Catch Up With Chuck Episode 24 Entrepreneurial Opportunity-Building for Rural Nebraskans with Bill Udell


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.


KEYNOTE: The Future of the Rural-Urban Opportunity

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.



KEYNOTE: Preparing Students for an Unimagined Future

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!




RFI project develops conceptual white paper on youth leadership


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.

Catch Up With Chuck Episode 23 High-Touch Entrepreneurship with Engler Entrepreneur Brooke Lehman


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.


RFI Discusses Rural-Urban Collaboration At Tufts, Harvard

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.”


RFI-funded projects earn $490k USDA grant for high-tech youth entrepreneurship clinics

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.”


Additional Media:

Catch Up With Chuck Episode 22 Crossing Cultural Divides To Create Community with Gladys Godinez of Lexington


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.


NEWS RELEASE: RFI Fellows Present at Community Entrepreneurship Conference in Hastings, Neb.


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.