Memories of Awe Episode 36

Liz wanted to continue her exploration of what higher education might be. In the last interview, Professor McKown focused on treating students as individuals and helping them discover and develop their talent. She wanted to explore this idea further.

LJ: Could you share with me your thinking about how universities impose barriers on student success? I would think a university was in the business of lifting up the lives of those who attended.

KMcK:  That’s what the message is, but let me share with you a data point. I’m privileged by teaching students from their freshman year to senior year. I do a survey in my freshman class that I repeat in my senior class on how students see themselves. The one trait that has a dramatic drop is self-confidence.

LJ: Why do you think that is?

KMcK:  Just think of your own experience. How often have you heard a teacher make disparaging comments about students in a class?

LJ: Almost after every class.

KMcK:  Universities promote themselves as being innovative centers, but their approach to the development of human talent remains rooted in the British system from centuries ago.

Let me share with you the story of Susan. When she was a student, she was often humiliated by her professors. She had a practical mindset but just couldn’t grasp the more theoretical approach that faculty used.

LJ: That sounds familiar. You have told me other stories like that. I have a feeling you are going to tell me the rest of the story.

KMcK:  Susan went on to be incredibly successful. In fact, she is one of our few billionaire alumni. Naturally, the university has approached her about a major donation. She was selected for one of the university’s top recognition. She turned down both the request for donations and the honor.

LJ: Was that out of protest in how she was treated?

KMcK:  It was. So what she did was to create her own talent development program. She sought out candidates who hadn’t succeeded in college. What she did find in the candidates was a spark, a determination, and a belief in themselves. She worked with each candidate to help them succeed in their own way.

LJ: And have they been successful?

KMcK:  They have been remarkably so. What Susan wants to do now is to capture their stories. Then she wants to use those stories as a call to reimagining higher education. She has the means to make a real difference in how we think of developing a culture of success, and she will disrupt our centuries old thinking of higher education.

LJ: What a wonderful idea. I’d love to be involved in something like that.

MKcK:  The job is yours if you want it. I’ve already talked to Susan about your talent. Here’s her personal contact information.

LJ: (holding back tears) I can’t believe this. Thank you so much. I’m going to make you proud.

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“The greatest crisis of our lives is neither economic, intellectual, nor even what we usually call religious. It is a crisis of imagination. We get stuck on our paths because we are unable to reimagine our lives differently from what they are right now. We hold on desperately to the status quo, afraid that if we let go, we will be swept away by the torrential undercurrents of our emptiness.” –Marc Gafni (philosopher)

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