Colleges to get ‘Learning Link’ by fall

Thanks to $90,000 (U.S.) in grants from the Wells Fargo Corp., the Otto Bremer Foundation, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Confederation College campuses and colleges in Minnesota will share courses via videoconferencing this fall.
The announcement was made Saturday during a press conference at the college here, at which time campus manager Don Lovisa explained how the microwave-transmitted interactive video technology will work.
“The ‘Learning Link’ is a conduit to access a whole network. By bridging over into the community college, we can get into a whole network of colleges in Minnesota,” he said.
“Likewise, Confederation College campuses are linked by Contact North,” added Lovisa, noting campuses from Sudbury to Rochester, Mn. will be able to benefit from the technology.
Classes will be broadcast via microwave towers on the roofs of both the Confederation College campus here and Rainy River Community College over in International Falls, providing live instruction to students at both.
“The project addresses a goal of providing knowledge and skills necessary to expand cross-border trade and understanding. An educated work force is the key to a successful economy.
“This will make possible a mix of collaboration and sharing of resources between northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario,” Lovisa remarked.
The “Learning Link” has been an ongoing venture by Lovisa, former RRCC president Allen Rasmussen, and Minnesota Sen. Bob Lessard for the past five years.
In that time, Sen. Lessard got Chancellor James McCormack of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to hand over a $40,000 challenge grant while Rasmussen solicited $30,000 and $20,000 from Wells Fargo and the Otto Bremer Foundation, respectively.
The college also has applied for funding from the province, and is expecting word on that sometime in April or May.
“Good things come to those who wait. Well, we’ve waited,” said Lovisa.
Rasmussen elevated the significance of the project to something beyond an educational opportunity.
“It’s a wonderful day for both of us,” he enthused. “We’ve transcended the ‘fishing wars’ and all the other border issues, and co-operated for the betterment of everyone.”
“This will connect not only our two schools but our two systems,” Rasmussen added.
Sen. Lessard thanked all those who worked to make this project a reality.
“Anything you can do to help the kids is great. You have no idea how important this is to me,” he stressed. “We always need to try to get more for them, but this is a good start.”
Ian McCormack, Confederation College’s vice-president of community development and innovation, congratulated Sen. Lessard, Rasmussen, and Lovisa on their success—and for putting the learning needs of students first.
“This is a wonderful example of organizations sharing common ground and a commitment to serving the regions of northern Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario by working together for the success of learners and communities,” he said.
“We’re just happy to be a partner with the community,” said Rob Marwick, president of the Wells Fargo Bank in International Falls. “It’s our goal to provide those educational opportunities, and thereby retain people in our communities.”
Another partner in funding, Bremer Bank of International Falls, was represented by Sherrie Lessard at the press conference. She echoed Marwick’s sentiments.
Rebecca Tolen, student council president at the college here, referred to the project as “great.”
“We do lots of audio-only education right now, but the access to video will keep students here. Audio-only can be very difficult to learn from,” she admitted.
Bill Osterman, chair of the local college’s advisory council, was equally enthusiastic.
“I know Don and Allen have been striving for this kind of initiative for a number of years,” he said. “I think it will result in improved education opportunities for both sides of the border.”
Carol Grim, director of public information at RRCC, and Richard McKinnon, representing NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton, also were on hand for Saturday’s press conference.
Local MP Robert Nault, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, sent his congratulations via e-mail.
Lovisa noted there’s now “a lot of work to do” as the colleges co-operate to determine capital purchases, such as the microwave towers and video equipment, and organize programming in time for the next school year.
One initiative confirmed for the initial programming is a pilot project—an approved concurrent International Business/Associate in Science degree, said Lovisa.