In another slight departure from our weekly Kruse Scholar blog series, we asked Lowell Kruse, COE 2026 Board Chair and co-founder (along with his wife Leslie) of the Communities of Excellence Scholarship to contribute.
Many of you have been following blog posts being made by Kruse Scholars. I would generally describe these Scholars as examples of our country's best and brightest "emerging leaders". Scholars are either undergraduates from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, So Dak. or Graduate students (or recent grads) from the University of Minnesota.
Scholar activities during their student years include participating in a basic Baldrige 101 orientation, meeting regularly as a group to discuss the application of a quality systems framework and systems thinking applied at the community level and working on a related project of some sort. They also attend Brian Lassiter's annual PENWORKS Conference in Minneapolis in April of each year to hear from recent National Baldrige Quality Award recipients and various other organizations currently on their own quality journey.
At its core, Communities of Excellence 2026 is devoted to adapting the Baldrige Framework for use by entire communities. It's in the community the children are educated, jobs are created, health improves (or doesn't), adequate housing and safe streets exist, etc. Our country can only improve when our communities improve. There are no other options. And, we can only improve the performance of communities if we begin to think of them as complex organizations and begin to govern and lead them in a way that reflects that understanding. Baldrige has the ideal framework to guide that improvement process...and students are in the ideal place to introduce that thinking!!
Lowell Kruse, Chair, Communities of Excellence 2026