Building the Intentional University is an explanation of Minerva Schools at KGI for an outside audience. It describes habits of mind and foundational concepts (HCs) and Cornerstone courses, Minerva’s pedagogy, branding, outreach, admissions, student life, and coaching and talent development (previously known as professional development).
While it’s written for people outside the Minerva community, it’s an interesting read for Minerva students as well. As students, we know the what of Minerva. We know what it’s like to take Minerva classes, go through the global rotation, participate in Student Experience (SXP) activities, and be part of the Minerva community. Staff and faculty know the how of Minerva. They see behind the scenes to the inner workings. This book provides the why. Why does Minerva exist? Why does it teach in the way that it does? Why do we use the city as a campus? Why is our admissions process the way that it is?
As students, we know the what of Minerva. Staff and faculty know the how of Minerva. This book provides the why.
It is important to note that some information in the book is out of date. Some of it was already out of date when I first read it a few months after it was published. For example, tutorials are described as classes with “three students who have overlapping interests.” The first tutorials had not happened when the book was published and the structure has been modified significantly since 2018. Minerva is still in its early years and things change substantially from year to year. Although the what or the how may have changed, the underlying principles and values that Minerva was built on have stayed the same. Although the logistics of tutorials have changed, they still exist to allow students to study things that they are deeply interested in.
What’s in the book?
Building the Intentional University is dense and somewhat dry, but clear, focused, and well organized. I found it to give a satisfyingly comprehensive explanation of how Minerva has used the science of learning when designing and implementing its pedagogy. It covers active learning, Minerva’s detailed lesson plans, the Forum (called the Active Learning Forum or ALF in the book), and assessments and feedback. Some of the specifics are out of date, but most of it is an interesting discussion of how the science of learning can actually be used to help students build skills and retain information, something Minerva claims other universities fall short on.
Most of it is an interesting discussion of how the science of learning can actually be used to help students build skills and retain information, something Minerva claims other universities fall short on.
It has a similarly good description of Minerva’s branding, outreach, partnerships, and coaching and talent development. These sections highlighted to me how truly intentional Minerva has been when building its business and operations. It is telling when “it took nearly three years from the first day of work until the first business card was printed.” Minerva cares about how it is presented to the world and cultivates this image to benefit the Minerva Project, Minerva Schools, and Minerva students. Even something as small as a business card design is critically examined to be sure it aligns with Minerva’s principles of being unconventional, thoughtful, and authentic.
In addition to explaining Minerva as it is now, the book also looks forward to what Minerva hopes to become. The chapter on accreditation describes Minerva’s eventual goal of being independently accredited, a process that will begin soon. In the chapter on Minerva’s business model, Ben Nelson writes, “Minerva is designed to be self-sustainable when we matriculate roughly fifteen hundred undergraduates across all four years.” Minerva currently has fewer than 700 students, and can only support one cohort per class (around 90-150 students).
What’s left out?
Strangely, the book does not strongly emphasize the use of technology (there is only one chapter on the Forum). This is interesting to me because I see technology as a central component of my Minerva experience. Almost all of my interactions with staff, faculty, and students from other classes (and even students in my class) happen virtually; I take class and do all of my pre-class readings and assignments on my computer. This adds up to a lot of time spent in front of my laptop, which is why I consider technology to be a large and important part of Minerva.
The non-academic components of student life are also a relatively small portion of the book. The global rotation is something that draws a lot of potential students to Minerva and is very unique in an undergraduate program, but is explained late in the book (the 22nd chapter). As a student, I feel that SXP and city immersion is as important as academics. If it were not, the global rotation would be frivolous.
The short explanation of financial aid does not satisfactorily address Minerva’s promise to give all students the opportunity to attend regardless of financial situation.
The short financial aid section in the chapter on admissions lays out Minerva’s four strategies for making Minerva affordable to all: 1) keeping Minerva’s costs low; 2) evaluating family contribution fairly; 3) student loans and “Minerva-arranged work opportunities” (what we know as work-study); and 4) external scholarships. Students have recently been raising concerns about financial aid and work-study, so the short explanation does not satisfactorily address Minerva’s promise to give all students the opportunity to attend regardless of financial situation.
Most students have work-study positions, on which they spend up to 7.5 hours a week (previously 10 hours a week) but, strangely, work-study is almost completely absent from the book. Work-study students are part of most teams at Minerva Schools including SXP, coaching and talent development, academic, student affairs, and admissions. As such, most Minerva students are also Minerva employees, and much of Minerva Schools would be very dysfunctional without work-study students. Even outside the academic year, some students work full-time for Minerva in summer internships, further integrating students into all parts of the school.
The book also leaves out the details of the upper-level curriculum including majors, concentrations, tutorials, and capstone. These make up three-fourths of the Minerva academic experience (although HCs still permeate upper-level courses, assignments, and capstone), so I think it’s a rather large chunk of missing information.
Building the Intentional University is a comprehensive explanation of the Cornerstone curriculum. It is not written as a guide for prospective students, nor a handbook for current students, staff, or faculty. As Kenn Ross, Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships, and Robin Goldberg, Chief Experience Officer, write, “Minerva is a complex concept and challenging to articulate succinctly.” I found it to be an interesting and informative glimpse into the why of Minerva and I would recommend it to any Minerva student.