Annual Letter For 2019 From Our Founder

by Ben Nelson | May 21, 2019

Dear Minerva Community,

This is a momentous time for us. It was twenty-five years ago, almost to the day, that I submitted a final project outlining a rudimentary version of what would become the Minerva core curriculum. Then, just five years later, I moved to San Francisco where I was struck by a prevailing mentality best described by Kayla Cohen, the first student to join Minerva, “This is a place where everyone not only believes that the major institutions of the world must be changed, but also that such change is inevitable.” Now that we are seeing that change occur, it is increasingly clear that we are only just beginning to fulfill our mission.

In the late 1990s, San Francisco was teeming with young entrepreneurs hoping to make it big. Scores of well-funded, often dubiously relevant technology companies were racing for a “first mover” advantage in categories with low barriers-to-entry, which would soon be replete with competition. The culminating event of each highly secretive scramble was the vaunted launch party. However, since most of these fledgling firms had given very little thought to anything beyond a minimally viable product, these launches were typically disappointing, hollow feeling, and ostentatious.

At Minerva, we have taken a very different approach. Instead of secretly tinkering on a minimal viable product, we have been open and clear about our broad ambitions from the very beginning; we took the time to carefully consider nearly every aspect of this institution before we began seeking our first students; and we have been relentlessly frugal with our investment capital. Now, as our first undergraduate class is poised to graduate, I am confident that their “launch” will be far from disappointing.

In fact, these pioneering students are arguably the best prepared undergraduate class of the modern era. They have learned to work collaboratively, to explore creatively, to think critically, and to communicate effectively. It is no coincidence that so many of them are already seeing promising signs for their future endeavors. From admission at top graduate programs to exclusive work opportunities that are unheard of for typical graduating seniors, Minerva students are primed for success. We have helped them accelerate their acquisition of critical wisdom, teaching them the skills to lead, innovate, and make decisions of consequence.

Speaking of which, I look forward to hosting our first-ever Consequent: The Commencement With Impact. During this three-day summit we will bring global leaders and luminaries together with our graduating class to reimagine what commencement can be, by advancing discourse on numerous vexing topics.

As we prepare for these climactic moments with our graduating students, we continue to see increased demand for our flagship undergraduate program, with almost 24,000 applications and an impressive 67% enrollment yield from the under 1.2% that we selected to join Minerva.

Meanwhile, we have launched a series of select partnerships with institutions seeking to accelerate their own innovation and reform by adopting the comprehensive educational system we built for Minerva students. In this way, our curriculum with its cross-contextual scaffold, our pedagogy emphasizing fully active learning, and Forum, our advanced learning environment, are gaining momentum around the world. We are further hastening this progress through the continuous improvement of the system. The most recent example of this is the next version of Forum, which will enable fully active learning in class sessions as large as 400 students — a requirement for adoption at many larger universities.

It is important to underscore that, while our sense of urgency is crucial, we will never sacrifice the quality of our educational offerings. We will continue to invest in improving our own programs because they represent the ideal. Beyond the three core elements of our system, Minerva students benefit from numerous additional layers of innovation, learning, and growth — from the wholly unbiased admissions process, that is also the most selective to the global residential rotation to the programmatic integration of experiential learning, personal well-being, community involvement, and professional development.

As we get ready to celebrate our own launch parties — our reimagined commencement Consequent and an intimate graduation ceremony the following week — I am reminded of the importance of striking a balance between the fast-moving mentality of Silicon Valley and the thoughtful deliberation of academia. This balance, enshrined in our Guiding Principles, has allowed us to build upon the past, incorporating the best of traditional education, while accelerating toward the future, one in which students should be prepared to work together in solving humanity’s most complex challenges. But the enormity of those challenges demands that we do much more. We must redouble our efforts to increase the spread of critical wisdom. Our world depends on it.


Ben Nelson