This article is the second in a series on the global rotation. You can read a short piece introducing the project here, the first article on the global rotation and education here, and the second article about the constraints on the model here.

The global rotation has been described as unsustainable in several ways, the most obvious being environmental. But it may also be unsustainable in terms of money, logistics, and emotions, placing burdens on students they feel like they can’t continue to carry. In this article, we ask: how much, in the broadest possible sense, does the global rotation cost? And, is it worth it?

Environmental Sustainability:

The carbon emissions from frequent international flights and waste from students buying and discarding items in each city contributes to the global climate crisis. Dennis Posthumus, Minerva’s Berlin Student Experience Designer, has a background in ecology and cited this issue as his main critique of the Minerva model. 

“Staff members fly out of San Francisco to meet someone [in Berlin] or just to say ‘hi.’ Sure, it’s not fair to put it that way, but sometimes it feels like that,” Posthumus told the Quest. “The amount of money and pollution that goes into that is staggering, and you can’t really do that in good conscience.”

Minerva has made some improvements in its environmental impact. Individual students and staff members concerned about the environment can buy carbon offsets for their flights. Minerva also piloted an official, funded Sustainability Team this year, which examined ways to cut back on waste. 

Financial, Logistical, and Emotional Sustainability:

Beyond this literal environmental unsustainability, the global rotation can also be unsustainable for individual students in terms of finances and logistics. The cost of plane tickets adds up, as does the time invested in securing visas. Students struggling financially and/or from countries with weaker passports often experience the most stress from these burdens. 

In terms of the travel costs, Reed Cooper, Minerva’s Director of Enrollment & Advising, pointed out that Minerva would be even more expensive if students spent all four years in San Francisco. This rationale doesn’t address travel-related costs or the possibility of staying several years in a cheaper rotation city. That said, it does point out that including less expensive cities helps students, in a sense, save money compared to peers who remain in costly metropolises. 

Finally, the global rotation can be stressful and exhausting, even for students with strong passports and full bank accounts. A place-based sense of stability is impossible, and many people are routinely pushed out of their comfort zones. 

Vicki Chandler, Minerva’s Chief Academic Officer & Dean of Faculty, emphasized Minerva students range from wanting more cities, to fewer cities, to doing away with the global rotation completely. Consequently, Chandler said, there is some flexibility for individual students, who can opt out of a city because of visa issues, personal concerns, or professional reasons. Deciding to go off rotation, however, can negatively impact financial aid and F-1 visas for students who aren’t US citizens.

[An important component of the global rotation is having] an open mindset and being willing to have experiences that are uncomfortable and push your boundaries. As well as knowing your boundaries and taking time to rest and recover before going out again.

Capri LaRocca, Minerva’s Director of Student Experience

Capri LaRocca, Minerva’s Director of Student Experience, framed the inevitable stresses of the global rotation as an opportunity for students to develop resilience and learn to continually try new things, and sometimes fail at them, while exploring a new city. “[An important component of the global rotation is having] an open mindset and being willing to have experiences that are uncomfortable and push your boundaries,” LaRocca told the Quest. “As well as knowing your boundaries and taking time to rest and recover before going out again.” 

Jonathan Katzman, Chief Product Officer at Minerva, recalled a similar educational model with moves as frequent as the global rotation: his wife’s medical residency. “It was a massive roller coaster to start from scratch in each place,” he told the Quest. “But overall she gained a full understanding of pediatrics.” 

Some students, however, have argued the benefits from the rotation and overcoming its difficulties fail to compensate for the academic losses they experienced as a result of the lack of stability and logistical challenges. Recently, Toni Schroeder (M’20) wrote an article criticizing the abnormally late classes for her and her peers in Taipei. The difficulty of scheduling courses across three time zones left many students with class until as late as 2 am, which, Schroeder asserts, can damage quantity and quality of sleep, both integral to effective learning. While this issue should be within Minerva’s power to fix for future cohorts, it is a salient instance of the ways the academic experience — which should be the main thing students are paying for — can be effectively compromised, rather than augmented by, the rotation.

The Rotation and Its Challenges in Minerva’s Marketing:

Both LaRocca and Ben Nelson emphasized the distinction between the reality of the Minerva rotation and the easygoing extended study-abroad experience often imagined when someone hears “seven cities in four years.” According to Nelson, over the past five years, Minerva has increased how much they emphasize the difficulty and academic aspects of Minerva and decreased their messaging about travel. 

Junko Green, Minerva’s Chief Discovery & Communications Officer, told the Quest “we are constantly working to accurately portray the benefits — and the challenges — of the global rotation.” The ultimate goal of recruiting marketing, as she wrote, is to “attract the right kind of students to Minerva,” which requires balancing excitement and curiosity with honest conversations exploring if this is the right school for someone.

Minerva has continued to correct that balance. For the first three cohorts (Founding Class, Inaugural Class, and M’20), Nelson said Minerva’s curriculum and the global rotation received equal emphasis in recruitment communications. The message many of the students who heard those pitches took away, according to Nelson, was that they would be joining a school of “global party people.” He said 90 percent of messaging to M’21 was focused on the curriculum and how hard Minerva is, and, with M’22 and M’23, they attempted to overemphasize difficulty.

We are constantly working to accurately portray the benefits — and the challenges — of the global rotation

Junko Green, Minerva’s Chief Discovery & Communications Officer

Anecdotally, Nelson claims he’s seen encouraging changes in the expectations each class has when they enter Minerva as a result of these evolving marketing tactics. “In general, the way the M’23s [Minerva’s current first year class] embrace challenge is quite different from the other classes,” Nelson said. “They’re unfazed by a lot of things that I think certainly M’19s or M’20s would be more fazed by.”

Green told the Quest that the marketing team has also begun to focus on the value students will get out of the global rotation. She wrote they are intentionally sharing about “the opportunity to practice the HCs [students] are learning in various cultural contexts, empathic understanding of diverse social dynamics, the growth that comes from navigating so many different places in such a short period of time.” 

Based on her conversations with students and alumni, Green believes that while “the rotation is challenging, the benefits of going through the challenge and persevering far outweigh the discomfort some feel.” As Minerva graduates more students, it may become more apparent that the rotation is truly worth the difficulty. Or perhaps the most frustrating challenges will be resolved as Minerva continues to refine its recruiting strategy and improve the student experience.

For now, though, let us know: How challenging have you found the global rotation? And do you think it will all be worth it in the end (and when, indeed, is “the end”)? Please share your thoughts with us at [email protected] or [email protected].