Fellows Week 2: Chadron

Written by Vasundhara Balraj, Bhargav Vemulapalli and Elizabeth Schott

Chadron continues to defy our expectations every day. When we arrived last week, we did not know what to expect – we knew little about our assigned town other than the Bean Broker coffeehouse and C-Hill. Despite the odds being stacked against Chadron, it’s amazing to see what this town has been able to accomplish.

   During our first week in Chadron, we visited all the local public schools – the elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school – in order to meet the people that we will be working with for the next several months. As soon as we arrived, we recognized this unique pride and love for the local community that we had never witnessed before. For example, despite Chadron Public Schools being classified as a Title 1 school district, the district consistently ranks among the best in the state. In fact, when we met Mr. Jerry Mack, the principle of Chadron High School, he couldn’t help but brag how his school district is only ranked behind the elite districts of Eastern Nebraska (e.g., Elkhorn). Furthermore, he demonstrated to us the unique didactic philosophy that makes Chadron Public Schools set such a high standard of excellence for the rest of the Nebraskan Panhandle – a philosophy which is predicated on providing the teachers with almost unlimited autonomy in their teaching methods, allowing them to use trial-and-error to find what is most suitable for their students. For example, he showed us two classrooms: one with the lights on maximum brightness and another with the lights dimmed. In the dimmed-light classroom, the students were dramatically quieter and were paying much better attention to their teacher, confirming the teacher’s prediction that dimmed-light conditions would promote a more productive learning environment for the students. In the future, we are really looking forward to working with the public-school district and we continue to be inspired by its underdog mentality every day.

   We also were introduced to the staff at Western Community Health Resources (WCHR), a public health office of Chadron Community Hospital. WCHR provides mental health and occupational services to the whole Nebraska panhandle and its personnel are constantly on the move across different communities. In our mission to improve the accessibility of community mental health resources for the public-school district, we will be working with WCHR a lot in the future and will continue to rely on them for advice on how to best tackle the gaps in mental health services that we will eventually identify in the public-school district.

   During our first week in Chadron, we established many of the connections that will help us with the main objective of our service – to identify gaps in the pre-K-12 mental/behavioral health services offered in the public-school district. During our second week, we are familiarizing ourselves with the SHAPE system, which will allow us to identify these gaps in mental/behavioral health services. In the next few weeks, we will be working with the school mental health providers to determine what specifically is contributing to the identified gaps in mental/behavioral health services and coming up with proposals for how to tackle these challenges using the evidence-based practices provided in the SHAPE system.


We attended an event at the Bean Broker where representatives from Net Radio (Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations). The radio stations usually just cover stories from Eastern Nebraska but have recently increased their efforts in covering stories from the Panhandle region. This will be a nice way to increase Chadron’s publicity across the state!

We were invited to attend the high school assembly where it was revealed to the students that one of their beloved history teachers was awarded with the state history teacher of the year award. Mr. Sandstrom is now in contention for the national history teacher of the award, which will be presented in a few months in Washington D.C.

We attended a meeting with Chadron’s transportation committee. The residents of Chadron and the students at Chadron State College encounter many problems when trying to get around the town and to/from the airport due to the lack of public transportation offerings. As a result, this task force has been assembled to address this issue and we look forward to working with them in the future!


Fellows Week 1: RFI Strategic Communications

Written by Rin Le, Sydney Burdick and Tristan Powell

This past week the RFI Fellows for strategic communications have been working to prepare for the upcoming summer!

Tristan Powell is storyboarding four videos to communicate how the University of Nebraska is working through the Rural Futures Institute to elevate the rural economy. He’s working with RFI Student Fellows in rural Nebraska communities to find the best approach for visually representing the work being accomplished this summer. Tristan is also planning road trips throughout Nebraska to capture rural cityscapes with a video drone.

“I’ve learned just how much potential there is for rural to get their story out to more people and how I can help in that process,” Tristan said.

Sydney Burdick is RFI’s social media guru. She is pushing out all of the Fellows’ press releases on RFI’s platforms, which include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Her goal throughout this year is to inform RFI audiences about rural challenges and opportunities, as well as keep the audiences up-to-date about what is going on in the 2019 fellows communities.

“RFI has given me new perspective on social media as well as rural areas,” Sydney said. “It’s eye opening to see how much impact we have on rural areas, and not just in Nebraska.”

Rin Le, a graduate student in the College of Architecture, has been learning and getting familiar with RFI visual thematics. In order to produce visual representation of an organization, he needs to be able to understand what the color palette is and how the RFI logo comes into play with the composition of a graphic as a whole. Rin’s task is to recreate the community experiences and translate them into visual image to be presented in the 2019 RFI Fellows campaign.

“The academy helped me realized that we as a community are dependent on each other despite our differences whether that may be cultural or perspective,” Rin said.


Fun video from RFI Student Fellows – RFI Strategic Communications 2019

May 22, 2019

This week Nebraska communities are welcoming University of Nebraska, St. Louis University and Washington University students to work, serve and live for 10 weeks.

Chadron and Grand Island as well as communities throughout Custer and Garden counties are hosts to Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Student Fellows and two mentors in each area have been elevated to RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

Together, students and community innovators will work on important community-defined projects that include community marketing, workforce development, early childhood programming, mental health care access, entrepreneurship and strategic communications.

All RFI Fellows will also earn their Inclusive Leadership Development Certificate, working with diversity and inclusion researcher and consultant Helen Fagan, Ph.D.

RFI Fellows

Nebraska communities welcome Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows

2019 RFI Fellows

May 22, 2019 — LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska communities are welcoming University of Nebraska, St. Louis University and Washington University students to work, serve and live for 10 weeks. Chadron and Grand Island as well as communities throughout Custer and Garden counties are hosts to Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Student Fellows and two mentors in each area have been elevated to RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

Together, students and community innovators will work on important community-defined projects that include community marketing, workforce development, early childhood programming, mental health care access, entrepreneurship and strategic communications. All RFI Fellows will also earn their Inclusive Leadership Development Certificate, during individual coaching sessions with diversity and inclusion researcher and consultant Helen Fagan, Ph.D.

“For several years RFI has earned impactful, tangible outcomes by placing high-capacity students with community leaders throughout Nebraska, but this year’s pilot of RFI Fellows incorporates a critical leadership transformation element for the future — inclusion,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist.

Age, gender, race, ethnicity and experience are all elements that leaders must continue to understand and explore to create welcoming, innovative environments, said Fagan who serves as director of leadership engagement for RFI.

Specifically, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, minority groups contributed more than half of the population growth in 16 (two-thirds of all) of the 24 counties in Nebraska that had population gains during the 2000s. In 74 Nebraska counties the majority population decreased, while the minority population increased.

“This trend is likely to continue,” Fagan said. “We need to help our communities and our students prepare, so we can all lead together in a way that fosters innovation. That means astute intercultural awareness and the ability to create and lead diverse teams. By elevating Community Innovation Fellows, we are creating leadership capacity that is essential for the future of our state.”

Alyssa Ehler, political science and agricultural economics major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is working with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative Educator Sandra Barrera Fuentes to plan and implement events and campaigns for Latino businesses in Grand Island.

Ehler, who grew up in Omaha, said university students have the responsibility to explore rural communities.

“Students have the ability to fight the brain drain plaguing rural communities,” she said. “The University of Nebraska brings in students from all over the country and the world. Each of us brings a unique perspective that can help Nebraska thrive, which in turn helps our University thrive.”

And, with political will high, students and residents are ready to make positive, collaborative change said Sandy Montague-Roes, Director of Western Community Health Resources in Chadron.

“Communities are ready for action,” she said. “Engaging communities in the planning and voice of issues and solutions is the initial step to meaningful engagement. This pilot program with the Rural Futures Institute is a purposeful way the University is creating action out here in western Nebraska.”

Extended details available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2019fellows.

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About the Rural Futures Institute

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

Amber Ross

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Custer County, Neb.
Custer Economic Development
Workforce Intern


Why did you choose this experience?

I’ve been involved with this RFI Serviceship Experience for three consecutive years in varying capacities. In each experience, these students have created an invaluable piece of work that’s benefited our organization and community in both direct and indirect ways. This program is always an obvious choice for us.

What do you hope to gain?

Progress. Our communities have people constantly working on developing this County as a whole and we get in the trenches often. These students bring a different way of thinking and enough autonomy that we create meaningful and measurable progress.

What value will this bring to your community?

It’s always a win to get young people, especially those with rural backgrounds and an understanding of community, to work with us. The tangible value will be in the progress and completion of our outlined projects. The intangible is the connections with our business and community leaders – the growth of the network and collaboration with high-achieving students with a different worldview and persisting desire to help.

Why do you think it important community leaders have this type of experience in terms of inclusive leadership development?

We are always striving to build something that people want to be a part of. The best way to accommodate those people is to hear and see their needs – we can’t define them from afar. That’s what these students bring.

Why is this contribution of students from NU significant to you?

To my knowledge, there’s approximately one avenue for communities to have a brokered relationship with students at the University. Unless we’ve develop our own individual way with our limited resources, these students don’t have rural Nebraska top of mind. RFI accomplishes this beautifully.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward?

If not now then when? We live in the information age. People have access to anything whenever they want it. Rural America can be competitive if we show up and do the work and remember to tell people about it. There is uniqueness baked into every small town and it’s our responsibility to showcase it and exploit it to create an experience people want to move to and be immersed in.

Lauren Olson

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Garden County, Neb.
Garden County Schools
Art Teacher

Why did you choose this experience?

I was nominated by my community leadership opportunity.

What do you hope to gain?

Experiences that I can bring back to my community.

Why do you think it important community leaders have this type of experience in terms of inclusive leadership development?

I feel like my leadership experiences in school motivated me to change my community. Moving back to my hometown, teaching, trying to give them those same experiences I had giving back.

Why is rural important?

As an artist I have had opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten in a big city. Living somewhere where everyone knows your name has it’s benefits. The community is very supportive of the artwork I do and how I involve kids.



Sandy Montague-Roes

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Chadron, Neb.
Western Community Health Resources
Director

Why did you choose this experience?

To assist in the betterment opportunities for the community in which I live and work. I also appreciate any opportunity for me to grow individually.

Why do you think it important students have this type of experience in terms of inclusive leadership development?

I think that students who have the opportunity to operate at a community level early in their professional development will appreciate the patient, client, etc for what they are, where they come from and have a greater understanding/empathy for those they serve as professionals.

Why do you think it is important for students have this type of experience in a rural community?

Rural communities are unique in structure, networking and collaboration. It is a unique culture that will enhance anyones view on self sufficiency.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Giving back at any level is an accomplishment for self. Engraining the practice and concept will only enhance our states value.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward?

I think political will is at a high, which means communities are ready for action. Engaging communities in the planning and voice of issues and solutions in the initial steps in engagement. The activities we have identified for students to participate in are planning stages, information gathering and implementation planning. I feel the variety will expose them to the different phases of readiness within the community.