Indiana University Rural Conference

Thursday, May 12, 2022, 8:00 AM – Friday, May 13, 2022, 4:15 PM

French Lick Springs Resort
8670 West State Road 56
French Lick, IN 47432

Attend the IU Center for Rural Engagement's two-day conference focused on the issues of greatest importance to Indiana’s rural communities.

Connect with leaders from across Indiana, Indiana University researchers, and colleagues from a variety of fields as you learn and share your perspective on the opportunities and needs facing rural Indiana. The conference is designed for community leaders, residents, and professionals who seek to create a stronger Indiana.

Registration includes all sessions and materials. Join us for both days or a single day. Doors open at 8 a.m.; sessions begin at 9 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m. 

The full conference rate is $80 per person. The rate to attend only one day is $50 per person. Scholarships are available; contact for more information.

Select sessions on Day 1 have been approved for CEUs by the School of Social Work at Indiana University. See session descriptions for details.

Registration has closed for this event.

Day 2 Schedule

This morning session will bring all participants together to learn more about recent initiatives and hear from our guest keynote speaker, Jack Hess.

Collaboration By Design

Across generations of leaders, the rural community of Columbus, Indiana, has cultivated a living laboratory for how the public, private, and social sectors can work together to address complex social problems and authentically produce meaningful outcomes. This keynote session tells a seventy-year story about the community's collective work, shares the lessons learned, and illustrates the thinking used to develop the potential of both people and place.

Speaker: Jack Hess is the co-founder and Executive Director of CivicLab, a
nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration
based in Columbus, Indiana. CivicLab teaches collaborative community
teams how to better approach complex social problems by redesigning
the way they work together. Since its inception in 2012, it has partnered
with and served more than 300 communities and has trained more than
15,000 leaders and community stakeholders.

Breakout 1: What is Gleaning and How Does It Reduce Food Waste?

The Society of St. Andrew brings people together to harvest and share healthy food, reduce food waste, and build caring communities by offering nourishment to hungry neighbors. Together we will explore how gleaning relates to food insecurity and food waste and the ways you or your organization can be involved.

Presenter: Ann Radtke

Breakout 2: Community Conversations: Rural Community Housing Models

Join us for a discussion about rural housing issues and approaches rural residents are taking to expand housing stock in their communities.

Presenters: Arla Frazier, Phil Mininger, Reagan Wampler, Martha Nice, Max Smith, Zackary Dunivin, and Gabriel Piser

Breakout 3: Harnessing Student Support for Community Needs and Opportunities

Hear from two IU student engagement programs, Project HOPE and the IU Corps START initiative, and learn how IU students can infuse your organization with the energy and innovation you need to move forward.

Presenters: Alan Dennis, Bipin Prabhakar, Keith Gelarden Dayton, and Suzanne Allen

Breakout 4: Southern Indiana Sentinel Landscape
Join us for an overview of the recent Sentinel Landscape designation of over 3.5 million acres in Southern Indiana, part of a federal program aimed at strengthening military readiness, conserving natural resources, protecting critical habitat, enhancing America’s working lands, and helping prepare Indiana for environmental changes. The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is a coalition of federal agencies, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that works with private landowners to advance sustainable land management practices around military installations and ranges. Sentinel Landscape partners accomplish their objective by connecting private landowners with voluntary state and federal assistance programs that provide tax reductions, agricultural loans, disaster relief, educational opportunities, technical aid, and funding for conservation easements. 
Presenters:  Mark Dobbs and Andrea Lutz

Join us for lunch with your fellow IU Rural Conference participants and a mid-day program. Denny Spinner, Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs executive director and former mayor of Huntingburg, will convene a panel of mayors including Mayor Treva Hodges of Charlestown, Mayor Scott Long of Wabash, and Mayor Dean Vonderheide of Jasper to discuss rural city innovations and challenges. 

Breakout 1: Exploring the Benefits of a National Forest in Your Community

The Hoosier National Forest provides a broad suite of benefits to U.S. residents, visitors, and local communities, including direct and indirect economic benefits, as well health, quality of life and aesthetic benefits. We will explore and consider the existing benefits and solicit ideas for ways the National Forest can do more for local, rural communities. We will cover background on the National Forest and mission of the U.S. Forest Service, ongoing activities and existing benefits, and we will discuss potential additive benefits to explore.

Presenter: Mike Chaveas

Breakout 2: USDA Rural Development Funding Opportunities

Join us for an overview of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs designed to benefit the rural communities, and discuss ways these opportunities could be a fit for your hometown.

Presenters: Craig McGowen, Cynthia Ferguson, and Terri Weyer

Breakout 3: Rural Arts Engagement

Please join us after lunch for coffee and dessert to enjoy a lively sampler of original poetry and prose from participants in recent rural writing workshops. In addition, the panel will discuss the ways that the arts can help restore and revitalize communities through sharing collective interests, generating curiosity around the past and the present, help mend and soothe old wounds, and celebrate our histories and relationship to the land and each other.

Presenters: Dusty Lynn Baker, Catherine Bowman, Andrew Gerber, Conor McIntyre, Anne OConnell, Judy Quinlin

Breakout 1: Creative Placemaking in Rural Communities

We will explore recent creative placemaking initiatives in rural Indiana that have activated public spaces and heritage sites for the benefit of residents and visitors alike. Learn the steps communities and partnering organizations have taken to identify opportunities, develop and implement plans, and launch these renewed spaces that serve as gathering places and community points of pride.

Presenters: Daniel Martinez, Judy Johnson, Britt Brewer, and Jess Novitski

Breakout 2: Tackling Environmental Change in Rural Indiana

In this presentation, we will define the impacts of environmental change which are of particular concern in rural Indiana (such as extreme heat and precipitation). We will explore outcomes and examples of what Indiana communities have accomplished and implemented as a result of their partnership with Environmental Resilience Institute and share findings from the 2022 Indiana University Resilient Communities Survey.

Presenters: Aaron Deslatte, Matt Flaherty, and Cody Smith

Breakout 3: Rural Fresh Market Program: Addressing Food Deserts with Community-Owned Businesses

The Rural Fresh Market program addresses the loss of retail food businesses and the food deserts that were created in rural communities as a result. Learn about the system of best practices for retail food operations, an ongoing mentorship program, and the concept of Community-Owned Businesses to create a unique, financially self-sustaining, community-owned market. This innovative program offers rural communities a business model that can succeed financially where other business models may not.

Presenter: Sean Park

Join us for a fast-paced round of lightning presentations to quick-start your inspiration. A One-Stop Shop

The federal government provides a variety of assistance of which many people, businesses and smaller government entities remain unaware. is a collaboration of over ten United States departments which allows users to access information on benefits they may be eligible for and how to apply in a vast assortment of areas including agricultural loans, veteran employment, housing loans, social security, educational scholarships and refugee assistance. Learn about interactive tools within the platform that can be utilized by educators, public advocates and government officials to streamline the process and open up opportunities for the people in their communities.

Presenter: Emily Alford

Kindness and Gratitude: Bringing People Together

Learn what science has to say about the benefits of practicing kindness and gratitude on personal and professional relationships. Gain practical ideas for getting the word out about how kindness and gratitude can improve health outcomes in any population. Learn what you can do on an individual level to feel higher levels of kindness and gratitude, and ultimately feel happier.

Presenter: David Seckman

Rural Internet: Make A Plan and Work The Plan

Bringing fiber internet to rural Indiana is the difference between communities that will advance into the future and those that will quietly become a quaint reminder of yesteryear. High speed internet is no longer an amenity—it is necessary infrastructure. Learn how a rural community is preparing and implementing their plan to expand high speed internet access.

Presenter: Marce King

Building on Your Strengths Rural Assets and Networks

Learn how an asset-based community development model holds the keys to making big things happen in small towns.

Presenter: Jane Rogan

The conference schedule and sessions are subject to change.


Day One: Taking Action for a Healthier Indiana

May 12, 2022

Sessions will include rural mental health, local food initiatives, substance use disorder interventions, and public health planning topics.

Day Two: Collaborating for a Stronger Indiana

May 13, 2022

Sessions will include regional collaborations, environmental resilience, and local arts and culture topics.


Stay onsite at the French Lick Springs Resort. For reservations, call 888-936-9360 and use code 0522CRE.

Things to do

French Lick has a wealth of activities and dining experiences. Check out the Visit French Lick website to see what's happening during your visit.


Together with our partners, we have become a national model for how universities can support the needs and futures of rural residents and communities. See how our collaborations are impacting rural Indiana.

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