Summer outreach pairs Huskers with community projects statewide

· 7 min read

Summer outreach pairs Huskers with community projects statewide

What I Did This Summer series
Huskers Rhiannon and Michayla participated in a Nebraska Main Street conference in Beatrice during their first week developing a regional mapping report for the greater northeast Nebraska region.
Courtesy photo
Huskers Rhiannon Cobb and Michayla Goedeken participated in a Nebraska Main Street conference in Beatrice during their first week developing a regional mapping report for the greater northeast Nebraska region.

Working through the Rural Futures Institute, 17 Huskers are spending the summer working on projects in 10 communities across the Cornhusker State.

The summer mentorships are part of the Rural Futures Institute’s Student Serviceship program, which connects current student pairs with community mentors to complete actions of service and strategic, future-focused projects.

“We are proud to match the talents, perspectives and expertise of high-achieving students with the experience, dedication and knowledge of community leaders through this program,” said Chuck Schroeder, executive director of the Rural Futures Institute. “Bringing students together with communities, and for several projects with researchers as well, is where we believe innovation can truly happen.”

Students participating in this year’s experience come from hometowns large and small — from Crofton, a town of approximately 800, to Chennai, India, population 7 million. Students’ areas of study include agribusiness, disease and human health, exercise science, hospitality, political science and public administration. They also range from freshmen to graduate students.

Each student pair was created to intentionally connect complementary skill sets and varying backgrounds and experiences.

Nebraska's Emily Frenzen and Sage Williams visited Carhenge in Alliance while looking for ideas to improve the High Plains Museum in McCook.
Courtesy photo
Nebraska's Emily Frenzen and Sage Williams visited Carhenge in Alliance while looking for ideas to improve the High Plains Museum in McCook.

In terms of communities and projects, students will problem-solve and create opportunities within the areas of housing, community recruitment, community planning, welcoming and economic development. They will participate and lead projects that will include strategic planning, event planning, assessment creation and analysis, visioning and marketing.

For example, in Neligh, Michayla Goedeken, an integrated sciences major, and Rhiannon Cobb, a political science and global studies major, are creating a regional mapping report on the greater northeast Nebraska region. The report will examine demographics, economic trends, infrastructure details, geography and available technologies to shape Neligh’s strategic planning process.

During their first week in Neligh, the students worked with Gabriel Steinmeyer, director of economic development, met with community boards and business owners, and discussed the upcoming renovation of a movie theater with community foundations.

“I have interned in Washington, D.C., the past two summers, and I wanted to be in the field working with the people I am supporting in D.C.,” said Cobb, who is from Omaha. “(Rural Futures) provides such an amazing opportunity to not only work in making Nebraska a better state, but allows the development of rural Nebraska.”

This year marks an important milestone in the growth of the Rural Futures’ summer program by more than doubling the total number of student and community participants. The reach has also been expanded beyond rural localities, to communities of practice through partnership with the Omaha Land Bank Authority and Black Hills Energy, both of which aim to serve the state of Nebraska as a whole through their work this summer.

Overall, the summer 2018 program includes 24 students from the University of Nebraska system and Peru State College. Each student pair will spend 10 weeks developing the individual project.

A complete list of project descriptions and weekly updates are available online. Details about each community project, including the names and majors of Huskers participating, are below.

Rural Futures Institute’s 2018 Student Serviceship


Working in conjunction with Nebraska Extension, Haley Ehrke, (agribusiness) and Mirissa Scholting (agricultural education) are implementing a Marketing Hometown America project in Box Butte County. The interns will enhance the community’s marketing strategy by developing taglines, using social media and creating videos that feature opportunities, events and attractions in the county. The students are working with Chelsie Herian, executive director of Box Butte Development Corporation.

Black Hills Energy

Since April, Emily Coffey (political science) has assisted Black Hills Energy with its community and government relations needs on statewide and regional levels. Projects include assisting with employee advocacy and communications plans, Nebraska community giving strategy, and natural gas safety outreach planning for college students. This is a pilot program for Black Hills Energy.

Broken Bow

Working with multiple community organizations, Leanne Gamet (agricultural and environmental sciences communication) and Jessica Weeder (agribusiness) are completing two overarching projects. They are assisting the Custer Economic Development Corporation’s business committee to examine the feasibility of establishing a YMCA in Broken Bow. They are also exploring opportunities for tourism in the county. Project partners include the Custer Economic Development Corporation, Broken Bow Chamber of Commerce, City of Broken Bow and Melham Memorial Medical Center.


Along with an intern from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Amber Ross (agribusiness) is helping develop Columbus Area Future Fund’s “Toward a Bolder Future” campaign. For the Columbus Area Chamber, the interns are planning and organizing local activities for Young Nebraskans Week, engaging local partners in opportunities to educate, challenge and entertain participants. They will also research options to market Columbus nationally as a place to live and work; create, sell and promote a community calendar related to the community brand; organize summer activities for other interns; and help facilitate committee and chamber events, including Columbus Days and Red, White, KaBoom.


Addressing a community priority related to housing, Christy Cooper (agricultural education) and Shelby Utech (agricultural economics) are completing an inventory that includes the condition, ownership and tax status of each vacant property in the community. The housing inventory will advance Cozad’s efforts toward rehabilitation, code enforcement and re-occupancy. The students will also take the lead on a project to revitalize the community’s highway corridors, improving the first impression of Cozad.


The priority project for Emily Frenzen (agricultural and environmental sciences communication) and Sage Williams (agricultural education) is to create an assessment of the assets of McCook’s High Plains Museum and Carnegie Library. They will also develop an action plan for the curation of a facility to appeal to a diverse audience. Secondary projects include event and community photography through Red Willow County Tourism; business incubator programming through the McCook Economic Development Corporation; and being involved in developing McCook’s Young Professionals group.


Examining Neligh, Antelope County and the greater northeast Nebraska region, Michayla Goedeken (integrated sciences) and Rhiannon Cobb (political science and global studies) will conduct a regional mapping study that will highlight demographics, strategic planning assessments, economic trends, infrastructure reports, geography and technology identifications. The report will be used to shape projects within Neligh’s strategic planning process. The student team will also create social media content that focuses on the region’s community activities; generate promotions of Neligh and Antelope County as a place to live and grow a business; and form templates for future marketing materials.


In a primary focus, Cheyenne Gerlach (integrated sciences) and Samantha Guenther (agricultural education) will focus on capturing the story of how a particular business in Norfolk is investing 10 percent of gross revenues into employees and the community. The philanthropic program includes the creation of a permanent, charitable endowment with a goal of investing $50 million by 2028. As the program evolves, the students will capture the story using video, written testimonies and web content. A second project will create a marketing strategy for Norfolk area that promotes retail and service opportunities.

Red Cloud

Working with a serviceship intern from UNO, Trenton Buhr (classical languages, classics and religious studies, political science and psychology) will create a strategic marketing and economic development plan to fulfill the community’s Heritage Tourism Development initiative. The project includes working to help further community initiative to use tax dollars to support economic development purposes; and increase the visibility of the Red Cloud brand. Secondary projects include tourism, event facilitation and housing/nuisance property cleanup.


Interns Raghav Kidambi (human resource management) and Maddie Miller (hospitality, restaurant and tourism management) are developing a welcoming and engagement program for new permanent residents and temporary visitors to Seward. The project includes working with local businesses to create a fresh first impression of the community. The students will also assist in developing a Seward County Foundation as well as working on the county’s first cultural festival.

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