Reading Rainbow” star) and Dr. Donald Warne (an American Indian medical doctor challenging us to pay attention to public health issues on reservations). From nationally recognized efforts like our StepUP® program for students recovering from addiction to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum that inspires all of us to be peacemakers in our communities. Serendipity in education happens for all of us because of these people and programs, and because of this College’s deep commitment to such experiences.

One particular moment from last fall stands out for me. Our groundbreaking River Semester gave 12 students the educational experience of a lifetime as they spent the entire semester on the Mississippi River. When I went to St. Louis to meet with the River Semester students and faculty halfway through the semester, I heard tale after tale of serendipitous experiences along the river. But then one student took me aside and said that for Associate Professor Joe Underhill, who organized the class, this was the trip he had always dreamed about, given his passion for the river. And, the student continued, Joe could have done the trip with his family or friends—surely an easier way to spend nearly four months on the river? Instead, the student said, he chose to do it with us, his students. He chose to do it with his students.

That, my friends, is the “stuff” of serendipity in education. Teachers who choose to create the space for serendipity to happen—in the classroom, in the cafeteria, on the playing fields or performance stage, even on the Mighty Mississippi. May it always be so.

Faithfully yours,

Paul C. Pribbenow, President

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