Rural Civic Action Program: UNK’s Matt Mims recognized for promoting youth leadership

Matthew Mims
Matthew Mims

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Civic Nebraska were recently recognized for a collaborative project that promotes youth leadership in rural communities.

The Rural Civic Action Program received the Outstanding Program Award during the Association of Leadership Educators (ALE) annual conference July 8-11 in Chicago. This award recognizes outstanding leadership programs developed or implemented by ALE members. Programs are judged on their design, impact and sustainability.

The Rural Civic Action Program started in 2014 as a partnership between UNL and Civic Nebraska, a nonprofit focused on creating a more modern and robust democracy in the state, with funding from the University of Nebraska’s Rural Futures Institute.

The program, which expanded to UNK in fall 2015 and received additional grant funding, involves undergraduate students who work with middle and high school classes in rural communities to promote leadership and complete service-learning projects. Undergraduates working in teams meet several times each semester with the younger students to cover leadership curriculum and develop their projects.

From fall 2014 through spring 2017, the program involved 93 undergraduate students, including 61 from UNK, and nearly 500 middle and high school students. They completed 44 projects in about a dozen central and southeast Nebraska communities, including creating a community service club and community garden, improving a public park and downtown district, increasing awareness of issues such as bullying and bicycle safety and collecting supplies for homeless shelters and foster children.

The ultimate goal is to show youths the positive impact community service has while developing future leaders who can address challenges and opportunities in rural Nebraska.

Larry McElravy, assistant professor of agricultural leadership, education and communication at UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is the lead researcher for the project. Matthew Mims, associate professor of counseling and school psychology at UNK, is a co-researcher. The project also includes Amanda Barker and Kelsey Arends with Civic Nebraska and Jessica Bartak, a graduate teaching assistant at UNL.

The Rural Civic Action Program already led to the creation of a new facilitation and program planning course at UNL, and the group hopes to expand the program to other Nebraska colleges and universities.

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