Traveling through his undergraduate experience, Tim Schuster picks up souvenirs in leadership, communication, and service.
He's not, as he once hoped, going to play left field for the Minnesota Twins and is actually a bit wistful about that. However, he knows what interests him now: human interaction, especially the places where dialogue meets service. And he plans to explore that matrix in a way that's rather unconventional for political science majors. He's going to seminary.
Schuster's journey began in the political science department. He arrived at the University of Minnesota planning to be a "warrior" for his beliefs but wound up changing his ideas about leadership: "I was going to be that guy who argued down the professor in class, but instead I found that it was more about the conversation than about the debate," he says.
Schuster sees his political science major as preparation not only for a career, but also for life as a fully engaged citizen of his community. "There was no big epiphany moment for me," he says. "I learned that majoring in political science doesn't mean that I have to run for governor someday. I signed up for the major that offered me the two things I cared about: classes that made me want to study, and good professors. And by that, I mean professors who are unendingly interested in what they're doing, not professors who are trying to be interesting."
One such professor was John Sullivan, whose political psychology class had a lasting effect on Schuster's thinking. Class discussion focused for a time on "groupthink" (in which a group's decision-making process is inhibited by its culture) and its impact on the Kennedy administration's public policy. Later, Schuster used what he had learned as a membership/engagement intern with the Citizens League of Minnesota, a nonpartisan group that helps citizens to shape public policy. He doubled participation in a League membership survey and extended that participation even further in a new set of focus groups. His awareness of "groupthink" influenced his leadership of the discussions and improved the quality of information flowing between the League and its members.
Schuster's journey continued with an internship in Jaipur, India, through the Minnesota Studies in International Development Program. After six weeks of Hindi instruction spent with other students from all over the United States, he began child development work with an Indian non-governmental organization. "I lived in a poor rural village for two weeks," he says. "I never saw a camera, never saw someone with my skin color . . . and learned that people are also very diverse when you get past the surface. And that the world holds as much to fix as it does to celebrate."
That's where Schuster's leadership minor comes in. "The premise of the program," he says, "is that everyone can be a leader." The progression of coursework involves a series of practical leadership experiences within the contexts of the University, the Twin Cities community, and the world. They prepared him to work with youth in Uganda during the summer after graduation, an opportunity that originated in a connection that he made during his time in Jaipur.
The A. I. Johnson Scholarship (see sidebar) has made those travels possible. "Getting the scholarship letter a year ago was a shock, but also a gesture of confidence in me," Schuster says. "It made my senior year, because I didn't have to have a job beyond my internships. Without it, I also wouldn't have been able to finance my service in Uganda. It's been a real uplift for me."
Schuster will continue on that trajectory of service in fall '09 when he enters Bethel Seminary to study youth ministry and to put into practice all that he's learned about leadership, service, and making connections with people. It is perhaps ironic but true for him that his experience at a public university has encouraged this career direction and increased his potential effectiveness in it. "I've been fortunate to have had people at the University take me under their wings," Schuster says. "Some of my best experiences have involved doing the same for others. It's great to get to help younger people in their journeys, to offer that encouraging note when they need it."
Starting in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, Schuster has traveled around the world during his journey through the University of Minnesota. Reflecting on the distance he has come in four years, he describes how his University experience has changed him: "My political science major has helped me to develop a more enlightened worldview. I came to campus ready to argue. Now I appreciate and celebrate different perspectives. I learned to analyze arguments, to take ideas apart and put them together. It's more about the conversation than about my own need to be right."