Schroeder named founding director

Sept. 24, 2013

Chuck Schroeder

The newly hired founding executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute said he’s excited to work with Nebraskans across the state and others to help rethink and revitalize rural life, with a particular emphasis on making rural communities places where young people can make their lives. Charles P. “Chuck” Schroeder will assume the job Dec. 1.

“There have been many, many institutions and organizations dedicating resources toward the interests of rural people and places, but this is certainly the most comprehensive, aggressive effort to truly change the trajectory for rural people not only in Nebraska and the Great Plains but potentially around the world,” Schroeder said. “I’m enormously excited,” he added.

Schroeder currently is president and executive director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla., where he’s worked since 2002. Before that, he was chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for more than six years. He also served as executive vice president and director of development at the University of Nebraska Foundation and director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Schroeder was with his family’s company, the Schroeder Cattle Co., for about 30 years, the last 10 as owner and president. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied animal science and business and production options.

Schroeder’s rich and varied background is a perfect fit for the challenges of the Rural Futures Institute, said Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“Chuck Schroeder is the perfect choice as founding executive director to launch and build this bold new program for the University of Nebraska,” Green said. “His unique combination of leadership experiences, coupled with his deep roots in and passion for rural America, will allow him to instantly be a transformational leader for the Rural Futures Institute. We are immensely pleased to have him coming back to his native Nebraska to lead the program in its critically important developmental phase and look forward to his enthusiastic engagement with all of the NU campuses in this effort.”

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said, “we are very fortunate to have recruited Chuck Schroeder back to Nebraska to serve as founding executive director of the Rural Futures Institute. His deep experience, talents and passion for rural development make him an excellent fit to lead the institute through its early stages. With Chuck on board, I’m tremendously excited about the potential of the Rural Futures Institute to become the center for research and implementation of strategies that benefit Nebraska first but also rural communities everywhere.”

Based in Lincoln and reporting to NU Vice President Green, the Rural Futures Institute will engage and draw on the talents and resources of all four NU campuses – UNL, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska Medical Center. It will help address unique challenges and opportunities facing rural communities and individuals, including those related to entrepreneurship and innovation, talent attraction and development, technology, rural health, workforce development and community planning, rural education and others.

In addition, Schroeder noted, the NU campuses will work with other educational institutions, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and community, civic and business leaders and citizens across the state and beyond that are dedicated to improving rural life.

Schroeder, a native of Palisade, Neb., said he’s had an “intense interest” in rural America his entire life.

Because it will draw expertise from so many directions, the Rural Futures Institute is well-suited to finding novel solutions, Schroeder said.

“It’s a matter of engaging rural residents who see both opportunities and challenges,” he said. “We are going to be drawing together the best minds in the business wherever they might be located to address these issues.

“We are really rethinking what it means to live a rural lifestyle. A rural lifestyle is not a lifestyle of last resort. It is actually the first choice of some of our brightest and best young people who are emerging from universities today. We want to enable that choice to go launch careers, raise families and live lives in rural communities,” Schroeder added.

Schroeder pointed to his own rural upbringing.

“I grew up in a community where I had very wise and broad-thinking mentors who enabled me to launch a career there and feel I wasn’t confined to a small locale just because that’s where I was living,” he said. “They made it clear that a rural community was a great place from which to see the world, and I really want to have a role in affording that opportunity to others.”

Prior to his official start date, Schroeder will be deeply engaged in the work of the Rural Futures Institute, including the second national Rural Futures Conference, which is Nov. 3-5 in Lincoln. Registration for the conference is currently open.

2013 RFC Concurrent Sessions

Building Vibrant Communities Through Entrepreneurship
Rural community stakeholders, practitioners, students, and faculty will explore the many ways entrepreneurship can positively affect the future of rural communities. Participants will have the opportunity to share ideas about how the Rural Futures Institute, Extension and other university/higher education programs can collaborate with rural communities to build an entrepreneurial culture within businesses, organizations and communities. Innovative approaches will be shared along with updates provided from funded proposals in the first round of RFI grants.


The Essential Conversation: Linking Communities and Higher Education
This interactive session will challenge rural community stakeholders, practitioners, faculty, and students to be creative in designing synergistic partnerships that address unmet community needs. Participants will be asked to reflect on various models used for community organizing and for developing trusting partnerships. Best practices from students, faculty, and communities participating in the first round of the RFI Teaching & Engagement grants will also be shared. Participants will contemplate “big” questions throughout the session regarding the identification of community needs and communication challenges, as well as defining the roles and functions of partnerships and boundary issues.


Governing the Land: Maximizing Rural Places Locally and Globally
Are rural lands being used to their best potential? How do government, law, and policy influence landowner decisions about optimal and sustainable land use? This highly interactive session will incorporate the expertise and experiences of scholars from abroad, including work from the international Office of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Rural Working Group, as well as regional experts on topics ranging from energy development to water concerns and land use planning to natural resource management. International, federal, state, and tribal jurisdictions will all be considered, and audience members will have the opportunity to play a game we are calling Plainsopoly that encourages participants to explore and develop a vision for the future of rural lands.


Innovative Approaches to Rural Health
Healthy individuals and communities are essential for rural Nebraska to be resilient and successful. Valuing current health promoting practices, envisioning what could be better, and creating new strategies for improving health outcomes for rural people and places will be the focus of this session. Rural practitioners will share their innovative approaches to improving health outcomes in their communities, thought leaders will envision what may be just over the horizon, and participants will engage in an exercise to explore innovative ideas that address the complex rural health opportunities and challenges of the future.


Building on the ideas and strengths of those in the room, this session will encourage new ways of thinking around the “brain drain” phenomenon. There is no doubt that integrating youth (8-35 years old) into the basic workings of rural communities is integral to positive rural futures, but it is also important to listen to young leaders who are working to create a vision for the future. Together, conference participants will have a conversation about how the RFI and its partners can attract, retain and develop young leaders in rural areas and provide them opportunities, from a young age, to assume major leadership roles in building stronger rural futures.


The Rural Commons
Utilizing open space technology, conference participants will have the ability to set the agenda of this session. Through participant-generated and participant-led conversations, conference participants will discuss topics and complexities not specifically addressed elsewhere in the conference agenda. This interactive process generates communication, collaboration, innovation, and other solutions to challenges around themes or issues identified by conference participants.