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June 22, 2006

What I learned at synod assemblies


Synod assemblies meet in a variety of places, such as hotel conference centers and college and university field houses or auditoriums. During the just-completed assemblies of the ELCA, one even gathered in a rural grade school gymnasium. It worked just fine, thank you.

It’s the college locations that were eye-opening for someone like me, a state land-grant university graduate (the first public school I attended). In my time at the University of Missouri-Columbia and vicariously through my two children’s combined eight years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I came to understand universities as heavy-hitter institutions, performing major research, offering degrees in 140 or more concentrations, near-professional athletics and teeming social life among the tens of thousands of students on campus.

I didn’t consider a smaller, liberal arts college because my brother and I were the first in our family to attend college, and financially that was only going to happen at a state school. My children followed my lead (I guided them, of course, based on my experience). So to spend a few days at ELCA institutions such as Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., was to discover a different perspective on college life and education.

What jewels these two schools are. Instead of sprawling campuses where class scheduling is a real challenge to get from one end of campus to the other in 10 minutes, these colleges offer intimate settings. The architecture of both is stunning, the facilities first-rate.

Both are recognized for academic excellence. With Wartburg hosting 1,800 students and Augustana 2,350, class sizes are small. The bulletin boards brim with success stories, fond remembrances of student days or tales of loyalty to the schools by their graduates.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my education and experience at Missouri for anything. My children are just as attached to Illinois. But Wartburg and Augustana and the other 26 ELCA colleges and universities provide another educational setting that should not be overlooked, even by those convinced bigger is better, or perhaps just more exciting.

See for yourself. Start with any of the ELCA colleges and universities like Wartburg and Augustana through their Web sites, and take an Internet tour. I think you’ll be as impressed as I was.

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