This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Five!

Alliance, Neb.

“I think this experience has allowed residents to think about the assets they have in their community because it’s not something you think about every day when you live here. I know it has made me think about what I value in my home community.”


The past two weeks in Box Butte County have flown by! We are very fortunate that Scott Frost, Matt Davison and Bill Moos came to town for an afternoon! We got to listen to them all speak and then got a picture with Scott Frost. We also got to meet former Husker Jordan Hooper, who is originally from Alliance.

We gave a presentation at The Perfect Blend with BBDC meeting at First National Bank where we introduced ourselves and told everyone a little bit about us and the Marketing Hometown America project. We also had our Marketing Hometown America public action forum where the public voted on what needs to be done in the next coming years in order to retain and attract new residents to Box Butte County. Chuck Schroeder, Theresa Klein, Helen Fagan, and the new RFI intern Karina from the Rural Futures Institute also visited Alliance this past week! We got to talk and catch up with them as well which was nice!

Haley and Mirissa pose with Scott Frost during his visit to Alliance, Neb.

Mirissa and Haley snap a selfie at the Perfect Blend with BBDC Meeting.

Box Butte County resident Ellen Lierk said, “In the month Mirissa and Haley have been in Box Butte County, they have been a catalyst inspiring us to look at our community and its strengths through their eyes. We look forward to the photos and video they are creating to help us better tell our story. Their enthusiasm, work ethic and positivity is contagious!” Ellen is a former teacher, guidance counselor, business owner, economic developer and pastoral minister.


The project has been coming along great. We have come up with hashtags for every town in Box Butte County. They are: #OurAlliance, #HemingfordisHome, and #BountifulBerea. We have also been working on hashtags for other various places around the county like Carhenge, Knight Museum and Sandhills Center and the Alliance Recreation Center. We have taken pictures and video all over both Alliance and Hemingford and have scheduled to take pictures and video in Berea. We have also started to do some editing on the videos we have taken thus far.

“The community of Alliance has invested in us, which in turn has us investing in the community through creating a passion and defined purpose in our project.”






McCook, Neb.

Before meeting with the High Plains Museum Board to gauge readiness for change, present our ideas and get feedback, we scheduled individual meetings with the board members. We found it much easier to ask them questions and share our ideas once we had established relationships. They were kind enough to welcome us into their homes or make time to meet us at Sehnert’s, the local coffee and deli hot spot. With each conversation, we got a better taste of McCook’s history.

“More than anything, these last few weeks have taught me that collaboration is key. Making the right connections, being willing to listen and really soak in the wisdom of these rural community leaders is a reward that can’t be replicated elsewhere.”



Emily and Sage pose in the Classic Car Collection and Trails and Rails Museum during their museum road trip around central Nebraska.

Between meetings with board members, we developed an online survey for community members that was boosted on a few of McCook’s social media pages. We gathered over 100 responses that were so helpful in understanding the community’s vision for the museum! Carol Schlegel, our lead mentor, was vital in this process, as she advised us to ask community members similar questions in person. We took her advice and decided to walk up and down Norris Ave, the McCook main street. After going in and out of businesses, we gained even more insight on prioritizing the plan of action for the museum and were able to become more familiar with some friendly faces!

In preparation for the High Plains Museum Board meeting, Carol also took us on a road trip to three more museums! We were able to speak with Kearney’s Tourism Director, Roger Jasnoch, as he guided us through the Classic Car Collection and Trails and Rails Museum, where we met Director Jennifer Murrish. Here, we gathered several ideas for exhibit presentation, sustainable board leadership, and museum donation logistics to bring back to the High Plains Museum. Following our tour of Kearney museums, we buzzed over to Holdrege to the Nebraska Prairie Museum. The enthusiastic director, Dan Christensen, shared with us his passion for the museum and advice on bringing in future generations.

After sharing the results of the surveys and useful tips from other museums at the board meeting, we were able to compose a collective list of which exhibits need to be phased in first. We also got the go-ahead on a couple of our ideas, which meant we were ready to start creating a draft of the museum layout! We drew a couple sketches, brainstormed how to best utilize the space, and did some price checking that we will present to the new High Plains Museum Creative Committee. We will meet with this committee every other week to get consistent feedback.

“At every stage in life, we must accept change and take it on with a heart full of courage. This summer, we have left our ordinary worlds to get out of our comfort zones, find new mentors and jump over unfamiliar hurdles. As we sat down with the RFI staff that traveled to McCook this week, I was reminded that experiences such as serviceship are when deep change really happens.”





Neligh, Neb.

Michayla assists community members prepare breakfast for Tour de Nebraska.

In the last two weeks, we have been going to meetings and working on immediate projects. We’ve also been planning Tour de Nebraska which has somewhat put our other projects on hold. Our mapping reports are set to be done by Thursday of next week so we can start on next step of identifying steps moving forward for the 5 and 10 year plans. We have also been out in the community interviewing members for our video series. Tour de Nerbraska came through Neligh for their first day of travel On Wednesday, Jun. 20. We had to plan where people were going to camp, coordinate the scavenger hunt around Neligh and help coordinate events. We made calls and visits to all the people helping us make the day successful.

In the end, Tour de Nebraska was a success. After all the planning, we made it! It was a long couple of days full of questions and quick changes. We started at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday by preparing eggs and sausage. We made 20 pounds of sausage and 800 scrambled eggs. We had help from community members including the mayor and his wife. It took a couple hours to make all the eggs and sausage; we also set up the kitchen as prep. We then put out road signs to warn drivers to watch for cyclists (courtesy of Blackburn Manufacturing, a Neligh business.) Wednesday morning, we set up a welcome tent at our office and directional signs all over town.

Because of the unexpected rain, there were some details that were not clear for the early cyclists. We soon got it figured it out. The new camping spot for people who were not brave enough to endure the wet park was at the high school, this is also where we moved a lot of the other events. We stayed at the school to direct people on where to put items and give food and entertainment directions. We went around to businesses and museums to take pictures and meet people, and along the way we shuttled people around town.

With the influx of over 500 people in town, the small businesses were a bit overwhelmed. When we walked in to Sly’s, the local bar and grill, there was literally not an empty seat in the place. It was chaotic but fun. We soon noticed that a couple of the people behind the bar obviously did not work there, based on the sheer confusion on their faces but were doing their best to help. One of them looked like a biker, and by asking her questions one by one, we learned she was: 1.) a biker on the tour 2.) had never bartended 3.) was just doing her best to help out. Finally curiosity won over the hesitation to ask her more. We learned that she was a trained nurse from Norfolk, Neb. who researches new drugs for one of the auto-immune disorders that Rhiannon has, and is a mom that currently lives in Gretna. It proved  that leaders can be anyone and that everyone has a story worth telling as long as you are brave enough to ask what it is. We found out time and time again this day that people will gladly tell you about themselves; all you have to do is ask the right questions.

“Everyone has a story. It just takes one little courage to ask, but the reward is always worth it.”




Thursday morning we served breakfast and said goodbye to our favorite riders. Then we took leftovers to all the businesses around town that supported us.

One of the smaller projects we have been working on are marketing materials. Our short videos are posted on Neligh Economic Development and Neligh Nebraska Facebook pages every Wednesday and Friday starting this week. We created new social media content for the Chamber Raffle

Also, Neligh is the Flag Capital of Nebraska, so on Jun. 14, we spent the a couple hours putting out miniature American flags. We have had multiple meetings as well. We had a City Counsel Meeting on Jun. 12, where we discussed golf cart laws and town projects including down town realizations. The next day we had the Clearwater Village meeting. Other meetings included Economic Development Meeting, Northeast (ED) Network Meeting, Senator Breeze Forum, a grand-reopening celebration and a monthly business open house put on by the Chamber.

“I am starting to truly feel like a rural Nebraskan. Being from a city there are a lot of things that have come as a culture shock. It’s the little things that make me feel a lot more connected to the community.”





Seward, Neb.

Maddie poses at Seward’s very first Cultural Festival on Jun. 8. 

Overall, we would say that it has been quite an exhilarating five weeks. The first two weeks were full of nervousness about what event we were going to help create, as we were given the freedom to create anything we wanted with the condition that it stayed sustainable and manageable for folks after we depart Seward County in August. We knew it had to be something informal and approachable, since that is probably the best way to attract as many newcomers and residents as we can. After many thought trial and errors, we decided that it had to be an event that emphasized the epitome of summer—ice cream. We hope that our event goes as planned and that we get feedback that can help us improve the other two installments of this newcomer event extravaganza.

There has been a lot that we have done in the past five weeks. We met with dozens of leaders in the community and have been able to solidify our ideas for our Seward County newcomer event. We also had Seward’s very first Cultural Festival on Jun. 8. Also on this day is when the Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) came through and stayed in Seward. It was a perfect day to host them, but also host the festival.

Overall, we believe BRAN and the Cultural Festival was a success. The food trucks were amazing, the beer garden and the 80s cover band, AMFM, were also a HUGE success. A lot of people favored the beer garden and concert and wanted us to do it every month! Our responsibility during the festival was to stand by the blocked off roads and let people out that were still parked on the street.

Then during the festival, we had the opportunity to announce the cultural dancers such as, the Ponca Tribe and the Lincoln Irish Tap Dancers. We also had to opportunity to express our views on 104.9 Max Country and talk briefly about RFI, its mission, and the Cultural Festival. This was a great way for people to learn about what were involved in, and learn about RFI. Later in the evening we assisted in verifying IDs and registered cash at the entrance of the beer garden! People danced the night away until almost 11:30 pm. Overall, it was a fantastic event and hopefully Seward can do it again next year!

Raghav is interviewed about his RFI Serviceship for 104.9 Max Country.

Then during the festival, we had the opportunity to announce the cultural dancers such as, the Ponca Tribe and the Lincoln Irish Tap Dancers. We also had to opportunity to express our views on 104.9 Max Country and talk briefly about RFI, its mission, and the Cultural Festival. This was a great way for people to learn about what were involved in, and learn about RFI. Later in the evening we assisted in verifying IDs and registered cash at the entrance of the beer garden! People danced the night away until almost 11:30 pm. Overall, it was a fantastic event and hopefully Seward can do it again next year!

The event that we have been working on so far is a Newcomer Ice Cream Social that will be held on Jul. 15, 2018, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Seward Bandshell. This event is being held on National Ice Cream Day and we will be providing FREE ice cream to any resident of Seward County. During our event at 7:30 p.m., the Seward Municipal Band will be playing. They play every Sunday evening during the summer. We have a lot of volunteers and two big sponsors. Lee’s Refrigeration will be providing the ice cream and two ice cream machines. They will set them up for us and tear them down. Also, Seward Kiwanis Club is being very generous and providing the cups, spoons, sprinkles, chocolate syrup and bottled waters. Some Kiwanis Club members will also volunteer to serve ice cream! We also have about six of our Meet & Greet members who will be there to introduce themselves and welcome newcomers to Seward.

“We hope that our Newcomer Ice Cream Social event goes as planned and that we get feedback that can help us improve the other two installments of this newcomer event extravaganza.”



This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Four!

Black Hills Energy

Black Hills’ Technicians Ashley and Ryan, 10/11 meteorologist Brad Anderson, Serviceship intern Emily Coffey, Black Hills’ Community Affairs Manager Brandy Johnson and 10/11 Reporter Lance Shwartz at 10/11 News’ annual “Can Care-a-Van” food drive.

Over the last few weeks, Black Hills has welcomed a number of new interns to the company. Although many are located at the corporate headquarters in Rapid City, South Dakota, there are interns throughout the region, specializing in everything from Human Resources to engineering. In July, headquarters will be hosting all of us for their annual “Intern Week,” during which we will have the opportunity to network, present our individual projects and learn more about Black Hills.

One of the internal programs at Black Hills is their Ambassador Program. These employees are the face of the company at volunteer events and present to various groups throughout the community about natural gas safety. Recently, I was able to join them for 10/11 News’ “Can Care-a-Van,” an annual food drive which takes place in communities throughout Nebraska.

In the meantime, I’ve been busy here in Nebraska! My main focus over the past few weeks has been building out a communications schedule for Black Hills, including news releases and social media. I’ve been especially interested in sharing safety and energy-saving tips to Black Hills’ customers via Twitter. As a natural gas consumer myself, I’ve already begun to implement some of these habits. For instance, if you run a full cycle in the dishwasher, you’ll save more hot water and energy than if you did the dishes by hand; who could complain about that?

“Service and Operations Technicians are the cornerstone of Black Hills Energy. Shadowing one of Black Hills’ Service Technicians was an absolute blast, and it gave me greater appreciation for them, both as an employee and as a customer!”



While my typical work day takes place in the office, I finally got the chance to do a “ride along” with a Service Tech earlier this week. I spent the morning assisting him with meter turnoffs and appliance inspections. I was even able to help him replace a furnace motor and fan! I had so many questions and so much to learn; I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and wish that I could do it again.



Broken Bow, Neb.

Leanne and Jessica get interviewed by NTV. Check out their interview >>>

Things in Broken Bow are still going great! We have met more and more people, and it is getting easier for people to recognize us. Our main project with recreation is still coming along. We hosted our first coffee with the community event on Monday, Jun. 4, and two more that following week. Meeting members of the community and different organizations, such as the Rotary Club, has been very eye opening. It is great to hear their opinion and how much they love their town. We have decided to do a recreationally focused survey to get more input that people would rather give anonymously. We met with stakeholders from Adams Land and Cattle, as well as Sargent Pipe, to get their opinions on what recreational additions would help the community.

NET came to the community of Broken Bow for a segment on the new library here but stuck around for something they call “Town Talk.” During this talk, community members came together to talk about the things they are most proud of and some of the “jewels” in town and county that people may not know about. This was a great time for everyone to voice their opinions about the station.

NTV visited the town and did an interview of us for the news. We were able to talk about the RFI Serviceship program, as well as our projects, our upcoming coffees with the community, and future goals when we graduate college.

“I have really learned how to have conversations with different demographics about the same topic. This is a life-long tool that I will use in future careers. It’s really the little things that we are all learning in our communities that are going to pay off the most.”



Leanne and Jessica pose with the community listeners of the NET Town Talk in Broken Bow, Neb. Photo credits: William Anderson, NET

Our project with tourism and Sturgis has taken off as well. We have been in touch with many of the main sponsors of the rally such as Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. Our next step is going to businesses around town to see if they would be willing to participate in a coupon book that we can send to vendors in South Dakota to pass out. We have also been doing surveys with small groups of motorcycle friends and reached out to several Christian Motorcycle Association groups in Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte and Lincoln.

We have also been keeping busy with various community events. We attended Summer Celebration one evening where awards were given out to some local businesses and people on their achievements and work in the community. Last weekend our community hosted “Hear Nebraska” which featured live bands, and the community made it a weekend celebration with various events they put on. Events ranged from a community quilting project at the visitors’ center, to a skateboard demonstration, to a local street dance.



Columbus, Neb.

“The Serviceship experience has offered me a chance to dig into the industry and learn what it takes to be a community developer, in a city of 22,0000 people. To do it–and do it right–you really have to have a passion for it.”


Columbus continues to inspire, entertain, and impress us. Each day brings a new face, a new opinion, and a new idea.

We were able to attend the Diversity and Inclusion Summit hosted by the Chamber. We got to hear about recruitment, inclusion, how technology is making a difference in inclusion and innovative problem solving. KC Belitz, president of the Chamber, said that the goal of this summit was to encourage Columbus to “create one community instead of two.” Then he joked, “We can’t afford two!” Diversity and Inclusion will be a focus during Young Nebraskans Week here in Columbus.

Clayton and Amber celebrate national doughnut day in the Columbus Chamber Office!

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” So, we have made sure to have some fun. The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors a monthly Interns’ Night Out for all interns in the area during the summer. This month’s activity included a catered dinner and line dance lessons by a local dance instructor. About 25 interns joined us for this great night out on the town!

Finally, we spent the last week touring schools in Columbus. Not only did we build some important relationships, but we saw that the community has been able to build a market-driven curriculum for the schools. Each school has responded to a separate need demonstrated by the businesses in Columbus, resulting in impressive classrooms and labs, including STEM, STEAM, robotics, agriculture, and even hydroponic programs. As Kristen Hoesing, Admissions Director of Central Community College, said, “CCC will not do something unless it is needed by the industry.” From growing food for their own kitchens to growing trained employees for the local industries, these schools are making Columbus a self-sustainable community.

“Some days are ultra-productive while others are, well, less than stellar. But ultimately, the one question you should ask yourself at the end of the day is whether or not you have set yourself up for success the next day.”




Cozad, Neb.

Christy and Shelby meet with University of Nebraska–Lincoln Husker Volleyball head coach John Cook.

Hustle – that’s what the last two weeks have been like for us. Between our first and second rounds of Music Monday and the Nebraska Economic Developers Association (NEDA) Conference in Gothenburg, Neb., we have been constantly on the move.

Music Mondays have had absolutely rave reviews. It is so encouraging to see a community come together for music and food – not just once, but weekly. The concerts have attracted people of all ages; everyone from young children to the residences of the assisted living facility, Meadowlark Pointe. We are very grateful for the many community members and city workers who volunteer to help us set up and tear down the temporary fencing and picnic tables. The attendance of Music Mondays has been outstanding and is continuing to increase. The first week we had 275 guests and this week we had almost 400! Music Mondays have been so successful we’ve had to book additional food trucks to accommodate everyone. The musicians we have hosted so far are Formally Three, Samantha Schutte and Lana Greene.

We are building some strong relationships with our lead mentor and other community members which makes the hard work we are doing purposeful and fulfilling.

The Biz Kids launch their businesses at Music Monday.

Our lead mentor, Jen McKeone, was the host of the annual NEDA conference held this year in Gothenburg. Over 150 economic developers from across the state and investors from across the country attended. During this jam-packed week, we had the opportunity to go on the Central Public Power District water tour. We saw several facilities responsible for providing irrigation water for farmers, as well as the Keystone Hydroelectric Plant at Lake McConaughy. We toured the Monsanto Water Utilization Learning Center in Gothenburg where they research how to best crop crops under different stressors. NEDA conference was a great networking opportunity and a time to exchange unique ideas with other developers.

Friday we will be hosting our three finalists for ‘Pitch It Cozad: Win This Space’ for their final presentations. We have a selection committee of 11 sponsors and partners that will be judging the proposals. Each finalist has submitted a completed business plan and will explain how they would launch a successful enterprise in downtown Cozad. The overall goal of ‘Pitch It’ is to attract unique and sustainable businesses to Cozad as well as support and encourage local entrepreneurship. This is done by providing space, capital, and start-up professional assistance. The total prize package is valued at over $20,000.




Omaha Land Bank

The Omaha Land Bank Staff eating at a locally owned café, Harold’s Koffee House, in the Historic Florence part of Omaha, Neb.

Sydney and Kyle are ending week four in Omaha, NE with lots of new knowledge and meetings under their belt. Sydney and Kyle’s colleagues took them for a tour around Omaha last Friday afternoon and Omaha was even bigger than they had imagined. Between the busy traffic and large amount of ground to see it took them four hours to see only one part of the big city, North Omaha. Sydney and Kyle saw boulevards with gorgeous houses lining both sides of the street, revitalized neighborhoods with booming businesses, and new parks being built in multiple places. This redevelopment and progression in these North Omaha neighborhoods are in large part due to non-profit organizations like the Omaha Land Bank.

Sydney had the opportunity to attend the United Way of the Midlands, Heartland 2050 Summer Summit on the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus where she had the privilege to meet and hear many of the non-profits involved in the revitalization of Omaha neighborhoods speak. Sydney learned that there are multiple organizations that are involved in making Omaha neighborhoods a desirable and family-oriented place to be.

“Everyday is a new adventure at the Omaha Land Bank. There is not a day where I am doing the same thing. Between meetings, conferences and consulting appointments, I am learning more than I had dreamt of.”



Kyle and Sydney take a tour around the Metro Community College campus’ new Construction Education Center.

The two interns also had an incredibly busy morning on Wednesday this week with the monthly mandated meeting of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank Board of Directors. The Board met to discuss the acquisition of new properties and the strategy that would go with the new development as well as approved the sale of the homes we earlier watched go on auction. It was enjoyable to see the end process come together. Being at the board meeting we were able to meet both voting and nonvoting members who all hold important roles within the community from nonprofit organizations, bankers, developers, and the president of the city council.

Following the OMLB board meeting we were able to tour the Metro Community College campus’ new Construction Education Center. This brand-new building is a way that students working towards their certifications in trades like plumbing, and HVAC have the opportunity to work on a capstone project in which a full-scale home is built and then sold to the community. In partnership with the landbank, the first house out of the new building will go on a Land Bank vacant lot and be a 1600 sq. ft home with a two-car garage.

This will help in the redevelopment of North Omaha and the area around Metro Community College’s Fort Campus. The partnership will enable new homes to be put out at a competitive rate and eventually get up to three homes per year out into the community. What we saw this week was a much closer look at the governing structures of the land bank and various ways in which it is a key player in revitalizing areas of North Omaha and the city at large.

Individually, Kyle was able to spend a great deal more time diving into the foreclosure process and develop additional responsibilities in the overall process. By the end of the summer the first batch of 500 new properties will be coming into the Land Bank and be up for sale to the community to help spur redevelopment. Looking even further into the future, Kyle will be using this opportunity to stay involved in the Land Bank as he will be doing a project next summer for his MPA capstone project to help highlight the actual impact the land bank has had in the city in a short period of time.

“My favorite part of working at the Land Bank is knowing that every day my work is actually making a difference in creating a better community to live in. By working towards acquiring these properties for transformation shows just how much goes on behind the scenes to make the city a better place to live.”




Norfolk, Neb.

Cheyenne Gerlach and Samantha Guenther are in Norfolk for their RFI serviceship internship. For the first five weeks, we are working to tell the story of Daycos. Daycos is unique in that they are a for-profit AND for-good business. It is our job to capture what Daycos does, how they do it, and why they do it in hopes of informing and inspiring others to possibly do the same. The overarching goal of our project with Daycos is to come up with a way to re-brand Daycos’ for-good movement, Daycos4Good, as simply intertwined with Daycos as a whole. We will be creating video, web content, and written publications to help portray this message.

For the second five weeks, we are working to promote the retail and service sector of the Norfolk community for the visitors bureau. We will be acting as “secret shoppers” to get an inside scoop on how business owners and employees are welcoming and promoting Norfolk through their business. We will also be doing a “windshield assessment” of businesses in Norfolk to gain a better understanding of how it can be improved. Then, we will be working to help make those improvements to strengthen the retail and service sector.

“By being surrounded by rural leaders with a vision and drive to make an impact, I am challenged to think innovatively, act on opportunities and build my leadership skills every day.”



During the past two weeks, we have finished the interviews with Daycos stakeholders and have a solid grasp on the impact that Daycos is making on customers, employees, community, and in the company. Our next steps will be creating three videos that capture who Daycos is, how they do it, and why. Additionally, we have set goals to systemize the hiring process to be in line with the Daycos company and culture and have plans to create a visual map of goals and accomplishments. To wrap up our time with Daycos, we will be facilitating a company meeting to present our work and develop a solid understanding within the company of what Daycos is.

We have also become involved in the Norfolk community. Norfolk hosted a “Welcome Week” where we participated in many events like a picnic at Tahazouka and fun at Skyview Lake event. Community members have reached out to us many times to invite us to young leaders meetings and have made a welcoming and supportive impact on us.

Overall, we have dived into our work at Daycos with new opportunities and skills to take advantage of everyday. We are building skills like communication, innovative thinking, and videography through our daily work. We are excited to share our work with the entirety of Daycos and look forward to seeing the difference we can make with the visitor’s bureau.



Red Cloud, Neb.

Trevor discusses grant writing and non-profit work with Red Cloud, Neb., bookstore owner Peter Osborne.

The third week in Red Cloud was just as exciting as the first two. We attended and helped with the 63rd annual Willa Cather Conference. The theme for the conference was the 100th Anniversary of My Ántonia, arguably Willa Cather’s most successful book. It was the most attended conference in history, as around 200 English teachers, college professors, and well-read citizens came to town. We had an exciting day Saturday as Trevor drove all the way to Lincoln at 6 in the morning to retrieve the banquet’s entertainment, John Reed-Torres, a ragtime piano player out of Los Angeles. Then, Trenton drove him back to Lincoln late that night.

In the beginning of the next week we began preparing for the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN). A whopping 350 bike-riders, 50 support staff, and 50 family members were going to be tent-camping in the city park on June 6th after a 50-mile ride from Alma. The day before they arrived, we took a trip to Alma to hand out fliers about Red Cloud’s activities awaiting the riders. We helped coordinate with local businesses and groups who would be setting up food stands or hosting many of the night’s guests. The first riders crossed the city limits just before 9:00 Wednesday morning and were all in by 3:00 in the afternoon, increasing Red Cloud’s population by 50%!

We got to drive a tour bus around the city and surrounding areas showing off some of Red Cloud’s historic sights. Two of the other Serviceship pairs are hosting the riders in McCook and Seward. We will see soon who wins best host community!

“It is incredible how much activity there is in a town of 1,000. The amount of time and effort given by the community is just as astounding and the biggest reason the city has been making such positive strides”


Starting this week, we got rolling on economic development. Now that we’ve learned just about everything there is to know about Red Cloud and experienced some of the biggest events in the community, we began plotting a path forward. We are tackling three problems the city is currently facing: housing, business development, and quality of life. There are a significant number of vacant and run-down homes in the community along with drastically low home values. Dealing with this problem will take coordination from many of the city’s organizations including the City Council, Board of Public Trust, and Historic Preservation Commission. As for businesses, we are looking to fill main street with small businesses and remain competitive for any other opportunities that might come. The city’s incentive package will need to be greatly bolstered to develop this. Finally, we’re making recommendations for increasing the number of parks and trails, improving infrastructure, and helping the school system prosper.

Trenton and Trevor snap a selfie on the “selfie spot” in the Willa Cather Center.

This week we met with Brian Hoff the Red Cloud Community Schools superintendent and discuss coming changes with the school system and issues they have had to face in the past including low enrollment, near consolidation, and renovating a 100-year-old high school.

The prevalence of history in Red Cloud and the development of a strong tourism industry add a unique element to the housing issues here. Razing every abandoned house isn’t an option because so many have historical relevance. The brick streets which make up a few blocks downtown are cherished by many local residents but despised by many others. And, maintaining century old storefronts is not an easy task, especially for small businesses without a significant budget. We are trying to balance the historical presence with advances in modern housing and infrastructure.

Our final event of the week was going around to local businesses asking for donations and sponsorships for the Good Living Tour. In early July, four bands from around the state will be performing for the city—the third year in a row the event has come to Red Cloud!

Catch Up With Chuck Wraps Up Episode 30 with RFI Communications Team

Jun. 15, 2018

In the final episode of Catch Up With Chuck, Chuck is joined by show producer and RFI Director of Communications Katelyn Ideus as well as show production specialist and RFI communications intern Katy Bagniewski to discuss the goals and results of the show.

Katelyn graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Journalism & Mass Communications with a bachelor’s in news editorial and broadcast journalism and a master’s in integrated media communications. As the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Rural Futures Institute, Katelyn develops the strategic communications plan for the institute, delivering stories about the successes earned, innovations created and solutions found by rural communities around the world. She also shares the University of Nebraska’s research, resources and expertise for these communities.

Katy will enter her fourth year as an agricultural and environmental sciences communication major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in August. Katy, a rural Minnesota native, has a passion for elevating voices around social justice issues through multimedia content. She passionately tells the story of the Rural Futures Institute and rural communities throughout Nebraska and beyond because she believes that viewing rural challenges, issues and opportunities as a social justice concern is important.


Rural roots aren’t needed in order to care about rural places, because rural and urban collaboration starts with a collaboration of thought.


Communications Intern, Rural Futures Institute

The Rural Futures Institute’s purpose is to bring together the RFI nexus of students, faculty researchers and community leaders on critical topics for rural communities. According to Katelyn, producing a Facebook Live show made the most sense for giving Chuck a platform to utilize his speaking talents and energy to discuss important rural topics weekly with great convenience.

Through Catch Up With Chuck, the Rural Futures Institute earned nearly 80,000 minutes of viewing time and more than 100,000 unique viewers. The RFI team built great relationships with the show’s guests and created a wide body of work from which additional insights can be pulled.


The real goal of Catch Up With Chuck was to be able to pull together the RFI nexus, faculty researchers, students and community leaders, in a way that was really comfortable and conversational.


Director of Communications, Rural Futures Institute

The success of Catch Up With Chuck can be attributed to the RFI team, engaging guests and viewers of the show. All 30 episodes will remain available on the RFI Facebook page and at for the foreseeable future.

The Rural Futures Institute recently launched “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” a podcast exploring the intersections of technology and what it means to be human as our high-tech, globalized world continues to collide with the values, principles and ethics of humanity. Join Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, associate executive director and chief futurist at RFI, and her guests who are smashing barriers for the sake of a thriving rural-urban future as they dive into the currently polarizing narratives of the rural-urban divide, technology development and the future of work on this weekly podcast. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher and more; like, subscribe and rate if you get hooked!


Catch Up With Chuck is Facebook Live series with Rural Futures Institute Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder. Airing most Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. (CST) on RFI’s Facebook Page, Chuck uses this time to discuss critical rural topics and the latest about RFI while answering viewers’ questions. Stay in touch with Catch Up With Chuck and the Rural Futures Institute through Facebook and Twitter. We will be back soon with another episode looking at rural people and places, success stories, innovators, thinkers and doers who are making rural communities a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living.


Episode 3: Professor Tom Field intersects entrepreneurship, higher ed, purpose




Tom Field, Ph.D., Director of the Engler Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, discusses his mission to empower students and communities to courageously pursue their purpose through the form and art of entrepreneurship. Throughout his academic career this cowboy from western Colorado has spoken out about the needed transformation of higher education—a deep internal exploration that results in the unleashing of the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of the student. During their conversation, Dr. Connie and Dr. Field discuss the exploding side-gig economy, creating the next generation of action-oriented innovators and key takeaways for budding, starting and experienced entrepreneurs.


“The leader in the future will be responsible for attracting talent, and then for empowering that talent, getting out of the way of the talent, keeping the culture alive, keeping the team focused on the right ball that you’re chasing, but doing it all in a way that invites people to the table.“
Tom Field
Director, Nebraska Engler Entrepreneurship

About Tom


Tom Field, Ph.D., is a passionate advocate for education, agriculture, free enterprise, engaged citizenship and the potential of young people. He is also a noted agricultural author with works including his column “Out of the Box” and featured commentator of “The Entrepreneurial Minute” on the Angus Report on RFD-TV.

A frequent speaker at agricultural events in the U.S. and abroad, he has consulted with a number of agricultural enterprises and organizations, and has served on numerous boards related to education, agriculture and athletics. He is the co-owner of Field Land and Cattle Company, LLC, in Colorado. He and his wife Laura watch over a brood that includes a son in the Teach for America Program, twins who are seniors in college and toddler twins to round out the team.


Mentioned In The Show

Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath

The Dip, a little book that teaches you when to quit by Seth Godin


Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie, host of the Rural Futures Podcast. Joining me today is Dr. Tom Field. He’s the executive director of the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, but he’s also an amazing colleague and close friend, and somebody I rely a lot on for advice. I think as we go through the interview today, you’re gonna know why. Tom, I want to give people a little background about you, but then I also want you to introduce yourself. Some of the things I admire about Tom and his bio is that he really puts students first. But not just in a traditional way in terms of lecturing. In fact, you’re anti-lecturing. (laughs) You are experience. Go out there and build something, and do it together. I think building these cohorts and these teams of very entrepreneurial students is something that you’ve really done with your team here at the University of Nebraska­–Lincoln, but also now, you can see the effects of that in businesses and communities beyond campus, which is very exciting. Tom also does a lot of consulting with companies in terms of helping them grow their businesses, but I loved too, how you focus on mindset with that. So much of it is about mindset and passion, and what you really bring to the table in terms of your talents. Fill in some gaps for us. Tell us a little bit more about Tom Field.

Well, I’m a son of a ranching family in western Colorado. As a little kid, I actually in the summers, we would go up into the high country. It was called Cal Camp, and I lived with my parents in a one-room cabin with no running water, no electricity, a wood-burning stove. From that sort of humble beginning, and which was actually a great experience as a kid, had the opportunity through so many people investing in a small community in western Colorado to see the world, and to experience a little bigger picture, and a different perspective. Eventually went off to university. Got a degree in animal sciences, but if I would go back and finish my practicums, my second degree would be in human development and family studies, with an emphasis in early childhood. Which is in my second life, maybe that’s what I’ll go do.

Now, why is that? Why would you pursue those fields?

Well, it’s sort of an interesting story. I took the first class at human development because I heard that there would be 80 women, and me. (laughing) And so that’s really a shallow reason, but when you’re 19, you make a lot of shallow decisions. I walk into this class and I encountered this fireball of a faculty member named Jill Kreitzer, and I did not walk into that class expecting to be transformed, but she changed my life. And then the entire faculty in that department, Kevin Ulchenbruns, and Janet Fritz, and Rex Colt. There was just a whole group of people that really invested in me and in helping me figure out that the human condition is not this static place. That there’s this developmental sequencing that goes on. It’s all this connecting the dots, right? I mean, Steve Jobs was right. Eventually, the dots connect. Being a cowboy and hanging out in this sort of child development, human development space, being really active in 4-H, having a deep interest in history, being wildly curious, having faculty who let me explore what I was interested in, and it all eventually connected to set me up. I didn’t know it was happening at the time, but it set me up to help grow the Engler program, and to create a program that’s focused on transforming the lives of students by putting them in command of their own ships from the minute they come to campus, and hopefully setting them up for the rest of their lives to actually be the master of their own destiny.

I think it takes a unique leader to be able to do that, and it sounds like you’ve had a lot of experiences that have helped shape you as a leader. And I know you’re also a dedicated family man, and really balancing that career, but also really, I would say, advancing society in many ways in the next generation. What does that need to look like going into the future? Tell us a little bit about you as a leader and your leadership philosophy.

Well, I think first and foremost, for me as a leader is that I rarely see myself as a leader. I see my team as a leadership group. Those who know me know that my love of hierarchy would be close to zero, if not negative. (laughing) I just think flat structure makes more sense. I mean, hierarchical approaches in ranching didn’t work because you had to be adaptive. I really learned a lot in the very chaotic ecosystem where things were changing all the time, and you had to work with a team. You had to work effectively and well. I’m a big fan of the team, and I think from a leadership perspective, the leader in the future will by and large, be responsible for attracting talent, and then for empowering that talent, getting out of the way of the talent. Keeping the culture alive, keeping the team focused on the right ball that you’re chasing, but to do it in a way that invites people to the table. I just can’t imagine an effective organization that operates without people around the table, and making decisions together, and then moving those things forward and assigning accountability. I think that’s the key to what we’ve been able to do. We’ve built the Engler program in six years from really scratch, up, because we’ve had a great team and people who were willing to engage, and then to be accountable, and to take big pieces of it and run with it. I’m also a big believer, if you’re a little further in your career it’s really critical to listen to younger talent. It’s hard to do because the older you get, the more you try to protect things, right? You start thinking, well I’ve gotta protect this. I’ve been working with companies and telling them, look, you gotta get the youngest voices in your team in the room and at the table. Certainly, experience matters, but you really have to be listening. We actually took it to heart in our own program. We just went through a really intense strategic planning process, and the person who led our team through the strategic planning process was the youngest member of our staff, 23 years old. And I’m very proud of that.

Well, and I think that’s a great thing to bring forward is that you really are about lifting people up. You’re about empowering them, getting them to where they’re able to lead not just the team, but themselves and get those experiences they’re needing and craving. I’ve seen a lot of that in the Engler program, and you’ve really helped the Rural Futures Institute think about that co-creation model a lot, as well. We’re not living in a vacuum. We’re not just in our offices. We’re all out trying to create the future together. Part of what we want to do with this podcast is explore the future of leadership, but also, how our leaders and people who are leading these types of incredible, cutting-edge programs, see the future changing. What do you see in terms, and it’s kind of a two-part question, I think for you, changes in entrepreneurship? Obviously, that’s where your program is focused, but also changes in higher education. How do you see the future sort of shaping in those areas?

Well, entrepreneurship I think, is this sort of two-edged kind of game. When we first started in this program, we thought our goal was really to build companies. We probably took too much ownership in that, because in fact, as mentors, and advisors, and facilitators and coaches, we can’t really build the company. The companies have to be built by individuals and teams who are really committed to the company. Over time, we figured out that really the key was, is our mission as a program was to empower people to courageously pursue their purpose through the form in art of entrepreneurship. And we thought that was a great way for people to actually let who they are bubble out, and to actually have a forum through which to express that deep sense of purpose.


I think that’s entrepreneurship in the future, and I also think the other thing that’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen very, very quickly. The new economy will be called the side gig economy. As robotics, and artificial intelligence, and too much process oftentimes, and the regulatory environment, all those things sort of press on people, what they’re gonna do is they’re just gonna get creative, and they’re gonna do side gigs. We’re gonna see people who are doing amazing things in teams for short periods of time creating value, being rewarded for that monetarily, or professionally, or personally, and then find another side gig. I think that’s the new economy. I’m not sure anybody’s really ready for that yet, because it’s going to be this kind of frontier-like deal. If the side gig economy is where we’re going, the institution least prepared for that is the university.

Well, and you’ve been pretty vocal about this. How do we, as a university, how do we as higher education evolve? Because the economy is evolving very quickly, and people aren’t quite ready, but we should have a place in this new economy and helping people in our rural communities, but also urban communities. Anyone who wants to be involved get there. Tell us your thoughts on that.

Well historically, America’s great unfair advantage in the global marketplace has been our university system. I mean, just take a look at how internationalized the American university is today. We’re attracting people from all over the world because they value what happens in the university. The challenge is, is that big organizations, old organizations with very clear histories, including fight songs, and certain colors they wear, and all those things, they get caught up in protecting what they’ve done. I think that’s where we’re at. We’re at this tipping point. Every institution in the world is going through this sort of transformational process. Whether it’s a family farm, or whether it’s a major corporation that’s traded in the international markets. There’s just transformation happening at every level. It’s just sweeping. The university’s challenge is, is how does it encumber itself from the processes and the structure it’s built actually become this nimble, agile, service-oriented, outward-focused organization? That’s gonna be difficult. The challenge will be, is how do we create that? We have to create it by unleashing the creative power of the faculty, but more importantly, the creative power of the student. A faculty-centric institution in the future just isn’t gonna work. And an administration-centric university, just start preparing to find a new use for those buildings ’cause that’s gonna fail. And so, I think the university has to go through this shift, and the shift is how do we help people prepare for a future that looks nothing like where we’ve been?

Tom, we’ve talked about the new economy and how things are happening so quickly. We don’t have 10 years to make these changes at the university, or even for individuals. What would you say to individuals who are sort of nervous about the future? We hear a lot of people having like, oh, these robots are gonna replace my job. What’s gonna happen to me? But what advice would you give to people around this changing economy?

Well I think two things. One, I heard an entrepreneur one time say, look, when there’s fear, there’s opportunity, and when there’s a lot of fear, there’s huge opportunity. I think we’re all a little fearful about the changes. Things are happening so fast. Whether it’s job replacement, whether it’s economic and political discord, it’s all those things, right? I think the reality is, is that if people really want to be the master and commander of the ship that they want to ride on, they have to take the helm. Taking the helm means actually lots of small starts. Try things. The name of the game is action. You cannot plan your way into the new economy. You act your way into the new economy. I would encourage people figure out problems that need solving. They don’t have to be big, sexy ones. They can be simple problems that just need a clear solution. Find markets that are underserved. Find resources that are not utilized correctly, and begin to just work in that space. The reality is, is the world is going to be different. Change is always present. For goodness sakes, I did my PhD work on a CYBER 205. A computer that today is in a museum, and that wasn’t that long ago. It’s action, and action is the key, and not being afraid of failure, and not being afraid to just start. It all begins with the start.

Well, and I think one we can’t totally anticipate. So, getting used to having that change, to creating your own jobs, your own gigs, whatever that might look like, I think is such an incredible challenge in so many ways, but such a great opportunity too, for people to use their talents and skills. But for the university, also to reinvent itself. I think thinking about ways it can serve people in the lifelong learning process is so important. Here at the University of Nebraska for example, we have 4-H, which we call the first class for a lot of people. But at the same time, we have the ability to help people in high school, in college, in graduate school, and through their lives. As that economy and the technologies continue to change, those communities are also ready, but that means we have to be listening. You’ve talked a lot about that, in terms of how do we add value to their lives? How do we continue to rethink ourselves in so many ways, and how we’re helping people learn, and grow, and really make a good living in a life wherever they want to be? That might be rural, it might be urban. That doesn’t matter as much as just really getting people the life they want, and really helping them thrive.

Yeah, I think a university that figures out how to create certainly a network of learning, but more importantly, a network of deep curiosity, and it connects that curiosity across ages and across all kinds of socioeconomic, what we might consider barriers.


To just slay those barriers by creating this network that allows curious people to go to work on things that they care about. To work on problems they care about, and markets they care about, customers they care about. Solutions will take care of themselves. It’s find the right problem to work on, and find the right customer to serve. I think we solve a lot of societal problems if we can unleash entrepreneurial spirit. We just have to find a way to let people work on the things they care about early enough to help them determine their own future. I’ve got this belief, and I think it’s dangerous to put there’s two kinds of people, but in the world of entrepreneurship, and those who come to entrepreneurship and stick and those who don’t, I think there are kind of two mindsets. One mindset is, is we’re waiting on the cavalry. That’s a problem because if we’re waiting on somebody come riding in to rescue us from whatever, right? From some hardship, we’re gonna be waiting a long time, and we oftentimes won’t like the fine print in the contract when somebody comes in and, hey, I’m gonna rescue you, but here’s what you owe me now. We become subservient to the system that has purported to rescue us. And then I think there are people who are, I’m not waiting. I’m getting in the boat, and I’m going. The Lewis and Clarks, right? They provision, they plan, but they get in the boat and they go up the Missouri with no knowledge of what’s coming at them. But they know the only way to find the future is just to get in that boat. I think that’s something we’ve gotta really work out in university, is what do we want to produce? Do we want to produce more folks waiting on the cavalry, or do we want to produce people who are willing to get in the boat? I think that’s a fundamental question for the institution.

Absolutely. For those people that are wanting to get in the boat, and they’re wanting to create their own future, what resources would you have to share with them?

Well, the first thing we do is with our freshman students is we give them permission to work on something interesting. From day one, we don’t give exams. Because I don’t even know what an exam in entrepreneurship would look like, right?

That’s a good question.

Come back with the biggest, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t even know what it would look like. We started that apparently at, I don’t even know how to do this. Let’s do something more interesting. Let’s do projects, and let’s get high immersion for students with minimal financial risk, ’cause we don’t want people to make $100,000 mistakes early because that’s devastating.


It’s hard to dig out from. But you can make a $50 mistake and learn an awful lot. We run a little program where we have students that are put together in teams, and they do a $50 startup. We give them $50, they start a company, they have 60 days to generate revenue, and we tell them, look, it’s gotta be legal and it needs to make your mother proud. If it meets those constraints, then you’re good, right? We’re not gonna constrain you any more than that. Let’s see what you do. What’s interesting is they will as a group, make all of the mistakes that most early-stage companies will make that are dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars. But we’re only out with seven teams. It’s 350 bucks, and boy, have we learned a lot. Well, that’s powerful. We do crazy things like we have a little bucket when students will come into class and there’ll be a bucket of pencils and a bucket of red paper clips and we’ll say okay, pick one and sit down. They pick one or the other, and they’re kind of looking at it. They’re like, what is this guy up to now? We say to them, okay, here’s the deal. You have two weeks to trade that item for as much value as you can create. Trade it for something, trade again. We want you to make as many trades as you can. What’s interesting is in two weeks’ time, just in the sort of negotiation, and trading, and bartering world, we had students who traded red paper clips that eventually ended up with these really high-end gas grill barbecue deals, and Vera Bradley handbags, and it was amazing, right? What’s the value of that? The value is, is they’re having to make a cold call. They hate it, and they all talk about, oh, those first three, like will you trade me? It was so hard, and it was painful, but I did it, right? And then the negotiation, and understanding value, and knowing when they got to a value that they were willing to stick with. This one kid, he said, I got this super cool baseball cap. I really didn’t want to trade for anything else. (laughs) This is the value I wanted. I really wanted that cap. Well, that’s pretty cool. That’s a very different experience than memorizing a bunch of stuff.

Absolutely, and getting what you want. Asking for it, and being okay to go for it. Right. Such an important part of entrepreneurship. But I do see you brought a book. Do you have any resources you want to share with our listeners?

Yeah, so I mean, if you go to our website,, click on the resources page, lots of the books that we think are valuable, but one that I just really love is “Essentialism.” The subtitle is The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Here’s the challenge we have. We’re in a yes culture, right? And it doesn’t matter if you’re an educator, if you’re a church, if you’re a business that sells a manufactured good, if you’re a business that does consulting. Human beings, we are in a yes culture, right? Let’s pile more on our plate, never take anything off. The do more with less, but don’t stop doing anything. Well, that’s not sustainable. Eventually, that just tears you up. Greg McKeown has this notion that we can actually narrow down and focus on those things that actually have impact. The big rocks. Focus on the things that matter the most. And certainly, in entrepreneurship, there are key things to spend your time and energy on at various stages of the process, and things that you shouldn’t be focused on at all at certain stages of the process, right? Oftentimes, entrepreneurs, they want to build something really quickly, right? But they haven’t asked their customer.

But I’m glad that’s what you’re teaching your students. Where do you really focus first? How do you start building?

And that’s what essentialism does for you, right? It gets you to focus in the right places. We love everything that Seth Godin writes. “The Dip” in particular. Knowing when to quit. This is very antithetical to Midwestern values. Yeah, right. Right. But there are things that we literally should quit. We need to stop doing them because they don’t add any value, or we’re never gonna be very good at them, right? I quit playing competitive basketball a long time ago because I was never going to be a very good basketball player, right? I like basketball, but it wasn’t gonna be my future, right? So, spending tons of time on that would’ve been silly. Dan and Chip Heath. They’ve got a number of great books. “Made to Stick.” But they have a new one called “Moments,” and it’s all about this sort of reality that what we provide for our customers, whether we’re educators, whether we’re business people, whether we’re in the nonprofit sector, quite frankly, if we’re parents, is the power of what we create for our customer is moments. Memorable experiences that shape the way the person sees the world. I would be willing to bet that most people when they’ve been given things that gave them moments, they remember them, but they probably cannot remember the stuff that they got in their Christmas stocking three years ago.

Well, and I think as leaders too, how we create moments even in our culture, how do we build that type of culture so our employees want to be engaged and stay, and they also want to do great work, and we’re empowering them to do that? Appreciate your time and all your insights today, Tom. We could talk forever. (laughs) I know that we do. We do. But could you give us your website again, and let us know where people can find you?

You bet, feel free to contact me directly at And you can find our great stories of wonderful young entrepreneurs at And we would love to engage with people listening to this. We are coachable, and we need your help, and we love to meet you at the intersection of good ideas.

Great, thank you so much, Tom.



RELEASE: New Podcast Connects Rural and Urban through Strategic Foresight, Leadership and Technology

Rural Futures with Dr. Connie

As our high-tech, globalized world continues to collide with the values, principles and ethics of humanity, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is breaking into the currently polarizing narratives of the rural-urban divide, technology development and the future of work through its new weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie.” The podcast is available on iTunesSoundCloud and Stitcher.


Go to podcast!


Hosted by futurist, researcher and entrepreneur Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI associate executive director and chief futurist, the Rural Futures podcast explores the intersections of technology and what it means to be human.

Its content is for achievers to expand their perspectives for social justice, economic growth and leadership through strategic foresight, or “futuring,” and the lenses of:

  • Exponential change
  • Disruptive leadership
  • Evolution of humanity

Guests include futurists, business innovators and researchers who are smashing barriers for the sake of a thriving rural-urban future.

“We need to bring technology, leaders and rural and urban together to really get at solutions that not only consider a sustainable future, but a thriving future of abundance for all,” Dr. Reimers-Hild said. “This podcast allows us to do this by focusing on our small team’s strengths as connectors, conveners and communicators.

“We want to bring as many people to this conversation as possible, and a podcast is an efficient and strategic way to do that. I encourage all of our listeners to connect with us across our social platforms to suggest questions, ideas and guests.”

Initial Season 1 episodes include:

“I was excited about appearing on Rural Futures because it offered a vital yet rare perspective in our urbanizing era,” said Alexander. “Exploring the countryside’s future is critical for understanding what comes next for humanity as a whole.”


This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Three!

Alliance, Neb.

“I think the communities are very excited about what Haley and I are doing and are willing to help us in any way they can. For me personally, I’m excited to further my leadership skills and abilities as I start thinking about my future.”


It’s hard to believe that three weeks have gone by already! We have been very busy in Alliance working with the Box Butte Development Corporation to develop our video for the Marketing Hometown America Project for Box Butte County.

For the last three weeks, we have been meeting new people from Hemingford and Alliance, moved out of our host family’s house and into our duplex, worked on developing hashtags and our video project and volunteered at Carhenge.

Haley and Mirissa pose outside of Mobius Communications, Hemingford Cooperative Telephone Company.

Haley helps fix up car displays while volunteering at Carhenge in Alliance, Neb.

When we asked Deb Moore, an employe at Alliance Chamber and Carhenge, about our impact on the community, she said, “The girls are enthusiastic, ready to jump into anything and try anything new.”

We have taken footage at various public places like the pool, coffee shops, car show, movie theatre and library in Alliance. We have also spent some time in Hemingford working out of Mobius Communications-Hemingford Cooperative Telephone Company and have been in touch with businesses there as well. We plan to film more footage there in the upcoming weeks. We are also starting to contact businesses in Berea as well.

While volunteering at Carhenge, we helped fix some vandalism done to one of the cars, power washed tires, and then started spray painting the tires bright colors. We are planning to display them at Carhenge when they are completely painted as we are making them into flower pots in order to help make Carhenge more aesthetically pleasing to visitors.

“This opportunity has provided me with more than an internship. It has provided me with learning experiences, connections and skills that will benefit me in my future endeavors, as well as the ability to impact a rural community.”





McCook, Neb.

Over the last two weeks in McCook, we have continued to create an inventory of the items in the High Plains Museum. With nearly 4,000 photographs taken to date, we are nearing the end of our record keeping process! We are also starting to inventory the books in the Carnegie Library. Additionally, we have been interviewing members of the museum board to get their perspective on the future of the High Plains Museum. The interviews have assisted in the stimulation of new ideas and the incorporation of the most significant parts of McCook’s history. Brainstorming sessions have been a vital part of our everyday by keeping our minds moving and fresh ideas rolling in.

“When I think about my time in the Rural Futures Institute Serviceship Program, one word comes to mind: entrepreneurship. In our respective communities where we are responsible for holding ourselves accountable, we can light a new fire by putting out of the box ideas into action.”


Emily and Sage pose in downtown McCook, Neb.

There have been many people who have given us valuable input and are essential to the museum. One of those people is John Hubert, a long-time community member and entrepreneur, who knows the history of McCook better than we know the back of our own hands! He is a talented storyteller and wealth of knowledge we hope to capture on video sometime this summer.

One of our secondary projects is to create a library of community photography for future marketing purposes. This means we get to travel across the county capturing small town Nebraska main streets, unique buildings and favorite restaurants in the area like the Rocket Inn where people come from afar for their famous pizza. We discovered the gem that is the Rocket Inn this week while exploring Indianola and then made our way to Bartley for more photographs.

We also had the opportunity to attend the McCook Community Foundation and Red Willow County Visitors Committee meetings where we were introduced to many more welcoming and influential members of the community. Both of these meetings gave us a better idea of the unique art culture, giving spirit and community pride that makes up McCook.

“The more I have immersed myself in the local culture of the McCook community, the more I have realized how important the people and small businesses are to this rural community, and in turn, how essential rural communities are to the livelihood of our state. Adapting to change and technology and consistently bringing in fresh ideas is vital to the survival of rural communities.”




McCook THETA Camps

“Collin, Tyan, and I learn about health and wellness all school year, and it is very exciting for myself personally to be able to apply it in the real world to students that are eager to learn!”



Brad helps some of the kids construct their aquaponic systems.

We implemented Module 1 of THETA camp the past week, and it has been very successful for our team. In Module 1, after getting to know everyone, we started fast by germinating plants with our students. The students were very interactive with this step in the growing of our produce.

After getting some plants started, we moved on to the next step which was constructing our hydroponic and aquaponic systems. The students seemed very interested in how these growing systems worked as well as very excited to be able to get their hands dirty and do a little construction project.

Students were able to use drills and cocking glue guns in order to build the structures we needed. It was very rewarding to teach a new skill to kids that had no experience with, specifically using a drill. It was also very interesting to watch kids work together to lift heavy bags of gravel and place it within our systems!

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be able to make a positive impact on the kids as well as the community of McCook.”



Tyan discusses the benefits of physical activity, good nutrition and energy balance.

This week, the kids returned just as eager as we were to continue to learn. Module 2 of THETA camp dove straight into the topics of physical activity, nutrition and energy balance. The students were very involved and really enjoyed the physical activity aspects of our teachings. This task seemed a little intimidating at first, especially the aspects of teaching what a calorie is, what the macronutrients are and the concept of energy balance.

On Wednesday we took the students on a trip to the local grocery store called Schmick’s. We tasked the students with collecting pictures of food labels, as well as examples of carbohydrate and protein rich foods. This was very intriguing as we saw students enter a store and search for the appropriate information on food labels that can be utilized directly in their own lives. They were able to obtain this information from what we had taught them earlier in the week and were also full of questions. It’s very rewarding to see students pick up on what we’re teaching and then watch them put it into action days later.

On Thursday we continued our discussions on health and wellness by focusing primarily on health care professions. The discussion was very strong between the students and us as we described the different responsibilities of many health professionals. Modules 1 and 2 of THETA have been very successful, and our experience so far has us excited and prepared for success as we continue to progress into the next chapter of our camp.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing how much of an interest the kids have taken in our program, both during camp and as well as at home.”






Neligh, Neb.

For the past two weeks, we have been working on finishing up our mapping reports, as well as finding host homes for Tour-de-Nebraska. We recently finished the Neligh report, and we’re about a third of the way done with the report for Northeast Nebraska. Additionally, we created a small marketing campaign containing a flyer and social media posts for Facebook to entice people to volunteer their homes for Tour-de-Nebraska.

There is a serious housing shortage in Neligh because there are many short-term workers flooding the housing system because of all of the wind towers going up around town. Since most of the people that would open their houses for Tour-de-Nebraska have already rented them out, we came up with the idea to incentivize homeowners. The first five people to open up their house will receive gift certificates which were donated by local businesses. Additionally, we printed out flyers and delivered them door to door to get the word out. We also started setting up recording times with community members for marketing videos for Neligh.

“The passion and patriotism in Neligh is unbelievable. I have never met a group of people who are more passionate or caring about their community. They truly care about their town.”



Michayla and Rhiannon have fun delivering flyers door to door for their Tour-de-Nebraska.

Over the last two weeks, we sat in on meetings. Last Friday, we had the monthly “Coffee Talk” at the Senior Center. There we spoke with the older generation of Neligh residents over coffee and cinnamon rolls about what they are seeing in the community as issues and what our office can do to help. On Friday, our Downtown Revitalization project applications were due, so we met with many business owners throughout the week about how to improve their businesses either aesthetically or structurally through projects funded in part by the grant. Friday was full of making sure applications were complete and filled out correctly. This Tuesday we went to the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce Meeting. Clearwater is ten miles west of Neligh and our office works for their town as well. Their meeting was mainly about the rodeo coming up in a couple of weeks and the new grocery store coming to town.

After we got back to Neligh, we had a meeting with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Develop District to go over our Downtown Revitalization projects. We met to make sure all the contractors were registered, all the numbers matched up and all the applications were complete. Then that evening, we attended the meeting for the Fall Festival, and Rhiannon updated their brochure. On Wednesday we volunteered to help paint the new grocery store in Clearwater so for a couple hours our boss let us off to benefit the community.

When we started asking people what they loved about the area we heard things like the restaurants, community and the people you get to support. We also heard something pretty moving as people started talking about community assets. They started by talking about the co-op, implement dealers, nursing home, school, ESU 8, park, lake garden and floral shops, banks and other businesses. Then as things were starting to quiet down, one lady turned to face us in her seat and said, “I think the people are our greatest asset.” We think that is very true about the people here in Neligh.

“Like in most rural places I’ve visited, the people in Neligh are resilient. They persevere and gather around people in hardships. They celebrate each other’s successes. They care about the wellbeing of their town, and they aren’t afraid to tell us why they love it.”




Seward, Neb.

Our time at the Seward County Chamber has been reasonably productive so far. We met with many community stakeholders over the past week and a half, which has been extremely insightful to make meaningful progress towards achieving our primary project goals of creating a sustainable engagement initiative for Seward County. Meeting these stakeholders and community members one-on-one gave us the knowledge of the various opinions that community members have. This then lead to the filtering of opinions which enabled us to come up with tangible output plans.

“So far I have loved meeting with so many wonderful people in the community. These people are so dedicated to their community and their hard work shows! They have really helped us to feel welcomed in Seward and continue to offer their assistance with our project!”


One big goal we have been able to achieve is finding our main target market and what we really want to accomplish this summer. Revolving around newcomer engagement, we have been able to solidify that our target market is reaching out to young professionals without children or retirees. From the data that we have collected from interviews, we have concluded that many of these people are having a harder time finding people their age and finding activities to be involved in, compared to couples with children. We have decided to create an event that will be two to three times a year. This event will be specifically marketed toward newcomers; however, it will be open for all residents of Seward County.

Raghav and Maddie have been meeting with stakeholders in a sustainable engagement initiative for Seward County.

Raghav takes in his rural serviceship experience from a farm in Seward, Neb.






Along with this event, we have been in the process of recruiting individuals who are very involved in the community. We want people who love to introduce themselves and help others get involved. These people will be part of our “Welcome Wagon.” This will not be an official group or organization, but simply a group of people that would like to show up to our events and offer a warm welcome. We are hoping that these individuals will create meaningful connections with newcomers and help them get accustomed with life in Seward County. We are going to try this event first in Seward to see if it takes off, and then hopefully it will spread to other communities in Seward County once our serviceship is complete.

We hope to be able to collaborate with community members, stakeholders and local businesses to be able to pull of the event that we are in the process of creating. We are very excited to, and yet a tad bit nervous about putting up this event. The nervousness stems from the possibility of a minimal turnout for the event, but that does not equate to having to give up on our marketing efforts. We believe that persistent and strategic marketing and coordination will help us achieve our goals.

“The personal and professional growth that stems from simply interacting with people from different walks of life is invaluable.”



Catch Up With Chuck Episode 29 Impacting Rural through Scholarship with RFI Fellow Jessica Shoemaker


Jun. 8, 2018

Joining us for this week’s episode of Catch Up With Chuck is RFI Faculty Fellow Jessica Shoemaker, J.D., a distinguished scholar and associate professor of law for the University of Nebraska College of Law, who combines scholarship and passion to impact rural people and places.

Prior to joining the University of Nebraska, she served as a judicial clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, spent two years at a national non-profit law firm devoted to advocacy around systematic legal issues affecting rural communities and then spent five years at an international law firm in Denver, working in nearly every phase of dispute resolution in many different courts.

Shoemaker joined the University of Nebraska College of Law faculty in 2012 and was recently appointed associate professorship in 2017. She says that the work of the Rural Futures Institute helped her make the decision to come to Nebraska, as rural issues are ones she is particularly passionate about.

“Thinking about the future of rural places is intellectually and academically such a stimulating and complicated question given the rapid change that we’re experiencing.”

– Jessica Shoemaker, J.D.


Besides being a distinguished scholar and professor, Shoemaker is also a dedicated mother raising her family in a very rural Nebraska environment. Echoing RFI’s belief statements, she believes that rural communities are great places for families to thrive.


Catch Up With Chuck is Facebook Live series with Rural Futures Institute Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder. Airing most Thursdays at 11:15 a.m. (CST) on RFI’s Facebook Page, Chuck uses this time to discuss critical rural topics and the latest about RFI while answering viewers’ questions. Stay in touch with Catch Up With Chuck and the Rural Futures Institute through Facebook and Twitter. We will be back soon with another episode looking at rural people and places, success stories, innovators, thinkers and doers who are making rural communities a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living.


Episode 2: Microsoft GM Shelley McKinley intersects fourth industrial revolution, inclusive leadership





Shelley McKinley, Microsoft General Manager of Technology and Corporate Responsibility, discusses the company’s mission, goals and projects around diversity and inclusion as well as rural broadband connectivity. She and Dr. Connie challenge listeners to think beyond current technology to the potential solutions and opportunities of artificial intelligence and how it can impact healthcare, the environment and community development in the future. Shelley also offers leadership advice that she has learned from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.


“It’s all of these advances in technology, like Artificial Intelligence, that are allowing us to take big data sets and use machine learning and computing on them in order to develop insights and take intelligent action—things that we couldn’t perceive before as humans. But it’s when you combine humans and Artificial Intelligence that you get the best results.“
Shelley McKinley
Microsoft General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility

About Shelley


Shelley McKinley is the General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft, responsible for helping the company reach its goal of eliminating the broadband gap, as well as focusing on diversity and environmental sustainability. She has worked at Microsoft for 13 years, serving in international roles and leading diverse teams from around the world. She is an attorney by trade and a personal advocate of diversity and inclusion, with a special interest in STEM education for girls.


Show Notes

Hi and welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. Today it is my pleasure to introduce Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology and Corporate Responsibility with Microsoft. Welcome to the show, Shelley.

Thank you so much for having me.

We are super excited to have you here and you know, this is the first time we’ve physically met and so I think this speaks to the power of online relationships and communication. But before we dive into what you do at Microsoft, we’d love to just know a little bit more about you. So tell us who you are. Who is Shelley McKinley?

All right, I was born in Missouri in Kansas City and stayed there until I was about five years old and then I moved to Texas with my parents and I grew up in the Dallas area and I spent many, many summers back and forth between Kansas City and Dallas. I stayed in Texas until I was about 21 years old after I finished my undergraduate degree and then started moving west. After that I spent about a year in Idaho as a ski bum before moving to the Seattle area to go to law school and then on to Europe a couple of times and working in Seattle most of my adult life.

So tell us a little bit about what Microsoft is doing, you know, we’ve known about the Rural Airband Initiative.

One of the parts of the roles that I have at Microsoft is I work on environmental sustainability issues as well as rural broadband issues, accessibility issues, for people with disabilities and human rights issues, all fall under our umbrella of corporate social responsibility. And that is not all the corporate social responsibility work that we do, that’s the part I work on directly. I have many colleagues that also do many other things that are related.

I’d like to dive into a little bit about yourself as a leader. I want to read this ’cause I thought this was a really cool piece of just information that I learned about you. So the group that you’re leading, the Technology and Corporate Responsibility group delivers on Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and organization on the planet to achieve more by ensuring that the opportunities of technology are available to all and used to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. That’s huge. That’s a huge mission statement and a big undertaking as a leader. So tell us a bit about your leadership style and philosophy to accomplish that mission.

Sure, well we have a great thing about Microsoft is we’ve had a brand new CEO about three years ago, a guy named Satya Nadella and it was a huge change for us, a huge cultural change for us. One of the great things Satya’s done is really kind of think about what are the principles of leadership, what are the things that make people successful leaders? I really enjoy his way of thinking about it which is generating energy, creating clarity and delivering results. Now every leader is gonna have strengths in different parts of that and weaknesses in different parts of that and so what I think my strength is really around creating energy. I’m a very energetic person. I’m very passionate about what I do and I think by doing that you can certainly bring your team along and you have to be able to bring your team along. You have to be able to articulate a vision and you have to set goals and you have to hold people accountable to them but if you’re not passionate about what you do, at least for me, then it wouldn’t work for me.That’s my strength. Creating clarity, that’s that clarity in vision. What am I supposed to do? What are we all reaching for? How can we have a common mission that really unites us as a team? And you’d think with the different things that I oversee, we have people doing a lot of different things and so having people really focused on what that core mission is, even though I may be doing accessibility or I may be doing environmental sustainability, which can seem very, very different things, we’re all very focused on this mission of empowering everyone around the planet. These things are very, very interrelated. So from a leadership perspective, I would just say I think you need to constantly be looking at what is my strength, what is my weakness. How do I do the best I can in my strengths and how do I certainly improve on my weaknesses and so always learning and improving and listening to others is incredibly important. I’m relatively new in this job. I’ve been at Microsoft for 12 years so I know the company relatively well. This job I’ve been in say eight months to a year so it’s something I’ve been able to learn a lot about and what I found is you have really smart people working for you. Listen to them.


So important because we don’t always do a good job of that, right?

We don’t. Listen to them, understand what they’re thinking about. What you will find is if you are open to hearing what other people have to say and to not being immediately set on the path that you think is the right one, you might learn something and you always will learn something. I found surrounding myself with other people who are as passionate and creative has always been the best way to success.

I know as a leader too, you are very inclusive and your team is very diverse.

It’s something I’ve learned over time. Before starting this job, I was in Europe with Microsoft for five years and I had the opportunity to work with people around the region and we covered 50 different countries which is a little more than Europe but according to Microsoft sales territory, that was included in the European sales territory and that included Mongolia.So that was part of my territory as well.

Wow, that’s cool.

But we didn’t have people in every country but I dealt with people that spoke different languages, that had different cultural points of view every day so everything was quite enriched by these different points of view and you can learn a lot. When I came back to the US, to Microsoft’s headquarters, I thought, “Huh, I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna get a “team full of regular Americans.” What I found, to my delight, was that in fact, when I came back I started working with a team that had people from all different cultures. I have a team, accessibility team, which I have I think four people who have visual impairments that work for me. Our Chief Accessibility Officer is deaf. She can read lips fantastically which is always, I’m always like whoa. I always forget she’s deaf and I’ll do things like we’ll go into the ladies room and I’ll keep talking to her when we go into separate stalls, then I’m like, “Oh Jenny, wait you couldn’t hear me, could you?” She’s like, “I thought you were talking to me.” But you know, she couldn’t hear. So you learn so many things from people like that. One of the kind of crazy things, the questions people ask were, “How do you say hello to a blind person?”


And Jenny says, “You say hello, number one, “number two, you ask.”So I learned I need to kind of announce myself when I’m coming down the hall and say, “Hi Ann, I’m on your right.” And then of course after she saw me several times, she knew who I was from my voice. Then when we have morale events, how do we make sure that they’re accessible for everyone? Research has shown that diversity, in the beginning, can make teams start a little bit slower as they get used to each other but very quickly, diverse teams achieve much, much more than non diverse teams. So working at a place that is diverse and inclusive is really one thing that I will not compromise on.

Could you speak a little bit about some of the advanced hiring practices Microsoft is really developing and I would say, leading in so many ways?

We have a couple of things that we do. We’re very focused certainly on racial diversity

and bringing in minorities. We are also incredibly focused on bringing people of all kinds of different skill sets. So I think we have to make sure that we focus on underrepresented minorities and we also expand our horizons as to what does diversity actually mean. Gender diversity clearly is one key thing. Bringing in people with different kinds of abilities. As a company our success depends on our ability to serve our customers. If we don’t reflect what our customers are, then how can we actually adequately serve them? We have a program that we recently started called the Autism Hiring Program and we were featured on the news recently, you may have seen that.

Yes, absolutely. So incredibly amazing what you’re doing.

What we do is how do we figure out how to make the best possible interview experience for a person who maybe doesn’t do well in the standard interview experience and so in that example, we bring people on campus basically for a week, who can work and show us their skills instead of having that one hour pressure cooker interview with a bunch of questions, a person with Autism generally is not going to love that type of interview and may not shine to their fullest potential. So when you bring them for these alternative types of interviews, you’re not sacrificing on quality at all but what you’re doing is giving that person opportunity to demonstrate their skills and your team will be so much richer for it.

I love how you’re expanding that definition of what it means to be diverse and inclusive but then also changing your culture, your practices, the strategies to make that actually happen rather than just giving it lip service and then not exploring, well what does that mean and how do we change as an organization to make sure this really happens and not just in a way to say we’re doing it but in a way to really make people thrive in that environment, which also of course, helps Microsoft, right? So if they’re doing well and if they’re highly engaged, Microsoft does better but also it is that representation of your customer base. So how do we better serve customers through our team but also knowing what our customer’s needs and wants are in a very quaint way, in a very cohesive way that increases that level of understanding? So how do you see, to recap leadership a little bit, how do you see leadership evolving in the future?

I think leadership is going to depend more and more and more on diversity inclusion. You cannot have leaders who aren’t diverse and inclusive who are really bringing everyone else along. I think that what we’ll see is technology leadership. The good news for people who don’t study engineering is that everything is going to continue to need the humanities behind it.

Oh dive into that.Tell me what you mean by that.


So everyone can breathe a collective sigh of relief. You can still study law, you can still study economics, you can still study social sciences. Because as things such as Artificial Intelligence really get traction we’ll have machines that are making decisions, right? So how do we make sure those machines make a decision in an ethical way? When you’re an engineer and you look at a problem, we like to say, you know, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.


So when you’re an engineer, you’re probably just trying to get to the most efficient way to get it done, right, and so ensuring that not only engineers understand humanity and social sciences but making sure we have people in the technology industry that while they may love technology, they aren’t engineers themselves, they have a skill set in the liberal arts so they can bring to the picture to ensure that we develop using ethical principles but that’s built in from the start. Everything we do really has that sense of ethics and values built into it so we understand how does an algorithm work? How do we get from where we were to where we are in an intentional way. Not just in an engineering way that gets you to the most efficiency immediately.

At the Rural Futures Institute, that’s really what we’ve been exploring but I think what is missing from that conversation is exactly what you’re talking about. Humanity will continue to change and evolved over time regardless of technology but at the same time, it’s this interaction and what new jobs or careers or businesses will be created in this next generation economy that we see evolving. What does it mean to be both high tech and high touch in that economy so that the world does have technology and it’s used in these really thoughtful intentional ways like even, earlier today, talking about is it possible to use AI in rural development or community development in different ways? How do we take this concept and help scale what we do or make it more sustainable or even more impactful by leveraging technology rather than having every community sort of bootstrap itself and do its own thing? What understanding can we develop not only locally but globally around this? At our Institute we’ve been working with the Japan society. Japan’s very interested in this. India is very interest in this. So I think there’s real opportunities for rural in this space but at the same time, it’s also rural and urban. How do we bring these worlds together in a positive way?

Well I think we have that opportunity today more than we’ve ever had before. In every previous industrial revolution we’ve had, jobs have been lost and new higher paying jobs have been created. It hasn’t always been an easy situation. I think we have the opportunity in this revolution, this fourth industrial revolution that we call it to really be thoughtful about it and sure that what we’re doing, we’re reskilling people. We’re developing really quickly. The technology is just really changing things at just a breathtaking speed.


So how are we going to ensure that people have the digital skills they need to get these new, better, high paying jobs? When you think about, just go back to 1905 when you had, New York City was fueled by horses, literally by horsepower. Really not that long ago, it wasn’t that long ago. And then over 20 years, those horses were replaced with motorized vehicles. There were entire industries at that time that were built on maintaining those horses, feeding them, cleaning up after them, creating parking spots for the horse carriages and in 20 years, that was all gone and those people had to transition. We’re gonna have that same thing now where we have people who are in jobs today that are no longer going to be around but our ability to navigate this successfully and create new jobs and retrain people to take those new jobs is going to be critical to landing this industrial revolution in a way that’s much better than we’ve done in the past. So when you think about rural and urban today we have the internet that connects us all. At least that connects us who have access to internet and broadband and we know we’re facing a huge challenge in rural America on internet access and really on broadband access. I mean, most places you can still get somewhat of a signal. Not everywhere but you don’t want to sit there while your data downloads at just an excruciating rate. That’s not really internet. You have broadband speeds everywhere so as we get more broadband those rural and urban divides can be bridged. If you’re a kid, how do you access your homework if you don’t have access to the internet? It’s actually mind blowing for people who live in areas with good internet access. How would I actually do that? You can’t make a room more nervous today than if you turned off the Wi-Fi in the room and people couldn’t access their devices.

That’s absolutely true.We tried that with my nieces before. It’s like they went through withdrawal, just setting their phones over on the counter. But like you said, they’re learning through that. They’re living essentially through access in some way, shape or form and it’s not all just entertainment. It’s really advancing people’s lives through that technology.

Entertainment is great.

It is, absolutely.

We know that, I mean who doesn’t want to put a movie on for that kid while you’re driving across country. Now there’s no doubt, it’s a necessity of life. But when you think about advances in telemedicine, advances in agriculture, advances in, you name it, education, small businesses. Imagine not being able to pay your bills online. A small business not being able to access their accounting software. All of those things, if you don’t have broadband access in communities, how can you actually take advantage of the opportunities that the new fourth industrial revolution brings, you can’t. That’s something that’s critical that we are very focused on is getting access to these areas. Telemedicine I think is a great one too.

Oh absolutely, huge.

I think a disproportionate number of our veterans live in areas that don’t have great access, they’re also a community that really need access to good medicine and when you have to drive for hours to get to the next hospital, I remember when my grandmother, until she died a few years ago still lived in rural Missouri. So we had to drive her from Gravois Mills to Jefferson City to get to the hospital or to Columbia to get to one of her doctors and that was a good hour and a half drive. Now she drove until she was 91.

Wow good for her.

She didn’t like driving up to Columbia but when we would go visit her, my Dad was up there a lot and would drive her into town. Imagine if you could do that over the internet, over the phone. You could avoid a lot of your trips you make every year and you could have better access to more frequent and consistent healthcare. So these are huge issues that can be tackled with the internet and underpinning that isn’t just, it doesn’t just happen when you have the internet. It’s all of these advances in technology that are really, like Artificial Intelligence that are allowing us to take big data sets and use machine learning and computing on them in order to develop insights and take intelligent action, things that we couldn’t perceive before as humans. But it’s important back to that point that we talked to before is that when you combine humans and Artificial Intelligence, you get the best results. There’s a number of studies out on X-rays. How does a person look at an X-ray and interpret the results. When a human does it alone, I’m making up these statistics, let’s call it 10% error rate, when a machine does it, there’s a 5% error rate. When you put the two together, you end up with like an almost 0% error rate. So it’s important to think that yes, there will be machines that will help us augment human capabilities, that can help us do what we do in a much better way but we won’t be replaced by machines.

That’s right.

There will be certain things that get replaced by what machines can do better than we can do but you always have to have that person in the mix.

I think that’s such an important message for people to really think about and hear because I do think there’s sort of this alarmist futurist sort of approach to oh someday we’ll be, you know, singularity is gonna happen and we’re all gonna be like a robot or something but I don’t think we’re that close to it.


I’m not really worried about that right now. I think it’s more so like how does this continue to evolve and how do we get more people connected and in a way that helps them really advance their lives, just like you’re talking about. One of the questions we’ve been really focused on lately at the Rural Futures Institute is why rural and why now. I mean, so many people think it’s just a choice to live in rural, which in many ways it is but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s really quite complex and you know, the election

brought forward a lot of thoughts and feelings around this rural urban divide which we’d really see as more of an opportunity for our continued globalized world to grow together because in our rural areas we do produce a lot of the food that is consumed in urban, for example. We need those wide open green spaces as well for environmental sustainability so there’s a lot of issues around it but tell us what you think about why rural, why now and why is Microsoft really thoughtfully trying to help people get connected?

Well I think why rural, why now, there is so much focus on it right now. Grab it while we’ve got it. I mean, really it’s one of the issues of the time. We need to do something now while we have a lot of support behind it. I mean, a lot of people are investing in rural issues right now so I think you should absolutely take advantage of that 2016 election where a lot of those issues were forefront where we realized there’s a significant number of people living in America who felt they weren’t being heard.


And so now, we’ve got a lot of focus. Let’s leverage it while we can, for sure. I think companies like Microsoft, why do we operate in those areas, Microsoft has a long, long history of being local. We sell around the world in the same way that we think our technology has to reflect our audience, really our employees in some ways, very much reflect the world. Now we haven’t always been this invested in rural areas as we are today. We’ve invested in many areas around the world but we’ve made a concerted effort in the last few years to really think about how can we better serve people in rural communities and it’s core to our mission. Our mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more and that means whether you live in an urban area or you live in a rural area, we want to help you achieve more. And it’s not just about being philanthropic. This is good for our business. What I didn’t mention before on the diversity topic is our employees expect this of us. Our employees demand these kind of things of us. It’s actually good for the stock price.

It absolutely is.

Our employees are our biggest asset and I’m telling you they are a very passionate bunch of people and so no matter what happens in the news, you can imagine that my inbox gets hit with all kinds of ideas and requests for what we could be doing and so when we think this helps us attract and retain good people, you think purely from a Microsoft interest, beyond just our mission, our ability to execute our mission is dependent on us addressing these issues. So for a long time we worked in communities around the world because we’ve had sales teams and communities around the world. In the last couple of years, it’s been really a focus. We have a program called TechSpark.

Yes, tell us about that.

We invested in six communities. We have put an employee there who is from the community. So we didn’t put them there, we actually hired them from there and they’ve stayed there and so they work with the community to understand what do they need in the areas of digital transformation, education, connectivity, all of these different things that we work on in many, many ways around the world and really making that super local and understanding what the local community needs. We can build these models and think about how we can engage and we can scale things like that. Now right now we’re focused on six communities. So everybody always asks the question, “How do you come to my community?”

Right, right.

I don’t have an answer for that today but what I will say is that we know that when we invest in a community, we can make a pretty big difference in that community, much more than we can in say other areas when we invest in a smaller community and it’s fantastic to see the changes that can be made there.

I appreciate that local model but with the global implications and the global connectivity but really, having somebody in place there that knows that community is assessing those needs but also it’s good for the community and good for the business and I think that’s, you know as we’ve gotten to know each other a little bit more, I so appreciate you bringing that forward. It’s not just about giving. That’s not really what the corporate responsibility piece is. It’s partly that but it’s also about Microsoft doing well so it’s really creating that win-win for the social responsibility aspect, the environment, the people but also the company and it makes it a sustainable model in the long run and a growth model for everybody involved. I think it takes unique leadership and culture to be able to do that but I also think it’s a model, you’ve talked a lot about this, moving forward that more companies even universities are gonna have to start embracing in a richer, more dynamic way. How do we make this a win for everybody involved and how do you lead that? What does that look like as a leader?

If you don’t make models that are sustainable, it’s a flash in the pan of 2016, 2018 and then it all kind of goes away. You have to make sure that you’re really thinking about these things from a long term perspective. Grabbing the zeitgeist while we’ve got it and really making it work from a long term perspective and that’s why we’re so focused on actually being really local versus having such centralized operations.

So Shelley, what would your personal vision be for this rural urban dynamic and the use of technology and what would that be for you, like what would you love to see happen in the next five years?

I would love to see that if people want to stay in rural communities, they can stay in rural communities and have good high paying jobs. There have been a number of communities around the country that have developed into these sort of centers for technology people who can work remotely. That’s a great thing.


And if you can make the diversity of work in different areas, work from home, work remotely, enable all of that via this technology, it’s actually in some ways quite simple once you get used to it because it really is just a, in some ways, just a telecommunications to start with but people are so used to being in their office all the time. So you think oh if I’ve got a big high paying job in Omaha, I can’t actually do that job from another place in Nebraska because I have to be in my chair at the office but if we can really start getting a culture around people working remotely, taking advantage of technology, then we can enable people to have good, high paying jobs and they can live where they want to live and these communities can flourish. Some of the products we’re doing, I’m really hoping that we can get to really see some progress in those areas over the next five years.

I appreciate how you’re saying, “Good, high paying jobs.” I mean, it’s not something where it’s just barely scraping by. The vision is bigger than that and the possibilities are bigger than that.


I’d love to know and our listeners would love to know what are some practical pieces of advice that you could give them as leaders, as entrepreneurs, as people doing amazing things in their world.

I think the time is now as we’ve established. Really the time is now for a lot of these issues. Technology, we are really on the brink of this fourth industrial revolution. We need to take action now and I think our students are so great at that. They have, in some ways, such a blank slate. No idea is a dumb idea. Now I think when they get into the workforce, it is a challenge thinking oh I don’t really know anything, I haven’t had years and years of experience but what I find is when I talk to our youngest members of Microsoft or people who have started a new career, that’s also another great one, they have such a fresh perspective. We need that fresh perspective to advance so don’t be shy.

Okay but before we wrap up, I have to dive into something you said there. You said, “starting a new career.” So tell me more about that.

Super important and the thing that’s really cool is when I think about what our kids are doing today and they switch platforms left and right, whereas when we were in school, if you got a new update to your Windows, you thought, oh my gosh how am I gonna use this? Our kids are so flexible now.


So I’m not as worried about later like our kids being able to change careers.

We’re very natural, right.

People in our generation need to do and we’ve gotta help people who are, when you think about technology advancing, we need to make sure people aren’t left behind and that today really means about people starting new careers and if you are hiring someone, be open to someone who has changed careers. Understand that they’ve got years of experience behind that, that could also be something really important for what you want to do. So when you look at a resume of someone who’s maybe had a gap in employment for whatever reason, understand that they actually have years of experience that they can bring to bear to start something new. Be open to those kind of opportunities. If I did something, if I was a truck driver and I was replaced by automated vehicles, that person’s gonna have to look for a new job. They maybe acquired some more skills and so as a hiring manager, I need to be open to hiring not just the person who has exactly the right skills and experience but a person who has a perspective that I don’t have today. One of the things I forgot to say earlier that I had on my mind and forgot about it was one of the most important lessons I learned as a manager was from someone who gave me an anonymous piece of feedback and we have a tool for it and said you know, “Shelley is very focused on diversity and all these things but she tends to hire people who are just like her in terms of extrovert versus introvert.”

Oh interesting.

It was an aspect of diversity that I had not thought about. I thought, I mean like I love this person, they’re so enthusiastic and they’re bubbly and they’re amazing and then I would go for that candidate versus like maybe someone who’s a bit more reserved. I looked across my leadership team and I thought, wow. I had one person one time on my leadership team who was an introvert and I was like, I really hope that he’s the one that gave me that feedback but I thought, you know what? He’s absolutely right. I’ve unintentionally hired people who are like me. So it’s something to be, it was a great learning experience for me, it’s something to be really, really aware of as you’re thinking about the teams you build and you work with and you’re thinking about how the discussions we’re having need to be built and formulated. Unconscious bias is something we talk about. It’s just how it’s been named but everyone has it.

Thank you, Shelley and thank you all for joining us at the Rural Futures podcast. Here’s to creating your best future.

Thanks for listening to Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at Rural Futures and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode. Next up, we talk higher education for entrepreneurship with Dr. Tom Field. Dr. Field is innovating education within the University of Nebraska, Engler Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship program.

A new economy will be called the side gig economy as robotics and Artificial Intelligence and too much process oftentimes and regulatory environment, all those things sort of press on people. What they’re gonna do is they’re just gonna get creative and they’re gonna do side gigs and if the side gig economy is where we’re going, the institution least prepared for that is the university.


Episode 1: Higher ed tech futurist Bryan Alexander intersects leadership, connectivity, globalization





Bryan Alexander is a futurist focused on how technology transforms education, specifically higher education. In this episode Bryan, who is homesteader in rural Vermont, describes megatrends, such as globalization, that are impacting societal and business sectors as well as several scenarios for the future of higher ed. He and Dr. Connie ask listeners to consider not only what they need, but what they want for the future of our country in terms of education, healthcare and rural areas. In his words of wisdom, Bryan encourages practice of visualizing a future that is not based on the present or immediate past.


“For me a futurist is somebody who helps people think about the future more strategically and with greater imagination. And this matters because, well we’re all heading into the future, but also it matters because I think it’s very difficult for us to really think about ways the future can be different, especially in ways that are practical and matter to our lives or families, and our jobs, and our immediate political world. So, I think futurists are really essential guides to living in the near, medium, and far future.“
Bryan Alexander
Higher Education Futurist

About Bryan


Bryan Alexander is an internationally known futurist, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant and teacher, working in the field of how technology transforms education.

He is the founder of the Future of Education Observatory, a writing and media production hub, and of Bryan Alexander Consulting, LLC, through which he consults throughout higher education in the United States and the world. Before BAC Bryan taught literature, writing, multimedia, and information technology studies at Centenary College of Louisiana, then worked with the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), a non-profit working to help small colleges and universities best integrate digital technologies. He completed his English language and literature PhD at the University of Michigan in 1997, with a dissertation on doppelgangers in Romantic-era fiction and poetry.

Latest Articles

Here’s How Higher Education Dies
The Atlantic
June 5, 2018

How to Be an Ed Tech Futurist
Campus Technology
January 25, 2018


Show Notes

Hi, and welcome to the Rural Futures podcast. This is Dr. Connie, your host, and joining me today in our conversation is Bryan Alexander. Bryan is a futurist specializing in how higher education and technology are changing. He writes, speaks, and consults widely, while living in Vermont. Bryan, that’s a little bit about you, tell our audience a little bit more about you, give them a snapshot of Bryan Alexander.

Well, greetings, and thank you very much for having me here, I really appreciate it. I’m coming to this rural podcast from rural Vermont. We live on top of one of the Green Mountains, about half off the grid, and we have a very, very deep connection to rural life. As homesteaders we have raised goats, chickens, turkeys, all kinds of animals. We heat entirely by firewood,  most of which we log ourselves. Meanwhile, at the same time, we have a thin and dodgy internet connection through which I do most of my work, we have a Tesla Powerwall to backup when the electricity fails. We try in short to bridge the 19th and the 21st centuries at the same time.

I think that’s such a perfect spot in which a futurist and his family lives and creates an amazing life combining that sustainability and what you love, with building the future at the same time. Okay so Bryan, you are a futurist, and I know people on the show know I’m a futurist, but I think for them to understand what a futurist is and the value it brings would be amazing, so tell us, what is a futurist? And why is a futurist so valuable in this day and age?

For me a futurist is somebody who helps people think about the future more strategically and with greater imagination. And this matters because, well we’re all heading into the future, but also it matters because I think it’s very difficult for us to really think about ways the future can be different, especially in ways that are practical and matter to our lives or families, and our jobs, and our immediate political world. So, I think futurists are really essential guides to living in the near, medium, and far future.

I love that, essential guides, I think that’s such a strong and powerful statement about what futurists bring to the table. Now you have a specialty around education technology, so tell our audience a little bit more about what you do in that sphere of futuring.

Sure, well the sphere is the future of education, that’s primarily higher education, although I do work in K12 as well as corporate learning, and also informal learning, and I have a strong emphasis on technology. That’s where I think an awful lot of changes are happening, and there’s a great deal of potential right there to do this work. I do a lot of consulting, so I travel to places, I do this online, I do research on spec, I do a lot of speeches, and workshops, mostly in the US but also in Europe and east Asia. I make a lot of stuff, I make books, I write articles, I do a weekly video conference discussion about the future of education. I have a podcast about ready to launch, I interview people, I am interviewed, so I like to make, I guess instead of stuff I should say media, of all kind.

And you have a prolific website, a prolific online presence, and you’re doing that all from a rural community, which of course at the Rural Futures Institute we appreciate, and would love to see your connectivity expanded just to continue to support this endeavor.

Yes, well, as part of my work I travel a great deal, so that gives me exposure to a wide range of internet connectivity. So just last week I was driving across the midwest and northeast, had to pull over at a rest stop to do a video conference, so I ended up propping up my phone in one corner of a semi-abandoned Burger King, and my laptop on another table, and jerry rigged this. Meanwhile I can, the next day, drive to a place where I can get 100 meg down, it’s quite variable. I just want to emphasize that point about the web presence for a second; I find many, many consultants in general, not just in the futures world, tend not to have a web presence.

They tend to run pretty dark. My practice is quite the opposite. I believe in conversation, so I like to throw stuff out there, through social media as well as in person, to try and provoke discussions and conversations. I try to host and facilitate those discussions. I think that combination of openness and conversation is a terrific way to move forward. It’s risky in some ways, but I think it’s really an appropriately 21st century way to look ahead to the 21st century.

As a fellow futurist I totally agree, and I appreciate your presence because I learn a lot from what your posting and the thoughts that you’re putting together, from all these different data points, phenomenon, different types of futuring tactics and tools that you’re using, and I think this really speaks to you as a leader. I’d love for you to describe to us a little bit more about you as a leader, and your philosophies around leadership.

Well, I think leadership has really changed in our generation, and that’s something that we’re still trying to grapple with. Because a lot of the older practices, a lot of the older habits still persist, and you can see this in politics, you can see this in pop culture. Some of the changes are very interesting, for example, we have the capacity to be more network centric in our leadership, and less hierarchical, and that can be challenging in all kinds of ways. Hierarchies famously exist to defend hierarchies, and it’s difficult to break out of that. And network centric thinking, or horizontally organized thinking, can flop miserably. So I think we’re still learning how to make that work. And it’s tricky, there’s new ways of learning that way, and there are ways of inspiring people and sharing vision through networks. For example, you think about the idea of the personal learning network as a way of learning. Now, to assemble a PLN, you have to deploy a whole bunch of skills, aptitudes, and habits that many people weren’t trained in. It can be something as basic as pruning your Twitter feed. At the same time we have to figure out ways of doing this globally. It’s a truism to say that we are increasingly globalized society, but it’s the truth.

Just to jump in there a little bit, one of the quotes I wrote about you in our pre-conversation prior to this episode was that leadership has not taken globalization into account, and I hear you talking about that right now, and I’d love for you to expand on exactly what you’re saying. There are people that want to go hyper local and that’s working in many ways, but it’s because we’re in a global society, so talk a little bit more about leadership and globalization, and that evolution that you see happening.

Well I mean this in the broadest sense, that humans are more interconnected than we ever have been before, for better or for worse, and it shows up across a full range of human endeavor. Our conversation right now is gonna be accessible potentially to more people than it would have been 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. It means that when a disease spreads it can spread more quickly through a larger population than it used to be, historically. It means that politics, and media, pop culture, sports, cross national boundaries much more rapidly, more frequently, and we really haven’t fully taken that into account, we often think of ourselves in strictly national terms, or at best regional terms, and that takes a bit of practice, I think, a bit of attitude, a bit of habit forming so that we can get used to saying, alright, my words may be heard in Kazakhstan, in Australia, in Ecuador, and maybe I should shape them accordingly, and think about those different contexts. There’s a self awareness where you have to think of yourself as being a member of a certain nation, or a certain region, or even smaller than that, a state, or a province, and that’s a little trickier. And you get so many incentives not to do that. You can hear voices from your locality and really adhere to them. I think in rural areas this is especially true, because we are less densely populated, we value those voices a little more highly, I think, it’s harder to disappear into a crowd when you’re in the countryside. And I think also because of our relatively poor infrastructure, it’s harder for us to get used to conversations with people around the world. And I think that’s something that we really, in the countryside, we need to work on, both in our practice, but also in our infrastructure.

Well, and speaking of that, I mean, obviously technology is a huge part of this conversation in enabling people to do exactly what you’re saying, like how do we all emerge, and act and have different habits, and really opportunities in a connected world. Another change that you talk about is this gigantic force of demographic shift. How do you see that influencing the future of both rural, urban, and also globalization.

Well geographic shifts are fascinating, because through most of the world, we have this phenomenon that we are aging, we are living longer, we are having fewer kids, and this is relatively new in human history. There are very few societies that have done this, especially at scale, and we’re still struggling to figure out what this means, and how we respond, and you can think of these responses that are really, really diverse. For example, you can think about Japan, which is pushing very, very hard for robot development, so they can have more workers, and more caregivers, because they’re running low on workers and caregivers, and they look at automation as a solution.

Absolutely, one of my favorite emails is one of our partners, the Japan Society asking, hey Dr. Connie, what is the future of rural Japan? Because we don’t know, and our government has now made it a national priority.

Well, and it’s a huge issue to think about, because the rural world, is in many ways, emptying out. One of the biggest trends of our time is this huge, oceanic shift of the human race out of the countryside into cities, see this around the world. You see this in Africa, you see it in China, you see it in the US, and it becomes self perpetuating because as more people pile into cities and suburbs that’s where more and more of the action is, that’s where more of the jobs are, that’s where more of the excitement is, it draws still more people from the countryside, and in response the countryside looks emptier and then that just accelerates. Meanwhile, there are other forces driving this too. We have more automation in agriculture, we have more large scale agriculture, so that part of the countryside is no longer demanding large numbers of people. We have change in family size, so we’re not spawning 10 kids per couple, but more like two or fewer, so it may be that the countryside’s future is to be very quiet and empty. You think about the part of Saudi Arabia called the Empty Quarter, that might be a model for us. Now there’s an alternative, which is if we had decent infrastructure, if we had that set up, many people could, what used to say, telecommute, or do work from home. I mean if you can work in a cubicle, if you can work from anywhere, why not be in the countryside where you can enjoy all the benefits of country living rather than in the suburb or city?

Yeah, I agree, I don’t think we’ve fully explored or tapped into the potential of the 21st century model of work that really does include telecommuting and technology.

There’s a terrific futurist named Bruce Sterling who writes nonfiction and fiction. He has this resonant phrase that I keep coming back to. Someone asked him, well what do you see as the future? And he said, for me, I can’t do his accent, he has a great Texas accent, to me the future is old people in big cities afraid of the sky.

Oh wow, that’s really interesting, yeah. Perspective and phrase.

It’s got three things in it, you’ve got the demographics of aging, you have the shift to the cities, and you have climate change. People argue with this phrase a lot, they push it around, but it just resonates. And then, okay, let’s move on from the cities, let’s move our point of view to the countryside, and you’re gonna have very few people, is that something we want? Is that something that a country can risk having? And we have to really treat that seriously. We can’t get nostalgic, we can’t think, ah, if only people appreciated the countryside, they’re not doing it.

That’s right.

We have to now think this as existential moment.

And I think that is where the discipline of futuring and strategic foresight comes in. So how do we more deliberately create the future we want, rather than just continuing on in the same path we have been with that mindset that we don’t control what happens? And that might be partially true, but the other truth is we are not really having these bold conversations that need to be had in so many ways to address this from a systems level, not just one topic or the other. And I think futurists can really bring that to the table.

I agree, in part because these are frightening conversations, but also as I mentioned before, it’s difficult for us to think of a future in ways that really break out.

One of the challenges we wrestle with at the Rural Futures Institute is answering these questions of why rural? Why now? It’s been our theme for this year, how would you tell someone, or describe to them, especially because our population is very urbanized, and decision makers live in mostly urban areas, why should our country invest in infrastructure and rural when the population there is in decline?

I think there are a lot of great reasons. And one of them is simply economic benefit. There’s a project in China right now where the Chinese government goes out into central China, which is very rural, and goes to villages that are obviously very rural, and poses to them a deal. If the village will try its best to form internet based businesses, then the Chinese government will wire them up to high speed broadband. It’s a real smart deal, because the villagers get the benefit of internet connectivity, and the rest of China gets the benefit of having this boost to their business development. And the businesses can be anything. They can be selling flowers online, they can be services online, you think of this as an enormous untapped business opportunity, for really growing an overall economy, I mean how many businesses, how many consumers are out there? There’s a Pew study which said 40% of Americans over 65 are not connected to the internet, 40% in 2018. Now you think about that, if you’re still in economic terms, you think, my gosh, what a population that could be buying stuff on Amazon, or selling things, or offering services, and so just the economic market is one. A second is the cultural argument.That we can use the internet, especially broadband, to grow our culture. We know this as ways we can consume culture, more and more, everything from YouTube videos, Netflix streaming, to podcasts, to reading Wikipedia, but also to producing culture, that we can shoot video and upload it to YouTube, where we can write stories and make stories of all kinds, and share them with just about any platform. So if we can connect more people, we can further deepen and grow our culture, and that benefits everybody. A third reason, and this is my line of work, is education, we have such capacity for teaching and learning online, it’s truly extraordinary. I mean, in many ways, the business of education is pretty fragile right now.

That’s right, we know that, here at the University of Nebraska, it’s absolutely true. We’re going through a huge shift in higher education and I think that’s where the futurist perspective, and futuring and strategic foresight are so critical for organizations, industries, like higher education and others right now, and I know you’ve talked about this tipping point of online versus face to face, when do you see that happening?

I’m not sure at this point, so just for listeners, there’s this interesting question, at what point

will the number of learners taking classes online roughly equal the number of learners taking classes face to face? I know Creighton Christiansen predicted this would happen around this year, it hasn’t quite hit there but we’re closing in on it, and at some point soon we’re gonna hit that point, and I think that’ll be an interesting milestone. It’ll clarify a lot of developments for a lot of people. So we’ve seen some institutions where the online branch teaches more students than the face to face branch. And in fact I’ve worked with several institutions where the online branch makes more money than the face to face one, and now subvents and supports the face to face one, which is quite a 21st century moment. I mean, it’s possible that we will look at education kind of the way we look at movies. Where if you want to watch a movie you have tons of options from where you’re sitting right now. Phone, from your TV, and you can get a pretty nice experience, so if you’re gonna go to a movie theater, you need to have something special to haul you out there, and that’s why you have, depending on the theater, you have stadium style seating, you have more food, you have a bar, you have places like Alamo Draft House where you can go off and have fun previews, and have food served to you and all that, I think a lot of businesses are doing that, where they’re trying to figure out ways to compete with what we can get online.

Absolutely, it’s an experience economy, in so many ways with that.

Yes, you go to a campus, bricks and mortar institution, what’s gonna make that different? So that’s what education has to work on.

So looking ahead five years, thinking about education specifically, higher education, what do you see evolving and changing? In addition to this sort of experiential economy emerging even in higher education?

Looking ahead five years, there are a few trends that I think are pretty predictable, not too controversial, and one of them is, to come back to an earlier point, demographics. In the US we’re following many other countries and we’re getting older, and we’re also seeing shifts within the US as the northeast and midwest are aging much more rapidly, and losing children, and so we’re seeing institutions in the midwest and the northeast marketing more and more to the Rocky Mountain central area, to Texas, Arizona, and trying to find where they still grow 18 year olds. And so I think we’ll see that continue, in education that means, among other things, trying to reach out more and more to adult learners, but also trying to more aggressively recruit other students, recruiting more and more international students, and that’s been a success until last year. I think higher education institutions in the US are gonna aggressively recruit. It’s not just in the US, many, many nations are seeing themselves now as being part of an international higher education market. So you’re seeing European institutions marketing, I’ve seen European universities marketing themselves to American high school students, with a pretty clear message. They’ll say come to our interesting cities, and we won’t give you student loans, pretty convincing.  

Yeah, I would say so, I mean I think that’s one of the great conversations, and challenging conversations we have in higher education right now, so, if you choose to go to college and pursue higher education, the student loan debt conversation is a big part of that, but then also that means people will have to go where there are jobs, and that means it’s gonna be hard for them to start a business, and specifically in rural communities in our case, we can’t expect all that to work. So re-envisioning this whole network of how people learn, start businesses, work for other companies or businesses, has really been changing, and it’s really interesting to watch right now as all these areas such as healthcare, education, retail, are experiencing this exponential shift at the same time.

Well healthcare’s an interesting piece of this, because the American healthcare sector is very, very large, economically, and socially, and it’s growing larger and larger, and again, as we continue to age that just means statistically we’re gonna consume more healthcare, and also the R and D of our medical sector, which is tremendous, is gonna produce more market options for healing people, and it adds an interesting kink to the evolving pattern. Because we now have this tendency of more and more young people are born and grow up in cities and in suburbs, and they’re more and more likely to go to higher education in cities, and then they’re more saddled with debt, which about two thirds of them are, they’re more and more likely to want to stay in cities so they can find a job, enable them to pay off that debt. But meanwhile, in the countryside, as we age more rapidly, healthcare becomes more and more important, and in fact when I go across the country and I go to small towns, small cities, it’s interesting to see how the healthcare sector, architecturally, looks kind of like the way churches used to. A looming hospital, which becomes central to the community, the drug stores are no longer pharmaceutical dispensaries but they’re full grocery stores. They’re like general stores right now. So maybe these young folks in their 20s, early 30s, will be lured out to the countryside simply for the opportunity to work in the medical sector. And I mean the full gamut of allied health, I mean home healthcare aids, I mean surgeons, I mean people doing medical informatics, medical administration, radiology, EMTs, the whole healthcare sector is actually very, very large, so maybe that is one way forward for the rural world is center ourselves less on agriculture and more on healthcare.

Yeah, I work with a lot of rural hospitals and part of that discussion is how do those hospitals really become more engaged within the community? Because they are an epicenter for those rural communities in so many ways in terms of not just providing for people that are sick or hurt or injured, but also wellness has become more of a factor, they are, in many ways, the economic driver of those communities, so how do we make sure that they stay viable in a time when they’re having to shift their business models, but also really look at the opportunities ahead in terms of being able to really help these rural communities thrive in a different way, and I think technology is just a huge part of that. We’ve talked about DIY dentistry, home birth, et cetera, I know you’ve mentioned that in other conversations, and that’s going on all over, we have a medical center here in Nebraska that’s just doing amazing things with virtual reality and all types of technology, so it’s very exciting to see those trends, but also the opportunities that are coming with them, even though we have to recognize there are challenges.


Well I know you’ve built about 40 scenarios for higher education through the work you’ve done, and one of the things that you and I both really have explored is this whole issue of non traditional learners through this lens of higher education as well. So thinking about, right now recruitment’s still focused on high school students, largely, for all these institutions, very few, I mean there are some, but so few have decided, you know what? We have a lot of non traditional students that also benefit from higher education, or continuing education, but they can’t come to a campus. This whole piece of online and real time learning, all the different types of technologies available, specifically in rural. I just published a paper where I talked a lot about this. In the evolution of rural healthcare, the importance of teaching people in place, where they are, not expecting them to move, but rather let’s value who’s already there and give them some new opportunities.

For those listeners who haven’t seen this, in healthcare there’s a long tradition at this Finnish University, and I was walking through their medical school, and they were showing me their simulation wing where they had devoted an entire wing of their university to simulation. It’s kind of a no brainer, it’s better to have medical students work on simulations than on live human beings. You might think of say, the Resusci Anne doll where people learn how to do CPR. So I walk through this corridor and I looked into a room where they had a robot that simulated a woman in childbirth, in the next room they had a kind of multi purpose room where you could see patients going through multiple procedures, there was another room which was a ward, which had a mix of human actors and robots, it was tremendous stuff. And then the last room we went to blew me away, because it was a living room, a meticulously tricked out living room, with a carpet, a TV in the corner, a sofa, I said, well wait a minute, have I gone in the wrong building? They said, no, no, no, one of our biggest demands is home healthcare.

That’s absolutely right, it is where it is at right now.

Literally where it’s at.

Yes, if it blew you away, it had to be awesome.

(laughing together)

It was so surreal, I thought that I had walked into a movie set, and the idea is, well what do you do with students who grew up in a major city, lived in the city, learned the city ways, and now they’re gonna be sent to central Finland, which is as rural as it gets, to help people in their homes? And so it was a really great idea to do that, so I think care in place, learning in place is something that we’re really, really going to be doing more of. When it comes to education, I think, in many ways, we have to think about this in some more imaginative and more effective ways. So if we have a learner who’s in rural Nebraska, and we want them to learn, we have to really think hard about how we do digital learning, so we have to figure out where synchronous technologies, like video conferencing, really work. How to do asynchronous learning, how to create a sense of learning community online, how to do that better, where a lot of online learning is really not community based, it’s more instructor, student, and pile of stuff. So beginning to recreate that.

I would love to see rural places be one of the first areas to use holograms, in these sorts of places, so it doesn’t just have to happen in Silicon Valley, it could really happen in our rural communities.

It really should, and it shouldn’t, I mean, in many ways, one of the great uses of virtual reality, or holograms, or any visualization is helping learners visualize something they just can’t get to. And that happens across the disciplines, for example, people in classical studies. Building visualizations of ancient Rome, because it’s gone, and also because most people can’t fly to Rome, and check out ruins right now. In sciences, people do visualizations of say proteins. So imagine, again, this hypothetical learner in the middle of rural Nebraska has the chance through VR say to glimpse Cairo, or a human skeleton from the inside, or the solar system from the outside, again, when you describe it, it sounds blindingly obvious, yes, we have to do this, but we have to do this, and it takes some work to do.

Well and I think it’s one of those things that could help stop, or at least slow down, this exodus from rural into our more urban centers, because there is the perception that there’s more opportunity in urban, and I think to some extent that’s true, but I think the other part of it is we need to think a little bolder, and bigger, to say how do we create that community? How do we create access? How do we recreate rural in a way that’s a 21st century model that people can use?


Well Bryan I’d love to know some parting words of wisdom that you could share with our audience.

A few things, one is to focus on imagining a future that can be different. I find this to be very, very challenging, for various reasons we tend to think about the future as an extension of the immediate past. For all of our vaunted love of disruption, we really see that as an exception, and tend to think of the future as being version seven of version six and five that we’ve just experienced, and it’s really important to think about the ways it can be gradually and even exceptionally different. And this is a mental habit that I recommend that science fiction is a good way of spurring that habit, in fact I really think if you’re not reading science fiction you’re not really ready for the 21st century.

I agree, I think that’s a great point.

Second thing is to connect with people. I don’t mean in a kind of Hallmark card cheesy way, I mean to take advantage of these technologies and reach out and connect with people so that you can learn from them. The future right now is such a vast and dynamic, complex system that it’s very difficult for any one person to get a handle on it. Really need the points of view of different people, and I think using the technology well is a really great benefit, and we really need to do that, and it’s not just a consumption angle, we have this inherited mid-20th century habit of sucking down media. Really, more importantly with 21st century media, as literally interactive. I think we really, really need to do that. So that’s a second bit of recommendation. Third is I think really to focus on, and advocate for, the rural world. We’re not really on the cultural radar. We don’t have much of a presence in pop culture, and we really need to, I think, push for ourselves, because right now we’re on the back foot, we’re not the most important sector anymore, and we have to really, I think, experiment with what we do, and we have to make our voices heard.

Yeah, I just think that’s so incredibly important. One of the things the Rural Futures Institute has been working on is really elevating the voice of rural, because you’re so spot on, it’s very lost, I think in the media world today, but also when it is out there it’s portrayed in a pretty stereotypical, negative way, and so elevating that conversation to really demonstrate the value of rural, but all the amazing, cutting edge innovation happening in rural is something we’re hoping to do, and we’re so excited that you’ve spent this time with us, during the show, to help us do that. I know you do that in your work, and we appreciate and value what you’re doing,

so as people are looking to creating the future, they’re getting help from people like you to do that in a very positive way. Well Bryan, thank you so much for this conversation today, I know people are gonna be curious and interested in finding you, so where can our listeners find you?

Well, you can find me pretty much everywhere, I’m very, very active online, I publish almost everything I do to the open web. The best central location is the Future of Education Observatory, just go to, you’ll find an introduction there, as well as links from there to my blog, to my other social media platforms, and my weekly video conference, that’s one way. You can find me on Patreon, where I have supporters there who help keep me going, And naturally I’m on Twitter all the time, just my handle just BryanAlexander, B-R-Y-A-N, Alexander.

Excellent, I know our listeners will want to check that out, I’m a huge fan, and will continue to be, and we so appreciate all the insights, and futures perspectives that you shared today, thank you.

Well it’s my pleasure, thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for the great conversation.

Thanks for listening to the Rural Futures podcast with Dr. Connie, subscribe where you listen so you don’t miss an episode, and reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at RuralFutures to let us know what questions you have and who you think we should bring on the show. Next up, Dr. Connie talks with Microsoft General Manager Shelley McKinley, about rural connectivity and leadership in a world of exponential change. We are really on the brink of this fourth industrial revolution, we need to take action now, one of the number one things going forward is we have to ensure that we’ve got a good, diverse, and inclusive set of people around the world that are working together to really try to tackle some of these humongous challenges we have in front of us in things like the environment, and things like accessibility, and things like human rights.


Episode 0: Intro! Intersecting technology, leadership and rural-urban collaboration




Through the Rural Futures podcast, host Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, associate executive director and chief futurist at the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, and producer Katelyn Ideus, RFI director of communications, connect achievers, mavericks and doers in both rural and urban communities, organizations and companies to bring forward a thriving high-touch, high-tech combined future.

In this introductory episode they share their educational, career and personal backgrounds as well as their goals for the show. Throughout season 1, listeners can expect to hear from researchers, entrepreneurs and innovators from healthcare, agriculture, education, technology and from communities around the country.

The calls to action for this episode — let us know what questions and ideas you have to make this a valuable experience for you and subscribe where you listen, so you don’t miss a weekly episode!


Connie Reimers-Hild, Associate Director, Rural Futures Institute
“A lot of leadership theory developed in a different era. What we really want do is focus on the mavericks, those doers who are doing cool things already, really leading themselves but, at the same time, leading communities of change and purpose.”
Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild
Host & Futurist

More from Dr. Connie




More from Katelyn



Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, host of the Rural Futures podcast, and today we’re introducing episode zero.  We’d really like you to subscribe. Right now I’d like to introduce our executive producer, Katelyn Ideus.

Hi, Connie! Yes, I’m so excited. I’m Katelyn, this is episode zero of Rural Futures. We’ve been planning this for such a long time. So, Connie, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about your professional background and your personal life.

Absolutely. I’m kind of an odd hard/social science mix,  which is great to be a futurist, right?

Absolutely, it fits perfectly. Yeah, so, I mean that’s kind of where the futurist lens I think comes in to, to kind of bring that all together. But I have a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, a master’s degree in entomology, which is the study of insects for anybody not familiar with that concept. My PhD is in human sciences and leadership studies and my goal with those degrees was to blend the hard and social sciences together in an effort to help people become more entrepreneurial and create innovation for a more positive future. On the personal side, I’m married, I’m a mom, I’m a wiener dog lover. I think anyone that’s ever had a class with me or associated with me knows that. But I very much am focused on family and value quality of life as well as technology and some of the cool things we see emerging. I have a keen interest in how the planet sort of will continue to evolve over time with all the exponential change we’re seeking now. Alright, so that’s probably enough about me. People will get to know me more as the podcast moves forward but what about you Katelyn?

Alright, thanks, Connie. I am a communicator, I’ve been a communicator my whole career. I was a journalism undergrad and then I have a master’s degree in PR and marketing. Really what I kind of tell people is I’m a storyteller. The journalism, news ed, and broadcast background, I always thought I would be a newspaper writer and then newspapers have really changed, right? So I have really embraced kind of the digital side of storytelling and this frequent content, right? Even as a communications professional and an organization, you’re a publisher these days. So it’s really, really fun. And then from the kind of rural perspective, I did not grow up in a rural community. A lot of times people are surprised by that, being the communications director for the Rural Futures Institute. But I actually grew up in several large cities, and so I think it’s kind of a cool, I bring kind of a cool perspective. I do live in the country now. I did marry a part-time farmer, so that kind of comes with the territory. Absolutely.

And I think that background has really helped position the Rural Futures Institute in a different way and is really one of the reasons for the podcast, right? Is to get these stories out and create global conversations around, you know, what we’ve seen happening in terms of, not just rural, but rural and urban, and bringing those two worlds together in a thoughtful way that benefits everyone. And I think your unique perspective really helps us be able to do that in a very proactive but also positive way that’s translational for the listeners in terms of those takeaways that we want to make sure they have.

And what are you, I mean, who are the types of people, I mean obviously we’ve had this conversation a lot of times of who are our listeners and I’ve always, yes, they’re leaders, but I think we have, we’ve talked about being careful, right? With that term leader, too, because it’s like, you know, a lot of people don’t self-identify as a leader but if you’re an achiever, if you’re a doer, if you’re kind of a gritty person in your rural community, or in a start up business, whether that’s rural or urban, I think it’s all of these different types of leaders. Talk more about that.

Yeah, I think you’re spot on. I mean, I think part of what we’re missing somewhat in leadership was a lot of leadership theory developed in a different era. You know, I lead this organization, I’m leading these people. What we really want to do is focus on the mavericks, those doers who are doing cool things already, really leading themselves but at the same time leading communities of change and purpose. I think sometimes we’re not focused enough on that and in an era of exponential change like we’re in right now, we’re gonna need more of that whether it’s in a university or in a community, in a private business, because things are changing so quickly we need leaders to be able to adapt but be very entrepreneurial and innovative at the same time.

Right, right. One of the things, too, that we’ve talked about that I think is interesting and even some of the guests that we’ve already started lining up are having a little trouble saying, “Okay, so what’s the connection to rural?” Right? And I think, though that’s, right there is our purpose, is we are making this connection even for some of these, I mean, kind of high-flying leaders and entrepreneurs in this space. You are connected to rural, we all are in some way. And we’re not gonna force that on anyone or anything but I think it’s great perspective.

Yeah, I mean, I think what one thing that we’ve seen happen is rural and urban have become very polarized, right? And so people either talk about rural or urban. But at the Rural Futures Institute, we’ve really thought about how do we those conversations together. We do live in a globalized society and that’s only going to increase as more people become connected and we have major companies now investing and connecting the billions of people who are not yet connected and most of them reside in rural. So everybody has a stake in this game. And as those people become connected, how does that change business, how does that change life?

Not just in those rural communities but the urban communities as well, and how do we all thrive together in this planet. I mean, I think it’s great to think about going to Mars and colonizing Mars, and all these really futurist things, but some of the questions I think we ask which are so interesting are how do we make it better here now? You know, and into the future for your kids, my kids, those next generations that, you know, we want them to be able to choose where they want to live and have the life they want to live whether they’re here or somewhere else.

Absolutely. So you talked about some of the questions we’re going to ask. So tell our listeners, give them a sneak peak of some of the questions we might be asking.

Absolutely. You know, I want to dive into leadership, of course. How do they define themselves as leaders. But I also really want to know that personal side of leadership because I think along with the technology and sort of scientific types of changes we’re also seeing changes in our social structure and our social fabric, the social norms. You know, as more people are working and dual-career couples, for example, or not having kids or, you know, balancing life in different ways or even questioning why is the work day set up the way it is? How can we change that? Why is school set up the way it is? How do we continue to change that? You know, diving into their thoughts around that and how they’re creating lives that work for them because a lot of these mavericks are doing that. They’re questioning the norms, right? But they’re also setting a new standard at the same time. And that’s causing a bit of controversy and conflict in our society, but at the same time, from that I think can create, be creative opportunities that really advance our society in positive ways if we choose to direct the future in that way. I want to know what they do for fun. I mean, really, it’s like sometimes I think we see these thought-leaders and it’s so serious and it’s like, “Oh, you know, how are you growing your business? “How are you doing this?” But they’re people. You know? And that human side I think is so important. And also what do they see as the major changes happening in their industries? You know? How do they see technology changing, but how do they also see that influencing workforce development, jobs, new opportunities in the future?

And how are they integrating different cultures together? We talked about this I think yesterday. It’s just how are, how are some people’s leadership styles just different because of how, of their experiences or their culture or how they were raised? How can we learn from that and kind of adapt to that and change? I mean, it’s just an interesting, I think they’re interesting topics. And we’re gonna ask them to tell a lot of stories, too. Right? That’s one thing, too, that I think, Connie and I listen to a lot of podcasts so we don’t want this to be very structured or, or super serious, like you said, but more storytelling and really giving some, some good value and some good takeaways that our listeners can put into action in their job or in their home or in their communities.

Yeah we want people to get something out of this. You know, if you’re gonna invest your valuable time into listening we want you to have those takeaways that matter to you but that’s where we need listeners to help guide us through that process as well. You know, we don’t want to just create something and keep going down a path. We really want to hear from people. You know, who should we have on? What are some things that people want to know? You know, we want this to be like a co-creative process, very highly interactive, so we get better and we better serve our audience. You know, it’s an experiment for us, too. Something new for both of us and so I’m excited that our team at Rural Futures and embarking on this journey and really then opening up our engagement beyond where we are physically and into this global, very virtual world so we can really crowd source this whole conversation.

Absolutely. And I think we should say here with that, it’s obviously, the Rural Futures Institute is located at the University of Nebraska in Nebraska, and we’re very passionate about Nebraska, but I think what we’re trying to do with this is, is bring Nebraska out to the world and then bring some more of the world into Nebraska. So it’s very much this kind of perspective-building that we’re looking to do.

And we can only do it with our listeners so we appreciate hearing from you.