By Hannah Covington, Star Tribune, May 14, 2017
University of Minnesota grad student Jargalmaa Erdenemandakh put her public policy major to work in Brooklyn Park this semester.
For months, she’s been researching how Minnesota’s sixth-largest city can assess its rebranding efforts. She concluded that focus groups and opinion polls on platforms like YouTube and Facebook may be among the most effective ways.
“It’s one of the best projects I’ve done,” Erdenemandakh said.
Her findings are part of the U’s Resilient Communities Project, which connects students with communities chosen each academic year through an application process. Now in its fifth year, the program has also worked with Minnetonka, North St. Paul, Rosemount and Carver County.
Students complete projects across a broad array of topics and turn their findings over to city leaders, who can use them to guide policy and urban planning.
Challenges facing Brooklyn Park, a rapidly diversifying suburb, provided fodder for about 260 students over the past year.
“We definitely have a demographic profile that represents how cities will look in the future,” said Kim Berggren, community development director.
Half the residents in the north metro city are people of color, and 1 in 5 are foreign born.
Students in dozens of university courses tackled income disparities, transit issues, obstacles to healthy food, police diversity and nature-based play options at parks, among other topics.
“We want to help students become working professionals in their field,” said Mike Greco, who runs the U program. “Now they have a real project they can talk about in job interviews.”
Erdenemandakh said she hopes her project gives her an edge as she hunts for employment.
Fellow grad student Kevin Priestley made sure to bring up his Resilient Communities research in a recent job interview with the Denver Regional Council of Governments.
He got the job and will soon move west to work as an assistant planner.
“It’s great to have a job lined up,” said Priestley, who is graduating with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. “It feels like all of this has paid off.”
Students shared their research on sleek posters at an open house on the U’s East Bank campus on Friday.
One group examined turf grass options at the city’s busiest park. Nearby, a public health major offered suggestions on how to connect residents with healthy food through a community garden at the local recreation center.
“What we have now is a treasure chest of data and recommendations from students,” said Angelica Klebsch, the city’s RCP project facilitator.
City leaders will turn over a report to the U next year about how they plan to use students’ findings, Klebsch said.
Hannah Covington is a suburban reporter for the Star Tribune covering news in the north metro, including Anoka County, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. She previously lived and worked in Oklahoma, including stints at two newspapers there.