Three MnSCU institutions honored as “top innovators”

Posted: May 18, 2011

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

Nine other institutions also recognized for innovative achievements

Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minnesota State University Moorhead and the Northeast Higher Education District were honored Wednesday by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities chair of the Board of Trustees as the top innovators of the year.

This is the first time the Celebration of Innovation Awards have been conferred by Chair Scott Thiss. One state university and eight other state colleges also were recognized for innovative achievements.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of innovation in our system, particularly given current economic conditions,” said Board Chair Scott Thiss. “And though our faculty and staff have been coming up with innovative programs, services and processes for decades, we have not recognized these efforts adequately until recently.

“This award also is an opportunity to encourage innovation and risk taking in a wide variety of forms. Generating fresh solutions is part of the intellectual capital that will help our colleges and universities – and ultimately our students – maintain Minnesota’s competitive edge,” he said.

“This award is just one manifestation of the Board of Trustees’ strategic direction that supports innovation to meet current and future educational needs,” said Chancellor James H. McCormick. “We recognize innovation as an important part of the continuous improvement culture that we work to cultivate.”

The three top innovators and their accomplishments are:

Minneapolis Community and Technical College for its Go-To-College Transit Pass program. Launched in December 2006, the program seeks to reduce the number of cars driven to campus and parked in the college’s ramp. By spring 2011, more than 3,700 students – about 30 percent of the college’s student population – had purchased the $84-a-semester passes, which provide unlimited rides, 24 hours per day, seven days a week, on all Metro Transit buses and light rail. The college subsidizes the passes by providing $92 for each pass through bookstore revenues, student life fees and enrollment growth funds. The pass has created new opportunities to increase access to higher education, ease financial stress and encourage environmental awareness.

Minnesota State University Moorhead for integrating energy management and control systems into room scheduling for energy efficiency. In January 2009, a concerted effort to reduce energy use began by using specially developed software to control heating and cooling in each room of each building. By fall 2010, the university could regulate heating and cooling systems as well as door systems in every building on campus. That means airflow is reduced or cut off when each room is unoccupied. Also, doors are unlocked automatically 10 minutes before each room is in use and locked 10 minutes after the room is used. The new system replaced time consuming and cumbersome manual processes of adjusting temperature and security, saving about $1 million a year in energy costs and about 10 to 15 hours a week in labor.

Northeast Higher Education District for its Iron Range engineering model of engineering education. Beginning in January 2010, the Northeast Higher Education District, which is a consortium of five colleges in northern Minnesota, began offering a project-based learning program in which third- and fourth-year engineering students work closely with industry on engineering projects. The goal is to produce graduates with highly integrated technical and professional knowledge and competencies and to promote economic development for the region. Enrolled as Minnesota State University, Mankato students, many of them complete their first two years at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids and then do their upper-level courses at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College. Students can earn Bachelor of Science degrees in engineering with emphases traditionally known as mechanical and electrical engineering. The program also encourages students to transform their project ideas into start-up enterprises that benefit the region.

The other institutions recognized for innovative achievements are: Northland Community and Technical College for its unmanned aerial surveillance program; Lake Superior College for its dialysis patient care technician program; Minnesota State University, Mankato for its Center for Renewable Energy; Normandale Community College for its Bridge to Success program; Minnesota West Community and Technical College for its Luverne Education Center for Health Careers; Pine Technical College for its Johnson Center for Innovation; Rochester Community and Technical College for its integrated planning process; South Central College for its health division; and Minnesota State Community and Technical College for its role in the Campus Service Cooperative.

The process of selecting the top innovators began with nominations by presidents of system colleges and universities. Innovation is intentionally not further defined because the award is designed to broadly recognize and appreciation innovations of all types. A screening committee narrowed the submissions to the top contenders, which were presented to the board chair, who made the final selections.