Rybak continues teaching

The former Minneapolis mayor is leading his second class at the University this semester.

Molly Michaletz

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has gone from teaching University of Minnesota students about leadership to helping them use their own projects and designs to improve the communities around them.

“Six Great Places,” the second class Rybak has taught at the University, focuses on teaching students “city logic” — everything from public transportation to sewer systems — so they can examine real-life problems and use the knowledge to influence public work.

Students in the course can capitalize on the University’s urban location and Rybak’s 12 years of experience leading the city of Minneapolis, said Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design.

“Students really value the real-world experience he brings to the classroom,” Fisher said.

Rybak is focusing the class’s attention on six different places — four in the metro area and two in greater Minnesota — for students to evaluate.

Students will examine areas ranging from downtown Minneapolis to Duluth where renovations or construction are currently ongoing. They’ll develop ideas and projects for potential improvements to the areas while emphasizing city logic.

Part of Rybak’s goal in the class — which is a partnership between the College of Design and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs — is to encourage discussion between students with different backgrounds. Problems and their solutions don’t follow interdisciplinary fault lines, Fisher said.

In Rybak’s class, design students are able to identify the aesthetic possibilities of future communities, while students from the Humphrey school can use their public policy knowledge to implement the ideas.

The class has attracted students from even more programs.

Psychology major Hanna Hillman said she felt she would gain a lot out of the course even though she’s not a part of the design or public affairs schools.

“What I am looking forward to is the aesthetic and administrative design aspect of the course,” Hillman said.

Rybak said he also wants to teach students the importance of maintaining a public voice. Being able to debate and express opinions beyond campus is essential for students to make an impact on the community, he said.

Civic engagement helps bring people together in a more diverse world, Rybak said.

“The bigger the city, the smaller the village,” he said.

Fisher said he thinks Rybak’s multi-disciplinary collaboration is a great model for the University.

Fisher added that he hopes higher education as a whole will move away from academic exercises and instead get students to engage in the types of real-world problems they’ll face after graduation.

Rybak, who also serves as the full-time executive director of the coalition Generation Next, is likely to move on after he finishes his contract with the University in the spring.

However, Fisher said Rybak’s course could serve as a basis for the University to tap other professionals in the Twin Cities area and bring their expertise to the classroom.