Still Making Change
U of M retirees continue to enhance the legacy of their former employer.
While students are the heart of any
university, the U of M’s faculty and
staff are its soul, providing life-changing support to the University
that extends well into the future.
When I retired in 2014, after receiving my B.A. in
’65, my M.A. in ’78, and my Ph.D. in ’80 from the U of
M, and spending most of my career in the Center for
Urban & Regional Affairs here, I, like many others,
wanted to stay connected to the place where I did
some of my best and most fulfilling work. Building on
these experiences adds a sweetness to retired life.
The University of Minnesota Retirees Association
(UMRA) helps retirees like me stay connected to
the University and to each other. Founded in 1978,
UMRA has about 600 members, including faculty,
professionals, administrators, and civil service
employees, all of whom retired from the University.
But after our retirement, we don’t consider our
work here done. Not only have our members
contributed nearly $27 million to the ongoing U of
M Driven fundraising campaign, we complete over
20,000 hours of volunteer work every year. UMRA
also advocates for the University on critical issues,
including support for the 2020 capital request.
One aspect of UMRA that isn’t widely known
is that we have a small Professional Development
Grant for Retirees program (PDGR), which is open
to all U of M retirees. Launched in 2009, PDGR has
provided an opportunity for retirees to document
their own experiences at the University, to extend
the successes of the programs they developed, and
to research histories of campus life.
For instance, in 2016, Josie Johnson, who retired from her position as vice president for equity and diversity in 1995, received a PDGR grant to develop her memoir Hope in the Struggle. The book documents her community activism, involvement starting the U of M’s African American Studies Department in 1971, and her role as the University’s first Black Regent. Johnson, now 90, continues to be in the news as we reflect on past and current racial unrest and on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Racial and religious prejudice at the University
between 1930 and 1942 was also documented in
an exhibit called “A Campus Divided,” shown at
the Andersen Library in 2018. Through public and
internal documents, the exhibit unearthed a history
of anti-Semitic and racist policies and attitudes. When
it concluded, lead researcher and Professor Emerita
of American Studies Riv-Ellen Prell transformed the
exhibit into a website. Through a PDGR grant, a new
interactive graphic was added to the exhibit to display
relationships among key actors from that time, including Lotus D. Coffman, the University’s fifth president,
who had advocated for segregated campus housing.
For this project and her career of distinguished work,
Prell received the Lee Max Friedman medal from the
American Jewish Historical Society in 2020.
PDGR grants have also made an impact on
secondary education. The U of M Talented Youth in
Mathematics Program (UMTYMP), founded in 1980, is
one of the nation’s premier accelerated mathematics
programs for students in middle and high school.
However, in early years, the overwhelming majority of
students taking part in it were boys. That changed in
2014, when UMTYMP founder and Emeritus Professor Harvey Keynes used a PDGR grant to develop
programs to attract and retain female students.
Keynes’ work led to the School of Mathematics receiving the 2018 Exemplary Program Award from the
American Mathematical Society.
PDGR grants also have other uses. Retired Curriculum and Instruction lecturer Betty Cooke used
a grant to update a series of videos on Reflective
Dialogue Parent Education Design (RDPED), a parent
education approach founded at the U of M in the
mid-1990s. These videos have been translated into
several languages, including Spanish and Somali. With
the help of the U of M’s Office for Technology Commercialization, a small company was also launched to
make the videos accessible for parent educators in
the Minnesota public schools.
In other PDGR projects, Charles Fairhurst (T.W.
Bennett Professor Emeritus of Mining, Engineering,
and Rock Mechanics in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo-Engineering) is preparing a series
of videos on mining that are intended for a range of
audiences, including government decision-makers, the
general public, and middle school students.
The list goes on. Retirees like me keep working for
the U of M for our own satisfaction, but the results of
that work are good for everyone
We’re not done making change here yet.
Will Craig retired from the U of M in 2014 and serves on the board of UMRA.