Learning Matters: Our Story is Our Strength
Pre-pandemic, we were busy being a campus community – teaching, pouring over data, connecting students to opportunities, passing in the skyways as we ran for coffee, generating ideas as we chatted before and after meetings. Back then, we were uplifted effortlessly as we crafted our campus story simply by engaging with each other to accomplish daily work. But now, 10 months into our separation, many of us are feeling distressed and exhausted by multiple forces beyond our control. Even as our first chancellor reminds us that we are a Campus with Purpose, our distance from each other may have disconnected us from the visionary story we are creating together.
As the Minnesota legislature opened its 2021 session, students Yusra Yusuf and Pal Koak volunteered to testify to the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. The week these young leaders spoke to the senators, I also had speaking engagements (through the world of Zoom, of course). As part of such presentations, I routinely recite the UMR Vision – to inspire transformation in higher education through innovations that empower graduates to solve the grand health challenges of the 21st-century. Again and again (in my undetected slippers), I shared bits of our history and student outcomes with a variety of constituents, multitasking as I checked the news and fretted about the future. And then – I tuned in to listen to Pal and Yusra provide their testimony to our elected officials -- and the sheer power of our campus story shook me right out of my slippers – and my malaise.
In a steady, clear voice Pal declared: “…After undergrad I’m planning on pursuing the MD/PhD…with an interest in gene editing and hematology….On campus, my leadership roles are as representative to the Board of Regents and I’m a member of the Black Student Union. The University of Minnesota Rochester, or UMR as we call it endearingly, is an institution focused on innovation. The virus has exposed our country’s areas of weakness and it has emphasized the importance of science and healthcare. At UMR, the way we’ve seen that play out – students facing isolation because of the move to classes online… – our school recognizes that continuing to focus on innovation and opening opportunities for students to collaborate is a key…and so our school is working on a project…to create a gamified online interface so that students can have better teaching online….because of UMR’s tight relationship with Mayo Clinic, I along with some of my classmates, have been able to have experiences here at Mayo…with your support…our school [can]…continue to provide those opportunities….”
Then it was Yusra’s turn. She smiled, expressed gratitude and proclaimed: “…I aspire to go to medical school….as a woman of color born in Minnesota our community has faced many challenges and shortages in healthcare….both my parents…immigrated with hope in their hearts…they proved to me that…if you have a dream or passion, then you chase it…Coming to UMR – as a first generation student – I came across other students like myself and staff who could relate to my story. I’m a part of a living learning community called Global Connections.…I’ve been supported by incredible professors and staff, student success coaches and my peers…. I am currently involved in our Diversity and Inclusion Committee and our Black Student Union – both of which focus heavily on having an inclusive campus… Being…surrounded by medical professionals in one of the best hospitals in the world has been life changing….…at UMR, innovation…in teaching methods and learning strategies has been essential – constantly trying to enhance how we solve problems, how we work with one another and how we look at the world around us. As a health sciences school, it’s important to be empowered…after all, we are the future of Minnesota.”
Some lessons I need to learn over and over, how about you? Yusra and Pal, thank you. Though you were speaking to senators you fortified the whole UMR community, reminding us how much our work and learning matters. May our collective story, as told by these powerful student voices, provide renewed strength, purpose and pride for the semester ahead.