The common good
Graduate helps individuals and communities define their values and future
Dale Nienow learned about how people with different backgrounds and goals can learn to live together when he was a graduate student and hall director at PLU, helping a diverse group of students get along and find their similarities.
“I got to stretch and I learned so much about how to create healthy learning communities,” said Nienow who earned his master’s in education in 1979 and serves on the Alumni Board.
After working for more than a decade in student life at University of Southern California and Seattle University, Nienow’s quest for social justice pulled him into community service.
He is executive director for the Center for Ethical Leadership in Seattle, where he helps communities divided by differences come together to create a shared future.
“There’s something that just takes hold when you see people engaged in their communities and discovering that a life of meaning is more important than a life of material accumulation,” Nienow said. “In higher education, I was working with students who planned to go out in the world and do these great things. Eventually I just knew I wanted to do that too.”
The nonprofit Center for Ethical Leadership helps individuals, communities and organizations define their core values, then put those values to work in service to “the common good,” which the center describes as a more just, inclusive and sustainable society.
One focus is on creating what the center calls “gracious space,” which creates opportunities for deeper listening and understanding, welcomes diversity and encourages the creative potential of disagreement or diverse views.
One of the center’s goals is to understand that leadership doesn’t reside just in the typical up-and-coming community leaders or executives, but that every member of a community has the capacity to effect change by aligning actions with values.
In 2002, the W.W. Kellogg Foundation chose the Center for Ethical Leadership to help create and manage Kellogg Leadership for Community Change. The Kellogg Foundation has for more than five decades been at the forefront of leadership development programs nationally. The innovative KLCC program focuses on communities rather than individuals, seeking to develop the leadership capacity of entire communities so they remain stronger and more successful well into the future.
Last summer Nienow got to visit eight KLCC communities, which include a small African American community in Michigan, an immigrant community in Boston, a coal mining community in Appalachia, a Latino community in Denver and a Native American community in Bellingham, Wash. Nienow describes it as the most powerful trip of his life.
“I came away from this trip more hopeful about the future of the country than I have ever been,” he said. “There’s so much talent and wisdom in these communities.”
Nienow said he has witnessed incredible transformations in the KLCC communities. For example, on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, where whites and Native Americans share a high school, residents are overcoming divisiveness and stereotypes and realizing they share the same goals for the future. The community is working to help all children succeed in school.
And in New Mexico, Nienow said Hispanics and Native Americans are finally finding their similarities and working together after 400 years of living side by side. Both communities have worked to include their language and culture in the curriculum of the school they built together to make the history and traditions of each more meaningful for the youth and future generations, Nienow said.
“They’re weaving together a whole different way of working together,” he said.
Nienow said the Center takes care when going into communities, especially those stung by racial or ethnic divisiveness, to show respect and earn their trust. Center staff members don’t go in as experts who will tell residents what to do, but rather ask them to share their stories, value their input and help them find their own direction.
The Center also provides training and consulting for businesses, government and nonprofit organizations, and other agencies. Many times, finding their values means realizing that more than one ideal can exist.
For instance, Nienow believes businesses can be both profitable and good stewards of earth; it need not be a choice between making money and protecting the environment. And communities can embrace their traditions while being open to those from other cultures.
“We need to think in new ways how to integrate important concepts,” he said. “A lot of the future depends onto holding onto two truths at the same time, rather than adopting a single truth to conquer people. We’re taking small steps, but this is powerful work that can change the world.”
PLU crew star takes his love of rowing all the way to world championships
PLU crew standout Bjorn Larsen ’03 had competed at many levels, but getting to the world championships in Japan last summer put him in a whole new echelon.
“You’re racing guys who had raced in the Olympics,” Larsen said. “There were good crews all around. It was fun to line up next to guys that you had seen in racing videos and always thought were fast. And now, you’re close to the same speed.”
Rowing lightweight men’s double sculls, he and his teammate, Mike Altman, placed fourth in the B final for a 10th place finish overall in the 2005 FISA World Rowing Championships.
Getting to that point took a lot of hard work and dedication. Larsen, who grew up in Lake Stevens, Wash., discovered rowing by following his best friend and freshman year roommate Jed Stoken ’04 to a crew interest meeting. He started out on the novice team, joining the men’s varsity team his sophomore year.
With a core group of rowers sticking around all four years, the team began winning competitions – placing first in the men’s lightweight 4+ at the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships and first in the petite final in the open 4+ at the Pacific-10 Rowing Championships Larsen’s junior year.
Bjorn Larsen ’03 and Mike Altman, give it their all at the World Rowing Championships. Larsen is training to race in the 2008 Olympics. Photo by Ed Hewitt, row2k.com.
The next year, Larsen’s team won the gold medal in the lightweight men’s 4+ race at the 2002 Dad Vail Regatta.
“We were all focused on the same goal,” said Larsen, who was varsity captain his senior year. “It was a great ending for our careers.”
Even though his PLU crew career was ending, Larsen knew he wanted to keep rowing and attended a lightweight summer camp in 2002 at the Penn Athletic Club, where he gained confidence before returning to PLU in the fall to finish his degrees.
Buying a single scull, Larsen, who earned degrees in math and Norwegian and a coaching minor, spent the year practicing, coaching the men’s novice team and helping out with the men’s and women’s varsity teams.
After graduation, Larsen headed back to the East coast. “I drove to Pennsylvania without a plan,” he said. “I had my boat on top of my truck and my truck full of about three quarters of what I owned.”
Camping out on a friend’s floor, Larsen spent that summer back at the Penn Athletic Club summer camp. While there, Larsen and his teammates competed at the U.S. Nationals, winning five gold medals and one silver medal.
“It was a very exciting summer because we were going pretty fast compared to other pre-elites,” Larsen said. (Elites are those who are in the upper levels of rowing.)
That fall, Larsen joined the Penn Athletic Club and concentrated on getting even faster and stronger. “It’s a lot more intense,” he said. “You’re rowing a lot more miles than you ever had before.”
He placed first in both 2004 and 2005 at the Main Line Slide Erg Competition on the rowing machine and finished seventh at the C.R.A.S.H.-B. World Indoor Rowing Championships in 2004 and fourth in 2005.
Finally, after missing the U.S. national team for men’s single sculls in 2004, Larsen qualified with Altman in 2005. After spending the summer training at the Princeton Training Center they headed for the world championships.
Larsen, who is hoping to return to the world championships next year and is training for the 2008 Olympics, credits his success as a rower to his teammates, both at the Penn Athletic Club and at PLU, and his supportive family and girlfriend.
Larsen, who is a pension administrator at Electronic Data Systems in Cherry Hill, N.J., enjoys the intensity of the sport and the camaraderie with his teammates. “When you have guys around to keep you excited, it’s a lot of fun.”
He added that the crew teams at PLU, both men’s and women’s, were like family – hanging out both on and off the water. “Everyone was good friends,” Larsen said. “We had fun and, in the end, that’s what you want to do.”