A Challenge to the Region’s Students: Design the High School of the Future!


Beginning this September, Thrive 2055 and Bright Spark will ask teams of middle and high school students from around the tristate, 16-county region, to design the high school of the future. With their teachers as guides, students will engage in a collaborative process to design a school that uses new ideas about teaching and learning, makes the most of emerging technologies, and emphasizes creativity.  Registration is open until August 18, 2016. To learn more, email Ruthie Thompson at Thrive 2055.

Throughout the school year, the student teams will engage in virtual coaching sessions with designers, reach out to their communities for input, and build a prototype for the school of 2055 or beyond.

So how different could that classroom be?  Think about what classrooms were like 20, 40, even 100 years ago.

The classroom below could have been my grandfather’s, in Illinois, about 1915.



In 1945, when my father was in 8th grade, the cutting edge communications technology was radio.


(We’re wondering where the kid got his shiner.)

In 1955, educational programming was just emerging on a new medium: television.


This is what my high school classroom looked like in 1975, 40 years ago. In this class, we still used sliderules. Electronic calculators were considered cheating.


The classes I took 40 years ago were English, History, Latin II, Geometry, Art, Chemistry, Home Economics and Typing. The year I took typing, the school had just invested in new electric typewriters.

So how much difference do 40 years make? The curriculum has not changed much, but technology has.


In 2015 tablets have replaced typewriters, the blackboard is gone, but it looks like you can still get stuck in your desk if you get up too fast.

What will a classroom look like 10 years from now?


Twenty years from now?


What about 2055? 40 years from now?

Will we need desks?


Will we need walls?


Or even buildings? The design below is a portable, self-powering classroom that can be moved to locations that need it.


This is why we are asking the talented young people of today to design the school of tomorrow. How do we change the region’s education paradigm so that our citizens are ready for the future?

During the process, the design challenge teams will learn creative skills that will help them navigate the rapidly changing job market in our region today.

“Designers collaborate, innovate, empathize, experiment and come at difficult challenges with critical thinking and creativity,” says Jenny Whitener, founder of Bright Spark. “These skills are hugely important for our students and teachers, as they search for ways to thrive in a technologically-rich creative economy.”

We do not know what the future holds, but Thrive 2055 is deeply committed to reaching beyond today and helping our region’s teachers and students succeed.

We’re really looking forward to what they come up with.






American Power


I never feel more American than when I walk into my polling place on election day. The very simple, 10-minute act of exerting my power with pen and paper always makes me feel really good about who I am and where I live. I’m an avid voter and proud of it.

I_votedMy parents started it, way back in 1976, when I voted for the first time at Fort Craig School in Maryville, Tennessee. When I walked out of the voting booth, one of those old, clunky ones with curtains and a pull handle, my parents and three of our neighbors hailed me with applause and cheers. For an 18-year-old with an acting bug, it was all the encouragement I needed to become a lifelong voter.

This morning, it was quiet, no standing ovations, no throngs of campaign volunteers waving signs in front of the church or long lines, like last spring’s Presidential primary. Today I voted in a general election for my school board district, assessor of property and to approve (or disapprove) the governor’s appointments to the state judiciary.  I chose primary candidates for the state legislature and U.S. Congress.

Not terribly glamorous, those votes. But in terms of my power as a citizen, they were immense.

vote_here_gettyWho we choose for a President makes headlines. Our choice for the school board, a county commissioner, a judge or a state representative affects our daily lives. These people make decisions that hurt or help our child’s education or our family business, the people we can call on the phone or call to the carpet for doing something wrong.

The people that we cast a ballot for today have the responsibility for doing the right thing for our families, neighborhoods, communities and the region.

Ten minutes. That’s all it takes. And bring your kids. Polls are open today until 8:00 p.m.

Jenni’s Bucket List


When most people compile their life bucket list, they include things like, “drive a racecar,” “visit the Taj Mahal” or “dance the tango.” For Jenni Frankenberg Veal, a freelance writer with a passion for the outdoors, top on the bucket list was seeing a big, brown, bottom feeding salamander. And last week during a snorkel trip on the Hiwassee River in Polk County, Jenni checked off her item.


Jenni Frankenberg Veal (3rd from right) poses with the Hiwassee Hellbender Club.

Jenni and several other folks from the Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Thrive 2055, the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce, National Park Service and McKee Foods joined the National Forest Service for a guided snorkel trip on the Hiwassee.

The snorkel trips, which are also offered on Citico Creek and the Conasauga River, give us land lubbers a rare glimpse into the extraordinarily rich and colorful world that lies under the surface of our region’s fresh water streams.

“We saw a Hellbender!” crowed Jenni, giddy as she slogged out of the river shallows in a dripping wetsuit. “We actually saw two!”


The Hiwassee Hellbender

Young Ethan Bullock, a trip participant with sharp, 10-year-old eyes, had spotted a juvenile Hellbender, only 4 inches long. He set the tiny creature in his snorkel mask for some pictures and then released it back to the river bottom.


File Jul 25, 4 28 53 PM

Seeing a Hellbender in its native habitat is worthy of a bucket list item. Seeing two, especially a young one, is almost impossible. Though reaching up to two feet in length, the reclusive salamanders hang out on river bottoms and closely resemble the rocks that they hide under. Seeing one in the wild requires stealth and a very sharp eye.

Hellbenders are also becoming rare, even in the rich waters of our tristate region. According to a recent National Geographic article, the salamander, which is native only to the eastern U.S., has been slipping quietly away since the 1980’s. And populations in the northeast and in the Ozarks are declining to the point of endangerment.

“Unlike a lot of other salamanders, [hellbenders] breathe entirely through their skin,” says Kim Terrell, Conservation Biologist with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in the National Geographic article. As a result, Hellbenders require cold, clean water in which to live. The peaceful creatures are extremely vulnerable to silt and pollutants that disturb their pristine environment.

File Jul 25, 4 28 19 PM

So it is good news that Jenni Veal and Ethan Bullock spotted two Hellbenders in the Hiwassee River, which is fed from the clear springs and creeks of the Cherokee National Forest. For our region’s future, the Hellbender could be considered an indicator species. If we do a good job planning how our communities develop, the big, brown salamander and his river cousins will thrive. If we grow with disregard for our natural treasures, especially those that we don’t see every day, then Jenni’s treasure might be lost forever.


To learn more about the Cherokee National Forest’s guided snorkel trips on Citico Creek and the Hiwassee and Conasauga Rivers, read Jenni Frankenberg Veal’s story in Nooga.com.


“Connectography” – Our Region’s Place in the World

Thrive 2055 invites you to take inspiration from a recent New York Times article by global strategist Parag Khanna, about what he calls, “connectography,” his method of looking at the world’s geography as a network of connected infrastructure.


The cover of Parag Khanna’s new book, Connectography

As Mr. Khanna writes about his view of our changing global society, he identifies issues that Thrive 2055 knows will affect the future of our comparatively small tristate, 16-county region:

  • Disconnection of small cities and rural areas from the national and global economy
  • The need to develop our infrastructure beyond local and state boundaries
  • The constraints put upon our local, state and federal governments to work on a regional level

Parag Khanna

He also identifies some of the same priorities for action that our planning initiative identified, specifically, linking our urban centers through better highways, railways and fiber-optic networks, as well as thinking strategically to place transportation and digital hubs in line with global and national corridors.

“To make these things happen requires thinking beyond states,” writes Khanna. “Washington currently provides minimal support for regional economic efforts and strategies; it needs to go much further, even at the risk of upsetting established federal-state political balances.”

Public-private financial partnerships, like some that are already happening in our region, are one of Khanna’s solutions for breaking the political chokeholds that strangle our country’s ability to improve our infrastructure.

A new Chattanooga-based business accelerator, Dynamo, is offering financial incentives for 10 new logistics startups to drive the Chattanooga region toward technological solutions for dangerous freight congestion on our aging and underfunded public roads.


Logistics accelerator, Dynamo.

Local developer John Thornton established his own internet service provider to connect his Jasper Highlands community across the Tennessee state line to the North Alabama Electric Cooperative’s new high speed fiber network. Thornton’s bold move bypassed political inertia in Nashville and he has expressed interest in expanding his services throughout Marion County.

Our region has already been identified as a leader in leveraging our natural treasures for economic development, and Khanna specifically mentions how better connectivity could position the entire Southeast as an agricultural and ecotourism hub.

“Upgraded transportation corridors between New York, Washington and Atlanta could finally lift Appalachia’s isolated and stagnant towns stretching from New York to Alabama by facilitating investment in farms and vineyards, food processing and eco-tourism.”

Khanna emphasizes that the United States has succeeded in the past to identify, fund and build networks that facilitate a prosperous future.  “Congress was once a world leader in TVA_regionregional planning,” he writes. Khanna cites the Tennessee Valley Authority as a positive example of the “federal government’s thinking about economic development at continental scale.”

The 80-year-old big idea that became TVA now connects our 16- county region and beyond, and defines a way of life that we treasure. The Tennessee River Valley provides us with cheap power for home and industry, a vital commercial and conservation corridor and thousands of acres of protected lands on which to play.

As Thrive 2055 moves forward to connect our region to the rest of the world, engaging the voices of our communities to take bold actions and forge unique partnerships will always be our priority. By doing so, we hope that 40, 60 and 80 years in the future, our region will be one with clean water, verdant mountains, sustainable industry and an educated population that has access to assets that will ensure their prosperity.

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategist, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He is also the Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a boutique geostrategic advisory firm, and Co-Founder & CEO of Factotum, a leading content branding agency.

The Six-Minute Choice


Traffic on Missionary Ridge

-By Bridgett Massengill, Thrive 2055 Project Manager

Today I made a choice. Each weekday I commute to work from the rural outskirts of northeastern Hamilton County into downtown Chattanooga. I wrestle stampeding 18-wheelers and congestion through the I-75/I-24 split and the Missionary Ridge cut. Traveling by interstate, it can take me between a half to a full hour to get to work or get home to my husband and children, depending on traffic.

But today I took a different route. I took the side roads, the back roads, the city streets. I meandered through neighborhoods, by churches and playgrounds. At the time, my choice seemed risky, a secret, selfish move that would keep me from the task list on my desk. But like a child sneaking a cookie, I relished every moment of those side roads and arrived to work refreshed.

When I looked at my watch I discovered that my choice had cost me six minutes. Six minutes.


The six minute choice.

Were those six minutes valuable to me? Not as valuable as my state of mind, shed of the stressing traffic on the interstate. The office didn’t fall apart. And truthfully, I can make this choice any time, simply by leaving the house six minutes earlier.

Can you choose your route to work? Can you take an extra three, six or 10 minutes to reduce your blood pressure and get reacquainted with our region’s rural and urban landscapes? As one who has made that choice, I highly recommend giving the side roads a try.

Thrive 2055 is all about choices. By looking ahead 40 years, we can work together to ensure our children and grandchildren can choose their routes, receive a good education, work in jobs that adequately support and enrich them and have the quality of life they deserve.

So, what choices can you make?
If you venture out and take a side road route on your commute, tell us about it!

HOW? Choices for Commuters:google_nav
There are tons of free and low cost smartphone apps that can help you avoid traffic and make your commute less stressful. Here are our picks.
• Bridgett used a free smartphone app called WAZE. It uses GPS tracking and crowd sourced reports to find traffic jams and help you avoid them.
Google Maps gives you the option to avoid highways, take transit, a bicycle or walk. Hint: often the avoid highways option only takes an extra five or 10 minutes, depending on traffic.
• In Chattanooga, the Transit App, also free, shows you how to get around town by using CARTA busses the free downtown shuttle, Uber and Bike Chattanooga. It even pinpoints the location of your next bus; and CARTA busses have free Wi-Fi.
• Reward yourself: if you choose to carpool, telecommute, take the bus, bike or walk to work, Green Trips Chattanooga offers incentives. They also offer incentive programs through employers.
What apps do you use?

What is Your River Story?


Dr. Anna George, Director and Chief Research Scientist for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI), serves on the Thrive 2055 Natural Treasures Initiative. Below is an excerpt of her remarks at the announcement of a new TNACI facility to be constructed along the Tennessee River on Moccasin Bend.

Photos courtesy of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute.
Photo of Tangerine Darter (above) courtesy of Todd Stailey.


TNACI campers do a stream sampling.

What is your river story?

Every year, the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute begins our summer camp for teens by asking them this question. What called them to explore our waters? If they don’t know the answer at the beginning of the week, you can bet they have an answer by the time they snorkel the Conasauga River on the last day.

For more than two decades the Tennessee Aquarium has showcased river stories from our region to more than 20 million people. The truly special moments are when we create a personal connection between our visitors, our exhibits, and each other. Maybe it’s standing in front of the minnows and remembering how you used to seine them for bait as a child. Or maybe it’s a reminder of a camping trip in the Cherokee National Forest. The Aquarium isn’t just a place to learn more about aquatic animals. It’s a place to connect to our stories, and remember the places that fill us with wonder.

Dr. Anna George in her favorite habitat.

Dr. Anna George in her favorite habitat.

One of the things I love about working here in Chattanooga, between the Appalachians and the Cumberlands, is the strong sense of place our community has. This land has been loved by people for a very long time, people who understand that our rivers and our ridges matter, both to our health and the health of the environment

A Conasauga River Logperch

A Conasauga Logperch from the Conasauga River in Tennessee.

The waters around us are teeming with life, that life has incredible value, and that life matters to us. So, we must act to protect it.

We are in a watershed moment; a time when we know our freshwater habitats face unprecedented threats; a time when we risk the loss of so much that matters to us. And in this moment, our community has stood up to proclaim that our river matters, our mountains matter, and our region matters.

We stand here today ready to begin the next chapter of the Aquarium’s story, and that of our community. We are compelled to make our next meaningful contribution to protecting our rivers and streams by constructing a permanent home for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, opening in fall, 2016.


Rendering of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s new home.

Our new building will serve as a convening place, a freshwater field station, a training ground and an educational classroom. It will also serve as the base of operations where those working to protect our natural treasures can come together to act. A place where we will expand our work returning native animals back to their homes in healthy streams and rivers. A place that highlights water-sensitive design. A place where we will raise national awareness that the waters of the Southeast are filled with riches, and that our quality of life matters.

Our place matters. Our work matters. This building matters.
But our community, both above and below the water, matters most.

What part of our regional waters do you cherish the most? What is your river story? 

How We Will Thrive in 2055: The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things came across my desk this morning in a Wired.com article. It has the potential to change every assumption we’ve ever had about our lifestyle.

smart-homeThe Internet of Things (IoT), according to Wikipedia, “is the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and connectivity to enable objects to exchange data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.”

We are already using IoT technology. Have you installed a thermostat on your home heating and air conditioning system that you can control from your smart phone? Now imagine that your home can talk with the National Weather Service and automatically shutter your windows and disconnect your natural gas when a violent storm approaches. Or if the microchip in your dog’s neck can not only identify who he belongs to but also transmit that he’s getting into the neighbor’s garden . . . again!ambulances

What if your heart implant had a sensor that sent a signal to a monitor that said something’s wrong? A cardiology technician could send an ambulance to the location where you were at that moment. The ambulance could trip traffic signals to facilitate a quick trip to the hospital. It could even know when the road was icy by monitoring sensors in the road bed’s concrete.

Predictions from the tech world say that IoT is going to disrupt every familiar paradigm, from how we educate our kids to how CEO’s and CFO’s conduct business. Our power grids will change. Internet security will become huge business.

The IoT also has the potential to preserve our region’s treasured way of life.

honey beeThe IoT will talk to transportation and education systems, offering alternatives to traffic congestion and geographic isolation. What if every small town had a higher education center, where teenagers could access college courses from around the world? What if the new version of a Sears catalog store had a virtual changing room, where you could “try on” your wedding dress? What if your housebound grandmother could order a shared smart car to take her to church or to visit friends?

IoT will monitor our air and water quality, help farmers grow food and maybe even prevent the extinction of our most precious species.

As we look ahead to create a vision for our future, we must consider what this new technology can do for us, our families and our home communities. What if you were a small town mechanic who could order a part for a 1957 Chevy Bel Air at 9:00 a.m. and have it printed at the local auto parts store’s 3D printer by noon?

Change is good, especially when it can help us live the life we love.

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