Tag Archives: technology

Pacific Life

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The site of Omaha’s old Knights of Aksarben complex—acres of once-busy thoroughbred horse racing and concert space turned albatross—has blossomed anew as the live-work-play destination spot known as Aksarben Village.

The booming mixed-use development is home to popular eateries, a movie theater, health club, and two colleges. This is part of why Pacific Life Insurance Company moved its regional business operations office from downtown to a new five-story building there in late 2015. The company’s Omaha office has grown from 250 to 450 workers since the blue-gray motif structure’s 2014 groundbreaking.

The gleaming, glass-fronted Holland Basham Architects design offers many creature comforts and inhabits prime real estate at 6750 Mercy Road.

The new digs provide a branded presence after a low-key profile at downtown’s Landmark Center.

Angela Greisen, Pacific Life assistant vice president for human resources, says, “We couldn’t have our name on the previous building in any big, visible way. We’d been in Omaha 12-plus years and people still didn’t know we were here.” That’s changed, she says, as events “bring thousands of people to the village and our new building with our big branding and signage is right there in the middle of everything.”

“That’s been huge for us. It’s also given us higher applicant flow because people now know we’re here and here to stay and we’re growing.”

Where many employees had to use off-site parking downtown, they now have an 850-stall covered garage. A heated, enclosed skybridge connects the building to the garage.

Greisen was part of a project team drawn from each Pacific Life business unit that polled employees about their likes and dislikes.

“The three most important things employees said they wanted were parking, amenities, and a nearby location with easy access,” she says.

Aksarben was the clear site choice. Pacific Life partnered with Magnum Development on the $33 million new build. The company occupies the second through fifth floors. Eateries and shops fill the ground floor.

“Staff response has been great,” Greisen says. “They love the parking, the amenities, the bright, airy feel of the building with the wide-open layout, natural lighting, and clean, modern finishes. Though we added only about 10,000 square feet, it’s organized much more efficiently.”

Each floor plan incorporates cutting-edge work spaces to enhance communication, team-building, workflow, and group projects via huddle spaces, conference rooms, and commons areas. She says, “Staff can seamlessly interface in real time with colleagues at other locations through videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and webinar technology.”

There’s a Wall Street trading-room floor look to the third floor internal wholesaling area. Flat-screen panels stream motivational performance messages and live market conditions to the sales desk floor.

In multiple areas, adjustable, stand-up work stations are available. Employees can indulge their freshly brewed beverage cravings at several Keurig stations.

The in-house Park View Cafe is a grab-your-own, pay-with-your-phone Company Kitchen model. The spacious room converts into a meeting-reception space with audio-video connectivity. A covered balcony offers a panoramic overlook of Stinson Park.

Though not green certified, the structure integrates many conservation features, including energy efficient windows, LED lighting, HVAC that is programmed to shut off when areas are unoccupied, low water usage restroom fixtures, and motion-sensor lighting.

Greisen says employees appreciate Aksarben Village’s warm welcome and plethora of things to do. Proximity is a big plus, too, as Pacific Life is an employer partner of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, whose south campus is in the village. As an employer partner, company representatives promote their job opportunites and participate in career fairs; staffers also speak to classes and conduct mock interviews when asked. Greisen hopes this partnership will grow.

“We expect an increase because we have a partnership with UNO, and now we are literally on the edge of their campus,” she says. “It’s very convenient. Increased visibility.  It gives us even more opportunities to partner with the university.”

This visibility, along with the popular amenities, could mean an increase in sought-after employees at Pacific Life in the near future.  And that can help secure Pacific Life’s future.

Visit  aksarbenvillage.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Uber and Lyft

March 26, 2017 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

With the post-millennial rise of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, a generation weaned on digital technology could suddenly tap a smartphone app, summon a private car driven by the owner, and pay for the fare electronically. Easy peasy.

Uber and Lyft can thank their younger demographics for pushing revenue into the billions of dollars.

But guess what? Both transportation companies have figured out that profitable fruit doesn’t only come from young trees. The push to make ride-hailing easier for retired Americans looms on the horizon, and that horizon can’t come into focus soon enough.

“Transportation has always been one of our greatest challenges,” says Erin Endress, director of sales and marketing at Remington Heights, a retirement community in Omaha. “We have vans, but getting residents to and from medical appointments takes priority, which it should. That leaves little opportunity for trips just for fun. We could definitely use a transportation alternative, as long as it’s safe.”

And for those who still live at home but whose eyesight or reflexes may not be the best?

“Personally, I think Uber and Lyft are going to make a huge difference for folks as they stop driving or don’t drive as much, or as far, on their own,”  says Cynthia Brammeier, administrator of the Nebraska State Unit on Aging. “I’m looking forward to getting to that point. It’s awesome!” she exclaims, having personally experienced the buzz surrounding Uber while visiting another state.

Nebraska came late to the party, approving Uber and Lyft operations in July 2015, which may explain a lack of awareness among Omahans in general.

The necessity of a smartphone to summon a ride excludes many seniors from ride-hailing apps. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of those 65 and older don’t own a smartphone, instead preferring cheaper, old-fashioned flip phones with limited data capabilities.

One segment of the senior population did benefit immediately from having the transportation alternatives in Omaha: drivers.

“I’ve been with Lyft for over a year. It’s my only job now, “ says Dave*, 68, who prefers to remain anonymous. Working about four hours a night, the Dundee resident brings home “between $400 and $500 a week working the entertainment district and trips to the airport. But that’s not counting my car payment, gas, and insurance.”

The insurance question explains why Dave doesn’t want to be identified. Both Uber and Lyft have up to $1 million in liability coverage. But if a driver gets into an accident on the way to pick up a passenger, how much his or her personal insurance carrier will pay out becomes murky, since the driver uses the car for profit.

The advantages of ride-hailing services, previously called ridesharing, seem pretty clear.

“We’re half the cost of a cab,” Dave says. “We pick up passengers within five to 10 minutes. The cars are newer, clean, and have to be four-door. No cash exchanges hands, unless the passenger tips me in cash.”

The advantages for Dave include setting his own work schedule, meeting “wonderful people,” and showing off his hometown to visitors. “I love Omaha and I consider myself an ambassador for this city,” he says. “Nearly all my passengers say how friendly we are here.”

But why would someone in their 80s summon a stranger to their home to pick them up?

“[The companies] check us out pretty good,” Dave assures. Both Uber and Lyft conduct extensive background, criminal, and DMV checks. Lyft sent an employee to inspect Dave’s Toyota. “Believe me, we’re safe.”

The opportunity for seniors without smartphones to utilize Uber or Lyft as passengers depends greatly on a “no app required” platform. One such service recently appeared on a list of transportation options compiled by the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

“It’s called GoGoGrandparent,” says Taylor Armstrong of the ENOA. “We’re told you don’t have to use a smartphone. People just call a number.”

The brainchild of a California man whose grandmother couldn’t tool around San Diego anymore, GoGoGrandparent uses a toll-free hotline to connect seniors with an operator, who then summons an Uber car for them.

“We’re not recommending this service over all the other transportation options ENOA offers,” cautions Jeff Reinhardt of the public affairs division. “We haven’t gotten any feedback yet on GoGoGrandparent.”

Lyft’s contribution to creating easier access involves senior-friendly Jitterbug cell phones and smartphones. When paired with a 24/7 health care provider, a registered user simply dials “0” on the Jitterbug phone and books a ride through the operator. This pilot program has yet to find its way to Omaha.

“We’re going to be top-heavy in seniors in the next 10 to 20 years,” Endress says. “There’s a huge need for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in someone’s life.”

As evidenced by the rapidly changing technology that grants the gift of mobility, the difference-makers have arrived.

Visit uber.com, lyft.com, and

gogograndparent.com for more information.

* Dave is not the driver’s real name.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of 60 Plus.

Ten Outstanding Young Omahans

February 21, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

On Feb. 8, the Omaha Jaycees honored the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans of 2017 during a banquet at The Paxton Ballroom. This award recognized individuals for their commitment to the community and their extraordinary leadership qualities.

“It’s pretty amazing that this award started right here in Omaha, and it truly is an award and recognition of the highest honor,” says Jennifer Anderson, president of the Omaha Jaycees. “The Omaha Jaycees continue to be impressed with the caliber of applicants we see each year, and we are happy that we can continue the tradition of honoring Omaha’s best and brightest.”

The judges for this year’s event were:

Mikaela Borecky
United Way of the Midlands

Jessica Feilmeier
Truhlsen Eye Institute, UNMC

Nicole Jilek
Abrahams, Kaslow, & Cassman LLP

Nick Langel
Union Pacific Railroad

Marjorie Maas
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska

Maggie McGlade
CQuence Health Group

P.J. Morgan
P.J. Morgan Real Estate

Katie Triplett
Nebraska Methodist Health System

Michael Young
RSM US LLP

This year’s TOYO! recipients are…

Chinh Doan

KETV Newswatch 7
Doan studied journalism, Spanish, and international studies at the University of Oklahoma and graduated as the “Outstanding Senior.” She is Omaha Tri Delta alumnae president, Young Catholic Professionals’ Parish Ambassadors coordinator, and is the inventory manager for the Junior League of Omaha’s “Project Hope Pack” Committee. She is also a member of Vietnamese Friendship Association of Omaha, and Asian American Journalists Association. She participates in the Omaha Press Club Show and Omaha Fashion Week.

Megan Hunt

Hello Holiday
Hunt began her career as a bridal designer.
She is the co-founder of Hello Holiday and is also the founder of Safe Space Nebraska. In 2010 Hunt received Shout Magazine’s 30 Under 30 honor, and in 2011 she was recognized as one of Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Her 2014 book, Fabric Blooms, sold out of its first printing in under 24 hours. Hunt has served on the boards of Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, Friends of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, CHEER Nebraska, and Friends of the Nebraska AIDS Project.

Ryan Ellis 

P.J. Morgan Real Estate
Ellis began his career at P.J. Morgan Real Estate as an intern while attending Creighton University. He graduated from Creighton with a bachelor’s degree in finance. In 2007, Ellis was promoted to vice president and chief operating officer, and in 2009, Ellis was named
company president.

Ellis serves on the boards of Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Conservatory of Music, and Fashion Institute Guild. He is a 2014 Leadership Omaha graduate and was awarded the Midland’s Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 award in the same year.

Emiliano Lerda, J.D., LL.M.

Justice For Our Neighbors of Omaha
Lerda earned a B.A. in communication studies from the University of Northern Iowa and a J.D. from Drake University Law School. He holds certificates in Public Service Law, Food & Agriculture Law, and International Comparative and Human Rights Law from Drake. He is the executive director at Justice for Our Neighbors of Omaha and has taught “Immigration, Law & Latinos” as an adjunct professor at UNO. He participated in the Nonprofit Executive Institute and Leadership Omaha Class 36 and is currently enrolled in the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program.

Leslie Fischer

Together A Greater Good
Fischer graduated from Millard North High School in 1995, and with a degree in business administration, minor in marketing, from UNO in 1999.

She is the co-founder of TAGG, a social good app that received the “Excellence in Business Award—Community” from the Greater Omaha Chamber in 2016. Fischer also received UNO’s Young Achievement Award in 2015.
She co-founded Ladies Who Launch Omaha and serves on the board of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue and B4B Society.

Cliff McEvoy, MPA, MSL

Buford Foundation
McEvoy graduated from Saint Louis University and served as an Air Force officer for 6 1/2 years. He left with the rank of Captain and was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal.

McEvoy also earned an MPA from the University of Akron and an M.S. from Creighton University. McEvoy serves on Nebraskans for Civic Reform, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals Council, the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, and is president of Omaha Professionals United in Service. He is the executive director of the Buford Foundation.

Sheena Kennedy Helgenberger

Live Well Omaha Kids
Helgenberger earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010. She wrote a thesis under the direction of Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner about African American women’s experiences transitioning to college. The research resulted in an article in the NASPA Journal.

She is the coalition director for Live Well Omaha Kids, and she is particularly passionate about empowering and protecting youth. The greatest reward of Sheena’s volunteer experiences has been her relationship with her Little Sister, Allanah.

Emily Poeschl

University of Nebraska at Omaha
Poeschl is also a 2016 TOYO! recipient. She has a BSBA from UNL and an MBA from UNO, where she is the director of marketing. Poeschl is a member of the Susan G Komen Nebraska Board of Directors, and serves in two national volunteer roles: the Komen Advocacy Advisory Taskforce and Komen Advocates in Science. She is a member of Women’s Fund of Omaha Circles Group, and United Way Community Investment Review Team. She is also a Girls Inc. Pathfinders mentor, a Delta Gamma Omaha Alumnae Chapter past president, and an SID 502 past trustee.

Kasey Hesse

Gallup
Hesse leads Gallup’s dot-com team as a technology manager at Gallup. She majored in international studies and Portuguese at UNL, and earned an M.A. in mental health counseling from UNO. Hesse is a board member at Bluebarn Theatre, Omaha Friends of Planned Parenthood, and is on the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program’s education committee. She is a 2016 New Leaders Council Fellow and a member of Leadership Omaha class 34.

Tony Vargas 

Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and Omaha Public Schools Board
Vargas is a State Senator for District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature, representing the communities of Downtown and South Omaha. He previously served on the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education. Vargas earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester and an M.Ed. from Pace University and is currently the director of marketing and communications for Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance. He is also serves on the advisory board for New Leaders Council-Omaha.

Andrew Easton

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Easton taught students how to create projects from wood. His son, Andrew W. Easton, taught students how to properly create a balance sheet and how to use their left pinkie fingers to type the letter “q.”

Andrew D. Easton, the third teacher in line to carry the family name, had no problem choosing a career.

“My dad and grandfather were inspirations to me,” he says. “Just seeing them being willing to serve other people, and being there for students and to help them with their pursuits.”

The current pedagogue answering to the name Mr. Easton educates young minds in ways vastly different from his forefathers.

While teaching English at Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, he realized his pupils needed stimulation and motivation. He began teaching from the school library, where they processed essays on computers or read books from the comfort of couches. Easton walked around the room and answered questions.

AndrewEaston3

“About three weeks in, some kids were done,” Easton says. “I asked those kids to get together and discuss the book (Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes). We had a competition in front of the principal. It made for a better use of their time.”

Those students who had not finished reading the book continued reading.

“That type of learning is called a flex model,” Easton says. “I didn’t know it at the time. I appreciated that we could get a lot of personal attention and one-on-one feedback.”

AndrewEaston1Four years ago, Easton and his wife moved to Omaha. Andrew found a job with Westside High School and expanded on his flex model. He arranged the classroom furniture to assemble different areas for group study or individual study, and created a goal sheet for his students. Then he experimented with videos to give students another choice of instruction.

Easton became like a high school student again, in order to create better videos.

“Matt Rasgorshek (a fellow Westside teacher) said he’d be happy to have me in his intro to video class,” Easton says. In order to learn, he forsook lunch for lectures, sitting alongside some of his English students.

“He wanted to know everything about video production,” says Rasgorshek, Westside’s former broadcast adviser now teaching at Creighton Prep. “Whenever he had an open period he would come in, take notes, ask questions. He’d come into my office and bounce ideas off of me.”

Easton had discovered a new passion, and by the end of the year, he made 40 videos to work into his teachings.

Some students desire a traditional learning format, however. When a student asked if he would lecture to her, Easton began lecturing to a small group while the others worked individually.

“The kids, he instantly hooked them,” says Rasgorshek. “All of them were engaged all the time. It was pretty cool to watch. Even in my classroom, the kids took to him.” FamilyGuide

The 2016 Misery Olympics

I love the term “Misery Olympics” and wish I’d thought of it first. Google it and you will get “about 660,000” results, but who has time to get to the bottom of that rabbit hole? Basically, the Misery Olympics represent the braggadocio of overachievers.

Laura Vanderkam wrote an article in the May 16 edition of The New York Times that references this phenomenon with statistics from the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review. The MLR, a publication of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that people estimating 75-plus hour workweeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours—in other words, they WAY overestimated. It turns out, based on self-reported time tracking, many people work far less than they think they do.

Why do we brag/lie/misestimate/overestimate about working so many hours? Wouldn’t working fewer hours be much more brag-worthy? Are we still so chained to 20th century ideas about work and self-sacrifice that we believe the Misery Olympics are worth winning?

I coach many entrepreneurs who are especially stuck in this cycle of over-work—real and imagined—that is entirely of their own making. They find no solace in their “gold medals” anymore. The thing these entrepreneurs worked so hard to avoid has become just that: a job.

Is it possible to boycott the Misery Olympics?

Important question. The famed millennials may have the key. They don’t “get” the correlation between productivity and time spent in a cube because they produce differently: faster and simpler. They leverage technology and, most of all, put family and friends first. The lines between work and play, socializing and networking, are much more fluid. And their lives are—based on my own four millennials—much less miserable.

Ready to boycott the Misery Olympics? You can!

I’m working with a client in Philadelphia whose primary goal in 2016 is to run his contracting business entirely from his boat, a salty 43-foot trawler named “Slow Poke” that he sails in Chesapeake Bay.

A long-time client and old friend has structured his market-leading commercial cleaning company so he can spend much more time with his wife and five children (ages 3-13) and much less time in the office. He and his family are now writing a book and launching a website to help other families follow suit.

I took my own advice and experimented with my own business—I wrote this article from a beautiful medieval town in northern Italy where I have worked and played all summer.

So, how does it feel to be a big loser in the Misery Olympics? Pretty terrific. B2B

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

The Internet of Things

March 3, 2016 by

Can you turn down the thermostat from your smartphone? Are you wearing a Fit Bit®? Does your smartphone help you locate an available conference room at work? “Yes” to any of these means you’re experiencing the Internet of Things (IoT). Although the term has been used in technology circles for years, it’s only now becoming the focus of more mainstream discussions.

WHAT IS THE INTERNET OF THINGS? 

Kevin Ashton is believed to have introduced the term at MIT in 1999. Simply put, the IoT is the rapidly expanding concept of connecting people and things. It relies on Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth-enabled objects, sensors pulling information from the object, a wireless internet connection, and resources compiling, analyzing, and visualizing the collected data.

Several factors are contributing to the explosion of the IoT. Broadband Internet is more widely available and the cost to connect continues to drop. More devices are Wi-Fi enabled with smaller, less costly, and more powerful sensors. The costs to analyze data are coming down, and smartphone penetration is skyrocketing. All of these contribute to the IoT.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE WORKPLACE? 

IoT applications fall into two broad categories:

Intelligent Building 

Basically, a “system of systems,” already used in buildings today. Sensors adjust window shades and temperature based on sunlight entering the building. Embedded sensors monitor mechanical systems to improve efficiencies and sense failures before they occur.

Presence Awareness 

Today, security badges are linked to a central database. Swiped at a card reader, the user is recorded entering and/or leaving the building. Compiled data may measure use and occupancy of the building. For some, a user’s smartphone provides presence awareness—who the user is, where the user is in the building, available workspaces relative to the user, where colleagues are located, and a path to reach them.

Imagine a range of workplace applications for the IoT as devices continue to shrink, tech-nologies become more powerful, and costs continue to fall:

PEOPLE-CENTRIC APPLICATIONS 

  • “Push” workplace information (temperature, light, noise levels) to users based on personal preferences and work to be completed.
  • Support wellness by alerting users it is time to move/stand based on real-time biometrics.
  • Improve meeting effectiveness by alerting leaders when participants’ biometric data indicates they’re not alert, connected, or paying attention.

BUILDING-CENTRIC APPLICATIONS 

  • Enhance sustainability by applying actual use and occupancy data to manage building infrastructure.
  • Improve flexibility using real-time data to drive workplace change and reconfiguration.

ORGANIZATION-CENTRIC APPLICATIONS 

  • Monitor wellness programs based on individual biometric data pulled from wearables, smart phones, or sensors embedded in seating or height-adjustable tables.
Man using his Mobile Phone in the street, night light bokeh Background

Man using his Mobile Phone in the street, night light bokeh Background

Ken Smith

September 25, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The hunt for parking in downtown Omaha often results in drivers using a rainbow of words not normally stated in polite company before causing themselves whiplash in an effort to squeeze into “the only spot available.” Omaha City Parking Manager Ken Smith, also known as the parking czar, hears those complaints frequently.

Those people are misinformed. “Omaha has a parking perception issue,” Smith says. “Not a problem.”

Smith proclaims downtown parking stalls are actually underused. Even at peak hours, approximately 55 percent of the spaces downtown (defined as the riverfront to 24th Street and Cuming to Leavenworth Streets) are full. Part of Smith’s work is to change that misperception.

Smith came to Omaha in 2012 after the city conducted a study and decided to consolidate parking operations, creating one division under a central manager.

“I was in Lincoln and had consolidated that program into a parking division. Having the division under a single professional helps the big goal,” Smith says.

Without a doubt, one of Smith’s greatest impacts has been turning the parking division from a city subsidized program into a money maker. The program transitioned from receiving $1.5 million in city subsidies to achieving a half a million surplus. Smith says this is the result of bringing Omaha’s parking infrastructure into the 21st century with technology like credit card readers on parking meters and a smartphone app.

“Additional payment options help with compliance,” Smith says. Put simply, if you give parkers ways to pay aside from hauling around a pocket full of coins, they’re more likely to do so. Smith says that since implementing more options in 2013, parking citations have reduced by 17,000 to 18,000 annually.

Smith studied aviation in college, then earned a graduate degree in architectural engineering.

“You never go to college thinking you’re going to be a parking professional,” he laughs.

After a stint with the parking division at the City of Lincoln, Smith says he kind of fell into the role of parking guru. He became the go-to guy with parking knowledge, which turned into a career he finds greatly rewarding.

“I can’t imagine going back to planning,” he says. “I’m kind of a jack of all trades. I get to run a department, manage a budget, be a business planner. There’s never a dull moment.”

What does the future hold for Omaha’s parking division? Smith says the department plans to continue using technology to advance their goals. Also a high priority is updating the downtown area garage parking infrastructure, which is more than 30 years old. The city is also working with private parking operators to market themselves better and change the misperception about parking availability in downtown.

Smith says it has not been decided at this time if rates will increase or hours will be extended. (Editor’s note: This info was correct at the time of publication.  The city has now decided to increase rates and extend hours.)

“The (2011 parking study) goals will be accomplished by a balanced approach between on-street parking and off-street parking to change behavior and improve perceptions that there is no parking,” Smith says.

KenSmith1

The Importance of Office Design

October 6, 2014 by
Photography by All Makes Office Equipment

An inspiring office space is crucial to motivating and engaging staff. By combining a good office design with environmental considerations, you can improve productivity, profitability, and reduce your carbon footprint.

Office environments are ever-changing. From height-adjustable desks, to mobile work surfaces and LED lighting options—the possibilities are endless. Today’s best offices are designed to reflect the shifting expectations and needs of their employees. Here are five current trends in office design.

  1. Technology is key. Technology is now integrated into office environments. Interactive white boards, electrified surfaces and ‘touch down’ areas that allow for mobile devices to be used are just a few examples of how technology is breaking down barriers of the traditional workplace.
  2. Open workspaces. The lowering of panels or even the removal of all dividers between people can enhance the ‘teaming’ of groups and sharing of information without even moving away from their work areas. Open spaces can make people feel more comfortable and not so “boxed-in,” which can create greater productivity and efficiency.
  3. Collaboration. Collaborative areas are designed to get people more involved and connected with one another. Meeting spaces are being created to encourage collaboration between staff members. This might include lounge areas, bench and tables, or even café areas. Collaborative areas can take the place of formal reserved conference rooms or even private offices.
  4. Decline in available space. The economic recession has led to companies purchasing smaller offices or downsizing current offices, which means individual workspaces are shrinking.
  5. Fewer private offices. Having fewer private offices provides useful space for more collaborative areas. Today, furniture that is mobile, adjustable, multifunctional, and adaptable is just as important as private offices.

When companies incorporate modern design into their workplace, they will retain and attract the best talent and increase their overall productivity.

PTO on the Go

September 10, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

How many of us don’t end the week wondering where the time has gone?  Between work, keeping up the house, kids’ activities, and just plain old family time, it can feel nearly impossible to fit in just one more thing. Like many working parents, Valarie Taylor says that, although she would like to be more involved in her children’s school, it’s just difficult to find the time.

“I try to help out with the classroom parties and volunteer for field trips,” Taylor says. “My work is pretty good about flextime.” She says she is also a member of the PTO, but she still feels that she could be doing more. “Sometimes it would be nice to be more involved on a day to day basis; to see the dynamics of the classroom and how the teacher interacts with the children.”

“It’s tough,” says Sue Rice, Principal of College View Elementary School in Council Bluffs, who describes Taylor as one of her “super-volunteers.”

“It’s really hard for parents to have a fulltime job and also participate in their child’s education.” Rice and her staff identified the growing need to move from the traditional school groups and toward a more innovative and inclusive way of doing things.

“What I’ve found out, as the years have gone by, is that it is really hard for people to attend meetings and be on committees and do all the things they need to do while holding down a fulltime job,” Rice says. “So we’ve kind of come into the 21st century and looked at what can we do to help parents feel involved and get them interested in their children’s education.”

While Rice says that the school still has the traditional PTO meetings that occur every other month for those who can attend, more and more parents are becoming involved by participating in the committees online. “PTO is run different,” she says. “People are able to sign up for things electronically.”

Another way that many parents are able to engage in their child’s classroom activities is by joining their classrooms’ Facebook pages.  “Parents can see, during the day, what is going on in the classroom.” Rice explains that teachers and students alike take turns posting about what the children are learning as well as about daily events. Short video clips can also be added. “It’s just another way of becoming involved and it provides a glimpse into what’s happening in the classroom if the parents can’t be there.”

Rice adds that even though parents are very busy, the school has had a great response for volunteers. The increased access to committees and groups online has not seemed to hinder or decrease onsite parent involvement. “Parents have a lot of opportunities to be involved. We still have parent volunteers that come in for classroom parties and activities.”

College View, which opened four years ago and has been recognized as an International Baccalaureate World School, has added several clubs for students, including a running club, Spanish club, and art club, all of which have been sponsored by parents.

By embracing technology and thinking outside the box, the faculty at College View has been able to reach and accommodate more parents than ever before. “We’ve tried to spread it out so there are a variety of opportunities for everyone, rather than having just a select few doing everything.”

20140707_sl_8152

 

Robot Apocalypse

July 9, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

You’ve heard the old story repeated time and again: American students are failing to keep up with students internationally in math and science.

High-tech businesses have more job openings than qualified applicants.

While some curse the darkness, a program at Omaha North High School is shining some light. A fast-growing program, STEM Education, now is offering activity and problem-based, hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, and math. The STEM Education program, unique to North High School, now includes more than 400 students.

“I can tell you that the push on STEM education has increased dramatically over the past six to seven years, says

John Vinchattle, North High’s Magnet Facilitator.  The goal is to “address our perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech careers.”

It seems that “a push” is an under-statement. As part of its massive growth, the effort includes a robotics program that has grown from just two students six years ago to about 70 students today. The school anticipates more than 100 youth to be enrolled in the program next year.
In fact, the program grew so much that the school hosted the VEX Robotics tournament in December. In February, the school also hosted the Nebraska State Robotics Championship. The event drew 120 teams and more than 500 students.

“We love to get people into our building,” says Jeremy Wiemer, robotics teacher and coach. “We have an excellent facility that works out very well for a tournament like this and great staff at the building and district level that coordinate these large events.”

Teams in the event came from as far away as Colorado.

The tournaments are surprisingly involved. Event judges first interview teams before competition begins. Participants present each robot to the judges and explain the process they used to build it. Judges ask the teams questions and students are evaluated based on their knowledge of their robots as well as the concepts they’ve learned. Students then create alliances with other participants and work together to build a championship-caliber machine.

“We strive to offer a top-notch, 21st-century education,” Vinchattle says.

Ultimately, the goal of the STEM program is to help college-bound students achieve a well-rounded education with an emphasis on STEM.

“We are very proud of our students and their accomplishments,” Vinchattle says.  “We work every day to keep challenging them with relevant real-world experiences.

“I think we’ll continue to thrive because of the students that make up the program, the teachers that challenge the kids, and the community that supports our mission.”