Southwest Research and Outreach Center - Lamberton, MN

Southwest Research
and Outreach Center

23669 130th Street
Lamberton, MN 56152

Phone: (507)752-7372
Fax: (507)752-5097


SWROC - ConnectU Logo

Bringing together family care professionals in southwestern Minnesota and University of Minnesota research and resources.


The mission of ConnectU is to support those who work with children, youth and families in southwestern Minnesota.

Coordinated by the Southwest Research and Outreach Center (SWROC) and University of Minnesota Extension, ConnectU provides busy service providers with easy access to excellent professional development opportunities without leaving the region, saves agencies and institutions time and expense, and minimized any interruption of services to families in southwestern Minnesota. Campus partners including the Children, Youth and Family Consortium and the Center for Neurobehavioral Development have been vital to making connections to University experts and encouraging campus outreach.

Each year, 80-100 participants from a wide range of disciplines have brought their questions and experience to the ConnectU discussion to further develop their knowledge and skills. They consistently give ConnectU programs high marks for increasing their understanding and providing a new idea or practice they can adopt in their ongoing work with children and families.

"ConnectU has developed a reputation for high quality professional development delivered by renowned University researchers and faculty from across the University. Participants have marveled at having this opportunity right here in southwestern Minnesota."
     -Colleen Gengler, SWROC Children, Youth and Family Coordinator
     -Pauline Nickel, SWROC Head

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A look ahead to future ConnectU opportunities:

ConnectU continues to explore key issues and seek regional partners to offer practical approaches to meeting the critical needs of our region’s children, youth, and families. Topics are identified through ongoing conversations with communities and family care professionals.

Regional dinner conversations at the SWROC, feedback from ConnectU participants, and input from professional and community groups all help to identify issues important to family care professionals and southwestern Minnesota families and plan the annual workshop content.

At the end of the first decade, more than 1,000 individuals had participated in at least one of the 18 ConnectU workshops offered. Since 2006, participants have come from 24 counties, with at least 16% percent attending more than one workshop.

In the early years, the region participated in the statewide “Minnesota Children’s Summits” via downlink and in the President’s Commission on Children, Youth and Families. During its first decade, ConnectU’s affordable, high-quality, research-based sessions involved university researchers and faculty members from a variety of departments in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education & Human Development; College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; College of Liberal Arts; School of Medicine, School of Nursing, and School of Public Health.

Future ConnectU offerings will continue to benefit from this energetic, multi-disciplinary approach to workshop planning and delivery.

ConnectU: Assessment Results

What has ConnectU meant to professionals who have participated and to the agencies and institutions they represent? In the spring of 2010, the SWROC and Extension sought to find out through a two-part evaluation focusing on programs within the last five years, attended by participants from the 24 Minnesota counties indicated on the map.

Survey data was gathered from 26 phone interviews and 31 online responses, for a total of 57 participants representing a variety of agencies and institutions. Participants responded to questions about work and professional background, usefulness of information/resources acquired through ConnectU, quality of the workshop experience, relevance to professional development needs, and recommendations for future sessions. The findings were very positive:

Usefulness of information/resources

A solid 82% of all participants reported actively using ConnectU information and resources in their work. Examples include: completing care plans for children; assessments resulting in earlier identification and referral; greater sensitivity to individual needs; assistance in writing Individual Education Plans (IEP); better behavior management in classrooms; and on-going work with children and families.

A high number share what they learn with agency colleagues. Much of the sharing is informal through one to one conversation but also formally through staff meetings, reflective consultations, family health team meetings, community collaboratives, board meetings and Interagency Early Intervention Committees. Participants also share information with parents and caregivers as appropriate to their job through Women, Infants & Children clinics, early childhood classes, pregnancy centers, IEP meetings, and others.

More than 80% of respondents said ConnectU helps to improve their agency’s ability to serve clients. In many agencies, a particular service may be provided only by 1-2 individuals on the staff. As a result, some survey participants articulated a more personal benefit than a benefit to their agency as a whole. However, one participant expressed in this way, “My effectiveness helps the school district.”

Quality of the workshop experience

ConnectU is highly valued for its quality; participants offered much praise and few comments about needed improvements. An early childhood professional summed up the general consensus: “It gives me insight on how to address issues and approach problems when dealing with students and parents. I like to learn more about new methods and the latest research to assist me in my job. I am able to apply what I learned.”

Relevance to professional development needs

Participants gave ConnectU a 98% positive score, highlighting the opportunity to earn Continuing Education Units, meet re-certification and/or licensure requirements, and enhance their day-to-day work.

Additionally, ConnectU helps professionals meet challenges in their work environment. Nearly 60 percent of evaluation participants said their job responsibilities had shifted within the last few years. One individual said, “My work has changed in different ways. The complexity of issues makes it much harder. There are more programs which means having to wear many more hats.”

In responses to open-ended questions, ConnectU survey participants overwhelmingly appreciated the opportunity to hear from and interact face to face with University faculty and researchers who speak about cutting edge research in their field and assist practitioners in the application. A majority of participants also said the location and low cost made their attendance possible.

“The presenters are very knowledgeable and passionate in what they do I like attending because it invigorated me and validated what we were doing. It gave me the extra boost to go back and continue my work.”
     -ConnectU Participant

“[ConnectU] has helped me to better understand the students. I have gained new and appropriate means in helping them. It broadens my ability to teach with up-to-date techniques and ideas.”
     -ConnectU Participant

“I like that [the workshops] are local and very affordable.  I like that the presenters provide information on the clinical side as well as the practical side.  I am able to pass on the hands-on materials to teachers to assist them in a meaningful way.”
     -ConnectU Participant

“The workshop is wonderful.  Please continue to offer research-based workshops as it gives me more confidence in dealing with and identifying situations and behaviors.”
     -ConnectU Participant

“This was one of the best workshops. The presenters were fabulous. I went away with much to digest.” 
     -ConnectU Participant

“I will look forward to future offerings… This was a great experience.”
     -ConnectU Participant

ConnectU participants as of August 2010

Regional partners:

  • Midwest Child Care Resources and Referral
  • Southwest Initiative Foundation
  • Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota
  • Southwest/West Central Service Cooperatives

University of Minnesota campus partners:

  • Children, Youth & Family Consortium
  • Center for Neurobehavioral Development
  • President’s Initiative on Children, Youth & Families
  • Institute of Child Development
  • Departments of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Educational Psychology

Participating groups:

  • Child Care
  • Faith Community
  • Community Nonprofits
  • Human Services
  • Court Systems
  • Medical Practice
  • Diversity Collaboratives
  • Probation & Corrections
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Public Health
  • K-12 Education
  • Social Services
  • Extension
  • Social Work

For ConnectU information, contact:

Pauline Nickel
University of Minnesota SW Research and Outreach Center
23669 130th Street
Lamberton, MN 56152
Phone: 507-752-7372
Fax:     507-752-5097

Colleen Gengler
Children, Youth and Family Coordinator
University of Minnesota SW Research and Outreach Center
23669 130th Street
Lamberton, MN 56152
Phone:  507-360-0624
Fax:     507-752-5097