The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 22 • Number 1 • Winter 2005

 


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MAKING MINNESOTA MOVE


 

Pictured (from left to right) Top: Tony Dierckins, Terri Friesen, Nancy Smith
      Bottom: Jim Vizanko and Miranda Edel

About five million people live in Minnesota's 80,000 square miles. Nearly three million Minnesotans are in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, which comprises roughly 4,600 square miles. That leaves the rest -- over two million non-Twin Cities metro area dwellers--to roam around in 75,000 square miles or so. Ninety percent of the state's people are white; four percent are African-American; three percent are Asian; only one percent are Native American, although Native culture deeply permeates the state's shared culture.

A Minnesotan's average income is just over $30,000. Agriculture, timber and mining are still economically significant, but not nearly as much as they used to be. As population concentrates around the Twin Cities, so do jobs. Higher education, health care, tourism, manufacturing and business are strong, statewide, to varying degrees. Natural resources provide a surfeit of established and potential recreation and work opportunities: 70 state parks; multiple national parks, forests, and monuments; the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; enough untouched forest and water to make Minnesotans lucky and unique.

State sales and income taxes are relatively high. Still, for seven years in a row--from 1994 till 2003--the research firm Morgan Quinto Press named Minnesota the nation's most livable state, based on "agriculture, low crime rate, defense, government finance, health, economy, education, energy, environment, geography, housing, population, social welfare and transportation."  

And peppered throughout those geographical, social, and industrial environments are people whose UMD master's degrees help them define Minnesota's local, statewide, national, even worldwide, identities.

The following article presents five UMD graduate school alumni who are contributing to a vibrant Minnesota in varied ways:

Tony Dierckins (BA 1988, MA, English, 1993) owns and operates X-communication, a Duluth company that specializes in publishing regional non-fiction books and helping individuals and organizations self publish. He has written or published The Duct Tape Book, The Mosquito Book, Will to Murder: The True Story Behind the Crimes and Trials Surrounding the Glensheen Killings, When I'm an Old Man I'll Wear Mixed Plaids and many other titles.

Miranda Edel (MFA, Graphic Design, 2003) was just the third person to earn a Master of Fine Arts in graphic design at UMD. Her individual study emphasis -- designing interactive tools for higher education -- contributes to her current position as an instructional technologist at Lake Superior College in Duluth. She also collaborates with Stephen Downing, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UMD School of Medicine Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, in pioneering HistoArt, artistic representations of microscopic human cell, tissue, and organ images.

Terri Friesen (MSW, 2003) is the financial assistance supervisor for the Itasca County Department of Health and Human Services Office of Financial Maintenance. She was an assistance worker for a couple years before becoming a social worker in the county's Child Protection and Family Services, a job she held until 2000.

Nancy Smith (MS, Physics, 1992) has been an environmental engineer at Northshore Mining in Silver Bay since 1991, when she took the position on a "temporary basis" after a decade of working on-and-off for Northshore and its corporate predecessors (in electrical instrumentation and process control), being a flight instructor, and attending UMD as a graduate student and teaching assistant.

Jim Vizanko (MBA 1977) is the chief financial officer of Allete, Inc., a multi-services company headquartered in Duluth, and the parent company of Minnesota Power. After graduating from Morgan Park High School, he earned a UMD bachelor's degree in mathematics (1975) with a minor in economics and a teaching certificate. After teaching for two years he started at Minnesota Power as a financial analyst and earned his MBA at UMD. Before being named CFO in 2001, Vizanko had been Minnesota Power's corporate treasurer since 1993. He is also a chartered financial analyst.

            Here's more about Dierckins, Edel, Friesen, Vizanko, and Smith, in their own words.

Tony Dierckins: Publishing Northern Minnesota

            "I went to UMD twice. I'm a 1988 graduate of the undergraduate program, and in 1993 I earned a master's in English, with a composition emphasis. While in grad school I taught freshman composition.

            "My first job was with Pfeiffer-Hamilton Publishers [in Duluth] as a manuscript editor. I was an acquisitions editor and manuscript editor, I did layout, and I wrote marketing copy. One of the things that came across my desk was The Duct Tape Book, and I ended up convincing them to take a chance on it, and it became one of their largest selling books. When I left Pfeiffer-Hamilton and started Bad Dog Press, a nationwide humor publishing house, I teamed up with Tim Nyberg, who thought up The Duct Tape Book, and between us we wrote four more duct tape books and six page-a-day calendars.

            "The Mosquito Book was my next big project. The late Scott Anderson came up with the idea, and it turned out that we got a lot of national exposure. I was even flown to New York to be on CBS This Morning."

            "At the same time, Ken Risdon   [UMD Composition professor] called me -- the comp department needed someone to teach a Document Design and Graphics class for non-design majors who need some design background and skills. At the same time they needed teachers for freshman comp and advanced writing, and I turned around and one day I was teaching full-time at UMD.

            "But I had all these ideas for new books with X-communication, my freelance business, so I left teaching after a couple years. I do editorial work, design, and help people self publish. The first book I put out was with Kerry Elliott--True North, an offbeat tourist guide to this area. We wanted to steer people to locally made products and businesses. That book did well for us. After that I did two volumes of Greetings from Duluth with Jerry Paulson, reproduction vintage postcards of historic Duluth with a little history lesson on the back of each one.

            "I knew I wanted X-communication to be strictly a regional publisher--western Lake Superior and the Duluth area--when my distributor asked me about doing a book on the Glensheen murders. [Heiress Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse Velma Pietila were murdered in the early morning of June 27, 1977, in Glensheen, the Congdon family mansion.] He said he thought that if I could produce a more complete book than two existing titles, which sold well, we could move a lot of books.

            "A few weeks later I ran into Ellen Quinn and told her about the conversation I'd had with my distributor, and she said, 'Do you want one written by the chief investigator and the chief prosecutor? It's been under my bed for five years.' Glensheen murder chief investigator Gary Waller and county prosecutor John DeSanto had written a manuscript with former Duluth News Tribune reporter Gail Feichtinger. Ellen had read their latest manuscript and then tucked it under her bed.

            "So this huge project fell into my lap. My copy editor Scott Pearson and I decided we were going to publish it. Gail kept researching, and what she turned up was fascinating.

            "We sold 10,000 copies our first month [August 2003]. If you sell 3,000 copies of a regional book in your first year, you've got a huge hit on your hands. We were able to take some of the original evidence and run DNA testing on it. We announced the DNA results just as the book was released.

            "We're already in the works with a new edition. When Marjorie Congdon Caldwell got out of prison last January we were down there -- in her cell an hour after she got out. It was creepy. In January, 2005, Court TV plans to put the story of the murders on Dominick Dunne's "Power, Privilige, and Justice" show, which should mean big things for both Glensheen and the book. I'm pretty darn excited.

            "We did a revised edition of The Mosquito Book that came out last spring after 20,000 copies of that sold over four or five years. We just came out with Ultra Violet: Ten Years of 'Violet Days', which is a collection of Chris Monroe cartoons. She's in the Minneapolis Star Tribune every Friday and monthly in the Ripsaw News. Next spring we've got Good Night, Everybody...and Be Kind, the autobiography of WDIO anchorman Dennis Anderson. His story involves every major news story in the region over the last 40 years. He covered Glensheen, the Edmund Fitzgerald, all the iron mining strikes and closings."

            Note the UMD graduates listed in this story: Ellen Quinn '86, Gary Waller '72,   John DeSanto '68 and Scott Pearson '79.    

 

Miranda Edel: Art, Design, and Science

            "I loved the master's program in graphic design. There was a focus on developing my own ideas, and even though there was a core curriculum, I was trying to apply my ideas for a thesis to what I was learning in the courses. My end thesis project was developing a game for medical students who were studying for step one of their medical boards exam. It served dual purposes: training and education.

            "The boards exam takes eight hours, students have 72 seconds to answer each question, and it's a random exam. I studied how students studied for the exam; most of them would just study subject by subject and not tie them together. When you're taking the exam you could be asked a question about the physiology of the nervous system, then the next question might be about the pharmacology of the respiratory system, so it's randomized. My idea was to simulate the boards exam with a board game, something that's familiar to them. They would shake the dice and move around the board and answer whatever question came to them.

            "Also, because medical school is so competitive, I built in a method for students to help each other. If one student was having problems they could turn to a student who had already correctly answered a question in that subject for help. The student being asked for help wouldn't give the answer, but would help guide the other student to it.

            "Graphic design isn't just about designing images. It can be about designing an environment, a method. Design is everywhere around you. I was looking at a way to design a method for students to learn. It was about taking something they knew and showing it to them in a new way.

            "Currently I'm the instructional technologist at Lake Superior College. I teach faculty how to teach online. I give workshops and develop learning objects for the online environment. An example of a learning object might be a multimedia tool to learn how blood flows through the heart, so students can see an animation of it. We make tools students can interact with, and that can help them learn course material. If a learning object is created correctly it can be used multiple ways.You could create something that can be used in a surgical technician course, and the same thing could be used in a nursing course, or in an anatomy or physiology course.

            "I'm also developing some learning objects for geology, ethics, and literature. I'm developing online workshops for faculty, so they can take a Photoshop workshop, or a web design workshop, online within their own timeframe.

            "I also teach graphic design online for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I generally have around 15 students. Out of seven days of the week they have to be in attendance for five. They have assignments that are due on specific days, and they have to show their work, so they can't just search the Web, find some image from someone else, and post it. They must take screen shots so I can see their process, including thumbnails and sketches.

            "My undergrad degree was in fine arts. I learned that sketching is very important in the creative process. When you begin with sketches you can see what's going to work and what doesn't, and then you can take it to the computer and apply it.

            "There will always be a place for online classes, because anyone can take them. They're accessible to people with handicaps. They're accessible to single mothers who work full time. You don't have to find a babysitter, which is nice. I had a student who lived in a town of 200 people, and the closest city with a college was two hours away. Online classes were her only way to get a college education.

            "You have to be extremely dedicated and motivated to succeed as a student online. The classroom will always have a valuable place in education. It's also important for students to interact in person. I would encourage students who can take an on-ground class to do that every so often, even if they choose to do most of their work online.

            "One of my most exciting projects is creating images of the microscopic level of anatomy. Steve Downing [UMD Medical School professor] is a histologist. He has collected about 50,000 images. In the process he noticed the beautiful patterns. He asked me if I could digitally enhance them to appear more like traditional art. I maintain the cell structure, so a doctor or a scientist can recognize the actual tissue and yet appreciate the artistic value.

            "I've created about 20 or 25 thus far. We have about 12 that are currently available. They're printed on archival quality paper.   Even though the initial response was slow, it's building very well. "I know some medical professionals who have purchased them for their own offices. We can create custom work. We recently created   one of cardiac tissue for a heart surgeon."

  

Terri Friesen: Social Care and Health

            "I received my undergraduate degree from Mankato State in women's studies and political science in 1983 and soon after, my husband, Kevin, had a job offer with the Department of Natural Resources in northern Minnesota so we moved north and I found a job with Itasca County as a financial worker. Since then, I've had a lot of different experiences with Itasca County and have been able to try a few different jobs during my tenure. I've been a financial worker, employment guidance counselor, social worker and now supervisor.

            "Both Kevin and I have continued our education. Our daughters were in preschool   when Kevin went back to school to become a physical therapist. He worked on his master's degree for three years, and now he's a physical therapist at the local hospital. Shortly after he completed his academic program, the social work program at UMD offered its distance education program, and I started taking classes on weekends and nights in Hibbing. I worked full time while I earned my Master of Social Work degree from UMD and it took me four long years to complete it.

            "UMD offered interactive television classrooms in Hibbing, Bemidji, and Duluth, once or twice a week in the evenings. It was just like driving to a regular class. The primary teacher was in the Duluth classroom, and we had teaching assistants in the Bemidji and Hibbing classrooms. There were about 30 students participating in the distance education classes. Ninety percent of us would have never been able to achieve our master's degree without that program. I could not have gotten mine without it. Going back to school to complete our Master's programs - combined with working and raising two kids -has been really tough but, we hope, that it has provided a good base for our children to know and understand that learning is a life long process and that in order to grow and advance in your work, education is an essential tool.

            "All my training, especially what I learned in the master's program, has enabled me to use my leadership skills. I supervise 19 financial workers. Our responsibility is to administer public assistance programs that are mandated by the state and federal governments. Minnesota has a state-supervised county direct social service program -- the state provides the guidance and the leadership, but services are administered at the county level. There are just a very few states that provide public assistance services in that way. I think it works very well. With county directed services you get social service staff who know the unique needs and the flavor of the area, and I think that's a benefit to our clients and local resources.

            "We administer all public assistance programs: health care, food support, family and adult cash, and child care assistance. You have to be at the poverty level to be eligible for most of our programs, and we could actually identify a lot of additional families that are working who would be eligible for support. The rules, eligibility levels and what's covered, are constantly changing - every single legislative session.  

            "I'm a huge supporter of universal health care. If we had one program that was administered across the board, we would save a lot of money and confusion. Administering these state programs is very expensive, very time consuming, and very confusing both for people who are receiving the services and people who are trying to administer them. There are so many Minnesotan's who do not have any or adequate medical coverage. This seems so unbelievable in a country as progressive and affluent as ours.

            "The 2003 legislative session was devastating to public assistance programs. Minnesota' s poor definitely took the brunt of legislative budget cuts. The child care program that is so essential to working poor families was cut in half, and a lot of the Minnesota Care services that reach low to moderate income families were eliminated. Now there is an increased financial burden for low and moderate income families who are working hard and trying to make a difference in their lives and in the lives of their children.

            "During the five years of cash benefits allowed by Minnesota's welfare reform program, MFIP, we try to do everything possible to give low income families the tools to be successful in the job market. For a lot of people, the longer they 're out of work, the harder is to get motivated to get back to work. Self-esteem issues are a factor, as are mental and chemical health. Our society just does not support the working poor and this has been reflected in recent legislative cuts.

            "If you're working two jobs, one at McDonald's and one at Wal-Mart, even if you've been working two years, you're still not making enough income to pay child care. It's great that our programs sustain families for a short period as they start working, but they're not there long enough for them to continue toward being self-sufficient. There's been a lot of growth in Grand Rapids in the last 10 years. We've seen Home Depot and Target and a few new shopping malls. We've seen a lot of development, but not in family-sustaining jobs.

            "In Itasca county we have a fairly high--higher than the state average--percentage of people who are not in compliance with the program rules.   When they're not in compliance their cash is reduced. The rules say that a client has to search for a job 35 hours a week for six weeks. I could probably apply for every job available in Grand Rapids in one day. The system sets them up to fail.

            "We have created opportunities that will help clients comply with the rules. This is our ethical charge: to provide every tool and resource possible to help our clients become self-sufficient before they are cut off from future benefits. We incorporate   job search along with other constructive activities, like career counseling, training in resume and cover letter writing, help finding job leads, technical use of computers and help with interviewing skills. It all counts towards their job search hours and it gives them skills that they can keep. Plus it allows public assistance recipients the opportunity to network and share job leads. I feel the key to success is through empowerment. We all need to believe we have tools to be successful.

     "People who receive public assistance want the very same things from life that the rest of us want: to be healthy, to be respected and to be able to live comfortably without having to worry about how to pay for groceries, heat for our homes, increased utility bills and   birthday presents for our children."

Nancy Smith: Industry and the Environment

            "I got a BS in physics from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, near Los Angeles. My first job out of college was doing electronic instrumentation with a Los Angeles firm, and they sent me on field work assignments to, among other places, Reserve Mining in Silver Bay. I was out and back many times, and I liked it very much. After four years in Los Angeles, Reserve brought me to Minnesota on a six-month consulting contract. That was in 1981, and I never went back to California.

            "I worked at Reserve Mining for what turned out to be 18 months, and by that time they were really on the skids, and they didn't renew my contract. At the time, I was getting serious about flight instructing, one of my passions. I started working as a flight instructor at Duluth's Sky Harbor airport, and that quickly turned into a flight instructor job at Superior Airport. It was about then that I went back to graduate school at UMD, because I wanted to get an advanced degree in physics, and I wanted to do some environmental studies.

            "I still do private flight instructing and I'm a contract pilot for Cirrus Design. Once in a while a quick trip comes up on a weekend and they'll use me. The joke I tell people is that I finally got tired of the instability of working as a flight instructor, so I went into mining instead.

            "This used to be the Reserve Mining facility. It stopped production in something like 1984 and formally went bankrupt in 1986. In 1989 Cyprus Minerals bought the property and re-opened it as Cyprus Northshore Mining. They were looking for people with past experience to help them re-start the plant. I had no intention of working here permanently but I came back for a few months so I could make money to fix the brakes on my car. That was in 1989 and I'm still here   because the job is so interesting.

            "I'm one of three environmental engineers at the plant. We collect water samples, send them out for analysis, and report on the results to the state, both here and at our mine in Babbitt. We have to make sure that the air emission controls are operating properly and report breakdowns. We educate employees about waste handling, approve chemicals before they come on the property, figure out what the heck you do with chemicals when they have to go off the property. So it's a waste management, water quality management, air quality management, a lot of education, tracking storage tanks, reporting on spills if there are any, kind of job. We have to renew permits periodically, and with each permit a new set of conditions must be understood and explained to the work force to ensure compliance with regulations.

            "A certain amount of public education goes on as well. Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center is up the road. They offer environmental law, history, and policy classes in the summer, in association with St. Olaf College and Gustav Adolphus College. Wolf Ridge brings the students here so we can tell them about how we manage environmental controls now, versus the way Reserve Mining did it, and also, maybe with a little luck, get them thinking about why we need steel in the first place. Some people say we should use plastic instead. But how are you going to get the stuff out of the ground in order to have plastics? How are you going to process it? Without motor vehicles and roads, how are you going to get your food. And by the way, most of us are wearing machine-woven clothes right now.

              "At Northshore Mining we mine low-grade iron ore. It's roughly 25 to 30 percent iron oxide, and the rest is stuff the steelmakers can't use. We grind it and separate out the iron oxide, then roll it into little balls. We cook them so it turns from magnetite to hematite, which is a more oxidized form of iron, more like the red ore that used to come out of the mines. That goes into the blast furnaces, which spend incredible amounts of energy to remove the oxygen back out of it so they can get iron.

            "There's a new technology that's overall more efficient, where you take the low-grade iron ore and pull out all the stuff you don't want, the silicates and that sort of thing, then, instead of oxidizing it and then having to reduce it later, you just reduce it right there on the spot. That's called direct-reduced iron, and depending on the process, it might be 95 or 99 percent pure iron. It depends. The technology is still evolving, but you can see that it would take less energy. It also supports steel recycling, because recycled steel needs a small amount of virgin iron added to bring its quality back up enough to be useful for something more than concrete reinforcement bars.   

            "Mesabi Nugget, LLC has been running a pilot project at Northshore's facilities to test a new technology that produces something like 99.5 percent pure iron. The tests have been successful. We've been trying to get permits to build a full-scale   plant, but since we're right on the shore of Lake Superior, right in the spotlight, we get a lot more political scrutiny than anybody else does. The shadow of Reserve Mining still sits over us, even though we manage things a lot differently than Reserve Mining did. "Think about it. Do you want your steel to be generated here, in the United States, where you can keep an eye on it, where you can have something to do with the regulations and permits, and some control over it, or do you want it done in China and Russia, where they don't have to have that level of environmental control? If you worry about mercury going into the atmosphere, this country may be one of the cleanest places to produce steel."

Jim Vizanko: Minnesota and Energy

            "I earned my bachelor's degree in 1975. After I taught in public schools for two years, I decided to make some changes in my life and I took some of the prerequisites for an MBA. About the same time, a job opened up at Minnesota Power and when I applied for it, I was asked if I would consider getting an MBA. That was great because I was already enrolled at UMD. I had originally planned to get an MBA by going to school full-time in Minneapolis but I decided I'd rather have the job at Minnesota Power and go to school part time in Duluth. The decision has really worked for me.

            "The person who hired me was Dave Gartzke, who was a UMD grad. Later, he became president of Minnesota Power, and now he's running ADESA. [ALLETE spun off ADESA Inc., an auto auction company, in September 2004]. Dave was one of my teachers at UMD. He was teaching economics part time, and he remembered me. After the job interview, he went back and looked at my grades. I must have done OK because I got the job.

            "Later, I became an instructor at UMD, too. I taught a few evening classes -- Capital Budgeting and Corporate Finance.

            "UMD circles around in my life in a lot of ways. It's still a large part of my life. My family and I use the Rec Sports facilities a lot, and we all enjoy going to events on campus.

            "I started [at Minnesota Power] as an assistant forecasting and economics analyst. Later I became treasurer and a couple years ago, I was promoted to CFO. When I think about it, I realize that I've always wanted to be CFO, I just didn't know it would happen.

            "The job comes with a responsibility to our customers and to the shareholders. If you measure the amount of electricity we generate, we're the second largest power company in Minnesota. We serve some of the largest industrial customers in the United States, the taconite companies and paper mills. About half our load comes from a handful of customers.

            "Because we are so consistent and reliable, people don't really think about how important Minnesota Power is to the region. Power doesn't go out for very long around here. If our rates were three times as high or we had an outage every other week, our customers would think differently about us. Luckily, that's not the case. Minnesota Power has some of the lowest rates in the country. That's really good for our economy. We help industry to buy all the power they need, but also to buy it cheaply. "We haven't raised rates in ten years. It's a given. We produce power and without that the Iron Range doesn't run.

            "Minnesota Power has been around since the 1920s. At first, we had hydroelectric power plants and later we added coal. About 10 percent of Minnesota Power's capacity is still hydroelectric while most of our production is generated by the coal-fired units in Aurora and Cohasset.            

              "Our corporate offices overlook the port. We see wood products and minerals ship out across Lake Superior and through the St. Lawrence Seaway to international markets. Northern Minnesota sits on top of thousands of acres of forest, hundreds of lakes and one of the richest iron ore deposits in the world. Those are the resources that drive our economy. This area is a tourist destination and it's a great place to live. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Lake Superior draw a lot of people and that boosts the economy, too. We can't take credit for all of that economic development, but more often than not, Minnesota Power is at the table, doing its part to make sure the deals get made.

            "We do more than generate power. Many people don't even know that ALLETE is the parent company of Minnesota Power. Most people, even some of our shareholders, think of us simply as Minnesota Power but we do a lot more than make electricity. Almost 40 percent of this year's net income will come from ALLETE's real estate operations. We have major real estate holdings in Florida and a lignite coal mine in North Dakota. We've got some other non-regulated generating facilities and Superior Water, Light and Power is our subsidiary. We've got telecommunications, too -- Enventis Telecom, headquartered in Minneapolis, is one of our companies.

            "We just spun off ADESA in September. As two separate companies, we believe ALLETE and ADESA will offer investors the opportunity to target their investments more specifically. Each company will have its own distinct path for growth.

            "We're also looking to grow the company and invest in other things. This is one specific area I work in. We've bought and sold a lot of businesses over the years. We had a telephone company, some big water operations in Florida, and the paper mill in West Duluth. At one time we had an investment portfolio valued at over $400 million.

            "I'm proud of the fact that we are a good corporate citizen. We provide grants, scholarships, leadership support and we get involved with non-profit groups. The company does a lot for the community, and has over the years, but more than that, a lot of the people who work here, from the people who repair power lines right up to executives, are volunteers.

            Just about every local non-profit board has Minnesota Power representatives who give their time and expertise. We just sent some line crews down to Florida to help them get power back up after their hurricanes. That kind of volunteerism doesn't show up in the numbers, but it's a huge asset for the community."

 

-- Chris Godsey, Department of Composition

 

 
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