The physical distance between Minerva’s cities — San Francisco and Seoul in the fall and San Francisco and Hyderabad in the spring — has proven itself to be a formidable barrier to establishing connections across Minerva’s three classes. In an informal survey of 2021 students conducted late October, almost all said they do not think communication between classes has been effective. While sentiments have slightly improved since then, as the three classes have gotten to know each other somewhat better, the overall lack of communication and knowledge transfer has not changed significantly. This challenge will likely echo across classes unless new student and/or staff-driven changes are made.
Minerva City Experience Manager Capri LaRocca, part of the Student Experience Team that would theoretically oversee such a change, believes that inter-class communication has been steadily improving but can still be better.
“We’re still super new and we’re still getting off the ground,” LaRocca said, “so I think that there’s more basic, broad things that we’ve been focusing on. But we do want to foster more connection across classes.”
The Current State of Communication
Minerva does have some programs explicitly designed to connect classes. For example, Basecamp sessions, designed to facilitate the transfer of MiCos (Minerva Communities, or university clubs) to incoming students, are held via video call over the summer, and legacy groups consist of, and nominally connect, students and staff across the university.
The only official opportunity for different years to interact in person is when admitted students come to San Francisco for Ascent preview weekends.
During the 2017/2018 academic year, the classes of 2019 and 2020 have had a unique opportunity to live together, bringing the two classes much closer together. Class of 2019 student Skye Hersh and class of 2020 student Stella Serger both said that their cohorts started getting to know each other over the course of the 2016/2017 year because they knew they would be together for the following two semesters. A few students from the classes of 2019 and 2020 have also independently moved into the San Francisco residence halls, allowing for some cross-class connection with the class of 2021.
It remains to be seen whether these informal overlaps will become a regular part of Minerva. If so, older students who return to San Francisco could become a consistent source of information about future cities and courses, as well as providing support in dealing with the chaos and stress of the first year at college.
Presently, however, different classes primarily communicate with each other via shared Facebook groups, where posts range from memes to serious discussions on school policies. While it can be a valuable platform, Facebook posts rarely provide a complete reflection of life in their cohort, making it difficult to build relationships, let alone replicate in-person contact.
Limited interaction between years can be beneficial in some ways. It allows new classes to develop their own solutions to other problems inherent to Minerva, preventing the perseverance of flawed practices through institutional inertia alone. This could be especially valuable for a school as young as Minerva, where constantly trying new ideas helps accelerate growth.
Knowledge Transfer and Spoke
Ideally, new classes will inherit the best of what their seniors learned, allowing them to make what class of 2019 student Devora Klionsky calls, “a higher level of mistakes.” This is partially why she decided to create Spoke, a digital repository where Minervans can share memories and advice.
“With the exception of my class  and 2020 right now, there’s just no overlap [between classes],” Klionsky said, “so the idea was to build something that would facilitate not even cross-class interaction but cross-class sharing of knowledge.”
After Klionsky created Spoke while interning with Minerva in 2016, she hoped that other students would add posts and draw inspiration from it organically, or perhaps with prompting from a Student Experience work-study member.
While new posts were added in 2017, Klionsky doesn’t believe that students are actively taking advantage of the platform. This seems to be especially true for the class of 2021, who do not appear to have contributed any posts and are mostly unaware of its existence.
“We are still trying to figure out the best way to utilize Spoke as a resource,” LaRocca said. “We chase people down to add stories to it. We want it to be something that people are excited to contribute to, but that requires resources that I think we haven’t fully had yet.”
Challenges with MiCos
Spoke exemplifies another problem with limited cross-class communication: student initiatives and MiCos are unable to gain the necessary momentum to establish themselves across years and develop into full-fledged organizations.
“Ideally,” LaRocca said, “the vision for micos is ultimately to be something that can connect classes.”
Minerva’s Basecamps are designed to facilitate the transfer of such groups. The student experience team “thinks a lot about Basecamp,” according to LaRocca, and how they can best support MiCos.
They’ve deliberated over how to time Basecamp so students aren’t too overwhelmed by commitments, but are still familiar enough with Minerva to know what they’ll want to create. And they created Launch Day, a formal way of kicking off MiCos at the end of September, after they realized that leaders “need a little more time to build up an initiative.”
The stress of academics often makes dedicating time to organizing or even participating in extracurriculars difficult for first-year students, impacting the possibility for initiatives to continue without consistent guidance from upperclassmen.
Obstacles to Preserving Student Organizations
Though these problems affect all student initiatives, they are most relevant to the Associated Students of Minerva (ASM) and the Minerva Quest. At their best, both are vital to protecting the community’s interests: ASM represents students to the administration, and the Quest informs them about school news and provides a platform for student voice. Success for these student organizations requires that they collaborate across classes early and often.
The ASM has been sending biweekly emails to all Minerva students and is discussed on shared Facebook groups and in the Quest, but it can be hard to gauge these posts’ reach. An ASM representative tried to join the Minerva Class of 2021 Facebook group, but was initially denied by the moderator, preventing them from introducing the class of 2021 to the ASM until November. At the information sessions they hosted later that month, former class of 2019 representative Skye Hersh recalled that few students showed up and the discussion centered on a mice problem in one of the residence halls.
“You’re first year students, you’re dealing with enough of your own crap,” Hersh said, addressing the class of 2021. “[Class of 2019 and 2020 ASM representatives] get voted in and we’re really committed to bettering communication just with our own cohorts, let alone with you guys. So we include you in our email lists now, but I have no idea how people feel.”
In the second semester, the ASM is starting to establish itself in the class of 2021. Eight students ran to become representatives and three were elected. The election process was successful though disorganized (it was not revealed, for example, that the class would elect three total representatives, as opposed to three per residence hall, until the ballot was released).
Hersh thinks that, as Minerva grows, the ASM and other organizations will accumulate more inertia and become established in the university.
“We are really hoping that ASM gets carried down,” she said. “That seems like it’s of ethical importance, because the ASM is a student advocacy group. Hopefully, as long as students need it, it will work.”
A Potential Solution: Cross-Class Mentoring
Class of 2020 student Stella Serger realized the personal and social significance of the disconnect between classes when she spoke with class of 2021 student Margarita Levitova for her work-study, saying that “it turned out to be kind of like a mentoring session.”
“I found out that so many of the things she was struggling with, I struggled with last year,” Serger said. “I couldn’t offer her one perfect solution but give her hope, that we all went through this and we did get through it, and also just some practical advice.”
Levitova, for her part, said that talking to Serger “was another means of support; it wasn’t the turning factor of why I started feeling better [about Minerva], but it was definitely very helpful to feel better about myself.”
Their conversation inspired Serger, along with class of 2019 student Alberto Martinez de Arenaza, to create MiMentor, a group that pairs students across classes for monthly meetings. A total of about 140 students signed up, according to Serger, and mentors and mentees are matched based on what factors they deem most important, such as coming from the same country or having similar professional goals.
Serger hopes that the program will “generally build bridges between the two [locations],” so that even if a mentor can’t directly help their mentee they can connect them to someone who can.
Initiatives like Serger’s may one day serve as vital links between all Minerva classes. Creating such connections will facilitate the transfer of everything from treasured inside jokes to successful MiCos and also ensure that Minerva’s broader vision for students is realized. After all, as LaRocca observed, “we say global citizens, and part of that requires a global community. That’s more than just where people are from but also where people are.”
“I invite students who are really passionate about this to help us create those connections,” LaRocca said. “You are the ones who are most informed on how to create those authentic connections, not ones that are forced or somehow a burden or complicated, but a genuine, exciting, useful, valuable connection across classes.”