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Featured Speakers

Helping Small Towns Succeed

Featured Speakers

Brent Hales, Senior Associate Dean of Extension/Chief Financial Officer, University of Minnesota

Growing From Within: Community-Based Asset and Coalition Building

Asset-based development and community coalition building are two viable strategies for promoting self-directed and sustainable growth in communities.  The purpose of this presentation is to highlight the coupled approach to asset-based development and community coalition building strategies and tactics used in varied settings.  The presentation will use train-the-trainer methods and participants will receive tools and strategies that can be employed in their communities.


Brent D. Hales

Brent D. Hales serves as the Senior Associate Dean and Chief Financial Officer of the University of Minnesota Extension.  He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in sociology from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Ph.D. in rural sociology from Iowa State University.  Dr. Hales previously served as the Associate Dean for the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality and the Director of the University of Minnesota Crookston, Economic Development Authority University Center.  He also previously served as Interim Chair of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development, as Associate Professor of Economic Development and Workforce Development, as Director of the Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education, coordinator of the Masters of Science in Economic Development Program at the University of Southern Mississippi.  He served as Director of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research, and of the Center for Community and Economic at Delta State University.  His primary area of research is the adoption of innovation-based community and economic development and entrepreneurship.  He is the founder the Southern Entrepreneurship Program, which teaches entrepreneurship skills to high school and community college students, and to displaced workers throughout the U.S.  He is also a past president of the Community Development Society.



 Connie Reimers-Hild, Associate Director Rural Futures Institute, University of Nebraska

The Future of Leadership

While many are struggling to keep up with the rapid rate of change, future-focused leaders are growing their communities by blending technology with the human experience. Leaders who consider trends, utilize emerging technologies and use an inclusive approach to leadership while creating meaningful experiences, will innovate community engagement in ways not yet imagined. This presentation will provide practical information on trends designed to help rural people and places change the conversation from one focused on challenges to a dialogue filled with endless opportunities.


Connie Reimers-Hild

Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild currently serves as the Associate Executive Director for the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. The Rural Futures Institute is dedicated to becoming an internationally recognized leader for increasing community capacity as well as the confidence of rural people to address their challenges and opportunities, resulting in resilient and sustainable rural futures. Prior to her role with the Rural Futures Institute, Dr. Connie spent nine years as Unit Leader and Extension Educator at the Kimmel Education and Research Center in Nebraska City and ten years in the Department of Entomology at UNL.

Futurist and author of two books: Go Wild with Confidence! and Blue the Bee Learns to be Happy, she authors the blog, AskDrConnie.com, and is a Firewalker, Mini Wiener Dog Lover and 80’s Hair Band Fanatic!

Dave Ivan, Institute Director, Greening Michigan Institute, Michigan State University

Community Success Strategies

Based on more than two years of research examining the approaches of more than 300 high performing small to mid-sized towns across the United States, this session provides real strategies from real communities in enhancing community vitality through entrepreneurial development, strengthening human talent, addressing youth migration, and building successful regional partnerships.


Dave Ivan

Dave Ivan conducts community and economic development programs statewide for Michigan State University Extension. A frequent guest lecturer on small town success with state municipal leagues and other national and regional small town conferences, Dr. Ivan has conducted previous research on community sustainability, including a 2002 USDA Fund for Rural America project entitled “Small Town Success Strategies,” and a 2004 project entitled “Can Small Towns Be Cool.”  His current research examines small community approaches to compete in the New Economy, which was recently recognized by the Community Development Society as its national research award winner. His seminar topics have included community sustainability, downtown development strategies, and community entrepreneurship strategies. Ivan has an MBA degree from Penn State University and his Ph.D. in community sustainability from Michigan State University.


Duane D. Williams, Extension Specialist, Community Development Education, Agricultural and Applied Economics Department
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming

Community Leadership, What’s HOPE got to do with it?

This session will provide an interactive learning experience designed to explain and foster the trait of HOPE for community leadership. Utilizing the work of Dr. Shane J. Lopez, the program will examine the relationship of leadership and hope. Participants will discover how to use a strategy of HOPE to strengthen leadership and further development activities in their community.


Duane Williams

Duane’s educational career in Extension Community Development spans three states and more than 30 years. Beginning in Kansas he created and managed the Laboratory for Community Analysis and Applied Demographics and was active in community economic development strategic planning and multi-community collaboration.  Next he worked in the Nodaway County Outreach and Extension office in Missouri.  There he facilitated the development of the Northwest Missouri Regional Resource Team, an informal organization of nine regional resources directed at supporting local business, community and economic development efforts. The creation of the 15 county Leadership Northwest Missouri program is an example of this group’s teamwork. Duane was also very active in the community, holding officer positions on numerous local, regional and statewide agency and initiative boards. Moving to Wyoming, Duane currently serves as a State Extension Specialist for the Community Development Program. His work focuses on efforts to understand community organization, development and social change. He is leading an effort to develop Participatory Action Research Projects with key organizations to uncover Clues to Successful Community Development in Wyoming. Duane is a certified TRUE COLORS basic awareness personality trainer and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and uses these curriculums to foster community organization through building human capital. Duane has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Economics from Oklahoma State University, both focusing on regional and community development.  He also has a Ph.D. in Rural Sociology from Kansas State University with emphasis in community change.
Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel, University of Nebraska Extension

Rural New Resident Recruitment: Identifying Leadership Opportunities

Community leaders often wonder, “Where do we start?” when it comes to rural new resident recruitment.  This session will look at a research based program,   created in the Great Plains, that lays out a process for community leaders to play an important role in both community engagement and action planning.



Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel

Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel focuses her research and extension efforts in two areas: 1) new resident recruitment/retention; and 2) business development, specifically focusing on customer service.  As a University of Nebraska Professor/Extension Specialist in the area of Community Vitality, she primarily works with Nebraska community stakeholders,  statewide service providers and extension colleagues from across the country.


Burkhart-Kriesel has teamed up with colleagues on two USDA grant funded projects focusing on the basic push/pull factors influencing new rural residents as well as looking at the visual rural images needed to entice new residents to take an online second look at potential rural relocation sites in the Great Plains. With a grant from the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute, she worked with colleagues from Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota to translate these research efforts into an asset-based, grass-roots community program, Marketing Hometown America. (https://youtu.be/m21vR9qnnKo)


Gary Stewart, Director of Leadership Services, Rural Development Initiatives, Inc.

Building Rural Capacity through Leadership Development

Rural communities have knowledgeable and skilled individual and organizational leaders who are strongly networked and make a difference in their own organizations and communities. We believe that effective, diverse, and collaborative leadership is an essential component of vital rural communities. We also believe that leadership can be an intentional and learned skill.   This interactive session will explore how organized leadership training can help unleash the potential of people committed to making their community strong and vital. It begins with knowing their assets and neighbors and then putting them to work together to build the community they desire.

Gary Stewart

Gary Stewart is the Director of Leadership Services for Rural Development Initiatives, an Oregon based non-profit focused on helping rural communities improve their vitality. As part of his leadership training work with RDI, Gary manages the Ford Institute Leadership Program for The Ford Family Foundation of Roseburg, Oregon. The Ford Institute Leadership Program provides support and training for rural community leaders and organizations. Gary also manages the Sherwood Trust Community Leadership Program in Walla Walla.

Gary has a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from Oregon State University

For most of his professional career Gary worked as a journalist, as a television news producer and radio reporter in Seattle. In 1985 he started the Northwest Ag Information Network, providing daily radio programs for three states. In 2000 Gary founded the Leadership Oregon Institute to provide training for people in agriculture, forestry and rural communities.


Mary Emery, Department Head Sociology and Rural Studies, South Dakota State University

Using Ripple Mapping to Unpack ‘Spiraling Up’

In this session, we will focus on how to help leaders identify core ingredients and key processes to create the next spiraling up success in their community.   Together, participants will review the results of multiple ripple mapping exercises to discover common themes in community processes that encourage people to do things differently (ripple 1), lead to additional changes in community capitals (ripple 2), and thus strengthen our understanding of how community efforts can spiral up to bigger, better and more sustainable results.


Mary Emery

Dr. Mary Emery focuses on economic and community development research and practice including using the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) in evaluation, research on community change, and program planning. Recent research has focused on the relationship of community capacity to quality of life. A co-author of the Field Guide for Community Coaching, she regularly provides workshops and training on community development processes and approaches.  In addition to teaching in the Great Plains IDEA transdisciplinary multi-university distance degree in Community Development, she is Department Head for Sociology and Rural Studies at South Dakota State University.


Mary M. Martin, Area Community Development Educator, University of Wyoming and Hannah Swanbom Community Development Educator for the University of Wyoming

Building Community Leadership Together, UW Extension’s EVOLVE Program

The EVOLVE program was created by the University of Wyoming Extension Community Development Education team. EVOLVE stands for Extension Volunteer Organization for Leadership, Vitality, and Enterprise and was modeled after the Park County Leadership Institute (PCLI) which began in 1995 in northwest Wyoming. The program was built on the premise that a curriculum imposed on a community would be less effective in true community capacity development than one in which the University worked with the community in the development of an appropriate curriculum.


EVOLVE is a process that engages communities and counties/regions in creating and customizing their own leadership institutes. It reflects local cultures and builds a critical leadership core to mobilize resources toward opportunities that match the needs of a community and its citizens. The statewide program was launched in 2005 and revised in 2013. It has worked with over half the counties in the state.  It has helped build new programs, as well as, assist and improve existing community programs. Wind River Indian Reservation leaders utilized the program to create a culturally guided approach for enhancing the engagement and success of their trial members. This presentation will share the lessons learned in this approach to community leadership development.

Mary M. Martin

Mary began her career as a County Home Economist/4-H Youth/CD agent.    She served as a lone agent in Teton County for many years necessitating her to facilitate the county’s Agriculture and Natural Resource programming within the scope of her duties.  During her tenure as the lone agent in Teton County Wyoming, she initiated a dialogue with the agricultural agent in Teton County, Idaho about joining Extension programming efforts.  That partnership worked for the two Teton Counties until 2000 with the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service’s reorganization.  Mary worked with regional elected officials to develop the Teton Area Advisory Committee, an organization which facilitates dialogue about regional issues between the Teton Counties in Idaho and Wyoming.

Mary has extensive experience and accomplishments as a practitioner of Community Development within Teton County.  Her Community Development work has included the creation of child care services, development of housing for low income seniors and handicapped, land use planning, festival development, health services, immigration, food service worker certification program, and community gardens.  She wrote the initial grants and created boards in three counties for the development of their senior services and meal on wheels programs.

In 2000, Mary was assigned the responsibility for Community Development Education for Teton, Sublette and Lincoln Counties.   As an area community development educator her programs focus on leadership; board governance; mediation; facilitation; and financial literacy.   She is a member of the initiative team that developed the EVOLVE course.

Hannah Swanbom

Hannah Swanbom is a Community Development Educator for the University of Wyoming, with whom she works with the residents and organizations of Natrona, Converse and Niobrara Counties. Hannah is based out of Casper. Hannah graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor’s of Science degree majoring in Sociology and a Masters of Science degree majoring in Agriculture Extension Education.



Paul Lachapelle, Associate Professor Extension Community Development Specialist, Montana State University
Dan Clark, Director, Local Government Center, Montana State University
Blake Christensen, Associate Director, Local Government Center, Montana State University

Understanding Community Capacity Building.

With the recent centennial of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, Cooperative Extension educators working through Land Grant Universities have many years of experience to draw on.  While community development is a relatively new program area in extension, it offers diverse opportunities for learning through a growing cadre of academics and practitioners with varied skill sets and experiences.  This session provides a broad overview of the role of community development in Cooperative Extension across the US and outlines specific programming in Montana.  Programs includes content in local government research and technical assistance, community foundation education, leadership development, and work with tribal communities.  Discussion will be oriented toward understanding the role of Cooperative Extension within the broader community development framework.

Paul Lachapelle

Paul is the Montana State University Extension Community Development Specialist. His general responsibilities involve providing research, technical assistance and trainings and workshops on various community development topics to strengthen the social, economic and environmental well-being of communities across the state. Specifically, he works toward providing resources and programs in many areas including community strategic visioning, local governance, leadership development training, community tourism assessment and development, economic and business development, business retention and expansion projects, community profiling, conflict management and resolution, economic impact assessments, planning facilitation, and community surveys.


Dan Clark

Dan Clark joined the Local Government Center in April 2008. He has been serving Montana since 1997.  Prior to joining the MSU Local Government Center, he served as the Statewide Director for the Montana Horizons program from 2006 to 2008. Previously, Dan worked as a Montana State University Extension faculty member in Teton County from 1997 to 2006.  During this time, he served as Mayor of Choteau, Montana for four years.  He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degree from the University of Arizona in Agricultural Education and taught high school agriculture for three years before joining Extension.  


Blake Christensen

As Associate Director of the Local Government Center, Blake provides training, facilitation, and technical assistance to local governments and organizations across the state of Montana. Previous to his current position, Blake served as associate general legal counsel for a large international maritime company, where he counseled executive leadership on legal liability and business transactions. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Brigham Young University and juris doctor degree from William & Mary Law School.