Now more than ever — 2020 RFI Fellows launch June 8

After deep thought, many personal conversations and hundreds of hours navigating details and protocols for the health and safety of all involved, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, with 33 Student and Community Innovation Fellows, has decided to proceed with a 2020 RFI Fellows experience beginning June 8, 2020. Together, the fellows will move future-focused strategies forward with 17 rural Nebraska communities.

“It’s easy to take programs like these for granted when things are going well,” said Kenneth Edwards, Vice President of Table Rock Development Corporation in Table Rock, Neb. “We were really excited to have students come here and help us work on our projects, but now we feel it’s an even greater necessity.”

From ongoing health and safety concerns to struggling small businesses and hard-hit tourism industries to exponential growth in digital communications, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Nebraska’s smaller communities significantly. Through it all, the commitment of the student and community fellows to a shared summer experience that aims to overcome challenges and embrace opportunities has not waivered.

To help ensure the mitigation efforts continue, all participants will follow the health and safety guidelines of their local counties and have been provided specific recommendations by RFI, in line with the state and university recommendations, for gatherings and community activities. These include, but are not limited to: students quarantining for 14 days upon entering the community, wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart.

The immersion of students in communities and interactions among students and community members will look different — online instead of in-person, across the room instead of side-by-side, small groups instead of main street events — but the enthusiasm is the same if not even greater than the last seven years of the program. 

“Even with the current COVID-19 mitigation efforts, I believe I can make a positive impact in Auburn, Neb., in a safe way,” said Emma Hoffschneider, sophomore public relations major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “I am not afraid of adapting and overcoming difficult circumstances that are in front of me, a trait that runs deep in every rural community across the state of Nebraska.”

Students have begun online training and the community innovators will join them for three days of interactive Zoom sessions led by inclusive leadership development expert Helen Fagan, director of the RFI Fellows program. They will join their communities in various capacities beginning June 8, 2020.

“What I’ve seen throughout my one-to-one conversations with multiple fellows is determination, empathy and openness,” Dr. Fagan said. “Determination to truly improve themselves at the individual level and their communities the way they intended and even more so now. An empathy for each other’s unique situations, emotions and needs. And an openness to compromise, ideate and pivot together.”

Community projects aim to improve workforce development, economic development, access and recruitment and retention of residents with specific focus on: 

  • Early childhood education
  • Community marketing and communications
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Mental health services
  • Inclusion

During the last two years, RFI Fellows’ have averaged $28,000 of impact per community. In 2019, the total economic impact for the four participating communities was $111,844.

“You’ve really got to respect the students’ desire to want to help,” Edwards said. “We must do everything we can to make their experiences safe and rewarding.”

Q&As with 2020 fellows, all participating communities and project descriptions are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2020fellows.

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Katie Carrizales

Educational Service Unit 13

Behavioral/Mental Health Director

Chadron, Neb.

Graduate of University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Northern Colorado

2020 Experience

Focus: Tourism, PreK-12 Education and Mental Health Awareness, Indigenous Population Inclusion

The student fellows will work to complete SHAPE planning and implementation through data collection and analysis of pre-K-12 youth, with a priority support for the Native American population. Students will focus on methods to reduce stigma of mental health through awareness campaigns, as well as work with Educational Service Unit 13 to create a school-based mental health services needs assessment and a behavioral mental health dashboard for the department’s ongoing use. Students will also assist Dawes County Joint Planning and Discover Northwest Nebraska in the development of programs and marketing campaigns designed to enhance the tourism industry in Northwest Nebraska. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has already and will continue to disrupt the 2020 tourism season for the region. Having interns available for the summer will allow focus on promoting local and regional tourism through staycations and complete several planning projects for 2021.

Team:
Students: Tyra Ann ReardonSawyer Smith
Peers: Terri HaynesSandy Montague-Roes, Kerri Rempp

Sponsored By: Chadron Public Schools, Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) Grant staff, Educational Service Unit 13, Dawes County Joint Planning, Northwest Nebraska Tourism

Katie’s Nebraska Story

My I was born in Torrington, Wyoming and have lived in the panhandle of Nebraska my entire childhood. I attended a small two-room school house, where my mother was my teacher, until sixth grade when I attended Morrill Public School in Morrill, Nebraska. I graduated from Morrill High School. My Husband and I met in high school and attended UNL for our undergraduate and UNC for our graduate school. After graduating from UNC we decided to move back to western Nebraska and both found job opportunities in Scottsbluff, NE. We are passionate about staying in the panhandle and working toward enhanced services for the residents of western NE.

What do you hope to gain?

I am excited for the opportunity to learn more about inclusive leadership.

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

The only way we grow as leaders is to engage in self-reflection. I believe to become more inclusive this will also be required and may serve as a catalyst for personal growth.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

No response.

Why is rural important?

Rural provides such benefit such as a close-knit community feel, warm welcoming atmosphere and an amazing work ethic. We are also used to collaboration and welcome this opportunity as it is essential to the survival of most any organization in rural locations.

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

For many years we have been using technology to reduce travel and improve connections and collaboration due to the geographic layout of our service area. With COVID-19, we have been forced to now think of additional ways to utilize and enhance our use of technology for these purposes. Additionally, other more metropolis sites have become more accepting of using technology for these purposes. I feel this shift in thinking will serve as a launch pad for those of us in even rural areas to have more interaction with and collaboration with organizations around the state and perhaps even outside of state boundaries.

Angie Moore

Arapahoe Chamber of Commerce

President

Arapahoe, Neb.

2020 Experience

Focus: Economic and Community Development

The students will work on a variety of community and economic development projects. One goal is to connect local store fronts and homes with alumni and entrepreneurs. Students will also focus on a campaign to secure the passage of LB840 in the November election. Other projects will include building the new economic development organization through determining community and business needs, helping local businesses get an online presence, developing community marketing, and more.

Team:
Students: Aline Abayo, Megan Tofflemire
Peer: Kate Warner

Sponsored By: Arapahoe Economic Development, City of Arapahoe

Angie’s Nebraska Story

I was born in Benkelman, Nebraska, lived in Palisade, Nebraska and started school in Chappell, Nebraska. I moved to Arapahoe in the 2nd grade and have lived here ever since.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope we can create a recruitment program for Arapahoe Alumni to buy/take over/build businesses in our community.

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

It is always good to plan ahead in any business and from a new perspective as well.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

It is important to get the ball rolling for future development and to get/be present in the minds of those that own and operate businesses now and for those who have aspirations of being business owners themselves.

Why is rural important?

Rural has a lot of agriculture, which feeds the urban, but it is also a way of life that is safe, secure, and appealing to young families. We are diverse, adaptable, and hard working.

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

I would like to implement a program that provides an avenue for our alum to move back to our communities and continue and/or build our businesses. Alumni are our target audience because they already have an investment in this community.

Kate Warner

Warner Real Estate and Warner Beef Genetics

Broker and Owner

Arapahoe, Neb.

Graduate of Colorado State University, Business Administration

2020 Experience

Focus: Economic and Community Development

The students will work on a variety of community and economic development projects. One goal is to connect local store fronts and homes with alumni and entrepreneurs. Students will also focus on a campaign to secure the passage of LB840 in the November election. Other projects will include building the new economic development organization through determining community and business needs, helping local businesses get an online presence, developing community marketing, and more.

Team:
Students: Aline Abayo, Megan Tofflemire
Peer: Angie Moore

Sponsored By: Arapahoe Economic Development, City of Arapahoe

Kate’s Nebraska Story

I moved to Nebraska in December 2008 after meeting my husband in Colorado, where I lived at the time. We were married 6 months after meeting and I moved to Arapahoe, NE to be with Dan and his two girls Gentry & Berkley. We have since added two boys as well to our family, Kallan & Creyton.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to gain knowledge and resources in order to help our community grow with some help in the area of economic development. Hopefully I can contribute in helping make some new and exciting things happen in our area.

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

I believe we can never have enough knowledge in terms of growing and developing as a leader. I think leadership development is crucial in order to continue to grow.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

I believe NU students can bring some new and fresh ideas and  will have knowledge from a different perspective. I believe they can contribute as the next generation, how they will want to live and work and what that future looks like for their generation. I think the support from NU statewide through this program says a lot NU caring for the success of all communities. Success for the larger cities of Lincoln & Omaha to the importance of helping the small rural towns on the west side of the state to grow and be successful as well.

Why is rural important?

I don’t think the urban areas, not only in Nebraska but across this country, realize how important agriculture is for this country. The amount of food produced in our country alone can feed millions of people each year. Our country has over 350 million people to feed and that doesn’t include the rest of the world. I don’t think people realize that agriculture drives most other businesses in the rural areas and agriculture has been in a very bad financial position for over 5 years now. This could be detrimental to our rural areas.

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

Now is always better than too late. This is a crucial time, especially after the hurt COVID has put on the economy. We need to find a way for more affordable housing in rural areas and to also find companies to recruit into our areas that may be interested in finding communities to relocate that is better for their employees as far as good schools for their kids, more affordable housing and a great way of life that our rural areas provide.

Kerri Rempp

Northwest Nebraska Tourism

Director

Chadron, Crawford and Harrison Neb.

Graduate of University of South Dakota, Liberal Arts College, Mass Communications Department

2020 Experience

Focus: Tourism, PreK-12 Education and Mental Health Awareness, Indigenous Population Inclusion

The student fellows will work to complete SHAPE planning and implementation through data collection and analysis of pre-K-12 youth, with a priority support for the Native American population. Students will focus on methods to reduce stigma of mental health through awareness campaigns, as well as work with Educational Service Unit 13 to create a school-based mental health services needs assessment and a behavioral mental health dashboard for the department’s ongoing use. Students will also assist Dawes County Joint Planning and Discover Northwest Nebraska in the development of programs and marketing campaigns designed to enhance the tourism industry in Northwest Nebraska. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has already and will continue to disrupt the 2020 tourism season for the region. Having interns available for the summer will allow focus on promoting local and regional tourism through staycations and complete several planning projects for 2021.

Team:
Students: Tyra Ann ReardonSawyer Smith
Peers: Katie CarrizalesTerri HaynesSandy Montague-Roes

Sponsored By: Chadron Public Schools, Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) Grant staff, Educational Service Unit 13, Dawes County Joint Planning, Northwest Nebraska Tourism

Kerri’s Nebraska Story

My family moved to the Cody-Kilgore area in 1989 from western South Dakota. I graduated from Cody-Kilgore High School in 1995 and returned to South Dakota for college. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I moved back to Broken Bow, Nebraska, where I worked at the local newspaper for seven years. My family relocated to Northwest Nebraska in 2007, and I spent 12 years working at the local newspaper in Chadron before taking the position as director of Discover Northwest Nebraska in 2019.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to expand my leadership skills and learn new ways to inspire employees, co-workers and volunteers as we work together to improve our business and community.

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

It’s important the leaders we choose to head our businesses and organizations know the best ways to communicate with and motivate those who are working with them or under them. Doing so effectively makes a huge difference in the success of any project and helps inspire loyalty from employees and volunteers.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

The RFI interns’ work with Discover Northwest Nebraska will help our organization promote the region as a tourist destination. Tourism is our number two economic industry in the area, and serves an important function in our region. As the only employee of Discover Northwest Nebraska, there is only so much I can get done at any one time. Working with the RFI interns will allow us to accomplish several projects to enhance tourism and promote the region.

Why is rural important?

Living in a rural area is often viewed as a disadvantage, but it offers a unique lifestyle with many advantages for those who call rural areas our home. Keeping rural economies vibrant make it possible for families to enjoy those lifestyle choices while still supporting their families economically. Rural America helps feed the world through agriculture, and finding ways to expand economic opportunities also will help our family farmers continue their important role in the world.

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

Technologically, we are more advanced now than we have ever been. That provides us with a chance to connect small businesses in rural communities with the larger world. From a tourism standpoint, rural Northwest Nebraska offers a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities to attract young families/couples/individuals who are looking for ways to hike, bike or hunt unique areas without the crowds found in other places. Those outdoor opportunities are set against significant historical, cultural and geological backgrounds, making the region even more attractive to tourists. Continuing to grow the tourism industry in Northwest Nebraska brings added value to local businesses by putting them in front of new customers.