This article is the last in a series on the global rotation. You can also read a short piece introducing the project, the first article on the educational value of the global rotation, the second article about the constraints on the model, and the third article about the difficulty of the global rotation.
After publishing our last article, we conducted an incredibly unscientific poll on the Quest’s Instagram story in which we asked readers if they think the global rotation is “worth it.” An overwhelming majority told us yes, it is. And, after writing this series, we’re inclined to agree. The benefits of the global rotation are obvious, and while the current model has significant shortcomings, interviews with staff members confirmed that many of them are actively being tackled.
These conversations also demonstrated staff members have diverse opinions about issues with the current model. Dennis Posthumus, Minerva’s Berlin Student Experience Designer, spoke about how his ecology background made him critical of the global rotation’s carbon footprint, while Barbara Walder, Minerva’s Global Director of Operations, emphasized the need for African representation and deeper immersion in the current cities.
Strengths and Improvements
Capri LaRocca, Minerva’s Director of Student Experience, and Anna Kim, Minerva’s Seoul City Experience Manager, shared the concrete steps SXP has taken to increase the quality of engagement with each rotation city. They talked about different examples of longer, in-depth experiences in the cities and efforts to ensure students interact with local people rather than just talk to their peers in a new place. These include “signature experiences,” homestays with residents, and activities with local college students.
This willingness to improve also extended to more fundamental aspects of the rotation, though most staff were adamant that the seven-city model would last and gave multiple reasons justifying it. Ben Nelson acknowledged struggles with visas and lack of local engagement in Hyderabad. He also addressed persistent frustrations over the lack of an African rotation city and the possibility of adding Kigali, Rwanda in the future.
If this trajectory of change continues, future Minerva students may see frustration with the global rotation as nothing more than the growing pains of an ultimately successful model.
While these improvements will take time and current students continue to face difficulties, Nelson and Junko Green, Minerva’s Chief Discovery & Communications Officer, explained that they have iterated Minerva’s marketing strategy to ensure that each new student has an accurate understanding of what they’re signing up for. They claim their revamped strategy emphasizes the difficulty of the global rotation model.
These conscious decisions to improve SXP programming and update Minerva’s recruiting strategy are all signs of our institution re-molding itself with experience. Nelson claims that, anecdotally, younger Minerva classes have a more positive relationship with the global rotation because of their adjusted expectations. If this trajectory of change continues, future Minerva students may see frustration with the global rotation as nothing more than the growing pains of an ultimately successful model.
Weaknesses and Concerns
Despite our sincere high hopes for the future of the global rotation, some concerns remain. First, we question one of its major premises: that it is possible to learn how to quickly adapt to different contexts without first sufficiently understanding the context to which one is adapting.
To what extent, for example, can we adjust effectively to the different communication styles between Silicon Valley and Seoul without first understanding their origins, the context in which they developed, and how that adjustment varies based on the student’s gender, age, and cultural background? Our interviewees have not fully convinced us that the current model’s assumption that quality will follow quantity is sound from a pedagogical point of view.
We acknowledge that no magic number of months will guarantee cultural competence and churn out global citizens, but if that indeed is one of our intentions, the overall design of our curriculum should reflect that goal. A city cannot be a classroom if students don’t have enough time to learn from it. The SXP initiatives discussed above are an example of how Minerva programming can increase student opportunities for location-specific learning.
A second, more general concern is how constraints on students’ time each semester and the sheer difficulty of the Minerva curriculum limits opportunities for engagement with the location cities. Each of our interviews affirmed that staff members across Minerva are aware that the entire experience, especially the global rotation, is onerous. As LaRocca said, “Going to live in another country for four months is really difficult, and that’s known.”
However, if the challenges of the global rotation are not news to anyone, then who decides how much is too much? Minerva students certainly have many different ideas about what constitutes the ideal rotation and which components are manageable or harmful. As Ben Nelson told the Quest, satisfying everyone is impossible; Minerva can only “try to make the most of the constraints that we have.”
The successful future of the global rotation will require a more delicate balance to both bolster Minerva’s pedagogical goals and respect student limits.
Students are obliged to understand and work within these constraints, especially in these early years when Minerva is still evolving rapidly. We all signed up for an innovative, experimental education, and many of us willingly abandoned the security of conventional alternatives.
But the appeals to constraints and patience have, at times, felt one-sided. Students themselves are operating within just as much, if not more, limitations on their time, money, passports, health, and, extraordinary though we may be, mental ability to juggle everything Minerva and the global rotation throws at us. The message that all the difficulties are worth it and build resilience, though uplifting, can sometimes feel like a dismissal of student hardships.
As the recent Financial Aid Day of Action demonstrated, there is growing discontent among the student body towards an education that does not address their limits, both material and psychological. It is important for staff to thoughtfully place an upper-limit on this difficulty that balances other priorities and accounts for student perspectives, instead of championing “resilience” at moments of hardship.
The successful future of the global rotation will require a more delicate balance to both bolster Minerva’s pedagogical goals and respect student limits. We believe the answer to this complex problem lies in continued communication and collaboration between students and staff. Students need full transparency and empathy from staff members to fully understand and prepare for the Minerva journey and the difficulties they encounter on it. Staff members need student opinions about what isn’t working to know how to direct their improvement efforts, as well as patient cooperation from students while the Minerva model is still under construction.
Having said that, we were encouraged by the number of staff who agreed to participate in this project and their openness in honestly responding to our probing questions. We hope that current students will continue the conversation with the Quest, with staff, and with each other. We are especially optimistic about students (and alumni!) becoming increasingly involved in directly shaping Minerva through paid roles. The collaboration of students and staff has the potential to give voice to, and effectively respond to, student perspectives and challenges.