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17 Nebr communities welcome Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows | KTIC Radio

17 Nebr communities welcome Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows

17 Nebr communities welcome Rural Futures Institute Student Fellows
Rural Futures Institute.

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 <> .

Project Summaries:

Focus: Economic and Community Development
The students will work on a variety of community and economic development projects. One goal is to connect local store fronts and homes with alumni and entrepreneurs. Students will also focus on a campaign to secure the passage of LB840 in the November election. Other projects will include building the new economic development organization through determining community and business needs, helping local businesses get an online presence, developing community marketing, and more.

Students: Aline Abayo < Tofflemire <>
Innovators: Angie Moore < Warner <>

Sponsored By: Arapahoe Economic Development, City of Arapahoe

Focus: Economic Development, Entrepreneurship, Workforce Training
The primary project will involve creating a great marketing and research effort with a strong community campaign to secure passage of LB840, the local option municipal economic development act that authorizes incorporated cities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes. Additional projects will include entrepreneurship, coding camp and mobile STEM lab promotion, business recruitment and workforce training.

Students: Brittney Emerson < Hoffschneider <>
Innovators: Julia Oestmann < Beger <>

Sponsored By: Auburn Development Council

Dawes County | Chadron, Crawford, Harrison
Focus: Tourism, PreK-12 Education and Mental Health Awareness, Indigenous Population Inclusion
The student fellows will work to complete SHAPE planning and implementation through data collection and analysis of pre-K-12 youth, with a priority support for the Native American population. Students will focus on methods to reduce stigma of mental health through awareness campaigns, as well as work with Educational Service Unit 13 to create a school-based mental health services needs assessment and a behavioral mental health dashboard for the department’s ongoing use. Students will also assist Dawes County Joint Planning and Discover Northwest Nebraska in the development of programs and marketing campaigns designed to enhance the tourism industry in Northwest Nebraska. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has already and will continue to disrupt the 2020 tourism season for the region. Having interns available for the summer will allow focus on promoting local and regional tourism through staycations and complete several planning projects for 2021.

Students: Tyra Ann Reardon < Smith <>
Innovators: Katie Carrizales < Haynes < Montague-Roes < Rempp <>

Sponsored By: Chadron Public Schools, Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) Grant, Educational Service Unit 13, Dawes County Joint Planning, Northwest Nebraska Tourism

Pierce County | Hadar, Osmond, Pierce, Plainview
Focus: Community Marketing, Resident Retention and Recruitment
The main focus of this project will be to market Pierce County. Students will help market the county by creating social media videos, blog posts, improve county websites, and create mini commercials and other marketing methods. A community impressions survey will be developed for each community. A secondary project will provide assistance to Plainview in establishing a networking/co-share space in a former community building.

Students: Judith Grey < Meis <>
Innovators: Chad Anderson < Norris <>

Sponsored By: Pierce County Economic Development

Focus: Community and Economic Development, Community Marketing
Ravenna has a long list of projects the students will focus on, including organizing and running a Big Idea competition, research planning and fundraising for a bike and hike trail, and increasing civic engagement by encouraging residents to subscribe to a community texting notification service to receive community updates via text messaging. In addition, students will use existing and new photographs and video to create marketing materials for the community.

Students: Connor McFayden < Siebert < Uwase < Weiche <>
Innovators: Amber Ross < McPherson <>

Sponsored By: Ravenna Chamber of Commerce, Ravenna Economic Development Corporation

Pawnee County | Burchard, DuBois, Lewiston, Pawnee City, Steinauer, Table Rock
Focus: Community Marketing, Economic Development, Tourism
The main focus of this project will be to implement a comprehensive social media strategy for local businesses to build their social media presence and expand their reach to new audiences. The goal is to include areas high school students that are interested in marketing or advertising that could help facilitate this process and take the reins once the fellowship is completed. Students would also perform community impact surveys and brainstorm new ways to promote the area through tourism.

Students: Kate Osbon < Williss <>
Innovators: Kenneth Edwards < Hunzeker <>

Sponsored By: Village of Table Rock, Pawnee County Promotional Network, Table Rock Historical Society

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

Students: Savannah Gerlach < Most < Usanase <>
Innovators: Theresa Klein < Harrell <>

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

RFI Student Fellows

Aline Abayo
Integrated science, agricultural economics
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Brittney Emerson
Agricultural leadership
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Savannah Gerlach
Agricultural economics, international agriculture
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Judith Grey
Science business
Union College

Emma Hoffschneider
Communications & public relations
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Connor McFayden
Environmental studies, community and regional planning, natural resources and environmental economics
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Marie Meis
Agricultural and environmental sciences communication and journalism
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Amanda Most
Agricultural education, agricultural leadership
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Kate Osbon
Hospitality, restaurant and tourism management
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Tyra Ann Reardon
Family and consumer sciences education
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Kori Siebert
Speech communications
Wayne State College

Sawyer Smith
Mathematics, computer science and psychology
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Megan Tofflemire
Criminal justice, spanish, pre-Law
Wayne State College

Oscaline Usanase
Integrated science, agricultural and environmental sciences communication
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Andromede Uwase
Integrated science with society and environment concentration
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Ethan Weiche
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Rachel Willis
Agricultural and environmental sciences communication
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

RFI Community Innovation Fellows

Chad Anderson
City Administrator
Pierce, Neb.

Kim Beger
Vice President
Auburn Development Council
Auburn, Neb.

Katie Carrizales
Behavioral and Mental Health Director
Chadron, Neb.

Kenneth Edwards
Vice President
Table Rock Development Corporation
Table Rock, Neb.

Melissa Harrell
City Administrator, Treasurer
Wahoo, Neb.

Teri Haynes
AWARE Project Manager
Chadron Public Schools
Chadron, Neb.

Amy Hunzeker
Vice President of Lending
State Bank of Table Rock
Table Rock, Neb.

Theresa Klein
Executive Director
Wahoo Chamber and Economic Development
Wahoo, Neb.

Gena McPherson
Executive Director
Ravenna Chamber of Commerce
Ravenna, Neb.

Sandy Montague-Roes
Western Community Health Resources
Chardon, Neb.

Angie Moore
Arapahoe Chamber of Commerce
Arapahoe, Neb.

Susan Norris
Pierce County Economic Development
Pierce, Neb

Julia Oestmann
Content Strategist
BCom Solutions
Auburn, Neb.

Kerri Rempp
Northwest Nebraska Tourism
Dawes County, Neb.

Amber Ross
Ravenna Economic Development Corporation
Ravenna, Neb.

Kate Warner
Broker, Owner
Warner Real Estate and Warner Beef Genetics
Arapahoe, Neb.


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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