Kirwan Rockefeller, Human Science

Photograph of Kirwan Rockefeller

Kirwan Rockefeller

Human Science Alumni 1994

"For centuries," says Kirwan Rockefeller, "educational institutions have been the keepers of knowledge: ' You come to us when you need us, and we ' ll teach you what you need to know. ' But that has changed drastically in the past 15 years because of the Internet. Knowledge is everywhere now, and that has revolutionized the delivery system of education."

As director of arts and humanities for the University of California / Irvine's extension program, Rockefeller has witnessed that revolution first-hand. He sums it up this way: "The Internet provides knowledge, but it doesn't always provide learning."

And learning is more important than ever in the information age, he suggests. As the world becomes more interconnected and more complex, knowledge only goes so far. It's the ability to think critically --- to draw knowledge from different sources, apply it across disciplines, navigate webs of connections --- that distinguishes the well-educated person from the merely well-informed one.

"I'm pretty typical of a Saybrook student," says Rockefeller. "I've always been iconoclastic and have had a variety of things that interest me. Saybrook gave me the opportunity to tie everything together, to create bridges where a link might not be apparent. It allowed me to create my own path."

Rockefeller's path was already long and winding when he arrived at Saybrook in the early 1990s. A great-great-grandnephew of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, he initially worked as a dancer and choreographer, later as an actor. At age 31 he abruptly switched gears and went into the corporate world, joining Bank of America's philanthropy division. Then he returned to the entertainment industry, working seven years for Universal Studios and later carving out a niche as an independent script consultant.

"I had experience in the public, corporate, and nonprofit worlds, and I saw them converging," says Rockefeller. "But I needed more training to be competitive in that world, and I needed more of an interdisciplinary background." He also needed the flexibility to pursue his education while maintaining a full-time career and without relocating. In that regard, Saybrook's distance-learning model was a perfect fit for Rockefeller: He could do most of the work remotely and on a flexible schedule. To attend Saybrook's residential colloquia, he simply planned his vacation time around them --- a week here, a four-day weekend there.

Rockefeller also greatly appreciated Saybrook's emphasis on mentoring. "There's no artificial distinction between faculty and student," he says. "It really is an adult relationship. They realize you're a working professional with a whole lifetime of experience, and that you may bring as much expertise to that relationship as the faculty member. The faculty become your mentors, coaches, friends, and colleagues."

Indeed, Rockefeller included work from number of his former Saybrook instructors in Psychology, Spirituality, and Healthcare, a volume of essays and articles about the "whole person" approach to medicine. Rockefeller served as general editor for the volume, published in 2007 by Praeger Perspectives.

That same year Rockefeller also authored his first book, Visualize Confidence: How to Use Guided Imagery to Overcome Self-Doubt. The book describes how people in various walks of life --- including well-known figures such as Jack Nicklaus --- steady themselves in moments of crisis by mentally envisioning a positive outcome. The book drew upon his work at UC Irvine Extension and his Saybrook degree in human science.

Ironically enough, his first Saybrook assignment caused Rockefeller to have his own crisis of confidence.

"It was just a five-page paper," he laughs, "and it came back with red marks all over it. I thought, 'How in god's name am I going to write a dissertation?'"

That experience helps him empathize with his students at UCI Extension. "I work with people who are looking to better their lives and develop their careers in new areas," he says. "I have untold people say to me, 'I want to change my career, I want to do something different,' but it seems overwhelming. People have so much on their plate: family, jobs, work, responsibilities. They don't believe they can get a degree on top of all that; they lack confidence, and it stops a lot of them cold."

It could have stopped Rockefeller too, but he made the task of pursuing his doctorate seem more manageable by mentally breaking it up into segments --- "baby steps," he laughs. He also adopted a "failure is not an option" mentality; he would get the doctorate, because without it he'd never achieve the goals he had set for himself.

Rockefeller continues to have a broad range of interests and pursuits. In addition to his writing and academic careers, he edits California Psychologist and remains active in the arts, chairing the Newport Beach Arts Commission and sitting on the board of the Newport Beach Film Festival.

"Getting a Ph.D. is as much about personal development as about professional achievement. It helped me become the person I wanted to be --- the person I knew I could be. But I didn't know how to get there. Saybrook helped me find the way, and it expanded my mind. That's ultimately what education is about --- expanding your world and becoming the person you want to be."