Help along the way for Main Street GF Challengers

Participants in the Main Street GF Challenge had summer of meetings, speakers and important lessons

Holding their framed certification as Main Street GF Challengers, Anisa Holwerda, Maura Ferguson and Carter Razink have been working all summer on their community-bettering ideas. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

This summer, UND’s Main Street GF Challengers learned valuable lessons in public speaking, effective storytelling, measuring impact and… brushing their teeth?

Sure enough. Amy Whitney, director of the Center for Innovation, used the topic of oral hygiene to teach the Challengers about process-mapping. Her toothbrush demonstration launched the summer series of bi-monthly meetings and guest speakers for participants of the Main Street GF Challenge, and it remained a highlight for Challenger Maura Ferguson.

“It was a training on empathetic leadership,” Ferguson said. “We had to process-map all of the steps involved in brushing our teeth. We talked about how everyone does it a little differently; there are different ways to achieve the same result.

“Plus, I had really clean teeth.”

By having Challengers step back and observe an everyday task from each other’s perspectives, they practiced intentional empathy, Whitney said. The exercise was a metaphor for how they should approach their challenge.

“Empathetic leadership, in this case, is challenging the students to intentionally design empathy into all phases of their work as social innovators, because it improves the creative process and the outcomes they’re working toward,” she said.

Now in its second year, the Main Street GF Challenge offers funding and support to a group of UND and local high school students who want to put their bold ideas for the community into action. The University has been a sponsor of the Challenge, which was created by a group of civic leaders in response to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street ND Initiative.

Over the summer, the Center for Innovation’s Tyler Sletten and Collin T. Hanson of Evolve Grand Forks met with the Challengers to help provide these and other lessons, demonstrating the commitment of UND and the Grand Forks community’s investment in community-bettering ideas.

“Specifically we wanted to give the Challengers structure, goals, camaraderie and some good advice,” Sletten said.

Holwerda said the bimonthly meetings throughout the summer break kept her inspired and on the “straight and narrow” with her work in the Main Street GF Challenge. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Inspiration and accountability

For UND’s Challengers — Ferguson, Carter Razink and Anisa Holwerda — meeting twice a month with the entire Main Street GF Challenge group provided something crucial: accountability.

“They kept me on the straight and narrow all summer,” said Holwerda, who’s entering her graduate social work studies. “With every meeting we had, I would get more inspiration from the people around me.”

The structure provided to this year’s Challengers was especially important to Ferguson, who has two jobs and three kids and is entering her full-time graduate program – also in social work. She’s currently developing focus group sessions with kids, parents and teachers to advance her community “allyship” programming for elementary-aged children.

“This is an idea I’ve had for a long time, and having the dedicated space and resources has helped hold me accountable and show me my idea has merit,” she said.

Hanson, who’s continually improving the layout and structure of the Main Street GF Challenge, wanted to give Challengers the chance to become a team and start working with one another. When one individual works on a problem, he said, it’s easy to get locked into a single solution.

“Going through it with others can offer different perspectives,” Hanson said.

For Razink, who’s working to bring his business group’s app, Webblen, to Grand Forks, the gatherings established a feeling of community.

“It’s like a mini-networking opportunity,” he remarked. “Everyone there has a passion to do something in Grand Forks. The environment at the Center for Innovation and in these sessions is a perfect area to cultivate that.”

Before summer’s end, Razink worked on developing relationships within Grand Forks and finding ways for Webblen to take hold as an event hub. He said the app has improved since he started the Challenge.

Rolf Sletten (center) drew from his years of public speaking experience while offering his advice for effective speech-writing and presentation. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Fellows in innovation

Though not every get-together had a guest speaker, Challengers got to hear from Paul Hoplin of Twin Tandem Studios and Greta Silewski, digital storyteller for the City of Grand Forks, about how to use digital media for promotion. Paul Finstad from the Fargo, N.D.-based nonprofit UNSEEN, which raises funds to fight human trafficking, spoke on the importance of measuring the impact of their work and demonstrating progress. To close out the guest list, author, attorney, entrepreneur, historian and UND alumni Rolf Sletten shared his experiences in public speaking explaining how to craft and deliver a successful speech.

Ferguson said the presentations taught her a lot about the process she’s undertaking. If she didn’t have these people to talk to who have been through similar situations, she might have become discouraged.

“I learned about innovation, and how it’s not always successful,” she said. “Failures are part of the process of making what you’re doing better. It’s messy and it’s supposed to be.”

The lessons of the Challenge were invaluable to Holwerda as well this summer, as she researched ways to create the state’s first indoor dog park. While she doesn’t see her idea coming to fruition any time soon, she said she learned a great deal about business and the policies that keep businesses and clients safe.

“Tyler [Sletten] and Collin [Hanson] helped me find the right people to contact, and who to talk to,” she said.

“I was somewhat stuck before that. What I’ve learned makes me appreciate the facilities already in place around the region, because their designers probably had to go through the same things I’m discovering.

“Being a businesswoman in general is something I’ve learned a lot about since May.”

UND’s Challengers valued the speakers Sletten and Hanson brought together over the summer – people who care and were willing to provide their time to share expertise and listen to the students’ ideas.

“It can be tempting to focus on the projects,” Hanson said of the overall Challenge. “But it’s about the community investing in students and people who have the courage to put forth their ideas and pursue them… We want to empower young people to create the community they want to live in.”