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Audio: KMOJ Interview with Ritu Saksena

Transcript

[FREDDIE]: On this ... birthday please welcome to our morning show studios an individual who has an interesting bio. And permit me, we don't normally go through the depth of a bio when we have our special guest on, but I'll talk about the bio first and then I'll step back and let Chantel introduce her. Our guest today earned her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Delhi, has two master's degrees from the University in Delhi, as well as a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Maryland. She worked at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, and was the Associate Director for the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Illinois.

[CHANTEL]: Wow.

[FREDDIE]: Today she is the Director of Graduate Programs at the University of Minnesota College of Continuing and Professional Studies. And she tells us she is excited about their new master's program in Civic Engagement.

[CHANTEL]: Please welcome to the KMOJ Studios, and I want to get this right, Ritu Saksena. Did I get it right?

[RITU]: Yes, you did.

[CHANTEL]: Oh, look at me.

[FREDDIE]: Welcome.

[CHANTEL]: Well, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Talk to us about the program that is at the University of Minnesota, the Master's Program in Civic Engagement. First of all, what is civic engagement, Ritu?

[RITU]: So first of all, thanks so much for having me here.

[FREDDIE]: It's our pleasure.

[RITU]: I'm glad to be here. Civic engagement is a term we define broadly. In short, we think of civic engagement as the ability to make a difference in our communities, and doing so to improve the quality of life for all. And we think there are many ways to do this, both using political processes and nonpolitical processes. We're currently using knowledge and skills and values to effect change to improve the quality of life. We're now seeing a trend with the younger generations wanting to be more involved, wanting to figure out ways to contribute to their communities, wanting to solve problems, address inequities, and overall just be impactful and make change happen. And as we know, change happens at all levels, and education serves as a powerful point of entry into those conversations. So this degree is about civic engagement and how can we make that happen, how can we be impactful in society.

[FREDDIE]: So do you still find that students are inquisitive about how to have that personal impact on change for our communities?

[RITU]: Yes, we do. In fact, I think the younger generations, we see more and more of that. I think they really want to make a change in society. They want to be involved. They care deeply about the environment around them, and they really do care about social inequities, want to figure out how to—and they want to be empowered to make the difference.

[CHANTEL]: Right.

[RITU]: So we do see them inquisitive, and we want to provide the education and the tools to make that happen.

[FREDDIE]: Everyone, we're talking with Ritu Saksena. She is the director of Graduate Programs at the University of Minnesota, the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. We'd like to learn more now about the Master of Professional Studies in Civic Engagement. What is that about?

[RITU]: It's an interesting new degree, something that we're all very passionate about right now. It's a 30-credit master's degree and it combines broad managerial skills with a specific disciplinary expertise, a focus area. So we have four tracks in the degree. One is Civic Life and Social Justice; Perspectives in Global Citizenship; Election Administration, which is really an online certificate offered through the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, which can be a track as well. It's an interesting option because it gives you a dual-credential: a master's degree as well as a certificate.

[CHANEL]: Wow.

[RITU]: And then we have a self-designed track, which allows you to really follow your passion and your individualized area of interest.

[FREDDIE]: Can I get credit for, for example, for the work that I do in civic engagement, specifically for the work we do in radio, as an example. Can those transfer into credits toward the master's degree program?

[RITU]: Unfortunately not. We don't have that.

[FREDDIE]: Aw, come on.

[Laughter] [CHANEL]: You can do it! You can do it, Ritu!

[RITU]: We don't do that right now, but we do have a capstone project and I think you can use your work to advance whatever you're trying to do using your experience.

[FREDDIE]: So capstone, meaning the body of your experience?

[RITU]: Yes, absolutely. So you can bring in your lived experience, and that's what many of our students do, because most of them are working professionals, career advancers wanting to make a change, you know, to figure out how to make a change in their own professional careers. So they do bring in that lived experience, and that's what enriches the conversations in the classrooms.

[CHANTEL]: So tell us, Ritu, how, why does this matter for the individuals in the Twin Cities, like our listeners in our communities, and how can this degree enhance the lives of people that are both inside and outside of the University of Minnesota? Not just the students, but the people in the community.

[RITU]: That's a very good question. I think part of it is, as I mentioned, we're really looking for individuals who have a cause or a passion and want to make change happen.

[CHANTEL]: Right.

[RITU]: And they bring that expertise into the classroom, and then you combine that with all the broad applied managerial skills I was talking about, it's a whole toolkit that you walk away with. But the idea is to—the capstone project that I was talking about, is to really bring something that you want to do and figure out how to work with communities. We believe that change happens at all levels, as I said earlier, but it really is working with the stakeholders, trying to understand a problem holistically, and then applying those skills to make that happen.

[CHANTEL]: Right.

[RITU]: So it does affect the communities. I mean, somebody could be looking at building a community center, some people could be talking about community gardens or urban farms. I mean, there could be so many things one can do. But this gives you the skills to approach that problem, to do it holistically and to address it in a way that you're understanding the implications of change for everybody involved. So, bringing in everybody into the conversation.

[FREDDIE]: Interesting. How would—how does this program important in the light of the—or through the lens, I should say, when we're hearing today about two really high profile people being charged in a massive college admissions scam? What does that do—how does the University respond, especially when you're talking about advanced degrees program. Why is that important now?

[RITU]: I think it's important because the University of Minnesota is a land-grant institution. We really are about providing access and we want to provide access to the people of Minnesota and beyond. So I think it is about us wanting to make a difference in society and in the society we belong to, we live in, we—these are, you know, communities that we are engaged with and involved with at every level. So we do want to contribute to that as well. And I think that plays a role in this. So bringing education—how does education make an impact? And how does it empower you to enter those conversations at various levels?

[CHANTEL]: Right.

[RITU]: And to be able to make a change.

[FREDDIE]: Chantel has another question, but do you mind if I ask a follow-up here?

[RITU]: Sure.

[FREDDIE]: So, you talked about students really wanting to be involved, and so forth, and I'm looking at the millennials of today, I'm looking at people who are more concerned, or they appear, Ritu, to be concerned, more concerned about social media and how I appear on screen and how many people can support whatever it is that I am interested in—at the, I'm thinking, to the detriment of education. How do you respond to something like that? Is there really, is there a shifting in the importance of what millennials are thinking about in terms of education?

[RITU]: I think millennials understand the importance of education, and I think that's partly what this degree is about. It really is about practical tools. So when we talk about the broad managerial skills that I was referring to, you walk away with creative problem solving, you walk away with critical thinking, leadership skills, communications, the ability to harness big data to figure out, you know, how do we do this in data visualization, but for the good of people? And how do you do that effectively? So I think it gives you those tools so when you are at the table at these conversations, you're able to participate and be an active participant, and to be able to speak the language of multiple stakeholders at the table. I think that's important. So I think that is where the millennials get more engaged. That is the—we are talking about the tools that they—they're digital natives, they're very comfortable with all of this technology. But now you're harnessing that to make change happen.

[FREDDIE]: That's the point of entry.

[RITU]: Yes.

[CHANTEL]: So for people listening that want to be a part of this Master's Program in Civic Engagement, what do you have to do? How do you get in?

[RITU]: The first thing I would say is determining if it's a good fit for you. And, I mean, we, in the College, we have a whole range of students. We have traditionally-aged students, you know, people who just got an undergraduate degree coming back for a professional degree.

[CHANTEL]: Right.

[RITU]: We have a lot of working professionals in the field who want to take the next step in their career and want to come back and get an additional credential, graduate degree, to do that. So we have career advancers, we have career starters, and we have career changers, people who feel like they want to make a change. So one of the first things I would say is to come in and talk with one of our advisors about the program if that's a good fit for you.

[CHANTEL]: Yeah.

[RITU]: And then we will help with the application process and getting people in. And we do work with students when they juggle their personal and professional life. I mean, there's a lot going on there. And family life. So we have—and graduate school is academically rigorous, so you really need to be prepared for that as well. But we work with our students to ensure that are successful. That's important to us, that they succeed.

[FREDDIE]: Rigor is good.

[RITU]: Yes, it is.

[FREDDIE]: And I apologize for not using your title appropriately, Dr. Saksena.

[RITU]: That's OK.

[FREDDIE]: What is next for you in terms of civic engagement as you continue your work? You have a long history of education. What is next?

[RITU]: That's a good question. Right now it's about building these programs. We've started several new master's programs in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, and we want to keep doing that. I think educating people is something that I'm passionate about, and working with students is really fun and engaging, and the work they do and the projects they work on, it just is rejuvenating to see that happen. So, I think, we—I don't know yet what's next. But right now we want to be successful in what we're doing. So.

[CHANTEL]: For sure.

[FREDDIE]: Well we're really excited about the work that you're doing in the programs at the University of Minnesota in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies and it's our thanks for you being with us this morning and sharing your work and engaging others and inviting them in to your realm of education.

[RITU]: Thank you so much for having me.

[CHANTEL]: Thank you.

[FREDDIE]: It's our pleasure.