Michael Amolins — Curriculum Director, K-12 Assessment Coordinator

Michael Amolins

Michael Amolins, Covenant Award for Liberal Arts Recipient, 2006-07 Academic Year

Michael Amolins '07, originally from Sioux Falls, majored in ACS chemistry at Augustana. He received the Covenant Award for Liberal Arts for the 2006-07 academic year. 

Q.  Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana  your career path (what are you doing now), family, education (graduate school), travel, etc.

A. By far the most important steps in my journey since graduating from Augustana were becoming a husband and father. My wife Miriah and I actually got married in the Chapel of Reconciliation at Augustana, and have since had two sons – Henry (4) and Sawyer (2). After living in Sioux Falls for the first three years of marriage, we have since settled in Harrisburg, South Dakota, and have enjoyed being a part of such an up and coming community (along with a multitude of Augustana graduates). We enjoy spending our time doing things as a family, spending much of it being active outdoors and being active members of our community.

From a professional standpoint, my journey after Augustana took me to a graduate program in medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas, where I graduated with a master’s degree in 2009. During my time there, I specialized in natural products and drug design focused on treating various forms of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Outside of the laboratory, I became involved with a few activities in the Lawrence, Kansas, School District as well as graduate teaching assistant experiences. Both of these learning opportunities made me realize just how much I enjoyed the classroom, as well as how much I enjoyed the art of creating learning opportunities that allowed each and every individual to become engaged and have agency in their personal education. From there, I knew exactly where I wanted to be and never looked back.

Since graduating from KU, I have been employed full time with the Harrisburg School District, transitioning through various titles, including as a high school science teacher, student council and NHS advisor, and for the past three years as the middle and high school Curriculum Director and K-12 Assessment Coordinator. I earned my doctorate in education curriculum and instruction from the University of South Dakota in 2014 and have stayed active in the classroom at the post-secondary level, teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Education at The University of South Dakota. I have also continued to stay active in the science research and science education communities, working in various capacities as a laboratory researcher and professional development coordinator for science educators at Sanford Research, continuing to publish regularly in peer-reviewed science and education journals, as well as serving on numerous state and national advisory committees and boards as an advocate for science education and education in general.

Q. Favorite class or favorite professor at Augustana, and why?

A. Having been a chemistry major, you might guess that I would choose a course in the field. However, as much as I enjoyed many long, long days in the Gilbert Science Center, I would be remiss not to say that my time in the Augie Band with Dr. Bruce Ammann was some of my most influential. I think one of the most beautiful elements of an education at Augustana is how each and every person on campus embraces the liberal arts philosophy.

Throughout my life, I have had so many interests, and found that Augustana was a place where I could develop and explore my curiosities and grow personally.

Time in the band room was tranquility during the grind of other courses, while also serving as a place where Dr. Ammann pushed us to meet and exceed our potential both musically and personally. He knew and understood each of us, knew that our lives would eventually take us each down different paths, and cared deeply about the fact that we would take our musical experiences with us. He knew that those experiences would shape us in some way or another. My time in the Augustana Band and my relationship with Dr. Ammann helped form many of the characteristics that make me who I am today.

Q.  What were you involved in that prepared you for the present and future?

A. What is really incredible about this question is that I had absolutely no idea during my time at Augustana that I would be entering the world of K-12 education as a profession. I had always gravitated towards teaching, but at the time suspected that this would take place in the form of a professorship. However, during graduate school at The University of Kansas I became involved both in some local K-12 activities and graduate assistant experiences that made me realize just how much I enjoyed the classroom, as well as the art of creating lessons that allowed each and every learner to be engaged and reach their potential. From there, I knew exactly where I wanted to be and never looked back.

What I found over time, however, was that my experience at Augustana prepared me, more than I had ever realized at the time, for this pathway. The Liberal Arts training that I was afforded has made it possible for me to learn how to relate to individuals and experiences in numerous fields, how to develop applied and interdisciplinary experiences for the learners I work with every day, and how to find the balance that I need to be a dedicated husband and father.

In that sense, the organizations I was involved with (Augustana Band, the Augustana Chapter of the American Chemical Society, tutoring, intramurals, and various service projects), the classes I took (from chemistry to music to archaeology), and the relationships I built (with professors, staff, and peers) have all contributed to the person I am today and will continue to contribute to the person who I strive to be.

Q.  Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?

A. As a teacher, it would have to be receiving the American Chemical Society Midwest Region Award for Excellence in High School Teaching, which is essentially a seven-state regional chemistry teacher of the year award, in 2013. I was incredibly humbled to have received this honor, and was thrilled to be in the company of an Augustana alum that many believe to be the greatest high school chemistry teacher of all time (and who was my high school chemistry teacher), Mr. Gene Erickson ‘55, who won the award in 2003.

As an education administrator, it would be contributing to the planning and development of both our Personalized Learning and Early College programs in the Harrisburg School District, along with sustaining success in numerous other initiatives. In each case, we are pushing the boundaries of a system that has been known to fail far more learners than it ever should have been allowed to do. By working as a team to find innovative solutions to this problem, we have created numerous pathways that meet the needs of learners while also providing the flexibility to ensure that each of them reaches their potential, has an opportunity to explore their interests, and leaves our district college, career, and life ready.

Q.  If you could offer an Augustana student some advice, what would you say?

A. Although you may not always realize it in the moment, always run under the assumption that the Augustana community is investing in you as much as you are investing in them. You will find out very quickly that our alumni are a family that looks out for one another. The lines between graduating classes start to blur and, in a sense, you start to forget which individuals actually attended Augie at the same time that you did. I believe this speaks volumes to the Augustana community that we are all fortunate to be a part of. As you complete your time on campus and prepare for your future, know that you will always be supported personally, professionally, and in faith by those who have shared in your experience at Augustana.

Q.  A foundation for life at Augustana begins with our five core values  Christian Faith, Liberal Arts, Excellence, Community and Service. How did your time at Augustana help to ensure those values remain central in your life?

A. I was the first generation on either side of my family to attend college. My parents worked extremely hard to ensure that I would have every opportunity to become the person that I wanted to be, and for that I will forever be grateful. Upon choosing to attend Augustana, I don’t think I fully understood at the time what commitment and investment I would be making in myself and in the Augustana community. However, because the five core values are engrained in everything and everyone on campus, it became a foregone conclusion that they would be carried with me as I left campus. A phrase that I heard so many times during college was enter to learn, leave to serve. It is such a powerful statement because its two components cannot coexist if the core values are not there to bridge them together. Learning comes with the responsibility to do so in a way that is broad (Liberal Arts), connected (Community), and intent on great depth (Excellence), while also assuming that what is learned will not only support you but also empower others (Service). All of this, of course, can only come together under the onus of walking with Christ during your journey (Christian Faith), both for the purposes of support and guidance. It is this philosophy that drives conversation, creativity, and connectedness at Augustana.