First-Year Reflections

Kofi Gunu

Hometown: Tamale, Ghana
Major: Political Science /Government & International Affairs and Economics

Q. Why did you choose Augustana?

A. While an exchange student at Brandon Valley High School, I met two Augie alums, Mr. Lovrien and Mr. Christensen. These two outstanding teachers had an enormous impact on my life. I decided to come to the place that shaped them. I came to Augustana and have not been disappointed.

Q. Describe a typical day this semester — what’s your schedule like from sun-up to sun-down?

A. My typical day starts early; I pride myself in being a morning lark. My first class is at 8 a.m., and classes could run until 2 p.m.

In between classes I try to grab a quick meal or two with friends in the Commons.

The rest of the day is my time to unwind. I get homework done in the library, go to a UBG event in the Back Alley or play in the intra-mural basketball tournament. I usually call it a night at 11:30 p.m.

Q. Most inspirational professor you’ve encountered so far and why?

A. I’d have to say the entire political science/government department: Dr. Dondelinger, Dr. Wanless, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Schotten. They are insightful, sharp-witted, and challenge me to set my sights higher. Every second with them has been a pleasure.

Q. Favorite class so far and why?

A. “Politics in a Diverse World.” Take everything you think you know about international relations and turn it on its head. That’s how I feel about that class.

Dr. Dondelinger has a way of gently shocking you into questioning your assumptions and your beliefs about how the world works, helping you arrive at stronger perspectives that show an
appreciation for nuance.

Q. Favorite food in the Dining Room?

A. Hands down, the stir fry station has the best food. I’m a really spicy person, and so I try to go for the szechwan or the sriracha sauce or a combination of both.

Q. Best Augustana experience so far and why?

A. Being a Viking Guide. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to develop bonds with incoming first-year students and to show them the ropes.

Q. What are some of the learning experiences you have had off campus (internships, service, etc.)?

A. I have been involved in a mentorship program at the Bowden Youth Center. I also just completed an internship with now U.S. Senator Mike Rounds’ campaign this fall. That was a life-changing experience for me.

Q. Thinking back to your first year, what did you learn about yourself — as a person, as a student, as a future professional?

A. I learned to always “just do it.” The first-year experience wiped away any doubts I had that this was the place for me. I met passionate professors and built on my global perspective through connections with students from all over the world. Augustana has enabled me to develop invaluable skills in the most immediate, most challenging, and most fulfilling way possible. I’m not endorsing all instinctive behavior, but my first year showed me that I’m almost always right when I go with my heart.

Q. What is the one thing that’s surprised you so far about being a college student?
A. I’m amazed at just how much I still have to learn. It was JFK who once said that, “the more our knowledge increases the more our ignorance unfolds.” I have found that to be true for me here at Augie. For every class or experience I have had, Augie has opened my eyes to the possibility of even further worlds to be explored and discoveries to be made.

Liz Renner

Hometown: Crooks, South Dakota

Major: Biology (Ecology Emphasis); Civitas

Q. Why did you choose Augustana?
A. Some of my earliest childhood memories include trips to the Gilbert Science Center to visit my Grandma Mary, who retired after 40 years in the nursing department. All four of my grandparents, my mom, my uncle and a host of cousins graduated from Augie. I seriously never thought I would end up here because it’s so close to home, but Augie has opened up a world of opportunities to me. I started doing undergraduate research in the biology department as a freshman, which is unheard of at all of the other institutions I visited when applying for college.

Q. What’s your schedule like from sun-up to sun-down?

A. I awake from my brief yet necessary slumber around 7 a.m., take a shower (optional!), pull on Augie sweatpants, and head to the dining hall for oatmeal and a banana before an 8 a.m. organic chemistry or 9 a.m. genetics lab, depending on the day. I spend the rest of the morning in class, studying in the library, or worshiping in chapel. After lunch with friends at 12:30 p.m., I study a little more before genetics lecture at 2 p.m. Then it’s back to the library until supper at 5:30 p.m., after which I attend club meetings, work out at the Elmen Center, go to my three-hour religion class on Wednesday nights, or play my trumpet in rehearsal with the College and Community Band on Thursday nights.

My evening study is usually done in my dorm room with my roommate, where we regularly burn the midnight oil writing lab reports while jamming out to Bob Dylan on vinyl.

Q. Most inspirational professor you’ve encountered so far?

A. Without a doubt, the legendary Dr. Sandra Looney (English). I took her Civitas Literature 200 course last fall, and her class was by far my favorite. She would come in a few minutes late, swinging her briefcase full of papers while breathlessly apologizing about how walking her dogs had caused her tardiness. She would quickly dive into the material, throwing out a provocative question about the works of William Faulkner or Seamus Heaney and then letting her students lead the discussion. Her wise counsel helped me to hone my writing abilities and think critically about the world around me.

Dr. Looney invests herself in her students, and her passion for teaching is evident within the first five minutes of the semester. I firmly believe that all students should take at least one of her classes before they graduate because she changes lives. On a side note, she was also my mom’s advisor and an Augie classmate of my grandparents!

Q.  Best Augustana experience so far, and why?

A. Whether it was traveling to New York City with the Angelus choir last year or playing trumpet with the College and Community band this year; hiking Harney Peak and rock climbing with the Augie Outdoor Program or organizing a climate march with Augie Green; spending weeks in the basement of the Gilbert Science Center conducting research on beetles and presenting at last spring’s Student Research Symposium; helping to resurrect the Augustana Democrats and heading up the Vikings Vote registration drive this fall; or scrumming with the Augie women’s rugby team, I have tried to make the most of the Augustana Advantage!

My most memorable Augie experience so far was the opportunity to travel to Greece and London with Dr. O’Hara and Dr. Wentzel on the Distinguished Scholars trip. Highlights from our travels included exploring the Acropolis and the ruins of Mykonos, running into the Aegean Sea after watching the sun rise from the top of a Venetian fortress, and immersing ourselves in British history and culture. It was my first time leaving North America and I caught the travel bug! I will be packing my bags for Guatemala and Belize in J-term.

Q. What are some of the learning experiences you have had off campus (internships, service, etc.)?

A. Last summer was a dream come true. I spent the first six weeks conducting research and doing native prairie restoration work with Dr. Craig Spencer (Biology) and a fellow biology major on Augie Ridge at Newton Hills State Park, in addition to serving as a park employee. At the end of June, I boarded a bus with two suitcases and great expectations and travelled across the country to serve as an intern in Senator Tim Johnson’s office. During my two months in D.C., I lived with Hispanic nuns in a convent and intentional community for young women. Along with answering constituent phone calls, leading South Dakotans on constituent tours through the U.S. Capitol, running errands for the Senator and his staff, and collecting news stories from all major South Dakota news outlets on a daily basis, I gained a better understanding of environmental policy and the legislative process. Because of my passion for the environment, I was tasked with processing constituent mail and drafting response letters pertaining to South Dakota natural resource and environmental issues. I tracked current environmental legislation, attended Senate Energy & Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works Committee hearings, and wrote memos for legislative assistants. I also had the opportunity to visit officials in the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to seek out career advice. My final East Coast adventure was hiking through Shenandoah National Park.

Q. The Big Question: Thinking back to your first year, what did you learn about yourself – as a person, as a student, as a future professional?

A. My first year at Augustana convinced me that my lifelong passion for nature will become my vocation. I learned that travel is one of the best educations you can get, and that I’m a citizen of the world. Traveling is like picking up a good book. You can step back into history or immerse yourself in a foreign culture. Traveling cross-country and living alone in D.C. taught me to be self-reliant and have confidence in myself.

Q. What’s the one thing that’s surprised you so far about being a college student?

A. As a tree-hugging, sandal-sporting environmentalist, I was a bit of an odd bird in high school. I had no trouble fitting in and finding friends with similar passions because the Augustana community welcomes everyone with open arms. I have an incredible support network here, and it has richly blessed my college experience.

Q. Favorite food in the Dining Room?

A. It’s a tie between the cheese ravioli with marinara sauce and the baked sweet potatoes, but I also love getting wraps or spinach salads with cucumbers and mushrooms from the deli station.