What Matters Most?

by Alisha Fredriksson, Class of 2019 | Dec 21, 2016

I wrote the following piece during my first year at Minerva, nearly two years ago. Since then, I took a gap year, during which I worked on personal projects and interned at the Stanford d. school and Ashoka. More recently, I have just completed a semester in Berlin — one of Minerva’s residential locations — as a second year student. Though a lot has changed since writing this piece, I still believe in the critical importance of education as a means for growth. For me, it’s been key to be with an institution and community that share my values and support me in becoming my best self.

Second year at United World College has arrived; time to figure out my future. Should I gap year in Nepal? Make a UWC documentary? Apply to Yale or Harvard?

Residential colleges, global scholars, core curricula. Needs blind, full need, needs based. Creeping ivy and creepy societies. Like the countless mosquitoes at UWC Mahindra, college terms swarm me constantly, each vying for head space to sink into. Should I catch low student-faculty ratio or high-level dance troupes? The stamp of Ivy League or the rays of California sunshine? What should I consider and what should I discard?

By chance, a new school named Minerva visited our campus in rural India. Minerva looked different: a startup university that didn’t want SAT scores and didn’t have data on College Board. It combined immersive cultural experiences, effective pedagogy, advanced technology, and exceptional faculty to build a redesigned university for the 21st century. And while all of these factors intrigued me, I was mostly drawn to their courage to try something new.

I felt as if Minerva was an embodiment of the person I hoped to become: innovative, confident, driven… Minerva really made me think. As I scoured their website and studied their model, I wondered how life at a new university could look. If we strip the traditional system and keep only what matters, what bones would remain? Forget looming libraries, secret societies, and football fans but remember what education is truly about.

At UWC, education is about growth. It’s about amplifying potential, challenging boundaries, and unearthing solutions. What matters most are the people around you: the friends who grow with you through courtyard conversations, fire service sessions, and Rajasthani adventures. I value my UWC experience immensely but wonder if the UWC curriculum could use some adjustments (is the International Baccalaureate still the most relevant model?).

Students across the globe benefit from university experiences every day, but do all students benefit from their curricula? Universities today filter for race, legacies, and endowments but not necessarily resilience or potential. There is tenure for teachers but high dropout rates for students. We strive for 7s, 2400s, and 4.0s but not the retention or application of knowledge these numbers could represent.

Luckily, education itself is growing. New resources appear daily in EdTech, coding bootcamps, and open source online education, of which many of the free options now outshine the expensive ones. Some MOOC providers, such as Coursera, have over 10 million users and Khan Academy even opened an elementary school!

As a Founding Class member at Minerva, I am grateful to be building, reflecting, and questioning with the brightest, most motivated students. We are fully immersed in seven of the world’s greatest cities, meaning no campus, cafeteria, or classrooms to settle into. We have keys to the residence hall and open doors to the resources in each city. Seminars of roughly fifteen students take place on an active learning platform, each designed to complement the other classes and employ the science of learning.

What I find most valuable is that each class is both an engaging experience and an opportunity to improve the next one. We have a culture of challenging our own system and collaborating with each other so that feedback is consistently provided and implemented. How many schools will send weekly updates of the changes made to their classroom? Or make such changes based on student suggestions? While this feedback culture is critical for a new institution, it’s also one I hope to carry over into everything else I do. After all, nothing we do is perfect as-is.

When an educational model is built properly, it becomes the cornerstone of everything you do. Your curriculum becomes your initiatives and your courtyard conversations become your curriculum. Everything fits and everything enables you to grow. You may learn spatial statistics one day and apply it to SF homelessness the next, or study perspective-taking while spending weeks debating just what makes a city ideal. Having founded a social enterprise while at UWC Mahindra, I am excited to be developing my organization’s road map with the people and programs at Minerva.

However, Minerva is not a place for everyone, just as UWC isn’t either. What the two have in common is a rare community of extraordinarily talented and caring people along with extraordinary opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Minerva is leading a movement in higher education just as UWC is leading one in secondary education. Everyday I am grateful to be on the forefront of these exciting and overwhelmingly necessary revolutions. I can extend my own potential with my peers and professors while together exploring the potential of education itself.

So take a look at College Board or US News Rankings, but remember to create a new educational filter for yourself. What do you consider and what do you discard? Don’t wait until university to figure out what matters.

If you’re curious about Minerva, I encourage you to apply! The deadline is coming up on March 15.