Episode 19 | Developing Student Potential

Mar. 22, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode of Catch Up With Chuck, we are joined by RFI Community Innovation Fellow Reshell Ray, who serves as the Associate Director of Student Involvement on East Campus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

In this role, Ray bridges the gap between the academic and co-curricular experiences for students. She discusses engaging students and creating community, as well as the importance of diversity, relationship building and respect.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:06] Welcome to the Rural Futures Institute [0:07] at the University of Nebraska. [0:10] I’m Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director [0:11] of the Institute and this is our weekly [0:13] broadcast of Catch Up With Chuck. [0:16] I’m delighted to say that I have with me [0:18] today an RFI Fellow as well as a really [0:23] remarkable member of the university community [0:26] who touches many many lives through the course of her work. [0:30] Reshell Ray. [0:31] Reshell, we’re delighted to have you with us. [0:33] Thank you Chuck. [0:33] I’m really happy to be here today. [0:35] Well, I think we’ll have some fun. [0:37] Well, listen you are a part of a really important [0:40] team at UNL’s Division of Student Affairs. [0:45] You’re responsible for Student Involvement [0:48] on East Campus which is where we’re located [0:52] and where we run into lots of kids. [0:55] But you know that sounds so academic. [0:57] I happen to know that your life and career [1:00] leading to this role has included some [1:03] pretty far-flung adventures and I thought [1:07] our audience might find it interesting [1:09] to hear a little bit more about Reshell [1:11] and what brought you here. [1:12] So, tell us about it. [1:13] Great.

[1:14] Well, actually I grew up in a small community, [1:17] Pacific Missouri, about 45 minutes west of St. Louis [1:23] and went to school at the in Springfield, Missouri [1:27] in southwest Missouri State. [1:29] I was a bear. [1:30] And thought you know they don’t tell you [1:33] when you’re in college that sociology [1:36] and psychology without many many years [1:40] of preparation will not lead you [1:43] to a gainful employment. [1:45] (laughter) [1:46] So, I figured that out fairly quickly. [1:49] So, I actually came to Nebraska to pursue [1:52] my master’s degree in Community Regional Planning [1:55] and Urban Development and as a result got [1:58] very involved in campus activities [2:01] and campus life during the early 80s. [2:05] So, after graduating with that degree [2:08] I worked in Community Development as a City [2:11] Planner for multiple years working [2:13] in land-use development, working [2:15] with the city and our economic [2:18] development organization in the community. [2:22] I found that I would I missed the liveliness [2:27] of campus life and that if I was going to have [2:31] a lasting impact, my greatest contribution [2:35] would be working with young people. [2:37] And so I applied for a position that was [2:40] open here at the University and I came back [2:42] to the University in 1988. [2:47] So, actually this year I will celebrate [2:49] 30 years here at the University of Nebraska [2:54] working with young people and my last 15 years [2:57] has been here on East Campus. [3:00] Well you clearly found your calling [3:02] because I love watching you work with kids.

[3:04] Well listen one of the things that really [3:07] attracted us at the Rural Futures Institute [3:09] to Reshell was when I learned that you [3:15] certainly are not new to rural communities [3:18] and rural community development and have played [3:21] an active role in some of that work in a [3:24] relationship with the Heartland Center for Leadership Development based here [3:27] in Lincoln with whom we’ve had a relationship. [3:30] Talk a little bit about that part of your history.

[3:32] Yes, well when I came back to Lincoln, [3:36] Joe Luther was a faculty member. [3:39] His wife Vicki was one of the co-owners [3:43] of the Heartland Center, co-founders of [3:45] the Heartland Center with Milan Wall. [3:47] And Joe encouraged them to contact me [3:51] about working with the Heartland Center [3:54] and doing some of their training [3:55] and consulting and they did. [3:58] So, for over a span of about 20 years [4:01] in addition to my work at the University [4:04] I worked with the Heartland Center [4:06] which took me all across the nation [4:08] from Washington DC working in the inner city [4:12] to Tunica, Mississippi on a casino boat [4:16] doing community development. [4:19] And then across the state of Nebraska: [4:22] Holt County, Atkinson, Bassett, O’Neal, [4:25] McCook, just a variety of places [4:29] where we did community development work. [4:31] So, it was really important to me to stay [4:34] connected to the profession community [4:36] development alongside with my work here [4:40] at the university.

[4:42] Sure, well I know you’ve really developed [4:44] a great deal of respect from folks that [4:46] have worked with you in that realm over time. [4:48] So, thinking about that background tied with your [4:53] responsibilities for student involvement here at UNL [4:58] you were a natural to be a part of a team [5:01] that launched a program under the auspices [5:04] of the Rural Futures Institute in 2013 [5:07] that we now call Rural Serviceship. [5:10] We’ve been in about 38 community [5:12] 19 communities with over 35 students. [5:17] Talk a little bit about the thinking [5:18] that went into the creation of this program [5:22] that’s now had such an impact.

[5:23] Sure. [5:24] Well the, going back to my work [5:27] with the Heartland Center, time after time [5:30] being in rural communities we would [5:32] have strategic planning or meetings [5:35] talking about the futures of rural communities. [5:39] And that the need for young people [5:42] to move back into those settings. [5:44] And when they would return, what would [5:47] that look like for them? [5:50] And a lot of data, a lot of research [5:53] about high school students but there was [5:55] not a lot of information about college students. [5:58] These are the students that I worked [5:59] with on a daily basis who become extension [6:02] educators, ranchers, farmers, individuals [6:06] who go back, entrepreneurs who start businesses [6:09] within the rural context, ag. teachers. [6:12] So, it was very important to me to think [6:15] about how can these two pieces of my life [6:19] come together. [6:21] And working with the Heartland Center [6:23] and then working with faculty and staff [6:25] here on campus and the Rural Futures had the grant [6:27] it seemed very natural to put together [6:31] this concept the Center for Civic Engagement [6:34] with Dr. Linda Moody and to define kind of [6:39] what that service would look like. [6:41] And then Tom Field and Lindsay Hastings [6:43] and Milan and myself and Kurt it was just [6:46] a very synergistic team to conceive [6:50] this possibility of how can we send [6:53] young people out to rural areas for [6:56] them to have an experience to say rural [6:58] is an option for me after completing [7:01] my graduation and that there are opportunities [7:05] in the rural settings and that I can make a difference. [7:09] And so we wrote the grant and was funded. [7:12] The first year students went out had great experience. [7:17] They learned so much and the students [7:19] can do far more in a very short period [7:22] of time than a professional who’s on the ground [7:26] doing the work and may not have time [7:28] to separate out to do a project.

[7:30] So, our students here at the University [7:33] went in, did amazing things that I think [7:37] that exceeded expectations the first year. [7:40] Second year it wasn’t just a whim because again [7:44] it was the good fit with the students, [7:47] the teams that went out, the communities [7:48] that they worked with, excellent things occurred. [7:52] And now to think that we’re this far [7:54] and it has continued and the success [7:57] continues to be demonstrated through the work [8:00] of the students that we have going. [8:03] Well, you do such a great job of preparing [8:05] these students to go make a difference [8:08] and by the way learning skills that will [8:11] allow them whatever community they end up in [8:13] to be leaders in that community. [8:17] And it’s a part of the fun for me with that project [8:21] is every year without fail the mentors, [8:25] the community leaders that have worked [8:27] with our students will call me at the end [8:29] of the summer and say “Gosh, those kids [8:33] got things done in eight weeks that we [8:36] couldn’t do in five years and by the way [8:39] would you mind sending them back here next year”? [8:40] (laughter) [8:42] Absolutely. [8:43] They’ve had such an impact. [8:45] Absolutely.

[8:45] The students have a capacity to rethink, re-envision. [8:49] When you’re there for so long, there [8:52] are little things that you overlook [8:54] or that you might walk past many many days [8:57] and think there’s nothing that can be done. [8:59] And so one. [9:00] Or be a little intimidated. [9:01] (crosstalk) [9:04] One great example was the students [9:06] that were in Red Cloud. [9:07] There was a house and an area and everyone [9:11] in the community knew that there was an opportunity [9:16] there to make it better. [9:18] It was an entrance to the city. [9:20] The students worked with the homeowner [9:23] and the churches and the community members [9:26] and the city to do citywide cleanup days [9:30] and improve properties and things. [9:32] And the one thing that was really important [9:35] was to preserve the dignity of the people. [9:38] So, that ability to go in and work [9:41] with individuals in the community [9:44] and the level of respect and dignity [9:47] that had a great impact you know in that area [9:50] and people appreciated that. [9:53] And those stories got repeated everywhere [9:56] our students have been. [9:57] The University of Nebraska, the students [10:00] who were here in our programs are exceptional [10:03] young adults who have a lot to contribute [10:06] to our rural settings. [10:08] Well, it’s been fun to create that opportunity.

[10:11] Listen on some other episodes of Catch Up With Chuck [10:14] we’ve discussed our core beliefs [10:17] at the Rural Futures Institute [10:19] and those include things such as, [10:22] we believe in people’s capacity to shape [10:24] their own futures. [10:26] We believe that diverse and inclusive [10:28] leadership is critical to a successful [10:32] rural community particularly in today’s environment. [10:35] And you know your work with students [10:38] here at the University of Nebraska [10:40] really delivers on those beliefs right [10:44] at the ground level as we’re preparing [10:46] young people to go out into communities. [10:48] I want you to talk a little bit about [10:50] the strategies that you employ here [10:53] with our students to help build those core [10:57] beliefs in them that they can take [11:00] with them to communities when they go.

[11:03] I think at the fundamental level [11:05] that every individual is deserving of respect. [11:10] And so my ability to communicate that [11:14] to them when you’re whether it’s a person [11:17] that’s older or younger, that looks [11:19] like you, that may be different than you, [11:23] they are deserving of respect. [11:25] And oftentimes we have more things [11:27] in common than the differences that separate us. [11:31] But last week I was doing a presentation [11:33] for one of the ag. leadership classes [11:36] and I said when I’m driving through Nebraska [11:39] and I might have been doing a training or a workshop [11:42] I said and if I’m driving my car I know that [11:45] if I just go like that as I pass by [11:48] and the students just begin to nod [11:51] because you know it’s a communication method. [11:56] It’s a way of giving honor to. [11:58] It’s learning about where people are in places. [12:02] And I think that my background in community [12:03] development also that you become kind of a part [12:07] of a community by listening. [12:10] So, don’t rush in to try to make people [12:13] do something or do something on people [12:17] versus do things with people.

[12:19] And so how do you establish good communication skills? [12:23] How do you think outside of the box [12:27] and envision new ways of doing things? [12:31] But then also developing relationships [12:34] is really really really a critical piece of that. [12:37] And I hope that my work with students [12:40] coming in from various communities [12:44] when I’ve been here on the East Campus [12:46] for about 15 years now. [12:48] When I first came to East Campus, [12:51] I didn’t know about the various calving seasons. [12:55] I didn’t know duck hunting or deer seasons [12:59] and I learned a lot from the kids here. [13:02] You know, anhydrous ammonia. [13:05] You know I learned a lot about different things. [13:09] And so what I learned is that my ability [13:13] to take that information and then when [13:15] I’m in various places in rural communities [13:19] share some of those things with the members [13:22] it helps to ease that relationship [13:25] and helps to put people at ease. [13:28] Because diversity is not going to go away. [13:30] As our nation changes people will see others [13:33] in their communities. [13:35] And so we have a responsibility [13:38] I think at the university to equip them [13:40] to go out wherever they are; urban, rural, [13:44] and to be ambassadors for the University of Nebraska [13:48] and demonstrate that caring and those competencies [13:53] when they’re working with others. [13:54] Absolutely. [13:55] And we see communities going through [13:57] that transition in some very positive ways today. [14:02] And we’ve had some other RFI projects [14:04] focused on diversity and we start seeing [14:07] communities celebrating those differences [14:11] and taking advantage of them and creating [14:13] a more dynamic future for themselves. [14:15] Yes.

[14:16] Well, listen I want to follow up on a piece of that. [14:18] Another of our core beliefs is that [14:21] our complex future requires mutual respect [14:25] and collaboration between rural and urban sectors. [14:30] Reshell, you work with students from the [14:32] broadest array of backgrounds, from the [14:35] largest cities to the smallest towns. [14:39] Talk a little bit about how you try [14:41] to bridge that rural urban divide [14:44] that we hear about so much. [14:46] Yeah. [14:48] There is.

We’re connected. [14:51] So, what Lincoln does, what Omaha does, [14:55] what other large cities do, it cannot occur [14:58] without what happens in rural Nebraska. [15:01] I’m gonna say rural Nebraska because it supplies so much. [15:06] Whether it is garment industry, food supplies, [15:11] and things of that nature. [15:13] We’re all connected and so seeing ourselves [15:17] as interdependent is really important [15:21] and we can learn from one another. [15:24] We can resolve issues collectively. [15:27] Collaboration is so so vital because none [15:31] of us can resolve things in a bubble. [15:34] So, being able to create that connection [15:37] between urban and rural is really really important [15:41] and very critical as we continue to move forward. [15:44] Well, I just know that your preparation [15:46] in the training program that we do [15:48] before we send our students out is. [15:50] You know, we’ve had kids from Chicago [15:52] as well as Omaha as again as well as [15:55] some small communities and I know you [15:58] really have helped build in that mutual respect [16:00] and they’ve come out of the program dear friends, [16:05] great respect, learning from each other, [16:07] respecting each other for what they bring [16:10] to the table from their own background. [16:11] (crosstalk) [16:12] So, our first year there was a student [16:15] from urban area and they had a lot of trepidation. [16:18] You could see it on their face almost every time [16:21] we talked about the journey. [16:24] And at the end of the serviceship the student [16:28] said they would not do anything different [16:32] and they had such a high regard for the rural lifestyle [16:37] that they could see themselves now potentially [16:40] living in a small community that maybe not [16:44] where they were but in a small community [16:46] and that they had never give consideration [16:48] to that prior to that experience. [16:51] So, it really does open them up to the. [16:54] In the small community how people know [16:56] one another by name, you know. [16:59] They know the store owners. [17:00] They know the person at the lumberyard. [17:03] They know who, you know, are in the community [17:06] and in civic life. [17:08] And I think we introduced them to the rural setting [17:12] in such a way that it really does help them [17:15] to see that it’s okay that I’m not 10 minutes [17:19] from every store but, you know, that our drive [17:23] and what I see, you know, that’s okay [17:25] and I can manage that. [17:27] So, I think that that’s a real important part of it. [17:30] Sure.

[17:31] Listen, we’re running out of time [17:33] but I just have to say I have so enjoyed [17:35] over the last four years or so watching you [17:38] work with students from such a broad array of backgrounds. [17:43] Helping them find a home within the [17:47] University of Nebraska and that really [17:49] prepares them to live productive lives [17:52] as citizens, as community leaders, going forward. [17:56] So, I just think it’s important to tell [17:58] parents that are considering where they might [18:01] send their kiddo’s for that life preparation [18:05] to know that there’s a Reshell Ray at [18:07] the University of Nebraska that takes [18:09] very seriously those students one by one. [18:14] So, anything you’d like to add today?

[18:16] Well, you know, and it doesn’t end [18:18] once they leave the university. [18:21] I have been to weddings all across the state. [18:24] I did. [18:25] I heard you checking up with a mom here earlier. [18:28] Absolutely. [18:30] I get Facebook posts of babies when they’re born. [18:33] There’s a lot of, you know, young parents, [18:38] young families that have stayed in [18:39] the state of Nebraska that I stay connected to. [18:45] And I can honestly say there is no place like Nebraska. [18:49] You cannot send your son or daughter [18:50] to a better place to get an education, [18:54] to be well grounded in their field [18:58] but yet develop the skills necessary [19:00] to be successful in their lives beyond the university.

[19:04] Well, I just have to tell you that we’re [19:06] so proud to be associated with you as an RFI Fellow [19:09] and as a colleague here at the University of Nebraska. [19:13] Well, listen we want you to stay in touch [19:14] with the Rural Futures Institute through our website, [19:17] through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, [19:20] LinkedIn, all of those tools. [19:22] We try to communicate in a variety of venues. [19:25] And join us again next week for the next edition [19:28] of Catch Up With Chuck where we’re going [19:30] to be talking with real people about real places. [19:33] Demonstrating that thriving rural communities [19:37] are a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [19:39] Thank you.


Previous Episode

Next Episode

Episode 20 | Creating The Future For Rural