The Augustana Magazine: Spring 2016


view from summit avenue: a message from president rob oliver

Following with the theme of this issue, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage each of you to be a defender as well – a defender of the liberal arts.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve likely noticed a growing number of voices that call into question the value of a liberal arts education.

In many cases, these sentiments are fueled by elected officials who have advocated state funding for students who choose to pursue more “job friendly” majors. In our home state, students can receive significant scholarships through the Build Dakota Scholarship Fund when they pursue technology programs in areas such as transportation, welding and manufacturing, heating and cooling, and machinery, along with other high-need fields.

You, too, have likely noticed that STEM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – now appears frequently in everyday conversations.

There’s no disputing the fact that, as a society, we need skilled workers. But, I worry that perhaps we’re allowing the pendulum to swing too far.

In the midst of public debate like this, I’m often asked, “Where does Augustana University fit in?” How does a 156-year-old institution rooted in the Lutheran church whose cornerstone is built upon the liberal arts continue to provide a valuable and relevant education in a world where society’s expectations of higher education are changing at warp speed?

I enjoy answering this kind of question because I believe we are one of a number of higher education institutions in the U.S. today who are doing it right, thanks to the power of STEAM – that’s the acronym we prefer – it stands for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. We assert that STEAM is much more powerful than only STEM in creating the future for our world.

Here’s how we’re addressing the changing landscape of higher education:

First, we’ve continued to stay true to our mission: Inspired by Lutheran scholarly tradition and the liberal arts, Augustana provides an education of enduring worth that challenges the intellect, fosters integrity and integrates faith with learning and service in a diverse world.

Next, with our mission as our compass, we’ve developed a strategic plan through which we’ve introduced exciting new programs, centers and initiatives. These endeavors are allowing us to build and develop even more local, national, and global partnerships, enabling our students to gain invaluable hands-on, practical experience that prepares them to be even more effective in their chosen pursuits.

Finally, we’ve taken bold steps to better help our students discover where their passions and talents intersect. Through the help of our new First Year Experience program and our new core curriculum, our students will discover not only what they want to do in life, but also, and perhaps more importantly, what kind of life they want to live in response to the needs of the world around them. Our curriculum includes a broad collection of core courses that stretch across each of our academic divisions.

Here, students have the opportunity to explore religion, languages, history, wellness, science, art, and more. In doing so, they build a foundation of knowledge and develop key 21st century skills, such as the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, analyze and draw conclusions, and act with global awareness.

If you’ve ever wondered about the true value of a liberal arts education, Dr. Schotten says it best: “The liberal arts ask students to consider timeless questions – they’re appropriate in today’s world, and they’ll be appropriate in tomorrow’s world. Those questions have to do with: What makes life worth living? What kind of ethical responsibilities do I have? How do I understand beauty and the natural world? What does it mean to be a thoughtful human being?”

Shouldn’t all young people have the opportunity to ponder such important questions, while also learning the skills they’ll need to build successful careers?

At Augustana, we certainly believe so. I’m proud to say that here, we’re focused on much more than just job friendly majors.

At Augustana, we’re working every day to help produce job friendly graduates – thoughtful, curious, knowledgeable and articulate men and women who can be successful in virtually any field because of what they’ve learned here. Clearly the marketplace values this approach, affirmed by our recently-announced 98 percent success in career outcomes for our most recent graduates.

I hope you’ll join me in defending the importance of the liberal arts within higher education today.

Yours, for Augustana,

Rob Oliver