RFI Project Update: Building Capacity for the Family Health and Wellness Coalition

Social, environmental and behavioral determinants of health account for 60 percent of a person’s health status. Consequently, community development can influence health and a healthy community has a significant economic impact.

Faculty from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Kansas are honored to work on this RFI-funded project that is focused on building the capacity of the Family Health and Wellness Coalition of Nebraska’s Boone, Colfax, Nance and Platte counties.

With RFI funding, the group of local leaders have the time and space to engage with experts around coalition building that can give them the next level of strategic planning, implementation and evaluation of their efforts to improve community health.

“It’s this type of empowerment that pays itself forward for years to come,” says UNK Professor and RFI Fellow Todd Bartee

More RFI-funded project details >>> 🤓

Happy Holidays From RFI

RFI Staff

Back from left: Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, Shawn Kaskie, Theresa Klein, Katelyn Ideus, Kayla Schnuelle. Front from left: Chuck Schroeder, Lauren Simonsen, Aliese Hoffman, Kim Peterson


As demonstrated by our belief statements, “together with our partners” is not just a filler phrase we use in passing to describe the work we do. Rather, it is an essential, critical element that we all must employ to meet our mission of a thriving high-touch, high-tech rural future.


Thank you to our partners who we can call upon, share with and learn from.




Video Highlights of 2017


We launched RFI Fellows with 26 faculty and community innovation fellows from the University of Nebraska (NU), the state of Nebraska and beyond.


We connected “fierce” rural innovators from Japan with rural experts from NU and Nebraska to learn and share.


Here is an introduction to one of the nine projects we funded this year. There are 50 projects total, all benefiting rural communities in Nebraska and beyond.


We placed student interns in rural communities through 2017 RFI Student Serviceship, and we’re looking forward to 2018!



Support RFI

RFI Project Update: Ending Mental Health Stigma

We’re talking brain health today. In Nebraska in 2014, 1 in 6 adults reported having experienced depression and 1 in 12 reported frequent mental distress. Studies have shown that overall suicide deaths between ages 10 and 24 double in rural areas.

See what researchers from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska and Wayne State College are working on with students to help end mental health stigma for rural college students.

More about RFI’s research and teaching projects >>>

RFI Project Update: Nurturing High School Entrepreneurs, Transforming Local Business Owners

We’re keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive today as we highlight the 2017 RFI-funded research and engagement project, “Nurturing High School Entrepreneurs, Transforming Local Business Owners.”

Led by Nebraska Extension specialist Surin Kim, the project brings together private partners, local businesses and area youth to create a research-based entrepreneurship curriculum focused on developing growth-oriented mindsets and business strategies.

Kim, whose background includes time in product development at Amazon, is determined to empower youth by having them partner with local business owners to solve real-world challenges.

We can’t wait to see what solutions the students create.

More information about all 50 of RFI’s funded research and teaching projects >>>

RFI Project Update: Assessment of and Treatment Applied to Food Addiction

“That’s what I love about the RFI Nexus—is that it sees how we can all be stronger together.” — Martha Stricker, Executive Director of Operations, Regional West Physicians Clinic
This is a collaborative research project between Regional West Physicians Clinic in Scottsbluff, Neb., and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The primary objective is to evaluate the efficacy of four interventions in obese patients with and without food addiction to develop effective, better-targeted interventions to help obese residents in rural communities successfully self-manage their obesity to enable them to live healthier lives and reduce the high cost of treating the comorbidities associated with obesity.
Find out more about RFI’s 50 research and teaching projects >>>

Jeff Yost

Community Innovation Fellow | President and CEO

Nebraska Community Foundation



Jeff Yost is the President and CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF), which is heralded as a national model for empowering community leadership to build and sustain their hometowns. Yost joined NCF in 1998 and became President and CEO in 2003. In the past ten years, NCF and its affiliated funds have grown 17% annually, with total assets now exceeding $125 million. More importantly, NCF is achieving mission fulfillment with its statewide asset-based grassroots model of 225 affiliated fund being led by 1,500 volunteer community leaders. NCF has been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly. Yost is asked to speak frequently and has worked and taught throughout North America and internationally in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.



  • Community Foundations
  • Asset-Based Community Development
  • Community Economic Development


  • Nebraska Community Foundation annual report
  • HomeTown Competitiveness in Nebraska: A ‘Come-Back, Give-Back’ Approach to Community Rural Development Philanthropy framework


  • Sherwood Foundation
  • Peter Kiewit Foundation
  • Ford Foundation
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Amanda Witte

Faculty Fellow | Project Manager | Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools

University of Nebraska–Lincoln



Dr. Witte is the project manager for Learning Frontiers: PreK to Grade 3, a study investigating factors that promote early learning as well as the principal investigator on a pilot project for family-school partnership intervention training for rural educators. She is a key team member at the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools and has contributed to publications and presentations to promote understanding of the benefits of family-school partnerships. Dr. Witte delivers workshops on family-school partnerships to educators and service providers across North America and has led teams conducting large-scale educational research in communities across three states. She has collaborated with approximately 65 school districts to create mutually beneficial research partnerships.



  • Education Psychology
  • Rural Education
  • Family-school partnerships
  • Education Research


  • Doctorate, education, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Research Interests

  • Rural education
  • Rural family-school partnerships
  • Rural educator skills development


  • Holmes, S., Witte, A. L., & Sheridan, S. M. (in press). Conjoint behavioral consultation in rural schools. In K. Michael & J. P. Jameson (Eds.), Handbook on rural school mental health. New York, NY: Springer.
  • Sheridan, S. M., Kunz, G. M., Holmes, S., & Witte, A. (2017). Family–school partnerships in rural communities: Benefits, exemplars, and future research. In G. C. Nugent, G. M. Kunz, S. M. Sheridan, T. A. Glover, & L. L. Knoche (Eds.), Rural education research: State of the science and emerging directions (pp. 269–289). New York, NY: Springer.
  • Sheridan, S. M., Witte, A. L., Holmes, S. R., Coutts, M. J., Dent, A. L., Kunz, G. M., & Wu, C. (2017). A randomized trial examining the effects of conjoint behavioral consultation in rural schools: Student outcomes and the mediating role of the teacher–parent relationship. Journal of School Psychology, 61, 33–53.


  • Principal Investigator. “Collaborative capacity building in rural Nebraska schools via technology: Teachers and parents as partners.” Rural Futures Institute. Grant Total: $49,986
  • Project Manager. “Early Learning Contexts in Rural and Urban Nebraska.” U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Principal Investigator: Susan M. Sheridan. Grant Total: $4,499,878 for five years.
  • Project Manager. “A Randomized Trial of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC) in Rural Educational Settings: Efficacy for Elementary Students with Disruptive Behavior.” U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Educational Sciences. Principal Investigator: Susan M. Sheridan. Grant Total: $2,999,994 for four years.


  • Recipient of $400 travel grant from the Office of Research and Economic Development and the Office of Graduate Studies graduate student poster competition: The Impact of Parent–Teacher Relationships on Student Behavior During Intervention and One Year Later (Witte & Sheridan, 2014)
  • Recipient of the first place prize in the 2013 Rural Futures Conference graduate student poster competition: The Impact of Teacher Motivation for Intervention on Rural Student Behavioral Outcomes (Witte, Holmes, Coutts, & Sheridan, 2013)
  • Recipient of the 2012 Best Article of the Year Award from the National Association of School Psychologists/School Psychology Review: “A Randomized Trial Examining the Effects of Conjoint Behavioral Consultation and the Mediating Role of the Parent-Teacher Relationship” (Sheridan, Bovaird, Glover, Garbacz, Witte, & Kwon, 2012)

Kim Wilson

Faculty Fellow | Professor | College of Architecture

University of Nebraska–Lincoln


Professor Kim Wilson has been a member of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Architecture faculty since 2009. Wilson also has appointments in Nebraska Extension and as the Director of the Landscape Architecture Program. She previously was at Purdue University in the College of Agriculture where she taught community planning and design, and urban design studies, as well as landscape representation using technology.

Wilson has earned 15 teaching awards, conducted more than 65 community-based service-learning projects and received more than $1.6 million in internal and external funding to support engagement through her teaching and research initiatives.

Prior to joining academia, Wilson practiced for more than 25 years for nationally and internationally recognized firms including Sasaki Associates, JJR-Smith Group and Pollack Design Associates where her work received five national design awards. Her current area of emphasis focuses on institutionalizing engagement at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.



  • Bachelor’s degree, landscape architecture, Penn State University
  • Master’s degree, landscape architecture, University of Michigan


  • Landscape Architecture


  • CEEM Project: a new Community Engagement Educational Model, Rural Futures Institute Teaching and Engagement Grant – Funded 2016-18AY, $13,000
  • Rural Community Prosperity Research Project , Rural Futures Institute Research and Engagement Proposal 2016 – Funded 2016-2018, $100,000


  • Wilson, K. and Curtis, S. October 2010. Service-Learning at Purdue University: A Five-Year Assessment: Faculty and Student Grant Programs. Purdue University Press.
  • Wilson, K. L. and Jurich, J. 2008. A longitudinal exploration of reciprocity: the role of commitment in sustaining a successful service-learning course in Ecuador. CELA Proceedings, Tempe, AZ.


  • Elected to Book of Great Teachers, Purdue University
  • Brian Douglas Hiltunen Faculty Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Scholarship of Engagement, Indiana Campus Compact

Milan Wall

Community Innovation Fellow | Co-Director | Heartland Center for Leadership Development

Lincoln, Nebraska



Milan Wall is a founder and co-director of The Heartland Center for Leadership Development, an independent nonprofit organization developing local leadership that responds to the challenges of the future. Based in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Heartland Center is known internationally for its practical resources for rural community survival. A native of North Platte, Neb., Mr. Wall has been a journalist, higher education administrator and independent consultant. He owned a strategic planning consulting firm before he helped to found the Heartland Center in 1985. He is the author of more than a dozen publications on leadership and community development and is a frequent speaker at conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada. Active in community affairs, Mr. Wall is a former member of the Lincoln Board of Education and currently serves on the Board of the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association.



  • Degrees in English and Education
  • Expertise in Community and Leadership Development
  • Experience in Community Engagement/Facilitation
  • Expertise in Research and Evaluation


  • Clues to Rural Community Survival
  • Ten Ideas for Recruiting New Leaders
  • 7 Secrets to Coping with Change in Small Towns


  • CDS Innovative Program Award
  • CDS Community Development Achievement Award
  • UNL College of Education Alumni Excellence Award
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation 75th Anniversary Award
  • Ford Foundation Program Award
  • Blandin Foundation Community Development Curriculum