Media Announcement: Season 2 of Rural Futures Podcast Connects Futurists, Researchers and Nebraska Entrepreneurs

October 16, 2018
Media Contact Katelyn Ideus Director of Communications & PR Rural Futures Institute University of Nebraska 402.659.5886 Editor’s Note: You are welcome to use the transcripts of our interviews in ways that are useful to you and valuable to your audiences. We …

Media Contact
Katelyn Ideus
Director of Communications & PR
Rural Futures Institute
University of Nebraska

Editor’s Note: You are welcome to use the transcripts of our interviews in ways that are useful to you and valuable to your audiences. We are also available to connect you to guests of the show.

Lincoln, Neb. – October 16, 2018 – In Season 2 of the Rural Futures with Dr. Conniel podcast, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska continues to bring futurists, researchers and rural entrepreneurs together to talk about solutions, opportunities and plausible rural futures at the intersections of technology and what it means to be human.

The podcast is available on iTunesStitcherSoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

With guests, Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist, explores leadership, technology and rural-urban collaboration through strategic foresight techniques and the lenses of:

  • Exponential change
  • Disruptive leadership
  • Evolution of humanity

Already recorded guests include:

  • Live! Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., rural broadband expert at the Purdue Center for Regional Development
  • Live! Ali Schwanke, Founder & CEO of Simple Strat, a growth marketing agency based in Nebraska
  • Live! Thomas Frey, international futurist, corporate consultant, Executive Director at the Da Vinci Institute
  • Howard Liu, M.D., Director of the Behavior Health Education Center of Nebraska at the University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Amber Pankonin, nutrition communications expert and consultant based in Nebraska, founder of and host of the Healthy Under Pressure podcast
  • Deborah Westphal, CEO of Toffler Associates, a future-focused strategic advisory firm
  • Christiana McFarland, Research Director at the National League of Cities
  • Matt Dennis, Co-Founder, Handlebend Copper Company

Episode audio, guest bios and transcripts available via


About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

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Episode 13: International Futurist Thomas Frey intersects technology, underpopulation, higher education

October 10, 2018
              Referred to as the “architect of the future,” “IBM’s most award-winning engineer” and “Google’s top-rated futurist speaker,” Thomas Frey, corporate consultant, international speaker and creator of the Da Vinci Institute, makes predictions and asks bold …






Referred to as the “architect of the future,” “IBM’s most award-winning engineer” and “Google’s top-rated futurist speaker,” Thomas Frey, corporate consultant, international speaker and creator of the Da Vinci Institute, makes predictions and asks bold questions to generate ideas and actions for the future. In this episode, he and Dr. Connie dig in to the technologies that will bring rural and urban together; underpopulation versus overpopulation around the globe; and the evolving roles of leadership and higher education.

Before we brought Thomas on the show, we knew he worked closely with companies such as John Deere, AT&T, Pepsico and so many more. What we didn’t know is that he grew up in rural South Dakota driving a John Deere tractor. We continue to be inspired by rural-raised and rural-living futurists — there is definitely a theme emerging!

Thomas Frey, futurist
“It’s almost as if we’re walking backwards into the future. My job is to help turn people around.”
Thomas Frey
Executive Director and Futurist, Da Vinci Institute

About Thomas


Over the past decade, Futurist Thomas Frey has built an enormous following around the world based on his ability to develop accurate visions of the future and describe the opportunities ahead. Having started seventeen businesses himself and assisting on the development of hundreds more, the understanding he brings to his audiences is a rare blend of reality-based thinking coupled with a clear-headed visualization of the world ahead.

Predicting the future has little value without understanding the driving forces behind the trends, subtle nuances that can be leveraged, and implications for both the people directly affected in the industry as well as others farther down the technological food chain.

Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer. He is also a past member of the Triple Nine Society (High I.Q. society over 99.9 percentile).

As part of the celebrity speaking circuit, Thomas continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come. His keynote talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, Disney, IBM, Federal Reserve Bank, TED, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Visa, Frito-Lay, Toshiba, Dow Chemical, KPMG, Siemens, Rockwell, Wired Magazine, Caterpillar, PepsiCo, Deloitte & Touche, Hunter Douglas, Amgen, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, Korean Broadcast System, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more.

Thomas has been featured in thousands of articles for both national and international publications including New York Times, Huffington Post, Times of India, USA Today, US News and World Report, Popular Science, The Futurist Magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, World Economic Forum, Times of Israel, Mashable, Bangkok Post, National Geographics, ColoradoBiz Magazine, Rocky Mountain News, and many more. He currently writes a weekly “Future Trend Report” newsletter and a weekly column for

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Google’s top-rated futurist, Thomas Frey. And I’m so excited, I’m a huge fan of his work, and I think you’re going to be a huge fan, too, after this interview. But I wanted to give you a little bio, he works as a senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute, a futurist think tank founded 21 years ago. But what’s more, he also grew up on a farm in rural South Dakota and spent his childhood driving a John Deere tractor. Welcome to the show, Thomas.

Thomas Frey: All right, thanks for having me on.

Dr. Connie: Thank you. Tell us a little bit more about what it means to be a futurist.

Thomas Frey: That’s a great question, because I think of my role as expanding people’s understanding of what the future holds, and I do that primarily through technology-driven change. I do it through the lens of technology. We can predict the future in lots of different ways that are highly probable. I mean, with a high degree of probability, I can predict that the building that you’re in right now is still going to be there six months from now. I can predict that with a high degree of probability. I can predict that the Earth’s going to travel around the Sun in roughly the same orbit even a hundred years from now. I can predict that with a high degree of probability. I can predict that 50 years from now, we’re still going to have the summer, winter, spring, and fall, we’re going to have the rising tides. You put a handful of seeds in the ground, a percentage of them are going to sprout and spring to life. And I can predict so many aspects of the world around me that I can plan a birthday party two weeks from now and have a lot of assurance that I can pull it off because most of our future’s being formed around slow-moving elements that we can predict with a high degree of probability. The things that are most unpredictable are the things like the weather, things like animals and people, and to the degree that we can get better at predicting the actions of people, then that gives us a huge edge. And so the technology-driven change is a huge component of predicting how people are going to act and do things in the future.

Dr. Connie: Thank you for that. I think that’s a great description of you as a futurist. I’d like to dive a little bit more into you as a leader. So tell us a little bit more about Thomas Frey, the leader.

Thomas Frey: I tend to experiment with a lot of things and try things, and I’ve attempted to set up lots of different businesses in the past and a lot of them are still actually in existence in some form that are out there. But I like to push people’s thinking on different areas. So I try to use different techniques to push their thinking in one way or another, asking provocative questions, probing their understanding, and then establishing scenarios and predictions about the future that will help draw our thinking forward in some interesting ways. There’s a lot of futurists out there that don’t want to make any predictions because invariably, when I make a prediction, it’s going to be wrong. There’s some aspect of it that’s just not going to be right. The timing’s off, or you get some details wrong, but the true value in a prediction is that it forces us to think about the future. It forces us to think about this time and space sometime in the future and that, then we can start drawing our own conclusions. Even if I would give a prediction and just totally nail it, I get every aspect of it right, somehow, when we get to that point in the future, it just feels different and so there’s all kinds of pluses and minuses making predictions but I like to do it in that it begs questions in our own minds that, “Is this the way it’s going to be,” and “From my vantage point, how would that be “a little different than what he is saying?”

Dr. Connie: A lot of times when I talk about futuring or even strategic foresight, I talk a lot about there are many possible or plausible futures. It’s not necessarily about predicting the future, but I really appreciate the predictions you make, and making a few of those myself off and on, again I feel like I need to do more of that. Because I think it’s a bold move and like you’re saying, it also helps people think very differently, but also really forces you as a futurist to get out there and be a thought leader in this space.

Thomas Frey: Yeah, it challenges assumptions, and that’s kind of the big advantage to it. And that’s what I think my role is. Everybody figures out how they have to fit in society in some way and that’s my role. I have something of a gift to give the world, and so my gift is to be something of a professional conversation starter around this idea of what the future holds.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: We know that you work with a lot of companies and a lot of leaders, helping them think about the future and plan for the future. So tell us a little bit about the companies and leaders you’ve worked with as a futurist.

Thomas Frey: I tend to do about 40 to 50 talks a year. I’ll travel to somewhere between eight and 12 countries every year, and it’ll be on topics ranging from, everything from the future of agriculture to the future of education, future of banking. I had a conversation a few days ago on giving a talk on the future of the beer industry, so that’ll be a fun one. I might want to dive into that one at some point.


Thomas Frey: Yes, it’s interesting. One thing that caught me off guard, I didn’t realize this, but we always thought it would be the tobacco companies and the pharmaceutical companies that would be investing in the marijuana industry, but it’s actually the beer industry that’s making heavy investments right now up in Canada into the marijuana industry. And the key thing that they’re interested in is the CBD oil and growing thousand-acre farms up there just to harvest the CBD oil, which is the by-product that is used in 300,000 different products right now, and that’s something that’s kind of missing from most of the conversations. But the marijuana stocks right now are becoming the new bitcoin, which is kind of a fun thing to watch.

Dr. Connie: It is fun to watch and I think it’s something, too, as we think about the future and the future of agriculture, the future of rural, it should really be part of the conversation. I actually was the keynote at  Nebraska’s Rural Healthcare Conference last week and talked about the future of rural healthcare, and I actually was handed a book on hemp (chuckles) and marijuana, and so it’s exciting to see people talking about it here, but it’ll really be fun to watch the evolution of that industry.

Thomas Frey: About a month ago, I was over in Australia, speaking to the cotton farmers in Australia, which is a much larger industry over there than I realized. They specifically asked me to do research on are there any people doing research on 3D printing with cotton and the cotton farmers are very interested in how the cotton industry’s starting to evolve in the future. It was rather fascinating, because I could find people experimenting with 3D printing with hemp fiber, with the nylons and the rayons and all of the synthetic fibers, also with bamboo fibers and so it led me to believe that we’re getting into the fiber wars right now. And that anything we can feed into a 3D printer is going to carry a higher level of prominence in the future, but we may end up having with as many as 10,000 different products that we can run through a 3D printer in the very near future and so agriculture’s going to play a big role in that, but the oil industry wants to play a role in it as well, so that’s where we’re going to get into these fiber wars on some level.

Dr. Connie: It’s really interesting to me how history sometimes repeats itself and enhances the future. I grew up in West Point, Nebraska. I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my grandparents did, and my grandpa used a lot of hemp rope, and he swore by it. He said it was the best rope they ever had and it, as a fiber, has always had this unique place where it’s very durable, it’s sustainable, et cetera. And thinking about fibers and more sustainable futures using these types of fibers like hemp I think is an interesting conversation for agriculture, but also just this rural-urban interface as well, how we’re all so interdependent on one another.

Thomas Frey: Exactly, exactly. The rural communities have so many advantages. I mean, it’s the wide open spaces. They can try things without irritating the neighbors. There’s freedom of thought. You just don’t have people breathing down each other’s necks like you do in some areas. I was having a conversation this morning about the typhoon that hit in Hong Kong and how these apartments they’re building there that are 250 square feet, a lot of them got their windows blown out because of the typhoon and how durable these buildings are and whether or not they’ll last 50 years or they have to be torn down before that. It becomes kind of an interesting question. The rural communities who don’t have to worry about building things 50, 60 stories tall just to accommodate all of the people that want to live there, you can spread out a little bit, you have room to grow.

Dr. Connie: Absolutely, and I really appreciate in our pre-conversation how you talked about how many times our conversation globally has been about overpopulation, but perhaps it’s the under-population that we really need to start focusing on.

Thomas Frey: Half of all the babies born in the world are born in Africa. That’s where the population is still growing. The medium age in Africa right now is 27. The country with the lowest birth rate in the world right now is South Korea, followed by Japan. Neither one of them believe in immigration. A couple of years ago, I gave a talk in South Korea, and I told them that the rate that they were going, that the last Korean would be born in 2300. The birth rate is declining so much it’s under one person per female, and we need 2.1 kids per female in order to maintain an even population. So they are currently under one, and by 2300 at the rate that they’re going,they’ll be down to a population of under 50,000 for the entire country. So this whole supply and demand equation starts getting out of whack as a result of that, and it starts first showing up in the real estate area. But something will have to change, and we’re already starting to see cracks in their no immigration policies. So we’ll see how all this evolves. It’ll be very interesting to watch.

Dr. Connie: One of the leaders from the United States is actually heading to Japan here in later 2018, and it’s going to be interesting to see a little bit more of their culture up close. They actually contacted the Rural Futures Institute, and I received an email, this is not verbatim, it said, “Dr. Connie, what’s the future of rural Japan?” because they’re curious and (laughter) the country has made a national effort and initiative and declared it a national priority to focus on its rural areas, and redeveloping those areas because they are nervous about exactly what you’re saying. Will Japan really even exist in the future? And in this hyper-urbanization they’re experiencing, they’ve already seen the challenges associated with that, if they don’t have a diverse population spread across the country, because they’ve had enough disasters in different locales that they understand what that means to their population.

Thomas Frey: I had to do a study on the difference in millennials in the United States and India and China and how they make decisions and that was kind of a fascinating study, and it’s all based on the different types of technology that you’re exposed to as you’re growing up. You see, right now, all the young people in Africa are growing up and they have smartphones that they have access to. One thing that never gets talked about very much is that with the Internet, it’s increasing our awareness of the world, and so when you’re looking on your smartphone and you’re much more aware of things happening all over the world and you look at the stuff happening and you say, “Wow, there’s many cool things happening in the world, but it’s not happening here,  I think I want to go there.” And so this idea of migrating to other countries, of trying to move to Europe or trying to move to the United States, or South America—we’re becoming a much more fluid society, and it’s driven by this notion that I have control over my own destiny, so I can go anywhere I want to, and why would I want to stay here, wherever that might be? And so that’s why we’re starting to see all of these refugee issues around the world. Some of it is driven by wars and famine, but other aspects of it are driven just by people wanting to venture out and explore the world. And so that’s creating much other issues going on in the world.

Dr. Connie: I find it interesting, sometimes in the world of rural development, traditionally, we’ve sent young people graduating from high school off to college and then we’re hopeful that they’ll return and become a professional in those communities and help grow the population. I’ve really been talking a lot lately about maybe that’s not the right model. Maybe we need to quit (chuckles) expecting that or wanting that, and I think we have moved to this very mobile society. People want to go have experiences. So I think it’s encouraging people to go where they want to go, be who they want to be, but always have the invitation extended. Come back wherever you come from, and make your life here if you desire to do that. We can help you create that opportunity.

Thomas Frey: The driverless technology is going to have such a profound effect on tentative divisions between rural and urban areas, because I think it extends out their urban areas in such far distances in every direction. If I have a job that I have to commute to in the city, and I don’t have to do the driving, I don’t have to fight traffic, I don’t have to do any of that because the car does it all for me, that’s a whole different way of thinking about a morning commute because I can stay productive, I can get a lot of things done inside this vehicle on my way to work and maybe I’ll only have to go in two days a week, so maybe I’m willing to actually commute two hours each way, and then some of that extends out this urban community suddenly is extended out a couple hundred miles farther than it ever was in the past. That changes our perspective in so many ways. It changes the pricing of real estate, it changes where we want to live, our houses, and all that. So when you start adding some multipliers to that as to what cities will look like in the future, then we start getting some really interesting scenarios of what could happen. Now we don’t have any good evidence of that yet, and the whole driverless technology thing will evolve over time as it gets better and better, but there’s certainly a lot of interesting speculation as to some of the possibilities.

Dr. Connie: Personally I’m excited about that. I drive about an hour and a half one way, and I’d love to have the autonomous vehicle where it’s kind of a spa, but also productive and entertaining all at the same time. I can only speak for me personally. I cannot speak on behalf of the State of Nebraska. We have so many commuters here from our rural areas into our urban centers. Love to see us be kind of a real testing site, but also an innovation bed for this type of technology because I think we could also provide insights on what those commuters might need.

Thomas Frey: The one thing to keep in mind is that the cars we drive today have actually been in development for 120 years. And so it’s taken that long to get to a vehicle that’s this good. So once we move into driverless technology, it’s going to take quite a while to work our way through what I refer to as the crappy stages of all this emerging technology to get to the really good stuff. So we’re going to go through this awkward transition of having drivers in some cars and no drivers in other cars, and so we’re going to have things that go wrong. We’re going to have accidents. We’re going to have edge cases. But those are on the fringe. I think overall traffic is going to get much safer. I mean right now we end up having 38,000 deaths every year. We have 12.4 million injuries in car accidents. We spend right at half a trillion dollars a year repairing people after car accidents. One out of every six dollars in the healthcare industry goes into fixing people after car accidents. If we could be more like the airline industry, the airline industry becomes the safety metric for transportation because virtually nobody dies in airlines any more. And so if we can get even close to that in the car industry, we’ve just saved countless lives, there’s nobody that can argue against that, but it’s funny to watch all the newspaper headlines. “Oh, they had an accident in the driverless car world.” Well, yes, we’re going to have a lot of them leading up to the fact that we’re getting to a much safer form of transportation some time in the future.

Dr. Connie: I think that what you’re saying is so important. It’s not like this is just going to happen tomorrow. It is going to be a process, much like many technologies have been over time, so it’s not something that just instantly happens, and I think sometimes when people get in conversations around these types of technologies, they do get a little nervous, and I don’t blame them, but at the same time, these things are going to have to get worked out along the way, and they will.

Thomas Frey: We had one of our Mastermind groups working on this topic of what things will be coming in their life in 2030 that don’t exist today. And to put that in perspective, we’re looking at, “Okay, what things do we have today that weren’t around 12 years ago?” And so 12 years ago, in 2006, we didn’t have any mobile apps. We didn’t have Twitter. Facebook was just a tiny little company then. And it becomes kind of amusing to actually start going through all these things we just take for granted today that weren’t even around 10, 12 years ago.

(music transition)

Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rock star students from the University of Nebraska who are making a difference in rural.

Katy Bagniewski: Hey, podcast listeners, it’s Katy, production specialist of the Rural Futures podcast. With me today is Tyan Boyer, a senior exercise science major at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Welcome, Tyan.

Tyan Boyer: Thanks for having me, Katy.

Katy Bagniewski: It’s so nice to have you on the show. Start by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Tyan Boyer: Like you said, I’m a senior exercise science major at UNK. I am from Wayne, Nebraska, which is a small town in northeast Nebraska, about a thousand people. Something that I’m wanting to do with my future career is to go to PT school, become a physical therapist. A little slogan that I live by is positive infinity I’m just a very positive person. I try to instill a little bit of that in everybody’s life, everybody that I’m around. I just try to be in a good mood all the time, even when it doesn’t seem like there is a way to, you try to find the little things that pick you up to maintain that positivity.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, at RFI we really value that positivity that you bring to the narrative around rural communities. So tell me, why do you care so much about rural?

Tyan Boyer: Rural means everything to me. I’m from a very small town, like I said. I think a lot of my characteristics and the things that are important to me and the values that I have are because of the rural aspect. I love the closeness with rural, I love the know your neighbor aspect that we have, that I think tends to be forgotten in bigger cities, and that’s something that has always stuck with me and something that I want for my kids, too.

Katy Bagniewski: Now I know you got the chance to directly impact a rural community through RFI’s Student Services Program. Tell me a little bit about that.

Tyan Boyer: Not only this summer, but last summer, I was in McCook, Nebraska, doing a serviceship, and we ran health and wellness camps for middle school kids. Fitness, nutrition, physical activity, and then some of the more cutting-edge stuff, like technology—tying that in with fitness and nutrition and then also aquaponics and incorporating sustainability aspects of that as well.

Katy Bagniewski: What a cool connection between your field of study and the real world opportunity to impact a community. How else has RFI impacted your college career and development?

Tyan Boyer: The opportunities and the people that I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had. I would not have been able to have those without this serviceship, not only this summer, but the summer prior. I met so many great people from all over the state, so many contacts for the future, building those friendships and those bonds that I had with this year’s interns and also last year’s are something I’m going to be able to access in the future. And I hope that they feel that they can use me as a resource in the future as well. I don’t really think that there’s a price you can put on that. I feel like that is something that is completely invaluable, and those friendships will continue to last for the rest of my life.

Katy Bagniewski: I know you’ve really invested in this network, and I truly hope that you will continue to reap those benefits in the future. Thank you so much, Tyann, for being our Bold Voice this week.

Tyan Boyer: Yup, thank you for having me, Katy.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Well, I know that part of preparing for the future is education. There’s a thread of education and learning through all of this, and recently you’ve published an article that listed 52 future college degrees. So tell us a little bit how you see higher education evolving into the future as well.

Thomas Frey: We’re all looking for quicker, better, faster ways of getting smarter, and that gives me a huge advantage. I mean, if I can suddenly overnight, I can go take a couple classes and then I’m suddenly an expert on this new topic tomorrow, that gives me absolutely a huge advantage over somebody else that might be looking to get that job. We’re still in a world where we’re short 18 million teachers in the world. 23% of all kids growing up in the world don’t go to any school whatsoever, and if we have to insert a teacher between us and everything we have to learn in the future, we can’t possibly keep up with the demand for the future that’s going on in business and industry. So how do we arrange things in ways that are faster, better, quicker? At the DaVinci Institute that I run, we were exploring this idea of what I refer to as micro-colleges. In 2012, we started a coding school where we’re trying to teach people how to become computer programmers and 12 to 14 weeks. And we were the second in the country to actually launch that type of school in 2012, and then last year, there was over 550 schools that had cropped up around the country. So this a really fast mushrooming area. Now when I think about micro-colleges, I think of that as post-secondary education done in a short period of time. In the future, if we want to teach somebody how to design parts for 3D printers or how to become a drone pilot, or how to become a crowdfunding expert, or even how to become a brewmaster in a brew pub. We can do those things in a short period of time, and we’re going to have huge demands for that coming up in the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: How do you see leadership evolving so it’s meeting the needs and demands of the changing world?

Thomas Frey: Business and industry has to find ways of being nimble and how to access the right people at the right time. Now, it’s no longer possible to anticipate the business, the educational needs of business, four to five years in advance. So that’s where education has to become nimble and somehow dovetail with the needs of business and industry and that’s where the real struggle comes into play.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Now, in putting on that futurist’s hat, knowing that you’re a thought leader in the futurist area, and thinking how higher education, other industries are going to evolve, how do you see the area of futuring evolving in the future?

Thomas Frey: The fact that we don’t know everything is what gives us our motivation. It gives us our drive and our energy, because we have the ability to change the future. But there are certain techniques out there that give us much better clues, much better appreciation for how the world is unfolding, and so as I mentioned before, the Internet is giving us higher levels of awareness than we’ve ever had in the past, so we’re much more aware of things happening around the world. And we get to a point where we’re frustrated if we don’t know. Having better models, this idea of participatory thinking protocols, the ability to create frameworks for thinking that help give us better clues as to what’s coming around the corner, we’re constantly developing those. So we’ve done a few of those at the DaVinci Institute ourselves.

Dr. Connie: Can you give an example of a time you’ve done other industries specifically that you’ve studied and have some information on?

Thomas Frey: In the banking world, in 2014, we had the peak number of branch banks in the United States, a little over 94,000 branch banks in the US, and since we’re able to do so many more things with our phone, we’re going to start seeing a declining number of branch banks in the world to the point where I think we’re going to start closing the real estate associated with banks at a rate far faster. We’re closing about a thousand banks a year right now. I think that jumps up to somewhere between five and 10,000 in the very near future, and so we started looking at, “Okay, if these are going away, “what’s going to replace those facilities “in communities and are we going to go “strictly without facilities,” and it raises lots of interesting questions about that. We don’t have all the answers just yet, but it’s ways of driving the conversation.

Dr. Connie: I think it is great to think about what those futures might look like and how technology’s definitely impacting the future and really helping leaders think through their industries at this point in time.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: With that futurist lens on, Thomas, what parting words of wisdom do you want to share with our audience?

Thomas Frey: I think that we would all be better off spending a little more time exercising this part of the brain that thinks about the future. We’re such a backward-looking society, and it’s just human nature that we think that way, because we’ve all personally experienced the past. As we look around us, we see evidence of the past all around us. In fact, all of the information we come into contact with is essentially history, so the past is very knowable. Yet we’re going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future, so it’s almost as if we’re walking backwards into the future. So my job as a futurist is to help turn people around, give them some idea of what the future holds, and I hope maybe some of the things we talked about today have done that for people.

Dr. Connie: Oh, they absolutely have, and I think one of my favorite quotes in the information you submitted was, “We have only taken the first step in a trillion-mile journey, the next few steps, in my opinion, will be nothing short of spectacular.”

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Thank you for being on the Rural Futures podcast. Tell our listeners where they can find you.

Thomas Frey: you can find more about what I’m doing at I have all the columns that I’ve written posted on there, a little over 400 are there right now. And the stuff we’re doing on DaVinci Institute is just, and I’d love to connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—I’m on all the social media, feel free to contact me and say hi.

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Episode 12: Founder Ali Schwanke intersects marketing, entrepreneurship, rural myths

October 9, 2018
              Dr. Connie gets down to business with Ali Schwanke, Founder and CEO of Simple Strat, a growth marketing agency headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. Ali shares some of the nuts and bolts of what …






Dr. Connie gets down to business with Ali Schwanke, Founder and CEO of Simple Strat, a growth marketing agency headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. Ali shares some of the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be successful after the startup phase. She sprinkles in some insights into what small businesses can do to amplify their voice and their story. And she gets real about what it’s going to take to create a culture for female entrepreneurs — starting with them finding the time between running a business and life’s demands to take their seat at the table. For those of us in the Midwest, Ali also challenges to own the misconceptions of our region and start telling our story better.

Ali Schwanke, CEO Simple Strat
“You start to understand the myths and preconceived notions that exist in the Midwest, and it’s up to us to change those. We can’t get angry about someone not hiring us, because we are part of the story that’s being told in our region.”
Ali Schwanke
Founder and CEO, Simple Strat

About Ali


Ali is the founder and CEO of Simple Strat, the marketing agency for companies that are serious about growth. She’s a sought-after speaker, consultant and content creator; a Pipeline Entrepreneurial Fellow; and a member of the National Practitioner’s Council for the American Marketing Association. She’s a wife to Bryce, a fifth grade teacher, and mom to two boys.


Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome to the Rural Futures podcast. Joining me today is Ali Schwanke. She’s the Founder and CEO of Simple Strat, the marketing agency for companies that are serious about growth. She’s a sought-after speaker, consultant, and content creator, a Pipeline Entrepreneurs Fellow, and a member of the national Practitioners Council for the American Marketing Association. She’s also wife to Bryce, who’s a fifth-grade teacher, and mom to two boys. So you’re doing it all. You’re doing the whole  work-life balance, and all that good stuff. But I’d love to dive into a little more about you, Ali, so tell our audience a little bit about yourself.

Ali Schwanke: Sure! Well, I’ll definitely correct the not-doing-it-all-well.


Ali Schwanke: Before we started-


Dr. Connie: I just had to say that.

Ali Schwanke: Before we started recording, we were just talking about how I burned a pan with Pam spray in it, because I forgot that it was actually on the stove. So, most days I try a little bit harder than that, but I, but it’s true, being a mom and being a wife and those things are important, but I have a similar passion for running a business. And my first ever business, per se, was probably when I was six or seven. I was selling these greeting cards, door-to-door. So, it would have been, in the probably, early ’90s. And back then, everyone had stationary and greeting cards. And I wanted to earn this tent, and so I went around selling these cards, door-to-door. And I had decided this was so easy, that I’d make my own catalog. And so I drew myself a catalog with clothes that I knew I could purchase from the local, like, Shopko, and nobody bought anything, but-


Dr. Connie: That is awesome, though! What a great story! So do you feel like you’ve always kind of had this entrepreneurial bent to you?

Ali Schwanke: I do, but I didn’t start my business right out of college, and I did work for other people, which I think gave me some of the, “here’s what I wouldn’t want to do”, sort of perspective? I often wonder if I had started earlier, what the world would look like, but I’m really thankful for the people that went before me and showed me a bit of the ins and outs before I actually had to kind of take the hard knocks myself.

Dr. Connie: So, it wasn’t something that you did right out of college, but what made you ultimately decide to become an entrepreneur and build a business? Yeah, I actually did have a photography business right out of college, and so I did that as a solopreneur. At that point I didn’t have any employees, and I kind of got sick of the schedule with that, and decided to morph into marketing, but every time I worked for somebody, I had this sense that it was mine. And a couple companies, I got to the point that I was ready to buy in, as a partner, or an owner. And one time, I actually sat down with one of the companies I was working with to talk about becoming a minority partner. And this is one of those times that, you don’t ever really talk about the ugly that goes on in business, and I remember this person just yelling at me and calling me an unthankful person because the number I proposed to them was not what they thought the business was worth. And they were kind of valuing sweat equity, which doesn’t really have a numerical value sometimes. And at that point, I’m like, you know what? If I’m going to build something, it’s going to be for me.

Dr. Connie: Right. And so how long have you been building Simple Strat? When did you found it? And really, tell us a little more about what Simple Strat does.

Ali Schwanke: So, Simple Strat is about two-and-a-half, as of the recording of this, at the end of this year, it’ll be nearing three years old. But prior to that, I had a couple of years where I was a solo consultant and really went in as a CMO for hire. In that experience, I discovered that a lot of businesses, they really struggled with marketing, although I think I have a very well-rounded marketing skill set, because of all the things I’ve done. I’m an okay designer. I’m an okay content creator, but when you have a team around, you can do it so much better. So Simple Strat was birthed out of that realization that I can build this skill entity with teams and people, and then that allows me to go out and really, kind of push these big changes in the industry, as opposed to doing all the kind of grunt work. So we focus on companies that are looking to grow through marketing, and that means you have to be forward-thinking and putting the consumer first and thinking through all those different types of things that are going to draw someone in to your story, and then get them to act instead of just interrupting them and hoping that they pay attention.

Dr. Connie: Well, I love how your journey has progressed and it sounds like you’ve had a lot of experiences that have led to this moment, but you’ve really embraced all those experiences as well, and learned from them.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Alright, Ali, so one of the reasons we brought you on the podcast is because you are a maverick, and in our world, you are a rural maverick, right? So, tell us a little bit more about why Simple Strat is located here, and what advantages, and maybe disadvantages, that really entails?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, so Simple Strat’s headquarters, I guess I could say, if I use the HQ. We’re in Lincoln, and one of the reasons why Lincoln’s such a great community to build a business in, is there’s this really interesting ecosystem of startups, and that’s not just quote unquote tech startups. But, it’s really anybody who’s trying to be innovative with their business and make things happen. So there’s the tie that you have to people and other people that are doing things like you, is incredible. We have a strong presence of Internet connections here in the city. We have the strong presence of legal support, and financial support, and that kind of stuff. But the challenges it presents in the Midwest is probably related to talent. Typically, when you’re looking for people with certain skills and you have a certain size of the population, how many of the population out there are certified inbound marketers with experience in B2B marketing, that have automation and lead generation on their resume? Ugh, not very many. So, that’s probably the biggest challenge that I’ve seen so far in building a business here. And then there is, I don’t know how we’re going to get over this, we’re working on it but, there’s still the perception when, I went to a conference in Boston, and I remember someone, I told them I was from Nebraska. And they kind of like in the South, they’re like, oh, bless your heart, you know?


Dr. Connie: Right?

Ali Schwanke: That’s what it felt like! They looked at me and were like, good for you! And I was like, good for me, what? Like, we don’t get out of our cattle call! I didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean. So we had this conversation about what their perception of the Midwest was. And yeah, they’d never been here. So I think building a business here, I can help us bring people to the region, and then they leave and go, “Holy cow, there is amazing stuff happening in Nebraska.” Then we can be part of that change. But until then, we’re just going to continue to build this ecosystem, because everyone here recognizes that it’s super powerful.

(music transition)

Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rock star students from the University of Nebraska who are making a difference in rural.

Katy Bagniewski: Hello podcast listeners, my name is Katy Bagniewski, and I’m the Production Specialist of the Rural Futures podcast. With me today is Amber Ross, a junior agribusiness major from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Welcome, Amber.

Amber Ross: Hi, Katie.

Katy Bagniewski: Okay, Amber, so give us your elevator pitch. Who is Amber Ross?

Amber Ross: So, Amber Ross, is just your typical small-town girl. I grew up in Callaway, Nebraska, graduated from Callaway High School. Callaway has 500, a little more than 500 people in it, and honestly, Callaway taught me most of what I know now. So, I carry what Callaway taught me as I go through life and I refer back to it pretty frequently.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, so talk a little bit about that. Why do you care about rural so much?

Amber Ross: I am your typical farmer’s daughter. I learned all about hard work, about teamwork, about dedication, about perseverance, all that kind of stuff on the farm. But then, I also learned a lot growing up in a small town. I mean, it was, our high school was K-12. Everybody was in one building, and that puts a lot of pressure on high schoolers to do everything. I did speech, I did one-acts, I did volleyball, basketball, I rodeoed. I did it all, and there’s not a lot of free time there. And so I came to college, and I wasn’t used to having free time. I was so bored, I actually went out and got a job, so that I didn’t just sit in my dorm room. You do, you just learn how to time manage. You learn about hard work and, that kind of stuff is invaluable to a college student like me.

Katy Bagniewski: So, how would you answer the question of, why rural, why now?

Amber Ross: So, we’ve seen through the patterns of history that, as we go through, people either want to live in the city for a time and they revert back and they want to live in the smaller community, in the rural community, and I think, right now, we’re really heavy into that. Everybody wants to live in the city where it’s convenient and everything’s right there where you need it. But I think we’re going to start seeing that go back to small-town feel, in just 10 years or so. I think we’re really going to see that change, again. And rural communities are going to become the trendy place to live. It’s going to be cool to be in rural. I mean, I was there before it was cool, so I kind of already am on the trend, but—


Katy Bagniewski: Because rural is cool.


Amber Ross: You right, You right!


Katy Bagniewski: So with that mindset, how has the Rural Futures Institute impacted your college career and your future plans for beyond college?

Amber Ross: So, the Rural Futures Institute just has offered me a lot of different opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten any other way. I mean, I’ve gone to West Point and Columbus for serviceship experiences. Just those kinds of opportunities, I wouldn’t have gotten if I didn’t work with RFI and work here in the office, and so, meeting those kinds of people who are real movers and shakers and doing some really cool things regarding rural, has just changed my outlook on a lot of things, and so,  in the future, my goal is to be a community developer of some sort, whether that be through the chamber work, or through economic development. And so, I wouldn’t trade my experiences with RFI for anything.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, thank you, Amber, I think that was really valuable. And thank you for being our student spotlight of the week, and giving hope to our generation of future leaders who want to make a better world for all.

Amber Ross: Thank you, Katie.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So, one of the areas we like to focus on at the Rural Futures podcast is leadership, and obviously you’ve had a lot of experiences that you’ve learned from and you’ve used to develop as a leader. Tell us a little bit about your leadership philosophy and how you’re using that to grow Simple Strat, but also your presence in the entrepreneur ecosystem.

Ali Schwanke: Sure. So, a lot of people who have gone before me have given me a glimpse of what is good leadership, and then there’s definitely those that, when I was working for people, I always kept a never note file, called things “I will never do when I have a company”.

Dr. Connie: That’s awesome.


Ali Schwanke: And it was filled with things—it’s funny, because now, there are things on that list that I know I didn’t understand the context at the time, and I think oh, I’d never do that! And then when I get in a leadership role, I think, oh, that’s why they did that. And so I think that being a transparent leader and letting people know you have faults, but balancing that with the confidence and reassurance that here’s where the company’s going. To be honest, every day is not great, and every day, I’d love to say: we had this amazing team meeting, and we all high-fived, and everyone is clear on the vision, and it’s amazing. And you could still ask one of my team members, “What’s this thing over here?” And I’d be like, we just talked about that! But talking to someone and talking with someone and having them understand are two completely different things. So, I think it’s always a learning process.

Dr. Connie: No, I agree, I think it is a learning process, and I loved how you talked about the context, too, because I think sometimes, as an employee, you don’t work to understand to maybe what that other person’s going through or what their needs are, so how can I also support that while also growing as a person and growing as an organization serving customers, et cetera. The whole idea of gender and leadership is such a big conversation right now, and as well as gender and entrepreneurship. How would you envision this evolving in the future? Being a female who’s a strong leader, also an entrepreneur, how do you see the future of leadership for women?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting conversation. It’s one that actually myself personally hadn’t had too much up to this point, and I’m not the first person to sit out in the middle of the street and say, go women entrepreneurs. Not because I don’t think that’s important. It’s just, I was asked by a reporter, “What is it like being a woman entrepreneur,” and it’s just kind of like, what is it like to breathe?


Ali Schwanke: It’s just this thing that I do! But if you take certain situations and break them down, there definitely are times that you start to think, Oh, maybe there are some disadvantages that exist. I have a couple people in my business that are men, and it’s not been uncommon for people to assume that I’m working with them or for them. And I don’t think that that’s— I don’t think anything negative about that person for thinking that, but it’s just a natural thing that happens. I’ve done some social experiments myself, where like, does it matter if I wear glasses? Does it matter if I wear my hair is up? Does it matter if my hair is down? Do I wear a startup tee with a blazer? Do I wear a dress? All of those things affect your first impression and what people think of you, and I always want someone to think, “She is damn smart,” versus, “Whoa, I wonder if she knows anything” because of the way I’m dressed. So, that’s something that I’ve thought through, but there’s definitely a need to have more conversations about it and it’s getting women after work away from their families to talk about it.


Ali Schwanke: That’s probably the bigger challenge is, we have so many things to worry about, that having a conversation requires strategic effort.

Dr. Connie: Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s just this time thing is such a big one. And we have women leaving the workforce in droves right now, to start their own businesses, because they are thinking, “How do I have  more flexible schedule that I can control somewhat?” “How do I continue to be involved with my family?” All these different things and also, the organizational cultures that don’t support, what the modern lifestyle is and I think that’s true for women, but also for men. We see more men wanting to be parents, and full-on, as well, Or just, couples in general, trying to figure out how to balance all this, or single parents, all of that. What advice would you give to women who are in the workplace right now who are thinking about starting their own business?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I have a book on my shelf that’s called “Secrets of Six-Figure Women”, and I thought it was interesting because I didn’t know this until I started reading it, that women typically don’t make more than $100,000 in their business. And I don’t know what the number was, don’t quote me on it, but it was something like, more than 80% of women don’t ever break that $100,000 mark. Just like any statistic, you can look inside and say, let’s figure out why this is, and it might be because the number of businesses counted included part-time businesses, or Etsy businesses, or whatever, but at the same respect, why aren’t women earning more? And if you go to any women’s entrepreneur event, you’ll notice a very interesting thing. You’ll notice that there’s a lot of women who have a business that’s a solo business, it’s them.  And 1099’s or them and a VA, or something like that, because the idea of building something bigger, where you have to like, “I’m responsible “for six people’s salaries.” Every month when I write the check or press the button or whatever for payroll, I’m responsible for other people’s livelihoods, and that’s a big risk, being responsible for just my livelihood isn’t as big of a risk. And I think that’s one of the challenges, and I want to help people figure that out, but it is one of things that I struggle to find other women that have businesses that are employing people. I think that’s a fascinating sort of aspect of entrepreneurship, because I think sometimes, we see this growth in what we call the gig economy, the 1099 employees, they just want to do gigs, maybe to support their family a little bit. But you talk a lot about this whole issue of the side hustle is easy, what’s hard is the growth, what’s hard, is saying you know what, I’m going to put my stake in the ground and I’m going to build a team, and I’m going to go after this bigger business model, a bigger business concept. What would you tell people that were wanting to say, “You know what, maybe I need to go bigger?”

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I think that one of the things that’s difficult from a side hustle perspective is a lot of side hustles start as just that— they’re just a side hustle, they’re just a way to make some extra money. They might be kind of this random idea, but it’s not like they’ve thought, “when I hit revenue x, I’m going to do y.” “When I hit revenue this, I’m going to do this.” When you’re building a business, you have some of those benchmarks and milestones already laid out because you kind of, even if you didn’t put together a plan, you still have somewhat of a, “In five years, we’re going to be this.” “Okay, to get there I’m going to do this.” When you’re side hustling, you’re still just kind of in the motion every day and you’re not really thinking strategically. So when it becomes overwhelming, in the podcast where we were interviewing local entrepreneurs, one of the gals there said, “I either had to grow, or I had to get scaled back.” And people often have the fear of the unknown, even if it’s better, they want to stick with the known. And even in marketing I’ve noticed a lot of people now, it’s so easy to start something. Seth Godin says, “It’s easier than ever to start, it’s harder than ever to finish.”

Dr. Connie: Yeah, and I think that’s interesting to hear some people who have lived this whole experience as more of a lifestyle. Like you said, it’s like how you breathe, almost. It’s not necessarily just something that you, I don’t know, do part time, or just kind of dabble in. It’s just how you, you’re wired, and how you decided to live and make your living. But, I too, would like to dive a little bit into your podcast, because I think the other thing is, you have this message, not only with your business, but you as a person, as an entrepreneur who has scaled, and is employing other people. And we have so few female entrepreneurs in the US, and even, internationally doing this type of work, and scaling like that. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your Bar Napkin Business podcast, and why you started that, and what the message is behind the podcast.

Ali Schwanke: Yeah! The podcast is a local podcast, to the Midwest at this point, and we’ve interviewed nearly 50 entrepreneurs and small business owners. It’s really about the, we call it the down and dirty details of running and growing a business. Because I think we were a little bit over the fact that there’s all these, startup x y z guys, venture capital funding, and they don’t even have a product yet. There’s a lot of really great things happening that require a lot of investment, but there’s a lot of really just people that are grinding it out to make things work that provide a pretty good business, so it might be like one gal was building a candle business. And she was at the point that she was outsourcing production, and how does that all work. And another guy developed a patent for something that he and his buddies had just kind of ran with and now it’s a business and they’re selling online and shipping everywhere. It’s more like a Shark Tank sort of feel, but it’s happening right here in the Midwest.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, absolutely and I think sometimes when people think of rural, they think of the entire Midwest. And so this is something we’ve talked a lot about with our audiences, and I get asked a lot, “How do you define rural?” And I’m like, “Well, it really kind of depends on the context, right?” And so if you’re on the East Coast or West Coast, you define the whole Midwest as rural, where a lot of times people in Omaha wouldn’t define themselves as rural, or Lincoln wouldn’t define themselves as rural, if you’re thinking about just Nebraska. I think, though, the hyper-localization of what people want to hear and know is such a key part of while we see everything grown exponentially and get bigger, at the same time people need to know how that applies in their own life. And so it’s awesome to hear about Steve Jobs and the next big company, as in Gazelle, but I think what it missing sometimes is the conversation you’re having and that podcast. You don’t have to get a multimillion dollar investment deal to do well in business.

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, one of the things that we found was that people wanted to hear like, we talked about the story of ZipLine Brewery and how that started. And when you hear someone else that is kind of like you or not just looks like you or acts like you but they could be your neighbor down the street, if they did it, I could probably do this. So it was designed to show some of the, I mean there’s also a lot of hard stuff that goes into building a business, and we didn’t want to sugar-coat the fact that you have to pay attention to the numbers. We started to see trends that came out of conversations. Matt and I, my co-host, would just look at each other and kind of be like, “Yep, here we go again,” because they’d talk about people, or they’d talk about financing, or they’d talk about needing lawyers, and I appreciate good lawyers, it’s just essential and you can’t look over that.

Dr. Connie: Well, I think even if you’re doing just your own thing, getting started, you have to have that team in place. I mean you need to have an attorney, an accountant, people that can help you through the fine print of owning a business and the legal issues and the accounting issues that you’re going to have if you’re going to take an income for a product or service and try to get that out.

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I mean the day that I realized that I didn’t have to know the answer to every accounting question, I was ecstatic. Chad, if you’re listening, you’ve been a lifesaver. It’s been amazing and we went through some legal paperwork in our operating agreement lately and Bart Dillashaw helped us out with that and he just, he understands the Midwest entrepreneurial culture, he has experience in the valley, it’s just—that sort of resource available here in our rural Midwest, I guess, for people that are on the Coast is amazing.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: One of the things we’ve talked about in our rural communities is the need for more entrepreneurship. We’re not going to pull in a lot of big companies, there are fewer and fewer big companies that even exist. How would you envision more of what’s happening here in I would say our Lincoln startup community? Omaha is a great startup community. How could you see rural and urban connecting through entrepreneurship, and helping maybe support more entrepreneurship in our rural areas?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I think one of the challenges that we have with rural, and even in the Midwest, entrepreneurs still learn from each other. And someone asked me if I had to give advice to someone about entrepreneurship, what would it be? And my advice is find a powerful community that can push you and challenge you and is going to know the things that you don’t know. Ithink, though, the fact that we have access to all information also makes it very hard to know what information we should pay attention to. And when I’m living in a rural community of maybe 300 people it seems like my world is very small and there’s no resources available, but in fact you are connected by the Internet and it just requires a little bit more strategic navigating to find the people that you would call your people, and then don’t disregard the fact that being together in person is super-valuable. So if there’s an entrepreneurship summit in the middle of your state, go, use it as a chance to go and meet people.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, absolutely. I think what we’ve found, I used to work with the Entrepreneurship Club down in southeast Nebraska, and it was always amazing to me, great groups of people getting together, and everybody knows that you have a business, I have a business, but they didn’t know a lot about one another’s businesses, or how you could, “What are those partnerships?”, “How can we leverage what each other’s bringing “to the table so that we’re winning together, rather than thinking we’re competing?”, or “There’s no partnership potential here.”

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, people in the Midwest, what’s interesting, we work with clients from all over, and I spend a lot of time in other cities doing either speaking or we’re a HubSpot agency so we work with a lot of software, but people in different communities tend to have a different view on what competition can and can’t do. I love competition because it pushes us the be better, but it also means that most companies can find out pretty much everything that you do because you put it on your website or they can ask around. So, they’re so shy about sharing what they’re doing, which means they don’t connect with other entrepreneurs, or they don’t seek out communities because they’re just afraid of connecting to the point that it’s going to be a detriment. When I think that we’re now at a point in our world that you should be connecting because if you don’t, your next opportunity is going to come from a human being versus from some sort of a Web search.

Dr. Connie: And I think that’s a critical point. Businesses grown by human beings and those relationships are still incredibly important. I know you’ve also talked about this challenge we have sometimes around not hiring the people we know or the people around us— the local businesses not always getting hired. Tell our audience a little bit more about that experience and how you think just employing one another, doing more business to business work and investment with one another could help spur on our own economy.

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, this is like a catch-22, because I think, I don’t know who, someone smart, said it once, but I don’t know who it was, but you’re always an expert 60 miles outside of your market. What they basically meant is you have a chance to establish your reputation for one or two specific things that you’re known for and outside the market, because you’re an unknown, it’s somewhat shiny and new and you can, that is actually a lot easier than doing it in your local market. The interesting thing is, a lot of times the people that are looking for the services that are local, they don’t know that they exist here, or they assume they don’t exist here. So why would you hire a development company out of Lincoln, Nebraska, when you could go hire the company that helped build some software out in Silicon Valley? Well, why wouldn’t you? And you start to break down some of the— you start to understand the myths and preconceived notions that exist in the Midwest, and it’s up to us to change those. So we can’t get angry about someone not hiring us because we are part of the story that’s being told in our region.

Dr. Connie: I love that. I love how you’ve so strongly come in as a leader and an entrepreneur and really has, in a short time, you’ve experienced so much success and growth. But I’d love to know, too, about your experience as a Pipeline Fellow, and some of what you’re doing to just not only grow your agency but also, really just grow the capacity in thinking in general around entrepreneurship and innovation.

Ali Schwanke: Pipeline is actually accepting applications for next year,

Dr. Connie: Oh, great.

Ali Schwanke: through October 22d, but the organization itself is designed to help high-growth entrepreneurs, and there’s a whole application process that accompanies it and they’re there for the entrepreneur, yes the businesses too, but they recognize that entrepreneurs typically have multiple things they’re involved in their lifetime. And it’s backed by the Kauffman Foundation, so they want people who have amazing entrepreneurial talent to stay in the Midwest and build businesses here and build capital here. I’m involved now this year, we start Module Three actually tomorrow here in Lincoln and Omaha, and it’s designed to help us go through all the different things that you would go through, it kind of feels like my MBA. I never got my MBA. It very much feels like that. But we’re building a software product that has a much higher scalable model to it than an agency, so we’re actually using a lot of the learning that’ll apply it to that specific product right now. And it’s just a wealth of people and it’s, I mean, pardon my French but it’s a good (bleep) kicking, it really is.


I’m prepared tomorrow to get everything that I turned in for homework absolutely ripped apart because I need to get better, and I need those people to challenge me in places that I think I’m already set.

Dr. Connie: Well, it sounds like a strong network, though, just like you said earlier, those relationships are so important, and what a great way to say, “You know what? I don’t know it all.” I mean, you’ve already said this in building a team, so you’re building a team at the agency and outside of the agency to help you continue to grow and help the firm continue to grow. I think that’s just brilliant. I’m a huge fan of Pipeline and everything they’re doing, and just appreciate that, but I also know that this is a prestigious program. You do have to apply, get accepted, and so it’ll be exciting to see where you go from here and where the agency goes from here.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I also want to go back to something you said, you don’t have your MBA. I think sometimes what stops people is they, especially women, they don’t feel like, “Oh, I need this certificate or training, I need more, more, more, before I apply for maybe that higher position, or I launch my venture, or grow the venture.” And I think that can really be tricky for a lot of people, but I know that research says more women, they want to be perfect at something before they execute, whereas men sometimes will just execute and learn it, and not be afraid to learn it along the way. So I’d love to know how do you think not having that degree has been a benefit to you?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I think there’s definitely drawbacksto not having an MBA specifically in business, because there’s some things that I struggle with, there’s a lot of emphasis on finance in your MBA, and that’s all, that’s wonderful. I’ve gotten a lot of that through Pipeline, as well as just sitting down with mentors and getting a former CFO, who’s been a CFO for a long time, sitting down and actually talking through things and asking me, “Why do you do this?” “What’s going on here?  So really getting some of that feedback has been helpful. So I think that when you look at business, there really isn’t a, I mean there’s definitely models, and there’s things you have to know, but so much of the theory is tested  when you actually put it into practice. The best businesses have come out of people that were going to Harvard Business School or going to Stanford, and they had an idea, and they were able to act on it. It wasn’t the other way around where they were like, “I better get this degree, and then I will get something and then I can get move in this super-linear fashion.” It’s very abstract, and there’s no checks that you can check off the boxes to be able to get where you need to go.

Dr. Connie: Well, I think that’s such an important point because I know here at the University we have a lot of students and they’re always wondering, “Well, how did you get to where you are?” And it’s so funny as you talk to more and more people, it isn’t a linear path. It’s generally pretty windy, you just have to learn what you want, how to get it, but that also to roll with it a little bit when things get challenging, or things don’t go the way you had expected them to go and that resiliency is such a huge part of it all. But it’s also growing this whole life.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’m really fascinated by how you’re running a business, a successful firm, having a family, but also really connecting and still learning and growing as a person, a professional, as an entrepreneur. So tell us some of your secrets to, I don’t even want to call it work-life balance any more. I know now the word is work-life integration, but how are you just maintaining and growing your success?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah, I think some of it comes from modeling. A lot of times you don’t have a person you can look to as to what things should look like. So if you grow up in a home where your mom stayed home, you don’t know what it looks like for your mom to work. If you grow up in a home where your mom owned a business, that’s going to be much different. So myself, my dad’s always been in IT, and I remember when I was a little girl, I’d go into their bedroom to say good night, and I’d look over on my dad’s night stand, and I remember the book to the day. I’m sure he had tons of books there on any given day,  but on this day, the book there that said Intro to Visual Basic. And if you know what Visual Basic is, it’s a programming language, and my dad was in IT, and he had to constantly be learning new languages in order to continue to provide value in his job. And I just, I would look over at him and he’s reading this Visual Basic book at night before he went to bed, and that was just what he did. And so now my kids know that I’m always, if they walk in, they’re like, “Oh, mom, are you taking a class right now?” “Oh, mom, are you on a webinar right now?” If I have my headphones in and I’m on the computer, it might be Spotify, but my kids think I’m always taking classes. And I think normal for us is just that we’re always going to be learning, we’re always growing, and my kids always know that I’m going to expect them to earn or build a business out of something. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, but kid, you want to go buy some new shoes, let’s talk about mowing lawns and how that can lead to some revenue. He made his own babysitting flyer and I made him use Microsoft Word and made him write it, so it’s funny, because he writes, “I will watch your kids while you go holiday shopping,” and I was like, “Interesting.” He’s like, “I Googled that.”


Ali Schwanke: Like, great!

Dr. Connie: I love it! I love that you’re making that your own flyer! Awesome! But it’s just going to become the new normal for us, and I have to admit that some days, if you come to my house, there’s going be like eight baskets of laundry that people are just living out of, because I don’t have time to put them away. I’m not going to be that Martha Stewart, I’m going to be the Sara Blakely, from Spanx,


Ali Schwake: that’s my thing, so…

Dr. Connie: Oh, that’s awesome. I think it’s great, but I think these are other conversations that have to happen, right?

Ali Schwanke: Yeah!

Dr. Connie: I mean, this whole idea of doing it all is totally exhausting and I think even if it looks like you’re doing it all, something’s not happening that’s quite right. I think you’re trying to keep your marriage alive and going, trying to be a good mom to the kids, but also this modeling and setting a new example of what life looks like moving forward, because for this next generation, it is going to be very different than previous generations.

Ali Schwanke: Right. Yeah, and helping everyone around you understand, that’s probably the hardest part for me, is when you are in an environment where people aren’t familiar with women entrepreneurs, you constantly face this interesting dynamic where they just don’t get you. I think when you have conversations with someone who maybe works part-time, which is fantastic, versus the, “I can’t go to that school thing, because I actually have to be gone for a work trip.” And they’re like, “Well, you’re your own boss, Ali, why do you have to be gone?” If I have to explain this to you right now, we’re not going to have this conversation.

Dr. Connie: Well, it’s great that those options are available for anybody. I mean we see more and more parents that aren’t even living together, but making things work, single parents making things work. I think more dads are staying at home with their kids and, or starting to work for their wives’ businesses, so we’re seeing a lot of different dynamics around that, and I think technology enables much of that. I think we’ll see more of that in the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Well, Ali, I’d love to hear from you. What are some words of wisdom you’d love to leave our audience with? I think one of the things that I end up talking with most entrepreneurs about is the idea of marketing always feels like because there’s so many things you can do, there’s always more opportunities and platforms than you can execute on. It’s always going to take twice as long as you think it will, so because you can launch, let’s say, a Squarespace site overnight— growing the traffic to that website doesn’t happen overnight. Growing the leads in your business, growing the effect on social media, you can buy fans, but those aren’t authentic, so why would you do that? So I think we talk a lot about the idea of building this marketing foundation and having a why behind everything, and once that happens, when all those pieces are in place, it is so fun, because it feels like when you start pushing that boulder forward, and the inertia gets going, it feels like you are moving so quick. That’s what it feels like for our company now, but holy cow! We spent a year putting so much in place that now it feels like the inertia has finally caught up with us. And it just equates to that “there’s no such thing as an overnight success”, and it sounds so simple but it’s so hard to do.

Dr. Connie: But it’s an excellent point because I think we hear about the successful person after they’ve put 10 years into being successful, so you see how big they are now, but it took that work and that effort and that focus to really get it done.

Ali Schwanke: If you’re a new business and you want to get started, even if you’re a startup, you probably should go claim all of your handles on social media so no one else goes out and gets them, but then just pick one to be active on, or one to run ads on where you figure out what your message is and you figure out if the audience is there and then you can start to kind of expand outward. But I think it’s this kind of like all in one buffet, and then everyone kind of gets mediocre in their content on all those platforms, or in their approach and they just can’t do one thing really well. So paring it down and focusing, and again that sounds so simple, that I almost feel bad saying it, but it happens so much that I think it needs to be driven home.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I mean it’s hard to be everything to everybody and everywhere, especially on social media.

Ali Schwanke: Well, everyone will say, the worst answer to a, “Who are your customers,” I asked this in email this morning, and he replies back, and it’s super-genuine, it’s from the heart, but he says, “Actually, we can sell to everybody,” and he lists like all these examples, and I was like, “Okay, I didn’t ask who you could, who do you want to and who is the most profitable?” So those types of business questions when it comes to marketing you might have a service that you’re really passionate about. When I look at the numbers and I might see

that your profit margin in that particular service area is 2%. “Well, we just like that a lot more.” Yeah, okay, do you want to feel good at the end of the day, or do you want to drive value and revenue? If that’s the case, we’re going to have to focus on this kind of boring business over here because that has a much bigger potential for you to grow. A lot of people want to breeze over that part and they just want to get started doing the stuff, because it doesn’t feel like we’re doing anything. But that critical thinking, there’s been a lot of research that has come out in the past, at least probably five, ten years that critical thinking and strategic thinking is that skill that everybody needs for the next generation of business, because we have so many things that are automated now. How do we critically think so that we make the right decisions with the tools and the automation? And if we sidestep that, then we end up just having this vanilla approach to everything else, and if there’s another company out there that does what you do and you don’t have a clear why— why are they in business, why are you in business?

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Episode 11: Rural broadband expert Roberto Gallardo intersects digital parity, mindset, rural potential

October 2, 2018
              In the Season 2 premiere episode, nationally known rural broadband researcher and RFI partner Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Assistant Director at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, passionately challenges rural communities and national leaders …






In the Season 2 premiere episode, nationally known rural broadband researcher and RFI partner Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Assistant Director at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, passionately challenges rural communities and national leaders to take action for digital parity, and not just in terms of logistical technology — but also in mindset.  In his work with rural people in Nebraska and across the U.S., Gallardo has seen communities with the best technological advances, but without the mindset to embrace the opportunities the digital age has to offer. It is time for not only providing access to everyone, but for empowering those individuals to use the technology to its fullest potential.

Check out Dr. Gallardo’s work with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska communities of Ashland, Nebraska City and Ravenna! “Increasing Rural Civic Engagement in the Digital Age” was funded in 2017.

Roberto Gallardo, Assistant Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development
“I see communities start thinking and acting digitally when they understand the potentials and the benefits and the challenges of the digital age and they are brave enough to start trying different things. They will fail, but then they will get up and they will try it again and that tells me that the community is now in a digital mindset.”
Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Purdue Center for Regional Development

About Dr. Gallardo


Roberto Gallardo is Assistant Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension Community & Regional Economics Specialist. He holds an electronics engineering undergraduate degree, a master’s in economic development, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration. Gallardo has worked with rural communities over the past decade conducting local & regional community economic development, including use of technology for development.

He has authored more than 70 articles including peer-reviewed and news-related regarding rural trends, socioeconomic analysis, industrial clusters, the digital divide, and leveraging broadband applications for community economic development. He is also the author of the book “Responsive Countryside: The Digital Age & Rural Communities”, which highlights a 21st century community development model that helps rural communities transition to, plan for, and prosper in the digital age. Dr. Gallardo is a TEDx speaker and his work has been featured in a WIRED magazine article, a documentary, and a RFDTV documentary. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and two daughters.


Some (of many) Publications From Dr. Gallardo


Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Dr. Roberto Gallardo. Welcome to the podcast, Roberto.

Dr. Gallardo: Thank you, Connie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Connie: Well, I’m really excited to have you on. So, just a little bit more about Roberto, he’s the assistant director for the Purdue Center for Regional Development, and a community and regional economics specialist at Purdue Extension. But the other thing about him is he’s been conducting research in extension regarding the impact of broadband in rural communities, and this is a huge issue right now. Roberto, tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing in that space, and why.

Dr. Gallardo: Sure. Thank you. I agree. It’s a trendy topic right now. I’ve been involved in this for the past 10 years, or so. I love extension work because I call it applied research, right? You go in there, you do research, it’s research-based, and then you come down to the trenches and you kinda apply that research, that knowledge. You extend it. That’s kind of very good to do because you get feedback. You get very important feedback that many times is missed if you’re only solely looking at the research side. So, I’ve been doing a lot of secondary data crunching on broadband access and adoption in rural communities. Its impact, socioeconomic impact, et cetera, et cetera. But recently, we’re working with communities actually to learning how they can leverage digital platforms to increase civic engagement, for example, which is a project that is funded through your organization. And we also are doing surveys to better understand how households and rural households are using the technology. So, we’re moving a little bit beyond the access conversation and trying to focus more on the utilization and adoption.

Dr. Connie: And why do you think this work is so important? I know we hear a lot of times here at the Rural Futures Institute, well, people choose to live in rural, so it’s a choice they’re making. Do we really need to make the investment necessary to connect people? So, why do you think this work is important in terms of helping people living in rural be part of this wave of technology?

Dr. Gallardo: Well, as you know, the digital age is unfolding. I use the analogy that it is in diaper stage right now and the train has not left the station. And so, we’ve got to make sure that everybody that can, should board that train. And if not, you’re going to be left out of a really, truly transformational time. I’m sure if there were internet and video back in the day when everybody was moving from ag to the industry in the cities, this level of transformation was taking place. So, I believe that the digital age is doing the same now, and so the digital economy is only a part of what you hear, and of course, that’s what drives many policymakers. But I think that overall the technology, the digital age has a lot of potential for rural communities. So, working on helping these rural communities board that train, right? Before the diapers become a toddler, and then they become children, or a teenager, we need to make sure we get onboard now because one of the characteristics is it moves really quick. The digital age does. So, if we miss a train, trying to catch on later on is going to be harder.

Dr. Connie: Now, what if rural communities do miss that train? I mean, as a futurist, I love to explore these possible scenarios and what’s possible, and a lot of times we focus that work on why this is important, but what would you see happening if our rural communities miss this opportunity?

Dr. Gallardo: In a very positive spin to things, I think they’re going to go through a very slow death.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Gallardo: I think they will still remain a core of whatever towns are left, but we’re already, you know, youth is moving out and our population is becoming older. That’s not sustainable. And if we do not plug in into this digital ecosystem, we will surely be left out and we will surely experience a decline.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Gallardo: Now, the question is out to the jury regarding if we do plug in, what’s that going to do for rural? I think that that’s another question, future-looking, that we need to address, but we know for a fact now that if you do not have the connectivity and the know how, right off the bat, you’re out. So, I would rather worry about okay, we have the connectivity. How can we improve the know how, and how can we then turn our rural communities around? Not necessarily in growth, but in development, right? That’s one of the key differences I teach my students. Many rural communities don’t want to grow, and that’s fine. But what about develop? What about improving the quality of life of those that remain, or those that have young families like me, who want to return, or want to live in a less chaotic situation or environment like it is in big urban areas?

Dr. Connie: I think that’s such a key point, right? In terms of thinking about okay, if we can transform these communities, and it’s totally possible. I mean, the possibility is there, what could that look like? Now, that might not be population growth, and I think this is very key because I think part of the challenge we have working in this space right now is a lot of decision makers still want to see numbers. They’re like, we want to see the numbers grow. We want the population to grow, and that’s not where we are in the present state. What are those other metrics, measures, characteristics we can use to see how these communities are thriving and can even be better in the future?

Dr. Gallardo: I think it’s a no-brainer. The quality of life of rural communities can improve if we have access to education that’s only given in certain areas. We can do that virtually. We can also take advantage of telehealth, and tele-work, and other applications without having to move necessarily out of that rural ecosystem. There are some challenges there, right? It’s the death of distance. This argument has been around for 40 years since the information communication technology came online, but I believe this time, it’s a different situation because the technology’s so mature. It’s so sophisticated and we don’t even know what’s coming down the pipe. So, that’s why I’m hopeful. But rural communities will miss out if they, number one, are not connected, and number two, do not have that knowledge, that insight of how to leverage that technology.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: The other thing I really appreciate in your work that you talk about is this whole moving from the industrial age mentality to a digital age mindset, and how important mindset is. Could you expand on that a bit?

Dr. Gallardo: Yeah, definitely. Many communities that I’ve worked with may have fiber optics, right? But if they don’t have the correct mindset, they’re not going to do anything with that fiber optics. And that change in mindset is not easy. I wish I had a step-by-step process to follow, but it’s really, really location-specific and context-specific. What I see communities kind of when they start thinking and acting digitally is because they understand the potentials, and the benefits, and the challenges of the digital age, and they are brave enough, in a way, to start trying different things, and they will fail, but they will get up and they will try it again. That to me, tells me that the community is now in a digital mindset. I have noticed that the previous step to that change in mindset is awareness, and many times, many times, awareness is overlooked, easily. So, that’s public policy 101, right? If we do not agree on the problem, let’s not even discuss strategies and solutions.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Gallardo: That awareness to me, is a big, big part of my job, and the extension side is that awareness can lead to that change in mindset. Rural communities need to stop thinking about “oh, the industrial age, let’s go ahead and hopefully attract the next big manufacturing facility.”

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: In futuring, we really talk about that important mindset, as well. Like, so what you believe happens is what will happen. Ultimately, that’s where you put your energy. That’s where your energy flows. Here at the Rural Futures Institute we’ve talked a lot about that, as well. So, if we don’t change the narrative around what’s possible in our rural communities and how rural and urban really need to collaborate in order to create a more sustainable future for everyone on the planet, and not just people, but the ecosystems, the animals, everything, then we’re missing out on an opportunity to create a better future for all. And I think, this mindset even of everything has to be very competitive, or the mindset of a lack is sort of unfortunate, in terms of a world of abundance and what is possible. I think technology, while also having its challenges, can really usher in an era that’s more positive for more people.

Dr. Gallardo: Totally agree. Scarcity has been the commodity that’s been driving everything. Potentially, we can now reach that age that you’re describing, and that’ll change the dynamics completely. It’ll change our assumptions, it’ll change our vision, it’ll change everything. But again, the first key step is that awareness, right? What is this digital age? What are you talking about? What do I need to be looking out for because I can’t predict the future? I can’t tell you go down this route, but that awareness is something that I think is often overlooked.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: I think leadership is an essential part of this conversation, so tell us a little bit more about you as a leader. What’s your philosophy style? How do you lead in this space?

Dr. Gallardo: I appreciate that. I don’t consider myself a leader though, but I appreciate that. I think that empowerment and trust are key things that any leader should look at. You cannot babysit, you cannot micromanage. I think that people have potential, and if you empower them correctly, I think you can unleash that potential, and that’ll free energy that otherwise would be tied up with menial tasks or trying to micromanage. At a community level, that’s what I shoot for with the communities I work with, is you will not depend on me. This is a show, and this process is totally driven by you. I am here, and I will dance at the tune that you play. That is very important for sustainability purposes. Make sure the community is comfortable and is empowered, right? Then they will take it. And if you couple that with a mindset change, I think the community can do just fine.

Dr. Connie: Now, what type of leadership do you think it’s going to take to make these types of things happen? How do you see leadership evolving so that we do help shift the mindset, and we do help empower people in the future?

Dr. Gallardo: I think that many leaders in rural communities are doing so many things all the time. They’re putting out fires all the time, right? They’re just responding. They’re reacting. They don’t have time to be proactive. It’s just the context, right? The situation. I think leaders need to incorporate feedback. I’ve seen part-time mayors that also have a full-time job. It’s different dynamics in an urban leadership or situation, but I think that’s the key step, Connie, is first and foremost, the leader needs to recognize, I’m busy as it is, but I do need to get additional feedback and incorporate this and collectively reach a vision that will then drive and really nurture this future leadership.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, we’ve really been, here at the institute, talking about sort of this process of co-creation because you can’t just go to a community and you’re just not just going to swoop in and help them. It’s their future, right? So, the goal really is to empower their future and help them achieve what they desire, but on the other side of that, I think as a university one thing we’ve really been working on is how do we then listen to what’s happening in that space? How can we co-create not just the future of that one community, but these communities of practice as a whole? Like mental health or childcare through that feedback, create better experiences for our students here, and really learn as a university how to evolve ourselves in an era that’s full of exponential change. And I think that co-creation really comes from that deep listening and not just doing what we’ve always done.

Dr. Gallardo: Correct. Totally agree. That co-creating, that ownership dynamic, I think, is critical.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: I appreciate in your work how you bring out the evolution of so many industries with this connectivity. Can we deliver more online, or use different technologies to create almost virtual experiences wherever we are so that we can not just earn degrees, but those credentials, badges, whatever competency-based education might be there, or skills? I know you’re a person who like to learn by doing. So, how do we create these experiences using technology so people can live where they choose, but also create the future they want? I would love to know what you think about the future of broadband. What do you think it looks like, and what is it going to take really to connect everybody on the planet?

Dr. Gallardo: There’s still a billion people without electricity, when you look at it. It’s a matter of priorities. The future of broadband, I think more technologies will come out to play, but what I hear from providers and what I know is that the laws of physics, we have reached that point, especially wireless, right? Many people tell me, oh, the solution will be wireless, don’t worry about it. It’s like, well, there are no leads, right? If there are no bodies of waters, or lakes, or whatever, we can’t get past that laws of physics. So, I think that the technology, I’m hoping, will continue to evolve where it’ll be a lot more efficient and where it’s not as costly to connect. Because when you think about it, Connie, the electronics and the actual fiber is not expensive. What’s expensive is the labor, right? It’s those capital costs to actually install, or run it, or run the wire, but the actual electronics as you’ve seen in the exponential behavior, I mean, they’re going down, they’re going down. They’re cheap. The future of broadband is yes, a worldwide, all world is connected. I mean, just imagine. I think that the worst waste of human talent and creativity is poverty. I think that humans are created by nature. It’s just that we are not exposed to the same things. We don’t have the same opportunities. We are in different contexts. Imagine how many creative folks, because of their poverty situation, right? Imagine plugging that creativity into this digital ecosystem where you have worldwide information at your fingertips. What can we solve? What ideas will come out of that? And yet, we have not tapped into that because they’re not connected, right? Imagine a world that’s connected, all low income people join this bandwagon. I think it’s going to change totally how we see the world, the ideas that we have. That feedback, that co-creating will be really, really powerful then, I think. It’s going to be a huge, massive brain, really, that’s going to be connected.

Dr. Connie: I think just even understanding where people are, how they’ve experienced life, and they’ll be able to create solutions we aren’t thinking about, you know? Because they’ll have different experiences and different knowledge to bring to the table. Now, I know you’ve worked a lot with the speed issue because it’s not just about the access. It’s also about the quality of the access. A lot of what we’ve learned is the FCC data is not accurate, so really, it seems like there’s a lot more people connected to high-speed internet than there are. Could you expand on that a little bit and tell us what you’ve found in your work?

Dr. Gallardo: Data-wise, we are not where we should be. The FCC does the best it can with that data, which is carrier self-reported. It’s not validated or cross-checked in any way. So, we’re trusting entirely on what the providers are telling us. There’s a granularity issue where a block, which is the lowest census geography, you’ve heard this, if one household is served, the entire block is considered served– that raises some issues. And on the speed thing, I think the next divide really is on speed because if you look at that data, for example, here in Indiana, 100% of blocks are served or advertised with 10/1 speeds, right? Assuming we can believe that data, but what difference does it make? And that’s where the research should be taking us now. What do you do with a 10/1 connection, and what do you do with a 100/100 connection? Because, and that’s what I tell communities, is that the web evolves accordingly, okay? Try browsing the web today,not streaming video or doing any of those things, just try browsing the web today with dial-up. It’s crazy. But other areas or locations in the world are already fiber. They’re experimenting with higher speeds, and guess what? The web is going to evolve, the speed is an issue. We don’t want rural US to be left at 10/1 speeds, or even 25/3 speeds, when all these applications are expecting faster speeds. So, that’s a big, big, I think that’s the next hurdle is aside from connectivity like you said, is the quality.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: What makes you so passionate about this work?

Dr. Gallardo: I just believe that digital platforms can really unleash that creativity that’s kind of suppressed, that will of communities to improve themselves, to see that they may have been over the past 20, 30 years, under a bad situation economically speaking. It makes me passionate because I believe that it has the potential to level the playing field, like you’ve read my articles about digital parity, and that rural 2.0, that rural renaissance, that’s why I’m passionate about this. It’s because I believe, I truly believe that this technology, there’s a lot of issues and there’s a lot of other stuff that we’ve got to address, but I think that it truly has the potential to start a rural renaissance. I have lived in rural areas. So, imagine on the healthcare side, on the education side, on the entertainment side because of mixed reality, and digital reality, and all these applications. So, that’s why I’m passionate about it is because I think rural community, to understand this potential, they need to take conscious steps towards this future.

Dr. Connie: I love that. Taking those conscious steps towards the future. Can you share some stories, success stories you’ve had working with communities in this space?

Dr. Gallardo: I’ve been to a Boys and Girls Club, and I’ve got iPads with me, and we got the ScratchJr App. Low-income minority kids that have never seen a tablet, have never had one, it’s amazing Connie, how within 20 minutes they’re just tapping away. That confirms what I see is that the potential is there, the creativity is there. That’s a specific example. I’ve seen other rural businesses that depend entirely on their online sales because otherwise they would’ve gone out of business within their 2,000 town. I’ve seen in, like we’re working on the project with the RFI on the communities, how they can become more responsive. How can they become more responsive, so that way their quality of life and their civic engagement improves? So, I have bits and pieces of examples like that in my work, and it’s very gratifying to see. That’s when you realize Connie, remember that mindset change? That’s when I go, that’s very interesting. They made that jump, and now I’m starting to learn from what they’re doing.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: I also know you’re a family man. You’re married, you have two children. So, what do you enjoy doing, and how do you continue to sort of evolve as a leader yourself through doing some other things outside of work that spark your creativity and passion?

Dr. Gallardo: Yes, I’ve got two daughters. One of them is 11. She’s pushing hard for a smartphone. She’s not getting it yet.

Dr. Connie: Hey, that’s my 11 year old daughter, too! I am with you on that. So, when you give that a yes, tell me.


Dr. Gallardo: Yeah, so I think that what I enjoy the most is getting some piece of knowledge, and then kinda see if it truly materializes in the trenches. That’s what gets me going every day, is when you show up to a community, you tell them this, that, and then they look at you in the eye and they say that, that doesn’t make sense. This makes sense. And then you go, oh. That feedback is phenomenal. I’m passionate about that. On my daughter’s side, I’ve shown them a couple of the stuff I’ve done, and my little one who’s eight, always tells me, “daddy, I know you and technology get along really well.” That’s kind of how she’s grasping it now, but I see that all their homework is online, and I cannot even imagine what a family that cannot afford, right? Or they’ve reached their data plan, or they’re not connected, or they have to drive to a library. I, as a parent, totally empathize about that. It’s like, wow, I totally, totally understand why you’re frustrated, why you’re mad. Why your children are at a disadvantage that they didn’t even create themselves.

Dr. Connie: That’s such a critical point because when you think about the future, and I think when you have kids, or grandkids, or other young people you care about are in your life, you do want to envision a better future for them, and for them to have that mindset themselves of anything is possible. I literally at my fingertips can create whatever life I want. I can solve things. I can be a social entrepreneur. I can start a business. I can raise money for a cause. There’s just all these pieces and parts to it. We’ve always been very excited about the work you do, but I think hearing it now today in terms of how do we make it also a great equalizer in this world, I think, is just such a powerful message.

(upbeat music)

Dr. Connie: So, tell me, and share with our audience a little bit what parting words of wisdom do you want to share?

Dr. Gallardo: What I tell communities left and right, and colleagues, and everybody is do not tell me how it cannot be done, that I already know. Let’s instead focus on how it can be done, and that again, goes back to the mindset. I’ve seen communities that once it becomes a priority, whatever barriers seemed unsurmountable before are surmountable now. That just, attitude is really at the individual, at the group, at the community level, what I tell communities every time is I can come and present and talk to you about this everyday, but if you do not as a community, as a group, as a leaders, whatever it is, do not really feel that this is the way you need to go, or this is what you should be looking at, there’s nothing I can do, really. I can share with you resources, but you will always tell me why it cannot be done because you do not have that attitude towards it can and will be done. It’s amazing, Connie, I wish I could document all this and do a study on that, but it’s amazing how really, funds, which is the number one issue, right? Financial, it really becomes secondary and a technicality once this attitude is in place. Because when you want it, you will mobilize to get it, but if you’re wired or if you’re thinking, oh, it can’t be done because of this, oh, it can’t be done because of that, well, we know that, but that’s the question. How can it be done? Or the question then becomes, do you want it done, or do you have the will to do it?

(upbeat music)

Dr. Gallardo: I understand there are other issues. There are other community issues, it could be health issues, it could be crime. And so, I understand that the connectivity part may be pushed to the side, and that’s understandable. I would only ask that you do bring it back into the radar because the train will leave the station, and it’s going to be harder to catch on because that exponential behavior. We don’t know what the future will bring, but if you don’t kind of understand the characteristics and the behaviors now, and hop on that train, it’s going to be really hard down the road. It really will, because then frustration will kick in, and then you’re going to this downward cycle where the community’s being left out, most of your youth are out they’re not coming back. Today is the time we have a very narrow window, so I would encourage communities that listen to us that we understand there are other issues at play, but please, please make connectivity, or digital mindset, or digital parity, a priority.

Dr. Connie: I think that sense of urgency is a very important piece of this. Let’s do this, let’s get it done. Thank you so much, Roberto. We really appreciate your time and expertise, and we look forward to following your work and continuing to share that with our audience, as well, and just appreciate what you’re doing in this space to not only connect people, but really help them create their future.

Dr. Gallardo: Thank you, and thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for that other project that we’re working on, we’re learning a lot. I think the communities are having a blast. And so, thank you for the opportunity, and thank you for being colleagues in this venture, that’s important. Nobody can do it alone, so I truly appreciate your interest and your own resources and mindset that you bring to the table. I appreciate that.

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White Paper: The Future of Leadership, Technology & Rural-Urban Collaboration

September 26, 2018
  The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska believes for America to thrive, our rural residents and communities must thrive. We’ve learned that growing a vibrant rural sector takes: Future-focused leadership and entrepreneurship Social as well as …


The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska believes for America to thrive, our rural residents and communities must thrive. We’ve learned that growing a vibrant rural sector takes:

  • Future-focused leadership and entrepreneurship
  • Social as well as technological capital and connectedness
  • The wise use of natural, agricultural and cultural resources
  • Rich collaborations

As our high-tech, globalized world continues to collide with the values, principles and ethics of humanity, RFI breaks into the currently polarizing narratives of the rural-urban divide, technology development and the future of work through its weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie” available on iTunes and Stitcher.

Hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, the Rural Futures Podcast Season 1 includes 10 episodes with guest interviews of futurists, researchers and rural mavericks who are smashing barriers for a thriving rural-urban future. With Dr. Connie, guests dissect the evolving roles and tools of leadership, technology and collaboration in our exponentially changing world to help listeners explore potential solutions and embrace opportunities.

With patience, intelligence, experience and innovation, Dr. Connie believes people can come together, find areas of commonality and build toward solutions that take us to a future of abundance for all.

In many cases, solutions involve strong leadership, right-sized technology and better rural-urban collaboration. What does that mean exactly? Each guest shared ideas that often combined with Dr. Connie’s to uncover exciting new perspectives and potential courses of action.


Access White Paper


Rural Futures with Dr. Connie Season 1 Guests:

  • Bryan Alexander, Higher Education Futurist
  • Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft
  • Tom Field, Director of Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Tim Griffin, Director of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts University
  • Tyler Ideus, Physical Medicine Specialist, International Rehab InstructorNebraska Farmer
  • Helen Fagan, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, RFI Director of Leadership Engagement
  • John Roberts, Executive Director for the Nebraska Rural Health Association
  • Andy Hines, Futurist, Author and Program Coordinator, Lecturer for the Graduate Program in Foresight at the University of Houston
  • Seth Derner, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Vivayic
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Tourism | 2018 RFI Student Serviceship

September 4, 2018
   Hear how community leaders from Broken Bow, Nebraska, and Red Cloud, Nebraska, along with University of Nebraska students, created and implemented strategies related to rural tourism during 2018 RFI Student Serviceship!     Their creative ideas and solutions and their …


Hear how community leaders from Broken Bow, Nebraska, and Red Cloud, Nebraska, along with University of Nebraska students, created and implemented strategies related to rural tourism during 2018 RFI Student Serviceship!




Their creative ideas and solutions and their vision for the future are inspiring!


💪 “[The students] didn’t leave anything off the table. They shot high. I think one thing that rural communities do sometimes is we set the bar too low.” — Andrew Ambriz


A HUGE thank you to two lead mentors and community leaders we are constantly learning from:


Andrew Ambriz, Executive Director, Custer Economic Development Corporation (CEDC)

Jarrod McCartney, Director, Heritage Tourism Director


And a shout out to these stellar NU students and their 22 peers who also participated in serviceship this summer.


Jessica Weeder, argibusiness, UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR)

Leanne Gamet, agricultural and environmental sciences communication, CASNR

Trenton Burh, political science, Nebraska College of Arts and Sciences

Trevor Harlow, political science & environmental studies, UNO College of Arts and Sciences


📹: Karina Hernadez, Summer 2018 RFI Communications Intern and May 2018 UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduate!

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Creative Entrepreneurship | 2018 RFI Student Serviceship

August 31, 2018
   We’re celebrating a high-energy, action-oriented, future-focused summer of RFI Student Serviceship with videos sharing insights from key opportunities for rural communities.     Next up in our celebration of 2018 RFI Student Serviceship — Creative Entrepreneurship accomplished by …


We’re celebrating a high-energy, action-oriented, future-focused summer of RFI Student Serviceship with videos sharing insights from key opportunities for rural communities.




Next up in our celebration of 2018 RFI Student Serviceship — Creative Entrepreneurship accomplished by community leaders and NU students in Norfolk, Nebraska, and Cozad, Nebraska, this summer.


To Brandon Day, CEO of Daycos, and Jen McKeone, Executive Director of Cozad Development Corporation, thank you for your energy, ideas and meaningful mentorship of Christy, Shelby, Cheyenne and Samantha. These University of Nebraska students grew in their leadership and strategy because of the time you have invested in them through work, service and living in your rural Nebraska communities.


Shout out to the preparation of these students by the UNL College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and our very own Helen Fagan, Ph.D., whose training program was called upon by many students and communities throughout their experiences.


More about the Norfolk experience:

More about the Cozad experience:


📹: Karina Hernadez, Summer 2018 RFI Communications Intern and May 2018 UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduate!

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2018 RFI Serviceship | Recruitment & Retention

August 28, 2018
   We’re celebrating a high-energy, action-oriented, future-focused summer of RFI Student Serviceship with videos sharing insights from key opportunities for rural communities.     First up, Recruitment and Retention of Rural Residents — community leaders from Seward County, Neb., …


We’re celebrating a high-energy, action-oriented, future-focused summer of RFI Student Serviceship with videos sharing insights from key opportunities for rural communities.




First up, Recruitment and Retention of Rural Residents — community leaders from Seward County, Neb., and Box Butte County, Neb., along with the University of Nebraska students who worked, served and lived in the rural Nebraska communities, share what it takes to make a rural community “sticky.”

Our most genuine thank yous to:


📹: Karina Hernadez, Summer 2018 RFI Communications Intern and May 2018 UNL College of Journalism and Mass Communications Graduate!

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Full Season 1 of Rural Futures Podcast Available!

August 17, 2018
  From Katelyn Ideus Producer of the Rural Futures Podcast Director of Communications & PR Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska   Season 1 is a wrap! Rural Futures with Dr. Connie, the podcast produced by the Rural …

Rural Futures with Dr. Connie


From Katelyn Ideus
Producer of the Rural Futures Podcast
Director of Communications & PR
Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska


Season 1 is a wrap!

Rural Futures with Dr. Connie, the podcast produced by the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, brought forward bold voices for rural America through 10 interview-style audio episodes available across listening platforms.


Go to the Podcast!


Hosted by RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., the podcast offers listeners insight and action-oriented advice through frank conversations about serious opportunities within:

  • The Future of Leadership
  • The Future of Technology
  • The Future of Rural-Urban Collaboration


Guests in Season 1 include:

  • Bryan Alexander, Higher Education Futurist
  • Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility at Microsoft
  • Tom Field, Director of Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln
  • Tim Griffin, Director of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts University
  • Tyler Ideus, Physical Medicine Specialist, International Rehab InstructorNebraska Farmer
  • Helen Fagan, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, RFI Director of Leadership Engagement
  • John Roberts, Executive Director for the Nebraska Rural Health Association
  • Andy Hines, Futurist, Author and Program Coordinator, Lecturer for the Graduate Program in Foresight at the University of Houston
  • Seth Derner, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Vivayic

Sneak Peak!

Several themes emerged from each of the 25-35 minutes conversations, all of which will be discussed in our upcoming white paper. These themes include:

  • The power of purpose for individuals, companies, organizations and communities, and purpose as a starting point for the next generation economy.
  • The critical importance of an abundance mindset — the willingness to genuinely collaborate for the sake of humanity as a whole.
  • The power of the human brain combined with technology — we will not be replaced, we will be empowered.
  • The need for genuine, authentic, vulnerable leaders to step forward at all levels — leadership will no longer be defined by title, but by individuals’ strategic vision and action.

As RFI plans for Season 2 to be launched this fall, please show your support in a way that feels genuine to you.

  • Listen & Subscribe on iTunes and Stitcher
  • Rate & Review the show, so we know what you think (5-stars welcome!)
  • Nominate a rural maverick, entrepreneur, researcher, futurist as a guest
  • Sponsor with a tax-deductible donation to RFI’s Excellence Fund through the University of Nebraska Foundation (please enter “podcast” in the comment box)


Show Your Support!


Our podcast is just one way RFI staff bring forward the boldest voices of rural to disrupt the current divisive national narrative with what opportunities, assets and value rural communities and people offer. All members of the podcast team currently live in a rural area — we’re talking about home. Join us!


More from Katelyn


Bold Strat Comm

On Instagram

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RFI Chief Futurist To Keynote Sept. 19 Nebraska Rural Health Association Annual Conference

August 6, 2018
  Why does your health care organization exist? Why would anyone want to go there as either a patient or an employee? Organizations need to be able to clearly answer these essential questions, if they are going to compete in …

Connie Reimers-Hild Keynote: Why does your organization exist?


Why does your health care organization exist? Why would anyone want to go there as either a patient or an employee?

Organizations need to be able to clearly answer these essential questions, if they are going to compete in an era of exponential change and continuous disruption.

In her keynote presentation at the Nebraska Rural Health Conference Sept. 19, 9:15 a.m., in Kearney, Neb., Connie Reimers-Hild, Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist at the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, will explain how health care practitioners throughout the state can seek their purpose through various strategic foresight techniques.

“Already and into the future what you do can be replaced, but who you are and why you exist—that essential purpose—can keep your ideas and actions mapped strategically forward,” Reimers-Hild said. “We need to understand the state of health care as ever-evolving, ever-changing, and that is most comfortable for us when our purpose remains steadfast while our strategies pivot. It is where we begin to innovate.”

Reimers-Hild, a researcher, entrepreneur and high-touch futurist, helps leaders and organizations reach their desired futures through strengths-based innovation and strategic foresight. Her research, experiences and education in both the hard and human sciences allow her to see how our exponentially high-tech world must balance with a high-touch, strengths-based approach to leadership and life—we must explore the intersections of science fiction and what it means to be human.

Reimers-Hild assumed her current role as RFI’s interim executive director in July 2018, working to purposefully carry forward the University’s rural mission as well as her own to empower business, hospital and community leaders in and on behalf of rural communities around the globe.

“Rural providers that will be successful in making the transition to the future will not be the one who are the strongest they will be those most willing to change,” said John Roberts, Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Hospital Association (NeRHA). “Through Dr. Connie’s presentation, leaders can learn to use strategic foresight tools to foster a future with not only positive health care outcomes, but with social, ecological and agricultural benefits as as well.”

The Nebraska Rural Health Conference advances and publicizes rural health issues and seeks to solve rural health care challenges.

This year’s conference, “Shaping Sustainable Solutions,” will bring together residents of rural Nebraska communities, rural health professionals of all specialties, representatives of state, local, and national governments, and the full range of private sector rural health organizations to provide relevant and timely information and best practices to all people who care about the rural health.

The conference will be held Sept. 19 and 20 at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney, Neb.



Reimers-Hild hosted Roberts on Episode 7 of the Rural Futures podcast.



About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

About the Nebraska Rural Health Association

The Nebraska Rural Health Association is the leading advocate for the improved health of rural Nebraska. The association’s mission is to provide leadership on rural health issues through advocacy, communications and education. NeRHA membership consists of a diverse collection of individuals and organizations, all of whom share the common bond of an interest in rural health.


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Episode 10: Futurist Dr. Connie intersects strategic foresight, women, gender

August 3, 2018
             In the Season 1 finale of Rural Futures Podcast, Dr. Connie goes solo, discussing the future of women and gender. She explores the future-user concept with her 11-year-old daughter, shares her personal background, …





In the Season 1 finale of Rural Futures Podcast, Dr. Connie goes solo, discussing the future of women and gender. She explores the future-user concept with her 11-year-old daughter, shares her personal background, provides context of women’s ability to succeed professionally in the United States and offers her immediate advice to professional women of all generations, but with a special focus on Gen X.

Show your support for Season 2 by rating and reviewing our podcast where you listen!

Connie Reimers-Hild headshot
“There are many possibilities and plausible futures. The trick is to decide which one you want to pursue.’“
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
Interim Executive Director, Chief Futurist & Podcast Host, Rural Futures Institute

About Dr. Connie


Researcher, entrepreneur and high-touch futurist, Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC, helps leaders and organizations reach their desired futures through strengths-based innovation and strategic foresight. She currently serves as Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, assuming the role in July 2018, to purposefully carrying forward her mission with business, hospital and community leaders around the globe. She joined RFI as Associate Executive Director and Chief Futurist in May 2015. She is also host of this podcast!


Resources Mentioned In This Episode

In order of appearance


Show Notes

Hello, and welcome to the Rural Futures Podcast. Let me start by describing strategic foresight and futuring.

(Music Transition)

According to Peter Bishop and Andy Hines, who’s actually been a guest on the Rural Futures Podcast–


Strategic foresight and futuring do not predict the future. Rather, they help leaders better understand current and potential situations while creating a roadmap for innovation that guides inspired actions.

(Upbeat Music)

Futurists use strategic foresight to both expand knowledge and to explore many plausible futures. Foresight acknowledges the ambiguity of the future while preparing leaders to anticipate changes and minimize surprises. One quote about foresight that says this beautifully is from the Playbook for Strategic Foresight and Innovation, which was published by Stanford University.

“Foresight is the ability to plan for the future. It is a mix of mindset and methodology, a view of the future, and the practice of looking forward.”

No one can predict the future, and that is really the point. Futurists do not predict the future. Rather, they help people understand what is possible, and also plausible. According to Bishop and Hines, futuring is different than forecasting, and I think that’s a critical point.

(Upbeat Music)

Futuring is different than forecasting. That relies on two key assumptions.

Number one.

The future consists of many possible outcomes rather than one predetermined future. Obviously, there are many things that can change.

Number two.

People have some capacity to influence future outcomes. Meaning, people really do have the ability to control their destiny, or at least elements of it. I like to add the point that people definitely influence the future through their beliefs, mindsets and behaviors. What we think about, what we focus on. That’s what grows.

(Music Transition)

It is now common knowledge that entire industries are pivoting in the new economy. We see these transitions in every industry, ranging from retail to healthcare education. While we focus a great deal on industries, what do all these changes mean for the global ecosystem? What do these changes mean for humanity itself? The Rural Futures Podcast will continue to explore these types of questions in future episodes. Specifically, I have become very curious about exponential change and continuous disruption, and what it means for women. But also, for all people, as new cultural norms continue to evolve and traditional roles are questioned.

(Music Transition)

One tool is called future user. Future user is used to expand thoughts and perceptions about customers. It can be used to identify and anticipate the needs of target markets by examining changes to the customer segment over time. For example, what is an 11 year old today going to be like in 10 or 15 years? What will they need? What will their values, attitudes, behaviors be? How can we anticipate these changes by thinking of their personas now, and again in the future? I decided to try the future user concept with a real life example. I’m gonna try it with my 11 year old daughter Raquel.

(Raquel Laughs)

So, tell us a little bit about who you are. Who is Raquel Hild? Well, Raquel Hild, slash me, I like to play basketball, and sometimes softball. I’ve also played volleyball.

Lately, I noticed you’ve been taking up crocheting.

Oh yeah.

How did you learn to crochet?

Well, I just taught myself.

How did you do that?


YouTube? (Mouse Click)

I also noticed you use YouTube a lot to braid your hair. Just today, what did you learn from YouTube?

Oh, beauty hacks. I did some aluminum foil with toothpaste and baking soda, and folded it up and put it on my teeth, and that should’ve whitened it.

So, beauty hacks, life hacks, crocheting, braiding your hair. A lot of things that you learn from YouTube. You talked about the fact that you like to play sports, but it also sounds like you like to spend a lot of time on your phone. (Texting) True or false?

True. (Connie Laughs)

If you could spend all day on your phone, would you?

No, it kinda gets boring on there sometimes.

Does it?

Yeah, ’cause I have no games.

(Music Transition)

Where do you see yourself in five years? You’re gonna be 16. What do you think 16 looks like for you?


Driving what?

A car.

A car? What kinda car do you want?

A bug.

Yeah? What color?


So, what makes you want a blue slug bug?

Well, it’s a small car so it’s pretty easy to drive.

Okay, so let’s fast-forward another five years, when you’re 20, 21. Early 20s.

Well, I’ll go to college to become an actress.

You also wanted to be a veterinarian.


What are you thinkin’ about that right now?

It’s kinda weird, but if you really liked an animal and he or she died, then it would be hard.

Well, that’s okay. It’s good to kinda discover and think about those things about yourself. Okay, so obviously, things are gonna change in the future. Life’s gonna change. Where do you envision yourself living in the future?

I told grandma that I wanted to be an actress, and she said, well then, you’re gonna have to go all the way to Hollywood. But maybe when I’m older, then I can do acting anywhere.

Right, but what are we? Like you and I, what are we doing right now?


Yeah, where?

At our house.

At our house, right?

In Nebraska.

Yeah, in Nebraska. This wasn’t possible when I was 11. It is different, it’s a different world.

(Music Transition)

What else do you want to experience in your life?

I just want to grow up and have a good career.

What else do you want?

A family.

A house?


Where? Still in Hollywood or New York?

I thought about Arkansas.

Arkansas? What made you think about Arkansas?

There was a video that the teacher showed at school, and it had a diamond on the Arkansas state. Is that a good– On YouTube.

On YouTube, of course. (Connie Laughs) Of course, because that’s the world you live in, isn’t it? YouTube.


Pretty sure. So, when you’re my age, what do you want your life to be like?

Probably different ’cause people have been thinking that the world will probably go back then when people had to walk to (Snake Hisses) school with snakes chasing them with a stick.

My grandma, she always talked about that, didn’t she?

Or it could go to having robots. (Robotic Beeping)

What would you prefer, snakes or robots?

Probably in the middle.

Really? What do you mean?

Well, I don’t really like all the technology people are using now, ’cause it just takes over their lives.

Explain what you mean by that. What do you see happening?

People crash cars ’cause of phones, and with car that drives itself, there was a crash with that.

Would you like to have a driverless vehicle instead of driving yourself?

No, I just prefer driving myself.

You’d prefer driving yourself? (Engine Turning)

So, you like technology. You like having access to YouTube and doing all those things, but at the same time, you don’t want to live a life where technology takes over your life?

Yeah, it’s kinda confusing.

It is a little bit confusing. The reason I wanted to have you on is because we really need to think about what that future looks like for young people. Who are you now? What is your life gonna be like in the future? And the truth is, we don’t know, right? The truth is we don’t know.

Why do you think I know this?

Well, I don’t know that you don’t have all the answers, but I think you have some ideas of what you’d like your life to be like.

Do you think I saw the future?

Maybe. Maybe you’re a futurist. You ever thought of that?

No. (Connie Laughs)

(Music Transition)

As you can hear, sometimes it is difficult to see exactly what you want in the future. After all, age 11 should be a time of self-exploration and dreams. However, there are many possibilities and plausible futures. The trick is to decide which one you want to pursue. The conversation with Raquel gave us a brief glimpse into the mind and experience of one young woman. A few changes from her generation to mine, well, as you heard, there are many. She finds all the information she needs using her cellphone. (Texting) I grew up with a rotary dial phone attached to a wall. (Rotary Phone Rings)

She learns constantly through YouTube (Mouse Clicks) which of course, did not even exist when I was her age. And she assumes she will go to college and have a career. (Cash Register Rings) That was definitely not a daily conversation in my household. My parents were totally supportive and absolutely amazing people, but college was a pipe dream, not a predetermined destiny. My dad worked two jobs, and my mom stayed at home with six kids. I always knew that I wanted to have a career, however, I didn’t have a single life experience that prepared me for the realities of being a working mom.

I used to play Barbies with Raquel when she was little. I was deeply sad when Barbie dropped her kids off at daycare so she could go to work all day. She would then pick them up, and go home. Ouch. That hurt. As Raquel got older, she started talking a lot about what her career would be like. She keeps changing her mind, while also expanding the possibilities, which is actually a really good thing to hear and see. I mean, an actress? Okay, let’s just go with it and see how that feels for a while.

(Music Transition)

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, (Ambient Music) approximately 20.4 million students attended American colleges and universities in the fall of 2017. Nearly 11.5 million of these students were female, and 8.9 were male.

So, young women are attending college and obtaining degrees, but are still not earning the same amount of money (Cash Register Rings) or being promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts. They are also leaving the workforce in droves.

(Upbeat Music)

A report by Gallup in 2016 (Ambient Music) estimates– 73.5 million women are currently in the workforce. And 48% of them are actively pursuing other jobs and opportunities.

This is happening for a number of reasons, but it’s also happening even though these women are more engaged than their male counterparts, and are good for business, and the bottom line. Gallup notes that gender diverse business units in retail and hospitality actually have higher revenues and net profits compared with their less diverse counterparts. So, diversity is good for business. It’s good for the bottom line. (Cash Register Rings)

Further, a 2016 article by American Progress reported that (Ambient Music) 42% of working mothers are either the sole or primary breadwinners of their families.

Also of note, this is a continuation of a trend. More and more women are becoming primary breadwinners over time.

(Upbeat Music)

Recent publications from the American Association of University Women on the gender/wage gap in the United States revealed great challenges of course, and we’ve all heard a lot of this, right? (Ambient Music) New projections estimate that at the current rate, women will reach pay equity in 2119. Yes, 2119. That is 101 years from now.

I find it interesting that more women are becoming primary breadwinners, while still getting paid less. How do we expect families to thrive in this current economic reality for women?

(Upbeat Music)

The report also states that pay equity decreases with age. The older women are, the greater the gap in pay. More on this in future episodes.

(Music Transition)

Entrepreneurship also continues to be an area of challenge and opportunity for women. (Ambient Music) actually ranked Nebraska 50 out of 50 states for women entrepreneurs. Georgia and Florida ranked number one and number two, respectively.

So, this is just a shout out and call to Nebraska. Okay, we can and need to do better. I mean, after all, we are the home of many great entrepreneurs, but all states and countries need to do better for women in this space.

(Music Transition)

Now, what does the future hold for women? Endless possibilities. Women have more opportunity now than any other time in history. Progress has been made, but there’s much more to do, and this conversation goes way beyond women. As cultural norms and rules change for women, they also change for men. Men help raise children, stay at home with children, and are not always the primary breadwinner, which causes a new set of social rules of engagement. Further, people don’t always fit so neatly into the boy/girl, female/male gender boxes we have artificially created.

(Upbeat Music)

I want both my daughter and my son to be able to pursue any future they choose. I want them to think any scenario is both possible and plausible, and that they themselves have the capability and capacity to shape their desired future through their beliefs, behaviors and mindsets. Just as I want Raquel to be happy, healthy and strong, and a woman who freely pursues her desires, I want the same for my son. I want the same for people. I want them to support and respect one another in their pursuits. It takes everyone, not just a predefined gender to make the world a better and more equitable place for all.

(Music Transition)

We examine the future user concept looking forward, and what would I tell my future self when I was a younger woman, and what do I share with my children and others now? I’m approaching this based on my definition of leadership, which is the ability to lead one’s own life while bringing out the best in others and making a positive contribution to the future. I believe and champion the concept of self-leadership. Don’t let others lead you where you don’t want to go. We must recognize and develop our inner leaders to truly thrive.

(Upbeat Music)

So, a few points of advice that I like to share.


Pick an amazing partner. If you choose to marry, marry well. Very, very well. There’s no glory or win in trying to save or change anyone. Don’t waste your life or precious time on trying to change someone. In my younger days, I was that type of woman. I finally discovered that it is better to be with someone who creates a two-person mastermind with you and for you, who compliments you, and sees the world as an abundant place where we both can and should win. Whatever that means to you. You have to define success for yourself, and you want someone who will help you work towards your version of success while enjoying the sweet ride through good and bad times. Having an incredible significant other on your team is priceless. Thanks Jim, for being mine.


You are an amazingly unique being who has the freedom to pursue your purpose and live in joy. One way to achieve this is to develop and capitalize on your unique strengths to pursue the future you want to experience and achieve. I really do believe the power of the subconscious mind in making these dreams happen. More on that in another episode.


Love yourself. And love yourself enough to listen to your inner voice. That amazing intuition we innately possess, but rarely trust or develop. Trust and love yourself enough to say yes to the best and no to the rest, and it really needs to be a hell yes to count. Move forward with the hell yeses, and trust others with the nos. This means you have to trust your intuition, not care what others think, and take some risks with absolute certainty and bravery. It also means that happiness is a key to success. Science has demonstrated that your happiness in life doesn’t suddenly increase after you get a promotion, raise or new title. Happiness actually comes before success, and should be an everyday experience. It is something you can improve over time, so joyfully and confidently take a seat at the table and use your voice to speak your truth. You’re going to mess up from time to time. I do. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Know that it is all okay. It’s really just a process, and that you deserve to be loved by yourself and others.


Slow down and enjoy the ride. In my generation, generation X. You know, the one that is barely ever mentioned? We’ve had more opportunities than the boomers because they and other generations before had paved the way. However, the conversation about having a full life really got missed somewhere along the way. We are very career-oriented and egocentric in the US. One of the first things people ask is, what do you do? And if you can reply with a big title, you automatically score points on the social scale. If you can’t, most people will react to you just a bit differently. We need to learn to stay out of judgment around people’s choices and value whatever it is they bring to the table. So many women in my generation did not have children. Some by choice, and some didn’t have a choice. I was a very late bloomer in the parent department. As the second oldest of six, I helped a lot with my siblings and knew what it was to struggle financially. I didn’t want that for myself. And we really related that to having a big family, so I never wanted a big family. I even debated about having kids at all. Thankfully, I had a great female mentor who encouraged me to have a family. She was the only female in a leadership role at that time in my career who also had a family. She was the only one I knew that had kids and was married. She still asks about my kids every time we meet, first thing. I’m eternally grateful for her advice and wisdom. If you want to have kids, do it. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Make your choices and own them. I’ve seen too many women my age regret not having children because of their career.

Work is only one aspect of life. It’s such an important thing I’ve learned over time. Jobs change. People change. The situations change. Getting married and having children were the best two decisions I ever made. I only agreed to join the Rural Futures Institute if I could have the freedom and flexibility I needed to one, stay married, (Smooch) two, be a mom, (Baby Laughs) and three, live in our current rural community. (Birds Chirping) Thankfully, the organization was very supportive and we’ve worked together to shape what that really means. Ask for what you want and need, and help organizations evolve to be more flexible, diverse and inclusive because a lot of times they simply don’t know what that really even means or how to do it. We need to support stay at home parents and part-time employment, too. We as women, need to help shape this future.

(Upbeat Music)

Just make sure to enjoy the precious moments life provides. If you are too busy, make new and different choices. Being too busy does not make you productive. It takes away from experiencing the joy of life.

(Music Transition)

There is much more to this conversation and to the future of women, so stay tuned for more. In the meantime, tell us what you think. How would you describe the future for women? Let us know, and then ’til next time, thanks for listening to the Rural Futures Podcast. Now, go out there and make your future happen.

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Students: Apply for RFI graphic design, social media internships!

August 2, 2018
The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to help us create a bold voice for rural. Join us in an engaged working environment that will expand your leadership and professional skills as …

The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to help us create a bold voice for rural.

Join us in an engaged working environment that will expand your leadership and professional skills as well as your comfort zone and network. All details and application instructions available via the links below!

Apply by midnight Sunday, August 26, 2018!

NOTE: To be eligible, applicant must be enrolled as a full-time University of Nebraska–Lincoln student for the 2018-2019 school year.




Questions? Contact Katelyn!

Katelyn Ideus
RFI Director of Communications & PR

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Episode 9: Entrepreneur Seth Derner intersects learning, purpose, next gen economy

July 31, 2018
           Growing up on a ranch in Nebraska, Seth Derner has a deep passion and appreciation for nature, wildlife, agriculture and rural communities. He is also the co-founder and co-CEO of Vivayic, a learning solutions …




Growing up on a ranch in Nebraska, Seth Derner has a deep passion and appreciation for nature, wildlife, agriculture and rural communities. He is also the co-founder and co-CEO of Vivayic, a learning solutions design company that works around the country to help organizations reach their human potential. With a clear sense of purpose for himself, his family and his company, and an explicit admiration for the human brain and the role of technology to unleash it, Seth encapsulates the attributes of the “rural mavericks” Dr. Connie seeks to highlight and learn from on this podcast. He shares actionable insights, advice and lessons learned that entrepreneurs, community leaders and students will certainly appreciate.

We hope you will rate and review our podcast to demonstrate your support!

“Communities and organizations should challenge themselves to ask, ‘Who is it that we are called to be?’“
Seth Derner
Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Vivayic

About Seth


Seth has spent his career focusing on important outcomes that lead to measurable success. As a teacher, he more than tripled enrollment in his program within three years. As an education specialist for the National FFA Organization, Seth completed the revision of nine national student programs in two years, and led the design and production of a comprehensive leadership skill curriculum adopted by over 2,000 career and technical teachers.Seth co–authored the book, “Strategies for Great Teaching” with Mark Reardon. The book, like Seth’s approach, is filled with practical strategies for getting better results.

The passion for results, learning and new ideas led Seth to help create Vivayic. Seth believes in leading by example. You’re just as likely to find him designing an elearning course as meeting with a prospective client. He believes deeply that Vivayic is only beginning to realize its potential and that there is a lifetime of great ideas and satisifying successes to pursue.


Show Notes

Hello and welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Seth Derner. Seth is the co-founder and co-CEO of Vivayic, an amazing company based here in Nebraska, but with presence all over the world. Seth, that’s just a little bio about you, tell us a little bit more about yourself and your company.

Thanks Dr. Connie, I appreciate being a part of the podcast, a big fan. So a little bit about myself, I grew up a ranch in Wheeler County. My parents are still up there. I came down to the University of Nebraska and went back to up to Antelope County, where I was an ag teacher. I have since worked for non-profits, state government, 13 years ago started the company, my wife and I moved back to Lincoln when we started the company, and it’s just been an adventure ever since. So, my wife, and two sons, and I live here in Lincoln, but like you said, we’ve got 20 plus full-time employees, all the way from California to Florida. And, you know, we have a great time doing the work that we do helping other organizations be successful.

Well, dive into that a little bit more. I know you’re a leader of purpose and presence, and do things in very meaningful ways. Tell us a little bit more about Vivayic.

So I always tell people, we’re in the training and development business and immediately people think, oh you do a lot of stand and deliver, like sales trainings, and actually we don’t. (laughs) As much as I used to love being in the front of the classroom, we are the people behind great training and development at other organizations, or great curriculum developed by other organizations. So most of our work is helping with the strategy, the design, and the planning of new training programs for employees, onboarding programs, knowledge dissemination, or curriculum for non-profits, or for we do some work with state governments. So yeah, our folks, we come alongside other companies who have a big idea, or a big need, but they need capacity, they need people who have outside perspective, and who have design skills to make those things happen. And that’s what we help them do is map out the best way forward so that people can really be impacted. We exist to help build the capacity of those organizations that are doing good in the world, and we define that in four areas, organizations that are helping feed sustainably the planet, those who are committed to making education more relevant for young people, organizations that are working in international space to help small, older farmers be more successful, and then the fourth is any organization that is deeply committed to making sure that their employees have opportunities for growth and development. So that purpose helps us get real clear about the work, the kind of clients that we work with, the kind of work that we want to do, it’s been awesome. We recently just updated our vision, and our vision is mostly about the impact that we wanna have. It’s not about how big we wanna be. Like, we don’t really care if we end up being a 200 person company, or if we stay a 25 person company. Like, that isn’t what drives us. What drives us is saying, are we doing the kind of work that we love to do, are we making money doing it, and are we doing it with the kind of people we want to do it with? That’s kind of our guiding principles as we move forward in this adventure that we’re on with Vivayic.

Well, and I really appreciate that about you. I mean you’ve had such an instrumental impact on so many things here in Nebraska, not just your company, but the leadership you bring to the table, but also around the nation, around the world, with that extended outreach you have through technology. I love that history of being a ranch kid that now works in the tech space, right? And you were a teacher, so I mean that’s just all this wonderful sort of history and adventure all in one. But what about that name Vivayic?

When we were thinking about starting the company, my partner Doug and I, we’re meeting with some folks who were kind of mentoring us, people who had started their own companies, and we were at dinner one time in Minneapolis meeting with a gentleman who was giving us some advice and his wife happened to be with them. And they were both originally from India. And she was a linguist, both her and her mom were trained linguists in India, and she was listening to the conversation and then she just pipes up all of the sudden and says, “You know what you’re talking about is this thing from an ancient Sanskrit word which loosely sounds like vivayic.” We had no idea what to call the company and we’re like, well that sounds interesting, and the website was available, and that was really all the thought we put into it. (laughs) But the way she described the word was it’s the ability to impart wisdom not through books but through experience. And I think that’s what drives us is this idea about how you help organizations give people meaningful experience so that they can learn and use that learning to apply to be better employees, or better customers, better shareholders, whatever it is that they’re trying to improve upon, how do you give them meaningful experience? You talked about technology, I think that’s the thing like we work with a lot of technology but I have no more idea about coding, and networking, than my dad who’s still on the ranch. But what I learned early in teaching is I was one of the first teachers in the state who taught using the distance classrooms. So this was old school, these were hard wires, 17 classrooms, and I taught in a classroom where I’d see three televisions, and I could see kids in these communities, and they could see my students, and me, and what was eye-opening and awesome to me was the fact that here were students who prior to this technology didn’t have a way to access learning about agriculture. And they lived in communities where agriculture was the life blood of their community but for whatever reason they didn’t have an ag teacher, or an FFA chapter in their community, and all of the sudden technology made that possible. What I learned quickly was just because technology makes something possible, doesn’t make it effective because standing in front of a television teaching it’s just different. You have to think differently to make that a successful experience. And so, that’s kind of been our mantra throughout is technology allows a lot of great things to happen. People have access to information like they’ve never had access before, but learning is more than just being able to access information. It’s giving people an experience, it’s putting them in situations, it’s challenging them to think differently, it’s giving them a chance to get their hands on a real world situation and figure out how to solve the problem, and I think we’re still in the process as a society shifting from this idea that teaching and learning is about getting people the right information. The teaching and learning being about how do we get people the right kind of opportunity to practice, or to learn something new, and then be there to coach and guide as they start to make sense of it on their own and see how it plays out in the world? We love technology because it makes things possible, but we don’t say technology solves the problem, technology gives us the venue to solve the problems.

Well, how do you see that sort of evolving? Right now, I think when we talk about the future and the evolution of humanity and technology, are people gonna be replaced by robots, or AI, will we no longer have a purpose as people? From your perspective how do you see the evolution of technology and humanity together?

That’s a great question. And I don’t know if I have any special insight, I guess I have perspective because we work with lots of different organizations across crops, livestock, high tech, finance, so we get to see lots of different businesses and kind of what they’re doing, and how technology is changing their world. It’s probably, it’s the same question just a different version of the question as was asked for the last 80 years about technology. Over Memorial Day, went and visited the cemetery where my grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great, you know the whole lineage is buried, and you start thinking about we’re dealing with technological change, but the first tractors were introduced like talk about automation.

Right, that’s so true.

That was a gigantic change in society that automated and even the telephone and the ability to communicate, so I don’t know that our challenge is any different than past generations, to say how will technology, it’s gonna supplant some jobs. There’s no doubt about that. But we’re gonna be able to automate some things that currently people are hired to do. But that’s always been the case. What I always remind people, the human brain is so amazing, it is so powerful, especially when we unleash it and we give it permission to learn, and adapt, and create. When we really allow people to figure out how to solve problems and we look at human resources and organizations not as people doing tasks, but of people solving problems for your organization, then you start thinking about well how do we position people to solve the problems we need solved in today’s world with the kind of technology we have versus what we would have been doing 10 years ago? It’s exciting, it’s scary, but I think it’s always been exciting and scary, it’s just a different version of that for communities today.

I agree and I think the other thing is we hear so much more about it. I mean, it’s this sort of inundation of information and data and even though we see things changing at this exponential pace, there has always been change. But just like as you said with the telephone, when I go back to my own parents’ house my dad’s house, he still has a wall phone. My kids are eight and 11 and they’re just sort of like this is so cool, because it’s a phone that’s connected to the wall, but I’m also not quite sure how to use it. (laughs)

How do you get on Facebook with this thing?

Right, (laughs) why do you want to connect it to the wall? Of course the cord is just stretched out for miles, because it’s the same phone my family’s had for eons, and I had to take it down to the stairs to have a private conversation in our giant family. So it’s stretched out pretty long. But it is an interesting time in terms of technology, there seems to be a lot of drama in that space. But what I appreciate about what you said, is that human element as well. And I think sometimes that’s forgotten in these sort of futurist perspectives, is that the human brain is amazing, humans are amazing, our emotions are amazing. There’s so much that humans have to offer.

So this is what I know about is with this kind of change is there are companies out there who are very centered on taking care of their people and at the same time looking at automation because they know that in order for the company to sustain they’ve got to continue to be profitable. It’s being two-minded to say, if we don’t make profit, then we can’t exist, and we can’t offer anybody employment opportunities. So we have to automate in order to stay efficient, to stay profitable, but we really care about people. Now, there are some companies that stay profitable and really maybe don’t care about people and that’s a whole other conversation. I’m hoping those kinds of organizations will eventually go away and are replaced by really purpose-driven values-based organizations, where they put their people at the center of everything they do. But those are our role models are those kinds of companies. And those kinds of companies, what they’re saying is there may be a point in time where we have to transition people out of employment. And if there’s an opportunity to transition them to other employment in our organization that looks differently we’re gonna do everything possible to help discover how people can grow their skills to play a role in a different organization. And if they can’t, those organizations are typically helping the people transition to other kinds of roles outside of their organization. And I just think, if more companies were more intentional about talking about that so that if it is automation is gonna change the future, but it’s also we’re committed to helping people be as successful as they can be, or choose to be, and then I think communities as well, we all probably can think of somebody whose job got replaced at some point in our history by something got automated, and it’s like what do we as communities do? Do we just look at them and say, gosh well too bad you don’t have the skills to get something else? Or do we figure out how we collectively think about well what is it that as a community we need to do to lift people up and prepare them for different opportunities in the future? And I think education has a role in that, and I think communities have a role in that. If you wanna be proactive because leaving people behind, I think that’s what creates resentment and that then drives the fear that people have, they’re gonna be one of those that get left behind in the future.

Well, you know, we’ve talked a lot about that here at the Rural Futures Institute, like how do we obviously partner with other organizations to connect our rural areas? But then, also, help our rural people, our rural communities, really thrive in this next generation economy? In some ways people still have that stereotype of rural that, oh it’s all negative not a lot going on, and I’m not saying there’s not challenges because there are. But in so many other ways I think there’s these amazing opportunities in front of rural communities, and specifically there’s more partnership with urban and we start creating different models and different questions that are more positive in nature and bringing on that abundance mindset that I know you talk about a lot. And really thinking about how do we as leaders make sure that we’re positioning ourselves, our communities, to where we want to be and need to be? How do we serve a purpose in this evolution of the world and how can we do better in the future so people are prosperous and thrive wherever they choose to live?

I truly believe that’s what makes us human to compare and to try and compete. I mean that’s the natural order. But what make humans unique is the ability to imagine what would it look like if we collaborated, cooperated, and helped each other out? I continue to hold this belief that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. That there isn’t enough for everybody, and if there’s not enough for everybody, then I’ve gotta make sure that I get mine first, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I get what I think I need, and if other people don’t, well that’s their problem. I’m all about free markets because our company wouldn’t exist without a free market that said, here’s a niche nobody’s doing this well, and if we do it better than other people, then we should be able to grow and enjoy the opportunities that provides. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that when you look at the world and think that there’s scarcity, that there’s a very small pie and I have to compete to get as much as I can, that leads you to think about everything in one way. You think about the people that you hire, you think about your competitors, you think about opportunities, it’s all based on this scarcity mindset. In the long-term it leads to a lot of negative behaviors and it leads to a really toxic culture, I think bad decision making, and sometimes I think people aren’t intentional about that, that’s just how we’re wired. Like when we started the company, we’d go to these networking things and the first question out of people’s mouth is how many employees, what’s your revenue, how fast are you growing? Which are all legitimate questions, but they’re questions I don’t really care about. To me it’s well, are we making enough profit that we can do the things we want to do as a company? So if our revenue is 100 million, or one million, if I was generating the margins necessary to do what I want to do, how big doesn’t matter it’s are you doing the thing that you are set out to do? And that means you have to define success in your own way and that you believe that just you being successful doesn’t prevent anyone else from being successful. So when somebody who’s maybe in your space doing similar work to you has a success, you don’t gnash your teeth and get angry and envious, you say gosh that’s awesome. Like look what they did, what can we learn from them that might be able to help us drive to the success that we want? You talk about next generation economy to me that’s the next, next generation economy is how do we build an economy full of businesses which say this is our purpose, this is what we want to do, and we’re gonna measure our success based on what we believe is important? That may mean we only have two employees, but we’re doing good work in the world, meaningful work, and that work is having impact. Or it might mean you have 10,000 employees because that’s what it takes in order to fulfill your purpose. We have organizations that are purpose driven, that are people-centered, and where we celebrate everybody’s success, we don’t always worry about if we’re coming out on top. But I think that same message applies to communities. You know, how many times a small town, you’re in a small town they complain because another town got a new store, or a new mill, or a new ethanol plant, and they didn’t. It’s like, well, what do you want your community to be? Be intentional about your purpose, and your character, and lean into that, and then when another town has a success celebrate that and then learn to say, well what did they do that we can learn from that could help us be who we want to be? I think a lot of organizations, towns, or companies, non-profits, they don’t have real clarity about what their purpose is, why did they exist, and what are they shooting toward? Because I think once you get that, then it becomes a lot easier, and it becomes a lot more fun to work towards something and to call people to be part of something as opposed to just worrying about some of the things are out of your control, market conditions, prices, those kinds of things.

I agree and I think it just generates that natural flow. As I’ve done a lot of executive and leadership coaching, even if they seem externally successful, internally they’re not always very happy because they’ve lost that sense of purpose or weren’t very clear on it from the beginning. And I think in so many ways, especially in the U.S. we’re very socialized to win everything, to be first at this, to go out for every sport, to be this and that just like you were talking about with the revenues and employees we have so devalued small businesses, or solopreneurs, kind of this negative mom and pop store, like that’s a bad thing. And, you know, it’s unfortunate that we’ve sort of characterized things in that way. I mean I think that’s changing a little bit, but to really value the purpose individuals bring that can then spring into what does that mean for an organization or a community? I think it’s so important and I think this starts when people are very young and very little. Just as you said, with many communities I think part of what’s happening in the rural landscape is you know a lot of those communities were established for railroads and other purposes, they had a purpose, when they were first founded. Well, when that purpose went away the struggle has been very real. And so, it’s really important to redefine that purpose so that people want to be engaged in that community and people are attracted to whatever that purpose is especially as people can live, work, play all of of that wherever they want to go.

The one thing that we’re just continuing to see more and more of is people are drawn to authenticity, because we’ve been so inundated with advertising, social media, messaging, messaging, messaging. I think we’re all conditioned to think pretty much everything you hear is a load of BS, like there’s a story behind. (laughs) And so I think when people find something that really feels and smells authentic, like they’re just, it’s almost a relief that that can still exist in the world. And to me, that’s where small businesses, rural communities, have such a leg up over large organizations and large communities. They can choose to quickly lean into their authentic self and their authentic purpose. And again, you might not be for everybody, I tell that to people who call me and want a job every time. It’s more than likely we’re not the organization you’re gonna like hanging out with, ’cause we’re a little zany, we’re a little nerdy, we’re goody two shoes, we work virtually, like you have to work damn hard for us, I mean you don’t miss deadlines, you have to be really nice to customers and clients, even when they’re grumpy with you. Like there’s a lot of people who we’re like, you probably aren’t gonna like it here. But that’s okay, there’s some place that you will love. You just need to find the place where you will love to be and that way the people we have they don’t spend time thinking about the grass being greener on the other side. They know that they’re in the place that aligns to who they want to be. I think communities and organizations should challenge themselves to say, who is it that we are called to be and how do we be okay with not trying to be all things to all people? Because when you try to be all things to all people, you end up being really nothing to no one, so.

Well, that’s so important. I think when you really think about that, that’s why you attract the right employees. And I think this comes from your abundance mindset, right? It may not be right for you, but something else is. So if it’s not this it’s A-okay. And I think that’s where it’s not like a win lose thing all of the time, or if I win you lose. And you know what we can be happy for the success of others, but this also takes a little bit different leadership style than what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve been getting away from the command and control, I need to look good, and if you’re too nice, I get that one a lot (laughs), if you’re too nice you’re not that effective. So I’m really excited that authenticity and being nice actually is starting to be a good thing, rather than a negative thing. Just to build on this a little bit, Seth, I’d love to hear about yourself as a leader. What is sort of your leadership style and philosophy to help support this type of very mindful growth?

It continues to evolve because I think leadership is one of those things that is an abstract concept, it sounds really good until you have to put it into practice. (laughs)

You know it’s true, I think. That’s why learning it from a textbook is hard isn’t it?

Right, yeah, and then it’s like you think you’re good at it but it’s a point in time and then like in six months you’ve got a different situation and you realize, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m probably screwing things up. And so, it’s like one of those never ending things where you’re always learning. But this is what I would say is, this was some, I don’t remember where I heard it many years ago, but the talk about when your people don’t have clarity about what’s important to you, what your purpose is, what your values are, they won’t be able to choose to engage with you. They’re always going to be guessing. And so, I think that’s probably my biggest leadership philosophy is I know I’m an imperfect person making imperfect decisions every day. And I tell the people on my team, I don’t know that this is the right decision. I’m making a guess, it’s the best guess I have. But I believe that it’s moving us in the right direction and if it’s not we’ll change course. And then, when I make a mistake I own it. So that I think is part of it, is if you want to be an authentic organization, it starts with you as a leader being really honest with yourself about what you care about, where you’re trying to go, what’s important to you, and then being vulnerable enough to share that with the people around you. Our organization’s really unique, because Doug and I are co-founders, we’re co-owners, it’s a 50/50 deal, there are no unilateral decisions at Vivayic. I can’t wake up tomorrow morning decide to hire, fire, or change something, like everything we have to collaborate. And we’ve gotten told multiple times by other entrepreneurs, like you’ve gotta change that. That’s gonna be the thing that keeps you from being successful. And what we continue to find is it’s the thing that keeps us from failing, is because some of the flat sides I have are Doug’s strengths, and some of Doug’s flat sides are my strengths. And when we trust each other enough to believe that we’re both trying to make the best decision for the whole organization, that when we trust each other, and we allow, we give each other permission to move forward on things based on like somebody just strongly believes this is the right thing to do, and then we forgive each other sometimes when it’s not (laughs) that that has made us a very resilient organization. We have survived a lot of ups and downs, and have we missed some opportunities because it takes us a while to make decisions? Probably, but have we kept ourselves from making dumb decisions? Definitely. We have this goal that Vivayic will be around for generations after we’re gone. Not because it’s an ego thing for us, but because we believe that the purpose of Vivayic could have generational impact. And that we need to make decisions that ensure that there’s an opportunity for that to happen for years to come.

(Music Transition)

Not only I think do you have a strong purpose in your business, but you’ve really combined that with your life, your wife, and your working so closely together, the kids, everything, but not only you and your immediate family, the families of all of your employees, as well. Can you share with our listeners how you work at that type of culture at Vivayic and some of the things you do to really engage people in their own lives?

We do lots of things, it’s really important to us that people not only believe that we care and that we want them to be successful, but we have to demonstrate that time, and time, and time again. So our leadership team which is Doug and I and both of our wives work full-time for the company, which that just then blows people’s minds. Like wait–

That really does (laughs).

You’re 50/50 partners and both your wives work? And we’re like, yes, that is the leadership team for the company which it’s like having a double marriage but not in a weird way, like in a cool way. (laughs) I always tell people not in a weird way, the great thing is across the four of us we each bring different strengths, but we have a shared commitment of taking care of people, so. We do that at a collective level, we do that at an individual level, so for instance because we’re virtual everyone works from a home office. We have four or five people who are living on a family farm, their spouse is farming full-time, and then we’ve got people in Chicago, so we’ve got people everywhere. We get together three times a year in person to build community. For a small example, we always make sure that no one has to travel on a weekend, so that nothing that you do for Vivayic should require you to sacrifice the time with your family on a weekend. Now, does that mean that our people don’t occasionally work or travel on a weekend? No, ’cause they do, but when we get to choose to make things happen, we’re gonna choose to honor people’s ability to be with their family, or be in their community. So we try to be intentional. The thing is I think that being your own business leader is you know when you need to make an accommodation because somebody’s got something going on in their world, you get the ability to make that decision. For instance, in January one of our team members in California felt compelled that she needed to run for the United States Congress House of Representatives District One. And she called us and the first thing we said is you bet, what do you need? And she needed to cut back hours, she needed flexibility, and we talked about it as leadership team, we felt it was something that we needed to do and also we were really transparent with the team that says these are the decisions we’re making and why we’re making them. I think the reason our team no one complains, in fact they’re all very supportive and excited, a lot of them contributed and helped her campaign. What they know is that, we’ve had people who’ve needed extended maternity leaves, just because of situations, or people who wanted to take an extended mission trip. So they know that we would be that concerned about all of them in the same way we would for Audrey. And does that make things hard? Sure, as a company, yeah, because the easy thing to do is say nope. You signed up, here’s the deal. If you want to leave your job, leave your job, but that’s the easy thing. But we say, we’re flexible enough, we’re adaptable enough, we can work around that. And I just think that is part of what we hope we’re modeling for the people on our team, because you know I have this dream that some people on our team will be inspired and think of an idea of a business they want to start and we can help them be successful and we’ve given them a model and a blueprint of how to be authentic in their own leadership as they start an enterprise. That’s our personal purpose is to try to create an entity that can do this for people and model a different way of having a company that both makes money and does good in the world.

And I think the next generation workplace also requires next generation leadership.

(Music Transition)

I’d love to dive in as we close here, any words of wisdom you would like to share with our audience?

The biggest word of wisdom I have is I think collectively as a society and individually we’re all answering the questions of do I matter? And I think the hard part is is that we all think we’re doing it by ourselves, and the companies and the communities that are successful in the future are those who can answer the question with a resounding yes. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice is try and find the like-minded people who are affirming the positive answer to that question. I think we all get stuck in the cycle of listening to the negative voices and believing that things aren’t gonna get better, and that I am just a number, I am just someone who’s a customer to an organization, I’m just somebody who’s target marketed by a political campaign, like I don’t matter, and I don’t believe that. I believe that everybody has within them the ability to discover what it is that they’re intended to do here on Earth. But most of us aren’t given the time, or permission, or encouragement to figure that out. And so that’s my piece of advice is be a person who’s trying to figure it out and when you do have a sense of what yours is, then turn around and try and help others figure out what theirs is as well. Because I think that would make a tremendous difference in the kind of businesses that are created, how we treat each other, and the kind of communities that we could create if there was more of that mindset.

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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Ten!

July 27, 2018
Broken Bow, Neb. When considering the fact that we are finishing up our last full week here in Broken Bow, it is hard to believe how fast the summer went. Our time spent here has been so great – we …

Broken Bow, Neb.

When considering the fact that we are finishing up our last full week here in Broken Bow, it is hard to believe how fast the summer went. Our time spent here has been so great – we have met so many amazing members of this community as well as Custer County as a whole. Our projects have wrapped up nicely and we are excited to be able to give some final updates.

“This serviceship gave me insight I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten into the world of local government, economic development and the importance of small town innovation in rural Nebraska.”



Our Sturgis project wrapped up nicely with banners hung up around town at various businesses as well as the park, the Barn, and the entrances into Broken Bow. These banners were obtained through Coca-Cola and Budweiser due to those companies being official sponsors of the Sturgis bike rally. Our Sturgis cards have been distributed and we decided to place more at the Visitors Center or the Barn as well as a water station/ bike repair tent that pops up in a restaurants parking lot.

Some of our final progress on the YMCA project has been getting key community members on board for a YMCA activities director recruited to come to the county. We have met with Optimist Club – the current group that is heading up most of the youth sports. They were excited about having someone to lead these programs, though they are still happy to volunteer their time to simply help.

Diamond Youth Organization (DYO) will be contacted in a few weeks once baseball season is over. They will be the last group to reach out to before things can really be moved forward. On July 25th we had the opportunity to tour Adam’s Land and Cattle. This was an amazing chance to see the huge facility that they have south of town and learn a little bit more about the industry.

Jessica gave a presentation to the City Council about the Leadership Certified Community. All members, including mayor Cecil Burt, were in favor and excited for the opportunity. Only a few more components are left to add to the document before it will be sent to the State of Nebraska Economic Development.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to come to Custer County and learn from the amazing individuals here. I have learned some invaluable lessons and am so excited to continue to use the tools I have been given during the past 10 weeks of my serviceship.”



Leanne’s final article will be in the Custer County Chief Wednesday August 1st, coincidentally our last day in Broken Bow. Her article focused on the mammoth remains found south of where the Comstock concerts are held annually.

Our final days will be filled with spending time at the Custer County Fair and tying up any other loose ends. Overall, this opportunity has been amazing and we are already looking forward to visiting the community in years to come.




Columbus, Neb.

“This is the end of my part in Columbus, but they are on the cusp of some amazing stuff here.”



We have finished up our time in Columbus and have wrapped up or handed off all of our projects. The Columbus Area Future Fund had us working on creating marketing materials. We took videos and pictures of the Fund Advisory Committee members and used them to create monthly newsletters. The videos will also be used to promote the fund in the future.

During our time with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce we have worked on four different projects. We updated, rebranded and advertised the community calendar, Good Times.

We also held an event to reenergize the community brand, Something Good. The event was held over the course of two weeks, we posted trivia questions, held pop-up booths and chose winners through daily drawings.

Throughout the summer we planned and held Interns’ Night Out for the interns in the area. During those events, we offered dinner and had an activity, one night we had the local airboaters association give the interns rides down the Platte River.

In September, Columbus will be holding an event in conjunction with Young Nebraskans Week. We have been an integral part of the planning process for that event. We formed a committee and created a plan for them to follow in the months leading up to the event. We are looking forward to seeing how the event turns out.

When we asked KC Belitz what his favorite part of having us this summer was, he said, “The practical side is that you guys got actual work done. You worked on projects that we would not have done otherwise. The flip side of that is the staff had the chance to learn from both of you. What you each brought from your backgrounds and demographics and then also what you brought together are things that we all learned from. We will use that for a long time.” Kara Asmus replied, “I just love your enthusiasm and how you jumped in and gave 110% from the moment you got here. Your perspective, fresh ideas and participation exceeded my expectation.”

“We came here to make a difference for them, but they made a difference in us.”






Cozad, Neb.

One of our main projects this summer was the collaborative work on the First Impressions Program between Cozad and Ogallala. The First Impressions Program provides an opportunity for communities to learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of the first-time visitor. The results from a First Impressions visit can serve as the basis for community action. This tool is particularly useful because as a matter of human nature, all communities have difficulities viewing their surroundings as others – customers, visitors, potential residents, and potential businesses – see them. Our views are skewed by over-familiarization, a lack of differing perspectives, expectations, and a reluctance to be completely honest with our neighbors when dealing with difficult issues, such as the appearance of buildings, customer service, and the maintenance of public faciities.

Volunteers from two somewhat similar communities agree to do unannounced visits and then report on their findings.  Participants become “secret shoppers” for the day to discover what they can about their sister community. This summer we’ve compiled and streamlines the feedback the teams provided about Cozad and Ogallala. Last week, we presented to Ogallala about the challenges and opportunities seen from a visitor’s perspective. Similarly, next week, we will be presenting the findings to community stakeholders in Cozad. In addition, we’ve included results from a recent community survey done by the library. This data will enhance what we are saying but backing it with community member views.

“The opportunity to spend the summer in a rural community shows you just how much Nebraska has to offer.”




Utilizing the information uncovered through the First Impressions Program, Ogallala and Cozad are applying for a grant through the Sherwood Foundation to take action on the opportunities presented. Property owners, businesses, and home owners along the highways and interstate corridors into the towns will be able to apply for matching grant funds to make aesthetic improvements. Clean-up and improve the aesthetics of the highway and interstate corridors into Cozad and Ogallala.

These projects can include public space improvements including landscaping: trees, shrubs, or permanent elements; professional removal of eyesores; compliance with local codes; murals; and public green spaces. Funding can provide property owners matching grants for replacement of boarded, missing, or broken windows; painting of structures; façade improvements; lighting or illumination of blighted areas; and demolition of dilapidated structures. Businesses and community organizations can use the grant to modernize websites of businesses, civic organizations, local administration, and tourist attractions to encourage a welcoming feel towards potential residents and companies.

We are excited to wrap up this project by celebrating the achievements and embracing the opportunities with the community members of Cozad. We hope to hear more about the status of our grant this fall and will be excited to see how Cozad develops in the future.




Norfolk, Neb.

As we wrap up our last full week in the Norfolk community, we are finishing up our projects with both the City of Norfolk and the departments we’ve been working with on that assignment, along with our projects with Daycos. Our next couple of days will be filled with coffee dates, lunch outings, and dinner get togethers to say goodbye to our mentors, co-workers, and all of the wonderful community members we have had the awesome opportunity of working with this summer.

“This serviceship experience has enabled me to grow my strengths and leverage them to leave the most positive impact possible on the Norfolk community.”



We have spent much of the past two weeks presenting our findings to many leadership and business groups in Norfolk. We do a large overview of the Rural Futures Institute and our projects with Daycos and the City of Norfolk, and then we dive into our strategies for cross-promoting business and up-selling Norfolk. We have developed an activity called “Griswold’s Norfolk Vacation” that has our audience try to identify a different business to recommend the disruptive Griswold’s to for every item on their very detailed and determined shopping list for their week away in Norfolk. It brings to light all of the noteworthy businesses that their community has and the impact that cross-promoting can have on their overall economy and culture.

One of the most successful presentations that we had was a focus group discussion that we held for all of Norfolk’s retail business owners. We invited the twenty-five businesses that we did Secret Shopper surveys on, along with many others. We shared with them the results and the data that we collected and where we believe the gaps are in their community. We gave them great action steps to start cross-promoting within their own businesses.

The portfolio that we will hand into the City of Norfolk when we finish our internship this summer will include many projects, strategies, and ideas to answer their original question to us: “How can the community of Norfolk cross promote all areas of retail?” The first example of this is a completed assessment of the Secret Shopper surveys we completed, analyzed, and discussed with the community members and stakeholders.

We also are working on finalizing a strategy on how to incentivize local businesses to up-sell Norfolk. We created a marketing plan to promote all areas and sectors of the community’s retail. Another project we are including in this portfolio is the windshield assessment that we worked on, focussing on the six major hubs of retail in Norfolk.

Lastly, we created a plan to execute a Norfolk-wide customer service training seminar, partnering with the major players in the community.

Last week, we also had the opportunity to join on of our mentors, Economic Developer Candice Alder, for the Network Northeast Nebraska meeting. We heard many success stories about a few new strategies in rural development, such as ProsperNE, hiring out private consulting firms, and ECAP. This was a great learning experience, but more than that it was a great way to meet many leaders in rural economic development in Nebraska.

“I look forward to taking what I have learned from my serviceship experience in Norfolk and applying it in my future career. I know that I am leaving this community with a step in the right direction, a better knowledge of my career goals and a strong network of community leaders.”


As we’re starting to reflect on our experience in Norfolk, we have come to the conclusion that we have had the opportunity to apply so many valuable skills and use so much vital knowledge that we have gained from our college classes and past internship.

Traci Jeffery, Visitors Bureau Executive Director said, “Cheyenne and Samantha bring an impressive skill set to our community that was valued by many local leaders. They instantly stepped into the role and were advocates for Norfolk. Their work provided a vision for retail and has set us on a course for success with local businesses.”




Omaha Land Bank

The time has come, and Sydney and Kyle are done with their internship at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. It is crazy to think that just 10 short weeks ago we started out on this journey. We came into the internship with little knowledge on what our work was going to entail this summer at the Land Bank. However, at the end of week 10 we are leaving with more knowledge and information than we had ever planned on.

The last two weeks have been busy for Kyle and Sydney at the Land Bank. Last Friday we attended a “Why We Can’t Wait Urban League YP Summit.” We were able to interact with multiple community members and associations on different topics impacting Omaha’s community.

These topics included: Pay Equity, Gentrification, and LGBTQ. The information we gained from this Summit was very eye opening and opened a lot of good discussion for the Land Bank.

Our mentor, Laura Heilman, lead the discussion on Gentrification and how it affects North Omaha. Kyle and Sydney took notes and helped capture what Omaha was really feeling about Gentrification and how the Land Bank could help remove these thoughts of Gentrification and move the thoughts to “community development.”

In addition to our time learning about community input and the area that we are working in, we had the opportunity to watch two development projects get into their final steps.

The film crew the Land Bank hired allowed us to shadow as they interviewed individuals involved and began creating promotional material of homes that had been redone. The first day of filming was with a transformed property in the Country Club neighborhood. This home was a large house in an upscale neighborhood but had a hole in the roof, was overgrown, and had overall become rundown over the years. The Country Club house was originally on the slate of demolitions for the City of Omaha until the Land Bank stepped in to save it. Now the renovations are complete, and the new owners move in on Friday.

“One of my favorite things about the Land Bank is how concerned they are with community input. They really care about what the community wants and what is in the best interests of community members instead of what will benefit their business more.”


The property owners were kind enough to allow the staff to walk through and see the finished home before they had moved. Sydney and Kyle were able to see the inspector for the city come look over the property for approval. Additionally, we were able to speak and listen to interviews with the general contractor, neighbors, and the design team. The sheer scope of what went into this beautiful home cannot be overstated as it was transformed from a hazard with termite damage and animals getting in and out to a stately home on a prominent corner lot. What had caused neighbors on either side to leave because of the vacant and dangerous property next door is now a newly renovated envy of the neighborhood.

Today we had the chance to go see the installation of the house built by Metro Community College in their construction trades building. The lot was owned by the land bank and located across the street from the campus. It will be a 1600 sq. ft home with attached garage and a size-able backyard located in north Omaha. The home will be sold to a family that can ideally live in it long term and help begin to fill in vacant lots near the campus and bring up the rest of the neighborhood. The home was carried by semi in three segments and set on a foundation. We were able to witness the move of the home from the truck and onto the foundation across steel beams. This coming Fall, the home will be up for sale and give a new family a great home. Hopefully more projects can be planned out over the course of years and metro will be able to continue to install new housing in their own backyard so students for decades to come can see the work done to make the city a better place.




Red Cloud, Neb.

In the preceding weeks we had been working almost constantly on the economic development plan and other related projects. Starting last Monday, we shook things up and drove out to the Starke Round Barn for a week much different than most of our time here. The Starke Round Barn is the world’s largest round barn used in agricultural production. It is three stories high and 140 feet across—not to mention 115 years old. Today, the barn is privately owned and upkept by Liz Rasser, who we spent the week working with.

“As we pass on the torch, I am confident that we helped to fuel the community’s growth and change. Of all the things I learned, I will never forget the energy and dedication of the people here. They will certainly keep the flame burning for a long time to come.”



The Rasser family purchased the barn in 1931 after the Starke family went bankrupt during the Great Depression.  Part of our task was to figure out what led to their fallout and bankruptcy. To do this, we learned how to use microfiche, microfilm, and century old courthouse records. Some of these techniques were more fun than others.

It turns out that microfilm is not exactly easy to use, and we became rather disoriented after only a few minutes staring at the bright screen. To avoid the headaches, we spent a lot of time inside the office of the Red Cloud Chief newspaper where they store physical copies of every Red Cloud newspaper since the 1880s…except the year 1923. And, what do you know, that is the exact year we were looking for!

Liz had known that the Starke cattle herd contracted tuberculosis and our mission was to find out what happened to the herd. In the District Court records we found a case where the Starke Bros. sued a man who refused to pay for the sick cows the Starkes sold him (Starke, Chris and William v. Louis Borcherding, 1924.)

After looking through all the newspaper in the area at the time of the court’s decision we found absolutely nothing about the dying herd. To make up for it, we found out when and for how much the Rasser family purchased the Starke property for! Although we didn’t come away with ground breaking information, it was great to learn about all the resources for finding out historical information.

The rest of the week we helped Liz update the barn’s website, create a new visitor and tour policy, and plan out an art gallery she is hosting in September. It’s quite impressive how she has been able to maintain the Round Barn and its story while still working full time on a farm—a true representative of these dedicated people.

“With this Serviceship wrapping up and our Economic Plan being handed off to the citizens here, I cannot wait to see what amazing progress they make with it moving forward. And I can’t wait to come back in the future to see this amazing community continue to grow and thrive.”


During this week, we spent our time polishing the economic development plan. On Friday the 13th we hosted a meeting with the city council and other stake holders to get feedback on the plan and that went very well. We also had a meeting on Wednesday with the Economic Development Advisory Board for additional thoughts. This week we added a few items, changed some, and made lots of tiny edits to get it into presentable shape. Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th of July we give presentations to the public about our plan.

After this week it will be up to the people here to follow through with the steps to make the community grow. It’s quite amazing to think that we came here only a few months ago and, in that time, managed to understand how the town functions and organize the concerns and ideas of so many different people. We know that the people here are passionate and inspired to keep moving forward and we have no doubt that they will.

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Episode 8: Futurist Andy Hines intersects purpose, work, tech

July 24, 2018
                Foresight is a key characteristic of leaders of the future. In this episode well-known author and futurist Dr. Andy Hines discusses how leaders can incorporate various futuring strategies to bring people into …







Foresight is a key characteristic of leaders of the future. In this episode well-known author and futurist Dr. Andy Hines discusses how leaders can incorporate various futuring strategies to bring people into the future with optimism and a mindset of abundance. Andy is assistant professor and program coordinator for the University of Houston’s graduate program in foresight. His openness to the possibilities of the future and his commitment to practicing what he preachers, make him a maverick across industries—from exploring the future of RV parks to communities large and small to the future of waste. Tune in!

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“If you’re a technology innovator, you ignore people at your own peril.“  
Andy Hines

About Andy


Dr. Andy Hines is Program Coordinator and Lecturer at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight, bringing together the experience he earned as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist. He is also speaking, workshopping, and consulting through his firm Hinesight. Before that, he was Managing Director of Social Technologies/Innovaro, and served as an Adjunct Professor with the university since 2004. Hines enjoyed earlier careers as a consulting and organizational futurist.

Hines is motivated by a professional hunger to make foresight practical and useful, and he believes that foresight can help deliver the insight that is so needed in today’s organizations and the world. His goal, he says, is to infect as many change agents as possible with this message. Thus, he has honed a skill set designed to make foresight more actionable in organizations. His dissertation focused on “The Role of an Organizational Futurist in Integrating Foresight into Organizations.”

In this pursuit, he has authored five books:


Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie, your host of the Rural Futures Podcast, and joining me today for conversation is Dr. Andy Hines. He’s assistant professor and program coordinator for the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight and is also speaking, work shopping, and consulting through his firm, Hinesight which I think is a clever name, Andy. That, I mean that was pretty darn good. His 25 plus years of professional futuristic experience includes a decades experience working inside first the Kellogg Company and later, Dow Chemical, and consulting work with Coates and Jarratt, Inc. and Social Technologies Innovaro. Okay Andy, so that’s a little intro about you, tell us a little bit more about who Dr. Andy Hines is.

Well first of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the future, that’s always a lot of fun for me. For my background, basically I’ve worked in different aspects of introducing people to the future saying look, there’s a way that we can think about a plan for what we’re gonna prepare for, influence our future in a more systematic way with a few simple tools and concepts. And so I’ve looked for different venues and opportunities and ways not only to introduce people to the future, but then to help them actually do something about it. One of the benefits of working in different spots, different organizations and with different kinds of folks is you get a sense, oh, you know how does that effective translation take place? How do we translate the future into something that we can do about it today?

Well and you do that through a lot of different avenues, just like your bio said. I mean obviously consulting, but also teaching, a lot of writing and really prolific in this space in terms of being a futurist and really helping others develop this sort of strategic foresight ability that we now know leaders need, in this day and age. So could you define for our audience strategic foresight and future-ing to help them understand the lens you approach this through?

Well, the simplest way to think about it is I started out as a history undergrad and we have all these tools and approaches for studying the past, and I said well why can’t we do the same thing for the future? And there is a lot we can learn from history, that at the same time part of what we’re trying to understand when we look to the future is not necessarily continuity and patterns, that’s part of it. But where are the disruptions, major surprises that might influence the future? One of the things that we’ve learned is that most people have a view of the future that you know tomorrow’s gonna be much like today, and don’t really want to think about the potential surprises and that’s kind of where the futurists come in. We are pretty good at identifying those potential disruptors.

Absolutely, what do you see as some of those surprises right now that maybe other people are not seeing?

One of the ways I think that foresight has changed is now there’s so much information out there about not only the present, but the future as well. It’s a little bit less about, we call it finding the hidden gem, I mean somebody has probably found it, somebody has probably written about it, and so a lot of what we do now is kinda sift through and synthesize that world of information and try to come up with what we think are those major themes, so and certainly artificial intelligence is one that again, it’s a really big deal the impact of automation on jobs, it’s a big deal. A lot of people are talking about it. Even we have automated vehicles, so there’s a lot of interesting technologies that are coming and part of our job is to kind of help translate that, like what does that mean for what we should do in our job?

Well what I appreciate about being a futurist is, a lot of people are talking about technology and some of those disruptive technologies, but I happen to know from our pre-convo that you know we’re also looking at the people’s side of future-ing. What does it mean to live with more purpose? What does it mean to and want to frame your own future as an individual? And how does that shape the future itself, in terms of technology now enabling people to live where they wanna live, create the life that they want, and not just working in a job anymore, forever, but, really creating this life of purpose? So what’re you finding around this whole concept of these Winnebago Warriors? (laughing) I think is the term you used in our pre-convo. Tell us a little bit more what you’re finding in some, these population patterns.

Yeah, sure, so first thing is, I’ve looked at technology a lot for the last 30 years and there is a graveyard of really cool, innovative technology concepts that failed to kind of pass the we’ll call it the people test. That is ultimately a technology has to be used by people in order to kind of survive, right? So, if you’re a technology innovator, you ignore people at your own peril, so it’s really the interplay of how does technology meet a social or people need? And those two things have to come together and as we explore the future, one might argue that it’s actually that people social needs that are actually the more compelling and interesting. You talk about automating jobs, there’s less need for people to do jobs. So what are we gonna do, you brought up a good point, that it sort of causes us to reflect on what is our purpose?


Now for many, almost centuries now, our purpose has been to work. And we say, this is a pretty extraordinary change that we’re living through, as we start to question that may not need to be our primary purpose anymore. And so, you combine that with some technologies that say, many of us can work from wherever we want using technology much like we’re using here today. For me to be in the same room with you virtually from Houston, so then this is if we can work from wherever we want, where do we choose to live? Doesn’t have to necessarily be close to our job anymore. And we look for a kinda weak signals of change and one of those that we’ve found, we call them the Winnebago Warriors, and it’s this some people have said, well why settle anywhere at all? Let’s go to where we want, let’s spend some time in different parts of the country, get to know different cultures and we don’t need those permanent routes.

Well and let’s just, yeah, create this life experience we’ll make a little money along the way, we’re gonna figure that out, but now that we can be completely mobile why buy a home? Is that now the American Dream, anymore? To own a home with a picket fence and two point five kids and a dog orr is it, you know what, I just wanna go do some really cool stuff (laughing) and create this experience that really calls me? And find my purpose differently, because we know that through research purpose, adds about seven years to people’s lives. But we also know in the US, after people retire they tend to have health challenges or even we lose them, because they’ve lost their sense of purpose because it’s been so tied to their job. How do you see some of that flowing in terms of what it means for people, but also locations? We talk about this a lot with the rural future, like, could this be a positive thing for the rural future? If we have people that are connected or do we have to kind of even rethink that a little bit, to make sure people can create that life in those rural communities?

Yes, I think one of the really interesting strategic questions will start with the rural area, but it’s also true of urban, is historically or even recently one of the big factors is, can we get Amazon to put a headquarters or put a branch in our area and you know what do we have to give away to get the big company to come and provide its jobs. Like, that’s been a lot of focus of economic development rural and urban. And again, if we believe this trend towards automation and less reliance on work, it sort of creates a different set of criteria for what’s the identity of our community? Not only ourselves, right? The more progressive schools are helping children think about, it’s gonna be a multiple career world and really think through what are the skill sets, what do I want to do, like preparing individuals for many changes. And I think it may be a community can think of itself the same way, like what’s our identity what do we want to be known for and recognize and that too, may change over time. Can we develop a robust sense of community that can evolve along with the changing times? So the quick example we talked a little bit yesterday easy one to think about, let’s look at what happened in Detroit, right? Along with a lot of the other declining industrial cities, who have gone through a major identity crisis and are now trying to rethink, who should we be? How do we get people to come back and what people do we want to come back? And I think that kind of a process of thinking through who we are, who we want to be, is really the right one and not just assume it’s we wanna be the site of a major big company so we can have jobs, may not be who we are.

I think communities themselves also need a purpose now. So, what’s your purpose for being and existing we say that about companies, we say that about people, but also translates into communities, because like you just said, how do you want people to experience living here? Why would they wanna choose this? Do we also need to rethink about maybe people will only be here a short time? And maybe then they wanna go have another experience, right? And so, it may not be a lifelong let’s have everybody live here for 40, 50 years. Maybe we should be building more RV parks, instead of homes. (laughing)

That’s such a great idea. (laughing) That’s such a great idea, one of the things that I’ve been talkin’ about publicly about millennials, which I’m kinda sick of talking about millennials, but you kinda have to do it, right? Is that they don’t wanna stay at the same job for 20 years and work their way up the ladder. I brought up the idea, well why not make sort of a deal that says look, you come work for us for three to five years go outside, go somewhere else, get the experience you want, stay in touch, and maybe you can come back in 15 or 20 years when you’re ready and then you can become our leader, so have a strategy that says, we know you want to go out there, instead of fighting that, let’s enable it. Now could a community do the same thing? Like, yeah, could we have a piece of our community that acknowledges, not everybody wants to stay in one place forever, but you know we’ll keep the lights on while you go somewhere else and you’re always welcome to come back.


It’s not a failure if we haven’t kept somebody in the same space for 20 years. So I think I love that idea of stop by and come on back.

Well and we all learn when we go have different, new experiences, right? And so, we can bring such a richness back to those companies like that model you’re talking about, or even those communities. It takes a different frame of mind, but also leadership skills that are very growth oriented and different as well. And I’m a proud alum of your program in Houston, your certification for strategic foresight and that’s where we met and I was just so impressed by all these companies that are there, trying to really think about what the future needs to look like. And I also always have to add I was the only person from a university there at the time, so I’m hoping more universities get on board with what you’re doing down there, because I think it’s so critical. The other part you really touch a lot on is leadership and the importance of not only having this plan and being able to put this sort of framework together about the future, but also leading that. Would you tell us a little bit more about leadership now and how you see that evolving in the future to make these types of things happen?

Yeah, we think that the combination of foresight and leadership makes a whole lot of sense. If you think about what does a leader really all about? A leader is about bringing people into a future that is typically a little bit different, right? I mean, the real challenge of leadership is persuading people to come on a journey that involves change. And we have said, right when people join us for the first day, we say, look you are going to experience resistance to change, because it is a natural human phenomenon. Let’s have five minutes of complaining about it right now and then let’s just stop it, right. I mean, because complaining about people resisting change is it’s complaining about the sun going up and down, I mean that’s the way it is. So we do spend a lot of time thinking about how can we embrace it, work with it, and sort of bring it on our side so to speak. And that’s really what a leader has to do. How do I get people to change? And make that case to them in a way that seems favorable to them, right? And so I think that’s a lot of what we do is try to paint the picture of how the future could be better, here’s what the path looks like, so we try to make the future not a scary, unknown place. But, we shed some light on it. Say here are the possibilities, here’s what it looks like, it’s not that scary, come on the journey with us. I think that’s a lot of what foresight can bring to the leadership, is really some tools to help leaders do the difficult job of bringing people into a different future.

And speaking of those tools, what are some practical tools that you help leaders understand that they can use to kind of frame up the desired futures and those different scenarios that they might wanna think about in more detail and really choose to pursue, once they have a better understanding of what’s possible?

Sure, I think the fundamental concept that we talk about is, the idea that the future consists of multiple possibilities, that we just call it alternative futures. That is, even though we may be able to someday plug all the data in the world, all the variables into this huge super brain and hopefully press the button and out comes the answer, our view of that is that there are just too many factors to get the future right. But what we can do is, talk about the major kinda plot lines or stories about how the future could be different and that we’ve proven over time we can do. We may not know which, exactly which one’s gonna play out or exactly how it’s gonna look. We can definitely provide organizations with a preview of what the future might look like, such that as it arises that you start to see that future merging, you’re not surprised. We say the worst thing that can happen regarding the future is when you’re caught unprepared. You hadn’t seen it coming, we were blindsided, just that’s disaster, right? The idea of alternative futures is saying like, we want you to be ready, agile, prepared to respond, if you will, no matter how the future emerges. I think that would be one key tool that we think is important.

(Music Transition)

Let me put it this way, I think we create this line that there’s leaders and followers and I think the mega trend in that space is the blurring of the leader, follower line that we may be leading one moment and following the next. And kind of shifting or passing around that leadership role is really I think where we’re heading. And that does require that one is out in the field doing things and experiencing, if I’m trying to lead a group of people to a certain place, do I really understand what they’re going through? Do I know what their daily life is about? And can I experience that and really be a more effective leader from that perspective? So I’m not somewhere up in a hill, thinking big thoughts. I’m right in amongst the daily hubbub, kind of coming at it from that perspective. So I think that’s one of the changes that we might see coming in the leadership space.

Agreed, I mean I think, a lot of leadership was developed in that industrial age as well and so, it’s now an area that needs some fresh disruption itself. So I even have to question sometimes this whole idea, why would I want somebody else to lead me? (laughing) I mean, why would I want that? I mean I think if I’m really wanting to develop my own personal future, which I would hope more people would want, to take control of, I really have to question that whole concept of leadership and the way that you’re talking about it. That traditional context, just seeing. And I like to talk a lot about developing your own inner leader, your self-leadership, as well. And working in these sort of networks and working very differently, I think for people to want to live their life in a different way, much like we’ve talked about, how do we get away from still the more traditional command and control style, which is still very prevalent? And be okay with people in their independence and the way that they wanna live? And create these new models for the future.

It’s interesting in doing project work, especially with larger organizations and it can be private, as well as public, government agencies or education if they were involved, but they’re not, right? A lot of times, well you know, we can get this senior leadership if we can get them on board and we can get them involved and I agree that there is a point for that, but my experience is most of the work of change, the actual work of changing an organization doesn’t come from the top. It comes from somewhere between the middle and top, right? That’s the group that we need to be targeting. Who is actually going to lead the charge in real life? Like, who’s actually gonna implement this stuff? And I would much rather work with the implementers, the doers who are going to actually have to do it, and I’m not trying to knock senior leadership, but I mean, I think we have this almost this worship of you need to get the leaders onboard and a lot of times the leaders, they may set direction, and they may less, but they’re not actually doing it.


My own bias is to get with those leaders who are out in the field making the future happen, whether it’s an entrepreneur from the outside or it’s an intrapreneur from the inside. I think we can translate our foresight tools and say, all right, let’s do this. And then in a sense you present the le fait accompli to leadership. Like, we’ve not just talked about it, we’ve actually created this future. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s how we do it. Forgiveness rather than permission kind of approach. Let’s not worry about whether every single senior leader’s on board, let’s get enough support that we need and let’s go make the future happen and show ’em.

Well and that’s what we love to say about the Rural Future’s Podcast, is it’s for doers. It’s for doers, just people out there bein’ a maverick in some ways and creating the future, that one day at a time. But, really looking to create the future that they want and that they see is possible.

(Music Transition)

As we’ve talked about strategic foresight and future-ing, and as I’ve told you, I use a lot of your material for citations. (laughing) Because you have this great content, that really substantiates strategic foresight and future-ing, as a discipline. One lady thought I actually was looking at the stars trying to (laughing) figure this out. I’m like, no, nope, there’s actually tools and there’s strategies that we use, but you know this whole mix of methodology and mindset, I think is something too that in your materials comes out very clearly, I think. And a lot of prolific futurists really talk about, so blending that mindset and methodology, I think is such an important part of that. I know you have this huge network of alumni now, that have graduated from your program. What do you see your alumni doing as a result of work you’re doing at Houston? And also, in your consulting practice?

Yeah, I think one of the other key tools that kind of informs what people do with our work is we spend a lot of time sensitizing people about how do you recognize a signal of change? So we call it horizon scanning.


One of the things that all of us do is we’re always on the lookout for something that makes us go, hmm. And if you find yourself when you’re looking over however you get your daily information feed and you kinda go hmm. Like, we pay strict attention. So, we really have a method of doing that more systematically, but that’s the kinda thing we look for. When you see kind of a break in the pattern that makes us kinda give that funny head hmm. And make that funny sound, we go ah-ha, something has challenged our way of thinking and we need to make note of that. So a lot of what futurists do, our alums do, in the real world, once they’re outside of our academic program, is work in very much the typical organizations that I’m sure many of your listeners are in, inside a large organization, we often have little units of folks that are really trying to stimulate a whole organization to think about the future. So, for instance we’re working with the consumer products company right now that’s looking at the future of waste. What’re we gonna do with all that trash? The landfills are closing down, they’re filling up. Recycling is a little bit in trouble, because we can’t figure out how to make it economical. So what futurists do is we really try to think ahead to the future kind of problems and issues and say, look, now’s the time for us to think about this issue, where we have some, we have some wiggle room. We have some space to act. You don’t want to wait until the last landfills close to think about where we’re gonna put all this stuff.

Yeah, I mean, and do you think about the prolific growth of online shopping and delivery, and all the waste that creates, it’s just a totally different concept of how do we make this more sustainable over time? I don’t see that slowing down. What are the changes we need to make as a society to still support, especially as jobs go away, Andy, as we see this decrease in jobs people still like to buy stuff and use stuff. How does this whole economic model change? How do consumer patterns and behavior change? And how do we bring that to the forefront to create those preferred futures that affect communities, businesses, and people?

Yeah, I mean we shouldn’t scare people that jobs are going away, I remember I was talking about this with my daughter who’s going first year freshman, she’s like, I don’t know what to think. Look, we’ve got time, kinda the change that we’re talking about, where work becomes sort of less central to our identity. I mean, this is a decades long, this is a big process. It’s not gonna change overnight. Another thing that we’ve learned, even though we hear a lot about super rapid change again is that people will tend to slow that down. Even though, yes, we could automate all the jobs we won’t, right away, right? We have to integrate that into social policy, so even though we can see the end point, we know it may take a little longer than you think to get there. So, people are still at the center of this. So I’m actually working on a book called After Capitalism and it’s trying to look at the longer term future. Now keep in mind it’s definitely the longer term future of what does a world look like where we don’t have to go to work every day? Now the good news is, we’re still gonna be as wealthy and maybe even wealthier than ever before.

I’m so excited about your book. I mean, I think this’ll be great to see a long term view on some of this and like we’ve discussed, people don’t think you’re a little out there, you’re probably not doing this right. (laughing) So, I know you’ll have some really good stuff for us to all start thinking about. And I think “the sky is falling” is sometimes where this whole idea of futuring gets a little stuck. And that no, not everybody is gonna see their elimination of their jobs. Many times you’re really paying attention or if you’re talking to futurists, you can see these patterns emerging over time. These wild cards happen, but usually they’re not as sudden as people think, like you said, and new jobs will be created. New industries will be created. So, it’s not like the sky is falling, but also when I think about my grandparents generation and my parents generation, now ours. And specifically I guess I can refer to this in the United States, it’s amazing to see how well we live but still sort of take almost a negative view of that.

Oh my God, I won’t be able to work anymore. What a horrible future, right? I mean, it depends on how you view it, right? Obviously it’s viewed as a problem, because it’s our income is tied to it. But if we could deal with that part of the problem, I don’t think a lot of the folks would think, boy if I don’t get to that factory today I am gonna be so upset, right? I mean, you were talking about mindset, so as futurists we’ve learned to kind see both sides of it and that’s part of what we have to help people with, to see that the future isn’t either all bad or all good. It’s a really kind of a complex mix, and we try to kind of shed some light on those possibilities and say which ones do we want? Which ones do we want to avoid?

Well and that’s what we really been trying to do here, because a lot of times at rural we hearand I’m not discounting the challenges of rural, because they’re many and they are greatbut we have to learn to find the opportunity within that as well. And really have I think those conversations around what is possible here. It’s not gonna be what it was, but what do we want it to be? And so, I think those are the conversations that we can continue to have and I think people like yourself add a new lens to this. I mean even what you brought up about Detroit, I also have to learn that it’s not just rural points or challenges. It’s not just urban, but there’s this intersection of rural and urban where we could lift all tides, all boats together if we really had some strategy around that and some foresight to think about the possibilities.

Absolutely and I think that sort of reframing is kind of a good way to think about the mindset that a lot of what futurists train folks to do is to look at a situation and come at it with a different perspective, right? Can we reframe this from oh, this looks like a horrible problem to see the possibilities and opportunities in it? Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. So we don’t wanna minimize, oh, we can make every problem go away, but a lot of times we get stuck in a certain frame of how we look at things. Part of our job is to come in and kinda jog that frame and say hey, challenge the assumptions, challenge the model and say, can we think about this in a different way?

Yeah, I so appreciate that process. I so appreciate futurists like yourself who are really I think expanding the field itself and adding that credibility, but also have that experience of helping companies and even communities think through this. And so, that marriage I think of what you do in your business world, you know, you’re an entrepreneur yourself and I think that’s so incredibly important to have in our higher educations system, so I’d like to touch on that just a little bit. How do you see higher education evolving in the future?

We did actually look at the future of higher education a couple years ago, from the perspective of the student. Which is kinda funny that it’s noticeably absent perspective, most of the work on the future of higher education is from the institutional perspective. What does the institution need to do? So we thought it’d be fun to just kinda say, what are students likely to want from the institutions? And so I think there’s always a small minority of institutions that are at the forefront of change, and they see it coming and they’re doing what they can and usually there’s a mass of any industry, higher education, doesn’t matter what the industry is, as change comes at it will tend to hold on tighter to what got it in trouble in the first place. So, I think the mega trend in higher education is sort of opening up the possibilities of learning. Tearing down the walls of this is a classroom, this is a curriculum, and it’s kinda saying, what do I need to learn and I don’t need to be kind of confined by what’s in the established curriculum, right? So that’s this mega trend that’s been sweeping across and part of the response of the established institutions say, oh let’s make it harder to get in to school. Let’s make the tests more rigorous. Let’s do all the stuff that’s made us great in the first place, right. It’s what we’ve built our reputation on, so let’s stick to our knitting even harder in the face of a change, except it’s going in the other direction. So I think there’s a lot of that going on.

You start to see a lot of our sister and brother universities, other institutions double down on what they’ve always done. Maybe make it more rigorous, how do we add to this experience in the same way we’ve done. Like you’re saying, rather than how do we disrupt ourselves. How do we think about that end user? And think about what they want and desire? You know we have an online high school, here at the University of Nebraska. Which is a great thing for us to have, because even with this whole population piece that we see all the shift, there’s more of our people questioning even sending their kids to traditional elementary schools or high schools. Because if they’re traveling if they’re a Winnebago Warrior, they want their kids to learn what life can look like beyond the traditional norm and standard. And so how do we create this mobility, not just for adults, but for whole families in some ways?

There is a really important role for, if you will, established traditional institutions to provide some kind of common core, right? So it’s not that every organization needs to be entrepreneurial and different and experimental. But it’s more like, what’s my niche in the ecosystem? And we do need some organizations that are providing call it the stability and continuity to compliment the innovators who are around the edges of the ecosystem. So I think we could totally see a healthy kind of higher education ecosystem that has both, right, it has some established institutions providing that kind of core knowledge and it has the innovators around the edges, who are providing kind of the new and interesting and experimental stuff. And I think those things can co-exist. Gotta kinda acknowledge that first, right? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it’s both.

It’s kind of finding your niche and your purpose again. Like, why do we need to exist? (laughing)

Here we are right, right back at purpose.

That’s right, very full circle. I’ve got a personal question, I would love to know from you Dr. Hines, how do you keep your futurist brain fresh?

It certainly helps to have a group of really intelligent creative graduate students to have to teach. (laughing) So I think that definitely, that keeps you going. One of the things that’s really been fun for me in the last few years, is I’ve really, we’ve done a lot of work around the sustainability stuff. I mean, that’s just been a huge theme. And I’ve kinda taken that into my fun time, where now I’m doing composting, I’m out gardening, doing a lot of sort of nature stuff. And I just love it! And I love kinda practicing and seeing, how does natural systems work, but it’s just great to kinda unplug from the world of overload and just have some time to kinda refresh, reinvigorate, and kinda let it all soak in. And I find that we come back to our work a little more fresh and revitalized.

Well I love that you’re doing that in Houston. (laughing)

I know, right?

I think that’s just, that’s awesome. Because I think too, we can kinda see this weak signal right, where people are wanting to unplug. We’re on all the time, so how do we unplug? As somebody with both a hard science background and a human social science background, the intersection of those disciplines and those sciences I think is so critical in terms of creating you used that word ecosystem a lot, in this interview and in so many ways we can learn from nature and those natural systems. Not only on how to build different models in that future, but also how to take care of ourselves I think in ways that always existed and we need to reconnect with in some ways.

Yeah and we actually teach, part of our curriculum, we teach called personal futures planning and it’s basically taking the same principles that we use with organizations, or government agencies, whoever it might be that we’re working with and doing that ourselves. Maybe as I’ve gotten a little older and more reflective, I’ve really tried to think about am I practicing what I’m preaching? I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different sectors, industries, and groups of people and I’ve learned a lot from them and now trying to apply that more in my personal life.

(Music Transition)

Okay Andy, obviously I could talk to you for hours, because I always learn so much from you, and we so appreciate you taking the time to be on. We know you’re very, very busy. But I’d love to know what your parting words of wisdom for our audience are.

Well, I would say that thinking about our own personal futures is, I can’t think of a better advice, because I think if we have our own sense of purpose that we talked about. Having that sense of purpose and some sense of direction, it really helps you when it comes time for those pivotal choices, where should I go left or right. Having that sense of purpose can help guide you, kind of along those choice points, right. So I think having our own sense of how we would like our journey to go and then when we bring that to our organizations, that’s gold for the organization. Having a bunch of folks who have a sense of what they wanna do, where they wanna go, I mean give me a group like that and I think we can conquer the world.

I love that! That’s a perfect, perfect note to end on and I really appreciate that you’re using that strategic foresight, not just to teach so many others, obviously you’re making a huge dent in the world, in this space, by the work you’re doing. Again, you’re walking that talk, you’re using it personally, and you’re seeing the fruits of that purposeful, planning and thinking about your own future. So, that’s very cool I think to think about how others could use those tools in their own lives and really make things happen for themselves. That they desire to have happen, not just letting things happen to them. Andy, one last question I have for you before we sign off is, where can people find you?

Sure, couple different places in the web. HoustonFutures, all one word. Is a site that describes the academic thing that we’re doing that week-long trainings and things like that. So there’s way you can kind of learn about how to do this. And then my own stuff, I have a little blog which is really fun by the way, I gotta say, I really enjoy putting together my weekly blog post, and that’s at

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This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Nine!

July 20, 2018
Alliance, Neb. “I’m really grateful for the time I have had in Box Butte County and hope that the connections I have made here will stay with me forever. Rural communities are so valuable, and I look forward to using …

Alliance, Neb.

“I’m really grateful for the time I have had in Box Butte County and hope that the connections I have made here will stay with me forever. Rural communities are so valuable, and I look forward to using my leadership skills in one someday.”



We are in the last two weeks of our serviceship in Box Butte County and can’t believe how fast the time has gone! We are working on finishing our Marketing Hometown America video and compiling pictures and videos that we have taken so that Box Butte Development Corporation can use them for future projects.

“Haley and Mirissa have brought fresh ideas and a jolt of energy to the communities of Box Butte County,” said Alliance serviceship host team member Tabitha Unzicker.


Another part of our project we are working on is creating short videos to help explain Box Butte Development Corporation’s mission: “To enhance, diversify and maintain the economy of Box Butte County.” By creating these videos we will be able to help explain what Box Butte Development stands for, believes in and offers to their patrons.

Last week we volunteered for Bands on the Bricks which takes place every Friday in July in Alliance and the first Friday in August in Hemingford. We drove an ice cream truck around town to get some footage of people buying ice cream. We also worked on a Husker Prep advertisement and helped pick stock photos for the new Holiday Inn Express.

This week we went to a painting class for bonding time with our office staff. We will also be attending Heritage Days and then Bands on the Bricks Friday and Saturday night. We will also be volunteering at Sunday in the Park with Viaero Wireless to end Heritage Days.

“Serving, working and living in Alliance this summer has given me an appreciation for buying local, living in rural and being involved in my community.”





McCook, Neb.

This week has been a big week of event planning in McCook! During our last week, we will be holding a “Fiesta” to kick off the two programs we have been working on with Andy Long, Economic Development Coordinator. We will have tacos and fun for all in attendance as we present the McCook Mastermind Alliance and Accelerated Interns of McCook Program.

“With limited time left in McCook, the legacy we hope to leave is an enthusiasm for community and awareness of  rural Nebraska’s extraordinary potential.”



Additionally, we will be hosting a membership drive at the High Plains Museum, at which there will be snacks, music and a showcase of 3D designs we have created.

To showcase the 3D designs for the Night at the Museum Event, we have been continuously working on exhibit designs through a software called Sketchup. It is so much fun to work with, AND it allows us to give people a visual on what we see for the future of the High Plains Museum!

To prepare for these events, we spent a couple hours walking from business to business with Andy to hand out flyers. This allowed us to meet business professionals in the community we hadn’t been introduced to yet. While we are on the homestretch of our serviceship, it’s refreshing to continue to meet McCook’s stakeholders.

Along with having the opportunity to meet with businesses, we have also been meeting with people to ask questions about budgeting, fire codes and minute details of the museum planning process.

“Through RFI Serviceship, I’ve realized each individual in a rural community is so important. Every community member has a unique set of skills, talents and experience to bring to the table. Now I understand that’s how we move forward.”



Mark Graff, a local banker a significant stakeholder in the McCook community, has helped us with budgeting and getting connections with people who have financial positions. We were also able to meet with a state fire marshal to ensure the safety of the museum and see what potential changes or additions could be made to the Carnegie Library.

We have been in touch with other individuals who are excited to get on board with executing our plan of action. This has been valuable in ensuring that the community has interest in the museum’s future. All of these connections have been a vital part of the process in moving forward!




McCook THETA Camps

THETA camp is in its final stretch down here in McCook. It is crazy to look back on how fast this summer has gone and where we are at now. It feels like just yesterday we were rushing down to the radio station to promote our THETA camp.

We’ve covered a lot of ground to this point. Various modules have covered topics from aquaponics to nutrition to technology. All of our teachings have kept the students very engaged and allowed to them to relate the information we are supplying them to the real world right away. Although we have hit some road blocks along the way, as any good project will, it has helped as individuals by making us to work on our problem-solving skills to make the best out of the situations.

“The children’s willingness to learn and the opportunity to teach them pertinent information that we have learned throughout our undergraduate education is truly invaluable. Educating these kids about healthy life choices will ultimately make a lasting positive impact in their lives.”


Throughout our last week we will be focusing on our business module. This module is unique as it will allow us to apply our teachings directly to the community. Red Willow County Fair will be held in McCook next week, and we will be selling produce at the fair as part of our module. This is a great opportunity for us to show the community what we have been doing and the progress we have made throughout the summer. We also think it is great for the students as they can take our teachings directly into the community in a timely manner.

Looking back on the summer as a whole, we’ve had a great experience here in McCook. The community has been very welcoming and we are very grateful for that. We’ve really enjoyed the shadowing opportunities as well as the volunteering opportunities that we have been able to capitalize on.

RFI has really pushed us out of our comfort zones this summer which is a great thing. It can be very uncomfortable or awkward to be put in this position but this is where the most personal growth happens. It can be difficult to come into an unfamiliar, rural community without knowing anyone and trying to complete a project, but McCook has been very accepting of our presence. We’ve covered a lot of ground this summer and have worked to leave a legacy that will have lasting effects. This summer has been an amazing experience for THETA camp.

“The THETA students have really enjoyed this summer as we have challenged them as well as helped them learn new information that can be utilized directly into their lives.”





Neligh, Neb.

“Even with the challenges that hinder growth in rural areas, there are people who want to make the are better and are dedicated to seeing change happen. It is easier to go against opposition with people on your side.”


The last two weeks for us have been packed with meetings and scrabbling to get all that we can done in our remaining time in Neligh. We decided on a service project creating a strategic plan for the cemetery and cleaning up White Buffalo Girl’s grave. Michayla has been doing a lot of reading and research for the entrepreneurship curriculum she has been working on. We also led the Strategic Planning Committee’s meeting this week.

Last week on Jul. 12, 2018 we went down to Lincoln, Neb., for the Governor’s Economic Development Summit. While we were there, we attended sessions on agricultural development and alternatives to typical primary and secondary schooling that gave us ideas on how to implement these practices into our communities. Next week we are going to complete the housing survey and help with the county fair.

Some meetings we have attended over the past few weeks include: Neligh Economic Development Board meeting, Neligh City Council meeting, Clearwater Village Board meeting, Clearwater Economic Development Board meeting, Neligh and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce meeting, Fall Festival meeting and the Governor’s Economic Development Summit.

“There is so much potential in Neligh, it is exciting to see the opportunities that are going to become available from the passion people have.”





Seward, Neb.

We have spent the past couple of weeks trying to finish our projects. We have been working on planning our next two events and trying to come up with a club to take them over.

When reflecting on her serviceship, Maddie said, “My time in Seward has flown by. I am so grateful for Jonathon, Suzanne and Megan here at the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership for guiding and supporting us during our time. I am also grateful for all of the new people I have met along the way. I will definitely miss everyone here!”

“It has been a rather quick 10 weeks in Seward! I am happy to have gone through this experience, and it certainly helped me grow as a person and develop skills that I didn’t know I didn’t possess.”



Currently we have a newcomer event planned on Oct. 13, 2018, at Bottle Rocket Brewing Company during their Oktoberfest celebrations! Bottle Rocket has let us use a space for a few hours on that Saturday to welcome newcomers to Seward County. During Oktoberfest there will be a lot of beer, games, authentic German food and music! We are still trying to figure out the logistics of our other events due to a lack of reciprocation from the entities that we are currently trying to work with.

Additionally, the Newcomer & Resident Ice Cream Social was quite the success. It was held over the weekend, on the Jul. 15, 2018. We, along with Jonathan, were also interviewed by Karina from RFI before the ice cream social began.

The meet and greet group that we helped put together were present. Members of the meet and greet group made use of the opportunity to network with newcomers and residents.

It was fun to see people getting together and having a pompous community time. We were also able to distribute a survey to those who were part of the meet and greet group, to get feedback on changes that could improve the next events that will be taking place in the future.

“This serviceship has made me grow as a leader and has also made me more confident. I am so grateful for all of the new people I have met along the way.”

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RELEASE: Apply for RFI Scholarship to Mobile Tech Conference

July 18, 2018
Lincoln, Neb. — July 18, 2018 — The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is offering 10 $250 scholarships for rural Nebraska community innovators to attend the 2018 MobileMe&You national conference at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Oct. 26-27, 2018. …

Lincoln, Neb. — July 18, 2018 — The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is offering 10 $250 scholarships for rural Nebraska community innovators to attend the 2018 MobileMe&You national conference at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Oct. 26-27, 2018.

Scholarship Application »

MobileMe&You, a journalism and technology conference hosted by Gary Kebbel of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, focuses on new and emerging tools and best practices for storytelling on mobile media. Leading experts and researchers will discuss how to inform and engage new audiences in the mobile era.

“Mobile media are becoming increasingly critical for all aspects of life in rural areas—healthcare, agriculture, entrepreneurship and education,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI Interim Executive Director. “When Professor Kebbel approached us about recruiting rural community leaders to attend, we jumped at the chance to partner. Our RFI scholarship awardees will certainly learn, but they will also bring extremely valuable and important perspectives to the presenters and other attendees.”

Conference speakers include:

  • Mark Hulsey, Big Ten Network vice president
  • Christina Kline, CNN senior mobile editor
  • Christopher Meighan, Washington Post director of emerging news products
  • And many more media professionals with mobile backgrounds!

Scholarships will be awarded based on answers to a series of questions around mobile technology use in rural communities and ideas for the future. The application is open today and will close Aug. 31, 2018. Awardees will be announced in late September.

Conference Details
Oct. 26 and Oct. 27, 2018 | 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. CST
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
City Campus Union
Extended details available at

“I think the real key with mobile media is that it reaches everyone, and in particular, those who haven’t had the benefit of the super structure that’s in the city,” Kebbel said. “When the super highway that has 15 lanes does not reach out into rural Nebraska, mobile media do.

“Through mobile media you can get information, deal with medical issues, deal with financial issues, you can conduct your life as if you had the super highway. It’s your virtual super highway—it’s essential.”


Promotional Soundbites

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director, talks about the importance of mobile media in rural areas and the impact rural leaders can bring to the conference.

“Mobile media are becoming increasingly critical for all aspects of life in rural areas— healthcare, agriculture, entrepreneurship and education. Our RFI scholarship awardees will certainly learn, but they will also bring an extremely valuable and important perspective to the presenters and other attendees.” (19 seconds)


Gary Kebbel, professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, talks about expanding mobile media to rural Nebraska.

“I think the real key with mobile media is that it reaches everyone, and in particular, those who haven’t had the benefit of the super structure that’s in the city. When the super highway that has 15 lanes does not reach out into rural Nebraska, mobile media do. Through mobile media you can get information, deal with medical issues, deal with financial issues, you can conduct your life as if you had the super highway. It’s your virtual super highway—it’s essential.” (34 seconds)


He also discusses the importance of delivering stories and content on mobile media to reach audiences of the future.

“MobileMe&You is a conference that basically says, mobile media are so important to the future of reaching the new audience, young people, that you’ve got to learn to reach them where they are, on whatever device they are using, whenever they want. You’ve got to accept the fact that they are in control, and mobile me and you is going to teach you how to do that.” (21 seconds)



About MobileMe&You
MobileMe&You is an information and technology conference that highlights new and innovative mobile media techniques and explores how to think differently about storytelling on mobile media platforms. The 2018 conference will be held at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln campus, with speakers from The Washington Post, CNN, Univision, the Big Ten Network, Verizon, Quartz and more to discuss how to use technologies such as bots, drones, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video.

About the Rural Futures Institute
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

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Episode 7: John Roberts intersects healthcare, tech, rural-urban dynamic

July 17, 2018
            Rural healthcare access, overall wellness in rural areas and the future of rural hospitals are consistently present challenges discussed in the national narrative. In this episode, Dr. Connie asks John Roberts, Executive Director of the …





Rural healthcare access, overall wellness in rural areas and the future of rural hospitals are consistently present challenges discussed in the national narrative. In this episode, Dr. Connie asks John Roberts, Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association, to weigh in on these areas, but also talk about the opportunities of the future. As a member of the board of directors of the National Rural Health Association and with more than 35 years of experience in rural healthcare, John’s perspective on policy, technology and rural-urban collaboration is important for all of us to consider and understand as we shape the future of healthcare as a country. For example, did you know that rural hospitals are actually penalized for incorporating wellness centers? Did you know that rural healthcare providers earn the same level of outcomes in their areas of service but at 4 percent less cost than urban counterparts? Educating our rural leaders and residents along with our urban partners is critical, John says.

We hope you will listen in, rate our podcast and give us a review!

“Too many times I think we focus in on urban or rural, and you really can’t separate the two. Rural providers need urban counterparts for specialty services or services we can’t provide in rural settings and vice versa. When urban areas are being moved to this value based system, too, their incentives shift to try to make sure they get the patient back to rehab or other areas of rural Nebraska because they can do it as well and cheaper.“  
John Roberts
Executive Director, Nebraska Rural Health Association

About John


John Roberts is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association. He has more than 36 years of professional healthcare experience. John has been President of Midwest Health Consultants, Inc. for the past 16 years. He is responsible for the overall management and technical expertise of the consulting firm including business development & strategy, marketing, customer service and over-all project management


Show Notes

Hello and welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host Dr. Connie. And joining us today is John Roberts who has over 38 years of professional healthcare experience and serves as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association, and he’s done that for the past 14 years. But John, I want to hand it over to you. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Well I’ve started my career in hospital administration back in 1980. I graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center with a health services administration degree. Went from there from Omaha to a little town in western Nebraska which was Ogallala Community Hospital and spend six years there as business manager, eventually the system administrator. It was a great way to get your feet wet, and I learned a lot about rural healthcare. And I think that’s really where my passion begins to develop and really love the people in rural areas. I really believe what rural providers do and the quality of life that they can create for their communities. So I left there in 1986 and came back to Lincoln, Nebraska. I worked for Nebraska Hospital Association as one of their lobbyist and your point person on small rural healthcare issues. And did that for about 12 years and then left there and started my own consulting company. We managed a couple of different associations. As you mentioned we managed the Rural Office Association, and I also managed the Dental Hygienist Association of Nebraska. So we do a lot of work with those organizations, do a lot of work with communities all across the state of Nebraska. I think I worked in every rural hospital in the state over the last 30 years or so so labor of love for sure. I also served on the board of directors of the National Rural Health Association. We’re critically involved with policy and things that are happening at the federal level and legislation and hopefully to improve the condition of rural health across the country.

Now we’re gonna get into more of that in just a second. And that’s a lot of the serious stuff about John Roberts. But I want to know too, I know our listeners want to know, what do you do for fun? Because I know there are some things that you do that I think everybody would be very interested in hearing about.

Well I like the usual stuff like golf and I do a lot of wood working in the winter time. But I love playing with my nine grandchildren who range in age from two to twelve.

I know you love the great outdoors and your family has a cabin on Lake McConaughy which is also Nebraska. One of our wonderful bodies of water. So I know you have that compassion for rural and hospitals but also this experience of rural and what that has to offer.

Yeah, I love getting out to western Nebraska. There’s a certain beauty to the Sandhills of Nebraska that you just cannot find anywhere else in the country, and I just love the culture. I love the communities in the greater part of Nebraska.

Well, here at the Rural Futures Institute, one of the things we’ve been exploring this last year are the questions of why rural, why now? You know, why should anybody care about rural that doesn’t live in rural? Rural population across the U.S. and in other places around the world is much smaller than it is when we compare to those urban centers. But I think your enjoyment of those great outdoors and the natural resources and beauty rural has to offer is part of the answer to that question. You can’t go just anywhere and have the experience that you can have in Nebraska Sandhills which I agree as is like a great secret, right? But if you truly want to experience the outdoors and what nature has to offer, that’s one of the great places Nebraska has to offer in terms of rural. With this question of why rural, why now, you know, rural health is definitely part of the huge conversation around rural right now. Why should we continue to have all of these hospitals or should we? What does the rural population need to look like and how do we provide health access and health care to them with those dwindling populations? So when you work throughout Nebraska and throughout the nation, how do you frame that? Why is investing in rural important and specifically in healthcare sector?

The way I look at it is that agricultural part of what happens in ruralnot only rural Nebraska but in rural America—is critical to our infrastructure and our way of life in the United States and, quite frankly, around the world. Rural areas of this country, including Nebraska, basically feed the world and the amount of agricultural food that comes out of rural areas is very important. And we’ve got to be able to support people who live in those rural areas, who serve them rural agricultural economy. And we need good healthcare for those folks in addition to the good schools and other things, we just need to have the infrastructure there to be able to allow those people to do what they do.

And speaking of the rural scene right now and healthcare, how would you describe yourself as a leader in this space?

I really think of myself kind of as a servant leader. My philosophy of leadership is unless you’re willing to serve those you’re leading, you’re probably not the most efficient and effective leader. So I really view things through that lens and I think that allows my leadership style to be able to get in and do the work and not really care about who gets the credit for it. But to really focus in on the outcomes and we want to get for rural America and creating a better and more sustainable rural health in Nebraska.

And speaking of that. I know you’re one of the leaders in Nebraska that’s really working on reinventing our rural healthcare sector. Please speak about some of the innovations in the leadership going on in that space right now.

About a year ago, several of us thought leaders in the state got together informally and started to talk about what we saw currently with the healthcare system in Nebraska and across the country, and then more importantly, what we could do about that as we move forward. We’re currently in a situation where, over the last five to six years because of several different policy changes at the federal level, we’re seeing a pretty rapid decline in the profitability and sustainability of many of our rural healthcare providers. And so we took a look at that and thought we can continue to go down this road we’re on, which the future doesn’t look real bright for many rural providers. Or we can do what Nebraska is kind of known for doing, and that is how do we collaborate together to create a better system? One that has higher quality and lower cost because that’s what government. That’s what business—that’s what insurance companies—they’re all looking for that and that’s what we’re seeing, a major shift in the last several years at the federal level. And I think we’re seeing a lot of states getting into this innovation of how can we recreate and build a better system?

So when you think about recreating and building that better systemI actually just published a paper called Strategic Foresight Leadership and the Future of Rural Healthcare Staffing in a journal, and part of that is to think about the disruption of healthcare, in particular rural healthcare. This is a three trillion dollar industry that the tech firms are getting involved with. You know, we see a lot of entrepreneurship, growth in the healthcare sector but a lot of it not necessarily focused on rural. A lot of it is focused on technology and technological solutions, and we’d love to see a little more innovation in the rural sector around some of this, particularly our rural areas and of course we’re focused on Nebraska because we’re both working and living here in many ways could be such a great playground of innovation for what could happen. Not just in rural but in urban settings as well, because there is so much going on in healthcare. So if you would look in your crystal ballI can always look in mine as a futurist. But if you look in yours John, how would you see our rural healthcare sector changing in the next three to five? What would that ideal future look like?

Well we’re definitely on a path of what we call volume to value which is changing the payment system for rural providers—not only rural providers but all providers across the country. And it goes back to this issue that we have a healthcare system spending that’s not sustainable over the long term. So we’ve got to look at ways we can increase the quality and the outcomes that we give for our patients, while at the same time lowering the cost of care for those outcomes. And so, we’re really seeing this big shift in looking at how providers can be reimbursed and incentivized to be able to take this value idea and provide high quality outcomes and high patient satisfaction, and when they do that, they will get reimbursed accordingly. The opposite effect too is if you’re not meeting those outcome standards and the patient satisfaction standards, you’ll be penalized. And so the incentives are beginning to change pretty quickly over the next probably three years.

So is that why I keep getting all those patient surveys after I visit a doctor? (laughing) Is that what’s going on there John?

Yes that’s part of it.

That’s what I’ve heard. But the one thing I wondered, and I’m sure you can shed some light on this is because it is shifting to more of a values based sort of approach and method, could we be using things like artificial intelligence, big data to help us understand those outcomes more broadly and more robustly? Are there some things happening in that space that you know about that are emerging?

If you look at over the last five years the number of venture capital that’s gone into healththese aren’t health related organizationsthey’re data and information systems, people like Microsoft, Sysco, a lot of different folks are looking at the issues you just talked about, on how we can use this data and information to do a better job with what we’re trying to accomplish and that’s high quality outcomes for our patients.

What advice would you give to somebody like a Rural Futures Institute? We’re part of the University of Nebraska, we’re system wide, and we know that healthcare is one of the—if not themajor issue facing our rural communities today. Now what advice would you give us in terms of how we could help organizations like the Nebraska Rural Health Association and others, to help find some innovative ways to provide solutions for our citizens and help keep people where they want to live and live the high quality lives in our rural communities?

I think slowly but surely rural health providers are understanding what we have to do to make this shift. But what we really need probably and probably what the organization could help us with is we really need to help communities understand what the shift is and what things might look like in the future. And that includes rural hospital boards, government leadership, community organizations to be able to make this transition and be able to do some innovative things in the state. I think we need the support of those community leaders and board of directors to be able to step out of the comfort of what they know and really start to look at what could be and how could we really redesign this system to better fit our communities. That may mean that all communities may not have a hospital, there may be different services that can provide in different regions of the state and that all takes a lot of time and energy to kind of sort through. And you have to have at least a basic understanding of where we’re trying to get to and how communities and leaders across the state can help us get there.

I appreciate that insight. I know that you’re a big proponent of sort of the co-creation with communities and having communities be part of this process and that’s so important for that innovation to happen. The future will look different then the present, and we all have a voice and a contribution to making that space. I was really interested when we had our pre-convo to get ready for this podcast, you mentioned that when a hospital puts in a wellness center they are penalized and so thinking about hospitals as economic drivers but also as center points for communities. I think it’s so important but then when you shared that with me, I thought wow. You know, here we have a lot of hospitals that are really trying to focus more on wellness not just sick care, thinking about what that might look like. But the system isn’t quite set up for that yet is it?

No, it’s really discouraging because I think everybody understands we need to move to this value based system. There needs to be more emphasis put on prevention, care coordination, chronic care management, all those types of things and yet. Currently, our reimbursement systems, mostly by the federal government because you have to remember a typical rural Nebraska hospital, 75 to 85% of their business will be Medicare and Medicaid. And so whatever reimbursement policies are implemented in those two programs has a tremendous effect on what we do and how we do it and how we get paid. The difficult part is making that transition to this new system where we might look at things like home healthcare or other types of wellness or preventative activities. But when we do that as rural providers right now, we’re penalized under the rules that currently preside over this reimbursement system. And so even if we have hospitals that want to make the right decision to do right for what’s in their community, they’re penalized for doing that. That’s the things we want to change as we’re moving forward.

You know John, I just think that’s so critical. You talked about the importance of communities and leaders being involved in embracing sort of this change in innovation, but it’s also the policy, right? And so I think that point you’re making is critical. I think it’s really great for listeners to hear that and think about that even as we see hospitals wanting to transition, sometimes the policies that they’re needing to abide by and live with are not really supporting an area of wellness and more positive living and lifestyles and that’s where we need healthcare to go.

We’re really interested in approaching the federal government which in this case is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, their innovation part of their department looking to develop a plan in Nebraska to really approach them to say give us an opportunity to make the changes that make sense for our state and our communities to try a different path of reimbursement system and policy and let’s see if it works and let’s see what we learn from it and take those learnings and apply those to other states across the country. We’ve seen that in a couple of states here in the last couple of years. Maryland has gone to a global budget and a policy. They are in their second year of that innovation project. And they’ve really produced some pretty meaningful results. The other state is Pennsylvania who just started in January 1 of 2017 in their innovation project and they’re gonna work over the next few years to try to get 30 rural hospitals to participate in their program and again it’s a global budget concept. It shifts the incentives for what providers do and like we talked about. Those incentives shifts go towards more prevention, more case management, looking at the things I think we need to go to.

I think it’s so great to have leaders in our state and around the nation really focused on innovation in this space. I actually have worked with several rural hospitals—one in particular in southeast Nebraska—did a year long leadership engagement with them focused on innovation. How do we, as leaders within those hospitals, innovate? Because we have leaders in those hospitals, and a lot of our hospitals do provide great paying professional jobs, they are a hub of our communities. They’re an economic driver as I said before and I think so much of the conversation about rural has been if the school closes we lose a community. I’m not disputing that there are challenges around that, but I think if people were concerned about depopulation before, if we see a closing of a lot of hospitals with nothing else to replace it and people don’t have access to healthcare, we’ll see even more people need to move to areas that have that healthcare access or choose to live there in any case and not choose to locate in a rural community.

Yeah, absolutely. Over the last 10 years about 80 to 85 rural hospitals closed across the country, and that’s more than we’ve seen in the last 20, 25 years. And a lot of those have happened in the deep south and so when you look at states like Georgia, where they’ve had probably 10 to 12 rural hospitals close, when you go back and look at those communities later, it has a devastating effect on their culture, their community, access to healthcare. But as you mentioned, most of the time hospitals are either the first or second largest employer in the community and they draw money from outside sources into those communities. And so it’s really devastating to the community to lose their hospital and lose access to those healthcare services.

I often think of our hospitals and healthcare systems as places where people can connect as well. When my father in law had to start dialysis they could no longer live on their farm in southeast Nebraska, and it was hard for them to uproot everything they knew, everyone they knew, their whole community to relocate. Not that other communities aren’t great but when you’ve lived somewhere for your whole life and then suddenly have to make a change like that just to have access to healthcare, it has other consequences for your mental and emotional and psychological well being as well.

You know, we can tally the direct cost of a hospital closing in a community, but there’s also the secondary or the intangible costs of driving an hour or two to get the medical care, taking off work to be able to do that. All those things are cost to not having those providers in your community. And the other aspect of it is data at the national level that shows that for the services we provide versus urban. It’s usually right around 4% less in cost and yet we produce the same kind of outcomes. And so when we see these rural hospitals close, you’re shifting people to other higher cost services which cost the Medicare and Medicaid program even more over the long term so that’s why we think there’s a significant policy that needs to be worked on at the federal and state level to kind of insure that these rural providers have the opportunity to be successful and sustainable long term.

You know that’s really fascinating just think about the interplay between rural and urban in terms of healthcare. I think there’s a technological aspect of that where technology is developed in urban can be used in rural and that’s a lot of the conversation around this but you bring to light something completely different. And that’s thinking about if we can keep people in rural and have that positive ROI in those rural facilities. It actually benefits the rural community but also the urban communities that don’t have to take on those additional loads so the work load is distributed a little bit differently. But then also federally in terms of the financial ROI to the government but ultimately the taxpayer is even better. So that’s a great piece of information for us to all learn and know about in terms of why rural, why now? How urban and rural work together in so many ways but also how this is a larger ecosystem in play here and I think so many times we separate rural and urban. But as we thought about it more here as the Rural Futures Institute, we really see it as a dynamic ecosystem where we all need each other. And what you’re talking about there really proves a point even in the area of healthcare so going beyond agriculture.

You’re absolutely right. Too many times I think we focus in on urban or rural and you really can’t separate the two. Rural providers need urban counterparts for specialty services or services we can’t provide in rural settings and vice versa. When urban areas are being moved to this value based system too, their incentives shift to try to make sure they get the patient back to rehab or other areas of rural Nebraska because they can do it as well and cheaper if you’re on a fixed budget.


(Music Transition)

Let’s dive into the technology aspect just a little more here in the conversation. What role do you see in terms of this technology being developed in healthcare? We know it’s a huge space right now, a lot of investment in this space. How do you see the potential of holograms, for example, used in rural healthcare?

Yeah, I think we’re on the verge of some major changes. We’ve gone quite a ways with what we call telehealth services in rural areas of the country which helps us provide services that we may not normally be able to provide or allows us to get consultation from outside experts which really helps our rural providers feel like they have a backup in Nebraska. We’ve implemented quite a few of what we call tele-emergency services where if you come and present yourself in a rural hospital emergency room, they can connect that to urban facility where you have a specialty physicians that are board certified in emergency medicine, consult on the patient and be able to provide those rural providers with consultation on how best to treat the patient. The other thing I think is gonna be really disruptive as we move forward is the whole smartphone technology. We’re seeing some real major trend shifts in rural areas of the country of people dropping their home internet services and relying strictly on cell phones, smart phones or their information and internet connection and again as I mentioned earlier, we’re seeing a lot of investment by folks in this area looking at how they can use technology to improve the health of people across the country.

Yeah, I think that’s really exciting. We have dropped our land line at home actually several years ago. We live in a rural area and our internet still isn’t that fast, and we thought it was gonna get a lot faster, still not that fast. My cell phone is my best source of connectivity, so I’m really excited about things like Doctor on Demand, lab-on-a-chip technology where you could potentially even diagnosis something in your home. I think that’s a tremendous development and seeing more of his happen at home is really exciting. Singularity University is a group I follow quite intently and they have this whole XPRIZE concept where they get this big purse of money together and crowd source from all over the world people that can develop it. And one of the things that they had actually funded, Qualcomm actually funded the purse, but a team actually developed the first tri-quarter. So if people remember back to Star Trek when you could scan your body with this instrument and it tells you what’s wrong and so now the first prototype has been developed and launched and they will continue to make that better and it’s actually developed for home use. It’s not necessarily, the intent wasn’t just for hospitals, it’s to have cheap accessible affordable healthcare wherever you are. And so thinking about the smartphone and other tools like that and how that could potentially help people all over the world and specifically in our rural communities when they don’t have access to a lot would be awesome or even in those crowded and congested urban areas where you can’t always get into the provider. Because we do have such a shortage of doctors and healthcare professionals around the world, technology could be a huge help.

I ran across the dermatology app not too long ago and thought, well I’ll give it a shot, see how it works. So I took a picture of my skin or some imperfection and sent it off to someone and within 24 hours I had a diagnosis of what it was, what the treatment was. It took care of the situation. I didn’t have to go to my primary care physician. I didn’t have to be referred to a specialist. I didn’t have to take time off work. What started as kind of curiosity at the end of it was really looking at wow that worked pretty well and I probably would do it again.

Oh absolutely. I mean I think anything that can save time and money but then also just create more accessibility and affordability is such a huge win. So I think healthcare is one of the most exciting spaces right now in terms of innovation in the future because we all need our health. Health is the basis of life and I think to be healthy is such an important part of who we are. We take that for granted a lot of times until something does happen and suddenly you’re sending a picture to a lab or getting a procedure performed or you find yourself on crutches and you forget how important health is. I think sometimes until something like that happens and it inconveniences you or worries you or even thinking about more long term challenges such as a cancer diagnosis. You know health is life and I think keeping that at the top of our mind is so important. That’s why making sure we have investments and great leaders like yourself in innovation. The space is so important. We thank you for that important work John.

Yeah we’re excited. I think one of the things that Nebraska is known for around the country is our collaboration with each other with providers and different communities, something we take for granted in Nebraska that a lot of other states just don’t have and we’re really gonna use that and test that as we look at how we can develop innovation to really solve these issues as we’re moving forward in rural health.

Well I would just make a plug for Nebraska out there to anyone that might be listening in the tech space. We’re a small population which actually makes us kind of like a start up for a state. I think our small population is actually an advantage right now and we are highly collaborative as you’ve mentioned, John. So thinking about how do we position Nebraska to be the place where innovation and rural healthcare happens and in a big way? So it starts here but actually can then expand to other states and other nations as well. You know we have a strong medical center, we have a lot of research but we also have a lot of people and a lot of leaders who are willing to do some innovative creative work around this to provide access to people and to communities.

(Music Transition)

I’d love for you to leave our listeners with sort of your top three leadership tips that they could use in their lives.

You know I think that when I’m counseling a lot of our providers and when I go to across the state, one of the things that they need to do is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We know we’re gonna go through a pretty major change in the next three to five years and not only rural Nebraska but across the country. And I truly believe that it won’t be the strongest that make that transition the best or the one’s that are most financially strong at this point. I really believe it’s gonna be the ones who can adapt to change the best and who are able to manage that change as we go through this process. So that’s one of the tips I kind of give them. The second one is to really look at what it is we need in our communities and really go back to that. Trying to break down our mental models of what we think the way things should be. For instance, we know that we can provide additional services outside of what we would call a traditional hospital. And to really begin to look at what is it that people really need? And how can we provide that? And get away from kind of the mental models that we’re kind of used to. And then the final thing is, I mentioned earlier is getting everybody in the community and across the state to really think about what’s happening. How we could take this apart and put it back together in a way that works for our communities and works for our state? And hopefully eventually can be a model for other states across the country as we make this transition to this value based system in healthcare.

I so appreciate your philosophy about the co-creation of the future with communities with people, with those end users and partners involved and I think definitely in this area of disruption of healthcare. That’s such an important piece of all of this. So thank you John.

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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Eight!

July 13, 2018
Broken Bow, Neb. Just like the infamous taco truck showing its potential by making regular appearances around Broken Bow, our projects are starting to show their potential and even have begun to wrap up! We finished our promotion cards for …

Broken Bow, Neb.

Just like the infamous taco truck showing its potential by making regular appearances around Broken Bow, our projects are starting to show their potential and even have begun to wrap up! We finished our promotion cards for Sturgis this past week and have plans to distribute them to Christian biker groups that ride through Broken Bow on the way up to Sturgis as well as the bikers that go to the neighboring town of Arnold this coming weekend for Devil’s Den. Devil’s Den is a biker rally in which they also do a poker run to raise money for several different causes.

“It really does seem like we just arrived and started on our projects yesterday, but that isn’t the case. The connections we have made and lessons learned have been super helpful in our projects and future plans.”



On Jul. 2, the YMCA project really got moving. During that morning, we and the steering committee, which we put together, met with Denny Placzek who is the CEO/Executive Director of the Kearney YMCA. The steering committee showed their strong interest in getting a YMCA facility to the city of Broken Bow. Denny had mentioned during that meeting that he has never seen such a driven group of community members determined to get things moving so quickly.

Because the National YMCA does not currently give out any more charters for new YMCAs, we would need to be a branch of Kearney’s. Due to Kearney being in the middle of their own capital campaign, we discussed that the next step for Broken Bow would be to bring an activities/programs director in. This way, community members can get used to the idea of using YMCA programming and then potentially move into a facility in a year or so.

On Tuesday, Jul. 10, our project continued to gain momentum as we went around to area YMCAs with a few members of the steering committee to address questions as well as get a better feel for what could be in Broken Bow. The members attending the YMCA tours were Andrew Ambriz, Don Cantrel, Veronica Schmidt, Jack Lindstrom, Leanne Gamet and Jessica Weeder. Looking at the YMCAs in Gothenburg, Lexington and Kearney showed what a potential YMCA in a community this size could look like. The different directors and CEOs we met with were able to answer questions as well as bring up topics that weren’t even thought of previously.

On Wednesday, Jul. 11, we had the opportunity to tour BD, a local medical tool manufacturer here in Broken Bow. It was amazing to see the scale that they produce things such as medical tubes and cups. The entire facility has such a rhythm and it was very cool to see how every part of the factory worked together.

“We have gotten so much more done than I could have ever expected here in Broken Bow. It has been so cool to have community members ask us about our progress and be able to say that things are really moving forward.”



Market on the Square continues to happen here in the community. The farther into the summer, the more and more vendors they have gotten. There is a wide variety of things from baked goods, to homemade jewelry, to food trucks that most of the businesses around the square support during the lunch hour. This week featured sidewalk sales and 92.3 KBEAR Country was on-location.



Columbus, Neb.

Recently, Dr. Helen Fagan asked us to think about the legacy that we are leaving with this community. The answer to that question revolves around the letter R. Recruitment. Reach. Retention. Results.

Recruitment. We post job openings, help design marketing materials, and help make connections that will benefit the community in the future. The best way to find out what and who Columbus really needs is to visit with businesses around the community. That has lead us to take several business tours while we are in town. This effort has also lead us to meet with various “movers and shakers” in the community. Columbus has introduced us to many people and we have been able to pick their brains on various topics related to their industries.

Reach. To reach the community and connect them with events around town, we have redesigned the community calendar, known as “GOOD Times,” and are running a campaign during the county fair to increase awareness. This calendar will include events from businesses and organizations from all around Columbus. Citizens will be able to look at the calendar and know what is happening on any given day and find events that they may be interested in.

Retention. These projects all relate back to quality of life and pride in the community. One of the quality of life events we helped with is Red, White, and Kaboom, the Columbus’s Independence Day celebration. We have also been running our 10 Days of Something Good Trivia Challenge. This event is designed to help bring awareness to the community brand and to encourage people to be proud of their community. The event is getting great traction on social media, which is really exciting! Another retention effort we are working on is the Young Nebraskans Week Conference that will take place in September. We are finalizing plans and working with our committee to gather speakers and sponsors for the event. On top of all that, we help plan and run Interns’ Night Out. This is an event for summer interns to get together and network as well as learn a little about what the community has to offer.

“Collaboration is a key element here in Columbus. Everyone is always working together. It starts with volunteers and continues up the chain of command. In this community, collaboration turns dreams into reality.”



Results. As the summer winds down, we find ourselves looking to our hosts to see what our role was this summer. Kara Asmus, Workforce Coordinator for the Chamber, said we are encouraging people to embrace the community brand, which is what the Chamber is really trying to do. KC Belitz, Columbus Area Chamber President, said that we are getting results. “The obvious answer is that you are getting work done. There are projects we wouldn’t have gotten to this summer. We never would have done them without you guys. Your internship may end in three weeks but you’re not going anywhere!”

In sum, RFI’s involvement in Columbus this summer has been invaluable to the community. Recruitment. Retention. Reach. Results. The Rural Futures Institute has allowed us to leave a positive legacy here in Columbus.




Cozad, Neb.

This week, we wrapped up our Music Mondays concert series. Music Mondays have been such a success that the Cozad Development Corporation is hoping to find another group in town to continue it next year. The past few weeks we have hosted Miles From Dublin, The Wonderful World of Woody, and wrapped up the series with a children’s band – The String Beans. Attendance grew with each concert bringing the whole community together for some summer entertainment.

“It’s time to think differently about our small communities. Cozad is taking a creative approach to solving challenges.”



Two weeks ago we hosted our three finalists for ‘Pitch It Cozad: Win This Space’ for their final presentations. Our selection committee had a wonderful time hearing the business ideas and had such a difficult time choosing a winner that we created a prize package for our runner-up as well. Jody Laird won our original building and prize package with her business Double L Embroidery. The Cozad Development Corporation purchased another building in downtown Cozad so that Chelsie Michalewicz could start her business, Sweet Water Outfitters, a western boutique. Cozad is excited to build their downtown as a shopping destination with these two new businesses.

Most recently, Jen and Christy headed to Lincoln for the Nebraska Diplomats Banquet and the Nebraska Governor’s Economic Development Summit. The Nebraska Diplomats are a group of community leaders who use their personal and professional connections to promote the state’s quality of life for future business. Our lead mentor, Jen, was asked to speak about our Pitch It in Cozad project at the Governor’s Summit the next day. Governor Pete Ricketts applauded Cozad’s work during his final remarks. It was an incredible opportunity to network with other community leaders and hear the great work they are doing.





Norfolk, Neb.

Time is flying as we are already finishing our eighth week in Norfolk, Neb.! We have been primarily working with the Norfolk Visitor’s Bureau lately, while also tying up loose ends on our projects for Daycos.

Our work with the Visitor’s Bureau has consisted of brainstorming and strategizing how we can improve the retail and service sector in Norfolk. We have completed our research of secret shopping and completing windshield assessments of businesses across town. We have attended a meeting with the Downtown Norfolk Association and other strong retail business leaders to discuss our mission in Norfolk and to get their perspective. Overall, we have found some common themes: strong customer service and cross-promotion are incredibly needed for the future of retail. Therefore, we have come up with multiple strategies and plans on how to upsell and cross-promote Norfolk. We have planned to host a focus group discussion on Jul. 16 with retail business leaders to share our research and talk about what changes need to be made. Essentially, we want to communicate why it is important to create an experience for shoppers and to refer other Norfolk businesses, then brainstorm different processes on how to do that. We are also in the process of creating strategies for incentivizing upselling in Norfolk, creating a customer service training program, marketing Norfolk retail as a whole and analyzing how to improve the retail options across town. We plan to give these strategies to the Visitor’s Bureau in their final portfolio at the end of our time in Norfolk.

“Making a difference is very possible through work in a small town. Norfolk has been such a positive example of a rural community with self-determination to constantly improve. It is inspiring to think about how Nebraska as a whole can be improved through work like this in rural communities.”



As for Daycos, we have started creating our final portfolio to give them at the end of the summer, as well. We will be facilitating a final meeting at the end of the month to share the videos, hiring process outline, and wall of aim projects that we have completed. We are very grateful that Daycos has treated us well during our summer in Norfolk. We are proud to have been a part of such a great company that we have learned so much from.

Additionally, we have continued to submerse ourselves in the Norfolk community. Big Bang Boom fireworks show debuted on Ju. 1. We were both invited to a behind the scenes get-together and were able to attend the spectacular show. We have attended a company picnic with Daycos to celebrate the beginning of summer. We have shared our project details with the Visitors Bureau Advisory Board. We have also been invited to attend and speak at the Rotary Club meetings. The Norfolk community has continued to be welcoming and warm, even after we have been here for some time. We are very grateful to be partnered with such a great community.

“We are so grateful to have Cheyenne and Samantha here this summer with us at Daycos for 5 weeks. We did not know what to expect when we applied to have RFI interns with us and were nervous that we would not have enough for them to do or have a clear enough picture about the outcomes we were hoping for with the work,” said Tammy Day, co-owner of Daycos, Inc. “How silly it was for us to worry! These young women have been an excellent addition to Daycos, are incredibly intelligent, creative and self-motivated, and have added so much value to our company that we are sorry we only have them for half the time. What a wonderful opportunity for us to work with such amazing young people who are interested in life and work in rural places. Thank you for matching Cheyenne and Samantha with us! We will be so sad to see them go.”




Omaha Land Bank

It is crazy that week eight is ending at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. With only having two weeks left at the Land Bank, Sydney and Kyle are excited to start finishing up and perfecting their projects. Sydney has been able to help with many different parts of OMLB.  She has been busy working on communications with Laura. Planning and setting dates for future social media posts has took up a large part of her time the last few weeks. She has also been helping Marty, the executive director, with documenting and updating certain documents on the OMLB company eProperty site.

Throughout this whole internship it has been a learning experience. Sydney has been able to help with multiple projects and loves having the variety in her day. She has been able to talk and understand what each person in the office does and how they contribute to the Omaha Land Bank team. Each of the team members plays a vital role in the success to the Land Bank. With the Land Banks success, it seems work will only continue to build up which is very exciting. Working here has really made Sydney realize the importance of teamwork and how well the Land Bank does it. She hopes to be a part of a team like this in her future.

This week through the Land Bank, Kyle had a chance to participate in a community project that was put on through the City of Omaha Planning Department. The City of Omaha chooses a focus area where development and change should happen in a concentrated area for three years at a time. This area focused on an old street car node today located at the intersection of 24th and Pratt. In this area there is a large vacant lot that measures approximately 125’ x 165’. The goal of the group was to first walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area and the existing infrastructure. After about an hour of inventory as a group the Salvation Army hosted us to brainstorm and discuss with others what might best benefit the area. This grouping was of those not from the immediate area to provide a set of fresh eyes and recommendations for the Neighborhood Association in the area to look over and compare with lists they have made as well as those created by planning sessions held by the City Planning Department.

One major takeaway was to highlight that those in different areas all have the same desires for their neighborhoods and that different areas have strengths that may not be immediately apparent. Another fun fact was that the intersection was the original site of The University of Omaha. The chance to be involved in community development that will be enacted by mid-November is exciting as this is something I will see progress made on while attending school after I have finished my time as an RFI intern. In the last couple of weeks Sydney and Kyle will be looking for as many opportunities in Omaha as we can to learn from others and try to contribute a small piece of the larger picture.




Red Cloud, Neb.

In the last two weeks here in Red Cloud we have mostly been getting everything ready on our end for our economic development plan to be the most updated it can be for our presentation of it this Friday, Jul. 13, for city council and other members of the community. We have made a lot of updates, added a lot of information and have reached the stage where we really need feedback from key people in the community to know what we need to update and change to have it completely ready to go by the time we leave Red Cloud in less then 3 weeks. Our presentation on Friday will be given at two times during the day, and will have a PowerPoint accompanying it along with hard copies of the plan, and a flyer that summarizes the plan and the main actions from it.

We do have a final presentation planned for our last day here which will be to present the final copy of the plan and will be open to everyone in the community, but this meeting being one that is focused on getting feedback from the key members of the community it is mainly invite only. After this presentation we will be able to dive back into the economic plan and have our last two weeks to update and change it so that it is as effective as it can be.

“Looking back, it is hard to believe how little I had known about community development. In only a few weeks I’ve become far more competent and confident about what it takes to move a community forward.”



Over the weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Good Living Tour that was been hosted in Red Cloud this past Friday, Jul. 6. This was a great chance to attend a community event just as fellow Red Cloud citizens, and it was a lot of fun!

Other than working on our main goal these last two weeks and having some fun we have been working on some supplementary things for the plan and some other projects for the community. We picked up work on a clean up project that was started back in June, it involved working on a nuisance home in Red Cloud that the Board of Public Trust, a public group that buys and sells homes through the authority of the city similar to a land bank, owns, and is hoping to be able to sell soon. We were able to work on it this week and got all of the paint scraping done, so now it will just need painted, and a majority of the exterior work is done!

This week, Trevor has created the two resolutions and ballot language that will be needed to pass both LB840 and LB357. Meanwhile, Trenton as been working on getting everything ready for the city to apply for the leadership designation, which will most likely happen after we are gone from Red Cloud, but it is great to see the groundwork laid by him!

“Everything is starting to come together, and I can actually see what the final result of our time here will look like! I honestly never could have imagined that we could of created such a huge impact in this short of an amount of time, and I cannot wait to see what Red Cloud is able to do with the groundwork we are laying out for them!”

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

July 10, 2018
  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 …


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:

  • Leadership
  • Technology
  • Rural-Urban Collaboration

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.



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

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Episode 6: Dr. Helen Fagan intersects diversity, leadership, neurology

July 10, 2018
            Diversity in our rural areas is going to continue to increase. Through this episode, leaders learn actions they can take to make this transition positive for themselves, their communities and those who they are …





Diversity in our rural areas is going to continue to increase. Through this episode, leaders learn actions they can take to make this transition positive for themselves, their communities and those who they are welcoming. Featured guest is Helen Fagan, Ph.D., a U.S. immigrant whose experiences in three countries and five U.S. states shaped her perspective and informed her future. Dr. Fagan shares personal stories about her time in the U.S., navigating who she truly is as an Iranian immigrant while striving to be accepted. Difficult times and encounters inspired her to pursue research, teaching and consulting in the areas of diversity and leadership. Through her work she explores the definition of inclusive leadership and what actionable steps leaders can take to shed their implicit biases to create teams of people from various backgrounds and experiences for the sake of innovation and genuine personal growth. 

“For me, 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.
Diversity and Leadership Scholar and Consultant

About Helen

Helen has a BA in Human Resource Management and Economics from University of Nebraska in 1996, and an MA in Management with emphasis in Leadership from Doane College in 2008. Helen also studied International Economics and British Political Economy at Oxford University.  She finished her Ph.D. in 2014 in Human Sciences with emphasisin Leadership Studies at UNL. She has over 25 years experience in the Human Resource Field and has worked in many areas of the HR Field including Training, Benefits, Payroll, Recruitment and Diversity.  Helen became a Certified Diversity Trainer through the Society for Human Resource Management in 2001 and qualified for administering the Intercultural Development Inventory in 2006.


Show Notes

Hi, welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Dr. Helen Fagan, a leadership and diversity scholar and educator whose passionate about developing global leaders to create better tomorrows. Thank you so much for being here, Helen. Please tell our audience a little bit about yourself.

Well, hi, Connie, I’m so excited to be here. It’s so fun. Well, I am from Iran originally. I have lived in three countries, five states in the U.S. This summer, I will celebrate 35 years of marriage to my favorite human, Scott. We have two incredible sons who I am just delighted to be their mom, and they married just brilliant women that I love that I have girls in my life as my family now, and I’m a nana! I became a nana last October, and Beckett is my pride and joy right now. He’s giving my husband a run for the favorite human spot.

I can imagine that. You know, I also appreciate, not only your expertise in leadership, but the way you live your life and let yourself in. Having your family as such a top priority for you is so impressive. But also even the way you’re speaking about your daughter-in-laws, now that doesn’t always happen with mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, and I just have always honored and appreciated that about you, because you really walk the talk when it comes to leadership.

Oh, well thank you, you’re very generous with your words, and I so appreciate it, Connie. I think one of the best things we can do as women is to support other women in our lives. I believe that’s one of the things that leaders, especially, need to be doing, whether you are a person in a position of leadership, or you are just an influencer in other people’s lives, it’s important.

I so agree, and I think it’s such a great time in history to really bring forward the fact that our families are important, even if we’re in traditional job settings, or leadership roles, or we’re entrepreneurs, or whatever the case, I’ve been recognizing that people want whole lives. And in being in a leadership role or spot in an organization shouldn’t exclude family and life. In fact, I think as we transition, we’ll talk about the future of leadership, through our conversation, embracing this whole living, especially as we have more dual working couples, is just so important.

Absolutely, and one of my firm foundations in leadership is that we need to get away from either or thinking. Either I am a leader, an executive, a professor, whatever I am, or I am a mother. We have to embrace it and we have to give space to both of those to exist. People, I think they get the idea that it means going 100% all the time, and that’s not the case. I need to give time for each of those things and that doesn’t mean I can be all things to all people at all times.

That is so true, and I think we need to help organizations understand that, what it means to be truly flexible and not just say it. That’s why we see women leaving traditional jobs to create their own so often. They need that flexibility, but they also need the autonomy to do what they want to do how they want to do it. They create environments that really are supportive of them and them building their own futures. I’m a huge proponent of developing your inner leader, you know, leading yourself. I think for too long we’ve seen as leaders what you’ve just described. It’s the CEO, it’s somebody with a title, and everybody else is just supposed to follow along. That was a very industrialized view of leadership for scholars and practitioners like yourself to come forward and really champion, not only in organizations, but with students, the next generation, new paradigms of leadership.

Absolutely, and I am right there with you that we’re in a new century. We are in an opportunity to where we don’t have to have a start time and an end time to our work. We can be fluid in that, but we also need to be setting boundaries that are healthy, boundaries that say that it’s okay for me to appreciate and enjoy my family at the same time as giving out of my expertise and my passion. I don’t have to choose one or the other or sacrifice one or the other. There was a research study that was done that was looking at women who had been stay-at-home moms not seeing themselves as leaders. It was really helping them to understand that leadership, the definition of leadership, is about who the person is and how they’re influencing other people. And so I think if we can do that for women, if we can model that for young women who are coming up, my students, graduate students, being able to say, “It’s okay, you can enjoy motherhood, and you can contribute from your professional life and your expertise and your knowledge and your passion.”

And you know, that’s what a lot of students are asking. What we found at the Rural Futures Institute is that students intern here or wanna be part of a serviceship experience in a community, which you’re leading for us here at the Rural Futures Institute, but at the same time, they’re really wondering how adulting works. What does it look like to grow up and live my own life and build what I wanna build? We’ve seen a few students graduate and go out into the workplace and come back, and they’re like, “Oh, Dr. Connie, I didn’t expect this. It’s not like working at RFI (laughs). How do I deal with this difficult boss or this culture I don’t enjoy or fit into?” And I think sometimes we’re still in this transition era of what does it look like to be inclusive, which is an expertise area of yours. But also does this future of work look like? Just like you’ve mentioned, this whole idea of clocking in and clocking out doesn’t work because first of all, we’re expected to always be on. There’s really, I think, a global shift in how this is all gonna continue to change and we need people that are willing to step out and do it differently with our students, but also our own children and grandchildren, right? I mean, teaching them how the world can be in a different way is so important.

Absolutely, I have a sister who’s 16 years younger than I am, and so she is in her late 30s and a new mother. Her baby just turned a year old and she is really struggling with how do I remain passionate to the pursuit of medicine as well as remain a mom and be able to give to my daughter and model the way for my daughter, and in so many respects, she’s looking to me for that. I was late in life getting my Ph.D. I worked and went to school and was a mother and was trying to balance all of that, and I remember when I worked at Bryan Hospital, I remember saying to my boss when I got a promotion, “I need to work only four days a week. I want to be available for my family.” And it was the first time someone in a position like mine had requested that, and he was totally open to it, and he made it work for me. That was one of those places that it gave me this internal confidence that if people want what I have to offer, they need to be able to work with that flexible schedule that I’m offering. At the same time, I am very driven and committed to being available when necessary, but I do have concrete times when, one of the things that I talk about leaders is that leaders have to be able to be still. They have to remain present, they have to practice that, so I have to practice that. So I don’t want people to think, “oh, I’m available 24/7.” There’s a part of me that is available then, but then there’s a part of me that says, “No, I’m gonna turn everything off, and I’m gonna be fully present here.”

I think that really questions this sort of era we’re coming out of and you’ve gotta be the all things to all people, you have to multi-task, and sort of this over-busy, like “Oh, I’m so busy. I’m so busy,” and thinking that’s a badge of honor, somehow, because in reality, you aren’t as productive, you’re typically not as happy or engaged, and eventually you burn out if that’s truly the path you’re on. And I know in our case, my husband and I both work, I’m late to motherhood because I had the opposite sort of trajectory as you did in terms of focusing on school and career first and having my kids later in life. But then I found I was still married to my career, like it was a huge part of my ego and my self-identity, and that’s challenging, too, because then suddenly you’re having to let go of that and think, “How now to do I make this family work in a different way,” much like your sister is asking and I’ve had to really rely on a lot of co-moms, I call them, in my neighborhood, because my family doesn’t live close to where we live, either, so I have co-moms that help in every single way, and I’m able to support them and they’re able to support me, but it’s having that community that’s so critically important in making all this work, but then also, what I appreciate about what you said there, Helen, was the power of the ask and the confidence you had to say, “You know what, I am worth this, and if you need this, this is what it’s gonna take for it to work for me.” And I believe that when we do that, we empower other women to step into that as well, and that’s part of our role as leaders in this sea sort of life. Helen, we talked a lot about women and really the changes that are needing to happen in the space of leadership and female power and really being inclusive in that arena. But what are your thoughts about the changes in the dynamic of families and cultures as well where we see dual working couples now for almost the first time in history, and having kids or choosing not to have kids, and how all this is evolving, so that we’re even seeing stay-at-home dads?

That’s a great question, Connie, it’s actually really an exciting thing, because I love seeing families being creative in how they’re addressing this dual working or who’s gonna stay at home or what will that look like, and I’ve seen multiple things. I say we give permission to people to say, “We need to do what works best for us.” And so, societally, we need to stop shaming men who stay at home as fathers and shaming women who work to provide for the family. So I feel like as a society, we need to be supportive of those creative ways that families are making it work.

Families just happen so many different ways now. Being open to how that works and what people’s lives are about, I think is just so critically important.

Absolutely, and if it works for a family to do the traditional thing, where it’s mom who stays at home, or mom doesn’t work and chooses to stay home, hey, if that works for that family, that’s equally great. So I don’t want people thinking, “Oh, we’re gonna throw out traditional way of thinking in light of this other way,” that’s again, either or thinking. What I wanna say is, we need to be okay with any type of format that a family chooses to take to make it work for that family, and the best thing we can do is come alongside them and support them.

I tell you what, some of the hardest working people in our world are single parents. I so admire what they do to support their family, financially, emotionally and everything else, and it’s just so timely to have experts like yourself working on these big issues to say, “What does this modern life look like? What does this modern era look like? How does this evolve into the future so the future work changes, the future family continues to change, the future of society continues to change as people are looking for more passion and purpose and trying to make all these things work together?”

(Music Transition)

For me, 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.

Can you provide for our listeners an example of how you’ve done that in your consulting work?

So I will give you the example of one particular person that pops out in my mind, an individual that I have worked with, an executive. He is a police officer, he’s a chief of police in his community, and basically during his graduate program, he had to go through some coaching, and by coaching I’m not talking because he wasn’t doing things well. I’m talking about helping to increase his capacity as a leader, and so being able to coach him, to help him to understand how do I shift perspective? And one of the ways that I challenged him was to say, “Who wouldn’t you want your children to bring home as their future spouse?” You identify that individual, that population, so to speak, and that’s your implicit bias. And if you can hold yourself accountable in situations where your implicit bias is getting in the way of you being effective, then to me, you are stepping into that inclusive leadership zone. And that takes vulnerability, it takes courage, it takes a certain level of self-awareness, awareness of the impact I have on other people, which ties into the whole emotional intelligence piece.

Yeah, I think coaching is growing in popularity and I think people are starting to understand the impact that it can have. I mean, I have a coach myself, and I do coaching. Really, a great coach can help you uncover those things you aren’t seeing yourself. And it sounds to me like that’s exactly what happened with this individual.

So I’m not gonna be his coach for the rest of his life, right? My hope is that the lessons that he gleans through that process, he will be able to use that same process to glean new things about himself as he has new experiences. That’s always my hope when I coach executives and also in the classroom. One of the things I do is I ask that same question of my students, and they will list off everything from someone who’s homeless, someone who’s got a criminal record, someone who’s transgender, someone who’s of a different religion, a wide range of things. And I say, “Okay, great. Now I want you to go out into the community and I want you to serve that population.” Because it is extremely difficult to serve and get in close proximity and keep my biases.

Why is that, Helen?

Because most of the time, our biases are formed based on little information, overgeneralization. One of my areas that I absolutely love is neuroscience and what we’re learning about the brain and the human capacity to exclude without even recognizing that they’re excluding. And so the idea is that we wanna develop the prefrontal cortex in these young adults, because that is where inclusion begins to take shape. Our limbic brain is the part of our brain that says, “Hey, I like things that are like me, and I wanna hang out with people that are like me, and I want things to be easy.” So that’s where we form these biases. But when we actually encounter who are different than us, that destroy those preconceived notions that we have, we begin to question, is this bias true? And it’s hard to be loyal to that bias for any length of time once I’ve had exposure to a particular population that I’ve spent time with, that I’ve gotten to know them, gotten to know their story, gotten to know their challenges, their life history. I’ve gotten to walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak.

I think that’s where this great awareness of experiential learning, neuroplasticity, you know, that brain science piece and how these things relate is so important. So, not just talking about the importance of all of this, but actually doing it, experiencing it, rewiring your brain through those experiences, to make yourself a better leader and person, but ultimately, to help others as well. There’s such an exponential effect when we expand. So okay, I wanna expand on that a little bit myself, Helen, and I have a question for you that I really appreciate your insight to. What advice would you give the Trump Administration right now in light of all that’s happening with immigration?

So I wanna preface what I say with the idea that I am not in their shoes. I don’t know how they’re seeing the country. They have access to information I do not have. They have access to content I don’t have access to. Given all of that, I also would challenge them to walk away from what they know for a short season of time and spend time getting to know individuals and people’s stories. I really want to have them to move away from this polarizing thinking of either this is good or it’s bad. I want to get them to a place they’re thinking both and. We can have a good rich U.S. and value immigration. We can have a good relationship with education as well as business. So the idea of and both, I want them to get away from the polarizing. In my work, in my data that I’ve been collecting with the intercultural development inventory, the continuum, I have seen a shift from one developmental level to a lower developmental level, which we call polarizing, in people that I have been assessing. So I’ve been doing this for over a decade, giving this assessment to my students at the beginning of the semester, at the end of the semester, giving it to graduate students, giving to individuals that hire me for coaching, organizations I work with. What I’m seeing is this shift, a societal shift, to this polarization, and I cannot help but think that is as a result of the message of the leadership that we’re hearing. It’s either this or that. Either we’re a good, strong, Make America Great Again, or we’re for immigration.

Everything seems to be so extreme. It’s not a thought of abundance, it’s of lack. But I also appreciate what you said in the beginning. How do we understand this in a deeper way? We don’t know exactly what’s happening and why the decisions are being made, but at the same time, if we would take some time to spend time in the shoes of other people, to think about how this might look, we would come out with more innovative solutions and ideas that could potentially just be better and more robust than the either or back mindset.

Absolutely, in the work that I’ve been doing, I have seen us being able to shift that. We can develop in this area. We can grow in this area. I’d like to share a couple of stories with you of how I got interested in all of this. My dad was an executive for the national Iranian oil company, and he traveled all over the world, and he wanted his kids to be educated in another country and that’s the reason we moved to England when I was very young, to go to school. And then later I moved to the United States to go to school, so the U.S. wouldn’t give visa for my parents to stay. It was only my brothers and I got to stay in a boarding school. And two months after we got here, the U.S. hostages were taken in Tehran, and all of us Iranian students were loaded up on a bus and taken to Orlando International Airport, and we had to report in, and all that stuff, and getting to stay in the U.S. wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. There were people that were “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” and all kinds of stuff going on. So I hid who I was for a very long time. I hid that I’m Iranian, when people would say, “Where are you from?” I’d say, “Where do you want me to be from? Where do you think I’m from?” And I was where everybody wanted me to be from. I learned to assimilate, what I call forced assimilation. It was forced upon me as a way of getting along with people here, so that sense really impacted how I saw myself, how I saw my heritage, how I saw how I could contribute to society. I had to hide a part of myself in order to be able to contribute to society. It wasn’t until this event happened with my father that I really stepped out into it. My dad came to visit me for a month. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He had a heart attack and then later a stroke after he left my home and he was in this hospital. He had the kind of stroke that was called the locked in syndrome, so a piece of plaque from his carotid went into his brain stem, and he was locked inside of his body until his death eight months later. He couldn’t understand any other language except our native language, even though he was multilingual. He was an executive, he traveled the world. So here he is in this bed, and we’re trying to communicate with him, he couldn’t move any of his body parts, he couldn’t speak, he could nod just a little bit, and he could blink yes or no to our questions. So I’m speaking Farsi to my dad, I’m in the room, and in walks this nurse who’s training another person and the nurse is asking questions and I’m speaking Farsi to my dad, and I’m kind of thinking, “Okay, I think I know what he’s saying based on his look,” and I’m giving the information back to the nurse, and she gets frustrated, and as she’s walking out of the room, she says under her breath, “I wish they would learn to speak English. It would make our job so much easier.” It triggered something deep within me. I followed her out of the room, and I laid into her. I tell people I verbally vomited on this poor nurse. And I’m sharing that to not say, “Hey, I’m great, and I was justified in what I did.” I’m sharing that to say that it triggered something in me and at that point, I thought, “I wanna do everything in my power to ensure that that doesn’t happen to my father again,” or to any other person’s father, or to anybody else’s family member, whoever that person is. So then when I moved to Nebraska and began working at Bryan Health, I created this Diversity Cultural Competence, and doing the training and the work in that arena, fast forward several years, and we have a situation that really got me thinking, “Wow, how did we go from the situation with my dad to the outcome of this situation?” That particular situation was a 12-year-old boy had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in his community, and he was brought into our trauma center. Our hospital had a trauma center, and by the time the family arrived, they were told that their son was brain dead, and the chaplain that was working with this family was on the diversity council that I led at the hospital. He approached the family about organ donation, and the family requested to have a family member in the operating room at the time of the retrieval of the organs. Well, this was against hospital policy for multiple reasons. But here’s this chaplain, instead of saying, “I’m sorry, it’s against hospital policy,” he says, “Help me understand what makes this important to you.” Just that simple question got him access to information. What he found out was this family was Native American and they believed that the spirit of their son rested in his heart. They wanted the heart to stop beating, the spirit to be set free, and they chose the uncle to be in the operating room to be able to say prayers so that the spirit wouldn’t go on living in someone else’s body. That was their belief. The challenge for us was to get people from different parts of the hospital, decision makers, to come together and agree to allow this to happen. When that happened, we were told by Nebraska Organ Retrieval System that that was the first time in the 25-year history of organ donation at that time, that a Native American family had said yes to donating the organs of a loved one.

Wow, I mean the power of seeking to understand, and not making assumptions is just so incredible, isn’t it? And I admit I had to grab a Kleenex when you were talking because if you have to hide who you are to fit in, I think is something that is a struggle for so many in so many different ways, but I also think it’s been a gift in so many ways, too, as well, and to all of us, to be honest, to have somebody like you who has taken that experience and really has just turned it into a prolific practice in both your business, but then also what you do at the University of Nebraska, here at the Rural Futures Institute, and so many ways beyond that. I mean, you’re even consulting for movies. (laughs) Yeah, I think that fascinating, but I also think it’s helpful in terms of moving away from this culture we seem to have right now of polarization to that inclusive culture that really is more global and really finds innovations that are workable for everyone so it’s not a lose-lose, but it’s more of that win-win.

Absolutely, and so that is exactly what got me interested in researching this. How do we get people to come to that level of understanding? How do we do that? And I have found a process for making that happen, and it’s so exciting to watch these young people who have hidden part of who they are for up to the time they enter my classroom, anywhere from 19, 20, 21, all the way up to 55, 60, 70-year-olds, and it’s giving them a place and a space to fully step into who they are and accept that other people, when we allow others to be who they are, fully who they are, we create opportunities. We become more innovative in our thinking, in our problem-solving, in our approach to how we increase participation in the community, in an organization. It just totally changes the way we engage with the world around us. And that’s what’s so exciting for me is, one of the areas that I really want to study is how do parents who level of self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, and their developmental readiness for engaging with people who are different, how does that impact the way they raise their children?

Right, because even as a parent, I want my kids to be global in their perspectives and their thinking, very inclusive, but also very brave and being able to stand in their own power, because parenting is an interesting experiment in itself, right? I mean how do you do all of that as a parent to make sure your kids are the best of who they can be, not just to themselves, but to others, and really, then preparing them for a world that’s gonna be much different than what we grew up in.

Absolutely, in our grandparents’ day, our grandparents were competing with other people in their own community, in their own area. In our parent’s day, it was people in another state. There were people applying for jobs from other states. In our age, we’re competing for positions and opportunities globally, and so how do we prepare our students, our children, to be able to not just compete at that level, but to be excited and thrilled to be engaged at that level of thinking and being? How do we do that, and that’s an area that I’m really interested in studying.

(Music Transition)

I wanna ask you to look into your crystal ball, become that futurist for a second. Tell us what you see in the future in terms of your expertise.

What I see is that individuals who have created, I actually started calling it this super-power. They’ve created this internal super-power, this capacity of being resilient, of being able to shift perspective, of being able to see issues that others are missing and then bringing people from all different walks of life to address those issues, that is a super-power, and I believe as we continue the advancement that we’re learning from neuroscience, what we’re learning from global leadership studies that are happening, what we’re seeing, even in our own RFI interns who are going into these rural communities, the insights they’re gaining about themselves, I feel like that is the kinds of opportunities we need to create for people. We need to help people to be able to see the perspective in that way. So understand yourself, the impact you have on other people, is based on the beliefs, the values, the experiences you’ve had, but also be able to be totally thrilled and excited to the be in the presence of people who are different than you, because I believe we connect with people who are like us, but we absolutely grow the most when we have to engage with people who are different than us. So what opportunities can we create for engaging with people who are different than us as well as connecting with people who are like us? Human beings, we need both.

Well, and I so appreciate that, and I just wanna say to the world we are so excited that you’ve joined the Rural Futures team, and the wisdom, the scholarship, but also just the leader and person that you are, to help us with the rural serviceship program, but really expanding it into something new and different so it’s more transformational for students and communities moving forward, but I think the other thing that you bring to all of this, Dr. Fagan, is the fact that we can break some stereotypes about rural and urban as well. Too often we talk about rural or urban, it’s rural versus urban, it’s that polarization again, and we need to really realize that we live in a global ecosystem that connects our worlds together and that includes rural and urban centers because they all rely on one another, and to make this work in a sustainable, forward-leaning way, and so for those students to have these experiences, I think is just fantastic. For communities to have the experience, great, but it makes me wonder as we move forward how would you envision breaking down the stereotypes of rural versus urban and bringing those worlds together in a more collective, cohesive, and innovative way. I would encourage people, I would challenge people, if you’re in an urban setting, to step out into a rural setting and find the positive. I think we need to create opportunities for urban populations to experience rural, not as an I’m gonna get away from it all and go to the rural setting, but as a how do we take what’s so wonderful about rural and bring it a part of our urban setting, and vice versa. How do you take something that is so wonderful about urban and include that in part of what we do in our rural setting? And so the experiences we offer our students is powerful, I believe, through RFI, and I’m so excited and thrilled to be joining the RFI team, and to be working with someone like you, Dr. Connie. I’ve read what you’ve written, I’ve listened to what you’ve shared, and I’m just excited. I think it’s gonna be a win-win for all of us and we’re gonna learn so much together and I believe that our life trajectory has been so different, our backgrounds have been so different, that out of those differences we are going to be able to create exciting new opportunities for both our urban and our rural, as well as global environment for our global students.

Well, thank you, Dr. Fagan, I so appreciate that, and I also appreciate the fact that your bringing up global, because one of the things we see at RFI is, of course a lot of our work happens in Nebraska, but we are involved nationally and internationally as well and really intend on expanding that because many of our rural issues and urban issues are similar is what we find and we come to the conclusion through visiting with Tufts University, Harvard University, other partners like Microsoft, that we need to ask better questions. And that is not a question of rural versus urban, but it’s how do we collectively move together. But then also, what is the future of rural in terms of being more inclusive and diverse? Because the populations are shifting, while some population loss is happening, we also see the migration of different people and patterns in many of those rural areas, and I think as those populations shifts and demographics shifts continue, communities themselves are asking, “How do we become more inclusive? What more can we do to be a welcoming community? How do we get people here but also keep them here? And, how do we make this work if we become smaller?” So there’s so many great questions around that, but there’s some innovative solutions as well.

I tell people we need to ask both why questions and help me understand questions. The why questions are necessary because they help us to defend our position, but the help me understand questions are necessary because they help us expand and shift our perspective. And so we need both of those. So asking good questions involves both of those types of questions, but also being willing to listen. Not listen to answer, but listen to learn and connect and understand.

Well, thank you. I think that’s such powerful insight for our audience to hear and I’d love to know from you, Helen, what parting words of wisdom would you like to leave our listeners with today?

I would say be adaptable and flexible. Be willing to engage with people whose perspective are different than yours. Be the kind of person that is comfortable with who they are, but also recognizes that it’s important to give space for other people to be who they are fully. I really hope that if people take anything away from what I’ve shared is to be a 21st century leader takes effort, it takes intentionality, it takes a new way of thinking about culture and inclusion and differences.

Thank you. That wisdom is something I think our listeners will continue to enjoy and can benefit from. I’d love to hear from them on how they’re applying some of these things in their own life. I think that the Rural Futures Institute would definitely want this to be a very open conversation and would love to learn from them as well, so thank you.

Absolutely, and I would love to hear from them as well.

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This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Seven!

July 6, 2018
Alliance, Neb. “Seeing how far we have come in this project excites me. I am very excited to show the communities of Box Butte County our end result in a few weeks!” HALEY EHRKE SERVICESHIP INTERN, ALLIANCE, NEB.   We …

Alliance, Neb.

“Seeing how far we have come in this project excites me. I am very excited to show the communities of Box Butte County our end result in a few weeks!”



Mirissa and Haley’s painted tires beautify Carhenge for their volunteering project.

We can’t believe it is already the 7th week of Serviceship! Things are starting to wind down and we have been editing like crazy for our Marketing Hometown America video! We have continued to meet amazing people and have gotten to do some traveling to surrounding areas on the weekends which has been nice! The main focus of our last two weeks has been to write interview questions, visit businesses, wrap up footage content, and conduct interviews for our final product.

We also attended the Cattle Capital Rodeo this past weekend and got some pictures and video of that. On Jul. 2, we had supper with Bob and Delinda Neville and rode around the town of Alliance selling ice cream in Delinda’s ice cream truck. On Independence Day we celebrated the holiday with our lead mentor Chelsie her family and Susan Unzicker, Executive Director of the Alliance Chamber. On Jul. 6, we visited with Congressman Adrian Smith and the first week of Bands on the Bricks will take place. Bands on the Bricks will be occurring every Friday in July in Alliance and the first Friday of August in Hemingford. We are also excited to experience our first Heritage Days celebration soon!

“It has been really great having Haley and Mirissa here,” said Box Butte General Hospital Promotions Specialist Shae Brennan. “Coming from the eastern part of the state to the western side gives it a different vibe. They are bringing out the best in the video for Box Butte County. I’m really thankful for that and I want this town to grow and be better than it is. I love this community.”


We have also finished up our volunteer project at Carhenge. Our lead mentor, Chelsie Herian, gave us six tires and we power washed them and spray painted them. Then we planted flowers in the tires to help beautify Carhenge.

“We are very excited about what we have been doing and are looking forward to putting all of our work together in order to make an amazing video and attract residents to Box Butte County.”






McCook, Neb.

Within the last two weeks, we have cracked down on our museum planning! After a lot of brainstorming and sketches on paper, we have started to use SketchUp to create computerized designs and blueprints of rooms. Our intention with this is to make our creative ideas as visual as possible when we hand our designs over to someone else at the end of the summer. These designs will also be useful for the public to gain an awareness of the plan of action that will be phased in over the next few years. To spark some enthusiasm for the future change and get community members involved, we will be holding a membership drive event in the next few weeks.

“The RFI Serviceship Program has taught me that economic development is the heart and soul of rural Nebraska. It is all about creating community, doing the extraordinary and believing that small towns really do make big waves.”


In addition to the museum planning, we have been working on two projects with McCook’s Economic Development Director Andy Long. The first project is called the McCook Mastermind Alliance. The goal of this group is to bring together highly motivated people who are committed to growing personally and professionally. Promotion and connection are two of our main goals for this project. By accomplishing these two tasks, we feel we will be able help start the engine of this creative and collaborative train.

The other project we are working on is the Accelerated Interns of McCook (AIM), which is a program modeled after the RFI Serviceship unique to the McCook community. High school and college students will apply for existing or new internships in the area, and AIM managers will assist with promotion and application screening. Beyond hiring, the program will focus on creating a close-knit community for interns through bi-weekly meetings with one another and local professionals, as well as social gatherings. Interns will also complete 10 volunteer service hours throughout the summer.

Emily took this photo of Sage while snapping photos for the Southwest Nebraska Tourism Coalition.

Sage and Emily present their museum planning designs to the High Plains Museum Board.

“RFI Serviceship has taught me to appreciate rural communities in a way I never have before. Each community is so unique in some way—its rich history, an invested and diverse group of thinkers and all of those who are continuously looking forward to the future of the community.”


We are creating marketing materials and applications for both projects while also planning a kickoff event. The theme for the kickoff is a Fiery Fiesta because we are hoping to light a new fire for these projects focused on leadership and community development, and who doesn’t love tacos? We are especially thankful for Andy Long getting us involved in these two projects, as they combine aspects of entrepreneurship and serviceship for rural communities—something we both share a passion for!

On top of all of the work we have been doing on these projects, we have also been having a little fun behind the camera. Last Saturday we hopped in the car to Trenton, Neb., to take some pictures for the Southwest Nebraska Tourism Coalition website. We snapped some pictures of the colorful farmers market corner, the local boutique and the most unique massage therapy business—who would have thought? If you’re looking for hidden gems in Nebraska, Trenton is definitely one to explore!




McCook THETA Camps

“The students of THETA have kept me excited each day by showing an interest in the material that we are supplying them. This is a very rewarding experience to see a student develop an understanding of a topic I’m passionate about.”


THETA continues to keep trucking along as we’ve completed 5 modules of our camp already. It’s crazy to see how fast this summer is passing. It feels as if just last week we were all in Lincoln completing our serviceship training.

At THETA, we are continuing to make impressive advancements as we have expanded our reaches from physical activity and nutrition into technology now as well. It has been a very good mix of speed for both RFI interns as well as our students. The kids continue to stay excited about the material that we are presenting them.

The students specifically loved being able to cross physical activity and technology together and apply both their uses. One way we’ve been able to do this is by assigning IHT monitors, which similar to Fitbits, to each student in order to study their heart rates and physical activity levels for various activities. This is an excellent activity be students get to actually see how much work their body is doing for simple movements compared to complex activities.

“I’ve been excited about the kids’ eagerness to learn and seeing them be able apply the information we teach them directly to their own lives.”



An activity utilizing the internet of things allowed students to be creative by trying to connect various objects to the internet and solve a problem that they face whether it be at home or in their school. It has been awesome seeing kids take such an interest in these activities and also be able to continue to develop their problem-solving skills.

We have also had a few volunteer opportunities show up that we were more than eager to help out with. We helped the community set up some very heavy pool equipment for a swim meet as well as doing various things within the YMCA. We feel that the community is very thankful with anything that we get to help out with and that makes it that much easier to lend a hand where ever it is needed.

THETA camp was scheduled for a break during the week of Independence Day as it is difficult to keep our numbers up with the various activities going on. We are eager to return to camp and hope the kids are too!

“The kids have shown tremendous growth in their application of what we are teaching. They’re taking the time to really dive in and try to understand what we are teaching them.”





Neligh, Neb.

In these last two weeks, we have finished the Neligh mapping report and finished collecting data for the northeast mapping report. The Neligh mapping report was formatted and sent as a confidential file to the strategic planning committee. The northeast mapping report just needs several more hours of formatting work and it will be finished as well.

We have also been out in the community and were busy with business visits and talking to community members. On Jun. 29, we delivered root-beer floats with State Farm to businesses around town.  We also helped register floats for the Independence Day parade. We also have been spending time recording, editing and scheduling videos.

We went out to Theile Dairy in Clearwater, Neb., to show support for the community as Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts paid a visit to a local dairy. We got a tour of the farm and met farmers from the Clearwater area.

Michayla and Rhiannon pose with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts during his Ag Adventure in Clearwater, Neb.

Rhiannon and Michayla drive around Neligh on Independence Day to record videos and take photos of the community.

Michayla has been working on entrepreneurship curriculum that will be used during the school year as a class that meets once bi-weekly. I attended an executive meeting to get ideas and input on the outline. Rhiannon has taken charge of a large service project for us. Community members want the cemetery to be inventoried, and they want the records to be condensed. We are going to then do a map and color coding system to help families find open plots and their loved ones.

On the Jul. 25, the RFI team paid us a visit, and it was great to talk with them. We always learn so much from their wisdom and perspective. It meant a lot to us that our coordinators cared enough to visit and then to stay for an extended period of time.

We also had a strategic planning committee meeting. It is composed of chamber members, city council members and community representatives. We had introductions and then collectively did a SWOT analysis to go through best and worst-case scenario of what Neligh would look like in ten years.

“It still amazes me that even when there are other things going on, people care so much for each other and want what is best for their community.”





Seward, Neb.

The past few weeks were filled with a good amount of progress pertaining to our projects. Our newcomer ice cream social event is to take place on Jul. 15, and we are excited for it. We have partnered with the Kiwanis Club of Seward and Lee’s Refrigeration to help us sustain this project and make it a year-to-year event.

We are still in the planning stages of the other two events that we have in mind. We do have an idea as to what we want those events to be like and who we are trying to partner with, but because everyone is so busy we have been planning at a slower pace. Our second and third events are tentatively planned to take place in October 2018 and April 2019. It is also a blessing in disguise that we have organizations and civic groups that are happy and willing to work with us on a professional capacity. They are very much looking forward to what we come up with and are not hesitant to help sustain the events towards the future for the betterment of the community and the county as a whole.

Another one of our projects in updating the Seward County website. We are taking this information from each of the communities and adding to the website. This will then help newcomers and visitors to get new information about the town they are visiting.

Vintage sign hangs in Bee, Neb., a village in Seward County that Raghav and Maddie visited this week.

After we finish updating the website, we hope to receive a grant from the Seward Visitor’s Committee to make Seward County magnets. These magnets would have the website’s URL on them and we would pass them out to each community to hand out. We are hoping to hear from the committee about the grant later this month.

Overall, we have helped enable the community to utilize better, easier and convenient channels for receiving information about the community and the events that take place within it. We have also gone around to each community in the county and gathered information of businesses, utilities, trash services, school and organizations. The goal here is to help people out to get to know their community better and create channels of communication within communities that did not exist before.

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Episode 5: Dr. Tyler Ideus intersects physical medicine, agriculture, global impact

July 3, 2018
              Small-town raised and part-time farmer, Dr. Tyler Ideus is a specialist in physical medicine practicing in Lincoln, Neb., and traveling internationally as a lead instructor for Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, a leading rehabilitation approach. Dr. Connie’s interest …






Small-town raised and part-time farmer, Dr. Tyler Ideus is a specialist in physical medicine practicing in Lincoln, Neb., and traveling internationally as a lead instructor for Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, a leading rehabilitation approach. Dr. Connie’s interest was sparked by Dr. Ideus’ background in conventional agriculture and his global perspective of healthcare combined with his expertise in a variety of manual therapies, ranging from physical therapy, rehabilitation, functional medicine, soft tissue, dry needling and manipulation. A “maverick” working and teaching in urban settings but living and farming in a rural area makes him the “perfect” guest, Dr. Connie said. In this episode Dr. Ideus shares his vision for connecting agriculture, nutrition and healthcare and his passion for a thriving rural future through a mindset of abundance.

“At the end of the day, sick people are just expensive, and it has to get paid for one way or another. So if we can do things in agriculture and growing food that is going to be really healthy for people, I think we’re all going to come out ahead.”
Tyler Ideus
Physical Medicine Specialist and Nebraska Farmer

About Tyler


Dr. Tyler Ideus practices physical medicine in Lincoln, Neb. He earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Nebraska Wesleyan University and his doctorate from Logan Chiropractic College in St. Louis, Mo. His study has gone far beyond chiropractic medicine to include neurology, physical therapy, orthopedics and strength and conditioning. He became an international lead instructor of Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization in 2016.

Dr. Ideus grew up in Filley, Neb., a town of 200 that is now more around 100 in population. He currently farms part-time with his father outside of Filley, raising corn and beans using conventional farming practices.


Show Notes

Welcome to another episode of the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild and with me today is Dr. Tyler Ideus, he’s an international expert that connects farming, food and health in very unique ways and so we’re very excited to dig into the fact that he’s choosing to build this life in rural Nebraska, but really teaching globally and being invited to do so. So Dr. Ideus, welcome to the show.

Thank you very much.

Absolutely, now tell us a little bit more. I know I have a lot here in this introduction. You know, you teach globally, you’re teaching a lot of postgraduate and postdoctoral work to people in health but in a very unique way, can you explain a little bit what that means?

With the continuing education or the postgraduate, postdoctoral work, what we’re doing is we’re working with some kind of new cutting edge ideas that just haven’t been exposed across the world yet at this point, specifically for me it’s brought me to places all over the United States and in Canada, into Europe, China, I’ll be going to Taiwan later this year so it’s been a neat experience, it’s been neat to listen to different people and their experiences, both in clinical practice but also from kind of just a healthcare standpoint as well and the different systems that people work in as well.

Now tell us exactly what you’re teaching, tell us, and why do you think it’s grown in this popularity, this is a program on the future and you’re kind of on the cutting edge of this emergence.

So this is a rehabilitation approach for people with different types of musculoskeletal disorders and diseases, so we might be working with things from low back pain to headaches, knee pain, hip pain but then in addition to that it’s very popular in strength and conditioning and performance, from all levels to youth to, you know, collegiate and professional athletes, people that are working with those types of clients, finding this information really, really valuable.

And I know you’re a doctor of chiropractic medicine, correct, but you’ve really expanded beyond that to really connect not just the chiropractic but really those health outcomes and connecting that back to food and health.

I do have a background in chiropractic, but the way that I practice that is very, very different, probably, than what most people think of. I consider it more of being a specialist in physical medicine and if we look at the definition of physical medicine, it’s the treatment of different types of diseases, musculoskeletal issues, through rehabilitation, nutrition, manipulation without the use of drugs or surgery so then when we kind of look into agriculture, the nutritional parts of things, there are points where what we eat, what we grow has a huge effect on our health as well.

Okay, so I think we need to dive into that because you’re originally from Filly, Nebraska, and that is Filly with an F. (laughs) Yes. Right, so we want to get the right size Filly and how big is Filly Nebraska?

So Filly, at this point, I would guess is about 100 and then it’s just kind of, you know, it’s as we’re seeing common in rural, the population is declining and so I think we’re probably down to around 100 people at this point, yeah, yep.

So we’ve seen the decline, but you’ve chosen to really take your expertise but also continue to farm and link this food and positive health outcome piece together which is very rare and unique. A lot of people talk about it, you’re doing it, so tell us a little bit about your farming background as well.

Right, right, so growing up on a farm, I always tell people, you know, when you grew up outside of Filly there was about three things that you did, you farmed, you worked hard and played basketball, those were the big things. It wasn’t as much football because we were all harvesting, you know, during the fall.

Sure, that makes sense.

But when that was done, then we played basketball, so the values and stuff that you can learn from the farm, the hard work as well as sports and the competition and getting out of your comfort zone has really taught me a lot and I use those all the time in how I approach clinical practice and education and farming as well.

Well, I love how you’ve really chosen to create your own future by taking that background of the sort of love and passion of sports and being active with agriculture and medicine and really combine that to create yourself as an international expert and really a cutting edge leader in terms of how we can forge a different future in health. So Dr. Ideus, I’d like to dive into a little bit about your philosophy as a leader, because obviously you’re forging a new path, you’re taking that future and you’re creating it one day, one class, one idea at a time and that takes a lot of guts and courage to do in our society, so tell us a little bit about your leadership philosophy.

I guess several kind of things that I think about, one of the big ones is always to get used to getting out of your comfort zone, right, and so I think that if we’re just kind of always comfortable and, you know, doing the same thing and not getting out of our comfort zone, it’s hard to really be a leader, you know, it’s hard to do new things, it’s hard to really, truly make change. Eventually you just have to be comfortable with getting out of your comfort zone, in addition to that, you have to be willing to put in the work, right, to make things make sense and have them be successful and so I was recently watching an interview with Kobe Bryant and he was kind of just talking about how there’s kind of a standard in the NBA on, okay, players might go in and work out a little bit and then they rest or go to practice and then that’s kind of their routine and so then he kind of thought about, well, how can I do more? So he thought then he would get up earlier, he would do workout, shoot, whatever, rest, and then kind of do the normal routine and so he said, then, that was an extra couple hours a day and he said in one day, it’s not a huge difference, in one week it’s not a huge difference, even in one year it’s not a huge difference, but then if you do that year after year, then you’re really starting to kind of create a gap, you know, and then you’ve put in the time and the hard work and then you can kind of have I think a clear vision for what it is that you’re trying to do and you can be really comfortable with these new things and ideas that you’re trying to kind of get across.

You know, and these are the exact type of guests we like to get on the show, mavericks like yourself with that grit, and you brought up that word vision and you also brought up the hard work and doing what it takes so I’d like to segment now back into that vision that you have around blending health and food and physical activity together.

You know, obviously as somebody’s that’s still involved in farming and somebody that uses conventional farming practices, and then also somebody who works in a clinical setting, and I love research and I read all the time and read research and then firsthand having these experience with patients, there’s some real questions that come about and that we have to ask ourselves and so for example, I have a patient recently that I was seeing for just kind of this generalized neck, shoulder area pain and tension and she had received some really great care from different types of medications to injections to physical therapy to chiropractic in the different types of modalities and things that exist within without a lot of success and so as we kind of dug into her history and figuring out why the heck this is going on, one thing we eventually found out was her large consumption of soy products because she ate a vegan diet and so she was getting her protein through that source so as we know and as we’ve seen through a lot of research, that can be a food that people are really sensitive to these days, right? Well, you hear on one end, it’s a major health benefit but on the other end, you’re saying it can also be something else depending on the person. Right, so then in her case, we removed that from her diet and that was enough to clear up her symptoms. So again, we just have to ask that question if why would that be, you know?

And to me that’s really powerful because I think oftentimes, you know, healthcare itself is estimated to be a three trillion dollar industry, many groups trying to disrupt it at this point and time and take a different approach, some people are even saying, you know, it’s really focused on sick care rather than healthcare, and just that story, a very powerful story that you told, you’re trying to go back and say, okay, we can use all these different modalities and they all have a place, but we also have to go back and find the story, the real story and find out what’s going on, what’s really maybe causing the challenges so we can get to resolution, not just a short term fix.

That’s exactly right, when we’re talking about the resolution, I think it’s very important for multiple reasons, number one is obviously it’s good for the person but then at the end of the day, it can ease some of the burdens of the cost on the healthcare system, and again, some of the interesting experiences I’ve had being in different countries and talking to different people in these different healthcare systems, the one thing that I’ve found is no matter where I’m at, it’s expensive, so for example, here we have private insurance, you know, high deductibles, high premiums and so on, so it’s expensive, in the Czech Republic, for example, whose government healthcare system, one scenario is maybe you go into the hospital for a traumatic brain injury and you’re kind of allowed a certain amount of time in rehabilitation and then when that time is up, then–

That’s it?

Your time is up, so at that point you have one of two options, number one, you’re done with care, right, or then you go to a private place and pay out of pocket, so then in those scenarios they’re paying very, very high taxes and then at the end of the day they’re gonna be paying out of pocket as well, so again, at the end of the day, it’s just sick people are expensive and it has to get paid for one way or another, and so if we can do things in an agriculture and growing food and growing food that’s gonna be really healthy for people to prevent certain things, I think we’re all gonna come out ahead and I think at that point, when just the overall population is a lot healthier in the scenarios where people do need help or there is some sort of trauma, there’s just gonna be such an abundant amount of available money and funds that it’s not such a burden for us to then help those people out.

So you can really see this from a place of abundance as well, it doesn’t have to be sort of this scarcity model where there’s not enough.


Rather, in the future we could actually forge a path that if we had health on the front end, there would be care for those ’cause people are still gonna need it, right? There’s no one perfect system, but we could evolve the model if we chose to. How do you see the future of food and health coming together?

Yeah, I’m not trying to say that we stop conventional practices and the research and the technology and everything that we have accomplished, being in a country like China and I was in Beijing and then we took a really neat train ride kind of through the countryside to another city called Nanjing and you could just see the abundance of people, you know, just so, so, so, many people and all these apartment buildings that are just skyscrapers so you just saw the mass number of people. There still has to be some type of, I think, more mass production of things, so we need that, we can’t get away from that, but at the same time I think that it’s okay that if we look into additional farming practices and being aware of ways to start expanding growing things organically and I think that also then can potentially help with rural growth and even create more opportunities within rural communities, just because those types of practices require a little more hands-on work, hands-on labor. We’re not just gonna be able to drive by with a big tractor sprayer and just cover these mass amounts of acres so it would return a part of farming to a little bit more of a hands-on practice which I think would be good as well. I always say that they’re talking about putting up these hydroponic plants on the ocean, you know, and these types of things. Vertical farming, we have a lot of cool stuff happening. To grow, you know, these foods and stuff and I just think, my gosh, we have some of the best people in the world that understand how to grow things and we have some of the best climates and the soils in the world right here to do that and so I just think there’s a huge opportunity for us to be leaders in that area as well.

I agree, I love reading about how, you know, they’re bringing sensors and AI and drones and robotics all into agriculture to make it more sustainable and it’d be great to bring some of that more thoughtfully and intentionally here to Nebraska to explore exactly what you’re saying.

Yeah, absolutely.

(Music Transition)

When I read things, and if they’re somewhat controversial, then I’ll read both sides. I have a stack of books at home that’s all about low carbohydrate living, so no breads, no grains, those type of things, but then at the same time, I also have books that the title, one of them is literally called “Eat Wheat,” but even in that book what it talks about is that the wheat that we used to eat 30 years ago, the way that the bread was made without preservatives and processed and all those types of things is way way way different than what we’re eating today so these highly refined grains and processed that have potentially been sprayed to kill to get in to harvest early, that’s why I think we’re seeing, like, this huge number of more urban populations having problems with our conventional farming needs.

This is what’s a little tricky because it all gets a little confusing, right? So there’s a lot of information out there and it’s good to read both sides and gather all that information. I’d love to learn a little bit more about some of the health outcomes that you’ve achieved by reading and digging into both sides and how you’re getting to health outcomes, positive health outcomes through that sort of questioning process.

Right, there is a good experience that I had with a patient not too long ago. There was a young man, I think he was 22 years old, I believe, and so then he had kind of been in and out of the hospital with C diff, which is just a bacterial regrowth in the stomach and small intestine that just leads to some really serious health issues, obviously. Then he was given the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis and told that he would just need these infusions once a month for the rest of his life. They would have to do kind of continued blood testing since this is an immunosuppressive drug, there’s kind of a lot of complications and side effects that could come from that, him and his parents were both very, very concerned about him going down that road and they wanted–

It’s a lifetime sentence.

Yeah, right, and they wanted to look if there’s anything else they could do, any other options and at that point we just ordered some blood tests that looked at basically different types of food sensitivities or allergies and when we got those results back we did see that he was significantly sensitive to dairy products, basically and different grains, so like gluten and glietens, which are different proteins within a certain type of grain and we completely took those out of his diet, we came up with a plan for him and then over a period of a few months, his symptoms were gone and he’s still symptom free over a year later and not that every single case of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s or anything like that can just be, you know, miraculously cleared by a few dietary changes, but like I told him in the very beginning, even if you do still need some type of medication, maybe it’s a little bit less and I don’t think that anybody is gonna be worse off by cutting, like, sugar out of their diet as he was dealing with it or if somebody else is dealing with that, just kind of their overall health can be so much better, you know, but like in his case then as well, if we think about the cost, that would have been accrued over a lifetime of needing those medications and those infusions, would have been astronomical compared to what it is now.

And I think even his overall well being, thinking about the cost but also his quality of life in terms of just freeing up time to have that energy to go do what you really want to do.


It’s fantastic.

(Music Transition)

Okay, so you’re a busy guy, I mean, we know this so you’re farming, you have a full practice, you’re traveling internationally and really helping advance this whole connection between food, health, but also activity in this vital lifestyle. Tell us a little bit about what brings joy into your life around that, but also why you do everything that you’re doing, because it’s a lot.

With the farming aspect of things, that’s just something that, you know, I thoroughly enjoy, so I’ve made the comment before where some people go play a round of golf on the weekend, you know, or whatever it might be and I always say, there’s nothing in the world that beats sitting in the combine on a nice fall morning with a cup of coffee and my family that takes turns riding with me, so that’s just a lot of fun.

I gotta go there, because I know that you’re married and you have two little people in your life, right, so do they get on the tractor with you?

Oh yeah, we’ve had many rounds in the combine with four people in the cab, so two kids moving around and trying to, yeah, keep them somewhat still but it’s all worth it, that’s what makes it fun.

Yeah, and I appreciate that you’re really bringing that next generation of leaders along, getting this very hands-on experience out on a farm, that’s so cool.

So then in addition to that, the postgraduate and doctoral continuing education, that just kind of came about organically, I guess, and again, just kind of my passion for learning and curiosity, when I was exposed to this program, you know, I was just very, very intrigued and fascinated by it so continued to just learn and research and dig and then over a period of time then was asked if I would be willing to be a part of the group that is teaching to expand this just because the demand is so, so, so high for this program. I’ve always been a curious person and I think in clinical practice, one of the things I enjoy the most is the examination process. I spend a ton of time always on the first exam and I always say there’s literally no information that’s not important. And we do all kinds of different movements and history and again, diet and activity and all those types of things, then to finally end up at the answer of why you’re feeling the way you are, what’s going on, and so that’s an enjoyable process as well.

Well, I love this whole idea of you just like to explore and you like to get to the why and you are such a learner and take that deep dive in, both in your practice, your teaching, but also, you know, your farming and thinking about this whole evolution of agriculture, of food and health together, which is amazing, so what parting words of wisdom would you leave our audience with?

I think there’s a few things that always stick out to me, number one, one of my mentors told me early on when I was in school and he was talking specifically to clinical practice, but I think we can take that outside of that world, but he said, every single patient and every single visit with every patient deserves a 10 out of 10 with your effort and that doesn’t matter if it’s a professional athlete or if it’s Grandma, for example, you know, every patient, every visit deserves a 10 out of 10 and so I kind of take that too in the way that I farm and when I’m planting, for example, I’m gonna give out a 10 out of 10 effort. With the teaching aspect of things, if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna give a 10 out of 10 effort for that, so I think that’s something that’s really important. I know I mentioned a little bit of being willing to get out of your comfort zone.


I think is really really important. I think that we need to embrace competition and not be afraid of competition, not be afraid to compete and to truly compete, you really have to know what you’re talking about, you really have to know what you’re doing.

Putting in those extra hours.

Right, right, and then, yeah, exactly. That work, that grit. The hard work, right, you know, and just being willing to put in the couple extra hours that others aren’t and then again over a long period of time, those extra hours just add up and add up and add up.

Well, I know at the Rural Futures Institute, we appreciate the fact that you’ve designed a life where you’re choosing to live rural and you’re continuing to farm but you’re also expanding and you’re an expert internationally living locally and so you’re really making this life work, so thank you for all you’re doing to serve Nebraska but also get Nebraska out there, you know, and the great work that’s going on, both on your farm but in your practice and really helping people around the world.

I always say, just because you’re from a small town in the middle of Nebraska doesn’t mean that you still can’t have a global impact. And again, with kind of that hard work that you’ve learned and you’ve put in and you’ve seen your parents do and their parents, it’s just very valuable for your business life.

Well, I’m really excited to see what the next generation of young farmers on your farm accomplishes with all that you’re teaching them as well. So thank you so much for being here.

Thank you.

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This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Six!

June 29, 2018
Broken Bow, Neb. Since we are at the halfway point in our internship, we have realized a couple of things. First, we have gotten a lot done on our projects and have met a lot of people who are very …

Broken Bow, Neb.

Since we are at the halfway point in our internship, we have realized a couple of things. First, we have gotten a lot done on our projects and have met a lot of people who are very willing to help us out. Second, we have a lot left to do before we leave at the beginning of August.

Our last two weeks have included attending more economic development meetings, attending another radio talk show, having lunch with Chuck, Theresa and Helen and continuing to enjoy Broken Bow, Neb. We continue to host our weekly coffees, and this past Monday, we tried something new. We hosted ‘Refreshments and Feedback’ at a local bar and grill to try to draw more of the younger population out. We had our last coffee with the community on Wednesday morning which was a great way to tie up loose ends and get some final feedback.

Moving forward with our major projects has been very rewarding. After some phone calls we have finally obtained banners from Budweiser and Coca-Cola for different locations in town welcoming the Sturgis bikers. In addition to our signs, we are working on a wallet sized promotion card for the Bikers which will allow them to use this coupon to get great deals and discounts at different locations around town.

“Getting to tour the small towns in Custer County has really opened my eyes to the issues that a lot of small communities have in common. These issues include keeping businesses going and affordable housing which are two solvable problems. Not only have I seen the problems but I have seen so much innovation and creativity which is really assuring.”


We will be meeting with the CEO of the YMCA in Kearney next Monday to get a better idea of what an updated recreational facility could look like for the community of Broken Bow. This will be a great opportunity for the steering committee that we have complied to ask questions and see what the next steps to improve recreational services in the Broken Bow area is.

Broken Bow Serviceship Interns featured in story in the Custer County Chief.

We have decided to start getting to know the surrounding communities more. On Monday, Jun. 25, we went to Arnold, Neb. We were able to meet business owners, enjoy local food and discuss local housing issues with Cheryl Carson who is the economic development director in Arnold. On Thursday, Jun. 27, we ventured again to a different community in Custer County—Sargent. We were able to tour some of the businesses there including the new bar, Mr. Rudy’s, and the recently updated grocery store. Chris, the economic development director there, showed us most of the town which included some of the housing projects, the school and many of the antique shops they have. The community hosts many antique based celebrations that bring hundreds of visitors to the town.

Jessica is making strides on getting Broken Bow listed as a Leadership Certified Community and is volunteering for the local 4H. Leanne has started to write for the Custer County Chief with her first article in this week’s newspaper.

We finally got to try to the local taco truck which was totally worth the hype that we have heard from several people around town. In other food news, the editor of the Custer County Chief, Donnis Hueftle-Bullock, invited us over for a grill out Tuesday evening and it was the first time we cooked while in Custer County as we are lucky enough to have our meals provided by the Hospital.

“I have really appreciated seeing other towns in Custer County. You can see all of the aspects that need work but also the aspects that community members pride themselves on. These are all things that I get me thinking about what I will need if I were to move back to a rural community in the future.”





Columbus, Neb.

Clayton discusses his RFI Serviceship experience in Columbus on air with KLIR Radio.

As KC Belitz would say, “HEY TEAM!” That is exactly how we have tackled our projects at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce—as a team. From brainstorming sessions to listing jobs for chamber members to recruiting campaign partners to pulling weeds for a streetscape project, there has been no shortage of opportunities for teamwork. The Chamber is never boring! Or maybe it’s just Clayton’s excitement for the unexpected stint in the sun, “… and then we get to pull weeds, I’M SO EXCITED!” Those weeds didn’t stand a chance.

The Young Nebraskans Week Committee met last week for the first time. We are working to incorporate their best suggestions from the meeting into our plan for the event. The next step is to create a budget and find sources of funding. This is a great group to work with and we hope to plan a successful event for them and the young professionals of the Columbus area.

“Columbus is unlike anywhere I have ever worked. People are creative, innovative, and forward thinking–they don’t mind paving a new trail, as long as the destination is worth it.”


Over the past three weeks, we have toured and visited different places in the community, including Behlen Manufacturing, Scotus Central Catholic High School, Nebraska Public Power District and KLIR Radio Station. These visits have opened our eyes to the challenges the community faces and what is done to address those challenges.

There is also no shortage of forward-thinking. “Columbus is unlike anywhere I have ever worked,” Amber noted. “People are creative, innovative, and forward thinking–they don’t mind paving a new trail, as long as the destination is worth it.” And that destination includes diversity and inclusion. Columbus hasn’t always been diverse, yet their attitude towards it has always been inclusive. “It doesn’t matter where you came from,” Kara Asmus explained, “it matters where you are going.”

That means moving forward as a team, which brings us back to KC’s comment at the beginning. It takes more than one key player to make things happen. While KC is an incredible chamber president known throughout the entire state of Nebraska, he cannot do what he does without the incredible team behind him. We are really fortunate that we work with such a great group of leaders. The same for the City of Columbus. Community development takes a village—a team.




Norfolk, Neb.

As we begin our sixth week in our serviceship experience, we begin our time with the Norfolk Visitor’s Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. We have still found ourselves very involved with Daycos’ day-to-day projects and still have some of our own projects with them at the last stages. In this summary we will outline our remaining commitments to Daycos and give a brief overview of what we believe our next four weeks will look like the Bureau. Lastly, we will update you on the personal takeaways that we have both gathered thus far.

Before I (Cheyenne) left for Iceland and Norway we came up with a list of deliverables we could hand into Daycos at the end of the summer. The first deliverable we wanted to make sure that we would have three videos done for them explain who is Daycos, how they do what they do and why they believe in giving back. The next project we will finish for Daycos is a “Wall of Aim” bulletin board project we have come up with to create internal and community pride. We are also working on to systemize and reorganize the hiring process that Daycos is currently using and make sure it is in line with their culture and values. Lastly, we are holding an all company meeting to create a company answer to the question “What is Daycos?” because we’ve found there’s a lot of variety in the answers we get to this question.

At the end of the summer we will create two project portfolios—one for the Bureau and one for Daycos. These four projects will be highlighted in Daycos’ portfolio so that they can use the products of our internship long after we leave.

In the next four weeks, along with tying up loose ends with Daycos, we will be working on creating a marketing strategy for Norfolk’s retail sector. We have been tasked to answer the question, “How do we cross-promote the entire community’s retail?” This is a problem specific to Norfolk because they have two main retail areas­—one is downtown and one is based out of a mall.

“The serviceship experience is so rewarding because you’re expected to truly become a part of someone else’s community — to live and learn and laugh just like the other community members.”



We have many modes of answering this overarching question. One way is by doing Secret Shopper surveys and Windshield Assessments of Norfolk’s retail areas and businesses. We are also working to schedule interviews and meetings with all of Norfolk’s retail top stakeholders, including business owners, committee members, and community leaders. We then have a massive brainstorming session scheduled for this Friday to come up with a way to strategize the next steps for retail and what our deliverables for Norfolk’s Visitor Bureau will be. An additional project we’re starting to pick up is to develop a customer service training service that the city could provide for its retail businesses to improve the visitor experience.

As far as personal gains go, Sam truly feels like her passions have really related to the culture and team building that we have had the opportunity to experience from our time at Daycos. She has also noticed that there’s such an abundance of wonderful people here in Norfolk. We have had many conversations about how communities can cultivate such strong groups of people because of what cool things we have experienced this summer. I feel like I have strengthened a lot of strengths that I have had. I’m never driven by numbers or hours, but rather by objectives. Since I missed two weeks of work this has been something I have had a great time expressing. While I will probably come close to making up the hours that I missed, I will make the objectives that I set. The goals that I made were considering 10 weeks of work, not 7 or 8. So hard work and drive is something that this internship has made me take even further.

“One of my favorite things about the serviceship experience is that I can apply my education and experience to the work that I am contributing in Norfolk every day. I love that I am able to better my leadership, knowledge and skills through my work to constantly learn and grow. It is exciting to think about how I can apply my experiences in the future!”


When we asked Brandon Day, the CEO of Daycos, for his thoughts on our serviceship, he said, “Daycos has been very fortunate to have Samantha Guenther and Cheyenne Gerlach as Rural Futures Institute interns this summer. In a short time, they have become a part of the organization, blending in well with our people and culture, and becoming a valuable part of our team. Having these smart, capable young women come in to our organization, and look at everything with a fresh set of eyes, and new ideas, has been invaluable. They have offered unique perspectives, probing questions, and great suggestions. A number of employees have commented how much they have enjoyed getting the chance to talk to them about our company, and how much value they got from the interactions. Despite only being here a few weeks, they have made a lasting positive impact on our organization. My only regret is that they can’t stay longer.”




Omaha Land Bank

Kyle and Sydney visit the office of Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.

Week five and six at the Omaha Land Bank has been a learning experience for both Kyle and Sydney. Sydney has started to help in the foreclosure process by helping the team generate documents to assist in the ten-step process of foreclosure. The land bank is a busy place in efforts to transform Omaha’s distressed properties into positive community assets. Every day, Sydney, Kyle and their co-workers are making huge strides in the success of many Omaha neighborhoods.

Sydney has been busy with various meetings. One that stuck out the most was when she had the opportunity to visit the Scooters that was recently opened in North Omaha. She had the opportunity to meet with the owner of that store location, Julian Young, who is a North Omaha advocate and entrepreneur. The opening of Scooters in North Omaha was more than just a coffee shop, it was a way for Young to tell the people of North Omaha that they mattered, and it was a place for the community to come together. It was inspirational for Sydney to hear Julian Young talk about his love and passion for his community. It made her question, what if everyone had a love for the community like Young? How would our communities look today?

The College World Series has been making our office location very busy. We are only blocks away from the number one destination in Omaha currently—TD Ameritrade. Our office had the opportunity to go tour the downtown area with all the pop-up shops, food trucks, and a top-notch train the Governor of Arkansas has been living in the last two weeks. While the unfamiliar faces have been very welcomed by our staff, we are ready to have our morning and afternoon commutes back to normal!

“It feels good coming to work and knowing that I will be transforming not only many of Omaha’s rundown neighborhoods but also many individuals lives. Day by day, the Land Bank is giving opportunities to those individuals who had no hope in owning a house. It’s a great group to be a part of.”


Sydney and Kyle have been taking quite a few more trips with professional staff this week to various events around town. After the Board meeting we were able to visit several floors of the city building including a quick trip to the mayor’s office. We have gone on trips to the planning department and have seen various meeting with our legal teams in dealing with the foreclosure team.

Dealing with the foreclosure team has really shown me a lot more of the actual day to day work of those around the legal field. The eye-opening experience has definitely solidified my choice in the program I have gone into and made me glad I have gone the current route I am on. We have entered a new process of the acquisition of 500 properties for the Land Bank and knowing that we made so much progress towards getting these lots and homes ready for new life is a rewarding experience.




Red Cloud, Neb.

Trenton and Trevor are in Red Cloud, Neb. for their serviceship. These past couple of weeks, we have spent a lot more time in the office working on the economic development plan. We spent the earlier part of our serviceship being truly immersed in the community and participating in all the events they had going on. Having that initial experience was a great way to build our understanding of the community, and really see what it has to offer. Being able to spend more time devoted in the office as given us plenty of time to work on the economic plan, which is great because that’s what we came here to do!

“It’s exciting to hear both visitors and locals say, ‘There’s a lot going on in Red Cloud!’ I’m hoping that our work here can be the compass which guides that energy into tangible outcomes.”



Trevor hangs up a poster promoting the Good Living Tour which is coming to Red Cloud on Jul. 7, 2018.

This week and last week we worked on reviewing our second draft of the plan, and then finishing the third draft, which is currently waiting on review from our lead mentor and members of the Economic Development Advisory Board.

We really focused on expanding the plan beyond just a basic structure and added plenty of guiding materials like a future land use plan, a marketing strategy, action plans for all public groups, and a few other things we are still working through. Altogether I think we have come a long way with our plan, and I hope when it is all said and done that the city has a clear and cohesive direction to move towards.

We have had some opportunities to step outside of the office though! The Good Living Tour, which is a concert series put on across a handful of towns in Nebraska that feature local Nebraska based bands, is coming to Red Cloud on July 7th. We were tasked with going around to different businesses in the community to seek sponsorships for the event to help cover the cost to not have it all came directly from the tourism department. We did have some luck with a couple businesses and some generous individuals, but we happened to be placed right at the end of a donation frenzy. There were a few major events in Red Cloud in the month prior, and little league baseball had it’s season start, so most businesses were already tapped out from these event, making it very hard to contribute to this cause. Luckily there should be enough sponsorship money overall to cover the event when all things are accounted for!

We met with the city superintendent and the organizers for the Good Living tour in the city park to decide where to place the stage, food vendors, mobile skate park, and other components of the tour.

We also had an opportunity to meet with Jeff Armstrong, a school board member, to get a better understanding of the state of the school system. We value the quality of education in any town setting, and we hope to give the school board and administrators a clear path forward to grow within the community!

“I really think everything is coming together for this community. They are growing, changing and becoming the town they were always meant to be. I cannot wait to see the progress Red Cloud makes in the future, and I hope the work we do here this summer will have a positive impact on the community for years to come!”



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High-touch futurist Connie Reimers-Hild: The future of rural healthcare staffing

June 27, 2018
  In her invited journal article, “Strategic foresight, leadership, and the future of rural healthcare staffing in the United States,” Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC, RFI Associate Executive Director and Chief Futurist, calls for both incremental and radical innovation as well …


Connie Reimers-Hild, Associate Director, Rural Futures Institute
At this moment we are at a time of incredible challenge, but also incredible opportunity. Imagine rural hospitals collaborating with technology companies, startups and other partners to co-create the next healthcare model with consumers, students, employees and community members. 
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC
RFI Associate Executive Director & Chief Futurist

In her invited journal article, “Strategic foresight, leadership, and the future of rural healthcare staffing in the United States,” Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC, RFI Associate Executive Director and Chief Futurist, calls for both incremental and radical innovation as well as novel and holistic approaches to disrupt the United States’ rural healthcare model in terms of business strategy and staffing. The paper was published in the May issue of the Journal of American Academy of Physician Assistants.


It has been well documented that rural healthcare is in or at least nearing crisis. Broadly, the U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other nation, but ranks 34th in health outcomes. The challenges are exacerbated in the rural context where primary care provider shortages are creating significant access issues.

As both wellness and economic drivers in rural communities, healthcare providers and hospitals are at a decisive moment—how will they innovate with technology and future-focused leadership to meet patients and consumers at the intersection of their needs, wants and demands?

“This article is intended to ignite serious conversations and initial action around how the model of rural healthcare can evolve,” Reimers-Hild said. “At this moment we are at a time of incredible challenge, but also incredible opportunity. Imagine rural hospitals collaborating with technology companies, startups and other partners to co-create the next healthcare model with consumers, students, employees and community members.”

Within the paper Reimers-Hild defines two key “megatrends”—global shifts that influence society, the economy and the environment—as the base strategic foresight tools. They are:

  • Exponential advances in science and technology
  • The continued evolution of the decentralized global marketplace in which stakeholders are co-creators

In total, she offers seven ideas to stimulate disruptive thinking within the $3 trillion U.S. healthcare system. She demonstrates her concepts through businesses such as Stitch Fix, Doctors on Demand, Nomad Health and Microsoft. She also mentions and defines technology with health applications such as artificial intelligence (AI), sensors, robots, 3D printers, driverless vehicles, holograms and lab-on-a-chip.

“In what I believe is the first future paper for this journal, futurist Connie Reimers-Hild explores and predicts possibilities that can emerge from the present,” said Roderick Hooker, Ph.D. “In this publication her overview on rural health and the megatrends likely to disrupt business models are the investments, experiments and partnerships that are already underway. What makes her work particularly insightful for researchers is how healthcare providers serve as major employers and economic drivers in rural communities.”


More about Dr. Connie

Media Contact
Katelyn Ideus
Director of Communication
Rural Futures Institute
University of Nebraska
(402) 659-65886

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Episode 4: Professor Tim Griffin of Tufts intersects nutrition, agriculture & rural-urban collaboration

June 26, 2018
      Tim Griffin, Ph.D., is Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. In this episode he discusses his interest and expertise at …




Tim Griffin, Ph.D., is Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. In this episode he discusses his interest and expertise at the intersection of agriculture and the environment as well as the development and implementation of sustainable production systems. Dr. Griffin has lived and worked with rural communities and regions throughout his career before landing in Boston, but what makes him fascinating is his ability to cross various boundaries and silos to explore solutions that result in a win-win for everyone involved. He doesn’t deny the difficulty of this, especially within the food system, but he explains how he does this personally and how he purposefully incorporates this abundance mindset with the graduates students he works with.

Tim Griffin, Tufts University, Associate Professor
“To think that the challenges in rural environments are totally different and mutually exclusive from the challenges in urban areas—I actually don’t believe that.“
Tim Griffin
Director, Agriculture, Food and Environment program, Tufts University

About Tim

Timothy Griffin is the director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment program, as well as an associate professor at the Friedman School. His primary interests are the intersection of agriculture and the environment, and the development and implementation of sustainable production systems.

Griffin’s current research is focused on the environmental impacts of agriculture (nutrient flows, carbon retention and loss, and climate change), and impacts of policy on adoption of agricultural practices and systems. His past research responsibilities have included field and lab components addressing: crop management, alternative crop development, short- and long-term effects of cropping systems on potato yield and quality, management strategies to improve soil quality, manure nitrogen and phosphorus availability, soil carbon sequestration and cycling, emission of greenhouse gases from high-value production systems, and grain production for organic dairy systems.


Show Notes

Welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. We recorded this episode in Boston, Massachusetts, during our invited visit with Tufts University faculty. Our guest this episode is Dr. Tim Griffin of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. I started off by asking him to explain a bit more about the school itself and his roles at Tufts.

The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy covers a lot of ground as a school, a very interdisciplinary free-standing school of nutrition, rather than being a department of nutrition within another college, so that make us unique. And then, for the last nine years, I’ve led an interdisciplinary program called Agriculture, Food and Environment which covers about as much base as you would think it would with a name like that. So, we go all the way from farming and the impacts of farming, and profitability of farming, all the way through to who has access to what kinds of food and who does not, both in the United States and globally.

That’s big, I mean, those are big questions, big areas of research, and teaching. I guess I’m curious about part of your story on how you even got here to Tufts, so could you tell us a little bit about your history— Sure. And why Tufts was so interested in having somebody like you join their team.

Yeah, so my path here is a winding path, starting in Nebraska, at the University of Nebraska, back decades ago. You know, I trained as an agronomist and a soil scientist, so I’ve been doing interdisciplinary research, essentially, since I was a master’s student in Nebraska in the 80’s, continued on, and have had three very different positions, but three positions that I’ve been really fortunate to have. So, my first faculty-level position was in cooperative extension in Maine. It was a sustainable agriculture specialist, which was the first position like that in the United States, and I was the first person to have it. So, it put me kind of right in, you know, maybe a kind of similar situation that I’m in now where it’s not about focusing on one thing, it’s about thinking what the linkage is across many different things and, you know, heavily involved with farmers and farming. At that point, I was a scientist at USDA but was doing work all the way from greenhouse gas emissions, to producing organic milk, and when I was in that position, I actually knew about this program at Tufts in the School of Nutrition which started in the mid 90’s, but for a while it was quite small and it just happened to be that they were looking for a new faculty member. There was a person retiring, and somewhat on a whim, which is kind of how I manage things, I applied for it, and the— You know, I was interested in it, because it just continues this kind of interdisciplinary aspects of agriculture in connection to the broader food system. I think the university and the school were interested, because I’d been, you know, deeply involved in agriculture for a long time before I came here. It’d been, you know, 25 years or more doing research, but also working with farmers, you know, did a lot of public talks so could communicate, that kind of thing. So, the idea was, like, bring that into the classroom, which is basically what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.

So, we’ve heard about Tim Griffin at Tufts, but tell us a little bit about Tim Griffin outside of Tufts.

I love books. Actually, I bring books, we do a literature day in one of my classes, and it’s just like, here’s my take on, you know, books that connect to agriculture or you know the agrarian ideas in the United States, and, you know, I love music, so I bring music into class actually.

Okay, what kind of music?

All kinds that— A lot of folk music, actually, both current but older folk songs, so I’ll bring in old Woody Guthrie songs to class. Lot of great messages in some of that old music. My wife and I, you know we bike a lot, been traveling a lot over the last six or seven years, around the United States. We actually drove across the US four or five years ago for the first time.

That’s awesome! I didn’t know that.

Yeah, yeah, we drove, actually a former student’s car, we drove it out to Sacramento to give it to her, so, that was fun, and, so I mean, we get out and about a lot. You know, this is the first time we’ve lived in a big city, so we explore a lot of it just, you know it’s, we’ve gone the last couple of days, public transit, walking, biking. So that’s you know, that’s the kind of things we do.

So, tell us a little bit you know, we’ve heard about you as a person now, a little bit more, and also you, and your work at Tufts, and even before— Tell us a little bit about your leadership philosophy and style.

Yeah, I wish I had a specific philosophy. I was thinking about this this morning and it’s, I would say my leadership is somewhat intuitive, so I don’t have a particular strategy, and even really, a particular direction that you know, like I’ve charted out what I want to be doing 10 years from now, or five years from now, which is kind of why, you can see, I’ve changed positions to very different things a couple of times, and been fortunate to do that, but you know, I think early in my career, if I was asked to do, you know, to take a leadership role, whether it was, you know, an extension program or running a research project. Early in my career, I think, my first question that I would ask myself is, is it important, you know? Is it important to me, but also whatever organization I’m working with or for? I quickly modified that to be important and interesting, so you don’t get a lot of important things that you don’t really care about. And then, as I’ve told many of my, especially doctoral students recently, I’ve added to those two things that it should be fun. Of course, not everything we need is fun. Not all of the roles that we have are fun, but I’m at a point now where I can provide leadership and actually it is on important issues, and it is interesting, and it is fun. But I don’t have a really specific set of criteria that I would say I want to lead this and this way. You know, very much involved in things that I do lead, so rather than saying, I’m the leader of this, and here’s the 27 tasks that have to get done, and then just assigning those to people, that’s way more directive than I am. It’s like, let’s figure out as a group, how are we gonna begin to address this question or this challenge, and then we will modify it as a team as we go along. So, it’s, you know, I may be providing leadership for it, but it’s not kind of me steering the ship, and for the complex type of problems that I work on, both in the agricultural realm, but the broader food system, it has to be flexible. You have to be able to think about, like, what are the different pathways that we can follow here, and you don’t want to lock yourself into one, because you can’t— If you do that, you might come to a solution, so to speak, but it might not be the best solution, so, you know, recognizing when you need to change course, those are all things that, you know, those are all open as far as I’m concerned when I have, whether it’s a team of students, which I do a lot of, or you know, efforts that I’m involved in that are you know, academic colleagues, but also colleagues in government, colleagues in industry. It’s still about, you know, figuring out, are we still on the best course to be able to address whatever challenge or opportunity that we’re talking about?

I really want to circle back to what you’re saying, ’cause I think this is really important, so of course, part of the purpose of the Rural Futures Podcast is to talk with leaders and mavericks; people really trying to create a different future in their own unique way, and I think what you’re touching on, is the fact that leadership itself is changing, and all this have this sort of unique approach, but at the same time, you know, at the Rural Futures Institute, we talk about future-focused leadership, and you clearly have an element of that in what you’re doing, so being able to think about the scenarios is important, but at the same time realizing the path to get there has to be an open, flexible one, especially with these complex systems.

Yeah, and I think that’s exactly right, and I mean the experience that I bring to a lot of this is what I started with a few minutes ago which is that I was very early on, exposed to being, as a scientist, exposed to interdisciplinary research and problems, and when I came here it didn’t take long to realize that as an educational program here, you have these complex challenges within the food system, and to solve those, literally you need some people in the room that can think across the boundaries, all the way from agriculture to nutrition to health, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you want the whole room filled with people like that, but basically, that’s one of the roles that I play. But it’s very much also what we’re thinking about when we provide opportunities to our students in the classroom and out of the classrooms, is that many of them, they are going to play exactly that role, and they might be doing it in a company, they might be doing it in not profit, they could be doing it at USDA, or a state department of agriculture, but they can actually, you know, rather than saying my specialty is this, they have expertise in one or two areas, but they’re also able to see across these boundaries, and that’s, for me, that’s the fun part of what I do, and I’ve, you know, opportunities that I, even that I’m, you know, just initiating right now, they have that as a very, very identifiable feature, and it’s something that I’ve done a lot of for a long time, so it’s, you know, I’m taking advantage of the fact that I’ve been doing it for thirty something years. And it’s— The difference is that there is— I have a group of colleagues that are across the country, that are about at the same career stage as me, and we’re all, we found that we’re all doing that, but we all learned it by doing it. It was 30 years ago, 35 years ago there was very, very few mavericks out there that were thinking in that way.

Yeah, agreed.

Now it’s very different, to where we can actually incorporate that into how we work with students, how we do research. That’s what’s changed, and I just happened to be a person that was kind of ready to do that because of my background, because of the experiences I’ve had previously.

I think it goes back to you being a maverick, for the reasons we’re even here. You know, one of the reasons we’re even here, but it’s also about these relationships that you keep talking about. Yep. You know, one of our team members, Tracy Klein, is really one of the reasons we’re here, because of her relationship with you— Yep. And your wife. Yes. And this is really how things happen. Yeah. But I think, too, it makes me think about, as we’ve connected online and gotten to know each other better, why have Rural Futures Institute come and be part of the world of Tufts University?

Right, well, one of the reasons is exactly what you said, is, I think it’s important to build those relationships and have those conversations, and it’s, some of my experiences here, and the fact that I’m still connected to places like Nebraska, but I’m also connected to other rural areas.


I’m still connected to, you know, things going on in Maine, because we lived there for a long time, and I’m still connected to farms in Maine, in a very different way than I was, maybe earlier, but there’s, you know, there is this big set of challenges, and 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 whatever, anywhere in the world, are totally different and kind of mutually exclusive from the challenges in urban areas. I actually don’t believe that. There are differences, but there’s also similarities.

A lot of overlap.

Exactly, and you know, when you’re talking about the food system, there’s an obvious linkage, and that is that most, but not all of our food, is produced in rural areas, but most, but not all of our food is consumed in urban areas, so there’s a basis for what could be a lot of opportunities, or it could be a bit of a tension, right, of we’re just producing things and we’re sending it to cities and that’s one interpretation; I actually don’t buy into that one either. But if I’ve learned one thing, especially when I was early in my extension career is that there has to be at least a handful of people that care about it enough that they’re gonna enter into conversations repeatedly, knowing that, at the end of the one-hour meeting, you actually may have no idea where it’s going, and I’ve done that hundreds of times, and sometimes it’s like it doesn’t go anywhere, and again, not everybody’s gonna do that, because not everybody thinks that’s interesting or fun. I actually do, and some really interesting things have come out of it on the research side, on the education side. Some of the things I’ve done, you know, being involved in state level policies, national level policies, started with just, like, a random conversation with somebody that I met or somebody that was introduced to me, and with the Rural Futures Institute, of course I have a connection to Nebraska, and I have a connection to people on your campus.


For a long, long time, and so that, I was visiting, I’ve been visiting your campus off and on since I’d left Nebraska 30 years ago.

We appreciate that. Any engagement, you know, I think it’s so important.

So, you know that there, I was making those kinds of visits, and then you know, realizing that this was going on, and some of the things, some of the conversations we were having here, and when I met all of you, in person, a year ago this month, it was really obvious to me that this is the point we wanted to get to, is you know, having you all here, and at some point, we’re gonna reverse that.

That’s right.

And we’re gonna come there. And I think it’s you know, if nothing else, it’s just really a good example of, you do need to be able to have the conversations, and think about what are the things that we might be able to do in common that there’s no possible way that we could do individually, and it takes time and effort, but it also takes this. It takes people actually. It would be impossible to envision this on email.

So, Tim, you’ve talked a lot about the conversations, and getting conversations started, so tell us a little bit more about how you get to action, and take those challenges, and turn them into opportunities and solution.

Yeah, that’s a great question, and the conversations are important, and but they are really the starting point, so that, you know, for example, you and I talking, but the goal is: what is the common ground between our interests and then what are the things that we could do, and we may be thinking about trying to solve a particular problem or being an optimist, we could be thinking about what’s a particular opportunity that we could address together, that again, maybe has benefits kind of across the spectrum. So, I think that’s a piece of it, but our discussion earlier about, kind of conversations, is really to get that common ground identified, and then it is very much about what are maybe different and innovative ways that we can address those challenges or opportunities? And those are actions, and we’ve you know, thinking about, the involvement of students here is one of the things that we’re interested in. Sometimes it’s a very specific action, where they might work with a non-profit, maybe in the Boston area that has a very specific need that is around one of those challenges. So, when we talked yesterday to students, undergraduate students that were very interested in one, providing, you know, families that are struggling with, you know, complete meals, but then, how do you get there? And they got there by essentially establishing an organization themselves, and saying these are the three things and then like, here’s the infrastructure that we need. So, here’s the machine to wrap the meals. Like a meal wrapping machine which I had not heard of before. So, you know, they probably started with conversations, but they ended up with, it’s actually a program, and it’s actually delivering food to families in the Boston area that are struggling. So those are actions.

What I loved their food to recovery concept is that they got to action, but like you’re saying, they took ownership of it. Oh yes. You know, they knew nobody else, maybe was gonna step up to the plate, so when you talk about entrepreneurial students, and how they’re looking at the solutions, they took action, but they also pulled in a lot of other partners, and stakeholders that they were gonna work with, so it wasn’t just a solution they provided, but it was also co-created with end users and other collaborators in mind.

Yeah. And I’ve talked to, I mean this, the idea of who do you get as stakeholders? I’ve had many, many conversations with students here about not having preconceived notions about who should the stakeholders be in the room? That some of the really interesting things come when you get unconventional partners, that you know, in agriculture back decades ago when I was doing a lot of sustainable agriculture work, we didn’t draw lines between, like, we have a group that runs small, organic farms, and then we’re gonna talk to them about these things, but we’re gonna talk to larger, dairy farms about another set of things. We actually brought them into the room and said, you know, what’s the 87% of things that you actually agree on, and let’s start there. And then, what are actions that we can take? So, it is, it’s a critical piece, and I very much, you know, the conversations we’ve had about how does RFI work in communities, and what role do students play? It’s like, you go into the community, and you ask them what’s the challenge, and how do you think we can move forward? And that’s a pretty good analogy for a lot of what we do here. And sometimes it’s, you know, somebody emails me, or another faculty member, and says, “Can you be “on this committee?”; state level, national level, global. And you say yes, and then the idea is, what are we gonna get to? What’s the action we’re gonna take, and what do we think is gonna happen? They can be grand efforts that take three years of your time, or it could be, you know, a group of students who works with a non-profit, or with a government agency for a year, and they can move those opportunities down the road at least a ways, so conversations are the starting point and the goal is the action and what happens.

Yeah, that impact piece from it all, is so critical as well, and I think one of the other ways we’ve really connected is, you know, around students. Sure. Like the conversations around students, the importance around students, and I just, our whole team really just values the way you teach, and I mean, I think your sincere passion and wanting to see those students succeed, and really taking some novel approaches to getting them involved. I mean even having a student from York, Nebraska, here to be part of these conversations.

We’ve had quite a few students from Nebraska, so. Yeah, and that’s part of that connection, right? Yeah.

So, for them to be able to have an experience at Tufts and go take that back to Nebraska or go wherever with it is just so critical. So, you dive a little bit into your leadership philosophy around teaching and student experiences.

Yeah, I’ve told students that since I came here, I came here because of the students. I met a group of quite a few students when I came here to actually do my interview, my job talk, if you will, and then I got to talk to those students afterwards, as you’re going to talk to students after your seminar today, and realized that they had some really, really interesting perspectives. They didn’t, necessarily, they weren’t different than mine, because their experiences were different, but very committed to trying to do certain types of things, and very smart. We have, you know, really, really, super students here, and they are the reason I came here, and they’re, you know, the primary, or one of the primary reasons that I come in every day and you know, being able to bring some of my reality in the classroom is part of it, but I get a lot back from them. They do have different experiences. They’re, you know, uniformly younger than I am, so they have a different set of experiences, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. So, it is an interaction, and you know, there’s educational curriculum, but then there are other kinds of experiences and you know, even on the research side of we have a funded research project. We’ll find a couple of master’s students, and you know, a doctoral student, and that becomes the team for the project, and we’ve had students that have worked on, you know, specific projects, through a master’s degree and into a PhD for four or five years on one project, and there the thing that we’ve tried to do, is to again, not have it be where myself or someone else is saying okay, here’s your analytical task for the next week, and just go do that, and then bring it back next week. There’s a lot of complexity here, and we may not actually know how to get from point a to point b, and then it becomes all of us, and they’ve been really, really entrepreneurial about trying to figure out like, where do you get the right kind of data, and then how do you kind of check the quality of that data, and then how to use that data, and that’s step one. And then how do you do that again, and again, and again? We did this intentionally on some regional food system research where we just said they’re gonna be, they’re not gonna be our students, they’re gonna be our colleagues, and they have their contributions, and we have ours, as faculty and scientists.

That’s such a great model.

But they’re not ranked. They’re not, one is more important than the other. It’s that they’re different, and of course, they’re learning while they’re doing it, but so are we. Right, right. And the type of research I do now, I was not, I was doing zero percent of the type of work I do now when I was at USDA. So, all the work I do now is different in kind of form and function than it was when I was a faculty member, and when I was a USDA scientist, so I’m learning as I go, which I’ve done my entire life. It’s like, sure I’ll learn a new research area. I’ll learn how to measure greenhouse gases, whatever. So, they end up being, you know, key parts of our team that you couldn’t see how the team is gonna do the work unless you have their expertise, and if they weren’t involved, then you have like this blank, and it’s just not gonna happen, or it’s gonna be much, much slower.

In addition to, you know, thinking about urban and rural and those two worlds coming together more, which is one of the areas of the RFI purpose, is, you know, higher education itself is changing so much and I think the way that you’re approaching, just the team concept with students is so critical as we move forward, but how do you see the future of higher education evolving?

I think that there are, there’s certainly more places now than there were as we were talking about, 25, 30 years ago, where as a student, which could be a graduate student, but even an undergraduate student, that can be in that kind of environment, and be part of a team that’s looking across kind of a range of issues all at one time, that was, that would have been a very unique experience when I was in graduate school. I was lucky enough to actually experience it both at Nebraska and at Michigan State where I did my doctoral work, but I would say very much it was the exception, and not the rule. There are more opportunities like that, both you know, land grant agricultural universities, but even at you know, larger, private universities, and even small, private universities and Tufts is kind of in-between those two, because we do many things. You know, we have that school and a dental school and all of those, so we’re not just liberal arts campus. We’re a research university here, so those things are changing. They’re not changing uniformly across all institutions, and I mean, one of the things that you see, is a school like Friedman and a program like Agriculture, Food and Environment. We’ve had this program for almost 25 years and the school is now about 40 years old, but you’re seeing those kinds of efforts be initiated, and sometimes you look at them and you say, that seems like maybe an odd place for a program to like have to start. Even here, I mean that we’re right in downtown Boston right now, and you know, I talk about agriculture every day in my job. So, but partly that’s because we don’t have any kind of history that says we can’t do that, right?

Right, absolutely, you’re building it as you go.

Yeah and even, you know, we were talking yesterday about the involvement of law school and some law programs. Right. And many of those that are interested in agriculture, that are interested in the farm bill, things like that, are actually at private university law schools rather than public university law schools. And I don’t, I don’t see that, and I don’t bring it up as, well, that’s the way that it should be, or that’s right or that’s wrong, it’s just literally that’s the way it is, but part of it is the objectives of different institutions are different, so we’re seeing it a lot in private universities where there are programs that focus on broad issues around, particularly around the food system, and then there are food systems programs which kind of look at how is it all connected? We do those things, but also, you know, I’m a scientist, so we actually bring science into the program. That’s one of my roles here. Higher education is changing, but it’s always changed, and it’s not, maybe it’s changing in unexpected ways, and I expect that some institutions will continue some very, very disciplinary efforts, ’cause you need some people that are trained with a really, really deep expertise, but more of them, and in the private sector are realizing that you do need some that can think across those boundaries going back to where we started and that’s very much how we see ourselves here both as a school and as a program, and our students.

I mean we talk about it explicitly, rather than just kind of conceptualizing it. It’s like, what opportunities would you provide a student so that they can get good at being able to do that? So really providing opportunities but also taking that systems approach and reaching across and creating new partnerships because that’s how this is, and it’s how it will continue to go.


So, as we kind of wrap up here, I’d love to know your advice, you know. Like what words of wisdom is Tim willing to share with our audience?

Well, one is that, you know, if there’s a challenge or a grand challenge, there are more than one way, there is more than one way to address those, and I’ll give you a specific example around just the interface between agriculture and farming in the environment. For a long time, it even in my own kind of view of that, the way that we would look at that is, if there’s an environmental problem, what kind of government action could we take? Now maybe it’s the state of Nebraska, maybe it’s USDA, maybe it’s EPA, but that’s where it’s gonna start, and for a lot of those issues around environmental issues but also social issues around things like farm workers and how they’re treated, maybe at the current moment, maybe for the last five years, it’s hard to envision like, that there’s gonna be a grand change federal level— Right, right, absolutely. And what we’re seeing instead, is pressure from all the way from consumers that’s coming through the supply chain in the private sector saying, we think that this is important, and so farm workers would be one. Things like potentially labeling foods that contain genetically engineered products. We’re not there yet, although we’re starting to see it, but it’s not mandated by the government. It’s actually because the consumers at the other end of the supply chain are saying, “We want that ‘information.’”

That’s right.

And so, I guess my advice is that we need to think broadly about like, what is innovative and not have it set up at the very beginning as you know, if we solve this problem, I’m gonna win and you’re gonna lose. I think that we’ve used that approach too much, and we should be thinking about, what are ways that you know, for example, farmers benefit, but consumers also benefit, because a lot of times we say no they’re in tension with each other. I don’t know why that has to be. And if it’s a policy or a program, fine. If it’s the private sector mechanisms, fine. I’m pretty ambivalent about which it is, but I think we should be thinking about all of them, much more broadly than we have in the past.

I think it’s so great to point out that thinking about it, so it’s not win lose, but there’s a future of abundance for everyone if we can do this a little differently and have a different mindset moving forward. Oh, I agree completely.

Yes, and that’s very much the way that we again, not only think about it, but that’s how we talk about it, is you know, I bring up scenarios or prompts in class that are, you know, here’s the issue, and it’s been addressed in this win lose way and these five different stages. What’s a potential way to address this that the very first thing is that you do not set up a win lose? And it’s hard. And when you think about like, the entire food system, but it’s not impossible, it’s just taught.

But I think, you know a lot of times in our culture in the US, we’re, it’s like a competitive culture. Yeah. So, it’s like win lose, instead of what’s the overall win for everybody involved, and how do we create a new system to do that? And a new thinking, and a new leadership, future-focused leadership that it’s gonna take to make that happen?


Well thank you, Tim. That was very thoughtful information, but also very actionable.

Thank you.

So, I think I would challenge our listeners out there to really think about ways they can have a mindset shift as well, if they haven’t already. Like, how do we do this a little differently? Yep. How do we do it together? How do we do it together?

Right, because if this is gonna be a sustainable planet for everyone, we’re gonna have to do it that way.

That’s right.


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This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Five!

June 22, 2018
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 …

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.”



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

June 19, 2018
      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 …




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.



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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Four!

June 15, 2018
Black Hills Energy 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 …

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!

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

June 15, 2018
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 …

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.


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

June 12, 2018
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 …

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.”


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

June 8, 2018
  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 …


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.


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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Three!

June 7, 2018
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 …

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.”



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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Two!

June 1, 2018
Black Hills Energy Unlike the other RFI Serviceships taking place throughout the state this summer, my experience with Black Hills Energy has been in progress since the beginning of April. My experience is also unique in that, because Black Hills …

Black Hills Energy

Unlike the other RFI Serviceships taking place throughout the state this summer, my experience with Black Hills Energy has been in progress since the beginning of April. My experience is also unique in that, because Black Hills is a regional natural gas provider, my work deals with the company’s priorities at a statewide and regional level.

I’m fortunate to have started my Serviceship while the Nebraska legislature was still in session because it gave me the opportunity to accompany my lead mentor to the capitol on one of the legislature’s final and busiest days. It was really fascinating to see the lobbying process firsthand, and helped me to understand the importance of educating and working with elected officials on issues that have implications for the utility. Each year there are a number of legislative bills that have the potential to affect the ability of Black Hills’ customers and employees to safely access affordable natural gas.

It means a lot to me to be able to work with a company that encourages its employees to give back to their community and even provides numerous opportunities to do so.



I’ve quickly learned that safety is a non-negotiable for Black Hills. As part of my training, I participated in multiple safety training modules, and I joined employees from throughout the state at the annual Black Hills Safety & Wellness Summit, where we engaged with speakers on a variety of topics, including empowering teams, the bystander effect and health.

Emily joins Black Hills Energy Endowment Scholarship recipients for a tour of Lincoln’s natural gas distribution and odorizing station.

It didn’t take me long to realize how much I took natural gas for granted, and how little I understood about it or the components necessary to ensure the safety of the utility and those who maintain it. Natural gas is a safe, reliable energy source, and produces less carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel. That’s why many people choose natural gas to heat their homes, water, and appliances. Originally, natural gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The pungent rotten egg smell commonly associated with natural gas is actually caused by mercaptan, an organic sulfur compound, which is added to the gas to make even the smallest leaks easy to detect. Though rare, gas leaks can be very dangerous, and it’s important to know how to prevent and respond to a suspected gas leak. That’s why I’m creating a natural gas safety outreach plan, specifically aimed at college students, who are often moving into their own independent housing for the first time.

Another piece of my Serviceship is assisting with the Black Hills’ community giving strategy in Nebraska. Recently, I was able to volunteer alongside other Black Hills employees at a local elementary school, where we provided and served lunches and helped the teachers organize games for their students.


Broken Bow, Neb.

We have both been very busy here in the community of Broken Bow! Both with working on major projects and a few smaller ones here and there. Our first week consisted of meeting a multitude of people and setting up coffee talks with the community. Our plan there is to reach out residents for their opinion on recreational opportunities here in Broken Bow.  We have started working on tourism and getting in contact with potential partners in Sturgis and surrounding areas in South Dakota. Another smaller project has been contacting television stations to get a ‘Through My Eyes’ promotional commercial about Broken Bow out across the state. We have learned a lot about cold calling Nebraska TV stations and getting campaigns put together to run this ad. Two smaller projects we are taking on by ourselves include making Custer County Leadership Certified and a Livestock Friendly County.

The drive that this community has to take on projects and move forward makes me so excited to see what we can accomplish in the next 9 weeks. Broken Bow is one of a kind and the people are really willing to make an effort to make you feel welcome and get you involved.


Both of us are really looking forward to involving ourselves in the local culture by participating in more festivities and celebrations throughout the summer!

Leanne and Jessica discuss the community coffee talks they’re hosting live on the air for 92.3 KBEAR.

Our Serviceship is pretty unique in the fact that we are working with three people directly with completely different projects. This has really given us the opportunity to meet even more people, as well as work with different leadership styles and just learn more about Broken Bow as a whole. We have attended many board meetings including: Custer County Economic Development Corporation, City Council, Custer County Chamber and CAPABLE Youth Development. Being introduced to these groups have given us a great network that we feel comfortable reaching out to when we need things for the handful of projects we are working on.

We have already gotten plenty of ideas as far as places and organizations that we can volunteer for and with. Some that we are looking to include Custer County 4-H, the Red Barn Visitors Center and State of Art and Music Festival. A lot of the community has banded together and offered their help and support with the different projects that we are working on.

One of the coolest things I saw when I first arrived in Broken Bow was the town square surrounded by flourishing businesses. It’s been cool to meet individuals in the community over the past couple of weeks and really get immersed into the culture. This town is truly diverse and moving forward!

We have already enjoyed many things in the community such as going to the movies and eating at several local restaurants. Some of the different events we find unique and different in Broken Bow are Third Thursdays and Thursdays on the Square. Thursdays on the Square resembles a farmers market with food vendors and craft vendors. Third Thursdays are bigger celebrations with live music, bounce houses, food and craft vendors, and delicious food trucks—truly an event for the whole family.



Columbus, Neb.

Columbus: small town; big things. We started the week with back to back meetings and networking. We met many of the communities leaders and were able to learn about our projects for the summer. It was a long day and we were running on fumes, but our hosts, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus Area Future Fund, were able to come together and provide us with a “Get to Know the Newbies” Dinner. It was a welcome meal as we had spent the day adding to the ever growing list of projects. Throughout the dinner we were able to speak with the mayor, the chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, and the president of the Columbus Area Future Fund. We were also dining with a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, as she was in town gathering information for a piece on the growing need for rural housing.

Columbus has proven to be incredibly resourceful in the way they tackle problems. So many key community players have stepped into the boxing ring to fight for a better Columbus.



Clayton and Amber were featured in The Columbus Telegram. Read their article >>>

We have spent the week gathering information on our projects for the summer. We will be working on various events for the Chamber, including Interns’ Night Out, an evening event of all of the interns in the community, Young Nebraskans’ Week Event, a week of personal and professional development for the young people (19-30) of Nebraska that will take place in September, and a marketing event for the Something GOOD brand. We will also be working to create a community calendar so that community members are able to know what is going on in the community. The project with the Columbus Area Future Fund will be a little more challenging, marketing their first major fundraising campaign. It will be a busy summer but we will learn a lot.

As we have traveled through the community we are really impressed with the variety of opportunities. There is everything from the mom and pop shops to the big name brand stops. You really don’t have to go to Lincoln or Omaha for anything, it is all right here.

We asked Kara Asmus, one of our host team members, what her big takeaways from our first week were. She said “I am just really impressed with the two of you. You are both so on top of things. I give you something and boom it’s done.”

We also asked our host lead, K.C. Blitz, the same question and he answered, “Now that we have met and worked with you guys, we are really excited about what we are going to get done this summer.”

And let’s not forget about our own thoughts and impressions. Columbus is new territory for us, and with that comes first impressions. We have also been impressed with the people that we have met. We have met a lot of different people but they have all sung the same tune—there is something good going on here. We have both really enjoyed meeting the key community players that work every day to improve Columbus, and we’ve been impressed by the quantity and quality of these key players in the community as well.



Cozad, Neb.

Shelby assists with the Biz Kids Camp in Cozad, Neb.

In Cozad, we hit the ground running during our first couple of weeks. We’ve attending multiple meetings including, but not limited to, Cozad City Council, Rotary, and the Cozad Development Corporation Citizens Board. We’ve already gotten one project almost wrapped up and are working hard on several small tasks that have been overlooked for too long. The people in Cozad are marvelous—we can’t wait to build more connections in town!

The past two weeks, Shelby assisted with Cozad’s first Biz Kids Camp. There were ten middle school students that had four days of classroom instruction from Janita Pavelka, Entrepreneurship Educator. Shelby shared some of her entrepreneurial experiences with the students as well as helped prepare them to start their businesses. The biz kid students learned from local entrepreneurs and businesspeople, the UNL-Extension EntrepreneurShip Investigation curriculum, which led to everyone starting a new business.  Shelby will help these students launch their businesses at Music Monday in Cozad on June 4th.

Living in rural areas, we often get so caught up in the day-to-day we forget how incredible our small towns are – sometimes it takes an outsider to pull us back and admire what makes us so great.



All communities have difficulties viewing their surrounding as others—customers, visitors, potential residents, and potential businesses—see them. Our views are skewed by over-familiarization, a lack of differing perspectives, expectations, and a reluctance to be completely honest with our neighbors when dealing with difficult issues, such as the appearance of buildings, customer service, and the maintenance of public facilities.

Christy helps the Cozad Development Corporation build a stage for their new Music Monday events.

“First Impressions” is a program developed by K-State Research and Extension through the Community Vitality program. The focus of the program is to help communities learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of visitor. The results from a “First Impressions” visit can serve as the basis for community action and as a way to document changes in a community over time. Cozad has partnered up with Ogallala in a First Impressions Program. A team from each community visited the other town looking at buildings, infrastructure, businesses, local government, friendliness, customer service, houses, etc. through the eyes of a visitor. Christy is now compiling the comments and evaluations into a report for both towns. The information will be presented to the communities in the coming weeks.

The Cozad Development Corporation, in cooperation with Wilson Library, is hosting Music Mondays every week in June in a downtown block of Cozad. Different live bands will be performing each week, and food trucks and drinks will be available. Every concert is free admission to the public. In preparation for this event, we built a backdrop for the flatbed trailer being used for the stage. We also worked with Paulsen, Inc. to create fencing for the area. We are excited to see how the first concert turns out next week!



Omaha Land Bank

The first two weeks in Omaha, Neb., at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank have been nothing short of amazing. Between being welcomed in the office to going to the house sites and exploring the city we have been able to really feel like a part of the OMLB team.

The work team at the Omaha Land Bank has a chemistry that makes you feel like you aren’t really even at work. It’s fun and rewarding. I can’t wait to see what the next 8 weeks has in store for us.



Sydney and Kyle stand outside their office for the Omaha Municipal Land Bank.

As a group, Sydney and Kyle went on a trip to a home the Land Bank has acquired. With Kurt, Dave, and Laura we were shown the types of property that OMLB takes on and looks for individuals to redevelop. At this property, securing the house and cleaning up the lawn were big priorities. The home had sat vacant for 12 years and will in the next few months be purchased for redevelopment (which needs to happen within nine months) thanks in large part to OMLB having the ability to waive leans and other blockades to developers having interest.

Additionally, Sydney and Kyle went to a transformed property for a final walk through. The home was one of the first to be bought by the bank and subsequently redeveloped. Having seen before and after photos, the property was unrecognizable. The developers redid the floors, landscaping, and cleared out 28 years of junk and waste that had accumulated over time. The property had been in a state of disrepair that was uninhabitable and now has been leased to a new family. It has begun to spur redevelopment in the neighborhood and the adjacent home has begun renovations with smaller projects occurring along the block.

Sydney has been working on the Social Media posts for the 2018 year for OMLB. She has put together many posts on segments like #DidYouKnow about the Omaha Land Bank. She has also got to do a #GetToKnowTheStaff and learn interesting/fun facts about each of the team members. Kyle and I are going to one of our coworkers rock band shows (he’s the drummer) on June 28 because of the #GetToKnowTheStaff project (we’re VERY excited for this). Along with the posts she has had the privilege to find pictures to go along with the posts. Sydney is also currently working on writing a blog post about the RFI interns at the Omaha Land Bank. Sydney’s focus this summer with mostly be in the communications department. She is working along side Laura Heilman.

Coming from a science background, I never knew how much fun the business/marketing world really was (or how much work actually went into it).



Kyle has been working in the acquisition team with Dave Schreiner, Stephen, and Juan Mancinas-Rangel, the administrative assistant. He has been familiarizing himself with the platforms used by the OMLB (eProperty etc) and has assisted in the legal process of the Land Bank taking on 510 new properties. His duties have ranged from helping make legal documents for publication and the documents we send to individuals whose property we are in the process of acquiring. There has been a steep learning curve in the first week for us to get into the stride of the office culture and flow.



Norfolk, Neb.

Cheyenne and Samantha are excited to be in Norfolk, Neb., for the summer!

Cheyenne Gerlach and Samantha Guenther are in Norfolk for their RFI serviceship. 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.

For our day to day tasks during the past two weeks, something that we have started doing every Tuesday is creating a set of objectives and goals for the week. This means that we created the first set of goals our second day on the ground in Norfolk. These goals are hung in our office and in our homes so that both of us go to bed and wake up thinking about what we all need to get done by Tuesday. This has been a great experience and has really impressed the people that we are working with. We have wasted no time “acclimating” to Norfolk or planning our work. We’ve jumped in feet first, and it has really helped us in the long run.

After my first two weeks in Norfolk it’s easy to see that the success of the community is the success of the people in community. Good things don’t happen in rural places without good people doing good things.



We’ve spent this week video interviewing close to 30 Daycos stakeholders. This includes about 15 employees, 7 community members, 5 company leaders, and 3 customers. We’re interviewing these individuals on the impact that Daycos has on the Norfolk community. These stories and inspirations leave many interviewees in tears when reflecting on everything that Daycos has done for themselves and for their community. We both wonder how we ended up in a private company that has such a tremendous, world shaking impact on such a large rural community.

Overall during our first two weeks in Norfolk, we have made connections with various community leaders. We have met with many key stakeholders in all industries: public schools, non-profits, government entities, and private partners. Everyone has been very welcoming and excited to have us in town. We are very excited to be working with and in the Norfolk community.

In my future, I want to work in rural community development and RFI has given me an amazing opportunity to gain experience and skills that will directly benefit that.





Red Cloud, Neb.

We are working in Red Cloud with the main project of developing an economic development plan for the community and passing LB840. LB840 is a legislative act that allows cities and villages to collect sales tax revenue for economic development in a variety of forms. Our other tasks include helping facilitate events, working with the heritage tourism project, and nuisance property maintenance.

We both arrived on Sunday night and began working in the office on Monday morning. Our office is located in The National Willa Cather Center. We spent the first day meeting the staff of the Cather Center, toured the office facilities, and toured the historical properties owned by the Center which included the Cather family’s original home and other notable sites. The Heritage Tourism Advisory board met that day as well which we were able to sit in. The Heritage Tourism project is a local/regional rural tourism focus based on history and culture of the region.

Although we have barely scratched the surface of our project here in Red Cloud, I can already feel the work Trenton and I are doing impact the community in a positive way. We are continuing to grow and learn from the people in this community, and by the time we are done this summer I know we will have gained an amazing and unique perspective that will carry us even further in our careers and life.


On Tuesday we discussed the goals and outcomes of LB840 as well as the processes to get there. Our first step is to develop an economic development plan and form the legal wording which would be used by the city. Then, we would need to engage with the public by holding meetings to inform them of the measure which will eventually be on a ballot. Those are the two steps we hope to achieve this summer. Then, later, the measure will be put to a vote and a board is formed to dictate what the funds will be used for.

Later that day we took the “country tour” of the Cather sites which includes many of the places referenced in Willa Cather’s books (particularly My Antonia and O Pioneers!). This tour spanned most of central Webster County.

Our next meeting took place on Wednesday with the Economic Development Advisory Board in the city’s new Community Center. In that meeting we went over LB840. In the afternoon we toured the town’s newest project, the Garber Hotel. This project has been in the works for a couple of years and is now in the beginning stages of coming to fruition. The Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund is spearheading this project which seeks to renovate an old storefront into a 30-hotel named after the town’s founder and former state governor, Silas Garber.

Trevor and Trenton volunteer at the Starke Round Barn for a Red Cloud Alumni brunch.

Thursday, we had another meeting with the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) board. BRAN is a bike ride that has about 300 riders. The town is hosting many activities for when the bikers come and stay in town on Wednesday,f June 6th. Later, we toured the Starke Round Barn. This barn, built in the early 20th century is the world’s largest round barn that was used for agricultural purposes. It is owned and maintained mostly by one person. Finally, we went through the Webster County Historical Museum.

We were visited by Marty Barnhart from the Omaha Landbank on Friday who discussed the model that they use in Omaha to deal with housing. Red Cloud also has a housing issue and many local citizens showed up for his presentation. The Valley Child Development Center (TVCDC) gave us a tour in the afternoon. This was the latest success for the city which fundraised a significant amount of money to open the center earlier this year. Late in the afternoon we helped a group of volunteers place honorary civil war plaques on the graves of veterans in the Red Cloud cemetery. In the evening we attended the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund’s annual banquet in the town’s Opera House.

Tuesday and Wednesday we spent scraping paint off of a city-owned house. This was part of a community-wide cleanup event. Wednesday afternoon we interviewed the town grocery store’s owner. He recently purchased the store and moved back to Red Cloud this year. We were also given a tour of the town’s utilities by the city superintendent. Not only did we get to see the city’s four diesel electricity generators, but we even got to peer into a manhole built in the 1920s.

Trenton and Trevor attended the Cather Conference in the Red Cloud Opera House.

Thursday began the 63rd annual Willa Cather conference which we will be helping with/attending until Saturday evening when it concludes.

As a whole, most of the week was spent getting introduced to the town’s assets and stakeholders. For our task, this is a very important step because these people live and breath the problems of the community that we were sent here to help solve. We can already tell that the city has a lot going for it. There are many well organized groups who are trying to improve the town in many ways from tourism to athletics to housing. In the coming weeks we will be seeing a lot of these people and some new faces as we try to pin down the problem(s) that we want to help solve. We can already see a lot of the big issues. But, it is also a matter of understanding the limit of our influence both in direction for the town and financially.

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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 28 A Personal Decision For Rural With Garry Clark

June 1, 2018
  Jun. 1, 2018 Joining us for this week’s episode of Catch Up With Chuck is Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council in Fremont, Neb. to discuss rural-urban collaboration, community investment and rural development in Nebraska and …


Jun. 1, 2018

Joining us for this week’s episode of Catch Up With Chuck is Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council in Fremont, Neb. to discuss rural-urban collaboration, community investment and rural development in Nebraska and beyond. Clark shares his personal journey and appreciation for rural America and, specifically, Nebraska.

“I believe that rural life saved my life.”

-Garry Clark


Clark has a background in economic development and community leadership throughout both rural and urban parts of the state. As a University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate, he has chosen to live in and work on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska. Prior to his work in Nebraska, he started out as a city planner and economic development specialist in Florida and in Washington, D.C.

As a genuine “activator,” Clark helped the Rural Futures Institute start the Connecting Young Nebraskans program, a statewide network of more than 800 members designed to connect, empower and retain young leaders in the rural areas of the state.

The Rural Futures Institute believes that our complex future requires mutual respect and collaboration between rural and urban regions and communities. Clark believes that open communication between urban and rural is key to developing thriving communities across the nation, adding, “In order for urban America to thrive, they need rural America thrive. And the same is true on the opposite side. Rural America needs urban America.”


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.


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RFI Fellows Panel Discusses Rural Health Care in Livestream

May 29, 2018
 Four fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska joined the Rural Impact Hub for a panel titled, “Healthy Rural America: A panel with rural health care experts,” on Thurs., May 10, in Auburn, Neb. …

Four fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska joined the Rural Impact Hub for a panel titled, “Healthy Rural America: A panel with rural health care experts,” on Thurs., May 10, in Auburn, Neb.

The fellows, who highlighted areas of growth and opportunity within the healthcare industry, included:

Kyle Ryan, Ph.D.

Professor of Kinesiology
Peru State College



Gregory M. Karst, Ph.D., P.T.

Executive Associate Dean
College of Allied Health Professions | UNMC


Athena Ramos, Ph.D.

Community Health Program Manager
College of Public Health | UNMC



Marty Fattig

Chief Executive Officer
Nemaha County Hospital


With a wide array of backgrounds all connected by rural health care, the panelists discussed the largest opportunities for growth in rural community healthcare and ways communities can benefit from enhanced access to healthcare and community health resources. They then took questions from participants centered around rural health.

Learn more about RFI Fellows »

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This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week One!

May 25, 2018
Starting May 21, 2018, 11 communities throughout Nebraska welcomed 24 students from University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Peru State College to work on strategic, future-focused projects, serve and live. Throughout the …

RFI Serviceship Group Photo. May 18, 2018. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

Starting May 21, 2018, 11 communities throughout Nebraska welcomed 24 students from University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Peru State College to work on strategic, future-focused projects, serve and live. Throughout the summer, the serviceship teams will share reflections and updates on their projects biweekly through RFI’s “This Week In Serviceship!” coverage.


2018 Serviceship!


Alliance, Neb.

The concept of our project is to create a Marketing Hometown America video to attract new residents to Box Butte County. We are also creating social media hashtags and providing input on websites that are involved with Box Butte County. We have yet to determine how long the video will be, but as of right now we have brainstormed multiple hashtags for Alliance and have gotten a good idea of who we want to interview in Alliance and Hemingford for the video. We have also looked through the websites and provided suggestions to improve them.

We have had a very busy first week. On Monday, we toured Alliance to get an idea of where everything was and met the people who work in our office. On Tuesday, we toured Hemingford, met many business owners and had a meeting. On Wednesday, we worked on hashtags and video ideas, had a meeting at the Knights Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance and then had an afternoon meeting in our office. We took pictures of the meetings.

Executive Director of the Alliance Chamber Susan Unzicker said, “Mirissa and Haley have given us in the office a new view of the community through our websites and other outside activities.”

Haley and Mirissa pose with Joni Jespersen of Hemingford, Neb., who is part of their host team during their Serviceship in Alliance.

On Thursday, we had a meeting at First National Bank with the branch president and the president of First National Bank from Omaha, Clark Lauritzen. Then, we went to Chadron and had a meeting with the Western Nebraska Development Network. We also discussed the Alliance and Hemingford websites with our lead mentor Chelsie Herian. On Friday, we sat in on a talk with the Alliance Times-Herald and also visited with a storyteller about our project.

Some cool people we have met while we have been here are: Joni Jespersen, Brenda McDonald, Chas Lierk, Ellen Lierk, Chelsie Herian, Susan Unzicker, Nita Peterson, and Jenny Nixon. Joni is with the village of Hemingford and has attended meetings with us. Brenda works with the Panhandle Prevention Coalition. Chas and Ellen are our host family for the first two weeks we are in Alliance. Chelsie is our lead mentor. Susan and Nita both work in our office and Jenny is with Nebraska Extension. They are all very helpful and will be wonderful to work with while doing this project.

A key takeaway we have realized is that we balance each other out really well. Haley is more go with the flow and Mirissa is high strung but we both think a lot alike when it comes to ideas and contributions to the project. We think we are going to be successful!

This experience has made me realize how important leadership is in rural communities, and I hope that Haley and I can represent Box Butte County in the best way possible so people see what a great place it is to live and work.
Mirissa Scholting
Serviceship Intern, Alliance, Neb.

McCook, Neb.

Day one of week one was spent meeting community members and getting a tour of downtown McCook from our project supervisors Carol Schlegel and Ben Dutton. Walking the brick streets that pave the way for the many successful local shops was definitely a highlight to our first day! We will primarily report to Carol, McCook’s Tourism Director, since our primary project is creating an action plan for organizing and remodeling the High Plains Museum. After touring the museum, we both agreed that we have more work to do than we expected. However, we are tackling the challenge ahead with fixed determination and high energy.

Through the Rural Futures Institute Serviceship, I have realized that the ideas and work Emily and I bring to the table have actual value in helping make real, positive change in a rural community. The collaboration between community and service is what makes this project so fun and diverse.


There will have differing opinions to work with as we move forward, which means what we learned during our serviceship training about leadership, personality types and strengths will definitely be useful. We look forward to working In collaboration with the museum board to decide on the direction the museum wants to go and who the target audience is in order to move forward.

Emily and Sage visited Carhenge at the Knights Museum in Alliance, Neb., while looking for ideas to improve the High Plains Museum in McCook.

To get a few ideas moving forward, we traveled to the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering, as well as the Knights Museum in Alliance where we also stopped at the famous Carhenge! These were two very high quality museums, and we were able to pull several new and innovative ideas to potentially apply to the High Plains museum. We invested in flip charts to gather our thoughts after our day of asking questions and note taking at other museums. Since then, we have been photographing items in the museum and, as Carol requested, putting together an inventory of the museum’s assets.

After walking through other museums and brainstorming ideas for the High Plains Museum, we have realized how much potential there really is for the local space. The High Plains Museum could become an important landmark to McCook–one that people will travel from miles around to see and can’t leave town without visiting. Beyond creating a main attraction for tourists, our goal is to make the museum a place that locals keep coming back to through seasonal displays and events. The supportive community of McCook has us excited and hopeful as we proceed with these thoughts in mind!

The Rural Futures Institute Serviceship has taught me that Nebraskans have a shared pride for the rural communities they get to call home.
Emily Frenzen
Serviceship Intern, McCook, Neb.

McCook THETA Camps

We have had an amazing first few days here in McCook. As a trio, THETA is continuing to build upon the foundation laid last summer. We have instantly been thrown into action here in the small community of McCook where we have been making several connections as well as increasing the numbers for our camp attendance this summer.

I’ve felt very welcomed by the community of McCook and in the first week I’ve already seen a large variety of special things that makes McCook stand out from the pack.



Our first full day in town, Monday, we started off by stopping by the hospital to visit with Sarah Wolford and let her know that we made it and are ready to get to work. We also visited the local YMCA, the new facility for the THETA camp, to continue to build relationships and look over the utilities and room we will have access to this year. We believe that the YMCA will be a great location for us to have another successful camp this year as we have plenty of space and resources at our fingertips.

The THETA trio talked with Rich Barnett of High Plains Radio about RFI and their camps live on the air.

Continuing on to Tuesday, we were notified in the morning that we were to be at the local radio station, High Plains Radio, in 45 minutes to promote the Rural Futures Institute and our THETA camp live on the air. We had a great time at the radio station where we were able to visit with a few locals as well as the radio host, Rich Barnett. We also connected face-to-face with Rhonda Graft who will give us additional volunteer opportunities that we will be participating in this summer. Bike Across Nebraska will be stopping in McCook in early June, giving us a chance to help out the community since an influx of people will be stopping in McCook. This opportunity is great for us and the businesses in McCook.

We proceeded to stay busy on Wednesday as we visited the hospital again for orientation and to continue meeting more of the locals of McCook. It was a great experience to see this hospital and how the staff all works together in order to accomplish a shared goal–quality patient care. Tyan and Collin visited the physical therapist they shadowed last year and will be shadowing again this year, and Brad connected through a phone call with the clinic whose doctors he will shadow.

It has been great to see all the old faces and reconnect with past connections. I’m looking forward to another great summer.
Tyan Boyer
Serviceship Intern, McCook THETA Camps

Neligh, Neb.

We are conducting a market analyses, or regional mapping report, on both Neligh, Neb., and the greater Northeast Nebraska region. The mapping report will highlight demographics, SWOT assessments, current and future economic trends, infrastructure reports, geography, and identify technologies for integration into Neligh’s “Responsive City” movement. This report will be used to shape the projects within Neligh’s strategic planning process.

Rhiannon and Michayla sat in on the Nebraska Main Street conference in Beatrice, Neb.

On Monday we went on a walking tour of the downtown business district where we met countless active members of boards and business owners. That evening we sat in on a meeting with Nebraska Community Foundation and the Neligh Community Foundation. The next project for Neligh is renovating the old movie theater in town to get it functional again.

Michayla volunteering at the Thriftway Market Burger Bash.

On Wednesday, we had the cool opportunity to travel to Beatrice for a Nebraska Main Street conference. There we heard from economic developers, both private and public, about projects that are going on around the state and learned of funding opportunities for projects. While we were there a discussion occurred where the question was posed, “How do we get young people to come back to rural Nebraska?” It was interesting to see how different generations viewed that challenge differently and had vastly different solutions that could work. On Thursday we worked in the office as well as attended a City Council informational meeting about the nursing home in Neligh. There recently has been some controversy around management so the city is considering leasing the building. On Friday we served burgers at the Thriftway Market Burger Bash.

This week, we both had some key takeaways. Rhiannon learned how nice people are in small towns, that assumptions are detrimental to development and that leadership and knowledge go beyond positions. Michayla learned that misconceptions exist across all divides, that good ideas can come from anyone regardless of title and how often and easy it is to “cut and paste” solutions in economic development.


Seward, Neb.

We are working with the Seward County Chamber & Development Partnership (SCCDP) under the mentorship of Jonathan Jank. Our primary project is to develop a sustainable Seward County Newcomers program that will engage new permanent residents and many visitors to Seward County each year. We are also teaming up with local businesses to determine how to attract new customers and to take a fresh look at Seward County to determine what first impressions newcomers have of local communities.

We have specifically started to narrow down our goals for the summer. We will be trying to reach out to newcomers and get more information on how we can make Seward County “sticky.” Some of the questions we will ask members of the community include: “What attracted you to move to Seward?” and “How was your experience moving into Seward? What went great? What could have been better?” We will also try to reach out to leaders of surrounding communities such as Milford, Utica, Bee and Cordova. We also know that the lack of housing has been a problem in Seward County. We are trying to find out the necessary information that can help retain newcomers to staying in Seward County in the long term. Conducting surveys or simply setting up meetings with new families and people to the community may solve this.


Maddie poses outside of the Nebraska National Guard Museum in Seward.

This week, we met with the local Kiwanis Club, who are a generous child advocacy group consisting of about 50 members. We were invited to join them for lunch on Monday and were introduced to the club’s president Jerry Meyer. Jerry, who is also curator of the Nebraska National Guard Museum, was generous enough to give us a personal tour of the museum and talked with us for an hour about the community. We then participated in the Seward County Chamber & Development Program board meeting, sharing insight into the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goals that Seward County will need to be setting for community and economic development.

On Tuesday, we prepared a press release, and then we sat down for a long goal setting conversation with our mentor Jonathan. We also met with Sarah Skinner, who works for Senator Deb Fischer, and she informed us of the work Senator Fischer is doing in rural America. We then made phone calls to influential community members to set up a time to meet with–this meeting would entail information gathering, for us to get better clarity as to what Seward County needs to stay “sticky.”


On Wednesday, we met with Mallory Gibreal. She is the Director of Community Relations at Memorial Health Care Systems. She recently moved to Seward with her husband this past February. We met with her to get more information about what attracted her to Seward, what was good about her moving experience and what could have been better. She gave us very useful information to help us start to find more newcomers and how to retain newcomers in Seward County.

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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 27 Rural Opportunities for the Creative Class with Jeanne Wiemer

May 25, 2018
  May 25, 2018 Joining us for this week’s episode of Catch Up With Chuck is Jeanne Wiemer, owner of Red Path Gallery & Tasting Room in Seward, Neb., to discuss attracting artists and creatives to rural communities through leadership, passion …


May 25, 2018

Joining us for this week’s episode of Catch Up With Chuck is Jeanne Wiemer, owner of Red Path Gallery & Tasting Room in Seward, Neb., to discuss attracting artists and creatives to rural communities through leadership, passion and entrepreneurship.

Red Path Gallery & Tasting Room, located in a renovated historic building on the Historic Downtown Square of Seward, exhibits creative work of Nebraska artists. Red Path’s intention is to cultivate creativity, keep the arts alive and enhance the culture of their rural community.

“Passion will get you where you need to go, but hard work in Nebraska is what we do too.”

-Jeanne Wiemer


A few weeks ago, Chuck was joined by University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Architecture lecturer Stacy Spale and one of her students to discuss their studio projects which were focused on using design to attract the creative class in the rural areas of Nebraska and beyond. Red Path Gallery & Tasting Room is a great example of how to make this happen, as Wiemer is a community leader taking strides to attract and retain the creative class in Seward.

Seward is also one of the 11 rural communities hosting RFI Serviceship students this summer. The interns in Seward County will be developing a welcoming and engagement program for new permanent residents and temporary visitors.


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.


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RELEASE: Nebraska Communities Welcome NU Students For Strategic Projects, Service Learning

May 21, 2018
May 21, 2018 — Today 11 Nebraska communities are welcoming 24 students from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha as well as Peru State College to live, work and serve for …

Rural Futures Institute Student Serviceship interns group photo

May 21, 2018 — Today 11 Nebraska communities are welcoming 24 students from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha as well as Peru State College to live, work and serve for 10 weeks this summer.

Communities include: Alliance, Neb., Broken Bow, Neb., Columbus, Neb., Cozad, Neb., McCook, Neb., Neligh, Neb., Norfolk, Neb., Red Cloud, Neb., and Seward, Neb., as well as communities of practice through Black Hills Energy and Omaha Land Bank Authority.

Organized through the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, RFI Student Serviceship connects current and future leaders and mentors in acts of service and strategic, future-focused projects that work toward a thriving rural future.

“We are proud to match the talents, perspectives and expertise of high-achieving students with the experience, dedication and knowledge of community leaders through this program,” said RFI Executive Director Chuck Schroeder. “Bringing students together with communities, and for several projects with researchers as well, is where we believe innovation can truly happen.

This program is possible thanks to the time and energy invested by the community host team members—thank you to all of our colleagues throughout the state for making this a rich and rewarding experience.”

The students participating in this year’s experience come from hometowns large and small — from Crofton, Neb., town of approximately 800, to Chennai, India, population 7 million. Students’ areas of study include agribusiness, disease and human health, exercise science, hospitality, political science, public administration and more. They also range from freshmen to graduate students, and each student pair was created to intentionally connect complementary skill sets and varying backgrounds and experiences.

In terms of communities and projects, students will problem-solve and create opportunities within the areas of housing, community recruitment, community planning, welcoming, economic development and more. They will participate and lead projects that will include strategic planning, event planning, assessment creation and analysis, visioning and marketing.

This year marks an important milestone in the growth of the program by more than doubling the total number of student and community participants. The reach beyond rural localities to communities of practice through partnership with the Omaha Land Bank Authority and Black Hills Energy is also new this year. Both of these partners aim to serve the entire state of Nebraska through their work this summer.

“I have interned in Washington, D.C., the past two summers, and I wanted to be in the field working with the people I am supporting in D.C.,” said Rhiannon Cobb, Omaha, Neb., native and sophomore political science and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “RFI provides such an amazing opportunity to not only work in making Nebraska a better state, but allows the development of rural Nebraska.

“Rural communities are the backbone of the U.S., specifically when looking at the economy. It is important to not only work towards supporting the economic development of rural communities but to work with them to gain the knowledge and equipment we need to have the most economic success and productivity possible.”

Community project details and student bios are available at

Host Communities, Lead Mentors & Students

Alliance, Neb.
Lead Mentor: Chelsie Herian, Executive Director, Box Butte Development Corporation

Haley Ehrke
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agribusiness
Hometown: Orleans, Neb.

Mirissa Scholting
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural Education
Hometown: Louisville, Neb.

Black Hills Energy
Lead Mentor: Melissa Garcia, Program Manager, Black Hills Energy; RFI Community Innovation Fellow

Emily Coffey
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Political Science
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.

Broken Bow
Lead Mentor: Andrew Ambriz, Executive Director, Custer County’s Economic Development Corporation

Leanne Gamet
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Communication
Hometown: Paxton, Neb.

Jessica Weeder
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agribusiness
Hometown: Albion, Neb.

Lead Mentor: K.C. Belitz, President, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce

Clayton Keller
University of Nebraska at Omaha, Public Administration
Hometown: Millersport, Ohio

Amber Ross
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agribusiness
Hometown: Callaway, Neb.

Lead Mentor: Jennifer McKeone, Executive Director, Cozad Development Corporation

Christy Cooper
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural Education
Hometown: Waverly, Neb.

Shelby Utech
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural Economics
Hometown: Hubbard, Neb.

McCook (2 project teams)
Lead Mentor: Nate Bickford, Associate Professor of Biology, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Tyan Boyer
University of Nebraska at Kearney, Exercise Science
Hometown: Plainview, Neb.

Collin Fleecs
University of Nebraska at Kearney, Exercise Science
Hometown: Sutherland, Neb.

Bradley Schoch
University of Nebraska at Kearney, Exercise Science
Hometown: Marquette, Neb.

Lead Mentor: Carol Schlegel, Director, McCook / Red Willow County Tourism

Emily Frenzen
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Communication
Hometown: Fullerton, Neb.

Sage Williams
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural Education
Hometown: Eddyville, Neb.

Lead Mentor: Gabriel Steinmeyer, Director of Economic Development, City of Neligh

Michayla Goedeken
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Integrated Sciences
Hometown: Humphrey, Neb.

Rhiannon Cobb
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Political Science & Global Studies
Hometown: Omaha, Neb.

Lead Mentor: Tammy Day, co-owner, Daycos, Inc.

Cheyenne Gerlach
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Integrated Sciences
Hometown: DeWitt, Neb.

Samantha Guenther
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Agricultural Education
Hometown: Crofton, Neb.

Omaha Land Bank Authority
Lead Mentor: Marty Barnhart, Executive Director, Omaha Municipal Land Bank

Sydney Armbruster
Peru State College, Disease & Human Health
Hometown: Falls City, Neb.

Kyle McGlade
University of Nebraska at Omaha, Public Administration
Hometown: Council Bluffs, Iowa

Red Cloud, Neb.
Lead Mentor: Jarrod McCartney, Heritage Tourism Development Director

Trenton Buhr
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Political Science, Psychology & Classics
Hometown: Cortland, Neb.

Trevor Harlow
University of Nebraska at Omaha, Political Science & Environmental Studies
Hometown: Waterloo, Neb.

Lead Mentor: Jonathan Jank, President & CEO, Seward County Chamber & Development Partnership

Raghav Kidambi
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Human Resource Management
Hometown: Chennai, India

Maddie Miller
University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Hospitality, Restaurant & Tourism Management
Hometown: Waverly, Neb.


About the Rural Futures Institute
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 26 RFI Serviceship Builds Communities and Future Leaders with UNL, UNK Students

May 18, 2018
  May 18, 2018 Chuck sat down with Tyan Boyer and Raghav Kidambi, two 2018 RFI Student Serviceship interns who will be living, working and serving in rural Nebraska communities this summer. Tyan, from Plainview, Neb., is studying exercise science …


May 18, 2018

Chuck sat down with Tyan Boyer and Raghav Kidambi, two 2018 RFI Student Serviceship interns who will be living, working and serving in rural Nebraska communities this summer.

Tyan, from Plainview, Neb., is studying exercise science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He will be part of the first serviceship team to return to a community for a second year to further their project as his serviceship team continues youth day camps focused on health and wellness in McCook, Neb.

“If we start to formulate these families and start to shape them with this futuristic mindset of how important health is … we can really start to change family by family, community by community and eventually grow this across the state.”

-Tyan Boyer


Raghav, a human resource management student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, will spend 10 weeks in Seward, Neb., where he will be developing a welcoming and engagement program for new permanent residents and temporary visitors. Coming from Chennai, India, an urban city with a population of 4.647 million, he chose to pursue RFI’s Student Serviceship experience in rural Nebraska to experience a new culture and expand his worldview.

“I want to be that catalyst that can make things happen.”

-Raghav Kidambi


In total, 24 students from the University of Nebraska and Peru State College will be serving 11 rural Nebraska communities this summer. Get student bios and project details at


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.


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NU Interior Design Students Create Projects To Attract Creative Class Throughout Rural Nebraska

May 10, 2018
UNL Architecture students focused their studio projects on rural communities across Nebraska, including: Plattsmouth, Ord, Valentine, Cozad, Memphis, Firth, Brownville, Hickman, Filley, Stapleton, Ogallala, Holdrege, Franklin, Kimball, Brule, Gibbon, Pender and Johnson Lake. Chuck Schroeder, Founding Executive Director of the …

UNL Architecture students focused their studio projects on rural communities across Nebraska, including: Plattsmouth, Ord, Valentine, Cozad, Memphis, Firth, Brownville, Hickman, Filley, Stapleton, Ogallala, Holdrege, Franklin, Kimball, Brule, Gibbon, Pender and Johnson Lake.

Chuck Schroeder, Founding Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI), helped 26 College of Architecture students at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with their spring 2018 studio projects aimed at rural places.

Each student developed an interior design proposal focused on investing in a rural community and using interior design to attract the creative class in the rural areas of Nebraska and beyond. The students, led by Interior Design Lecturer Stacy Spale, examined rural Nebraska communities and typologies, as well as underutilized spaces across the state.

With Chuck’s help, the students researched opportunities for interior design in rural communities across Nebraska. The students were then challenged to investigate the creative class and discover what relationships and opportunities between this demographic and rural areas. Through problem-based exploration, students positioned the interior built environment with informed inquiry and answered the question of how designers can reactivate abandoned, rural space typologies to either generate or attract the creative class. Several of their projects are featured below.


The Ogallala Collective

Amanda VanBuren | Ogallala, Neb.

Studio 446

Madeline Payne | Plattsmouth, Neb.

District 160

Taylor Johnson | Firth, Neb.

The Beyond

Megan Jespersen | Memphis, Neb.

Kreativ Hub

Mackenzie Klein | Cozad, Neb.

Experiential Ed

Megan Warbalow | I-80, Neb.

Creator’s Campus

Savannah Scoville | Pender, Neb.

“As we prepare our students to become 21st century leaders who can solve complex problems between people and space, we decided to take a different teaching approach.”

-Stacy Spale


Spale and Mackenzie Klein, one of the students involved with studio, joined Chuck for an episode of Catch Up With Chuck to discuss the opportunities for design to invest in a community, attract specific demographics and revitalize rural areas.

If you would like to see your community’s project and it is not featured, please contact

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NEWS RELEASE: Fellows Elected to Great Plains Board of Governors

May 8, 2018
LINCOLN, Neb. — May 8, 2018 — Two fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska have been elected as members of the Board of Governors for The Center for Great Plains Studies. The fellows, who will serve …

LINCOLN, Neb. — May 8, 2018 — Two fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska have been elected as members of the Board of Governors for The Center for Great Plains Studies.

The fellows, who will serve three-year terms beginning Sept. 2018, include:

Bree Dority, Ph.D.

Associate Dean, College of Business
University of Nebraska at Kearney


Kim Wilson

Professor, Landscape Architecture
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

The Board of Governors provides advice to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Director of the Center for the operation, program priorities, and budgetary matters of the Center for Great Plains Studies. The Board represents all four University of Nebraska campuses, covers a wide range of academic disciplines, and has four standing committees: Academic, Administrative, Nominating and Museum and Outreach.

Dority and Wilson will be joining RFI Faculty Fellow Jessica Shoemaker, J.D., who has been on the Board of Governors since 2016.



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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 25 Attracting the Rural Creative Class with UNL Interior Design Students and Faculty

May 4, 2018
  May 4, 2018 In this episode of Catch Up With Chuck, Stacy Spale, lecturer of interior design in the College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and one of her students, Kenzie Klein, join Chuck to discuss a …


May 4, 2018

In this episode of Catch Up With Chuck, Stacy Spale, lecturer of interior design in the College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and one of her students, Kenzie Klein, join Chuck to discuss a fascinating interior design project aimed at rural places.

Chuck helped Spale’s class with their studio projects which were focused on investing in a rural community and using design to attract the creative class in the rural areas of Nebraska and beyond. Her students examined rural Nebraska communities and created projects to develop underutilized spaces to promote creativity.

“I didn’t want the students relying on stereotypes or what they think they know about rural Nebraska, so we wanted them to create an informed point of view with their research groups.”

-Stacy Spale


RFI believes diverse and inclusive leadership is needed to propel communities forward, and this course was a great example of that. Spale’s class was made up of 26 diverse students from both urban and rural communities in Nebraska and beyond. Klein, a rural Nebraska native from Cozad, noted that the diversity of the students in the course brought a range of backgrounds, viewpoints and approaches to the project.

“I’d love to incorporate, after this project, that rural development side of interior design. It’s really sparked a lot of my interest.”

-Kenzie Klein


The Rural Future Institute’s goal is to achieve a “Thriving High-Touch, High-Tech Future for Nebraska and the Great Plains by 2040.” This goal requires creative thinking around the unique assets of a community and encouraging future-focused leaders to have the courage to act on their ideas. Spale’s class and their rural opportunities projects are great examples of using creativity to solve rural challenges in Nebraska and beyond.


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.


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NEWS RELEASE: Rural Impact Hub to Host RFI Fellows Panel 5/10 in Auburn, Online

May 3, 2018
LINCOLN, Neb. — May 3, 2018 — Four fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska will join the Rural Impact Hub for a panel titled, “Healthy Rural America: A panel with rural healthcare experts,” on …

LINCOLN, Neb. — May 3, 2018 — Four fellows from the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska will join the Rural Impact Hub for a panel titled, “Healthy Rural America: A panel with rural healthcare experts,” on Thurs., May 10, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (CST) at the Rural Impact Hub at 919 Central Avenue in Auburn, Neb. This event is free to the public thanks to the Rural Impact Hub partners. Live streaming of the event will be available. RSVP is encouraged on Facebook or Eventbrite.

The fellows, who will highlight areas of growth and opportunity within the healthcare industry, include:

Marty Fattig

Chief Executive Officer
Nemaha County Hospital



Gregory M. Karst, Ph.D., P.T.

Executive Associate Dean
College of Allied Health Professions | UNMC


Athena Ramos, Ph.D.

Community Health Program Manager
College of Public Health | UNMC



Kyle Ryan, Ph.D.

Professor of Kinesiology
Peru State College


Panelists will discuss the largest opportunities for growth in rural community healthcare and ways communities can benefit from enhanced access to healthcare and community health resources. They will also take questions from participants centered around rural health.


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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 24 Entrepreneurial Opportunity-Building for Rural Nebraskans with Bill Udell

April 27, 2018
  Apr. 27, 2018 In this episode, Chuck is joined by Bill Udell of Don’t Panic Labs, a software engineering and corporate innovation company based in Nebraska that focuses on solving problems — accelerating businesses and working through challenges. Born and …


Apr. 27, 2018

In this episode, Chuck is joined by Bill Udell of Don’t Panic Labs, a software engineering and corporate innovation company based in Nebraska that focuses on solving problems — accelerating businesses and working through challenges.

Born and raised in Burwell, Neb., Udell values what small towns can produce as both his grandfather and father were entrepreneurs. With his experience in a thriving rural community, he developed civic pride and continues to carry it with him today.

Udell is a rural Nebraska native who is shattering the myth that young entrepreneurs need to flee to the coasts in order to find opportunity in the high tech revolution. He has been a key player in building Don’t Panic Labs, a software development and corporate innovation company based in Lincoln, as well as helping to launch other start up enterprises.

Don’t Panic Labs grew out of the engineering arm of Nebraska Global, a software investment fund founded on the idea that “when nerds and money meet, amazing things can happen.” Udell shares in Nebraska Global’s mission to establish a globally competitive, vibrant and impactful high-tech environment creating sustainable long-term economic development in Nebraska.


“It’s about more than just building companies. It’s about building Nebraska.”

-Bill Udell


The Rural Future Institute’s goal is to achieve a “Thriving High-Touch, High-Tech Future for Nebraska and the Great Plains by 2040.” Udell describes the intersections of high-touch and high-tech as “collisions” that lead to the greatest successes and bring about “aha” moments.


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.


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RFI project develops conceptual white paper on youth leadership

April 25, 2018
   Read White Paper   According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is poised to experience one of the largest transfers of leadership in its history, as evidenced by employed individuals aged 45 and over …


Read White Paper


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States is poised to experience one of the largest transfers of leadership in its history, as evidenced by employed individuals aged 45 and over holding approximately 56 percent of all management occupations. To address this leadership transfer, two researchers funded by the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) have written a white paper presenting a theory of positive youth leadership identity.

The Rural Civic Action Project (RCAP), a program created from two RFI-funded research and teaching projects, has resulted in increased confidence of rural youth in their community leadership capacity and a white paper conceptualizing a theory of positive youth leadership.

During the teaching project, which created a senior-level course in which University of Nebraska undergraduate student fellows facilitate a service learning project with middle school and high school rural youth in rural communities, 105 undergraduate fellows at UNL and UNK engaged with over 450 middle and high school students to complete 36 youth civic engagement projects at multiple school locations in 26 Nebraska communities. Evidence suggests that the middle and high school students who participated in the RCAP program are more confident in their capacity to engage in community work in the future.

The research component expands the reach and research capacity of RCAP by developing a psychometrically sound measure of youth leadership and examining its relationship to community outcomes, such as retention, civic engagement, entrepreneurial activity and community attachment. Data from 836 youth have been collected and are currently being analyzed to help create a psychometrically sound measure of positive youth leadership identity.

From these RFI-funded projects, L.J. McElravy, Ph.D., and Lindsay J. Hastings, Ph.D., wrote a conceptual paper to build a theory and measure around positive youth leadership identity, which they define as “the dynamic relational influence process that promotes positive attitudes and/or behaviors in others and/or collective group action.”

In the paper, they propose that positive youth leadership identity and its four factors (motivation to lead, positive task affect in groups, social influence capital and human relations capital) provide further conceptualization around self-management in youth leaders.

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KEYNOTE: The Future of the Rural-Urban Opportunity

April 23, 2018
  When it comes to the future, there are many plausible outcomes. Our choices and our willingness to explore collaborations play a major role in the future we will experience.   In her keynote address at the Omaha World-Herald Awards …

Dr. Reimers-Hild keynotes Nebraska Press Association


When it comes to the future, there are many plausible outcomes.

Our choices and our willingness to explore collaborations play a major role in the future we will experience.


In her keynote address at the Omaha World-Herald Awards Banquet during the Nebraska Press Association annual conference, RFI Associate Executive Director and Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., shared personal stories of delivering the newspaper in West Point, Neb., every Wednesday at age 9, bold methodologies around strategic foresight and the state of exponential change we are currently experiencing as an intertwined and combined society.


Slide: Many plausible futuresThe future is not a straight line, but rather paths of many plausible outcomes.


In her discussion, Remiers-Hild stated that strategic foresight or, “futuring,” is now considered a core leadership competency, according to Boris Groysberg in his 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “The Seven Skills You Need to Thrive in the C-Suite.”

From the article: “Strategic foresight”— the ability to think strategically, often on a global basis—was also frequently cited. One consultant stressed the ability to “set the strategic direction” for the organization; another equated strategic thinking with “integrative leadership.”  Others emphasized that strategic thinking also calls for the ability to execute a vision, which one respondent called “operating savvy” and another defined as “a high standard in execution.” One consultant pointed out that strategic thinking is a relatively new requirement for many functional C-level executives, and another noted that the surge in attention to strategic thinking occurred in the decade 2000-2010.

With a room full of community leaders, media publishers, managers and editors Reimers-Hild emphasized this competency and encouraged thoughtfulness around what key areas of technology advancement could truly position Nebraska for the future.


Slide: Data never sleeps


  • Data never sleeps
  • Amazon is doing 44 percent of all e-commerce in the U.S.
  • Jill Watson, an AI-powered graduate assistant chatbot is answering questions with 97 percent accuracy


She also called for mobilization around using some of the key developments occurring for developing countries in our own isolated, rural areas, noting that health care access in particular is an area of critical need of attention at the state, regional and national levels.


Slide: rural hospital closures


Moving into the work of the Rural Futures Institute, Reimers-Hild highlighted our recent visits:

In her closing Reimers-Hild asked a simple question: What future do we want to create … together?

We welcome your feedback to this question via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn!

We offer our sincere congratulations to all of the award winners at this important state-wide event, including Charlyne Berens, emeritus professor and associate dean of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, who was awarded the highest honor of Master Editor-Publisher.



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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 23 High-Touch Entrepreneurship with Engler Entrepreneur Brooke Lehman

April 20, 2018
  Apr. 20, 2018 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program senior, Brooke Lehman joins us for today’s recorded episode of Catch Up With Chuck. Brooke’s business, Dwell Dinner & Co. provides long-table dinner gatherings that take place within a …


Apr. 20, 2018

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program senior, Brooke Lehman joins us for today’s recorded episode of Catch Up With Chuck. Brooke’s business, Dwell Dinner & Co. provides long-table dinner gatherings that take place within a dwelling. Dwell Dinner & Co. was conceptualized by connecting her passions and talents for healthy cooking, photography, and bringing people together in a really meaningful way.

Lehman is passionate about connecting people and giving them a place to share their stories. Her Dwell Dinners are a community event where people can share their passions with those they have never met through a once-a-month dinner that takes place at Lehman’s home is a compilation of recipes, ideas, quotes, photos and other forms of inspiration Lehman has selected.

Dwell Dinner & Co. recently earned Lehman runner up at a pitch competition hosted by the Nebraska College of Business. Dwell Dinner & Co. caught the attention of the judges of the New Enterprise Competition because of her ability to tell its story and the differentiating factors of the entrepreneurial venture.

“More than ever, companies are needing to cultivate a culture that is connected.”

-Brooke Lehman


The Rural Future Institute’s goal is to achieve a “Thriving High-Touch, High-Tech Future for Nebraska and the Great Plains by 2040.” Lehman is a great example of being committed to creating positive change on the high-touch side of the future and our society.


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.


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RFI Discusses Rural-Urban Collaboration At Tufts, Harvard

April 18, 2018
Article By: Katelyn Ideus, Director of Communications & Public Relations, Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska  RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder and Associate Executive Director Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., present “The Future of Rural,” at Tufts University. …

Article By: Katelyn Ideus, Director of Communications & Public Relations, Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska

RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder and Associate Executive Director Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., present “The Future of Rural,” at Tufts University.


We believe that our complex future requires mutual respect and collaboration between rural and urban regions and communities.


The Rural Futures Institute recently traveled to Boston, Mass., to present, “The Future of Rural,” and visit with several faculty and students of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University as well as the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic.


Visits With Students

The students we met are working at the graduate level in the areas of food policy, environmental studies, agricultural studies and nutrition. They hailed from Hawaii, California, New York, Illinois, Puerto Rico, and, yes, Nebraska — Omaha to be exact.

With backgrounds and experiences in both rural and urban areas around the world, we gained tremendous energy from their interest in the intersection of agriculture with diversity, inclusion and public health. We explored areas of challenge for migrant workers as well as the recruitment of young people to rural communities. One young woman who intends to move to rural Hawaii shared her uncertainty about what her occupation would be that would best contribute to her community while also providing for her family.

It was with these deep conversations of translational need that we brought forward the work of several RFI-funded research and teaching projects, collaborative projects between the University of Nebraska and rural communities throughout our state. Two in particular resonated with the students:

Many more projects have contributed important movement and context in the areas of community development, education, health care and more, showcasing Nebraska’s rural communities as models for the rest of the world.

“While our intent was to answer their questions and learn, the outcome of these conversations is a demand for immediate action,” said Chuck Schroeder, RFI Founding Executive Director. “These students are high-level, high-energy, motivated and passionate. In this regard, they are so similar to those we interact with here in Nebraska—young people who are driven to build their understanding of others’ experiences.

“We will be hosting an online student-to-student interaction between NU students and Tufts students before they depart for the summer, and we are exploring formal exchanges ongoing.”


Visits With Faculty Researchers

Our entire visit was orchestrated by Tim Griffin, Ph.D., Chair of the Division of Agriculture, Food and Environment. He brought forward several of his colleagues including:


The unique structure of our Institute across all four campuses of the University of Nebraska, our reach, the scope of our work as well as our social entrepreneurship framework were all of interest to the faculty members. They were also straightforward in their request to interact with agricultural and rural community leaders in action. Access to RFI’s network of successful leaders in this space would be useful as they look to make their policy work increasingly translational and soften the divisive rhetoric that continues to permeate our national narrative.

“We are all intrigued by the idea that the interests and opportunities in urban and rural areas are somewhat different, but they’re not totally different,” Griffin said. “There is overlap there. People who live in different environments have the same interests for themselves and their families and their businesses. With RFI we are looking for opportunities to have a larger conversation about how we can guide our work in a way that is collaborative and beneficial to all of us.”

Tim Griffin, Ph.D., and Tufts graduate student Kelly Kundratic joined Chuck for an episode of Catch Up With Chuck.


The Future of Rural

In his portion of the presentation, “The Future of Rural,” Schroeder shared the history and context of our Institute, describing our belief statements and emphasizing the need for future-focused leadership and creativity.

“[Creativity] is not just about business development,” he said. “It’s not just about technology, but creativity combines science and technology, and business management professions, art, design, entertainment. And in a small community, that has to happen. That’s where the energy comes from—when we cross those sectors, it’s where creativity happens.”

Reimers-Hild defined strategic foresight for the group as a discipline, a science for planning for the future, but she also factored in mindset.

“We now know that mindset is incredibly important to achieve outcomes,” she said. “We have to believe things are possible. Just like many of the communities Chuck mentioned. If they believe their future is going to be one of opportunity and growth, then that’s what’s gonna happen. But if they believe it’s going to be desolate, that also will happen. They have to choose, they have to make those choices, and we want to help them with that.”

The Rural Futures Institute has many choices ahead for its future. During the last four years, we have learned a great deal about many areas of critical need for rural communities in our state and as far as Japan. We understand that with our current resources, we must become incredibly focused on what role we can carry forward in a deeply meaningful way to the University, our state and the world.

Our mindset is one of abundance, purpose and passion. With this mindset and the relationships and trust we have built with colleagues, we are preparing a reintroduction of our Institute in the near future for students like Tessa Salzman of Tufts, who was kind enough to answer our two focus questions of 2018 — Why Rural? Why Now?

“To me, rural represents existing and future potential,” she said. “As an urban planner specializing in food systems, I see how we can learn from mistakes of existing urbanized areas and re-think how we develop space and community. Rural agricultural communities in particular have the opportunity to grow into sustainable communities with conscious design and intentional foresight.

Rural brings balance to our rapidly urbanizing world in so many ways: providing food production, community and additional life experiences and perspectives in contrast to our densely populated cities. Rural in some places offers a less complex landscape, inspiring creativity and innovation in diverse ways.”


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NEWS RELEASE: RFI Fellows Present at Community Entrepreneurship Conference in Hastings, Neb.

April 13, 2018
  LINCOLN, Neb. — April 13, 2018 — Four Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Fellows, Don Macke, Kim Wilson, Catherine Lang and Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, presented at Nebraska Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Conference. The conference, held on Apr. 4 and 5, 2018, in …


LINCOLN, Neb. — April 13, 2018 — Four Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Fellows, Don Macke, Kim Wilson, Catherine Lang and Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, presented at Nebraska Extension’s Connecting Entrepreneurial Conference.

The conference, held on Apr. 4 and 5, 2018, in Hastings, Neb., brought communities together to share ideas, programs and resources to empower and assist entrepreneurs to grow communities in Nebraska and beyond through a collection of sessions presented by a highly diverse group of community development leaders from around the state.

“Growing businesses is critical to the future of Nebraska,” said Don Macke, program leader of the Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative.

Macke, an RFI Community Innovation Fellow, hosted a session titled, “Growing Nebraska Businesses – A Nebraska Approach.” In this session, community leaders learned about a new model that is being launched in Nebraska as a collaborative effort between the Nebraska Business Development Centers and Nebraska Extension. The effort utilizes U.S. SourceLink to create systematic change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, while providing complimentary educational programming that leads to an increase in entrepreneurial opportunities and sustainable business enterprises.

University of Nebraska College of Architecture professor and RFI Faculty Fellow Kim Wilson presented a session titled, “Enhancing Quality of Life Through Placemaking.” Participants in this session learned how to strengthen long-term vitality and foster place attachment in rural communities. They were then asked to apply this new knowledge during a walk through of the Hastings downtown during the session.

RFI Community Innovation Fellow Catherine Lang, J.D., state director of the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, joined three other community development leaders to present the Thursday opening session keynote titled, “Introducing the Nebraska Entrepreneurship Initiative.” Attendees learned about solutions to business development resource challenges for entrepreneurs, rural communities and service providers.

Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Specialist and RFI Faculty Fellow, Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, Ph.D., was one of two Extension educators to present the session titled, “Building on Your Community Strengths: Community Vitality Initiative Resources.” In this session, community development leaders and resource providers learned about the variety of programs and resources available statewide to assist communities in designing their future.

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RFI-funded projects earn $490k USDA grant for high-tech youth entrepreneurship clinics

April 13, 2018
 University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty strategically connected three projects initially funded by the Rural Futures Institute to create “Rural Youth High-Tech Entrepreneurship Clinics,” a program that has earned $493,560 in funding from the United States Department of Agricultural National Institute …

University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty strategically connected three projects initially funded by the Rural Futures Institute to create “Rural Youth High-Tech Entrepreneurship Clinics,” a program that has earned $493,560 in funding from the United States Department of Agricultural National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The program, which will implement clinics in six rural Nebraska communities over the next five years, works to empower rural youth to create opportunities and solutions through entrepreneurship and technology.

“I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance—a fair opportunity,” says Surin Kim, assistant professor in entrepreneurship and program director. “That’s what I like about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship can be a way for people to create their own opportunities.

“In this program, students and local businesses in rural communities will benefit from access and training in growth-oriented business strategies as well as technology experience in coding, artificial intelligence and wearable technology.”

The program differentiates itself from other youth entrepreneurship programs combining:

  • Technology
  • Cognitive and social emotional skills development
  • Research around youth connection to community
  • Systems thinking

Through this construct, researchers believe they can impact the overall well-being of the youth as well as the businesses the students work with and the broader community.

Kim, former senior product manager at Amazon, brought forward the the technology-based entrepreneurial framework from her RFI project Nurturing High School Entrepreneurs and Transforming Local Business Owners. In this project youth participants create and implement solutions for real-world local business challenges. Through the USDA grant, the current clinic model will expand to more actively integrate a growth-oriented mindset for students and provide more hands-on experience with developing technologies.

“It’s really cool to see what entrepreneurs have to go through and all of the hardships, and how they make mistakes and learn from them, so they know what to do in the future,” says Hannah, a current youth participant from Dunning, Neb.

Maria Rosario T. de Guzman, associate professor in youth development, serves as principal investigator of the RFI project Developing A Model for Quality of Life, which brings the youth development research element to the expanded program. Her research focuses on positive development in youth and will explore how to inspire youth connection to community.

Through the RFI project Systems Thinking for Sustainable Future, Ashu Guru, assistant professor of biological systems engineering, incorporates a framework for nurturing systems thinking in youth to help them learn how to solve complex, interconnected problems.

Claire Nicholas, Assistant professor of Textiles, Merchandising, and Fashion Design, will conduct research together to examine socio-economic development by the project in the rural communities.

“We are proud of how the communities already involved in these projects have inspired faculty to create a new, well-rounded approach to youth entrepreneurship and retention,” says Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute. “This expanded program is already receiving national attention, demonstrating once again how Nebraska and the University of Nebraska continue to serve as a model for the country in rural development.”

Criteria to select communities is initially focused on three communities that have increased net migration and three with decreasing net migration as the research element is to understand rural youth perspective of the future using high-tech entrepreneurship and then their intention to stay or return. Communities that would like to participate should visit for information.

Due to increasing demand, faculty will begin creating a train-the-trainer model within the next year once the curriculum is created and tested.

“The youth are the ones who are going to create the future in rural communities, and it is our role to create these educational opportunities,” says Kim. “The University of Nebraska really needs to continue thinking about the challenges communities face and creating strategies for current and future residents to create the life they want and the economic opportunities they desire in their rural communities.”


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KEYNOTE: Preparing Students for an Unimagined Future

April 13, 2018
  RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder keynoted the 2018 College Access Symposium hosted by EducationQuest on April 12 in Lincoln, Neb. The event provided strategies and best practices designed to increase the number of students who pursue education beyond …

Schroeder presents to large crowd at EducationQuest conference


RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder keynoted the 2018 College Access Symposium hosted by EducationQuest on April 12 in Lincoln, Neb.

The event provided strategies and best practices designed to increase the number of students who pursue education beyond high school. Attendees included high school, middle school, agency and college professionals.

In addressing the gathering of more than 200 attendees Schroeder started by asking:

“What future do we want to create?”

The answer, he said, lies in developing future-focused, hopeful leaders for generations to come.

Calling upon the RFI belief statements, Schroeder highlighted the importance of creativity and inclusion as we seek a thriving combined future.

  • People have the capacity to shape their own futures.
  • Communities are not just localities, but also networked groups of individuals working together toward a common goal and shared purpose.
  • Leaders are known by their vision, ideas, energy, passion and engagement in collective action.
  • Entrepreneurs are individuals and communities that combine strategic foresight and grit to take action to reach their desired futures.
  • Diverse and inclusive leadership is needed to propel communities forward.
  • Our complex future requires mutual respect and collaboration between rural and urban regions and communities.


He focused his discussion of creativity on the work of Richard Florida, American urban studies theorist focusing on social and economic theory. Florida can be found on Twitter at @Richard_Florida.

Access Richard Florida’s 2014 publication, “The Creative Class and Economic Development via Sage Journals »


Creativity Connects slide


“We must create leaders who contribute to a community of creative talent to create the world they want in our unimagined future,” Schroeder said.

One example he provided was the work of Sha Xin Wei from Arizona State University, which demonstrates how seemingly disparate disciplines can be integrated in order to create societal solutions that are sustainable against shifting human and world conditions.


Sha Xin Wei


Stay in touch, and Catch Up With Chuck every Thursday at 11:15 a.m. on Facebook!




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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 22 Crossing Cultural Divides To Create Community with Gladys Godinez of Lexington

April 13, 2018
  Apr. 13, 2018 In this episode, Chuck is joined by Gladys Godinez, a community leader in rural Lexington, Neb., to discuss the work of a committed leadership team in her community to build a welcoming and inclusive space for …


Apr. 13, 2018

In this episode, Chuck is joined by Gladys Godinez, a community leader in rural Lexington, Neb., to discuss the work of a committed leadership team in her community to build a welcoming and inclusive space for health, education and a thriving rural future.

Through HealthVoiceVision, a 2016 RFI-funded project, researchers, community participants and students address an important gap in our understanding of local health by providing data at sub-county, community-specific levels with their work in Lexington, Neb., a community with one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the state.

The creation of a cost-effective and accurate means for uncovering health inequalities in rapidly changing, ethnically diverse small communities in the Midwest will lead the way to more accurate health interventions within these communities. Godinez hopes to open a free clinic in Lexington to serve limited income individuals in the rural community.

Godinez was one of the community participants in HealthVisionVoice. She was drawn back to Lexington after seeing how she could help in welcoming, accepting and encouraging its diverse community.

“I think Lexington has so much to offer. We have a little world within Nebraska.”

-Gladys Godinez


One of the Rural Futures Institute‘s core beliefs is that people have the capacity to determine their own future. The past is not necessarily prologue when people of character are willing to make choices that will change the course of their community, and eventually the world. Godinez is a living example of this belief.


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.


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Catch Up With Chuck Episode 21 Connecting Rural and Urban for the Good of Humankind at Tufts University

April 6, 2018
  Apr. 6, 2018 In this episode, Chuck is joined by Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy associate professor Timothy Griffin, Ph.D., and graduate student Kelly Kundratic. They went live from Boston, Mass., at Tufts University.  …