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#RFIFellows In Action: Wahoo Final Summary

July 31, 2020
It’s hard to believe our summer in Wahoo is coming to an end, but we are more than grateful for the wonderful experiences and learning opportunities we had this summer. Although our projects are wrapping up, we will carry many …

Celebrating the end of the “Visit531Nebraska” tour as they returned to their hometown, Wahoo!

It’s hard to believe our summer in Wahoo is coming to an end, but we are more than grateful for the wonderful experiences and learning opportunities we had this summer. Although our projects are wrapping up, we will carry many things from this summer with us far into the future.

“This summer showed us how important it is to see the possibilities. We all know how quickly our “normal” can change. Emerging on the other side of those changes will be easier if we better understand ourselves and where we want to be. Oscaline, Amanda, and Savannah moved many projects forward, but also helped us see our community differently and this will help us long after they are gone.”

Theresa Klein, Community Innovation Fellow

Savannah: This summer we came in with the idea that we’d spend our time helping revive businesses and getting projects started, but what we quickly learned was that there was already plenty happening in Wahoo. Almost every day, we have had the opportunity to meet with someone new to learn another perspective or another story about what makes Wahoo a thriving rural community that is focused on embracing their roots and has their eyes set on the future.

Our ideas and our perspectives were positively embraced from day one, and we felt as if every meeting we had, we learned something new and walked away with another valuable connection. It will be difficult to move away from a town like Wahoo, but the connections I’ve made here will undoubtedly carry with me through the remainder of my college experience. 

Oscaline: As the summer wraps up, I reflect on the first days when I moved to the community – the warm welcome I received, the sweetness of people whom I met, the excitement I had to get started, and the lessons I learned along the way. Now after a wonderful opportunity to work on different projects including a community guide, designing brochures and the H.O.P.E. campaign, I have learned many lessons that I will take with me on my next journey. 

Working with people who are different from me in various aspects made me realize that diversity goes deeper than what is seen on the outside. As a woman of color who is living in a time of social injustice, it made me realize how Wahoo is an inclusive community. Looking back I would say that this was such a stretching, yet rewarding experience in many ways. I am grateful for all this growth.

“With all the conversations happening in our country today about diversity and inclusion of everyone, we have had a lot of honest and open conversations with our fellows. Through this, I have learned so much about how to think beyond my little world here in Wahoo.”

Melissa Harrell, Community Innovation Fellow

Amanda: Through this experience, my eyes were opened as to what it takes to operate a rural community and truly help businesses and residents thrive. The amount of drive and dedication in the Wahoo community to make this happen is inspiring. 

We were welcomed with open arms and given the creative freedom this summer to work on projects that were challenging, yet aligned with our strengths and interests. We did our best to spark innovation, creativity, and a multitude of new ideas. 

Now it’s time for Wahoo to continue to develop a unified approach as to the direction they want to go and how they will get there. The relationships I built and the learning I experienced will outlast the summer weeks that flew by so quickly. I will always cherish my summer with RFI and the Wahoo community who supported us and did whatever it took to help us have the best summer possible.

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#RFIFellows In Action: Ravenna Final Summary

July 31, 2020
By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase As our time in Ravenna comes to a close, we’ve had a chance to reflect on what this experience has meant to each of us and what we are going to carry forward. It’s …

By Ethan WeicheConnor McFaydenKori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

As our time in Ravenna comes to a close, we’ve had a chance to reflect on what this experience has meant to each of us and what we are going to carry forward. It’s hard to believe that just a couple months ago, Ravenna was little more than a name on a map to us and now it has become a second home. We learned a lot from this small town, from the projects we dedicated our working hours to and the people that filled the spaces inbetween, and we are thankful that we were able to give something back to the community that welcomed us so warmly. With that, we’d like to take this last opportunity to tell you about the projects that meant the most to us. 

Kori & Andy: We have been working hard to finalize all of our projects, while also starting some new ones! Our main focus this summer has been with local businesses and marketing content. Through our interactions with business owners, we have both grown so much in the aspect of not only hearing the needs of others, but understanding where they’re coming from. We are glad that we helped bring more awareness to these businesses and to the growth of their operation in the future.

“This experience has been eye opening and transformational. I’ve learned new skills and gained experiences that can’t be taught in a classroom. If there is one thing that I will take away from this fellowship, it is that people are the most important thing. The relationships and friendships that I’ve built are so fulfilling and help grow towards progress, not only in myself but in the heart of this community.”

Kori Siebert

“I have worked this summer by contributing to Ravenna’s development and learning new marketing skills and strategies, which helped me better understand the importance of marketing for businesses. Through this experience, I have seen how young people are crucial to the development of rural communities.”

Andromede Uwase

Connor & Ethan: With most of our projects coming to a close, we’ve realized how much we’ve done for Ravenna, and in turn how much Ravenna has done for us. For example, our largest and most consistent project, landscaping the medians on Main St., will end with us submitting a final application to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, handing off our final calendar to our newly appointed garden club president, and then, waiting. Waiting because plants cannot be planted until next spring. This has taught us the value in planning for the future and thinking ahead; asking ourselves what the community members will need in the future has been a critical exercise in many of our projects.

“This experience has challenged me to think about what my actions will accomplish a year from now, 5 years from now, a decade from now. It’s difficult work to anticipate what will come in the future, especially in light of our current turbulent times, but it is crucial to achieving change in a big way.”

Connor McFayden

“This experience has been transformational in several ways, chief among which is how I have come to view ‘sustainable’ work. I am leaving Ravenna with further clarity that sustainability has as much to do with the people and those involved, as with the type of project; inspired and committed community members must be involved if a project is to have any meaningful lifespan and impact.”

Ethan Weiche

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#RFIFellows In Action: Pierce County Final Summary

July 31, 2020
By Judith Grey and Marie Meis As our time in Pierce County is coming to a close, we cannot help but be sad to leave Pierce County. We have been welcomed by the residents of this area, and we have loved every minute …
Marie and Judith with local ice cream shop owner, Wanda Backus

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

As our time in Pierce County is coming to a close, we cannot help but be sad to leave Pierce County. We have been welcomed by the residents of this area, and we have loved every minute we have shared with them. Susan Norris has helped us form deep connections that will last long past our eight weeks here. 

“Pierce County offered so much I didn’t expect. Such as being able to form connections with so many great people and how often these rural communities have an event planned. Each town offers something unique and we hope our projects were able to capture that. Pierce County will always have a place in my heart.”

Marie Meis

Pierce County is a thriving area, and we got to see firsthand how much it has to offer. We feel very lucky that we could help with their marketing and promotion. Our community videos had a huge response from residents, and it is because there are people in rural Nebraska that are passionate about where they are from.

One way that we have grown is from working to put our ideas and plans to action. Marie typically struggles with idea creation and seeing where needs are. Judith is an idealistic person but can’t always see how to put my ideas into action. Together, we spent hours brainstorming how we could tackle the priorities for Pierce County and put our skills together. Ultimately, this led to us being able to produce seven videos, two logos, three community events, six flyers and much more in our short time here. It was only able to happen because of a great program, fantastic boss and supporting communities. 

“My experience in Pierce County impacted me as much as we impacted them–if not more. It’s inspiring to see the potential for change and the action needed to start rolling toward the goals.”

judith grey

As we leave Pierce County, we will be taking a lot with us. We are grateful for the connections we formed, the leadership skills we gained, and the knowledge of how to put our ideas into action. 

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#RFIFellows In Action: Pawnee County Final Summary

July 31, 2020
By Rachel Williss This summer was chaos, I must say. Even now that I can look back on my summer experience in full, I have trouble organizing it into words. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the thousands …
Rachel interviewing Dr. Robert Diffendal who is a retired UNL geology professor.

By Rachel Williss

This summer was chaos, I must say. Even now that I can look back on my summer experience in full, I have trouble organizing it into words. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the thousands of photos I’ve taken this summer, it is that the picture you see depends greatly on the lens you use, the angle you look from and the details you choose to focus on.

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I am more independent and adaptable than I thought I was. The changes and uncertainty that came with COVID-19 were the start of it, but our community team and schedule went through a lot of changes as well. In the future I will have more confidence to embrace change, although right now it seems to be the only way forward. 

I have also been able to refine my technical skills like photography, video editing, and graphic design. Although I have taken related courses at UNL, dedicating my entire summer to those skills has made me more comfortable with them and given me a portfolio that I can be proud of. 

Lastly, I have gained a new appreciation for learning the history and story behind everything. The museums and old buildings of Pawnee County are filled with good stories, and I wish I would have time to hear them all. I am motivated to learn more about the history of my own town as well when I return this weekend.

As I wrap up my experience here in Pawnee County, I am leaving behind a starting place for them to build their brand as a tourism destination. Going forward, the Pawnee County Promotional Network (PCPN) will be able to:

  • Continue to build the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles (@seepawNEecounty) that I created and set a structure for. Having an online presence will help them reach a wider audience, show what the county has to offer to people farther away and have an accessible method of communication with potential tourists. 
  • Pull content for social media and other marketing materials from the photo library of roughly 1500 of the photos I took throughout the county, combed through and sorted. This will make it faster and easier for them to develop marketing content in the future, as well as providing a more cohesive look.
  • Use the videos I constructed from interviews, video and photos of interesting places throughout the county to create a self-guided, county-wide driving tour. They will also be able to use the raw footage I took for the videos in other promotional media as they see fit. The driving tour is something that has worked well as a promotional tool in other places, which is why the PCPN wanted someone with the skills and the time to develop one for Pawnee County. It will encourage people who would normally just drive through the area to actually stop and explore each town. 

I can’t wait to see how the projects will develop in the future. I will definitely go back to Pawnee County to visit, and I am sure I will see new angles to take pictures from. It really is the perfect day trip destination (and I am not just saying that because I get paid to). 

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#RFIFellows In Action: Chadron Final Summary

July 31, 2020
By Tyra Reardon and Sawyer Smith This summer has absolutely flown by quickly. It is hard to believe that our time in Chadron is coming to a close this week. We have been able to create a lasting impact not only on the …

For one of our weekly team Zoom calls we met in Kerri’s office to conduct our meeting. Left to Right: Sawyer Smith, Tyra Reardon, Terri Haynes (on the computer), and Kerri Rempp. 

By Tyra Reardon and Sawyer Smith

This summer has absolutely flown by quickly. It is hard to believe that our time in Chadron is coming to a close this week. We have been able to create a lasting impact not only on the Chadron community, but also the entire Nebraska panhandle. 

Tyra: This summer I focused my time on creating resources for Educational Service Unit 13 (ESU 13) and Discover Northwest Nebraska. I created two comprehensive mental health needs assessments for ESU 13 to implement. These assessments will be used to gauge the needs of the entire panhandle when it comes to mental health in schools.

After creating the needs assessments, I worked on the ESU 13 caseload data dashboard. This data dashboard will showcase the demographics of the students currently receiving mental health services, highlight trends, and identify weaknesses. For Discover Northwest Nebraska, I created merchandising mockups and uploaded tourist attractions coordinates on Google Maps. 

“I look forward to being able to further better myself and those around me by using the skills I have learned from being an RFI fellow. This has truly been an unforgettable experience!”

Tyra reardon

Sawyer: This summer, I spent the majority of my time focusing on the website redesign for Discover Northwest Nebraska. This redesign helped modernize the website, and helped make the site easier to navigate. The new website, when launched, will showcase all of what Northwest Nebraska has to offer its visitors.

Additionally, I worked alongside Tyra on the comprehensive mental health needs assessments for ESU 13. Beyond that, I had the opportunity to translate into Spanish the needs assessment that will be given to parents, in order to help make it accessible to more families. 

We were also able to volunteer within the community. We have created a PowerPoint presentation for the Dawes County Joint Planning Committee to use to advocate for their organization, a mental health community providers brochure for Chadron Public Schools, and working at the concession stands at the Chadron Nationals baseball games.

“Being an RFI fellow this summer has definitely taught me a lot about being an inclusive leader. I have learned skills that I will likely use for the rest of my life, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow through this experience.

Sawyer Smith

We would like to thank the Dawes County community for their hospitality. We will forever remember our experiences as RFI Fellows thanks to our time here in Chadron!

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#RFIFellows In Action: Auburn Final Summary

July 31, 2020
By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson This summer we had the opportunity to grow not only as individuals, but also as a collective group. The valuable tools and lessons learned will stay with us for the remainder of both our personal and professional …

Brittney and Emma helping local business owner, Sonia Kistner, with her store’s Facebook page.

By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson

This summer we had the opportunity to grow not only as individuals, but also as a collective group. The valuable tools and lessons learned will stay with us for the remainder of both our personal and professional lives. 

“I applied for Rural Futures because I love my rural hometown. RFI is making a big impact on small town Nebraska and I am forever grateful for this experience.”

Brittney Emerson

Through this experience,we learned that there is no “cookie cutter” definition of inclusive leadership because it is a multitude of things. It’s welcoming diverse groups to the table and seeing how our differences can become unique assets. We now recognize the importance of each person’s unique strengths and weaknesses. We have grown our cultural mindsets. We have learned how our diverse cultures not only makes us unique, but also strengthens our team. We can confidently say that we grew as effective team members and inclusive leaders. 

“Inclusive leadership is not only listening to everyone’s voice, but also recognizing everyone’s unique background and mindset.”

Emma Hoffschnieder

Additionally, we are blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate group of ladies in Auburn. Julia, Kim and Leslie showed us their passions, frustrations, and future dreams while emulating the dignity and grace of inclusive leaders. 

We have loved the journey that RFI has taken us on. It was not only a time of great joy, but also an experience of enormous growth. Auburn, Nebraska, thank you for welcoming us into your community and giving us a new place to keep in our hearts! 

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#RFIFellows In Action: Arapahoe Final Summary!

July 31, 2020
By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire Throughout the past eight weeks there have been several occasions on which we were asked what we wanted to take away from this experience. Our answers to the question were somewhat expected: real world work experience, greater …

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

Throughout the past eight weeks there have been several occasions on which we were asked what we wanted to take away from this experience. Our answers to the question were somewhat expected: real world work experience, greater sense of self-confidence, more inclusive leadership skills, and connections that will help us kickstart a future career. What was unexpected was the immense amount of growth and knowledge that we were able to see in such a short period of time. In just eight weeks, we have gained all that we had hoped for and far more than we could have imagined.

“The summer of 2020 will not be easily forgotten. For many, the Coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that. But for me, there is also a more positive reason. 2020 is the year that I started an 8-week journey into the unknown and reclaimed a sense of confidence as a leader. The summer of 2020 gifted me with a growth mindset and passion for rural community development that will follow me into my future.”

Megan Tofflemire

We had no idea that we would be on a first name basis with the fantastic owner of the Arapahoe Floral shop, visiting her nearly every day and often giving in to the fun sales she had to offer. We could not have imagined the support that we would feel from the City Council, who were incredibly welcoming and accepting of our ideas and presence. We never would have anticipated the kind-hearted people who took time to invite us into their businesses, homes and hearts.

As a couple of outsiders, Arapahoe embraced us and showed us the true meaning of community. Community is the reason people choose to live in rural Nebraska. Community is the greatest commodity that our state has to offer. This experience has shown us the need to invest in rural communities and ensure that this sense of community is able to reach as many people as possible. 

“Being in this community built a passion in me to be an agent of change and inclusivity. I have grown to appreciate our differences and learn that those differences can bring us closer instead of tearing us apart. This change was not an easy adjustment to make, but it is worth it in the long run.”

Aline Abayo

For some of our projects such as the entrepreneurship competition, update to online presence, volunteer and tourism guides, and community promotional video, we were able to see the results first hand. For these projects that are expected to come to a close after our departure such as the beautification projects (the mural and downtown flower pots), marketing for the City’s new Economic Development Plan (LB840 funding), connecting alumni and colleges with community workforce openings/opportunities, and the youth career investment project, we are creating implementation plans to ensure that the community continues to reap the anticipated rewards no matter who oversees them. 

As we prepare to return to our own communities in one short week, we can’t help but to pack the lessons that this amazing experience has graced us with. In combination with our newly inspired passion for rural community development, we hope to put our greater senses of self-awareness, communication skills, and knowledge to use. Our hope is to be ambassadors and advocates for rural Nebraska wherever we are and whatever we are doing!

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#RFIFellows in Action: Arapahoe

July 24, 2020
By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire The last couple of weeks have been quiet and busy at the same time. Some of the projects we shared with you in the recent update are now coming to an end. We have two brochures ready …
The RFI team visited Arapahoe! From left: Kim Peterson, Kate Warner, Aline Abayo, Megan Tofflemire, Angie Moore, Samantha Guenther, Helen Fagan

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

The last couple of weeks have been quiet and busy at the same time. Some of the projects we shared with you in the recent update are now coming to an end. We have two brochures ready to be printed and sent to the community, and the entrepreneurship competition is scheduled on this Friday, July 24. We are happy to see some finished products from our work so far, and we look forward to seeing our other projects come to fruition!

Since we last wrote, we have been working on two beautification projects which are now in their implementation stage. One of these projects was organizing a community mural that could make people stop and appreciate what Arapahoe has to offer. We have been working closely with artists from IMPACT Art to create a design that is modern, meaningful to the community, and gorgeous. The support from the community, along with the City Council, has been extremely helpful and encouraging. 

The second beautification project was planning to get 16 planters filled with beautiful plant life in our downtown business district in an effort to create a more inviting appearance. After pitching our ideas to the City Council, we have gotten support for both of these projects to be funded by our community LB840 money. We are incredibly excited to see how these projects turn out!

In an attempt to make our community more beautiful, we didn’t stop in our downtown. We have been working with an outstanding member of the community Nate Swanson, who was kind enough to help us create a community video that shows the beauty of Arapahoe. Last week, our team met Nate and flew a drone around the city to take videos and photos. The community members are sending in beautiful pictures of town to be in the video. Currently, Nate is busy editing and putting together all parts. 

Moreover, we have been helping businesses with their online presence. We helped business owners create and manage google my business accounts, Facebook pages, Shopify accounts, and other marketing and selling websites depending on the type of the business. We weren’t experts in this field, but we had to learn and make sure that we have as much information available for business owners. Grow Nebraska’s presentation at the Arapahoe Chamber of Commerce explained how important it is to have businesses’ information out there and had some of them reach out to us afterward for us to help them with their accounts.

“I think that this experience has created a very rare outcome. There has been a mutual benefit for not only the community but also us as fellows. I think it’s really interesting when the community members tell us that we are bringing a new spark and a lively energy to the community. For me the community has created a parallel impact on my spirit. I feel as though a fire has been lit under me, inspiring a restored passion for community.”

Megan Tofflemire

With only 2 weeks left, we have started coming up with plans to make sure that the team that will take over the projects will understand what our goals were and what we wanted the community to gain from them. We plan on making reports of how we did all the projects we worked on, and how they can manage them in the future. 

“Coming up with ideas is the easiest part of the process; everyone can do that. However, making sure that those ideas change people’s lives is what makes us unique.”

Aline Abayo

To conclude, the last few weeks have been full of learning moments for both of us. We hope that our ideas and projects will inspire members of this community to work together and continue to make Arapahoe grow in the future!

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#RFIFellows in Action: Pierce County

July 19, 2020
By Judith Grey and Marie Meis We have seen a lot of our projects moving forward over the last couple weeks! We know our work is important because we are giving the communities within the county a jumpstart, if not a booster, to …

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

We have seen a lot of our projects moving forward over the last couple weeks! We know our work is important because we are giving the communities within the county a jumpstart, if not a booster, to keep on moving forward in the right direction of improving themselves and taking advantages of their opportunities. 

Since we last wrote, we have put on a community event celebrating the opening of Osmond’s new pool. It was a heartwarming experience to see a pool celebration turn into an elaborate event with various moving parts. The newscast from US92, a local food truck and an ice cream truck offered their services to add to the event. It was a much needed event for the community of Osmond, and it was nice to see the positive interaction of a community that we get to be a part of. 

We have also been working on creating community videos and recently posted the community video for Osmond. The stats were astounding to see that the community responses on Facebook with 7.7k views, 99 shares, and 11k people reached! In addition, there have been 63 new likes since we were placed in Pierce County. It was moving to see the responses from the community on Facebook that the town of Osmond was represented well. 

Additionally, we have completed flyers to encourage people in the county to get on shopwhereilive.com and also to claim their domain on google maps. These projects help our business owners have the opportunity to have a worldwide customer base and be accessible to those who travel through the community or newcomers to the community. 

“Our projects are allowing me to see how much a rural area has to offer and why each community in Pierce County is so valuable. I’ve realized how much I can do with simple actions and how much collaborative work can help a project. Having a focus on assets rather than deficits has been one of the biggest takeaways for me not for just future projects, but the way I look at my life.”

Marie Meis

We also have had the opportunity to sit in different Chamber and City Council meetings to gain a perspective on what each community is going through and how our work is impacting them. These meetings enabled us to get to know the personality of each town so that we can efficiently cater to them. 

The variety of work that we were given truly gave us the flexibility of switching to different projects when we needed a mental break. We are able to switch from one task to focus on another which allows us to be motivated to do more projects. A bonus is that we get to see the real impact of what we’re doing each day. Our videos, events, posters, and everything else are being shown across the county and starting real conversations.

Through it all, we have learned about how rural communities operate and stay alive with strong communication because it is noticeable how they need each other to function. In a rural community, everyone knows each other and that influences the great or not so great results in how they stay alive. We have learned the weight and significance of how one person can trigger great things, and how important it is to utilize each other as a soundboard to reach the goal that we’re all aiming for.

“Pierce County is looking for change. We are making an impact because they have been encouraging and accepting the opportunities we put before them.”

Judith Grey

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#RFIFellows in Action: Ravenna

July 19, 2020
By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase It’s been three weeks since our last update and we have been busier than ever! Since then we have wrapped up old projects, started new ones, and done more than our fair share of …
Ravenna Community Foundation honors the RFI interns through donating money towards their projects in Ravenna.

By Ethan WeicheConnor McFaydenKori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

It’s been three weeks since our last update and we have been busier than ever! Since then we have wrapped up old projects, started new ones, and done more than our fair share of downward dogs (special thanks to Jacquie at Rural Roots Yoga!).

Seeing some of our work start to pay off in the community has been very rewarding. The scavenger hunt night was extremely successful, and we are anticipating a similar outcome for the upcoming community concert. We all agree that being able to see and experience tangible results such as these are a major perk of the job. However, these successes don’t come without their challenges. Every day presents us with new problems to solve, which only makes the process that much more rewarding.

“The fellows have brought enthusiasm and passion into Ravenna and renewed the community’s excitement. Overall they face every challenge with grit and every project with determination.” – Amber Ross, Community Innovation Fellow

Kori & Andy

We have been in full force trying to get as much accomplished before we have to leave. A lot of our time has been put towards marketing and social media to create a stronger online presence. Last Friday we sent out our first monthly newsletter that will go out to all businesses, and we are currently batch working more for the future!

“I never want this experience to end. Ravenna has become my home away from home, and I can’t imagine leaving here at the end of July to go back to school. I have gained so much hands on experience, and I’m just so thankful for everything and everyone that has made this fellowship incredibly life changing!”

Kori Siebert

A program called Sentext has also been a priority during our time here. The idea behind this program is to keep community members up to date and in the loop with everything happening in town. Our business highlights are a constant everyday occurrence, and we just uploaded many of the videos to our “Ravenna Chamber of Commerce” YouTube channel.

“This experience showed me how rural Nebraska communities are essential in the development of the state. I met hardworking people, committed and amazing leaders, and inspiring business owners. I’ve enjoyed hearing their stories and seeing them at events, as well as getting to share my culture and experiences with them. I am grateful for all the skills, people, and challenges Ravenna has offered me this summer.”

Andromede “Andy” Uwase

Small Business Saturday has also become an essential social media tool as we’ve started to bring more awareness to the unique businesses in Ravenna. On top of all our projects, we have been working on finalizing the small details of our upcoming FREE concert at the Ravenna golf course on Saturday at 8 p.m. 

Connor & Ethan

Since our last update we have continued to push for putting plants in the median, put together a first draft of a brochure for the hike/bike trail and pulled off a popular scavenger hunt and cruise night. In order to accomplish this work, we have had to pitch the idea to put plants in the medians of main street at a recent City Council Meeting. While we intended to only propose our idea for the plants, we also got a unique glimpse of how a rural town operates at the local government level. It was nice to see and engage with community members about both our specific project and what they wanted to see done in general. While we were nervous, it was a wonderful experience and reaffirmed our belief in the power of rural towns and their resilience when coming together.

“This program has shown me just how much passion exists in rural communities. You get to meet so many wonderful, hardworking people that are willing to step up to make their hometown a better place. It’s inspiring to see them in action, and gratifying to know that we could help them in a big way.”

Connor McFayden 

Amidst all the meetings, clue-writing sessions and fights with Adobe software, we have also found the time for some smaller projects, too, including: writing grants for the local EMS team and Historical Society, tracking down blurbs for a Ravenna brochure and setting up an Amazon SMILE account for a local non-profit. 

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#RFIFellows in Action: Auburn / Nemaha County

July 19, 2020
By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson Quarantine is over and being active in the community is much more our style! We have finally moved our home office into the Rural Impact Hub, an office space in downtown Auburn. Now while we are busy …
Emma (left) and Brittney (right) are excited about their new working space in the Rural Impact Hub.

By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson

Quarantine is over and being active in the community is much more our style! We have finally moved our home office into the Rural Impact Hub, an office space in downtown Auburn. Now while we are busy at work, we can hear the hustle and bustle of downtown Auburn – a change of pace that we have welcomed with open arms! 

COVID-19 put a dent in our original plans for the summer. Projects like entrepreneurship and coding camps were no longer in the picture so we went back to the drawing board. We still wanted to make an impact in the community, and found the best way to do that was to get out and visit with people. 

During the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the Auburn Development Council created a gift card program where they would match what gift cards business sold up to $1000. Our task was to do a follow up survey with each business who participated. This project has been by far one of our favorite things to work on. We not only were able to develop relationships with several different business owners in Auburn, but we were able to help promote ADC in the process. Listening to the impact ADC had made on community businesses during an uncertain time was inspiring. Every owner we visited had their own unique story. 

“Economic development especially in a rural community is all about strengthening and creating new relationships. Meaningful relationships make the biggest impact.”

Emma Hoffschneider

During a visit with Sonia Kester, owner of Country Handmade, we mentioned our community service requirement. Instantly her eyes lit up, she said “Oh I have something you could do.” The next day we sat down with Sonia and her husband and helped them answer some marketing questions they were struggling with. We now have a weekly meeting with Sonia and her husband to help them market their store for the remainder of our fellowship. Community service is so broad, and sometimes it’s as easy as picking up trash on the side of the road or as unique as helping others develop a marketing plan. 

“Rural communities run solely on human compassion. Without it, rural America would cease to exist.”

Brittney Emerson

Aside from surveying business leaders and volunteering, we have developed an internal marketing campaign for the Auburn Development Council. While surveying in the community we noticed a common trend. People were grateful for what the ADC was doing, but didn’t know what they were all about. We wanted to do something to fix this issue. As a result we launched our very own marketing campaign for ADC. Over the next few weeks we will conduct several interviews with ADC’s Board of Directors. We hope to be able to create a year’s worth of content in a matter of a few weeks. 

While COVID-19 may have put a damper on our original ideas, it hasn’t stopped us from leaving an impact. In many ways the lessons we have learned as a result of a global pandemic will prove useful as we continue to grow and learn in both our professional and personal lives.

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#RFIFellows in Action: Wahoo

July 13, 2020
By Amanda Most, Oscaline Usanase and Savannah Gerlach We are halfway through our fellows experience, and our summer projects are moving right along– Wahoo! Faces around town are becoming more familiar, names easier to recall, and we now consider ourselves regulars at the best …

By Amanda MostOscaline Usanase and Savannah Gerlach

We are halfway through our fellows experience, and our summer projects are moving right along– Wahoo! Faces around town are becoming more familiar, names easier to recall, and we now consider ourselves regulars at the best Mexican restaurant (in our biased opinion), Acapulco. The summer days are flying by, but we have wasted no time making headway in various project areas.

Community Engagement

We have completed twelve official visits with community residents and leaders with more scheduled on our calendar. The purpose of our community visits is to gain direct insight into the vision Wahoo’s residents have for the future. We strive to ask tough questions and toss out new perspectives to create compelling conversations that make both parties think differently. 

One week ago, we had the pleasure of giving an update of our experience at the Greater Wahoo Development Foundation’s monthly meeting. This was our first opportunity to share a formal presentation regarding our work in the community and it was very successful!

“When we got to present to the Greater Wahoo Development Foundation and share our different perspectives, not only did we feel surrounded by people who cared what we had to say, but we also felt that the leaders of the community actually started to see Wahoo in a different light.”

Savannah Gerlach

H.O.P.E. Campaign

The purpose of our H.O.P.E. 2020 (helping others prosper every day) campaign is to highlight individuals, businesses, and groups who are working for the betterment of the Wahoo community. We have completed several interviews which have given us an opportunity to meet with unique individuals such as Meals on Wheels volunteers, a dog-walker for Saunders County Lost Pets, and workers in the long-term care unit at Saunders Medical Center. 

Another goal of the H.O.P.E. 2020 campaign is to explore various communication methods and determine how residents currently receive and would prefer to receive information. Highlighting positivity through the H.O.P.E. 2020 campaign has helped the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce Facebook reach over 12,000 people and that number will only increase as we add more posts.

“My favorite project has been the H.O.P.E. campaign because we have gotten to connect with so many unique individuals. Hearing their stories and perspectives about Wahoo has given us valuable insight into the community, and connecting with residents is easily one of the best parts of this fellowship experience.”

Amanda most

Community Guide

Over the past few weeks, we started the community guide and gathered all of the information needed to complete it. The purpose of the community guide is to create a resource that displays different programs, services, and policies in the area. The process of collecting information included sending many emails, making various calls, paying visits, and conducting interviews where we had a chance to meet Brandon Lavaley, the Wahoo School Superintendent. The content gathered will be used not only in the community guide, but also in the updated brochures and website content that we are creating.

As the end of the summer approaches quicker each day, we are soaking up every single moment we have in our summer fellowship experience. We are grateful for the individuals and groups who are helping make our time in Wahoo the best we could have ever imagined it to be.

“As a woman of color and a minority, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect coming to a small community. I wondered how I would be welcomed and treated, and Wahoo gave me a sense of belonging. I am super grateful for that.”

Oscaline Usanase

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#RFIFellows in Action: Chadron

July 13, 2020
By Tyra Reardon and Sawyer Smith Since we last wrote, we have moved to Chadron! We are currently nearing the end of our two-week self isolation period and cannot wait to begin interacting and working with community members and leaders. …
Left: Sawyer; Right: Tyra

By Tyra Reardon and Sawyer Smith

Since we last wrote, we have moved to Chadron! We are currently nearing the end of our two-week self isolation period and cannot wait to begin interacting and working with community members and leaders. Here’s a recap of what we have been up to!

Tyra: I have finished my work on the comprehensive mental health needs assessment for ESU-13 that is going to be used to help gauge gaps and strengths in the mental health services that are currently provided. I am now starting to work on creating a data dashboard for ESU 13 that will help put all of the information that ESU 13 already knows about their current student population in regards to mental health in an easy to digest format.

I have also finished working on finding potential merchandising opportunities for Discover Northwest Nebraska. The purpose behind this is to help increase revenue for the tourism agency as well as to help them further develop their brand. Finally, I have been working on refining the Roads Less Traveled Tours that Discover Northwest Nebraska has created.

“Seeing just how ready members of rural communities are for change has been so motivating. Now more than ever communities need to come together to help reform standards to help better the world today, tomorrow, and in the future.”

Tyra Reardon

Sawyer: Now that we have finished building the comprehensive mental health needs assessment for ESU 13, I am going to be working on translating the assessment into Spanish, to help make the assessment more accessible to families and mental health providers from different backgrounds.

Additionally, I am still working on the website redesign for Discover Northwest Nebraska. After researching different options for website hosting and platforms and coming up with a plan to move forward, I will now be able to begin building a new and improved website for Discover Northwest Nebraska, with the purpose of promoting tourism, as well as making information easier to find for residents and tourists.

“This experience has had no shortage of challenges. However, rather than backing down from those challenges, we have risen to meet them and have experienced growth because of it. I have learned so much, not only about the community, but also about myself and what I bring to the team. I can say with certainty that I am learning skills now that I will continue to use for years to come.”

Sawyer Smith

On Tuesday, July 7th, we had the chance to present our work to the Dawes Country Travel Board where we learned about how COVID-19 has impacted tourism in the area. This meeting with the travel board was not only an opportunity to get feedback on our projects, but also to learn about the inner workings of tourism in northwestern Nebraska.

In our spare time, we have been taking advantage of all of the wonderful sites Northwest Nebraska has to offer including Toadstool Geological Park, Fort Robinson, and Chadron State Park. There is so much we are able to do and explore in and around Chadron while still remaining socially distanced. We are very excited to continue exploring the Chadron area more once we are out of quarantine.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to be working from our home in Chadron while interacting with community leaders. We look forward to continuing our work on all of our exciting projects as well as being able to make an impact on the Dawes County community.

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#RFIFellows in Action: Arapahoe

July 3, 2020
By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire Making the move to Arapahoe instilled an unmatched sense of excitement, hope, and ambition into our minds. We were coming into this community hoping to get connected, make a change, and contribute to their community …
Left: Megan; Right: Aline

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

Making the move to Arapahoe instilled an unmatched sense of excitement, hope, and ambition into our minds. We were coming into this community hoping to get connected, make a change, and contribute to their community even if we weren’t sure how exactly to do that. 

We started by creating a survey to gain a better understanding of our small-town businesses and organizations in Arapahoe. We decided to throw on our masks and head out into the community to distribute as many surveys as possible. Though face to face interactions were not quite the same through the barrier of a mask, we were able to get our voices out there, meet the people, and initiate relationships that would help us turn the results of this survey into real change. 

“It is important for everyone to contribute toward the same goal now more than ever for our communities to recover from losses caused by the COVID 19. Living in a small-town community taught me that everyone needs to be an agent of change for our communities to grow.”

Aline Abayo

Since we have started, we have worked to create two brochures – one highlighting volunteer opportunities available within the community and the other guiding visitors and community members toward Arapahoe’s greatest assets and attractions. We have planned a local entrepreneurship competition for the youth in the community, hopefully inspiring an entrepreneurial mindset that can come to life within the lives of the next generation in Arapahoe. We were able to reach out to and meet with individuals from the Nebraska Department of Roads in an effort to gain a better understanding of how we can best capitalize on our unique location (being located along the intersection of Highways 34 and 283). Additionally, we have presented to the Arapahoe City Council to discuss the implementation of a mural on the wall of our downtown Senior Center, lining the three-block business district with potted plants, and incorporating some plant life “where the hi-ways meet”.

We have worked closely alongside Samantha Guenther and our two community innovators Angie Moore and Kate Warner who have together, created an exceptional team of mentors for us. 

“Megan and Aline have opened our eyes to see that we are already a well-rounded community with more things to offer than we realized. They  have also brought a youthful energy to the businesses, giving them/us a needed push to make some changes.”

Angie Moore

In addition, we have been graced with the knowledge of our City Office staff who are invested in seeing our community prosper. Together they helped us come up with projects that we were both confident and passionate about. Their presence has really encouraged and empowered us to make an impact in Arapahoe. 

“I have lived in Arapahoe, Nebraska, for four weeks now and already I am genuinely invested in this community. I got caught saying, “in our community” on several occasions while presenting some new ideas to our City Council. I didn’t think twice about it, which is why I think that this experience is so incredible. Because of the Rural Futures Institute fellowship and immersive mindset that we are encouraged to have, I truly am invested in seeing the community of Arapahoe develop as if it were my own home town.”

Megan Tofflemire

These projects have been slow to bloom, but the time that we have spent putting them together and the growth that we foresee resulting is beyond worth it. We have more new projects in the works and can’t wait to see where our innovation and inspiration take us here in Arapahoe! Stay tuned!

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#RFIFellows in Action: Pawnee County

July 3, 2020
By Rachel Williss It is crazy to think this is already our fourth week in Pawnee County!  We are so glad that we are able to complete our internship in-person, since that was in question due to COVID-19. It would …
Left: Kate Osbon; Right: Rachel Williss

By Rachel Williss

It is crazy to think this is already our fourth week in Pawnee County! 

We are so glad that we are able to complete our internship in-person, since that was in question due to COVID-19. It would have been hard to truly get a feel for the community through Zoom and impossible to take pictures of the locations without being able to visit them. Some of our plans, such as event planning, had to be put on hold because of the restrictions, but there is still a lot to do.

Our focus has been on tourism and marketing development in the area. It has been fun to explore the museums, campgrounds, restaurants and other places that are unique to Pawnee County. It feels weird sometimes to get paid to take pictures of cool places when it doesn’t seem like work! We have three main projects we have been working on.

The first project is to create a Pawnee County Driving Tour. The goal is to create a route of places in Pawnee County that tourists would enjoy and develop videos that explain each place. We have been recording interviews with people who know about each place, whether it be the history, relevance, or even geology.

For the second project, we were tasked with developing social media content. The goal is to create a social media presence that will show potential tourists what Pawnee County has to offer. We have been taking photos and collecting information to post about, and just started accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — @seepawNEecounty!

The third project includes designing and administering needs assessment surveys to the Table Rock community. The goal is to create surveys that will be distributed to have people express their needs and goals for the community to community leaders. They will assess the need for a daycare, as well as other potential future developments. We have drafted and revised the surveys, and we are now finalizing them. 

We have been working primarily with Kenny Edwards and Sharla Sitzman, who are both on many boards of leadership in the area. The biggest lesson they have taught us is that in a rural community, it is often the same group of people that hold leadership positions and move the community forward. A lot of people talk and come up with ideas, but it takes commitment and skill to actually follow through with those ideas.

This experience has helped us grow personally by allowing us to see the value in gaining multiple perspectives — no matter what you are doing. While interviewing people for the video tour, it was interesting to hear the different perspectives about the area, whether it be science or history. There are also differences in what people notice based on which community in the area they are from or how long they have lived in the area.

We have both grown professionally, as well. COVID-19 created hectic situations for communication and scheduling, but they were obstacles that will help us better manage stress and uncertainty in our future careers. Now at the half-way point of our time in Pawnee County, our focus is going to shift to strengthening the projects and preparing them to be handed off to be continued by community members after we go back to UNL.

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#RFIFellows in Action: Pierce County

June 29, 2020
By Judith Grey and Marie Meis We are now three weeks into our experience in Pierce County, and we’ve gotten a start on all nine projects for the area. Our projects include:n Working towards more digitally connected communities Creating social media …
Left: Judith Grey, Right: Marie Meis

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

We are now three weeks into our experience in Pierce County, and we’ve gotten a start on all nine projects for the area. Our projects include:n

  • Working towards more digitally connected communities
  • Creating social media plans
  • Participating in Pierce’s ECAP process
  • Putting on community events
  • Working on virtual community events

While our projects have been the forefront of our work, we’ve also been immersing ourselves in the community. Our RFI Community Innovation Fellows Susan Norris, director of Pierce County Economic Development, has been introducing us to business owners and area leaders. We attend each city council meeting, chamber of commerce meeting, economic development meeting and all other relevant meetings to our projects and county. It is at these meetings that we see area leaders, we hear issues that are important to the communities and we understand what priorities each individual town holds. Getting this perspective helps in each project we do as we try to portray the county the best we can.

“Being in a rural area has opened my eyes to what it takes to make a rural community thrive. There are so many hidden leaders through the community, and it takes each one to make sure the area is always moving forward. I cannot wait to live in a small town myself and be one of those agents of change.”

Marie Meis

One of our projects has been creating a YouTube channel with videos for the county. We set out to capture what we had learned so far. Our office space became each community as we continually gathered video clips. A community leader offered his drone, and we quickly learned drone skills in a day. Through these videos, we are getting a more well-rounded view of each town. 

While at different meetings, we noticed two different organizations missing a logo. The Pierce County Economic Development office and Pierce ECAP. We volunteered our skills and came up with logo options for each. We sent out surveys and gathered feedback to create one final logo for each. During this, we realized that projects aren’t always presented to us directly. If we see a need, we don’t need to be asked to fill it. It’s part of our job to see the gaps and brainstorm how we can fill them.

“This may sound cliche, but truly this experience has shown me how much change I need to be effective as a team member. Also, it provides the opportunity to make an impact on the others ‘ lives and see visual results. Overall, this work hasn’t shifted my perspective, but rather opened it by providing insight and opportunities for the future.”

Judith Grey

With community celebrations canceled or adapted, we saw a need for an event in each town. We have planned socially distant community events for Osmond, Pierce and Plainview for our community service. In Plainview, we will be holding a sidewalk chalk contest for five different age groups to win chamber dollars. In Pierce, we’ll be releasing a scavenger hunt list of items you can find in Pierce and around the house. The first person to email us their pictures and the two most creative will win gift cards to Pierce businesses. And finally, to celebrate Osmond’s new pool’s opening, we will have a pool celebration giveaway. We’ll have a booth set up outside of the pool with a spinning wheel to have participants spin it to see what pool-related prize they win. Each event has been created and tailored to the community and has partnerships with other organization and businesses to celebrate the summer the best we can. 

Through this whole experience, the most important part has been the people. Being a part of their county and seeing what’s important to them has driven our whole experience. Residents choose to live here because they know how much the county has to offer, and we get the chance to learn more about it each day. 

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#RFIFellows in Action: Ravenna

June 26, 2020
By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase After three exciting weeks in Ravenna we all agree that we are thrilled with what we have accomplished thus far, we are excited to see what we will accomplish …

By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

From left: Gena McPherson, Community Innovation Fellow, Ethan Weich, Andy Uwase, Kori Siebert, Connor McFayden, Amber Ross, Community Innovation Fellow

After three exciting weeks in Ravenna we all agree that we are thrilled with what we have accomplished thus far, we are excited to see what we will accomplish in the coming weeks and we could all use a nap!

Along those lines, we have had no trouble finding an adequate work-life balance; us interns regularly drop in for some pre-work yoga classes together and will oftentimes end the day with a team movie + dinner. Fun team-building activities aside, we have found the work immensely gratifying and fulfilling. We approach each day as a new opportunity to make a difference and broaden our perspective, experiences that we would be happy to elaborate on below.

Kori & Andromede: We have wasted no time getting our foot in the door with the local businesses here in Ravenna. Through conducting interviews with them we are learning more about their operations while simultaneously creating marketing content to bring them more attention and customers outside of Ravenna. We have also been meeting with businesses to help create their online storefront on a one-stop-shop called Shop Where I Live (SWIL). Aside from the work with local businesses, we have also been creating Facebook live videos and events, flyers, brochures and content photos for a new website. We’re just scratching the surface and are excited to see what the future has in store for us.

Coming into this experience I didn’t realize how much Ravenna would affect my future endeavors. I have found my passion for helping small businesses be heard, being able to hear their personal stories while also marketing them has been extremely enriching. I’ve only been in this community for three weeks now and I know without a doubt that through this opportunity I have found the passion I want to pursue for my future.

Kori Siebert

Growing up in a big city, I am enjoying the small welcoming community I have found in Ravenna. I am learning so much about ways of helping and contributing to their economic development by talking to different local businesses, an experience that I am excited to use in my future career. I have also been enjoying the diverse community at work which is opening my mind to the new cultures, ideas and activities.

Andromede “Andy” Uwase

Connor & Ethan: The majority of our work so far has been working with Ravenna’s government and nonprofits on a variety of projects. We facilitated discussions between the mayor, public works and interested community members regarding the future of main street’s medians, and are currently helping them draft a long-term landscaping plan for those areas. We also took on the Ravenna Area Vision Foundation’s fundraising mission for a long-awaited Hike/Bike trail, working on brochures, events, and virtual fundraising materials. Lastly, in what’s become a bit of a passion project for the boys’ team, we have designed and advertised for a city-wide scavenger hunt for the community to enjoy. Overall, both of us have found the work deeply enriching.

I have been exposed to various professional projects in the past three weeks and have found the entire process surrounding grant writing to be surprisingly rewarding; from tracking down the right materials, discussing the relevant points to emphasize, typing a punchy submission, and even proofreading the final draft. It has made me seriously consider a career in grant writing and/or proofreading.

Ethan Weiche

Coming from the Omaha area, I have enjoyed seeing a new side of my home state. I feel like I understand the issues facing rural Nebraska in a much more personal way. Working in a small town has its challenges, but seeing the impact of your work on such a tight-knit community is tremendously satisfying. I can see myself putting down roots in a community like this in the future.

Connor McFayden

In sum, us interns have been extremely well received — so much so that we don’t think we’ll go back to school in the fall! We are tremendously grateful to our fantastic community leaders, lodging providers and everyone who makes Ravenna, Ravenna.

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#RFIFellows in Action: Auburn / Nemaha County

June 26, 2020
By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson These past few weeks in Auburn, Neb., have been packed full of new and exciting adventures. While we spent the first two weeks quarantined, we didn’t let that stop us from hitting the ground …

By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson

Left: Brittney, Right: Emma

These past few weeks in Auburn, Neb., have been packed full of new and exciting adventures. While we spent the first two weeks quarantined, we didn’t let that stop us from hitting the ground running. During that time we researched LB-840, a funding opportunity for economic development within a community.

Through researching LB-840, I gained a deeper understanding of the impact a new policy can have on a rural community. Sometimes we think new policies won’t change anything in our small rural towns, but in reality policies like LB840 can make a huge difference

Emma Hoffschneider

After our initial research, we then contacted the 72 communities across Nebraska who have LB840 in place to see how it has benefited their communities. We compiled the information we received into folders for the Auburn Development Council to use later in their campaign.

This opportunity gave us both a better understanding of rural community politics and policy while instilling a passion for betterment of this small community. LB-840 is a great chance to help small businesses and the overall appeal of the town. As RFI Fellows and honorary Auburn community members for the summer, we hope that our hard work pays off for their sake.

Brittney Emerson

Now that our quarantine has officially been lifted, we are excited to get out of the house and out and about in the community of Auburn. This past week we did just that by capturing photos for an article that will be published in Nebraska Life magazine. Around Auburn and the rest of Nemaha County one will see statutes of Honey Bees. As part of a leadership class project, Leslie Clark, President of Auburn Development Council, headed this Honey Bee movement in an attempt to bring beauty into the community and involve the artists of Nemaha County. The Honey Bees of the Heartland is listed on the Nebraska Passport Program and is a great activity to do while maintaining social distancing guidelines. 

While our first few weeks in Auburn have been packed full of new and exciting adventures and projects, we are far from done. We already have another list of projects ready for us to tackle. In addition we have started a weekly blog called “Our RFI Experience” on the Auburn Economic Development Council’s website as a way to communicate with the community of Auburn. We are excited to continue making an impact in the community of Auburn as much as it is making an impact on us. 

I am so impressed with Brittney and Emma, their passion for Rural Nebraska and how they have jumped right into researching LB 840 for Auburn Development Council.   Being quarantined for two weeks didn’t slow them down any.   We are fortunate to have two young ladies who are embracing being away from home for the summer to help out a community they did not know.   I am privileged to be on their team and get to know them.  I know the hard work they are putting in and contributions they are making to Auburn and I look forward to all the amazing things they will do for their own communities and the State of Nebraska.

Kim Beger, Community Leader, RFI Community Innovation Fellow

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#RFIFellows in Action: Wahoo

June 18, 2020
By Amanda Most, Oscaline Usanase and Savannah Gerlach We are settled in and adjusting well to our summer adventure in the community of Wahoo, Neb. Amongst the craziness of COVID-19, we were overjoyed to begin our fellowship experience immediately following …

By Amanda Most, Oscaline Usanase and Savannah Gerlach

Standing with the “HOPE” letters. which will be carried to various locations featuring individuals, businesses and groups in the H.O.P.E. campaign.

We are settled in and adjusting well to our summer adventure in the community of Wahoo, Neb. Amongst the craziness of COVID-19, we were overjoyed to begin our fellowship experience immediately following Memorial Day. Since the start, we have been welcomed with opening arms, warm smiles and lots of sweet breakfast treats.

We wasted no time immersing ourselves in the community by virtually meeting leaders through the City of Wahoo, the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce and Saunders Medical Center. We toured the downtown and have continued to visit various businesses to gather knowledge and information about their dreams and goals for the future. Zoom meetings have been no stranger to us as we have sat in on many committee and board meetings including the Corona Creative Committee, Greater Wahoo Economic Development Foundation and the City Branding Committee. As a team, we have determined a project for each to take the lead on that aligns with our strengths and interests. We each give brief overviews of our projects below.

Amanda: I am pleased to be working with the Saunders Medical Center long-term care team. I will assist them in recruitment and retention efforts, helping them solve the challenging question “How do we attract rural healthcare workers and get them to stay?”

Along with hospital leaders, we will be working to evaluate and improve the current work culture as well as highlight all that the community of Wahoo has to offer, resulting in an even more highly desired rural healthcare system to work in.

I will also be collaborating with my teammates to develop a communications plan that includes storytelling avenues to help share the stories of the hardworking individuals who put their full hearts into caring for the elderly.

Oscaline: Over the course of the summer, I will have an opportunity to work on civic engagement and communications with the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Wahoo. I have already been working with my team to find ways to update the website and add new pictures to go along with it.

I personally will take the lead in advertising and highlighting the services provided by the Chamber and the City of Wahoo, as well as the wonderful places and activities available in Wahoo. I am currently working on updating the Greater Wahoo Development Foundation brochure, and I hope to update two additional brochures in the coming weeks for the Wahoo Community Foundation, and Lake Wanahoo.

Savannah: The project I’ve dove into is the city-wide communication plan. The communication plan will relay messages from the Wahoo City and Chamber of Commerce to its citizens to help them stay informed on events and happenings within its businesses and organizations. We plan to carry out the communication plan by updating the city and chamber websites, establishing updated and sustainable social media platforms, and through a new idea called the H.O.P. E. Campaign – Helping Others Prosper Every day.

Through the campaign, we plan to spread positivity throughout Wahoo by highlighting the good things happening in the community. Whether it be businesses that came up with creative ways to adapt during quarantine, upstanding citizens that donated time and efforts to contribute to the community meals on wheels program or recognizing a community member that takes time out of his day to volunteer at the Pet Rescue Center.

Throughout our time in the community this summer, we will continue to grow the communication system and social media so that every audience in Wahoo is reached, involved and included. 

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#RFIFellows In Action: Chadron

June 18, 2020
By Sawyer Smith and Tyra Reardon We are currently working from our homes. Sawyer is in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Tyra in St. Edward, Neb., instead of being in Chadron. This is due to COVID-19 concerns. We are hoping that …

By Sawyer Smith and Tyra Reardon


Screenshot from the Chadron RFIFellows’ weekly team check-in. Each Tuesday, we meet as a team to discuss what we have been working on the past week, share our thoughts on our team workbook activity, what we have been doing for fun and address any questions that may have arisen. Top from left: Terri Hayes, Tyra Reardon, Katie Carrizales. Bottom from left: Kerri Rempp, Sawyer Smith, unknown.

We are currently working from our homes. Sawyer is in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Tyra in St. Edward, Neb., instead of being in Chadron. This is due to COVID-19 concerns. We are hoping that we will be able to move into the Chadron community in the coming weeks as the state of Nebraska begins to open up.

Even though we are not currently in Chadron, we have still hit the ground running with our projects. This summer, we are working on several projects with the travel board in Northwest Nebraska to introduce new resources, as well as update some of the more dated aspects. These projects all serve to promote tourism in Dawes and Sioux Counties.

Sawyer has taken the lead on the Discover Northwest Nebraska website redesign and is working to create a more user-friendly and informative resource for visitors to the area.

Tyra is researching potential merchandising opportunities to help increase revenue for Discover Northwest Nebraska. Merchandise is an area that the travel board has not yet explored, so we are both excited to help them expand the goods and services that they are offering.

Tyra has also been working on promoting the Northwest Nebraska Bingo program, which highlights different locations, businesses and communities across northwestern Nebraska. Discover Northwest Nebraska is wanting to further promote northwestern Nebraska as a tourist destination, and we believe that the bingo program does just that.

We are also working with Educational Service Unit 13 (ESU 13) to help create a comprehensive mental health assessment. The assessment is going to be used to help gauge gaps in the mental health services that ESU 13 is currently providing, as well as to measure the strengths of the current programs that ESU 13 has set in place. During the past two weeks, we have been conducting literature reviews over articles and journals that discuss the implementation of mental health needs assessments. We are currently searching for information to help us better understand what a good mental health needs assessment is, how to administer the assessment, and what to do with the results obtained from the assessment.

As part of our service hours for the summer, we will also be working with Chadron Public Schools (CPS) and Dawes County Joint Planning (DCJP). We will be working on a presentation for DCJP, which highlights the results of their collaboration over the past few years, with the intention of developing ongoing community collaborative effort in the future. We will also be working with CPS to develop a Youth Activities brochure to provide easy access to information for CPS and its students.

Having to work on these projects virtually has not been without its challenges. Despite these bstacles, we are still excited to be able to make an impact on this community, and to have this opportunity for personal and professional growth.

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17 Nebraska communities welcomes Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows

June 5, 2020
June 8, 2020 — LINCOLN, Neb. — Seventeen Nebraska communities are welcoming students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), Union College and Wayne State College for an immersive, eight-week inclusive leadership development experience.  Arapahoe, Auburn, Ravenna and Wahoo as well …

June 8, 2020 — LINCOLN, Neb. — Seventeen Nebraska communities are welcoming students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), Union College and Wayne State College for an immersive, eight-week inclusive leadership development experience. 

Arapahoe, Auburn, Ravenna and Wahoo as well as communities throughout Dawes, Pierce and Pawnee counties are hosts to 17 Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Student Fellows and two mentors in each area have been elevated to RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

Together, students and community innovators will move forward strategies for economic and workforce development, access and recruitment and retention of residents within the context of: early childhood education, community marketing and communications, entrepreneurship, mental health care access and inclusion. All RFI Fellows will also have the opportunity to develop as inclusive leaders through training and individual coaching sessions.

Continuing to create the future together this summer within the COVID-19 mitigation efforts was an individual decision by each of the participating fellows and a demonstration of their commitment to serve Nebraska’s rural communities and build their inclusive leadership skills, said Helen Fagan, RFI director of leadership engagement.

“While the immersion may look different than years past — all fellows will follow the local counties health and safety guidelines — the efforts will still move several community strategies forward,” Dr. Fagan said. “Many of these communities consider the students a much-needed capacity to overcome and embrace the additional challenges and opportunities from COVID-19.

“This is a difficult situation and one that requires an understanding of welcoming we have not seen in the recent past. We have a tremendous opportunity to grow together this summer.”

Fagan evolved the program in 2019 to focus explicitly on inclusion — her area of expertise and research — supported by data from the University of Nebraska at Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research. During the 2000s minority groups contributed more than half of the population growth in 16 (two-thirds of all) of the 24 counties in Nebraska that had population gains. In 74 Nebraska counties the majority population decreased, while the minority population increased. 

Age, gender, race, ethnicity and experience are all elements that leaders must continue to understand and explore to create welcoming, innovative environments, Fagan said. 

Rachel Willis of Papillon, Neb., is a junior agricultural leadership, education and communication major at UNL. She chose to pursue the RFI Fellows experience because “everything about it is purposeful and impactful,” she said. It takes into consideration her strengths and aims to push her out of her comfort zone in a way that supports others. The opportunity to explore another part of the state and make an impact beyond “just work experience” was also enticing.

“I think COVID-19 has shown us just how connected communities actually are and how much the decision of one person can affect an entire community or even an entire state,” said Willis who will work with community leaders on marketing, economic development and tourism throughout Pawnee County, Neb. “Decisions to show support for each other can spread also. The university is seen as a source of leadership within our state and has excited students ready to help.”

Ethan Weiche, a junior architecture major at UNL and native of Plymouth, Minn., is also embracing the opportunity to work with smaller towns throughout the state.

“I think students have been afforded a great opportunity to come and study in the state of Nebraska,” Weiche said. “For four years the highest priority of students is to learn and immerse themselves in their chosen field. This is all done in the hopes that they may somehow use their particular knowledge in the future. Having lived and learned in the state for several years, to give back to the people of Nebraska only seems right.”

Weiche will be mentored by RFI Community Innovation Fellows Amber Ross, director of the Ravenna Economic Development Corporation, and Gena McPherson, executive director of the Ravenna Chamber of Commerce. 

“Having these students in the community will be welcomed and needed more than ever with COVID-19,” McPherson said. “We need their fresh ideas and perspectives to help our businesses find a new normal, prepare for a possible re-surge of the virus and find creative innovations that could take their business in an even better direction. Accomplishing some of the projects we already had in mind prior to COVID-19 will also be a huge necessary benefit and morale boost for the community.”

Project details and fellows bios as well as ongoing updates are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2020fellows

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About the Rural Futures Institute
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

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Now more than ever — 2020 RFI Fellows launch June 8

May 26, 2020
After deep thought, many personal conversations and hundreds of hours navigating details and protocols for the health and safety of all involved, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, with 33 Student and Community Innovation Fellows, has …

After deep thought, many personal conversations and hundreds of hours navigating details and protocols for the health and safety of all involved, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, with 33 Student and Community Innovation Fellows, has decided to proceed with a 2020 RFI Fellows experience beginning June 8, 2020. Together, the fellows will move future-focused strategies forward with 17 rural Nebraska communities.

“It’s easy to take programs like these for granted when things are going well,” said Kenneth Edwards, Vice President of Table Rock Development Corporation in Table Rock, Neb. “We were really excited to have students come here and help us work on our projects, but now we feel it’s an even greater necessity.”

From ongoing health and safety concerns to struggling small businesses and hard-hit tourism industries to exponential growth in digital communications, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Nebraska’s smaller communities significantly. Through it all, the commitment of the student and community fellows to a shared summer experience that aims to overcome challenges and embrace opportunities has not waivered.

To help ensure the mitigation efforts continue, all participants will follow the health and safety guidelines of their local counties and have been provided specific recommendations by RFI, in line with the state and university recommendations, for gatherings and community activities. These include, but are not limited to: students quarantining for 14 days upon entering the community, wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart.

The immersion of students in communities and interactions among students and community members will look different — online instead of in-person, across the room instead of side-by-side, small groups instead of main street events — but the enthusiasm is the same if not even greater than the last seven years of the program. 

“Even with the current COVID-19 mitigation efforts, I believe I can make a positive impact in Auburn, Neb., in a safe way,” said Emma Hoffschneider, sophomore public relations major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “I am not afraid of adapting and overcoming difficult circumstances that are in front of me, a trait that runs deep in every rural community across the state of Nebraska.”

Students have begun online training and the community innovators will join them for three days of interactive Zoom sessions led by inclusive leadership development expert Helen Fagan, director of the RFI Fellows program. They will join their communities in various capacities beginning June 8, 2020.

“What I’ve seen throughout my one-to-one conversations with multiple fellows is determination, empathy and openness,” Dr. Fagan said. “Determination to truly improve themselves at the individual level and their communities the way they intended and even more so now. An empathy for each other’s unique situations, emotions and needs. And an openness to compromise, ideate and pivot together.”

Community projects aim to improve workforce development, economic development, access and recruitment and retention of residents with specific focus on: 

  • Early childhood education
  • Community marketing and communications
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Mental health services
  • Inclusion

During the last two years, RFI Fellows’ have averaged $28,000 of impact per community. In 2019, the total economic impact for the four participating communities was $111,844.

“You’ve really got to respect the students’ desire to want to help,” Edwards said. “We must do everything we can to make their experiences safe and rewarding.”

Q&As with 2020 fellows, all participating communities and project descriptions are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2020fellows.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Siouxland Region

December 18, 2019
It’s time to explore the Siouxland region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score ranks 5th among Nebraska regions at 105 — just above the peer average of 100 and 3rd among six peer regions. Highlights for …
Nebraska Thriving Index Siouxland Region, South Sioux City

It’s time to explore the Siouxland region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score ranks 5th among Nebraska regions at 105 — just above the peer average of 100 and 3rd among six peer regions.

Highlights for this region are its 1st-place rankings among its peer regions in the following economic prosperity and conditions indexes:

  • Growth 
  • Demographic Growth & Renewal
  • Quality of Life

Drilling into the measures that comprise these indexes via the online interactive tool, we find several 1st-place rankings among peers:

  • Total employment growth
  • Private wage growth
  • Median age
  • Percent non-white
  • Percent hispanic
  • Millennial and Gen Z balance change
  • Commute time
  • Relative weekly wage
  • Natural amenities
  • Count of parks

Considering all of these together, we can see strong growth for this region currently and into the future. Wage growth, combined with population diversity and a higher balance change in the younger population as well as perks for younger generations are all strengths for future economic and population. 

We also find some interesting opportunities for the region to double down on its strengths of these 1st-place indexes by improving in the following measures, which rank last among peers:

  • Private employment
  • Healthcare access (practitioners per capita)
  • Property crime rate

Areas of concern for the Siouxland region include 6th-place (last) rankings among peers in the following indexes:

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity 
  • Other Prosperity
  • Education & Skill
  • Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business

Broadly speaking, the region ranks poorly for entrepreneurship, poverty rate and income from wealth. It also has a lower share of adults who have completed a college degree or work in STEM or other professional occupations.  

Several last-place measures bring down the Siouxland region’s Economic Opportunity & Diversity and Other Prosperity indexes:

  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons
  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Occupation diversity
  • Non-farm proprietor personal income
  • Percent in poverty
  • Share of income from dividends, interest and rent

The Education & Skill Index is interesting in that the Siouxland region ranks first in labor force participation and high school attainment, but last in both college attainment and percent knowledge workers.

Finally, in the Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business Index, a 2nd-place ranking in top marginal income tax rate is accompanied by low rankings in:

  • Weekly wage rate – 6th (last) among peers
  • Broadband internet access – 5th among peers
  • Presence of interstate – 4th (tied, last) among peers
  • Count of 4-year colleges – 4th (tied, last) among peers

Given the significant strengths but also significant weaknesses of the Siouxland region defined by the Nebraska Thriving Index, next steps for the region to consider are: 

  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.
  • Work to reduce barriers to start, transition, and grow a business by partnering with agencies/organizations in the region to provide services for new entrepreneurs to navigate the entrepreneurial process.
  • Identify best practice models that have been used nationwide to address poverty and facilitate collaboration among the region’s strategic partners.
  • Work to get the STEM/other professional occupations-based career messaging into targeted locations to increase awareness about education and career opportunities among students, parents, teachers, and administrators.  

To learn more, dig in yourself, at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies their community has employed in various areas of measure in the Nebraska Thriving Index.

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2019 RFI Fellows generate $111,844 of market value in Nebraska communities

December 11, 2019
2019 Rural Futures Institute Fellows from Nebraska communities, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other academic institutions created tremendous impact in rural areas of the state throughout summer 2019.  From strategic planning to resource mapping to …
2019 RFI Fellows

2019 Rural Futures Institute Fellows from Nebraska communities, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other academic institutions created tremendous impact in rural areas of the state throughout summer 2019. 

From strategic planning to resource mapping to writing radio ads and taking photos, there was no shortage of deliverables from the nine RFI Student Fellows who spent 10 weeks working, serving and living in Chadron, Custer County, Garden County and Grand Island.

Evaluation of the program from the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln estimates the market value for the participating communities at $111,844 total — $34,246 for Custer County, $29,920 for Chadron, $25,581 Garden County and $22,097 for Grand Island. A breakdown of the estimated market value evaluations peer location are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2019fellows.

“This is a testament to the commitment of the RFI Community Innovation Fellows and the RFI  Student Fellows — they came together purposefully to accomplish work and grow as leaders,” said Helen Fagan, RFI director of leadership engagement. “We are so pleased with their accomplishments in terms of their output, but more than anything we are proud of how they have evolved as leaders and individuals.”

The highest value efforts of the fellows included:

  • $12,317 for resource mapping of health resources in Chadron and western Nebraska. The effort provides a more comprehensive understanding of mental health resources available in the region.
  • $10,962 for development of the “Builders Program” designed to teach entrepreneurial skills to high school students in Custer County as well as a “Passport Program” to supplement the state passport program, which will be used to generate increased tourism for the county.
  • $8,556 for strategy development of the Communities for Kids Project conducted by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. Fellows followed up on a NCFF survey with listening sessions and interviews and coordinated focus groups and community meetings about the results. They then developed key messages and an action plan for the future.

“This RFI Fellows experience allows our communities to leverage the talent at the University of Nebraska to make visible and notable progress on the projects that matter most to our organizations and our residents,” said RFI Community Innovation Fellow Andrew Ambriz, Executive Director of Custer Economic Development. “RFI fellows are always qualified, motivated and autonomous — adept at collaborating with everyone in the community to build trust and enrollment in what they’re working on. I highly encourage every community to consider being part of this program.”

Evolving the experience from RFI’s previous “serviceship” program, Fagan — an inclusive leadership development expert and professor of practice in Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications (ALEC) department at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln — incorporated leadership development training and one-to-one coaching into the program this year. This is valued at $4,000 per participant, and each community may have two participants deemed RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

“The coaching has made me a better manager, and a better communicator,” said RFI Community Innovation Fellow Sandy Montague-Roes, Director of Western Community Health Resources. “I had no idea I would grow this much through this process.”

With a team of researchers and graduate students from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Fagan will develop a model and measure of Inclusive Community Leadership Development.

Incorporating both the commitment from student and community innovation participates as well as the research justified the promotion of participants to “fellows.”

“RFI was truly a life changing experience,” said RFI Student Fellow Kersten Peters, University of Nebraska at Kearney student. “I never knew what rural was, until I was a part of RFI.”

If you are interested in participating or supporting RFI Fellows, please email RFI at ruralfutures@nebraska.edu

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Southeast Region

December 11, 2019
We’re looking at the Southeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index today. The region’s thriving index score ranks 3rd among Nebraska regions at 112 — the peer average is 100. Among its nine peer regions, it ranks a strong 3rd. …
Nebraska Thriving Index Southeast Region, Geneva, Nebraska

We’re looking at the Southeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index today. The region’s thriving index score ranks 3rd among Nebraska regions at 112 — the peer average is 100. Among its nine peer regions, it ranks a strong 3rd.

Highlights for this region are its 2nd-place rankings among its peer regions in the following economic prosperity indexes:

  • Growth 
  • Other Prosperity

Drilling into the measures that comprise these indexes via the online interactive tool, we find:

  • Growth in households with children – 1st among peers
  • Percent in poverty – 1st among peers
  • Growth in dividends, interest and rent (DIR) income – 2nd among peers
  • Total personal income stability – 2nd among peers

We also find some interesting opportunities for the region to double down on its strengths by improving in the following measures that comprise the growth and other prosperity indexes:

  • Private wage growth – 7th among peers
  • Life span – 7th among peers

Areas of concern for the Southeast region include the following indexes:

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity – 7th among peers
  • Education and Skill – 6th among peers
  • Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business – 6th among peers

Broadly speaking, the region has less diverse employment opportunities and relatively poor access to broadband infrastructure and interstate highways. The region also ranks low for access to key service providers such as health care practitioners and day care providers. 

Interesting economic opportunity and diversity measures include:

  • Industry diversity – 8th (last) among peers
  • Share of workers in non-employer establishment – 6th among peers
  • Occupation diversity- 6th among peers
  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons – 6th among peers

Education and skill is the area of concern for the entire state. For the Southeast region, the main issue is labor force participation rate in which it ranks 7th among its 9 peer regions. Workers combine job experience with education in developing their human capital. Workers gain experience fastest in regions where a larger share of the population participates in the workforce.

Breaking down the infrastructure and cost of doing business index via the online interactive tool, we see some measures of lagging but also leading:

  • Broadband internet access – 8th (last) among peers
  • Presence of interstate – 8th (last) among peers
  • Top marginal income tax rate – 2nd among peers
  • Count of 4-year colleges – 2nd among peers

Given the strengths and weaknesses of the Southeast region defined by the Nebraska Thriving Index, next steps for the region to consider are: 

  • Facilitate collaboration among the region’s education institutions and the business community to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the region.
  • Identify top barriers to full labor participation in the region, such as childcare, transportation, health care, poor work history, currently untapped labor pools, online degrees, and/or lack of soft skills and work with agencies/organizations in the region to create and/or enhance programs to address these barriers.  
  • Improve highway infrastructure in the region.
  • Improve broadband infrastructure in the region to improve business performance and quality of life. 
  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.

To learn more, dig in yourself, at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies their community has employed in various areas of measure in the Nebraska Thriving Index.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Sandhills Region

December 5, 2019
Let’s talk about the Sandhills Region — a Nebraska Thriving Index of 109, just above the peer average of 100, and ranking second among six peer regions. This region includes Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya …
Nebraska Thriving Index Sandhills Regions - Ord, Neb.

Let’s talk about the Sandhills Region — a Nebraska Thriving Index of 109, just above the peer average of 100, and ranking second among six peer regions. This region includes Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Custer, Garfield, Grant, Greeley, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Loup, Rock, Thomas, Valley and Wheeler counties. It’s “average” ranking masks several areas of strengths and weakness.

The Sandhills region is an entrepreneurial place with high education attainment and strong social capital. These factors have allowed the region to match the peer average for the Growth Index and exceed the average for the Economic Opportunity & Diversity, Education & Skill and Social Capital Indexes.

It ranks first in the following drill down measures:

  • Employment growth
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents
  • Share of telecommuters
  • Share of workers in non-employer establishments
  • 25+ high school attainment
  • 501c3 organizations per 1,000 people

Despite is obvious success, there are some areas of opportunity for the Sandhills region to catch up to its peers in Demographic Growth & Renewal as well as Quality of Life — it ranks last in both of these indexes.

The Demographic Growth and Renewal Index measures long-term population growth, demographic diversity, median age and dependency, and the growth of younger generations. Drilling in via the online interactive tool, we find that the region ranks last in all of the following measures:

  • Dependency ratio
  • Median age
  • Percent non-white
  • Percent Hispanic
  • Long-run population growth

It is second to last in the final measure, Millennial and Gen Z balance change.

In terms of quality of life, which is a measure of the appeal of living and working in a region, the Sandhills Region earned the following rankings within its peer group:

  • 1st – violent crime rate
  • 2nd – property crime rate
  • 3rd – daycare providers per capita
  • 4th – healthcare access (practitioners per capita)
  • 4th – natural amenities
  • 5th – commute time
  • 5th – Count of parks (state, local, national)
  • 6th – percent of housing built pre-1950
  • 6th – relative weekly wage
  • 6th – people per arts & rec worker

To improve its fundamental economic conditions of the region and stem the rate of population loss, while preserving its entrepreneurial culture, the Sandhills Region could:

  • Harness the region’s entrepreneurial strength to further enhance service, retail and entertainment options and tourism activity
  • Improve broadband infrastructure in the region to improve business performance and quality of life.
  • Maintain a welcoming environment for minority populations to encourage demographic growth and diversity.
  • Grow workforce housing or take other steps to modernize the housing stock.

For even more details about the Sandhills Region, use the interactive online tool and download the print report at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Southwest Region

November 21, 2019
Today we’re focusing on the Southwest region of the Nebraska Thriving Index by continuing to dig into the measures that comprise the overall indexes. The Southwest region has the lowest overall thriving index at 95 and ranks fifth among seven …

Today we’re focusing on the Southwest region of the Nebraska Thriving Index by continuing to dig into the measures that comprise the overall indexes. The Southwest region has the lowest overall thriving index at 95 and ranks fifth among seven peers overall.

However, drilling down via the online interactive tool, we find that the Southwest outpaces its peer regions in the Quality of Life Index, ranking first for the measures:

  • Commute times (lowest among peers)
  • Age of housing stock (youngest among peers)
  • Access to arts and recreation opportunities

Also, the Southwest ranks second among its peer for the overall Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business Index, as well as, for the Social Capital Index, including first for the measures:

  • Interstate access
  • Income tax rate advantage
  • Volunteer hours per resident
  • Share of Tree City USA counties

The areas of concern for the Southwest region primarily deal with the labor resources of the region. The Southwest region not only ranks last among peers in the overall Education & Skills Index but ranks low in the Demographic Growth & Renewal Index and Other Prosperity Index (5th of 7 for both). These indexes include measures of the population – or the pipeline of workers – and the quantity and quality of workers in the labor force. Drilling down into these, we see the region ranks significantly lower than peers on:

  • Labor force participation rates (5th of 7)
  • High school and college attainment rates (6th of 7)
  • Percent knowledge workers (6th of 7)
  • Growth in the share of Millennials and Generation Z (5th of 7)
  • Median age and life span (5th of 7)
  • Share of income from wealth (dividend, interest, and rent income; ranks last)

Overall, the Southwest region has workforce and workforce-related issues that appear to be affecting the economic performance of the region. The Southwest region may want to prioritize workforce development initiatives such as:

  • Enhancing awareness about innovative recruitment and retention practices in non-metro areas
  • Facilitating collaboration among strategic partners to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the regional business community
  • Identifying and reducing barriers to full labor participation

To learn more, dig in yourself, at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies their community has employed in various areas of measure in the Nebraska Thriving Index.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Tri-Cities Region

November 13, 2019
To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall. Using the online interactive tool, we …

To continue digging into the details of the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s focus next on the Tri-Cities region, which has the second highest thriving index at 136 and ranks first among its peers overall.

Using the online interactive tool, we find the Tri-Cities outpaces its peer regions in the Growth Index, ranking:

  • 1st in returns on wealth (dividends, interest, and rent income)
  • 2nd in growth in households with children

The Tri-Cities also ranks first among its peers for the overall Economic Opportunity & Diversity, including first for the entrepreneurial environment measures:

  • Entrepreneurial activity
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents

Also, the Tri-Cities ranks first for many aspects of quality of life, including:

  • Commute times (lowest)
  • Natural climate and recreation amenities
  • Designated national monuments and sites
  • Access to daycare providers

The region does, however, face some challenges. Its lowest ranking is fifth of seven peers in the Education & Skills Index. Drilling down into this, we see that although the Tri-Cities has healthy labor force participation rates, the region ranks significantly lower than peer regions for the measures:

  • College attainment rate (4th of 7)
  • High school attainment rate (5th of 7)
  • Percent knowledge workers (5th of 7)

This indicates that relative to its peers, the Tri-Cities region has difficulty attracting and retaining high-skill workers. 

The Tri-Cities region may want to prioritize workforce development initiatives such as:

  • Enhancing awareness about innovative recruitment and retention practices in non-metro and small metro areas
  • Facilitating collaboration among strategic partners to address education, training, and workforce development needs of the regional business community

To learn more, dig in yourself, at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies their community has employed in various areas of measure in the Nebraska Thriving Index.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Panhandle Region

November 4, 2019
Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties. With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, …
Nebraska Thriving Index Panhandle Region, Garden County

Next up in our exploration of the insights from the Nebraska Thriving Index — the Panhandle region of Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Scottsbluff, Sheridan and Sioux counties.

With a Nebraska Thriving Index value of 98, the Panhandle region ranks just below the peer average of 100, but third among its six peer regions, which are listed in the full print report.

This “average” ranking masks several areas of strength and weakness.

The region is an entrepreneurial place that values education and offers a diverse pool of work opportunities. These features allow the Panhandle region to have a resilient economy, which is explicitly expressed through a first-place ranking in the Economic Opportunity & Diversity Index.

Using the interactive online tool, users can drill down into the region’s rankings among its peers for each of the measures that comprise this index:

  • 1st in industrial diversity
  • 1st in telecommuters
  • 1st in occupational diversity
  • 1st (tied) for businesses per 1,000 residents
  • 2nd in entreprenial activity per 1,000 people
  • 4th in percent of workers  in non-employer establishment
  • 4th in non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons

Despite the opportunities, the Panhandle region lags in terms of economic and demographic growth.

Compared to its six peer regions, in the Growth Index the Panhandle ranks last in total employment growth and private employment. The following are its rankings in the other growth index measures, all of which are over the 2014 – 2017 timeframe:

  • 5th in private wage growth
  • 5th in growth in households with children
  • 6th in dividend, interest and rent income growth

As for the Demographic Growth & Renewal Index, the Panhandle ranks fourth and well below the peer average for all of the measures comprising this index:

  • 2nd in percent of population that is Hispanic
  • 4th in Millennial and Gen Z balance change
  • 4th in median age
  • 4th in percent of population that is non-white
  • 5th in long-run population growth (growth in the population over the last 17 years)
  • 5th in the dependency ratio (share of the population below the age of 18 and over the age of 65)

The Panhandle region can work to improve its fundamental economic conditions to encourage economic and demographic growth, while preserving its entrepreneurial culture. Specific steps may include:

  • Build on existing strengths in the Education & Skills Index by encouraging more residents to pursue certificates and community college degrees, which have value in the labor market, and help more young people complete high school.
  • Harness the region’s entrepreneurial strength to further enhance service, retail and entertainment options.
  • Improve highway infrastructure in the region.
  • Improve access to health care practitioners.
  • Grow “workforce housing” or take other steps to modernize the housing stock.

The other Indexes and their rankings for the Panhandle region include:

  • 3rd in Education & Skill Index: education attainment, labor force participation and employment in knowledge-based occupations
  • 3rd in Infrastructure & Cost of Doing Business Index: broadband internet access, presence of interstate, count of 4-year colleges, weekly wage rate, top marginal income tax rate, count of qualified opportunity zones
  • 3rd in Quality of Life Index: commute time, percent of housing built pre-1950, relative weekly wage rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate, natural amenities, health care access (practitioners per capita), daycare providers per capita, count of parks (state, local, national), people per arts and rec worker
  • 4th in Social Capital Index: number of 501c3 organizations per 1,000 persons, volunteer rate (state), volunteer hours per resident (state), voter turnout, share of Tree City USA counties
  • 6th in Other Prosperity Index: life span, non-wage sources of income, income volatility and poverty rate

Have a question, insight or suggestion for the Nebraska Thriving Index? Reach out to us!

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RFI Fellows application deadlines extended — apply by 10/25!

October 15, 2019
There is still time to apply for a summer 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow experience! The deadline has been extended from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25. A catalyst for a community $4 million c-store >>>The best professional development of her career >>>A …


There is still time to apply for a summer 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow experience! The deadline has been extended from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25.

A catalyst for a community $4 million c-store >>>
The best professional development of her career >>>
A life-changing, perspective altering experience >>>
These are just a few of the outcomes of Rural Futures Institute Fellows — what will be yours?

We have extended the deadline for students and communities to apply for a summer 2020 RFI Fellows experience, but given the details requested applicants are encouraged to give themselves plenty of time to complete the application. If you have questions, please contact Sam Guenther at sguenther@nebraska.edu.


The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is seeking highly-motivated students and passionate community leaders to increase their inclusive leadership capacity while creating the future of Nebraska’s rural communities through workforce development, economic development, recruitment and retention of residents, access and more.

Deemed RFI Fellows, selected students and community innovators will join forces for 10 weeks during summer 2020 to make significant progress on strategic community initiatives and priority projects while immersing themselves in 1-to-1 inclusive leadership coaching with the University of Nebraska’s Helen Fagan, Ph.D. 

Students will live, work and serve in the community they are focused on, and community innovators will invite them into the life of rural Nebraska. 

“This is a tremendous opportunity for communities to accomplish tangible work through students, but it is also transformational for all of the people involved,” Fagan said. “To truly make a thriving rural future for Nebraska, we need thriving individuals who include and inspire others.”

After completing the application, students will be interviewed in November and notified of the selection in December. Communities will work through project definitions with RFI staff throughout the winter and everyone will be matched based on projects that fit their expertise and interests in early 2020. All fellows are required to complete training before the in-community experience, which will take place May 25 – July 31, 2020.

Students are paid $12.50 per hour with housing and equipment for projects provided by the communities. RFI is available to assist communities as they seek funding, which is estimated at $12,000 per pair of student fellows.

“I have never grown so much personally in such a short amount of time like I did during my RFI fellows experience this summer,” said Hailey Walmsley, agricultural education major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “I came back to school with a new confidence, and I can’t wait to watch the great work RFI Fellows from all of the campuses and more communities will continue to do in the coming years.”

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: Northeast Region

October 15, 2019
Today we explore Nebraska’s Northeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score is 103 — just above the peer average of 100. It ranks 3rd among its six peer regions, all of which are located in …

Nebraska Thriving Index Northeast Region, Wayne

Today we explore Nebraska’s Northeast region through the Nebraska Thriving Index. The region’s thriving index score is 103 — just above the peer average of 100. It ranks 3rd among its six peer regions, all of which are located in Nebraska and Iowa.

Highlights for this
region are its 2nd-place rankings among its peer regions in the following
indexes:

  • Growth
  • Other Prosperity
  • Social Capital

Drilling into the measures
that comprise each of these indexes via the online interactive tool, we find:

  • Private wage growth – 1st among peers
  • Total employment growth – 2nd among peers
  • Private employment – 2nd among peers
  • Growth in dividends, interest and rent – 2nd among peers
  • Total personal income stability – 2nd among peers

These findings indicate
there is solid economic growth in the Northeast region. However, to ensure
long-term growth, the region should take steps to improve quality of life and
the education and skill of its workforce.  

We also find some interesting opportunities for the region to double down on its strengths by improving in the following measures that comprise the growth, other prosperity and social capital indexes:

  • 501c3 organizations – 6th (last) among peer regions
  • Percent of population in poverty – 5th among peer regions
  • Households with children – 4th among peer regions

Areas of concern for the
Northeast region include the following indexes:

  • Economic Opportunity & Diversity – 5th among peers
  • Quality of Life – 5th among peers

Broadly speaking, the
region ranks poorly for entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. The
economic opportunity and diversity measures include:

  • Entrepreneurial activity – 5th among peers
  • Non-farm proprietors per 1,000 persons – 5th among peers
  • Employer establishments per 1,000 residents – 5th among peers
  • Industry diversity – 4th among peers

Quality of life
comparisons among peers are fairly strong in natural resources and arts — even
leading in count of parks. However, there are explicit concerns in:

  • Health care access (practioners per capita) – 6th (last) among peers
  • Daycare providers – 6th (last) among peers
  • Relative weekly wage – 6th (last) among peers

In
considering the many factors gathered through the Nebraska Thriving Index,
communities in the region should continue to focus on:

  • Improving the quality of local education institutions at the primary, secondary and community college level. 
  • Business internship programs to encourage more college graduates to locate or relocate to the region after graduation
  • Encouraging entrepreneurship in industries related to quality of life including health care, child care, restaurants and leisure and entertainment

To learn more, dig in yourself at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex. We encourage users to submit insights, questions and examples of strategies they’ve employed to address what has been discussed here.

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Nebraska Thriving Index Insights: North 81 Region

September 24, 2019
Now that you’ve had a chance to review the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s start digging into the details! First up, the North 81 region, which has the highest thriving index at 144 and ranks first among its peers overall. Drilling …

Norfolk, Nebraska

Now that you’ve had a chance to review the Nebraska Thriving Index, let’s start digging into the details! First up, the North 81 region, which has the highest thriving index at 144 and ranks first among its peers overall.

Drilling down via the online interactive tool, we find that North 81 outpasses its peer regions in the Growth Index, ranking:

  • First in wage levels
  • First in growth in households with children
  • Second in wage growth

And, unlike many Nebraska regions, North 81 also ranks first among its peers for the overall Education and Skill Index, including first for the measures:

  • Labor force participation
  • Share of the adult population with a bachelor’s degree

North 81 also ranks first for many aspects of quality of life, including access to daycare providers and arts and recreation opportunities.

The region also faces some challenges. It’s lowest ranking is fourth of six peers in the Infrastructure and Cost of Doing Business Index. Drilling down into this, we see the region’s weekly wage rate measure is singificantly lower than peer regions. The region also has:

  • The longest average commute time among its peer regions
  • Ranks last among its peers for both industry and occupation diversity

To learn more, dig in yourself at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex and join us on Oct. 18 at noon CST for a webinar with project team member Mitch Herian. We also encourage users to submit insights and questions.

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Nebraska Thriving Index identifies economic growth, quality of life, social capital as regional advantages in the state

September 18, 2019
According to the first annual Nebraska Thriving Index rural regions in the state are relatively strong for economic growth, quality of life and social capital. Concerns from the findings are in education and skill, which includes education attainment, labor force participation and …

According to the first annual Nebraska Thriving Index rural regions in the state are relatively strong for economic growth, quality of life and social capital. Concerns from the findings are in education and skill, which includes education attainment, labor force participation and employment in knowledge-based occupations.

Developed by researchers and students within the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business and the University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology, the Nebraska Thriving Index is a benchmarking tool to help leaders spot trends and drill down into potential causes at a regional level. 

Nebraska Thriving Index the is the first report of its kind for rural areas of the state with indexes developed specifically for the rural context. It is supported and administered by the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, and both the full report and interactive comparison tool are available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/nethrivingindex.

Eric Thompson, Director of the Bureau of Business Research, leads the Nebraska Thriving Index research team. He also leads the data collection and analysis for the Omaha Barometer and Lincoln Economic Dashboard, which alerted him to the critical need for rural communities, and the state as a whole, to have the same type of analysis. 

“What our rural community leaders were working with in terms of data collection and analysis as well as comparison localities were not at as actionable as they could be,” Thompson said. “They needed true peers to gauge their successes and shortcomings, and they needed data collected with the rural context in mind. Now they have it.”

In total, eight rural Nebraska regions were created in an iterative process, which considered Nebraska Economic Development Regions, Nebraska Economic Development Districts, information from the Nebraska Department of Labor and the expertise of project participants.

Peer regions were selected via the Mahalanobis matching technique, which compares all regions according to the fundamental economic characteristics of each region, such as total population, economic structure and urban orientation. A list of five to eight benchmarking regions was selected based on the similarity according to these characteristics. 

Three indexes calculate economic growth and five indexes quantify economic conditions in rural Nebraska. Within each index, there are four to 10 variables, resulting in nearly 50 measures of data. The data was collected by four undergraduate research assistants from entities such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Community Survey, state websites and more.

“To have this quality of data and analysis so accessible and immediately usable frees up our limited resources to focus on strategies and implementation,” said Sharon Hueftle, executive director for Nebraska’s South Central Economic Development District. “We can target specific measures that we believe will help us reach our goals, and the year-over-year report will show us whether or not we’re making progress. This is a really significant contribution from the University to rural Nebraska, and we plan to help the research team continue to refine it.”

In terms of economic development, findings suggest that growth has been relatively strong in Nebraska’s micropolitan and small metropolitan regions, with three of eight regions ranked first among their peers.

Micropolitan and small metropolitan regions also performed well in quality of life, which includes commute times, relative wages, public safety, climate and recreational amenities, and access to health care, day care, parks, and arts and cultural opportunities. Quality of life is critical for attracting and retaining residents in a region. Three regions all ranked first among their peers.

Nearly all Nebraska regions rank high relative to their peers for social capital. The Sandhills region ranks first among its peers while the North 81, Northeast, Siouxland, and Southwest regions all rank second and the Southeast and Tri-Cities regions rank third. The Panhandle region ranks fourth. 

“The Rural Futures Institute envisioned this tool as a tangible deliverable to empower rural communities forward,” said Katelyn Ideus, RFI director of communications and public relations. “Getting it into the hands of economic developers, school and hospital administrators, elected officials and other stakeholders is really exciting for us. We believe the Nebraska Thriving Index can help them clarify their pursuits, substantiate their causes and demonstrate their successes. And we encourage everyone to reach out to us to help us evolve it as we look to publish again in 2020 and 2021.”

Nebraska regions listed with thriving index score (100 = peer average) and ranking among peers

North 81
144
1st

Northeast
103
3rd

Panhandle
98
3rd

Sandhills
109
2nd

Siouxland
105
3rd

Southeast
112
3rd

Southwest
95
5th

Tri-Cities
136
1st

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Create The Future In Nebraska — Apply To Be A 2020 Rural Futures Institute Fellow

September 17, 2019
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is seeking highly-motivated students and passionate community leaders to increase their inclusive leadership capacity while creating the future of Nebraska’s rural communities through workforce development, economic development, recruitment and retention …

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is seeking highly-motivated students and passionate community leaders to increase their inclusive leadership capacity while creating the future of Nebraska’s rural communities through workforce development, economic development, recruitment and retention of residents, access and more.

Deemed RFI Fellows, selected students and community innovators will join forces for 10 weeks during summer 2020 to make significant progress on strategic community initiatives and priority projects while immersing themselves in 1-to-1 inclusive leadership coaching with the University of Nebraska’s Helen Fagan, Ph.D. 

Students will live, work and serve in the community they are focused on, and community innovators will invite them into the life of rural Nebraska. 

Details and applications for the experience are at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/fellows. The deadline to apply is Oct. 17, 2019, and informational webinars are scheduled for Sept. 26 (communities) and Oct. 3 (students).

“This is a tremendous opportunity for communities to accomplish tangible work through students, but it is also transformational for all of the people involved,” Fagan said. “To truly make a thriving rural future for Nebraska, we need thriving individuals who include and inspire others.”

After completing the application, students will be interviewed in November and notified of the selection in December. Communities will work through project definitions with RFI staff throughout the winter and everyone will be matched based on projects that fit their expertise and interests in early 2020. All fellows are required to complete training before the in-community experience, which will take place May 25 – July 31, 2020.

Students are paid $12.50 per hour with housing and equipment for projects provided by the communities. RFI is available to assist communities as they seek funding, which is estimated at $12,000 per pair of student fellows.

“I have never grown so much personally in such a short amount of time like I did during my RFI fellows experience this summer,” said Hailey Walmsley, agricultural education major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “I came back to school with a new confidence, and I can’t wait to watch the great work RFI Fellows from all of the campuses and more communities will continue to do in the coming years.”

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Contact
Katelyn Ideus
Director of Communications
Rural Futures Institute and National Strategic Research Institute
University of Nebraska
(402) 659-5886
kideus@nebraska.edu

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RFI Fellows Helping AEDC Move Forward With Projects

July 16, 2019
Check out our Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey in The Arnold Sentinel! “In this job, I get to work on projects that play toward my strengths and interests. We aren’t just typical interns who come in and sit at …

Check out our Custer County fellows Megan and Hailey in The Arnold Sentinel!

“In this job, I get to work on projects that play toward my strengths and interests. We aren’t just typical interns who come in and sit at a desk all day filing paperwork or doing the job no one wants to do. We have a lot more responsibilities than traditional interns because we are challenged with finding a project, and seeing that project start to finish,” said Hailey

UN-L agricultural student interns Megan Coan (left) and Hailey Walmsley (right) are in Arnold once a week through the end of July to help the Arnold Economic Development Corporation with some big projects. The girls are also serving as interns in Broken Bow and Callaway.”

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Fellows Week 8: Grand Island

July 12, 2019
By Alyssa and Angela Wow, the time has flown by! It is hard to believe that we have just finished 8 weeks with only three to go. Plus we have a surprise! We (Angela and Alyssa) finished up our time …

By Alyssa and Angela

Wow, the time has flown by! It is hard to believe that we have just finished 8 weeks with only three to go. Plus we have a surprise! We (Angela and Alyssa) finished up our time in Grand Island early and headed west to work with our Custer County team for the last 3 weeks of the summer!

Since our last Grand Island update, we got busy executing projects and doing the preparation for projects happening in the future. 

Angela spent most of Weeks 3 through 7 being our video creator and editor. We wanted to be able to share the impact of Nebraska Extension’s Community Vitality Initiative’s Latino Small Business program everywhere and with everyone. So, Angela created videos in Spanish with English subtitles. One of our favorite stories was Duniesky’s. Duniesky Enrrique is an entrepreneur in Grand Island who wanted to start his own tattoo shop. He utilized the Latino Small Business Program to get one on one technical counseling to discover the insurance, licensing, and legal requirements for tattoo shops in Nebraska. He got everything accomplished and then realized he couldn’t find a place that fit his needs. Nebraska Extension came to the rescue and helped Duniesky find a place to work. Since then he has been making beautiful tattoos in Grand Island. 

While Angela was channeling her inner Steven Spielberg, Alyssa was working on creating training programs for Nebraska Extension including Facebook for Business and Sustainability at Home. Her Facebook training covered how to create a Facebook page for a business step by step, how to increase engagement on your Facebook page, what to post, how to track your posts and evaluate success, and how to utilize paid advertising on Facebook. Her Sustainability training covered everything anyone could need to know about how to be more sustainable and save money at home. From reducing energy costs to recycling through a few easy steps we can greatly reduce the impact we have on the environment and our wallets. Alyssa then took this one step further and started laying the groundwork for a sustainability competition between businesses in Grand Island and hopes to see this happen in the future to create a healthier community and lower the energy cost burden on businesses!

We’ve also made a lot of progress on our 4th Street project. We finished the directory of our businesses and now the program is positioned to utilize that information to make a map of that area that will show off the all of the great diversity that Grand Island has to offer (there are about 100 locally owned businesses on 4th Street). We also were able to host a community meeting for the business owners on 4th Street as well. We are hoping to create connections across race and gender so that the business owners can work together to bring investment and customers to 4th Street and show Nebraska how great of a place 4th Street in Grand Island is!

Then, week 8, we moved to Broken Bow! Stay tuned for all that is to come. Sneak peek it includes dog parks, barn celebrations, intern socials, and more! We’ve loved getting to know this community and have already been working hard on projects this week! 

Wonderful Selfie that includes Alyssa, Angela and Miguel Estevez (Mental Health Therapist/UNO Graduate Student) as they finished their second mental health workshop for the Latino community in Grand Island.

Pictured here is Angela (maroon sweater on right) assisting a photography class to learn how to take good pictures and possibly make a business out of it.

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Please welcome Mark Balschweid, Ph.D. — Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute

July 1, 2019
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is now led by Mark Balschweid, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) College of Agricultural Sciences and …

“It is imperative that the University continues to create value and tangible outcomes with rural communities in our state. I am proud to join the Rural Futures Institute, which is doing just that and so much more.”
Mark Balschweid, Ph.D.
RFI Interim Executive Director

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska is now led by Mark Balschweid, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Balschweid, who has worked extensively in evaluating international programs in agricultural and extension education, joins RFI after 11 years within his departmental leadership role. Prior to coming to UNL in 2008, Balschweid was on faculty at Purdue University in the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education.

“The ability of the Rural Futures Institute to identify solutions and create outcomes by bringing together many different partners — students, faculty and communities of place and practice — is impressive,” Balschweid said. “The team has found an innovative way to not only convene likely and unlikely collaborators, but support them for individual leadership development and community workforce and economic impact.”

Balschweid holds his doctorate in Agricultural Education from Oregon State University. He received a Fulbright Fellowship and spent a year teaching and conducting research at Jamaica’s College of Agriculture, Science, and Education. He authored Jamaica’s first Bachelor of Sciences Degree in Agricultural Education and continues to consult in Jamaica and the Middle East.

His research interests include the impact of international experiences on student learning and development, evaluation of international agricultural and extension education programs and highlighting the intersection of science and agriculture in secondary and postsecondary curricula.

Balschweid enters the leadership role of RFI during its launch of the Nebraska Thriving Index and the pilot of an evolved Fellows model

Nebraska Thriving Index RFI Fellows

An initial version of the online application of the Nebraska Thriving Index is already available for use and a print version will be released this summer. Both provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

RFI Fellows has grown to incorporate student fellows along with community innovation and faculty fellows. The pilot also includes individual leadership development training and coaching in the area of inclusion through the expertise and guidance of Helen Fagan, Ph.D., RFI director of leadership engagement.

Student Fellows from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Saint Louis University and Washington University are currently deployed in Custer County, Garden County, Chadron and Grand Island. They are working closely with Community Innovation and Faculty Fellows on community-defined projects that include community marketing, workforce development, early childhood programming, mental health care access and entrepreneurship.

“This is a critical time in the future of rural communities, the university and RFI,” Fagan said. “Through our model, we are supporting not only the individuals involved, but also increasing the leadership capacity in the communities and creating future-focused outcomes.

“What we’re learning in this summer’s pilot will propel us forward with partners for a phenomenal 2020 experience, and I’m happy to have Dr. Balschweid on board to help us.”

Students, communities, partners and sponsors are invited to provide feedback on the Nebraska Thriving Index and connect with RFI about a 2020 Fellows experience. Community and student fellows applications will be made available in the coming months.

“The passion and reach the Institute’s team has always had to make a true difference in the lives of rural Nebraskans, and rural people around the world, is palpable,” Balschweid said. “It is imperative that the University continues to create value and tangible outcomes with rural communities in our state, and I am proud to join the Rural Futures Institute, which is doing just that and so much more.”

Work With RFI

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Creating their desired futures — Connie Reimers-Hild, Shawn Kaskie depart RFI

June 28, 2019
Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., and RFI Special Projects Coordinator Shawn Kaskie are leaving RFI to pursue new opportunities. Thank you, Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild is building her leadership and strategic foresight coaching …

Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., and RFI Special Projects Coordinator Shawn Kaskie are leaving RFI to pursue new opportunities.

Thank you, Dr. Connie

Reimers-Hild is building her leadership and strategic foresight coaching firm, Wild Innovation, through which she works with company CEOs and hospital administrators to plan and pursue their desired futures at the intersections of technology and humanity. Clients range from rural hospitals in Nebraska to remote villages in Nigeria and include a small business with a $22 million annual footprint as well as global organizations like Lockheed Martin.

Before serving as RFI interim executive director for the past year, Reimers-Hild served as associate executive director for three years. She led the development of the RFI Engagement Nexus, initiated the evaluation model the Institute is carrying forward and mentored faculty, staff and students. She fostered relationships with eight universities around the world as well as companies such as Microsoft and organizations such as the Japan Society. Reimers-Hild also represented the Rural Futures Institute, rural people and the University of Nebraska at global conferences such as the Women’s Forum Global Meeting. She also hosted the Rural Futures Podcast, which has nearly 8,000 downloads nationwide in just 30 episodes. 

During her nearly 25-year tenure with the University of Nebraska, Reimers-Hild authored or co-authored 55 publications, 10 workbooks, six videos, six coaching tools, three books and one book chapter. In total, her digital publications have been downloaded by 3,300 institutions more than 70,000 times throughout 175 countries. She has also taught more than 25,000 learners from around the world.

Thank You, Shawn

Shawn Kaskie will continue leading innovative projects and programs throughout rural Nebraska as an Educator and Associate Professor with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative. With RFI since may 2016, Kaskie led two major strategic initiatives of the Institute. 

First, the pilot of the RFI Fellows program, which invited faculty and community leaders together for future-focused discussions about rural thriving. It is through this first iteration of RFI Fellows that the Nebraska Thriving Index was born, and it provided the catalyst to RFI’s new working model with students, community leaders and faculty.

Kaskie is also credited with critical leadership and ongoing contributions to the University of Nebraska SourceLink® Resource Navigator, which links entrepreneurs and community leaders to solutions and opportunities by curating university resources in one online platform.

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Fellows Week 4: Custer County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fellows Week 3: Grand Island

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

Written by Angela Beltran & Alyssa Ehler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fellows Week 2: Chadron

May 31, 2019
Written by Vasundhara Balraj, Bhargav Vemulapalli and Elizabeth Schott Chadron continues to defy our expectations every day. When we arrived last week, we did not know what to expect – we knew little about our assigned town other than the …

Written by Vasundhara Balraj, Bhargav Vemulapalli and Elizabeth Schott

Chadron continues to defy our expectations every day. When we arrived last week, we did not know what to expect – we knew little about our assigned town other than the Bean Broker coffeehouse and C-Hill. Despite the odds being stacked against Chadron, it’s amazing to see what this town has been able to accomplish.

   During our first week in Chadron, we visited all the local public schools – the elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school – in order to meet the people that we will be working with for the next several months. As soon as we arrived, we recognized this unique pride and love for the local community that we had never witnessed before. For example, despite Chadron Public Schools being classified as a Title 1 school district, the district consistently ranks among the best in the state. In fact, when we met Mr. Jerry Mack, the principle of Chadron High School, he couldn’t help but brag how his school district is only ranked behind the elite districts of Eastern Nebraska (e.g., Elkhorn). Furthermore, he demonstrated to us the unique didactic philosophy that makes Chadron Public Schools set such a high standard of excellence for the rest of the Nebraskan Panhandle – a philosophy which is predicated on providing the teachers with almost unlimited autonomy in their teaching methods, allowing them to use trial-and-error to find what is most suitable for their students. For example, he showed us two classrooms: one with the lights on maximum brightness and another with the lights dimmed. In the dimmed-light classroom, the students were dramatically quieter and were paying much better attention to their teacher, confirming the teacher’s prediction that dimmed-light conditions would promote a more productive learning environment for the students. In the future, we are really looking forward to working with the public-school district and we continue to be inspired by its underdog mentality every day.

   We also were introduced to the staff at Western Community Health Resources (WCHR), a public health office of Chadron Community Hospital. WCHR provides mental health and occupational services to the whole Nebraska panhandle and its personnel are constantly on the move across different communities. In our mission to improve the accessibility of community mental health resources for the public-school district, we will be working with WCHR a lot in the future and will continue to rely on them for advice on how to best tackle the gaps in mental health services that we will eventually identify in the public-school district.

   During our first week in Chadron, we established many of the connections that will help us with the main objective of our service – to identify gaps in the pre-K-12 mental/behavioral health services offered in the public-school district. During our second week, we are familiarizing ourselves with the SHAPE system, which will allow us to identify these gaps in mental/behavioral health services. In the next few weeks, we will be working with the school mental health providers to determine what specifically is contributing to the identified gaps in mental/behavioral health services and coming up with proposals for how to tackle these challenges using the evidence-based practices provided in the SHAPE system.

We attended an event at the Bean Broker where representatives from Net Radio (Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations). The radio stations usually just cover stories from Eastern Nebraska but have recently increased their efforts in covering stories from the Panhandle region. This will be a nice way to increase Chadron’s publicity across the state!

We were invited to attend the high school assembly where it was revealed to the students that one of their beloved history teachers was awarded with the state history teacher of the year award. Mr. Sandstrom is now in contention for the national history teacher of the award, which will be presented in a few months in Washington D.C.

We attended a meeting with Chadron’s transportation committee. The residents of Chadron and the students at Chadron State College encounter many problems when trying to get around the town and to/from the airport due to the lack of public transportation offerings. As a result, this task force has been assembled to address this issue and we look forward to working with them in the future!

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Fellows Week 1: RFI Strategic Communications

May 24, 2019
Written by Rin Le, Sydney Burdick and Tristan Powell This past week the RFI Fellows for strategic communications have been working to prepare for the upcoming summer! Tristan Powell is storyboarding four videos to communicate how the University of Nebraska …

Written by Rin Le, Sydney Burdick and Tristan Powell

This past week the RFI Fellows for strategic communications have been working to prepare for the upcoming summer!

Tristan Powell is storyboarding four videos to communicate how the University of Nebraska is working through the Rural Futures Institute to elevate the rural economy. He’s working with RFI Student Fellows in rural Nebraska communities to find the best approach for visually representing the work being accomplished this summer. Tristan is also planning road trips throughout Nebraska to capture rural cityscapes with a video drone.

“I’ve learned just how much potential there is for rural to get their story out to more people and how I can help in that process,” Tristan said.

Sydney Burdick is RFI’s social media guru. She is pushing out all of the Fellows’ press releases on RFI’s platforms, which include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Her goal throughout this year is to inform RFI audiences about rural challenges and opportunities, as well as keep the audiences up-to-date about what is going on in the 2019 fellows communities.

“RFI has given me new perspective on social media as well as rural areas,” Sydney said. “It’s eye opening to see how much impact we have on rural areas, and not just in Nebraska.”

Rin Le, a graduate student in the College of Architecture, has been learning and getting familiar with RFI visual thematics. In order to produce visual representation of an organization, he needs to be able to understand what the color palette is and how the RFI logo comes into play with the composition of a graphic as a whole. Rin’s task is to recreate the community experiences and translate them into visual image to be presented in the 2019 RFI Fellows campaign.

“The academy helped me realized that we as a community are dependent on each other despite our differences whether that may be cultural or perspective,” Rin said.

Fun video from RFI Student Fellows – RFI Strategic Communications 2019

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Nebraska communities welcome Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows

May 22, 2019
May 22, 2019 — LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska communities are welcoming University of Nebraska, St. Louis University and Washington University students to work, serve and live for 10 weeks. Chadron and Grand Island as well as communities throughout Custer and …

2019 RFI Fellows

May 22, 2019 — LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska communities are welcoming University of Nebraska, St. Louis University and Washington University students to work, serve and live for 10 weeks. Chadron and Grand Island as well as communities throughout Custer and Garden counties are hosts to Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Student Fellows and two mentors in each area have been elevated to RFI Community Innovation Fellows.

Together, students and community innovators will work on important community-defined projects that include community marketing, workforce development, early childhood programming, mental health care access, entrepreneurship and strategic communications. All RFI Fellows will also earn their Inclusive Leadership Development Certificate, during individual coaching sessions with diversity and inclusion researcher and consultant Helen Fagan, Ph.D.

“For several years RFI has earned impactful, tangible outcomes by placing high-capacity students with community leaders throughout Nebraska, but this year’s pilot of RFI Fellows incorporates a critical leadership transformation element for the future — inclusion,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist.

Age, gender, race, ethnicity and experience are all elements that leaders must continue to understand and explore to create welcoming, innovative environments, said Fagan who serves as director of leadership engagement for RFI.

Specifically, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, minority groups contributed more than half of the population growth in 16 (two-thirds of all) of the 24 counties in Nebraska that had population gains during the 2000s. In 74 Nebraska counties the majority population decreased, while the minority population increased.

“This trend is likely to continue,” Fagan said. “We need to help our communities and our students prepare, so we can all lead together in a way that fosters innovation. That means astute intercultural awareness and the ability to create and lead diverse teams. By elevating Community Innovation Fellows, we are creating leadership capacity that is essential for the future of our state.”

Alyssa Ehler, political science and agricultural economics major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is working with Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative Educator Sandra Barrera Fuentes to plan and implement events and campaigns for Latino businesses in Grand Island.

Ehler, who grew up in Omaha, said university students have the responsibility to explore rural communities.

“Students have the ability to fight the brain drain plaguing rural communities,” she said. “The University of Nebraska brings in students from all over the country and the world. Each of us brings a unique perspective that can help Nebraska thrive, which in turn helps our University thrive.”

And, with political will high, students and residents are ready to make positive, collaborative change said Sandy Montague-Roes, Director of Western Community Health Resources in Chadron.

“Communities are ready for action,” she said. “Engaging communities in the planning and voice of issues and solutions is the initial step to meaningful engagement. This pilot program with the Rural Futures Institute is a purposeful way the University is creating action out here in western Nebraska.”

Extended details available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/2019fellows.

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About the Rural Futures Institute

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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Dr. Reimers-Hild To Leave RFI 6/30 To Pursue Her Desired Future

May 7, 2019
To My Colleagues, My Friends Pursuing A Thriving Rural Future: What future do you want to create? This is the question the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has been asking individuals, businesses and communities during my …

Connie Reimers-Hild, Associate Executive Director & Chief Furturist, Rural Futures Institute

To My Colleagues, My Friends Pursuing A Thriving Rural Future:

What future do you want to create?

This is the question the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has been asking individuals, businesses and communities during my four years as Chief Futurist. Most recently, the Institute had to ask itself this question when faced with a budget cut and reorganization process. The road has not been easy; however, the small RFI team and its partners have risen through the transition to accomplish several incredible wins.

  • Recognition of the RFI Nexus as a way to co-create the future with rural people and places. We intentionally and openly use the nexus to partner with students, faculty and communities — of both place and practice  — to co-create the future. RFI has been invited to share this model with several universities focused on strategically strengthening their rural engagement efforts. It is an honor to be part of the team that has created a successful engagement model being recognized and adopted by other organizations.
  • Evolution of the RFI Student Serviceship program into the prestigious and transformational RFI Fellows model focused on inclusive leadership with the guidance and expertise of Dr. Helen Fagan as well as communications and branding under Katelyn Ideus.
  • A bold communications and brand strategy for the Institute, particularly the evolved Fellows model, under the leadership of Katelyn Ideus. Students, faculty and partners continue to come to the Rural Futures Institute for this expertise.
  • Collaboration with leaders is a cornerstone of success for RFI. Theresa Klein, RFI’s engagement lead, has been working with four communities to launch the 2019 Fellows pilot kicking off May 13, 2019. Our goal is to develop long-term relationships with community leaders and students, so we can better understand the needs and opportunities of our rural communities and leaders as well as future generations.
  • New records and milestones with faculty, students and communities who have elevated 50+ projects funded through RFI Competitive Awards, administered by Kim Peterson. For example, researchers at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center used a Competitive Award from RFI to strengthen their Building Healthy Families program. The team recently received a $2.5 million grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to reduce obesity in rural communities with a program they developed. Their award is one of the largest in the University’s history. It is also the largest research award in UNK’s history. This is only one of many Competitive Awards that supported innovative impacts for faculty, students ands communities.
  • Launch of the Nebraska Thriving Index, which is a tool designed to fill the gap in economic and quality of life data comparisons for rural regions. Partners creating this valuable index will provide practical tools for economic developers, local, elected and appointed officials, community leaders and others interested in economic and quality of life indicators in decision making and reporting.
  • Release of three seasons of the Rural Futures Podcast, which has established RFI as an expert in opportunities, trends and innovation in rural areas. Guests have included prolific researchers, international futurists, successful rural entrepreneurs and NU’s very own incredible students. Requests continue to come in to appear on the show from top government officials and leaders from all around the world.
  • Founding partner of the University of Nebraska SourceLink Resource Navigator, a tool designed to make finding entrepreneurship and business resources in Nebraska more seamless, thanks to Shawn Kaskie. Shawn serves both RFI and Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative.
  • Connection of partners throughout Nebraska and the University with corporations like Microsoft and Apple and countries such as Japan and Australia all focused on serving and elevating rural communities.
  • Nebraska Extension’s adoption of RFI’s previous serviceship model for the University’s flood recovery efforts throughout the state this summer. Serviceship was originally created through a partnership with faculty members from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln through RFI Competitive Awards.

Working with the RFI team, including many incredible students, has been both an honor and a privilege. I am amazed by the dedication of this team, especially when faced with prolonged adversity. Our University and our state is fortunate to have such committed people working for a thriving rural future.

In my 25 years at the University of Nebraska, I have seen the amazing transformation of students, colleagues, leaders, businesses and communities. The privilege of doing this work has resulted in the opportunity to teach more than 25,000 learners, coach hundreds of high-level leaders and deliver countless keynotes and workshops. I’ve authored or co-authored 55 publications, 10 workbooks, four books and one book chapter as well as created and hosted an internationally recognized podcast. These resources have been utilized by tens of thousands of people, many of whom I have never met, in more than 175 countries in what now is global classroom. It is my hope that I have helped, in some small way, transform the future for colleagues, friends, stakeholders and learners —  not only through the scholarship that has resulted from my work — but from the connections and transformations that people have chosen to create for themselves. I am so excited to see what the next 25 years brings!

Now, it is my turn to transform.

RFI boldly believes we have the capacity to shape our own futures, and so do I. It is time for me to focus on cultivating my desired future by growing Wild Innovation, a strategic foresight and coaching firm I founded to help leaders better understand the future and strengthen their capacity to shape it. My executive leadership experience at RFI has provided me with the knowledge and tools needed to expand my business offerings into the future of work with a focus on leadership that truly fosters gender equity and female empowerment. I am excited to continue my personal mission focused on helping people achieve their desired futures.

This decision has not been easy. My family has enjoyed living in rural Nebraska for several generations, and we plan on making this a home for future generations to enjoy. As a wife, mother, daughter, sister and aunt raising children and enjoying relatives who live throughout our great state, I care deeply about both the present and future of Nebraska.  

Nebraska can be the place of choice for people, businesses and families well into the future. It is an abundant state with amazing people and rich resources. Thanks to all who have been part of my life and career. I look forward to continuing great work, partnerships and collaborations in Nebraska and beyond!

Here’s to the future,

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist
Rural Futures Institute
University of Nebraska

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Katy Bagniewski Shares Bold Voice on Podcast Season 3 Finale

May 1, 2019
  May 1, 2019 — “I think that rural is a social justice issue,” said Katy Bagniewski, a senior studying agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). Originally from a rural hobby farm outside of Rochester, …

 

May 1, 2019 — “I think that rural is a social justice issue,” said Katy Bagniewski, a senior studying agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL).

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.

Bagniewski went on the other side of the microphone during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Season 3 Finale at 13:27. The podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” is available on iTunesStitcherSoundCloudGooglePlay and Spotify.

“I really care about elevating voices and telling stories for causes that I care about,” she said. Aside from rural issues, some of these causes include mental health, social justice and female empowerment.

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.

Rural issues, she said, are social justice issues. “Rural needs to be funded and championed, and we need to be here to tell all the stories of the people and opportunities within it,” she added.

“I’m very thankful for the University of Nebraska and the role that they’ve ended up playing in my life,” she said. She said she’s thankful for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) and the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication (ALEC) for facilitating a collaborative environment of students in her classes to solve grand challenges like food security and teach young people to communicate about the future of those issues.

She shared her advice for college students, which included preventing burnout, recognizing your own value and prioritizing your mental health and happiness.

Bagniewski 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.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.

ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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    

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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!

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UNO Student Regent joins Rural Futures Podcast Episode 29 as Bold Voice

April 24, 2019
  April 24, 2019 — “My leadership philosophy is to always lead by example and to not see yourself as higher than anyone else,” said Renata Valquier Chavez, a third-year biotechnology and political science student at the University of Nebraska …

 

April 24, 2019 — “My leadership philosophy is to always lead by example and to not see yourself as higher than anyone else,” said Renata Valquier Chavez, a third-year biotechnology and political science student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).

Originally from Sidney, Iowa, Valquier Chavez moved to Elkhorn, Neb., during high school and decided to stay in Omaha, Neb., for her college experience. She is a member of the UNO Honors Program and a student-athlete on the UNO cross country and track team, and she spent the past year as the student body president and the student regent at UNO.

Valquier Chavez shared her University of Nebraska experience during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 29 at 22:51. The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. This episode features Amy Webb, an award-winning author and professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business, and it is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

“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.”

Valquier Chavez believes that teamwork is crucial to her success as UNO Student Regent and Student Body President, as well as an honors student and a student-athlete. “I believe that it’s a group effort wherever it is that you’re leading, whether it’s on the cross country team or within student government,” she said.

“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.

She shared her advice for college students, which included time management, living intentionally and finding joy. “I think it’s so important to remember that you’re doing this all by choice,” she said.

“When you’re in an elected position, you’re not doing it for yourself,” she said. “You are in a position to serve others,” she added.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders. ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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
Quantitative

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.

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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!

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UNMC Student Regent discusses Rural Healthcare on Rural Futures Podcast

April 17, 2019
  April 17, 2019 — “The University of Nebraska is an incredible institution,” said Sarah Hotovy, a third-year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) from York, Neb. “It’s thriving, and it’s got incredible leadership that we’re …

 

April 17, 2019 — “The University of Nebraska is an incredible institution,” said Sarah Hotovy, a third-year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) from York, Neb. “It’s thriving, and it’s got incredible leadership that we’re really lucky to have,” she added.

Hotovy shared her experience as UNMC Student Regent and Student Senate President during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 28 at 15:47. The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. This episode features Garry Clark, Executive Director of the Greater Fremont Development Council in Fremont, Neb., and it is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in political science and biochemistry from Nebraska Wesleyan University, Hotovy spent a year in Indonesia teaching English as a Fulbright Scholar. She became UNMC’s Student Regent and Student Senate President during her second year at the Medical Center, and she is honored to have the opportunity to connect with and represent her peers.

“I like to lead through serving others,” Hotovy said of her servant-leadership style. “My goal through leadership is to see other people be successful and do what I can to help them be successful.” By encouraging and supporting her followers, she tries to help them reach their full potential and accomplish their goals.

Hotovy hopes to dedicate her career to affordable healthcare access for both rural and urban residents. “Regardless if they live in a town of three people or 300,000 people, 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.

According to Hotovy, much of her success can be attributed to the University of Nebraska. “I really felt empowered at UNMC, not only to develop my skills so that I can be an excellent clinician and take good care of patients, but also to be a leader in the future of healthcare,” she said.

“So much happening at UNMC is groundbreaking, and it has really inspired me to make sure that I’m doing the same with my career,” she added.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders. ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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!

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Nebraska Thriving Index Student Scholar Jordan Duffin Wong Appears on RFI Podcast

April 10, 2019
  April 10, 2019 — A one-size-fits-all approach to policy is not successful for all rural communities throughout the state, according to Jordan Duffin Wong, a junior studying Political Science and Mathematics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). The Kearney, …

 

April 10, 2019 — A one-size-fits-all approach to policy is not successful for all rural communities throughout the state, according to Jordan Duffin Wong, a junior studying Political Science and Mathematics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL). The Kearney, Neb., native joined the Rural Futures Podcast as the Episode 27 Bold Voice at 13:59.

The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. The podcast is hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist and is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

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. RFI convened and funded an expanded research team for the Nebraska Thriving Index from UNL, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative.

“We can make comparisons that create real insights and are useful for policymakers who are trying to help the state grow,” he said.

The Thriving Index provides economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

“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 make to best let regions in Nebraska grow,” he said.

For Jordan, participating in the Thriving Index has given him hands-on experience in research and collecting data which he hopes will set him apart from his peers as he applies for graduate school programs.

“It’s about giving myself the best possible chance to end up where I want to end up and study what I want to end up studying,” he said. “Hopefully, this is another stepping stone for me to get where I want to go.”

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders. ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.

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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!

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Haley Ehrke Shares Thoughts on Rural Entrepreneurship on Podcast

April 3, 2019
   April 3, 2019 — Haley Ehrke, a junior studying agribusiness and agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, joined her mom as Episode 26’s Bold Student Voice at 21:25. The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with …

 

April 3, 2019 — Haley Ehrke, a junior studying agribusiness and agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, joined her mom as Episode 26’s Bold Student Voice at 21:25.

The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. The podcast is hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist and is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

Haley’s mother, Janell Anderson Ehrke started GROW Nebraska when Haley was still in the hospital after her birth. “I’ve really been around GROW my whole life,” she said.

“GROW has really transformed Nebraska, and it’s really growing Nebraska’s economy,” Haley said of her mother’s non-profit.

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

Haley, a rural native from Orleans, Neb., was also a 2018 Rural Futures Institute Student Fellow. “The Rural Futures Institute has really impacted my college experience in a magnitude of ways,” she said.

She worked in Alliance, Neb., serving Box Butte County to recruit and retain rural residents by creating seven Marketing Hometown America videos. “We are really hopeful that the videos will help attract people to Box Butte County — because it’s a great place to live,” she said.

Haley is now a student pathways intern with USDA Rural Development, and she has a real passion for rural communities. “Rural is not dying,” she said. “It is thriving!”

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.

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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!

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UNK Student Body President, Student Regent appears on Rural Futures Podcast Episode 25

March 27, 2019
   March 27, 2019 — “I try to keep myself and my followers as focused and motivated as possible,” said Logan Krejdl, a senior studying Business Administration and Sports Management at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). Krejdl …

 

March 27, 2019 — “I try to keep myself and my followers as focused and motivated as possible,” said Logan Krejdl, a senior studying Business Administration and Sports Management at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

Krejdl shares his bold ideas and authentic experiences about leadership, integrity and rural-urban leadership during the Bold Voice student segment of Episode 25. This episode features Aaron Yoder, an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb. Listen at 11:08 across platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

A natural leader from Aurora, Neb., Krejdl 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,” he said.

“I describe my leadership style as adaptable,” Krejdl said. Being able to get involved on UNK’s campus has given him a look into the kind of leader different organizations need. “Very rarely do I use the same leadership style in different organizations,” he continued.

“I really like the problem solving aspect that comes with leadership,” Krejdl said. Getting his hands dirty and working in the trenches to accomplish goals and make progress is an important part of leadership that he enjoys.

During the segment, Krejdl stressed the need for face-to-face communication and genuine relationships to balance the high-tech, high-touch future of leadership. He also emphasized the importance of making connections and networking during college.

He also shares part of his life philosophy which is centered on kindness, respect and love. “One of my biggest mottoes is just general kindness,” Krejdl said. “Loving people can go so much farther than anything else, and at the end of the day all we have is each other so be kind to everyone,” he continued.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.”

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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!

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RFI Graphic Design Intern Kara Sloane appears on Rural Futures Podcast Episode 24

March 20, 2019
   March 20, 2019 — “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 …

 

March 20, 2019 — “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 the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 24 at 10:49.

The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. The podcast is hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist and is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

During her segment, Sloane shares the insights she gained through working for the Rural Futures Institute as a graphic design intern. Learning to adapt her designs and workflow have been central lessons during her internship. “What I’ve learned the most is probably working in a more corporate environment, working with a team and meeting deadlines,” she says.

“I think the most important part of graphic design is what goes unnoticed,” Sloane says. Good design goes beyond logos or aesthetics, according to Sloane. “It’s really about making an identity for something and showing its history and meaning.”

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.

Sloane has learned that valuing other people’s opinions and critiques is valuable for graphic designers and creators. “Your graphic design is not just for you to make and sit in your room,” she says. “It’s for everyone else out there to experience, so what other people have to say about it is really important.”

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.

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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–

(laughter)

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.

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UNL Student Body President, Student Regent discusses leadership on Rural Futures Podcast

March 13, 2019
   March 13, 2019 — “At the end of the day, you need to be able to inspire folks to think about what hasn’t yet been,” said University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) senior Hunter Traynor. The Elkhorn, Neb., native is studying political science …

 

March 13, 2019 — “At the end of the day, you need to be able to inspire folks to think about what hasn’t yet been,” said University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) senior Hunter Traynor. The Elkhorn, Neb., native is studying political science with intentions of attending the University of Nebraska College of Law this upcoming fall.

He joined Bold Voices host Katy Bagniewski for the student segment on Episode 23 of the Rural Futures Podcast featuring Betty Borden, Director of the Japan Society Innovators Network. Listen at 8:49 across platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

Traynor 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.

He serves in a dual role as UNL Student Regent and as the president of the Association of Students at the University of Nebraska (ASUN), the governing student body at UNL.

“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 his leadership in ASUN. “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.

Ultimately, Traynor is passionate about his service to the UNL community. “I think I’ve been heavily involved on this University campus here in Lincoln since my freshman year,” he said. “I’m trying to take on leadership roles and trying to give back to the community here.”

The future of the relationship between rural and urban communities is a perennial question for states around the Midwest, according to Traynor. “We need leaders who are willing to be very honest and not drive wedges in between urban and rural communities for the sake of political gain,” he said.

He also shared his insights on the future of Nebraska and the importance of recruitment and retention in the state. “Our largest export in Nebraska isn’t our beef. It’s our people,” he said. “It’s something to leave sleep over, I think. Let’s keep them here. It’s a great place to live,” he continued.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.

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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

 

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Developing inclusive leaders — Introducing the new RFI Fellows

March 12, 2019
   The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has documented that the central point of rural innovation for the future is where high-capacity, motivated students interact with dynamic researchers and passionate community leaders to develop products …

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has documented that the central point of rural innovation for the future is where high-capacity, motivated students interact with dynamic researchers and passionate community leaders to develop products and services that empower thriving rural communities forward.

Strategy_Diagram

These communities can be geographic localities, but also communities of practice that stretch the reach and resources of critical efforts in workforce growth, economic development, access and recruitment and retention of residents.

Through RFI Student Serviceship, started by University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty through RFI funding in 2013, RFI has not only supported rural leaders from 32 communities with the capacity and perspectives of 64 students and vice versa, but witnessed the exponential benefits of building these relationships.

 

RFI also piloted a fellows program in 2017, bringing together researchers and community leaders to catalyze scholarship and action. The Nebraska Thriving Index is a direct outcome of the fellows program pilot.

 

 

Now what?

Like the rural communities it serves, RFI is evolving. Shrinking resources across the rural landscape, increasing complexities and ever-growing challenges force focus and innovation, while technology, increasing global connections and awareness create opportunities.

RFI is stretching its own intellectual and resource capacity to harness the energy of the University of Nebraska, the communities of Nebraska and its global partners.

 

Welcome to the evolved Rural Futures Institute

Combining its former serviceship and fellows programs together, the Rural Futures Institute will propel communities and the University forward together. Now entitled “RFI Fellows,” students, community innovators and faculty fellows will be the inspirational and action-oriented mechanism by which the Rural Futures Institute carries forward its mission and creates meaningful, tangible impact in the areas of:

  • Workforce development
  • Economic development
  • Access
  • Recruitment and retention of residents

But it is also more than this.

RFI Fellows is now a transformational experience for students, community leaders and researchers.

“To be successful in the future, we must understand that the characteristics and skills of leaders must evolve, and we must prepare our rural communities, students and research objectives to reflect these changes,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI interim executive director and chief futurist. “So, while our Institute creates tangible outputs through its work in rural communities, it is critically important that it is also building the leadership capacity of those involved.

“This cannot be just transactional, it also has to be transformational. To ultimately be about dollars, it must ultimately be about developing people.”

RFI has identified several key areas of transformational development for leaders of the future. These include building competencies and experiences in the areas of:

  • Inclusion
  • Strategic foresight
  • Technology
  • Evaluation
  • Communication
  • Rural-urban perspective and understanding

 

Where do we start?

According to the University of Nebraska at Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research, one of the major trends in Nebraska population is: The state’s major population growth is coming from growth in ethnically and racially diverse populations. It is predicted that by 2030, Nebraska will be 40% non-White. And many of the counties experiencing this most significantly are rural counties throughout the state: Douglas, Hall, Dakota, Dawson, Dodge, Platte, Madison, Saline, Colfax and Scottsbluff. These counties were also among the Nebraska counties with the highest net out-migration of non-Hispanic White residents, numbering a net loss of at least 1,100 in each case and often exceeding 10 percent as a rate over the decade.

And this isn’t isolated to Nebraska — there is a rural demographic shift happening across the country. By 2030, one in five Americans is projected to be 65 and over; by 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group (any group other than non-Hispanic White alone); and by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation’s total population is projected to be foreign born (U.S. Census Bureau).

When it comes to dollars and cents, private companies are realizing the effects of purposeful inclusion initiatives. The latest Diversity Matters report from McKinsey and Company examined proprietary data sets for 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States. In this research, metrics such as financial results and the composition of top management and boards were examined, and the findings were clear: Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

As it moves forward, RFI Student Serviceship, Fellows, RFI Community Innovation Fellows and RFI Faculty Fellows will work with inclusive leadership development expert Helen Fagan, Ph.D., RFI director of leadership engagement and assistant professor of practice in leadership engagement in the department of agricultural leadership, education and communication at University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Dr. Fagan will work with all participants to develop the skills necessary to form successful cross-group relationships in both rural and urban environments through a rural immersion experience.

All fellows will have the opportunity to go through Inclusive Community Leader Development under Dr. Fagan for University of Nebraska, credit towards their degree or a graduate certificate. The process will include pre-and post-assessments that will guide individual and group development of each team, plus two and a half days of training and development during the academy as well as individual one-hour coaching sessions during the course of the program. Theories of Psychological Capital, Intercultural Mindset Development and Emotional Intelligence are the basis for the training and coaching. Inclusion as a theory for community development is still in its infancy. Thus, the knowledge gained from the work with students and mentors will also help advance this area of research.

The curriculum for RFI Community Innovation Fellows is a new addition to the previous RFI Student Serviceship experience, creating transformational leadership development that stays within the community. Over time, Dr. Fagan will be able to measure the impact of this leadership development on the community’s vitality through financial and human capacity.

RFI Inclusive Leadership White Paper

 

2019 RFI Fellows Experience

RFI has worked with been working with rural community leaders, partners, students and faculty to relaunch the serviceship program for 2019. The 2019 RFI Student Serviceship Fellows will work toward addressing early childhood development, behavioral health and economic development in:

  • Broken Bow, Neb.
  • Chadron, Neb.
  • Grand Island, Neb.
  • Garden County (Lewellen, Neb., and Oskosh, Neb.)

Partner communities were primarily identified in collaboration with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. Each participating community will host two NU students, both of become RFI Student Serviceship Fellows. Lead mentors from each community will be identified as RFI Community Innovation Fellows. Dr. Helen Fagan will lead a research team focused on exploring the impacts of strengthening inclusive leadership capacity in rural communities during the pilot. 

The 2019 pilot project will focus on critical issues ranging from small business development and entrepreneurship (specifically Latino), mental health service gaps for Pre-K12 school systems, rural daycare shortages as well as the support and inclusion of indigenous populations. The RFI team is grateful to all partners who have helped develop the pilot, which will officially launch in May 2019.

Looking Toward 2020!

We are interested in starting conversations for 2020 experiences! If you are a community leader, partner, foundation or student interested in using our innovative RFI Fellows process, please contact us via our work with RFI webform!

Work With RFI

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Ruben Aguilar discusses RFI-Funded Project, technology, leadership on Rural Futures Podcast

March 6, 2019
   March 6, 2019 — Problem-solving and leadership work hand in hand, according to Ruben Aguilar, a computer science and engineering student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Aguilar was an undergraduate mentor for the RFI-funded Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics (YEC) …

 

March 6, 2019 — Problem-solving and leadership work hand in hand, according to Ruben Aguilar, a computer science and engineering student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Aguilar 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. YEC was created by strategically connecting three RFI-funded projects.

Aguilar shares his experience with YEC during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 22 at 16:23. This episode features Robin Jourdan, an information technology futurist who recently wrapped up a 25-year career in the automotive industry, and it is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

During his segment, Aguilar digs deep into his participation in YEC and his love for solving problems. As an undergraduate mentor, he helped a group of high school students with pre-stage analytics and guided them through data collection and transfer. “My biggest takeaways were definitely my problem-solving approach and the community that we had,” he says.

Based on his experience as a YEC mentor, Aguilar shares his vision for 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.

Aguilar also encourages listeners to integrate problem-solving into their leadership styles. “When you begin to work on a project, you’ll begin to realize that there are a lot of very small problems that will add up if they’re not resolved,” he says. “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.”

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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.

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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.

(laughing)

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.”

(laughing)

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.

(laughter)

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-

(laughter)

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?

(laughter)

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.

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Kaitlin VanLoon shares her Bold Voice during Rural Futures Podcast Season 3 Premiere

February 27, 2019
   February 27, 2019 — “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 …

 

February 27, 2019 — “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 of the Rural Futures Podcast Season 3 premiere at 13:45.

The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. The podcast is hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist and is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

During her segment, VanLoon shares the insights she gained through working for the Rural Futures Institute as a communications intern. Managing RFI’s “rural pulse”— the institute’s social media channels — puts her on the forefront of the conversation around the future of rural and urban communities.

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.

“How you live could be so different from somebody else,” she says. Improving connectivity and reaching people in rural communities through social media are keys to fostering rural-urban collaboration, according to VanLoon.

Bold Voices host Katy Bagniewski challenges VanLoon to put on her futurist hat and share her bold predictions for the future. “It’s going to become more and more important that rural and urban work together,” she predicts.

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About the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska
The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska leverages the talents and research-based expertise from across the NU system on behalf of rural communities in Nebraska, the U.S. and around the world. Through a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, RFI encourages bold and futuristic approaches to address rural issues and opportunities. It works collaboratively with education, business, community, non-profit, government and foundation partners to empower rural communities and their leaders.
ruralfutures.nebraska.edu

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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

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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.

(laughter)

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.

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We’re hiring! Apply for full-time communications specialist position by 4/5

February 4, 2019
  We are in the business of connecting the boldest thought leaders and mavericks to the most critical rural issues — if you’re in to that, apply!   The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking a high-energy, …

 

We are in the business of connecting the boldest thought leaders and mavericks to the most critical rural issues — if you’re in to that, apply!

 

The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking a high-energy, skilled communications specialist to bring forward the bold voices of rural through content production, campaign and project management and social media strategy.

In this role, you’ll be a part of a small, nimble team that works with students and researchers across the University of Nebraska’s four campuses as well as with partners across other institutions, communities and organizations.

Application is open through April 5, 2019.

 

Application

 

Questions? Contact Katelyn!

Katelyn Ideus
RFI Director of Communications & PR
Bio

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Bonus Episode! Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild intersects foresight, psychographics shifts, global rural development

January 29, 2019
            Researcher, entrepreneur and high-touch futurist, Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., host of the Rural Futures Podcast, takes the hot seat in this bonus episode of our show! Dr. Connie serves as interim executive director and chief …

 

 

     

 

Researcher, entrepreneur and high-touch futurist, Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., host of the Rural Futures Podcast, takes the hot seat in this bonus episode of our show! Dr. Connie serves as interim executive director and chief futurist of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska. During this episode, she shares her approach to leadership, her vision for RFI, her recent experiences traveling the world to provide the voice of rural, acceptable metrics to measure rural thriving and rural economic development of the future. 

Hosted by Katelyn Ideus, producer of the podcast and RFI’s director of communications, Dr. Connie brings forward the critical importance of strategic foresight for rural areas — we cannot solve the grand challenges we’re facing or take advantage of tremendous opportunities if we continue to think and act in the same framework and mindset of the past. We need to understand the megatrends, demographic and pyschographic shifts and industry evolutions surrounding and intermingling with our rural ecosystem. We must also be clear about the fundamental leadership transformation that is occurring based on the expectations of upcoming generations.

“Major companies have really invested in [strategic foresight] realizing that their business model today isn’t going to propel them into a successful future. They need to change, but they need to anticipate what those changes might be to make the right decisions, so that they’re innovating in the right way. We need to do the same when strategic planning for a thriving rural future.”
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
Host, Rural Futures Podcast; Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, Rural Futures Institute

About Dr. Connie

    

Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., helps leaders and organizations reach their desired futures through strengths-based innovation and strategic foresight. She assumed the role of Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska in July 2018 after three years as Associate Executive Director of the Institute.

Since joining RFI, Dr. Reimers-Hild has led the development of the RFI Engagement Nexus and fostered a growing relationship with Microsoft focused on the future of economic development and technology. She is also the host of the Rural Futures podcast, which has more than 4,000 downloads nationwide in just 20 episodes.

Dr. Reimers-Hild has authored or co-authored 55 publications, 10 workbooks, six videos, six coaching tools, three books and one book chapter. In total, her digital publications have been downloaded by 3,300 institutions more than 70,000 times throughout 175 countries. She has also taught more than 25,000 learners from around the world.

Strategic Foresight

About Katelyn

     

Brand and content strategist, Katelyn Ideus serves as director of communications and PR for the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska where she leads the strategic communications efforts of the Institute, including production of the Rural Futures Podcast.

A writer turned strategic communicator, Katelyn is passionate about positioning high-capacity experts and mission-motivated doers to reach their goals through valuable bodies of work. She is energized by finding dynamic, targeted ways to tell stories on behalf of organizations, causes and people she believes in. 

Katelyn holds a master’s degree in integrated media communications and bachelor’s in news editorial and broadcast journalism, both from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism & Mass Communications.

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Mentioned During The Episode

 

Show Notes

Katelyn Ideus: Welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m Katelyn Ideus, producer of the show and in today’s episode, I’m interviewing our host, Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild who serves as Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist at the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. So Dr. Connie, welcome to your own show.

Dr. Connie: Thanks, Katelyn. It’s kind of fun to be on the other end of the mic. I feel like I’m on the spot now.

Katelyn Ideus: I want to start out by providing our listeners with a bit of context and background about you. So can you please share with us that highlight reel of your personal and professional life that has led you to this point of leading a major institute at the University of Nebraska?

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I’d love to. I have been at the university for quite some time and people that have listened to this know I was first generation college student who really had no intention of ever getting a Master’s degree let alone a PhD. And luckily I had some great mentors who helped me understand that you could actually get paid to go to graduate school, I didn’t know that, that’s the reason my Master’s degree is in entomology and also then thinking about what that looked like next for me was really important. I really was interested in this science of people and how people really showed up and interacted with the world. So my PhD is in human sciences with a focus on leadership and I really have studied what it means for people to be entrepreneurial and innovative before people could actually spell entrepreneurial which was a long time ago. It used to be like no one was even searching it before Google, it was crazy.

Katelyn Ideus: That’s hilarious.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I mean it really is kind of a funny thing, because my first company actually was called Entrepreneurial You and I had to switch the name to Wild Innovation because no one could spell entrepreneurial, so nobody could find the company, but as a futurist that’s what you have to get pretty comfortable with, I think, is realizing you’re about 10 years ahead. So after getting my PhD and I actually worked as a faculty member in the Department of Entomology here at the University of Nebraska Lincoln on East campus before going into extension where then I worked with businesses. I worked with communities and I worked with a lot of entrepreneurs and leaders on personal and professional development. I’m a certified professional coach and a certified futurist because those pieces really go together. It’s great to do the strategic course item futuring with companies or even people as individuals, but really to change what we need to change, make the changes we want and desire. The coaching helps with that piece. I’ve been married for, it’ll be 20 years this year, so I’m super jazzed about that.

Katelyn Ideus: Congratulations.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, yeah. I’m excited. Wonderful man. I was older when I got married and had kids. It was a long betting process for me in the dating world I would say. But I still think that’s the best advice to give anyone– if you want a great future, find a great partner. We both have full time careers, have the business, but we also started out with two wiener dogs and now have two kids that are nine and eleven who really have been just the joys of our life. And so folding this all together has been a lot of fun because I think what’s happened is while we talk about the inability to balance. I think having to do that in real life, really helps you help leaders better, because you get it. You’re sort of having to figure it out everyday yourself.

Katelyn Ideus: You’ve already brought up futuring and strategic foresight but we need to dig into this a little bit more because it’s a bit mind boggling, but we still get asked if strategic foresight is quote a real thing and if a futurist is something people know about. But we do get these questions so let’s clear it up. Can you share with us your definition of a futurist?

Dr. Connie: I can and I will go on record to say yes, strategic foresight is a discipline. Other universities and colleges actually teach it. I’m certified through the University of Houston and we had Dr. Andy Hines on who was actually the lead person in that academy. They teach it on campus, they teach it online, they have full blown bachelor master degree programs and many places focused on it. And that is really important because really strategic foresight is a discipline that futurists use to help leaders, people, organizations, communities really take a look at what’s happening. Not just now, but into the future. What’s possible and what’s probable. And then helping them make decisions, better decisions so they’re better prepared for the future, but also in a position to create the future that they want.

Katelyn Ideus: So talk to us a little bit more about that program that you went through at the University of Houston. What types of people were in your program with you?

Dr. Connie: It was an amazing program and I had wanted to go through it for years. I’ve been a member of the World Future Society, presented at that conference, published within that sphere for quite some time before actually going on and taking their certificate program. So there are people from all over the world and all different industries there. So you had people from Clorox, Ford, the United States Library Association, Lowe’s, a lot of these major companies have really invested in this space realizing that their business model today isn’t going to propel them into a successful future. They need to change, but they need to anticipate what those changes might be to make the right decisions so that they’re innovating in the right way. I was actually the only person in my class that was from a university and I found that to be very interesting considering sort of the huge transition that universities are in right now along with retail, healthcare, every other space, right? I was just in Lincoln, Nebraska here. I tried to go make a return at Sears, they’re closing and it’s not like we didn’t know this was happening. A: Sears has talked about this for a long time. We’ve seen just the prolific growth of online retail. Well, why do you need to go to that store anymore? And so it’s really interesting to me the companies that have chosen to invest in that and really pivot and evolve and the ones that have not.

Katelyn Ideus: Now, I have to ask the classic Dr. Connie question, what do you do to keep your futurist mind fresh?

Dr. Connie: I love to watch Sci-Fi movies. Like I’m a crazy big fan of Sci-Fi, because,and I always have been. I mean I think that’s the other thing about being a futurist. I’ve been a futurist since I was pretty young. I just didn’t know what it was at that time. I could see what was going to happen and I could put really odd things together. It’s something that’s very natural for me, but it’s hard to always explain and put into words what that looks like for others and how they can benefit from that knowledge. And I think it’s staying sharp, it’s a lot of reading. I’m a huge learner. Audio books, especially with all the driving I do. So I’m also a huge fan of Singularity University. I just actually finished up some course work to keep myself fresh last year with that group and it was all online. Again, people from all over the world, from all industries. This time there were some folks from higher education which was great, but really thinking about how do we exponentially grow what’s happening. I listen to a lot of podcasts as well and yesterday I was listening to one that talked about 5G. Like, what should we expecting with 5G that we’re not doing right now? And the 5G will be something once people are connected to it it’ll be like what electricity was, they used the example of what electricity was to a washing machine. It was life changing, right? It’s not once piece of clothing anymore, but it’s also we can own a lot more clothes. We can buy them, we can wash them faster, we have clothes now for everything.

Katelyn Ideus: Yeah, you’ve already kind of promo-ed some of the episodes that we’ve had with guests. I mean if this conversation is sparking your curiosity as a listener, we have more that you can dig into. So episode eight featured Dr. Andy Hines who leads the University of Houston’s Strategic Foresight Graduate Certificate Program. And I’d also suggest episode one with Ryan Alexander, higher ed futurist. Episode 13 with Thomas Frey, he’s a prolific leading futurist, nationally and globally and episode 16 with Deb Westphal who’s the CEO of Toffler Associates. And we have more coming in season three. Just continuing to bring these futurists together because when you said I bring this disparate ideas together. Yeah, I mean that’s what you’ve done here at the Rural Futures Institute, tying rural to strategic foresight is a completely different conversation than has been had and I think even talking to these futurists, they’re interested in this too and they’re seeing, wow, yeah we do need to have this conversation of what the future holds for rural and then obviously what that means for everyone.

Dr. Connie: And I think just having the connection to other futurists who maybe see things differently than I do or had different experiences, have worked with different companies just broadens the perspective of what’s possible. And I think rural is one of those areas that’s been sort of left out of the equation when it comes to futuring, strategic foresight, technology. When I was recently on a panel in Paris, the women’s conference really focused on the future of cities. The reason I was there, because it was because of our partnership with Microsoft, but also rural just isn’t represented. They were like we need somebody that has this rural voice and knowledge to talk about the future of cities, because I’m like it’s not just cities, right? It is that rural urban connection that’s really what makes the world work, and sometimes we don’t recognize that. A lot of those fundamental pieces of everything we consume come from rural areas and even though in many ways that’s getting more automated, in many ways it’s also not. In many ways it’s also still hand laborers. When you think about coffee for example, chocolate, that is produced in rural areas and it’s produced by people living in those areas and I think that we forget the human element sometimes about what are those people doing in their world that affects our world. But also the cool innovation and the strength that our rural people around the world, in the US, in Nebraska really bring to the table and what I love about the podcast and our work at the Rural Futures Institute. And in particular your work, Katelyn, I think in the communication space has really lifted up that voice for rural. We have more work to do, obviously. Yeah, I mean it’s no small job, but it’s exciting to see that now we have actually futurists coming to us saying hey, can I be part of this conversation? I really like to contribute my work to this space. And I think that’s a great accomplishment, but I’m also excited to see what that can bring to our state and beyond.

Katelyn Ideus: I want to transition into the future of the Rural Futures Institute now. You assumed the Interim Executive Director role at RFI in July and you’ve really challenged our team to narrow our scope and be very focused on the type of impact we want to make and you wrote an introductory letter in July and then you also just had a recent op ed, both of which are available on our website. If anyone would like to read them in full, but can you share with us a bit about your vision for the institute going forward?

Dr. Connie: I really like to think about it through the strategic foresight loans about what’s possible, what’s probable and then how can we continue to grow. But that takes focus. I mean I think that’s where especially in terms as we have had a large budget cut and also we’ve lost quite a bit of capacity in terms of people. I think sometimes that has gotten lost a bit in some of the conversation. What is it now that we can do? What can we specialize in and make the wider impact in Nebraska and the world? Students have been a huge part of that and will continue to be a huge part of that and getting students into communities, our rural communities with those leaders is a huge contribution we’ve made in the past but we have to measure the impact of that and continue to think about how do we partner and scale that up and change it in the future. And really as we’ve developed this nexus, what we call the Rural Futures Nexus of students, communities, and faculty coming together making sure we’re bringing those pieces together in a thoughtful way to elevate what’s happening in those communities. So taking what’s happening at the university, connecting it with communities, but also what’s happening in communities and connecting that back to the university, so that the university very much knows the innovation happening there, but also what we should be doing here at the university to help those communities.

Katelyn Ideus: We are also quite proud of the Rural Future’s Institute’s Student Serviceship Program that was developed by University of Nebraska faculty in 2013 through RFI funding. It has continued every year and grown in scope placing 60 some students in 30 some rural communities to work, serve, and live. And last year we had our largest class of students serving 11 communities, two of which were broader communities of practice, so that was an exciting evolution of the program. Without giving too much away, can you share with our listeners the evolution of the program we have been working on this past six months?

Dr. Connie: We’re working on kind of pivoting what we’ve called our Rural Serviceship Program a bit. I’d love for that to come out as more of a fellows approach with students in those communities and with our community leaders for the student piece and the community piece and the university piece, we’ve really looked at inclusion through Dr. Helen Fagan’s work of becoming a part that. Can that theoretical foundation of inclusion then lead to more economic impact workforce development greater good for those communities in terms of well being. But also let’s bring the strategic foresight in with it in the communications piece with it. So Singularity University, who I just talked about, when I took my courses there for professional development last year, communications was a huge part of that. It’s not enough to just have the foresight, you need the action, but you also need to communicate the difference it’s making and where you intend to go. And that’s what we’re working on here at the Rural Futures Institute.

Katelyn Ideus: Okay so let’s get specific too, on the Nebraska Thriving Index so this a print and online tool that we’ll be rolling out in the summer that will provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions. And the point of this is that with that information, that’s really comparing them to comparable peers. They can make some strategic future focused investments. So what was the inspiration behind this project and how did it come to be the partners involved?

Dr. Connie: I’m really excited about the Thriving Index. We started seeing these barometers for Omaha, and Lincoln here in Nebraska and also sister cities to Lincoln and Omaha. And Dr. Eric Thompson at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s Bureau of Business Research, they are the ones that have led these types of measures of Lincoln and Omaha. And so as we started to look at them, now they have five years of data and they use these a lot of times in economic development to attract new companies or even just to say, here’s where we’re at, here’s where we’re doing well, here’s where we need to put some resources. They really use it I think in many ways to help form their future and a lot of the decisions around that and we didn’t have anything for rural that resembled that and so we talked with Eric and he has a team. Also Dr. Bre Doherty at the University of Nebraska at Kearney who’s really helped us form this up and think through this and then we worked with a number of partners through the community vitality initiative and the Nebraska extension and there’s a whole team involved and you can find that information on our website as well. But to look at the landscape in rural. So the economic aspects of it, but also overall well being. Because what we do know is that population can’t be the metric, right? So we get charged with this a lot and people ask us well how are you going to change the trajectory of rural Nebraska? You know what, that’s a very complicated question and I get the intent of the question. The population is incredibly important in the attraction and retention of people, et cetera, et cetera. But it’s way more complicated than just using population as a metric. What we do know, is that the quality of life, especially in places like rural Nebraska is good, but we don’t know how good, how great. We don’t know what’s thriving and what’s not thriving necessarily in those areas and a lot of it is very regional not just a specific community. And so the index will really help display this in regions. And it’ll be a tool that people can actually use and it’ll be great to get some initial data put together, an initial tool put together that people can take a look at to assess their region and compare it to other regions. But the long term goal would be that this index will occur over time and so we can start seeing those trends over time, we can start seeing what needs additional help or where places are thriving. And then also if we can expand that to other states, how does Nebraska compare? And what can we do about it? I mean I think that’s the other thing as a university too is for us to have this information to say hey, this is where we’re making a contribution, but this is where we could do more.

Katelyn Ideus: So, you hold your doctorate in leadership as you’ve shared and in episode 10 of this show, you shared your definition of leadership and you said, “It is the ability to lead one’s own life while bringing out the best in others and making a positive contribution to the future.” You went on to say, “I believe in champion the concept of self-leadership, don’t let others lead you where you don’t want to go. We must recognize and develop our inner leaders to truly thrive.” And that episode aired on August 3rd, one month in to your leadership role here at RFI. So what have you learned since then?

Dr. Connie: For me that still holds true. My whole coaching philosophy and model is built on developing your inner leader. I’m really not a big fan of one person having a giant vision and everybody else get on board and go towards it. I think that worked in the Industrial Era. It does not work in the current era that we are in and I think it holds true even more so for me today than it did even a few months ago. And I’ve been in leadership roles before at the Kimmel Education and Research Center for example and other places that I’ve been. This is a little different in that it’s a higher level within the university but it also we have a very small team. And for me, that means that I need people on our team to really embrace that inner leader. I can’t afford to micromanage anyone and I’m not even good at it, but I also think this is what’s important in those communities, it’s important to the faculty and staff that we work with here. We need to bring the best out in everybody and that’s really as leaders I feel like that’s part of the role, right? It’s not just assigning tasks and delegating, that’s management, but leadership requires a little more than that and I think in many ways, after going through a difficult situation, like we have here at the Rural Futures Institute, or many of our communities have gone through. It’s coming out of that sort of like the phoenix,

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: and flying again, that’s kind of how I see it is you’re going to go through those difficult times and it’s the what have you learned and how did it make you stronger? And I think that’s kind of where I’m at at this point with a lot of things and even our interview with Dr. Howard Liu from the med center, we touched a lot on this result. There’s a lot of mental and spiritual and physical capacity that has to go in that and I think that’s all part of that inner leader, right? And shift gears when you need to. I mean we had to make some hard decisions. We had to pass things like bit Connecting Young Nebraskans, CYN program that’s amazing and I think there’s such a great group of young leaders around our state but you know what, our partners at the Nebraska Community Foundation can do wonderful things with that. And rather than just cut it and see it die, we really wanted to trim it from our branches but see it grow and I think that’s the part of leadership that sometimes gets a little difficult and people can get a little judgmental around it, but for us to grow and for us to help serve people in a better way we have to be good at who we are and good with who we are, we have to lead who we are and show up in an authentic way. Some of these things we have to let go of and let loss and beyond who we are here at the Rural Futures Institute.

Katelyn Ideus: Okay, so to say that fall 2018 was a whirlwind, is a little bit of an understatement. Where all did you go?

Dr. Connie: I’m trying to remember, it was a blur because Japan and Paris were the big international trips. But I made several trips out to Kearney and went to Ohio as well. Yeah, I mean and I was feeling that, I was getting a little tired there by the end. I mean it was great because I think we know that the demand for the work we’re doing here and for the partnerships we’ve created is growing and that’s great to see. And now it’s like again how do we continue to grow and thrive ourselves through this so that we can continue to serve in a prolific way, but yeah. I was in Ohio working with some agricultural leaders and connecting with them around the rural future and their own business future. The agricultural landscape is changing at a very rapid clip. How do they as leaders continue to evolve and change and how can we connect with them here at the institute? That’s really important. And then I was in Kearney. I worked with the Nebraska Rural Health Association, key noted their annual conference but also connected with some great leaders that attended that conference. I’m very excited to continue to work in that space. And then 10 days in Japan as part of a partnership we have with the Japan Society and this has been a great relationship that’s been ongoing, a project that’s been ongoing. We hosted a number of Japanese leaders here last year in 2017, then the exchange was to take US leaders to Japan. I was one of those leaders that was selected from the US to go and learn about what’s happening there. What you learn is that a lot of what’s happening there is happening here. I mean this whole rural conversation is while we focus or want to focus our impact in Nebraska, there’s a whole national and international need for us to all come together around this and find some really bold innovative solutions to what’s happening and capture the creativity already happening. And after that, eight days later that I was flying into Paris to present at an international women’s forum really focused on how do we help empower women to create a better future. And again, that was part of our relationship with Microsoft so a lot of the relationships that we’ve had and have been forming are really starting to grow and we want to see more happen from that. And we want rural to be at the table. Aging is a huge issue in both the area of the women in empowerment, but also in places like Japan. And aging is a global issue that we see especially in our rural areas and so I think just the learnings from some of that have been huge and I’ve been able to bring a lot of that back to Nebraska which is great.

Katelyn Ideus: So let’s dig into Japan a little bit more. It is an acute example of hyper urbanization so until the early 2000’s, globally more people lived in villages and small towns than cities, but population in large cities continues to rise while the opposite is true in rural areas. This is especially true in Japan. People are leaving their rural homes to go to Tokyo, for example, and today 92% of the Japanese live in large cities. And it’s causing an influx of abandoned land throughout the rural areas of the country and also just some concern. I mean, I’ve read articles on the millennial generation is really concerned about their responsibility. I mean some of these rural communities are 1,000 years old in Japan and it’s going to be under their watch that they die. I mean this is really kind of an issue. So you wrote a paper for the Japan Society and that will be published soon through them, but tell us about your key observations that you wrote about in that paper.

Dr. Connie: Yeah so one of the areas that I wanted to really examine while I was there is this issue of gender inequity, because it’s a pretty big one. And it’s a big one in rural areas in Nebraska. We’ve heard that through our rural forums that we need to empower people and be more inclusive in our leadership but that includes gender as a huge part of that. One of my takeaways was that women need representation, their own voice and economic independence in Japan. And that is especially true in the rural areas. Many times even at meetings, men are still speaking for women. We see that here, I see that. Even as the Executive Director for a major institute that still happens and I find myself having to interrupt people or just keep talking through talk to interrupt me at a table. It drives me crazy, but it still happens and so this is just, it’s a problem, a cultural problem, globally. But also the Japanese relationship with food is very unique and I think it has the potential to drive a larger share of their economy that I think there’s a lot we could learn from them around the connection with food and agriculture and the way that it’s so beautifully represented. They have like fan clubs for their rice and their fish. People in urban areas that are selling their products for them and doing social media for them and really have actually become fans of how the food is produced. They also have things like rice compacts where they actually will contract with people living in places like Tokyo to buy rice from rural areas and then in case something bad happens in Tokyo, for example a tsunami, they can actually move and go stay in those rural areas and have a safe place to live. I just think those are so creative to how to engage people in rural areas even if they don’t physically live there. And also Japan’s population appears to be less dependent on traditional healthcare and more focused on health. I think this was especially prevalent as I, I actually was involved in a tea party with elderly ladies in a rural village and the thing that it showed me was these women have chosen to get together. They’ve chosen to get together because it helps them get out of their houses and to create that social bond they need for their health and their well being. It’s once a week, but they have fun. I mean they’re having great food, it’s home made food, very healthy food, green and black tea, and they’re laughing, but it’s also just a great example of people taking ownership and that inner leadership of how do I want to experience this life.

Katelyn Ideus: Now I also want to go back to the women’s forum global conference. So, correct me if I’m wrong but were you the only rural perspective person there? Was there anybody else?

Dr. Connie: Nobody else that I know of, no. I was pretty much it and I think the great thing is that after that conference then I was contacted by other conferences, global conferences to bring in this rural perspective. People just, they’re curious, but they don’t know.

Katelyn Ideus: Right, right. But with that kind of influential platform with leaders from across corporations, governments, non-profits, what calls to action did you share with this opportunity?

Dr. Connie: Well one, we need to plan for both underpopulation, and overpopulation in physical communities. There is an absolute interconnectedness between urban and rural that we can no longer ignore. And our global ecosystem must support more than just people. As we move forward with the Rural Futures Institute, one of the things we’ve really focused on is the rural-urban collaboration, not divide. We talked about this with Dr. Tim Griffin from Tufts University. We really need to ask better questions and do better research around this, because too often we’re focused on the divide and not on interconnectedness. And we need to understand that more I think so people value both rural and urban in a different way. And number two is that we need to provide access to health, well-being and vitality for all. What does it really look like for every person on the planet to have great places to live, clean water, sanitation, transportation, sustainable energy, activity and proper nutrition? And how do we provide access to health, well being, and vitality for all people in the future? This was a big focus of the Singularity University course work that I took. I mean we can start thinking about these things now, because not only do we have the technology, but we have the science and I think we have the will of many people to try and figure out answers to these big questions. Number three, advancements in technology and science are changing expectations and demands of humans. We have demographic shifts and that’s recognized, but we have psychographic shifts as well and sometimes that is unrecognized. For example, I just expect that I can order something on my phone and it’s there about the next day or two days and I live in a rural area. As you’re more remote and rural I know that might be a little bit different and I get it, but this will continue to change, right? I mean, so as we have for example more 3D printing in the future we don’t even have to order, we can just print it in our home. But we need to be connected in order to do that. And so when you think about the internet of things, artificial intelligence, robotics, mobile technologies, intelligent transportation– these are interwoven factors that are happening that we can really I think embrace in rural if we want to, but also we can lead the way in rural if we want to. So when I think about autonomous vehicles in our aging population, and the need for people to get to still a healthcare facility, why not create the intersection of that and let us be the place where places like Tesla, Microsoft, et cetera come and do some research. Yes, please Google, let’s see what we can do. But that gets really to the fourth point of broadband and high speed connectivity which will be critical components of future communities both physically and digitally. This requires a systems approach to infrastructure. How many physical structures do we really need at this point? Again, we see a lot of these physical stores closing, because you know what? You just simply don’t need to go there and honestly for people like me and many others, shopping is not really that exciting and if you don’t find what you want at the price you want, with all the selection that you can get on your phone or on your computer, why are you there? I mean if it’s not an experience of some sort, people aren’t going to do it. So should more of this money be invested in virtual opportunities?

Katelyn Ideus: Kind of one of the last things I want to hit on is just the insights we’ve had from doing this podcast so far. So we’ve had 20 episodes and we’re definitely seeing some themes emerge. We published a white paper about season one entitled The Future of Leadership Technology and Rural Urban Collaboration which is available at ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/podcast. But season two added some more specifics to these main themes. What stood out most to you?

Dr. Connie: Well I think the fact that there’s a lot of great stories out there and there are stories to tell and we need to tell them well. But we also need to understand the elements of those stories and how they can be replicated beyond that example. When you think about Handlebend in O’Neil, Nebraska, two young guys who decided to create copper mugs from copper in one of their dad’s shops, because he works in refrigeration and now turning that into a business and their website is so amazing. But not only that, I mean they are engaging the community, they’re hiring people. The community’s been a huge part of their success and they’re telling about that and the importance of that. They’re also not shy about saying that they’ve needed the internet. They want to empower more women to work with their company and help them grow and I think that’s really such a great story, but what are the lessons and how can others learn and be successful with that same sort of model? Empowering women as I’ve talked about, is so critical if we want communities to thrive, women have to thrive as well, because they give back to their families and communities. But also, we’ve really noticed that a lot of people don’t choose to define themselves as a leader. It’s like they’re scared to say yeah, I’m a leader. But I think in some ways that’s because there’s still this old sort of idea that the leaders and CEO in a corner office can be a bit of a jerk, right? Someone that just tells everybody what to do. And so I think as we sort of continue to evolve to self leadership and people wanting to take control and empower their own future, I think that will change.

Katelyn Ideus: And we’ve always kind of acknowledged that. That people don’t self define as a leader, but the types of people we’re bringing on this show and they’re looking at our preform and they’re like, well I don’t know that I should have an opinion on leadership style and you’re just so surprised to hear them say that. It’s like, look at what you’re doing. Look at how you’ve brought people together around your ideas or look at the type of thought leader. So I just, that one has stood out to me too. Okay so obviously we’re really excited for season three which will debut in February. We have a bunch of interviews scheduled for this month and they’ll be with futurist researchers and rural mavericks still, but can you talk about a few of the topics that we’re really eager to address?

Dr. Connie: Yeah, technology will continue to be a huge theme. I think that’s just from basic access with broadband to wearables to even what’s going to emerge in the 5G economy and what’s going to be enabled through that. Continue to focus on some population demographic shifts. Not just that it’s happening, but what the implications are for the future are also very important. And then entrepreneurship at a global level so in Japan entrepreneurship is becoming more important. It hasn’t been part of their culture necessarily. We’re going to engage leaders in Australia around this conversation, because this is economic development in rural. It is entrepreneurship, it’s not going to be a traditional employer, it’s not even going to be traditional full time work, it’s going to be the gig economy, it’s going to be entrepreneurship and it’s going to be innovation.

Katelyn Ideus: Love it. Okay so to wrap up, I think if all the other guests think I missed an opportunity. If I didn’t ask you some of the questions that you ask them, that make them go, oh.

(laughing)

Katelyn Ideus: And so there’s two of those. First, which I think should be maybe our warm up for season three is like what does the future’s hat look like? Because that’s very interesting.I always kind of picture it as like the sci-fi type of like stuff coming out of it.

Dr. Connie: To me it’s like that cone shaped wizard hat with some sparkly stars and stuff. And I know the students have even some more interesting ideas. That is still a contest.

Katelyn Ideus: Yes, it’s a contest! Who can come up with the best futurist hat? But anyways, okay I digress, so with your futurist hat on, what are some of the key mega trends that you want to make sure people understand are impacting our rural urban future and that we should really be preparing for?

Dr. Connie: I think the technology and science piece, of course, and the continued advancement in that, but I think sort of the evolution or community as well. We have a lot of our basic needs met. We’ll continue to work on that in many places around the world, but then what comes next? What comes next if people aren’t working full time? What comes next if people are wanting to feel more fulfilled and be healthier and more vital and we need them to do that? And how do we piece this together and how do we do this globally? Because I think some of the other interesting conversations we’ll have are outside of humanity. How is all this affecting wildlife and ocean populations, flora and fauna? I think there’s a national resources piece that’ll continue to grow especially as a potential growing population consumes more.

Katelyn Ideus: So the last question that makes people sigh or just flat out say, “I shouldn’t answer that” is parting words of wisdom.

Dr. Connie: Well I think, parting words of wisdom for me would be for people to continue to create their own future and really look at their life through the lens of a futurist. So as we see dynamic shifts in terms of employment opportunities that go away, we’re going to see new ones emerge. So what does that look like for you? How can you tap into your strengths and creative strengths based future for yourself? And that then impacts your community, but also the world. But I want to throw that back to you also, Katelyn. What are your words of wisdom that you’d like to leave our audience with?

Katelyn Ideus: They all map to essentialism. So everyone, if you have not read that book, you need to do so immediately. A lot of what you have mentored me with which is exactly what you said. What future do you want? You need to know what your desire is and go for that and so I think that has resonated with me a ton and I’ve really put some thought into it and it’s hard sometimes. But my parting words of wisdom today would be, done is better than perfect and this podcast is such a great example of that. If I had waited for our concept to be absolutely perfect, we wouldn’t have launched yet, and we wouldn’t be sitting here and have pulled together such an incredible group of people. So thank you to each and every one of our guests who have made this dream not just a reality, but just plain fun. I mean these people just are a pleasure to talk with and I just also want to take a moment to thank everyone who is listening because we can more than justify continuing this show, we have listeners from 45 of 50 states, represented in our listenership, which obviously the competitive person me is going to call out hey Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware and New Hampshire– Y’all need to get on board, so there might be some targeting to those just so we can round up to 50, but those are my parting words of wisdom, Connie.

Dr. Connie: I agree. Essentialism is awesome, but yeah. Let’s get those last five states and we know you’re out there, rural. We know, I’ve met people from rural Alaska, Arkansas, especially those two states that are doing some amazing things.

Katelyn Ideus: Well, and our listeners are definitely not just rural. I’m seeing a lot of Chicago, Austin, San Diego so I mean it’s really cool to see such a good mix, but obviously Nebraska  is coming in strong and we really appreciate that.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, thank you Nebraska. We love it.

Katelyn Ideus: Alright, hey Connie. Thanks for coming on your own show.

Dr. Connie: Well hey, Katelyn. Thanks for interviewing me and putting me on a hot seat.

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Students: Apply for RFI graphic design, social media, storyteller internships!

January 23, 2019
The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to help us create a bold voice for rural. Join us in an engaged working environment that will expand your leadership and professional skills as …

The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to help us create a bold voice for rural.

Join us in an engaged working environment that will expand your leadership and professional skills as well as your comfort zone and network. All details and application instructions available via the links below!

Apply by midnight Sunday, February 17, 2019!

NOTE: To be eligible, applicant must be enrolled as a full-time University of Nebraska–Lincoln student for the 2019-2020 school year.

 

 

 

Questions? Contact Katelyn!

Katelyn Ideus
RFI Director of Communications & PR
Bio

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From Dr. Connie: The Rural Futures Institute — NU’s commitment to a thriving rural Nebraska

January 7, 2019
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D. Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska Through the Rural Futures Institute, the University of Nebraska affirms its commitment to empowering thriving rural communities within our state, across the country …

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist
Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska

Through the Rural Futures Institute, the University of Nebraska affirms its commitment to empowering thriving rural communities within our state, across the country and around the world.

But what does this mean?

Since I assumed leadership of the Institute in July, our team has refined the bold vision set by hundreds of stakeholders and the Board of Regents in 2012 and established criteria for our work that will help the University partner for a strong future for Nebraska. Perspectives from community leaders, University students and faculty and partners such as the Nebraska Community Foundation and Peter Kiewit Foundation have been critical in this journey.

As a certified futurist, I must start with a discussion about the future — not just about a sustainable future for our rural areas, but our desired collective futures.

We must actively create and participate in diverse and inclusive leadership that embraces differences in experience and skill set for mission, purpose and genuine personal growth.

We must prepare for and embrace continued exponential changes across technology, human ability and the point of innovation where the two infuse. With a realistic understanding of the challenges the fourth industrial revolution brings, we must strategize about the possible, not just the probable.

We must understand that we live in a dynamic ecosystem of rural and urban challenges and opportunities that are overlapping and coinciding. Win-win scenarios are possible. Our recent work with the Japan Society, Microsoft and Tufts University has demonstrated that our future is not mutually exclusive based on geography.

When we talk about the future, we need to have a strengths-based approach that includes an abundance mindset. We know there are challenges; however, if we focus solely on those challenges, we miss the tremendous opportunities and solutions available to us.

The Rural Futures Institute believes the opportunities of thriving rural communities lie at the intersections of leadership, technology and rural-urban collaboration.

To each of these, RFI convenes four assets to cultivate communities and the University forward together:

  • high-capacity collegiate students,
  • leading researchers,
  • global perspectives and
  • the discipline of strategic foresight.

We aim to bring each of these assets to fruition through focused work that creates tangible outcomes in workforce development, economic impact and access and results in products and services our state’s communities can use.

The primary example of this is the recently announced Nebraska Thriving Index, an interactive online tool that will provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

Thank you to our researcher, staff and student partners with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research and agricultural leadership department, the University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology and the University of Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative. We look forward to receiving feedback from community representatives in the coming months.

We are also innovating the framework of RFI Student Serviceship, which has placed 64 University of Nebraska students in 32 rural Nebraska communities to work and serve while gaining rural perspectives and developing leadership skills.

Sustaining this initiative should be a priority for the University and the state as we all work toward supporting the next generation of rural Nebraska leaders and attracting and retaining talent.

The work of students with communities also pays. Analysis from the 2016 experience in Friend, Neb., determined that the spec home project the students led has served as a catalyst for a $4 million project that could bring 15 jobs to the community.

Serviceship is possible because of individuals and communities who mentor and champion the students’ futures. We sincerely appreciate the investment of your time, talent and energy.

As we seek a thriving future together, let us be creative in our thinking, collaborative in our work, resolute in our strategy and bold in our storytelling.

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Let’s create our desired futures — Happy New Year from the Rural Futures Institute

December 19, 2018
   Dear fellow advocates of a thriving rural future: From all of us here at the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, we wish you a joyful holiday season and a prosperous new year! Entering a new …

 

Dear fellow advocates of a thriving rural future:

From all of us here at the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, we wish you a joyful holiday season and a prosperous new year!

Entering a new year is often a time for reflection and goal setting, and we hope that as you consider the next 365 days, you do so with the intention of creating purpose and clarity for yourself, your family and your community.

Strategizing for the exponential changes of the future — especially those beyond the next 365 days — is difficult, but also exhilarating.

Strategic Foresight

 

As proponents of rural communities, our team sees extraordinary opportunities at the intersections of leadership, technology and rural-urban collaboration. And we aren’t alone.

Letter From Our Director

 

Through our podcast, Rural Futures with Dr. Connie, we have convened important conversations spanning economic development, health care access, broadband and more with thought-leaders and achievers, futurists and researchers, rural community mavericks and innovators.

Podcast
White Paper

 

And we continue to be inspired and energized by the passion of the University of Nebraska students we are honored to work with and the community mentors they have the opportunity to interact with. Take a few minutes to listen to and read the students’ take on the future of rural areas.

Midlands Voices: Midwesterners and misconceptions
Clayton Keller
Omaha World Herald
November 1, 2018

Local View: We can reverse rural population drain
Trenton Buhr
Lincoln Journal Star
October 31, 2018

Bold Voices podcast segments
iTunes, Stitcher
Season 2

 

We also pay close attention to the national rural narrative and, while much of it discusses the many challenges rural areas face, there have been many demonstrations of progress and optimism.

 

Thank You To Our Partners

We spent the month of thanksgiving thanking our partners, but our gratitude never ceases. Thank you to all who have supported the work of the Rural Futures Institute, but more importantly the vision and goals of rural communities throughout Nebraska and beyond.

Our Partners

 

Our Plans for 2019

In February 2019, we will announce an evolved framework of RFI Student Serviceship to serve communities of place and practice in rural Nebraska, throughout the U.S., and with partners of purpose and practice at the University of Nebraska and beyond. We look forward to sharing those details and hosting serviceship experiences in 2019!

Serviceship

 

In May 2019, thanks to a collaborative team of University of Nebraska researchers, we will launch the first phase of the Nebraska Thriving Index, which will include an interactive online tool that will provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

Nebraska Thriving Index

 

Be a Bold Voice for Rural

We hope you will interact with us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and LinkedIn to share with us your plans, hopes and desires for a thriving rural future. You are also welcome to participate in our podcast by listening, reviewing, nominating a guest and sponsoring!

 

Sincerely,

The Rural Futures Institute Team

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Omaha World Herald editorial staff publishes article about RFI Serviceship

December 16, 2018
  RFI’s 2018 Serviceship students were featured in the Omaha World Herald staff editorial. “The Rural Futures Institute internships are a terrific example of NU’s dedication to its statewide mission. These cooperative projects help students deepen their understanding and develop …

 

RFI’s 2018 Serviceship students were featured in the Omaha World Herald staff editorial.

“The Rural Futures Institute internships are a terrific example of NU’s dedication to its statewide mission. These cooperative projects help students deepen their understanding and develop their skills while making a positive difference in Nebraska communities. It’s a win-win, all around.” —Editorial Staff, Omaha World Herald

Omaha World Herald Op Ed

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Episode 20: NU institute directors intersect early childhood, water sustainability, national security

December 3, 2018
      The University of Nebraska (NU) has invested in four interdisciplinary Institutes, each focused on areas in which the University and the state of Nebraska have unique strengths. Through these Institutes, researchers and students from the four NU …

     

The University of Nebraska (NU) has invested in four interdisciplinary Institutes, each focused on areas in which the University and the state of Nebraska have unique strengths. Through these Institutes, researchers and students from the four NU campuses come together with partners to find innovative solutions and opportunities for our state, our nation and our world.

Interestingly, each of the Institutes have a specific relationship and value to offer to rural people and places now and into the future. We welcomed the executive directors of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute and the National Strategic Research Institute to talk with Dr. Connie on this Season 2 finale, asking them to approach their area of expertise through our lenses of future-focused leadership, rural-urban collaboration and high-touch, high-tech. Enjoy!

“When we talk about the future at the Rural Futures Institute, we know we need to have a strengths-based approach that includes an abundance mindset. We know there are challenges, but if we continue to just talk about and focus on those challenges, we’re not going to be able to move forward in a way that provides those solutions and outcomes.”
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist


Samuel Meisels

Buffett Early Childhood Institute

              

SAMUEL J. MEISELS, ED.D. Founding Executive Director Buffett Early Childhood Institute

Interview starts at 01:19

Samuel J. Meisels is the founding executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and holds the Richard D. Holland Presidential Chair in Early Childhood Development as well as appointments at each of the four NU campuses.

One of the nation’s leading authorities on the assessment of young children, Sam has published more than 200 research articles, books, monographs and assessments. He was president of the board of directors of Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, has lectured throughout the U.S. and abroad, and is an advisor and consultant for numerous local, state, and national organizations.

Peter McCornick

Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute

              

Peter G. McCornick, Executive Director, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute

Interview starts at 18:46

Peter G. McCornick joined the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute as executive director in August 2016 after previously serving as deputy director general of research at the International Water Management Institute, one of the world’s foremost institutions dedicated to improving management of water and land resources to ensure food security and reduce poverty.

Peter has dedicated his career to improving the understanding of sustainable water resources management. He has led research and development programs on water, agriculture and the environment in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S.

Robert Hinson

National Strategic Research Institute

          

Robert Hinson, USAF, Lt Gen (Ret), Executive Director, National Strategic Research Institute

Interview starts at 34:17

Lieutenant General (Ret) Robert Hinson serves as the founding executive director of the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI), leading and managing Department of Defense research opportunities for the University of Nebraska. NSRI is sponsored by United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and focuses on research that helps combat weapons of mass destruction. It is one of 13 DoD-designated University affiliated centers nationally.

Under Hinson’s leadership, NSRI received more than $61 million and 85 contract awards in its initial contract 2012-2018. The NSRI contract has been renewed with a five-year, $92 million contract with USSTRATCOM, through 2023.

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild and I’m really excited today to have Dr. Sam Meisels on with us. Dr. Meisels, is the founding Executive Director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and also holds the Richard D. Holland Presidential Chair in Early Childhood Development. Welcome to the podcast, Sam.

Dr. Sam Meisels: Thank you, Connie. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Connie: We’re really excited to have you on because not only are you prolific leader, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute is doing prolific work. First, tell our audience a little bit more about who you are.

Dr. Sam Meisels: Well, I am a transplant to Nebraska. I came here five years ago to start up the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and I live in Omaha.

Dr. Connie: And we’re really excited to have you here in Nebraska, and would love to have you tell us a little bit more about the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. What’s the mission, what’s the vision, and what impact are you working to achieve?

Dr. Sam Meisels: Sure. The Buffett Institute is what is known at the University as what is known as a four-campus institute. The University of Nebraska has campuses at the medical center in Omaha, at UNO and UNL, and of course and UNK. And we have responsibilities across all four of those campuses. Our vision is that Nebraska will be the best place in the nation to be a baby. And our job is to make that happen. So we describe our mission as that of transforming the lives and education of young children, especially those at greatest risk.

Dr. Connie: Now, tell us a little bit, too, about the approach Buffett uses to do this because in a very short time you’ve really been able to make great process in this space and also I’d like for you to tell us not just about your progress but, why people care so much? How does it affect what happens now and into the future? Why do people care?

Dr. Sam Meisels: Well, this is of course one of the wonderful things about being in the area of early childhood or early childhood development, people care about kids. They care about young children. The people of Nebraska, especially, care about young children. One of the very first things we did was to partner with Gallup to do a statewide survey of attitudes, knowledge, and belief of Nebraskans about early care and education, which is the term we apply to all of those programs that serve young children and families, children between birth and age eight, or really third grade. We were pleased to see that we did get very good response. In fact, Gallup said that proportionally for the number of surveys that were distributed, we had one of the highest return rates on a survey of this kind that they’ve ever had. More than seven thousand people responded to this survey. And they said that they are very supportive of early care and education, that they believe that more has to be done, that quality is suffering in early care and education, that there is not enough of that high quality care, and when it is available high quality care is very expensive. And in the last two or three decades, we’ve learned how important the early years are, the growth of social capital of our ability to be successful citizens and successful in life, we’ve learned that more and more extensively through research. And we’ve also learned about how brain development occurs in great proportion more in early childhood than in any other time of life. So, the importance of these years is something that very few people, if anyone, would dispute. Now the question is, what should we, and can we, do to help young children reach their potential. And that’s what we’re trying to do at the institute. You also ask, Connie what we’re focusing on and how we have had some impact already. When I came I decided that we needed to be very focused or else we wouldn’t accomplish very much. We identified two programs, two kinds of levels of activity that we call signature programs. One has to do with a challenge of closing the achievement gap between children who are coming from homes that are well resourced in terms of experience and education of parents, and in many cases because of the financial resources available, as contrasted to children coming from low-resourced families. So, our goal is to try to close that gap in achievement and in opportunity. That’s one of our signature programs. And the other has to do with the early childhood workforce. So these two areas represent a great deal of the effort and we’re starting to see some real impact as a result.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: At the Rural Futures Institute, this is a major challenge for people living in rural communities. I love how Buffett’s really focused yet holistic realizing that we need to be able to have high quality care but access just in general to that care if we want to have vital communities, whether rural or urban. So tell us a little bit about the mono engagement that you are using to really help lift this important issue to the forefront, but then also create action to create a positive future for our state.

Dr. Sam Meisels: With the early childhood workforce area, we’ve convened a commission of more than 40 state leaders, people from many different areas of activity. Some are people in business, some are people in higher education, some are actual providers of care to young children, we have folks in the world of philanthropy, and certainly people from state departments of education and HHS, all of those people coming together on a quarterly basis or more often to help us identify how we can build a workforce here that’s more skilled, more informed, and more diverse than exists right now. How we can increase public awareness and acceptance and demand for high quality, and that will lead to better compensation we hope for early childhood workers and then that will lead to higher qualifications to demand for more people to come here and work. So demand is a big issue for us. We know that in small communities in the State of Nebraska, where there is an absence and there are many that don’t have many early childhood programs, let alone high quality programs, that this could be a key to economic vitality of those small communities. In other words, if a community lacks quality childcare, many people that are childbearing years, many people who are parents of young children, will not want to live there or cannot live there. And, consequently, the efforts of businesses to attract and retain workers becomes very challenging. That’s something we want to learn more about and use that as a lever to bring to our state legislature and to our Executive Branch here in the state to say, we all know this is important to children’s development. We actually see a literal return on investment, but for that return you have to wait until this child becomes older, but an immediate way we can make a difference in communities by having high quality care present for those who want to work there and who want to stay in that community.

Dr. Connie: That’s absolutely right. I mean, just as a family that lives in a rural area ourselves, when we had our first child first thing you do is you try to go find high quality care. And you look around and you’re like wait a second, what are we going to do here? Reports will tell you, even keeping women in the workforce, what you’re competing with is childcare. That’s what you’re competing with. So if we want people gainfully employed, working to their full potential, but also wanting to move, because people aren’t going to move just for a job. They’re trying to put their whole life together and this is an issue that has been a sticking point for so long because it’s not just about is there access, because we didn’t know anyone in that community either. So if we couldn’t find a high quality daycare, and a lot of it then goes to home daycare or completely unlicensed where you’re just basically dropping your child off with somebody who’s home during the day.

Dr. Sam Meisels: Right, what we want to work toward is that childcare shouldn’t be thought of as a transaction. In other words, here’s another words I know I can get enough hours I’ll be able to go to work, but as a relationship, as some place that we know this is a place where our children will thrive. And as a consequence of thriving, we can have piece of mind, it will help us. More than 80% of children age five and younger are in some form of paid childcare in this state. And 62% of women who have infants, mothers of infants are in the workforce. So, these are really very important statistics because some people say well listen, children belong at home with their mom. And for some women, that is the choice they want to make and I’m deeply supportive of that. But for other women, either it’s not the choice because they want to work, it’s very, very important to who they are, or they have to work because they can’t afford to keep their family going the way they need to if they’re not working. Everyone says children are by far the most important element of our word, of our society, and yet we pay on average someone with a B.A. who works in childcare in the State of Nebraska, we pay them a little more than $19,000 per year to work full time. So, the competition there is Wendy’s, and it’s Target, and it’s other thing things that are variable but they don’t do this specialized work that is so important to us.

Dr. Connie: This is an excellent point. Again, how are we going to value this, and I mean really value it, so that people are able to use their talent in that space and really grow a career? So, is it transformation for their career if they’re caring for these children and these children and their families really have long term positive impact? And again, in those rural communities if we’re going to hope to keep people, or even grow those communities, we need that quality care to exist and we need people to be employed at a livable wage that really helps their own family live a quality life if they’re going to work in this space.

Dr. Sam Meisels: That’s exactly right. Now, the financial side of this is very important. It costs more to put an infant in full time child care than it does 18 years later to enroll that child at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Dr. Connie: You know what? I love that point because people aren’t talking about that enough, I know when we had two kids in daycare, it was extremely difficult. I mean, the check you’re writing for that every month is substantial and then you start making those trade-offs and decisions. Is this a high quality enough situation where it’s worth writing the check or do I make a transition? Or does my husband make a transition? I mean, it really does affect all those life choices that you have to make.

Dr. Sam Meisels: It does. And, the private sector, namely mom and dad, as you’re pointing out, has a very, very difficult time covering the cost and sometimes simply cannot cover ] the cost. On the other hand, turning this over to the public sector is a bridge too far, it’s asking too much. We need a mixed source of support for this, but one that recognized that high quality childcare and high quality workers in childcare don’t come cheap. None of that comes cheap. Any more than a high quality third grade teacher, or an eleventh grade physics teacher, anymore than those people come cheap. They shouldn’t, and they don’t. And we have to build a demand in our communities for our state as a whole to take on this issue and look for the sources of this, to redistribute dollars, to look to philanthropy, to look to private sector, to look to the public sector, to make the early years of life, to give it the kind of credit that we give it in words but not sufficiently in deeds.

Dr. Connie: Sam, with that in mind, I’d love for you to put your futurist hat on. Now I just came back, I was on the panel in Paris, at an international women’s summit where we really talked about a lot of these types of issues. How are we going to create the communities and cities and life experiences of the future that help empower women that was the focus of this conference but this is really about empowering many people, employees, children, families, communities themselves. So, how do you see this evolving?

Dr. Sam Meisels: This is the change we need. As we all do, we want this state and this nation to thrive. We want our citizens to thrive. This is a critical step for us to take. Other statistics tell us that more than a quarter, in fact, in the State of Nebraska, some estimates are as high as 40% of children under age five are at risk for problems and failure in school. Now, we cannot afford to have that many children. Bring the number down to 25%. Bring it down to 20% or even lower. We cannot afford to have those many children failing in school. It’s our job to do something about that. It no longer makes sense, well, those kids just need to study harder and go out and get a job. They are at a disadvantage because of the kind of experiences they have early on in life. Experiences in preschool, in Kindergarten, and all the way through, this is our responsibility and this will change our lives if we make a commitment of that kind.

Dr. Connie: I love your passion around this but also, you’ve really advanced the understanding and science around this through your leadership and scholarship and creativity. So I’d love you to also tell the listeners a little bit about your leadership style. How are you leading this charge? What does it take to do this type of work?

Dr. Sam Meisels: Well, I’m very fortunate that I have wonderful people who are working with me. And of course, I came here and I was employee number one, so that gave me this great opportunity to search and find wonderful people to join with me. And part of my job description, at least in my head is, to provide a vision and a direction. My job is to help them see that there’s another step to take and it’s something that would be gratifying in the extreme for them and for all of us. So, I think that that is a big part of my leadership style. I’m the type of person who doesn’t really think about the kind of leader in a typical typology, I don’t even know what that is. I just do the best I can. I also try to lead by example and by modeling. I’m a person who lives and breathes this all day long and shares it with as many people as I can. It’s very important to us here as a university, part of the university, that our work reflect the best knowledge available and be supported by research and by evidence.

Dr. Connie: And Sam, on that note, what words of wisdom would you like to leave our audience with today.

Dr. Sam Meisels: Words of wisdom are hard to come by.

(laughing)

Dr. Sam Meisels: I would say, I’ll give you my words of wisdom. My words of wisdom is that there’s nothing more important we can do than care for our children in the best ways that we know how. And when we’re not doing that, we are not doing, I think what we’re here to do in this world. And we have a long way to go.

Dr. Connie: Well thank you, I think those are amazing words of wisdom, and I’ll be anxious to get that feedback from our audience because I know this is going to be a hot topic for them.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Joining me today is Dr. Peter McCornick, Executive Director of the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute. Welcome to the podcast, Peter. Thank you Connie, glad to be here. Water is a big issue here in Nebraska but also around the world. So tell us a little bit more about the institute. What’s its purpose, what’s its mission, what’s it doing

Dr. Peter McCornick: Well, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute was established with a mission of achieving a water and food secure world. It’s a very bold ambition, but I think it was really based on a foundation of the university and of the state more widely and addressing this sort of challenges and how this could be better addressed in the state, but also really shared with nationally and internationally. So the institute partners with the university, partners with the natural resource districts here in the state and works with different countries and different states in the United States to look at what are the solutions, what are the things that we can learn from the rasp, what are the things that we can learn from elsewhere, and how can we really address something that’s really challenging. Agriculture and water is really requires local solutions. So how do we transfer that knowledge from one context to the next and the institute is really in the middle of that, trying to bring the different departments together, trying to focus on where we can actually come up with viable solutions and share such ideas.

Dr. Connie: Well, and water can be a challenging issue. It’s either lack of it, there’s the quantity aspect, but also the quality aspect of it. But also, nothing can live without water. So I think that the work that you do is so critically important in terms of how are we going to continue to feed a growing population and make sure that our water resources are a key part of that. But also, that there’s enough to make this happen.

Dr. Peter McCornick: Yes, and often the water quantity and water quality are very closely linked. I mean, where there’s water scarcity or we may have a lot of water, but if it’s contaminated either naturally or man-made, that means we can’t use it the way we’d like to use it so it becomes much more difficult to find the water that’s the best that we want to use for either human consumption or growing crops or for our ecosystems.

Dr. Connie: Well, I know you’ve had a very robust career. You’ve lived in many different countries and you’ve studied this in so many different places. So tell us a little bit about Dr. Peter McCornick. How did you evolve over time and get to where you are now here in Nebraska?

Dr. Peter McCornick: I’m from, as you can tell from my accent, I’m not quite from Nebraska. I actually grew up in a rural part of Southwest Scotland on a family farm beef, sheep, and dairy in those days, growing some crops. So I learned about agriculture at a very young age. My family are all still, my brothers are all still farmers in that area. I think they’re where too much water was generally the problem, so that certainly wasn’t what got me interested in water, but as I then went off to college and learned about the topics of engineering and agriculture and became interested in water, I also had an interest in working internationally. I went off really looking at in different countries and working in different countries. I came to the United States to do my Masters at Colorado State which was very strong in that area at the time. So, I ended up working on the Overall Aqua for Numa County in Colorado in Overall Aqua for way back there. I developed a strong interest in interdisciplinary efforts, really looking at solutions as an engineer but also social aspects of economics there, the natural resource management. And really, yeah, solutions oriented and subsequently I met my wife in Colorado and we moved around the world, spent about half our time overseas, half our time back in the US. But working in many countries looking at the issues really trying to develop solutions with the ministers, the farmers, the decision makers in those area, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

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Dr. Connie: So tell us a little about your leadership approach to making things happen in this space when you have a lot of competing interest, a lot of different ideas, what does that look like?

Dr. Peter McCornick: Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest challenges we end up with this very complex environment we’re working around water and agriculture and different opinions, but how do you come up with solutions that people can agree on, but are also clearly communicated so that we can move forward and address the issues at hand? And I think I’ve always been quite mission focused. I’ve been curious, but quite passionate and maybe rather oddly so, but very passionate about this space. I think this is another part of that is really emphasizing outcomes. I think one of the fortunate things about working with different stakeholders, when you’re working with the farmers you’re in the field, you’re dealing with all the investments they’ve made and they’re not interested in the theory of what you’re doing, they’re interested in what is the practical application of this and does it actually help them manage what is going on? And this is true of a farmer here, true of a farmer elsewhere in the world. They’re really looking at how can they use the knowledge we have to actually apply in their situation. But, then I’d come back to always thinking what my father would say in terms of a specialist coming in from outside trying to give me advice that really trying to understand them and get them on board. So, I think this is part of my leadership style would be, and I probably didn’t realize this early on, but is really listen and appreciate the people you’re working with. I think relationships and how you deal with people and how you build that, that’s absolutely critical. I think the tourniquet tied up in the sort of, maybe the panic of the moment and to forget really that you really have to build those relationships and those connections and the credibility. I’ve worked in many different settings in many different cultures and how do you balance all those things out and still manage to achieve the outcomes you’re trying to do? Sometimes in adjusting the outcomes we find out that what we’re trying to do isn’t the right answer and other times it is trying to convince them and take some ideas forward that perhaps aren’t as popular as some of the people involved, but trying to bring them around and get them to understand. I’ve seen those play out in different parts of the world. Learning to delegate, not just delegate the responsibility but delegate the authority to people; giving them the room to actually get on with what they need to do. Many of the people you’re working with are very skilled at what they do. They have many insights that you don’t have and giving them the authority and the room to really address the issue at hand.

Dr. Connie: I think leaders are comfortable delegating responsibility, but for true innovation to happen, we really need to delegate that authority as well, right? I mean, really empower people, make sure you’re surrounded with good people and you have great people on the team. But, if they can’t leverage their talents and resources and grow as leaders themselves, it’s really hard to advance an organization forward in this day and age of continuous change and the need for innovation.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: As a leader, especially in an area like water, you have a lot going on and a lot on your plate all the time. So delegation is a part of that. You also have to keep yourself fresh. So tell us a little bit about what you like to do for fun.

Dr. Peter McCornick: I have lots of interests, and it’s a challenge when you move regularly. I think my wife and I have lived in about 25 houses since we’ve been married, and that’s in many countries. So your hobbies and interests sort of have to morph a little as you move because you can’t necessarily do things that you’d like to do. I’m a keen motorcyclist. Unfortunately, in Nebraska we have about five months where that’s not really a great area of interest. But, I very much keep up with current affairs. I’ve become quite keen on history and both my intent is something I intend to look into in the context I’m living in so, whether it’s Scotland or Sri Lanka, or now I’m quite interested in Nebraska. People above me really looking at the Oregon Trail and out of the state, and understanding more about the state, and that’s an area where I draw a lot of relaxation, shall we say, and diversion from my work. But they all kind of interrelated in the end. And my family, I’m also quite keen on my spaniels and my dogs.

Dr. Connie: That’s good, me too, we share that definitely. I tell you it’s amazing how important dogs have become in our lives.

(laughing)

Dr. Peter McCornick: They’re essential. We’ve moved them around the world with us.

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Dr. Connie: One question I’m curious about we get asked this a lot at the Rural Futures Institute too, why Water for Food, a global institute around this issue, in a place like Nebraska.

Dr. Peter McCornick: I don’t think it could have happened anywhere else to be honest. I mean, that’s the first time I’ve actually answered that question this way because I have been asked this question, and I do think it requires the leadership at university level, but at the state level, the people who have supported the Daugherty Foundation, the presence of the university here, the previous president, and the new president, really seeing this as important.I think Nebraska very early on in the 70’s realized the importance of managing the ground water and established the National Resource District. Agriculture has clearly been an important part of the culture in the state since its founding, and I think that translates into leadership and support at the highest level in the state, but even across different political differences that this is seen as the priority. I was asked recently in a conference how this could be emulated. I think it’s realizing the state or the entity of the area you’re in really needs to put agriculture very central to the issues on water. If you don’t do that it’s very difficult to emulate what Nebraska’s done. So I do think it’s Nebraska playing on its strengths, Nebraska playing on what has been the investment in these sectors, and I think there’s a lot the world can learn from Nebraska. But again, not prescriptions to go out and solve the world’s problems, but to understand what is important to get these things to align and to address the challenges and to position food with less water.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’d love for you to put your futurist hat on Peter, and tell our audience how you see the area of water for food evolving into the future.

Dr. Peter McCornick: Research just demonstrates how water and agriculture, the management over the last thirty, forty years, has been really quite ground-breaking in producing good results that again, there are challenges. We talked about water quality earlier. To court one of my faculty fellows theories, basically the future is bright on the sort of technology and these areas promise a lot. There’s many things we can be looking at. But, certainly what we’re seeing is use of water, use of crops, the livestock, the way that food is produced here, I think these are areas where we can build on what has been done so far and certainly continue to evolve those areas in the future.

Dr. Connie: I think it’s an important mindset to have, right? So when we talk about the future at the Rural Futures Institute, realizing that we need to have a strengths-based approach that includes an abundance mindset. We know there are challenges. But if we continue to just talk about and focus on those challenges, we’re not going to be able to move forward that provides those solutions and outcomes that you were talking about earlier.

Dr. Peter McCornick: I’m an optimist. Many other parts of the world would be quite envious of the assets that we have here in Nebraska. So I think there are the things to focus on. I do think technologies and ideas that there’s more to do in that space. I was recently in discussions with partners around the agriculture technology and the challenges in changing agriculture technology, that it’s an area that’s been difficult for external actors to really get involved. We’re now seeing many other sectors, in terms of mainly the high-tech sectors beginning to look at agriculture much more seriously in how they can get involved in developing the technologies and making them more available. There’s big challenges there in making sure the technologies are what the farmers or the users need. And really okay in this conversation understanding what agriculture is all about and engaging with agriculture and looking for the understanding the issue before you develop a solution. I think is an important part of it. The other thing is we develop a lot of technologies that are good ideas, but they’re not actually taken up by the users the way we expect, and I think there it’s not just the technology we need to be focusing on going forward, it’s really the social-science, the behavior. Really focusing on why these things aren’t happening and asking the tough questions, and realizing that maybe the technology just wasn’t destined to be used the way that the original people thinking that idea up, there’s maybe another solution we need to be looking at that may not be less technological but maybe along the lines of institutional, like the National Resource Districts and organizations like that, so.

Dr. Connie: I love this interaction between human use and the social piece. But in the realization that not technology alone is going to solve things. People has to be willing to use it. It has to fit within their system. Do you have an example that you could share around that?

Dr. Peter McCornick: Well, right now we have these digital support systems that can be made accessible to farmers or to decision makers from the satellite imagery, from the use of drones, although again that’s an area we really need to sort out some of the regulations and so forth around it, and we certainly want to address all the issues that we imagine they might address. But it’s really that information and making that information accessible. So, we have a lot of data in Nebraska as with farmers, with National Resources Districts, but there’s also a lot of sensitivities around the data. And how do we access that? So it really, the innovation and the technology is, we have a lot of this available, but how do you really tease that out and what is really available and who can use it? But then put it in a form that really integrates into the agricultural system. We have some of that and we have a plethora of apps being developed for phones. But, most farmers or most users don’t have time to interpret those multiple apps. So really bringing that together. How do we integrate that technology?

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I’d love for you to share some words of wisdom with our audience.

Dr. Peter McCornick: Words of wisdom, never share words of wisdom. That’s one word of wisdom.

(laughing)

Dr. Peter McCornick: I think in the end, it’s going to come down to people and how people work together. But also how we get the next generation engaged in these areas. That’s a term that’s been picked up in Africa by the President of the African Development Bank that’s I think is hugely important in making agriculture cool. Making that the roles in agriculture and the water creating the opportunities to attract the younger leadership and the younger leaders into these areas. I think it is an area it is complicated. It does require deep, but general, understanding of a number of topics. That’s becoming quite difficult in this day and age to really, I think the information’s there, but I think you need to have the curiosity an the opportunity to explore that. So in the end, I think the words of wisdom is probably invest in the next generation.

Dr.Connie: I love it. Invest in the next generation and make agriculture cool!

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Bob Henson: I’m Bob Henson, I’m the Executive Director for the National Strategic Research Institute. I just happened to be retired General Officer, so I’ve been with the University since 2012, now.

Dr. Connie: I just want to thank you for your service and all that you do. I don’t even know how much gratitude I can even extend to somebody like you whose made a career out of service but also has helped so many do that and protect our freedom, so thank you.

Bob Henson: Oh thank you, very much. So patriotic that you start talking about service and those kind of things, I tear up. My wife accuses me of getting teary-eyed at KMart openings if there’s a patriotic theme associated with it.

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: That’s okay, I’m actually kinda teared up right now.

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: So that’s awesome.

Bob Henson: That’s just fine.

Dr. Connie: Well, we’d like to talk a little bit about NSRI. We’ll use that term throughout our interview. This is the National Strategic Research Institute, which is a sister institute to the Rural Futures Institute. And I know when I met you I could tell right away that you were a total Futurist because of the way you were talking. And amazing work of NSRI. Could you tell us a little bit more, Bob, about what the purpose of NSRI and the mission?

Bob Henson: NSRI was started in 2012 through the University of Nebraska’s conversation with the US Strategic Command. There was a significant responsibility picked up by Start Com that was focusing on combating weapons of mass destruction which categorizes chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and in that regard here, pandemics and or threats like that that can be weaponized. So, the university put in a proposal to take on the responsibility as a university-affiliated research center, the basic fundamental levels of research that support the Department of Defense across those mission domains through the work that we’ve done with the university it’s really concentrating on research that supports various aspects of preventing and or finding ways of identifying those threats before they become a problem. And so, we’ve undertaken considerable amount of research in the past six years. We’ve actually had over 25 different sponsoring agencies with now in the neighborhood of 83 task order contracts working on a variety of research projects that go from infectious disease all the way to sensor technologies and how UAV’s and those kind of things can be used in the future.

Dr. Connie: That’s an extremely broad scope.There’s so many physical aspects to the UAV’s, etc. weapons of mass destruction. But also, the cyber security.

Bob Henson: Cyber is pretty daunting when you look at the overall effects that it can generate and things that it can do to our society and day-to-day practical term because everybody relies on some form of technologies these days that through the phones or through communications devices or through satellite connections, and those kinds of things. And all of those combine sort of at the front end of the threat spectrum when you start dealing with things that currently you have to think about given that technologies have so advanced that these become areas of concern across the board. And I think those are the kinds of things that the Department of Defense and other agencies research we do is not just for the Department of Defense. That largely focused on the whole threat spectrum that might begin with a cyber type attack.

Dr. Connie: Well, I’m going to ask you to put your futurist hat on, between your military service and now serving as the Executive Director at NSRI, how do you see this whole evolution happening into the future with regard to cyber security and technology in particular?

Bob Henson: We’ve had some projects working with some agencies with regard to port security. If you look at the ports of the United States, and the amount of goods that are brought in through shipping or airlines or those kinds of things, we’ve taken on some research to really look at the gaps and the vulnerabilities associated with how technology manage the navigation into those ports and then the distribution of goods. The other thing that we’ve been involved in from a cyber perspective is really looking at how the new commands and all of the commands and agencies rely on a variety of communications, technologies, and satellite coverage and navigation systems to execute missions and or the economy and any number of things. So, my futuristic look I would suggest just we have to think about how we protect and how we operate in times of denial when those services are denied to the average American and what that ripple effect then would constitute, and how it would affect the troops that are deployed, their families that are located at home, the communities that we operate in, the day-to-day banking, the day-to-date uses that we use for different kinds of things, and cyber on the front end really people take it for granted. But, as we look to the future, it’s going to become more and more prevalent if you think about driverless cars and airplanes and a number of things that are on the horizon and how comfortable and confident would you be in a driverless car knowing that somebody could penetrate the system and take control of that vehicle. But, technology’s great. We just have to think more about the consequences of technology being denied in some of those circumstances.

Dr. Connie: I think this is such a critical conversation for so many different reasons because technology is sort of the big topic for a lot of futurists. However, I mean, there’s this humanity part around technology as well. But I think, is it being talked about enough?

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Now you’ve had a pretty robust career in terms of serving as a lieutenant general, I understand you’re now retired, but that military career has been prolific and now, you now, being at the university. So tell us a little bit about your personal leadership style as it relates to the work you’ve done and that you’re doing now.

Bob Henson: My leadership style. Boy, that’s another tough question.

(laughter)

Bob Henson: I served 33 years on active duty. I started out as a young listed airman in the Air Force in the Vietnam era. I grew up flying airplanes. After that, I got into space command and then various assignments throughout my career. A lot of my career in my latter years from about 1985 to when I retired in 2012 are always command level opportunities, and so, in those positions you learn to one, rely on people. You have to trust and rely on people who are standing beside you and behind you and supporting you and obviously guiding you. I think it’s a matter of building trust and creating relationships with your colleagues and comrades and arms that makes a difference now. Through my years I’ve really trusted people. I think you have to trust that when you train people to do a job that they’re going to execute that job and you trust them to do that job until the point they fail to do what you’ve asked them to do or trained them to do. I think in the same light, if you go into any kind of operation or any kind of business where you’re trying to micromanage everything, you are fraught with danger and failure. And my style is building trust in people I hire, building investment in people who share in the goals that you’ve established and want to succeed. They want to make it grow. And I think that’s where NSRI has been very successful. I don’t control anybody. I rely on researchers and faculty members within the University. I rely on people that I’ve hired within my staff to serve on the behest of the university and our sponsors and the like. It requires that level of trust and involvement and expectations that people will do more than you ask of them if you give them the tools and the responsibility and accountability for doing it. And, I honestly believe that. I’ve grown up believing that, and I tried to use that as a segway for everything I do, even at the point of where I’m leveraging people. You have to rely on them to do the job because you can’t do it yourself.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, that’s just brilliant. And, I think what I really respect is that you have this amazing presence, but you’re also so personable and you really care about people. And I think that comes through in just your discussion and philosophy around leadership. You trust people and you understand they’re going to do more than you ask if you have that trust and you give them the tools. But you really empower people to do their jobs and use their talent. And we need more leaders to do that. Well, if I turn the question around and ask you, I’m not sure that our answers would be very different.

Bob Henson: Well thank you, I appreciate that.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I think our listeners really enjoy hearing a little more about your personal philosophy in life. I mean, here you are Executive Director of NSRI, and you see a lot, you hear a lot. You’re thinking about things so many of us take for granted every day and seeing the inside of it but also the future of things like national security, cyber security, weapons of mass destruction, even working with the med center on Ebola. So what do you do for fun? I mean, what does a guy like you do for fun? What brings joy to your life when you’re thinking about these types of things all day long?

Bob Henson: Well, I have a wife who keeps me humble and honest. I have seven grandchildren that keep me going and two of them are here locally, and they’re two little girls that keep you going. So, we spend a lot of time with them. I’m a farmer’s kid, I grew up on a farm in Tennessee, my dad sort of instilled a work ethic that I even hold today. So, I find myself more of a hands-on kind of person that likes to get things done with my hands, and so I do woodworking. I don’t think there’s, well, I know there are limits on what I can and can’t do. But, I often fail to recognize those things that I can’t do very much

(laughing)

Bob Henson: But I’m willing to give it a try.

Dr. Connie: Knowing that you’re from a rural community, so many of our military come from rural communities. That’s one of the things that we’ve talked a little bit about at the Rural Futures Institute. When people ask about why rural, why now, why should we care about rural somebody who comes from a rural community and has that background, what would you say to that?

Bob Henson: I really appreciated the years that I spent as a young lad growing up on a farm in Tennessee. I spent considerable hours sitting on the street corner selling watermelons and cantaloupes.

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: Okay, things I didn’t know about you. You just seem cooler by the second. But, I do agree with you that a lot of the foundation of our country is built around rural communities. And, the cities and the life in the cities, they’ve never slowed down. They continue to fast pace. But when you start looking at the morals of the country and the foundation of this country, you look at what’s happening in the rural communities and all the people that you talk about service of the country, people in rural environments that are really the foundation of this country. And, having grown up in a rural community, I consider it one of the very solid foundations of the country. At the Rural Futures Institute, one of the conversations we’ve really been focused on is the rural-urban collaboration, and I just returned from a 10-day excursion in Japan where we had a real immersive experience in rural areas there because they’re national government has declared rural development and redevelopment as a national priority. They see the struggles that can happen when they have too many people in one location. And so they’re really trying to figure out, okay, what is it look like so that Tokyo doesn’t become so mega urbanized that if something happens in Tokyo, most of our population is wiped out. And in one of the areas that we visited, they’ve developed these rice contracts where they’re encouraging people from more urban areas to buy rice from the rural areas, but also as herb for the subscriptions. So if there would be a tsunami or an earthquake, they could actually go to those rural areas and have a place to live in major disaster. And I thought that was a really unique and creative way to help connect people in rural and urban. Could you see any value to something like that here?

Bob Henson: There seems to be this notion that the price of doing work on a farm or on a ranch or those kind of things is becoming less attractive because of economy and the products we sell and those kind of things as a very volatile market scale. I think the connections between rural and certainly the city environments that we live in these days, there needs to be a good connection, a good understanding of that and great benefit that a rural community actually provides to the larger population if you will. In some ways we’re losing that connection to the real bread basket of this country and what constitutes the people that keep us fed and keep the nation and our international relations sort of at the forefront of things. So, I don’t know if I answered your question, but I just find that there needs to be an increased appreciation of the contributions of those that actually do hard manual labor in the fields of this country.

Dr.Connie: No, I really appreciate that and you actually, as usual, give me more to think about in terms of how to help people understand that rural connection in their own life even if they don’t live there. Part of our research has involved the use of UAVs. And you look at GPS navigation systems from space these days and how that has contributed to the increased production of farm products and necessities and all kinds of things, that I think rural people in this country are leveraging technologies in ways that have never been leveraged before and we are getting more productivity out of that. But with that, comes a price. We’re expanding neighborhoods that take out farmlands, we grow things on the sides of hills that in my day you would hardly climate, much less plant something on it. And, I think, the things that the rural communities are finding these days are that with technology they can increase productivity if they’re encouraged by the markets that continue to support them. It is not an inexpensive proposition to be in the rural communities these days if that’s what you’re using as a source of livelihood and income. I know most of the people on our podcast should know what a UAV is if they’re listening to something like the Rural Futures Podcast, but for those that may not or it may be new, they may just be tuning in, could you explain a little bit more about the unmanned aerial vehicles?

Bob Henson: Unmanned aerial vehicles have a rather broad perspective. I think in the military they could be used for gaining the high ground if you will, looking at what’s over the hill or the horizon, what’s out in front of you, being able to collect intelligence, being able to collect information that’s useful in planning the campaigns and those kind of things. It is also a way of expanding the footprint of an operation without having to expand the number of personnel you have to commit to that. In other environments though, if you look at the uses of UAV’s in the agricultural community, it’s collecting soil samples on how productive a piece of farmland or land could be, collecting samples on water in various areas. I think there’s any number of ways that unmanned aerial vehicles can be used in a rural kind of setting. In some of the cases where there’s some ideas that unmanned aerial vehicles would deliver packages to your doorstep. There’s any number of new things that UAV’s will be able to do. It has its downsides. Obviously there are a lot of people who resent the idea that you have an unmanned aerial vehicle with a camera or a projector of some sort and they’re collecting information and invading your privacy. Again, wave of the future.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: What are some parting words of wisdom that you’ve like to leave our listeners with.

Bob Henson: Well first of all, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to chat with you. I find it refreshing to have this conversation with you. I find that opportunities to collaborate with you and other people like you and really take advantage of things that you do and others are doing along this line, being associated with the university, being associated with the people that are in the Nebraska communities and the like, is underpinning I think of what this country’s all about.

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Thank You To Our Partners | University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau of Business Research

November 30, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today, we especially thank the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Bureau of Business Research.

 

The Bureau of Business Research (BBR) is an applied economic and business research entity of the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It provides relevant information and insightful data on economic conditions, in Nebraska, the Great Plain, and the nation as a general service to individuals and businesses in the state. The BBR also provides economists with practical opportunities to conduct applied economic research and trains students of economics and business in the conduct of applied research on timely economic and business topics.

 

Nebraska Thriving Index

We were proud to announce this week that through a collaboration with the Bureau of Business Research and additional University of Nebraska partners, we will launch the Nebraska Thriving Index in May 2019.

Nebraska Thriving Index

 

RFI-Supported Research

Catalyzing the Role of Micropolitan America in the Future of Rural America

This project helped micropolitan areas identify opportunities and formulate research-driven plans for their future success in order to support rural economies. It developed a prototype in Nebraska with national applicability and actionability. As a result of this project, the University of Nebraska leads the nation in articulating the role of micropolitan areas and helping them capitalize on their unique opportunities for regional innovation and rural development.

There were four primary project outcomes related to the calculation of wealth indicators:

  • Nebraska micropolitan areas differ substantially according to measures of physical, human, intellectual, financial, social and cultural wealth
  • Wealth indicators are feasible to integrate into discussions of community strengths and weaknesses as part of community engagement and strategic planning efforts; changes in wealth indicators can be used as benchmarks to measure progress
  • Micropolitan areas have a broad interest in the standard of living and quality of life, in addition to traditional development goals such as job creation; micropolitan communities have an underlying interest in tracking broad measures of wealth
  • Micropolitan areas appear to be large enough to enjoy advantages for and success in industrial and economic production, but not large enough to have similar advantages for consumption and quality of life

 

RFI Faculty Fellow, Eric Thompson

Dr. Thompson’s research about the Midwest and national economy examines competitive factors affecting state and local economic growth, the role of agriculture in the economy, and the economics of infrastructure. Thompson holds a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and is a former president of the Association for University Business and Economic Research. He directs the widely known Bureau of Business Research (BBR), teaches graduate-level courses and conducts rural economic research. His monthly BBR podcasts and research blogs are keenly watched by rural development practitioners and investors throughout Nebraska.

Get to know Eric via his RFI Fellow introductory video!

 

 

 

Thank you, Bureau of Business Research, for your constant innovation and ambition to deliver tools and information to decision makers across our state and beyond.

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RFI Announces Nebraska Thriving Index, Expected May 2019

November 28, 2018
The Nebraska Thriving Index will provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.   Recent projects from the University …

The Nebraska Thriving Index will provide economic developers, local elected officials and community leaders with economic and quality of life indicators to identify thriving and lagging regions so strategic, future-focused investments can be made.

 

Recent projects from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Bureau of Business Research (Bureau) have bench-marked economic growth and resources in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas — Lincoln, Neb., and Omaha, Neb. Research into the sources of growth has examined how growth is influenced by amenities enjoyed by both business and households, and linkages between industries located throughout the state.

 


Omaha, Neb.
The Barometer

Now, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska has convened and funded an expanded research team from UNL, the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) and Nebraska Extension Community Vitality Initiative to bring this analysis to all regions of Nebraska. The initial report is expected to be delivered online and in print in May 2019 with subsequent reports out in March 2020. Funding to sustain this work is a top priority.

“Through this work, community and state leaders will have access to data and information that is meaningful to the decisions they have to make as they balance several factors relating to not only the future of our rural communities, but of our combined geographies,” said Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist. “We know from our work with partners around the world that rural and urban economies are interdependent, and developing this tool will help community and state leaders better understand what levers they can pull to reach their desired futures.”

The goal is to provide community and state leaders with the ability to compare Nebraska regions with like peers located primarily in other states to better understand where a particular region excels or lags and to create action where needed.

“People are always comparing their communities to other places that may not be starting from an equivalent situation,” said Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau and professor in the UNL College of Business. “What I would like most of all to come out of this is for leaders to have a way to say, ‘Given the factors we are starting with, are we doing a good job or not?’ And with that more equivalent comparison, they then can determine the answer and decide strategies going forward.”

At this point, the state has been divided into nine regions, which are being matched to similarly situated peer regions based on:

  • Metropolitan area population
  • Farm and ranch income
  • Distance to a metropolitan area
  • Manufacturing employment

Outcome, resource and competitive advantage indexes have also been developed. The outcome index will measure growth, economic opportunity and diversity as well as other prosperity indicators of a region. The resource and competitive advantage indexes will capture demographic growth and renewal, education and skills, infrastructure and the cost of doing business, quality of life placemaking and social capital of a region.

In true RFI Nexus fashion, through the development of this project, the Bureau has expanded undergraduate research opportunities in business and economics with the Bureau Scholars program during the 2018-19 academic year. UNK has also established an undergraduate research assistant position, and the project team will be requesting local community feedback in the coming months.

“This is a prime example of how RFI will move forward — very focused, high-impact work that develops leaders, technology and rural-urban collaboration while creating outcomes in the areas of workforce, economic development and access,” Reimers-Hild said. “We know the best way for RFI to provide value is to partner through projects that create products or services our state’s communities can use and our national and international partners can model.”

 

Deliverables

Thriving Index for rural regions of Nebraska for use by local and state leaders.

Delivery online and in print May 2019 & March 2020

Regional growth model — linking quality of life factors to rural growth — for use by communities throughout Nebraska. Research indicates that quality of life and amenities factors can explain a large portion of the trend in per capita income, employment and population change across southeast U.S. counties, and promoting entrepreneurial capacity is an economic development strategy with positive payoffs in remote regions.

Delivery March 2020

Measure the influence of business activity in rural Nebraska on employment in the Nebraska metropolitan areas of Lincoln and Omaha, utilizing the inter-regional feature of the IMPLAN model, an economic impact analysis for planning. The model will measure how rural manufacturing, agriculture, tourism and other key industries create jobs and business activity throughout the state.

Delivery March 2020

 

Project Contributors

  • (PI) Eric Thompson, Ph.D., Director of the Bureau of Business Research and Professor in the Department of Economics, College of Business, UNL
  • (Co-PI) Bree Dority, Ph.D., Associate Dean of the College of Business & Technology; Associate Professor of Finance, UNK
  • Randy Cantrell, Ph. D., Community Development Specialist, Consultant, Nebraska Extension, UNL
  • Mitchel Herian, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Bureau of Business Research, College of Business, UNL
  • Shawn Kaskie, Outreach Project Coordinator, Rural Futures Institute, University of Nebraska; Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, UNL
  • Don Macke, CVI Program Leader, Nebraska Extension, UNL; Co-Director, Center for Rural Entrepreneurship
  • Kurt Mantonya, Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, UNL
  • L. J. McElravy, Assistant Professor and Graduate Chair, Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL
  • Jason Weigle, Ph.D., Associate Extension Educator, Nebraska Extension, UNL
  • UNL Bureau Scholars (students)
  • UNK undergraduate research assistant

The project is administered by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist, coordinated by RFI’s Kim Peterson and communicated by Katelyn Ideus, RFI Director of Communications & PR.

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Thank You To Our Partners | University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health

November 28, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today, we especially thank the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

 

Research & Teaching Projects

 

 

RFI Faculty Fellow, Athena Ramos

Athena Ramos serves as principal investigator for a number of community-based health research and education initiatives at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and leads a Latino outreach and engagement team. She continuously strives to bring a sense of hope and vitality to the work that she does. Athena completed a Ph.D. in International Family and Community Studies at Clemson University. She serves on numerous boards including South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Fontenelle Forest and the Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska Advisory Council.

Hear what her response to “Why Rural? Why Now?” in our 2018 campaign video!

 

Thank you, UNMC College of Public Health, for your energy, fortitude and passion for developing leaders of action and capacity-building work to our rural communities and those across the country and the world.

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Emily Frenzen shares her rural communication, entrepreneurship experience on Rural Futures Podcast

November 28, 2018
     November 28, 2018 — Emily Frenzen, a junior agricultural and environmental sciences communication major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln grew up on her family’s farm in Fullerton, Neb., where she gained a passion for photography. Growing up …

 

 

November 28, 2018 — Emily Frenzen, a junior agricultural and environmental sciences communication major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln grew up on her family’s farm in Fullerton, Neb., where she gained a passion for photography.

Growing up in a rural community fostered her entrepreneurial spirit which sparked the creation of her photography business through the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.

Frenzen shared her rural story during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 19 at 11:24. This episode features Marji Guyler-Alaniz, a photographer who founded FarmHer to share the stories of women in agriculture, and it is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

During his segment, Frenzen shares the insights she gained after working, serving and living in McCook, Neb., for 10 weeks during summer 2018 as a Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Serviceship student. With her partner Sage Williams, she worked with the High Plains Museum to assess its assets and create a plan of action. She also assisted in creating a mastermind alliance and intern program in McCook.

“Serviceship was really challenging, but that was so awesome because there was so much growth that came with that,” Frenzen says. “We really had to step out of our comfort zone and make connections within the community, and it was really up to us to make a lot of those decisions.”

For Frenzen, it was the opportunity to network with the RFI staff, University of Nebraska faculty and community leaders that drew her to RFI Serviceship. “I just have all these awesome people in my back pocket that I know I can reach out to at any time,” she says.

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Thank You To Our Partners | Peru State College

November 26, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today, we especially thank Peru State College.

 

RFI Faculty Fellow, Kyle Ryan

Kyle Ryan, Ph.D., Professor of Kinesology and creator and co-director of the Children’s Health, Activity & Nutrition Community Engagement (CHANCE) Initiative through Peru State College, has been a research, teaching and through partner for several years. In this introductory video, he describes where his passion for rural America comes from, his focus on obesity intervention and prevention with pediatric groups and his relationship with RFI.

 

Research & Teaching Projects

 

RFI Student Serviceship, Sydney Armbruster

 

Hometown: Falls City, NE

Campus: Peru State College

Major: Disease & Human Health

Serviceship Community: Omaha Land Bank

 

Thank you, Peru State College, for generating important action in rural Nebraska and for bringing your knowledge and talents together with the University of Nebraska.

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RFI chief futurist presents throughout rural Japan immersion convened by Japan Society

November 26, 2018
  Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI interim executive director & chief futurist, is serving as futurist for the project, Resilient and Vibrant Rural Communities in Japan and the U.S., convened by the Japan Society Innovators Network and supported by The Japan Foundation …

Map of Japan with markers to Reimers-Hild locations

 

“RFI brings forward some of the boldest solutions for rural areas, and we can only do that by continually gaining perspective. Conducting research internationally, collaborating with urban counterparts such as the Japan Society and maintaining a future-focused, strategic mindset are all essential pieces to meeting our mission. We look forward to the ongoing outcomes of this project while creating new opportunities for rural areas.”
Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.
RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI interim executive director & chief futurist, is serving as futurist for the project, Resilient and Vibrant Rural Communities in Japan and the U.S., convened by the Japan Society Innovators Network and supported by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) and R&R Consulting.

During a 10-day immersion throughout Japan, primarily in rural communities, she shared her framework of strategic foresight and emphasized the empowerment of women as a key focus for rural communities in both countries. Her paper will be published by the Japan Society soon.

“The issues we face here in the Great Plains of the U.S. are acute in rural Japan — depopulation, aging — however, creative solutions are part of the narrative,” Reimers-Hild said. “What stood out to me most was how much both countries need to tap into and empower female leaders and entrepreneurs. This is going to take a shift in mindset and culture.”

Reimers-Hild first presented at the forum, “When Local Wisdom Goes Global,” held at Ehime University in Matsuyama, Japan. The forum focused on the dissemination of information, emphasizing that it is now possible for an organization in a small town, a village, or even a hamlet to disseminate information that ends up having a global reach, and receive direct feedback from individuals and organizations anywhere in the world.

She also presented with her U.S. counterparts at the forum, “Challenges in Regional Revitalization: Insights from American and Japanese Rural Innovators,” which was held at the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, Japan. This forum addressed the common challenges of depopulation, low-birth rate and declining local economies in both rural U.S. and rural Japan. In both countries, innovators are tackling these enduring challenges to create sustainable economies and communities.

Resilient and Vibrant Rural Communities in Japan and the U.S. is one of several multi-year projects facilitated by the Innovators Network to provide unique opportunities for leaders and innovators to come together, share knowledge and insight and catalyze positive social change.

This trip was the second phase of the project. Initially leaders from Japan visited West Virginia, Ohio and Nebraska in October 2017, during which RFI hosted a forum at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a rural Nebraska immersion in Nebraska City, Neb., and Peru State College.

“RFI brings forward some of the boldest solutions for rural areas, and we can only do that by continually gaining perspective,” Reimers-Hild said. “Conducting research internationally, collaborating with urban counterparts such as the Japan Society and maintaining a future-focused, strategic mindset are all essential pieces to meeting our mission. We look forward to the ongoing outcomes of this project while creating new opportunities for rural areas.”

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Episode 19: Ag maverick Marji Guyler-Alaniz intersects leadership, passion, gender

November 25, 2018
            Shining a light on women in agriculture, Marji Guyler-Alaniz, founder and president of FarmHer, talks about the future of gender, diversity, leadership and entrepreneurship with incredible authenticity. She dove into her passion of photography …

 

 

     

 

Shining a light on women in agriculture, Marji Guyler-Alaniz, founder and president of FarmHer, talks about the future of gender, diversity, leadership and entrepreneurship with incredible authenticity. She dove into her passion of photography and storytelling to create the media and events company that now highlights and inspires women in agriculture across generations via a television show, podcast and in-person events. You’ll hear her energy while she talks with Dr. Connie about “right place, right time, right message,” and pursuing – and achieving – a dream from a rural community to create national awareness.

“I want to change the way people think about what a farmer looks like, who a farmer is, or how they engage with that story.”
Marji Guyler-Alaniz
Founder & President, FarmHer

About Marji

              

Marji Guyler-Alaniz, President and Founder of FarmHer, is a lifetime Iowan and lover of photography. That love, combined with graphic design, journalism and photography degrees from Grand View University, an MBA from Drake University and an 11-year career in corporate agriculture working for a crop insurance company, led her to launch FarmHer in the spring of 2013.

Through FarmHer she is updating the image of agriculture by showing the female side of farming and ranching, creating community amongst women in agriculture and outreach to young women interested in agriculture. In addition to the photography side of FarmHer, Marji has expanded the business to include an online community for women in agriculture, a weekly award-winning television show, airing on national cable network RFD-TV called FarmHer, annual events to inspire and inform young women about agriculture and a line of merchandise aimed at women in agriculture. Her work for FarmHer has been featured in an expanse of arenas ranging from Public Television and RFD-TV to USDAs National Ag Day Celebration and O the Oprah Magazine.

 

X

Bold Voices Student Segment

 Listen at 11:24 of Episode 19!

Emily Frenzen, University of Nebraska–Lincoln agricultural and environmental sciences communication student

Emily Frenzen gained her passion for photography and agricultural communications while living on her family’s farm in Fullerton, Neb.

Growing up in a rural community fostered her entrepreneurial spirit which sparked the creation of her photography business through the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.

During summer 2018, Emily worked, served and lived in McCook, Neb., for 10 weeks as a Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Serviceship student. With her partner Sage, she worked with the High Plains Museum to assess its assets and create an action plan. She also assisted in creating a mastermind alliance and intern program in McCook.

For Emily, it was the opportunity to network with the RFI staff, University of Nebraska faculty and community leaders that drew her to RFI Serviceship. “I just have all these awesome people in my back pocket that I know I can reach out to at any time,” she says.

Learn more about Emily’s Serviceship experience! »

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Doctor Connie, and joining us today is a very special maverick entrepreneur who’s really made rural, not only her life, but her business. Marji Guyler-Alaniz is the founder and president of FarmHer. She’s a lifetime Iowan and lover of photography, and through FarmHer, she shines a light on the female side of farming. Welcome to the Rural Futures podcast, Marji.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Yes, thank you for having me!

Dr. Connie: Well, I am super excited to have you on this podcast because I was one of the people blessed several years ago to meet you at a major women’s conference for agriculture here in Nebraska, and not only that, I know you have a lot of fans here on our campus at the University of Nebraska Lincoln campus where our global headquarters is housed, and we get to hear about you from time to time through our students, and seeing you keynote and just following you through the years, I am so glad you said yes to having a conversation with us today.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Well, I am happy to be here. I love conversations.

(laughs)

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Talking is what I love to do.

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you’ve sort of evolved to this point with FarmHer.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Yeah, so a little bit about myself, born and raised here in Iowa, my mother’s parents, so my maternal grandparents, were farmers, but my parents didn’t farm, but I did grow up in the country, and so I always say like you could throw a rock and hit something agriculture related. There were cows there; they weren’t our cows, right, I didn’t throw rocks at the cows, but it’s not what my family did but it was all around us all the time. I went to college for design, journalism, and photography, and my first job out of college was working for a crop insurance company, one of the largest ones in the United States, and I spent a little over a decade there, so without meaning to, I landed in working in agriculture right out of college, and that was probably my biggest awareness and connection to it quite honestly, and when I decided that I was ending my time there, I needed to do something different, I just didn’t know what that was, then I left there in February of 2013 and started FarmHer. It wasn’t a plan that I had in place. I always say, I like had to push myself off that cliff of leaving that job, that stable, normal life job, to figure out what was next for me, and, quite honestly, it was a commercial that was on during the Superbowl that helped me realize, the lack of imagery, or visibility, of women in this industry and a realization shortly after that, hey, I can do something about this with my camera.

Dr. Connie: Now, I think that’s such a great story. So I’m just curious, were you already kind of thinking about making a transition when you saw the commercial or was it a real sort of aha moment that you’re like, you know what, I have this idea and I’m going to go for it?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: So I had quit my job, literally the Friday before the Superbowl was on I was done with my job, and that’s where I was like sitting there going what am I going to do, what am I going to do? I just quit my job of over a decade. But I always knew that I wanted photography to be a part of what was there for me in the future. I just didn’t know what that looked like. And my moment wasn’t when I saw that commercial. I saw that commercial and I loved it. God Made a Farmer, super simple, really, I mean it’s an old speech, and powerful words, and still photos, but it was just striking, it was gorgeous, and I read an article just a few days later that pointed out, yeah, that was amazing, but where were the women, and that’s when I woke up in the middle of the night the next night and thought I can do something about, instead of being angry about this, I can do something about this, and I can do something about this with my camera because that was the best way I knew how at that point.

Dr. Connie: Well, what a wonderful mindset to have, and I think what a wonderful testament to, rather than getting mad or upset and just talking about it, like how can we positively take some action and really bring some solutions to the marketplace that are missing. I just returned from a trip to Japan where we looked at  the rural sector but also the urban sector and thinking about collaborations, but one of the things Japan, as a country, is struggling with is really the empowerment of women. After I gave my first seminar, that was pretty much my take-home message for the audience is you need to empower women now, because without that, you’re not going to find the solutions you’re looking for, but also, you need to take this rural conversation from one of total negativity into one of positivity so you can find those solutions.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Yeah, yeah, and we can’t just talk about it, we have to do something, right?

Dr. Connie: Absolutely, so tell our audience a bit more about FarmHer. What do you do there, what’s the sort of current mission?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Day one, my goal with this, as a photo project, the way it started April 2013, was to shine the light on the role women play in agriculture and to also help people understand that women play a real active everyday role. Our mission then is still no different than it is now, though it’s grown and changed a lot. So I started with this photo project. I was going to photograph a handful that summer in 2013, and I did that, put up a website so people could see this. I needed people to see these stories, so stories as told through still images and words, and so it was a blog, it was a website, social media pages, throw it out, throw it into the world, and see what happens, and what happened was amazing. What happened almost instantaneously was women from within agriculture, from outside of this country even, started saying, “Yes, thank you, we need this! “We know we needed this, that we love this! “This is important, this matters!” And so it like poured fuel on my fire, right, to keep going with it, and so we got some really great press that fall that helped kind of just roll that ball a little bit further, and it’s grown into, we started a series of events for young women. I think you have to empower them as they’re starting to figure out what their roles could be, and show them what they could go be, and show them that by stories, and that’s what we do. So we created some events for young women called “Grow”, and that was kind of the first thing. I started putting myself out there, asking anybody who would let me come display photos or talk about FarmHer, and I just completely overfilled my calendar. Obviously it started in social media and online, but trying to get it out and in front of people was like, the ball kind of kept rolling. Fast forward a little bit more, we start these events. I was approached by RFD-TV about doing a television show that basically took exactly what I was doing and creating a vision of that for television, so a television show that’s about the woman who is the focal point of my camera, and her story, and why she does it, and what she does, and like a look into her daily life, and we’ve continued to expand our events throughout the years around the country, and we have events now for all ages of women, not just those young women, and so then we got it in a podcast in a SiriusXM radio show, so it’s like we just keep adding pieces. Where I would have said FarmHer, in the beginning, was a photo project, and then fast forward a couple years later and I would’ve said it’s a brand for women and about women, and now I would say it’s a brand and a media business, right? We create media about these women and we want to put it somewhere where you can see it, where you can be inspired by it, where you can engage and connect with it, whether that’s radio, podcast, TV, YouTube, social media, wherever that might be, or an event.

Dr. Connie: Well, I just appreciate all the serendipity that’s sort of happened along the way but that also you’ve created, because I think, when you look back on it, I didn’t grow up on a farm either, but my dad did, my mom did, and I think the role of women on farms really was a missing conversation. They were sort of behind the scenes doing all this amazing work, and you brought it to the forefront, and not only did you bring it to the forefront, you brought it to the forefront in this amazing visual way that really demonstrated these women and the power they brought but also the elegance I think that they’ve brought to farming and the rural sector in so many different ways, and I think people were just so hungry, I mean, and waiting for that, and these women thanking you as testament, but I think also a TV show, Sirius XM radio, podcasting, and you’ve traveled internationally to capture these stories.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Serendipitous is a good way to put it. I think starting with something that you’re super passionate about, and I had almost on expectations in the beginning, I remember telling people, yeah, I have this lofty goal, but I want to change the way people think about what a farmer looks like, or who a farmer is, or how they engage with that story, and that sounded completely crazy five years ago, but I think right place, right time, right message. We’re serious about what we do, but we like to also keep it somewhat light. I want anybody to be able to connect with us, and the photography is a great way to do that, and that’s something I’m passionate about, so it’s like all these pieces like fell into place with this messaging, and we run at this really hard. I get the opportunity, and I am lucky enough to get to work until 11 o’clock many nights and we travel a lot, but I love it, and so running at it really hard is something that I love to do, and I think when you combine that passion and that hard work with something and the need for it out there, that’s that right time, that those pieces just do fall into place. I wasn’t looking for a TV show, but it kind of landed there and it took me a lot to get to the right place mentally to think, yeah, I can do this, but, again, these things don’t always just happen, and it took all of these right pieces like a perfect storm.

Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rockstar students from the University of Nebraska who are making a difference in rural.

Katy Bagniewski: Hey podcast listeners, it’s Katy, production specialist of the Rural Futures podcast. With me today is Emily Frenzen, a junior studying agricultural and environmental sciences communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Welcome, Emily.

Emily Frenzen: Hi, thanks for having me.

Katy Bagniewski: Yes, and it’s so nice to have you. Just a note to our listeners, Emily and I have the same major here at UNL, so we know each other pretty well, but our audience does not, so, Emily, how about you start by telling them a little bit more about yourself.

Emily Frenzen: Yeah, so I grew up in Fullerton, Nebraska which is a small town in east central Nebraska, and I grew up on my family’s farm. So that’s kind of where I get my agricultural background and my love for ag communications because my family’s farm is the first place I started picking up a camera which has become a huge part of my life.

Katy Bagniewski: So, let’s dive a little bit deeper into that rural background. Tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up on a farm in Fullerton, Nebraska.

Emily Frenzen: I grew up in a community where everyone was really supportive of one another, and it was a really great community to start if anyone was looking to bring a new business into the community, so I think that’s really where I got my interest in rural and my love for the people that make up a rural community.

Katy Bagniewski: Now, Emily, your connection to RFI is through our Serviceship program. Talk a little bit about that and give us some of your major takeaways from your summer serving and working in a different rural community.

Emily Frenzen: Yeah, so I was placed in McCook, Nebraska with Sage Williams, and the two of us worked on creating a plan of action for the High Plains Museum there in McCook, and then we also worked on creating an internship with the Economic Development Corporation and then also creating the mastermind group. The serviceship was really challenging, but that was so awesome because there was so much growth that came with that. We really had to step out of our comfort zone and make connections within the community, and it was really up to us to make a lot of those decisions.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, and how do you think that your relationship and experience with RFI has impacted you in college and then looking forward?

Emily Frenzen: My Rural Futures experience was huge for it provided me with really awesome connections. The RFI staff and some of thee faculty at the university, but also within other communities, I just have all these awesome people in my back pocket that I know I can reach out to at any time.

Katy Bagniewski: So I’d love to know what words of wisdom you’d want to share with our students who may be interested in making their lives in rural.

Emily Frenzen: So it’s really important for those students who are maybe interested in going back to their own community after college to go explore another rural community just because each of those rural communities has different strengths or maybe different challenges that we can learn from and take back to our own communities eventually. So that’s a really valuable piece I also gained from my serviceship over the summer.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, thank you so much, Emily, for sharing your bold voice today. It’s been fun to watch you grow as a communicator and just really as a leader, and I wish you the best for your future.

Emily Frenzen: Thank you so much.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: I think too, you had this vision and you have worked it. I mean, obviously you’re still energized and still passionate about it. You’re out there and you’re really doing the work that it takes to make that serendipity happen, but I also am wondering, as I hear your story and the evolution of FarmHer, how do you lead an endeavor like this? How would you describe yourself as a leader in this space?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: It’s interesting because, and I would always tell somebody else, yes, call yourself a leader. I can’t say I’ve looked at myself as a leader. Internally I think we as women are really good about having that dialogue sometimes, called maybe the imposter syndrome, but here I am, and I think, for me, being the leader started with a passion about it versus me trying to put myself in a spot of being a leader about this. I just want to make sure people see my passion about it and then want to make sure that they see the women who I care so deeply about, and I think that there’s something that happens when you care so much about something that it elevates you to a position where you get to be in that leadership position. I mean, so that’s kind of on a big scale, right? Day-to-day, I mean, I’ve never built a business before. I worked in the corporate world for 11 years, and so being the leader within a small business and a growing business, it’s sometimes not for the faint of heart, and there’s a lot of moving parts and pieces and it’s a learning process, and I can say that I probably will never be done learning about my leadership as a business owner or as the president of this company.

Dr. Connie: Well, and also I think you just have so much bravery, right? I mean, you’re totally daring to say, “Oh, yeah, you know what, I’m going to go sit with those execs at RFD-TV and we’re going to figure this out. I’m going to just go do what needs to be done.” So how do you gather up that courage, that risk taking we talk about, in entrepreneurship? How do you say, yes, so I’m going to go do that and just go do it?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: For me, I mean, it’s hard. I call it big girl pants; I refer to this a lot.

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: Something like that, I love that.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: It’s so much easier for me and my brain to be like this is a really big decision, this is really scary, this is going to change my life, this could change the course of this business, I mean, it could make or break it, it’s really scary to like let the world criticize your third child. There’s a lot of times where I have these decisions to make or these things are in front of me and you hear it all the time, fake it ’til you make it, walk in there, sit up straight, put a smile on your face, and it’s been a series of not saying no, because as scary as these things might seem, or as big as they might seem, or as much as I might think there’s no way I can pull this off, go find out about it. Right, when this call comes in, don’t say no. Drive to Omaha, go sit in that meeting, and make sure that you share what you’re passionate about and see where it goes. You could always say no at some point down the road if it ends up not being right, but I rely on my husband and I would say that for anybody out there, whether you have a spouse or somebody else in your life, you have to have somebody there that you can bounce these things across because there’s been many conversations in the middle of the night of me going “Oh, my gosh, what am I doing? I don’t know, I don’t know!”

Right, but I go with my gut and I try to make sure that I’ve found out all the information that I can and that I’m making the best decision for me and my family and for what I think makes sense for FarmHer, and gosh, so far it’s worked. It can be scary. At one of our I Am FarmHer conferences last year, I stood up in front of them and I said, today, my big girl pants, I had to put on this pair of leopard print pants today because for some reason they made me feel super powerful that day, like I got this, and these are my big girl pants today. So sometimes they’re just like feeling good about yourself when you go in somewhere and knowing that you can sit up straight. And then like feel a little bit proud, and put a smile on your face.

Dr. Connie: I have to have a few pair in my closet as well, and maybe there’s just so, there’s a product there that I think a lot of women are needing, many times because it is super uncomfortable to have to do these things, but I still love that you’re like okay, I’m putting these big girl pants on, I’m going to go do this, and it’s going to happen, and yeah, can I say no later, but I’m at least going to say yes, I’m going to dare to say yes at this point in time to explore this and see what the possibilities are.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Especially with the TV show. I was like, I don’t think this is something that I can pull off. I don’t know, I’m already working what feels like 80 hours a week. I have little kids at home, like how can I travel the country and do this, and I had all these reasons that seemed like a good reason to say no but I’m so glad I didn’t because all the pieces tend to fall into place.

Dr. Connie: Well, and I appreciate that you bring up your husband and that mastermind that’s so important whether it’s  with a spouse or somebody else, but I am going to go there because I think this is also an important question our audience would like. How do you balance all of that? I mean, you are a mom with young children, you are married, you’re running a business, a growing business empire. What advice would you give people around that?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: If I look back over my life, I’ve always felt like there’s this like golden spot of balance that I’m going to get to. I’ve been the full-time working mom in the corporate world, I’ve been the stay-at-home mom, I’ve been the stay-at-home mom trying to build a business, I now have an office that I can come to while kids are in school. None of these areas has given me that like golden nugget of balance that I thought maybe it would. What I have learned is making sure that my family comes first always. When I’m thinking about making these decisions, I go, okay, I love FarmHer and I love being able to shine the light on these women and celebrate who they are, but if I can’t be me, I mean, I get one shot at my life too, and so I try to always keep that front and center, and having those discussions with my husband about can we do this? There’s a breaking point to everything and what’s it going to take for us to do this. It’s always a juggle. I have learned I have to run almost everyday, I have to do something physical to like let, there’s a lot of anxiety that builds around this in balancing all of it, like 400 balls that you’re juggling in the air, and sometimes some of them drop and that’s frustrating, but having a support team around you and figuring out how you can mentally take on that load and deal with it, and, for me, like I said, that’s running, and I would say over the last year, I’ve hit that almost breaking point a couple times. The first season of the TV show, 26 episodes of a TV show, basically 10 weeks traveling away from home doing something that I have no idea what I’m doing got to be too much. I have set up rules for myself. If I travel this week, I am not going to travel the next week, ways that I can manage this, and unfortunately, it does mean that me saying no to a lot of things that I would love to say yes to, but that’s just the reality of if FarmHer’s going to get to be FarmHer, then I have to do that.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of power in saying yes, but I think there’s also a lot of power in saying no, especially as the business grows and people want you. I mean, they want Marji, right? No, you’re really a persona now. I think that people are really clamoring to be a part of this growing movement, and I know our students get very excited about just being able to see you and spend time with you, but the family element is really real, and I think for the first time in history we’re in this dynamic of what does it look like to have dual working couples but also  what are our kids learning.? I’m really glad now to see both my daughter and my son, thinking about how they can work together and it’s not just a husband or a wife it is really a collaborative process and everybody should be able to do well in a family including the kids. I’ve changed a lot of my thinking around now from trying to get rid of the mom guilt into thinking about there is still a lot of that but it’s also like what experiences are you giving them that are different than what I had. Being gone in Japan for 10 days was a long time and my son was, he didn’t handle it well, but then he’s now very interested in traveling, and he’s trying to look at the Japanese characters and figure them out, and so I think there’s also good that comes out of some of those challenges.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Yeah, I agree with you. Who I am, this is the best thing I think I can do for my kids is to show them me running after a dream and still trying to make sure I balance my family and not doing it all perfectly because nothing is perfect in this world and making sure I communicate that to them, but I don’t know. I don’t know the best answer to this but when I left my job in corporate agriculture, one of the things that I hold very dear was I want my kids to see mom doing something that she cares about, and I believe fully in the power and necessity of insurance, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t what I was passionate about, and I just kept thinking how can I tell them go run after your dreams if I’m sitting in an office working for a paycheck, just literally working for that paycheck and not wanting to be there anymore? How can I say that on one hand but expect them to do that on the other? It’s this balance that I try to keep in front of me, and I have had somebody approach me after I spoke in an event once and they said, “You left your job so you could spend more time with your kids but now it appears that you’re gone all the time.” And I said, “Well, I am gone a lot, but I mean, it’s a balance in life and they’re learning a lot of valuable things about different ways that you can look at working and at pursuing a passion or pursuing a dream too.”

Dr. Connie: Well, and I think in your case, they’re really looking at how can I live anywhere I want to live, really embrace my passion, and grow my path, and that’s something at the Rural Futures Institute, we’re really excited about helping people understand, if you’re connected and if you have a talent or passion, you can live in a rural community and really pursue your dream. You don’t have to move to go do that, and I think you’re just such a great example of somebody who has done just that. They’ve taken their talent, they’ve made the hard choice of leaving a job they didn’t want and that steadier paycheck to say, you know what, it’s worth the sacrifice, I’m going to do this, and I think it’s also now, that’s how you see people’s dreams pay off is because they did make those what seemed like difficult choices at the time to really go full out and take that risk. I think there’s a lot of truth in the fact that there’s not reward if there’s no risk.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: It was scary. I always say I hope that’s one of the biggest decisions I make of my life because it changed our lives in a massive way. I make about the same that I made my first year out of college income-wise.

(laughing)

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: That’s a decision of mine of how I run the business, but it’ll all be okay. If this is what you want, then you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

Dr. Connie: You’re an example of what we need more leaders to be. You’re actually walking the talk. You aren’t just talking about it, you’re doing it, and I think people are really starting to see through a lot of that where people are just giving out random advice but they’re not really backing it up with how they live their life, and I’m so excited that, here we have on the Rural Futures podcast an example of a leader who’s like, you know what, I’m not just talking about it, I’m doing it, and I’m doing it with a family, I’m doing it, I’m still married, I’m raising my kids, I’m running!

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: I’m still maintaining who I am as a person, but I can make it all work.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Alright, Marji, I’m going to ask you to put on your futurist hat now and I’d love to know a little bit more about what major changes you see.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I think, especially as broadband internet expands in rural areas, we’re going to see even more digital, and you’re just going to see this continued expansion in agriculture. In my area of expertise, I think you’re going to see more and more women enter into this space. Obviously at colleges around the country, degree programs in agriculture have expanding numbers of young women, they’re going to be flooding in that workplace. I’ll describe what my hand looks like. Like, make a tight fist and then expand all of your fingers out as fast as you can. I hope that that continues to happen, yeah, five fingers, boom, that what we’re seeing now continues to expand and increase because people need to eat, the whole world needs to eat. This is not going to contract, what we need in agriculture, and so I personally hope I see young women taking the helm in more leadership positions, and that’s one area in the ag industry that is lacking behind even other more traditional areas of business. I am a big believer of diversity. Diversity in anything matters in any culture, right, and that’s what’s going to help it grow, and change, and be what we need for the future.

Dr. Connie: This is one of the big questions we get from a lot of our young female students, not just in agriculture but in the tax sector, throughout a lot of sectors, how do I graduate and go into the workplace and then be successful in this space? We even see this in higher education. That’s why I have so many pairs of big girl pants, right, I mean most of our higher level decision makers are men, and so thinking about what that looks like and how the workplace is changing, I mean, it’s happening, it’s a very slow speed, I think equity and pay is still 200 years out that some studies have shown. Hopefully we can start moving a little faster on that, but I do think that future is diversity in not just gender but in so many other ways, and leaders have to really be willing to embrace it and leverage that so great innovation can happen.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I think back to who I was at that age and it can be so hard, and we stand up there and we say you can go do whatever you want, and I will tell you, you can go do whatever you want, but it may not always look like the way that you think it’s going to. It’s tough sometimes navigating, especially as a young woman in these very male-dominated cultures, and I don’t mean that bad against any man. I’ve had great men as mentors, but it can be super super tough. We talked about families, and that balance, and that juggle, you get to a point where you go is this worth what I’m giving up on this side? I mean, there’s a lot of decisions that I think women have to make, and so flexibility in workplaces matters so much to keeping that diversity there because I always think if I would have had the ability to be more of the mom I needed to be and keep that corporate job, I might still be there, I might not either, because, like I said, that passion thing matters too, but it’s really important to me. I have a team of all women here, not because that’s the only people I hire, but those are the only people who have applied for jobs at FarmHer up to this point. They’re committed, and they’re talented, and they’re awesome, and making sure they know that I will give them that flexibility in however they need it to manage their life along with this job is super important, because there’s a tipping point, right, and it gets hard, but there is a path for these young women and that’s one of the things at these Grow events, we love to get strong women, people like you, people who are doing really cool things, and put them up on the stage and remind them, like, you can go do this and we’re going to connect you with the people who can be those support systems for you.

Dr. Connie: Well, I think it’s great for them to see role models making it happen. I’ve had a lot of great male mentors as well but very few female mentors which is frankly because there just weren’t enough out there, and I’m so glad to see that changing now because I think in some ways it’s really hard to get the full mentoring that you need, that support system you need if you don’t have people who sort of have those same values or the same ideas as you, and we see research stating that women are leaving the corporate sector and other sectors like universities, for example, in droves because they aren’t getting the support they need. They don’t have the flexibility they need. I think that’s why they’re seeing entrepreneurship as a viable solution, but they also need to grow those businesses to be successful in a way not just that works for their family but to be financially viable as well. So I’d love to explore with you a little bit about the future of FarmHer in general.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: Whenever people ask what I want the future FarmHer to look like, I want to keep operating in the space that we’re in and I want to expand all of those areas. Keeping women at the forefront, and who they are, and what they do, and celebrating them is always going to be the nucleus of what we do, but I want to continue the expansion of that TV show and the audience who might watch it and hopefully weave it into maybe a non-ag audience at some point because I think that matters. So there’s great power in that for agriculture and talking to people who care about food, or who buy food, or who hopefully eat food three times a day, I think that that matters. It’s so important to me that we continue this expansion of who sees what FarmHer is. I think it’s so important for agriculture, and it’s important for the future of our business too. I mean, it just needs to keep happening. If we have all these things coming at us all of the time and it’s one of those things I’m like, you have this balance as a small business, like we’re still a very small business with a handful of employees, can we do it and can we do it well, and balancing that expansion with the need that’s out there is exciting and something that I hope we get the chance to keep doing.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I think that’s where we align so well, because the Rural Futures Institute, we’re like if you just keep talking to rural audiences, we’re missing the greater opportunity for that collaboration, for that innovation, and the increased understanding that really happens between partnering with whoever wants to come to the table to make things better, not just for rural but for urban and our global society. We hear so many conversations where people just stay so insulated in their space, and I think they’re missing out on so many opportunities to do some amazing work that affects not only them but others as well. It really creates kind of this new global world that humanity is needing to see evolve.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: I couldn’t agree with you more. I mean, it’s just if agriculture is going to be able to feed the people of the world, then those conversations and those interactions need to occur in different ways than what we’ve always done in the past, and many different ways of course, and so making sure that that wall isn’t there of who we talk to and how we talk to them is super important. I want anybody to be able to walk into one of our events and to leave feeling like you have a place and you have a voice wherever you’re going to go and whatever you’re going to do regardless of if that’s agriculture or not, and I think that that’s one of the keys, right, is making people feel welcome and connecting with them.

Dr. Connie: And I think there’s just such an urbanization of agriculture in the food system right now. People are very interested in growing food, knowing where their food comes from, and, there’s more, growing even happening in urban centers as vertical agriculture becomes more prevalent and prominent, so how do we all lend a hand in making this happen so that it’s not an argument, we’re not fighting over territory or a small pie but rather we’re growing the pie and the possibility, and I think this is a great time for people working in the ag sector to really explore that and I’m glad to see people like yourself really leading the charge and paving the trail that it’s going to take to make that happen.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: As we close this conversation, I’d love to know what parting words of wisdom you have to share with our audience.

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: If I look at what I have done over the last few years and what FarmHer is and what it means to me, the best thing I can say is if you are passionate about something, I would figure out a way to share that with people because you just never know what the path will be in front of you, but if you don’t share that passion and spread that passion, then you’ll never know what could happen, so use that passion for whatever it may look like.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Okay, Marji, where can people find you?

Marji Guyler-Alaniz: FarmHer.com has everything that we do. You can find our events, you can see clips of the TV show, read the blogs, check out the podcast, all of those things. So it’s just www.farmher.com.

Dr. Connie: Excellent, thank you so much for being on the podcast. We appreciate your advice and insights.

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Thank You To Our Partners | University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

November 23, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR).

 

RFI has generated tremendous impact throughout Nebraska thanks to numerous faculty and students, and a variety of departments and programs throughout CASNR.

 

RFI Research & Teaching Projects

 

RFI Serviceship Students

Christy Cooper
Cozad, Neb., 2018

Emily Frenzen
McCook, Neb., 2018

Cheyenne Gerlach
Norfolk, Neb., 2018

Michyala Goedeken
Neligh, Neb., 2018

Samantha Guenther
Norfolk, Neb., 2018

Mirissa Scholting
Alliance, Neb., 2018

Shelby Utech
Cozad, Neb., 2018

Jessica Weeder
Broken Bow, Neb., 2018

Sage Williams
McCook, Neb., 2018

Sydni Lienemann
North Platte, Neb., 2017

Shelby Riggs
York, Neb., 2017

Madeleine Schwinghammer
West Point, Neb., 2017

Andrew Ambriz
McCook, Neb., 2016

Jamie Mashino
Curtis, Neb., 2016

Paul O’Dell
Friend, Neb., 2016

Rachel Pettid
Nebraska City, Neb., 2016

Cassie Thornburg
Nebraska City, Neb., 2016

Darcy Arends
Stuart, Neb., 2015

Emily Compas
Brownville, Neb., 2015

Kate Likens
O’Neill, Neb., 2015

Brianna Meyer
O’Neill, Neb., 2015

Tanner Nelson
Cambridge, Neb., 2015

Jessica Bartak
Kimball, Neb., 2014

Amanda Burau
Ord, Neb., 2014

Amanda Clymer
Ord, Neb., 2014

Alyssa Dye
Neligh, Neb., 2014

Brooks Ronspies
Valentine, Neb., 2014

Emelia Woeppel
Kimball, Neb., 2014

Jordyn Bader
Holdrege, Neb., 2013

Bethany Blackburn
Seward, Neb., 2015

Sydney Hansen
Holdrege, Neb., 2015

Jared Knobbe
Red Cloud, Neb., 2015

Morgan Netz
Seward, Neb., 2015

 

 

 

Innovation Partner

Thank you to the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program for being our consistent thought and stellar office mate!

Get a taste of our conversations with Engler through our interview with Tom Field, Ph.D., Engler Director, via Episode 2 of Rural Futures With Dr. Connie podcast (available where you listen).

Episode 2

 


 

Thank you, CASNR, for all you do for students and communities throughout Nebraska!

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Thank You To Our Partners | Japan Society

November 21, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today, we especially thank the Japan Society Innovators Network.

 

Multi-year projects facilitated by the Innovators Network provide unique opportunities for leaders and innovators to come together, share knowledge and insight, and catalyze positive social change. RFI has been directly involved in the Resilient and Vibrant Rural Communities in Japan and the U.S., which is supported by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas) and R&R Consulting.

 

RFI Chief Futurist Presents During Rural Japan Immersion 2018

Locations that Reimers-Hild traveled in Japan.

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, is serving as futurist for the project and recently returned from her rural immersion in Japan where she focused her research on aging and women.

She presented at the forum, “When Local Wisdom Goes Global,” held at Ehime University in Matsuyama, Japan. The forum focused on the dissemination of information, emphasizing that it is now possible for an organization in a small town, a village, or even a hamlet to disseminate information that ends up having a global reach, and receive direct feedback from individuals and organizations anywhere in the world. 

Reimers-Hild also presented with her U.S. counterparts at the forum, “Challenges in Regional Revitalization: Insights from American and Japanese Rural Innovators,” which was held at the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, Japan. This forum addressed the common challenges of depopulation, low-birth rate and declining local economies in both rural U.S. and rural Japan. In both countries, innovators are tackling these enduring challenges to create sustainable economies and communities.

Reimers-Hild shared her framework of strategic foresight and emphasized the empowerment of women as a key focus for rural communities in both countries. Her paper will be published soon.

 

RFI Hosts Rural Innovators From Japan 2017

In October 2017, RFI hosted rural entrepreneurs and thought leaders from Japan. Get all the details, including the formal presentations from all visitors, in our published article, “RFI Connects ‘Fierce’ Rural Innovators From Japan and Nebraska,” and check out the video below!

Article & Video Presentations

 

Thank you, Japan Society, for your creative action and critical focus on rural people and places in Japan and the United States.

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Clayton Keller shares his passion for rural-urban collaboration on Rural Futures Podcast

November 21, 2018
  November 21, 2018 — Born in the rural Rockies of northern Idaho and raised in the rural countryside of Ohio, University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) public administration graduate student Clayton Keller says, “Rural has been a part of my …

 

November 21, 2018 — Born in the rural Rockies of northern Idaho and raised in the rural countryside of Ohio, University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) public administration graduate student Clayton Keller says, “Rural has been a part of my life for my whole life.”

When asked to answer the questions of Why Rural? Why Now? during the Bold Voices student segment of the Rural Futures Podcast Episode 18 at 11:50, he answers, “Because tomorrow is too late.”

The weekly podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” debuts every Tuesday, featuring a University of Nebraska student within a primary interview of a researcher, futurist or rural maverick creating leadership, technology and collaborative opportunities for rural communities across the country. The podcast is hosted by Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist and is available across listening platforms — iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

During his segment, Keller shares the insights he gained after working, serving and living in Columbus, Neb., for 10 weeks during summer 2018 as a Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Serviceship student. With his partner Amber Ross who was featured as a Bold Voice in Episode 12 of the Rural Futures Podcast, he worked with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus Area Future Fund — two organizations that taught him that it is possible to rally an entire community around a single identity.

“With globalization and its increasing influence on worldwide culture, there is an ever pressing need to keep up,” he says. Partnerships are key to making sure nobody — in rural or urban — gets left behind, according to Keller.

“All too often we think it’s too difficult to bring people together and to try to make things happen,” he says. “Yeah, it’s going to be hard, but that doesn’t make it impossible.”

Read More

Students: Apply for RFI Office Associate Internship!

November 20, 2018
  The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to boost our productivity in service to rural people and places throughout Nebraska and beyond. Join us in an engaged working environment that …

 

The Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska is seeking stellar University of Nebraska–Lincoln students to boost our productivity in service to rural people and places throughout Nebraska and beyond.

Join us in an engaged working environment that will expand your leadership and professional skills as well as your comfort zone and network.

NOTE: To be eligible, applicant must be enrolled as a full-time University of Nebraska–Lincoln student for the 2018-2019 school year.

 

Requirements

  • Team player who is willing to advocate for their ideas
  • Excellent attention to detail (Proofreading)
  • Ability to work on several projects simultaneously
  • Willingness to dig into research and details
  • 10-20 hours a week during the 2019 spring semester; however, the hours will be flexible to work with your class schedule

Responsibilities

  • Create informative briefings
  • Manage various office activities
  • Assist with data collection
  • Bring forward new ideas!

 

Apply by midnight Friday, December 7, 2018!

  • Cover Letter
  • Resume

 

Applications & questions — submit to Theresa!

Theresa Klein
tklein@nebraska.edu | 402.472.2940

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Thank You To Our Partners | University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Public Affairs and Community Service

November 19, 2018
During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on …

With Gratitude

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank the University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Public Affairs and Community Service.

 

Empowering future leaders, fostering inclusive collaboration and creating innovative solutions, the College of Public Affairs and Community Service offers academic programs to prepare graduates to meet the critical social needs of our community and state.

RFI has been proud to partner with faculty and students in service to communities throughout Nebraska.

 

2018 RFI Student Serviceship

Clayton Keller
Columbus, Neb.

Midlands Voices: Midwesterners and misconceptions, Omaha World Herald, November 1, 2018

Kyle McGlade
Omaha Land Bank

Trevor Harlow
Red Cloud, Neb.

 

RFI-Funded Research & Teaching

Juvenile Re-entry to Nebraska’s Rural Communities

The Juvenile Reentry Project is a service learning project that matches student mentors to youth who typically do not get matched via traditional mentoring programs. Between January 2013 and June 2015, a total of 98 young people were matched to a University student mentor. In January 2015, the project team was invited to participate in a nationwide mentoring study being conducted by Portland State University, and additional funding from the Sherwood Foundation allowed the project to continue beyond the two-year grant period.

Justice by Geography: Issues that Inequitably Impact Rural Youth

The purpose of this service learning project is to educate students on the unique juvenile justice and legislative issues facing rural communities across Nebraska, culminating with a two month placement with a rural juvenile justice professional or agency. Seventeen students were placed in rural communities to work with small rural agencies to evaluate their programs, and the Juvenile Justice Institute continues to offer the Justice by Geography project and recruit undergraduate students to intern with rural areas.

Catalyzing the Role of Micropolitan America in the Future of Rural America

This project helped micropolitan areas identify opportunities and formulate research-driven plans for their future success in order to support rural economies. It developed a prototype in Nebraska with national applicability and actionability. As a result of this project, the University of Nebraska leads the nation in articulating the role of micropolitan areas and helping them capitalize on their unique opportunities for regional innovation and rural development.

 

RFI Faculty Fellow

Robert Blair, Ph.D., brought an urban perspective and highly collaborative outlook to RFI Fellows from 2017-2018. He was featured in our Why Rural? Why Now? video.

 

Thank you, UNO College of Public Affairs and Community Service, for all you do for students and rural communities in Nebraska!

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Episode 18: Rural maverick Matt Dennis intersects creativity, entrepreneurship, workforce

November 19, 2018
            Matt Dennis understands the reality of the agricultural economy, the need for creative thinking for thriving rural communities and the grit it’s going to take to lead families, farms and businesses into the future. …

 

 

     

 

Matt Dennis understands the reality of the agricultural economy, the need for creative thinking for thriving rural communities and the grit it’s going to take to lead families, farms and businesses into the future. As co-founder of Handlebend Copper Co., Matt creates exquisite copper mugs from his hometown of about 3,700 people and ships them — in authentic wooden crates — worldwide. In this episode, he discusses his ag background and full-time job, the balance of starting a business and raising a family and his take on the stories that need to be shared from rural areas across the country. Dr. Connie, RFI Chief Futurist, is energized by Matt’s call-to-action around female workforce potential, embracing Handlebend’s digital presence and his leadership style that starts with empowering and listening to others.

“We thrive on agriculture, and we’re in a low-margin time, and it is tough, and it’s a little scary. But I think it’s important to tell the story of things like Handlebend, because it let’s people know that there are avenues in these small rural areas outside of agriculture that can be tapped.”
Matt Dennis
Co-Founder, Handlebend Copper Co.; Dennis Commodities

About Matt

         

Matt Dennis is the fourth-generation of Dennis Commodities based in O’Neill, Neb., population 3,700. He is also the co-founder of Handlebend, a copper mug company shipping mugs worldwide.

Matt graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with a bachelor’s in business administration. He is the husband of Tracey, and the dad of Piper and Trey.

 

Mentioned In This Episode

 

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Bold Voices Student Segment

 Listen at 11:50 of Episode 18!

Clayton Keller, University of Nebraska Omaha public administration graduate student

When asked to answer the questions of Why Rural? Why Now? during the Bold Voices student segment, Clayton Keller answers, “Because tomorrow is too late.”

Born in the rural Rockies of northern Idaho and raised in the rural countryside of Ohio, Keller says, “Rural has been a part of my life for my whole life.”

“With globalization and its increasing influence on worldwide culture, there is an ever pressing need to keep up,” he says. Partnerships are key to making sure nobody — in rural or urban — gets left behind, according to Keller. This was a crucial lesson he learned through his RFI Serviceship experience in Columbus, Neb.

Learn more about Clayton’s Serviceship experience! »

 

 

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Hello and welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Doctor Connie, and joining me today is one of our rural mavericks from right here in Nebraska, Matt Dennis. He co-founded Handlebend copper mugs, but he also works in our amazing area of agriculture at the Dennis Green Elevator. He returned home to work with his father and is the fourth generation to work at the Elevator, which I think is just an amazing story in itself. He’s married to Tracy with a daughter, Piper, and son, Trey. So you’re doing it all.

Matt Dennis: Yeah, yeah (chuckling) gettin’ after it here in small town Nebraska.

Dr. Connie: So okay Matt, tell us a little bit more about who you are. Who is Matt Dennis?

Matt Dennis: So I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008, and took my first position working for a grain merchandising company in Omaha. I worked under one of my mentors for two years before making the decision to come back to the family business in O’Neill [Nebraska]. In the process of working the family business, came across an opportunity with Handlebend that we dove into a couple years ago. And it has had some really good traction and so we have continued kind of shipping copper mugs all over the country and a few across the pond as well.

Dr. Connie: Our listeners are all over the world, so where exactly is O’Neill, Nebraska?

Matt Dennis: O’Neill is 60 miles from the South Dakota border. It’s not quite in the sand hills but it’s on the edge.

Dr. Connie: So tell the audience how you got the idea and what the mugs are made out of.

Matt Dennis: My partner and I in Handlebend got the idea while we were attending the university, living together in Lincoln. He actually ordered a couple copper mugs from Amazon right when Moscow mules and copper mugs started to get trendy, almost about 10 years ago now. And we got them in the mail, opened the box and immediately just put them back in the box and shipped them back. They were just these chinsky little mugs, there wasn’t anything to them. They weren’t fully copper, they were lined with tin. And at that time they were still about 40 bucks a piece. So we shipped them back, Michael the next weekend went back to O’Neill, into his dad’s shop which is this family business is a commercial refrigeration, and grabbed some scrap copper, made the first mug that was extremely ugly but it held liquid. He showed it to me and I was pretty impressed. Then I think the very next weekend we made about seven or eight more to finish off the sets. And we’re pretty proud of these things, and then going forward we just started making them for really close friends and families, for weddings and birthdays and that kind of thing. We started getting some good feedback on “you guys should sell these things”, and then kind of started the idea of what we would do if we did that. And two years ago we hired a local gal here to make us a website, she did an outstanding job for us and threw it out there and people liked it. We’ve had some really good fortune and some really good help from Nebraska and the community in launching this business. It’s increased in sales every month since we started it. Here about eight months ago we hired our first full time employee, and we just keep going.

Dr. Connie: Well I love one of the quotes that we found in researching you and Handlebend a bit. “We couldn’t do this in Brooklyn, the small town support is what helped make this real.” And that was an article in the Omaha World Herald, correct?

Matt Dennis: Yeah, that article ran in the Omaha World by Matthew Hanson. It was a crazy story on that is he came out here, he sat down with Michael and I for a day, we fed him some Moscow mules so he would write good stuff about us (chuckling) and that was kind of the end of it. He didn’t tell us what it was going to be done with it or anything like that. And then about two months later we wake up to about five orders in the morning and then the internet orders just keep pinging in throughout the morning, and I call Michael I’m like “What is going on here?”

(chuckling)

Matt Dennis: He’s like I have no idea, and sure enough that article ran in the front page of the Omaha World Herald. And the Nebraskans loved it. So that is really what kick started this. And back to the quote about we couldn’t do this in Brooklyn, I mean we’re hiring local people throughout this whole process to help us out and they’ve bent over backwards to make this thing work and help us out. And the Brooklyn quote comes back to we don’t have as much overhead on this because we’re in rural Nebraska doing it out of a commercial refrigeration shop.

Dr. Connie: Well and I think when people go to your website, and we’ll make sure to link from our show to your website, your mugs are really works of art. They’re the most amazing copper mugs I have ever seen. And it’s so exciting to see that this type of creation and creativity is coming from rural Nebraska, it’s coming from O’Neill. And that you’re hiring people in that local space to make this work. But I know you’ve also talked about the power of the internet to make this happen.

Matt Dennis: Yeah, this thing wouldn’t even have got off the ground without that technology and access to internet and being able to reach people through social media, and the website. Itt just would be impossible if it wasn’t for that. So we’ve shipped mugs to Australia, we’ve shipped mugs to Russia, we got caught off guard a little bit by shipping them to Alaska because it’s free shipping in the U.S. hat was a little expensive

(chuckling)

Matt Dennis: And we’ve had several go to Alaska. We still haven’t changed it, so we’re not learning our lesson. But yeah, I mean the reach you can get in a town like O’Neill with access to the internet is incredible and it’s exciting.

Dr. Connie: Yeah I mean to be able to have a global business from where ever you want to live as long as you’re connected, it’s just an incredible time to live and be an entrepreneur.

Matt Dennis: It is, I mean the opportunities are seriously endless. I mean you got two guys in O’Neill, Nebraska making copper mugs for Pete-sakes, it’s crazy.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: We know that Handlebend is having great success and growing and you’ve hired your first time employee, give us a little background on your employee.

Matt Dennis: Yeah so Michael and I are both working full time jobs outside of Handlebend, so when we got enough support it was time to hire a person we put out an ad in a few different places and at the time we knew it was very difficult to hire a laborer of that caliber, it’s just not easy to do. So we put out an ad and we had a few bites, the one that stood out was Mo, and Mo is a ranch girl from Brewster, Nebraska. She went to art school at a small arts college in Kansas, and had just graduated, was moving back, wanted to do something other than the ranch. We reached out and it so happened that she had done a good chunk of sculpture work in her degree and already knew how to braze and had a good idea on welding, and she has been awesome.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So Matt in our pre-convo you talked about the fact that you really weren’t considering moving back to O’Neill or moving back to rural Nebraska, what changed your mind?

Matt Dennis: When I left O’Neill for Lincoln, I had no desire to come back. And most of that was I’d been working with my father for, I mean I was sweeping grain bins at age 11, if I wasn’t in football practice or had some crazy excuse not to work, I was at the elevator. So when I saw what he was doing at that age, at 18 years old, I just had in my mind that there was an easier way. I saw the hard work, I saw the long hours, I just had it in my mind that there is an easier way in the city. So I actually went to UNO, I got a bachelor’s in business administration and hardly stepped foot on the ag campus. And then two years in I kinda started to change my mind and my final year I decided that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence, this is something I want to do and I want to eventually move back to O’Neill. So I did enter the ag space right away and within two years I got the call from my dad saying he had expanded enough and he wanted me to come back and I basically did right away. So not only was I working side by side with him all day, but I was also living in his basement for six months. So that got interesting when you’re spending that much time with your father.

(chuckling)

Matt Dennis: But it was all good. So now I’m going to get even more personal here because one of the things we hear from young people is that they’re nervous about moving to rural communities because they may not find somebody to marry, that they won’t find a significant other. So we’ve half joked we should actually partner with like FarmersOnly.com and help them make matches for people.

Dr. Connie: But you’re married and have two kids, so tell me a little bit about how that happened.

Matt Dennis: I started dating my wife in college. She is from a small town right outside of Norfolk, Hadar, Nebraska, and she went to school in Omaha at UNO. After about seven years of dating I convinced her to move into a tiny little yellow house in O’Neill, she is still here.

(laughing)

Dr. Connie: Well congratulations, that’s exciting. But I just want our young people to know there are possibilities in rural Nebraska and rural places everywhere, not just for jobs but to create a whole life.

Matt Dennis: Absolutely, I work with a ton of producers and a lot of those kids are still coming back and they are making it work. I don’t know if it’s through FarmersOnly, but they are finding gals and guys to move back, so it’s working.

Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rock star students from the University of Nebraska, who are making a difference in rural.

Katy Bagniewski: Hey podcast listeners, it’s Katy, production specialist of the Rural Futures podcast. With me today is Clayton Keller, a public administration graduate student at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Welcome, Clayton.

Clayton Keller: Thanks, happy to be on the show.

Katy Bagniewski: So how about you start out by telling the listeners a little bit about yourself.

Clayton Keller: I was born in the rural Rockies of North Idaho. When I was 11 moved to the rural countryside of Ohio, so rural has been apart of my life, I guess my whole life. My end goal is to be a city manager. I’m a pretty typical midwestern boy.

Katy Bagniewski: So from your perspective how would you answer the question of why rural, why now?

Clayton Keller: Because tomorrow’s too late. With globalization and its increasing influence on worldwide culture, there is an ever pressing need to keep up. And with that comes a sense of urgency to make sure that no one gets left behind. Rural areas are known for their sense of community, for taking care of one another. So we as a people, as urban and rural dwellers, we need to take care of each other.

Katy Bagniewski: And how do you see urban and rural working together?

Clayton Keller: Partnerships, what those partnerships may look like will vary depending on the part of country you’re in. It has to be suited to your needs.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah I think that partnership is so important, and I’m happy that we’ve been able to partner with you. How would you say that RFI has impacted your college career and future plans?

Clayton Keller: RFI gave me the opportunity to actually apply the things that I’m learning in school. I got to be with the Columbus Area Future Fund and the Chamber of Commerce there. Those two organizations taught me that it’s possible to rally an entire city or community around a single identity. All too often we think it’s too difficult to bring people together and to try to make things happen, and I mean yeah it’s going to be hard, but that doesn’t make it impossible.

Katy Bagniewski:And what advice would you give to students who are in your shoes?

Clayton Keller: Jump right in. It’s a little scary (laughing) but just jump right in to new experiences, nothing helps you grow more than doing just that.

Katy Bagniewski: Thank you so much Clayton for being our bold voice this week and demonstrating how our generation of future leaders in both urban and rural can work together and think about how we can maximize our own impacts and create a better future for all.

Clayton Keller: Thanks for having me.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit more about how you see the future shaping in rural places like O’Neill, Nebraska.

Matt Dennis: With the ag economy, and I mean this entire county in rural Nebraska, we thrive on agriculture. So we are in a low margin time and it’s tough, and it’s a little scary. But I think it’s important to tell the story of things like Handlebend because it lets people know that there’s avenues in these small rural areas outside of agriculture that can be tapped. But we still have to be creative on the ag side to continue to make this work and bring people back to these areas, so that we can thrive.

Dr. Connie: I know in our pre-convo you talked a lot about a need for more people to work, like the labor force. Would you share a little bit of your thought around that, what you’re seeing in your community and some of the potential solutions that you’re actually implementing in your businesses?

Matt Dennis: The labor situation in this rural area is extremely tough. For example, if I wanted to start a business today I would have a hard time starting a business that would involve hiring hard labor, anyone to run equipment, maintain equipment, that kind of thing. And that goes hand in hand with agriculture, it’s almost impossible. It is very, very hard to get long laborer in rural areas. So what I’ve talked about with previous people in the past and what I’ve been working on for the last few months is to really try to tap into the female workforce in these rural areas. I just think there is tremendous potential of the women in the area that are looking for work, but they need it to be flexible because a lot of the women in the area are running the family, and with that you need flexibility. And I think it’s possible, but it’s going to come down to kind of thinking outside of the box and creating positions that can be flexible and part time, and that are family friendly to really tap into the women labor force. A lot of these women are moving back here, following guys that are following the agriculture path and they have bachelor’s and master’s and doctorate and it’s just not getting tapped into. So there’s just so much talent that we should be using when we’re facing a situation of short labor.

Dr. Connie: We’re like kindred spirits in this area, this is something I’ve talked a lot about. I’ve written a lot about it over the years because I think in so many ways we keep trying those old models of graduate from high school, go to college, hopefully with healthcare being a shortage area in rural, let’s get some young minds into that and then we hope that they move back to rural area. There’s so many people already there and like you’ve said, there’s people that have gotten married and moved there. We aren’t really tapping into the talent that already exists and really developing the people that are living there, the people who have chosen to make their lives there, stayed there, or even recently moved back because it’s really exciting to see a lot of young couples, young leaders and entrepreneurs like yourself who have chosen to move into a rural location.

Matt Dennis: Well I think it’s tap-able, like I said before it’s going to take some creative thinking and not doing the normal thing.

Dr. Connie: I would hope that even we as a university, the college systems, education in general really starts thinking very long and hard about this and creating some solutions rather quickly that can serve these rural populations in better and bolder ways. With online and distance learning now there’s no reason people have to when they’re working adults or even a stay home mom or dad, whatever the case may be, that wants a new career, even somebody who’s close to retirement or in sort of the end of what we would typically think of a career, there’s still potential there we could tap into. I think as educational systems to help people get the capacity they need, but I think also you’re absolutely spot on, it’s going to take the workplace to re-envision what careers mean, what the workplace means, and how can we add in that flexibility, but also good pay, high level pay so that people can actually afford to work.

Matt Dennis:  And I think the challenge is going to be to mold that so that you can offer that excellent pay, but still be a value to these companies that are fighting these tight margins.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Tell our audience about who you are, your leadership philosophy, and how you approach all of this.

Matt Dennis: I would just say as cliche as it is, it’s just about leading by example. It’s just about gettin’ after it, empowering people. And if you’re empowering people and you’re listening to them at the same time, incredible things can happen as far as teammates buying in and gettin’ after a single goal. I don’t think that is cliche. I think the great thing is you are actually walking the talk. So often I think we have a lot of people talking about leadership, but they aren’t really doing it in a way that works for them, their families and the others that they’re working with.

(music transition)

Dr Connie: Okay Matt, now you’re a fun guy. I’ve been on your website, I’ve checked out Handlebend, your story’s amazing. So I want to know how do you keep that creativity fresh, what do you do for fun?

Matt Dennis: Oh what do I do for fun, I chase my kids around quite a bit. We have just recently bought a tiny little camper six months ago.

Dr. Connie: Nice.

(laughing)

Matt Dennis: We’ve used it this year, this summer and fall.

(chuckling)

Matt Dennis: So yeah, and as far as the creativity part I’ve seen this time and time again that if you allow yourself to get comfortable, the creativity really comes to a halt. So it’s important to do these podcasts that I don’t do very often, jump out of the comfort zone, keep those creative juices flowing.

Dr. Connie: Well we’re glad you decided to take this chance, I was just amazed at watching this company and trying to figure out more about you. So I loved diving into the stories and learning more about the amazing people we have living in our rural communities, and especially our maverick entrepreneurs. I mean selling high end copper mugs that are works of art out of O’Neill, Nebraska, more people just need to know that story and know that that’s available. So as they think about we have the holiday season coming up, other types of things, let’s support our entrepreneurs by buying those amazing gifts and getting that talent out into the world and letting them know it’s right here from Nebraska.

Matt Dennis: Yeah, the Nebraska people have embraced this hugely. I mean we’ve had so much support from inside the borders of Nebraska, it’s absolutely crazy and it’s awesome and it makes this really fun. What we are trying to do with Handlebend is sell an experience, create a cool experience that people can get behind in a sense of community and just put out solid content and solid products, and do it that way.

Dr. Connie: Here at the Rural Futures Institute and at the University, we’re always eager to think of new ideas and to get creative ourselves, but we also have a lot of outside entities coming to us and saying hey, we know there’s a lot of potential on the rural sector but they aren’t quite sure how to engage in our rural communities or with our rural leaders. So what advice would you give to groups whether it’s Rural Futures Institute or even groups from Japan that are trying to enhance their rural sectors, what advice would you give to them?

Matt Dennis: I would just say that we worked with a lot of urban companies through this process, and there is a slight disconnect between– and this is not going to be for every company– but these smaller small town companies and urban companies it seems like the pace is a little bit different, how we go about doing things is a little bit different, but it’s always a good conversation to learn from different angles and learn from those faster paced urban companies. But as far as tapping into the rural communities, tell stories like Handlebend and how you can do this, and there’s hundreds more. For instance, Matthew Hanson and Sarah Hanson put out a book this year, it’s called “The Better Half” and it’s completely filled of small town stories of people gettin’ after it and making it happen. It’s an awesome book.

Dr. Connie: I always get these emails well Connie, what do you think we should do with this economic development, and all these different sort of acts or investments that our state wants to make. But I think for too long the world of entrepreneurship and economic development have just discounted our small businesses, they’re waiting for that next unicorn to come along. And how many jobs can we create really quickly rather than saying you know what, let’s support the growth of our businesses that we know people are staying here. We know Matt’s making his life in O’Neill, Nebraska. How do we support Handlebend even more than whatever growth path it’s wanting to take? Not just the ones that we see that might be important that are going to have the metrics we want to count, but the small businesses that employ people. And it might not be full time, it might be part time, it might be a 1099 employee, but this is really the way the world is evolving. And I think our rural areas can really be a leader in this space given the appropriate policies and really recognition that they’ve earned and deserve.

Matt Dennis: Yeah, that’s spot on, that’s spot on. I don’t even have anything to add to that. That is basically what we need to do, yeah.

Dr. Connie: Well hey good, I’m glad to have consensus from a leader like you on that because that drives me mad, so I have to tell you I’ve been at more meetings where, I used to help facilitate an entrepreneurship club in Nebraska City, in southeast Nebraska and it was always funny to me how I’d go to meetings and they’re using the term “mom and pop store” like it was a bad thing, and I’m like no way. These are the bread and butter, the backbone of our economy and it’s time for us to recognize that and the amazing people doing incredible work, but also that exponential impact those businesses have that just goes unrecognized.

Matt Dennis: It’s part of the reason why Handlebend has been successful as it’s been. If we had done this in Omaha I don’t think it would have the same feel and the same storyline as it does in rural Nebraska. I benefit that to part of the success, is this whole story behind it being the child of a rural community, and that whole story that we can sell with the experience. I had mentioned the story to you in our pre-convo about working with a decent sized marketing firm in Atlanta, we got going and we were pretty excited and they kinda told us what they were going to do and we hadn’t been doing any of that stuff so we were excited to see how it worked. But we got a month in and it was almost like they were throwing the same concepts at these mugs as they would the chinksy ones we bought 10 years ago from Amazon. And Michael and I are sittin’ here in O’Neill, Nebraska like what are these guys doing? And we had a conversation about a month in and we were kind of handcuffing them, we were slowing them up, they wanted to go this extremely fast paced get in front of as many people as possible, and Michael and I are kinda pumping the brakes, let’s slow that down, let’s just put out really good content. And almost like if you build it, they will come type.And these guys weren’t digging it. So we had a conversation with them and they straight up asked us, they’re like “Do you guys want to sell mugs or do you want to create content and tell stories?” And Michael and I look at each other and we both answer at the same time and say we want to tell stories, and it was crickets on the other side of the line. Like these guys didn’t know what to say at that point. So it’s just a little bit of a different concept, we still need to sell mugs but we also want to do it the right way and create an experience.

Dr. Connie: Well I think that comes through so loud and clear through your website (handlebend.com) but even through that Omaha article. I have to read just one more quote, “I feel like our generation is kind of, in a weird way, going back to our grandparents, our great grandparents, buying our food at farmers markets, local beer, locally made soap, and we are making these mugs for you, especially for you. We hope that when you open that wood crate with a crowbar and you have one of our mugs, you love them. Then you become our best salesman.”

Matt Dennis: Absolutely, and we’ve seen that first hand. You know, mugs are selling mugs, so you bet.

Dr. Conine: So you’re not just getting a box and opening it and there it is, you’re really from the beginning to the end creating that experience for the customer through who you are, your website, through that purpose of why you exist but also for them on the other end. So every time they take a sip out of that mug, they’re really relating it back to the experience you created. And we so appreciate you doing this creative work, but also getting our rural areas especially in states like Nebraska, on the map even more to demonstrate to the world the innovation and creativity that’s really happening in our small places.

Matt Dennis: Yeah, our goal with Handlebend in the community is we’re currently trying to purchase a 1940’s building downtown that we can renovate and partially be building these mugs out of. And then just create an entire sense of community around this building. So that’s one of our goals and what we want to do with the success that it’s brought, and really try to help this local community. I will have to say Dr.Connie, you mentioned opening the crate and we sent a set of mugs to New York City here a few months ago. We got an email back and this guy could not figure out how to open the crate. So that experience wasn’t so good, but we got him through it, he got into his mugs and loved them so, he couldn’t quite get into the product.

(chuckling)

Dr. Connie: You know what, that’s still an experience, I just absolutely love that because in my own mind when I think about this I’m envisioning my husband opening his crate of mugs and he’s going to love that because he’s opened crates with crowbars, but in this light it’ll be a very positive one.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So thank you for your time and all this insight today, but I’d like to leave our audience with words of wisdom from you, Matt. What would you share with your parting thoughts?

Matt Dennis: Words of wisdom from me would be just get up, get after it, use your time wisely, and be kind doing it. And then the second thing I would say is in that hustle take some time to really connect with people along the way, it will be worth it.

Dr. Connie: That’s brilliant, and thank you so much for being on the Rural Futures podcast.

Read More

Thank You To Our Partners | University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business & Technology

November 16, 2018
  During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and …

With Gratitude

 

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) College of Business & Technology.

 

Providing high-impact, hands-on, experiential learning in and out of the classroom, UNK’s College of Business & Technology faculty and staff have been incredible partners through research and teaching.

 

Bree Dority, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Economics, served as an RFI Faculty Fellow from 2017-2018.

 

Sherri Harms, Department Chair and Professor, served as principal investigator for the “Social Media Plans for Small Businesses & Local Non-Profits” teaching and engagement project funded by RFI in 2016.

During the two-year project timeline, 60 small businesses and non-profit organizations from the Kearney area were assisted by more than 700 UNK students who worked in teams to develop social media plans for the organizations. The service learning project was incorporated into a capstone course offered through the Computer Science and Information Technology department at UNK. A positive impact from this project is that the service learning component of students working with organizations and small businesses is well established into the course and sustainable in ongoing years.

 

A project team, including RFI’s outreach project coordinator, Shawn Kaskie, who also served as Director of the UNK Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, developed the RFI-funded research project, “Rural Sourcing,” which started in 2013. 

The concept of “rural sourcing” relates to existing and start-up companies strategically locating operations in rural areas to reduce labor costs and increase employee reliability. This project built on a successful “cross-sourcing” model to recruit University of Nebraska alumni back to rural Nebraska in targeted professional service occupations.

This project was a well-suited pilot as partners were unaware of the best methods for implementation or what some results might reveal. Several major lessons were learned through the process, including:

  • Need to engage more partner companies as employers before any promotional campaigns to alumni were implemented.
  • Initial promotional campaign should still be a personalized postcard as the target audience of working professionals receive many forms of electronic correspondence each day.
  • Collaboration with other secondary education institutions serving rural populations may also expand the reach and potential of this concept.

 

Thank you, University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology, for being an innovator and educator for the state of Nebraska and on behalf of rural communities throughout the country!

 

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Thank You To Our Partners | Microsoft Technology & Corporate Responsibility

November 14, 2018
  During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and …

With Gratitude

 

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank Microsoft Technology & Corporate Responsibility under the leadership of Shelley McKinley.

 

With a purpose to empower every person on the planet, Microsoft has placed special emphasis on rural broadband through its Airband Initiative.

RFI was pleased to host Shelley McKinley, General Manager of Technology & Corporate Responsibility in March 2018, for two days of future-focused, collaborative discussions with leaders from across Nebraska as well as students, faculty and administration of the University of Nebraska.

Visit Proceedings »

 

 

Shelley also appeared on Episode 2 of the Rural Futures podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie.”

 

 

Episode 2

 

Through the invitation of Shelley, RFI Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., is presenting as a futurist with a critical rural perspective at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting this week. Conversations are also continuing regarding a collaborative project between RFI, Microsoft, the University of Nebraska and the state of Nebraska.

 

Thank you, Microsoft Technology & Corporate Responsibility for your dedication to inclusion and access for all.

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RFI Interim Executive Director panelist at Women’s Forum Global Meeting 11/16

November 14, 2018
  Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., Rural Futures Institute Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, is a panelist during the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Paris, France, Nov. 14-16. Bringing a distinctly female perspective to defining strategies to create the conditions for action, …

 

Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., Rural Futures Institute Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist, is a panelist during the Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Paris, France, Nov. 14-16.

Bringing a distinctly female perspective to defining strategies to create the conditions for action, global leaders from society and economy are convening at this year’s meeting to bridge divides and move towards more inclusive progress for all of humanity.

 

During the “Designing Cities and Economies for the Future” panel discussion Nov. 16, Reimers-Hild will contribute her futurist lens and rural perspective to the conversation that will address the expected shift of the majority of the global population to cities by 2050. All plenary sessions will be streamed live on Twitter, and this session’s hashtag will be #futurecities.

Fellow panelists include:

  • Estelle Brachlianoff, COO, Veolia
  • Pascale Sourisse, Senior Executive Vice President, International Development Thales International
  • Catherine Guillouard, CEO, RATP

 

Speaker Bios

 

Questions posed to the panelists will include:

  • What is an inclusive vision of cities in the future? How can women’s leadership help achieve this vision?
  • How might design and planning for societal and life changes help meet the needs of, and tap opportunities presented by, young and old alike?
  • How will cities of the future be more human cities? What roles do the private and public sector play in ensuring cities grow to be human?

 

Reimers-Hild will present four key points during the conversation.

 

  1. We need to plan for both underpopulation and overpopulation of physical communities. There is an interconnectedness between urban and rural that we can no longer ignore, and our global ecosystem must support more than people. Women who are economically empowered provide not only their ideas and innovations but also give back to their families and communities. Numerous studies show that positive global transformation occurs when women are empowered.
  2. Access to health, well-being and vitality for all. What does it look like for every person on the planet to have great places to live, clean water, sanitation, transportation, sustainable energy, activity and proper nutrition? How do we provide access to health, well-being and vitality for all people in the future?
  3. Advancements in technology and science are changing expectations and demands of humans. Demographic shifts, psychographics shifts, IoT, AI, robotics, mobile tech, intelligent transportation are all interwoven factors.
  4. Broadband and high speed connectivity will be critical components of future communities both physically and digitally. This requires a systems approach to infrastructure. How many physical structures do we need? Should more of this money be invested into virtual opportunities? New systems can create the flexibility women need to earn income, support their families and prioritize their own well-being. Women possess the creativity, knowledge and desire needed to implement new living systems designed to improve outcomes for children, families, communities and the environment.

For ongoing updates, follow the Women’s Forum across social media!

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Sydney Armbruster intersects housing and healthcare on Episode 17 of Rural Futures Podcast

November 14, 2018
    November 14, 2018 — “I really have a passion for helping people,” says Sydney Armbruster, who hopes to be a physician assistant in a rural community one day. The Fall City, Neb., native is a senior disease and …

 

 

November 14, 2018 — “I really have a passion for helping people,” says Sydney Armbruster, who hopes to be a physician assistant in a rural community one day.

The Fall City, Neb., native is a senior disease and human health major at Peru State College. She shares her rural experience in healthcare and housing in the Bold Voices student segment at 13:53 of Episode 17 of the Rural Futures Institute’s weekly podcast launched today with featured guest Christiana McFarland of the National League of Cities.

Expecting to be placed in a rural community after becoming a Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Serviceship student in 2018, Sydney was surprised to learn she would spend her summer in Omaha, Neb., with the Omaha Municipal Land Bank.

The Omaha Municipal Land Bank is a local governmental nonprofit organizations that was established by the Nebraska Legislature to develop housing strategies for regional organizations in rural communities across Nebraska.

“Once I got to Omaha, I learned a whole new world that joined housing and healthcare,” she says. With the Land Bank, she got an inside view of how important housing is to a community and witnessed the critical connections between health and housing.

“It made me grow as a person and will definitely shape how I practice medicine in the future,” she says of her RFI serviceship experience. “It definitely opened my horizons to what the world has to offer and how many people are working for positive change in the world today.”

The RFI podcast, “Rural Futures with Dr. Connie,” is available on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloudGoogle Play and Spotify.

RFI Student Serviceship details are available at http://ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/serviceship.

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Episode 17: Researcher Christiana McFarland intersects economic assets, sustainability, growth

November 12, 2018
            We are navigating a critical juncture in our economic future, says Christiana McFarland, Research Director at the National League of Cities (NCL). It is clear that urban areas are attracting incredible growth, but in …

 

 

     

 

We are navigating a critical juncture in our economic future, says Christiana McFarland, Research Director at the National League of Cities (NCL). It is clear that urban areas are attracting incredible growth, but in the big picture, this is not sustainable. Intrigued by Christy’s work in the published report, “Bridging the Urban-Rural Economic Divide,” RFI Chief Futurist Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., draws out Christy’s thoughts in terms of the overall narrative of the rural-urban “divide,” accessible leadership and what the truest forms of rural-urban collaboration look like.

“I’m hopeful in those leaders who are on the ground and understand not only the constraints, but are starting to view their communities through an asset-driven lens as opposed to a deficit driven lens.“
Christiana McFarland
Research Director, National League of Cities

About Christy

         

Christiana McFarland is Research Director at the National League of Cities, an organization of 120 staff and researchers dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. Working in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues, NLC serves as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents.

Christy leads NLC’s efforts to transform city-level data into information that strengthens the capacity of city leaders and that raises awareness of challenges, trends and successes in cities. Her areas of expertise include economic development, workforce development and municipal finance.

She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in urban planning and economic development at Virginia Tech to continue to explore how to provide research that helps leaders make better decisions, and how to bring information to life for city leaders, so they can do their jobs better.

 

Christy’s Recent Work

 

X

Bold Voices Student Segment

 Listen at 13:53 of Episode 17!

“I really have a passion for helping people,” Sydney Armbruster, a senior disease and human health major at Peru State College.

Sydney spent her summer as a serviceship intern in Omaha, Neb., with the Omaha Municipal Land Bank, a local governmental nonprofit organizations that was established by the Nebraska Legislature to develop housing strategies for regional organizations in rural communities across Nebraska.

“Once I got to Omaha, I learned a whole new world that joined housing and healthcare,” she says. “It definitely opened my horizons to what the world has to offer and how many people are working for positive change in the world today.”

Learn more about Sydney’s Serviceship experience! »

 

Show Notes

Dr. Connie: Welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie. And joining us today is researcher and maverick, Christy McFarland. She’s the research director with the National League of Cities, and she’s also pursuing a PhD at Virginia Tech to explore her amazing work even deeper which we’ll talk about here in a minute. So Christy, tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Christy McFarland: Thanks, Dr. Connie, it’s great to be here with you. So I am a researcher with the National League of Cities. I always like to use the word applied before researcher, so I’m an applied researcher. We’re very much with data, but also with leaders in local communities across the country and city staff as well. As you mentioned, I’m getting my PhD. I’m a perpetual student both in and outside of the classroom. Of course, I’m also a mom of two small kids, four and six. I also love to play tennis.

Dr. Connie: Good, funny as I hear all that, it makes me wonder what you’re not doing because just working and pursuing a PhD is a lot. Let alone when you throw in a family, and you want to have a life outside of that as well.

Christy McFarland: Yes, it’s definitely a lot. But my husband and I have a great partnership in that way.

Dr. Connie: I think in this modern era when you have a lot times dual career couples or couples with kids or dogs or all these other responsibilities you have to have some sort of partnership or team on your side to make it all work. Tell us a little bit more about yourself as a leader and how you create this full life that you’re experiencing.

Christy McFarland:That’s a really interesting question. And it’s something that I’ve needed to reflect on because I think it’s a role that I’ve grown into. I would say a defining characteristics of my leadership style really is to lean into uncertainty. And I think that goes for my professional and personal life as well. Specifically, on the professional side, what I’ve realized over the past few years, is that we are often confronted with some predominate narratives whether it’s in the media or just in our professional circles or whatnot. And specifically, in my role with the National League of Cities, and there’s been a lot of attention on local communities and geography and the role that cities and towns play in the broader national economy. And really understanding what the perspective is from a national media driven, maybe political perspective, and then what we’re really hearing on the ground from those people who are in the trenches every day really working to build better communities. Being able to identify where I see those disconnects and where there may be some uncertainty and gray areas, and really using those as the opportunities for a research direction and as a guide for where the next great research idea may come from.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So tell us a little bit more about your work around exploring the rural-urban, both conversation but diving a little deeper into that, economy and for the coexistence of that economy and the importance of the relationship between rural and urban areas.

Christy McFarland: I have been very struck over the past few years with the very disparate outcomes that truly do exist in some rural and urban communities but also the overriding narrative about the fate and the relationship between urban and rural communities. I think most of what we’ve been hearing and most of what tends to be understood about urban and rural communities is that they do not operate in the same world at all. And that’s not actually the case. When we drill down and we really get a handle on what is happening in urban and rural places, we find yes, rural communities very much are stressed at a foundational level. But they also operate within a regional economy, and we’re finding many places where rural communities are leveraging their assets to build relationships in a broader, regional economy. You had referenced merging the urban-rural economic divide, and what we found in that research is that again, yes there are some significant divides between urban and rural communities, particularly when we’re talking about things like education and broadband access. And we know that those are critically important to the economic prospects of any place. But, we also found some other interesting findings that point really to opportunities for more shared prosperity between urban and rural communities. In many states across the country, we found that business is an export and that’s very critically important to economic growth. We found that rural communities have a growing share of businesses that export whether that’s through manufacturing or agriculture or otherwise. So we know that there are opportunities and assets there. We also find that many rural communities are outpacing their urban counterparts in their contributions to state GDP. So again, we see that there are glimmers of opportunity. There are particular places that are leveraging their unique assets. They’re building stronger relationships with their urban counterparts, and we’re seeing that there are possibilities there.

Dr. Connie: Well, I so appreciate this work. I just returned on a trip from Ohio where I was able to meet with a number of ag leaders. And the number of stories that people tell about one woman, for example, actually runs a multi-state ag insurance agency with a number of partners. And one of her partners was telling me that her brother lives in a rural area of Ohio but has worked with Japan to develop edible soybeans. And that market has grown so much that his business has really expanded, so it’s an international business. It started from a person living in a rural Ohio. But the segment, the customer segment they serve is very urban. And so, I think those economies really come together in incredible ways. And sometimes we just don’t recognize it like we should.

Christy McFarland: I think that’s a really good point. Up until, the past 20 or 30 years or so, I think what we have been seeing in terms of how the economy operated is just that smaller places would catch up with larger places and vice versa. And things would sort of take care of themselves through the economy. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, and we need to be much more intentional about our economic development strategies if we want to see shared prosperity. So like you were saying, really getting able to isolate and understand what the assets are in particular places.

Dr. Connie: Well, and one of the quotes I love from the report you were talking about was, “It’s time for the narrative to shift from urban versus rural to a shared economic future. Bridging the economic divide between urban and rural areas will require states, regions, and localities to understand and bolster the relationship between urban and rural areas in economically meaningful and strategic ways.” I think that just that summarizes a lot of this so well but also helps people reframe some of the questions that we need to be asking to create a more sustainable future for our country and also the world.

Christy McFarland: I think this conversation around the urban-rural divide really forces us to think a little bit differently about the future both of leadership, of economic development, of the way that we approach our communities. Specifically, on the leadership front, we talked about the fact that in the past the economy sort of sorted itself out in ways that we’re not seeing anymore. So in that way it really does require governments at all levels as well as partners from private sector, nonprofits, and others to really come together and to teach a collaboration to think about intentional ways to improve the economic outcomes, not only of rural communities but ways that urban and rural communities can work together. I really feel like that’s where the leverage is going to be. And again, in terms of economic development as a field and how we’re thinking about that and how that field is evolving, again, becoming much more intentional and strategic and it requires that leadership. But it doesn’t mean working against the economic forces that are occurring to make large communities economically viable. It doesn’t mean that rural communities need to be working against that, or it doesn’t mean that rural communities even need to try to replicate what’s happening in large communities. What it means for the future for rural economies is that economic developers across the country need to take stock of what assets exist locally, how do those play within a regional economy and how can they potentially complement what’s happening in the urban area? Is there an exciting urban market that really can be served by some rural interests as well? And I really feel that that’s the way of the future.

Dr. Connie: Well, give us some examples of the communities you see working in this way where they’re really thinking about how do they link these systems in rural and urban together to create a more vibrant economy, but also a more thriving area for people to live?

Christy McFarland: There are examples across the country, and I think those are the important stories to lift up, right? We’re working right now in the state of Virginia, for example, trying really to understand what are the assets that are unique to rural parts of the state and how do those align potentially with what the needs are of more urban areas of the state, so that’s one example. We know that Oregon is home of the top hops growers, which I find to be really interesting. And the rural growers of hops in that state really rely on the sophisticated tastes of their urban consumers within the state of Oregon as well. So, the entrepreneurs who are growing hops are relying the specialized beer palate of those in the urban area. They’re purifying the type of hops that they’re growing and then expand to the global market. So that type of relationship between urban and rural is not only a direct market for rural entrepreneurs in the urban area, but also sort of a test bed before they’re able to branch out and be successful in the global marketplace as well.

Dr. Connie: Well, I think that that shows an exciting linkage, right? So thinking about how do we work together within this space. So we are co-testing and co-creating these products together so we aren’t just growing something over here that might not fit the palate of the audiences we’re trying to serve but really zoning in on those audiences and being very entrepreneurial in terms of how to create the products that people really want to buy.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So and a lot of this really centers around the food systems, expanding those food system beyond the farms and really helping people understand what that means. We all eat; we all wear clothes. I think these are important pieces of what rural does provide. But tell us a little bit more about those states that maybe don’t have a strong ag sector. What advice would you give them in the rural-urban connect?

Christy McFarland: Again, I think it’s critically important to understand regionally what are going to be the drivers of the economy within that region going forward. And are there complements in both the urban and rural communities to help realize that growth in the long term? So again, it doesn’t necessarily need to mean that rural communities are replicating success of urban areas or that they just need to wait for urban area growth to sort of trickle down to rural communities. There really can be a synergy there particularly when working through a regional perspective.

Dr. Connie: Now thank you. I know we’ve talked to a few states. Leaders from South Carolina, for example, that are really struggling around, okay, what do we do here? Because states like Nebraska, others have this strong rural sector and that strong rural sector really is the bread and butter of the state in so many ways, but also is what really bolsters our rural sector. And I think that’s important, but other states don’t necessarily have that. And so thinking about how do we expand it here in places like Nebraska but also earn to together with states like South Carolina that don’t feel their ag sector is what really makes their rural areas prosperous. So thinking about it in new and different ways, I think is just so important for everyone.

Christy McFarland: Yeah, I think that’s right. And there are also, like you had mentioned, there are also states that have thriving rural areas. And I think what we’re finding in a lot of those places too, is that you get urban and rural communities are linked together because of the growth that’s happening in rural communities. So for example, with gas and oil production and extraction in the northern states, for example, thinking about the services that are required whether it’s the drill services or otherwise to help that industry continue to grow. We’re seeing those type of service sector jobs grow in the urban areas but they’re very much connected to what is happening in the rural places as well.

(music transition)

Welcome to Bold Voices, our segment with rockstar students from the University of Nebraska who are making a difference in rural.

Katy Bagniewski: Hey podcast listeners, it’s Katy, production specialist of the Rural Futures Podcast. With me today is Sydney Armbruster, a senior Disease and Human Health major at Peru State College. Welcome Sydney.

Sydney Armbruster: Hello, thanks for having me Katy.

Katy Bagniewski: Yeah, we’re so happy you came on the show. Can you start out by telling our listeners a little bit about who you are?

Sydney Armbruster: I really have a passion for helping people and learning about the human body, and I hope to become a physician assistant someday.

Katy Bagniewski: So I know you have a rural background. Tell our listeners a little bit about your connection to rural.

Sydney Armbruster: I’m originally from Fall City, Nebraska, which is a rural community. My specific interests in rural is in the healthcare field. And I hope to be able to help out and serve in underprivileged areas when I get licensed as physician assistant.

Katy Bagniewski: So, you got to contribute to the Rural Futures Institute through our Serviceship project this summer. Can you talk about a little bit about that?

Sydney Armbruster: I got sent to the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. And once I got to Omaha, I learned a whole new world but joined Housing and Healthcare which really interested me, but was something that I never even thought of before. We basically worked with foreclosed houses. We worked with the foreclosure team to get those houses, and then we sell those houses. And then whoever buys the house has nine months to redevelop that house. So actually we’re bettering the communities in more than one way. It made me grow as a person and will definitely shape how I practice medicine in the future.

Katy Bagniewski: How do you think that those skills would translate into a more rural community?

Sydney Armbruster: Right now there’s a lot of housing crises in rural areas. And Land Bank is actually working on moving their services to rural areas because of the crisis. And it would work the exact same way we work in those underdeveloped parts of the communities and hopefully get them back up to functioning pace. And it would affect the community just as much as it does in urban areas.

Katy Bagniewski: How has the Rural Futures Institute impacted your college career and your future plans?

Sydney Armbruster: RFI has been one of the best experiences of my college career thus far. I’ve gained friendships, mentors, and many memories. It definitely opened my horizons to what the world has to offer and how many people are working for positive change in the world today.

Katy Bagniewski: Well, thank you so much, Sydney, for talking to me today and discussing this interesting intersection between housing and healthcare and how it really affects both urban and rural.

Sydney Armbruster: Thanks for having me, Katy.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Okay, Christy, I’m going to ask you to put your futurist hat on now for a second. I want you to think about how do you think these changes will impact the future? How do you see the rural-urban dynamic evolving?

Christy McFarland: I think that the urban-rural dynamic will evolve to a place where, from what I know about city leaders in other community leaders and town leaders across the country, they will find a way. There are solutions when the right people are at the table. And my sense is that we’re getting to a critical point where we need to really start identifying solutions that work for both urban and rural communities and for shared prosperity within the regions. In terms of what the future looks like, again, I’m hopeful in those leaders who are on the ground and understand not only the constraints but are starting to view their communities through an asset-driven lens as opposed to deficit-driven lens. And when you do that I think the possibilities really become more apparent. And again, we are seeing that in communities across the country, and I’m hopeful that others will take that lead as well.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I so agree. I know there’s challenges, and we at Rural Futures Institute aren’t trying to diminish those challenges at all but surely think more on the mindset of possibility and abundance and what can be created. I think it’s so important. So we are actually recognizing that there’s opportunity here rather than just focusing on the challenges.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: Now I know you’re one of the people on this planet that really takes her work very seriously, but also gets out there and experiences these crops and these rural areas for herself. So I’d love for you to share with our audience what you do for fun that also helps you think of the research and push your research forward.

Christy McFarland: Yeah, well my husband and  I have recently become whisky-hobbyists, if that’s a word. We very much enjoy getting out into Virginia and exploring the distilleries that are local here. There are quite a few in Virginia and it’s just been a really fun experience. I think, when we get out to these places it’s very interesting to see, for example, the methods that are used when these distilleries are dealing with different types of grains. It’s not a high-tech type of process. It’s very much being able to feel and to smell all of the different grains that are going into whether it’s rye or bourbon or whatnot. It’s a great experience really to get up close and personal with the products that we love to taste test for ourselves back at home. And to have an experience not only with the products but also with the people that are making it.

Dr. Connie: But I think this is just a huge asset rural communities definitely have. A little later today I get to go down to Kimmel Orchard. And it’s a 90-acre orchard famous for apples but has a variety of fruits and vegetables as well. And every fall, they have an AppleJack festival in Nebraska City which is a town of about 7,000 people in southeast Nebraska. And literally, 50 to 70,000 people will come down there and participate in that festival over the course of a three-day period. And it’s been named one of the best festivals pin the nation for a small town. It’s such a great economic boom for the area, but it also just provides that experience you’re talking about. People coming from rural and urban areas alike to be able to pick apples and get outside, have some family fun. But really get to also experience what a great apple, what great products and produce actually taste like straight from the place it is grown and produced. And on the side of education, it really has allowed us to really relate to people in a different way through the lens of food and agriculture. We talk about the university work and the work in extension and research and that stays. And so those are just amazing places and assets to have so that we can all come together around these issues and help grow our economies but also the quality of our lives together.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So, Christy, tell us a little bit more about your work and what you’re doing in work with your PhD and what your research looks like.

Christy McFarland: So we had done this initial research on the urban-rural economic divide and wanting to understand where there are opportunities for regional economic development that helps strengthen and see prosperity throughout regions as opposed to just to build parts of regions. For my PhD work, what I’m looking at is in covering that a little bit more, so really understanding what are the connections from an economic development lens, whether that’s different types of industry and how are they connected? I’m looking specifically at the ability of conglomeration and clusters, economic clusters, to help facilitate regional economic development. And I think recently when we think about conglomeration which is sort of the clustering of economic activity along one smaller place, we think of that as the key driver of divergence among urban and rural communities across the country. But we’ve really only looked at that through the lens of major regions across the country and maybe why are the coasts doing better and the Midwest is not doing as well. But we haven’t really taken the approach of really understanding, okay, let’s dig deeper into regions that include both urban and rural counterparts and understand can this cluster of economic activity encompass both urban and rural communities and help bridge urban and rural economy in a more productive way, building whole region?

Dr. Connie: The work you’re doing really, I think, is an incredible innovation in research itself in terms of changing the narrative but also adding the substance behind it that it needs. So as we come up even to more elections and the topic of rural versus urban reemerges in the media in the narrative, I’m excited that so many of us now can use the work you’re doing to really have a different, more robust conversation around this issue.

Christy McFarland: Yeah, I think it’s really important that we have the information. I think one side of the story has been told very well. And again, it’s not to say that rural communities don’t have their challenges because they certainly do. But it’s also important for the other side of the story to be told as well so that we can start to look towards solutions. I’m with the National League of Cities. Cities are certainly in our name, so I’ve gotten some funny looks when I start to have this conversation with people. But we really do represent cities and towns of all sizes across the country. So our interest really is in strengthening the economy and the quality of life in communities across the country whether large or small.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, I appreciate that point because I think that is,  a person hears the word city and you automatically think of like New York. You don’t think of West Point, Nebraska. So appreciate you bringing that forward because the work you’re doing, really I think is helpful to anyone working in this space at all. There’s a lotta good statistics. I think there’s great examples of communities really rethinking their economic future but also sustainability and growth. And your work is really unleashing a whole new conversation that we all need to be a part of and help support.

Christy McFarland: From my sense, too, again although we certainly represent cities and towns across the spectrum and this research really is in the vein of trying to support economic growth throughout regions, there is also an incentive I would say for more urban communities to start thinking with this frame as well. Particularly as communities start to grow, they’re becoming more unaffordable. There are problems with transportation and traffic issues. And it’s going to be incumbent on urban communities as well to think in a more regional frame in order to help balance some of these negative consequences of growth.

Dr. Connie: Yeah, in Nebraska what we’re seeing is really the growth happening in those micropolitan areas. So, the areas that are not considered major urban centers but are big enough that people want to live there but still have that quality of life, the space, more affordable housing, great schools. And so I think this is something that’s really part of this narrative, right? People really want this quality of life, and now people are so mobile. I mean, here we are both working from home to record this podcast that they can do that. And I think there’s so many ways we can help people realize their potential wherever they want to live. But both rural and urban areas can think about that. Like what do people want? What are they looking for? And how do we become providers of that lifestyle? As long as people are connected, they can do so much now from anywhere in the world, and that is really shifting the possibilities around where people want to live, but also where they can live.

Christy McFarland: Yeah, I think that’s right. We can’t underestimate the importance and the vitality of our urban areas and the reason why they are successful. People still do want to be near other people, but there are others. And there are other ways to be successful as long as those connections are made in a strategic way and an economically viable way. And maybe we just haven’t gotten there yet, but I think that is the path we need to continue to go down.

(music transition)

Dr. Connie: So Christy, what parting words of wisdom would you like to leave our audience with today?

Christy McFarland: I hope that the research that we’ve done at the National League of Cities and that we’ll continue to do and also the work that you all are doing, really can help people change their direction a little bit just in terms of tweaking the way that we see the world and putting an asset-driven lens on the work that we do because I think that really can open up some new possibilities.

Dr. Connie: Great, thank you so much, Christy! We appreciate the work you’re doing and your time to come on the podcast.

Christy McFarland: Thank you.

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Thank You To Our Partners | Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska

November 9, 2018
  During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and …

With Gratitude

 

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN).

 

Dedicated to improving access to behavioral health care across the state of Nebraska by developing a skilled and passionate workforce, the University of Nebraska  Medical Center through BHECN works with students, providers across the state and within the national landscape of behavioral health professions.

Eighty-eight of Nebraska’s 93 counties are recognized as mental health professional shortage areas by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

 

RFI has the supported the work of BHECN through two RFI-funded projects.

 

 

Connie Reimers-Hild, RFI Interim Executive Director and Chief Futurist, also recently hosted Howard Liu, M.D., Director of BHECN on Episode 14 of the Rural Futures Podcast.

 

 

Episode 14

 

Thank you, Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, for all you do for rural people and places in Nebraska!

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Thank You To Our Partners | Nebraska Community Foundation

November 7, 2018
  During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and …

With Gratitude

 

During this month of Thanksgiving, we take some extra time to share our gratitude for all of our partners — individuals and communities of place and practice. Thank you for all you do to bring forward the research and hands-on work for thriving rural communities of the future.

 

The Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska understands that to truly make a statewide, regional, national and international impact for current and future residents of rural communities, we must partner with the boldest, action-oriented thought leaders and achievers around the world.

 

Meet Our Partners »

 


 

Today we especially thank the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF).

 

With an exceptional vision for the future, NCF has created an incredible network of purpose, passion and giving throughout the state of Nebraska.

We have been specifically supported by NCF President and CEO Jeff Yost who served as a RFI Community Innovation Fellow from February 2017 through June 2018. Earlier this year, Jeff spoke to our two campaign questions of 2018, “Why Rural? Why Now?

NCF has also become an instrumental partner in the capacity and resource-building for RFI Student Serviceship. Through the NCF network, RFI gains access to tremendous leaders throughout Nebraska who create meaningful experiences for University of Nebraska students to work, serve and live in rural communities.

Through Rural Prosperity Research Project, NCF has partnered with University of Nebraska faculty to bring forward research and action intended to:

  • Increase economic opportunities that contribute to the creation of businesses, jobs and careers;
  • Build up community assets that support a high quality of life; and
  • Attract and keeping people to achieve demographic renewal.

Finally, we were pleased to pass leadership and administration of the Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) network to NCF earlier this year. CYN was created by RFI in 2012 as a network for young leaders throughout Nebraska to create a shared vision and related actions to that vision for the state. We know that CYN is in capable hands under the leadership of NCF.

Find CYN on Facebook »

Thank you, Nebraska Community Foundation, for all you do for rural people and places in Nebraska!

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Raghav Kidambi from India shares his rural-urban perspective on Rural Futures Podcast Episode 16

November 6, 2018
     November 6, 2018 — Raghav Kidambi, senior management major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is from a “town” of seven million people. Born and raised in Chennai, located in the southeastern part of India, Kidambi had never …

 

 

November 6, 2018 — Raghav Kidambi, senior management major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is from a “town” of seven million people.

Born and raised in Chennai, located in the southeastern part of India, Kidambi had never experienced a rural community, let alone a rural community in the United States.

That is until he became a Rural Futures Institute (RFI) Serviceship student in summer 2018. He talked about his experience and why it is important to his future in the Bold Voices student segment of Episode 16 of the Rural Futures Podcast [13:20], available across listening platforms.

“When people leave rural societies for urban centers, we’re losing a huge amount of workforce when it comes to agribusiness and agriculture and things that are necessary — that are the backbone for the country,” he says. “And not just in America, but this is happening everywhere in the world.”

Raghav worked, served and lived in Seward, Neb., for 10 weeks, creating a newcomer engagement strategy, complete with an events guide and web page.

“Going into a rural community is something special by itself, because there’s a lot more meaning attached to what you’re doing,” he says during his podcast interview. “Your work is going to affect not just you but literally a community that you get to spend time with on a daily basis.”

The RFI podcast, Rural Futures with Dr. Connie, is available on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud,Google Play and Spotify.

Check out all of the 2018 RFI Student Serviceship results »

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Episode 16: Futurist Deborah Westphal intersects humanity, technology, empowerment

November 6, 2018
            In this episode, two female futurists come together to talk about the future of humanity with technology; water infrastructure and the leadership needed to sustain it; empowerment of women and new generations of leaders; …

 

 

     

 

In this episode, two female futurists come together to talk about the future of humanity with technology; water infrastructure and the leadership needed to sustain it; empowerment of women and new generations of leaders; and much, much more. Deborah Westphal, CEO of the future-focused strategic advisory firm, Toffler Associates, is an engineer by training and an evolving leader who recognizes the value of people. She believes individuals’ hopes, desires and strengths can further organizations, even in exponentially changing technology environments. She and Dr. Connie also explain that our inter-dependencies whether rural and urban, male and female, boomer and millennial are assets to build upon.