Creating Opportunities One Conversation at Time

by Minerva University |Feb 20, 2018

The second floor of The Commonwealth Club is a large, open space with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. On a chilly Friday afternoon in January, the room teems with energy, full of people ready and eager to catalyze meaningful change.

Upon entering the space, the first conversation that catches your ear makes you think you are at a conference on public health — you hear people discussing biomedical research opportunities and neuroscience discoveries. But as you move further into the space, you overhear someone talking about murals and social justice in the Mission District, which gives you pause. As you enter the auditorium and make your way through the different groups of people, you overhear a number of diverse and thought-provoking topics being discussed. “What does it mean to be a more inclusive society?” “What is the ethical impact of artificial intelligence?” “How do public health and cities interconnect?”

What kind of event brings these types of discussions together in one place? The answer, as any Minerva student can tell you, is Civitas.

Once during students’ first year and again in each semester thereafter, Minerva hosts Civitas. Designed by the Student Experience team, Civitas brings students and local professionals together to engage in conversations and address pressing local and global challenges. These discussions mark the start of ongoing collaborations, inspire the basis of final project work, and attempt to create meaningful change in each city, as well as the world at-large.

Bridging Passion and Profession

Civic engagement is not merely a way for students to connect what they learn in class to the real world — though that is critical. It’s also not just a means for them to build upon their professional experiences. Minerva students are civic-minded; they see each semester as an opportunity to have meaningful experiences and positively impact the local communities in which they live and study.

“We believe that in order to tackle the world’s most complex problems, we will need intergenerational understanding and interdisciplinary competencies,” explains Mike Wang, Director of Student Experience, during Civitas: San Francisco. “Civitas strives to address this by bringing together practitioners across non-profits, governmental organizations, academic institutions, and corporations, with our students to build not just a network, but a global learning and problem solving community.”

Some members of the Class of 2021 have already identified what they would like to focus on after Minerva; others are still exploring their passions and interests, using opportunities like Civitas to connect with professionals from different industries, as a means of narrowing down their post-graduate possibilities.

Often, Minerva students want to remain open to different career options. This is the case for Dulce Osorio, a member of the Class of 2021, who has been exploring an array of interests while in San Francisco. “This semester I’m really looking forward to collaborating with UCSF’s Global Brain Health Institute, because I have a passion for neuroscience,” she shares. “But I also look forward to collaborating with other organizations, like GLIDE, which helps the homeless community in the Tenderloin [neighborhood].”

Minerva students are uniquely prepared to make meaningful contributions to partner organizations. Beginning their first year, students learn “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts” (HCs) that teach them four core competencies: thinking critically, thinking creatively, communicating effectively, and interacting effectively. Students are introduced to concepts in class, then apply them to a number of topics across various fields through experiential learning programs. Developed by the Academic and Student Experience teams, these programs are specifically designed to boost student learning by helping them apply what they learn in class to a real world setting.

In short, Minerva aims to not only prepare students for life after graduation; it helps them gain the breadth and depth of knowledge they need to affect change during their university experience, too.

Collaborating for a Cause

Professional networking is a reciprocal engagement. Through student programming events like Civitas, partners and other members of the local community are able to collaborate with bright, young adults with novel ideas and a diversity of opinions. Devon Young, Program Manager for the K12 Lab at Stanford and Civic Partner, collaborated with Alisha Fredriksson, a member of the Class of 2019.

“Alisha, our first Minerva student, was an incredible asset to our team and the work that we did,” says Young. “It kind of turned a light bulb on for us — helping us recognize the value of a continued collaboration with Minerva — when she held a learning session for all of the staff. Everyone walked away feeling so inspired by the depth of understanding that she had about design thinking and the work that we do.”

When asked why it is important to collaborate with young adults who come from around the world, Young pointed to the value of their diverse opinions. “We might be approaching a problem in a certain way, where a young person who may not have the same background as us will approach it in a completely different way. We really believe in the power of collaboration and multidisciplinary design teams.”

Across professional fields, this belief holds true. Louis Metzgar, Research Scientist at Novartis, works in the field of antibiotics in the era of antibiotic resistance. He, too, sees immense value in collaborating with Minerva students, claiming, “they are unbiased by dogma and are likely to come up with new ideas and solutions that those of us who have been doing this for a long time have not thought of.”

Impassioned to change the world for the better, the Class of 2021’s first Civitas has been a launchpad for civic engagement. Midway through their first year, with San Francisco being the first of seven global hubs they will experience while at Minerva, their collaborations with industry leaders and community members are no doubt the first of many.

A Global Network

Across the globe in Hyderabad, India, just two weeks following Civitas: San Francisco, students in the Classes of 2019 and 2020 gathered at T-Hub, along with local professionals from the entertainment, start-up, human rights, and art sectors.

Unlike their underclassmen in San Francisco, second- and third- year students have experienced Civitas on more than one occasion. However, though Civitas occurs in every city in the global rotation, each event introduces a unique set of local challenges, with Hyderabad being no exception. Participants engaged with each other on a range of topics, including technology for social good, climate change mitigation, and sustainable impact at the bottom of the social pyramid.

In addition to the projects they are currently developing, an added benefit to speaking candidly with professionals is learning about their personal and professional journeys — milestones and setbacks included. “I’m most interested in finding out how people have gotten to where they are right now, how they have learned, and how their paths in life have brought them [where they are] today,” shares Sarah Merner, Class of 2020.

For organizations looking to expand into new international markets, the fresh and often different perspectives brought forth by Minerva’s uniquely diverse student body can be invaluable. Companies benefit from the inclusion of international perspectives, which students student bring along with their experiences living and learning around the world.

Subhash Kiran K., who works for Phoenix Research and Consulting Solution, aptly explains why collaborating with people with different backgrounds is a smart business move, considering he and his team are constrained by limited cultural diversity and perspectives: “With Minerva, we get students who come from various parts of the world, whose input can help us understand how to create meaningful solutions for the organizations [we consult].”

Even if companies do not aim to become international conglomerates, mentoring the next generation can be a rewarding experience. Many of the second- and third-year students have dipped their toes in the proverbial professional water, having already participated in summer internships or semester-long civic projects.

One student, Nuhamin Mengiste, from the Class of 2020, is studying finance and economics. Last semester, in Seoul, South Korea, she collaborated on a civic project with the DAYLI Financial Group designing synergic blockchain strategies across its different businesses. “I’m interested in SatSure, because they are working on agricultural innovation and econometrics, which [are subjects] I’m going to be taking next semester,” she says. “Another interest of mine is any sort of incubator program, such as T-Hub, because they’re working in an emerging economy, which is similar to what I want to be working on in the future.”

Students like Nuhamin bring their professional experiences to their project work with Civic Partners and other local organizations, building upon their previous partnerships and experiences. What may begin as a conversation on innovation in agriculture could be the start of a new collaboration that has the power to affect meaningful change.