Augustana Focuses on Academic Innovation as it Begins to Implement its Viking Bold Strategic Plan

Dr. Colin Irvine, executive vice president and provost, teaches at Augustana's outdoor classroom on campus.

The plan is done: Now it’s time to execute.

As Augustana University begins to implement phases of its Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030 strategic plan, nearly every element of university life could experience energizing change – especially those opportunities related to academics.

Dr. Colin Irvine sits at the center of it, navigating everything from a new academic structure to emerging professional programs and international relationships.

“It’s exciting,” said Irvine, Augustana’s provost and executive vice president. “We’re engaged in an intentional approach to creating our future, integrating and elevating the liberal arts throughout the institution in ways that are original and sustainable.”  

New Schools

Executing the academic elements of the Viking Bold plan begins with restructuring academic programs into colleges and schools, supported by a strategic plan built upon the university’s core values of Christian, liberal arts, excellence, community and service.

A College of Arts and Sciences is being organized, and all students will take courses housed in this college, including those tied to the core curriculum as well as programs in all three current academic divisions, meaning the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. From there, they will be able to take courses and pursue degrees in other schools – such as a School of Education and School of Music – depending on their degree programs and academic interests.

“We looked at a number of models for doing this, with the goal of developing one specific to Augustana that does not create any barriers for students who wish to explore or change paths,” Irvine said. “So, all will come into the College of Arts and Sciences and from there can take one or many courses in the other colleges and schools.”

Some academic departments have become complex enough – such as education – that it makes sense to organize a school around it. For similar but different reasons, a School of Music is being established in order to further elevate this excellent program and facilitate more innovation as well as more cooperation with the community.

“We anticipate these changes will elevate the profile of academic programs in the eyes of the region and particularly the way they are appreciated and accessed by members of the Sioux Falls community,” Irvine explained. “With respect to the School of Music in particular, it will provide opportunity for any of our students interested in further developing their artistic skills regardless of whether they’re going to go into music or music business or plan to be a nurse or serve in any other profession. In short, our new schools will be characterized by inclusive, liberal arts excellence as opposed to exclusive specialization.”  

Center for Interdisciplinary Programs

Irvine is especially energized by Augustana’s new Center for Interdisciplinary Programs, which is being established to coordinate existing and enhance new interdisciplinary offerings.

That center will offer programs such as medical humanities, which he said pairs well with programs in healthcare professions such as nursing, biology, business administration, athletic training, philosophy and theology to “complement students’ understanding of health, health care in our culture, and provide the full range of experiences — from learning about ethics to issues and problems and opportunities associated with health care,” he said.

“A student can go to many institutions in the region and get a nursing degree. But this type of interdisciplinary program built around hands-on, high-impact practices can deepen their nursing experience through a pathway program – meaning Augustana is thinking hard about creating a really profound experience alongside your major.” — Dr.  Colin Irvine, executive vice president & provost

“We’re looking at programs that are distinctive, innovative, financially sound and place-based, including programs in intercultural studies, Latin American studies, environmental studies and aging studies,” Irvine said. “We want these programs and the faculty and students who drive them to draw on where we are located and to provide meaningful, transformative experiences in and out of the classroom.”  

Professional Programs

Viking Bold’s academic goals also include establishing new academic programs that will grow enrollment, diversify revenue and address area workforce priorities. 

A professional school is planned to prepare students for a specialized field. Augustana is conducting feasibility students for optometry, dentistry and aeronautics programs.

“Right now, we’re thinking we will end up settling on one, but all three are possible. We’re really just beginning,” Irvine said. “We have undertaken initial research studies to identify these three programs as being warranted for further exploration, and in phase one of the strategic plan we’re continuing that investigative process.”

Augustana will be looking at how to partner with area institutions to offer something “decidedly different,” he added. “We’re not planning to add another professional program. We’re instead trying to add a different and unique program that represents the best fit for the community and the university.”

There also are undergraduate programs in biomechanical engineering and forensics being developed.

“We’re working on those this coming year,” Irvine said. “And we’re looking to partner with area hospitals, medical schools and criminology departments in the case of forensics. We believe these programs build on strengths that already exist at Augustana, and we anticipate rolling them out within the three-year time horizon tied to phase one of our 2030 strategic plan.”

One new professional program – the MBA – already has launched with solid interest from existing undergraduates and professionals in the area seeking to further their education. The first undergraduates in a four-plus-one program will begin this fall, and the first cohort of two-year MBA students will start a year later in the summer of 2021.

“Because we have such a strong business program and we’re so well situated to offer it in Sioux Falls, it’s always been a priority to add this opportunity,” Irvine said. “Given Augustana’s outstanding reputation for rigor and academic excellence, the response has been very encouraging, but not surprising.”

A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program also is moving forward, with a director in place and a clinical coordinator being hired in the coming months. Director Dr. Matt Volansky has spent his career leading and navigating change as a lifelong learner. Not only does he have an MBA in healthcare, he just completed his Ph.D. in biomedical informatics involving the application of machine learning within the physical therapy profession.

“The DPT degree is innovative, collaborative and flexible. It will give students an interdisciplinary approach to developing valuable clinical data analysis skills through coursework delivered using a revolutionary hybrid blend of technology and hands-on learning." — Dr. Matt Volansky, DPT program director

The experiential components of the DPT degree will expand opportunities for social innovation and entrepreneurship, encourage connections with alumni in related fields, and facilitate partnerships across the campus, in the community, and beyond.

Volansky said, “It will ensure that Augustana will be the first choice for many talented, ambitious and diverse prospective students, and it will produce alumni who are prepared to address the health care challenges of tomorrow and embrace lifelong learning.”

As the program continues to come together, clinical options will be offered to students in Sioux Falls, throughout the Upper Great Plains Region, and beyond.

“The program is built on experiential learning, and the critical thing to understand about this program is that the clinical experiences can be anywhere in the country,” Irvine said. “We want many of them in Sioux Falls, of course, but we have flexibility to provide them to students in areas where they want to live.”

Augustana also will be adding graduate master’s and doctoral-level nursing programs, with emphasis on education, management, acute care and genomics.

“We’re developing those nursing programs in the next year,” Irvine said. “And the genomics piece, in particular, will build on the strengths of our genetic counseling program.”

International Connections

Another piece of the Viking Bold strategy involves deepening relationships with schools and tribal colleges regionally along with secondary schools and universities in Norway and throughout Asia.

“We’ve begun hosting students during our January term from Norway and China,” Irvine said. “These customized programs enhance curricular and co-curricular experiences on campus not just for those visiting from other countries but for our own students who elected not to go abroad during the winter term. To stay in Sioux Falls and spend time with classmates and, in some instances, roommates from other countries, is to have a wonderfully intensive and authentic encounter with individuals from other cultures who have different perspectives.” 

A dozen students from Norway visited this January, two dozen are planning to come next year, while up to 50 could be on campus in January by 2022. Augustana also is working on agreements in China and exploring options in India to bring still more students to Sioux Falls through these customized and creative academic programs and exchanges.

“The students who had the opportunity to come this year from Norway and China were, in many cases, the best of the best. That’s who we’re getting,” Irvine said. “We’re getting the best and the brightest, and they’re getting to experience firsthand all that Sioux Falls has to offer.”

By taking a fresh look at the academic calendar – including the January term and summer – more opportunities have opened up and will continue to open up, he added.

“We’re trying to get away from the idea that everything is a semester or a year or four years,” he said. “The solution to the challenges that higher education is facing is not more of the same, but instead, excellence through integration, differentiation, innovation and inclusion.”  


Note: Graduation from a physical therapist education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 1111 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA 22314; phone; 703.706.3245;; is necessary for eligibility to sit for the licensure examination, which is required in all states. 

Augustana University is seeking accreditation of a new physical therapist education program from CAPTE. The program is planning to submit an Application for Candidacy, which is the formal application required in the pre-accreditation stage, on May 31, 2021. Submission of this document does not assure that the program will be granted Candidate for Accreditation status. Achievement of Candidate for Accreditation status is required prior to implementation of the professional phase of the program; therefore, no students may be enrolled in professional courses until Candidate for Accreditation status has been achieved. Further, though achievement of Candidate for Accreditation status signifies satisfactory progress toward accreditation, it does not assure that the program will be granted accreditation.

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