A Conversation with Minerva Faculty Member Scott Wisor, Ph.D.

by Corin Magee, Class of 2023 and Eiza Naveed, Class of 2021 | Jan 29, 2021

“I probably don’t get many chances to communicate how lucky I am.”

This was the main message Professor Scott Wisor wanted to when we called him to do this interview. A researcher and father of two adorable kids, when Professor Wisor first applied to work at Minerva, he didn’t initially realize “the Minerva magic.” But after five years of teaching, he has fully embraced his role as one of the many unique and brilliant individuals in Minerva’s faculty and looks forward to continuing to be a part of the Minerva magic for a long time to come.

Professor Wisor’s journey to Minerva, or even becoming a professor, wasn’t a clearcut path. Instead, he simply followed his interests. He took a philosophy course early on as an undergraduate student, and after discovering that he loved it, signed up for another course, then another until he had earned enough credits to major in philosophy. He pursued philosophy to graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder focusing on ethics and moral philosophy. After graduating, he was able to travel the world, spending many years teaching and conducting research at the Center for Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham in England and the Australian National University. With over twenty publications and two books, his proudest academic achievement has been helping develop a gender-sensitive measure of poverty. While he keeps tabs on that project’s continued growth and positive impact on the world, his main focus over the past five years has been teaching his students here at Minerva.

When Professor Wisor first learned about Minerva, he was struck by its rethought curricular approach, particularly the first-year curriculum. While Minerva lacks an official philosophy department, Professor Wisor believes that the structure of the Minerva education means that “everyone gets philosophy” citing the emphasis of Minerva’s Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HC’s) throughout all four years of Minerva. These skills, established in the first year, the Foundation Year, include a thorough look at ethical framing, complex systems, and ethical concepts, among other generally applicable skills. Wisor believes this uniform first-year curriculum sets up the students who share his passion for philosophy to learn and apply new philosophical material easily in his upperclassmen philosophy and ethics courses, noting that sometimes they’re “better than I am at it.”

As with all good teachers, Professor Wisor’s goal is to “train students up to where they don’t need you anymore.” He credits Minerva’s fully active learning model as the key to this success and cites it as the biggest difference between his past academic experiences and Minerva. While working at previous traditional universities, Wisor noticed that a person walking by a classroom would have “heard the professors talking a lot.” And while professors are the experts in their field, simply transmitting information to students is not the most effective way to learn. At Minerva, Wisor prides himself in making sure he talks for less than one-third of the class, allowing the students to be “really at the center of things.” By helping guide them to engage with the material students are able to apply the content to relevant aspects of their lives and interests, enabling them to truly understand philosophical concepts rather than simply memorize them.

While this type of instruction may seem like a “hand-off” approach, Wisor emphasizes that his students are his favorite part of Minerva and “the thing that makes [classes] really special.” His favorite memories of students range from heated classroom debates — where students can bring their international backgrounds and experiences to the table — to visiting students in-person during Minerva’s many celebrations. One example was when he was able to join a Friendsgiving celebration with students in London and proudly watched them prepare a feast and confidently perform dances and musical renditions for their classmates.

“It was wild to be there as a faculty member because [as I] sat there and [I thought] ‘I know this student happens to be a really talented philosopher and I also had her in philosophy — it’s not fair that she can also sing!’”

It is this bubbling enthusiasm that has earned him a reputation as a beloved professor who many students hold dear. While Minerva faculty teach remotely from around the world, professors still prioritize getting to know students personally, both virtually in extended office hours or occasionally visiting students in the rotation cities. Like his colleagues, Professor Wisor holds a real sense of pride in his students. During Graduation, he loves getting to meet all of his students’ and brag about them to their families, celebrating how much they have grown.

It is being part of the journey of all these students that makes Professor Wisor “so lucky.” To him, growing, learning, and having fun are far more important than simply what jobs a student has done or what companies they have created. He wants everyone to know, “You’re going to land on your feet, you’re all great students, do the schoolwork and keep up but make sure to enjoy the experience.”