You might remember this video from 2010, when the University of Minnesota president at the time, Bob Bruininks, made an appearance to plug the campus’ $72.5 million Science Teaching and Student Services building.
The 115,000-square-foot facility replaced the demolished Science Classroom Building on the East Bank.
He’s running a school that has its own subtle twists, I’m learning.
It’s a liberal-arts college with strong Norwegian Lutheran ties, and each year celebrates its traditional Scandinavian-style Christmas celebration. Quite cozy — but not necessarily unusual here in Minnesota.
Yet over the past eight years, Augsburg’s demographics have shifted. Its traditional-age student body has gone from 12.6 percent people of color in 2006 to more than 30 percent – the most diverse four-year-college in the state behind Metropolitan State University.
Pribbenow says it has one of the largest percentages of Pell Grant recipients among Minnesota four-year colleges. (The number of Pell Grants is a proxy for the number of low-income students.)
And far from being the rambling college on the hill, Augsburg has 3,500 students wedged into just 23 acres in the dense Cedar-Riverside neighborhood – what Pribbenow says is one of the most diverse zip codes west of Chicago.
“We have no gates, we have no fences,” Pribbenow tells me. “The fluidity of our boundaries to the city and to the neighborhood are something that we really take seriously. That becomes almost an emblem of how we feel about the fact that the city is a classroom for our students.”
Mix the urban location with the Lutheran call to service, and you get a school that takes its “experiential education “ seriously — to the point of getting national awards.
“Our students are in this daily working with neighbors, and it’s part of their education,” Pribbenow said. “This college has made experience equal to the classroom time. That’s something you’re not going to see at many colleges. They may talk about experiential education, but they haven’t integrated it fully into how they challenge students to learn. And it’s built into our curriculum.”
And that curriculum is solidly in the liberal-arts way of thinking.
Just look at what’s coming up: The school hopes to break ground soon on a 140,000-square-foot Center for Science, Business and Religion, part of which should be up and running for Augsburg’s 150th anniversary in 2019.
The building – which is projected to cost more than $60 million – will handle labs, classrooms and office space for those departments. And Pribbenow says it should lead to a more integrated approach to those fields.
“What we’re actually creating is a place where all those intersections will be lived out day in and day out,” he said.
So I get the mix of science and business. And I get business and religion (business ethics).
But science and religion? Those two are usually at odds.
“That’s the epistemological challenge that we have in the world we live in,” he says. “People can’t imagine that science and religion can, in fact, be in conversation with each other. We’re trying to change that … to say, ‘You can be a person of faith and also a person who believes in what science provides us by way of understanding the world.”
After all, it’s Velkommen Jul, Augsburg’s traditional Scandinavian-style Christmas celebration.
Just don’t try to Google it. You won’t find any such holiday in Northern Europe.
Augsburg kinda … made it up.
No one seems to know for sure how long it has been going on, but formal mention dates back about 20 years. The Augsburg Associates, a mostly female alumni association, started it as a way to raise money for the school.