Polina Zen (they/them)
Intended Major & Concentrations
Arts & Humanities — Arts and Literature
Why did you choose to attend Minerva?
I chose Minerva because I wanted to go to a university with a high percentage of international students. My International Baccalaureate (IB) school had students from more than 80 countries, and I appreciated being able to study alongside a multicultural community. I became more knowledgeable about world cultures and more understanding. For example, some of my friends in high school were practicing Muslims, and I learned that they needed to take breaks throughout the day to pray. Now, when I am working on projects with demographically diverse people, I make sure that there are breaks for people to practice their religion. My understanding of inclusivity broadened and has become one of my core values. Minerva seemed perfect compared to traditional universities that claimed to have a diverse student body but in reality had few international students.
What do you like about Minerva’s academics?
I love the depth of the curriculum because it really pushes students to understand the very essence of the concepts. While studying in my Ukrainian high school, the learning was always about memorizing, which is never the case at Minerva. Right now in my Complex System class, we are studying emotional intelligence and the importance of considering people’s emotions and behaviors while analyzing social systems. Not only does this knowledge make our analysis more accurate, I think that this skill helps develop a sense of empathy and mutual understanding, which I find to be essential for human development.
What is a problem you would like to address in the world? What are some steps you are taking?
I believe art can be used as a tool for unity within self-expression. At Minerva, I like to study the ways different communities use art to represent their people. Through traveling around the world, I get to see art happen in real life. For example, San Francisco has some amazing street art, which is a unique way to see art in real life rather than being exhibited in galleries. The Castro neighborhood, with its significant queer culture, fascinates me as its street art explores queer identity and history through graffiti.
What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Minerva community?
I am most grateful for my friends, especially my roommates. It is so fun to explore San Francisco with people whom I love and trust. The community is very welcoming.
What would you tell another student who is considering Minerva?
The academics are challenging, but it is all worth it if you set your priorities right. No day looks quite like another. Apart from studying, I try to meet as many local people who share similar interests as possible. I am a part of a support group for LGBTQ+ people in San Francisco, which was created by a local queer organization. Another activity my roommates and I enjoy is “Treat yourself Tuesdays.” This is a tradition we developed as a room where we explore the city every Tuesday evening. It feels like a mini-weekend within the week. I’m having a lot of fun here!
What else would you like to share about Minerva?
At Minerva, we have to cook our own food and clean, which has made me much more responsible since I need to combine academics, social life, and self. I believe, these are useful skills that no other university with a canteen and a lot of cleaning staff can provide.
What are you looking forward to experiencing?
I am looking forward to working with new organizations and building personal connections in every rotation city. While I’m not sure what my career will focus on yet, I’m excited to explore my interests in writing and art in a career context. Already, in just one semester, I have met a lot of local friends and established professional connections. By the end of four years, I expect the world to be very small.
How did you get involved with the International Baccalaureate?
I went to United World College (UWC) Dilijan, an international high school in Armenia that follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. I chose to study at a UWC specifically because I wanted to learn in an intercultural environment where I could get to know about the world through people’s stories and experiences. Thanks to UWC, I have a first-person narration about different cultures, and I think that this is something that brings people together.
What skills or lessons did you learn in the International Baccalaureate that have been useful in your studies at Minerva?
The IB taught me how to find interconnections between different fields of study. For example, I have a great understanding of how Spanish links to art, then to math and biology. This is useful for my Cornerstone Classes at Minerva since we often look at the overlap between the Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs) and how they can be used in different contexts. This is practical knowledge because, in real life, I am mostly required to think interdisciplinarily rather than just the knowledge from one area. For example, when planning an art project, I have to also think about how to best manage my time and resources, which would not be possible with artistic knowledge only.
What are some of the main similarities and differences between the International Baccalaureate and Minerva?
The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) curriculum is similar to the idea HCs as students first learn how to learn. The main difference is that HCs are not taught in a separate class like TOK is, instead, they are being spread out within the entire curriculum.
What advice do you have for a prospective International Baccalaureate student about Minerva?
The IB provides an amazing set of knowledge tools that could be used to change the world. Minerva gives a chance to apply them in the real world and in multiple cultural contexts. Therefore, I encourage IB students to apply to Minerva.
If you were inspired by Polina’s story and are seeking a college experience that will teach you valuable pragmatic skills that will enable you to change the world, apply to join Minerva today.