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Bright ideas

The University of Minnesota's West Bank is home to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the Carlson School of Management, and the Law School. Their students are bright, motivated, future leaders in their respective fields, but rarely have the opportunity to network with and learn from one another. One group, however, brings them together and turns their collective experience and knowledge into practical solutions for area organizations.

Common Grounds was founded five years ago on the principle that complex problems require collaboration across disciplines. Students from the three schools come together to provide professional research and consultation to area businesses and organizations. In return, they gain valuable professional experience, likely to help them in their future careers.

"We provide succinct recommendations from hard-driving young professionals looking to gain experience in the real world," says Adam Faitek, a second-year MPP student, and chair of Common Grounds.

"The work is hands-on and applicable," he adds. "Our members get the opportunity to work for a client whose challenges are multifaceted, and our recommendations impact the clients' short-and long-term decisions and strategies."

Lars Leafblad, an alumnus of the Carlson School and principal with KeyStone Research, began the program in 2004. "It seemed like graduate students on the West Bank were not fully leveraging the physical proximity of the 'leadership development ecosystem' created by having Humphrey, Carlson, and the Law School within a two-block radius," he says.

"Bringing these students together created a community of student leaders who saw the value of building relationships across sectors, industries, and academic research areas," he says.

This fall, Common Grounds helped the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) confront their challenge of connecting energy resources to promote efficiency with renters. Some of the students' suggestions included targeting management companies through industry associations, exploring opportunities for energy companies to work together, and the creation of a model energy efficient rental building supported through a public-private partnership.

The group previously has offered recommendations to the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, Minnesota Civic Education Matters, Children's Heartlink, and the Minnesota Bar Association.

According to Mary Pawlenty of Children's Heartlink, "The Common Grounds experience was very affirming for our organization. The students made specific recommendations that are new and thought-provoking. [They] forced us to start thinking strategically about a question that's central to our development as an organization and the integrity of our mission."

"We took [Common Grounds'] ideas and were able to put them into practice immediately," says Brian B. Bell of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

"The current leadership team and members have exceeded my expectations for the ongoing growth of the organization," says Leaflad. "They have created a valued experimental learning and leadership development opportunity by linking the collective talents of the membership with the needs of an external organization and truly have harnessed the collective vision our initial group had and turned it into something actionable, impactful, and sustainable. All alumni of Common Grounds are excited to see where the group will go as the future unfolds."

Common Grounds continues to seek new clients. For more information, visit www.commongroundsmn.org or e-mail info@commongroundsmn.org.

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