Indiana University Rural Conference

Thursday, May 18, 2023, 8:00 AM – Friday, May 19, 2023, 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.

Join us at the 2023 IU Rural Conference.

Register today

Day 1 Schedule

This morning session will bring all participants together for breakfast and opening and keynote remarks.

Breakout 1:  Because You Matter: Digital Social Work Practice through Rural Libraries

Mental health is an important factor that contributes to overall quality of life. In rural communities, stigma and and access to care can be significant barriers.  Through Because You Matter, the School of Social Work, in collaboration with the Center for Rural Engagement, has partnered with rural libraries to bridge this gap.  This presentation will describe and discuss this collaborative effort to leverage collective resources to provide free help rural Hoosiers.

Presenters: John M Keesler, David Wilkerson, Kristin Funk, and Jade Presnell (with contributions from Christian Deck, Andrew Hubbart, Mackenzie Colston, and Alaynah Chatman)

Breakout 2:  “It was just really hard to be pregnant in a smaller town”: Pregnant and parenting teenagers’ perspectives of social support in their rural communities

House's (1981) Social Support Theory identifies four aspects of support: (1) emotional, (2) instrumental, (3) informational, and (4) appraisal.  As a research team, we have collected data from current and former pregnant and parenting teenagers in rural Indiana counties. This presentation would explore the findings of this research and identify where pregnant and parenting teenagers are receiving positive support and where support is negative or lacking. Attendees will engage in a group discussion of how to strengthen each form of support in their own communities.

Presenters: Lauren Baney (with contributions from Catherine Sherwood-Laughlin, Alison Greene, Jonathon Beckmeyer, Lisa Greathouse, Frederica Jackson, Dechen Sangmo, Susan Kavaya, and Michaella Ward)

Breakout 3:  Lessons from a new "Food As Medicine" partnership in Greene County: Building local food and cooking assets for community health resilience

Throughout 2022, partners in rural Greene County came together to strengthen one upstream social determinant of COVID-19 resilience: food! They focused on building capacity to ensure access to food during pandemics by building networks for sourcing and distributing fresh, locally grown food to people who need it. Local leaders in medicine/health, locally-grown food, and health education designed and delivered a “Food As Medicine”  intervention to procure food from Indiana farmers, distribute it, and teach people how to cook it. Today we will describe those processes of partnership-building, lessons learned, and we will workshop with audience members next steps in catalyzing Food as Medicine innovations of their own where they live and work.

Presenters: Julia Valliant, Jacob Simpson, and Kathleen Sobiech, Armonda Riggs, Kanza Zafar, and Wendy Bailey (with contributions from Nicole Page)

Breakout 4:  Healthy Communities through Creative Aging

Research shows that creative arts experiences are highly impactful for maintaining older adults' health and quality of life. In this session, presenters will explain the research, show examples of successful creative aging initiatives from across the state, and show you how to harness already existing assets in your community to make this happen for your community.

Presenters: Stephanie Haines, Jon Kay, and Karen Chilman

Join us for lunch and conversations with your fellow IU Rural Conference participants along with a mid-day panel discussion.


Breakout 1:  Integrating harm reduction into a recovery community organization model in rural Indiana: Lessons learned

The Fayette County Connection Café was founded on the idea that there is no “one size fits all” approach to recovery. As the only integrated harm reduction and recovery community organization (RCO) in Indiana, our approach is innovative, collaborative, and welcoming. Yet there have been challenges, as well as successes, in merging harm reduction services into an RCO model. Presenters will discuss the Connection Café’s replicable approach and share integration-related challenges and successes from initial planning to when it first opened in July 2021 to becoming a nonprofit organization, to expanding services and reach as it continues to grow.

Presenters: Charmin Gabbard and Alison Greene (with contributions from Courtney Olcott, Luke Still, Ashley Railey, Kristina Hunter Mullis, Lauren Worth, Timothy Bunch, Amy Hicks, and Robert Childs)

Breakout 2:  Challenges in Rural Communities Exposed through the Covid-19 Pandemic: How academic partnerships with healthcare organizations deliver quality care and challenge traditional interventions

Academic and hospital partnerships have offered free cardiovascular health screenings with health coaching interventions to reduce disease incidence. It is known that rural communities experience a lack of resources and have increased comorbidities associated with chronic health illness due to a lack of providers, access, and health illiteracy. By providing cardiovascular assessments while assessing additional contributing factors to poor health and well-being, these programs increase individuals’ awareness of their health status and health risks.  By establishing healthy behavior lifestyle changes through education, referrals, and health coaching, individuals improve their quality of life. The team will share its findings from data from four rural Indiana counties.

Presenters: Amy Todd and Gina Townsend (with contributions from Priscilla Barnes, Jon Agley, Jon Macy, Janet Delong, David Tidd, Jackie Lannan, Lisa Myer, Merle Holsopple, and Anthony Voelkel)

Breakout 3:  Open Daily: Operating a farmer-owned retail and aggregation outlet

This session will discuss how a cooperative of small, local farmers in Indiana began Rose Hill Farm Stop in Bloomington, IN, and through the Farm Stop are working to build a stronger local food system in south central Indiana. Farmers Mike Record and Armonda Riggs will discuss their roles and journey with Rose Hill Farm Stop.

Presenters: Armonda Riggs and Mike Record

Breakout 1:  Technology Meets Relationships: Supporting community partnerships to help individuals find the resources they need

The purpose of the Indiana Department of Health Community Health Improvement Plan Community Navigation Project is to address COVID-19 related health disparities and advance health equity by expanding the resources and services offered in four rural communities in Indiana. The project is focused on community organizations and community members in Jackson, Martin, Daviess, and Greene Counties.  This presentation will offer an overview of the project, implementation, and lessons learned featuring perspectives of university and community partners.

Presenters: Chelsea Simpkins, Laura Grove, Ashley Caceres (with contributions from Priscilla Barnes, Kathleen Sobiech, Amy Todd, and Mylan Gaston)

Breakout 2:  Digital Equity and Rural Resilience

Presenter: Roberto Gallardo

Breakout 3:  Exercising Recovery: Utilizing Fitness to Combat Substance Use Disorder

Utilizing fitness as a means to recover, John Cunningham celebrates 11 years of recovery through a self-driven, holistic approach. Founder of nonprofit organization, Recover Out Loud, created the R-FIT (recovery fitness in training) program that blends recovery and fitness principles to combat addiction.  R-FIT is a program that addresses the health and wellness of individuals recovering from substance use disorder through interactive lessons, discussions and a group-based workout facilitated by certified, sober coaches. This presentation will demonstrate how the program works, successes and challenges, and the science on how the brain responds to physical activity in recovery.

Presenters: John Cunningham and Meagan Cunningham

Learn more about many rural initiatives, talk with poster presenters, and network with conference attendees. A full list of poster presenters will be posted soon.

Day 2 Schedule

This morning session will bring all participants together for breakfast and opening and keynote remarks.


Breakout 1:  Hoosier Housing Ready Toolkit: 10 steps to success for rural counties

Lynn Coyne and Steve Smith will use the Housing Ready Toolkit to explain what is involved in analyzing a community's housing needs and forming a plan of action to meet those needs. You will receive your own copy of the toolkit, gain an overview of its resources, and see practical examples of how it can be used.

Presenters: Lynn Coyne and Steve Smith

Breakout 2:  Spencer Pride: A short documentary-in-progress

Spencer, IN in Owen County is the smallest town in the USA with a Pride Community Center. Founded 15 years ago, Spencer Pride is helping to fuel the revitalization of Spencer and make it--and all of Indiana--a more welcoming place for all people. Besides operating the Spencer Pride commUnity center, the organization hosts the annual Spencer Pride Festival, and offers a variety of health and wellness services and community outreach year-round. Documentary filmmaker Mitch Teplitsky is making a short documentary about their story to help put the spotlight on a surprising and positive initiative in rural Indiana.

Presenter: Mitch Teplitsky

Breakout 3:  Tap Water of the Rural Southern Indiana Uplands: Preliminary findings from research with water professionals to support reliable, safe, and affordable water

To clarify opportunities to support the region’s tap water systems and help regional residents to drink more water, a team recently completed a social science study to learn from the water professionals in Crawford, Lawrence, Martin, Orange, and Washington counties. After focus group discussions, the team issued a questionnaire to quantify patterns. Stakeholders from across counties then reconvened for a final, co-design workshop to transform findings into place-based action steps for stakeholders and their advocates at state and national levels to pursue. This presentation will share these findings and recommendations, and the actions they are catalyzing in the Uplands.

Presenters: Julia Valliant, Ginger Davis, Michelle Del Rio, Alyson Alde (with contributions from Lauren Kwan and Jackie Gibson)

Join us for lunch and conversations with your fellow IU Rural Conference participants along with a mid-day panel discussion.

Breakout 1:  North Putnam: Documenting a year in the life of an Indiana school district

The film North Putnam depicts a year in the life of the community served by North Putnam School Corporation in Putnam County, IN. Taking a “fly-on-the-wall” approach, the film provides a raw and candid glimpse into the challenges and triumphs of the community and showcases the visionary work of a school district that makes the most out of few resources. A love story about one community in particular, North Putnam is also a story about the wish for community, belonging, and a sense of home in general.  Overall, the film aims to start a national conversation about the stakes of investing in our public schools and to serve as a vehicle for economic development. 

Presenters: Beth Benedix and Joel Fendelman

Breakout 2:  Eclipse Mania 2024

On April 8, 2024, much of Indiana will be on the path of a total solar eclipse.  Our communities, along with tens of thousands of visitors to our region, will experience up to four minutes of darkness.  A total solar eclipse is like no other event in human experience, and for many is a life-changing experience.  We feel the raw power of nature as well as a deep connection to the cosmos.  This presentation will describe eclipses, why they are so uncommon, and what we can see during an eclipse.  We will also discuss how to watch an eclipse safely, and how individuals and communities can prepare for eclipse day.

Presenters: Catherine Pilachowski, Asia Burgett, and Jo Anne Tracy

Breakout 3:  The Place Equation: Considerations for Creating Places that Matter to Residents and Visitors

Quality of place is more than a trendy concept. Research increasingly shows the value of investing in public spaces and other related amenities, but place is a complex idea that must be approached comprehensively, inclusively, and creatively to fully realize its potential as a key aspect of community development. Often considered through the prism of “what and how,” this interactive session will instead look at quality of place from a starting point of “why and who.” It will examine the elements of place and concepts such as place attachment and civic design, explore placemaking as both an ends and a means, consider the relationship between talent and tourism, and provide ideas for creating better places for more people.

Presenter: Brian Blackford

Breakout 1:  Addressing Power Inequities to Improve Community Conditions

Organizations, individuals, and institutions want to do right by the communities they call home, improving conditions for all. Yet without a frank discussion about power inequity at the individual, organizational, community, and systemic levels, we often get stuck reacting to symptoms, rather than addressing the root causes of community conditions. This presentation will offer space to build a shared definition of power, and hold a well-rounded, interactive conversation around how power dynamics at every level across the social-ecological model impact the work we do and the way we live.

Presenters: Kristen Lucas and Hannah Lencheck

Breakout 2:  COSMOS: Moving Three Rural Districts from Survive to THRIVE

This session will describe in detail the unique partnership between three rural Indiana school districts and how this unique collaboration is developing a new definition of “shared resources.” Moving three communities from a mindset of “survive” to “THRIVE!”  The COSMOS Initiative has created new college and career pathways, digital fabrication labs, student profiles, and additional dual credit courses through the sharing of teaching staff, resources, and shared thought. These initiatives are not only providing new opportunities for COSMOS students and teachers, but also promoting community prosperity both economically and academically.

Presenters: Brent Comer, Jimmy Ellis, Apryl Kidd, and Kindra Hovis

Breakout 3: Can Bicycle Trails be a Path to Prosperity in Your Town?

How can multi-use trails be leveraged to help economic and health outcomes in smaller, rural communities? An interactive presentation and discussion will help community leaders and trail advocates explore ways bicycle trails can be an important part of the economic mix in smaller towns, similar to the way trails are used in larger cities. Topics will include costs, resources, and inclusion.

Presenter: Kyle Hannon

Visit creative demonstrations and exhibits while connecting with fellow conference participants. A full list of demonstrations will be available soon.


The conference schedule and sessions are subject to change.


Stay onsite at the French Lick Springs Resort. Make reservations for the nights of May 17-18 using the online booking portal or call (844) 241-6361 and use group code 0523IUR.

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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