Category Archives: Morning Blend Interviews

Hip-Hop, Hope – Using Culture to Boost Engagement

Gloria Ladson-Billings is a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has studied the strategies of teachers who succeed with African American students. Ladson-Billings has been doing this for 20 years.

She has recognized hip hop as a primary element of culturally relevant pedagogy.

Professor Ladson-Billings will be in Minnesota on Wednesday, May 13th, to lead a workshop at the University of Minnesota.

Assignment:  Interview Gloria Ladson-Billings about her work in advance of the May 13th event.  A recorded conversation with music examples interwoven through post production could be an engaging Morning Blend feature.




LRT Contractor Has An Intriguing Story

The Metropolitan Council distributed the following profile of a Twin Cities business that is one of the contractors working on Light Rail projects.  Sirish Samba’s story is intriguing, and giving our listeners a chance to hear from this immigrant/entrepreneur/engineer would certainly line up well with KFAI’s mission.

Assignment:  Approach Sirish Samba for a live or recorded interview to be used on the Morning Blend.

Sambatek: Helping build Twin Cities LRT

Sirish Samba’s journey to working on Twin Cities LRT projects started outside a bank in India

Sirish Samba had just finished an undergraduate engineering degree in India in the early 1990s and wanted to attend a university in the United States to earn his master’s degree. But he had grown up the only son in a modest family of seven children and couldn’t afford the move.

“Only the privileged in India go study abroad,” said Samba, the son of an Indian Railways guard, the British term for conductor.

Today, Samba, 44, is the CEO of Sambatek, a 100-employee engineering firm in Minnetonka. The firm is working on the METRO Blue Line Extension LRT Project and has worked on the METRO Green Line and Southwest LRT (METRO Green Line Extension) Projects. Sambatek has thrived in part through its participation in the state’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, but Samba also emphasizes his company’s professional work and experience as keys to its growth.

Samba’s path to employment in the United States and the helm of Sambatek didn’t happen by chance.

For a solid month when he was 21, Samba sat outside the bank in southern India, trying to talk to a key banker each day as he entered the building. Eventually, the banker agreed to meet with him. He informed Samba that the bank didn’t provide student loans.

Samba, a strong student, had already heard from South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. The school had accepted him into its master’s program for an engineering degree and had agreed to let him pay in-state tuition.  But Samba needed a $4,000 loan to help him travel to the United States and enroll at South Dakota State. Once there, he planned to get a job to help pay his way.

“Every day I would go back to the bank and ask for the loan,” Samba said.Seeing Samba’s persistence, the banker relented and provided the loan.

He gained valuable experience working on high-profile projects, including wastewater treatment facilities for the growing city of St. Michael, the Arbor Lakes development in Maple Grove and the Water Park of America in Bloomington.

But the ownership of MFRA was in flux. The former CEO decided to retire in 2000 and pass the firm to four senior managers. After an appraisal, though, he decided to sell the business to an investor. In 2005, MFRA changed ownership again when it was sold to a private equity firm.

As the recession hit, MFRA, which was well known in the Twin Cities as a land development company, found itself burdened with debt. Over time, Samba took a larger role in righting the company’s finances and eventually ended up the majority owner supported by other employee-owners.

The restructured company operated as MFRA and still did development work, but Samba was seeking more civil-engineering related work as well.

At a convention in 2009, Samba met Tracey Jackson, a senior equal opportunity consultant for Metro Transit, who works with DBE firms. Requirements for participating in the DBE program involve limits on personal net worth (less than $1.32 million), a business-size standard set by the Small Business Administration of less than $17.4 million in annual gross receipts and be at least 51 percent minority or woman owned.

For the Green Line Extension LRT Project’s advanced design contract and for the Blue Line Extension engineering contract, the DBE goal is 19 percent.

Samba was apprehensive about participating in the DBE program, but the company qualified and was looking to grow to rebound from the recession.

In recent years, Sambatek won a contract for work on the Interchange project in downtown Minneapolis where all of the LRT lines and Northstar commuter rail come together. His firm is doing survey work on the Blue Line Extension LRT Project. Sambatek was also awarded a master contract from the Metropolitan Council, which essentially puts the firm on call for a wide range of future work.

Paul Danielson, a senior vice president with Kimley-Horn, a nationally known design consulting firm, was introduced to Samba when Kimley-Horn was pursuing preliminary engineering work for the Southwest LRT Project. Surveying was Sambatek’s primary work on the project, Danielson said. “But what’s worked out well is their willingness to jump in and do just about anything we’ve asked,” he said.

That included support for visual simulations along the Southwest LRT alignment, architectural renderings and storm water management analysis.

“They were our number one DBE firm on Southwest LRT,” Danielson said. “They became an extension of our staff.”

Sometimes the two firms compete on projects, sometimes they’re partners, Danielson said. “We trust each other enough to know that we’ll be team partners and at times we might compete head-to-head,” he said.

In 2014, the company changed its name to Sambatek and moved to new space in Minnetonka, near Interstate 494 and Highway 62. “It shows our confidence in the future of the company,” Samba said.

Sambatek is also opening an office in Bismarck, N.D., to support highway projects there.

Samba, who is married with three children, says his success in Minnesota paid dividends back in India. Years ago, he paid back the student loan that made it possible for him to attend South Dakota State. “Even now, when I go back, I sometimes visit with (the banker) because I’m a very grateful person,” Samba said.

His work in the United States has also allowed him to help all of his sisters get married in India, where paying a dowry to the groom’s family is the norm. “That’s where I get my drive,” Samba said, referring to his ability to help his family back home. If all else is failing, he said his background “teaches me to not take no for an answer.”

Samba is a naturalized citizen and calls Minnesota home now.  “I’m grateful to the country and its people, and its systems that provide equal opportunity,” he said. “For a son of a railroad guard to be a consultant for an LRT system, it’s an incredible honor.”

Ebb & Flow – Minnesota’s Population Future

The Minnesota State Demographic Center issued a report last week that details how people are leaving Minnesota for other states.  

The birthrate keeps us moving forward economically with a growing population, in combination with immigrants moving here from overseas.   

Note:  A recent national report says immigrant entrepreneurs boost the economy, here in Minnesota and elsewhere.

As the baby boomers leave the workforce, the state, and eventually, the planet, Minnesota’s birth rate will not be able to keep up and maintaining growth will be a bigger challenge.

Assignment:  File a report or do a series of interviews on the Morning Blend about this new demographic information and  its ramifications.


James Craven as Thurgood Marshall

The Illusion Theater will present a one man show about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, with James Craven starring as the first African American on the court.

Assignment:  Interview James Craven about playing Thurgood Marshall.

Deadlines:  I’d like to get this on the air during the week of March 2.


MARCH 6-15

James Craven stars in the compelling one-man play

The Illusion Theater’s 40th Anniversary Season continues with a powerful play based on the life of Justice Thurgood Marshall, starring one of the Twin Cities’ most venerable actors, James Craven. A journey of epic proportions, Thurgood is an eye-opening, humorous and uplifting portrait of a true American hero on stage March 6-15 at the downtown Minneapolis theater, located on the eighth floor of the Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Ave. Post-show panels and audience discussions follow each performance.

In Thurgood, the story opens with retired Supreme Court Justice Marshall returning to Howard University, where he earned his law degree, to give a speech. He then brings to life significant events and turning points – from his childhood in the back alleys of Baltimore to his career as a civil rights pioneer, and ultimately as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

Illusion’s Co-Producing Director Michael Robins directs the critically-acclaimed show.  He said, “To honor the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the recent 50th anniversary of the Civil Right Act of 1964 and soon to commemorate 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, I’m excited that we are able to bring this potent play to the Illusion stage. It’s fitting that we are spotlighting one of our country’s biggest civil rights champions and are using this production as a catalyst for audience discussion of how his life’s work inspires us today.”

Playwright George Stevens, Jr., is an award-winning writer, producer and director. Thurgood, his stage writing debut, premiered in 2006 at the Westport Country Playhouse (Connecticut) and starred James Earl Jones. The 2008 Broadway production featured Laurence Fishburne, who was nominated for a Tony Award and later starred in the 2011 HBO film of the same name.

In addition to Robins, the Thurgood creative team includes Jonathan Carlson (video), Roberta Carlson (music), Dean Holzman (sets), Mandi Johnson (costumes) and Michael Wangen (lighting).


Tickets for Thurgood are $20-35.  Group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more people. Tickets are available at the Illusion Theater Box Office at 612-339-4944 or online at

2014 Minnestoa Femicide Report

On Tuesday, January 27th, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women will hold a press conference in room 181 of the State office building to talk about last year’s statistics regarding violence against women.

Assignment:  go to the press conference and produce a feature for the Morning Blend.  Or schedule a live Morning Blend interview on this topic.


Since 1989, the Minnesota Femicide Report has provided annual documentation on intimate partner homicides across the state of Minnesota. The 26th release of the Minnesota Femicide Report memorializes the 23 Minnesotans known to be killed due to domestic violence in 2014. The report focuses on significant issues related to the homicides including: murder-suicides, particularly within elderly relationships; the use of firearms; the cross-section of mental health and domestic violence; and the need for expansive intervention and collaboration to support people experiencing domestic violence. The press conference will include a small display of the 2014 Clothesline Project, a visual memorial to the lives lost to domestic violence.
WHO: It is expected that the following people will speak at the press conference:
 Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney
 Bethany, survivor of domestic violence
 Rebekah Moses, MCBW Program Manager in Public Policy
 Becky Smith, MCBW Program Manager in Communications and Public Awareness
Various legislators are expected to attend the press conference.
WHEN: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
WHERE: Room 181, State Office Building

2015 Grant Recipients – Forecast Public Art

Seven artists have been awarded 2015 Grants from Forecast Public Art for mid-career and emerging artists.

Seitu Jones got the largest grant – $50 thousand dollars for a project to develop “a floating platform for artistic and scientific experiences with the overall goal of using art and ecology to foster a greater understanding of the Mississippi River watershed and the public’s role as environmental stewards”.    

A conceptual drawing of the  “Art Ark” is pictured above.

Assignment:  Interview Seitu Jones and/or some of the other artists about their plans and the importance of these grants.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Economic Growth

On January 14th, the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas will release a report on Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Economic Growth: How Immigrant Small Businesses are Supporting Main Street.

Minneapolis is one of the metro areas examined in the report.

There will be a presentation and panel discussion at the AS/COA offices in New York, along with a live webcast.

One of the panelists is Mihailo Temali of the Neighborhood Development Center. 

Assignment: Schedule a live or recorded interview with Mihailo Temali or a representative of the Americas Society about the details of this report.

Contacts at Neighborhood Development Center:
Mihailo Temali, Founder & Chief Executive Officer

Communications & Development
Emily Blodgett, Director of External Communications

Soon-Young Oh, Communications & Resource Development Coordinator

Contacts at the Americas Society:
Adriana La Rotta | | 212-277-8384