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Learning to See One Minnesota

By Mary Marczak, Director of Urban Family Development and Evaluation

"I make mistakes; I'll be the second to admit it."
— Jean Kerr, American playwright

I am still trying to figure out how I could have been so wrong!

For almost a decade, I sat in my St. Paul campus office and ran numbers that described Minnesota — populations, health statistics, poverty and family income, social service access, school demographics, you name it! And yet, I still held on to the notion that there are two Minnesotas: “urban” Minnesota and “greater” Minnesota. In my head, this dichotomy and the resulting need for different kinds of programmatic response made perfect sense.

But the regional visits forced me to get out of my own head, and open myself to learning about the tremendous diversity that exists across Greater Minnesota. With a vast amount of community knowledge and with passion and care for those living there, Family Development educators in Greater Minnesota told story after story about what makes their communities unique, as well as the challenges and promising efforts to address them. For example, the relatively rapid influx of immigrants moving into Southwest Minnesota; the population loss in the northern regions where ironically, space is plentiful; the highest rates of poverty and most chronic health conditions that exist in the northwest region; the closure of major industries in Northeast Minnesota, where people losing jobs not because they are unskilled, but because of global economics, creating a loss of sense of locus of control among those who pride themselves on self-determination, self-sufficiency, and “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps”; and the far-reaching influence of Mayo Clinic, other health promotion agencies, and relative affluence of Southeast Minnesota.

As I listened to all these stories, I gained insight on what regional differences mean for families’ everyday lives and for our educators’ work. Most important, I learned that the issues facing Greater Minnesota are both unique to their region and common across the state. There aren’t two Minnesotas. There is one Minnesota with a vast array of diversity. These diverse conditions make a difference in our programmatic response, a response that deserves a more nuanced approach than "urban vs. rural."

So thank you for enlightening me as I transition into my new role as director of urban family development and evaluation. As my 18 year old son might tell me, “I got schooled!”
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