Learning Matters: Holiday Revelations

Chancellor Carrell 

Over the holidays this year I had several encounters with people who were new to me, thanks to the generous invitation of friends and colleagues to attend their holiday celebrations.

Inevitably, the introductions move to the classic question about work. Given our location in Rochester, Minnesota, that query is generally posed as an open-ended assumption: “So, you’re at Mayo?” Though the asker expects me to clarify my department or role in that wonderful, internationally-renowned organization, I have the fun of a different answer: “No,” I say, casually. “I’m at the University of Minnesota.” “Oh,” they respond, predictably with something like, “that commute must be tough in the winter” or “so you’re down from the Cities for this party?” Then I have the chance to share that I work at the Rochester campus of the University of Minnesota, waiting for the small business owner, surgeon or stay-at-home dad to ask for more information.

I love that moment. It presents itself to me as a wide open meadow, covered in fresh snow, waiting for this cross-country skier to glide across its gleaming surface in the sunshine. And then there I go, shoving off to share the story of this new campus, its amazing student outcomes, the creative faculty doing research on student success, our mission of innovation and well-being, the citizen-advocate founders and more. Sometimes the listener stays with me, especially if someone refreshes their beverage or passes the hummus plate. Other times, my sharing is interrupted either by a question such as “What’s a chancellor?” Or most frequently, with a story about the person’s child or grandchild. Many say with pride, “My daughter is at the U!” or “My grandson is graduating from Iowa State in the spring.” Then it’s my turn to be quiet and listen to the story of a specific young person striving to develop their human potential at the close of the second decade of the twenty-first century.

The consistent theme I hear in these stories is a blend of pride and concern, as the learning journey leads the child or grandchild forward into opportunity and purpose. While we professionals in higher education look at the big picture and worry about educational attainment gaps and dwindling funds for public higher education, I have been reminded that the perception of higher education for those outside our sector is informed primarily by the experience of someone they love. I’m grateful to all my holiday party conversation partners for reminding me of the reason we do this work – to make possible the progress of humanity, one precious person at a time. You see, learning matters – to us all.

Read more of Chancellor's Blog -Learning Matters, linked here.