A World of Knowledge

by Chrystal Shannon
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GEAPS Exchange educational program designed to be ‘focused, interesting and useful’

In recent years, the U.S.-based Grain Elevator and Processing Society has worked hard to become an international organization, boosting its membership worldwide and establishing relationships with grain organizations in other countries. GEAPS even added a Spanish link to its web site and will offer technical information in Spanish to its members.

So it is no surprise that the educational portion of the GEAPS Exchange, March 2-5 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, will be an internationally oriented program. The program will include a Canadian perspective on genetically modified grains and a pre-conference workshop on operation and maintenance of grain grading equipment will feature speakers from Canada and the United States. Speakers from Australia and Argentina also are on the main program.

The educational program is crafted by GEAPS members. "It’s a fail-safe way to keep the programs focused, interesting and useful," according to Ed Johnson, chairman of the Educational Programming Committee.

This year’s program includes 22 speakers on a range of topics covering facility management; safety, health and environment; grain handling and storage; professional development, operations management; international; and "nuts & bolts."

Johnson, an underwriter for Continental Western Group, a commercial agri-business insurance agency in Laverne, Minnesota, U.S., said the committee, made up of about 20 members, met last May for an 8-hour "brainstorming" session. "We ask for assistance (regarding topics) from the membership, but each committee member also is expected to come to the meeting with ideas," Johnson said.

The committee is charged with selecting topics that are educational and informative for grain elevator operators. "A lot of people come to this conference hoping to take back something that they can use on the job," Johnson said. "It’s expensive to send employees to a large meeting like this, so we try to provide an educational resource for those companies."

The committee also tries to select topics of interest to the majority of the delegates that will be attending. Because this year’s meeting is in Vancouver, the conference will likely draw more management and less plant personnel because of the distance and expense to send people to the conference. So more management and fewer operational topics were chosen for the upcoming Exchange.

The committee at its second meeting, usually in August or September at the Exchange site, pares the list down to 17 to 20 topics. Some of the more experienced committee members are given the task of finding a suitable speaker for some topics.

In November, the committee meets one final time to finalize the times for each speaker and selects which topics will be offered for translation. This will be the fifth year that GEAPS will provide Spanish translation for some of the educational sessions.

Because three sessions are offered concurrently, the committee also selects topics that do not conflict. For instance, two safety programs will not be offered simultaneously.

Delegates choose which of the three programs they will attend, based on their own area of interest. Some topics, and some speakers, will invariably draw more attendance than others, Johnson said, but that does not mean a lesser-attended program is less valuable — only that it may not be of general interest to the overall group.

"It’s not a matter of how many people attend the session, but do the people who attend get out of it what they intended to?" Johnson said.

Some of the more popular sessions tend to be on personal development, international issues and any kind of program that covers a catastrophic event, he said. For instance, an educational session this year on the aftermath of a grain dust explosion, which covers a 2-hour time period, is expected to draw a large crowd.

Beyond the educational aspects of the program, delegates also enjoy the opportunity to network with their peers. "It’s not unusual to see people sitting around after the program is over talking to the speaker or to their peers about what they’ve just heard," Johnson said.