Letter from recently appointed RFI Interim Executive Director Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.

 

Dear advocates of a thriving rural future:

It is with great anticipation that I write to you as Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, a role that I accepted upon the June 30, 2018, retirement of RFI’s Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder.

In assuming this role, I am full of hope for what meaningful action RFI can accomplish with you during the next year across the following areas of critical need and strength for rural areas:

I am also full of expectation—expectation for the kinds of futures we can design and build together in this time of constant change, growth and opportunity.

 

As a futurist, I must start with a discussion about the future—not just about a sustainable future for our rural areas, but our desired rural-urban futures. I see a future with:


Diverse and inclusive leadership that embraces differences in experience and skill set for mission, purpose and genuine personal growth. We must prepare ourselves and the generations of leaders to come.

“An inclusive leader is someone who is emotionally intelligent, who has the developmental capacity to bring people from all walks of life together and help them innovate and create things that didn’t exist before.”
— Helen Fagan, Ph.D.
RFI Director of Leadership Engagement


Continued exponential changes across technology, human ability and the point of innovation where the two infuse. With a realistic understanding of the challenges the fourth industrial revolution brings, we must think and strategize about the possible, not just the probable.

“I’ve looked at technology a lot for the past 30 years, and there is a graveyard of really cool, innovative technology concepts that failed to pass the people testultimately, technology has to be used by people. It’s really the interplay of how does technology meet a social or people need and, one might argue, that it’s actually the people and social needs that are more compelling.”
— Andy Hines, Futurist
Graduate Program in Foresight
University of Houston


A dynamic ecosystem of rural and urban challenges and opportunities overlapping and coinciding for win-win scenarios. Through our recent work with Microsoft, Tufts University and the Japan Society, we know our future is not mutually exclusive based on geography. In fact, we are incredibly interdependent on the success of each other. A mindset of abundance can generate new opportunities.

“To think that the challenges that are faced and the solutions are always totally different in rural environments, whether it’s in Nebraska or in Honduras, or anywhere in the world, and that they are also totally different from the challenges in urban areas—I actually don’t believe that. There are differences, but there’s also similarities.
— Tim Griffin, Ph.D.
Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment
Tufts University

 

It is also with great gratitude that I enter this role.

Gratitude to my family, friends, mentors, colleagues, members of the RFI team, and the students, organizations and communities that continue to support our work. My ability to serve in this role is only possible with the support of others, especially my husband and two children.

To Chuck Schroeder, thank you for your wisdom and your incredible relationship building with mavericks across Nebraska with whom we will continue to call upon out of incredible respect for their expertise, work ethic and fundamental belief in a thriving rural future.

To Mike Boehm, University of Nebraska Vice President of Agricultural and Natural Resources; Susan Fritz, University of Nebraska Executive Vice President and Provost; and Hank Bounds, University of Nebraska President, thank you for your vision. It is because of your leadership that the Rural Futures Institute continues the University of Nebraska’s priority to truly impact the lives of rural people.

 

I would be remiss if I did not provide an update regarding our recent past. RFI’s budget reductions during the 2017-2018 fiscal year were wild cards that significantly impacted the trajectory we set out in our July 2017 strategic plan. We have removed staff, and we are now in the midst of transitioning our meaningful programs.

RFI Fellows. The formal commitments of the inaugural class ended June 30, 2018. The intention is to create a second, smaller class, but on a delayed timeline.

RFI Competitive Awards. RFI will no longer fund research and teaching projects; however, we will continue to share impacts and outcomes of projects in progress. We are exploring other opportunities to stimulate innovative research and teaching projects in conjunction with communities and partners.

RFI Student Serviceship. The summer 2018 experience will be the final experience under RFI administration. The program is currently being led and evaluated by Dr. Helen Fagan, and she is working to transfer leadership to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

Connecting Young Nebraskans. CYN has been transferred to the Nebraska Community Foundation, though it is our understanding that its vision will remain under the CYN Steering Team.

While these direct outcomes of the budget reduction are difficult, we are choosing to create needed focus for RFI’s energy and needed clarity around RFI’s role within the University of Nebraska system, the state of Nebraska and as a catalyst of innovation for rural areas around the country.

 

In my anticipation, I ask of all of us—together, let us be creative in our thinking, collaborative in our work, resolute in our strategy and bold in our storytelling.

Thank you for you for your time, dedication and advocacy. Our passion for rural areas in Nebraska, the U.S. and the world ignites our energy and our collaboration with you is the vessel by which we can work together toward thriving rural futures for all.

 

Sincerely,

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC
Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist
Rural Futures Institute
University of Nebraska

 

Dr. Reimers-Hild’s Bio

Strategic Foresight

Rural Futures podcast