E-Mentors: creating professional communicators one email at a time

Dear Mr. Future Boss,

Thx 4 the email. im excited for this gr8 opportunity and can’t wait 2 meet u.



Today’s Youth

Blandin Foundation e-Mentors meet with Bigfork High School students

Lower case i, numbers in place of words (4/for), and unidentified acronyms (TTYL) – these are only a few of the common grammar gaffes found in emails from today’s youth.

Teens modify language to fit the style and culture of their online social spaces. And with digital tools swallowing up 6-8 hours of the average teenager’s day, it’s no surprise that social lingo seeps into more professional forms of communication, like email.

Research shows that teachers develop positive or negative perceptions based on the how well students communicate via email. Likewise, grammar usage is linked to career advancement, or lack thereof, according to a 2013 Grammarly study.

So who will be the career climbers? Well, Bigf0rk High School students for one.

Why? Because they’re testing out their professional communication skills through a digital relationship with Blandin Foundation staffers. Say goodbye to im’s, lol’s and gr8′s!

Linked through BestPrep‘s E-Mentors program, 21 Blandin Foundation staff members will spend seven weeks emailing back and forth with Bigfork students to fine tune their writing skills and discuss plans for linking education to their future careers.

Last week, mentors and mentees met in-person for the first time (there are two in-person meetings during the seven weeks). Bigfork students toured Blandin Foundation offices and heard how their mentor’s education and life experiences outfitted them with the skills necessary to land, and perform well in, their jobs.

Judging by the laughter reverberating throughout the building, staff mentors are excited to support students as they envision what a successful future looks like and perfect the skills it will take to reach out and grab it!

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Big Data in Philanthropy

“It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”

- Andrew Carnegie

In a December 2013 Wall Street Journal article, philanthropy scholar Lucy Bernholz offers big data as an to answer Carnegie’s implied question: how can we be intentional, and intelligent, when awarding grants?

But what is big data and how can it be used?

Berholz, along with Paul Tarini of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Larry McGill of the Foundation Center, tackled these questions during a Council on Foundations (COF) webinar last week. As part of their Leading Forward: Innovations in Philanthropy webinar series, COF offered “The Practices and Opportunities of Big Data in Philanthropy (watch here) to organizations eager to harness the power of data.

A few takeaways:

  • Don’t use data for data’s sake. Put your goals first, then decide if data is an appropriate tool.
  • Data sharing is different than lesson sharing. Data may be part of lessons, but it is “magical thinking” to assume that simply making data available will catalyze change. Data needs context such as the purpose for gathering it, and insight from those the data was gathered from.
  • Find out what your organization’s data footprint looks like. It can tell you where your organization shows up in the world and who’s looking at you.
  • Data is not democratic; some voices are not being heard.
  • Digital data is forever. People are concerned with how they are perceived based on their data trail. We need to address issues of privacy and security when collecting data.

For more on how big data and other topics are changing the landscape of philanthropy, check out the free resources at the Foundation Center and the Council on Foundations.

Redefining competitiveness

In a recent Star Tribune editorial, Growth & Justice president Dane Smith challenges us to think about how we perceive competitiveness. He argues that the focus has been narrow for far too long, emphasizing “cheap labor and lower taxes.”

Smith says that, instead, competitiveness  should be defined by what is done to increase human potential.

This re-framing of competitiveness is reflected in work that leaders are doing to build healthy rural communities across Minnesota.

One way is through the use of strong broadband networks. Now, people living in the farthest corners of Minnesota can do business across the world, all while contributing to their home community through their time, talent and treasures. Red Wing, Minnesota has been a leader on this front. Through their Red Wing Ignite initiative, the community is investing in technology to spur innovation and bolster their community’s competitiveness.

Running adjacent to Smith’s editorial was an article on Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) and his push to pass legislation that would bring high-speed Internet to un- and under-served rural Minnesota communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Blandin Foundation awards $3.4 million in grants to support rural leaders

David Marty, president of the Reif Center

Through our work, we want to inspire rural communities to claim their futures by reaching out into the world of possibilities and grabbing the solution to their community challenge. Last week, Blandin Foundation trustees approved 93 grants, totaling $3.4 million, to leaders who are doing just that kind of work.

Some examples of the work we are supporting through recent grants:
Read the rest of this entry »

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Blandin Foundation extends its commitment to rural broadband

Schools use broadband technology to link students to learning opportunities via telepresence

During their spring meeting March 20 and 21, Blandin Foundation trustees voted to extend the organization’s decade of work in rural broadband another two years (through 2016) and allocate $1.5 million more for community broadband grants.

“We see every day what local leaders can do to address very significant and complex challenges,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, CEO and president of Blandin Foundation. “When it comes to broadband, our role is on the people side of the equation, working with community leaders as they plan for their community’s access to — and use of — high-speed Internet so critical work and life today. Broadband clearly has become the indispensable infrastructure of our time, and rural communities must be part of that picture.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Rural connections cradle our littlest learners

Invest Early is in its ninth year of providing wrap-around early childhood services for Itasca County children and their families.

They recently released their Year 7 results in a report compiled by Wilder Research. Highlights include:

  • Home learning environments, which are associated with higher school readiness scores, improved significantly for Invest Early families during their participation.
  • Kindergarten entry results show that Invest Early children perform better than their low-income comparison peers, and they continued to narrow the gap with the higher-income group this year.
  • More Invest Early students were ready for kindergarten this year than in all previous years.
  • Efforts within the Invest Early school districts to improve conditions for school readiness systemically may be gaining momentum and benefiting all low-income students.

As the program evolves, it is taking a data-driven approach to early childhood – looking at each child’s progress and utilizing that knowledge to make curriculum changes.
Read the rest of this entry »

Passionate about rural? Consider joining our team!

Blandin Foundation seeks a full-time Grants Program Officer.

Candidates should have:

  • passion for vibrant rural Minnesota communities
  • engagement in inclusive community leadership, desire to work toward helping communities catalyze their ability to expand opportunity for all of its residents.
  • knowledge of education systems and/or economic and community development practices.
  • demonstrated skills in financial and grant analysis, communication and facilitation.

Click here for more details.

The Web celebrates 25th birthday. Is rural invited to the party?

In one week, the World Wide Web will turn 25, and boy does it have a lot to celebrate! From 1995 – 2014, the number of Americans who use the internet has shot up from 14 to 87 percent. That’s huge!

In recognition of the Web’s 25th birthday, Pew Research Internet Project released a  new report looking at the rapid growth of the internet and how it has impacted the “way people get, share, and create news; the way they take care of their health; the way they learn; the nature of their political activity; their interactions with government; the style and scope of their communications with friends and family; and the way they organize in communities.”

Here are a few noteworthy findings: Read the rest of this entry »

Cultivating young rural leaders

More than 10,000 rural Minnesota middle and high schoolers are celebrating National FFA Week this week, with activities that range from meeting with government officials to hosting community meals and the Jackson County area’s annual barnyard for kids.

FFA may be more familiar by its former name – Future Farmers of America – but FFA’s scope today reaches far beyond farms. It provides youth an opportunity to prepare for career success through events that develop skills such as public speaking, communication, and hands-on job experience in fields such as research, technology, business, management, communications, the economy, and other careers.

These skills also are key to community success. According to the 2013 Rural Pulse, 62 percent of rural Minnesotans ages 18-34 would consider serving in a community leadership role when asked. With a crop of 10,000 youth with skills that are hallmarks of community leadership, why wouldn’t communities ask?

Many students already are finding opportunities to apply their skills to community work. The Foley FFA chapter tested more than 60 wells in central Minnesota’s Benton County, then accessed funds from the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities broadband project to build a database and online map of results, which has become a crucial tool to monitor water quality in their area.

Pipestone Businesses Stand Behind Community Leaders

When Pipestone community leaders rallied together to apply for the Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP), one thing stood in their way – 318 miles of pavement.

“When we talked about the expense of it because of the distance (BCLP retreats are held in Grand Rapids, Minn.), we weren’t sure if we could pull it off,” said Dawn Heidebrink, Pipestone BCLP cohort member. “Leave it to two of our grand leaders (Dale Roemmich and Kevin Paulsen) to get it done. From my understanding in 30 minutes we had $3,500. It was wonderful. That means we have a community behind us.”

With the help from seven local businesses (First Farmers & Merchants, First Bank and Trust, Subway, Pipestone Publishing, Pipestone Veterinary Clinic, Pipestone Area Foundation, Pipestone Forward), Pipestone leaders were able to secure enough funding for a bus.

“Our businesses are always there, ready to step up. That’s how much they believe in the community,” said Kevin Paulson.

As the twenty-two Pipestone community members rolled along highways through rural Minnesota’s prairies and woodlands, the camaraderie between them began to build.

“What energized me the most was getting to know them as people and allowing them the opportunity to know me beyond my role in the community,” said Debra Fitzgerald, editor of the Pipestone County Star. “You need to create that synergy among people in a community where they feel like they can trust each other and know each other in order to get things done. I felt more a part of Pipestone having had that experience.”

As the retreat kicked into full swing, cohort members embarked on training to identify and describe community issues and opportunities, build social capital, manage interpersonal conflict, understand community power, mobilize community resources, and set goals.

Most importantly, the training taught Pipestone community leaders to band together to inspire, and implement, change.

“Effective teams, whether it’s military or sports teams, the ones that are highly successful have this trust of knowing where everyone’s going to be and what everyone’s thinking,” said Kyle Caskey. “We didn’t have that until we came together here as a group and were able to establish those bonds and connections with one another so we trust each other to get things done and make progress happen.”

Heidebrink summed up the feelings of the cohort: “It’s going to be so rewarding. I just can’t wait to get back home and use the skills we learned.”