Episode 14 | NU Leadership Focuses on Rural

Feb. 15, 2018

Show Notes:

Joining Chuck in this episode is Michael Boehm, Harlan Vice Chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska.

Vice Chancellor Boehm shares his love for Nebraska—he’s traveled to 84 of our 93 counties in one year—and his passion for University of Nebraska students—he helped some move in!

He also talks about his vision for the Rural Futures Institute amidst the proposed budget reduction, and some of his ideas to make higher education more purposeful for students of the future.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:02] Welcome to Catch Up With Chuck [0:04] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:05] at the University of Nebraska. [0:07] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m the founding [0:09] Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute. [0:11] You know, I’ve been around long enough [0:14] to remember the creation of a very unique [0:18] position within the University of Nebraska system. [0:20] 1974, rural agricultural leaders [0:25] felt very strongly that there should be a position [0:29] at a very senior level within the university system [0:33] as well as here at UNL that was focused [0:35] on agriculture, natural resources [0:38] and our rural sector which is really at the heart [0:41] of Nebraska’s economy and its culture. [0:44] So, the Office of Vice Chancellor [0:47] and Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources [0:51] was created at that time. [0:53] And since 1974, there’s been a series [0:57] of very strong leaders in that role, [1:00] many of whom have become legendary figures here in Nebraska. [1:05] Well I’m pleased to welcome this week’s guest [1:07] on Catch Up with Chuck, the current occupant of [1:09] that distinguished chair, Doctor Mike Boehm, [1:13] who is the Vice Chancellor, [1:15] Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources, [1:18] welcome Mike. [1:19] Hey thanks, Chuck. [1:19] Thanks very much. [1:20] Glad to have you here. [1:21] It’s good to be here. [1:22] Well listen, you’ve been in this role just over a year. [1:24] Yup. [1:25] You’re still pretty new. [1:26] I’m really new. [1:28] (Chuck laughing) [1:31] But I know there are a lot of people in our audience [1:33] who maybe have seen you, heard about you [1:37] but have not had a chance to meet you. [1:38] Now, you come to this role from [1:41] a distinguished career at Ohio State University, [1:44] both as a scientist, as a plant pathologist, [1:47] and also as a senior administrator [1:49] with responsibilities for strategic planning. [1:52] Yup. [1:53] Those are all things that people can find on Google. [1:55] Yeah. [1:56] I thought it might be a fun opportunity [1:58] for folks to get to know — Oh boy. [1:59] The Mike they can’t find on the Internet. [2:03] Because we know with all the guests that we’ve had on here [2:06] that home, family — Sure. [2:09] Community — Sure. [2:11] Create a foundation — Faith, yup. [2:13] For life, so — Yup, absolutely. [2:14] Tell us a little bit about Mike. [2:16] Yeah, well Chuck thanks. [2:17] This is Catch Up with Chuck [2:19] and Mustard with Mike, I don’t know. [2:20] (Chuck laughing) [2:21] I just try to figure all of this stuff out. [2:23] Sure.

[2:24] Well I appreciate the invite, absolutely [2:26] and I have been here. [2:28] I stopped counting months and days [2:31] and I don’t do that for anything, for anybody but myself [2:34] to be honest with you. [2:35] I think about the world, very simple minded person. [2:39] What’s not on Google, [2:40] I’m a first generation college student. [2:42] I grew up in a suburb, a western suburb of Cleveland, Ohio [2:46] so what in the world is a person [2:50] who grew up in a suburb of Cleveland [2:52] have anything to do with agriculture [2:54] but it was at a time when farmers’ fields, [2:57] it was right on the cusp of Cleveland [2:59] where city was meeting, suburban was meeting rural, [3:03] urban, exurban interface. Sure. [3:05] And so I could be in a creek, [3:07] or good fortune was the town I lived in was [3:10] three miles long and three quarters of a mile deep [3:13] and it was right on Lake Erie. [3:15] So I spent, no Internet back then in the days. [3:19] 1974, this position was, I was in fourth grade, [3:24] I gotta be honest with you. [3:25] (Chuck laughing) [3:26] So we talk a lot about Millennials [3:29] and Generation X and the Boomers, [3:31] so I’m right on that cusp of the back of the Boomers [3:34] and the beginning of X. [3:35] But I think that’s important. [3:38] I still pinch myself everyday that I’ve [3:40] had the good fortune to help really leave a positive, [3:44] I think, I feel good about leaving a positive footprint [3:47] in my past and I look forward to engaging communities [3:52] and helping move the needle forward. [3:54] So, first generation college kid, [3:57] I grew up in a town, graduate from high school at the time [4:00] when I think we were at 26% unemployment in my county. [4:04] Wow. [4:06] Our folks, mine were the oddball. [4:07] My mom was a cashier at a local grocery store, [4:10] IGA back in the day. [4:12] And my dad worked at the power plant [4:15] shoveling coal and worked his way into the plant. [4:18] But most of my friends, their folks worked [4:21] at the steel mills, they worked at the auto factories [4:25] and they worked at the ship yards. [4:27] And in 1980 to 1984, [4:32] all that came crashing down. [4:34] And so, I was one of the few people [4:36] in my graduating class that actually left [4:39] and went to college. [4:40] And I went to a small liberal arts college. [4:43] I think people know about I’m a plant pathologist [4:46] so they know that about me. [4:47] What they don’t know maybe is that [4:50] I am really a passionate liberal arts-trained individual. [4:55] And so going to a small liberal arts school [4:58] where I loved biology. [5:00] In fact I got called into the Office of the Provost [5:02] and they told me, “Mike,” I was a senior, [5:06] first semester senior, “you’ve taken way too many [5:09] science classes, you need to take more humanities [5:12] (laughing) and arts.” [5:13] But I learned during that time [5:17] about how great science and technology [5:20] and engineering and math is [5:22] but at the end of the day you have to implement that [5:26] and it’s humans, it’s people, it’s communities. [5:30] And so — Big issue today, yeah. [5:31] Big issue today. [5:32] Yeah, so technical solutions by themselves [5:36] aren’t going to move the needle. [5:38] So that was kind of interesting. [5:40] Another thing, I think I shared a little bit [5:42] about my past, come back to this, [5:44] man I remember as a little kid growing up [5:47] on the heels of the Vietnam War. [5:49] Sure. [5:50] And just absolutely scared to death [5:52] that I was gonna get drafted, believe it or not. [5:54] You know my folks had a lot of friends that didn’t come back [5:58] and it was a rough time. [6:00] Sure. [6:01] And so flash forward to 1985, [6:03] I joined the Army Reserve as a medic. [6:06] And so something changed but I joined the Army Reserve [6:09] as a medic, not the National Guard [6:12] because in Ohio, we had the Kent State shooting [6:15] where it was the National Guard — [6:16] Oh sure. [6:17] Who killed eight students. [6:18] You know it’s funny what sticks in your craw [6:20] but somewhere in there, early stages, [6:22] service and being a servant leader [6:24] and things you learn when you’re in a small unit [6:28] that there’s a person in front of you, [6:30] a person in your back, a person on your left and right. [6:33] Your job is to all get home safe. [6:35] So I was in the Reserve system with a year and half [6:39] active duty after 9/11 for almost 21 years. [6:42] So I think while I’m a hardcore academic, I’m a scientist. [6:47] I’m also a blend of humanities and liberal education. [6:51] Sure. [6:52] But also a twist of military leadership [6:55] all rolled into a ball. [6:57] If you want the real scoop of Mike Boehm, [7:00] I suppose you should have Mrs. Boehm sitting in the chair. [7:02] I’m sure that’s true (laughing). [7:03] She’ll share all kind of stories. [7:04] Well Mike, I wanted you to tell that story [7:06] because I know that combination in your background [7:10] and so when people look at the Rural Futures Institute‘s [7:13] goal of a thriving high-touch, high-tech future, [7:18] for rural, we’re serious about that. [7:20] Yeah, we’re serious. [7:21] It is the only way it really works [7:24] in community is if you combine those things. [7:26] Absolutely. [7:27] So I appreciate you talking about that. [7:28] Yup. [7:29] Well listen, in your first year [7:31] I know that you have, very purposely [7:34] worked your way across Nebraska [7:36] and gotten to as many of our 93 counties as you could. [7:39] Yup, 84. [7:40] 84. 84. [7:42] And I know you’re working your way back to [7:44] my old home country there. I am. [7:45] Southwest Nebraska. [7:47] But anyway, I’ve heard you talk a little bit [7:50] about some of your observations [7:51] and the chance you’ve had to talk with [7:54] real people, multi-generations of roots in Nebraska. [7:59] Yeah. [7:59] Talk a little bit about what you’ve seen [8:01] and some of your observations, conclusions.

[8:04] Yeah, well you know again, kind of going back to [8:07] the very first glimpse of Nebraska, [8:10] it’s the people, it’s the place, it’s the partnerships [8:14] and then take those three, [8:16] it’s the potential for the possibility. [8:19] I’d roll it on so, you know the people, [8:21] it didn’t take me long. [8:22] I think Ohio people, people in the Midwest [8:25] are cut out of a certain cloth. [8:26] Although there are different flavors or dialects — [8:28] Sure. [8:29] From the eastern edge of the Midwest to the western, [8:31] the Great Plains, but the values-driven way [8:35] that people go about their lives is pretty impressive. [8:37] I think too, that we’re agriculturally based [8:42] in the Midwest outside of the big cities [8:44] and so people in rural America, [8:48] there’s a certain way they go about their life [8:51] and It’s kind of a neat mix of values-driven, [8:55] faith-based, roll up your sleeves, let’s get ‘er done, [8:59] let’s work collaboratively and get on with it [9:01] with a pretty short fuse for silliness [9:06] and to be candid, BS. [9:08] So, I think that all resonates with me. [9:11] And it taps that blue collar Cleveland — [9:15] Sure. [9:16] Kind of youth experience. [9:18] But the people in Nebraska just been crazy amazing, [9:22] so warm, so generous. [9:25] I think I’ve never been anywhere in the world [9:28] and I’ve been to almost 40 countries, [9:31] all but Kansas, sorry all but Arkansas and Oklahoma, [9:35] so I gotta get those on my. [9:37] I’ve never heard people describe themselves [9:39] as “my name’s Caitlyn and I’m a sixth [9:43] generation Nebraskan from Arthur.” [9:45] Or, “my name’s Chuck and I’m a fifth generation [9:50] from, help me, Indianola” or somewhere around those parts [9:54] right? Sure. [9:56] I mean it’s crazy and so that’s pretty amazing. [10:00] I’ve also not been in a state where, [10:02] we’ve lived in Oregon, Illinois, Ohio. [10:05] My wife’s from Indiana, now we’re in Nebraska. [10:08] I’ve never been in a state where you hear that [10:13] but you also hear “my people were Nebraskans [10:17] before there was a Nebraska.” [10:18] Yeah. [10:19] Holy smokes. [10:20] Because I think one of the things that, [10:23] in fact Willa Cather’s My Antonia, [10:27] is 100 years old now. [10:29] Yeah. [10:30] And we’re celebrating that [10:31] but truth of the matter is her writings [10:36] and Solomon Butcher’s pictures, photographs only pick up [10:41] as the Homestead Act kind of came in to mix. [10:46] And of course there’s all kinds of amazing history [10:49] and some of it not so good. [10:51] Right. [10:52] And we wrestle with all of this, here in this place. [10:55] In fact, Nebraska is a state that’s founded on migration. [10:58] That’s right, absolutely right. [11:00] So new wave ancient, new wave, old wave [11:04] and it’s fun to see and interesting to see [11:07] how we as humans are wrestling with these issues. [11:12] Right. [11:12] It’s fun to see — We want to be good at it. [11:14] Yeah, we do want to be — We want to be good at it. [11:15] It’s different. [11:16] And there are some examples of communities [11:18] that were really good at it really early [11:20] and they’re still really good at it. [11:21] And there are some communities that were [11:23] really good at it early who are struggling. [11:26] So it’s pretty tricky. [11:29] The place, wow, it breaks my heart that so many people, [11:35] Nebraskans don’t get past Grand Island. [11:38] (Chuck laughing)

[11:39] And if they do it’s on I-80. [11:40] Right. [11:41] Right? [11:42] Gosh, just five miles north or south of I-80, [11:44] you’re in the Canyon Country and South Central. [11:47] You fly over and you see the pivots. [11:50] Of course Frank Zybach and his not even eighth grade [11:56] education who comes up with the first center pivot [11:58] that leads to 5 years of water conservation. [12:01] Just fantastic. [12:03] You drive the road, I think it’s Highway 29 [12:06] from Mitchell up to Harrison, pick up Highway 20, [12:10] I mean it’s just beautiful. [12:11] So northeast Nebraska, southeast Nebraska, [12:15] I mean it is just an amazing place. [12:18] And then the farmers, the producers, [12:20] the community leaders are just so innovative [12:23] and I think it’s been really refreshing. [12:27] And it is true, we’re a big small state. [12:30] Yeah. [12:31] And I think our number one asset [12:33] is that we know each other [12:35] but it really is predicated on every day waking up [12:38] and recommitting to ourselves that [12:40] we’re really gonna move the needle forward. [12:43] Yeah, Mike I want to jump forward a little bit. [12:45] Yeah. [12:46] You have a very broad scope of responsibilities. [12:50] One of those under your wing is the Real Futures Institute. [12:54] Yup. [12:55] And we’ve had a chance to get acquainted [12:57] over the last year you’ve been in this role, [12:59] it was erroneously reported earlier this week — [13:02] It sure was. [13:03] That the Rural Futures Institute was being eliminated. [13:05] Yup. [13:06] I want to assure our audience of folks [13:10] who really do support — Yeah. [13:11] What we do that that wasn’t true. [13:13] Yeah, yup. [13:14] And I wanted to give you an opportunity [13:16] to just to give a bit of your vision [13:18] for where we, yes we’ve taken deep budget cuts. [13:21] Yeah. [13:22] Everybody knows that. Yeah. [13:23] But a little bit of your vision for where we are going. [13:25] Yeah, well I’ll look straight at the camera [13:27] and say it wasn’t true. [13:28] Unfortunately Monday night after a really tough day [13:31] in visiting Concord and some colleagues [13:35] who unfortunately the reality is that [13:38] the Haskell Ag Lab is a program that [13:41] is on the proposed elimination list. [13:43] And I wanted them to hear it from the horse’s mouth first. [13:48] But unfortunately that evening in the newspaper [13:51] it was reported in the Lincoln Journal Star [13:54] that RFI was slated for elimination [13:58] and by the time Connie reached out to me [14:02] and by the time I got back on to the website [14:04] to look at the newspaper headings it had been changed.

[14:07] So bottom line is that Rural Futures, [14:10] the Rural Initiative has been around for a very long time. [14:13] And I think about life as a journey, [14:16] I know you do too, Chuck. [14:18] And so we’re now entering the next chapter, [14:21] we’re writing the next chapter [14:23] of the Rural Futures Institute [14:25] and bottom line is to what I said earlier, [14:29] we will thrive when we align [14:32] and leverage in appropriate ways. [14:34] And things take some times a while [14:37] to go through iterations before they really soar. [14:40] And under your leadership, no question [14:42] things have soared in certain areas. [14:46] Under extension, under our community vitality areas, [14:50] things have soared. [14:51] Under partners like the Heartland Center, [14:53] Milan Wall and his team, things have soared. [14:57] Under Jeff Yost’s leadership, [14:59] Nebraska Community Foundation, things have soared. [15:02] So I think we’re at a really interesting place [15:05] and the budget situation perhaps [15:06] was a catalyst to force the issue, [15:09] even though you’ve all been talking. [15:11] But it’s time now to take it to the next level [15:14] and we’re going to do that by bringing the [15:16] Community Vitality Initiative, [15:19] within the Nebraska Extension, which is about [15:22] a million dollars worth of human capital and resource [15:25] and we’re gonna bring that into RFI [15:28] and move the needle forward by bringing more assets [15:33] to bear on the important part of [15:35] rural communities and their vitality. [15:38] And we’ve talked a lot but, just to hear [15:41] as I wrap up my thoughts, [15:42] we think about access to high quality education. [15:47] I’ve visited with Nebraskans, [15:49] that people are bundling up their kids [15:51] and a mom is taking the kids into town, [15:54] 100 miles away so that they can go to school [15:57] and back to the ranch or the farm on the weekends. [16:00] High quality, affordable healthcare, it’s critical. [16:05] We have some real healthcare issues in this state. [16:07] Access to safe and nutritious food, [16:10] and I’m not talking about you know, [16:11] the corner convenience store or the C-store. [16:13] That’s critical. [16:15] Access to infrastructure, whether that’s broadband [16:18] or wifi or Internet, or rail heads or roads, [16:22] that’s really critical. [16:24] And then we know that leadership, leadership’s critical. [16:29] Yeah. [16:29] But also entrepreneurship and innovation [16:31] so when we think about the vitality of our communities, [16:34] especially our rural communities, [16:36] know those are really the pillars. [16:38] And we have a lot of really smart people in the Institute [16:42] and the University, we can’t do it alone. [16:44] We need partners, we need everybody thrown in [16:47] and we, I can’t say this unequivocally, [16:51] we are committed to the vitality [16:53] of Nebraska’s rural communities [16:54] and RFI is a key part of that. [16:57] Thank you.

[16:58] Well listen, I’m not gonna let you get out of here [17:00] without — Alright. [17:01] Gettin’ away from the starched shirt and the ties — [17:04] Yeah. [17:05] I know one of the things that you love about your role [17:08] is the opportunity to engage with students. [17:09] I do, absolutely. [17:11] And rumor has it actually — Uh oh. [17:12] That you were over helpin’ students move into their — [17:15] I was, yeah. [17:16] Residents, hall rooms. [17:16] They wondered who in the world this guy is. [17:18] Yeah, no question. [17:18] So anyway, I know you love the kids. [17:20] Yeah. [17:21] And Mike, in your role — [17:23] Yeah. [17:24] Obviously the education component is a big deal [17:28] and we’re preparing students for a world [17:31] quite unlike the one you and I grew up in. [17:33] So I wanted to give you a chance to talk [17:36] a little bit about your sense of the eduction model [17:39] required to prepare them for that very different world.

[17:43] Wow, you know just being again mindful, [17:45] I am passionate about students. [17:47] And I’m so passionate that to be honest with you, [17:50] the one piece of my professorial life [17:54] that I’ve kept alive is still engaging with students. [17:57] I still have some intellectual capacity, [17:59] intellectual property that we’re movin’ along [18:03] but look, we’re a university, not a company [18:06] and at the end of the day, what differentiates us [18:08] is that we engage students. [18:10] The world’s changing from when we went to school [18:13] where it was brick and mortar [18:15] and you were 18 to 20 years old and off you went. [18:18] I think that we have to get those of us [18:21] at four year institutions need to get our high horse [18:24] a little bit, a lot in some cases [18:27] and really embrace our two year programs. [18:29] I think we need to get off our higher education kick [18:33] and we really need to be partnering more with our PK [18:36] through 12 partners, our superintendents and our students. [18:39] Kudos to our teachers out there in our public school system, [18:43] our superintendents, our principals. [18:45] In many ways, the University is 10 years behind them [18:52] as far as innovating and moving theory into practice. [18:56] So, but we have to do a better job of working [19:00] as a continuum of Kindergarten and Pre Kindergarten [19:03] all the way to advanced degrees [19:04] and think about where those critical points are [19:07] for students to succeed and for families to succeed. [19:10] And I think that’s where we’re going. [19:13] I think the other thing in the world is [19:14] why do we still think that 18 to 22 years old [19:20] your job is to go to the university [19:21] and you’re an empty vessel, we fill you up [19:24] and that’s what you have for the rest of your life? [19:28] 40%, what I’ve read, 40% of the jobs that are out there [19:33] in the future, we don’t even know what they are, Chuck. [19:35] Yeah. [19:36] So if we get too high and mighty that we have [19:38] all the answers today, we’re gonna be in trouble. [19:41] Sure. [19:41] Second thing is the world is really a small place, [19:44] it’s not just Nebraska, [19:45] and so we need to have students who [19:48] are amazingly critical thinkers, [19:51] we need them to be broad and diverse [19:53] in their thinking, their ability, [19:55] back to the humanities to hold juxtaposed, [19:59] polarized views in their head at the same time. [20:02] That’s critical. [20:04] And then to be able to make sense of that [20:06] and still function. [20:07] Right. [20:08] And then take that and start to apply those [20:10] to the humans and the environment [20:13] and the context that they’re operating in. [20:15] So I’m really interested in exploring things like [20:18] why don’t we offer educational futures. [20:23] So when students graduate, we’re so invested [20:26] in your future that you can lock down access [20:31] to your university now for the rest of your life. [20:34] Sure. [20:35] And you can pay for it almost like an inverse student loan [20:38] or a mortgage where you can actually say, [20:41] “hey I’d like to pay for this access over the next 15 years, [20:44] I’m gonna lock down in today’s rates, no inflation,” [20:48] and that gives people the opportunity [20:50] when they’re 32 or 42 or 82 to cycle back [20:54] into the classroom, quote unquote via virtual or in-person, [20:59] ways to get what they need. [21:02] And if you think about the classroom of the future, [21:04] how cool as an 18 or 19 or 20 year old, [21:08] to be able to have a student in your class [21:10] who’s got 13 or 50 or 70 years of life experience. [21:15] Yeah. [21:15] Wow. [21:16] So who are the students and who are the teachers? [21:18] I think that the world’s changing very rapidly, [21:21] the university, the academy needs to change. [21:24] And in Nebraska, we’re all about innovating [21:27] and discovering and working collaboratively [21:30] so I couldn’t be more excited about being here. [21:32] Sure. [21:33] And we’ll get through the budget. [21:35] We will get through the budget. [21:36] It’s like the stock market, it comes and it goes. [21:38] What doesn’t come and go is the commitment [21:42] that Nebraskans have to Nebraskans [21:45] and that’s what we really need to hunker down [21:47] and hold too tight, [21:48] and breathe everyday, and reset everyday [21:52] and that’s what I came to Nebraska to be a part of.

[21:56] Well listen Mike, we’re out of time. [21:58] We’re real way out of time. [21:59] As you and I knew would happen [22:01] when we started this conversation. [22:02] Listen, I just want to say that for those of us [22:05] at the Rural Futures Institute, [22:06] we really have enjoyed over this last year [22:08] building the relationship with you. [22:10] You’ve been a great champion for what we do. [22:12] Thanks, Chuck. [22:13] And we look forward to that ongoing relationship. [22:16] Well listen, we invite you to stay in touch [22:18] with the Rural Futures Institute [22:20] through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn [22:25] as well as our revamped website that I think you’ll enjoy. [22:29] And stay in touch with us because in weeks to come, [22:33] we’re gonna be talking with real people [22:35] about real places who demonstrate that [22:38] thriving rural communities are a legitimate [22:40] best choice for worthwhile living. [22:42] Thanks for joining us.



Previous Episode

Episode 13 | The Future of Rural Leadership

Next Episode

Episode 15 | Building a Thriving Rural Community