A Shared Mission
Founded by the Lutheran Church, Augsburg College infuses its recovery program with the same call to service and leadership that has guided this liberal arts school for almost 150 years.
In the heart of Minneapolis, Augsburg College has built one of the most successful Collegiate Recovery Communities in the country. It is a cornerstone of the national recovery movement. Established 17 years ago, StepUP at Augsburg has served over 700 students to date, transforming young lives as it fosters a strong sense of community and promotes a lifelong commitment to service and leadership.
Augsburg’s comprehensive, nurturing approach to recovery combines structure and support, offering everything from a substance-free student residence hall to ongoing counseling. The admissions policy is unique in that StepUP accepts students with a minimum of six months’ continuous sobriety—earlier than most recovery programs.
StepUP Director Patrice Salmeri, MA, LADC, shared her thoughts on the growth and staying power of this landmark program, which now has 95 students enrolled: “Augsburg’s mission statement calls for students to be informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders. The school is driven by a commitment to those values, with a strong emphasis on service to others. That speaks loudly to what we do in StepUP. Our mission, with a focus on leadership and service, is perfectly aligned with that of the college. That’s extremely important, and it’s one of the things I stress when I meet with other schools interested in starting their own recovery programs.”
By the time they come to StepUP, some students have tried as many as five colleges, without success. “What’s special about Augsburg is that whatever GPA you had when you walked in gets wiped away,” Salmeri said. “You start fresh. And because we’re a small liberal arts school, the staff and faculty are well acquainted with the program and our students, and there’s a culture of acceptance here. There’s no stigma about being in recovery.”
Parents of new StepUP students are, in a word, nervous, Salmeri said. Some of them have spent their entire college fund on treatment, so they have financial concerns. Maybe their child was unsuccessful at other colleges, and they’re wondering if this time will be any different. “We talk a lot about being hopeful,” Salmeri said. “It’s not just the students who grow, but their families, as well. They had their identified patient, but now that patient has gotten well and is ready to build trust and have a voice at the table. The family dynamics change. It’s very rewarding to watch all that unfold.”
To participate in StepUP, students must agree to live on campus, in an alcohol- and drug-free residence hall called Oren Gateway Center, designated solely for the recovery program. During their first year, they have community-style housing, with 12 to 15 people (and a kitchen) on each floor. The next year, they can move into an apartment, also housed within Oren Gateway, to experience more independent living.
StepUP students have individual sessions with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor every week, as well as floor meetings in the residence hall and large community meetings, including Twelve Step meetings on campus. In the residence hall, each floor has a community advisor—usually a junior or senior StepUP student—trained by the Department of Residence Life.
“I think the students would say that community is what makes the difference,” Salmeri said. “At Oren Gateway, there are 95 students who have experienced similar struggles. They’re like-minded and working toward the same goal. The residence hall gives them a sense that they can go to school and be part of the general college population but still have a safe place to come home to at night. There are people there who will listen to them, who know what they’re going through—and who are fun to be with. There’s no shortage of fun around here.”
As students begin transitioning out of the program, Salmeri and her staff help them ease into residential neighborhoods around Augsburg. “Already, they will have been engaged in the community because we present at schools and conferences and do other service projects,” Salmeri said. “But then we help them take that next step. We just had a group of guys from StepUP who rented a house together and two girls who rented an off-campus apartment together.”
Just as students continue taking new steps forward, the StepUP program itself keeps evolving and broadening its reach. Augsburg has developed a successful mentoring program at local recovery high schools and is planning an on-campus leadership summit for those students. Salmeri and her staff are also working to replicate StepUP at other colleges and universities. They’ve already been successful at the University of Vermont, as well as two Minnesota schools, The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth and St. Cloud State University. At both St. Cloud and St. Scholastica, the recovery programs are run by StepUP graduates from Augsburg.
“I wish it would spread faster,” Salmeri said. “I think it’s such a great model for students to graduate and then give back by helping other programs start. The theologian Frederick Buechner wrote that ‘Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.’ We really believe that here, and we ask students to think about it—to thoughtfully ask themselves, ‘What is my passion?’ and ‘How can I give that to a world that is very needy?’”
While there are many rewarding aspects of her job, Salmeri said one stands out above the rest—graduation. “There’s nothing like watching these students thrive and reach their goals,” she said. “And it’s amazing to see parents, some of whom didn’t think their kids would even be alive now, watch those graduates walk down the aisle. This is my dream job. It has been from the very beginning.”
AUGSBURG AT A GLANCE
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Campus Character: The only college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with its main campus located in the heart of a large urban area, the vibrant Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis; many opportunities in the Twin Cities for service-learning, internships, research, and employment within neighborhood groups, Fortune 500 companies, and arts and cultural organizations; diverse student body.
Number of Students: 3,720 “Auggies”
Academic Offerings: A four-year, accredited, private liberal arts college; more than 50 undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences and nine graduate degrees; blend of classroom theory with hands-on research programs and off-campus learning opportunities in Minneapolis; award-winning study abroad office with academic locations around the globe; named a “Best in the Midwest” college by The Princeton Review and regularly recognized on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll; career and internship services provided through the Strommen Center for Meaningful Work.
Points of Interest: Main campus comprising 23 acres surrounding Murphy Square, the oldest park in Minneapolis; one of the most accessible college campuses in the region, with a system of skyways and tunnels for ease of navigation in any season.
General Campus Contact Info: Augsburg College, 2211 Riverside Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55454 (612-330-1000).