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Make Service Your Mission, Today and Every Day

Written by Iris Gardner on Jan 14, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, 2U Denver

As many families do around the holidays, my family spent some time this year talking about the path paved for us by those who came before us.

My family considers ourselves fortunate to have a 91-year-old grandmother who continues to show us how we can serve throughout all the stages of our lives. Until recently, Grandma Nelson volunteered weekly reading to kids in her rural Oregon community. As a working mother of six, she served on the school board advocating for quality education for her community.

I am doubly lucky that my other grandmother, Grandma Mary, also set an example of service, always opening her home to everyone. And I mean everyone. Whether it was nieces who were in-between jobs, second cousins who needed a place to land as they migrated west, or a grandkid who needed a warm meal and a big cozy hug, Grandma Mary’s was where you could find such refuge.

These are just a few examples of how my family makes service our mission.

As MLK Day approaches, I am also reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dedication to service and how that value was passed onto me each year as my family serves and marches in his honor. Whether it’s at 2U as chair of Mosaic, our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee, or at Metro Caring, a food justice organization in Denver, Colorado, I can feel my grandmothers’ collective examples shining through in the work I do.


Opportunities to serve can be found in every setting and community, including at 2U. 2U’s Mosaic committee is a great example. Mosaic was founded to serve as the strategic partners and leaders responsible for promoting a culture of inclusive diversity at 2U. When I applied to be a member of the first Mosaic term, I was inspired by the opportunity to help build and launch Mosaic’s influence on 2U’s DEI efforts. Now in my second term, I am proud to see the way Mosaic’s umbrella has grown and expanded.

2020, a year of civil unrest for regions where many 2Utes reside, required Mosaic to reevaluate how best to serve our community. Personally, it made me rethink what life looks like for 2Utes when they walk outside of the four walls of our office buildings (or now homes) and how I can support them in these challenging times. I had to consider what it meant for a woman to safely get to and from 2U’s Cape Town offices. I had to consider what my fellow Black colleagues wearing PPE to protect themselves during the pandemic were going through when questioned on the street by police and asked to remove their masks.

While Mosaic’s influence alone will not end gender-based violence in South Africa or dismantle systemic racism in the US, I know I can play a role in helping our community at 2U. Over the last nine months, I’ve taken proactive steps with Mosaic and senior leadership to establish a company-wide DEI action plan, set 2U on track to educate our entire workforce on practicing allyship, design hiring and promotion processes to increase the representation of minority communities in leadership roles across the business, and more. Together with my fellow Mosaic members, we are working hard to make service our mission by ensuring every 2Ute has a platform and outlet to be heard and celebrated. Every day we heed Dr. King’s call to serve.

Metro Caring

Outside of the four walls of the office, I carry on in my grandmothers’ footsteps by serving the community I grew up in. I started my journey with Metro Caring as a volunteer five years ago in the nutrition program teaching cooking classes in Spanish. Now, I serve as a board member.

Two of the core values that drew me to Metro Caring are “champion the mission” and “rise together.” Having grown up in a neighborhood where fresh food markets were few and far between, their mission to create “a world where every person has access to good food and a healthy life” resonates strongly with me.

How they go about that mission keeps me coming back. Rise together simply means that our humanity is tied up in one another. No matter your role at Metro Caring, you have a part to play in getting us to a world where everyone can eat good food and live a healthy life. When I started teaching cooking classes in Spanish, the vision was that I would work my way out of the role and fully transition leadership into community members’ hands. This may sound counterintuitive, but I believe it’s quite brilliant. It reminds me of the examples my grandmothers set for me as they developed literacy skills with children and built a place of refuge for family. Grandma Mary and Grandma Nelson worked with the people they served to get to the next reading level and to get back on their feet. Together, they built a more equitable and prosperous community.

Let’s All Serve

Dr. King, among other things, was a prolific and moving orator and I’d like to leave you with a call to serve and a quote for inspiration:

“We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to mankind.”

In a year of profound change and loss, I was reminded that our humanities are fundamentally tied up with one another. My motivation to make service my mission, both at 2U and in my community at Metro Caring, is based on this core idea. In the end, I want my legacy to be based on the quality of my service because my humanity is tied up with everyone else’s. Whatever it is that you can offer humanity, I call on you to do it!

Here are a few places to start:

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.