2015 Rural Futures Conference


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The 2015 Rural Futures Conference, “Hope Inspires Vision,” encouraged all attendees to envision vibrant rural futures. This strong vision coupled with active hope for the future can energize the rural landscape and create brighter futures. The conference program was designed to connect attendees with a powerful network of catalysts to discover and learn how to build hope and invigorate rural places.

For the first time, the Rural Futures Conference was held in two locations. The Lincoln site was held at Nebraska Innovation Campus from Oct. 21-23, and the second site was held in Curtis, Nebraska at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) from Oct. 21-22. The conference utilized technology to connect panels, speakers and participants.

Between the two locations, this event engaged over 650 attendees from 18 states, 3 countries, among others who joined the conversation through the online live-stream. Conference attendees brought a wide range of experiences, disciplines and perspectives on rural life, bringing ideas together to enrich the efforts of the Rural Futures Institute.

The Rural Futures Conference held sessions highlighting various speakers, namely Clifton Taulbert, entrepreneur, businessman, and author, who challenged attendees to imagine what’s possible for the future of rural by drawing upon his experiences growing up in the Mississippi Delta; Shane Lopez, Gallup Sr. Scientist in Residence and Research Director for the Clifton Strengths Institute, provided participants with evidence of the power and importance of hope in education, business, and our communities; and Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett, authors of 40 Changes: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, spoke about the urgency of making a meaningful difference and the importance of rural people and places to our nation and the world.


“I have to say that this conference, and conferences like it, are probably the most important thing happening in America today. We built this country from rural America up.”

–Howard G. Buffett, Chairman & CEO, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation


Additional highlights of the conference included connecting students with career opportunities in rural areas through the Rural Opportunities Fair, learning about big ideas from conference participants during the Envision Rural session, and collaborating with attendees through the Posters and Partnering session. View the full conference program here. Conference proceedings are available for viewing/downloading below.

Conference Videos

Watch the Hope Inspires Vision video and the Rural Futures Conference Highlight reel below. Videos of all the conference lectures and presentations are available here »

Conference Highlights

Side Events

Encouraging Collaboration
This year, the Rural Futures Institute welcomed proposals from organizations interested in hosting small informational meetings or workshops prior to the conference. By hosting an event, participants were able to engage a wide range of stakeholders to discuss or debate a specific issue of their choice.

Envision Rural Talks

Igniting Creative Ideas
Presenters shared their big ideas in a TED-style presentation. Their ideas either encouraged a more hopeful rural future, or provoked an important research question. Their talks could be personal, take us on a journey, or share a big audacious idea.

Watch the Presentations »

Rural Opportunities Fair

Connecting Communities & Students
Similar to a career fair, the Rural Opportunities Fair brought 39 community and business representatives, who were looking to recruit young talent for jobs and internships to the UNL East Campus in Lincoln. In addition to job opportunities, representatives highlighted leadership, social, and entrepreneurial opportunities that exist within their community organizations.

Watch the Highlight Video »

Poster Session

Learning Through Sharing
The 2015 Rural Futures Conference featured a juried poster competition for undergraduate and graduate students. Students were invited to present a poster on a “big idea” research question that showcased new knowledge and bold ideas. Twenty-nine abstracts were accepted for the competition. Additional posters were submitted by faculty, partners and other professionals. A total of forty abstracts were submitted.

View Winners »

Coffeeshop Discussions

Prior to the conference, attendees submitted questions and topics, and through a selection process, the questions were chosen for the event. Coffeeshop Discussions are designed to allow conference participants to bring topics or questions to the table. These informal discussions helped conference attendees share knowledge and experiences while networking with others. They are designed to showcase the vast array of topics, questions and ideas that the Rural Futures Institute and others have identified.

Download PDF »