Turbulent economic times. A frenetic pace of change in society. A need for professionals to stay on the edge of their profession or risk falling behind. Sound familiar?
While it could very well describe today, it represents the state in which the University found itself when it made a bold move to change the face of education in 1936 by launching what would be the Nolte Center for Continuing Education.
"The realization that life is an unrelenting treadmill, on which an individual must run swiftly forward if he is to prevent himself going backward, came many years ago to Lotus D. Coffman, president of the University of Minnesota. Within him was born a vision. And the vision became a reality with the completion of the center of continuation study on campus, the only one of its kind in the nation," boasted a Minneapolis Tribune article in February of 1938.
More than a building, the center housed a unit devoted to collaborating with faculty and professional groups to develop short programs in many disciplines. Julius Nolte, the later director and namesake of the building, knew this collaboration was key. In his 1930s Post-War Professional Continuation Education documentation, he wrote: "There should be at all times a close liaison between the educationally minded section of the profession to be served and the educational institutions which does the educating. Without the cooperative participation of the profession, continuing education tends to become sterile and over-formulized."
These short programs provided just the burst of insight needed by the attendees, who returned to their communities prepared to bring the latest thinking to bear on issues of the day. "These people are interested...in the advances, discoveries, and new techniques which have become an indispensable part of professional equipment in their respective fields since they left college. This is a college for leaders, and these outstanding individuals must be in the front-line trenches of their respective battle lines," explained the University's Richard Price in a 1943 document.
The lively collaborative development, gathering of communities of professionals, and dissemination of expertise still go on today. The College of Continuing Education's conference planning group orchestrates specialized annual and rarer special event conferences and is the most direct "descendant" of the weeklong dorm-style offerings in the early years of the Nolte Center.
Today's staff, however, operates in a more complicated environment than the pioneers of Nolte's day. Due to the specialization and globalization of our knowledge workforce, the conference staff members collaborate not only with the state's professionals but draws experts - speakers and attendees - from around the world. The unit's work intersects with more disciplines than cross the radar of most traditional college students - including cryobiology, cultural preservation, diversity, engineering, freight and logistics, genomes, government contracts, history, land use, music, nanotechnology, policy analysis, Paleolithic and Quaternary studies, radon, and transportation.
"Hosting national professional association meetings is a great way for faculty and departments to showcase the University of Minnesota and all of the terrific research that is being done," explains Lori Graven, director of the conference planning group.
A lasting impression
University of Minnesota history professor Jean O'Brien worked with College staff to bring the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association event to the U of M campus in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the U's Department of American Indian Studies, the first free-standing department of Indian studies in the U.S.
"This was the first 'official' meeting of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association," says O'Brien. "The meeting in Minneapolis surpassed 600 attendees [from around the country and the world]. It gave us an opportunity to showcase our department and to reach out to the many Native communities in Minnesota that are our constituency. It also showcased the University of Minnesota [as a whole] in amazing ways and left a lasting impression on the attendees," she says.
"[CCE's conference planning staff] were amazing professionals to work with in staging the conference from the very beginning," continues O'Brien. "Every step of the way, the staff at CCE guided us through the process, negotiated with countless offices on and off campus that supported the conference, and opened our eyes to the possibilities for staging a truly professional conference. We could not have done it without them."
Engineer Gene Soderbeck of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is a member of the planning committee for a long-running annual conference facilitated by the College, the Minnesota Water Resources Conference. "University academic members have a handle on the research [angle]," Soderbeck says. "Whereas the public members can identify what's happening 'on the ground.' Collectively, the different perspectives provide a better understanding of the water resource issues. Pair that with the College's proven administrative ability...and it results in a positive experience for committee members, attendees, and presenters."
The U of M Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) has looked to the College for its conference services since 1989. Director Laurie McGinnis stresses the importance of working with a partner that is able to handle such diverse programming. "Cross-industry collaborations are very valuable for planning and delivering our events because the process ensures we are in touch with the true needs of our audience and stakeholders," McGinnis says. "It also brings together the creative strengths of the U with the on-the ground perspective of practitioners in a way that generates a really strong program."
Kris Norman-Major is the director of Hamline University's Public Administration Programs and chair of its Department of Organizational Leadership and Public Policy. She's also on the planning committee for the Annual Conference on Policy Analysis, now in its 28th year. The conference, says Norman-Major, is designed to "bring together people who work on public policy and administration in a forum that looks at the latest issues, allows for information sharing across sectors and units of government, and (hopefully) gets people to think outside the box a bit by looking at how what they do meshes with the work of others."
Events like the Policy Analysis Conference are on the rise, says Graven. "Annual conferences for professional groups, engineers, policy makers, government employees, have been increasing their attendance numbers over the years. These events are the rare occasion when attendees can not only discuss the topics being presented, but also find people who are experts in helping them to solve problems they may be having."
The Policy Analysis Conference is cross-disciplinary and draws presenters and participants from a wide variety of sectors, including members of the academic, government, nonprofit, and business communities. Working with the College, says Norman-Major, greatly facilitates that collaboration. "We wouldn't be able to pull together as diverse a group without the help of CCE conference services. CCE plays a vital role."
Nolte Center Legacy
The Nolte Center legacy lives on today in many ways. Although the conference planning group's events are the most similar to the weeklong dorm-style offerings in the early years of the Nolte Center, the College also brings tailored education on site for organizations and offers courses and certificates in topics such as leadership, project management, business process improvement, business analysis, and HR that help professionals recharge careers and workplace projects. Courses are offered either online or at the new home for professional education at the University - the College's Continuing Education and Conference Center on the St. Paul campus (Nolte Center was eventually transferred to the U's College of Liberal Arts). The conference center hosts not only College events but also those of myriad other organizations and associations.
Countries sending participants: 49
Continuing Education and Conference Center
Events hosted: 750
U/Public Business: 60%/40%
Courses and Certificates
Tailored Education On Site for Organizations