It Is All About The Mission

Exclusive Interview with Andrew Sound, President of St. Augustine College in Chicago

 

Story By: Steve Penhollow

 
 BILL WHITMIRE

BILL WHITMIRE

 

The phrase “man of the world” is customarily used to describe a person who appreciates the complexities of the human condition and who is able to view life from many vantage points. In this sense, it surely describes Dr. Andrew Sund, president of St. Augustine College in Chicago. Sund’s ability to adapt and relate to a broad spectrum of the student population is one of the reasons he has been so effective at the college.

But Sund is a man of the world in a more literal sense as well. Before he came to Wisconsin in the mid-1980s to attend college, he’d lived in Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Mozambique, Tanzania and Swaziland. His mother is a native Chilean who worked as a secretary for the United Nations and his father was a native of North Dakota who was interested in Latin American issues. His parents met in Brazil. Sadly, Sund’s father passed away when he was only a year old. Because Sund was born a U.S. citizen, he decided at the age of 18 to continue his studies in the States. The move from Swaziland to Wisconsin in January meant an almost 80-degree drop in temperature. Sund studied history and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, with a goal of developing a career in academics. He eventually moved on to the graduate history department at Northwestern University in Chicago.

To help cover some of his graduate school expenses, Sund started teaching classes at St. Augustine College. This was a pivotal moment in Sund’s life, as he has discussed in interviews. He’d been wondering if Northwestern was a bad fit for him. Discovering St. Augustine, therefore, was a revelation. “I felt the mission (at St. Augustine) was far more in tune with what I wanted to do as an individual,” he has said. Founded in 1980, St. Augustine College is the first bilingual institution of higher education in Illinois. 

Given his international background and his mother’s devotion to social issues, Sund was drawn to the college’s commitment to making higher education accessible to all and helping people integrate into society. Even as he earned his master’s degree at Northwestern and his doctorate in higher education policy and administration at the University of Illinois, Sund maintained a connection to St. Augustine, eventually taking on a variety of administrative roles at the college. At St. Augustine, Sund learned that a teacher and administrator can have a stronger and more positive impact on students’ lives at a small school versus a large school. After a dozen years at St. Augustine, Sund took a job as assistant dean for research and planning and dean of workforce and community education at Olive-Harvey College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. But in 2008, he was called back to St. Augustine to serve as its fourth president. St. Augustine was having financial difficulties at the time, Sund has said, and it needed someone with a comprehensive knowledge of how the institution was run.

Sund was in a unique position, perhaps, to empathize with students from diverse backgrounds and economic circumstances who have made enormous sacrifices to attend college. As someone fluent in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Swahili, Sund understood the importance of having the college operate convincingly at every level in two languages. Sund’s immediate challenges at St. Augustine involved increasing enrollment and enhancing the college’s academic reputation. Upon his return, Sund discovered that the college’s mission had become too diffuse; that it was trying to do too many things.

One of his accomplishments has been to refocus and hone that mission: To serve the Latino community and spread the message that St. Augustine is a bilingual school where immigrants are welcome. During the recent recession, St. Augustine experienced an enormous rise in enrollment of Hispanic students, according to an article in the bilingual Chicago newspaper, Extra. "The Hispanic community is composed of hard-working people that continually work towards a better life and are familiar with difficult times of an economic crisis," Sund told Extra. "The Hispanic community will not have their arms crossed during these times, but will do the opposite and do the right thing. In this case, they will return to the classrooms to study and graduate."

 

 

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