2019 Fellows/

Fellows Week 7: RFI Comm

July 3, 2019
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 …

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!
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Fellows Week 6: Chadron

June 28, 2019
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 …

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

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Fellows Week 4: Custer County

June 14, 2019
Hailey and Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just …

Hailey and Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just working on projects there. The two of them will be working on projects in Arnold and Callaway as well.

Megan’s first project that she is focusing on is an “Intern Connection” project that will bring all of the interns within Broken Bow closer together to help them have a sense of belonging to the community. The first event that will bring all of the interns together will be June 20th. This event will be taking place along with the “Third Thursday on the Square” in Broken Bow that has live music, food, games, and fun for all ages.

Additionally, she is working on creating a Custer County passport. The purpose of this passport is to bring awareness to the hidden gemstones that each community in Custer County has to offer. She has spent her time touring Custer County’s communities to see what each community has that makes it unique and special compared to the communities within the county.

The final project that she is focusing on for Broken Bow is “The Barn.” The Barn is the visitor center for Broken Bow and is apart of the Sandhills Scenic Byway. Her goal is to increase awareness, create more events, generate revenue and drive more traffic to The Barn.

Hailey is working individually on two projects, the first is taking new pictures to market the community. The pictures of many of the buildings and events throughout Custer County are outdated. Hailey will be taking pictures of many of the main areas and attracts in Custer County.

For Hailey’s second project, she is working with a local nonprofit called Capable.

Capable runs a year-long program called Youth Leadership in Custer County (YLCC) for high school students throughout Custer County. Hailey is helping to rework the structure of the program to shift to a design thinking and entrepreneurship perspective.

Together the two of them are working side by side in Callaway and Arnold. In Callaway, they are currently interviewing business owners as well as community members to assess their needs. After collecting their data, they will evaluate it and move forward with what is the

greatest need in the community. In Arnold, they are working on business and housing improvement/development. They are assisting in evaluating the current state of houses/business in order to qualify for federal assistance from the government to improve the community.

Some events that they have gotten to experience in their few weeks in Custer County include Market on the Square, various ribbon cuttings, and the Muddy Creek Festival in Ansley. The Market on the Square takes place every Thursday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. The ribbon cuttings served as a great opportunity for the two individuals to meet key stakeholders in the community and the county. By attending the ribbon cuttings, they got the opportunity to get connected with the journalist at the Custer County Chief where she interviewed the two of them.

As Hailey and Megan have interacted with numerous community members over the past few weeks, there was one quote in particular that stood out to both of them, “Be open to what we don’t know.” After hearing that quote it put life into a different perspective for the two RFI fellows. The first time Megan and Hailey went through each community, they had the opportunity to meet community members and business owners. Nearly every person they met told them how happy they were for two to be in community, and couldn’t wait to see the work they did. This was a very eye-opening experience for the two, they got to see they weren’t just impacting the community, but also the people in it.

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Fellows Week 3: Grand Island

June 7, 2019
Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1! We started off …

Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler

Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1!

We started off by getting to know what our Community Lead Mentors Sandra and Griselda due with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative and REAP (Rural Enterprise Assistance Program) respectively. Also, during out first week, we were invited to attend a mental health training program specifically targeted to help youth. After the floods in Nebraska and the immigration raids in O’Neil awareness of the importance of mental health has been growing and the week after we were able to attend a workshop focused on adults. 

In our first weeks here, we participated in a few of the programs that the Latino Small Business program hosts for the community, a marketing workshop, a women’s conference, and a cleaning academy. We also sat in on meetings with several entrepreneurs and were able to see how this program assists from start to finish with the start up process. 

We also got to visit the All of Us truck. All of Us is a research program that has been touring across the United States to create a database of information from underrepresented groups and to educate people of the many influences that impact health to create a future of precision medicine that is inclusive to all.

Our most recent meeting was with Mayor Roger Steele, who came to Nebraska Extension to visit with the Grand Island Latino Network. We were able learn from Mayor Steele about the current efforts to ensure Grand Island is inclusive and accessible to all and share our insight of how Grand Island can continue to progress. 

We have also started working on a variety of projects. One of our main projects this summer is analyzing the training topics covered by the Latino Small Business Program and areas of community need. We have already started to develop 4 workshops including Facebook for Business and a multi week mental health program. For the mental health workshops, we were able to partner with a graduate student from UNO who returned to Grand Island for his internship and is working at the Friendship Home. We are so excited to bring accessible mental health training in Spanish to the citizens of Grand Island. 

The Latino Small Business Program helps many entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. To share these stories with all of Nebraska, we are filming videos of some of the business owners that have been helped by Nebraska Extension and REAP. 

Our biggest project is to help promote 4th Street, which is the center of Latino entrepreneurship in Grand Island. We are working to ensure that these business owners are equipped with the tools and leadership training needed to make 4th Street a welcoming, diverse, attraction in Grand Island and to create a united business district downtown. 

We are excited to continue working with people from all parts of the community in Grand Island!

We were able to sit in on the Grand Island Latino Network’s meeting with Mayor Steele (Grey Suit on the left) it was an awesome opportunity to share with community leaders what we’ve been working on and learn about Grand Island. 


Who doesn’t love smoothies and tea?! We stopped by Big Red Nutrition one of the businesses UNL Extension helped start in Hastings!

Alyssa is pointing out an interesting fact that she noticed when we visited the All of Us truck. 
We all learned something new, such as all blue eyed people relate back to one person!

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Fellows Week 2: Chadron

May 31, 2019
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 …

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!


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Courtney Albrecht

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Garden County, Neb. SeniorLeadership and Communication University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hometown: Kearney, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  There are numerous reasons as to why rural communities are important to the …

RFI Student Fellow – Garden County, Neb.
Senior
Leadership and Communication
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Kearney, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

There are numerous reasons as to why rural communities are important to the future of our country. Rural communities support strong family values and community involvement. These communities allow for strong social capital. Rural communities help source food to the world. They also help new small innovative businesses flourish. Rural communities are the foundation for our country.

What do you hope to gain?

I wanted an internship this summer that was going to challenge me, but also help me grow as a leader. After learning about RFI, I knew the program would force me to get out of my comfort zone. I felt confident that the mentors and leaders in the program would provide me the necessary tools to best serve my community for the summer.

I hope to gain a better understanding of how I can best use my strengths to help others. I hope to gain more confidence in my leadership abilities, as well as growth as a leader.

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

I think it is important that students have this type of experience in order to develop as an inclusive leader because it helps develop a person as a whole. This program allows you to use your creativity, grow in cultural intelligence, and collaborate with other leaders wanting to make an impact as well. In order to become an inclusive leader, I think having a fulling immersive experience like this is crucial.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Rural communities are the backbone, lifeblood, and character of the world. Each community has its own struggles and challenges, but so often what makes rural communities stand out is their people. Many people that I have met in rural communities are committed to their community. By working in a rural community, you are better able to implement change for that community compared to a city. In addition, you are able to fully immerse yourself in the community to understand how to best serve it.

Nebraska has done so much to help its students grow. It is important to give back in return to allow this growth to continue to happen. Nebraska has incredible potential for growth and I think that this current generation of students has the capacity to develop that.

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

Now is the perfect time to move rural communities forward because we have the knowledge, skills, leadership, and capacity to do so. Rural communities have the ability to shape their futures and their cultures. They have the capacity to implement and carry out change. In order to move these communities forward, it is important to still value tradition, while making room for new ideas. Have local business leaders work with entrepreneurs to help meet different needs in the community. Different and innovative businesses could help to bring in young people and young families. Have a strong education system that allows a great foundation for the children in the community. Continue to have community events and gatherings in order to create a strong bond between community members. These are just a few ideas, but there are so many different ways that rural communities can shine.


Fellows Week 5: Garden County

June 21, 2019
Kersten and Courtney are both living it up in rural, small town western Nebraska. The two are working with the Volunteers of America Western Nebraska to provide the groundwork for possible early childhood experiences. It was a slow start, but …

Kersten and Courtney are both living it up in rural, small town western Nebraska. The two are working with the Volunteers of America Western Nebraska to provide the groundwork for possible early childhood experiences. It was a slow start, but the two have picked up the pace since the first week. As Courtney and Kersten continue to work in Garden County, they are quickly finding out what it means to be immersed in a small town. Both have helped with concession stands and umpiring for the town’s youth baseball and softball games. Additionally,  they helped with a social event with the Sixpence program and the summer school CHAMPS program by helping teach a lesson once a week according to the weekly theme.

Kersten and Courtney have spent the last four weeks getting to know the Garden County communities: Lisco, Oshkosh, and Lewellen. During this time they have been working with the Garden County Communities For Kids Core Team to come up with focus group questions to ask as a follow up on a recent county wide survey that was done. During these focus groups, Kersten and Courtney will be visiting with residents in Garden County to find out what the communities feel it needs for its youth. This may be deciding another daycare center needs to be built or more community wide events need to be offered. After the focus groups are completed, the two will host a Communities For Kids Core Team meeting to discuss the common patterns that were found. During this time, the Core Team will discuss the different strategies that can take place in the community to boost early childhood opportunities.   

In addition to the focus groups, the two have been working on setting up games for a fourth of July carnival they will be having at the city park in Oshkosh. The two have also been chosen as judges for the fourth of July parade. Also, the two have created Facebook pages for both the Oshkosh Public Library and Garden County Communities For Kids to help bring awareness to the program and business, but to also connect with people around the Garden County area about the events both have to offer. In addition to the carnival, Courtney and Kersten will be hosting a community event to allow the public, or those who were not randomly selected for the focus groups, to ask questions or speak their concerns about the current early childhood opportunities available.

Lastly, the two held a meeting with First Five Nebraska at the Most Unlikely Place in Lewellen. During this meeting Elizabeth Lopez Everett, a lobbyist for the state capital, discussed different data about in the state of Nebraska and how the state is seeing a decrease in funds for early childhood. She also discussed how the more early childhood facilities that a town has available, the higher chance that people are willing to live in that town and invest in that town.

Kersten and Courtney have also experienced Western Nebraska at its finest. Kersten overcame her fear of rattlesnakes for a day and visited Chimney Rock. The two also took time to visit the Hierloom Festival in Bridgeport. The festival was a mini-version of a Junk Stock, for those that are familiar. Lastly, the two have spent almost every weekend at Lake McConaughy. Between just driving past and looking at the beautiful view and laying out for hours to reach complete relaxation, Courtney and Kersten are becoming very comfortable in Garden County!

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Vasu Balraj

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb. Neuroscience Washington University Hometown: Grand Island, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? Rural communities are an important investment in the future of our country. Currently, Nebraska is the …

RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb.
Neuroscience
Washington University
Hometown: Grand Island, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?

Rural communities are an important investment in the future of our country. Currently, Nebraska is the third largest producer of food in the United States. Twelve states, including states with numerous rural communities like Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota help to generate over $10 billion in agricultural revenue for the United States. The workers in these states work incredibly hard, but receive little to no recognition or credit. Currently, 1 in 5 Americans live in rural America. However, many individuals in these communities lack the same standard of care, education and opportunity that the rest of Americans have access to. Therefore, many young adults are not returning to these communities. If we don’t invest time and energy to increase resources then the enormous contributions that these communities lend to our country’s economy has potential to be lost. Over the last few centuries, we have been taking as much from these communities as possible, whether it be agricultural capital or young professionals, and have given them little to nothing in return. This is why we need to target these communities with development efforts to recreate the socioeconomic incentives that characterized these communities centuries ago.

A study found that 27% Americans would ideally want to live in a rural community, which was more than the amount of people wanting to live in suburban or big city areas. If time is taken to invest into the economic and social development in these communities then there is incredible potential for retention and growth of rural communities. Instead of shunning these communities as antiquated burdens to national economic growth, we should be incorporating these communities into the national economy and into the future of our country.

There are many misconceptions regarding rural communities but a huge one is that rural communities stand still. There is no change. Growing up in Grand Island, I have been impressed with the amount of growth I have seen in the community in the 16 years I have lived there. My hometown is a three-time recipient of the All America City award which recognizes ten cities annually for the work of their communities in using inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and create stronger connections among residents, businesses and nonprofits, and government leaders. Rural communities like Grand Island provide me with hope that any community can thrive if given the proper resources and attention, and with the value of widespread solidarity that keeps these communities so tight knit, these communities are primed to participate in and contribute to the national economy of the future.

What do you hope to gain through this experience?

I hope to gain an understanding of the difficulties the people in rural communities face and learn the roles I can assume (now and in the future) to work towards solutions.

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

It is difficult to be an effective leader without actually personally connecting with the members of your community. An experience like RFI requires the students to be leaders, but also listeners, which is an essential component that is too often forgotten. A leader guides the community, but is also an advocate for change, which can only happen successfully if the community and the leaders are all involved.

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

I believe a lack of opportunity holds back rural communities from evolving at the same pace as the rest of America. Therefore, I would want to focus on working towards increasing the available opportunities that are currently offered in rural Nebraska. Because of my premedical background, I think introducing STEM fields at a younger age and with greater emphasis could have a positive impact. Currently, Nebraska is doing an outstanding job at building a stronger health care system in rural communities with programs like the Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP). Encouraging the youth of rural areas to consider a larger range of career paths and opportunities helps to develop and grow programs like RHOP. Because of the success of RHOP, the program has expanded to more campuses and specialties now including:

  • Dental Hygiene
  • Dentistry
  • Medicine
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Physician Assistant
  • Radiography

The students currently in these programs will return to rural areas, bringing much needed resources and care. The lack of healthcare services tend to drive people away from staying in or considering rural living, but the future looks encouraging with the recent development of these programs.

A short term goal I have, that would also encourage retention, is strengthening the sense of community so youth want to come back. This can be done by implementing more community events and creating a personality for the town that sets it apart from other places.


Chadron Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 6: Chadron

June 28, 2019
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 …

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

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Fellows Week 2: Chadron

May 31, 2019
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 …

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!

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Angela Beltran

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Grand Island, Neb. International Business University of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Columbus, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural communities are important to the future of our country because as of now they …

RFI Student Fellow – Grand Island, Neb.
International Business
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Columbus, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural communities are important to the future of our country because as of now they supply the rest of America with energy and food. Years from now the efforts of rural communities throughout America will continue to be a primary source for our food supply, energy, outdoor recreation and safe drinking water. It is also important, as people from rural communities understand and are close to nature and have a strong sense of community. They are also close knit and with the recent flooding in Nebraska many of the residents in the rural communities have come together to assist one another in time of need.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to be able to gain many skills with working with other people who are different from me.

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

Many of us are hoping to have a more inclusive nation and many of us do feel that we are separating, and if we start at a smaller level, we could work to make it nationwide.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Giving back to the state is important because we take many opportunities that are given to us to better the future for our generations to come and the families that are continuously moving to our state.

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

Rural is important because being at a smaller level leads to many accomplishments and understanding of how wonderful communities are together.


Fellows Week 8: Grand Island

July 12, 2019
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 …

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.

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Grand Island Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
Grand Island fellows Alyssa and Angela took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on June 5th 2019. This was our first ever fellow takeover, and it went very well! Watch as our fellows film a success story video for UNL …

Grand Island fellows Alyssa and Angela took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on June 5th 2019. This was our first ever fellow takeover, and it went very well! Watch as our fellows film a success story video for UNL extension and follow along with a day in the life as an RFI fellow.

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Fellows Week 3: Grand Island

June 7, 2019
Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1! We started off …

Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler

Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1!

We started off by getting to know what our Community Lead Mentors Sandra and Griselda due with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative and REAP (Rural Enterprise Assistance Program) respectively. Also, during out first week, we were invited to attend a mental health training program specifically targeted to help youth. After the floods in Nebraska and the immigration raids in O’Neil awareness of the importance of mental health has been growing and the week after we were able to attend a workshop focused on adults. 

In our first weeks here, we participated in a few of the programs that the Latino Small Business program hosts for the community, a marketing workshop, a women’s conference, and a cleaning academy. We also sat in on meetings with several entrepreneurs and were able to see how this program assists from start to finish with the start up process. 

We also got to visit the All of Us truck. All of Us is a research program that has been touring across the United States to create a database of information from underrepresented groups and to educate people of the many influences that impact health to create a future of precision medicine that is inclusive to all.

Our most recent meeting was with Mayor Roger Steele, who came to Nebraska Extension to visit with the Grand Island Latino Network. We were able learn from Mayor Steele about the current efforts to ensure Grand Island is inclusive and accessible to all and share our insight of how Grand Island can continue to progress. 

We have also started working on a variety of projects. One of our main projects this summer is analyzing the training topics covered by the Latino Small Business Program and areas of community need. We have already started to develop 4 workshops including Facebook for Business and a multi week mental health program. For the mental health workshops, we were able to partner with a graduate student from UNO who returned to Grand Island for his internship and is working at the Friendship Home. We are so excited to bring accessible mental health training in Spanish to the citizens of Grand Island. 

The Latino Small Business Program helps many entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. To share these stories with all of Nebraska, we are filming videos of some of the business owners that have been helped by Nebraska Extension and REAP. 

Our biggest project is to help promote 4th Street, which is the center of Latino entrepreneurship in Grand Island. We are working to ensure that these business owners are equipped with the tools and leadership training needed to make 4th Street a welcoming, diverse, attraction in Grand Island and to create a united business district downtown. 

We are excited to continue working with people from all parts of the community in Grand Island!

We were able to sit in on the Grand Island Latino Network’s meeting with Mayor Steele (Grey Suit on the left) it was an awesome opportunity to share with community leaders what we’ve been working on and learn about Grand Island. 

Who doesn’t love smoothies and tea?! We stopped by Big Red Nutrition one of the businesses UNL Extension helped start in Hastings!

Alyssa is pointing out an interesting fact that she noticed when we visited the All of Us truck. 
We all learned something new, such as all blue eyed people relate back to one person!

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Sydney Burdick

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – RFI Communications Advertising, Public Relations and Broadcasting University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hometown: Northbrook, Ill. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural is important because it has shaped our nation for many years …

RFI Student Fellow – RFI Communications
Advertising, Public Relations and Broadcasting
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Hometown: Northbrook, Ill.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural is important because it has shaped our nation for many years and continues to be one of the biggest parts of our nation today.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to learn how to communicate strong ideas in a effective way, as well as communicate brand message across social media platforms.

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

Students should have this experience because it is a great opportunity to grow and learn as a leader and prepare for future jobs.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

It is important for students to give back to our state because it creates an understanding for something bigger than themselves and to help out whenever they can.

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

There are a lot of opportunities for rural communities to grow and move forward, especially since people are becoming more aware of what they can do to help out local rural communities.


Fellows Week 7: RFI Comm

July 3, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 1: RFI Strategic Communications

May 24, 2019
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 …

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

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Megan Coan

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Custer County, Neb. Agriculture Education & Leadership University of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Platte Center, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural communities are important to the future of our country because they …

RFI Student Fellow – Custer County, Neb.
Agriculture Education & Leadership
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Platte Center, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural communities are important to the future of our country because they are the heart of our nation. They are the building blocks of good work ethics and community strength.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to gain more leadership skills, learn how to think outside the box, learn how to network better with community members, become more persuasive, and help others explore and realize their potential.

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

This hands-on leadership opportunity allows students to have a chance to make decisions and collaborate as a team.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

I believe it is important for students to give back to our state because they need to learn the value in helping others. Rural communities are usually tighter knit and more welcoming. They get the chance to work with others on a more personal level, get to make a greater impact on the community, and see the end results.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward? What are some of your ideas to move these smaller communities forward?

Now is the time to move rural communities forward in order to keep up with the big cities. By growing the rural communities, it will help increase the opportunities available to the people and they will remain in the community. To move these smaller communities forward I suggest having craft fairs, entrepreneur showcase opportunities, a farmer’s market, career fairs, community lunch-n-learns and family fun days.


UN-L Interns Helping AEDC Move Forward With Projects

July 16, 2019
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 …

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.”

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Custer County Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
The Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on 06/12/2019 to show you a day in the life of a Custer County fellow. They went on a road trip around Custer County!

The Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on 06/12/2019 to show you a day in the life of a Custer County fellow. They went on a road trip around Custer County!

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Fellows Week 4: Custer County

June 14, 2019
Hailey and Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just …

Hailey and
Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are
working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer
County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just working on
projects there. The two of them will be working on projects in Arnold and
Callaway as well.

Megan’s first
project that she is focusing on is an “Intern Connection” project that will
bring all of the interns within Broken Bow closer together to help them have a
sense of belonging to the community. The first event that will bring all of the
interns together will be June 20th.
This event will be taking place along with the “Third Thursday on the Square”
in Broken Bow that has live music, food, games, and fun for all ages.

Additionally,
she is working on creating a Custer County passport. The purpose of this
passport is to bring awareness to the hidden gemstones that each community in
Custer County has to offer. She has spent her time touring Custer County’s
communities to see what each community has that makes it unique and special
compared to the communities within the county.

The final project that she is focusing on for Broken Bow is “The Barn.” The Barn is the visitor center for Broken Bow and is apart of the Sandhills Scenic Byway. Her goal is to increase awareness, create more events, generate revenue and drive more traffic to The Barn.

Hailey is working individually on two projects, the first is taking new
pictures to market the community. The pictures of many of the buildings and
events throughout Custer County are outdated. Hailey will be taking pictures of
many of the main areas and attracts in Custer County.

For Hailey’s second project, she is
working with a local nonprofit called Capable.

Capable
runs a year-long program called Youth Leadership in Custer County (YLCC) for
high school students throughout Custer County. Hailey is helping to rework the
structure of the program to shift to a design thinking and entrepreneurship
perspective.

Together the two
of them are working side by side in Callaway and Arnold. In Callaway, they are
currently interviewing business owners as well as community members to assess
their needs. After collecting their data, they will evaluate it and move
forward with what is the

greatest
need in the community. In Arnold, they are working on business and housing
improvement/development. They are assisting in evaluating the current state of
houses/business in order to qualify for federal assistance from the government to
improve the community.

Some events
that they have gotten to experience in their few weeks in Custer County include
Market on the Square, various ribbon cuttings, and the Muddy Creek Festival in
Ansley. The Market on the Square takes place every Thursday from 10:00 am –
3:00 pm. The ribbon cuttings served as a great opportunity for the two
individuals to meet key stakeholders in the community and the county. By
attending the ribbon cuttings, they got the opportunity to get connected with
the journalist at the Custer County Chief where she interviewed the two of
them.

As Hailey and Megan have interacted with numerous community members over the past few weeks, there was one quote in particular that stood out to both of them, “Be open to what we don’t know.” After hearing that quote it put life into a different perspective for the two RFI fellows. The first time Megan and Hailey went through each community, they had the opportunity to meet community members and business owners. Nearly every person they met told them how happy they were for two to be in community, and couldn’t wait to see the work they did. This was a very eye-opening experience for the two, they got to see they weren’t just impacting the community, but also the people in it.

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Alyssa Ehler

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Grand Island, Neb. Political Science & Agricultural EconomicsUniversity of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Elkhorn, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural communities are and will remain the hub of life for the world.As …

RFI Student Fellow – Grand Island, Neb.
Political Science & Agricultural Economics
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Elkhorn, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural communities are and will remain the hub of life for the world.As long as we need food rural communities will survive. I think the key for development is how do we help rural communities thrive in the future. The key values of a rural community, grit, innovation, survival, ingenuity, can be captured and applied to create successful thriving regions. I think that rural communities are important to the future because these values are uniquely rural and have the potential to unlock the next big thing in urban and rural development.

What do you hope to gain?

I chose this experience because it is full of professional development opportunities, leadership training and networking opportunities. It also allows me the opportunity to use all these things to make a measurable, human impact on the communities we serve. There are very few internships where, as students, we can make an impact on others with our work. That’s what makes the fellowship special.

I hope to gain skills that I can apply to communities in Nebraska and around the world. With the focus on inclusive leadership, I know I will learn how to better communicate with diverse groups of people, leaders from all backgrounds, and I hope to gain skills to build effective coalitions for change.

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

There is diversity everywhere, from age, experience, gender, ethnicity, race, to the way we were raised — everyone is different and unique. This inclusive leadership training will help students to be the most effective leaders in their work place, because they will not only understand the technical part of their work but the human part of their work.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

As someone who grew up in the largest city in Nebraska and has lived in a city of millions, I have come to understand the vital lessons that come from the community, grit, vitality and teamwork that comes from rural communities. These lessons can be applied to towns and 10 to cities of 10 million.

Students have the ability to fight the brain drain plaguing rural communities. 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 turns help our University thrive.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward? What are some of your ideas to move these smaller communities forward?

Nebraska has a unique opportunity not just to rebuild but to renovate after the floods and blizzards this year. Nebraska has a plethora of innovators, mavericks and change makers ready to be released to unlock the potential of our rural communities. We need to use our experts, policy makers, entrepreneurs and community members in a collaborative effort to move our communities to the next era of rural.


Fellows Week 8: Grand Island

July 12, 2019
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 …

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.

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Grand Island Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
Grand Island fellows Alyssa and Angela took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on June 5th 2019. This was our first ever fellow takeover, and it went very well! Watch as our fellows film a success story video for UNL …

Grand Island fellows Alyssa and Angela took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on June 5th 2019. This was our first ever fellow takeover, and it went very well! Watch as our fellows film a success story video for UNL extension and follow along with a day in the life as an RFI fellow.

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Fellows Week 3: Grand Island

June 7, 2019
Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1! We started off …

Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler

Wow what a busy few weeks it has been! Grand Island has proven to be a dynamic, fun, and diverse community, and we hit the ground running from day 1!

We started off by getting to know what our Community Lead Mentors Sandra and Griselda due with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative and REAP (Rural Enterprise Assistance Program) respectively. Also, during out first week, we were invited to attend a mental health training program specifically targeted to help youth. After the floods in Nebraska and the immigration raids in O’Neil awareness of the importance of mental health has been growing and the week after we were able to attend a workshop focused on adults. 

In our first weeks here, we participated in a few of the programs that the Latino Small Business program hosts for the community, a marketing workshop, a women’s conference, and a cleaning academy. We also sat in on meetings with several entrepreneurs and were able to see how this program assists from start to finish with the start up process. 

We also got to visit the All of Us truck. All of Us is a research program that has been touring across the United States to create a database of information from underrepresented groups and to educate people of the many influences that impact health to create a future of precision medicine that is inclusive to all.

Our most recent meeting was with Mayor Roger Steele, who came to Nebraska Extension to visit with the Grand Island Latino Network. We were able learn from Mayor Steele about the current efforts to ensure Grand Island is inclusive and accessible to all and share our insight of how Grand Island can continue to progress. 

We have also started working on a variety of projects. One of our main projects this summer is analyzing the training topics covered by the Latino Small Business Program and areas of community need. We have already started to develop 4 workshops including Facebook for Business and a multi week mental health program. For the mental health workshops, we were able to partner with a graduate student from UNO who returned to Grand Island for his internship and is working at the Friendship Home. We are so excited to bring accessible mental health training in Spanish to the citizens of Grand Island. 

The Latino Small Business Program helps many entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. To share these stories with all of Nebraska, we are filming videos of some of the business owners that have been helped by Nebraska Extension and REAP. 

Our biggest project is to help promote 4th Street, which is the center of Latino entrepreneurship in Grand Island. We are working to ensure that these business owners are equipped with the tools and leadership training needed to make 4th Street a welcoming, diverse, attraction in Grand Island and to create a united business district downtown. 

We are excited to continue working with people from all parts of the community in Grand Island!

We were able to sit in on the Grand Island Latino Network’s meeting with Mayor Steele (Grey Suit on the left) it was an awesome opportunity to share with community leaders what we’ve been working on and learn about Grand Island. 

Who doesn’t love smoothies and tea?! We stopped by Big Red Nutrition one of the businesses UNL Extension helped start in Hastings!

Alyssa is pointing out an interesting fact that she noticed when we visited the All of Us truck. 
We all learned something new, such as all blue eyed people relate back to one person!

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Kersten Peters

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Garden County, Neb. Elementary Special Education (K-6) and Early Childhood InclusiveUniversity of Nebraska at KearneyHometown: Scribner, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  I feel that rural communities are important to …

Kersten 2019 RFI Student Fellow

RFI Student Fellow – Garden County, Neb.
Elementary Special Education (K-6) and Early Childhood Inclusive
University of Nebraska at Kearney
Hometown: Scribner, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

I feel that rural communities are important to the future of our country because of the livelihood they have. In a rural community you often will see farmers in the fields with their children in tow behind them. Farmers are single-handedly the heart and soul of rural communities. Without farmers, prices at the grocery store would be outrageous. Additionally, rural communities bring forth diversities that urban communities cannot fathom. The size of rural communities is often what drives people to them. Not having to deal with traffic jams, sirens at all hours of the night, or the outrageous prices of living arrangements. Rural communities are known for always supporting its people, but also other rural communities. One amazing thing about rural communities is that they are often located within reasonable driving distances from urban communities that contain malls and fine dining restaurants. Overall, the benefits rural communities have will forever outlast what happens in our country, making them the most important type of communities to have.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to gain knowledge around how to create a program that will benefit the youth of a community. I also hope to gain knowledge that I can take with me into my teaching career.

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

This type of experience allows students to further their education and put what they know into the “real world.” Additionally, it allows students to take action and develop their leadership skills.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Small communities are the best communities to work in. Everyone is willing to help and sometimes the rural communities are the communities that need the most resources.

Nebraska is a state that depends on working with neighbors. Therefore, when we give back to our state, we are fulfilling our requirements as residents of Nebraska.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward? What are some of your ideas to move these smaller communities forward?

After the flooding that just happened in March the rural communities in Nebraska are having to rebuild. With that being said, it is now that we can rebuild a community in a more advanced way than hundreds of years ago when the towns were first built. In order to move these smaller communities forward we need to: 1. Have family nights weekly or bi-weekly. 2. Integrate organizations into the community to promote education about children and their needs.


Fellows Week 5: Garden County

June 21, 2019
Kersten and Courtney are both living it up in rural, small town western Nebraska. The two are working with the Volunteers of America Western Nebraska to provide the groundwork for possible early childhood experiences. It was a slow start, but …

Kersten and Courtney are both living it up in rural, small town western Nebraska. The two are working with the Volunteers of America Western Nebraska to provide the groundwork for possible early childhood experiences. It was a slow start, but the two have picked up the pace since the first week. As Courtney and Kersten continue to work in Garden County, they are quickly finding out what it means to be immersed in a small town. Both have helped with concession stands and umpiring for the town’s youth baseball and softball games. Additionally,  they helped with a social event with the Sixpence program and the summer school CHAMPS program by helping teach a lesson once a week according to the weekly theme.

Kersten and Courtney have spent the last four weeks getting to know the Garden County communities: Lisco, Oshkosh, and Lewellen. During this time they have been working with the Garden County Communities For Kids Core Team to come up with focus group questions to ask as a follow up on a recent county wide survey that was done. During these focus groups, Kersten and Courtney will be visiting with residents in Garden County to find out what the communities feel it needs for its youth. This may be deciding another daycare center needs to be built or more community wide events need to be offered. After the focus groups are completed, the two will host a Communities For Kids Core Team meeting to discuss the common patterns that were found. During this time, the Core Team will discuss the different strategies that can take place in the community to boost early childhood opportunities.   

In addition to the focus groups, the two have been working on setting up games for a fourth of July carnival they will be having at the city park in Oshkosh. The two have also been chosen as judges for the fourth of July parade. Also, the two have created Facebook pages for both the Oshkosh Public Library and Garden County Communities For Kids to help bring awareness to the program and business, but to also connect with people around the Garden County area about the events both have to offer. In addition to the carnival, Courtney and Kersten will be hosting a community event to allow the public, or those who were not randomly selected for the focus groups, to ask questions or speak their concerns about the current early childhood opportunities available.

Lastly, the two held a meeting with First Five Nebraska at the Most Unlikely Place in Lewellen. During this meeting Elizabeth Lopez Everett, a lobbyist for the state capital, discussed different data about in the state of Nebraska and how the state is seeing a decrease in funds for early childhood. She also discussed how the more early childhood facilities that a town has available, the higher chance that people are willing to live in that town and invest in that town.

Kersten and Courtney have also experienced Western Nebraska at its finest. Kersten overcame her fear of rattlesnakes for a day and visited Chimney Rock. The two also took time to visit the Hierloom Festival in Bridgeport. The festival was a mini-version of a Junk Stock, for those that are familiar. Lastly, the two have spent almost every weekend at Lake McConaughy. Between just driving past and looking at the beautiful view and laying out for hours to reach complete relaxation, Courtney and Kersten are becoming very comfortable in Garden County!

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Tristan Powell

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – RFI CommunicationsBroadcastingUniversity of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Lincoln, Neb. What do you hope to gain as an RFI Student Fellow focused on communications? I hope to gain a broader perspective on my surroundings and with the people in my …

RFI Student Fellow – RFI Communications
Broadcasting
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.

What do you hope to gain as an RFI Student Fellow focused on communications?

I hope to gain a broader perspective on my surroundings and with the people in my community.

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

I think it is very important for students, especially in Nebraska, to have this experience because they may of never been exposed or had brought to their attention how to interact with groups outside their own. This will only increase the level of acceptance and understanding in our community leading to a stronger Nebraska.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Rural communities are continuing to shrink but the main way these communities see growth is with immigrants moving in. Rural communities have been known to be more unexciting of immigrants making them a perfect place for student to learn the benefits of changing that.

Nebraska has given us as students an amazing foundation to grow upon and if we hope to continue the amazing strength that is Nebraska for future generations then we must keep putting back into what we learn.

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

Now is a great time to move rural communities forward because the next generation of entrepreneurs are entering the workforce, and if we can show them what rural communities have to offer then we can strengthen rural communities. Some of my ideas include showcasing rural artists to bring urban people to their town, bringing together more farmers to put on a big farmers market and creating a maker space in rural areas for makers to come together and share ideas.


Fellows Week 7: RFI Comm

July 3, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 1: RFI Strategic Communications

May 24, 2019
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 …

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

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Elizabeth Schott

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb. Elementary Education, Early Childhood Inclusive University of Nebraska at Kearney Hometown: St. Libory, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Being from a rural area, I know the importance …

RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb.
Elementary Education, Early Childhood Inclusive
University of Nebraska at Kearney
Hometown: St. Libory, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Being from a rural area, I know the importance of a rural community. I grew up in a town of roughly 250 people. With watermelon being our main crop, we always had a constant strain of people stopping by from the neighboring ‘cities’ to purchase the crops that they could not grow themselves. Our rural areas are a main contribution to our food supply and economy. Without the farmer, we would have to look to other countries for our supply of foods and other necessities, such as clothing and ethanol.

Rural areas are also a key part of the essence of America. When I think of America, I think of the cities that populate our land, but also of the vast areas that are inhibited by crops and farm animals. I love a good road trip, and my destination is almost always a city, but without those rural areas to stop along my journey, I know I would not make it to my destination. I always love to see the people who live in the rural areas. Their true grit and perseverance shows. That grit and perseverance is what keeps our country going through tough times.

What do you hope to gain?

From this experience I hope to gain a better understanding of the needs and hardships that rural communities go through and how to help these communities.

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

This experience is important to students, so they have better leadership skills that will help them them through their careers. Being a future teacher, my experiences through this program will help me to be a better leader and an all around better teacher.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

I think many people often forget about rural communities. Having this experience will help people to become advocates for rural communities and help the the rural communities gain equal access to things that people coming from more urban areas have.

Rural communities of Nebraska are a crucial part of the world. We produce a large amount of beef and corn for the world. Students who understand this and see it first hand will be better advocates for these communities and help our state to continue to have a large impact on the world.

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

I think to help move the rural communities forward, we to have people advocate for them, both within the rural community and those who live outside. Reminding people the impact that these communities have on not just our state but the world will help to move the communities forward.


Chadron Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 6: Chadron

June 28, 2019
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 …

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

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Fellows Week 2: Chadron

May 31, 2019
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 …

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!

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Bhargav Vemulapalli

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb.NeuroscienceWashington UniversityHometown: Skillman, N.J. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural communities have been the bedrock of our country since its inception. However, over the last three centuries, these communities …

RFI Student Fellow – Chadron, Neb.
Neuroscience
Washington University
Hometown: Skillman, N.J.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural communities have been the bedrock of our country since its inception. However, over the last three centuries, these communities have been finding themselves increasingly marginalized from the mainstream American economy. With the recent booms in high-tech industries, our country is poised to experience a generational change in the economy as more rural manufacturing and agricultural jobs fall victim to the rising tide of automation. Unfortunately though, the fruits of this economic transition will not be shared equally amongst everyone and rural communities could continue to receive the short end of the stick with these frenetic changes in our economy.

I believe what has been lost in these recent economic developments is the core American value of solidarity that has unified us for centuries. The mainstream economy has come to view rural communities as a burden and an obstacle to its own ends rather than the potential reservoir of strength that could be. By connecting these communities to the rural centers and by developing the communities to be self-sustainable players in our economy, I believe that we can create a better tomorrow for everyone and not just the rural communities that we focus our efforts on. We need to form a seamless transition between rural and urban communities that is mutually beneficial and will help incorporate these communities to the changing, modern economy.

In recent years, rural communities have been struggling with a host of challenges, including an increase in crime, drug use, childhood poverty, and widespread obesity. Even with the step forward that was the Affordable Care Act, which offered more Americans with health insurance than ever before, our neighbors in rural America lack access to this care because of the great distances they need to travel to a doctor and get treated. And it is this general lack of access that lies at the crux of these many challenges that rural America faces, a lack of access that I cannot help but empathize with because of my own identity as the son of two immigrants who spent all of their childhood and adolescent years on farms in rural India (and personally growing up in a historically rural town in central New Jersey). I hope that through the community development projects that I will have the privilege of partaking in as a part of the Rural Futures Institute program, I could help shrink the gap between the current economic capacity of rural communities and the demands of the modern, technologically-advanced economy and, as a result, help create a brighter and more inclusive future for everyone as we progress through this generational change in our economy.

What do you hope to gain?

Although I have engaged in a lot of community service throughout high school and college, I have never had the opportunity to work in a leadership capacity in a community. Through this program, I hope to learn about the meticulousness, diligence, and personal accountability that local community leaders need in order to reach their goals.

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

I feel that one of the most important qualities of a leader is to know when to be the teacher and when to be the student. No one has an in-depth knowledge about everything and there is always so much to learn that could help you develop as an individual and a citizen in your community. I think this experience is going to be great for us because it will constantly be emphasizing to us the importance of being receptive to community feedback and of always striving to keep learning because there is always room for improvement.

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

Rural communities are among the few communities in the United States that maintain their everyday commitment to the traditional American value of solidarity. As a result, I feel that there is a lot we can all learn from these rural communities, such as the dutifulness and selflessness that the locals show towards each other everyday.

Why does now provide tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward? What are some of your ideas to move these smaller communities forward?

Now is a tremendous opportunity to move rural communities forward because many of them have been looking for ways to become more involved in the rapidly-changing, present economy and right now is the best time to make that happen!


Chadron Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 6: Chadron

June 28, 2019
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 …

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

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Fellows Week 2: Chadron

May 31, 2019
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 …

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!

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Hailey Walmsley

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – Custer County, Neb. Agricultural Education University of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Norfolk, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural communities are the back bone of our country. They are often overlooked as isolated, …

Hailey Walmsley RFI Student Fellow

RFI Student Fellow – Custer County, Neb.
Agricultural Education
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Norfolk, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural communities are the back bone of our country. They are often overlooked as isolated, or unimportant, but in reality, they are working harder than ever. Rural communities are filled with entrepreneurs and goal oriented individuals. Growing up on a farm in between a rural and urban community, I got to see both sides of the spectrum. Last summer, I had the opportunity to be an agronomy intern at my local cooperative, Farmer’s Pride. Farmers Pride has multiple locations across northeast Nebraska and I got to jump around to see how each location operated based on the community needs. I loved visiting with the different producers all around northeast Nebraska. It was a great experience getting to know all the community members and hear about the different ways they were involved in their community other than just farming. One large customer for example, wasn’t just a farm but also a school board member. He was activity involved in many aspects of the community and this was a common trend with many of the producers.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to gain some insight into how I work on a team and how I can improve my leadership potential.

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

I think inclusive leadership is something students will use not only throughout college, but also into their future career. Allowing myself to practice inclusive leadership in this way now, will set me up for a great future of being the best leader I can be.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Nebraska, in my opinion, is one of the greatest states, full of genuine, hardworking individuals and communities. This is a state I am proud to call home and I want to make sure it is thriving. Serving as a RFI fellow allows me to give back and oversee the continuous growth of our state.

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

Rural communities are the backbone of our country. They are often overlooked as isolated, or unimportant, but in reality, they are working harder than ever. Rural communities are filled with entrepreneurs and goal-oriented individuals.


UN-L Interns Helping AEDC Move Forward With Projects

July 16, 2019
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 …

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.”

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Custer County Instagram Takeover

July 10, 2019
The Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on 06/12/2019 to show you a day in the life of a Custer County fellow. They went on a road trip around Custer County!

The Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey took over the Rural Futures Instagram story on 06/12/2019 to show you a day in the life of a Custer County fellow. They went on a road trip around Custer County!

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Fellows Week 4: Custer County

June 14, 2019
Hailey and Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just …

Hailey and
Megan are both loving their experience in Custer County so far! They are
working on a variety of projects over the course of their time in Custer
County. Although they are staying in Broken Bow, they aren’t just working on
projects there. The two of them will be working on projects in Arnold and
Callaway as well.

Megan’s first
project that she is focusing on is an “Intern Connection” project that will
bring all of the interns within Broken Bow closer together to help them have a
sense of belonging to the community. The first event that will bring all of the
interns together will be June 20th.
This event will be taking place along with the “Third Thursday on the Square”
in Broken Bow that has live music, food, games, and fun for all ages.

Additionally,
she is working on creating a Custer County passport. The purpose of this
passport is to bring awareness to the hidden gemstones that each community in
Custer County has to offer. She has spent her time touring Custer County’s
communities to see what each community has that makes it unique and special
compared to the communities within the county.

The final project that she is focusing on for Broken Bow is “The Barn.” The Barn is the visitor center for Broken Bow and is apart of the Sandhills Scenic Byway. Her goal is to increase awareness, create more events, generate revenue and drive more traffic to The Barn.

Hailey is working individually on two projects, the first is taking new
pictures to market the community. The pictures of many of the buildings and
events throughout Custer County are outdated. Hailey will be taking pictures of
many of the main areas and attracts in Custer County.

For Hailey’s second project, she is
working with a local nonprofit called Capable.

Capable
runs a year-long program called Youth Leadership in Custer County (YLCC) for
high school students throughout Custer County. Hailey is helping to rework the
structure of the program to shift to a design thinking and entrepreneurship
perspective.

Together the two
of them are working side by side in Callaway and Arnold. In Callaway, they are
currently interviewing business owners as well as community members to assess
their needs. After collecting their data, they will evaluate it and move
forward with what is the

greatest
need in the community. In Arnold, they are working on business and housing
improvement/development. They are assisting in evaluating the current state of
houses/business in order to qualify for federal assistance from the government to
improve the community.

Some events
that they have gotten to experience in their few weeks in Custer County include
Market on the Square, various ribbon cuttings, and the Muddy Creek Festival in
Ansley. The Market on the Square takes place every Thursday from 10:00 am –
3:00 pm. The ribbon cuttings served as a great opportunity for the two
individuals to meet key stakeholders in the community and the county. By
attending the ribbon cuttings, they got the opportunity to get connected with
the journalist at the Custer County Chief where she interviewed the two of
them.

As Hailey and Megan have interacted with numerous community members over the past few weeks, there was one quote in particular that stood out to both of them, “Be open to what we don’t know.” After hearing that quote it put life into a different perspective for the two RFI fellows. The first time Megan and Hailey went through each community, they had the opportunity to meet community members and business owners. Nearly every person they met told them how happy they were for two to be in community, and couldn’t wait to see the work they did. This was a very eye-opening experience for the two, they got to see they weren’t just impacting the community, but also the people in it.

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Rin Le

May 20, 2019
RFI Student Fellow – RFI CommunicationsGraduate StudentArchitecture University of Nebraska–LincolnHometown: Lincoln, Neb. Why are rural communities important to the future of our country?  Rural is the most traditional way of living before transitioning to high industrial communities. It is good …

Rin Le 2019 RFI Student Fellow - Communications

RFI Student Fellow – RFI Communications
Graduate Student
Architecture
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Hometown: Lincoln, Neb.

Why are rural communities important to the future of our country? 

Rural is the most traditional way of living before transitioning to high industrial communities. It is good to know and learn it well, so everyone in the community can thrive. In today’s time most people who came from high industrial communities are not very knowledgeable about rural communities, which affects the giving back aspect.

What do you hope to gain?

Expand networking and professional relationships

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

So that everyone can be on the same page and create comfort within interactions of the work place. A separate topic that is required to be knowledgeable about other than work topic.

Why is it important students give back to our state?

Because our state is a rural community, which needs the help of as many people as possible.

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

Many rural communities that come together can grow faster and can be more efficient overall.


Fellows Week 7: RFI Comm

July 3, 2019
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 …

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!

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Fellows Week 1: RFI Strategic Communications

May 24, 2019
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 …

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

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Andrew Ambriz

May 20, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Custer County, Neb.Custer County Economic DevelopmentExecutive Director

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Custer County, Neb.
Custer County Economic Development
Executive Director



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Sandra Barrera Fuentes

May 20, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Grand Island, Neb. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative Educator

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Grand Island, Neb.
University of Nebraska–Lincoln Nebraska Extension
Community Vitality Initiative Educator



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Terri Haynes

May 20, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Chadron, Neb. AWARE Project Manager What do you hope to gain from your experience as an RFI Community Innovation Fellow? Strategies for cultural understanding. Why do you think it is important for students to have …

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Chadron, Neb.
AWARE
Project Manager

What do you hope to gain from your experience as an RFI Community Innovation Fellow?

Strategies for cultural understanding.

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

Rural in itself is another culture.

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

Rural communities must collaborate resources constantly. Our resources are limited, so we must partner with other people, organizations, businesses, etc. This has the benefit of promoting connections within our lives. Connections and relationships enhance all of our lives.



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Sandy Montague-Roes

May 20, 2019
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 …

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.



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Lauren Olson

May 20, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Garden County, Neb. Garden County SchoolsArt 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 …

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.



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Griselda Rendon

May 20, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Grand Island, Neb. Center for Rural Affairs Latino Loan Specialist

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Grand Island, Neb.
Center for Rural Affairs
Latino Loan Specialist



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Amber Ross

May 15, 2019
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 …

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.

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Dustin Styskal

May 15, 2019
RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Garden County Garden County Public Schools Elementary Teacher

RFI Community Innovation Fellow – Garden County
Garden County Public Schools
Elementary Teacher



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