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Minerva Week 9: Trick or Treat…!

November 1, 2014

I had come back to Minerva wondering about binaries: Higher education as job training vs. a vehicle for personal development. Private vs. public. Win vs. loss. Trick vs. treat. This week, I think I learned something about what it means to replace vs. with “and”.

We are here to experience Minerva, but we are also here to shape Minerva. I have never been so proud of our Founding Class as I was late Wednesday night, when we gathered at 11:00 pm, after submitting our assignments, to talk about how we could give useful feedback to the Academic team at Minerva. How could we improve our own learning? When I first came back from Toronto (late Sunday night), I had heard some rumblings about frustrations with the first two months. I had felt them too – the tension between wanting to ask for quick change now and respecting the need to see how we and others would adapt to these carefully-built systems. The tension transformed into something constructive. On that Wednesday night, as tired as we all were, and as fraught as the conversation sometimes was, I saw each of us really step into our role as founders. It was also the same night that the San Francisco Giants won the world series (I heard horns honking from all over!). Coincidence or conspiracy? šŸ™‚


The next night, the Minerva Academy awarded the first Minerva Prize to Dr. Eric Mazur, a Dutch-born physicist and educator who went to Harvard on a 1 year ‘quest to learn more about lasers so I could help develop the compact disk at Philips’ and managed to stretch that long year out into an entire, meaningful career. In his acceptance speech, he talked to us about the importance of having a path that you are willing to deviate from.
We mingled (students, Minerva staff, professors, other academic bigwigs) at the Long Now Foundation’s Interval Cafe. The Long Now Foundation strives to promote long term thinking, and by long term thinking, I mean that they are building a clock that should run for 10,000 years and have compiled a library of 100 books that they think are sufficient to reproduce human civilization in the event that all other knowledge and technology is lost. What a fascinating place! Yige (my room mate) and I walked there, enjoying the air by the ocean and perhaps a few detours (“I promise I think that I know where I am going,” said I).

The next day we watched Giants’ victory parade from the Minerva office balcony (after first braving the rain to get there). I was a little late, as I had serendipitously seen Eric Berlow (TED fellow, ecologist, data storyteller) a few weeks before and managed to figure out how we could meet to discuss visualizing Minerva’s data. It was a mind-opening encounter. We talked about ways to ‘see everything at once’ without losing fine grain detail when you needed it. Eric shared a recent work – a project mapping artistic works that were inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.

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We carved pumpkins, and then we had a meeting with Dr. Kosslyn (the architect of how we learn at Minerva) and Robin Goldberg (Minerva’s director of marketing) to present our feedback and talk about ways to move forward. This was a pivotal moment, and I am happy to report that we pivoted in the right direction. There was deep listening, acknowledgement of our concerns and real discussion of actions on the student and administrative sides. It may be hard to convince you that talking in a room for almost two hours was captivating, but it was electric and important and probably one of the most meaningful moments I’ve had at Minerva so far.


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Then, of course, we went out for Halloween! Some of us were experiencing our first Halloween in North America. We dressed up and hit the streets (the streets did not hit back).

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A genuine human musical magical moment of collaboration between Kayla and some fabulous BART musicians (BART = SF subway, well one of them, anyways!) capped off the night.
What next? I have no idea! I’ll let you know when it happens!

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