In the spirit of National Education Month, our columnist, Inef, interviewed Mirna Mattjik, an alumna of Bogor Agricultural University (Institut Pertanian Bogor), who has been teaching for a long time at the Colorado School of Mines. When asked about her motivation to teach in the university, Mirna said, “Everyone has the opportunity of being a steward for others, and that serving others is a choice an individual has to consciously make. No matter who you are, you can become a role model.” Read on to hear more about Mirna and her experience teaching in a university in the US and her messages to educators and young students in Indonesia.
Nearly a century ago, in 1922, a noble Javanese man founded an egalitarian school called Taman Siswa, after fighting valiantly for equality in education so that all Indonesians regardless of class and social status would be able to be educated. The man is now popularly known as Ki Hajar Dewantara, dubbed the father of our national education. His famous philosophy, summed in three sentences: Ing ngarso sung tulodo, ing madyo mangun karso, tut wuri handayani (those in front should set an example, those in the middle should raise the spirit, and those behind should give encouragement), has stayed in the hearts of educators all over the country. In the present day, I am bringing you the story of a woman who embodies the teaching of Ki Hajar Dewantara.
Mirna Nuraeni Ansori Mattjik is a professor of Engineering Design and Society (EDS) at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in the small American town of Golden. As a professor of EDS, a multidisciplinary subject that combines the dynamic field of natural sciences with art and social studies, Mirna encourages her students to stand at the crossroads of creativity and human ingenuity to address the challenges in the engineering industry with a humanitarian perspective. Mirna has been leading a program for freshmen and other undergraduates at CSM which aims to help students engage with thought-provoking questions of how to become responsible and empathetic engineers who think through the consequences of their decisions, become innovative, and work collaboratively in a diverse team to look for ideas that draw on cultural preservation and the need of their communities. When asked about her motivation to teach in the university, especially in the field of engineering with a humanitarian point of view, Mirna said, “Everyone has the opportunity of being a steward for others, and that serving others is a choice an individual has to consciously make. No matter who you are, you can become a role model.” Quoting the words of Buckminster Fuller, an important figure in the history of U.S. architecture, Mirna shared his belief that all of us should become the architects, rather than the victims, of our circumstances.
Mirna did not originally intend to become a professor. After graduating from Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) in West Java with a Bachelor’s degree in Agro Technology, Mirna got married and her husband brought her and their two young children to the United States. At that time in early 1990s, Mirna hit the pause button on her career after being laid off from her job at an oil and gas company. With no professional experience in academics, Mirna did not envision a career in a university. However, her husband and family encouraged her to develop her skills and to seek out assistance from her former upperclassmen at IPB, her mentors, her friends, and her parents (Mirna’s father was a professor of biostatistics and Mirna’s mother was a professor of biotechnology). With everyone’s blessing, Mirna applied and was accepted to a graduate program in the engineering college of the Colorado School of Mines. Upon graduation, Mirna received an offer as a graduate assistant and several years later she secured employment as a faculty member, which brings her to where she is now.
In developing the new curriculum for the engineering department in CSM, Mirna and her fellow staff members began with a vision: one in which their students will pave the way for a huge change in how engineers can fight malpractices, such as falsification of data and finances, and enact stringent standard of operation in their industries. Mirna and her colleagues believe that for social justice to thrive, there needs to be a fundamental, impactful, and transformative training program that can breed honest individuals who will be the champions of their people. Mirna, just like all of the other professors she closely interacted with, aspires to inspire the CSM engineering students to live for a better tomorrow, where engineering and designs can be used to solve the problems that have been burdening our environment and mitigate conflicts of interests that clash with sustainable development goals.
After the interview, Mirna wrote back that she hopes more educators in Indonesia can motivate their students to be proactive youth who give back to their homeland. Mirna firmly believes that all Indonesian students have the same potential to be as great as any other student in the world and that they all have the unique strengths that they need to tap into. Mirna concluded, “There is always more room to grow, there is always room to develop a better pedagogy, so never stop learning and never stop improving!”