Today, globalization and other unprecedented factors and trends are changing our world at an ever-increasing rate. While this presents challenges, it also creates opportunities. For example, the rapid increase in world demand for food and energy provides growth opportunities for rural communities in Nebraska and the Great Plains. To succeed, people — rural and urban, alike — must anticipate and take advantage of constantly changing environments. Change is inevitable; progress is optional.Last year was the 150th anniversary of three seminal pieces of legislation that shaped Nebraska and the Great Plains:

The impact of these legislative pieces changed the face of the nation, bringing newcomers by the tens of thousands to establish homes and livelihoods in a region once dismissed as the Great American Desert. But much has changed in the past century and a half. Shifts in population, economic conditions, and technology prompt reconsideration of urgent challenges facing not only the Great Plains, but also rural places in general. Out of a commitment to address those challenges grew plans for a Rural Futures Institute and a Rural Futures Conference aimed at pulling together a wide array of stakeholders to explore how best to proceed.In an effort to gather feedback and to help plan the conference, the University sponsored community forums in eleven cities across the state. Six additional forums were held at University of Nebraska campus locations. Extension staff and other University personnel also participated in an online forum. All told, 340 people from across the state engaged in the conversations. Led by University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken and Vice President Ronnie Green, Rural Futures Institute planners emphasized four key considerations in shaping the framework of the Rural Futures Institute:

  1. Transdisciplinary work is essential. To be successful, the Institute will have to transcend traditional boundaries of academic disciplines while respecting the expertise specific disciplines contribute.
  2. Innovation and entrepreneurship are crucial. This goes beyond private sector business considerations. The Institute should attempt to draw from the region’s long history of innovative thinking to leverage further creativity and entrepreneurial activity throughout the region, as well as within the University itself.
  3. It is more than economics. Health care, education, civic culture, and the arts are critical elements of community life and must be part of the fabric of the Institute, even though they often cannot be measured or justified in a strictly economic context.
  4. Deep collaborations are a foundational element. Despite challenges associated with institutional collaborations, the Rural Futures Institute will succeed only if it can foster and engage in meaningful partnerships within the University and with the many non-academic stakeholders in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors that have resources and expertise to contribute to the issues at hand.

With those considerations as a backdrop, the 2013 Rural Futures Conference program set out to explore how to create a dynamic and effective Rural Futures Institute. Registration for the 2012 Rural Futures Conference closed two weeks early due to overwhelming interest, and was deemed a success by conference planners. Using input collected from community and campus forums and the Rural Futures Conference, nearly thirty people gathered in Nebraska City, Nebraska in July 2012 to draft a charter for the Rural Futures Institute. As part of a weeklong celebration of the Morrill Act, NU President J.B. Milliken and NU Vice President Ronnie Green, announced the formal launch of the Rural Futures Institute on September 27, 2012.

Read More About the History of RFI


July 2018:
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., assumes Interim Executive Director role upon Chuck Schroeder’s retirement

June 2018:
Finalized budget reduction

July 2017:
RFI Strategic Plan published

February 2017:
Launch of RFI Fellows

October 2016:
5th Connecting Young Nebraskans Summit

September 2016:
Second Rural Regional Forums

October 2015:
International Rural Futures Conference: Hope Inspires Vision

September/October 2014:
Inaugural Rural Regional Forums

December 2013:
Charles P. “Chuck” Schroeder assumes founding executive director position

November 2013:
Rural Futures Conference: Beyond Boundaries

May 2013:
RFI Student Serviceship starts through RFI Competitive Awards project

February 2013:
First RFI Research & Engagement grant recipients receive funding

January 2013:
First RFI Teaching & Engagement grant recipients receive funding

October 2012:
University of Nebraska Board of Regents votes unanimously to give final approval for establishing the Rural Futures Institute.

September 2012:
NU President J.B. Milliken and NU Vice President Ronnie Green announce the formal launch of the Rural Futures Institute

July 2012:
Rural Futures Institute Charter Drafting Workshop

May 2012:
Rural Futures Conference: Connecting Innovation

September 2011- April 2012:
Focus groups with University of Nebraska and community stakeholders

January 2011:
Development and discussion of concept