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Augustana through the eyes of a parent

Steve Bahls, President of Augustana College

Augustana College was my first presidency, and my daughter Angela is my only daughter. Just as my life would never be the same after she was born, my presidency was unalterably changed the moment Angie enrolled as a freshman, 10 years ago. 

By that time, our family had been living on campus for six years and in the Quad Cities one year before that. My wife and I had already sent our two sons off to liberal arts colleges in New England, and I was hitting my stride at Augie. But to Angie, I was her dad, first and foremost, which is usually how it goes with kids and parents.

In fact, she didn’t even tell her first roommates her father was president; they found out on their own a few months into their first term. Still, my tenure here has been nearly as meaningful a role, in its own way, as my role as parent to our three now-grown children. 
To be honest, I was a little surprised Angie chose Augustana for college. Thinking that it might be rough on her to be the daughter of the president, I assumed she would want to go elsewhere. But she told us she knew how academically serious the students here are, and how tight the community is, so why would she want to go anywhere else? 

I couldn’t disagree with her, being a big fan of our college on the hill myself. And then an interesting thing happened. Once I became the father of an Augustana Viking, I not only saw but experienced, firsthand, the magic that Augustana does, and the impact it has on the young people in our care. We’re fond here of saying that our strong suit is taking good high school students and turning them into great college students. And so it was with Angie.

I attribute much of that, of course, to Angie herself, who blossomed from a shy girl who sat quietly in the back of the classroom into a confident young woman with a wide circle of friends; an active member of Augustana’s Student Advisory Council; a person who knew her own mind well enough to know that marrying her high school sweetheart their sophomore year of college might not have been right for another couple, but it was exactly right for them. 

It was a delight, both personally and professionally, to watch her make new friends, increase her social circle and get involved with campus life. 

I also attribute her growth and success in no small part to the mentoring relationships she formed with two of her professors: Dr. Kathy Jakielski and Dr. Allison Haskill. The personal care and attention she received from all of her teachers—and those two in particular—was formative and continues to this day. 

Angie pursued a double major in psychology and communication science and disorders, and is now a practicing speech-language pathologist at an elementary school in Indiana. She says that her increasing maturity was a significant part of her success here. “But I do think that the teaching style at Augustana, specifically the liberal arts model, helped me think more critically,” she said recently, “which leads to personal development.”
About Drs. Jakielski and Haskill, Angie added, “They genuinely cared not only about my academic success, but also my personal development. I'm fortunate to have been mentored by two strong, intelligent women who helped me become a more thoughtful, confident and organized speech-language pathologist.”

Angie accompanied Kathy on an immersion experience in Cambodia, spending five weeks studying a culture that was, prior to that, completely foreign to her, learning not only about the generosity of its people and the beauty of its landscape and wildlife, but the painful history of the Khmer Rouge genocide and its legacy in the country. 

Kathy—who was there to celebrate with Angie when she got her first job, post-graduate school—says their major can be stressful, particularly the honors capstone project; Angie did hers on absolute poverty in Cambodia.

“It’s a pretty high stakes endeavor they’re taking on, and students put forth the effort with tremendous pride,” Kathy said of the final project, which required not just producing a product in the end, but “absorbing, reflecting, processing.”

She added, “We are a campus where we do reflection. It is really part of the culture here. To quote from John Dewey, we don’t learn from our experiences, we learn from processing our experiences.”

Much of the critical groundwork for Angie’s future success was laid in Kathy’s and Allison’s classrooms, as well as in between classes, in the heartfelt conversations, in the guidance when choosing internships, in the vocal championing of her best efforts and the quiet support when she had to stretch herself to grow. I can honestly say that dozens of students have shared stories of that support; it was not reserved just for the president’s daughter.

Having seen that close-up, as both president and parent, I can speak to prospective parents with a real, first-hand authority about how Augustana takes good high school students and turns them into great college graduates!