Using the latest technology to share knowledge and impact society is part of the Lutheran heritage. Martin Luther used the new technology of his day—the printing press—to share ideas faster and further.  

Today, Lutheran colleges and universities are using innovative technology to enhance education, community and a sense of vocation.   

Innovation for the future 

Daniel Black has been a faculty member at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, since 1993 and helped establish the engineering program there in 2002. “When we started the program, we didn’t have any additional resources for it,” he said. “It was considered a risky idea 20 years ago.” 

As enrollment increased, Black recognized that future students needed more space and equipment to learn. “We have students design projects, and we’d like to have them build them too,” he said. 

In 2016, Black was awarded a Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust grant to build an “Innovation Studio” at Wartburg. 

Students led this innovation from the beginning. Gabrielle Rohrer, a senior, said she helped measure rooms and decide what types of equipment would be perfect for the studio as a freshman.  

“Going from being basement storage rooms to the Innovation Studio made for quite a change in appearance,” she said. “The team room in particular was the most interesting transformation, considering that where there were once irrigation pipes running through the room there are now worktables and no evidence of the room’s previous use.” 

As Wartburg students learn to build their future, they’re learning to serve, from designing a board game for children with low vision to building solar-powered potting sheds.  

“Our real focus is to meld the technology that I got at a public university with the sense of vocation I found at a Lutheran college,” said Black, who received his doctorate in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University in Ames. 

Rohrer said, “I have been able to learn how to problem-solve and manage engineering projects in a way that has verified that I enjoy the career choice I am making.” 

The Innovation Studio’s work has global impact. Wartburg classmates from Sierra Leone and the U.S. have partnered on projects and received Davis Projects for Peace grants for designing a simple irrigation system and a solar-powered incubator for poultry farmers. The students were able to share the experience of implementing their projects in Sierra Leone. 

Wartburg alumnus Jakob Hamilton is continuing his manufacturing research education at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology and feels confident in his calling, which he credits to the studio. “Building or assembling objects has always given me profound joy, and the Innovation Studio allowed me to find this same joy in my career,” he said, adding that his instructors demonstrated that “marketable skills can coincide with one’s calling.” 

Black said the work happening at Wartburg gives hope: “If you spend about 10 minutes with the kids we have, it restores your faith in the future. It’s not just that they care. They really believe they can make a difference.” 

Teamwork and video games 

Outside the classroom, Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., is incorporating technology with the addition of esports in the athletic department due to its “incredibly exponential growth in popularity,” said Matthew Torres, the program’s head coach. The college is also offering esports scholarships to new students.  

Gaming as a team has benefits that gaming as an individual doesn’t. “Being part of the team provides a connection to other students and to the college that will benefit their academics through social and emotional learning,” he said. “The team and the program provide a place for students to share common experiences and feel as if they have an outlet with their peers.” 

Being part of the team helps students build skills for a multitude of situations. “I have seen a lot of teamwork, camaraderie and a lot of communication between students who are meeting for the first time,” he said, adding that gaming also improves hand-eye coordination and goal setting.  

“It really makes me happy that my belief in video games, which is that there is no better way to make new friends and memories than side-by-side with someone enjoying the same game, is being rewarded with meeting some of the most talented players I have ever seen,” Torres said.   

Building adaptive skill sets 

Students studying game design and 3D computer animation at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., use technology to solve problems in small groups. “This program requires students to use several combined skill sets and apply them to a specific problem,” said Ed Pogue, an art professor and chair of Bethany’s digital media arts department. “The small class size is ideal for effective engagement in teaching problem-resolution through technology.” 

Both the video game design and 3D computer animation majors involve a capstone project that focuses on solving a problem, making a budget and producing a product by a set time. “Working on a capstone project requires problem-solving, teamwork, communication, both time and financial management, and planning,” Pogue said.  

The programs teach students the technical skills they would need to find careers in fields such as animation, motion graphics and visual effects editing, but Pogue said it also develops skills that transcend these focus areas.   

“The program is not designed to focus on teaching creation of a certain product but to teach adaptive skills that can then be applied and enhanced because the skill sets taught in animation and game design have broader applications and ramifications,” he said. “In many cases, these skills can be adapted to serve a need, whether that be crisis aversion, safety or another type of service.”   

Tuning into vocation 

At Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., a new podcast studio gives students communication experience and creates connections outside of campus. An Oliver Innovation grant enabled faculty members from different disciplines to come together to create Studio 47. Students in any major can gain hands-on experience in the studio. 

Ann Rosendale, campus pastor at Augustana, helped create one of the first podcasts, “Calling All Years Good,” which centers on vocation. She interviewed an array of people who were connected to the Augustana community. “I spoke with people from age 3 to 83 about how they understand themselves, the world and their role in it,” she said.  

The podcast gave those involved and listeners space to better understand the breadth of vocation. “Too often we think of ‘calling’ as something that only comes to pastors and priests,” she said, adding that she hopes every listener leaves feeling affirmed in their unique vocation. 

Dana LeVan, a senior, received a grant to work as a research assistant in the studio. She has helped produce several music performance podcasts and helped edit “Calling All Years Good,” which made her think a lot about her own vocation. “My age group, myself especially, can become very consumed in our future careers and becoming successful in that sense, but our true vocations lie in what our neighbor is asking of us in the moment,” she said.  

Rosendale said, “Augustana University’s mission is focused around helping students discover their multiple vocations that use their God-given gifts and also serve the needs of the world. This podcast is one way that we live out the mission and spread the good news of God’s calling to an even wider audience.” 

Lifesaving learning  

Students at Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich., use a simulated patient called HAL S3000 to learn how to perform lifesaving medical interventions. HAL S3000, which can be described as a lifelike mannequin, was acquired through a grant from the Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation and is able to respond to students’ interventions.  

 “The simulators provide an opportunity to create a clinical situation and environment that students may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in,” said Ryan Bessolo, an assistant professor of nursing. “It allows instructors to develop various clinical scenarios that provide a challenging educational environment for students while also maintaining a safe learning situation.” 

Because HAL can be programmed in so many ways, students can learn in an innovative way at any stage of their education. “This technology can be utilized for students to practice basic nursing skills all the way to critical care scenarios involving lifesaving interventions,” Bessolo said, adding that the critical condition scenarios help students build an array of important skills and learn how to act in a high-pressure clinical situation. 

“It is beneficial for students to have this opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and develop appropriate plans of care for patients in serious medical situations.” 

Using the simulator, students are better prepared for patient care. “This technology has allowed faculty to help foster a learning environment that students can be successful in and will transcend into the patients they care for as professionals in the future,” Bessolo said.  

Rachel K. Hindery
Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter and a member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Ill.

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