Energy & Sustainability Summit

GE title image

I attended a the energy & sustainability planning event hosted by the UMN Department of Economic Development.   International and regional speakers presented different projects that where succeeding in these areas.
The keynote speaker was a delegation from Saerbeck Germany including the Mayor.   The city has been a strong leader in the European community for long term energy planning and implementation of green systems.   They where able to look at the conversation of un-utilized military properties into highly effective energy solutions for their community.   State of the art wind turbine, solar farms, bio gas, and bio methane have been integrated into unified energy grid.   Down town,  pilot projects created central heating & air solutions across multiple government buildings, schools, and other municipal facilities.   These climate solutions are now being replicated to support over 60% of the residential homes.
Saerbeck Energy Farm
Saerbeck’s integrated climate protection and climate adaptation concept (ICCC) is the model roadmap for achieving the climate protection
goals. It contains the key projects and measures. These plans, milestones, and metrics are attributed to being the key to long term success and growth of sustainable models.  Due to this concept Saerbeck was honored as NRW (North Rhine Westphalia) climate community of the future in 2009.  Saerbeck’s commitment has been continually acknowledged and honored often: European Energy Award 2010 and 2013, GermanSustainability Prize 2013, Energy Community 2013, Georg-Salvamoser-Prize 2014.
Interested parties visit from Germany and abroad to learn from Saerbeck’s model. Delegations visit from Germany and abroad to learn from Saerbeck’s model including representatives from Europe, Japan, Minnesota, and Georgia. Over 30,000 people visited Saerbeck by 2013 and over 20,000 of them attended the Bioenergy Park’s official opening day.
Some key learnings from the presentation is the long term view the European cities are taking in planning.   These plans are decades in length and it shows both an entirely different level of commitment and investment models for not only a sustainable environment, but sustainable progress.
The second series of speakers was a delegation from Minnesota Duluth.   The cities aging infrastructure is creating the need for significant investment.   Large scale projects that would pull up streets in the downtown also create the opportunity to replace a wide range of infrastructure, but require extensive research and planning into many aspects of advanced solutions.   The risk is making the right investments for the long term vs. simply replacing old systems to get by.  The city planners have been looking at solutions all over the world and partnering with other planning organizations.    For Minnesota this project stands to yield some best practices and ultimately real world learnings that hopefully can be replicated elsewhere.
Ford To Close Plants In Virginia, Minnesota
Ford Plant – St. Paul / Pre-closing and demolition
City of St. Paul planners also featured an overview of the demolition and repurposing options for the Ford Manufacture Plant in St. Paul.   This is an extensive sight with a strategic location in St. Paul.   There was equally a fair number of challenges, as well as, opportunities for what this site could evolve into for the city.   While this project is far from over,  it bares watching over the coming years.
 See more images in the gallery

Future of Education Event: International Models

McNamera Center

The Future of Education event was hosted by the Office of University Economic Development at McMamara Center.
The event was welcoming a panel of speakers who had been on the delegation touring educational models in other countries.  This particular delegation was returning from Germany to share models and learnings from the trip.  The overall theme of the event was discussing how successful aspects of these models could be leveraged to reconfiguring Minnesota’s Talent Pipeline.    The conversation was lead by opening remarks from State Senator David Senjem and State Representative Kim Norton.   The delegation served as an interactive panel sharing insights and fielding questions from the moderators and audience.   Viewpoints differed in the application to our current system, but it was clear that the system needed to be reconstructed to better serve the competitive needs of the region and to keep pace to the rest of the world.
To begin to see the applicability of other models,  and understanding the challenges of the current system helps frame the discussion.
  • The debt levels incurred by university students today is a major financial setback for youth just beginning their careers.   Student loan debt is one of the few forms of unforgivable debt that cannot be escaped through bankruptcy.   Given that employment rates are dropping for new graduates,  this creates a perilous position that universities are putting the youth into.
  • The speed of change in industry is far outstripping the pace that curriculum is evolved.   This is making current education systems less relevant to modern industry and requires extensive investment by employers into new hires from universities.
  • The gap between faculty and professions is constantly growing.   It centers on the lack of experience of teachers to actually apply the academic knowledge to the real world.   At best case study based programs bring real world experiences into the classroom, but the gross lack of actual experience by the professors is at the root of the problem.   While no-one would dispute the need for teaching the basic fundamentals of any discipline,  this is mainly refer enable materials.   Equally high quality methods of online learning can covey this rote information and it can be looked up at any time in ones career as we are no longer in the age of memorization but an era of concepts and problem solving.   What is needed is more experiential learning opportunities and deep integration of industry practitioners and internships into the systems.
  • Companies are becoming less interested in giving blank donations to university foundations and having no accountability to measurable results or value returned to the community.
  • Companies are finding they need more engineers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders.   The need for MBAs trained to aspire to middle management and report status of other is not that valuable and makes organizations more political and less agile.
  • The USA university system is primary focused on only the upper end of professions,  yet every society needs many more skillets to be functional than what is available in today’s institutions.
  • The tenure system was created to provide the security for extended research and this is an important concept not to be tossed or compromised for the immediate needs of business or urgency of instant ROI.    The problem of combining an incentive model of research with teaching is where is the priority.   While the world needs top class research institutes,  it needs world class education and the business functions need to be split.   Not that they can’t be integrated,  but researchers are not practitioners and lack the real world experience that is integral to training the next genrerations.  Should teachers rotate through education, research and industry iteratively in their career track?
  • The tenure system also creates hierarchies and political bureaucracies in institutions that are build to protect their sheltered model vs. produce real value to the community.   Our universities will not evolve until this system is disbanded.
  • The media needs to be more critical of large public grants being aware to universities that are simply using the money to pay off tenured faculty and financial bail out stale programs they are hiding in.
German Education System
The learnings and best practice from the German delegation brought forth a different model of an education system that seemed to address a broad swath of the challenges faced in the USA model.
  • Their education system spans the entire spectrum of the workforce.  This is from basic labor,  skilled vocation, and professional.
  • The system has three district layers and there are many paths through the system to meet the needs of the entire spectrum.
  • It is the integration of the entire system both institutionally, but more important culturally into society that is unique benefit.   A master electrician,  plumber, or engineer is as prestigious as a typical lawyer, doctor,etc.    Societally they realize that mastery must be achieved across the spectrum to have the most competitive workforce and economic advantages.
  • Career assessments and planning happen at a much lower age,  helping youth envision potential futures and the actual paths and options available to pursue them.
  • In the later stages of university,  industry is directly involved in the education curriculum.   Students are both going to school and working directly in industries for years during the programs.   This a number of impactful benefits:
    1. Students starting internships early get insights to their preferences for the industry sooner than later and can pivot as needed
    2. Industry is paying for the education during the internships because they are building their workforce.  Students graduation with no debt!
    3. Students are building real world skills and have a context for applying the academic knowledge immediately.
    4. Students are building a real world network of industry contacts in many companies throughout their time in school.
    5. Most already have a corporation waiting to hire them, because they are already trained in their companies and will be productive immediately.
  • In a world of constant change,  there are elements of life long education being built into their industry and this keep the workforce relevant and skills up to date as they age.
The take aways:
  • Industry and Education need to be integrated.  Both for education/internships and in the financial models of how education is funded.
  • Lifelong learning must be a part of industry to assure the workforce stays relevant.   University is a part of your entire life and secures your career.
  • We have to build future universities to serve the entire spectrum of the workforce.
  • Old models of universities and tenure need to be torn down and rebuilt to support the new models.
  • Research and education are two important, but institutional separate missions.  They can support each other but should not be competing with each others.
  • How can you teach if you can’t do?
  • University financing needs to be investigated deeply for actually validity.
  • Our cultural values need to evolve.   We need to demand more from industry and universities – we should be able to do better for current and future generations than hanging onto centuries old and failing models.
See images and event agenda in the gallery