Ben Nelson, one of the co-founders of Minerva Project, found to his dismay as an undergraduate student of University of Pennysylvania, USA, that today’s liberal arts universities had moved from their original purpose of creating future leaders. Naturally, he began to lobby for change. However, he soon realised that existing universities didn’t have much of an incentive to change. A few years ago, after spending more than a decade at Snapfish, a global photo sharing site, and selling the company to Hewlett Packard, he decided that rather than trying to reform an existing institution, the conditions were right to create something new. And thus came into existence the project in 2011. Former Harvard President Larry Summers, former Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey, Patrick Harker and Lee Shulman are on Minerva’s board, which was gestated in 2010 to provide guidance and support.
In July, Minerva Project partnered with Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), a member of the Claremont University Consortium, to incubate Minerva Schools at KGI. The Minerva Schools at KGI will comprise a School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Business. The School of Arts and Sciences, will be led by Stephen Kosslyn, who’s the founding dean of Minerva Schools at KGI and includes the College of Social Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences, the College of Computational Sciences, and the College of Arts and Humanities. “The deans will be responsible for recruiting and training the faculty of the college, creating one of the cornerstone courses and developing the curricular offerings for the college. Within each college, students will be able to choose concentrations of study. For example, in the School of Computational Sciences, students will initially be able to choose from the following concentrations: computer science and artificial intelligence; data science and information management; bio- and healthcare informatics; and mathematics, statistics and decision-making,” says Robin Goldberg, chief marketing officer, Minerva Project, which is based in San Francisco.
Kosslyn has assembled an advisory board of prominent academics, including Nicholas A Christakis, Henry Louis Gates Jr, Gary King, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, and Thomas Rockwell, to provide recommendations on matters related to personnel, curriculum, and academic policy. Kosslyn will lead the faculty and comes to Minerva from Stanford University where he was the Director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. Previously, he spent 30 years at Harvard University where he was Dean of Social Sciences, among other roles. Kosslyn will manage deans in each of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences. Eric Bonabeau, who is the dean of College of Computational Sciences, is a scientist, technologist and entrepreneur. He has published around 140 articles and three books and is one of the world’s leading experts in complex systems and distributed adaptive problem solving. Daniel Levitin, dean of College of Arts and Humanities, is a neuroscientist, musician, author and record producer and has held appointments at McGill University, UC Berkeley, Stanford and Dartmouth. James Sterling, director of Minerva Labs and interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences, is an entrepreneur, inventor, owner of patents in the area of fluid mechanics, and former president of the Association for Laboratory Automation.
The Minerva experience
What’s in for students at Minerva? “Minerva provides a reinvented university experience for the brightest, most motivated students in the world. It will combine a redefined student body, a reinvented curriculum, rigorous academic standards, cutting-edge technology, and an immersive global experience,” gushes Goldberg.
In 2012, Minerva received $25 million in seed funding from Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm who has funded well-known technology companies such as eBay and Twitter. “The Minerva Schools will not have a traditional campus. Students will live together in residence halls all over the world. In effect, we are using the city as our campus. During the first year, students will live in Cisco. Then Minerva students will travel together in cohorts to residence halls in Mumbai, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro, London, Cape Town and Berlin. We want our students to be global leaders who are culturally aware of the world around them — one way to help encourage this is through international immersion,” says Goldberg. The change in locations is for students to take in cultural and extracurricular pursuits, funded by themselves.
On the method of teaching to be followed at Minerva, she says, “Our classes are live, discussion-intensive seminars directed in real-time by faculty using a proprietary interactive platform designed to maximise student interactions with the professor and with each other,” says Goldberg. The Minerva Schools will welcome its Founding Class in Fall 2014. Tuition fee is $10,000 per year (approx `6.2 lakh). Minerva is hoping to be accredited by 2014-15 school year. Apply at www.minerva.kgi.edu by December 31.