Big Ideas Receives CliftonLarsonAllen Donation

Article from New Ulm Journal

NEW ULM — Big Ideas, a New Ulm non-profit group that creates classes to expose student to the building trades, was the recipient of a CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) Foundation award of $15,000.

Local CLA staff were given a tour of the Big Ideas office and classrooms on South Minnesota Street, Tuesday following the announcement of the award.

Big Ideas, Inc. is a non-profit that works to expose students of all ages to different trade careers. The organization uses leading-edge augmented and virtual reality hands-on technologies to give students a taste of specific trades. Big Ideas also collaborates with trades professionals to help share their skills, knowledge and stories to give students insight into what it is like working in the trades.

Big Ideas co-founder Mary Ann Christensen said they have held classes on a variety of trades including welding, CAD, sewing, painting, small engines, carpentry, flooring, heavy equipment, electrical, plumbing and many others.

The augmented and virtual reality (VR) equipment owned by Big Ideas can give a real-world simulation of working in a field. The VR equipment used for welding can even grade a user on the effectiveness of the weld.

Big Ideas mobile learning lab has also helped bring these trade seminars to students. Schools around the state have requested the Big Ideas trailer visit to show students the depths and variety of trade careers.

The CLA Foundation is entirely powered by CLA employees. The employees donate money, volunteer to review the grant and nominate a business or non-profit.

Every dollar raised and granted comes from CLA’s nationwide office. In 2020, the CLA Foundation raised and granted $1,179,209.

Dan Buechner, an employee of the CLA office in New Ulm, nominated Big Ideas for this award and the CLA Foundation selected this nomination to receive the $15,000 award.

Buechner said he believed in Big Ideas’ mission. He had also originally studied in the trades and wanted to help trades professionals.

Christensen said the $15,000 will likely be used for additional equipment, such as simulators but also other real-world machinery. Finding equipment that can be placed in the mobile trailer classroom requires money. Big Ideas also need to stay current with the various industries and that means updating equipment.

Christensen thanked CLA for their support and also thanked J&R Schugel for helping transport their trailer to different events.

Christensen said addition to the funding the non-profit also needs instructors. That includes any trade professional who could work by the hour to help teach students learning about a specific trade.