On the Shoulders of Giants

Experiential education plays a prominent role in the history of Augsburg University. Augsburg’s second president, Georg Sverdrup (1876-1907), required students to get pre-ministerial experience in city congregations and early in the 20th century Augsburg adopted the motto of “Education for Service.” This motto reinforced the Scandinavian traditions and social ethic of community involvement, calling students and graduates to engage in their local communities.

In the mid-20th century, Joel Torstenson, who founded and chaired the sociology department, design new ways to manifest that motto through required field experience and the creation of a Social Science Research Center which engaged students and faculty in participatory action research. During this time Augsburg was referred to as “a College of the City,” reflecting the idea that our urban setting was an asset that invited expansion and pedagogical consideration. In 1967, Torstenson authored a paper titled “The Liberal Arts College and the Modern Metropolis” which was reviewed and endorsed by the faculty, leading to a complete revision of the curriculum to emphasize urban concerns.


Portrait of Garry Hesser
Garry Hesser

In 1977, a year before his retirement, Torstenson convinced his colleagues that it was critical to find a successor who was committed to experiential, community-based education and urban studies, and thus Garry Hesser was brought to Augsburg. Under Hesser’s leadership, and made possible by his fundraising efforts, Augsburg entered a new phase of service-learning. Staff positions dedicated to experiential education and service-learning were created, and practices further integrated into curriculum. For a more detailed account of Augsburg’s experiential education history throughout the 1980s and 90s, see Garry Hesser’s On the Shoulders of Giants: Building on a Tradition of Experiential Education

Experiential Education Historic Documents

The following documents provide more background on Augsburg’s history with experiential education.

Augsburg Experience and Engaging Minneapolis original framing document

Community Service-Learning at Augsburg College: A Handbook for Instructors (1994) 

Foundations of Experiential Education and Service Learning by Garry Hesser

Lesson on Vocation and Location: The Saga of Augsburg College as Urban Settlement by Paul Pribbenow

On the Shoulders of Giants: Building on a Tradition of Experiential Education by Garry Hesser


Strategic work

This website is the product of a strategic initiative conducted during the 2017/2018 academic year. The following links are presentations and documents created in conjunction with that strategic initiative and subsequent work.

Experiential Education Focused Conversation, April 2018

Experiential Education at Augsburg CTL presentation, May 2018

Vocation Portfolio Focused Conversation presentation, March 2019

Signature Experience and Problem-based Learning: A topic paper to inform Augsburg 150, December 2019