Senior reflection: running through the years

Justin Verlinden
Justin Verlinden
May 21, 2020

I don’t think there’s any way to sum up my Augie experience in 900 words or less. Even if I had 10,000 words, I’m not sure that I could do it justice. In fact, no collection of words can. The Augie experience is simply one you must experience for yourself. It’s an experience that is indescribable, yet it’s one that all Augie grads can relate to.

My cross country and track coach for my first 2 years at Augie, the legendary Paul “Ols” Olsen, had an infamous philosophy for our program that said, “the journey is the goal”. I may have come to Augustana to receive a degree but my ultimate goal was for a life-changing journey along the way. And did I ever achieve that goal.

Justin gives a thumbs up

Academically, I have achieved more than I ever anticipated. Not that I did bad in high school, but my academics in college have been even better. I’ve been challenged by professors to truly tap into my intellectual capabilities and as a result I’ve achieved things I previously didn’t think I could.

Coming in I anticipated going to PT school, and I nearly did. I was fortunate enough to be interviewed and accepted to some of the best PT schools in the country. I even deposited at one. 

But through my Augie education, I fell in love with another field: neuroscience research. And with that, I’m now going to pursue a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Kentucky. 4 years ago, I couldn’t have predicted that.

This career change was shaped thanks to an experience I used my Augie choice on: a summer at the Texas Medical Center. Roughly 15 Augie students are selected to do various clinical and research internships there for 2 months, being exposed to leaders in various fields of study in a world class research environment. 

It’s unbelievable that a small school like ours gives their students an opportunity like that. Let me take that back. . .
It’s not unbelievable. It’s simply Augustana.

Justin jumps from a cliff into a body of water

But aside from academics, I was also able to excel in extracurriculars. In high school I was quiet and introverted (and to some extent I still am). A lot of this was due to self-doubt and little confidence. And while remnants of this still linger, I’ve become much more confident socially than I ever could have imagined. 

Working in the Admissions Office helped shaped this. To be a good ambassador, you need be good with people and I was able to hone both my social and communication skills by having this role. 

But it also helped me learn so much more about the school and fall even more in love with it. Even though the summers can be brutally hot, and the winters brutally cold, walking prospective students and their families down the slough path never got old. 

My enhanced confidence allowed me to develop my leadership skills too. I was asked to join SGA my sophomore year and was hesitant at first. But two older classmates of mine saw something in me that I didn’t, and they insisted I join. So I did.

I ended up falling in love with it. 

Justin and friends at the capitol building

Eventually, I decided to run for Speaker of the Senate and, somehow, my peers were crazy enough to elect me. This role exposed me to the more negative parts of Augustana. It could be easy to get cynical about things but, ever the optimist, I refused. 

Instead, I fought for improvements. Over the course of the past four years, Augustana has improved in many different areas (no thanks to me but thanks to the wonderful students and administrators here). While there is still work to be done, I have no doubt that that work will be fulfilled.

And of course, I can’t forget to mention one of the major factors that initially drew me to Augustana: cross country and track. Being a student-athlete was an unforgettable experience that helped keep me mentally and physically fit throughout the daily stresses of college life. 

But there’s one thing that’s more important than the athletics, academics, or the various traits I developed over my time here. And that’s the people.
Whether it be professors, administrators, dining hall workers, grounds crew, alumni, coaches, and, of course, the students— the people at Augustana have truly made me feel as though I was member of a family. 

As much as I’ll miss the slough path, Fresh Fruit Fridays, or running on the track, I’m definitely going to miss the people the most. I’ve made a lot of connections that I hope will last a lifetime. At the very least, I’ve made memories with them that will.

Another popular saying Ols had was that our program was, “a celebration of life”. I took that to heart. Every day I was on campus, no matter what I was dealing with that day, I made it a point to celebrate life and enjoy the moment. And now that I think about it, so many other people at Augustana did that too. That’s one of the reasons why Augustana is so great.

Throughout the past four years I celebrated life and, as a result, it made for one hell of an experience. The journey is the goal. And what a journey it was. 

Justin Verlinden
Justin Verlinden

Justin graduated in 2020, double majoring in biology and neuroscience with a minor in creative writing. He conducted research at Baylor College of Medicine, where he investigated the use of several brain imaging scans to detect early structural and functional differences in young mice with Alzheimer's, with the hope of eventually developing an early diagnostic tool for the disease. He currently is pursuing a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Kentucky.