Tori Pedersen, a senior majoring in agricultural leadership at the University of Lincoln–Nebraska, spent her summer as a Rural Fellow in Lexington — a town literally 50 times smaller than her hometown of Omaha. And she couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
What was it like moving to Dawson County?
I was really scared. I knew it would be an adjustment. But living at Camp Comeca in Cozad (where the Rural Fellows were housed) was the greatest blessing. I built friendships that I truly believe will last. It was a different sense of community than Fellows typically experience, but one I’m incredibly grateful for. The camp staff made the experience really feel like home.
What projects did you work on?
The main project I worked on was creating workforce development workshops. I coordinated a leadership development series that taught skills such as building trust with followers, managing change, leading with strengths, being inclusive, managing conflict, and coaching employees. I also developed a new marketing plan for Dawson Area Development, audited their website, drafted curriculum for the Dawson Area Leadership program, and developed curriculum for an 11th-12th-grade career exploration course.
What project did you enjoy most?
Facilitating two of the workshops offered in the leadership development series. I’ve presented before to students at UNL, but this was my first time working with professionals. It was extremely valuable because this is what I want to do as a career, and it gave me the confidence to see that regardless of my age or work experience, I have knowledge worth sharing and the skillset to share it.
What was most challenging about being a Rural Fellow?
The most challenging part was also the most rewarding. I grew as an inclusive leader this summer. I was put on a team that had many similarities, but very different working styles. It was challenging to step away from how I believed work “should” be done and recognize that there is value in different approaches. Rather than reacting with judgment, I was able to react with curiosity and an eagerness to learn.
What surprised you about your experience?
The commitment to community — people really do care about one another simply because they call the same place home. That’s special. There’s a dedication to strengthening the community that brings everyone together to give their best, and share their talents and knowledge for the betterment of everyone around them. Also, I didn’t realize how early things closed— no ice cream runs after 9 p.m., and not all Walmarts are open 24 hours.
How has this experience has changed you?
This program helped me see the beauty of Nebraska, both in the land and its people. I’ve become a more patient, curious and inclusive leader. I’m a better listener, a more dedicated learner, and a more engaged community member because of this program.
How has this experience prepared you for your upcoming year at UNL?
This program has strengthened my ability to mentor those around me. As a leadership mentor in Nebraska Human Resources Institute, a senior lead Strengths Coach for the College of Business, and an engaged member of Gamma Phi Beta, I have the opportunity to mentor my peers and help them grow into more self-aware, capable leaders. The knowledge I gained this summer is knowledge I can share with them so they, too, can make an impact on the communities around them.