Mix It Up @ CLOSE IT, the “Crossover Conference”​ Santa Fe Oct 15-16



CLOSE IT 2019 provides thought leaders and innovators from across the country with a learning platform to share, exchange, and partner in developing solutions that drive toward economic access and empowerment at scale. Elyse Rosenblum, Principal of Grads of Life.

“I attend CLOSE IT to learn about the world’s most interesting innovations and thinking at the intersection of learning and work. Connie Yowell,” CEO of LRNG and EVP at Southern New Hampshire University.

What makes a conference on learning, working and labor data worth the time, money and travel, while so many of us are starting to fight chronic conference fatigue syndrome?

If you have this syndrome, it’s for a very good reason. The single sector conferences—higher education, HR, workforce, employment, labor data and career and technical education—are stalling because today to get anything done requires crossing-over.

Crossing-over means a new mix of people from across sectors who have a focus on ensuring they stay up with the “shifts” in learning, hiring and work, but are also actually committed to working through a lens of equity and access. These elements as core measurable commitments are not often found on other conference agendas.

The people in the ed-to-work and work-and-learn worlds ultimately have one or two pieces of the puzzle: great training content, great blockchain credential solutions, great tools linking people to open jobs, pathway badging, and great ways to learn while working. However, those pieces don’t function on their own.

Leaving the familiar faces behind and beginning to mix it up in the “ecosystem” between education, HR, workforce, employers and Federal and state agencies, is a dynamic way to become informed beyond what is known and comfortable.

In reality, this is at the heart of true human capital development. Where, by necessity, many moving parts are all geared toward a common end of equitable employment, quality candidate workflow and excellent aligned training options. But where to go to cross-over?

The conference best geared to cross-over is the CLOSE IT (read “close the gap”) conference taking place this year in Santa Fe (Oct 15-16). CLOSE IT is hitting its stride as people wake up to the need to collaborate to deliver their missions. Individuals in different aspects of the ecosystem know they need cross-sector dialogs and information sessions that are complementary to their own work.

LRNG, is powerful platform for life-to-work skills serving Opportunity Youth. LRNG recently merged with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) where Connie Yowell who heads LRNG and is an executive at SNHU. “The best conferences are the best because of the people they attract and the conversations they ignite. CLOSE IT does a uniquely wonderful job of engaging them community in asking the hard questions,” says Yowell.

This year’s list of attendees rivals the famous Star Wars bar scene in the Mos Eisely cantina, with the likes of Amazon Web Service Worldwide Education, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, McDonalds Education, Chobani, the city program managers from Birmingham, Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Diego, with attendance from as faraway as Brazil and Australia.

“I have been to multiple CLOSE ITs and they are stellar. It is a great cross-section of people from around the the country. The sessions and connections are invaluable” says Peter Callstrom, President and CEO, San Diego Workforce Partnership.

In this mix are the foundations that stand by those struggling to find education and work: AARP, TGR Foundations, AT&T, Ford, W. K. Kellogg, Lumina, and Samueli and research thought leaders including the Brookings Institute, Georgetown University, Aspen Institute and the Urban Institute. The list of participating community colleges, community college systems, universities and workforce agencies span the country.

The Grads of Life organization catalyzes market demand for opportunity youth. CLOSE IT is a perfect venue to look at how opportunity youth can more easily be integrated into the workforce. “I look forward to participating in CLOSE IT to share our latest innovations and to learn from my peers about the dynamic work they are leading to shift the future of work in this nation,” says Grads of Life Principal Elyse Rosenbaum.

The surmise is that real action—especially aimed at equity and access—is more than seeing and being seen in the groups you already know. The ASU GSV conference is heavily pitched toward the capital and venture markets, looking for financial angles. Educause continues its mission to keep higher education CIOs well connected in the vendor and technology sector.

But there isn’t a conference that operates to help build a durable chain from school to college, school to work, college to work, or servicing adult learners and employers who are dealing with tight labor markets.

“CLOSE IT offers an opportunity to connect with ideas on the leading-edge for people committed to addressing the needs of others not benefiting from the innovation economy,” says MIT’s Stephanie Couch, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “I go to meet leaders with fresh ideas that fill gaps existing learning opportunities are not designed to address.”

Taking a look at this year’s CLOSE IT agenda for the October 15 and 16 conference, there is an incredible list of participants who are not just attending to hear themselves speak, but to understand what others are doing and how they can work together.

“We have always said 1+1=3, and previous attendees report that lasting relationships and partnerships come out of CLOSE IT each year,” says Jamai Blivin is the CEO of nonprofit Innovate Educate which has produced CLOSE IT for the past seven years.

“What is surprising to me this year,” Blivin says, “is how many C-levels we have attending. Something is different this year, and many of the people attending are bringing their partners in the SHIFT—not just co-workers but funders, partners and implementors to talk about the real nuts and bolts of changing the market together.

Dr. Mary Walshok, Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Programs and Dean of Extension at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) is active across the San Diego basin both with UCSD but also with a range of programs to bring people the training they need to participate in the economy of today.

“Events like CLOSE IT allow people who are committed to enhancing learning across the lifespan in ways that are effective, efficient, and affordable to come together and share ideas and best practices,” says Walshok.

“Even though I’m a senior administrator at one of the world’s leading residential research universities, the sorts of ideas and practices that surface at meetings like CLOSE IT contribute enormously to who we serve with education and how we serve them.”

If you are a company, institution, institute, agency, nonprofit or for-profit with a solution to link parts of the learning-to-work and back-to-training continuum together, this is the right place to be.


Gordon Freedman is president of the National Laboratory for Education Transformation, a research and development nonprofit dedicated to modernizing learning, training, and job-seeking, and a Fellow at National University’s Precision Institute. Previously, Freedman was vice president of global education strategy at Blackboard, Inc.