The Cambridge-Sarasota Connection
GUEST COLUMN BY DR. LARRY R. THOMPSON
July 9, 2018
REPOSTED FROM SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES
While the summer season slows down here in Sarasota, our Ringling College of Art and Design campus continues to teem with activity through our PreCollege Program for those 16 and older, Teen Studios for those younger and for older adults Lifelong Learning. Yet, it allows time for our hard-working faculty to take a break from the harried academic year and our dedicated staff time for vacation. For some, it also grants us the opportunity to dig deeper and learn about who we wish to be as leaders in higher education, and time to learn the latest developments in our profession.
That’s the reason three of us at Ringling College went to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
This past month, I had the good fortune to attend Harvard Seminar for Advancement Leadership as part of Harvard School of Graduate Education. Attending with me was my dynamic Vice President for Advancement, Stacey Corley. With us were about 60 select Presidents and Vice Presidents of Advancement from colleges throughout the country and around the world seeking to learn more about raising money to support their respective institutions of higher education and their students.
During our time at Harvard, Stacey and I were able to visit our colleague, Jeff Schwartz, associate vice president for Academic Affairs and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Ringling College. He was attending the two-week Management and Leadership in Education program at the Harvard School of Graduate Education. How did Mr. Schwartz get there? Dr. Peter McAllister, our VP for Academic Affairs, and myself nominated Jeff for this opportunity because he wanted to learn more and further advance his own academic administrative leadership skills. Peter and I recognized that by Jeff spending two weeks at Harvard mixing with similar academic leaders from institutions in various sectors, and being taught by the best faculty in higher education, only raises the knowledge bar for Jeff and for Ringling College as well. The ultimate benefit is beyond great—to the students, faculty, staff, trustees and the entire community.
As our friends at Harvard say, they are, “devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally.”
Ringling College may not be Harvard, but we at this institution are dedicated to excellence by offering the highest caliber art and design education in the world, and to fostering the creative leaders of tomorrow. Yes, our exact aim and expertise may differ a bit, but our alliance in inspiring the best of the best in education is completely in tune with one another.
As an aside, we have had a strong connection with Harvard as a result of the Harvard Club’s esteemed alumni and those of other Ivy League clubs in Sarasota who have been welcomed to our campus. We at Ringling enjoy returning the favor by helping to teach them a bit about art and design higher education and the greatness of Ringling College here in our town, and we are very grateful for their interest in and support of this institution.
As for my continued learning, you might ask why I should go to a seminar at Harvard when I’ve just begun my 20th year leading Ringling College. Because knowledge is power. And I remain completely open and humble enough to know I need to continue to learn more to not only be better at my job but to also be better at life. This openness speaks loudly and clearly to one of our main missions at the College…Lifelong Learning.
About two years ago, the Lifelong Learning Academy became part of Ringling College and its School of Continuing Studies. Recently, because of a grant from the Osher Foundation, the Academy changed its name to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College. The Institute is all about continuing the process of learning and stimulating your mind, no matter one’s age or expertise. As a result, our Lifelong Learning programming includes workshops, courses, lectures, film discussions, global travel and off-site services throughout our region.
The benefits of lifelong learning are overwhelming. Research demonstrates that lifelong learners, including people like me, Stacey and Jeff and our students in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, improve cognitive abilities, become more active, realize a sense of purpose, connect more with the community, and experience reduced anxiety and depression. Amen to that.
When I asked Jeff Schwartz to describe his Harvard Institute experience in three words, he had this to say: “Engaging, challenging, transformative.”
May we offer the same experience for all within our community, as it is my great hope as president of Ringling College that both our youth and our elders will be engaged, challenged, and transformed.
Let me end by saying, it’s amazing how this relatively “old dog” can really learn new tricks. And I am beyond grateful for each and every lesson that comes my way.
Dr. Larry Thompson is president of Ringling College of Art and Design.