Melissa Harrell

City of Wahoo
City Administrator/Treasurer
Wahoo, Neb.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln, College of Architecture
University of Nebraska at Omaha, College of Public Affairs and Community Service, School of Public Administration

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2020 Experience

Focus: Civic Engagement, Communications

The students will work to identify and develop a comprehensive communications plan that focuses on city, healthcare and civic outreach and engagement. Students will identify and engage diverse emerging leaders in civic and healthcare related efforts. In addition, students will assist with final prep and execution of the 150th Sesquicentennial Celebration that will be held June 26-28 in Wahoo. Assistance with community engagement efforts will be pursued by creating surveys, conducting focus groups, etc.

Students: Savannah GerlachAmanda MostOscaline Usanase
Peer: Theresa Klein

Sponsored By: Wahoo Chamber and Economic Development, Saunders Medical Center, City of Wahoo

Melissa’s Nebraska Story

I grew up on a farm/ranch outside of Stratton in southwest Nebraska. I attended UNL where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Architectural Studies. Following college I married and moved to Wahoo – because it had a great school and was in an awesome location. I learned near the end of college that architecture was not really my calling, and I took a job with the City of Wahoo. Fast-forward 25 years and I am still with the City of Wahoo and currently in the City Administrator position. The community of Wahoo helped me raise my family and has been a great place to call home.

What do you hope to gain?

I hope to gain some insight into my community that will help me be a better leader and better public servant. I also hope to gain better understanding of me through self-reflection and personal growth as well as application of skills I learn in this program.

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

It has been my experience that the community leaders are the ones who set the tone for the community as a whole. Understanding inclusive leadership is so important for these individuals because community leaders are not only role models for others but they are change agents. By practicing and being an inclusive leader they can lead by example and challenge other local leaders at churches, community groups, youth activities, etc. to do the same. Working together they can change the dialogue in their community to one that accepts and embraces ALL diversity.

Why is this contribution of students from University of Nebraska significant to you and/or your community?

I love working with students because they have not yet accepted or fallen into the status quo yet. Their brains are filled with curiosity and openness and they have so much enthusiasm. Having their perspective on my community is something I’m really excited about. They tend to be honest about what they see and experience but they are coming from an environment that encourages them to search for solutions to any problems that may exist and to think outside the box.

Why is rural important?

Rural is an identity that anyone who comes from “rural” sees as a great attribute. Rural means you have grit and are grounded in reality. Rural also means that you understand neighbors may be few so the spirit of acceptance and inclusion is necessary, not optional. You need each other. Rural is different from just saying you “belong” to a community as you could if you were in a more densely populated area. In those areas you get to pick where you belong. In rural, the action of belonging is more than sharing a religion or nationality or location, it’s looking beyond for deeper commonalities that bring people together. And it’s trust that those people will be there for you.

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

I think now is a great time to be a rural community. People are searching for safe places to live and work, and with the advances in technology that is becoming more and more achievable. People want to belong and I think the rural communities that are successful are the ones that practice the skills this program teaches to community leaders. Inclusion is important… and so is technology. If we want to move forward we must have that technological connection to the rest of the world.