Over the summer, three UNO students had the unique opportunity to serve Nebraska communities in Omaha and beyond.
As part of the Rural Futures Institute’s (RFI) Student Serviceship program, Trevor Harlow, a senior political science and environmental science major; Clayton Keller, a public administration masters student; and Kyle McGlade, also a public administration graduate student, spent 10 weeks working with communities in Red Cloud, Columbus and North Omaha where they helped launch new community initiatives and took part in long-term planning to support Nebraskan residents.
All told, 24 students from UNO, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Peru State College worked in teams across 11 community locales.
Clayton Keller came to Omaha from a small town in Ohio called Millersport. After a fellow student and RFI intern, Kyle McGlade, mentioned the opportunity to work in rural Nebraska, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
After being accepted into the program, Clayton was assigned to Columbus, a town of just over 22,000 people (compared to the Omaha metro area’s 975,000) to assist their Chamber of Commerce in creating an event that would foster networking opportunities for young professionals in rural Nebraska.
Over 10 weeks, Clayton and his partner, Amber Ross, an agribusiness major from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, helped the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce plan for the inaugural Young Nebraskans Week, which will take place in late September.
“It’ll be like the Young Professionals Summit that goes on in Omaha and Lincoln, but something we’d like to see happen all across Nebraska,” Clayton explains. “Amber and I came up with some ideas of how we wanted the event to look and then we created a committee with different key community players, who would help run the event.”
Clayton says he and Amber will return to Columbus to support the committee during the event. He is also planning to stay in contact with many of the city officials he met during his time in the city. As an aspiring city manager, the experience of working with so many representatives from one area was an extremely beneficial one.
“A city can’t work if people aren’t working together, and the city of Columbus is a prime example of what you can accomplish when you collaborate and you get different community members working together and talking together,” he said.
Trevor Harlow, a senior and dual major in political science and environmental science, is a self-described “urban-based person,” but living and working in the rural community of Red Cloud, Neb., as part of RFI Student Serviceship provided him an “amazing and unique perspective” few undergraduates have the opportunity to experience.
Red Cloud, a town of less than 1,000 people, is located about three hours southwest of Trevor’s home of Waterloo, which is just outside of the Omaha metro area. The town is perhaps best known as the birthplace of famed author Willa Cather. In fact, one of the projects Trevor had the opportunity to work on over the summer was the 63rd Annual Willa Cather Conference.
“Red Cloud is a really big tourist hub, so they do a lot of those events,” he explains. “The conference is a really big weekend that they have where something like 230-plus educators and visitors give presentations and listen to lectures. It completely takes over the town. It’s really awesome.”
Trevor was joined in Red Cloud by Trenton Buhr, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science major from Cortland, Neb., which is located 30 min south of Lincoln. While they both brought their passion for public service, Trenton’s rural perspectives were a counter to Trevor’s urban mentality.
“I know I’m going to live in a city and focus on municipal planning and stuff like that, but for Trevor he is very rural based and he wants to live in a small town all of his life, and that’s like his thing, so it was really cool to see that we were both coming together to better a small town.”
Perhaps the biggest project the two students worked on was establishing a 10-year economic plan for Red Cloud. Over the 10 weeks, Trevor and Trenton conducted research and identified areas – like tourism – that they could help Red Cloud strategically develop. It’s an experience he hopes will help him as he pursues a career in environmental public policy.
“Our ideas got put into something and right now they're working on taking those actions steps,” he says. “It’s great to see that this place that, beforehand I had never been to is going to be affected by something I did this summer and that is so cool. I can’t think of a better result to come out of the experience than that.”
Return to Top
A graduate student in the School of Public Administration, Council Bluffs native Kyle McGlade didn’t have to travel far for his RFI Serviceship, but the impact of his contributions will be felt far beyond Omaha’s city limits.
While many serviceship participants traveled to completely different parts of the state, Kyle stayed in Omaha, specifically North Omaha. During his 10-week involvement as an RFI Serviceship student as he and fellow student Sydney Armbruster, a disease and human health major from Peru State College, assisted the Omaha Municipal Land Bank as they help purchase and redevelop properties as places where people and local businesses can thrive.
One example of work that Kyle and Sydney did over the summer included visiting a home that had previously sat vacant for 12 years but is now being purchased by the Omaha Municipal Land Bank in order for it to be redeveloped. Because of their status as a nonprofit, they can bypass some of the other hurdles that developers may face.
“The work team at the Omaha Land Bank has a chemistry that makes you feel like you aren’t really even at work,” Kyle wrote in a blog for RFI’s website. “It’s fun and rewarding.”
By the halfway point of his 10-week experience, Kyle helped the Omaha Municipal Land Bank collect and analyze documents that were being used to move properties into foreclosure so they could be purchased by the bank and repurposed as positive community assets, like a recently-opened coffee ship in North Omaha.
The projects Kyle worked on as part of RFI are currently on their way to becoming realized in the community, something he also wrote about as he concluded his serviceship.
“The chance to be involved in community development that will be enacted by mid-November is exciting as this is something I will see progress made on while attending school after I have finished my time as an RFI Serviceship student.”
Return to Top