For the past 100 years, the College of Continuing Education has been opening doors to extraordinary learning opportunities at the University of Minnesota. Last summer LearningLife examined A Century of Ideas, an exploration of the innovations that transformed lives during our first ten decades. Now, as we embark on our centennial year, LearningLife, and the College, turns its attention to the future with the new What's Next? series.
What's Next? is a four-part series of Saturday morning seminars in which leading University experts tackle some of the biggest issues facing us in the future. And while most events will be held Saturday mornings in February, the series will kick off at a special edition of Headliners on January 10 (7 p.m.), featuring University president Eric Kaler.
Says LearningLife director Margy Ligon, "We began the celebration of CCE's centennial in 2012 with A Century of Ideas, a look back at transformative ideas and innovations from the last 100 years. As we embark on the next 100 years, we felt it was time to focus on the future. With President Kaler preparing his first biennial budget request since taking office, we thought it was the perfect time to ask him to present his vision for What's Next for the University of Minnesota under his leadership. We're excited that during the very same week the 88th session of the Minnesota Legislature convenes on Capitol Hill, he will address the more than 400 people we're expecting for the first Headliners event of the New Year."
One of the hardest parts of planning the series, says Ligon, was selecting the topics and speakers from the wide variety of issues and timely topics that could have been addressed. The goal, she says, was to take "a rich multidisciplinary approach that would spotlight the diverse work being done at the U."
What's Next? Powering the Future will be led by smart-grid technology pioneer Massoud Amin. Amin will share his vision of what needs to be done to improve the reliability, security, and efficiency of the country's essential power supply. "Twenty-four states are still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Sandy," says Ligon. "It left people without power for weeks on end, and it couldn't have been more obvious how dependent we are on reliable access to electricity. Professor Amin has been a voice of warning for decades that our power infrastructure has become outdated, leaving us vulnerable to natural disasters and cyber-attacks. It's kind of terrifying, but he has visionary solutions to offer, and we're excited to have him on board."
Another seemingly simple facet of life that gets taken for granted until it doesn't work is design. What's Next? Designing the Future examines a world wherein design is becoming an integral part of our lives.
"New research has shown that the way a health care facility is designed can actually contribute to faster recovery times, businesses recognize that design contributes to their competitive edge in a global economy, and educators are studying design studios to learn how to teach creative thinking," says Ligon. The topic will be tackled by Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design, who will look at cutting-edge designs and how they will transform our future physical environments.
Journalism professor Heather LaMarre will examine the future of our virtual environment when she discusses the growing influence social media is having on public policy, global attitudes, and human behaviors at What's Next? The Growing Influence of Social Media. "Many people think that things like Facebook and Twitter are fads or are 'just for fun,'" says Ligon. "But look at this fall's election," she continues. "It clearly demonstrated the power of social media to get people fired up to give money, to volunteer, and to get out the vote. Politicians, governments and businesses around the world have taken notice. It's fascinating stuff."
The fourth seminar features Jonathan Foley, director of the U's renowned Institute on the Environment, as he tackles one of the biggest issues facing not just the U.S., but the world--our growing population and what it will mean for the food supply--at What's Next? Feeding the World and Sustaining the Planet. "Last year world population hit 7 billion! And it's expected to reach 9 billion in the next four decades," says Ligon. "There is no more urgent question than how we will increase food production without completely destroying the planet in the process. [Jonathan Foley] served on an international team of researchers studying this problem and was the lead author of a visionary five-point plan of how to increase global food production while reducing the environmental damage from agriculture. His perspective on this topic is invaluable."
The Headliners special edition with President Kaler is Thursday, January 10, at 7 p.m. The What's Next? Saturday morning seminar series begins on February 2 and runs through February 23. All morning seminars are from 9-11 a.m. on the St. Paul campus. For complete series details, including ticket pricing and registration information, please visit the LearningLife website, or call 612-624-4000.