Fellows Week 9: Custer County

Hailey Walmsley and Megan Coan are still hard at work as they fulfill their internship duties in Custer County. Last week their team was fortunate enough to add two new members, Alyssa Beltran from Columbus, Nebraska and Angela Ehler from Elkhorn,Nebraska. With the new team members coming on board, some project restructuring has been done. The four interns now have 8 total projects and 3 weeks left to complete them.

Hailey and Megan are wrapping up their time in Arnold and Callaway. Over the course of the summer in Callaway, Hailey and Megan discovered, through a community wide survey, there was a lack of recreational opportunities in the area, especially for young adults. Last week they facilitated a focus group with 25-40 year olds living in Callaway to dive deeper into the recreational desires of the community. The group came to a consensus that the community would utilize a walking trail. Hailey and Megan are assisting with determining the steps on how to make this dream a reality. Once the steps are determined, they will hand the information over to Carla Kimball, Callaway’s Economic Developer. They hope to come back in a few years and see the progress on this project!

Hailey has been working to create some blog stories of people in Custer County, coming up with ideas to fill a vacant building in town, and helping revamp the curriculum for Youth Leadership in Custer County (YLCC). She considers having Angela and Alyssa on board as a blessing. She loves having more brain power in the office to help come up with some really unique ideas to complete the projects. Megan is working on creating a Custer County passport, continuing to connect the interns from other businesses in Custer County, and looking at the possibility of starting a dog park in Broken Bow. Hailey and Megan continue to work together on planning the Barn’s 10th year celebration.

This week Hailey and Megan are completing some volunteer hours helping with Custer County 4-H. The 4-H organization is near and dear to both of their hearts since it’s something they both grew up participating in. They will be helping by assisting with some of the static exhibit judges and getting all the projects ready to be displayed at the fair next weekend.

UN-L Interns Helping AEDC Move Forward With Projects

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.”

Fellows Week 8: Grand Island

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.

Chadron Instagram Takeover

The Charon fellows took over the Rural Futures Instagram story 06/25/2019! Watch as Beth, Vasu and Bhargav meet with the principle of Chadron middle school about how to communicate more effectively to parents, preform science experiments at Science Camp and visit Western Community Health Resources where they will be helping out with an immunization clinic by spreading information about mental health awareness!

Fellows Week 7: RFI Comm

The RFI comm team has been busy these last few weeks! As a team, they’ve been reading the book Brand Thinking by Debbie Millman and thinking about their own personal brands. They’ve all been preparing content and designs for the upcoming final presentations from the student fellows on August 8th! 

Sydney, the social media guru, has implemented Instagram story takeovers for the fellows! The plan is for fellows to take over the Instagram story for a day to give a little peek into their daily lives as fellows. So far, each of the stories have been receiving over 100 views per post! Sydney is also working hard preparing the invitations and thank you letters to the final presentations.

Tristan has been working on planning and storyboarding out the 2019 fellows summary video. The video concept changed shapes many times but with the helpful guidance of Katelyn, they’ve worked out which direction to take the video. He has also traveled to all four of the communities the student fellows are working in this summer to meet up and talk about what they’ve done so far. One of Tristan’s other main tasks he’s been doing is mastering his drone flying skills and taking video with it. 

Rin has been working on an array of things these past weeks, such as creating invitation cards for the RFI final presentation, making a welcome graphic for our new interim executive director and sending promotional RFI sponsorship items to Chandron, NE to help support the community. The team has also been noticing that the end is near for these community projects. Therefore, Rin will be helping to plan the aesthetic deliverables for the final pitch with the rest of the fellows in the next couple of weeks. 

Our book for our RFI book club!
The invitations we’ve worked hard on designing!
Co-work(out)ers! Had lots of fun at Power Cycle in Lincoln!

July 1 ,2019


Please welcome Mark Balschweid, Ph.D., as Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute. He enters the leadership role of RFI during its launch of the Nebraska Thriving Index and the pilot of an evolved Fellows model.

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.

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

“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

Fellows Week 6: Chadron

By Beth, Vasundhara, Bhargav

Here in Chadron we have been full force with our projects. The Bean Broker has continued to be one of our go to places to work on our projects. We have thoroughly gone through the SHAPE Assessment to identify gaps, and now most of our time has been spent working on resource mapping to find the mental health providers available to Chadron and beginning to bridge partnerships between the providers and Chadron Public Schools. We have gotten to know more about the school system and how it operates by going to School Board Meetings and meeting various teachers through our helping out with different camps offered to elementary students. 

            Vasu, our third intern, has also moved in and has jumped right in offering suggestions and helping us to accomplish our goals! She has been a great teammate to have and has given ideas to help promote with tourism in the town. 

            Bhargav and Vasu have been helping with Science Camp at the intermediate school with 3rdand 4thgraders. They have planned an experiment with the students to electroplate a quarter. Beth has been working with the Art Camp at the primary school with kindergarten through 2ndgraders. All three of us plan on helping with Drama Camp, The Little Mermaid is the show, in the next coming weeks. 

            Our partnership with Western Community Health Resources led to us helping with their Respite Day at Fort Robinson this past Saturday. We worked in teams with a small group of kids to ensure that they had a great time. We went on horseback rides, swimming, and on a jeep adventure through the surrounding buttes.

            Some local artists have been working on sprucing up the downtown area by creating murals in the alleyway. There have been two different weekends dedicated to this. They incorporate children in the area by having children come and paint by number to help paint the murals. We were able to help out one afternoon, priming the area for the students the next day. 

            Some of our upcoming excursionsinclude us taking a trip to Scottsbluff to meeting with Region 1 Behavior Health, Panhandle Partnership, and ESU 13 to see their role in the Panhandle and how we can use what they do to bridge gaps here in Chadron. We are also going to be helping Fur Trade Days and Bands on Bordeaux, a weekly event where community members see bands preform downtown. In July, we will give a presentation to the Rotary about what we have been doing with our time in Chadron and how we can and need to end the stigma around mental health. Along with these projects, we are also helping with the Immunization Clinics at Western Community Health Resources by giving out information in regards to mental health and the help that is available in the area. 

            We look forward to our next month in Chadron and all of the upcoming events! 

We were able to visit a farm and milk a cow! The fresh cow milk was delicious and Wayne and Mary were lovely hosts! 

A beautiful picture of C-Hill and the entrance to Chadron State College.

Art Alley Before the children came to paint

 Final Mural for Art Alley

A beautiful view from the jeep ride up the buttes at Fort Robinson

Science Camp

Respite Days at Fort Robinson