Between the lines: Our kids = our future

Dawson Public Power District General Manager Gwen Kautz.

Dawson Public Power District General Manager Gwen Kautz.

By Gwen Kautz, General Manager
gkautz at

I think my grandma once (maybe a few dozen times) called me a whipper-snapper. To me, that meant “young and crazy.” I’m starting to face my own version of whipper-snappers. What I thought was impossible once, is possible – all because kids looked at something and said “what if.” What if we did this instead of that.

There have been times that I shake my head at the thought of leaving corporate America, Planet Earth, in the hands of our video-game playing, social-media loving kids. As I lean into retirement, not quite willing to give up the wheel yet, I know it’s inevitable. College was mandatory to get ahead but lately I see a good push, and a valid one, toward technical skills that are getting left behind. On-the-job training was pushed aside for the letters behind a degree.

A couple of years ago, one of Dawson PPD’s own “whipper-snappers” asked to put together a learning lab for the local schools to push mathematics, engineering, technology and science. I gave the go-ahead for the project with the instruction that they had to do fund-raising to get the project off the ground after our initial investment of $10,000. It wasn’t easy and at times I knew they wanted to give up – but they didn’t. Hard work and patience paid off when they approached Orthman Manufacturing to help make the idea a reality.

We raised $75,000 locally (see partners below) and received the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Developing Youth Talent Initiative Grant for $125,000 through the help of Orthman Manufacturing. These funds combined will allow us to put three STEM trailers together for Educational Service Unit 10.

This grant was open to manufacturing or IT businesses and the money raised locally was used in the grant application. But we had other help:

Mid-Nebraska Makerspace Lab logoPremier partners

Premier partners who donated $10,000 were Orthman Manufacturing, Country Partners Cooperative, CashWa Distributing, Central Community College and Dawson Public Power District.


The City of Lexington, Sahling Endowment Fund, Corteva Agriscience and Land O’ Lakes Foundation were partners who donated between $3,000 and $9,999.


Supporters included Loup Valley Rural Public Power District, Howard-Greeley Rural Public Power District, Hornaday Manufacturing, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, Applegate Fund for Teachers and Bayer Agri Science. Each donated an amount around $750 to $2,999.

The Mid-Nebraska Makerspace Labs will travel throughout school districts in a 10-county area of central Nebraska to educate at least 3,300 students on manufacturing and industry-related concepts. The trailers will remain at each school for two weeks during the academic year. As part of the project, local business professionals will also work with students on projects intended to build mentoring relationships.

Students will experience new technology like a CNC (computer numerical control) machine, virtual welding, pneumatics, virtual reality and computer coding. The trailers are inspired by the Nebraska Public Power District’s STEM Connections Lab.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that playing video-games wasn’t a complete waste of time for some of our youth. Those skills are translating into various fields – for example, using drones to patrol power lines or damage to utility systems from storms. Finding that “Easter egg” in software is paying dividends. If you don’t know what an Easter egg is (not the ones we dye), ask a kid. It means digging deeper into something and finding MORE value. When I find an Easter egg in a software game, it comes as a surprise. When the kids find them it’s because they know MORE is possible and push the limits to gain the advantage.

Letting go is never easy but always necessary if we are to develop our kids into the leaders they need to be – leaders they want to be. Stepping aside will not be the hard part. Trusting them to handle our collective future might be. I see my own grandchildren taking charge of small things and succeeding – so I know great things are just around the corner – just ask Alexa. Who in their right mind would ever think I’d be talking to a hockey-puck?


August 2019

What our customers say

An informed customer is our greatest asset.