Beyond just the memories and feelings that are associated with it, the mention of Loras College instantly triggers a feeling for Autumn (Esch) Pino (’99 MA ’03).
“If someone says Loras, there is a warmth in my heart and I immediately go back to that place where that eighteen-to twenty-two year-old could be her authentic self while still growing as a person. That to me is very profound,” she said
After nineteen years as a school principal, including the past eleven at Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Pino is settling into her new role as superintendent of both the Lisbon Community School District and Springville School District in Iowa.
Even after a successful career in education, she still leaned back on her Loras experience when making her latest professional change.
“The superintendency is a prime example of what Loras has done for me. For the last fifteen years, people have encouraged me to take that path. You just know when you are ready for that next step. As a servant leader, I knew that I could contribute and it just felt right,” she explained
Growing up, Pino was familiar with the College as an attendee of the Loras College All-Sports Camp. When it came time to choose a college, she hesitated until she made a campus visit.
“I fell in in love with Loras and it really spoke to me in a way that the other schools I visited did not,” she recalled. “It was truly the people—they spoke to me in a way that made sense with my passions and goals. It was just the right fit.”
That feeling carried over to her time as a student. She felt a constant undercurrent of support and encouragement tied to her achievements.
“Once I arrived on campus, it truly was its authentic self. Those relationships I formed in that initial visit, even though they were brief, carried over into my time on campus. I felt universally people were welcoming and sincere. I felt they believed in me and wanted me to be successful,” she said.
While that support felt universal, there was a handful of individuals that made lasting impressions, including Donna Bowerly, PhD, retired professor of English, who challenged her academically while empowering her efforts as a student leader, Colleen Kuhl, director of campus ministry, who served as an advisor as well as a guiding force, and Barb (Sullivan) Woodward (’72 MA ’80), regent emeritus, who served as a mentor.
One other person who served as a significant mentor throughout her undergraduate and graduate experiences was President Jim Collins (’84), for whom Pino worked as a graduate assistant during his tenure as vice president for institutional advancement.
“Jim Collins had a profound impact on me. As a leader, he exuded passion for his institution. I looked at him and thought about how I also want to be passionate when I lead and free from seeing it as a situation of position or power. I could see that his decision-making process was really in the best interest of the students and in an effort to support staff. His approach to leadership played a role in getting my masters in school administration,” she said
Since her graduation, Pino has remained connected to her alma mater. She served on the National Alumni Board and was a featured guest as part of the Loras Women’s Leadership Alliance’s speaker series. That engagement felt especially significant.
“I came back with deep honor, and I felt as if life had come full-circle,” she explained. “I learned so much from so many at Loras that it was important for me to not only convey my gratitude but also inspire students to think about their own dreams and aspirations and their own impact on the world. The theme of my presentation was on servant leadership, and I couldn’t help but think as I was speaking that so much of what I was saying came from my time at Loras. It just felt like a culmination of sorts.”