Each summer, college students from around the Midwest live and work in rural Nebraska communities as part of the Rural Fellows program. During the 10-week program, students work with local leaders and business owners to meet locally identified goals for community improvement. Applications are now open for communities to host Rural Fellows for summer 2022.
Coordinated through the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Rural Prosperity Nebraska, the immersive internship offers students real-world work experience and provides leadership development opportunities for hosting communities.
“That’s the beauty of this program,” said Helen Fagan, Rural Fellows program coordinator. “It’s all-encompassing. Nebraska’s new tourism slogan is ‘It’s not for everyone.’ This program is for everyone. The students grow. The communities improve. Everyone — every community — benefits from a program like this because its impacts are felt statewide.”
Many of the students in the program end up returning to rural Nebraska after graduation. In a recent survey conducted with Rural Fellow alumni from the past eight years, nearly half of respondents said they now currently live and work in rural communities.
Though organized through the university, each community’s experience differs, because each community creates goals and projects based on the needs of its residents. During summer 2021, fellows in Arapahoe organized Small-Business Saturday to promote local business. In Chadron, fellows focused on tourism by revitalizing the hiking trail system outside of town.
Meanwhile, throughout the summer, local leaders — dubbed Community Fellows — receive individualized leadership improvement training that aids them in continuing the community development process long after Rural Fellows leave. Terri Haynes, a project manager with Chadron’s Educational Service Unit 13, attested to this benefit.
“It is a lot of bang for your buck in manpower and creativity,” she said. “The opportunity for Community Fellows to improve their leadership skills is amazing. Skills that will be used within the community to better our boards, committees and teams will help our community for years to come.”
“Having (the fellows) in the office has helped us bring some things into fruition, including some workforce-ready trainings,” said Andrea McClintic, executive director of Dawson Area Development. “Those sold out. The community is really excited about those opportunities. They also helped develop some curriculum for us to work with our high school students in career exploration, and then a marketing plan so people know what we’re doing.”
Rural Prosperity Nebraska selects communities through an application and interview process. To best serve in their internships, Rural Fellows are paired with communities whose goals and projects best align with the students’ education and experience.
The application deadline is Oct. 31. Additional details and the application can be found here.