Nov. 23, 2021
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Meeting the engineers of the future at STEAM Summit

Photo: an employee demonstrating equipment in front of a group of students

Dennis Hayes, independent assurance inspector, demonstrates how a concrete breaker works at the STEAM Summit Nov. 16 at RCTC Regional Sports Center in Rochester. The breaker tests the strength of the concrete to ensure the quality meets standards for MnDOT roads. More than 1,700 students attended the event. Photo by Sheila Thoma

Learn more about MnDOT’s STEM activities


Highway sponsorship program partners volunteer groups with MnDOT

By Joseph Palmersheim

Photo: People picking up trash in a prairie field

These volunteers with Prairie Enthusiasts of St. Croix Valley, one of five volunteer groups partnering with MnDOT’s Highway Sponsorship program, are working on an area south of Bayport known locally as “Blueberry Hill.” The program works with businesses, civic organizations and individuals to improve and maintain property on the highway system. Photo by Evanne Hunt

Fall is Evanne Hunt’s favorite time of the year to visit “Blueberry Hill,” a 10-acre parcel of land south of Bayport near the St. Croix River.

“I love standing in this little prairie and watching the grasses wave in the wind,” said the board president of the Prairie Enthusiasts of St. Croix Valley. “I tune out the traffic and tune in the calls of the hawks and song sparrows; maybe even the rapping of a piliated woodpecker.”

But Hunt and other Prairie Enthusiasts aren’t simply visitors – they are caretakers. And after caring for the area with limited permits or agreements for the past 15 years, they are now working with MnDOT as partners.

Blueberry Hill is one of five highway sponsorship projects connecting MnDOT with local volunteer organizations to enhance and maintain right of way property since the program launched in 2019.
The Highway Sponsorship program works with businesses, civic organizations and individuals to improve and maintain property on the highway system. This can include landscaping, creating pollinator habitat and other aesthetic and environmental projects along highway roadsides.

The sponsoring organization is responsible for underwriting the full cost of the project, including the cost of landscaping design, purchase of plant material, installation and on-going maintenance activities. Highway Sponsorship Licenses are typically 2-5 years in duration, or up to 10 years. Sponsored projects may be eligible for a roadside “Beautify Minnesota” sign displaying the name or logo of the partner organization.

It’s a win-win, said Jessica Oh, Strategic Partnerships Director, Sustainability and Public Health Division.

“This program allows us to form partnerships with nonprofits, for-profits or individuals to do the maintenance work we don’t have capacity to do,” Oh said. “For creating pollinator habitat, this is authorizing the work to occur safely and working collaboratively to develop robust, long-term maintenance strategies with community-based partners. It’s new territory for us in the sense that we’re collaborating on prescribed burns, on vegetation maintenance strategies and jointly addressing illegal dumping issues. Highway sponsorship can cover a huge range of different maintenance activities.”

Sponsorship replaces case-by-case and annual permitting approaches. The new system offers a balance of right of way control and access, Oh said, with a focus on risk assessment and developing a long-term relationship with community organizations. 

Partnership might not be the only thing to blossom as a result of the program. Some of Blueberry Hill’s native plant seeds may end up at other pollinator habitat sites across the state. The Prairie Enthusiasts are sharing part of each year’s hand-collected native seeds with MnDOT. These seeds will be used on other prairie habitat restoration projects in MnDOT right of way to support pollinators. Highway sponsorship is a way to activate maintenance partners to support critical habitat on highway roadsides.

“When we have high-quality pollinator habitat in our right of ways, it can act as an important connector to other habitat restoration projects for species like the monarch butterfly or rusty patch bumblebee,” Oh said. “As we invest in pollinator habitat, we have a great opportunity to proactively seek maintenance partnership for projects, and that’s a big shift for us. Partners on the ground will lead to better outcomes with our projects.”

Learn more:



Staffing updates

Photo: Jed Falgren

Jed Falgren. Photo by Rich Kemp

Jed Falgren is MnDOT’s new state maintenance engineer. He will also continue leading the agency’s Transportation System Management and Operations effort until a replacement is found. His first day in the new role was Nov. 18.

Falgren has held several different positions since he first joined MnDOT in 1989. These roles include TSMO director, construction project engineer and maintenance engineer in District 7.

He received his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from NDSU in 1988 and is a registered engineer in the state of Minnesota.



Photo: Stephanie Raley

Stephanie Raley. Submitted photo

Stephanie Raley is MnDOT’s new safety culture director. Her first day in this role was Nov. 1.

Prior to joining the agency, Raley worked in safety roles at several major airlines. Her most recent job prior to MnDOT was as director of safety for Sun Country Airlines.

Raley has a bachelor’s degree in commercial aviation from the University of North Dakota and a master’s degree in strategic management from the University of Minnesota-Carlson School of Management.



Photo: Thuy Tran

Thuy Tran. Submitted photo

Thuy Tran is MnDOT’s new program manager for the Seeds Student Worker and Retain Our Workforce programs. Her first day in the role was Sept. 15.

Tran has extensive experience in recruitment and community outreach, most recently working as the recruitment, internship and outreach coordinator for the Department of Corrections. Thuy also brings project operations and management experience from her work with U.S.  Bank.

Tran earned a business analyst associate’s degree from Hennepin Technical College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Hamline University.



Annual email cleanup starts Nov. 29

Save, file or delete?

MnDOT’s Annual Electronic Storage Cleanup starts Monday, Nov. 29, and ends Friday, Dec. 31. Storage levels will be posted on the Information Governance Program SharePoint, and the winners will be announced in January. Last year, Statewide Radio Communications reduced its email storage by over 15 percent.

“Like an annual teeth cleaning, an annual email cleaning makes your email healthy and tuned up to the task of efficiently handling your communication,” said Information Governance Program Supervisor Jennifer W. Witt. “Cleaning out redundant, obsolete and trivial emails is good information hygiene.”

MnDOT employees will need to clean out their emails by identifying and moving agency records. A record is information that documents MnDOT business decisions or transactions and is designated in the agency's retention schedule. It can take any format from electronic data to physical artifacts. Copies, drafts, meeting agendas, and similar documents are not records.

The MnDOT retention schedule sets rules for how long records must be kept and what happens at the end of their lifecycle. Review the MnDOT records retention schedule carefully for changes.

Steps to take:

  1. All District Engineers and Office Directors will schedule four hours for their business areas to review Outlook files between Monday, Nov. 29 and Friday, Dec. 31. During this time, all employees will need to:
    • Review all emails to determine whether they are records.
      • Delete all outdated non-records from their Outlook inbox, sent items, and deleted items.
      • Delete or dispose of records that have reached the end of their retention period (refer to the retention schedule).
      • Move all remaining records to their designated storage location (shared drive, eDOCS, ProjectWise, etc.). Do not store non-business related personal files or data on MnDOT resources.
    • On your timesheet, record clean-up activities as:
      • Project ID - T0008102
      • Activity Code/Source Type - 0023
  2. Fill out a Records Destruction Report listing all records you delete. State government agencies are required by law to permanently retain a list of destroyed records. Non-records do not require a Records Destruction Report.

Contact MnDOT Records Manager Charles Stech for more information.

Previous Email Clean-Up winners:

  • Statewide Radio Communications (2020)
  • Research and Innovation (2019)
  • Transit and Active Transportation (2018)
  • Environmental Services (2017)
  • Civil Rights (2016)



Upcoming presentations to offer Outlook tips

By Judy Jacobs, Office of Organizational Planning and Management  

Two upcoming presentations aim to help employees become more efficient with Microsoft Outlook.

The first session meets Thursday, Dec. 9 from 12:05-12:55 p.m. Adrienne Hedlund from MnDOT’s Business Process Section, and Jen Parshley from the Commissioner’s Office, will live-demo Outlook tips and tricks to help employees acquire a better understanding of the tech tools available and how these tools can streamline and support their work. The format will feature informal demos with time to ask questions and work through any technical issues related to Outlook. 

A second session, repeating the topics of the Dec. 9 discussion, meets Dec. 16 from 1:35-2:25 p.m. 

Watch for a Notemailer the week of Nov. 29 that will provide more information and supply the links to both meetings.  

These sessions are intended to supplement MNIT Learning Pathway trainings and not replace them. The discussions will be recorded and made available to all employees. 

Topics for the session on Outlook include: 

  • How to change desktop notifications  
  • How to set your work hours   
  • How to end appointments and meetings early
  • How to prevent meetings from being forwarded   
  • How to use reoccurring events to note when in the office/teleworking/field    
  • How to add time away from the office to coworkers' outlook calendars   
  • How to schedule focus time with an appointment    
  • How to drag follow-up items into the calendar and schedule work time/reminders    

Future sessions will focus on managing emails in Outlook, best practices for effective and efficient meetings, managing notifications and chat messages in Teams, managing meetings in Teams and engagement tools for Teams meetings.



Mobile vaccine clinic at rest area

Photo: a bus with Roll up Your Sleeves Minnesota graphics

The Minnesota Department of Health gave nearly 50 people COVID-19 vaccination shots at a mobile vaccination clinic Nov. 18 at the St. Croix Travel Information Center. The mobile clinic was equipped to give first shots, second shots, and booster shots, with both Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations. The event was hosted at a rest area specifically to target truck drivers who have difficulty getting vaccinations and boosters due to the nature of their work. A second clinic has been scheduled at the site for Dec. 16. Photo by Jennifer Krantz


On the Job: Tom Shields keeps drivers moving, informed

Photo: Tom Shields

Tom Shields. Submitted photo

By Rich Kemp

Tom Shields works at the Regional Transportation Management Center as a statewide traffic operator. He started in 2001 as a FIRST driver and moved to the RTMC in 2009 as a FIRST dispatcher. Shields started his current role in 2018.

Before MnDOT, Shields was a supervisor at Allina Hospitals and Clinics and is a retired lieutenant with Cottage Grove Fire Department.

What do you do in your job?
Now that winter is coming, a typical day starts with a look at the weather throughout the state, seeing what districts will be impacted by weather coming in. I look to see if there are any statewide warnings or watches that the National Weather Service has put out.

If there are any warnings, I go through the cameras in the area and see if any digital message signs need to be deployed. While figuring out if signs need to be deployed for a weather event, we also monitor Minnesota State Patrol radio. When we hear a crash go out over the air, we locate the crash if we have cameras in the area and deploy DMS signs so motorist are aware and what lane or lanes are affected. When there is a crash that shuts down the roadway, we enter the closure in 511 and set up a detour.

We also have the ability to look at video through Milestone, a video replay machine, if there are questions about the crash. A lot of time we get answers by looking back at video. When things calm down a bit, we enter any 511 lane closures that we receive from contractors or our maintenance personnel doing work on highways and freeways.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job is that every day is different. You never know what is going to happen or where it will happen. The one guarantee is something will happen somewhere in the land of 10,000 lakes.

What are the biggest challenges?
Statewide winter weather events are a very busy time for all of us at MnDOT and your day flies by. When it’s finally over, you feel like you really accomplished an enormous task.

What kind of changes have you seen in your job?
Since the creation of Statewide Traffic Operations, things are continuously changing. I think this is a position that will always be changing. There are a lot of ways to accomplish a goal, whether it’s shutting down a lane for a crash, rerouting traffic around construction, debris on the road, or just getting signs up for our maintenance personnel working on the freeway. Everything from the program we use to control the signs, to putting events in 511 or setting up detours, is always improving.

Do you or a co-worker have an interesting job to share with readers? Send us your ideas, and we’ll contact you for more information.

Recent employee profiles:


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