Jennifer Ruark is deputy managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, where she guides the coverage of beats including faculty and student issues and social mobility. Before moderating the Zócalo Public Square event, “Can Higher Education Be Transformed to Better Serve Society?,” she called into our green room to talk birdwatching, Charlotte’s Web, and why the proliferation of pandemic firepits in her neighborhood makes it feel like she’s on vacation.
What’s the last great dessert you ate?
A no-bake cookie that I made for Christmas that’s usually concentrated orange juice, flaked coconut, and crushed-up vanilla wafers and almonds—but my son just turned vegan, so I made it with ginger snaps instead, and that ginger-orangey combo was really terrific.
If you didn’t live in Washington, D.C., where would you be?
Somewhere in the mountains. Maybe Asheville, North Carolina.
What keeps you interested in covering higher education?
It’s endlessly fascinating to me because in a lot of ways it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in broader culture and society, and it also plays a huge role in determining what kind of culture we create in this country.
What book have you re-read the most?
I would say Charlotte’s Web because I read it probably eight times when I was a kid, then read it with each of my two children.
What’s been your pandemic silver lining?
Firepits. In the morning the neighborhood smells like a campground, so I pretend I’m on vacation.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
Unfortunately, the name of my hometown rhymes with my last name: Newark, Delaware—not to be confused with Newark, New Jersey. [Ed note: they are pronounced differently.] Some of my classmates called me “Jenny Ruark from Newark.”
What’s the higher education story you most hope to help tell in 2021?
The story I’m most interested in is how colleges and universities can help create a culture of critical engagement with facts so that even when Americans disagree with each other, they’re operating on similar foundations.
Where would you like to travel to next—when we can travel again?
I’d like to go to Australia or New Zealand, where I’ve never been, primarily to see the birds.
Do you birdwatch?
Not really, but I get excited every spring by the return of the Rufous-Sided Towhee.
When and how did you last break a sweat?
Biking to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., on the Anacostia River Trail, a beautiful trail that crosses wetlands and bridges over the river.