The Big Think

Yesterday, May 16th, St. John’s College held its first annual “Big Think” event for Faculty and Staff. This event provided an opportunity for the community to come together to brainstorm new innovative ideas, as well as work through what we consider to be, the most pressing issues/areas of improvement. Topics that were discussed ranged from College visibility to college affordability, staff training to professional development, and perhaps most exciting, bringing our bookstore online! This all happened in the most Johnnie-way possible – through honest conversation within a diverse group of people.


9:15-10:00 AM: Kick-off 

President Kanelos opened the conversation with a video entitled “The St. John’s College Story, Then, Now, and Ever After”. It was a bit of a throwback to the college during the 1950’s, and it told the story of a senior, in the midst of his oral exam, recalling the various lessons that his experience at St. John’s had taught him. While there were a lot of things about the video that were definitely old-fashioned, there were a lot of things that have stayed the same here at St. John’s, too, which was interesting to see. Here is a link to the video on YouTube, in case you were curious to see what the college was like 70 years ago.

10:00-10:45 AM: “This is How I feel about the College at 10 AM on a Wednesday Morning”

After getting into a Johnnie mindset, ready to tackle the day’s challenges, we kicked the day off in the most intense way possible; we took a survey. Finding our way into various groups, we took stock of how everyone in different areas at the college felt about things that were happening. Survey responses helped guide and facilitate discussion around the room. I also was able to meet many new, wonderful people, and learn about their roles at the college.

10:45 – 12:00 PM: Start with Why

This next session was interesting – we began by watching a Ted Talk which argued the following point: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it (I believe it is pretty famous, but in case you haven’t seen it, here’s a link). It got us all thinking about why we were drawn to come work for St. John’s in the first place. We all sat around and talked about what our “why’s” were at the school – why do we do what we do? A lot of people brought up the school motto: we create free adults through books and a balance. We then worked through how we accomplish that, and ultimately what forms those accomplishments take.

1:00 – 2:30: Top Themes

After a catered lunch from Mission BBQ, the rest of the day focused on brainstorming on the following questions: How do we make St. John’s attainable for more (all) students? How do we continue to support the development of staff, faculty, and students here at the school? How do we tell the St. John’s story to more people around the world? We talked about all of these, and more.

The day was full of unexpected insights and great conversation, and it reminded me that the day really held two purposes – 1. For new ideas and old/current concerns of the faculty and staff to be heard, and to brainstorm with each other, and maybe more importantly, 2. To remind ourselves that we belong to a community of smart, passionate, and caring people. It is a great place to learn and grow, and maybe the best place to learn and grow through conversation.


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