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Getting to know OPEN [Audio 10:31]

Megan Holmes

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Part two in a series.

In their own words, the team at the Open Partnership Education Network (OPEN) gives the elevator pitch to a complex subject: Their mission. “Simply stated, OPEN wants to help create a smarter, better connected city, learning and growing together.”

Building an institutional structure around an idea so broad and so open was a monstrous task. The founding director of OPEN, Walter Fernando Balser, Ed.D. came into the organization to create order out of that chaos. To bring philanthropist Jim Aresty’s vision into reality, Balser oversaw the building of the OPEN Wiki, its collaborative open-source platform used to increase transparency and share information between users.

Balser built and leveraged partnerships with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Et Cultura, Poynter Institute and John’s Hopkins All Children’s. Alongside associate director Jenny Fessler and those many partners, he positioned OPEN to co-create and co-produce some of the most important intellectual discourses in St. Petersburg over the last two years.

Together, Balser and Fessler patiently built the groundwork for OPEN’s next evolution. As Balser takes on a new role at the University of Denver, OPEN gets a new leadership team lucky enough to have Fessler’s institutional knowledge to keep them in line with the founding vision.

In part two of our series, we are joined in the Catalyst studio by the new OPEN leadership team: Frank Biafora, Benjamin Smet and Jenny Fessler. They share their visions for how OPEN will move forward, as well as the collaborative possibilities it creates for the University, its students and faculty, and the community.

“I view OPEN as a branch of the University – I’d liken it to the front porch,” Biafora explained. “Where the community and the university members can come together to share an iced tea and collaborate.

We’ve just scratched the surface on how the University and the greater community can collaborate together.”

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