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Minnesota Business Magazine: Finding the Next Great Innovators

Genesys Works, an intensive IT training program for high school seniors in St. Paul, just might be where they come from.

By: Peter Lindstrom

The odds of winning the lottery are 120 million to one. The odds of being inducted into the Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame (msthalloffame.org) are incalculable, but certainly long. The odds of being inducted if you were born at the turn of the century, black, poor, orphaned, and left school in the sixth grade are infinitesimal.

Yet that's the remarkable story of Frederick McKinley Jones, founder of Thermo King Corporation and inventor of a revolutionary design for portable cooling that enables long-distance transportation of perishables.Frederick McKinley Jones

Born in Cincinnati in 1893, Jones was orphaned at the age of 9 and was raised by a priest in Kentucky. After dropping out of school he moved to Hallock, Minnesota, where he worked as a mechanic on a 50,000-acre farm. After serving in World War I, Jones returned home and taught himself electronics. While working on the farm, he invented a device to bring sound to silent movies. This was his start to becoming a serial innovator.

Around 1935, Jones designed and patented a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food. With a partner, Jones founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company (later the Thermo King Corporation) which grew to a $3 million business by 1949. Jones' air coolers for trains, ships, and aircraft made it possible for the first time to ship perishable food long distances.

His invention spawned entire industries: frozen food, fast food and container shipping, and enabled others that require climate control while in transport: expensive art, delicate electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Portable cooling units designed by Jones were especially important during World War II, preserving blood, medicine, and food for use at army hospitals and on battlefields.

Jones was awarded 61 patents. He was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977 and in 1991 posthumously received the National Medal of Technology.

Jones' success was largely self-motivated, but he undoubtedly was guided by those who saw the potential for greatness. Which raises the question: Who are those among us today who face great challenges but with personal gumption, grit and guidance can achieve greatness?

People across America are hard at work developing and implementing innovative programs that are making the difference in the lives of young people. In Minnesota, one program stands out: St. Paul-based Genesys Works.
High-potential, inner-city, economically disadvantaged students enter the Genesys Works program during the summer prior to their senior year and, after eight intensive weeks of information technology training, are assigned to work at a Twin Cities Fortune 1000 company part time during their senior year.

In addition to learning IT skills, students are trained in the professional skills needed to enter and succeed in corporate environments. From their first day in the program, students are exposed to a culture of high expectations and professionalism.

Since its inception in 2008, more than 170 students from Minneapolis, Richfield, Robbinsdale and St. Paul have completed the program. In 2010, nearly 30 clients hired almost 80 students to help with PC deployment and imaging, hardware and software upgrades, troubleshooting and help desk support. It's easy to see why Genesys Works was honored with the Innovative Collaboration of the Year at the 2010 Tekne Awards.

Within this group of students perhaps there is another Frederick McKinley Jones, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

Programs like Genesys Works are changing the way we think about our toughest problems. It is a creative, results-driven, private-sector-led initiative that needs to be replicated across America. It's hard but important work that will require coming together for the common good so that programs can maximize their impact and kids can reach their full potential.

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