MN broadband story of success in process: remote classes in Windom


I just got off the phone with Greg Warner from the WECC (Windom Education and Collaborative Center) about an exciting project that involves ultra high-speed broadband, a diverse population and great classes at the University of Minnesota. Before I get into the details I wanted to mention that it’s a story in process. They are hoping to start class on Tuesday but are missing one piece of equipment a Polycom HDX 8000. It’s on order; they thought they’d receive it two weeks ago. They really need in Monday. Just thought I’d mention it in case someone had a loaner for them. Also – the classes have room for a couple more students. I wanted to offer those heads up, just in case. Now on with the story.

Windom has become an increasingly ethnically diverse community with many folks coming to work at the meat packing plants. Seeing the change in the air, WECC and Intercultural Communities Uniting (ICU) sought ways to welcome new residents. Talking to  new residents, they learned that folks were interested in using their language skills in entrepreneurial efforts. With funding from Blue Cross, Blue Shield – Healthy Together program, they began offering Interpreter training , training on how to become a good interpreter. They had 48 people go to the series of classes. It was very successful.

The University of Minnesota has been working with the legislature to create a registry of qualified interpreters. Great for quality assurance, a potential barrier for interpreters. To qualify for the registry, students are required to have college credits in the field. Windom is a long way away from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus where the classes are held. The cost of the classes and time to attend would have been a great barrier to many of the people in Windom. But Windom has great broadband and an innovative spirit.

So they have been working with the U of M to allow students in Windom to access their interpreting classes online through the University of MN College of Continuing Education, Translation and Interpreting Program. The local Windom students will attend the classes at the BARC (Business Arts & Recreation Center) where they have the fast broadband connection and telepresence equipment. It will be the next best thing to being there. To add to the appeal, the classes are offered at half price and the community will be offering scholarships. The class starts on Tuesday, assuming the necessary equipment arrives in time.

So far 13 students have signed up for the class; two spaces remain open if you are interested. While I called them Windom students, the truth is they come from various parts the region. They are primarily native speakers of a language other than English. They speak a range of languages: Spanish, Hmong, Laos and several African languages. They will be taking a series of three 3-credit classes through the program. Then they will qualify for the registry. Also they may go on to specialize in medical or court interpreting. Many go on to become consultants.

It’s a great economic benefit to the students – but equally valuable opportunity for the community where interpreters are often required. The legislature is looking at mandating that anyone who spends government money on an interpreter choose from the registry. Without this opportunity to take classes online, most folks would need to look towards the Twin Cities to get a register interpreter. This will save travel time and provide a boost to the local economy and continue the effort to be welcoming in the community.

This is a pilot program for Windom and for the University of Minnesota. It may open the door for similar programs in the future where they may offer training in rural areas. It sounds as if there have been some growing pains with a student body selected from the region and some U of M rules (tougher to get signatures from students who aren’t on campus) – but working through them should benefit both parties – and certainly will make a difference to the 13 (or more) students and their families.

An added bonus – once the equipment is installed at the BARC, it will open the door to more programs – educational, recreations, business and more. Local business people can attend classes all over the world. Students can tour areas across the world and visit with students like themselves in all settings.