After just three weeks following the Itasca seminar, Class IX was back at it in the town of Austin. This seminar marked the first time the MARL program has visited the southern Minnesota city. Riverland College played host to the group on day one. Following the arrival at the college, the class was set to learn.

The first opportunity came from Extension Regional Educator Beth Kallestad, who joined Eriks Dunens in teaching the group about how strong teams are built. An activity got the creative juices flowing as teams were formed with a simple task: Build the highest structure you can in 15 minutes. The kicker was that you could only use spaghetti noodles, tape, string and a marshmallow. The winning structure came in at 26 and 1/4th inches tall.

Once the excitement of the activity was over, the class settled into learning about Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development. The five stages are Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Adjourning. It was fascinating to learn that even successful teams have issues moving throughout each of the five stages.

The Interim Director of the Center for Agricultural and Food Science Technology at Riverland Community College and former Executive Director of MARL, Dan Hoffman, was kind enough to spend time talking about programs at Riverland. The ag program is very new to Riverland, and exciting things are happening in the department.

Next the group had the pleasure of meeting with Roland Gentzler, treasurer of the Hormel Foundation. Roland highlighted the amazing work the Foundation is doing in the city of Austin. Arguably the most unique aspect of the Foundation’s work is that it is tasked with supporting Austin in its bylaws. As pointed out in conversations, rural communities tend to lose larger companies to bigger metropolitan areas. Hormel is committed to the city of Austin for the long-term.

To get a better sense of what the area has to offer, John Garry, president and CEO of the Development Corp. of Austin joined the class. Although Hormel is the most well-known company in town, other aspects of the city also show great promise. Gary spoke about his personal history of moving away to Minneapolis before returning. What brought him back to Austin was the increasing amount of diversity. With Hormel being an international company, people from all over the world have moved to the region.

Day one was capped off with the seminar banquet. The event was well attended by special guests and MARL alumni, coming as far away as the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area! Following testimonials by current class members, former Congressman and current President and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Tim Penny, keynoted the banquet. Tim spoke about his support for agriculture and rural initiatives while serving in Washington, D.C., and the continuing need today. In additional, he highlighted the different organizations that help keep Minnesota’s rural areas vibrant.

Submitted by Adam Ulbricht




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