Top 30

Jim Jorstad

For Jorstad, succeeding as an educational technology leader requires the same strategic thinking as winning a game of chess: When making decisions, you have to connect the dots and think three moves in advance. 
Jorstad, a 30-year technology innovator and award-winning media producer, loves chess, but it isn’t his only passion - he is also keenly interested in, and fervently works toward, improving digital literacy; bringing authenticity and relevance to the classroom through social media; promoting and measuring technology use and effectiveness; creating innovative learning environments; and mentoring students, faculty and staff.
He accomplishes these things through various programs and initiatives, each marked by creativity, innovation and, of course, passion. For example, to better mentor students and bring relevancy to the classroom, Jorstad helped spur a digital storytelling program when he was asked to teach a three-month seminar course for incoming freshmen. 
Building on the practice of digital storytelling, Jorstad started helping faculty and students sign up as CNN iReporters. He not only helped his own campus get started, but actively assisted other Midwestern campuses with the concept. An award-winning iReporter himself, Jorstad began writing for CNN during the 2010 political upheaval in Wisconsin, and later turned to other issues such as homelessness, the 2012 U.S. drought and human interest stories. His stories have had nearly 1 million views. Fast forward to today and Jorstad says students’ stories are being vetted by CNN producers and presented as news, with one student’s story that details his caring for a brother with a rare neurological disease receiving more than 72,000 views. 
As another example, when violence erupted in Eastern Europe, a former University of Wisconsin - La Crosse student from Ukraine Skyped with Jorstad to tell the story. Later, CNN contacted the student. “I was watching CNN national news and our student is being quoted in the same line or paragraph as NATO, Vladamir Putin and the prime ministers of Ukraine and Russia,” says Jorstad. “There’s no better teaching opportunity than that. Making teaching relevant and authentic helps students connect with their world. It also helps faculty become even more immersed in the learning process.”
But the impact didn’t stop there. Later, the same student was offered a position at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. “You would never think this would all come together, but you have to connect the dots,” says Jorstad. “You may not realize the initial fruits of your investment, but if you take students with great skills and put them in the position to be successful, you will reap great benefits.”
As part of his passion for mentoring, Jorstad’s department provides robust professional development for faculty and staff, with workshops designed to draw crowds and get educators interested in technology. The department’s creative way of naming sessions such as “Tech4U,” “HOT” (Hands-On Technology) and “Passport to Technology” have been hugely successful. Jorstad is careful to measure that success by conducting surveys with faculty and staff to ensure professional development is on point. “When we can survey faculty and receive nearly 200 responses for specific technology training, we know we are on the right track,” says Jorstad. These innovative sessions have gained national attention.
Jorstad stresses the importance of teamwork and communicating your team’s successes. “Even though I don’t have a large team, I pick employees who are passionate about what they do and are creative thinkers,” he says. “It’s always good to have someone on your team that understands servers, routers and bandwidth, but the key is the ability to see the big picture and think with creative solutions.” 
Jorstad says to be successful today, leaders need to make investments in technology, but also investments in students, faculty and staff. Like chess, many times the successful moves you make won’t be realized until later in the game, but Jorstad says that makes the payoff that much sweeter. “When students and faculty come back and say you made a big difference, it makes it all worthwhile. It all starts with that first strategic move.”