The RFI Story
Today, globalization and other unprecedented factors and trends are changing our world at an ever-increasing rate. While this presents challenges, it also creates opportunities. For example, the rapid increase in world demand for food and energy provides growth opportunities for rural communities in Nebraska and the Great Plains. To succeed, people — rural and urban, alike — must anticipate and take advantage of constantly changing environments. Change is inevitable; progress is optional.Last year was the 150th anniversary of three seminal pieces of legislation that shaped Nebraska and the Great Plains:
- The Homestead Act, which created a land rush for settlers,
- The Morrill Act, which created the land-grant university system, and
- The Pacific Railway Act, which provided federal support for construction of the first transcontinental railroad.
The impact of these legislative pieces changed the face of the nation, bringing newcomers by the tens of thousands to establish homes and livelihoods in a region once dismissed as the Great American Desert. But much has changed in the past century and a half. Shifts in population, economic conditions, and technology prompt reconsideration of urgent challenges facing not only the Great Plains, but also rural places in general. Out of a commitment to address those challenges grew plans for a Rural Futures Institute and a Rural Futures Conference aimed at pulling together a wide array of stakeholders to explore how best to proceed.In an effort to gather feedback and to help plan the conference, the University sponsored community forums in eleven cities across the state. Six additional forums were held at University of Nebraska campus locations. Extension staff and other University personnel also participated in an online forum. All told, 340 people from across the state engaged in the conversations. Led by University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken and Vice President Ronnie Green, Rural Futures Institute planners emphasized four key considerations in shaping the framework of the Rural Futures Institute:
- Transdisciplinary work is essential. To be successful, the Institute will have to transcend traditional boundaries of academic disciplines while respecting the expertise specific disciplines contribute.
- Innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial. This goes beyond private sector business considerations. The Institute should attempt to draw from the region’s long history of innovative thinking to leverage further creativity and entrepreneurial activity throughout the region, as well as within the University itself.
- It is more than economics. Health care, education, civic culture, and the arts are critical elements of community life and must be part of the fabric of the Institute, even though they often cannot be measured or justified in a strictly economic context.
- Deep collaborations are a foundational element. Despite challenges associated with institutional collaborations, the Rural Futures Institute will succeed only if it can foster and engage in meaningful partnerships within the University and with the many non-academic stakeholders in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors that have resources and expertise to contribute to the issues at hand.
With those considerations as a backdrop, the 2013 Rural Futures Conference program set out to explore how to create a dynamic and effective Rural Futures Institute. Registration for the 2012 Rural Futures Conference closed two weeks early due to overwhelming interest, and was deemed a success by conference planners. Using input collected from community and campus forums and the Rural Futures Conference, nearly thirty people gathered in Nebraska City, Nebraska in July 2012 to draft a charter for the Rural Futures Institute. As part of a weeklong celebration of the Morrill Act, NU President J.B. Milliken and NU Vice President Ronnie Green, announced the formal launch of the Rural Futures Institute on September 27, 2012.
Laying the Groundwork
Development and discussion of concept
September 2011- April 2012:
Focus groups conducted with University of Nebraska and community stakeholders
May 8-10, 2012:
2012 Rural Futures Conference: Connecting Innovation
July 26-27, 2012:
The Rural Futures Institute Charter Drafting Workshop
September 27, 2012:
NU President J.B. Milliken and NU Vice President Ronnie Green announced the formal launch of the Rural Futures Institute
October 26, 2012:
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents voted unanimously to give final approval for establishing the Rural Futures Institute.
Search for founding director began
RFI Teaching & Engagement grant recipients received funding
RFI Research & Engagement grant recipients received funding
November 3-5, 2013:
2013 Rural Futures Conference: Beyond Boundaries
December 1, 2013:
Charles P. “Chuck” Schroeder assumed founding executive director position