Home

We Believe

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.

Our Mission

The Pulse of Rural



Articles & Releases

UN-L Interns Helping AEDC Move Forward With Projects

July 16, 2019
Check out our Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey in The Arnold Sentinel! “In this job, I get to work on projects that play toward my strengths and interests. We aren’t just typical interns who come in and sit at …

Check out our Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey in The Arnold Sentinel!

“In this job, I get to work on projects that play toward my strengths and interests. We aren’t just typical interns who come in and sit at a desk all day filing paperwork or doing the job no one wants to do. We have a lot more responsibilities than traditional interns because we are challenged with finding a project, and seeing that project start to finish,” said Hailey

UN-L agricultural student interns Megan Coan (left) and Hailey Walmsley (right) are in Arnold once a week through the end of July to help the Arnold Economic Development Corporation with some big projects. The girls are also serving as interns in Broken Bow and Callaway.”
Read More

Fellows Week 8: Grand Island

July 12, 2019
By Alyssa and Angela Wow, the time has flown by! It is hard to believe that we have just finished 8 weeks with only three to go. Plus we have a surprise! We (Angela and Alyssa) finished up our time …

By Alyssa and Angela

Wow, the time has flown by! It is hard to believe that we have just finished 8 weeks with only three to go. Plus we have a surprise! We (Angela and Alyssa) finished up our time in Grand Island early and headed west to work with our Custer County team for the last 3 weeks of the summer!

Since our last Grand Island update, we got busy executing projects and doing the preparation for projects happening in the future. 

Angela spent most of Weeks 3 through 7 being our video creator and editor. We wanted to be able to share the impact of Nebraska Extension’s Community Vitality Initiative’s Latino Small Business program everywhere and with everyone. So, Angela created videos in Spanish with English subtitles. One of our favorite stories was Duniesky’s. Duniesky Enrrique is an entrepreneur in Grand Island who wanted to start his own tattoo shop. He utilized the Latino Small Business Program to get one on one technical counseling to discover the insurance, licensing, and legal requirements for tattoo shops in Nebraska. He got everything accomplished and then realized he couldn’t find a place that fit his needs. Nebraska Extension came to the rescue and helped Duniesky find a place to work. Since then he has been making beautiful tattoos in Grand Island. 

While Angela was channeling her inner Steven Spielberg, Alyssa was working on creating training programs for Nebraska Extension including Facebook for Business and Sustainability at Home. Her Facebook training covered how to create a Facebook page for a business step by step, how to increase engagement on your Facebook page, what to post, how to track your posts and evaluate success, and how to utilize paid advertising on Facebook. Her Sustainability training covered everything anyone could need to know about how to be more sustainable and save money at home. From reducing energy costs to recycling through a few easy steps we can greatly reduce the impact we have on the environment and our wallets. Alyssa then took this one step further and started laying the groundwork for a sustainability competition between businesses in Grand Island and hopes to see this happen in the future to create a healthier community and lower the energy cost burden on businesses!

We’ve also made a lot of progress on our 4th Street project. We finished the directory of our businesses and now the program is positioned to utilize that information to make a map of that area that will show off the all of the great diversity that Grand Island has to offer (there are about 100 locally owned businesses on 4th Street). We also were able to host a community meeting for the business owners on 4th Street as well. We are hoping to create connections across race and gender so that the business owners can work together to bring investment and customers to 4th Street and show Nebraska how great of a place 4th Street in Grand Island is!

Then, week 8, we moved to Broken Bow! Stay tuned for all that is to come. Sneak peek it includes dog parks, barn celebrations, intern socials, and more! We’ve loved getting to know this community and have already been working hard on projects this week! 


Wonderful Selfie that includes Alyssa, Angela and Miguel Estevez (Mental Health Therapist/UNO Graduate Student) as they finished their second mental health workshop for the Latino community in Grand Island.

Pictured here is Angela (maroon sweater on right) assisting a photography class to learn how to take good pictures and possibly make a business out of it.

Read More

Please welcome Mark Balschweid, Ph.D. — Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute

July 1, 2019
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is now led by Mark Balschweid, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) College of Agricultural Sciences and …
“It is imperative that the University continues to create value and tangible outcomes with rural communities in our state. I am proud to join the Rural Futures Institute, which is doing just that and so much more.”
Mark Balschweid, Ph.D.
RFI Interim Executive Director

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is now led by Mark Balschweid, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Balschweid, who has worked extensively in evaluating international programs in agricultural and extension education, joins RFI after 11 years within his departmental leadership role. Prior to coming to UNL in 2008, Balschweid was on faculty at Purdue University in the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education.

“The ability of the Rural Futures Institute to identify solutions and create outcomes by bringing together many different partners — students, faculty and communities of place and practice — is impressive,” Balschweid said. “The team has found an innovative way to not only convene likely and unlikely collaborators, but support them for individual leadership development and community workforce and economic impact.”

Balschweid holds his doctorate in Agricultural Education from Oregon State University. He received a Fulbright Fellowship and spent a year teaching and conducting research at Jamaica’s College of Agriculture, Science, and Education. He authored Jamaica’s first Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Agricultural Education and continues to consult in Jamaica and the Middle East.

His research interests include the impact of international experiences on student learning and development, evaluation of international agricultural and extension education programs and highlighting the intersection of science and agriculture in secondary and postsecondary curricula.

Balschweid enters the leadership role of RFI during its launch of the Nebraska Thriving Index and the pilot of an evolved Fellows model

Nebraska Thriving Index RFI Fellows

An initial version of the online application of the Nebraska Thriving Index is already available for use and a print version will be released this summer. Both provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

RFI Fellows has grown to incorporate student fellows along with community innovation and faculty fellows. The pilot also includes individual leadership development training and coaching in the area of inclusion through the expertise and guidance of Helen Fagan, Ph.D., RFI director of leadership engagement.

Student Fellows from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Saint Louis University and Washington University are currently deployed in Custer County, Garden County, Chadron and Grand Island. They are working closely with Community Innovation and Faculty Fellows on community-defined projects that include community marketing, workforce development, early childhood programming, mental health care access and entrepreneurship.

“This is a critical time in the future of rural communities, the university and RFI,” Fagan said. “Through our model, we are supporting not only the individuals involved, but also increasing the leadership capacity in the communities and creating future-focused outcomes.

“What we’re learning in this summer’s pilot will propel us forward with partners for a phenomenal 2020 experience, and I’m happy to have Dr. Balschweid on board to help us.”

Students, communities, partners and sponsors are invited to provide feedback on the Nebraska Thriving Index and connect with RFI about a 2020 Fellows experience. Community and student fellows applications will be made available in the coming months.

“The passion and reach the Institute’s team has always had to make a true difference in the lives of rural Nebraskans, and rural people around the world, is palpable,” Balschweid said. “It is imperative that the University continues to create value and tangible outcomes with rural communities in our state, and I am proud to join the Rural Futures Institute, which is doing just that and so much more.”

Work With RFI
Read More

Creating their desired futures — Connie Reimers-Hild, Shawn Kaskie depart RFI

June 28, 2019
Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., and RFI Special Projects Coordinator Shawn Kaskie are leaving RFI to pursue new opportunities. Thank you, Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild is building her leadership and strategic foresight coaching …

Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., and RFI Special Projects Coordinator Shawn Kaskie are leaving RFI to pursue new opportunities.

Thank you, Dr. Connie

Reimers-Hild is building her leadership and strategic foresight coaching firm, Wild Innovation, through which she works with company CEOs and hospital administrators to plan and pursue their desired futures at the intersections of technology and humanity. Clients range from rural hospitals in Nebraska to remote villages in Nigeria and include a small business with a $22 million annual footprint as well as global organizations like Lockheed Martin.

Before serving as RFI interim executive director for the past year, Reimers-Hild served as associate executive director for three years. She led the development of the RFI Engagement Nexus, initiated the evaluation model the Institute is carrying forward and mentored faculty, staff and students. She fostered relationships with eight universities around the world as well as companies such as Microsoft and organizations such as the Japan Society. Reimers-Hild also represented the Rural Futures Institute, rural people and the University of Nebraska at global conferences such as the Women’s Forum Global Meeting. She also hosted the Rural Futures Podcast, which has nearly 8,000 downloads nationwide in just 30 episodes. 

During her nearly 25-year tenure with the University of Nebraska, Reimers-Hild authored or co-authored 55 publications, 10 workbooks, six videos, six coaching tools, three books and one book chapter. In total, her digital publications have been downloaded by 3,300 institutions more than 70,000 times throughout 175 countries. She has also taught more than 25,000 learners from around the world.

Thank You, Shawn

Shawn Kaskie will continue leading innovative projects and programs throughout rural Nebraska as an Educator and Associate Professor with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative. With RFI since may 2016, Kaskie led two major strategic initiatives of the Institute. 

First, the pilot of the RFI Fellows program, which invited faculty and community leaders together for future-focused discussions about rural thriving. It is through this first iteration of RFI Fellows that the Nebraska Thriving Index was born, and it provided the catalyst to RFI’s new working model with students, community leaders and faculty.

Kaskie is also credited with critical leadership and ongoing contributions to the University of Nebraska SourceLink® Resource Navigator, which links entrepreneurs and community leaders to solutions and opportunities by curating university resources in one online platform.

Read More


More Articles & Releases