StepUP® at Augsburg University is one of the original handful of collegiate recovery programs in the United States. At its 25th anniversary, it’s also one of the largest and most comprehensive.
Several factors account for the program’s success over time, including the residential facility in Oren Gateway Center, on-staff chemical dependency counselors, and strong connections to Minnesota’s recovery networks. But ask students, staff, and supporters what makes StepUP more than the sum of its parts, and one answer comes up every time.
The magic is in the community.
The number of U.S. collegiate recovery programs has grown to nearly 150 in the years since Augsburg joined Rutgers, Texas Tech, and Brown University in starting its own program. But it’s still unusual for an institution of Augsburg’s size to operate a program on the scale of StepUP. Rarer still is the level of financial support donors have provided to ensure the program’s sustainability.
Early on, StepUP leadership set an ambitious goal to raise a $10 million endowment to provide funds for staff salaries and programming costs into the future. Augsburg reached this fundraising milestone in 2022 thanks to the generosity of supporters and alumni. Now, staff are focused on expanding philanthropic support for critical student needs, including tuition and housing.
“For young people in recovery, living in a residential community like StepUP can make all the difference, but it’s a big financial commitment,” said Martha Truax ’16 MAL, director of leadership gifts for StepUP. “Going forward, we want to be able to provide more tuition support and housing stipends so that students don’t have to face a choice between paying for college and staying sober.”
Director Ericka Otterson ’15 MSW returned to Augsburg to lead StepUP in January, having previously worked as a StepUP administrator and chemical dependency counselor from 2007 to 2014. Under her leadership, the program will also explore new partnerships with local colleges and universities—including the University of Minnesota—to reach more students.
“Despite increasing need, not every school can afford to build its own collegiate recovery program from scratch,” Otterson said. “For institutions in the metro area, StepUP can help.”
A recently finalized agreement with the University of St. Thomas allows students to live in Oren Gateway Center and participate in StepUP programming while still attending classes at their home institution. With a caring support network on Augsburg’s campus and more than 800 program alumni, they’ll be in good company.
“A lot has changed in 25 years,” said Nell Hurley, recruitment and outreach manager. “But StepUP is still doing what we set out to do: To create a community of students who are in this together and supporting each other. That’s what makes it work.”
StepUP will hold its 25th anniversary gala with emcee Don Shelby on May 13 at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bloomington. For tickets and more information, visit the StepUP website.
Top image: StepUP students pose in Murphy Square. (Photo by Courtney Perry)