Not long ago, I spent some time in Ghana, where I traveled to Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast in search of students for Minerva’s Class of 2022. I was looking for those special individuals — the pioneers and unconventional thinkers — who we know will thrive in Minerva’s unique and challenging environment. Of course, this is easier said than done.
During my trip, I visited the African Science Academy in Tema, a girls-only advanced level school on the outskirts of Accra that is well-known for its math and science programs. After speaking about Minerva with a group of students, a girl who had been attentively and quietly listening to the questions her peers asked came up to me and shared her excitement at the prospect of applying. “This is my dream school and I can’t imagine going anywhere else,” she told me, with a huge smile across her face.
She then went on to talk about how, as a Muslim girl passionate about robotics, she would like to defy the odds and stereotypes associated with young girls like her and prove she can not only succeed but be the best at anything she put her mind to. What struck me the most about this girl was her pride and ownership of her identity, as well as her drive to not let stereotypes stop her from reaching her goals. She was truly exceptional.
Looking back at my conversation with this student, I began to think. What goes into finding students who are right for Minerva? The answer is complex, and I’m sure my colleagues around the globe who are also looking for students with extraordinary potential would agree. Though we look for key attributes — curiosity about the world and its people, for example — those attributes are presented differently in each prospective student. There is no single “type” of student we strive to meet because, at Minerva, we’re not looking for students who fit the mold, we’re looking for those who break out of it. I’ve found that when looking for exceptional students, there are a number of things I must always adhere to in order to be successful in my search.
The first thing is being unorthodox in my approach. By doing things differently and tapping into my creative and entrepreneurial skillsets, I’m more likely to access a range of students. It’s not just about finding students with strong academic backgrounds, but also individuals who have demonstrated leadership skills, whether through personal or academic endeavors, that showcase a genuine curiosity about the world. To find these students, I must follow my own path and always strive to turn challenges into opportunities for growth.
For example, I was recently invited to give a presentation at Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, Nigeria, one of the best secondary schools in West Africa. Loyola’s principal, a strong proponent of the Minerva model, wanted me to speak with parents about the benefits and opportunities that a Minerva education could offer their children. Although this trip was not a part of my official schedule, I made it a priority to fly to Abuja and honor the invitation.
From prior interactions with Loyola students, I knew the interest in Minerva was high, but that some parents were apprehensive about our unique model. Although uneasy at first, my conversations with parents got some of them as excited about Minerva as their children. Having a direct discussion with parents about Minerva’s program, curriculum, and affordability was a rewarding step toward ensuring that students feel supported on all fronts, as they weigh their options. Because parents usually play a crucial role in determining where students end up applying and enrolling into university, it was important for me to be there, even if that meant extending my stay in the country.
Another thing I strive to do while looking for prospective students is act on my passion. Talent can be found in both cities and small towns, from the wealthiest of regions to the most modest. I’ve learned that you must sometimes go “off the grid” — far outside the big cities — to find an abundance of talented students. We do not wait for students to come to us, we also go to them. The opportunity to interact face-to-face with these students is one of the most enriching aspects of my job and one that I am very passionate about. It gives me insight into students’ lives and often initiates conversations with public and private organizations that nurture and support high-achieving scholars along the college application process. As with every new ambitious endeavor, I must always be ready to adapt because things hardly ever go according to plan.
And that brings me to my last point: patience.
Although talented students exist everywhere, Minerva is not meant for every single one of them. Because we attract academically competitive students with a sense of self-awareness, passion, curiosity, and leadership skills, being patient is a necessity. Minerva’s curriculum is challenging and rewarding, and the global experience we provide can either excite or intimidate. Often, it does both. Finding the right fit means I must also trust students to complete our admissions process on time, as this gives them a chance to demonstrate parts of the traits we seek in them. Interest in Minerva is at an all time high, with applicants coming from every single corner of the world. However, the most successful students, I’ve found, are those who go beyond their excitement and eagerness to explore the unknown, and actively take on the challenge of applying to Minerva.
My work at Minerva has been rife with exciting moments and learning opportunities that make me see why what I’m doing matters. For example, interacting with students from various countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, Ghana, or Cameroon, has challenged and widened my perspectives of the continent’s most valuable resource: its youth. Within sub-Saharan Africa, 70 percent of the population is below 30 years of age. With a projected growing demand for quality education and a rapidly changing global context, my work gives students access to an education underpinned by a global experience, practical knowledge, and active learning, which prepare them to tackle the world’s most complex challenges and shape the future of their communities.
I’ve had many opportunities while on the road to hear from prospective students on what they expect from a university experience. Time and time again, their opinions reinforce how outdated the traditional higher education model remains. Automation and globalization are examples of factors that shape the narratives around what purposes education ought to serve in the 21st century, and I am grateful that I work at an institution that impacts — and perhaps more importantly challenges — the traditional higher education system by ensuring students have access to quality, affordable education.
Finding students who are right for Minerva is a difficult but exciting challenge. It sometimes requires traveling thousands of miles and engaging in the unknown. Although the process is long and demanding, it is a group effort, involving multiple stakeholders from the public and private sectors whose priority is to connect talented students with incredible opportunities, such as the one we offer at Minerva. And because finding those special students brings me great satisfaction, I believe this is an endeavour worth undertaking.