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Promoting peace: Mitchell native Ryan Solberg named Peace Scholar 2019

Mitchell native Ryan Solberg,21, is visibly excited shortly after being named Peace Scholar 2019 by Augustana University in Sioux Falls this month. (COURTESY)

Ryan Solberg, of Mitchell, has been named Peace Scholar 2019 by Augustana University, and will embark on a mission to deepen his understanding of central issues and theories on peace, justice, democracy and human rights.

Solberg, 21, the son of a civics teacher at Mitchell High School, has had an interest in politics since he was young. Receiving the call to represent Augustana as one of two Peace Scholars and study at the Nansen Dialogue Network in Lillehammer, Norway, and at the University of Oslo International Summer School from mid-June through early August, came as a surprise to him.

"I was shocked," Solberg said. "There was a lot of good competition and I am very honored to represent Augustana in this prestigious program."

The Peace Scholars program originated from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, an annual event held in Minneapolis that seeks to inspire students and other citizens to become active participants in peacemaking efforts around the world. It was started in 1988 by a five-college consortium and is the only such program or academic affiliation outside of Norway.

In his freshman year, Solberg attended a dinner meeting at Augustana in which he was seated next to Kofi Gunu, an exchange student from Ghana, Africa, who had participated in the program in the past.

"Kofi shared his experiences with me, which made me even more interested," Solberg said.

Solberg submitted an essay and several letters of recommendation to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum consortium that sponsors the program and was chosen along with fellow junior student Chofian (JuJu) Abobakr as this year's Peace Scholars.

The creation of the Nansen Dialogue started in Norway in 1994, when the city of Lillehammer, host of the Winter Olympics, connected with a former Olympic City, Sarajevo, at that time a city under siege.

Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro emerged shortly after the end of World War II from then-communist Yugoslavia. The civil war in the Western Balkans in the 1990s left many of these societies divided and segregated with little hope for a better future.

Solberg has travelled to Hungary and Croatia, where he learned that the people of the Balkans were not willing to discuss their past.

"It was something that seemed that they wanted to be forgotten," Solberg said. "I think the most interesting part of these countries and cities is the architecture, the vibrant centers that stand in stark contrast to the monotone block buildings in the suburbs built by the former communist regimes."

Solberg hopes to meet and learn from people with diverse backgrounds during his studies in Norway.

"I'm looking forward to see where this takes me and hopefully bring some insights back that I can apply in the Midwest," Solberg said.

He plans to graduate college in May 2020 with a master's degree in political science, government and international affairs.

At Augustana Solberg has served as a co-curriculum committee chair; member of the Civitas Honors Program student activities committee; AugieThon Morale Captain; Viking Advisor; ASA Senator; and is currently president of the Augustana Democrats. He has worked as an intern for the city of Sioux Falls Planning and Development Office and Cutler Law Firm. His community involvement includes volunteer commitments with the Special Olympics, The Salvation Army, McGovern Center CROP Walk for Hunger and Dr. Seuss Read Across America, to name a few.