UNK students can apply for Rural Fellowship program

LINCOLN – Summer 2023 will mark the Rural Fellowship program’s 10th anniversary. The seven-week program, housed in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, places college students in Nebraska towns to help create and execute community improvement projects.

For both students and communities, the application window opened Oct. 1. Applications can be found here, along with informative webinar recordings for the 2023 season.

“The Rural Fellowship is different from a traditional internship,” said Helen Fagan, program coordinator. “In an internship, students generally work for a company to gain career experience. With the fellowship, students live in and work for a community, bringing their own talents and education to help improve that community.”

During the application process, community leaders outline projects they’d like to work on the following summer. Fagan and her team then interview student applicants and place them in towns where their education and experiences can be used to help complete those projects. In the past, students have designed hike-and-bike trails, organized “Small Business Saturday” events, hosted youth entrepreneurship seminars and created public health initiatives.

“The hands-on and shadowing experiences I had from the Rural Fellows program were far more enriching than merely hearing about them in a class,” said Allison Metschke, a student fellow who served in Wahoo in 2021.

“We didn’t have the ability, from a team member and time perspective, to devote to this,” said Kyle Kellum, CEO of Cherry County Hospital in Valentine, where a major project for 2022 was researching the need for and possibility of creating community-funded day care. “This was something that we had to tackle as an organization, and having the Rural Fellowship program here has been a tremendous asset to our organization.”

Supervisor Dan Morford said the targeted marketing survey that fellows Ashtyn Humphrey and Ben Murngezi Atali created for Scotts Bluff National Monument last summer was very valuable.

“This is going to help us as our tourism department works together and comes up with new plans to get people to come to western Nebraska,” Morford said.

While having students living and working in the towns is a boon to rural Nebraska communities, the students also benefit from the experience. And not just through their $5,000 paycheck.

“The communities bring in some of the brightest, most vibrant and most ambitious young minds to their communities, ready to be proactive in developing plans to create resources and solve challenges,” said Darrell King, experiential learning and community engagement coordinator for the program. “As for the participants, they get a chance to apply their knowledge to real-world issues and work with community leaders while still learning via their courses. Working with these community leaders provides mentoring opportunities, leadership skills and experiential learning.”

Faith Junck, an environmental science major from Carroll who served in Chadron this summer, said: “Serving as a Rural Fellow in Dawes, Sheridan and Sioux counties for the summer proved to be one of the greatest experiences of my college career so far. Rural communities may be small, but they are mighty. They hold our state together and are the driving force behind ‘the good life’ that can only be experienced in Nebraska.”