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On the spot

Gwen Walz is still surprised to be addressed as first lady

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Headshot of Gwen Walz “I sometimes walk right past people or don’t turn around when someone says it because I just don’t hear it like I hear ‘Gwen,’” said Walz, whose husband, Tim, became Minnesota’s governor in January.

While Walz may not be used to being called first lady, she’s jumping into the role. She’s the first Minnesota first lady to have an office at the state Capitol and plans to focus on education and corrections as policy issues. Walz also recently joined Augsburg University as an independent contractor serving in two roles: as special assistant to the president for strategic partnerships and as a fellow in the Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Here is a glimpse into her connection to Augsburg and new life.

Q: President Paul Pribbenow has described you as a friend of Augsburg. How have you worked with Augsburg in the past?
President Pribbenow and I met in Rochester when Tim (then U.S. representative for Minnesota’s 1st congressional district) asked us to facilitate a series of community-wide conversations on education. Through this partnership,
I knew that I shared Augsburg’s deep commitment to equity.

Q: You are the first Minnesota First Lady to have an office at the state Capitol. Why was that presence important to you?
Tim and I work closely together. We do our work differently at times, though, so having our own spaces is important. I also work with the staff very closely, so it is more convenient for them if I have an office near them. I am still learning how to best use this space to do meaningful work and build meaningful relationships.

Q: Your mother, Linnea Wacker ’60, is an Auggie. What did she say when you told her about coming to work at Augsburg?
She told me that I had better bring my “A” game. My mom told me that Augsburg is a very important place, and
I must make sure I am prepared to bring focus and energy to the task. The mission of Augsburg University is very important to her, and she wants to make sure I help advance it! My mother was a teacher and first-generation college graduate. She and my father, a long-time educator, are committed to providing opportunities in education for everyone.

Q: You started your career as an elementary school teacher. How does your passion for teaching and learning suit your roles at Augsburg and the Capitol?
On the campaign trail, Tim and I both used the phrase that teaching was not just how we paid our bills; it’s how we live our lives. I have never been able to separate things in my life; I have a pretty holistic approach to who I am and what I bring to something. I have a lot to learn from Augsburg and the people here. All of that informs how I am thinking about how I might best serve all of the people of Minnesota.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time now that you’ve moved to the Twin Cities?
Each Sunday evening, I invite my three sisters and their families to have dinner. Everyone who can come does, and it is lovely to have a moment to pause as one week ends and another begins—we all sit a little longer at the table. We even have dessert on Sunday evenings!

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