Living Our Mission: An Open Letter to Minerva’s Graduate Students

by: Casey Saenger, Ph.D., Head Instructor for the Master in Decision Analysis program and Associate Professor of Natural Sciences | Oct 21, 2020

This speech was originally given at the Fall 2020 Convocation for Minerva’s Master of Decision Analysis Class of 2022.

Minerva’s mission is “to nurture critical wisdom for the sake of the world”, and I would like to take a moment to highlight the latter part of this phrase.

You likely entered the Master in Decision Analysis program with a particular goal, be it to increase profit margins, improve your community’s education system, or position yourself for an upcoming promotion. These are all perfectly reasonable goals, and we look forward to you achieving them. However, we expect that they will not be your only pursuits.

The state of the world today is more uncertain than it has been for some time, with questions of equality and a global pandemic at the forefront, while issues like climate change continue to persist in the background. The equivalent challenges of the future are difficult to predict, but we can be certain that their solutions will not be simple. You were selected for this program, in part, because we saw potential in each of you to help solve the bigger challenges threatening our global community. We, therefore, ask that you remain open to contributing to these larger issues in addition to your personal pursuits.

Taking on these large problems outside what you perceive as your area of expertise is never easy and you should be prepared for this. Not coincidentally, Minerva’s learning philosophy may be unlike what you have experienced in the past, and may also not be easy. At Minerva, you should not expect to be told the answer. Rather, you should expect to learn in fits and starts with moments of struggle, confusion, and questioning, which eventually yield understanding and the “critical wisdom” that makes up the other half of our mission. We ask that you embrace this process, as this seemingly messy approach is what is required for authentic learning. Authentic learning, in turn, is what will help equip you to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

Such authentic learning cannot be decoupled from your community and your peers. You should expect the people here to help you learn by routinely challenging your understanding through respectful questioning and critique. Similarly, we ask you to support their learning by providing the same in return. This commitment will bring rewards that span across time and location, which will not only help better yourself and achieve your goals, but hopefully improve the world at large.

If you are ready to challenge the status quo in order to make a global impact, learn more about Minerva’s MDA program.