Artists, Agronomists, Architects (and more) Collaboratively Envision the Future of Farming

Two-day intensive research retreat inspires interdisciplinary collaboration at North Dakota State University & beyond.

This past Friday and Saturday, over the course of just 30 hours, interdisciplinary teams of researchers and faculty from across North Dakota State University collaboratively researched and pitched proposal ideas centered on the topic, “The Future of the Farm.”

The research sprint was guided by a fast-paced framework created by CoSearch, an event launched at Texas State in 2015 with a mission to: “break down academic silos, bridging research and creative activity to produce potentially grant-funded projects that unite disciplines across the university.”

Michael Burns, co-founder of CoSearch, and an NDSU alumnus, facilitated the two-day session for approximately 20 faculty and researchers from across North Dakota.

Participants contributed their knowledge of economics, precision agriculture, agronomy, architecture, entrepreneurship, and more, to quickly deep-dive into creating a proposal that would be pitched and judged in a competitive format in less than two days.

DAY ONE: From 20+ Ideas to 4 Distinct Research Proposals

On day one, after each participant pitched a research topic related to the future of the farm, the group voted down twenty or more ideas until only four remained. From there, teams self-selected into four distinct research groups based on where they determined their expertise, or personal interest, might lend the most assistance.

Once groups were filtered out into their groups, a two-hour collaborative research session ensued. White boards quickly filled up with doodles and diagrams as teams worked quickly to find a common solution and a common language with which to formulate a research proposal they would be pitching in less than 24 hours before an esteemed panel of judges.

Before the end of the first day, mentors Dr. Christine Strohm, a grant-writing consultant from NDSU’s College of Engineering, and David Ripplinger, a professor of bio-energy and bio-products economics at NDSU, challenged the research group’s proposals, testing their feasibility and identifying potential funding sources.

DAY TWO: Refining Proposals & Pitch Competition

By the second day, teams only had a few hours to distill their research idea down into a five-minute pitch. With pitch guidance provided by Kate Tulibaski, an academic advisor and lecturer at NDSU’s College of Business, and Cortnee Jensen, from the North Dakota Department of Commerce, teams put the final touches on their slide decks and presentations before meeting their judging panel at Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.

Michael Burns, co-founder of CoSearch, opening up the research retreat.

A lively venue awaited participants, as colleagues, family, and community members enjoyed appetizers and drinks before the pitches were underway. Brian Carroll, director of operations at The Grand Farm — an initiative that aims to capitalize on the region’s potential in the agriculture and technology industries — opened the evening by sharing an inspired vision of the farm of the future. He, and the judges, were eager to learn what the researchers had to share.


The distinguished panel of judges was comprised of leaders in industry, commerce, and higher education across North Dakota, and their evaluations were based on a rubric provided by C3 Research Startup’s Leadership Team. The panel included:

Scott Smidt — Midco

Scott is the Vice President of Business Engineering and Operations for Midco. He is an instrumental supporter for the development and launch of Midco’s state-of-the-art Tier III data center in Fargo.

Amy Whitney — University of North Dakota

Amy is the Director of the UND Center for Innovation. Among her areas of expertise is creative problem solving. She moved recently from Worcester, MA, and has survived her first North Dakota winter!

James “Phil” Wisecup — North Dakota University System

Phil is a retired Navy Vice-Admiral, was President of the US Naval War College, and is now the Vice Chancellor of Strategy and Strategic Engagement at the North Dakota University System.

James Leiman — North Dakota Department of Commerce

James is the Senior Manager of Economic Development Initiatives at the North Dakota Department of Commerce. An army veteran, Leiman has recently completed his PhD in transportation and logistics from NDSU.

Sheri Anderson — North Dakota State University

Sheri is the Assistant Vice President of Research Development at NDSU and a core member of the CoSearch Planning Committee.

Josh Marineau — North Dakota State University

Josh is an Assistant Professor of Management at NDSU. He researches networks, including the mapping of the Fargo entrepreneurial ecosystem.


The multidisciplinary teams shared proposals ranging from valorizing biomass to redesigning aesthetically beautiful and biodiverse farmscapes:

In the end, the panel of judges nominated the winner to be a team comprised of Chad Ulven (engineering), Marisol Berti (plant sciences), Ghasideh Pourhashem (engineering and sustainability), Venkataramana Chapara (agricultural entomology), Wenjie Xia (engineering), James Caton (agribusiness and applied economics). Their proposal, along with all four ideas pitched this weekend, now have momentum, support, and, potentially, funding moving forward.

Jane Schuh, NDSU’s Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, shared that she was inspired by events like these, as they connect faculty and researchers to do impactful work in communities across the great state of North Dakota.

Regardless of the long-term outcomes of these projects, what was most certainly accomplished was the breaking down of academic silos: For two days, an anthropologist worked alongside a computer scientist, and a precision ag engineer reimagined their work through the lens of a photographer. An agronomist considered the sociological impact of their research on rural communities, and an architect considered farmland to be as impressionable as the built environment.

With a mission to increase innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship across NDSU and North Dakota, The Nice Center facilitated this opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, and to orient the university’s research toward community and industry.

Posted on October 28th, 2019 by Dane Johnson in Events