Groups of people meeting at Hormel Institute

Rural Collective helps connect UMN expertise across Minnesota

John Merritt

The University of Minnesota has long and deep roots in rural Minnesota that date back to its founding in 1851. Today, the University employs more than 20,000 faculty and staff members across the state on its five campuses and through the Extension program. Given this breadth and scope, it can be challenging for faculty and staff to know who is working on similar issues or projects, and how to collaborate with them.

In addition, there are logistical challenges in rural settings that can hinder making connections with colleagues and collaborating with them. And while there are issues that are shared by most rural communities, including access to healthcare, there also are resources and challenges that are specific to local populations in Minnesota’s 87 counties and 12 Tribal nations.  

The Rural Collective was established in 2021 to help make connections and to facilitate collaboration. It is part of the Rural Health Program and is funded by CTSI and the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs (OACA).

A hub for networking and collaboration

At its core, the Rural Collective is a forum for networking and collaboration. It provides a space where university faculty and staff can identify shared areas of interest and connect to work together on common goals. By leveraging the collective expertise and resources of the University, the Rural Collective hopes to drive impactful change for rural people and places in Minnesota and across the nation.

“This interdisciplinary, collaborative approach is crucial for addressing the multifaceted issues that rural areas face, such as healthcare access, economic development, education, and environmental sustainability,” said Dr. Carrie Henning-Smith, co-director of the Rural Health Program.

Groups of people meeting at Hormel Institute
An April 2024 Rural Collective event at the Hormel Institute in Austin drew 40 attendees.

The Rural Collective includes 140 individual members and 25 partner members, including University centers, departments, and teams. Through in-person and virtual events and an email listserv, members of the Rural Collective learn about member updates, new initiatives, upcoming events, and opportunities to collaborate with or assist fellow members.

Focus on research and education

Rural Collective members work on an extremely broad range of rural research and education topics, including:

  • affordable housing
  • civic engagement
  • food access
  • healthcare
  • immigration and immigrant communities
  • intergenerational trauma
  • leadership training
  • workforce development
  • …and many more.

Through the community-engaged research, programming, and hands-on learning experiences they provide to rural Minnesotans, Rural Collective members help prepare the next generation of leaders and professionals to be equipped to serve rural communities effectively.

A vision for the future

The Rural Collective embodies a forward-thinking vision for rural Minnesota. Through its members’ commitment to research, education, and collaboration, the Collective is making strides in improving the lives of rural people and places.

Rural Collective members build on the many strengths already present in rural Minnesota while also addressing the unique challenges of rural areas with innovative solutions and a collaborative spirit. In doing so, Rural Collective members are not only enhancing the present but also paving the way for a brighter, more resilient future for rural communities across Minnesota and the nation.

Interested in joining the Rural Collective? Fill out the application form on the Rural Collective web page or email Katie Rydberg, manager of the Rural Health Program. An in-person and virtual meeting is planned for fall 2024; contact Katie Rydberg if you are interested in attending.