Young People To Conduct Research To Improve Their Communities

John Anderson
Professor of Political Science University of Nebraska at Kearney 308.865.8171

A novel way to help rural Nebraska communities improve local quality of life will soon begin at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.  The project will use young people to conduct research and design community improvements.

Under the project, five Nebraska towns under 5,000 in population will be selected later this year.  Up to ten high school students from each town will be trained to research and identify their community’s most urgent civic needs.  The students will then engage community leaders in ways to improve their city, said John Anderson, UNK professor of political science and one of the project’s co-researchers.

The research could lead to ways the rural communities might attract new citizens or keep young people from moving away after graduation.

The students will conduct their research under guidance of UNK Political Science faculty, said Peter Longo, Political Science Professor and the other co-researcher on the project.  The UNK professors will collaborate with colleague Chris Plein from West Virginia University who conducted similar work in rural areas of his state.  The study will work closely with the Nebraska Network for Educational Renewal to select the schools.

Much of the data will be collected from local focus groups and surveys conducted by the student researchers.

Possible community needs that the students may identify are new retail businesses that can make the town more attractive or development of programs to meet civic needs.

Data collected during the project could be revealing as it will originate and be analyzed by the part of the population that is most prone to relocation, Anderson said.  The results may also provide young people a scientific basis to engage with civic leaders who may possess other perspectives on life in their communities.

In addition to identifying and discussing solutions to community issues, the research work may also reveal to the students the positive features of small town or rural life and encourage them to remain in the state, Anderson said.  

The $82,500 project was funded by the University of Nebraska Foundation.