Minnesota State Community and Technical College has virtually the only display of its kind at this year’s Minnesota’s State Fair.
Visitors to the fair’s Education Building can check out the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System booth for a conversation with M State’s BeamPro, the mobile remote presence device that M State utilizes for student services.
The device – one of four used by M State – is being operated by M State staff members from the college’s campuses in Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Moorhead and Wadena. The technology allows M State employees in one of the four communities to have a live conversation with visitors who stop to chat at the fair booth.
With an operator sitting in front of a computer in an office on campus, his or her face appears on the device’s video screen, and the operator can talk in real time with fair visitors in St. Paul.
M State acquired the BeamPros during the summer of 2013, and one made its first visit to the state fair last year. Shawn Anderson, a dean on the Moorhead campus, was one of the staff members at the controls during its fair debut.
“It was fun. Most people were kind of astounded that I wasn’t at the state fairgrounds – that I was controlling it from my office in Moorhead,” Anderson said. “They were amazed at the technology and how we could control it.”
He found early elementary students and preschoolers seemed the most eager to interact with the technology – including youngsters who hugged the BeamPro, blew it kisses or brought treats for it.
The device requires a wi-fi connection so it can’t stray far from the MnSCU booth, but it can roam a bit on its wheeled base.
Peter Wielinski, M State’s vice president of student development and marketing, said the technology allows M State staff members to promote the college while still being on campus and available to help students during the hectic start of fall semester.
M State was the first college in the nation to enlist the remote presence devices to connect with students. With distances of 50 to 100 miles between the college’s campuses, M State officials were looking for an efficient way that staff members could connect personally and efficiently with students.
The devices are manufactured by Suitable Technologies of Palo Alto, Calif., which describes them as “video conferencing that you can drive.” The five-foot-tall devices are topped with a large video screen and can be driven remotely at up to 3 mph.
M State staff members will be on hand at the fair via the BeamPro from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. most weekdays and during limited hours on the weekends through the fair’s end on Labor Day.
“The devices let our staff be on campus one minute helping students, and the next minute they’re talking with someone in St. Paul,” Wielinski said. “It was a big draw last year at the fair.”
Fair visitors who take a picture with the BeamPro can post it to the Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) Facebook page for a chance to win a $25 M State bookstore gift certificate. Remember to like us on Facebook!