Dr. Andrea Talentino made her debut today as president of Augustana College. She is the ninth president in the college’s 161-year history.
Before coming to the Midwest, Talentino served as provost of Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. She said several features of Augustana drew her to the Midwest in particular, citing the college’s mission and community.
“Augustana has an incredible mission, which combines the liberal arts with her commitment to Lutheran educational values - which I believe are important in preparing young people to go out and meet the incredible challenges we have in our world today, some of which are tangible,” said Talentino. “We can think about issues like the environment and others, which are intangible, but just as important. So this mission that drives how we engage in the political discourse and whose difficult questions we reflect on.”
Talentino said the communities of Augustana and Rock Island have made the Quad-Cities a warm and welcoming place.
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“Community and diversity mean a lot to my family, and I think we’ve really been seduced by all of those things here,” she said. “It’s easy to see that the people here are more friendly, open and welcoming than a lot of places on the east coast, so that warmth and sense of community really drew us all in.”
Asked about her “first hundred days” as president of Augustana, Talentino said her first priority was to learn.
“I’m brand new, everyone here knows more than me at this point. So what I need to do in the beginning is find out more about the particular opportunity points and challenges for college,” she said.
In addition to delving deep into the institution, Talentino plans to continue current practices she deems important and drive success for Augustana students.
“I want to continue to ensure that students have many practical opportunities to support their learning in the classroom, to strengthen and connect with the surrounding community and to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, because no matter the amount of work you do there, it never gets done, and that’s something very important to me,” she said.
Talentino also plans to prioritize Augustana students, a quality, integrated college experience.
“I want to think about areas that we need to develop in terms of academic strengths, or areas where Augustana has a chance to build on its strengths and make things even better for students,” she said. “Most importantly, we want to continue the incredible student experience that binds this community so tightly together. I’m amazed at how much former students feel about this place, so we want to make sure current students have the same quality.
Talentino takes a holistic approach to the student experience, extending it beyond the classroom. She believes that learning also happens through peers, athletics, extracurricular activities, study abroad and research.
“All of these things are part of this transformational experience, so we want students to see them as building blocks that they can take into college,” she said.
Talentino has extensive experience with private colleges. Prior to Nazareth, she served as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. and served as Associate Dean at Drew University in Madison, NJ She also held a faculty position at Tulane University in New Orleans, La., and did postdoctoral work at Princeton University in Princeton , NJ
Despite this, she said several factors set Augustana apart from other private liberal arts institutions.
“I think what’s really different about Augustana is their commitment to service. Also, a commitment to think broadly about engaging with others to solve the problems facing the world,” she said. “A lot of places really want their students to get a liberal arts education; but Augustana is using this foundation to do something bigger, which is to prepare people to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.
Talentino referenced the work of Augustana alumni to salute the college’s success.
“They took the things they learned here and translated that into coming up with innovative and creative ways to help others, I think that’s probably the most fundamental and distinctive characteristic,” he said. she declared. “Augustana is fundamentally for people who want to think about having a bigger, more meaningful impact – it can be on your street or in your city, but have a legacy that benefits others.”
In the competitive world of higher education, Talentino recognizes that there are always areas for improvement. She hopes to find a balance between continuing Augustana’s legacy and developing new ideas for improvement.
“You always have to think of ways to improve, so we will develop new ideas and innovations while continuing to improve the things we already do well and want to do better,” she said. “When we’re striving for excellence, it sometimes leads us to say, ‘Hey, we already have this amazing stuff, let’s take it to the next level.’ We can do this consistently with who we are.
Talentino identified athletics, its career center programs, and outreach to prospective students as specific areas that Augustana has already begun working to improve.
Talentino expects challenges with the change. Yet she remains thrilled to collaborate with Augustana students and faculty.
“I didn’t come with a set agenda. This is where senior management and discussions with faculty and staff are really going to help me learn,” said Talentino. “It’s important that we deliver things in a way where the community feels involved and sees the benefits for the college and for their roles.
As she settles into the community of Augustana, Talentino is excited to learn more.
“I heard about Augustana before I applied, but I didn’t know much about it,” she said. “From what I’ve learned, I think the quality of this institution is incredible. I’m thrilled to have the chance to work with this amazing community.