Sunday, November 27, 2011

Math and Science Majors Reward College Graduates

Northeast Minnesota students compete in NESC's Knowledge Bowl competition.
What course of study, what careers, will these girls choose?   (Photo: Paul Brinkman)

The tweet from global technology guru Vinod Khosla grabbed my attention: "College majors with bleak outlook to be phased out."  I clicked the link immediately as a flood of assumptions washed over me.  Well, the economy is catching up to higher education, I thought.  Belts are tightening everywhere.  Don't forget, colleges are businesses too.  Wait a minute!  What about the arts?

To my surprise, the article came from a web site called China Daily.  Apparently, China's Ministry of Education plans to phase out college majors with a bleak employment outlook amid disappointing prospects for the country's college graduates.  Interesting news but I was searching for a direct U-S connection.

Fortunately for me, gurus like Mr. Khosla earn their status through, among other things, pluck and timing.  A second tweet from his stream came through just minutes after the first: College Students Need to Look at These Charts Before Deciding on a Major.  This new tweet seemed to hold greater promise.  But what charts?  I clicked the new link.

U.S. Employment rates by college major   (Source: Business Insider)
Based upon findings in a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce  at Georgetown University, a web site called Business Insider asks a fundamental question: which college majors yield the highest incomes?  As the web article affirms, we have literally "tons of information out there about majors, employment and earnings."

So, rather than basing conclusions on anecdote and intuition, the web article and its related charts provide a remarkable summary of college majors and their "economic coattails."  Although much of the information is not entirely unexpected, all of it is quantified and some of it is even counter intuitive.  No problem.  The mix of the expected and the unexpected often helps us think...critically.  Clearly, both the web article and the original university research offer much to explore and inform.
In fact, the data on employment prospects relative to college majors raises important issues in the broader marketplace.  China plans to address these issues through public policy and social engineering.  And, at least for now, the U-S will continue to focus on standards, guidelines and grants.  In the meantime, freshly minted college graduates with their majors of choice continue to launch themselves  into the employment market.  Although passion matters, education is more than a job mill, and career choice is complex and multi-faceted, uninformed decisions in college - even earlier - have life-long repercussions.  At minimum, this information offers some perspective to those willing to consider the consequences of college and career.

At the Northeast Service Cooperative, we see math and science education as vitally important.  We offer enrichment activities for students such as the Minnesota Inventors' Congress as well as Knowledge Bowl and professional development initiatives for educators such as the Math & Science Teacher Partnership.  We're interested in what's working for you in your space, your world.  Let us know.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks!

Holidays are personal.  Whatever feelings, hopes, dreams, expectations or pressures wash over us during the holiday season, once the holiday actually arrives, we face that sliver in time when things slow down, even if just for a moment, and we are left with our own personal sense of the season.  For me, "that moment" defines the season.  And it has its own special flavor each and every year.

So, we welcome Thanksgiving!  Less commercialized than Christmas with less spectacle, Thanksgiving's charm may be in its ability to wrap an entire holiday into a singularly precious event: the traditional family meal.
But, Thanksgiving has a soul as well: family, thanks...all things that matter; the personal, right?  With this in mind, allow me a moment to share my deep appreciation - my thanks - for the following things are are personal and precious to me:
  • Family  Does anyone leave family off their list?  Well, there's a reason.  I am especially thankful this year for our blessings, Adam and Rachel, and for my mother, who faces health issues this holiday season.
  • Health  Again, standard fare but, as with our families, the things that matter most can be taken for granted.  I know I have been cavalier about both at times but, thankfully, less so over the past year.
  • Work  The saying that if you love your job you'll never have to work a day in your life resonates with me.  We have an incredible team at NESC: board, staff, members and partners.  They are bright, bold and bounteous.  Are you blessed with a job where you work with wonderful people?  I am...and I'm thankful for each and every one of my colleagues and customers.
  • Social networks  Loneliness is real and people fall through the cracks.  We need to reach out to the neighbors in need among us and at the same time, with humility, be thankful for the family and friends who serve as our safety net.  My wish is that you have a social circle for your next soft landing.  It really matters, it always matters.
  • Other people's shoulders  We, and the people we care about, are helped every day, in small ways and in large.  Sometimes we see the one who opens the door - or the window - to help us or others.  Sometimes these giants move silently like angels.  I am simply amazed at selfless acts of kindness.  They grease the wheels of life.  I am thankful for these people, leaders large and small.
I hope things slow down for you at least for a moment this Thanksgiving holiday.  Embrace the wonder.  Be safe.  Give thanks. 

Thank you for following my web log.  Feel free to share your thoughts on holidays, Thanksgiving and the things that matter most to you. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Northeast Minnesota Fiber Project Focuses on Social Media at the 2011 Broadband Conference in Duluth

Students from the College of St. Scholastica present their take on Social Media during general
session at the this year's Broadband Conference   (Photo: Melissa Cox)

We enjoyed leading one of the "Learning Stations" during the annual Blandin Broadband Conference held recently in Duluth, Minnesota.  We want to thank the Blandin Foundation, Connect Minnesota and all of those who stopped by to join in the conversation.

As we discussed at the conference, although the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project is a truly landmark initiative, we see it as an emerging regional asset that has the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts.  By the middle of next year, we will begin deploying about 400 miles of the 915 mile optical fiber backbone, which will serve as a regional platform for innovation and growth in education, technology, health care and economic development.  This promise, however, is dependent upon engagement among all parties and at all levels: the Northeast Service Cooperative, our anchor tentants, telecommunications carriers, and others such as USDA, the State of Minnesota, Lake County, Arrowhead Electric and Blandin.

Yes, engagement is the key.  At minimum, engagement requires people and dialaog.  But our "exchange map" has grown.  Engagement also requires channels, media...and new environments.  Although personal contact still matters and legacy media may have a place, social media fits the bill as the new, critical engagement platform.  Social media is at the nexus of ideas, technology, innovation and dialog.  It is a fundamental part of the New Normal, including emerging business models and government 2.0.

Although we've anchored this discussion to our work in Minnesota, we'll admit to casting a rather wide net.  That's precisely why we used our conference Learning Station to share our view that Social Media is a rich engagement platform for all matters of interest including broadband investment, economic development and related initiatives.  It's not so much that Social Media is singularly important.  Rather, it's that we appreciate its characteristics: ubiquitous, regenerative...and expanding.  If not the Next Big Thing, Social Media will be part of the road map.

We enjoyed the dialog with those who joined us at the conference.  Jean from Kandiyohi County talked about how they're using social media to drive traffic to their web site.  Cassie from Connect Minnesota observed that for rural Minnesota, the online communities still lack healthy participation rates.  And Connie from the State of Minnesota shared the challenges of connecting well with diverse populations and unaligned interests.  It was fascinating to watch a traditional conversation unfold against the backdrop of emerging media.

I want to thank my colleagues Tiffany Anderson, Melissa Cox and Lyle MacVey for helping NESC engage at this year's conference.  Despite the fundamental importance of people and place in the traditional view, we see social media as a critical, complementary exchange for ideas, relationships and enterprise.  Getting started is simple with an endless stream of resources and an ocean of content literally at your fingertips.  Focus and discernment may be your biggest challenges.  Remember, the process may be more curative than exploratory. 

Thank you for joining us here on this forum.  Please feel free to share your experiences, insights or cautionary tales with regards to Social Media.  Create your world!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Reasons Why Rural Leaders Need Social Media

Facebook is just one of many Social Media venues available to those eager to engage
If you haven't yet taken the plunge, now is the time for you and your rural enterprise to embrace Social Media.  Facebook?  You bet.  Twitter?  Of course.  LinkedIn?  Definitely.  Google+?  Yes.  Quora, Klout, Wordpress, etc.?  Why not?  All have merits, niches and flavors...and, yes, more will come.

Forgive me if I sound a bit flippant.  But we've grown so accustomed to "planning our work and working our plan" that we sometimes forget to "not let the perfect be the enemy of the good."  With social media, you rarely get an invitation.  You get a portal...and the rest is up to you.  You learn as you go.

Admittedly, there's more to Social Media than simply suggesting that you jump in...head an 18 foot cliff...without checking the water below.  Ideally, you want to identify your goals and develop an integration strategy.  Checking some helpful "How to get started..." web sites is also a good idea.  No sense in stumbling at the starting line!

However, our need to have "the answer" can stifle "the question" and get in the way of our potential.  Social Media, at least at this point, is a grand experiment.  And, despite the sharks and an occasional shipwreck, there's plenty of warm lagoons and freshwater streams with schools and schools of interesting...well, you get the idea.  To cut to the chase, here's a list of 10 Reasons Why Rural Leaders Need to Explore - if not Embrace - Social Media:
  1. Fulfill new expectations
  2. Claim your "digital citizenship"
  3. Build relationships with colleagues and customers
  4. Curate your brand, your bliss, your passion
  5. Expand your continuing education
  6. Transform advocacy into action
  7. Connect with Generation Next
  8. Understand the space, develop context for "What's next?"
  9. Inform your strategies
  10. Integrate with "the human network" (Thank you, Cisco!)
The opportunity awaits.  If you're so inclined, all you need to do is engage.  The web is a rich resource with Social Media sites that walk you through the process of getting started and helpful folks along the way that can get you the tools you need.

My colleagues Tiffany Anderson, Melissa Cox and I will be sharing our "going social" experience at the 2011 Blandin Broadband Conference in Duluth November 16th and 17th.  We look forward to getting feedback on the Top 10 list above and in learning from others on their experiences with digital media.

We will share what we learn in our next post.  In the meantime, we welcome your comments and feedback regarding this stream and the promise of social media.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Demographic Trends and Northern Minnesota's Future

MREA's Sam Walseth hosts legislative panel at the fall conference   (MREA Photo)
The Minnesota Rural Education Association held its annual conference earlier this month in Brainerd.  This content-rich, practitioner-led event takes full advantage of MREA's broad membership with presentations from teachers, administrators, board members, parents, consultants, researchers and students.  Despite notable differences, MREA's fall forum is a smaller, more intimate version of the TIES annual conference, a "must do" event for education leaders, technologists, teachers and integrationists.
More 65+ than School-age by 2020
Census counts & State Demographer projection, 2007

During the conference, State Demographer Tom Gillaspy delivered a data-driven overview of trends impacting the future of Minnesota.  We sometimes forget about the power of demographics and how data shapes destiny.  Fortunately, Gillaspy does a great job of demystifying his work, often connecting his material to a clear call to action.

State trends promise both challenges and opportunities for Minnesota, the Arrowhead region and the City of Duluth.  Drawing from the rich data base at the State Demographic Center, Gillaspy focused his remarks on a handful of key issues, especially the relationship between an educated workforce and a robust economy.  More on that in a moment.  Here's a snapshot of some of the insights from his presentation:
  • the economy will continue to stall with slow growth and a flat labor market
  • "talent" not "people" will be the scarce resource (Math anyone?)
  • productivity is not just for the private sector anymore (Government 2.0 take note)
  • the aging of society, particularly in the U-S and Minnesota, is a tidal wave
  • unprecedented disruptions and, in response, innovations will continue
The full presentation may be found at the Minnesota Rural Education Association web site.  (Click the link marked "Conference Follow-up" then "Tom Gillaspy.")

In helping to make sense of the data, Gillaspy focuses on two primary themes: educational investment and the New Normal.  Although the New Normal gets a lot of attention these days, Gillaspy defines it simply as the Old Normal + the Great Recession + long-term Demographic Changes.  Simple, elegant...makes sense.  Gillaspy's second theme revolves around the relationship between education and the economy.  As have others, the State Demographer makes a strong case for educational investment as a critical pathway for economic sustainability, innovation and productivity. 

In fact, the relationship between education and the economy resonates across a significant thread of society, including leaders in science, technology, business and education.  This notion, however, is often advanced in the context of preparation, quality and rigor across the board...all aspects of the New Normal.  While these challenges may be significant, rural Minnesota, especially Northern Minnesota, is well-positioned to leverage community resources and scale nimble assets in order to turn challenges into opportunities.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Northeast Minnesota Well-Represented on Governor's Broadband Task Force

Governor Dayton has joined the Connect Minnesota movement by forming a Task Force on Broadband to recommend public policies and action steps that will expand "border to border" broadband access throughout Minnesota.

With the announcement this week of 15 members appointed to serve on the task force, Dayton follows in the footsteps of the previous administration by focusing on ubiquitous connectivity as a critical component of economic development.  To Dayton's credit, the task force has broad representation from rural Minnesota, particularly the Arrowhead region.

Task force menbers include, among others, Danna MacKenzie, Information Services Director at Cook County; Bernadine Joselyn, Director, Public Policy & Engagement at the Blandin Foundation; and Matt Grose, Superintendent, Deer River Public Schools.  These members bring a strong personal commitment and a deep skill set to the work at hand.

Former legislator and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Director of the Minnesota High Tech Association, will chair the task force.  The Minnesota Department of Commerce will help shepherd the task force as work gets underway.  The group has a challenging "to do" list with a preliminary report due as early as December 30, 2011. The goals and objectives of the task force align well with the goals and obectives of the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Landmark Agreement for Regional Fiber Optic Network becomes a National Model for Rural Development

Frontier, NESC and Senator Al Franken at our Groundbreaking in April (Jeff Frey Photo)
The title says "landmark" but this is a personal story.  All big things start with personal stories.

I first met Frontier's Kirk Lehman almost a year and a half ago - May 12, 2010 to be exact - at a presentation for telecommunications carriers interested in learning more about the Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project.  Kirk's energy was contagious as he approached our technology guru Lyle MacVey and me after the meeting with a simple proposition: "Given what I'm hearing, I think we can make something happen." 

That day, Kirk and his team were among the last to leave.  I cannot recall the details of our conversation but I do recall how intrigued they were at the thought of creating a region-wide, public-private partnership within the competitive world of telecommunications.  That launched a series of off-line discussions mostly between Kirk on behalf of Frontier and Lyle on behalf of NESC. 

For the most part, these discussions moved along as they often do in a development project - slowly at first with ever-deepening dialog - as Kirk involved his team, up and down the ladder, and we remained in touch while going about the business of building a new network.  Fortunately, despite the complexities of planning, engineering, business models, legal review and relationship-building, Kirk and his team never wavered, Lyle and our team never faltered, and together we prevailed with a final agreement between NESC and Frontier that is now complete.

We have many people to thank as this world-class fiber connectivity project literally takes root. But today we are thankful for singular moments that transform themselves into big things simply because someone not only had a vision but had the clarity and commitment to carry that vision through to completion.

Thank you, Kirk. Thank you, Frontier!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Education, technology, health care and economic development.  These cornerstones are essential to a healthy foundation and dynamic living in Northeast Minnesota.  In fact, these four key areas are at the heart of our commitment to a world-class standard of service right here at home.

Northeast Minnesota Lake Country (Photo: Paul Brinkman)
This column, this space, begins with all of us at the Northeast Service Cooperative: board, staff, members and partners.  However, in order to realize its full potential, this dialog - and what we learn and apply from it - needs to be shaped and eventually recreated by you.  If you've read this far, you've already taken the first step.  Thank you!

We believe that rural living is real living.  We also know that many of our friends and colleagues share this same belief.  We invite you to help us breathe life into our lifelong pursuit of a healthy, vibrant and essential Northeast Minnesota experience: from Moose Lake to Lake Vermilion, Grand Rapids to Grand Marais.  Thanks for stopping by.  And please take a moment to let us know what's on your mind today.