The newly hired founding executive director of the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute said he’s eager to work with Nebraskans across the state and others to help rethink and revitalize rural life, with a particular emphasis on making rural communities places where young people can make their lives.
Charles P. “Chuck” Schroeder will assume the job Dec. 1.
“There have been many, many institutions and organizations dedicating resources toward the interests of rural people and places, but this is certainly the most comprehensive, aggressive effort to truly change the trajectory for rural people not only in Nebraska and the Great Plains but potentially around the world,” Schroeder said.
“I’m enormously excited,” he added.
Schroeder currently is president and executive director of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Okla., where he’s worked since 2002. Before that, he was chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for more than six years. He also served as executive vice president and director of development at the University of Nebraska Foundation and director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Schroeder was with his family’s company, the Schroeder Cattle Co., for about 30 years, the last 10 as owner and president. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he studied animal science and business and production options.
Schroeder’s rich and varied background is a perfect fit for the challenges of the Rural Futures Institute, said Ronnie Green, University of Nebraska vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“Chuck Schroeder is the perfect choice as founding executive director to launch and build this bold new program for the University of Nebraska,” Green said. “His unique combination of leadership experiences, coupled with his deep roots in and passion for rural America, will allow him to instantly be a transformational leader for the Rural Futures Institute. We are immensely pleased to have him coming back to his native Nebraska to lead the program in its critically important developmental phase and look forward to his enthusiastic engagement with all of the NU campuses in this effort.”
University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken said, “We are very fortunate to have recruited Chuck Schroeder back to Nebraska to serve as founding executive director of the Rural Futures Institute. His deep experience, talents and passion for rural development make him an excellent fit to lead the institute through its early stages. With Chuck on board, I’m tremendously excited about the potential of the Rural Futures Institute to become the center for research and implementation of strategies that benefit Nebraska first but also rural communities everywhere.”
Based at the Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Lincoln and reporting to NU Vice President Green, the Rural Futures Institute will engage and draw on the talents and resources of all four NU campuses – UNL, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska Medical Center. It will help address unique challenges and opportunities facing rural communities and individuals, including those related to entrepreneurship and innovation, talent attraction and development, technology, rural health, workforce development and community planning, rural education and others.
In addition, Schroeder noted, the NU campuses will work with other educational institutions, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and community, civic and business leaders and citizens across the state and beyond that are dedicated to improving rural life.
Schroeder, a native of Palisade, Neb., said he’s had an “intense interest” in rural America his entire life.
Because it will draw expertise from so many directions, the Rural Futures Institute is well-suited to finding novel solutions, Schroeder said.
“It’s a matter of engaging rural residents who see both opportunities and challenges,” he said. “We are going to be drawing together the best minds in the business wherever they might be located to address these issues.
“We are really rethinking what it means to live a rural lifestyle. A rural lifestyle is not a lifestyle of last resort. It is actually the first choice of some of our brightest and best young people who are emerging from universities today. We want to enable that choice to go launch careers, raise families and live lives in rural communities,” Schroeder added.
Schroeder pointed to his own rural upbringing.
“I grew up in a community where I had very wise and broad-thinking mentors who enabled me to launch a career there and feel I wasn’t confined to a small locale just because that’s where I was living,” he said. “They made it clear that a rural community was a great place from which to see the world, and I really want to have a role in affording that opportunity to others.”
Prior to his official start date, Schroeder will be deeply engaged in the work of the Rural Futures Institute, including the second annual Rural Futures Conference, which is Nov. 3-5 in Lincoln. Registration for the conference is currently open.