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AUGSBURG COLLEGE PROGRAM HELPS STUDENTS STAY OFF ALCOHOL

Don Warren heads Augsburg's StepUP program.

Don Warren heads Augsburg's StepUP program.

As colleges and universities attempt to address the issues of student drinking and drug use, Augsburg College (ELCA), Minn-eapolis, leads the way. Its StepUP program serves undergraduates who are in recovery and want to stay sober while continuing their education.
Unique among Lutheran colleges and serving as a national model, StepUP was begun four years ago by its director, Don Warren, Augsburg staff member. The residential program with a strong peer support component serves 39 Augsburg students and has the potential for 60.
U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and U.S. Congressman Jim Ramstad will be keynote speakers April 6 when Augsburg convenes a StepUP symposium focusing on the educational needs of students in recovery from addiction. U.S. Senator Mark Dayton has also been invited.
According to Warren, “Our target population is students in grades 9-12 who are in recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), whose education has been disrupted by alcohol or drugs and who want to get back to school and succeed academically.” He adds, “The majority of the young people we see started using substances at around the age of 12 or 13.”
Warren sees StepUP as a natural link with Minnesota’s ten sober high schools, seven of them in the Twin Cities metro area. “Minnesota is one of very few states looking at the recovery side of the issue,” he says. “Wellstone and Ramstad are already interested, and we are hoping to gain the attention of Dayton.”
Most other colleges stress prevention. What makes Step-UP unique is its focus on support in recovery combined with academic counseling.
StepUP is a contractual arrangement between Augs-burg College and participating students. “They sign a contract that requires several things of them,” Warren says. “They must attend weekly AA meetings and weekly floor meetings in Andersen Residence Hall, where they live. They must attend classes, turning in their assignments on time. Each student must have a sponsor, an adult in recovery with whom they meet regularly. They must also attend monthly StepUP gatherings we call circle meetings.”
During the 2000-01 academic year, the program had grown to 42 participants from Augsburg’s 1,700-member student body, but Warren reports three recent evictions. That’s a far better success rate than anticipated.
“When I first planned the program I asked people at Hazelden Treatment Center to look at my proposal,” Warren says. “They were encouraging, but they warned me to expect an 85% relapse rate. Instead, our relapse rate has been between 7-10%.”
Adam McWethy, an Augsburg junior from Washington, D.C., likes what he’s experienced in the program. “What has helped me is the living environment,” he says. “I have a place to go that’s safe, with 14 other people in the same situation working toward a common goal.”
Three units of Andersen Hall house StepUP students, two of them all male, one co-ed.
“Before I started treatment I was a daily drinker and used amphetamines,” McWethy says. “I’ve been sober and drug-free for two and a half years, and my grade point average (GPA) is 3.4.”
Says Augsburg student Michel Boudreaux, “Everyone in the program meets with Don Warren or Dave Hadden [StepUP assistant director] once a week to talk about how our recovery and our academics are going. Once a month we all have a round-table with Don and Dave and talk about issues, events and any problems.” Boudreaux is a sophomore from Seattle, Washington.
Boudreaux enrolled at Augsburg as a freshman, following treatment at Hazelden and three months in a recovery center. He appreciates having “a support group of people who have the same lifestyle and who face the same obstacles.” He says, “I’ve learned good study skills, and having everyone in the group committed to studying helps keep me motivated.”
Boudreaux’s GPA has climbed to 3.7 (a 4.0 is a straight-A average).
Says Warren, “What the students are very good at is spotting another addict in difficulty before we leaders notice the signs. They step in and say, ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ There’s a spiritual dimension at the heart of the program.”
“Recovery is a spiritual issue,” says Dave Hadden. “Ad-dictions remove people from a healthy spiritual path. AA’s twelve-step process goes back to the Oxford Movement [of the 18th-century Anglican Church].” Some of the StepUP students plan to attend seminary after graduation.
“The foundation of AA is service,” Warren says. “One of the indicators of a healthy recovery is giving back to others.
“I think StepUP is having a positive influence at Augsburg. We’ll have a booth at the campus health fair in April. And the college judicial council has started asking our students to speak with offenders who are called before the council.”
Warren and Hadden made a presentation on StepUP at the U.S. Department of Education national conference, “Alcohol, Other Drugs and Violence Pre-vention in Higher Education,” in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during October, 2000.
In January, 2001, nine of the StepUP participants studied in Prague, Czech Republic, as part of a travel course taught by Professor Stu Stoller of Augsburg’s business department. While Hadden managed the campus StepUP group, Warren accompanied the traveling students to provide support. “Not one of those students relapsed in Europe. We’re going to try it again next year with a course in Thailand.”
For further information on the StepUP program, phone Don Warren at 612/330-1166. He can also provide information on the April 6 symposium. Or, call Kara Malmgren at 612/330-1405.