University of Nebraska announces plans for Rural Futures Institute

October 1, 2012

Rural America faces great challenges in a changing world, but it also has the tools to survive and even thrive – work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit – and the fact that it’s home to much of the food-production system needed to feed a growing world population.

To help rural America address these great challenges, the University of Nebraska (NU) this week announced plans to form a Rural Futures Institute – pending final approval by the Board of Regents at its October meeting.

The Rural Futures Institute is a natural outgrowth of the university’s land-grant mission, which is being celebrated at the university this week because this year marks the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Morrill Act that created land-grant universities.

“The Rural Futures Institute is one important way the University of Nebraska will continue to fulfill its land-grant mission in the 21st century,” NU President James B. Milliken said.

“Through the institute, we will leverage our talents and resources to serve the people of rural Nebraska in new ways. Through its four campuses, all enthusiastically participating in this initiative, the University of Nebraska has a tremendous opportunity to become a global leader in addressing the needs of rural communities,” Milliken said.

Ronnie Green, NU vice president and Harlan vice chancellor of UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said Nebraska is the perfect place to lead such an effort.

“No one else is doing this ... I think we’re better positioned than anyone else” to lead it, Green said. “We have the best living laboratory for it in the country.”

The institute will tap faculty expertise across all four NU campuses for research, education and engagement involving partner organizations and rural communities across the Great Plains.

To help new ideas become reality, the institute will begin awarding seed grants to launch multidisciplinary research related to rural places and to develop educational programs.

Although agriculture was the foundation of rural America and remains critical to its economy, that's not all there is, Green said.

"It's not just an economy of production," he told the inaugural Rural Futures Conference in May. "It's a natural resources economy. It's a knowledge economy."

More than 465 people from across the nation attended that conference, which was a major step toward establishing the institute.

"I think we're at a time when the planets are aligning in a way that's really unusual," Green said. "We have to figure out a way to make this landscape sustainable for the long term."

It's time to change the conversation from what's wrong with rural America to what's right, he added. "Rural America is about to experience a renaissance. I really believe that."

Milliken said, “I look forward to working with our partners across the state to support a rural environment that offers exciting economic, civic and social opportunities to Nebraskans.”

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska