Classroom sessions: Sophisticated analysis, serious discussion, information synthesis and mature insights: My visit to Dr. Rupa Gordon’s Advanced Seminar in #Neuroscience #highered #augustanacollege #liberalarts

Twice while attending Dr. Rupa Gordon’s class I got the feeling one gets while going down a very steep roller coaster.  


Because in the 70 minutes I spent with Gordon and the 19 students in class last Friday, I witnessed the complete masterpiece that is a liberal arts education. This class offered a case study in the modern value of liberal education. 

This was a class full of seniors – enthusiastic, curious learners guided by a teacher on par with my vision of Socrates. Gordon’s perfect Q&A sequence allowed her to ask a question and teach through each student’s response.

Here’s what I learned.

Students prepared for classroom discussion, and they were anxious to do so. There were a couple of hands up ready to respond to every single question Gordon posed. The students’ notebooks revealed as much, as they consulted the articles assigned and their own notes. I’d like to think that the level of preparedness I witnessed is exactly what employers and graduate schools get when they land an Augie grad.

Every single student was engaged. Nobody was hiding in this class. Students moved their desks into a circle for better discussion and eye contact. In fact, I didn’t see a single student glance at a smartphone.

Their curiosity enriched the discussion. Students asked Gordon lots of questions, even some that seemed off topic or unpredictable. They asked questions about compensating subjects of experiments, and why some subjects were tested twice and others three times. One challenged the ethics of experiments described in the reading material. The questions revealed they were not in the class simply to soak it all in. They displayed the type of critical thinking that students educated at a liberal arts college are known for.

A deep mastery of material, serious content knowledge and synthesis were on display. The seniors in this class were clearly at a stage in their academic journey where they are putting all the pieces together. They referenced previous classes that touched on related content and demonstrated well their recall of theory. 

These students challenged Gordon and each other and did so fearlessly. While there was quite a bit of head-nodding in agreement throughout the class, there were also moments during which students challenged each other and their professor. This was done respectfully, in the spirit of the best possible discussion, debate and dialog. They gave me confidence that these graduates will be comfortable challenging authority and speaking truth to power.

Gordon’s techniques contributed to such a high-performing class. She assigns a manageable amount of reading for discussion. She also asks students to complete an online form about the reading in advance, which she reviews for misunderstandings to clear up during discussion. She tailors her questions. And, she uses a classroom discussion to double down on some of the special benefits of a liberal arts education. It was clear to me that she was testing recall of content, synthesis of information, and the ability to read critically and communicate clearly.  

Now I want to go back and ask about the neuroscience behind the feeling (roller coaster butterflies) I experienced as I witnessed this impressive group of students. 

Dr. Rupa Gordon earned her bachelor’s from Purdue University and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. An assistant professor of psychology, she teaches neuroscience courses, and she is an advocate for interdisciplinary learning and experiential learning. See her here: https://youtu.be/OfRGJ0ntQSk

Classroom Sessions: Philosophy 101 with Dr. Doug Parvin, a great reminder of the purpose of liberal arts education…critical thinking, clear communication and big yellow die #liberalarts #augustanacollege

Marx, Mill, Rawls and Nozicki! Sheesh, I haven’t been involved in a good old-fashioned philosophical debate since my college days. But, on Tuesday I attended Dr. Douglas Parvin’s Philosophy 101 Knowing and Being and was reminded first-hand of the importance and impact of liberal education.

Parvin’s emphasis on critical thinking and clearly communicating an idea was apparent from the beginning of the class through the end.

 Let me start with some take-aways from the class:

 *Parvin used very relevant examples to explain very complex theories. In fact, his use of a cookie example in describing distributive justice was very helpful.

 *Parvin was very transparent about his teaching method. He stated that his class is about “taking you on a ride between all of these different ways of thinking.” It’s clear to me that Parvin wants his students to think and think deeply. He summarized his method by stating that he wants his students “to be able to place a viewpoint within a philosophical approach.” This is what I’ve always believed a liberal education to be about.

*International students add greatly to classroom discussion. During a very thought-provoking discussion on distributive justice, which of course also touched on taxation, one student talked about how higher education is financed in his home country in Europe and the understanding that one gets something for their tax dollars. Another international student, while taking about what is just, brought just war and the impact of war on justice. They added important perspective

*Parvin also offered some grad school advice: He told the students that the most important concepts are going to be discussed in the first chapter of a book or in the first couple of paragraphs of an essay.

 *Parvin is a skilled teacher who works hard to bring the best out of his students. He’s practical as a philosopher and tries to bring real life into the class. One of the things Parvin said, and I wrote in my notebook, will stick with me for some time to come. He reminded the class that “a wealth of theory will help you find common ground.” In this fractured world, Parvin makes the case for liberal arts education with that reminder. We could all stand to build our wealth of theory to work to find common ground.

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Now, if you want to read a little more about my time in class and understand why Dr. Parvin is holding a big yellow die read on below.

10:20 a.m. Tuesday, September 17

Parvin greeted me when I entered the classroom and asked if I’d like to participate in an activity that he planned to use later in the class. I agreed–more on that later. He told me that each class begins with “a chance of a quiz,” which I soon discovered revolved around a big yellow dice.” Students were clearly reviewing class material in preparation.

A roll of the dice would determine whether or not there would be a quiz, which there was.

The quiz focused on the readings for the day, which included essays by Rawls and Nozicki, and it required a brief written statement summarizing Nozicki’s main points.

Parvin is an experienced teacher and knows his students. He told students that “an honest stab will result in full credit.” It was clear to me that he wanted to test engagement more than anything. Parvin also invited students who had not fully completed the reading to write a haiku. It amused me (and I think the class) that each of the Hi-kus, which Parvin read, included an apology for not reading and a promise that it wouldn’t happen again.

Parvin’s class started with a review of the previous class and then jumped right into a lively discussion of what constitutes a social contract. From the beginning Parvin pushed discussion and critical thinking. Parvin even described one student’s description of a social contract as “beautiful.” Parvin asks tough questions, but shows his experience as a teacher by asking for examples and clarifications that strengthen the respondent’s argument. This is a gift to future employers because these students will be critical thinkers who can communicate well.

The discussion of social contract was the lead-up to the exercise Parvin invited me to join. He divided the class into three groups and within each of the three groups he divided individuals into economic class categories. He asked everyone to create a character. Incidentally, I was asked to create a character who was destitute. Parvin then asked each character to introduce themselves to the group. And, then Parvin asked each participant to choose from systems of laissez faire, utilitarianism, equality of welfare and Maximin to identify which system would benefit one’s character most. This was an interesting exercise and might be the first time I was arguing for equality of welfare!

Finally, Parvin asked each participant to randomly select a character someone else had created, and then choose a system not knowing which character they were representing. The characters were then shuffled and redistributed, and students had to justify their choices in writing to their new characters. This was a pretty nifty exercise to get students thinking about something pretty challenging. I was impressed with the level of discussion in my small group.

This class session was a great reminder to me of the sustaining value of liberal arts education and the purpose of introductory classes like Philosophy 101, which I took in the late 1980s while a student.

Dr. Doug Parvin is an associate professor of philosophy. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard and Ph.D. at Rutgers. He specializes in Philosophy of mindEpistemologyMetaphysicsDecision theorygame theory and logic.

Classroom Sessions: My visit to Dr. Kelly Daniels’s English/Creative Writing 202 #highered #liberalarts #augustanacollege

Last Thursday I had the privilege to participate in  Dr. Kelly Daniels’s creative writing class. 

Daniels is a forty-something Ph.D., with a graying goatee and a tattoo on his left arm that peeks out of his shirtsleeves when he speaks with his hands. He wears  one of those caps, with a small brim, like cyclists wear; he pulls it off. He is an accomplished fiction writer and has been an essential part of building Augustana’s creative writing major. 

Dr. Daniels engaged in some pre-class banter about Harry Potter with a few of the early arrivals and he used one student’s tee-shirt to make a connection.

The class was in a small seminar room on the third floor of Old Main. I was invited to sit around the table,but chose to observe from outside the circle. 

There were two things that stood out to me.

First, Daniels left  the door to the hallway open for the whole session. This surprised me (pleasantly) because I knew students would be reading out loud from their short pieces of fiction. It showed Daniels’s confidence in se in what’s happening inside his classroom, I was impressed. 

Next, I noticed there was no clock anywhere in the room. Daniels, however, kept close track of the time throughout by checking his iPhone, about which he made a joke at the beginning of class. As he was shutting off his ringer, he told the class he was “turning up his ringer so to make sure not calls are missed during class.” The class chuckled a bit.

The class began with a very brief quiz in which students were asked to supply the proper punctuation to dialog. I was excused from this quiz, for which I am grateful. Daniels explained that that he “is nitpicky” about punctuation.” He added, “Everyone who passes this class should know how  to punctuate dialog flawlessly.” It’s worth noting that it looked like Daniels was doing the quiz along with the students

The “main event” as Daniels described it was four students reading aloud from a brief fictional piece they had written for the class session. I was treated to four excellent stories and remarkable interaction between students and Daniels. In each instance the following happened:

The author read their story aloud as the class followed along silently. 

Next, Daniels asked a member of the class to provide a summary of the arc of the story before opening up discussion about the piece. 

Then the author was invited the author to respond and reply.

Each author took a different approach to their writing, but demonstrated strong story-telling, dialog (the emphasis of the exercise and class session) and very strong technical writing. One author was particularly animated and entertaining while reading, which seemed to entertain the whole class. Another author’s short gave Daniels reason to describe “Flash Fiction” and how the student’s piece was nearly ready for flash fiction publishing. 

The class included 8 women and 5 men who all contributed, meaningfully, to the discussion at one point or another. Really, with only 13 people sitting around a table it’s impossible to hide. Their level of comfort with each other, and presumably me, grew and the discussion was richer as the class session went on.  

My take-aways from English/Creative Writing 202 including the following:

*Daniels is gifted at providing generous and constructive feedback. He also is refreshingly affirming of good work. 

*Students offered very mature, creative, insightful feedback to their peers. 

*Students demonstrated an impressive confidence in discussion and very high-quality writing. 

*Daniels offered insights that connected with the students. He talked about stick figure bumper stickers, his seven-year-old son, the Maquoketa Caves and shared that describing the make and year of a car almost always helps in fiction writing. 

So, as I drive home tonight in my 2017 Kia Cadenza, I will reflect on Daniels advice to  “thicken up” an aspect of a story and his affirming feedback of each of these emerging fiction authors. Creative Writing 202 showcases what is best about Augustana—talented students, gaining confidence and valuable skills, with a talented insightful mentor.

Dr. Daniels has been at Augustana since 2007, and he now serves as associate professor of English.. Daniels grew up on the road, living for stints with his parents in a Hawaiian commune, a waterless, powerless cabin in the desert, and in an old step-van outfitted with bunks. His life story inspired ‘Cloudbreak, California’ which was one of BuzzFeed’s “13 favorite works of nonfiction in 2013.

Opportunities for careers in higher ed and a little “Speed dating” with Quad Cities interns. #quadcities #quadcitizen #highered #higheredjobs #liberalarts #augustanacollege

This past Tuesday I was invited to speak at the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce’s Intern QC Networking Express. It was a “speed dating” event between college students participating in internships this summer in the Quad Cities and local employers.

It’s another one of the awesome events the Chamber organizes to highlight the tremendous benefits of living and working in this region. Augustana College was a sponsor for the event, which is why I had a little face time with all of the interns (and employers) who participated.

I only had three minutes, so I tried my best to rock the participants’ minds with some information about employment opportunities in higher education and debunk a few misperceptions about Augustana.

First, I was pretty certain that very few of these really talented interns from across the country were looking for employment opportunities in higher education. So I took the opportunity to share some employment data with them that I found very interesting.

I remembered seeing some data this past year about the top employers in each state and I recollected how surprised I was about the impact of higher education and its role as a major employer.

I shared this tidbit: In 11 of the 50 states, a university or university system is the largest employer! If you doubt me, take a look at this map.

I saw lots of surprised looks, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

I continued by listing off the fields in which these interns were interning (ITS, finance, human resources, marketing, constituent relations, communications, logistics, facilities, construction management, accounting, auditing, etc.), and reminded them that higher education has great professionals doing all of those things.

What I was revealing to the group was the idea that working in higher ed can involve professional roles beyond teaching. I hope I made an impression because the interns with whom I met were awesome.

Once I had this group’s attention, I went on to dispel some myths about Augustana College that persist in our community.

Myth 1: All of Augustana’s students are from the Chicagoland suburbs.

Reality: While a little more than 50% of our students do come from the Chicago suburbs, which, incidentally, is 2.5 to 3 hours away, 10% of our students are international. There are 23 different states represented in this year’s entering class. We attract students from all over the US and the world.

Myth 2: All of Augustana’s students are affluent.

Reality: One-third of Augustana students are first-generation students and 1 in 4 is a recipient of the PELL grant. 99% of our students receive financial aid—most from Augustana scholarships and grants—and one of the platforms of our strategic plan, Augustana 2020, is to improve access and affordability for students.

Innovative financial aid programs like Close the Gap and an emphasis on building the college’s endowment will help make this a reality. In addition, pilot programs using exclusively free online resources as class material help keep other costs, like books, down for our students.

Myth 3: All of Augustana’s students come from a Swedish-Lutheran background.

Reality: Augustana College has a rich diversity—religiously and ethnically. Four out of 10 students who entered Augustana in the fall of 2018 were students of color or international students. Yup, 40%!

Our Campus Ministries outreach emphasizes interfaith dialog and understanding, and at Augustana, students from all faith backgrounds (and those with none) feel welcome and have avenue to express their religious identity.

Myth 4: Colleges like Augustana are struggling in a competitive marketplace.

Reality: Although some private, independent liberal arts colleges are struggling, Augustana College is stronger than ever. New and recently added academic programs include data analytics, musical theatre, cyber security and kinesiology, and we are expanding enrollments in many other areas.

In addition, we are investing in our campus facilities to improve the learning environment for our students. In June the Anderson Pavilion outdoor theatre ($450,000) was completed; in April we broke ground on an expansion of the Brodahl Building, which will house our new master’s degree in speech-language pathology ($3.1 million); and in August we will open an $8.5 million addition to Hanson Hall of Science.

In each of these cases, these projects were made possible because of the generosity of donors who believe in Augustana’s mission.

Finally, President of the College Steve Bahls is well on the path to raising a quarter of a billion dollars in support of Augustana by the end of the current campaign, AUGUSTANA NOW.  

If you are interested in higher education, Augustana College and the Quad Cities, subscribe to this blog and follow me at @bowtieadmission or @wkentbarnds and let’s connect on LinkedIn

Parents know best: study abroad opens a world of opportunities #studyabroad #womenandgenderstudies #augustanacollege #liberalarts #highered

For the past two weeks Augustana College students were on spring break. Some headed home; others hit the beach; spring athletes headed to warmer climates to get in some early season competition; the Augustana Choir and Symphonic Band toured; a group of students went to Appalachia to volunteer with Campus Ministries; another group traveled to Selma, Alabama, to learn more about the Civil Rights movement; and others studied abroad.

I took special notice of a group of students who traveled to India with two faculty members, Dr. Umme Al-Wazedi (English) and Dr. Jennifer Popple (theatre arts; women’s and gender studies). I hadn’t paid as much attention as I should have to the inaugural Augustana in India Program, which took place in 2017. But after seeing a post on Sunday night from a parent of a student who had just returned from India, I wanted to learn more. Here is a screenshot of her post:

I, too, know all about that “Wow” and the “chance of a lifetime.” I was a reluctant (at first) participant in a study-abroad experience while in college in the early-1990s and the experience completely transformed my worldview. I had an encourager on campus and parents who supported me, too.

So, I asked for the proposal for the trip to India, a portion of which I share below:

The purpose of this study abroad trip is to tie together the fields of Women’s and Gender Studies, Public Health, Literature, and Fine Arts. We have chosen India as the ideal place to combine these, as students will get the opportunity to learn about, witness, and participate in grass-roots activism by women in a way not often experienced in America.

The program will build upon course work that many of the students will have already had in Women’s and Gender Studies, English, and/or the Public Health major. Issues such as sexual violence, dowry, sexuality, environmental issues affecting lives of women, women’s rights and power in India are often just read about in classes; this program will give the students actual experience talking about these issues with people who are working on them. At the end of the program, we hope that students will feel empowered to take what they have seen and learned during the trip and what they have done in their community engagement work in the post-trip 1-credit course and incorporate these experiences into their majors and ultimate careers. Ultimately, we want to empower them to develop sustainable ideas and dynamic solutions for working with the complex issues that continue to harm women’s lives worldwide. Whether the students will be artists, writers, doctors, professors, non-profit employees, or activists, we want the trip to give them the tools and the connections to see how they can create real change in the world.

I thought this experience sounded amazing. I also thought: This is exactly what is possible at a liberal arts college that emphasizes study abroad and cross-disciplinary collaboration. This is what happens when a college has a deep commitment to undergraduate education and an interest in stretching each student’s view of the world.

I am so glad to work at a college that sees this type of experience as important to a student’s education; has a faculty that is creative in developing meaningful programs; and provides Augie Choice funding so that all students can experience such a “chance of a lifetime.”

“I knew where I was going” #augustanacollege #liberalarts #highered

“I knew where I was going”

Yesterday I attended a reception for admitted students and their parents in Arlington Heights, Illinois. These events include a panel discussion with young alumni, which is always informative and interesting. The alumni who volunteer their time and stories always do an amazing job and leave me (and the prospective students and their parents) very impressed. Their experience since college often leave me awestruck.


But, yesterday I was struck by an answer to a question a parent posed. The question was, “What was your favorite memory of Augustana College?”

There were many of the predictable answers from the panelists about friendships developed, study away from campus, involvement in extra-curricular activities, etc. Their answers were excellent and “on brand.”

But a 2008 graduate caught my attention when she started her answer with “that Sunday in May when I walked across stage, got my diploma and shook President Bahls’ hand….” I thought to myself, “Oh no, where does this go from here?” I wondered if this was going to be a moment when the speaker would say, “I couldn’t wait to be done” or “thank God it’s over.” What was next???

The alumna continued with words I have been thinking about ever since: “When I walked across that stage, I knew where I was going.” The speaker went on to talk about the job market in 2008 and how difficult it was at the time, but how well prepared she was and how clear she was about her path forward because of her Augustana experience. 

She secured a position working on pharmaceutical patents because of her scientific background and her ability to communicate, and has been involved in pharmaceutical patents since she graduated from Augustana.

This alumna’s comment, “I knew where I was going,” confirms what we know about an Augustana education. It is reinforced by data from our annual Senior Survey, which consistently shows 8 out of 10 graduating students answer that they “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement, “I am certain that my post-graduate plans are a good fit for who I am right now and where I want my life to go.”

In a world and job market filled with uncertainty and the unfamiliar, I am not sure there is any better confirmation for what we do at Augustana than to have graduates march across the stage at Commencement with the confidence that they know where they are going.

To my friends who are parents of high school students, and their friends: Why #AugustanaCollege should be on your college list (and some general thoughts about what to look for in a college) #augustanawesome

A large group of my friends have kids going through the college search process. I am enjoying listening to them discuss the process and watching their searches evolve through Facebook and other mediums.

I also take special interest in all of this as I try to learn more about my day job in college admissions. It’s a guilty pleasure to be an observer, knowing what I know about how this process works.

Yet, most of the time, I am pretty reserved about pushing my friends and their kids to look at the place where I am employed—though after all it is a mighty fine college. I want to be respectful and I know it’s important to give a student a wide berth to navigate the process and make a personal decision. I give the parents an equal amount of space because I don’t want them ever to use “Mr. Barnds says…” when discussing this important decision with their kids.

However, I was recently involved in a conversation with someone who intimated that something I was considering doing professionally was too much of a long shot because the college where I work is ranked lower than some, and therefore I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides irritating me, the comment demonstrated the thinking that keeps people from considering places that might really be fabulous. I needed to take action.

So, I think it’s about time I introduced my friends to my employer, Augustana College. Read along if you want to learn more about the place where I’ve worked for 13 years and why it should be on your kid’s list.



Before I tell you more about Augustana College, I want to challenge your (and my) thinking about the college search. For years I’ve said that students should look for a place that offers:

  • The right amount of challenge and support to succeed academically.
  • An experience that allows for pursuing their passion outside the classroom.
  • A place where they can see themselves fit in and grow.
  • An affordable experience.

Most students and families also think about size, major, distance from home and cost—all good criteria. But as I get close to my own kids’ search for a college, I am starting to think differently. My thinking has been challenged more than I’d have thought, having been at this for nearly 27 years!

If I were going through this right now, these are the questions I would be asking my kid:

Will you find a mentor?

I read more and more about the importance of mentors in college and beyond, and it jibes with my experience. Mentors set students up for success. I cannot imagine investing in a college experience and not being able to look back on at least one person who was there at a meaningful moment or provide a gem of advice that led to a new discovery. This article, “Mentors play critical role in quality of university or college, new poll suggests,” is worth your time. Mentors are crucial to the “challenge and support” so necessary to students’ success.

Is the amount of debt manageable? And is the experience worth it?

There is panic about student loan debt and it’s true that many borrow too much. However, if you are at a middle-class income level and have the core belief that a college education should be debt-free, it would be better to reframe your thinking. It is always astonishing to me that students invest heavily in their kids in the form of camps, lessons, vacations and material things, but then become fiscally conservative when it comes to the most important investment one can make. Begin by asking whether the investment in a particular college is worth it. A student loan is not a bad decision, and for a private college education families and students can expect $25,000 to $30,000. Debt levels beyond that are problematic for many. How much student loan debt is too much? is an article worth reading.

Is the college committed to liberal arts education?

My wife Jennie and I are products of a liberal arts education, and believe the rewards of such an education are immeasurable. I pay attention to the general education program at any college and what it seeks to accomplish. And, in case you are curious, general education is not something just to “get through”; it’s the space where students learn new things, make connections and learn how to keep making connections, and have their convictions, imaginations and opinions stretched in uncomfortable ways. I am persuaded by the data showing that CEOs and other leaders value the skills developed and associated with their liberal arts education. I believe my kids will not just land jobs, but keep advancing in their chosen careers because of the skills they will acquire. The article “Liberal arts is the foundation for professional success in the 21st Century” reinforces how important this point is.

Is the college serious about students being career-ready at the end of four years?

Parents are serious about their students’ career preparation, and I have similar expectations. I pay attention to a college’s orientation toward career and professional development. But helping a student put together a cover letter and résumé, and hosting an annual job fair does not amount to the type of seriousness I am looking for; that’s superficial, not serious. This is a really helpful blogpost, “How to evaluate a college’s career services,” that I highly recommend.

Will the college expose students to diversity in all of its forms?

Preparing students and graduates to embrace our diverse and changing world has always been important, and now we recognize this more than ever. Colleges that understand this are certain to more effectively prepare students for life. Jennie and I chose to enroll our children in an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school district because we know how important it is to experience, be a part of and appreciate cultural difference. I am sure the same will be true of my children’s college search. “The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace” is a blog post that reinforces why it is important to seek and experience diversity in college.

Is the college oriented toward getting to know students, or is it a factory for education?

Small classes, excellent advising and individual attention are important to me, and in my view should be important to all parents. The learning that happens in a large lecture hall is simply not equal to the learning that happens in a small classroom setting. Active participation in one’s learning is critically important and it happens in small classes and at places where professors, administrators and staff members are serious about getting to know their students. I found this to be a pretty good article, and I invite you review: Why small classes are better in college.

Is the college a place where a support network can help during a crisis, large or small?

In college, my crisis was being placed on academic probation because of poor academic performance. My parents never threatened to pull me out of college, never called the professor to make things easier for me. It was my crisis to deal with. But, I also found myself with a support network of friends who encouraged me. Moreover, the professor in whose class I struggled for three consecutive semesters took an interest in my success and helped in every way—including pulling a few string to make sure I was able to study in Spain, because that was, he said, “the only way you’ll learn the language and graduate from college.” By the way, studying in Spain stretched me well beyond what I thought imaginable, but that’s for another day. This is my story, but as a parent I know that every student will experience a similar moment. So I pay attention to signals that suggest a college can equip my kid with the coping skills and grit to get through it, and if needed, with the help of someone there who will listen, care and perhaps provide a little tough talk. This is the stuff that promotes success and resiliency in a career.

I hope you noticed that I am not paying attention to rankings, which are downright silly. Nor am I paying attention to athletics division or Greek Life.  And I didn’t mention a thing about school colors, sweatshirts or mascots.

Nope, I am zeroing in the things that lead to a great experience and success following college. These are the things that genuinely matter, to my mind.



So, now please allow me to introduce you to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where I’ve been working since 2005. We are an undergraduate college of liberal arts and sciences with an enrollment of 2,600 students. Our students come from diverse backgrounds and are high-performers in the classroom. The college is located in a metropolitan, diverse, fun and prosperous community of about 400,000. If you want a little more of the boilerplate narrative, you can read and explore here.

Of course, what I really want to do is provide you with my unfiltered thoughts about this amazing college and what we do. Here it goes…

Augie’s been around a long time and our graduates have done some amazing things—Not only are my mother and uncle graduates of Augustana, we’ve had some pretty distinguished people graduate from the place and make their impact in the world. Sure, we’ve had a couple of Nobel Price winners. And then there is Brenda Barnes, who shocked the corporate world when she left the position of CEO of PepsiCo to spend time raising her children. Ken Anderson played football at “little old Augustana” and then went on to earn a law degree and become the MVP of the National Football League while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. We count eight college presidents among our graduates. Right now a recent graduate is working to rehab computers for the school she started in Kenya, built on land she purchased from money she saved while working in Augustana’s dining center. Current students are poised to make a difference in a world that needs them. If you want to know where they begin their paths right out of college, see More Than I Imagined on our website.

The campus is ridiculously gorgeous—Augustana’s campus is absolutely beautiful. Seriously, it is consistently recognized for its beauty. Thrillist recognized Augustana as one of the Top 25 Most Beautiful Campuses. When one steps foot on campus, it’s impossible to overlook the natural and architectural beauty. If you doubt me, here are some photos. I believe there is something valuable to learning and living in an inspiring environment.


We get the liberal arts thing right—The term “liberal arts” and the concept of what a liberal arts college does can be confusing. Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind for too many when they think of liberal arts colleges is small and expensive, or politically liberal, or too focused on the arts. None of these is necessarily true. At Augustana College we have a clear idea of what it means to be a liberal arts college. We focus on those skills a student acquires by studying at a liberal arts college. We’ve clearly defined Nine Student Learning Outcomes around which we’ve built our curriculum. Moreover, we specifically focus on the skills that employers want. Our students leave Augustana as keen problem identifiers, effective problem solvers, exceptional communicators, and critical and creative thinkers—all of which prepares them for professional success in the 21st century.

We are very serious about career and professional development—In the last decade we’ve completely reimagined our approach to career and professional development to make sure our graduates are profession-ready and will stand out to graduate schools and employers. We approach career and professional development in a comprehensive way and understand that advising, career and life reflection, career coaching, and high-impact learning opportunities such as research, study abroad, service learning and internships intersect as students navigate their own career-readiness. We’ve known this for some time, and have centralized these functions and services and resources within CORE. It’s called CORE because it’s located in the center of our campus and it’s at the heart of what we do. And, one of the most effective tools within CORE is the Viking Score, which helps a student (and parent) know and pursue the activities, from the first year in college to the last, that truly prepare graduates to be career-ready.

Employees—faculty, administrators and staff—take time to get to know students and create conditions for success—We focus exclusively on undergraduate students and are staffed predominately by full-time employees who have made an intentional choice to work in this setting. This enables us to focus on the personal and educational development of students ages 18 to 22. We understand their developmental psychology and take our role seriously in meeting them where they are, finding out what makes them tick, and helping them succeed at maturing into their best selves. Personal attention is inadequate to describe what we do. There is a deep care for the success of our students. When I visit with alumni, I am always reminded that our graduates are more interested in their former mentors than they are in the new programs, fancy buildings or the details of our strategic plan.

We are really good at the big things that matter in a college experience—We recently completed some stakeholder (current students, current parents, alumni and faculty) psychographic research, which revealed that people view Augustana as “competent.” At first we were underwhelmed by being described as competent—it’s a bit like being told you’ve got a nice personality. But there’s something to be said for being competent in a world of incompetence, snubs, mistakes and misses. We get the big things right. Our faculty are excellent teachers and advisors. Our students graduate on time (in four years), inspired and prepared.

We’ve invested in being a diverse and welcoming place—We know that today’s students identify race relations as one of the most challenging and important issues our country faces. We also know that our graduates, no matter where they come from or where they land after Augustana, will live in a more diverse world than their parents. We know our students and graduates must have a deep understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its forms. So we’ve invested time, effort and resources to make build a diverse and welcoming and community where we can discuss issues related to diversity inside and outside the classroom. Ten percent of our enrollment is international, and students of color comprise another 25%. About one-third of our students will be the first in their family to graduate from college. Different cultures, perspectives and experiences are valued here, creating a fertile environment to prepare our students to value and cherish diversity throughout their career.

We offer a merit-scholarship program and need-based financial aid that makes Augie affordable, and a great value in comparison to many schools with similar attributes—Our merit-based scholarships make Augustana doable for many families looking for the type of experience we offer, and who want to see their student rewarded for academic excellence. Great students may be eligible for a scholarship of up to $26,000 annually. In addition to a merit-scholarship program that recognizes academic achievement, our need-based financial aid program makes Augustana accessible to families from all socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, one out of four of our students receives the federal PELL Grant. We are serious about all students’ academic excellence and access to a high-quality education in the liberal arts and sciences.

Faculty members are student-focused teachers and mentors, and good at the type of scholarship that matters at the undergraduate level—Too many people underestimate the value of engaged teaching and mentoring, even though there is plenty of evidence that college students with a great mentor are far more likely to succeed after college. Mentoring matters and our faculty are excellent mentors. Furthermore, our faculty place teaching first among their priorities. They constantly refine teaching methods to make sure they are connecting with and accountable to today’s students. It’s pretty amazing to witness the seriousness of their work. Here is just one example of many. Finally, the faculty members focus predominantly on scholarship and research that includes and involves students. It’s through these experiences that Augustana students uncover their potential to identify and solve problems—often real problems faced by their home communities or those that surround the college. This emphasis on involving students in scholarship means our faculty don’t hide in labs with graduate students, but instead are front and center sharing their knowledge and recognizing that Augustana students can help advance their work.

We are a national leader when it comes to balancing excellence inside and outside the classroom—We also understand the importance of balancing classroom and out-of-classroom commitment and our outstanding results in producing Academic All-Americans is evidence. We rank in the top 10 in the country, among all NCAA colleges and universities in all divisions, in producing and inspiring Academic All-Americans. There are only a handful of schools better in this area. Whether it’s musicians, actors, student government associates, volunteers in the community or club officers, Augustana students learn to excel in the many ways important to who they are and what they want to do.

We have a program that provides every student up to $2,000 for a peak learning experience— Regardless of GPA, major or anything else, every student has access to $2,000 through this amazing program called Augie Choice to support study abroad, student research and scholarship, or an internship. Programs like Augie Choice provide students with a transformative experience they won’t get elsewhere. $2,000 to support a high impact experience that gets their résumé noticed is worth it.

Our location provides meaningful experiential learning opportunities that most students will not get in a small town and probably not even in a big city—The Quad Cities is large enough to offer our students really meaningful internship and employment opportunities, but small enough that the best employers and internship providers seek out Augustana students and graduates. The bottom line is that our students and graduates have more access to hands-on experiences that will make them stand out because of the amazing resource of the Quad Cities. Furthermore, the Quad Cities is a lot like the United States in regard to the socioeconomic and ethnic mix, as well as the urban, suburban and rural mix that defines our country. It is a valuable place to live, work, play and learn.

Our students have the opportunity to be a part of something and take it further—Leadership opportunities on campus are plentiful and meaningful. With about 200 student organizations, students can find their interests, discover new ones, develop as leaders and apply their problem-solving skills to the issues they care about most.


One more thing: I remain convinced that the world needs Augustana graduates because of how they think, what they know, what they do and how they do it. Your student deserves to be needed as much.

Augustana is worth your time and consideration. If you are still reading this and you want me to be your connection, let me know. I will answer your questions, give you a campus tour, or simply put you in touch with someone at Augustana who is more entertaining than I am.



Check your outrage and shock about Harvard’s recruitment and admissions practices; college admission is not a #meritocracy and hasn’t been for years. #admissions #admission #emchat #highered

Last week brought quite a bit of attention to the world of college admission because Dean Fitzsimmons at Harvard was testifying about the university’s recruitment and selection processes in a case that alleges discrimination against Asian applicants. As an insider in the world of college admission, I have been amused by the shock and outrage that so many have demonstrated related to the many “tips” discussed. People seem to be shocked that talents, money and specific attributes drive decision-making.

I suppose this has something to do with colleges not being clear enough in debunking the idea that college admission is a meritocracy. Honestly, selective—and even modestly selective–college admission hasn’t been a traditional meritocracy for a very long time.

Let me get this off the table, though, systematic discrimination is awful and has no place in college admission. I think this is something about which we can all agree, right?

But, let’s circle back to the whole idea of college admissions being a meritocracy. It’s not and I hope we never go back to a pure meritocracy, because it will be a giant step backwards for American higher education.

There are countless reasons college admission is not a traditional meritocracy, but I think institutional mission is one of the most important drivers.

Colleges across this great country make deliberate decisions about the majors they will offer, the programs they will sponsor, the financial aid they will offer and, of course the types of students they wish to serve in fulfilling their mission.

Mission drives strategic action for many colleges in regard to where and who they will recruit and ultimately who they will admit.

College admissions officers make decision to advance the college’s mission and are constantly thinking about the mix of each class. In the case of my institution I am constantly thinking about the following:

• Are we recruiting in the right places?
• Will the gender mix be right on campus?
• Will the ethnic mix be right?
• Will we be serving the right proportion of first-generation students?
• Will we be serving the right proportion of students of color?
• Are we attracting and admitting students who may student programs in the humanities?
• Are we attracting, admitting and enrolling the right students to make our athletic teams competitive and music ensembles awesome?
• Are we admitting and enrolling a sufficient number of students who can pay a large proportion of the cost to attend the college?
• Are our processes fair?
* Can this student be successful here?
* Will this student love it here?
* Will this student make a meaningful contribution to our community?
* Will this student value what we do here?

Believe it or not, each of these questions, and many more, reflect elements of our mission and our genuine interest in serving an interesting, creative, high-achieving, diverse student body.

The fact that a college makes choices about crafting a class has much to do with mission, not with nefarious, punitive decision-making with the intent to discriminate or harm. They are making choices that they feel are appropriate in fulfilling their mission.

While I realize that this may seem incredibly unfair to some—perhaps to many–it’s only unfair if you all you can focus on are a small set of institutions that are uber-selective and an offer of admission is perceived to be some prize.

Believe me, there are plenty of amazing colleges that get amazing results. These same colleges most likely have, as part of their mission and strategic actions, the objective of enrolling the students across the country who feel aggrieved because their spot “was taken” by a student-athlete, an underrepresented student, a legacy, a musician, a dancer, a kid from Iowa, a first-generation students, or someone with lower test scores.

I am reminded of a comment Larry Bacow (now president of Harvard) made when I attend the Institute of Education Management (IEM) at Harvard in the early-2000’s. During a discussion about college value propositions, Dr. Bacow said something along the lines of “the true test of a college’s value proposition is exactly how many students would enroll if your institution offered no financial aid.” He posited that many colleges would still fill, but they would be less interesting and healthy places with much less diversity and achievement of strategic, purposeful, educational objectives. In short, they would struggle to fulfill mission.

I agree. And, while cost to attend may not be the same as a merit-exclusive admission, what we know about what represents merit (test scores, high school achievement, letters or recommendation, deep co-curricular involvement in things like pre-college programming) might as well be.

Colleges should be places that strive for a heterogeneous student body and crafting a class leads to that.

What do you think?

Monday musings (on a Thursday) from @wkentbarnds #emchat #admissions #highered #leadership

Dear colleagues and friends,

One of the thing that I really like about Monday Musings, is that I control the timetable for writing and sending these. With all of the deadlines, “hard-stops” and annual events that accompany this time of year, it’s great to be able to miss a deadline or just not do anything at all. That’s exactly why my Monday Musings is being delivered on a Thursday!

Since I last wrote, life has been very full. In addition to the regular daily work and family duties, the following has filled my days:

  • An amazing Fall Visit Day at Augustana for prospective students

  • A quick “friend-raising” trip to Austin, TX

  • A day trip to Philly to shoot some footage for our campaign video

  • A day trip to Alma College in Alma, Michigan

  • A return trip to Gettysburg College for Homecoming, the Alumni Board meeting and the college’s celebration of a recently completed campaign

In addition, there have been a bunch of soccer games for two of our three kids; Confirmation and the first Homecoming for our eldest;  and, the general busyness of the fall season that exists for a family of five with three busy kids; a higher ed professional and photographer, whose busy season is the fall.

But, the past few weeks are just the beginning!

The coming days and weeks include Augustana’s homecoming and Alumni Board meeting, the college’s fall meeting of its Board of Trustees and Augustana’s campaign kick-off event. I am looking forward to all of these events and all that they involve.

As I look toward these events, there are a couple of the things that stand out and really make me proud of Augustana and my amazing colleagues include:

Our Alumni Board will give an alumni award to the college’s Black Student Union, which celebrates 50 years. This recognition is overdue, but it reflects Augustana’s commitment over time to a diverse and inclusive community. This is a cool video telling a small piece of the BSU’s story.

Our Homecoming and reunion weekend programming is second to none and Kelly Noack and Linda Warne are rock stars. The alumni award brunch, the signature cocktail the dreamed up, Octoberfest, Golden Vikings luncheon and everything else is going to be awesome.

The campaign kick-off next week, which includes three events (one for students, the formal launch and a special event for faculty, staff and administrators) is going to be amazing and in can’t begin to thank Keri, Kelly, Judy and Lori and everyone else who has been tirelessly planning the event. Greg Armstrong has also been working on our public launch video, which is just awesome. I am so excited for the public launch of this $125,000,000 campaign and am humbled by the donor support we’ve attracted during the leadership phase. The campaign is for our student and is possible because of the deep passion so many have for Augustana College. I’ll share more details once we go public on October 11, 2018.

So, there’s a lot going on. But, all of energizes me. And, rather than think of myself as busy, I look at these days as full and rewarding.


A thought I can’t get out of my head

I recently finished a book on sales that was recommended by an acquaintance and have been thinking about it and the themes that relate to my work ever since. In fact, there are scraps of paper with notes laying around, notes in margins of a couple of notebooks and a few pages of notes in a tablet that I keep in my backpack. I guess the book has me thinking.

The book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, which I’ve mentioned before challenges conventional wisdom about who can be most successful in sales. The author, through a thorough evaluation of data, concludes that those sales people who challenge a customer by teaching are more successful than the back-slapping, relationship-builders often held up as the ideal salespeople. The author’s premise is that those who are most successful challenging a customer to think differently, and by doing so,  add value.

A couple of key elements from the book really stuck with me and have me thinking about how this can be applied in student recruitment, marketing and advancement.

The qualities  these “challengers” bring are the following:

  • They bring unique perspective

  • They possess exceptional two-way communication skills

  • They know what the customer values

  • They are comfortable discussing money

  • They know how to pressure the customer

Sheesh, when I think about effective recruitment, marketing and fundraising these seem to present a winning formula.

Want do you think about these challenger attributes and how they fit into the work you do?

I am thinking about which of these attributes I need to improve upon and how they can be applied to my day-to-day work.

Finally, I do recommend the book and think you might find it as thought provoking as I did.

One thing worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Keeping focus in a world of distractions–This Korn-Ferry International article hits me personally as I try to continue to wean myself away from distractions. This article emphasizes the importance of focus, especially for leaders. This statement alone is a good reminder for all of us:

“For a leader, though, focus holds the key to accomplishment. A leader’s control of focus matters personally, for the team, and for the whole organization.”

Something for you and me to think about

Last week on campus we had our fall term symposium, which is a day-long program built around a theme. The theme this year was relationships.

My day did not allow for me to participate in much of the programming, but I did see a sign in our Learning Commons that caught my attention (photo attached). The sign advertised a discussion called “How do we engage opinions we don’t agree with?”

I have not heard how that discussion played out, but I hope it was productive for all who participated.

Perhaps we, myself included, should ponder this question to examine our own approach to engaging opinions that are different?

I’ve been thinking about it since I saw the sign and know I have some work to do.

I posted a picture of this sign to my Facebook page and got a couple of interesting responses, including one that hit a little too close to home. The respondent (my amazing wife Jennie) wrote the following:

“One can’t engage without having listening skills, and many are unwilling to listen. People don’t listen to hear anymore; they’re too busy formulating their response to tell you your opinion (your experience, your perspective, your truth) is wrong and to tell you that you are a (insert derogatory noun, usually ending with -ist). In this current environment, one cannot respectfully agree to disagree; it’s all or nothing.”

I expect many of us see this too frequently and maybe even engage similarly.

Given the past few weeks and what we’ve witnessed in broader conversations, I am going to try to do better. I don’t want to be that guy who is formulating a response, when I should be listening to understand. How about you?

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). Once upon a time I tried to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

Monday musings on #highered and #leadership #emchat #admissions

Dear colleagues and friends,

I did not write anything last week because I spent Labor Day cleaning the pantry at home. I know that sounds really glamourous. But, I am back this week with a few thoughts to share with you.

We are in week three of the fall term and while it feels like the campus community is settling into a routine and our students are getting into a nice groove, it feels exactly the opposite in the world of External Relations. In fact, it feels like the pace is picking up, which is a very good thing.

I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong, creative and talented team of higher education professionals. Here’s a glimpse of what’s going on here.

The amazing financial aid staff at Augustana College continues to work with current students and manage all of the external reporting that is required this time of year. Augustana is very fortunate the have the best and hardest-working financial aid staff in the country. I may be slightly biased.

The recruitment staff is making final arrangements for fall travel and I am getting that sense of nervous excitement from everyone as the time draws nearer. There were lots of Rep Visits love at the most recent admissions staff meeting! Also, last Friday EVERYONE from the Admissions Staff was at our every-other-week staff meeting. Karen Dahlstrom could not recall the last time that happened. Others on the team are preparing for application review and fall visits to campus.

The advancement team is neck-deep in planning for Homecoming, Parents’ Weekend and our Campaign Kick-Off. Meanwhile, gift officers are doing excellent work positioning the case for our campaign and support of Augustana. Everyone is focused and excited about what will be a very busy fall.  

Communications & Marketing continues to do absolutely amazing work both on and off campus. I am always impressed by the work they do and how effectively they tell the story of Augustana College. I wanted to share this new addition, which they designed and may be found in the campus bookstore.

What do you think of President Steve Bahls’ new travel suitcase?

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 2.16.36 PM

I really dig it! Now, I of course wanted the link featured on the front of the suitcase to be to submit an application or make a gift, but I’ll settle for Augustana.edu.

I hope everyone out there is having a great start up to the academic year, too.


A thought I can’t get out of my mind

Over the summer, Brandon Busteed of Gallup shared something that I’ve been searching out since I read it first on LinkedIn. I finally found it over this past weekend.

Busteed recalled that when he started at Gallup, he interviewed leaders from across industries to try learn more about what leads to “a great job and great life.”

One of the individuals interviewed was Danny Kahneman, who is a Senior Scientist at Gallup and a Nobel Laureate. Busteed shared in his post a fascinating response from Kahneman, who replied, “That’s very simple…it’s TO CHANGE WHAT YOU BELIEVE.”  

I’ve been thinking about this since I first read it and trying to think about how this applies to leaders and leadership. So often leaders are expected to have all of the answers. How can they have all of the answers? Furthermore, what worked once upon a time might not today. How far can one dig in?

When I think of our politics it seems as though changing what one believes is seen as a weakness or liability. Sadly, I think this bleeds over into higher ed.

Having the confidence and support to change your mind when confronted with new information or evidence should be a core competency of an effective leader.

What do you think about this?

Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Panicked universities in search of students and adding thousands of new majors–This article from Hechinger Report is worth reading, but I really hope the ratings agencies won’t do so! This piece paints a pretty bleak picture many places face when adding programs and I fear that more journalism like this could derail mission-driven program additions that are well thought out and important to institutional growth and sustainability. But, I am also sure that there are plenty of places that add programs as a “Hail Mary” instead of thinking carefully about mission, demand and fit. I just hope articles like this don’t have an unfavorable impact on right-minded program additions.

What do you think? Too many programs being added for too few students?

Build self-awareness with help from your team-This is a great article from HBR written by Audrey Epstein that is worth your time. As many of you know, I completed a 360-review last year and continue to be very interested in self-improvement. In fact, last week I received some feedback about one of the areas that I am committed to improving upon. I noted this feedback and realize I still have some room to improve in this area.

This particular piece offers some solid advice that is summarized by Epstein in the following:

She writes, “If you want candid feedback, trust, and support from your teammates, try these five tips:

  1. Assume positive intent. Give your teammates the benefit of the doubt. Assume they are providing feedback not to judge you but to make you better.
  2. Talk to your teammates, not about them. You can’t solve problems with gossip. Venting without follow-up action ensures that you are building cliques and solidifying rifts. It takes courage, but talking directly and respectfully with teammates when something goes wrong can solve many misunderstandings without creating drama or bringing others into it.
  3. Care about your teammates’ success. Start by taking an interest in your teammates’ success. Ask questions about their concerns, know what their goals are, help where you can, and be a good listener and collaborator. You can’t be a Loyalist teammate if you don’t know what drives others’ success.
  4. Push your teammates to do their best work and vice versa. On Loyalist Teams, team members challenge each other to reach their goals. Loyalists don’t spend energy watching their own backs, so they take risks and reach higher. Start by asking your teammates to challenge you. Bring them ideas and ask for input. Ask for feedback on your plans. Embrace the idea that your teammates make you better.
  5. Ask for personal feedback. Before offering feedback, ask for it first. Ask your teammates what you could do to better support their success. Ask peers for suggestions on one behavior you could work on to become a better teammate. Give permission for teammates to share feedback by asking for it regularly and listening openly. Thank others for giving you feedback.”

That all seems like a pretty good advice to me. How about you?  

Something for you (and me) to think about

Last week a former colleague sent me a kind note and offered a book recommendation. The book recommended was Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson’s “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of The Customer Conversation.” I was unfamiliar with the book and author, but sufficiently curious that I bought the book and am now halfway through reading it. I’ll have more to share in future musings, but in a nutshell the author makes the case that the people who are best equipped to make a case are not always those with the deepest personal relations, but instead those who are “challengers.” His premise is that in a world of greater commodification, “solution selling” by challengers is going to be most effective.

This passage provides a glimpse:

“Solution selling is largely driven by suppliers’ attempts to escape dramatically increasing commoditization pressure as individual products and services become less differentiated over time. Because it is harder for a competitor to offer the full spectrum of capabilities comprising a well-designed solution bundle, it’s much easier to protect pricing in a solution side sale than in a traditional product sale.”

Now I know that sound really corporate and really salesy, but what lies beneath is a belief that those responsible for developing relations must ask deeper questions and propose solutions that cannot be matched by others. To me, this sounds an awful lot like recruitment and fundraising.

I think you can be on the lookout for a book recommendation or some assigned reading in the near future.

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

***This blogpost was updated on 9-11-2018 to provide a correction to the authors of “The Challenger Sale.”

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