Augie class replaces final exam with a “Bake Off”

President of university presides over judging
Published: Dec. 15, 2022 at 11:22 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - It was supposed to be a joke.

But by speaking up with that joke, one Augustana University student learned the expression, “If you never ask, you’ll never know” the easy way.

The semester was winding down for Prof. Stephanie Bruggeman’s “Preserving the Planet through Beer, Bread, and Brie” class, a biology course that is also part of the university’s new “brewing and fermentation” minor. Over the past few months, the class had made beer — and hard cider, root beer, kombucha, and egg nog — but not bread.

Bruggeman knew there was only a couple classes left, including the final. She knew her students were high achievers who were stressed by impending finals in other classes. She found them to be a self-reliant “great group of kids.” She wanted them to have an educational and entertaining lab experience — not another standard lecture — but her remaining classes weren’t long enough for a full cooking process.

Except the final exam, which was slated to be two hours long.

“Let’s make bread for our final,” one student suggested with zeal.

“I don’t know,” Bruggeman said, unconvinced.

Then, sophomore Molli Schlenker bellowed, “Let’s have a Bake Off, like the Great British Baking Show,” a Netflix hit.

Schlenker confessed later that this was a “joke,” but Bruggeman gave it serious thought.

The professor wasn’t sure if the kitchen lab in Wagoner Hall would be available. She told the class she’d go across the hallway, right then and there, to ask an administrator about kitchen availability. In the meantime, if they wanted a “bake off” that bad, they should form teams and decide what they would bake by the time she would be back.

No more than ten minutes later, she returned, and the three teams were already staking out ingredients. So, Bruggeman gave it the green light.

The rest is history — Augustana’s First Annual “Ole’s Bake Off.”

Realizing they were on to something, Bruggeman’s students asked her to see if she could get “The Great British Baking Show” host Paul Hollywood to fly into Sioux Falls and be the host. They might have been kidding, but she wasn’t. She went straight to a computer to Google her way to finding a way to contact producers of the show.

“I never heard back,” Bruggeman said. But she still managed to coax Augustana president Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to be the host and judge, and bring with her all the gravitas of a former three-term U.S. House Representative.

Instead of a final exam, the students got a fun experience they’ll likely never forget.

“It was awesome,” Schlenker said. “I’ve never had a teacher change up her test method just because you suggested it. This kind of shows what her class is about — putting your hands into the work. It’s a hands-on class and a hands-on final.”

While it was, indeed, entertaining, Bruggeman made sure the grand finale was also educational. There were ground rules.

First, students had to show up for the contest. They’d fail the class if they didn’t. Second?

“You have to use methods that you learned in class, and use the ingredients we used in class,” Bruggeman said.

One team — The Butter Boys — used beer the class had brewed to make beer bread as its entry, with spreads of lemon butter and jam the class had also made.

Another team used that beer to make beer bread crust pizza, along with basil the class had made. They called themselves the “Third Stephanies,” artfully pandering to the first name of both the professor and the president — both who were judges.

Then there was “Santas and Elves,” which included Schlenker and Cinco, who made cookies with some of the jam the class had made, served with egg nog they had also made.

Back to the ground rules.

Bruggeman declared the event a holiday bake off and asked students to wear festive Christmas sweaters and/or other holiday attire. Boy, these sure did, including Schlenker and her roommate Cinco, who both took it a step further with reindeer antler head gear.

“They had to,” Bruggeman said, as a Santa hat sat on top her head and Christmas lights of every color of the rainbow blinked on her green elf sweater.

“They’re afraid of me. OK, not really. They’re not afraid of me.”

In fact, quite the opposite.

“I think she’s an awesome professor,” Schlenker said. “I think she’s one of the nicest ones. She’s very playful in class, so I think she keeps things upbeat. She’s not like a regular professor. She doesn’t just tell you what’s going on. She wants you involved. She wants you to enjoy it. You can tell she’s passionate about what she’s teaching.”

Cinco added this about Bruggeman: “She loves the class and she wants our feedback. It’s the second year she’s done the class, and she wants it to be the best it can be for us, so she genuinely asks for our opinions and tries to make it fun for us.”

Augustana’s president feels the same way.

“I love Steph,” said Herseth Sandlin, who connected with Bruggeman instantly when discovering the both grew up on Midwestern farms — Herseth Sandlin in northeastern South Dakota and Bruggeman in northwest Iowa.

“She’s so engaging, she loves her students, and she’s fun, right? She’s creative about the learning process.”

An example of Bruggeman’s innovation was forming this class in the first place. Born and raised into agriculture, the making and preserving of food had always been an interest that she wanted to pass along. She wanted to display the fascination of how some processes — like making bread and beer — have been “around for millenia.”

While writing a proposal for a new class called “Preserving the Planet through Bread and Brie,” Bruggeman, although captivated herself, figured a class by that title alone may not garner enough interest.

“I needed a hook,” Bruggeman said. At some point, a light bulb flashed in her brain. A buzz, if you will.

Bring beer into the fold.

While South Dakota State and Northern State have classes involving beer brewing, Bruggeman’s research found that no private, faith-based liberal arts college in the state offered such a course. In fact, she couldn’t find any in the country.

But she found Herseth Sandlin and other Augustana leaders to be what the president calls “faculty champions who knew this would be a popular but important offering for experiential learning in area that is growing interest from a business and industry standpoint.”

Sioux Falls-based Remedy Brewing, owned by two Augustana graduates, will offer internships to students in the minor to help find more employees who have a background in the craft, and in the sales and marketing of beer. In fact, co-owner Matt Hastad is slated to teach a class.

Last semester, Bruggeman’s first “Beer, Bread, and Brie” class made its mark by finding a title and can design for Remedy’s “Brew and Gold” light lager. In the coming years, the university plans to open a bar on campus, managed by students, with beer and root beer made in these classes.

“I think there’s an evolution happening here at Augustana,” Herseth Sandlin said, stating that it started before she arrived in 2017. “Students alongside faculty and administrators looking at business opportunities, learning opportunities, student life experiences, and being clear-eyed about the reality of college life, and to promote responsibility alongside the learning, and looking at how inter-disciplinary this particular program is.”

She waxed this poetic tapestry of higher academia nomenclature while holding a plastic cup of egg nog, and brought her philsophy back to this:

“Plus, we also know that there is a social element to food and drink that’s been around for, you know, centuries of history.”

And with that, Herseth Sandlin and her fellow judges got down to brass tax. Judgment time had arrived.

In the tradition of the Great British Baking Show, they heard presentations from the three teams, as students described why they chose what they made and the ingredients that went into their entries.

“First and foremost, we wanted to honor everything we learned in this class,” one presenter said.

Another elaborated on how his team wanted to bring some winter season spirit — “a snow flurry effect” — to its jam sandwich cookies with some extra sprinkles of white powder on top.

Herseth Sandlin, holding a clipboard and seeming as if she was back in the House chambers in Washington, D.C., pressing witnesses in committee hearings (okay, maybe not that dramatic), asked each group questions like, “how many ingredients” after their speils.

After all three teams made rather thoughtful and compelling pitches, it was time for the judges to chow down. They chomped into the beer bread crust pizza, the holiday cookies, and the American Wheat beer bread with all the delicious dressings.

Students stood a couple feet away, across the table. Their smiles and laughter about participating in a baking contest instead of a final exam turned into stone-faced silence with every bite and chew Herseth Sandlin and fellow judges took.

“The sauce has quite a bit of kick to it,” one judge said about the pizza.

“It is good,” Herseth Sandlin concurred.

Overall, the reviews were complimentary, and the judges complimented these culinary offerings with the beer, hard cider, and egg nog the students had made. They dug into the score sheets on their clipboards, and retreated to a table to deliberate and tabulate.

About ten minutes later, the committee emerged back to the kitchen area. Herseth Sandlin made final remarks about what each team literally brought to the table. “The Butter Boys” beer bread team scored best in using ingredients from class. “Santas and Elves” made the best presentation with those cookies. And “The Third Stephanies” scored best in pure taste with their pizza.

With the delicately dramatic (but not over-the-top) bravado of the hundreds of public speeches she had given groups of thousands of people in her illustrious political and academic career, Herseth Sandlin built the moment to a crescendo for the four dozen or so in attendance.

“The winner of the First Annual Ole’s Bake Off,” Herseth Sandlin said, pausing to build the antipation one more time, “is the team who also scored the best in creativity.”

Oh, my, another tease.

“And that goes to Santas and Elves.”

Santas and Elves burst into glee. Roommates Schlenker and Cinco danced “The Griddy,” a la Justin Jefferson when the National Football League receiver scores a touchdown for the Minnesota Vikings.

The winners will receive a plaque that hasn’t quite come to fruition.

No grades were given for this final exam, but it was evident everyone passed with flying colors — mostly red and green.

“This has been my favorite class all semester,” said Cinco, who admitted she took the course because she’s not a big fan of biology but needed a biology credit and figured “Preserving the Planet with Beer, Bread and Brie” wouldn’t be a snoozer, like most she had experienced.

She could not have been more perceptive.

“I’ve never gone to class thinking, Oh, I’m just going to sit there and listen to a lecture and probably fall asleep, because the lectures have always been interesting and the labs have always been fun, and I’ve never left a lab not learning something or not getting to try something new.

And that’s no joke.