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Annika Strack
More Than I Imagined Seniors reflect on accomplishments and look ahead

Annika Strack

Graduation year: 2022

High school: Grayslake Central High School

Hometown: Grayslake, lll.

Major: Psychology (pre-occupational therapy program)

Minors: Spanish; music

Activities: Augustana Symphonic Band, Augustana Percussion Ensemble, Epsilon Sigma Alpha international service sorority, Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity, Chi Alpha Pi sorority (honorary), Mortar Board honor society, Phi Beta Kappa honor society

Internships: GiGi’s Playhouse Quad Cities; Horace Mann Early Learning Center

Post-grad plans: I will be attending Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine to get my master’s in occupational therapy!

Why Augustana?

I chose Augustana for the people, especially in the music department. I came out of my audition feeling confident that the professors in the department cared not only about my music, but also about my well-being.

Everyone on campus was so welcoming, and I knew I would always have someone to turn to on both an academic level and a personal level. The individuals here made me feel like an actual person, not just another face in the crowd.

Augustana felt like home from the moment I set foot on campus.

Are you where you thought you'd be when you first came to campus?

I am a much more confident person than I thought I would be. I joined more organizations than I expected, including different sororities that have become family to me. It's made me more willing to step out of my comfort zone.

I also have significantly more professional experiences under my belt than I thought I would. The ability to take on a full course load and still have the opportunity to gain so much shadowing and observation experience is something I wouldn’t change for the world.

Who helped you get to where you are now?

There are too many people to name!

Dr. Lambrecht and Dr. Oliver in the music department are two of the kindest, most supportive professors on this campus. Each rehearsal gave me a space where I could simply be myself, leaving behind any struggles from the day and just focusing on the music in front of me.

Dr. Szafran, Dr. Lorenz and Dr. Nordling in the psychology department took me all the way to graduate school. I would never have been accepted without them.

My parents and sister have given me unending support throughout my life. My grandparents have been by my side for the entire journey, never missing a single Symphonic Band or Percussion Ensemble concert.

Finally, my two roommates have been my supportive pillars that kept me steady and stuck by my side each and every day. I'm always guaranteed to smile when I am around them.

All of these individuals have provided me with a safe and encouraging environment, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Peak experience?    

If I have to choose, I would say my internship at GiGi’s Playhouse Quad Cities, a Down syndrome achievement center in the area. I created and implemented a new dance program at GiGi's. My time at GiGi’s was one-of-a-kind, especially in the midst of the pandemic. 

It was an invaluable experience that taught me so much in regards to working with a pediatric population with Down syndrome. GiGi's focuses on the inclusion of all, and I felt right at home there!

What surprised you?

I was shocked at how easily I made friends. As someone who is naturally very shy and quiet, I couldn't believe how seamlessly I was able to transition into life at Augie. 

I had been extremely nervous to go away to college because it was so new and foreign to me. However, I met my two best friends on the first day of Welcome Week, and we've been inseparable ever since!

How did you use your Augie Choice?

I used Augie Choice to fund my internship at the Horace Mann Early Learning Center in Rock Island, where I worked with occupational therapists who treat preschool children with different intellectual and developmental disabilities. I was able to turn an unpaid internship into a paid internship!

What will you miss the most?

I came to Augie for the people, and it’s the people I will miss the most. Augustana has become my home away from home, and the people here are like a second family. 

From the Augustana Symphonic Band to my sorority sisters, I have made friends that will last a lifetime. Even when I felt like I was having the worst day, there was a friendly face there to boost my spirits. 

I always felt seen and heard, and it’s that camaraderie and constant sense of home that I will miss when I graduate.

Advice for the Class of 2026?

Stay flexible and open-minded. One exam or project does not define your intelligence or academic worth. 

If that one thing doesn't go as well as you'd hoped, learn from the mistakes you made and use that new knowledge to improve upon the next thing. Leave those mistakes in the past and move forward!

"Annika is a very well-rounded student. While she never strayed from her path of being an occupational therapist, she supplemented this coursework with minors in the arts and foreign languages. In addition, her many experiential learning opportunities both on campus and in the community have aided in her strong critical thinking, interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies. Annika leaves Augustana with many strengths and skills, but I am most impressed with these qualities that will make her an engaged citizen.”

– Dr. Lisa Szafran, assistant professor, psychology and neuroscience