Introduction to Dakota Digital Academy

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After our founding last fall, the Dakota Digital Academy continues to gain traction with faculty and administrators across the North Dakota University System (NDUS). Thanks to the vision of Chancellor Mark Hagerott, there is much Dakota Digital Academy activity around designing and developing courses in the digital arena, configuring certificates and programs, creating partnerships and planning events. This activity responds to the need for relevant training and education to serve learners and employers.

We are ambitious and on track to accomplish a great deal in our state. We are committed to fostering access, opportunity, enfranchisement, inclusion and diversity. We believe in collaboration. Among Dakota Digital Academy’s challenges is establishing synergy among the diverse NDUS institutions. With two research universities, four regional universities and five colleges, there are considerable differences in orientations, types of expertise and capacities. As well, the Dakota Digital Academy recently entered into agreements with the state’s five tribal colleges, which adds significantly to the system’s scope. At the Dakota Digital Academy, we view the differences among institutions as sources of opportunities and strengths to celebrate.

The ongoing pandemic is one of the most life- and work-altering events in our history. This coronavirus has forced a large-scale normalization of remote work and school, including mandating how the Dakota Digital Academy as an organization must function. Going forward, if most tasks can be accomplished remotely and most production processes are done by robots, will gender inequality and racism diminish?

North Dakota is a very rural state. The Dakota Digital Academy is committed to location-agnostic operations. As broadband becomes more available and residents adjust to technologies—such as tools for remote collaboration, video conferencing and virtual reality—people may feel that if everyone in their organization is remote, then nobody feels remote.

Dakota Digital Academy’s mission is very opportune in our state. There are many people whose jobs are impossible to do from home, and they are now faced with unemployment and a need to reinvent their work lives. For example, about 110,000 restaurants nationwide closed in 2020, leaving many employees without work.

If the future is basically digital, what happens to the people left behind? We see a pressing need for training and education in many areas of computing and cyber sciences, including coding, information technology, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. Important application areas, such as energy and agriculture, have increasingly become digital enterprises. In terms of programs, the Dakota Digital Academy is actively working beyond cybersecurity and software development into these application areas.

The need for upskilling and retraining is also very real. Dakota Digital Academy is committed to helping meet those needs.

Kendal E. Nygard, PhD, is the Director of the Dakota Digital Academy and Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at NDSU where he joined the faculty in 1977 and served as department chair for 12 years. His many accomplishments include operations research at the Naval Postgraduate School, a research fellowship at the Air Vehicle Directorate of the Air Force Research Lab. In 2013-14, he had the distinctive honor of serving as a Jefferson Science Fellow at the US Agency for International Development in Washington, DC.