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Minerva Week 26: Layer by layer (?)

April 6, 2015

How does change happen? Big change, I mean. How does the old interact with the new? Do we have to build on what exists already? What if the foundation isn’t strong?

Image Credit: Make Use Of

This week, I spent seven hours 3-D printing and I honestly have very little show for it (I didn’t take a picture of all the half-printed stuff I produced, but the picture above gives you a sense of what it looked like). Most of that time was spent trying to figure out why the first layer of my print wasn’t sticking, or why the molten plastic was drying too fast. Needless to say, the mindless troubleshooting gave me time to think about the symbolic meaning of 3D printing. It’s a pretty good metaphor for incremental advances. Each layer is added on top of the one before. That means that what happens at the bottom constrains what can happen at the top. You can’t start with a penny-sized circle and then try to add a cup-sized circle on top – there will be nothing for it to hold onto.

When you have a great first layer, though, it becomes so much easier to build something (as you can see from the tiger face I was printing in the picture below!). All you need to do is just keep going, adding a little bit at a time.


At Minerva, we’re trying to build our own first layer. So much effort has gone into constructing it, making it strong, level and stable. It’s hard work. It would be easier to just add a little change to the existing foundation (of higher education), but it would be impossible. The kinds of things that need to change about education aren’t supported by the current model. I was thinking about this as I finished off the hand-drawn timeline I made for Minerva. You can see it below. So much has happened and so much lies ahead.


I was thinking about this question again on Saturday, when Minerva’s Student Experience director invited us to a beautiful rooftop to discuss how we can strengthen our first layer. What can we do as students and staff to make sure that students have an even better experience outside the classroom than we did? As we talked about things like residence hall design, meal plans, and location-based assignments, I was reminded of the many challenges that the staff have overcome to get us here. I saw the hurdles that need to be jumped to get us ready in time for the inaugural class. Difficult, but meaningful work has to happen, and all of us need to play a part.

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Today, I headed to the Asian Art Museum, in search of soul food and inspiration. I tried to be more aware of my surroundings, because I realized that I only have a few weeks left to enjoy them. I was struck by how much I had overlooked on past walks. I saw murals that I had never noticed before.

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The Asian Art Museum was a gem. Beautifully designed exhibits showcased exquisite artifacts from Korea, Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, to name a few. The picture below is of contemporary Japanese pottery.


The ‘layer-by-layer’ motif reared its head at the museum too! The art piece below called “TEA-ter totter”. The explanatory note from the artist said that there is an invisible force holding up the cups (metal rods inside the structure). These invisible rods are meant to represent the intention of the universe, a force that is much stronger than human intention. I could feel the artist speaking to me, almost directly, saying that you have to take the risks, make the effort of doing these hard tasks, because you will be able to manage them. People have managed them in the past, and by the same token you will be able to manage them.


A state from Indonesia encouraged me to be calm and powerful.


A 3000-year-old rhinoceros reminded me that sometimes things can be built to last.


A beautiful mirrored wall by an Iranian artist showed me that reflecting can be a creative activity (that was a pun! 🙂 ).

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I took a look at the city that has shaped me so much in the past eight months, feeling so grateful to be someone who has opportunities to learn, grow, and reflect.


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