Podcast/Season 3/

Episode 30: Rural maverick Janet Palmtag intersects product development, risk, housing

April 30, 2019
      Janet Palmtag, an entrepreneur and rural maverick from Southeast Nebraska, is our featured guest this week. A real estate broker, Janet shares her insights into the rural housing crisis. She also shares her insights into bringing a …


Janet Palmtag, an entrepreneur and rural maverick from Southeast Nebraska, is our featured guest this week. A real estate broker, Janet shares her insights into the rural housing crisis. She also shares her insights into bringing a product to market thanks to her recent creation of TubTool, a cleaning device for bathtubs and showers. Janet has been a leader and volunteer throughout her community for several years, so she tells it like it is when it comes to leadership from a company and community perspective.

“I’m confident that the leadership role will change in the future, as well. Because, it really is about people being engaged and empowered.”
Janet Palmtag

About Janet


Janet Palmtag is the founder of J.J. Palmtag, Inc. a real estate company, as well as Tubtool, LLC, a Nebraska start-up. She was born and raised in Nebraska and proudly serves her community and state through volunteerism. Janet describes herself as a futurist and learner who knows nothing can be done without a strong, diverse team. She thrives on collaboration. Janet enjoys reading, biking, hiking, writing and bee keeping. She also loves to listen to podcasts when walking. We sure hope she listens to this episode of Rural Futures with Dr. Connie!

Mentioned In This Episode

  • Rural Impact Hub        
  • Nebraska Rural Living        
  • Nebraska Rural Renaissance    


Bold Voices Student Segment

Katy Bagniewski, a senior studying agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) — Listen at 13:27!

Originally from a rural hobby farm outside of Rochester, Minn., Bagniewski found her way to the University of Nebraska when in town for a sheep show.

For the past two years, she has worked at RFI as a storytelling intern, the production specialist of the podcast and the host of the Bold Voices student segment.

Her experience at RFI has opened her eyes to the challenges and opportunities in rural communities. “I’ve really become passionate about rural places since coming to Nebraska and starting at RFI,” she said.

She will be staying in Lincoln, Neb., following her graduation on May 4, 2019, to pursue multimedia communications and freelance videography. “There is truly no place like Nebraska,” she added.

Read the full Bold Voices release!»


Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 29: Quantitative futurist Amy Webb intersects futurism, change, now-est mentality

April 23, 2019
      Amy Webb, Award-winning author and professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business, talks with Dr. Connie about the role and scope of futurists, the now-est mentality of the United States, our …


Amy Webb, Award-winning author and professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business, talks with Dr. Connie about the role and scope of futurists, the now-est mentality of the United States, our emotional relationship with change, the multiple pathways for possible futures and so much more. Amy is the Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures, and her new book, The Big Nine, released in March.

After learning more about the Rural Futures Institute she said: “The Nebraska community and just the larger rural community is lucky that you guys exist and that you’re doing this work. Because, again, we’re reticent to change, it’s hard and, ultimately, what futurists ask people to do is to confront that uncertainty and that change and to accept it and to experiment and try things that are untested.”

“There are other ways to get to our preferred futures, and the challenge is that we keep relying on the things that we know. Sometimes the things that we know don’t fit the current demands of everyday life.”
Amy Webb

About Amy


Amy Webb is a quantitative futurist and a bestselling, award-wining author. She is a professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business and the Founder of The Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures.

Amy was named to the Thinkers 50 Radar list of the 30 management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led and won the 2017 Thinkers 50 Radar Award. She is a Fellow in the United States-Japan Leadership Program, a Foresight Fellow in the U.S. Government Accountability Office Center for Strategic Foresight,and was a Visiting Nieman Fellow at Harvard University where her research received a national Sigma Delta Chi award. She was also a Delegate on the former U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission, where she worked on the future of technology, media and international diplomacy.

Amy’s research focus is artificial intelligence, and she has advised three-star generals and admirals, White House leadership and CEOs of some of the worlds largest companies on their futures.

She is the bestselling author of The Signals Are Talking: Why Todays Fringe Is Tomorrows Mainstream, which explains how to forecast emerging technology. It was a Washington Post Bestseller, won the Gold Axiom Award for business books and was selected as one of the best books the year by Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and Amazon.

Amy’s new book The Big Nine: How The Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity is a call-to-arms about the broken nature of artificial intelligence and the powerful corporations that are turning the human-machine relationship on its head.


Bold Voices Student Segment

Renata Valquier Chavez, a third-year biotechnology and political science student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) joins the podcast as the Bold Voice.— Listen at 22:51 of Episode 29!

Originally from Sidney, Iowa, Renata moved to Elkhorn, Neb., during high school and decided to stay in Omaha, Neb., for her college experience. She is an honor student, a student athlete, the student body president and the student regent at UNO.

“I think UNO is an absolutely spectacular university,” she said. “My vision for our future students is to have the sense of pride to be at the university that they are at, regardless of which campus it is within the University of Nebraska.”

“The point of being a leader is to inspire others to do things they think are right,” she said. “I see myself in this position to encourage my colleagues to go after tough projects and to tackle controversial issues,” she continued.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »

Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 28: Economic developer Garry Clark intersects workforce development, quality of life, fighting through fear

April 16, 2019
      There is opportunity in fighting through fear says Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council in Fremont, Neb. He would know. Garry grew up in the Washington, D.C., projects where he witnessed drug addiction. …


There is opportunity in fighting through fear says Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council in Fremont, Neb. He would know. Garry grew up in the Washington, D.C., projects where he witnessed drug addiction. When he had the opportunity to hop on a plane to Nebraska to accept a track scholarship, he took it. And with that leap, a ton of hard work and incredible talent, he became a national champion for Dana College. Garry talks about his journey and his deep love for rural places and Nebraska in his new book, Unlikely Viking and through this episode of our podcast.

Dr. Connie’s conversation with Garry took place in January 2019. They dove into his vision for the future of economic development, which he said in Fremont is focused on engaging current and potential residents through quality of life initiatives. They also talked workforce and the coming technologies that will impact recruitment of businesses as well as housing issues and funding opportunities.

Since their conversation, Fremont, Neb., and much of Northeast Nebraska has been significantly impacted by flooding in March 2019. Lives were lost and Nebraska’s damage is estimated at $1.8 billion. We touched base with Garry, and he says Fremont is in recovery mode. He urges listeners to donate to the American Red Cross.

“For 40 years or so, we’ve been smoke stack chasing — we’ve been looking for that big win that’s supposed to permeate our lives in rural places. And we’ve come to the realization that the only thing that sustains rural life are the people, and how we engage those people.”
Garry Clark

About Garry


Garry is the Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council. In 2018, Garry was listed as a Midland’s Business Journal 40 under 40 winner and Fremont won Community of the Year. He is a native Washingtonian who graduated from Dana College and the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a master’s degree in Urban Studies.

Garry joined the Greater Fremont Development Council (GRDC) in Fremont, Neb., in September 2017. Prior to his GFDC role, Garry worked as the NIFA Opportunity Fund Manager out of the Omaha, Neb., and Lincoln, Neb., offices. Before that, he served as Cuming County Economic Development Director for five years in Northeast Nebraska.

Garry is a member of the National Rural Economic Developers Association and served as Northeast Development Network Chair. He received his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Dana College in Blair, Neb., and and his master’s degree in Urban Studies and Public Administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Although his alma mater (Dana College) is no more, Garry was inducted into the Dana College Hall of Fame for Track and Field in 2010. He holds 11 records (most ever in the schools history) and was the first male National Champion for Dana College. Prior to his work in Nebraska, Garry started out as a City Planner, Main Street Manager and Economic Development Specialist in both Florida and in Washington, D.C.

Get Garry’s Book, Unlikely Viking! » 

And be sure to check out more about “Unlikely Viking” on Instagram


Bold Voices Student Segment

 Sarah Hotovy, a third-year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) — Listen at 15:47 of Episode 28!

The York, Neb., native is the student regent and student senate president at UNMC.

“The University of Nebraska is an incredible institution. It’s thriving, and it’s got incredible leadership that we’re really lucky to have,” she said.

Sarah hopes to dedicate her career to affordable healthcare access for both rural and urban residents. “I think that everyone deserves access to high-quality medical care,” she said. “If we can keep people healthier, we’re going to be more prosperous as a state,” she continued.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 27: Researcher Larkin Powell intersects humanity, wildlife, ecotourism

April 9, 2019
      Larkin Powell, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, talks with Dr. Connie about the opportunities within ecotourism, humanity’s affect on wildlife and natural landscapes, the benefits of precision agriculture for animal habitats, the possibility …


Larkin Powell, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, talks with Dr. Connie about the opportunities within ecotourism, humanity’s affect on wildlife and natural landscapes, the benefits of precision agriculture for animal habitats, the possibility of mass extinctions of wildlife in the coming decades and more.

“There are all kinds of different things that can bring us another generation back, and one of those things has been ecotourism enterprise. “
Larkin Powell, Ph.D.
Professor of Conservation Biology, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

About Larkin


Larkin Powell is a professor of conservation biology and animal ecology in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Larkin teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on wildlife management and research, and his research program focuses on landscape dynamics, animal demography and movements and decisions made by private landowners in the Great Plains and throughout the world. He has taught at UNL for 18 years, during which time he was a Fulbright Scholar in Namibia.

Larkin is a “farm boy” from southern Iowa and was very active in 4-H as a youth. He has always felt a desire to teach, and he is very happy to be in Nebraska and in a unique fisheries and wildlife program.

Larkin is excited by new ideas and being able to make a difference. He enjoys working in groups that are motivated to move something unique forward. In his personal time he enjoys traveling, photography and writing poetry.


Bold Voices Student Segment

Listen at 13:59!

Jordan Duffin Wong, a junior studying Political Science and Mathematics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. 

As a UNL Bureau of Business Research Student Scholar, Jordan works to collect data on a variety of factors affecting Nebraska’s communities for the Nebraska Thriving Index.

“In essence, what we’re doing is trying to collect data and use this Thriving Index to inform policymakers about what policies they need to take to best let regions in Nebraska grow,” he said.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »

Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 26: Entrepreneur Janell Anderson Ehrke intersects digital marketing, motivation, making rural cool

April 2, 2019
           Janell Anderson Ehrke is Founder and CEO of GROW Nebraska, a non-profit marketing, training and technical assistance resource for Nebraska entrepreneurs. Through their work and Buy Nebraska website, Janell and her team boost the …




Janell Anderson Ehrke is Founder and CEO of GROW Nebraska, a non-profit marketing, training and technical assistance resource for Nebraska entrepreneurs. Through their work and Buy Nebraska website, Janell and her team boost the state’s economy at a national and global level. Their conferences, upcoming innovation center and grants in areas such as GoogleAdwords allow entrepreneurs to take advantage of today’s tools to grow beyond their rural geography.

Dr. Connie enjoyed hearing Janell’s background, which includes parents who were both entrepreneurs and four siblings who attended the University of Nebraska. Janell’s agricultural background led to her attitude: “Get out there and make it happen!” Janell’s daughter, Haley, was also a 2018 Rural Futures Institute Student Fellow!

“One of the most important things that I was taught is to just have a lot of persistence.“
Janell Anderson Ehrke
Founder and CEO, GROW Nebraska

About Janell


Founder of GROW Nebraska, Janell Anderson Ehrke loves social media marketing and is an entrepreneur enthusiast! She is a strong supporter for buying local and believes the internet has created an equal playing field for rural businesses. She is very focused and strongly believes entrepreneurs need to know now where they’re going and have a strong stated mission.

Janell lives on a farm in Orleans, Neb., with her husband Leon and has two children Haley and Parker. In addition to GROW Nebraska, she loves the cattle business.


Bold Voices Student Segment

 Haley Ehrke, a junior studying agribusiness and agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, joins her mom as Episode 26’s Bold Voice – listen at 21:25!

Like her mother, Haley has a thriving entrepreneurial spirit with her own marketing company and cow herd. “Everyone can be an entrepreneur. It’s just a different point in life when you become one,” she said.

Haley was also a 2018 Rural Futures Institute Student Fellow in Alliance, Neb., serving Box Butte County to recruit and retain rural residents. “The Rural Futures Institute has really impacted my college experience in a magnitude of ways,” she said.

She has a real passion for rural communities, saying, “Rural is not dying. It is thriving!”

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 25: Researcher Aaron Yoder intersects wearable tech, ag safety, education

March 25, 2019
           Aaron Yoder, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. In this episode, he shares his years of …




Aaron Yoder, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. In this episode, he shares his years of work merging agribility, engineering, wearable technology, social marketing, consumer-driven education and behavioral health. With his unique background, which includes advancing the tech transfer of Microsoft wearables for Ebola virus protection to agricultural heat illness, he also brings forward his thoughts regarding drone policy, the evolution of humanity with technology and, of course, leadership.

“We’re moving from, ‘What machinery can I create to help people?’ to ‘How can I help people interact with machinery that’s available?’”
Aaron Yoder
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center

About Aaron


Aaron Yoder, Ph.D., grew up in central Pennsylvania where he spent time working on his grandfather’s farm. He has degrees from Penn State and Purdue University and has been working to protect farmers and ranchers for more than 20 years.
He is a nationally recognized as a leader in the agricultural safety and health field. Aaron is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural and Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He works with projects through the NIOSH funded Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.
Outside of work, Aaron enjoys spending time with his family, coaching his children’s sport teams and “fixing stuff.”


Bold Voices Student Segment

Logan Krejdl,  a senior studying Business Administration and Sports Management at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

Logan shares his bold ideas and authentic experiences about leadership, integrity and rural-urban leadership during the Bold Voice student segment of Episode 25 – listen at 11:08!

An Aurora, Neb., native and natural leader, Logan is UNK’s Student Regent and Student Body President. “I’m really lucky enough to be working with some of the best and brightest students on our campus, serving as the Student Body President and Student Regent.”

“I describe my leadership style as adaptable,” Logan says. “Very rarely do I use the same leadership style in different organizations,” he continued.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »

Show Notes

Coming soon!

Read More

Episode 24: Verizon’s Emily Murtaugh intersects 5G, diversity, rural-urban experiences

March 18, 2019
           Verizon marketing specialist Emily Murtaugh explores the definition and potential of 5G technology, which could offer mobile and wireless speeds as fast as fiber-wired connections. In her explanation, she explains the infrastructure needed and …




Verizon marketing specialist Emily Murtaugh explores the definition and potential of 5G technology, which could offer mobile and wireless speeds as fast as fiber-wired connections. In her explanation, she explains the infrastructure needed and the fourth industrial revolution potential of 5G for rural and urban communities alike. She also discusses the magnitude of the tech in terms of impact on agriculture to feed 9 billion people, telehealth, robotics and autonomous vehicles.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass graduate and Omaha, Neb., native, Emily also shares her insights after taking the leap to move to New York City. And, of course, she shares her leadership tips, which are focused on selflessness.

“Get prepared. Get excited. We’re early on in [5G], but the magnitude is incredible. We can be thinking about making it work for what we want and what we need. 5G can open doors to optimize experience but also inspires people to get creative and imaginative.”
Emily Murtaugh
Marketing Specialist, Verizon | Graduate, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

About Emily


Emily Murtaugh is a Manhattan-based marketing strategist with a demonstrated history of working in the telecommunications, advertising and services industries.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln alum, she currently works on the Consumer Microsegments team within Verizon Wireless, with previous roles in the Global Content and Media division of Verizon leading business analyses and content strategy across Verizon Wireless, Verizon Fios, Yahoo!, AOL, and Tumblr.


Bold Voices Student Segment

Listen at 10:49 of Episode 24!

“Any great company has good design,” says RFI Graphic Design Intern Kara Sloane.

The Omaha, Neb., native, a junior Graphic Design student in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, digs into graphic design in rural, urban and beyond during her Bold Voices student segment.

Based on her experience as an RFI intern, Sloane shares her insights on graphic design in rural communities. “Rural holds a lot of potential that isn’t represented in its design,” she says. “In the future, if we represented rural in a more future-focused way that is more professional but exciting too, I feel like it would bring out this possibility,” she continues.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Royal Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie. And joining us today is Emily Murtaugh, Marketing Manager with Verizon Wireless. Welcome to the show, Emily.

Emily Murtaugh: Hi, thanks for having me.

Dr. Connie: Absolutely, we’re super excited to have you because one, you’re a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alum,

Emily Murtaugh: I am.

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit about your educational experience.

Emily Murtaugh: Yeah, so I was born and raised in Omaha, and have one older sister that also went to the University of Nebraska. My first year, freshman year, was 2011. And I actually started as a Biology major with sights being set on going Pre-Med, and then ended up taking a design class, actually, through the Textiles & Fashion Design department. And ended up really loving it and having great relationship with the professor, and ended up talking to him about how I liked using the creative side of my mind, I liked the kind of analytic piece of science, obviously, and he kinda helped steer me towards a major that was half in the Textiles department and half in the Journalism school. So I ended up graduating with a major in Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design Communication. But it was really great because I got to have one foot in each of these schools and ended up loving it. And that led me to marketing. So I took the scenic route to find my passion for my career but it was definitely worth doing, I enjoyed the ride.

Dr. Connie: Awesome. And I think that’s what’s so great about life, being able to explore and kind of develop your own way. And I also love to hear from people how they translate various majors into these amazing careers. Now, I hate to say we lost you to New York City, but I think this is just a very cool experience, it sounds like, in terms of coming from Nebraska but having this experience in New York. So tell us a little bit about the comparison and contrast.

Emily Murtaugh: There ended up being three or four months between when I interviewed and when I got my first offer at Verizon, so I had three weeks to move my life out to Manhattan. So I didn’t have time to be afraid and just kinda made the leap. But it’s really great, it’s definitely a change in merely every way. It took me a long time to kind of retrain myself not to smile at people on the street anymore, because here that’s uncommon and people think you’re a crazy person if you’re smiling at strangers. So it can be kind of exhausting at times, but it’s also great exposure to different cultures and diversity and the best entertainment in the world, so I love it. Especially at this point in my life when I’m new-ish in my career, still, I think it’s a great place to be in and learn things that you wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to in Nebraska.

Dr. Connie: I think what a great opportunity to go and explore life a little bit. I know when I’ve been to New York I felt the same way, it was a lot of stimuli, like you’re saying, it was constantly on. I don’t think I slept very well–


Dr. Connie: the whole time I was there. So I imagine it does take little time to get used to all that.

Emily Murtaugh: It does, it does for sure. And when I first moved here, there were a couple weeks where I was like, this is awesome, this is great, and then it kinda sunk in that it wasn’t a vacation, this is my life now. But there is quite a few Nebraskans here, which helps, one of which is my very best friend who I’ve known since elementary school, who also was a UNL alum. She works at the Huskers bar that plays all the football games during football season, so there’s reunions every Saturday during football season, there’s a bunch of former Huskers. So it’s still that sense of community here, that Nebraska flair is still present here, which helped make it feel a little bit more like home.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Well, Emily, tell us a little bit about yourself as a leader. How has your leadership development changed during your career?

Emily Murtaugh: I started out elementary and middle school pretty introverted. So I think in high school that changed a little bit because I did theater and ended up having some leadership roles in the drama department and the music department, but I think it really sunk in, my leadership style, in college, which, again, was when I was part of the Student Alumni Association. I had a couple terms on the board of directors for that group and then one term as president. And to me, I think leadership goes hand in hand with selflessness and a service role. So what was important to me then and still is important to me now is, to really take time to invest in whoever your team is or whoever the group is that you’re leading and get to know their specific strengths, not necessarily only as it pertains to your business or your organization, but their strengths as just people, and figuring out how to balance those. The other thing that I think I was lucky to experience in leaders in my life and something that I try to continue in any leadership roles I have is, working hard to grow people’s confidence in themselves. That’s something that I struggled with through school and I think a lot of people are sitting on great potential and amazing abilities, but are kind of waiting for that someone to make them realize that their ideas or input is worth saying and worth hearing and is valuable. My greatest pride in my leadership career was that I was president of that group, the Student Alumni Association, my junior year of college. So theoretically I could’ve been re-elected and did go up for reelection the following year, for my senior year. And there was a girl who I had a mentor-mentee relationship with my sophomore and junior year, and she ended up beating me for president my senior year. And I think that it’s easy to look at that as a loss, but in my mind that was the best way to end my time as president, knowing that I had a role in making someone exceed my abilities and become a greater leader than me. I think that’s the ultimate kind of success, as far as leadership is concerned.

Dr. Connie: It sounds like you have a very open and abundance mindset around leadership. So how do you see that evolving now and into the future?

Emily Murtaugh: Leadership for a long time has been analogous with seniority, and I think that, especially as things move more towards digital, diversity is growing in leadership, which is awesome and is long overdue. At Verzion we have a group that’s dedicated to neurodiversity and different mental health diagnoses and making sure that there are people at the table who can represent those with anxiety or depression or ADHD in addition to, obviously, racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, and physical ability diversity. So I think leadership in the workplace is very much starting down this path of valuing those more intangible qualities that are important in a leader.

Dr. Connie: Okay, I have to ask a little bit more about neurodiversity. This is the first time I have even heard this term as a futurist, so we have a bit of a narrow scope around what diversity might mean.

Emily Murtaugh: Right

Dr. Connie: So how did Verizon kind of help cultivate this diversity but also the inclusion of those diverse audiences?

Emily Murtaugh: The neurodiversity group is an employee resource group, so it’s opt in. And I opted in. I was diagnosed with PTSD so I was like, “oh, I’ll do this.” And they have meetings monthly to talk about how to either cope with any symptom that any of the members have while in the workplace, because most have diagnosed mental health statuses but are very high functioning, so a lot of people in the workplace have no idea that oh the person next to me has anxiety or what have you. So it’s an environment where people that are dealing with some sort of mental health issue can all have a safe space and be with each other and know that they can talk openly about any struggles they’re having or share coping mechanisms that they’ve found work for themselves. They’re just bringing visibility to different types of mental health, to kind of proving the point that, regardless of any diagnosis you may have, you can still be an extremely valuable addition to your organization. And in some ways that’s a strength, because we’re here to serve customers and the consumer, many of which will have had mental health diagnoses at some point in their life. So it’s all about representation.

Dr. Connie: This is just brilliant. Because one of the challenges, especially in rural Nebraska, rural America, is this whole issue around mental health. People don’t have access to it, but also there’s still this stigma around, okay, if I go get help, whether at work or in my community, people might see me getting help or reaching out and make these assumptions. So I love how Verizon is just bringing that out to the open. Okay, let’s not make this a negative, let’s really turn this around and find that opportunity for our employees and our business, because we do know we’re serving customers in the same situations.

(music transition)

Katy Bagniewski: Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rockstar students from the University of Nebraska who are making a difference in rural. Hello podcast listeners, it’s Katy Bagniewski, Production Specialist of Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. And joining me today is Kara Sloane, a junior studying Graphic Design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Welcome, Kara.

Kara Sloane: Thanks for having me.

Katy Bagniewski: Kara is our graphic designer at RFI so I’m really excited to talk to her about that. But first, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Kara Sloane: I am from Omaha, Nebraska. It seems kind of redundant but I’m really interested in art, that’s how I got started doing graphic design, and I’m really passionate about creating and inspiring people.

Katy Bagniewski: What do you love about design, and really just art?

Kara Sloane: I think what I like most is being able to create something new every time, and trying to create something that isn’t out there, which I think is really exciting. And being able to inspire other people too, because it’s always fun looking at what other people make and think “Ooh I really like that” and hopefully someone will look at what I do and say the same thing.

Katy Bagniewski: From your perspective, why is graphic design, and good graphic design at that, important?

Kara Sloane: I think the most important part of graphic design is what it goes unnoticed. You know, graphic design is more than just a little graphic in the corner, or making a website pretty, it’s really about making an identity for something and showing its history and meaning. Any great company has good design.

Katy Bagniewski: What have you learned from your RFI Graphic Design Internship?

Kara Sloane: Well, I’ve learned a lot being here. This is my first Graphic Design Internship, so, that’s definitely one thing. (laughs) What I’ve learned the most is probably working more in a corporate environment and working with a team and meeting deadlines. So really I’d say, to sum it up, I’ve learned to adapt to all those kind of things that didn’t make sense and to adapt my way of working around that.

Katy Bagniewski: Okay, so I think that there’s room for improvement in many of our rural communities to be better about branding and graphic design. What are your thoughts around rural design?

Kara Sloane: I think, yeah, right now rural is not represented in the best way that it could be. Rural holds a lot of potential that isn’t represented. So I feel like, in the future, if we represent rural in a more future focused kind of way and more professional but exciting too, I feel like it would bring out this possibility.

Katy Bagniewski: What advice do you have for our creative audience that may be listening?

Kara Sloane: One of the most important things I’ve learned was listening to what other people have to say. Because your graphic design, and art even, and all that, it’s not just for you to make and sit in your room and for you to look at all day, it’s for everyone else out there to experience it, so what other people have to say about it and their critiques are really important.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, I think that’s especially true just for all creative fields. Take your criticism with grace, it will help you. So, thank you for sharing that, Cara, and thank you for being our Bold Voice. We love having you here at RFI and look forward to see how you’ll grow in the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So, Katelyn Ideus, our executive producer for the podcast, attended the UNL Mobile Me and You conference and she actually did more than that, RFI really helped sponsor that. But she saw your talk at the Mobile Me and You conference, held by the Journalism school here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and she said your presentation was outstanding, so of course then invited you to be on the podcast. And your presentation was about 5G. So tell our audience a little bit about what is 5G, give us some detail around that.

Emily Murtaugh: That is the big question right now, what is 5G? So 5G, first and foremost, just stands for 5th Generation, and it’s talking about cellular technology. So when you look at your phone now, in the top corner there’ll either be a 3G, a 4G, or an LTE. So 5G is the next generation of this cellular technology, wireless, and it has really great potential to enhance networks speeds. It can increase speeds up to 100 times, the average is 20 times faster than 4G. So that’s about one gigabit per second, which is crazy, and is more comparable to like a fiber wire connection. So 5G can theoretically bring that speed, first and foremost, to your cell phone or wireless home Internet connections instead of having to have fiber or broadband of some type. So there’s two different types of 5G as well. Like I mentioned, there’s the cellular technology which will be used on your phone, or in home. And there’s a couple different ways to look at the speed enhancement. One is just if you’re on a highway, for example, the amount of lanes, so how many cars can go on this highway. One is that 5G has way more lanes so it can push more information through faster, and that opens up the door for almost instant cloud access, watching Netflix in HD, in 4K and all that, and having really crisp pictures and audio. And then the other component of the speed enhancement is latency. Latency is your devices reaction time based on the network. So that means downloading that high definition amazing video to your phone in a matter of seconds. So it’s really exciting, it opens the doors for a lot of emerging tech that quite frankly is hard to put an example to because the technology is just being built. As far as use cases for 5G, that’s still something that’s way under development and it’s early on and who knows what this will all do, but it’s an exciting time for sure. And Verizon just launched its first testing of the home 5G wireless connection in California and a couple other cities, and industry wide we’re looking at bringing 5G to mobile this year with the release of a couple different 5G-enabled devices. So it’s lots of moving parts but all exciting things.

Dr. Connie: Well good because that really frames up our next question and that is, I really want you to put that futurist hat on, how do you think 5G will impact the future?

Emily Murtaugh: First and foremost, I think the easiest example to kind of bank on is as it relates to content. So whether that’s all the streaming services that are now also highly adopted or gaming, 5G allows for an insanely better experience. Outside of content, there’s a whole slew of more industrial applications, I guess, so that is the self-driving car piece. With the low latency of 5G, the car’s reaction time is way quicker, it’s closer to the blink of an eye than anything. So it really, truly can support communities of those self-driving cars. Telemedicine is another huge one, so being able to speak to medical professionals online, via video, and even controlling robotics for small procedures. A doctor in San Francisco can be operating on someone in New York City because, again, that reaction time is now within the regular reaction time that a human would have, would they be directionally present. So there’s a lot of amazing things that can be done on this network. But again, the network is still being built and honed and we have to figure out the regulatory specifications for it, so we’re still right on the cusp of all of that innovation. But there’s a reason that 5G has been referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, because it’s really going to spark, I think, a lot of new innovation and enhancement that we really can’t even imagine right now because we’re still learning about how great can this network possibly be.

Dr. Connie: This is a huge topic for rural because many of our rural areas, especially if you’re outside of city limits, are not connected to broadband or any sort of high-speed Internet. And actually, some of the latest FCC data, in a place like here in Nebraska, shows that 87% of Nebraskans have what’s considered high-speed broadband but only 58% of rural Nebraskans do. This is not just in Nebraska, this is national, this is an international conversation around broadband. That if we don’t get our rural areas connected, what we’re really going to miss is the ability to help shape the future economy, that Fourth Industrial Revolution. I think this is a very important point. So what do you see in terms of some of those costs, benefits, even the feasibility of implementing 5G in rural America?

Emily Murtaugh: Well, one thing, the biggest precaution with bringing 5G to rural areas is really understanding how the infrastructure is set up to support 5G. So for example, the 5G that Verizon has launched already uses what’s called millimeter waves, or Ultra Wideband spectrum, so it’s really high-frequency waves that we have purchased and licensed from the government. So Ultra Wideband and that millimeter wave is what allows for the super high-speed increases, but the problem is that each of the cells that communicate to each other on the spectrum to transfer information, each of those cells have a smaller range. So Ultra Wideband and millimeter wave are very much used in highly concentrated, highly populated urban areas. That’s why over the next year or two, as different service providers start coming out with 5G, a lot of them are starting in the big cities because you have more buildings and light fixtures and whatever to attach those cells to. So that’s one type. The other uses low band frequencies, which still increases speeds, not as much as the millimeter wave but still will give you a speed increase, and still provides lower latency about similar to that of the millimeter wave, but the cells needed for that have a much broader range, much more similar to the distance between cell towers that are supporting 4G. So, with that in mind, to bring 5G to rural areas, what makes the most sense based off what we know now which, obviously, there’s still tests being done and we’re trying to figure out different ways to make bringing 5G to rural areas even more efficient, but based off the information that we have and have tested, using the low band frequency is going to be A: more cost effective and B: more reliable for those rural areas. I think what you can expect is a lag time between when 5G launches in, like I said, those bigger cities, and from when it gets to the more rural areas. And that’s, again, by nature of we as an industry, not just Verizon. So Microsoft, for example, started looking into how to use a White Space spectrum, which is just unlicensed spectrum that has not been purchased by any one company, it’s still government owned, or publicly owned I should say. But how do you use that underutilized spectrum to help expand existing broadband connections? So things like that, that’s something new that has been tested and now is getting rolled out further, industry wide, people are trying to figure out the best ways to involve rural America. Because not only is it giving service to people who need it and should have access to it, but I think the implications of getting high-speed service, and in this case specifically 5G, to rural areas really can make an impact on a global scale. So for example, if you look at the increasing population and if we have 9 billion people on earth, we’re going to have to increase food production, productivity, by 70% or somewhere in that range. So if we’re able to bring 5G to rural areas, specifically farming areas, for example, that opens up the possibility of smart farms, for example. So having sensors placed throughout the fields and having those sensors be able to communicate the growth of whatever crop is there, and then have that communicate either to the farm equipment or the actual farmer, and control irrigation systems. And that can affect like I said productivity, efficiencies on the farm, can reduce waste if things are becoming automated, farmers can save money on manual labor, save time that way too. And that can help answer to that food crisis that we have heard about is potentially coming our way. So I think it’s understood in the industry that bringing 5G to rural areas will not only impact those customers who have thus far been underserved, but it really can have a huge impact on society worldwide.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: One of the things at the Rural Futures Institute we’ve really been exploring is the fact that a lot of our communities are small makes them rural. But we also know that many people in those communities, while there are challenges we recognize, we can also have a thriving future when we look at ways to join rural and urban together, and not really focus on the divide but really the interactions that exist between our rural and urban audiences.

Emily Murtaugh:  And it really is an interesting economic play too. I think that 5G opening the door to all types of working remotely can be very good, can engage people anywhere, including rural areas, to connect with those who are miles and miles and states away from them. However, in telemedicine for example, if it becomes more widely adopted and you’re able to meet with a specialist who is the best in the country without having to travel, it’s great and it can provide top of the line medical care to people in rural communities without them having to travel to wherever the doctor that they need is. But there’s a worry that that’s going to take away the need for certain medical professionals in those rural areas, or decrease the amount of need for medical professionals in those areas. So, you know, not as many job listings in those places. So I think it’s all about balance. Obviously, the big one to me from where I sit at Verizon is, maximizing access to connectivity and the best connectivity possible, because regardless of how all the 5G stuff shapes out, we’re just becoming increasingly dependent on tech anyway, that there needs to be even access across the country and ideally the world. But we have to balance that with making sure it’s affordable and making sure that it’s being used in a way that will enable communities, no matter how big or small, to really function optimally and cause as few negative effects as possible. I think that’s something that will be interesting to watch over the next couple of years, it’s how all of these different digital and tech and infrastructure and economic components balance out and work together, because they’re all so highly connected.

Dr. Connie: Agreed, and I think that’s where too, it’s that adoption, it’s the access, it’s the affordability. But it’s also, I think, putting my futurist hat on, how do we create new systems, models, and even communities that really take advantage of and help stimulate this economy, this emerging Fourth Revolution that we’re in, Economic Revolution that we’re in. So using health care as an example, what is the role of hospitals moving forward? It’s going to be completely different in both rural and urban, and I think you’re starting to see health care take a hard look at that. Our medical center here, for example, at the University of Nebraska, has really been a leader in that. I think rather than think about what hospitals were and how they’ve always been, it’s how do we break the model, how do we disrupt that model, and create one now that really thrives in what’s being offered and what’s being developed in the current and the future, and use that strategic foresight lines to create communities of the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So Emily, tell us, what parting words of wisdom do you have to share with our audience?

Emily Murtaugh: Yeah, I think, what’s most exciting to me and what I hope excites everyone listening is that 5G really does create a ton of opportunity for you, no matter what your career is, no matter if you’re a student or a seasoned veteran in the workforce, 5G will most definitely play a role in your job, in what you do outside of work. So I think it’s important to start becoming familiar with it, start reading up about it here and there, get prepared because it’s coming. But also get excited because there is a lot of power that comes with 5G for the individual, so thinking of how to use it, of developing those use cases. We have a team at Verizon that’s dedicated to brainstorming what we could possibly do with 5G. And that’s something that I think illustrates how really on we are in the process of adopting 5G, but also what magnitude of an impact it could have. And that really comes down to leaders in communities, leaders in businesses, innovators in different education systems, and there’s a lot of power to make 5G kind of what you want or what you need, depending on what you do and what your values are. Like I said, whether that be work or more in your personal life. So I hope that not only does 5G open this door to optimize an immersive experience and positive experiences for everyone, but I hope that it kind of inspires and motivates people to get creative and get imaginative and start thinking in ways that really people haven’t ever thought before. It will be exciting to watch for sure, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Read More

Episode 23: Japan Society’s Betty Borden intersects rural challenges, entrepreneurship, innovation

March 12, 2019
           Director of the Japan Society Innovators Network, Betty Borden is a rural innovator sparking global change. She coordinates projects that connect Japanese and American mavericks to exchange solutions on some shared grand challenges, recently …




Director of the Japan Society Innovators Network, Betty Borden is a rural innovator sparking global change. She coordinates projects that connect Japanese and American mavericks to exchange solutions on some shared grand challenges, recently in the area of rural economic and community revitalization.

Betty discovered Dr. Connie and the Rural Futures Institute through a Google search inquiring into the most future-focused, strategic solutions for rural thriving. In this conversation they dig into more than a year of work that has brought them together across the world and includes creative solutions around recruitment and retention of residents, sparking female entrepreneurship, rethinking the rural-urban opportunities of agriculture and food production and, of course, the evolution of leadership.

“What we’re looking for are people who have the ability to look at a challenge in a new way that can have tremendous impact in a particular community.“
Betty Borden
Director, Innovators Network, Japan Society

About Betty


Betty Borden is the Director of the Innovators Network of Japan Society in New York City. The Network is a unique collaborative program that brings together creative Japanese and Americans who are pursuing innovative and often groundbreaking ideas to improve their communities and society. It provides opportunities for leaders to build enduring relationships, learn from each other, inspire each other and collaborate.


Bold Voices Student Segment

Hunter Traynor, Student Regent and Student Body President at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. — Listen at 8:48!

The Nebraska native is studying Political Science and will attend the University of Nebraska College of Law following his graduation in May. He is a natural leader who enjoys keeping a full plate and working with as many people as he can. “Leadership is the art of inspiring others to want to struggle for shared aspirations,” he said.

“I have been able to articulate a grand vision for what the organization currently is and what it should and could be in the future,” Traynor said of the Association of Students at the University of Nebraska, the governing student body at UNL. “And, then I need to convince everyone around us that it’s worth the time, effort and energy to struggle to achieve that vision,” he continued.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes


Read More

Episode 22: IT futurist Robin Jourdan intersects transportation, airspace, leadership

March 5, 2019
           Information technology futurist Robin Jourdan recently wrapped up a 25-year career in the automotive industry and shares a bit of her wisdom about autonomous vehicles, drones and vertical airspace legislation of the future with Dr. …




Information technology futurist Robin Jourdan recently wrapped up a 25-year career in the automotive industry and shares a bit of her wisdom about autonomous vehicles, drones and vertical airspace legislation of the future with Dr. Connie. Robin’s insights into the impact these technologies will have on the rural-urban dynamic are worth consideration in terms of community development and agriculture.

Dr. Connie also digs into Robin’s definition of a futurist and her pillars of leadership. During this part of their conversation, Robin passionately discusses the intense value millennials and generation alphas place on authenticity. She also shares her take on the era of post-trust and her optimism for the future.

“It’s so empowering to see the expression on people’s faces when they realize that they’re not at the mercy of whatever comes down the road.”
Robin Jourdan
IT Futurist

About Robin


Robin Jourdan worked as an automotive original equipment manufacturer in Michigan for nearly 25 years. First as a research analyst, then a research librarian and ending her career as a futurist in information technology. Robin is a certified in strategic foresight from the University of Houston and an Emerging Fellow of the Association of Professional Futurists. She currently consults through Signals from the Future.

Robin’s specialties include:

  • Framing challenges, scenarios
  • Business and technical research
  • Emerging technologies
  • Transportation, autonomous vehicles
  • Competitive intelligence

She holds a bachelor’s in environmental science from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, a master’s in geography from the University of North Dakota and a master’s in library and information science from Wayne State University. She serves as an associate lecturer at Columbia University, teaching knowledge management topics as part of the master’s of knowledge management program.


Bold Voices Student Segment

Listen at 16:23 of Episode 22!

Problem-solving and leadership work hand in hand, according to Bold Voice Ruben Aguilar, a computer science and engineering student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Aguilar, a computer science and engineering student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, was an undergraduate mentor for the RFI-funded Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics (YEC) which recently earned $493,560 in funding from the United States Department of Agricultural National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

He digs deep into his participation in the program, his problem-solving approach and his vision of leadership. “My idea of a leader is just being able to convey the vision and getting people together to work toward that vision,” he says.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast, and your host, Dr. Connie. And joining us today is Robin Jourdan, fellow futurist. Welcome to the show, Robin.

Robin Jourdan: How you doing, Connie? Great to be here.

Dr. Connie: Well thank you so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. And before we dive into a lot of the content, tell our audience a little bit more about yourself.

Robin Jourdan: I am at a really interesting point in my life. I’ve worked for the last 25 years at an automotive OEM in Michigan. And the last five was as a futurist in IT. Before that, I was what they call an Embedded Research Library, which meant that I worked in a lot of the advanced technology areas and research areas in the company. And my job for the years prior was to find information that helped the scientists/researchers/engineers create the solutions for our products and services. Quite a lot of fun.

Dr. Connie: Sounds like you’ve had a wonderful career and a very broad career. So define for our audience a futurist.

Robin Jourdan: A futurist to me is someone who helps teams, individuals of all ages prepare themselves for what could come in the future on a given topic or a collection of topics. A futurist to me is much more of a guide.

Dr. Connie: I love that part of the definition.

Robin Jourdan: Because we don’t predict, right? We can’t predict. If we could do that, you and I would be on the beach in some warm, awesome place, because we would’ve won the Powerball a long time ago.


Robin Jourdan: But it’s our expertise that gives people a sense of things aren’t always going to be 100% the way we want them to be, but they’re going to be okay. And I guess that’s how I view my role, is giving people that little bit of confidence, or a lot of confidence, that even though our issues are tough, and boy are they tough, there’s always a way.

Dr. Connie: How did you get interested in becoming a futurist? What did that path look like for you?

Robin Jourdan: At the company that I worked at, we were, and still are, tasked with being aware of what’s going on in our individual industries, or at least our view of what our job and what our role in the company was. So it was to really have that outside view. And the CIO of the organization, at one point, we had collected years of this information, and they were using it, but he felt that they could do a lot more with it. Remember, I was a librarian at the time. So he said, “Well why don’t you give it to the librarian? Give it to Robin and see what she can come up with.”


Dr. Connie: I love that. Okay, hand it over to the librarian. That totally makes sense, right?

Robin Jourdan: And it was awesome because there was no fear. It was like alright, so let’s see where this is going to take us. And I had a lot of support, lot of encouragement, and really it was just a case of one foot in front of the other.

Dr. Connie: And I think that’s where when a person reads your background and learns more about you, I’m sure being that librarian was a part of it. But all the background you have in just environmental science, geography, so many different things, is that love of science of technology, I’m sure, came together very well to position you as a futurist who could take bits and pieces from a lot of areas, make sense of them, and help people frame the future.

Robin Jourdan: I think you’re right. And I think that that’s part of what made this role really resonate with me is I was not using only one part of the toolkit. I was actually able to use a lot of the bits and pieces that I’d collected along the way of problem solving and all of that, that methodology.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Well we’ve talked about you as a futurist. I’d love to learn a little bit more about you as a leader. So describe yourself as a leader.

Robin Jourdan: As a leader, I tend to lead through I guess what I would call direct involvement, hands-on involvement, not just here, let me give you some things to think about, but actually, rolling up my sleeves and getting in there with the different teams, with the individuals, especially in planning and implementation. To me, collaboration is a huge piece of leadership, right? One of things that I think is really important, and it’s really becoming much more prevalent, especially as Millennials and Gen Alphas are coming to the table, are coming into the workforce, is this concept of servant leader. So it’s where you might be the leader but you’re not the General at HQ that’s shouting out orders. You’re actually involved in the solutions, in learning how these different challenges could be approached, right? Because there’s a lot of different ways of getting from A to B

Dr. Connie: Well I think that’s such an excellent point. I want to back up just quickly. Millennials, a lotta people talking about that, and we are very familiar with that generation, but Gen Alpha. Tell our audience a little bit more about Gen Alpha.

Robin Jourdan: They’re the kids who are just entering school. They’re the three-year-olds, the four-year-olds, the seven-year-olds, the eight-year-olds. That whole breath of fresh air. I have a few nieces and nephews. Well actually, I have a lot of nieces and nephews, but I have a few that are in that age range, and Connie, I have to tell you, watching these guys, there’s no challenge that they don’t feel like they can address. They’re dealing with this technology in such a seamless, fearless way, and I think that that’s just so inspiring to me of what they’re going to be bringing to the table. I mean and they’re starting now. They’re not waiting until they’re 18, 24, through their schooling. They want to get in there now. That doesn’t mean that they know all the answers. They know they don’t. But they want to learn.

Dr. Connie: I think that’s such an important point, because as we talk about the need for broadband and being connected, all those things are really important, but it is the how people approach tech. And also, my kids are in that age range, but for them, even using a computer is not how they approach the world. I mean my kids do everything on a phone, and it’s very natural to them. They create things on a phone. I’m like oh dang, it would take me a week on a computer to do.

Robin Jourdan: From the libraries’ perspective, we had to teach these guys how to use mouses with their computers. They would have a computer that would be sitting on their desk for weeks and they wouldn’t turn it on, because no, it wasn’t part of their mind-set.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So Robin, we’ve talked about Millennials, we’ve talked about upcoming generations, but you also talk about the age of post-trust. So tell us a little bit more about that, and how that will affect the future of leadership.

Robin Jourdan: Connie, one the things that I think is going to be really important about what has been written many times and called post-trust, I’m not sure that I really see it maybe the same way that a lot of authors currently do because I think that post-trust just means more skepticism and I think as a scientist, skepticism is a good thing. But when we look at our Millennials, our Gen Alphas, the kids without the baggage, I think that they’re going to continue to bring a new authenticity to the table. I think that saying what you don’t mean and not meaning what you’re saying as a practice is just not going to be tolerated by this rising generation. I think that they’re so embedded in it. I mean when I was a kid, you trusted what an adult said, right, because that’s just the way that it was. And I think that the values of, I’m just going to keep saying the kids, and I don’t mean as a slight in any way, but I think that the values that I’m seeing in my nieces and nephews, you’re either authentic or you’re outta here.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Well I’m a huge fan of libraries. I mean in graduate school, I spent a lot of time physically in a library, making copies and all of those things, and it’s been a while. It doesn’t seem that long ago. But I’m amazed too now how libraries have evolved and changed and how people use them, and how they’ve had to change their business model and engagement methods to make sure they’re still relevant in this day and age. And I think it’s exciting to see now how libraries are really– I know in a lot of our rural communities– are really the place people go to be connected and to learn, and libraries have become a big part of those communities. They always have been, but I would say they’re showing up in a way now that’s become really critical.

Robin Jourdan: I think you’re right, I think you’re right. And something that my husband and I were talking about the other day, and that was along the lines of remember back when we were eight and we’d have these questions. Like my one nephew has a question about– He’s always asking Siri who would win a fight between Megalodon and a T-Rex. Stuff that an eight-year-old’s thinking about.


Dr. Connie: That’s right.

Robin Jourdan: And Siri will give him a very logical breakdown of that battle. I grew up in a time where when you had those questions, you had to physically go to the library. It really had to be worth your while and your parents’ while to get you there. And so a lot of the questions that we had growing up, just natural curiosity questions, didn’t get answered. So we got used to, in a sense, having our curiosity, not aggressively stunted, but just by the nature of the logistics. But the kids today, there’s no crazy question, and they’re finding an answer, which is really remarkable in that it keeps encouraging their curiosity. I just think that libraries and the whole information fabric that we’re living in is such an advantage to dealing with the challenges that we are, on a local and global scale.

Dr. Connie: Well I’d love to dive into that a little bit more, because you are a futurist, and I’d love you to put that big futurist hat on and tell our audience what major changes you see evolving in your area of expertise.

Robin Jourdan: I think at this point, we’re all aware of these things, autonomous cars and the new biosphere that surrounds it. And we’re seeing some really big things emerge in the transportation technology, that convergence. Not just for people, but transportation in general is driven by energy and its constraints, right? Getting goods from here to there is something that, until we have teleporters that eliminate that proximity issue, is always going to be a part of our lifestyle. Whether you’re in an urban area or a rural area, that is a factor that’s not going to go away for a very long time. And also, how does that impact the environment? That’s something that my generation, we didn’t really deal with it the way that we are today, that we’re really getting in with sleeves rolled up and really trying to see the impacts of our decisions. Earlier this week was the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and one of the things that they announced was– and they actually had, I guess, a passenger drone, a two-person passenger drone, at the Auto Show. And they’re predicting that we’re going to be seeing technologies, these modes of transportation, in the next 10 years. That’s just mind boggling, that’s Jetsons, that’s Jetsons all over that. But one interesting factoid is The Jetsons show, you’re familiar with the cartoon show, The Jetsons?

Dr. Connie: Absolutely, yeah.

Robin Jourdan: It was created in 1962. Well it was a view of the future 100 years from then. So 2062, and you know what, we might actually be on a path to see flying cars by 2062. How crazy would that be. That would be everybody’s dream.

Dr. Connie: I didn’t realize it was supposed to be that 100-year view. So that’s new information, that’s really interesting. I think the flying cars are really cool. I’m also hopeful that I’ll get a Rosie the Robot that can take care of the cleaning and laundry, those day to day things. I don’t want to do-


Robin Jourdan: Chase the cat around with the vacuum.

Dr. Connie: I’m totally okay with that.

Robin Jourdan: And actually, it was in a class and we were talking about The Jetsons, and that’s where I learned that it was the 100-year view out. And what the producers did, they actually went into schools in the Los Angeles area and talked to kids about what they thought that 2062 would look like, is where they really got a lot of that inspiration from. Again, back to the kids. They don’t carry all of the emotional baggage, the non-emotional baggage. They’re just open and free-thinking people.

Dr. Connie: I think that’s such an excellent point, and I think sometimes, we discount some of what they say because we almost view it as too creative or too out there. But I think the truth is, because they don’t have those filters, and they don’t have really any sensors to what they’re thinking, they’re just thinking very broadly, but in some ways, pretty practically, I would say too, in terms of it’s not that it’s not possible. You just have to put the effort and the resources into exploring it.

Robin Jourdan: Exactly, exactly. And I think that we adults, for myself, I think sometimes, we get so attached to our ideas, and that we’ve gone through so much life and living, and the school of hard knocks, or whatever you want to call it, that we love our ideas more.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I agree, and I think that’s the value of bringing a futurist in as well, into some of these conversations, and especially conversations maybe where that futurist has some expertise, but also a broader background. I would say you and I both fall into that category where you’re not so entrenched in the day to day, in the social norms, the cultural norms of that industry that you can bring some fresh ideas and perspective that perhaps other people weren’t thinking of. Because you’re in an industry for X number of years and you know a lot about the industry, which is great, but also can be a bit of challenge in this day and age where change is happening so rapidly that you really need to look to other industries and how they’re advancing and changing, or even being challenged, in order to pivot what you’re doing.

Robin Jourdan: Pivot, that’s a great perspective, because isn’t that a lot of what we really are doing? A lot of people, oh, they don’t like change. But if we even just change the terminology to pivot, they’re a lot more open to it. They’re a lot more open to the new possibilities I think. At least that’s been my experience.

(music transition)

Katy Bagniewski: Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rockstar students from the University of Nebraska, who are making a difference in Rural. Hello podcast listeners, welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with student leaders from the University of Nebraska. I’m Katy Bagniewski, the production specialist of Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. And with me today is Ruben Aguilar, a computer science and engineering student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Welcome Ruben.

Ruben Aguilar: Hi Katy, thanks for having me.

Katy Bagniewski: So Ruben, we have a lot of different topics to touch on today, but first, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Ruben Aguilar: I was born in Crete, Nebraska and then I moved around a lot, spent a long time in Texas. And my main interests are, of course, computer science and finance, but I also really like technology and problem solving, I guess trying to find the best solution for it, which is what my two studies help with a lot.

Katy Bagniewski: So Ruben, you were an undergrad participant with a competitive award project that the Rural Futures Institute funded called the Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics, or YEC for short. For our listeners who don’t know, can you explain the YEC program and your role with it?

Ruben Aguilar: Well my part was being a mentor for pre-stage analytics, and the program had four company sponsors, and they proposed a problem and high school students would work to solve the problem. They were all split up into groups. So of course, these groups were assigned mentors and I was a mentor for pre-stage analytics and our problem was getting information from like a data collection hardware and then getting it to a database with high school students, from freshman, sophomore and senior.

Katy Bagniewski: What made you want to participate in this project and what was your biggest takeaway from it?

Ruben Aguilar: It probably became one of the biggest benefits to my problem-solving approach because it taught me to be really versatile. And then my biggest take-away was just definitely problem-solving approach and then the community that we had. It was just an overall amazing program that I think really benefited my studies here at UNL.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, it sounds like a great opportunity for both the high school students and the undergrad mentors involved. As a mentor, you were really set up in a leadership position, so describe to me the intersection you saw between problem solving and leadership.

Ruben Aguilar: Yeah, I think my idea of a leader from that was just being able to convey the vision and getting people together to work towards that vision. When you begin to work on a project, you’ll begin to realize that there’s a lot of very small problems that will add up if they’re not resolved, once they come about. So I think being a leader is all about being able to give those solutions, because it’s so easy to get lost on a project with so many details.

Katy Bagniewski: Well you have great thoughts around leadership, Ruben, especially for being a sophomore in college. So let’s keep this conversation going and look toward your future. How has your University of Nebraska experience impacted you as you decide what to do next in school and beyond?

Ruben Aguilar: There’s so many resources that if you’re really motivated and engaged, you can find them. They’re there, you just have to have the drive. And then I’m not sure what I want to do but it’s definitely shaping my idea, and I think it’s just being exposed to so many organizations that are just so young, and being able to have the open opportunity to join them and get involved. Just all these new experiences with YEC, the exposure, the opportunities, they’re there. If you really go look for them, they’re there.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah and I think that that’s really advice for any students who may be listening. So thank you for sharing that and thank you Ruben for joining me today as our Bold Student Voice. You’ve been able to intersect so many areas that we at RFI are really passionate about. So thank you for sharing your story and we look forward to seeing how you’ll grow in your future. It was a real pleasure.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: You talked about autonomous vehicles and the biosphere that surrounds them. Can you give our listeners a little perspective on what that biosphere looks like?

Robin Jourdan: The biosphere is our living things, right? That’s at least how I’m defining it. So autonomy in any kind of machine, robots, AI, how that technology or set of technologies really interacts with life is really at an exciting point. And it’s at a point where we are still defining, and we will be for quite some time, how do we want to interact with what’s essentially machines?

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So you mentioned that really transportation is constrained by energy. And so can you tell us a little bit more about how energy does put constraints in the transportation industry?

Robin Jourdan: If we just limit ourselves to the technologies that we have available today, there are a lot of people in the world who are just simply in waiting mode for access to what we consider in a developed country as just standard issue. So putting that different hat on and realizing that maybe the way that the challenge was handled in the past, in other parts of the world, let’s just say in the United States, and there’s even places in the United States, we know, that don’t have the same access to even electricity, water, on and on. That’s what I was getting at in terms of energy and its constraints is that sunlight is all shining on us pretty evenly, but our ability to even capture that energy of the sun is very much differentiated by the technology you have available.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I notice part of the preparation for the podcast, you talked about drones and the possibility of those drones maybe opening up some new revenue streams for landowners. Could you talk a little bit more to that?

Robin Jourdan: Well this is a what if situation, right? So as we start to see, in the United States, we still have some high hurdles to get over with the commercial use of drones I think, but if we think about it and play the video out, we start to see how their use starts to impact what we think of as traditional land use, and that impacts not only urban areas but rural as well. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is right now, at least in the US, a drone pilot has to have line of sight with their aircraft. Well in time, that might change and relax, but what that means for the rural landowner is huge. It’s a potential invasion of their airspace, their privacy, their property rights, to a great extent. And some say that that airspace will become vertically priced, right. So depending on the cost of moving through that space, depending on your altitude, is going to have different advantages, and potentially, that kind of revenue stream. But what it also means is that we’re no longer on the public highway system. Since the 1950s, the Eisenhower autobahn and potentially crossing private lands, how does that impact the landowner? A lot of the whole what ifs, right? Or is airspace part of the commons? How many people might have a different opinion about turning it into the commons?

Dr. Connie: I love this conversation because these are the thoughts and conversations we want to bring forward as a Rural Futures Institute. What does rural look like now? I mean we have this perspective. We have a lot of opinions, and a mind-set around it. But what could the future potentially look like, and how can we create an abundant future for rural areas and urban areas alike, through what’s happening with technology, and even the expectations of people, the psychographic changes in addition to the demographic changes that we see happening? And so thinking about vertically-priced airspace, that’s just a conversation that is a game changer, especially I would say for rural areas that are so vast in terms of land ownership, like you’re saying.

Robin Jourdan: Yeah, and think of it also in terms of the urban intermediate areas, right? We think of right now skyscrapers. Urban is skyscrapers. Urban is the concrete jungle, all of that. But if it’s our airways, if it’s that sky view, that airspace that hasn’t been–valued isn’t the right word but you kind of get where I’m going– how does that impact skyscrapers? Does that mean that urban areas start building shorter buildings but try to push further into what we’re considering today, a rural area, but it’s all these short, little buildings, because they want to take advantage of the vertical airspace?

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: How do you see 3D printing potentially impacting the need for transportation? If people can print more at home, anything they need, for example, do you think that has a potential to offset some of what’s going to be needed by drones? Or do you see them coming together and a big need for both the 3D printing where you are, locally, at your home, at your business, and drones? Like coming together in a cohesive way.

Robin Jourdan: I think they’re going to come together but when you think about 3D printing, the aspect that people tend to not prioritize, I’ll just put it that way, is the fact that your printer has to have the right materials to print what it is you want to print.

Dr. Connie: Think about all the different implications that has, right? I mean you still need delivery of those raw ingredients, but homes, in the home design, business design, you’re going to still need space to store it or put it. It has really a watershed of fact in terms of what our spaces look like in the future, how we interact with one another, how we interact with things and stuff. What that all looks like. The transportation system itself. I mean it’s really pretty exciting to think about the holistic system in the future.

Robin Jourdan: Absolutely. Isn’t it a fun time to be a futurist?


Dr. Connie: I agree. I love that. And it’s so funny because sometimes, we still get “Is being a futurist a real thing?” and I’m like oh my gosh, look around, because it is the best gig, best career ever right now.

Robin Jourdan: Yeah, I love it, I love what I’m doing. I actually loved when I had the engineers. We were shoulder to shoulder, because I would get these engineers that would be like “Show me your crystal ball.” But then when I started showing them and teaching them the different methodologies that we have available, and how close those are to say traditional Six Sigma, traditional engineering, traditional scientific method, they saw this as not just a mystical, I have my robes and I’m Harry Potter kind of things. They actually got that you can’t predict the future but they got that the means to generate these what if situations actually had some validity.

Dr. Connie: Absolutely, and I think that’s where even the discipline itself, it’s exciting to see it grow but also become more valid because of the tools and the processes involved to really help people frame up what the future might look like, what the possibilities are, what the probabilities are. So what are some of the strategies you really enjoy using to help people take a look at the future for themselves?

Robin Jourdan: One of the things that I start probably every project with I guess is a phrase out of Buddhism really. It’s called the beginner’s mind. Bias of thinking that we, as adults, already know the answers to whatever the topic at hand is. I try to minimize that in myself by adopting what is called the beginner’s mind. So I try to really let go of my preconceived notions. And that really helps when you’re working with people of all different kinds of age groups and backgrounds. Actually, one of the things, Connie, that I think you’re probably familiar with is the Teach The Future, where the futurists are going into the schools and teaching elementary, middle and high school kids about the futuring process, which makes it not only accessible to these new generations and really I think in some ways counter effects the fear of the future, fear of change, fear of, wow, if I go in direction A, B, C for my life’s work, what if I’m wrong, and those kinds of questions. That’s where beginner’s mind perspective really helps me to relate to those folks a little more easily, because we’re all put on the same level.

(music transition)

Robin Jourdan: Then I’ll look at really that whole outside in look that futurists are famous for. So what’s actually going on in relation to whatever that topic is in terms of social, tech, economics, political, and environment. And actually, I have morphed that usual STEEP method into a social tech economic and geopolitical, I push geo and politics together. We start looking at what is actually going on, not what do I think is going on, but what’s actually going on.

(music transition)

Robin Jourdan: From there, then we start to develop the trends, the drivers, the things that are actually happening, and we’re using that data as the means for that and not this person’s opinion or that person’s opinion or that party, or all of the filters that we have to what’s really going on around us.

(music transition)

Robin Jourdan: Really, from there, a lot of things fall into place in terms of what’s happening and what are the actual entities, the actors, that are a part of that. And then we start to work with some of the maybe more robust tools in the toolkit, the causal layer analysis and some of those other tools.

Robin Jourdan: I love beginning with the beginner’s mind. That clean slate, everybody on equal footing. Let’s do this together and really make it a wonderful process that really reveals maybe some unexpected results or ideas that we wouldn’t be necessarily looking for. And that’s one of the reasons I was so excited that you were coming on the podcast.

(music transition)

Robin Jourdan: Before I left the company, I really loved it there, I mean I was fortunate that I was able to retire and it’s turning out to be a really good decision in that regard, but one of the things that the company had in place is this transition period for people who were planning to retire. And so one of the things that the team that I was on, Now I was the only futurist in the IT organization, we worked together and said “how are we going to not let the engine that Robin built how do we not let that just fall apart.” So one of the things that we did and these people, they put up with some much, because we put together some apps that people would be able to go through and develop their own what if scenarios, and they’d be able to go through and they’d be able to determine what their own personal change profile looked like, in terms of do they consider ideas to be the thing that drives the greatest change? Is it technology? Is it religion? And there’s I think about 10 different personalities, those change types. So we put those things together. We put together really a nice, little set of tools so that they could turn it into play Hopefully, knock on wood, that’s all still going, because it can’t be down to one person.

Dr. Connie: That’s brilliant. And it does help grow the work that’s been done, rather than always starting over a process that can put an organization really in a challenging spot, but to add this technology in there and to have the apps with the personal change profiles, that’s really cool, and turning this into play. I bet people are having a blast at that. I’d love to learn more. That’s amazing.

Robin Jourdan: Well maybe some time, we can play around with something. I mean I can’t actually take from there, right, but the ideas that we came out the University of Houston and other futuring organizations that have been super successful at getting the word out, getting the message out, getting the how do we do this. It’s so empowering to see the expression on people’s faces when they realize that they’re not at the mercy of whatever comes down the road.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: As somebody in a wonderful place in her life, and making transitions, but also, somebody who’s made wonderful contributions in her career as well, what parting words of wisdom do you have for our audience?

Robin Jourdan: One of the things that has kept me really involved in and really wanting to mature what I do as a futurist has been the experience I have with other futurists. And Connie, I’m sure you’ve had this experience where these are the most optimistic people on planet Earth. I have not met another industry profile of a job, a role, that has been more overarchingly optimistic. And so my parting words is our best days are ahead.

Read More

Episode 21: Google brand strategist Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde intersects leadership, tech, life balance

February 26, 2019
            Joining us in the premier Episode 21 of Season 3 is Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, head of brand and reputation for Google Africa. Dr. Connie was immediately taken by Jola’s energy and enthusiasm when they both …





Joining us in the premier Episode 21 of Season 3 is Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, head of brand and reputation for Google Africa. Dr. Connie was immediately taken by Jola’s energy and enthusiasm when they both presented at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in 2018, which focused on the future of cities. Jola’s technology expertise combined with her show-up leadership style make her a dynamic female leader and true maverick. 

Jola discusses several of Google’s initiatives to empower female entrepreneurs with digital skills, her leadership advice that focuses on purpose and how she balances a high-power career with being a present wife and mother. Dr. Connie also has Jola dig into technology for rural-urban collaboration, agriculture and the future of jobs. Jola also shares her team’s ideas for creating inclusive initiatives for economic development in Nigeria and around the world.

“The job of a leader is to, first of all, set the vision, so tell us where we’re going. And then once you’ve set the vision, you need to find the people and put them in the right places, so put people in the place where they will thrive.”
Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde
Head of Brand & Reputation, Google, Africa

About Jola


Experienced business and marketing leader responsible for Brand and Reputation marketing at Google, Africa. Passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, human potential, gender equality, amongst others. Holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Lagos and a Masters in Management and Strategic Information Systems from the University of Bath, UK. Outside of professional life, wife, mum, daughter, sister, friend, nature lover, aspiring chef and organizer.


Mentioned In This Episode


Bold Voices Student Segment

Listen at 13:45 of Episode 21!

“When posting to social media, we try to start a conversation,” says social media guru Kaitlin VanLoon.

VanLoon, a senior advertising and public relations major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, digs deep into the future of technology, social media and rural-urban collaboration during the Bold Voices student segment.

VanLoon recognizes that social media can be viewed as both harmful and helpful but she encourages listeners to view it as a positive tool for engagement and information sharing. “My goal is to share the ways that [social media] can be helpful, because it is such a powerful tool in communicating,” she says.

Read the full Bold Voices release! »


Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie and we’re super excited today to have a special guest with us. Coming to us from Nigeria, is Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde. Welcome to the podcast, Jola.

Jola: Thank you so much for having me, Dr. Connie.

Dr. Connie: And I have to tell a little background on how we met. So Jola and I met at the Global Women’s Summit in Paris in 2018. And I have to tell you, I was there, I met a lot of great people, but Jola was the most friendly, just most excited and energetic person that I met at the whole conference. And it was wonderful to get to know you there and I’m so excited that you could come on the podcast with us.

Jola: It’s such an honor, for sure, and was such a pleasure to meet you. And I had to be excited, because, I mean, you went on and started telling me about how you lived in Nigeria at some point. And I was like, wow! And then I remember you said you were from Nebraska and I remember the only time I ever heard about Nebraska was my friend that lived there for a bit. And I was just excited, so it brought back a lot of memories, you were equally pleasant yourself. So it’s an honor.

Dr. Connie: Just recently Jola was promoted to the role of Head Brand and Reputation at Google for Africa. So tell us a little bit more about your current role.

Jola: What really excited me was the fact that it’s an opportunity to change the world in a very remarkable way. I mean I joined Google over seven years ago, I mean, I joined for many reasons. But one of those reasons was I wanted to make an impact on the world. Also I wanted to be in an organization that allowed me to feel like I was still a little bit of an entrepreneur and give me an opportunity to be at the forefront of technology, especially because, I mean, we all know, on the African continent, some of the issues that have been highlighted with plans such as the AU 2063, which is the AU agenda to transform Africa, as well as a sustainable development goals. We looked at it as saying, how can we be in a scientific way? So part of the continental goal is to drive social and economic development. Areas around jobs, areas around skills, around education and environment, gender equality, some of those areas that we have programs that we run already as a continent or we can create based on our product and so we’re doing that right now. And I will say we can blame the leaders, but what are we all doing in our corners, right? And so for me I feel like this is an incredible opportunity, I mean in a unique space and I can actually make an impact on the continent, in the very important significant way.

Dr. Connie: I love your just life philosophy around that, and your leadership philosophy around that. We all need to show up and really be in our purpose and do for the greater good. Could you give an example of some of the programs and initiatives that you’re working on there at Google to help empower women specifically?

Jola: One of the programs that we drive is our community initiatives which we’re launching this year to actually support women on their pillars of leadership, entrepreneurship, digital literacy and workplace; help women to understand that really they can, there really are no (mumbles), and even if there are we can really shelter them. That program is called Womenwill and the program is a community-led initiative. So we have Womenwill chapter leaders in different parts of the world, not just in Africa, and we’re going to be launching on International Women’s Day actually across three markets in Africa. The other program is I Am Remarkable program which was started off, I believe started off as an internal initiative by Google. And then now we’ve kind of done it and we do it externally for many people. I Am Remarkable is a program that basically helps women to show up, to basically say, truly, I am remarkable, to tell their stories. Because sometimes we are either behind our own awesomeness and we are afraid to kind of just showcase and shine. This year we’re also going to be running initiative around small and medium businesses, women-led businesses, where we’re doing workshops then up and down to learn digital skills and then helping them to grow their businesses, also helping them to show up online. So we have a product called Google My Business, that product basically gives you presence on Google Search and Maps and really even roam in their program to become, not just as a business listed, but also a profile.

Dr. Connie: In many of our rural communities what we keep hearing is we need to empower women, and that’s here in Nebraska, that was very clear in Japan, it’s clear in Australia that we’re still struggling around this a little bit in terms of what does this really mean and how do we do it really well. What can we do differently in what we’ve done in the past?

Jola: First of all, I think we’re doing a lot of things right. So this is not to shoot down any initiatives that are happening or any empowerment programs that are out there. The only other part that I see is the fact that I believe that, on one hand, we are truly empowering women, but we’re not also empowering the other gender. So we are beginning to ignore the male gender. And the problem is we can’t do one without the other. Everybody needs to be empowered. I know that, on one side, the scale is already tilted and you need to get it to a level. But what we would hate to do in the future is actually to tilt the scale to the extent that we now have a problem where we have a male empowerment program 20, 30 years from now. So we need to be deliberate, we need to make sure that we’re not the only world where at the end of the day we’re figuring out how to tilt the scale back again.

Dr. Connie: It’s really about empowering a global community and that includes everyone. And I think that’s something that, it’s not the easiest, but it is the best path.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell me a little more about your background, like how did you get to Google and what was it before that that kinda led you there but also your academic background?

Jola: I’d like to tell a joke, which is a true to life story of one of my superiors while I worked in consulting, who basically told me one day,

“oh, Jola, I thought you studied English.”

I was like, “no, I studied computer science.”

And was like, he was completely shocked and I found it hilarious– a little bit disrespectful, but a little bit hilarious as well. Because I was like, how do you come up with this confusion that you thought that I studied English? I’m a techie. Well, maybe you just think that because I found myself in strategy consulting, I’m not coding, then I should’ve come from like, I don’t know, maybe you just confuse that based on the fact that I talk too much. It was very hilarious and very fascinating too. Well let me just take you back a little bit in terms of my background. So I grew up in Nigeria. I did my primary school and my secondary school there and then my university as well. So my first degree was in computer science at the University of Lagos. And then when I finished that I proceeded to do master’s in management and strategic information system at the University of Bath in the UK. I’ve really always been passionate about Africa and Nigeria specifically. I wanted to come back home, I wanted to make a difference. I was very ambitious and very eager to make a difference at the time. So I did come back home and I took on a job with a local engineering company at the time. I had the opportunity, I’ve been fortunate to work with very brilliant and very entrepreneurial people. So I worked with this entrepreneur for a period of about six months at the time. I had an opportunity to renew my contract but I didn’t. And then I went home to do like a youth service program which is a program that we do as part of once you finish school in Nigeria you have to do it as service to your nation. It’s a one year program. So I did that and then I went on to work for Silverbird Group. Silverbird Group is a local entrepreneur that’s into media, real estate, cinemas, TV radio, etc. I was working very closely with the CEO, I worked in the strategy unit. Working closely with the CEO, gave me opportunities, we met a lot of bigwigs and a lot of people that we’re really investing heavily in different industries. And then from that I realized something. I realized that I was a bit, I felt like I got to the top of my career just too quickly. Again maybe, I don’t know, maybe that was my limiting mindset at the time as a woman and I started doubting myself. I’m thinking, how do I, like, I know very little, all those things I’ve been taught in business school, I’ve applied them, but I, there’s really no one to sanity check me because when you work in strategy and you work directly with the CEO you kinda make all the rules and tell everybody else what to do. So I decided that I wanted to really check my knowledge and I wanted to just test my depths. And so I started seeking out opportunities in consulting specifically because I thought that would give me a great opportunity to really test that. And I got into Accenture, worked in strategy consulting on many projects, fortunate to work across industries and projects and that was great as well. Again I was still very young, I wasn’t married, so I was very open to like living the lifestyle of the consultant: be anywhere at anytime kinda. But I got to a point I got married and then I realized that I wanted to be in a bit more control of my time, I wanted balance in a certain kind of way. So I was seeking out opportunities, companies like Google used to fascinate me, like who are these people that work for the best company to work for in the world? And I didn’t think, I wasn’t, I thought I was, I can do this. And then I was fortunate at some point that Google was recruiting in the market. And it was quite interesting because basically someone put a post on LinkedIn, I sent an email, I said I was interested, and before I knew it I got calls, basically interview scheduled and things like that. So for me, it was kind of like, wow.

Dr. Connie: You just basically thought, I can do this, I want to go where the best people in the world work, I want to work for the best companies in the world and I’m just going to go do it.

Jola: Yeah. So I basically thought, you know what, they are not superhuman. I’m human as well and I can get this opportunity. And it was funny because when I saw the post I was like, it’s Google, like are they really in Nigeria? I wasn’t sure if it was like a spam or something. One of the things that’s also magical about this place, the recruiters were amazing, my recruiters at the time were amazing. They make me feel like a superstar, right? I was not in the country when I got the call, and actually I’m not in the country, so, like I can’t do the interview. Like, don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. The entire process was like, you are definitely a superstar even if you get in or you don’t. More and more, I was falling in love with this place and, more and more, I was falling in love with the mission. Because also something, for me, it’s never about working to get paid. My work has to have meaning to it. So for a company that was building something, that was greater than themselves, I was like completely am with you. Organizing the world’s information, making it universally accessible, who does that? Like, just because. And then you find a way to monetize that. I was blessed and lucky to get the offer to join Google as a business development manager at that time. I worked on a number of products. Google Maps products, our access products, our Cloud products and I’m looking forward to all the impact that we can create.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit more about you as a leader, how your philosophy show up in your leadership style and approach?

Jola: The job of a leader is to, first of all, set the vision. So tell us where we’re going. And then once you set the vision, you need to find the people and put them in the right places. So put people in the place where they will thrive, put in the place where they will stretch them and will bring the best version of them, right? And then once you’ve done that, is that you go out and you make sure that you have the resources, the funding, the support of every stakeholder to ensure that your team is able to do the work that they’ve been hired to do. I’m very big on letting people know where they’re going and I feel like that’s always one of the biggest failures of leadership, when people don’t have a sense of, why am I following you, why are you the one leading us. I try to be very clear with my team in letting them know, this is where we’re going and this is the reason why. And I always tie that back into what I say about the bigger picture and purpose, right? Sharing my own reason why, building that into vision and being able to sell that to people that basically say, you know what, regardless of anything, I will come with you on this journey because this journey seems to be meaningful.

(music transition)

Katy Bagniewski: Hey, podcast listeners, welcome to Bold Voices. Our segment with student leaders from the University of Nebraska. I’m Katy Bagniewski, the production specialist of Rural Futures with Dr. Connie. And with me today is Kaitlin VanLoon, a Senior studying Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Welcome, Kaitlin.

Kaitlin VanLoon: Thanks for having me!

Katy Bagniewski: Kaitlin and I actually share an office and work together as RFI communications interns, so I’m super excited to talk to her about that. But first, Kaitlin, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.

Kaitlin VanLoon: I love social media and working with people and communicating. That’s really all I do really these days, so (chuckles).

Katy Bagniewski: Tell us why you’re so passionate about social media.

Kaitlin VanLoon: I think there’s a lot of different views on what social media is and how it can be harmful and how it can be helpful. And my goal is kinda to share the ways that it can be helpful because it is such a powerful tool in communicating. When posting to social media, we try to start a conversation or share information. I want people to see it as a good tool and not a harmful one. My first internship, I worked a little on social media and I was like, oh, this is kinda fun. It’s like what I do every day for myself but I do it for another company. So, yeah, I just kept going with it and now I’m a RFI doing social media, so.

Katy Bagniewski: So let’s talk about that. What is it been like to work at RFI as a communications intern?

Kaitlin VanLoon: It’s nothing like I thought it would be, in the best way possible. I didn’t really know a lot about what rural was. I’ve just learned that it’s going to become more and more important as time goes on that rural and urban work together because rural really is the backbone of our economy and we don’t even realize we’re really on it right now. So I’ve just really learned about this divide that we have and we need to stitch up so it’s not a divide anymore.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, I think that’s one of the most valuable parts about RFI, is that learning aspect of it especially with what you do: running our rural polls which is basically our term for social media management, but really just being intentional and at the forefront of issues and opportunities in that rural/urban dynamic. So how do you then think that we can use social media communications and really technology to bride that divide while fostering more collaboration between rural and urban?

Kaitlin VanLoon: Yeah, I think that’s definitely something that is such a big focus at the Rural Futures Institute and that’s something that I’ve been boggling in my mind since I started RFI in the fall, like how do we do that? Because with me doing social media, I’m like, how do I actually reach those places? It’s hard to wrap your mind around it sometimes, because how you live could be so different from somebody else. It is kinda scary, I think, going out there and realizing that not everybody lives the same but that open-mindedness is really one of the big first steps and it goes both ways, absolutely.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, Kaitlin, I think that you are really helping us do that here at RFI. And your contributions to our team have been so valuable. So I thank you for all of that, but also for sitting down and talking with me today. I think that you have been a great bold voice for rural and technology and social media and how all of that really intersects, so thank you again. And I’m excited to watch you continue on this path into the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’m going to ask you to put your futurist hat on. How do you see what you’re doing, really in the future, what do you see in the next five to 10 years in your work and in your industry?

Jola: There’s a lot of conversation about the future of jobs and machines taking over jobs and things like that, and they’re always talking, well, I don’t think that people will ever rendered redundant, right? It’s just, for me, means that people need to develop new skills. And the jobs of the future will be significantly different from the jobs that we have now, but there will be jobs.

Dr. Connie: I know too you’re a huge proponent of a workplace that’s supportive of families in life. And recently you were mum of the month in Lagos, so tell us a little bit about that. How did you become mum of the month, but also how do you see this as the future of work, how do you see this all evolving together?

Jola: I mean, that was an honor. So the blog LagosMums reached out to me and basically said, we want to do a profile of you and want you to be our mum of the month. I was like, “oh, really?” I try to be very authentic in terms of how I share even though I also try to be cautious and respectful. And maybe also from like my work in general, my relationships in general, people kind of get a vibe of who I am. I think that being a LagosMum for me or being recognized in that way was a huge one. And I really wanted to showcase something about that, is the fact that there is really no superwoman. t just doesn’t exist. So in my opinion, every superwoman is held by human angels, right? So you have a host of support system that you’ve invested in or that you, that are chosen to invest in you that kinda hold your hands all the way. Number one, you should always recognize who those people are. You should never be kind of apologetic or restrict yourself from actually leveraging those support systems because I believe that all of that is there for a reason. And then lastly, that you always be grateful for it and appreciate the people that hold you up, the people that support you in many ways. So that was one message I wanted to pass across there.

(music transition)

Jola: You need to put some structure around your life and also respect, honor those structures around your life to enable you to be successful. And also to also let people understand that it’s okay to fail, we’re all learning, right? And mommy guilt is a true thing, right? You would feel guilty sometimes. But also feeling guilty doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself down. You should all just keep striving to be better. So for me, it’s also making time for yourself, to refill, to recharge, to make sure that you’re the best version of yourself and that takes discipline.

Dr. Connie: I really love, from the article about this honor is taking care of yourself spiritually, mentally and physically part of that include strategic delegation and surrounding yourself with a team that can do things that frees up your time for other things that you’d rather be doing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approach strategic delegation?

Jola: Number one, my staff, I try to hire people that I believe have certain qualities that I desire. You have to be patient with people and realize that everyone is not perfect, that’s number one. And so for me when I hire there’s some basic things that I cannot do without and I recognize them and they’re not a list of 10 or a list of 100, they’re just about three things that definitely these are my must haves– everything else I’m able to treat. My three must haves are really important to me and so I keep track of that. And so my staff formed a really big backbone for me in terms of delegation. And I’ll also say something around the fact that when you have good staff, pay them, right? If my employer wasn’t treating me nice, if they’re not paying me right, if they’re not giving me my annual increases and bonuses, I will be grumpy. Pay them for the work they do. So for me, I try to keep my staff happy as possible and I try to also build relationships with them that are beyond work, right? Truly getting into the authentic persons that they are, that they begin to feel like family. So in terms of that I delegate a lot to my staff. My mom, my mom is my rock star, right? I tend to travel quite a bit because of my job even though I try to be home every weekend, when I travel. My mom, for me, is, I completely believe, she brought me up, she trained me and I turned out okay. So I can leave my kids with her, I’m comfortable with that. I’ve heard women say, oh, no, my mom has traditional methods. I’m like, yes, she does have traditional methods. But, I mean I turned out okay. My mom is a big support structure for me. I use her liberally because I’m also like, grandma has duties as well, mommy has duties and grandma too has duties so let’s just leverage her. So, and my sister, my husband, my husband is my rock. I couldn’t have the career that I have without the support of my husband. And I don’t feel guilty about it. When I’m at home, I’m fully present. I do certain things that maybe people consider traditional. When I’m not there, I put structures in place to make sure some things happen. While at the same time when I’m not there, my husband covers for me where I need to and he’s completely supportive even with his own career as well that he’s pursuing. So for me, it’s really around looking around you, understanding your network of the people around you and being able to leverage them and also appreciate them and celebrate them in ways that matter.

(music transition)

Jola: So I leverage technology and I get stuff ordered to my house and things like that. So for me it’s really around how you put the right structures in place to enable you to be successful and to be happy.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I think it’s brilliant to think about how technology has, and agreed, it’s going to change jobs, that’s all going to continue to evolve, I don’t think we exactly know what that’s going to look like. But just like you said about Google earlier, it can also provide these solutions. Because I also notice we have sleep in common, I also value sleep. And so if I can’t get some sleep and get all these other things done, it’s screwed.


Jola: Yes, yes, I need my six hours or more. Otherwise, I’m grumpy.

Dr. Connie: You can be more creative and innovative when you’re rested, when you’re physically active or you’re eating well, when you have that balance at home. Well I think it’s so great to talk to a Google leader about this, because I think sometimes too it’s like, oh my gosh, if you go to work in a place like Google you don’t have a life, like you’re just dedicated to work and you’re coding in all hours of the night and all these hackathons, sort of this image. And to hear you come forth, like I went to work for a company like this because I wanted to work with the best people in one of the world’s best companies and do good for the world while also enjoying my life and my family is just a very powerful message.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: As you mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, I have a special place in my heart for Nigeria, spent extended time there as part of the global Farmer-to-Farmer program. A lot of my time was in rural Nigeria, and I love just to know from you and your perspective how do you see technology sort of enabling rural areas around the world?

Jola: That’s a really interesting question. So, first of all, the basic root of that is really access. By that, I mean technology access, internet access, data access, how do we solve for that in a sustainable way and also make people get on to the internet or to technology and use it to drive their sustenance or use it to drive their growth? I also think that there’s a lot technology can still do in agriculture. There’s a lot of innovation around that. Even when you talk about things like artificial intelligence and how artificial intelligence nowadays is helping families to kind of sort crops. So there’s a lot of innovation around that that can really make the quality yield when it comes to farms a lot better, a lot more efficient. But I think that the first level is access.

Dr. Connie: I remember even in rural Nigeria, at that time I had better cell phone access there than I did in Cook, Nebraska, where my husband grew up. Well, because Nigeria had leapfrogged the technology, and instead of landlines they were using satellites and we were still approaching things from an old model and not an advanced model. And I think it’s wonderful to think about, well, how can we sustainably get it to the next level? Because a lot of what we see too, is this whole rural/urban divide around access and technology adoption use. We know this is important for entrepreneurs in our rural areas, for example. How would you characterize the rural/urban divide but also the rural/urban connection and how technology can help build bridges between both rural and urban?

Jola: Basically, technology just breaks the barriers is my opinion. So I can be in rural Nigeria somewhere in the north and I could be selling my products to somebody in Nebraska, right, with the power of the internet. I don’t need to have that feeling or that need to move to the urban areas and to even more identify the urban areas. And maybe I really just want to live on the farm and I really just want to live around nature and think, I don’t want to live in the city. So technology would give an opportunity to be able to do that and to still make a living and to still, not able to just make a living, but also to thrive and to grow my business or my endeavors.

Dr. Connie: Part of our challenge is how do we bring this world together and use technology as a bridge to do that? Even your examples of agriculture, we know that agriculture in rural is important, not just in rural, but in urban as well but also those urban audiences are important to our rural businesses. The world really comes together in a prolific way around rural and urban.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’d like to know what words of wisdom, what parting words of wisdom do you have for our audience?

Jola: Try to be the best version of yourself. I always believe that everyone has potential. It’s really a matter of the mind and really a matter of you knowing that in the world you’re running a race, yes, you have benchmarks with other people, but you’re really running a race against yourself, right? At the end of life, would you say, oh, I became as famous as Oprah, or I gave up the entirety of who I am, and lived out the different expressions of my awesomeness, what would matter? And to me, it’s really the latter. And really going out of this world empty knowing that you gave it everything.

Read More