Rural Futures Institute’s Schroeder speaks to Cozad Rotary Club

Lyle Davis, president of the Cozad Rotary Club, left, talks to Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute Chuck Schroeder, right after a talk Schroeder gave on Tuesday. Schroeder is an innovator in promoting and challenging rural communities to address their pressing issues. Photo by Kevin Zelaya.

Posted: Sunday, January 17, 2016 8:00 am

Kevin Zelaya, Lexington Clipper-Herald

COZAD, Neb. – Founding executive director of the Rural Futures Institute Chuck Schroeder was the guest speaker at the Cozad Rotary Club’s noon meeting on Tuesday.

The Cozad Rotary Club met at the Cozad Grand Generation Center. Lyle Davis, the president of the Rotary Club, said each member is charged with providing a presentation on a rotating basis. Rotary Club Member John Grinde, who introduced Schroeder, said he was thankful for the help of Cozad Community Schools Superintendent Joel Applegate who invited Schroeder.

Grinde described Schroeder as a native of Palisade, a 30-year farmer/rancher who was also a cattle roper.

“I’m in Cozad on purpose. I have a love for DawsonCounty, for the dedication you have demonstrated for your community,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder has a long track record in various parts of agriculture. He has served as the CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and also served as president of the National Cowboy and WesternHeritageMuseum in Oklahoma City, Okla.

After serving as the director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and within the University of Nebraska Foundation, Schroeder became motivated to affect change at the local level among rural communities in Nebraska.

Years of planning and collaboration between himself, former NU President J.B Millican and vice chancellor for the Institute Agriculture and Natural Resources laid the foundation for what would become the Rural Futures Institute, a university-wide initiation within NU. The RFI was launched in the fall of 2012 after gaining approval from the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

The RFI’s mission was to be a world-pioneer in helping rural communities tackle their challenges, he said.

Schroeder talked about a recent research study that found that many successful and thriving rural communities all had six common traits.

The first two traits were having leadership that matters and a hopeful vision backed by grit, Schroeder said.

Communities like Eustis who refused to accept a United States Department of Agriculture study in the mid-1980s that said rural farms far from major roads would die off had leadership that mattered, he said.

Traits three and four were taking deliberate efforts to invite people to leadership posts who might not otherwise participate and not letting fear be a barrier to embracing change.

The last two traits were a willingness to invest in the community and having strong social networks, he said.

The RFI was all about building partnerships with government agencies, businesses, colleges and most importantly rural communities, Schroeder said.

“Howard Buffet, son of Warren, said we built this country from rural up. This (the work of RFI) is the most important thing being done today,” Schroeder said.

RFI has started 31 projects with more than 110 countries, 17 universities/colleges, 23 organizations and 12 government agencies, he said.

Notable projects started last year addressed: career development in rural communities, leadership in diverse communities and rural rotations for students in rural hospitals.

One innovative program started by RFI in 2013 is the Rural Community Serviceship Program. This program provides a nine-week internship for high-caliber college students to participate in a locally identified community improvement project at three or four rural communities with help from university staff.

“Students are given training in project management and strength based leadership through Gallup. At the end of each summer I usually get a call from community mentors who say they loved their students and ask for them to come back next year,” Schroeder said.

Students with the Rural Community Serviceship Program have created an entrepreneurship program for middle school students in Seward and have created a marketing program for the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud.

Two other trend-setting programs pioneered by RFI are an informal network connecting young working professionals who live outside of Lincoln and Omaha called the Connecting Young Nebraskans and the creation of Rural Opportunity Fairs.

The rural opportunity fairs gather rural community representatives in need of young talent with young workers looking to work in rural areas.

For more information about programs offered through the Rural Futures Institute, visit http://ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/.