Will America’s most rural state embrace the concept of services
via the Internet?
The idea is logical enough: How can the potential of the Internet
be used to enable rural residents to transact business with the
government? North Dakota, the most rural state in the nation,
is a natural place to explore the possibilities of “E-Government.”
That concept is the basis of an important research project in
UND’s College of Business and Public Administration, the
Government Rural Outreach (GRO) Initiative. According to its director,
Glenn Miller, the project will complete its first-year contract
on Sept. 30. At least two additional years of funding from the
General Services Administration (GSA) is anticipated.
How did UND become a member of the club working on this national
project, one of President George W. Bush’s stated Management
The business college has the critical mass of expertise to do
this kind of research: a classic array of business departments
(and, as an AACSB-accredited school, a faculty credentialed with
research-based doctoral degrees and with access to graduate students
to assist them), a Department of Information Systems, and —
rare in business schools — a Department of Political Science
and Public Administration.
Miller says UND got its foot in the door in 2001. A grant from
the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service
allowed the College to conduct two statewide surveys and to place
computers in local senior citizen centers. Training was provided
and the users were observed to see if they would adopt the Internet
for some of their information needs.
The answer to that question, at least with these particular seniors,
was “no,” Miller says. After an initial burst of enthusiasm
by the study participants, the computers mostly gathered dust.
However, the Feds, scrambling to comply with a Presidential directive
to expand Internet use as one way of making government more “responsive
and cost-effective,” were impressed by the quality of UND’s
work. So, with U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan’s assistance, the
College landed a $750,000 contract for the first year of what
promises to be a significant involvement with the GRO Initiative.
In some ways, Miller said, the task these past months has been
similar to the earlier project: Collaborate with partners in North
Dakota to make Internet-connected computers available to a number
of rural constituencies (farmers, veterans, seniors, and American
Indians), provide training, help generate relevant Web content
and services, and then “see what happens.”
But, of course, there are complications, most importantly the
issues of privacy and security.
How can the Agriculture Department, for example, be certain that
an individual communicating a decision about participation in
a crop support program is, in fact, the person he or she purports
The goal, Miller says, is to provide rural citizens with electronic
access to government that is not only simplified but also protected
through one secure entry and validation point. Much of the work
to be done in collaboration with partners such as North Dakota’s
Information Technology Department will involve developing and
testing new approaches to authentication and security.
UND has created a secure Internet “portal” and used
it to gather input from citizens involved in the project. It also
forged a partnership with the North Dakota Center for Technology
and Business to develop instructional models and materials. Remote
sites were established at a library in Rolla, a car wash/computer
store in Fessenden, and a job development center in Rugby. Additional
program sites will be established in Year Two.
The project is heavy on outreach and service, Miller notes, but
there is strong value placed on research to understand the issues
that make citizens interested in or reluctant to use this technology.
As the GRO effort increases in scope, Professors Tim O’Keefe
and Fred Shirazi of the Department of Information Systems are
collecting information from the study participants to provide
“These data will provide both practical solutions as this
initiative is rolled out nationwide,” O’Keefe said,
“as well as important theoretical findings that will contribute
to the literature of information systems.”
Experienced in dealing with the natural difficulties of convincing
people of the value of change, Miller is enthusiastic about the
future of E-Government and in the University’s role in advancing
“UND is uniquely positioned to set the standards of content,
convenience, and security for electronically delivered government
services to rural citizens,” he said. “And I’m
excited to be in a position to have a positive impact on the lives
of rural residents.”
Capital campaign aims to enhance business
Well into his college’s first-ever capital fundraising
campaign, Dean Dennis Elbert of the College of Business and Public
Administration is constantly on the road pitching his illustrious
alumni for cold, hard cash. If not that, deferred gifts also are
much appreciated, he says with a smile.
It was just one year ago that the University of North Dakota,
in partnership with its affiliated UND Foundation, kicked off
a four-year capital campaign for the College of Business and Public
Administration. More than $11 million in cash and pledges has
Because of this success – and because the College is positioned
to move immediately on an ambitious strategic plan – the
Campaign Committee has doubled the dollar goal from $10 to $20
million and has intensified its search for gifts of historic magnitude.
The results of the campaign are bound to advance the College’s
research agenda, he said, but in a way that sometimes is not obvious
to prospective donors who often initially focus on physical infrastructure
or student scholarships (which is just fine with him, too, he
The secret for expanding the business college’s research
record can be summed up, he says, in the words “faculty
For the college to become involved in projects such as the GRO
Initiative, it must retain its current faculty and recruit others
with the expertise and the interest to do nationally competitive
research. Many factors come into play, Elbert says, but being
able to pay competitive salaries is fundamental.
Thus the Campaign is placing high priority on establishing faculty
endowments in the form of “chairs” or professorships
to reward excellence in teaching and research and to ensure that
the College has faculty with the credentials and experience that
are fundamental to everything it does, including research.