Andrea Talentino has only been in her new job as Augustana College president for a month, but she’s already made a big impression on those around her.
Kai Swanson (Augie class of 1986), special assistant to the college president, said recently that in her interactions with colleagues, “it’s been interesting to watch her move seamlessly between asking what they do as professionals and engaging them with who they are as persons.
“She makes connections at a personal level, then is able to place the conversation in a context of our shared work and the mission of the college,” Swanson said. “President Talentino believes strongly in the power not just of higher education, but education with purpose. This will, I think, drive the innovation that seems to come through every conversation I’ve been part of.
“While I’m already convinced she will bring much that’s new and energizing to the presidency, I can also see clearly that she shares a passion I witnessed in those of her predecessors I came to know personally,” he added. “Seeing her early interactions with students who are here for the summer puts me in mind of the way Steve Bahls, Tom Tredway and even Conrad Bergendoff would connect with students. Like Andrea, their eyes would light up and you could see that at a very deep level they understood a fundamental principle at Augustana: it’s all about the students.”
Talentino started on the Rock Island campus July 1, after serving as provost of Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. She’s the ninth president in Augustana’s 162-year-histoery, and its first female leader.
Before arriving at Nazareth in 2017, Talentino was dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Norwich University in Vermont. Prior to that, she was an associate dean at Drew University in New Jersey. She also held a faculty position at Tulane University and did a postdoc at Princeton University.
Talentino earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Yale University, then completed a master’s and doctorate in political science from UCLA. While serving as dean at Norwich, she earned an MBA with a concentration in organizational leadership.
“It’s been great, I think a fantastic month,” Talentino said in an interview last week, after her first press conference announcing a new partnership with the city of Rock Island. “It’s been a lot of learning, meeting people.”
It’s been hectic – she hasn’t had much time at all actually in her office.
“Most of the time, I’ve been walking around campus or at some event in the Quad Cities, meeting someone around the Quad Cities,” Talentino said. “I’ve covered every inch of the physical plant, from the boiler room to the newest corner of Lindberg and everything in between.”
Last August, the college opened its newest facility – the $18-million, 52,000-square-foot Peter J. Lindberg, M.D., Center for Health and Human Performance.
Kimberly Murphy, professor of biology and partner in the new lead service line project with Rock Island, is the inaugural director of Augustana’s new Center for the Advancement of Community Health and Wellness.
“You would be amazed how little the president is in charge of,” Talentino said. “I have an amazing senior staff, so they really run their areas. My role is to really bring everyone together and make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction, we all have the same end point we want to get to. And we all are believing in the things we want to do as we get there.
“I don’t do much of anything,” she joked.
Augustana and Nazareth are similarly-sized private schools – Augie has about 2,500 students and Nazareth 2,200.
“Their commitment to service to others is really similar,” Talentino said. “Augustana I think has a much stronger focus on liberal arts education, as a more fundamental part of its core principles. In some ways, Nazareth lives that, but it’s not what it talks about, or how it defines itself.
“People here are super nice – not that they’re not at Nazareth, but I just think the Quad Cities, Midwest attitude is much more open and inclusive and warm, than the New York attitude,” she said.
Priority in fundraising
Talentino succeeded Steve Bahls, who retired after leading Augustana since 2003, strengthening the college’s financial position by helping to raise $300 million and more than doubling the endowment. Nearly $120 million has been invested in campus construction/renovation since 2003 to support new academic programs, athletics and the arts. His strategic plans aimed to advance campus diversity and equitable access.
Talentino is coming in during the challenge to match Augie’s largest single donation in its history – this past April, when 1975 alum Murry Gerber committed to give $40 million. That’s intended for financial aid and scholarships to high-achieving students from families with lower incomes, many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college.
Gerber will match gifts dollar-for-dollar in support of endowed financial aid up to $40 million, providing an additional $80 million to Augustana’s endowment.
That donation and challenge is over a 10-year period, Talentino said, noting fundraising is a major responsibility for any college president.
Traveling, networking and meeting Augie alumni is a big part of the job, and she’s starting that mainly in the QC area. “I was in the Twin Cities last week and we had an alumni event there, which was great,” Talentino said.
One of her priorities is to boost the percentage of Augie graduates who stay in (or return to) the QC region to work.
“Some students are from the area, which is great, but others we bring in – how do we vest them in work opportunities, social opportunities that make them say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to get out of here’,” Talentino said.
Steve Bahls was very committed to volunteering for so many local boards and nonprofits, and she looks to him as a role model.
“I don’t know I’ll do the same ones that Steve did, but absolutely, I want to be looped into giving to the community, for sure,” Talentino said.
“I’m a political scientist, so things that connect to that interest me,” she said. “Public health is also a big interest of mine. I think over the next couple weeks and months, I’ll identify some of those things.”
Local 4 contacted several colleagues of Augie’s new boss to reflect their first impressions. Here’s what they said about Talentino —
- Kelly Read Noack (class of ’02), Director of Alumni Engagement): “She is a very down-to-earth, easy to talk to and a likeable person. Andrea seems genuinely interested in getting to know the campus community, including staff and students and making Augustana her home. Andrea seems like the type of leader who is up for a challenge, open to new experiences and likes to have fun.
“I’ve been impressed by her intentionality of getting to know our alumni. At events, Andrea is very conscientious about meeting and getting to know all of our alumni. She is thoughtful about spending time with each person and listening to their stories and how Augustana has shaped their lives. Andrea is very interested in learning the Augustana story, what is important to our alumni and our current students and how that fits into our mission.
“I am excited by Andrea’s willingness to jump into new situations with alumni and the campus and Quad Cities community. It seems that Andrea and her family are embracing the Quad Cities community and are excited to make it their own. I’m excited about the new opportunities that I know she will bring to our community and the building upon Augustana’s strong past.
“Most of all, I am excited to work with Andrea as a person. I look forward to collaborating with her.”
- W. Kent Barnds, Executive Vice President for External Relations: “Andrea immediately dove into the presidency and leadership. I have been especially impressed with how naturally and authentically she engages every stakeholder—students, alumni and trustees. She listens hard and asks excellent questions. I can already hear her love of this place as she asks questions.
“She also has a great sense of humor. We arranged for her to every inch of campus in her first couple of weeks. One of the days included tours of our residence halls—it was 100+ degrees that day. She was fully engaged and interested in everything she saw. Moreover, she didn’t let the heat bother her at all. I think that afternoon revealed a lot about her leadership—not a lot bothers her and she’s ready for anything!”
- Sam Schlouch (’10), Assistant Vice President, Individual Giving and Estate Gift Planning: “I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with Andrea both prior to and since her start date and have been impressed, to say the least. She has been incredibly open and eager to engage with the campus community, as well as our alumni, trustees, parents, donors and Quad Cities leaders. Andrea clearly is being intentional about listening and learning as much as possible early in her tenure. Her ability to genuinely connect with just about anyone is admirable, and I can’t wait to introduce her to more of our alumni and friends.”
- Jason Mahn, Professor of Religion: “She is incredibly thoughtful, reflective, and personable. Andrea attended a Vocation of Lutheran Higher Education conference alongside 6 colleagues (staff, administrators and faculty from Augustana) in July. She was highly engaged in the whole conference–learning from others and sharing her own experiences.
“While in Minneapolis, Andrea also hosted an alumni event–a meet-and-greet the new president thing. She fielded questions from Augustana alumni whose ages ranged between 22 (a graduate from last year) to couples in their 80s. They asked Andrea questions about our Lutheran identity, the liberal arts, enrollment, and more. Andrea didn’t give stump speeches to them or answer with cliches. Instead, she responded in a very down-to-earth matter, recognizing the challenges facing Lutheran liberal arts schools but also very invested in and confident about all that we offer.
“Again here, she was incredibly reflective, personable, and–well–authentic in her conversations with alumni. I was especially impressed the way she spoke about our Lutheran identity–how we can live out deeply rooted Lutheran commitments to serve a diverse body of students who now come from an array of religious and nonreligious traditions.
“Andrea began her work in higher education as a political science professor, and she still contributes to that field. I am excited to have a teacher/educator as our president. She understands the power and importance of a broad liberal arts education and can speak to professors as easily as donors or other presidents about what Augustana is and how it lives out its deepest values. I think she will lead by example and bring out the best in me and my colleagues.”
- Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities: “I had the opportunity to recently connect and visit with Dr. Talentino. Immediately I felt like I had known her for years due to the ease of our conversation. She is incredibly approachable and it was a pleasure getting to know her. Extremely relatable and thoughtful as we met to discuss her approach towards community and our relationship.
“Her leadership background and perspective will be helpful to the Quad Cities and I am confident that her vision will value add. I know she will be a great partner but I also was inspired by her spirit and engaging personality. We can have some fun together as she drives Augustana College forward in a new and innovative direction. We are thrilled she and her family are here in the QC and I am personally excited to work alongside her.”
Partnering with the community
In her first major initiative, last Wednesday Talentino announced the new partnership between the college and the city, to inventory and replace lead water service lines across the city.
In the aftermath of the public health crisis in Flint, Mich., and other American cities, Illinois passed a law in 2021 to help protect communities and citizens from the dangers of lead pipes. In response, Augie students and faculty are taking their studies into the community to understand the issues and help find solutions.
Outside the Steve and Jane Bahls Campus Leadership Center (formerly Founders Hall, named for the immediate past college president), Talentino and other Augie leaders explained the new cooperative program.
“It’s so important because, number one, we’re in the community so we should be a community partner,” she said later. “Number two, we want our students to have connections and opportunities with things that are actually happening around. That’s really how you learn.
“And number three, sometimes students are really undervalued, but we have a lot of expertise here in faculty and staff, and the students can really make things happen,” Talentino said. “They can be the army, the folks you need, when you need a whole bunch of bodies.”
The partnership is needed to meet the requirements of state legislation – which came with no money, no additional expertise or personnel.
“You’re supposed to do this in a relatively short amount of time, and your community’s expecting you to do it,” Talentino said. “Community partnerships can maximize the benefit for everybody.”
Her former employer — Nazareth College in Rochester, N.Y. — also focuses a lot on community health, including providing free clinics to people (such as occupational therapy, play therapy, music therapy).
They had a huge partnership with the local Special Olympics, not only providing a place to train, but to give them access to help.
“People with cognitive disabilities are the most underserved nationally in terms of health care and wellness,” Talentino said. “We also did a lot with the homeless population.”
Nazareth had several departments working on that, she noted. “There are a bunch of great things that highlight bringing a lot of different people together.”
At Augustana, the water line project is part of CORE — which is about giving students experience in and exploration with things related to careers. CORE stands for Careers, Opportunities, Research and Exploration.
Students could get college credit for taking part in the LSL project, and hours will go on their Viking Scorecard, which is a checklist that identifies the most important things for students to do over their four years.
“Beyond the checklist, it’s a picture in a way of what they do and what they’ve done – so they can articulate that when they’re at an interview or trying to get a summer internship,” Talentino said.
Improving people’s lives
She and her husband have two adopted children – a 15-year-old boy from Vietnam and 11-year-old daughter (a Black girl from Newark, N.J.).
Part of what she loves about the LSL project is the opportunity to profoundly improve people’s lives.
“That kind of stuff is super important to me,” Talentino said. Her husband, Tom Tarnow, is a public-interest lawyer, working for Prairie State Legal Services.
“Housing is a big part of it, and they can help,” she said, noting you only qualify for the legal help if you meet lower-income guidelines. “He worked for legal aid in New Jersey and New York,” Talentino said.
She will be inaugurated as the ninth president of Augustana College on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022, the college board of trustees has announced. The ceremony will coincide with Augustana Homecoming weekend.