Breaking down the walls of the university: Education with purpose

Amongst the midst of the crazy end-of-semester whirlwind, I had the delightful pleasure of attending an informal Q&A session with Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Syracuse University.  Dr. Cantor is a social psychologist by training, much like myself.  But she is a thoroughbred of administration staff, holding titles such as Chair of the Psychology Department at Yale and Dean at University of Michigan (much UNLIKE myself).

In going to this talk, I didn’t have too many expectations. I knew she would be talking about the purpose of higher education, but to be quite honest, I feel that this topic can often be drawn out into a boring, uninspiring message that might as well be left on a recording machine for you to bore yourself to death with at your own convenience.  But not her.  Not this talk.  This talk reminded me why the purpose of higher education is, in fact, an exhilarating topic.

She focused mostly on how the university needs to be fully integrated into its surrounding environment, jumping into partnerships with the local community.  Much to my delight, she emphasized the importance of making sustainable, lasting integration with the community, not just some colonial attempts to “save the poor person” with our “special gifts and abilities.”  The community has as much to offer us as we have to offer them.  I couldn’t agree more.

Of course, she talked about the inspiring programs they are doing in Syracuse such as having the local community run their own newspaper and giving youth a place to come and get training in the arts as a means of self-expression.  Each of the projects she mentioned sounded like an educator’s dream, but surprisingly, this was not the most impactful part of the discussion for me.

For me, the most inspiring part of her discussion was the fervor with which she spoke about her job.  She talked about how her training as a social psychologist made her especially well-trained for the job of administration she holds, and then she went on to talk about the countless gifts and abilites that exist among individuals in the university.  Seeing her light up reminded me of why I do what I do.  Sure, I love just doing my job.  But it’s more than that.  I – ME – have special skills that prepare me to serve my community and improve the world I’m living in.  I can stand in my world and change the atmosphere around me, just by the work I do.  That’s powerful.  That’s inspiring.  And that’s a reason not to grow too weary when you’re job is exhausting you.

The only challenge left now is figuring out how to tear down the walls of this university.

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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