Between 2000 and 2008, Davis Communications planned and implemented grassroots communication programs to help units of the University of Minnesota earn funding for capital projects from the Minnesota legislature. We helped convince the legislature to provide funding for construction of Regis Center for Art, and the renovations of Nicholson Hall, Jones Hall and Folwell Hall.
What this meant was organizing people who care about the project in question- thought leaders, beneficiaries – to contact legislators and encourage them to vote to fund our project. As we deepened our trust and confidence in each other, the folks at the U asked us to help shape the projects to position them earn legislative support.
One of the later projects was a research center for the College of Education and Human Development.
It was a cool project. The abandoned Mineral Resources Research Center on the U’s East Bank Campus overlooked the gorge of the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. It had a great history. The process for pelletizing taconite was invented in the building and it went on to save mining in northern Minnesota. After the building had been vacant and unused for more than 20 years, the U decided to renovate the historic building as the home of several cutting-edge programs including the Department of Educational Psychology, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, the Center for Early Education and Development, and the Office of Educational Accountability.
And for six years, they could get no traction for the project at the state legislature. The ‘Mining to Minds’ project just was not interesting enough to compete. Projects like a genomics research center and an Institute of Technology laboratory building shot past the project in the U’s capital priorities and got funded.
The Dean asked us to help plan the year’s legislative campaign- once again pitting education against science and engineering in the bonding sweepstakes.
In an early meeting, we asked what would happen in the renovated space. The Dean enthusiastically described the research into how the brain learns, how we could change the way teachers operate to better help students learn and how education- particularly for younger students- could be transformed.
So, I asked, you’re doing scientific inquiry into how the brain works?
The dean thought for a minute and said yes, that’s what we do every day.
So, next I asked what would happen if we changed the name of the project to ‘the Education Sciences Building’?
In a few weeks, all of the print and promotional material had replaced ‘Mining to Minds’ with ‘Education Science.’
Sure, it was boring. But it did accurately describe the new use for the renovated building. More importantly, it more directly fit into the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) projects that had been wining funding. And, if the legislature is buying science, let’s remind them that science will be happening in this building.
While this project was caught up in a very contentious legislative session, when the dust settled, ‘Education Sciences’ did something that ‘Mining to Minds’ could not; it earned $14.5 Million to help renovate that beautiful old building into the premier education research facility in the upper Midwest.