Indiana University Rural Conference

Monday, May 13, 2024, 8:00 AM – Tuesday, May 14, 2024, 4:15 PM

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

Save the date for 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 for only one day is $50 per person. Scholarships are available; contact for more information.

Registration has closed for this event.

Day 1 Schedule - Monday, May 13, 2024

This morning session will bring all participants together for breakfast and opening remarks from Center for Rural Engagement interim executive director Denny Spinner. Hear from State Health Commissioner Lindsay Weaver, MD, FACEP. Dr. Weaver has a passion for improving the health of Hoosiers through a focus on prevention, data-informed programming, and access to care in all corners of the state. An assistant professor at the IU School of Medicine, she continues to practice emergency medicine at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Breakout 1: Keys to Successful Health and Healthcare in Rural Communities

This session will emphasize the important factors necessary to create and sustain a healthy rural community and region. Key components will include current challenges for hospitals, clinics, and EMS services in today's environment, the importance of collaborative efforts, building trust in the community, and growing the next generation of local healthcare providers (an agrarian approach).

Presenter: Tim Putnam

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 2: A Rural Community Approach to Substance Use Disorder

Rural communities need to leverage all their resources to support recovery from substance use disorder. Orange County, Indiana has combined grassroots nonprofit organizations, medical systems, faith-based communities, employers, economic development, community foundations, state and regional networks, town and county jurisdictions, and the criminal justice system to provide a comprehensive recovery plan and treatment in the community. The unique collaborations make this approach possible.

Presenter: Brittany Stout with presentation contributions from Yolanda Yoder and Josh Graves

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 3: Place-Based Education on the Farm: Connecting Classroom Learning with Community

Place-based education (PBE) provides an opportunity to connect classroom learning with the community. PBE provides authentic, relevant, and applied learning opportunities for students and engages community assets and expertise with their school districts. We will share examples of PBE on rural and urban farms to connect students with concepts of sustainability, conservation, regenerative agriculture, climate change, food and fiber production, and the association of these with individual and community health. This project demonstrates how PBE brings together teachers, school administrators, community leaders, parents, students, farmers, and local organizations to facilitate engaged learning and foster enduring community collaborations.

Presenters: Whitney Schlegel, Annie Eakin, Ellee Spier, and Lisa Greathouse

Join us for lunch, a session recognizing innovative rural partnerships in health,  and table conversations with your fellow IU Rural Conference participants.

Breakout 1: Responding to Rural Youth Mental Health through Collaboration and Creativity

Indiana is facing a behavioral health crisis in addressing the needs of its youth. Through creativity and a multifaceted collaboration among an alum, graduate students, faculty, and community partners, we will describe and discuss how social work has responded to the crisis in one rural county.

Presenters: John Keesler, Sara Farmer, Lillian Norris, Grace Disilvestro, Hailey Lawhead

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 2: Trouble Shooting Food Systems Issues: Partnering with an IU Sustaining Hoosier Communities Class to Make Data-Based Decisions

We will share insights and findings from a master's capstone class' investigation of food system challenges in a rural Indiana county. We will cover lessons learned from the data garnered, as well as ways that communities and classes can work together for co-benefits. The presentation will explore important food system topics and opportunities that are both challenging and rewarding for many of Indiana's rural communities, as well as possible steps that can be taken to bolster communities' food independence.

Presenter: James Farmer

Breakout 3: Working Towards a More Inclusive Community for People and Families Living with Disabilities

This presentation will highlight various collaborative projects in Charlestown aimed at creating a more inclusive community for people and families living with disabilities. Under the leadership of Dr. Treva Hodges, the Parks Department makes accommodations for many of the children's events such as the Easter Egg Hunt, Christmas train rides with Santa, and providing an ASL interpreter for the annual city's tree lighting event this year. Learn how a collaboration with Outward Bound Support Services, a local disability service provider, increased opportunities for residents in this rural community.

Presenters: Treva Hodges and Jennifer David

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 1: Water in the Desert: Providing Mental Health Resources to Rural Indiana

Rural Indiana is facing a mental health crisis like never before. We discuss that crisis by identifying the core issue, sharing information on what we currently know, and identifying what we as a collective community can do to help that crisis. The Purdue Extension Farm Stress Team has resources and programs ready to educate the rural population in an effort to stop the stigma associated with mental health in rural communities.

Presenters: Adam Tyler and Abby Heidenreich

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 2: Building Strong Resilient Communities

This presentation will feature interactive activities, videos, and a discussion panel that will provide useful tips on how to build a strong and resilient community. It will focus on three essential elements learned from efforts in Orange County, Indiana:

  • Anchoring organizations that are dedicated to community health and offer financial resources.
  • A community connector who builds meaningful interactions that can mobilize the community into action.
  • Engaged community members (faith, work, school, medical) who are eager to learn and grow.

Presenters: Brandy Terrell, Priscilla Woodrum, Kara Schmidt, and Jamie Walker

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Breakout 3: Conducting Effective Surveys and the Integration of Research in Rural Community Engagement

We will delve into the use of survey research for rural community engagement, aiming to create effective surveys that facilitate practice-informed research and research-informed practice within rural community studies. The speaker will guide participants on employing survey research designs to assess both practice interventions with clients and rural service providers. Various stakeholders such as students, community partners, Indiana State service organizations, veterans, faculty, staff, and administrators can leverage these research designs to evaluate practices within rural community organizations or agencies. This presentation will center on leveraging survey research in rural community engagement.

Presenters: Tarek Zidan

Learn more about many rural initiatives, talk with poster presenters, and network with conference attendees.

Discussion tables:

Asthma, Air Quality, and Environmental Triggers in Rural Indiana
Courtney Stewart

Building Trust with Marginalized Communities
Mitch Berg

Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities
Lisa Greathouse, Brain Shepherd, Meagan Shipley, Jamie Walker

Hoosier Homesteaders Growing Food and Community
Lessie Jo Frazier

Farm to School listening session hosted by the Indiana Department of Health’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and Indiana Grown for Schools Networks
Tashi Teuschler and Shelby Royster

Increasing Access to Higher Education for Rural Students Through the Admissions Process
Amy Krouse and Joseph Trahan

Increasing Access to Higher Education for Rural Students Through Scholarships
Ben Agan, Dave Burton, Rachel Kluck



Helping Rural Indiana Succeed in the Global Marketplace
Teresa Crafton and Ryan Craven

Developing Community Partnerships
Lynn Reed

Community-led Montessori School Design in Rural Indiana
R. Spencer Steenblik and Lena Blackstock

Community Input Supporting an Interprofessional Nurse-led Evidence-based Social Emotional Learning Curriculum Implementation in Southern Indiana Rural School Settings
Kim Decker, Catherine Sherwood-Laughlin, Lisa Greathouse, Olivia Houston, Amy DeTorrice, and Sydney Richards

Creative Arts for Vets
Riley Stanley and Isabella Burkur

Creative Arts for Youth
Meghan Warren and Nadia Herrera

Got Water? A Pilot Needs Assessment to Support Uplands Students in Drinking Plentiful Safe, Clean Water at School
Alyson Alde and Michelle Del Rio

Educational RSV Program Implementation: Greene County, IN
Prasad Chaki and Cally Drake

Expanding Social Work Within Rural Communities One Student at a Time
Jennifer Hammond and Nicki Williamson

Healthy Relationships for Rural Youth Initiative: Train the Trainer
Lauren Baney, Ananya Pandey, and Brianny Alvarado

Heart of Jasper-Piano Alley
Keith Soruco, Erin Seliger, Noah Probst, and Omair Alhajeri

JPAMP: Improving Quality of Place Through Public Art
Marcus Zwiebel

STEM Programming in Rural Libraries
Claire Cesljarev

Strategies for Effectively Telling Indiana Rural Stories and Building Support
Michael Snyder and Jamie Snyder

Join us for a reception that celebrates and connects our six Sustaining Hoosier Community partner counties. This celebration is open to all former and current SHC partners, as well as conference attendees interested in learning more about SHC and networking with former participants.


Day 2 Schedule - Tuesday, May 14, 2024

This morning session will bring all participants together for breakfast and opening remarks from IU Vice President for University Relations Michael Huber. Hear from keynote speaker Bradley Wilson, Ph.D. He leads the West Virginia University Center for Resilient Communities, which advances community-engaged research and education programs that generate knowledge and empower individuals, with the goal of building more just, equitable, and vibrant communities.

Breakout 1: How to Cultivate a Culture of Acceptance and Belonging

The folks closest to the problems in our community are often the ones with the most wisdom for how to move programs forward. How do we empower and collaborate with these often underrepresented voices? It all begins with creating a culture of belonging. LB Prevette grew up in Appalachian North Carolina and has worked for many years to help neighbors connect and welcome others across difference. She will explore the key methods and tangible steps to creating spaces of belonging and lead participants through an exercise to brainstorm how to begin this work in their own communities.

Presenter: LB Prevette

Breakout 2: Celebrating Rural Communities through the Solar Eclipse

This panel will explore how rural communities engaged with the April 2024 eclipse through the lens of quality of place. We will discuss the impact of the Simons Foundation and IU Center for Rural Engagement Eclipse Microgrant program, how the eclipse has served as a catalyst for meaningful community engagement around arts, culture, and science, and lessons learned throughout the experience. We will emphasize tips and stories around enhancing quality of place in rural communities through arts and cultural engagement and how this can create meaningful experiences for residents and visitors alike.

Presenters: Joyce Brinkman, Brian DeKemper, Hannah Jones, Laura Land, Elizabeth Simolke, and Nicole Vasconi

Breakout 3: Removing barriers to education: Breaking down walls, building opportunities

Learn from successful case studies, best practices, and strategies aimed at increasing access to education and scholarship opportunities in rural areas. Hear from current and recently graduated students from rural areas of Indiana and gain their perspectives. Discuss additional ways that Indiana University can support rural students.

Presenters: Ben Agan, Dave Burton, and Rachel Kluck

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Join us for lunch, a panel discussion on rural arts, and conversations with your fellow IU Rural Conference participants.

Visit creative demonstrations and exhibits while connecting with fellow conference participants.


Breakout 1: Spencer Pride Documentary In-Progress

The Spencer Pride documentary-in-progress (target premiere: Fall 2024) tells the story of the smallest town in the USA with a dedicated LGBT+ community center, and how it's helping to revitalize the town and bring people together in Spencer, Indiana, population 2,426, in Owen County, Indiana. In this presentation, filmmakers Mitch Teplitsky and Charles Pearce, along with several Spencer Pride co-founders and film subjects, will screen clips from the documentary, present plans for the distribution and impact of the project, and facilitate a feedback and discussion session from audience members, which will also help shape the final edit of the film.

Presenters: Mitchell Teplitsky, Charles Pearce, Judi Epp, Jacob Balash, and Jonathan Balash

Breakout 2: Reintroduction to Rural Development

We will reintroduce the audience to USDA Rural Development, as well as discuss some of the current programs and funding available to assist rural communities across Indiana. Participants will be invited to follow up with Rural Development with any brain-storming ideas that we can act upon.

Presenters: Craig McGowan and Terry Goodin

Breakout 3: Local Economic Impact of Food-as-Medicine Programs

Researchers across the country, including in rural Indiana, have documented a number of health benefits associated with Food-as-Medicine (FAM) programs. However, less focus has been given to the study of the impacts of these programs on local growers and rural economies. Our guided discussion will include a short opening presentation of our hypothesis that increased institutional support for FAM programs would have a dramatic, positive effect on local economies. We would then invite participants to: (1) examine this hypothesis: "what might we not be considering?"; (2) share their own experiences as participants in FAM programs: "do participants' own experiences support or challenge our hypothesis?"; (3) generate proposals for how to further explore this hypothesis in rural Indiana: "what venues for increased institutional support would be interested in exploring FAM programs as an aspect of economic development?"

Presenters: Julia Valliant and Nick Smaligo

This session has been approved for 1 CEU by the School of Social Work at Indiana University.

Preserving Rural Life: Finding Your Inner Creativity

History lives in the minds and thoughts of those left behind. And, while textbooks can aid in learning, it's the spoken, visual, physical, and musical arts that create a love and passion for remembering. Join Dusty, along with a panel of Hoosier artists, on a foray into four creative methods anyone can use to protect and share the historical legacies of rural Indiana. Hear, see, and create with us as we explore creative writing, urban sketching and painting, photography, and music.

Presenters: Dusty Lynn Baker, Andrew Gerber, Judy Quinlin, and Matthew Ray Ramsey

Breakout 2: All Shoals, All the Time

Shoals, Indiana is a small rural community in southern Indiana (Martin County) known for its natural beauty. It's also a rural community that faces multiple challenges, including housing, connectivity, education, employment, health care, wastewater—all challenges at the focus of a Hutton Honors course that partnered with the community. The session would present the challenges, the collaborations between the community and the students, and the recommendations to the community that start the process for long-term and sustaining solutions.

Presenters: Keith G Dayton, Jessica Potts, Cary Albright, and Sierra Rutledge

Breakout 3: Securing Federal Funding for Rural Energy and Resilience Projects through the Indiana Resilience Funding Hub

An Indiana University collaboration between the Center for Rural Engagement and the Environmental Resilience Institute called the Indiana Resilience Funding Hub is helping rural communities, organizations, companies, and individuals secure federal funding for energy and resilience projects. Learn how you can access this capacity for your own projects.

Presenters: Nick Smaligo, Gabriel Piser, Cate Racek, and Bill Brown

The conference schedule and sessions are subject to change.


Make reservations for rooms in the discounted block at French Lick Springs Resort by calling 888-936-9360 and using code 0524IUR. Special rates are available through April 11, 2024.

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.