The Importance of Storytelling - Celebrating 121 Years of SUU PrideMarch 15, 20182 min read
Each March, Southern Utah University’s Founders Celebration salutes the school’s rich past and promising future. Those loyal to SUU see the founding story as a source of pride and inspiration. The story serves as a reminder of the value of higher education and the heroism and selflessness of others.
Mindy Benson, Vice President of Alumni & Community Relations at SUU, shares the importance of storytelling to the identity of an organization.
“Stories are what bind us together. They can build a culture that motivates people to do more and gives people something to believe in. Stories increase the success of organizations.”
SUU’s story begins in 1897 when the newly organized Utah Legislature called for a teacher training school in the region. After negotiating harsh winter conditions while hauling timber from nearby mountains, the community met the state’s mandated deadline and Old Main was dedicated in 1898.
“Alumni have heard this story for decades and generations,” said Benson. “Alumni that graduated in the 1950s have the same shared narrative as the students graduating now. It brings them back together and they love the organization because of what they share.”
SUU’s founding story is both unique and interesting to the university, but also rich in community history. The narrative is important as a whole to the organization, but also to each of the families that participated in it.
“Each family who has passed the story down has their own addition to it. They're not embellishing, but they'll talk about ‘their great-grandfather did this,’ or ‘their great-grandfather did this while this was happening.’ I think we have the best founding story out there. Not that I've researched every institution, but we certainly have the grit and determination and everything that you need to make a story interesting.”
Quoting from Max Depree’s book, Leadership is an Art, Benson explains the value of stories to an organization.
"Every family, every university, every corporation, every institution needs tribal storytellers. The penalty for failing to listen is to lose one's history, one's historical context, and one's binding values. Without the continuity brought by custom, any group of people will begin to forget who they are.”
Benson was recently interviewed by SUU President Scott L Wyatt on his podcast, Solutions for Higher Education. There she talked in depth about storytelling and the founding of SUU. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview.
Mindy Benson Interim President
Benson shares the importance of storytelling to the identity of an organization.