Press Release: MacArthur Fellowship given to Ithacan
The Ithaca Journal
October 20, 2022
by Nick Reynolds
The MacArthur Fellowship awards were announced last week, and one of the recipients was Carrie Reuning-Hummel, an Ithaca native who lives here in Ithaca part-time. I was lucky to find her here in town, and she granted me her first interview since receiving the award! We met at her home- a beautiful place with an open concept and Japanese feel. One gets the sense that only items with function and beauty are part of this home.
We sat together in the library filled to the ceiling with books, with a large window where we could watch the amazing sunset. With a crackling fire, and magnificent wine and cheese, I never wanted to leave. We talked for over two hours with an occasional wave or wine refill from her husband Eric and personal assistant, Marguerite.
Nick: Thanks so much for having me!
Carrie: Oh, my pleasure, Nick. I have enjoyed reading your stories in the Journal- particularly about education. I am thrilled to chat with you!
N: Before we get into the actual reasons for the award, I would love to hear how you found out about receiving it.
C: Oh! It has all been surreal. I was actually in a classroom in one of the elementary schools that our Center works with, speaking with a couple of the wonderful teachers that we team with, and I saw my phone light up. Since there was a completion to what we were talking about, they encouraged me to take the call. I was told right there in the classroom that I was a recipient of the Fellowship!! I must have made the director of the Foundation repeat himself at least four times. I could not make it real in my mind! The only problem was that I was not supposed to tell anyone (except my husband) until it was officially announced, and there were these teachers, staring at me, wondering about my response! When I hung up I just had to say, “I can’t tell you yet, but it’s really, really good!”
N: [laughter] Tell me about the reasons for winning the Fellowship.
C: Well, there is quite a bit to tell. I know you already know about the Ithaca Talent Education Center on South Hill, near Ithaca College. Let me first tell you a bit about the history that led to the Center, and then I can tell you what we are doing at the moment that branched out from that history. So, Ithaca Talent Education, or ITE as everyone called it, was started in 1964 as a small Suzuki violin studio, based on the beautiful and forward-thinking philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki in Japan. My parents, Joan and Sandy Reuning, were pioneers of the approach in this country, and I was one of the first students. In 2016, I took over directorship of the school at age 58.
N: Ah, so that would make you be… [chuckles]
C: [laughs] Oh I never mind sharing my age! I am now 64, loving every minute of it! Anyway, at the time that I took over the directorship of ITE I had big dreams about turning it into a center someday. We were able to do that in the fall of 2020. The idea was to keep the Suzuki program as the hub of the Center, but to begin researching ways to bring Suzuki and other philosophies to broader education. I had been working with a Think Tank of amazing, forward-thinking, open women (all Suzuki teachers, as I am) since 2017, and we had a list of ideas that we were interested in studying and implementing.
N: Can you give us your list?
C: Sure! The cool thing about this Fellowship is that we can keep expanding items on the list in a never-ending way. All along I have seen this as a ripple effect that goes way beyond me and continues beyond my death. What I brought to the Think Tank was an urge to look at how things are in our society, many that are not questioned by many, and then to question them. Through my years of teaching and using Suzuki philosophy, I really agreed with Dr. Suzuki: seeing that we are all passionate learners, that we have so much more potential than we ever realize, that our environments can foster Powerful Learning Experiences (one of my own personal areas of research), and that children should be valued and respected, seen and known for the individual gifts that they bring. I went against the norm many times with homeschooling my own two children, working with children to allow them to experience excellence through a mastery learning approach, and helping parents and families to see things through new lenses- leading to changes being made right in their own families, and their children’s families to come.
N: Great to hear some of this background. I am dying to hear about your projects and ideas now!
C: Sure. One of the biggest projects- I think probably the one that caught the attention of the MacArthur Foundation- is to have a special person hired for each elementary school who is in charge of finding and knowing what the gifts of every single child in the school is. We call that person the Gift Finder- an expanded guidance counselor. This person makes use of observation, interviews with parents and particularly Kindergarten teachers, and then serves as a liaison between the child, the family, and every person in the school who the child interacts with. This allows the child to flourish- feeling seen and known by everyone she or he encounters. So far we are in three elementary schools in Ithaca, and we are expanding out into other areas now. There are pilot programs in Austin, TX and Portland, OR, with many more set to go. Part of the job of the Center is to test these programs. So far our data looks amazing. They are happy, vibrant learners who improve their test scores, care about service to the wider community, and care about bringing beauty and kindness to the earth. We expect that this will continue into lifelong learning. We are working directly with Ithaca College and Cornell, and are attracting researchers from around the world. It is really rewarding to have them come to us!!
N: Wow, that is an amazing idea. I feel that would have made such a difference to me! If someone had really fostered my love for writing, I could have started into this career so much earlier, instead of trying to figure out who I was in the insurance field for 10 years!
C: Exactly! Our mission statement is clear. We believe strongly that if every child were seen and known for who they really are, then we would have a very different world. I felt this exact experience of being seen and known by Dr. Suzuki when I was a little girl, and that feeling is my driving force today!
N: Do you have other projects as well?
C: [laughter] Ummm, you will never find a lack of projects at the Center. Other projects (I will go more quickly now) are incorporating music into classrooms seamlessly, bringing Suzuki (and study of instruments) into preschools, offering scholarships for music lessons for disadvantaged or at-risk children, and even bringing Sunday Music and Nature services to the Center and busing people there. We are almost ready to open a school for children with autism which features a rich environment of healing music and healing animals. We will have both service dogs that each child is paired with as well as therapeutic horses for them to ride. I am really excited that my daughter Sarah Hummel, who is a vet, will be a big part of the school. I could go on and on, but this is probably good for now.
N: So, it seems that the MacArthur award will really help these projects. $750,000 is a lot of money!
C: Absolutely! All of the money will be earmarked for the work of the Center. I feel fortunate that my separate business, LifeVantage, really took off for me in 2017, so that I do not need the money for my own day-to-day living.
N: So, I am not really sure how to word this, but how did you get where you are right now? It seems like a lot of people have ideas about things, but to really be doing them- that is more unusual!
C: This is a great question, and I think an important one. If you don’t mind I am going to take my time answering this. You can cut out whatever you want for the Journal! [laughter] I have always been wired for ideas. People who know me, know that I call myself the branch of the tree, the branch being someone who loves ideas, likes seeing them come to form, but is more enamored of ideas then the implementation of them. I saw relatively early on, that if I did not collaborate with people who did love to implement, that I was going to have a lot of ideas undone. I also found early on that when I questioned the way things were, the status quo, that people seemed to resonate with that.
But, even knowing these things, I don’t think anything would have changed without four major happenings in my life. The first was many years ago: a chance reading of a book by Barbara Sher called Refuse to Choose. In it was a description of a person who had so many interests that they set up a non-profit foundation to implement multiple projects. I knew right then that this was how I would be happiest. An idea person who helps set things up and then moves on to the next project. That is me! The second thing that happened was the most important. After a car accident where I needed to do some intensive healing work in order to play the viola and violin again, I found a spiritual path that has become the most significant partnership in my life. Working closely with non-physical guidance every step of the way, I feel so incredibly supported. At the same time, I met my team of people here on earth who also lend me all the support I could ever need. The third thing that fell into my lap was my chance to join the NWM company, LifeVantage in 2015. My first year with the company did not change my pocketbook much, but it transformed my mindset about money and freedom. Today I receive monthly residual checks that are more than enough to support all of my dreams. Finally, the fourth important moment was in 2016 when I began a Master Key intensive 6 month course of study. My belief in myself and my ability to keep promises that I make to myself grew exponentially in a matter of weeks. I honestly don’t think that any of this would be happening if it were not for the course. It’s ironic, but I fantasized about receiving the MacArthur Fellowship as part of homework we were assigned!
N: Wow! That sounds amazing! I feel like taking that course!
C: Oh, you should. It is based on a pay-it-forward model that we are incorporating in our Center as well. The goal of the founder Mark J, as he calls himself, was to reach 30,000 people with the course, but that number has been exceeded by now. You will soon be hearing about it from all corners of the world, I am sure.
N: Well, as we wrap things up I just wanted to say that hearing the background of your spiritual life makes sense. I have been trying to figure out what is drawing me in so much to you- besides your sense of humor and stuff! [laughter] But seriously, since our readers can’t see you like I am, I would describe you as grounded and peaceful- with a glow to your face that is striking. Do you have hobbies or things you do to stay this way?
C: Thanks, Nick. I don’t have a ton of hobbies because I love my work (my ideas!) so much, but I do find that if I spend the majority of my days as kind of a hermit- either alone or with close collaborators- I am the happiest. Then I can really enjoy being out in the world for quick blasts before retreating again. I love walking in the woods, especially this time of year with the leaves, and I also love walking on the beach at our second home.
N: Where is that?
C: [laughs] Now that I have received this Fellowship I think I will keep that a secret!
I also have a Qi Gong practice, I love to read…
C: And I love traveling with my husband. He is a pilot and owns a small plane- a Cirrus SR22- that gives us a lot of flexibility.
N: It is an amazing life and legacy. Thanks so much for sharing it with me and my readers. I look forward to keeping track of all the projects that are running through the Center.
C: You are welcome to come up any time. As you may know, the architecture is award-winning, and there are lots of quiet spots inside for people to have space to think and collaborate. Our Sunday services are amazingly spiritual opportunities- you would probably love attending. Thanks so much for letting me talk about my ideas. Truly one of my favorite things to do, and you were a great listener!!
Warm embraces ended our time together, followed by Eric giving a little tour of the outdoor gardens, gently lit in the early evening darkness. We walked out to the garage, which turned out to be an airplane hangar with a runway behind that lit up with a press of a button! What an inspiring life. I found myself imagining more for myself and my future after my conversation with Carrie.