Fast 15 with Mindy Sopher: Belonging


Casey J. Cornelius (00:03):

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the ForCollegeForLife podcast. My name is Casey Cornelius. I’m the host of the ForCollegeForLife podcast, probably because I’m also the founder and president of ForCollegeForLife, and no one has told me that I’m not allowed to do this part yet, but I get the pleasure and joy of getting to interview our team, the people who make us America’s leading college speaking agency, and point of personal privilege here. I would say one of the people that certainly is at the core of who we are culturally is my guest today, and that is none other than Miss Mindy. So for Mindy, I’m going to bring you to the mic and we’re going to be talking about something that I think is really important that sometimes gets maybe misunderstood or doesn’t get the credit that it deserves, and that’s the idea of belonging. You’ve helped create spaces for student belonging for your entire professional career, and I guess want to give you free range to talk about this idea of why having places for students is so darn important.

Mindy Sopher (01:19):

Well, thank you for welcoming me and inviting me to the podcast. Casey, I would say a personal priority of mine, thank you for not mentioning how many years, but a personal priority of mine has always been to make place and make space for all folks on the campus where I am and other spots around the country and the world actually finding our tribe, our people, our place, certainly through research we know that makes us more successful, makes us happier and healthier mentally, physically, emotionally, and also tends to make us more productive overall when we find our spot and feel a purpose. And that’s exactly what finding and making spaces on campus is all about.

Casey J. Cornelius (02:19):

Mindy, I recognize the fact that for some, and in some places in the country, there has been a divisive notion around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And first of all, this podcast could go on for hours as we attempt to solve that debate, but I think what the conversation is missing in a lot of ways, and I hope maybe you can chime in on this, is people desperately want to feel like that they’re part of something larger than themselves. And if there’s not intentionality around the creation of those opportunities and spaces, people are left to their own devices, but also might fall through the cracks. So if you’re a campus-based professional or organizational professional and you’re like, how can we be better at this? What advice would you give?

Mindy Sopher (03:21):

Well, I will come from my experience and I will come from my study as a communication instructor and researcher. We humans, Maslow says, have that hierarchy of need for community. Some of the research says that academic success flourishes in community, and therefore I infuse into every curriculum and every class that I teach and every workshop that I do, some sort of breaking the ice, trying not to make it corny, but it really does matter. Some folks joke that if someone takes my class, they have a 60% chance of marrying or dating someone in the class. And that

Casey J. Cornelius (04:15):

Is true. That’s a true statistic.

Mindy Sopher (04:17):

Well, it is a true statistic, and although that is not my purpose, I will tell you that I’m going to a wedding this weekend, and I know that two bridesmaids and a groomsman will be students from the class of this. The class that she took with me from her bridesmaids after six years will be some of those most important people around her on her wedding day. And that’s one of the reasons she invited me too, because that’s where it all started. But besides that, this is not about me. This is about making space. So one of my rules in class is that students cannot sit in the same seat two times in a row or beside the same person. Why do I do that? To give different perspectives, to allow for those relationships to flourish. Because when we’re doing small group discussion, somebody new to allow them to know more about the culture, the personality, the knowledge base, et cetera, about that other individual to help build teams and a learning community in the class, which we also know through research when there is a learning community, learning flourishes.


I also do at least three specific activities early in the class that even introverts can get into and thank me for later because it gives them that opportunity to be an introvert, but still get to know other people and still express some of their own personal values or priorities in a safe environment. So for all the educators out there and all the student group leaders providing a safe environment, whatever that means, can be understood better by asking folks if you don’t have a clear understanding of that, asking folks what will make them feel safe and truly listening. And I think a lot of this making space in place is really about listening to what the needs of the audience or the group or the individuals really are. Why bottom line, they’re going to be in a diverse world. There’s no turning back. It’s internationally. It may be gally soon, but there are more people different than them, than there are like them, even if they’re a triplett, right? So why not benefit from the knowledge and information and culture and caring that is established by getting to know other people and allowing them to get to know you?

Casey J. Cornelius (06:59):

I think that there are probably some folks who are listening to this episode right now in their car, on the treadmill, on their way to class, who at the notion of galactically diverse, stopped and snapped. That was probably one of those moments. You said two things that really resonated with me and my hunch is resonated with some other folks listening to this as well, Mindy. And that is the idea of learning community. There’s just massive amounts of research that says the more time that we spend together and integrate with one another, the greater the depth and quality of learning can take place. The other thing that made me chuckle

Mindy Sopher (07:36):

And productivity, if I may say so myself, I read a book last fall, that productive teams in the work world who are comfortable with each other and continue to learn from each other and are more different than each other, will be significantly financially more productive and more creative. Please go on. I’m sorry, I just had to throw that

Casey J. Cornelius (07:58):

In. No, no, no, no, no, no. I think it’s super important. I was also mentally chuckling it in a previous life when I was a faculty member, I always used to laugh and ask students why they held so tightly to something being their seat in a classroom where in K through 12, you’re assigned a seat in your class and you hate it. Oh, I can’t believe I have to sit in the same seat every day. And then when you get to college and you can literally sit anywhere, you lay claim into a seat your first day, and then that becomes your seat. So is the message to take something that is practical and apply it to something that is much larger is the message that we should start becoming

Mindy Sopher (08:48):


Casey J. Cornelius (08:49):

Accepting and enthusiastic about not sitting in the same C every day?

Mindy Sopher (08:54):

Yes, absolutely. I took on a mantra a long time ago, thanks to my uncle, learn, learn, learn is what he said. So I make it my mission to learn something new every day. And if I don’t interact with people who are different than me that I don’t know, granted, I’m an extrovert, so some people say, oh, it’s easy for you, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t hesitate. But somebody has to speak first. Somebody has to make the move, somebody has to stick out their hand. And the more I do it, the more comfortable I get. Hint, hint, hint. So my thing is I’ll go to a conference or a meeting or a classroom and I’ll sit beside somebody I don’t know with the idea of getting to know them better and listening, using my two ears, not my one mouth, and listening to their story. As a matter of fact, that’s what I say. So my name’s Mindy. You are Hassan. Hassan, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. Tell me your story and wow, the kind of things that I get to learn amazing and enriches my life and helps me apply, be a better human and be a better teacher too.

Casey J. Cornelius (10:04):

Listen, there’s so much on this belonging piece. If you’re not yet familiar with Mindy’s work, please visit But if you take nothing else from this quick podcast today, whether it’s your classroom, whether it’s your lunch table, whether it’s your board meeting, whatever it might be, maybe just maybe Ms. Mindy is right that you should pick a different chair every time. Mindy, I appreciate your perspective.

Mindy Sopher (10:29):

Thank you.

Casey J. Cornelius (10:29):

I always do. Thank you so much for your expertise, your guidance, your vision, and for helping us all be better at being part of something larger than ourselves. Folks, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please make sure you do the thing that you’re supposed to do with podcasts and share and subscribe and rate. Send it to people who you think might want to hear it. But also let us know the topics that you would like to hear discuss on this podcast and ways in which we can be better. If you have not yet, please make sure again that you do those things. But also reach out to us and send us those notes about what you’d like to hear. And until the next time we talk, one, we appreciate you two. We hope you’re well. We can’t wait until the next time. Thank you so much.


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