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Minerva Day 6: CLA+ and Acadimples

September 6, 2014

We were tested and we survived. We explored and some found their way back on time. We ideated, and found interesting ways to disagree. Orientation came to an end, and we shifted our focus towards the beckoning future of our courses and the weekend.

Minerva wants to gauge the change in its students’ critical thinking scores before and after their experience. We established the baseline today by clicking and typing through 90 minutes of the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (acronymed either the CLA+ or, unfortunately, the CLAP). I had to defend a midway, read a feminist poem, and comment on advertising legislation in Canada.

Then, we were ushered into rooms to discuss the outcome of our summer learning projects. We each had been asked to choose an area of weakness to ameliorate. Other students learned about entrepreneurship, business model innovation, utilitarianism, Bertrand Russell and Icelandic music. I chose to try to finally address a skeleton in my closet. Many of my close friends and all of my family has realized that I sometimes suffer with a speech impediment. I found that the online environment was bringing out my stammering and vocal blocks, and with the structure of the summer course, after fifteen or so years of struggling with it, I finally tried to help myself in an intentional way. I read a book written by speech therapists who have all stammered, and some of their lessons reminded me of the mindfulness class I had taken through Studio Y. I learned not to hide from my identity as a stammerer and to let go of some of the anxiety and fear I feel when my words are not as fluent as I would like. Making this endeavour a public project also forced me to share my speech issues with others, and the supportive environment I have found here makes me feel more comfortable with it.

After the meetings we had a lunch of delcious Thai food (I ate two plates!) and listened to a talk by Dr. Stephen Kosslynn, former endowed chair at Harvard, director of Princeton’s Behavioural Sciences Lab, and proponent of designing societies and systems that make it as easy as possible for people to live healthier, happier lives. He referenced the book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein – they advocate that we can subtly make certain choices more likely than others without mandating anyone to change their behaviour (an easy example is placing junk food in a harder to reach place than apples in a cafeteria).

Nudge (Credit: Gordon Joly)

Nudge (Credit: Gordon Joly)

Then, we were encouraged to find our place in the city – the one that corresponded to our legacy word. Mine was “North,” and after a bit of sleuthing I was able to find the Fort Point lighthouse. The lighthouse was built long before the Golden Gate Bridge, but has now been dwarfed and effectively blocked by it. The metaphoric mind in me viewed the lighthouse as a symbol of a visionary – casting light to let people see what is around them and what is possible, so that ships can land safely, but also so that the building blocks they carry can be used to build bolder, brighter and better things. In my mind, the Golden Gate Bridge is there because of the Fort Point lighthouse – because there was a light, at least in someone’s mind, that showed a way to bridge from vision to reality. I know that historically my premise is flawed, but it is the most beautiful concept in my mind. You don’t have to be big to inspire bigness. You just have to be bright.

Fort Point Lighthouse (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately for my metaphoric tangent, we were told that our places actually had the words in them. Fort Point light house did not have “North” in it, so it was out! It is still a special place for me, and will always be, but not for this particular exercise. The next thing I landed on, after much searching, was the North Light room of the Civic Center (SF City Hall). It was a short walk away, so Shane and I headed over. The Civic Center was preparing for the SF Opera Opening Gala, so there were golden lions with fluffy white wings, fresh flowers everywhere, orange floodlights and an altogether decadent feel. The North Light room was closed to prepare for the event, so I looked through the door at its immense glass ceiling.

North Light Court (Credit: SFMONA)

Having some free time, I decided to surprise my parents, who had just come in from their fantastic hiking vacation in Lassen National Park. I went to their hotel room and knocked on the door. They were so surprised! It was wonderful. I got to see all of their pictures, have a little bit of wine, and see all of the snacks they were planning to give me. Dad walked me back to the Minerva offices for the last session of the day. I think they were surprised to see someone sporting a Harvard shirt in enemy territory, but he got out safely!

What followed was a brainstorming session around the Minerva Student Manifesto…and pizza! It was interesting to grapple with what values should be considered core to students, and what values are just particular to our own world views (often it can be hard to understand that people don’t always have to agree with you!).

After we shared them, Andrew, Yoel, Ian, Gaby, Sultana and I walked back to the residence, taking in the bright glow of the city at night, laughing, skipping, talking about music and the indomitable character of the San Francisco, the place we now call home.

SF at night (Credit: Dan Mojado)

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