Smart schools, smart state: Interview with Chancellor Mark Hagerott

Mark Hagerott’s resume reads like a sci-fi novel.

Before being named Chancellor of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) in April of 2015, he lead a panel called “Autonomy and Battle Space Awareness” and served on the Defense Science Board study of unmanned systems.

Prior to that, he worked extensively in the world of cyber security, tracing back to earlier years where he worked on nuclear power with the U.S. Navy. During that time he was chief engineer for a major environmental project that involved the defueling of two atomic reactors. The guy is legit.

Now he’s bringing his unique tech expertise to the campuses of North Dakota’s universities. His vision is to harness North Dakota’s top-notch workforce and create a state that’s a 21st century place to work, he said.

“We have one of the biggest think tanks in North Dakota, with 11 campuses of grad students, researchers, professors,” Hagerott said. “We can use this extended university system to solve economic problems.”

There are three immediate issues he wants to emphasize as Chancellor. He’s doing so by launching a collective initiative for all 11 of North Dakota’s universities, called NEXUS ND.

1. Unmanned Systems

North Dakota has already positioned itself at the forefront of a rapidly growing drone industry, with its diverse weather, wide open skies and expansive Federal Aviation Administration-approved testing sites. Recently the drone activity has caught the eye of others around the world, with industry leaders coming to visit from Norway, Israel, Finland.

Hagerott sees a need for more research in the world of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). By linking the power of North Dakota’s universities together, he hopes to capitalize on this rising industry.

“Our goal is that credits transfer, more and more courses can be shared, and we can collaborate on problems,” he said. “Right now UAS is the most unresearched.”

2. Computing

That said, drones gather a lot of data. A lot of data. Where does it all go?

“It does matter where your data is stored,” Hagerott said.

He believes there is a need to establish large computing stations in North Dakota to allow for research and growth in the drone industry.

“UAS can download a lot of data and we want that available to students,” he said. “If you don’t have computational systems that can process the data, that’s less opportunity for your company.”

Hagerott said already they have sent proposals to the National Science Foundation to create a data hub in North Dakota.

3. Cyber Security

“I came here going, ‘How can I convince our state that this is important?'” Hagerott said. His experience at the White House and his later work with cyber security has him well-informed on the needs for cyber security.

In fact, he said it’s something many politicians don’t seem to get.

“They don’t really understand that there is a global crisis of security,” he said. “This is an epic time of stealing information… it’s the lawless wild west. And the information they [hackers] are getting is our bank accounts, our information – it is “war”- the largest step in recorded history of wealth. People could be doing research for years and China can steal it. No one will buy your patent.”

Hagerott looks to early education to equip future generations for this threat. This means increased studies of mathematics in highschool, including studies in encryption. It means developing university curriculums that train students to be aware of cyber security.

Steps are already being taken. Currently, University of North Dakota is looking to have one of the first major Cyper Operations majors in the country, Hagerott said.

“These are big times.”

These three initiatives could be expanded to include other things Hagerott said. But it’s a start.

Ultimately, it’s about building smart schools, smart cities, smart people, and a smart state, he said. Gone are the days of the Industrial Revolution, of mindless work. It’s time for education to train people to work with the technology that’s available, Hagerott said.

“With automation, with tech, with people collaborating at a distance, you gotta think differently. We’ve got a workforce that’s ranked number one in the country. We don’t need people to turn wrenches on an assembly line,” he said. “Now, intelligent machines move through physical space where animals and humans used to own completely. By themselves, move themselves. These are big times.”


Photo courtesy of NDUS.

Marisa Jackels

Marisa Jackels

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