We're working together for a brighter future for all

The Center for Rural Engagement at Indiana University Bloomington brings together people, research, cultural assets, and expertise to improve quality of life and address challenges in areas such as:

  • Arts and culture
  • Business and innovation
  • Community resilience
  • Education
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Leadership development

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

Our collaborations through July 2021


21,460+ residents in 65 Indiana communities and 46 counties


235 projects focused on community resilience, health, and quality of place


5,000+ IU students, 260+ faculty members, and all 16 schools

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rural residents found themselves putting off important health and wellness appointments. We launched a new rural health screening initiative, designed to maintain COVID-19 protocols while continuing to increase access to care through a partnership with the School of Nursing, Southern Indiana Community Health Care (SICHC), and faith communities.

These screenings empowered rural residents to take control of their health by knowing their numbers and risk factors and having the opportunity to connect with a physician for ongoing care. This initiative also connects the next generation of nurses with professional opportunities in rural communities.

Through the completion of five community health improvement plans, Indiana counties are implementing strategies that directly impact the most critical local health issues identified by residents and local health assessment data. From addictions and mental health to nutrition and physical activity, community health improvement plans address a broad range of challenges with manageable, practical solutions that make healthy living easier for an entire community to achieve.

Hopefully we’re making an impact in [the patients’] lives, but also they are making an impact in ours. By having this experience we are able to see rural communities and what their needs are rather than reading about it in statistics or a book.

IU nursing student in the rural health screenings initiative

SHIPHappensIn an ongoing partnership with the Indiana Rural Health Association supported by a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the Center for Rural Engagement launched a new partnership with Indiana-based nonprofit ShipHappens to advance naloxone and stigma reduction training.

Thanks to this collaboration, more than 570 naloxone kits, and 90 safe use supply kits were distributed to residents in Scott, Lawrence, Washington, Jennings, Boone, Wayne, Fayette, and Franklin counties over the past year. An IU student team joined ShipHappens to help develop a community toolkit for a safe syringe disposal program that reduces improper sharps disposal.

Trauma and substance use share a strong link. The center joined the School of Social Work and the School of Public Health to launch a free Trauma-Informed Care certificate program designed for local residents, health professionals, educators, and community leaders to improve understanding and access for supportive services in rural communities.

IU students preparing for careers in healthcare, law enforcement, and education joined the Center for Rural Engagement and the IU Interprofessional Practice and Education Center to recognize and respond to opioid addiction and substance overdose within the scope of their respective roles and responsibilities and understand how other professions overlap and respond to the opioid crisis.

By joining the vast arts and humanities resources at IU Bloomington with the artistic heritage of the Hoosier state, we are catalyzing new connections, deepening understanding of our cultural diversity, and building creative pathways.

With the renowned Jacobs School of Music, we have engaged more than 480 rural residents—including K-12 students across the region—in interactive music and dance opportunities. The Jacobs School of Music led a community engagement summit, exploring best practices; key issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and strategic, asset-based approaches to igniting local arts efforts.

The IU Arts and Humanities Council and its Platform laboratory led an extensive exploration of the Washington County heritage site Beck’s Mill, bringing together the Friends of Beck’s Mill, researchers, and artists and artisans to explore the past, present, and future of the mill as a local resource and community place of pride.

The IU Eskenazi Museum of Art and the Center for Rural Engagement are hosting a veterans’ art-based wellness initiative, Creative Arts for Vets, designed to help service members of all military branches who are managing post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges. Through the Rural Teachers Engaging Art program, the Eskenazi Museum of Art supports teachers with supplemental content for online teaching platforms while also supporting the analog Look Book and Look Nook projects that delivered arts programming, audio presentations, and interactive projects students can access without internet connection.

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As communities begin to reimagine their collective spaces infused with life that had once been shuttered by the pandemic, the Center for Rural Engagement brings to bear the arts and design resources of IU Bloomington. By fostering strategies that enhance quality of place, we continue to support local efforts to build community identity and the creative placemaking that supports prosperity, workforce recruitment and retention, and a greater quality of life for all residents.

In Salem, Indiana, J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program assistant professor Daniel Martinez and his students collaborated with local residents to enhance their downtown corridor with a new walkway and pocket park, featuring a large mural by Rafael Blanco that pays homage to notable women in Salem’s history. This project is designed to create opportunities for community participation and gathering, initiate new uses for underutilized spaces, improve visual appeal, and increase local pride.

As rural communities grapple with a shortage of desirable housing, we are making strides with two housing initiatives in Paoli and a creative reuse plan of downtown second floors in Huntingburg, offering communities guidance from the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture, and Design, the J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program and our Hoosier Housing Ready Toolkit.

Get the housing toolkit

Natural springs have played an important role throughout the history of Indiana, yet for many of the springs, little is known about the specific characteristics. In partnership with the Center for Rural Engagement, a team of researchers from the Indiana Geological and Water Survey (IGWS) is uncovering some of those secrets held in the springs of the Indiana Uplands to better understand the past and future of these water sources.

The research team recorded a GPS location, flow measurements, and field chemistry data, as well as a water sample, to be brought back to a lab and tested for alkalinity, nutrients, and bacteria.

All findings are publicly available on an interactive map of the springs. The data serves as a historical record as well as vital information to keep the springs healthy into the future, supporting the ecological and agricultural needs of the region and contributing to more informed stewardship of this resource.

Local grocery co-op Lost River Market and Deli is working with Indiana University food systems researchers and healthcare providers from Southern Indiana Community Health Care (SICHC) to create the Lost River Local Cooking and Nutrition Education Box program.

SICHC providers and the chronic care management nurse refer patients managing type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes who could benefit from greater access to fresh vegetables and nutrition education. Lost River Market and Deli creates nutrition boxes packed with local ingredients along with recipes and lessons on cooking methods that improve the nutritional balance of their meals.

IU Sustainable Food Systems Science researchers are analyzing qualitative and quantitative evaluation data generated by this initiative, together with the IU School of Public Health Biostatistics Consulting Center. In partnership with SICHC, the team conducts pre- and post-intervention biometric measures—including cholesterol and lipid panel, hemoglobin A1c, and body weight—for participants and the comparison group. The team is also assessing participants’ consumption, purchase, and cooking of fruits and vegetables, and their perspectives on the design and delivery of the Lost River Local program and educational resources. Empowered with data, the team strives to replicate success with other rural communities.

When students come to Indiana University, they expect a world-class education that will prepare them for whatever comes next. When they join our rural partnerships, they gain critical insights and experience—and help solve real problems—right here in Indiana.

Through our award-winning community-engaged teaching initiative, Sustaining Hoosier Communities, hundreds of students connect with rural leaders and residents each year to develop and initiate projects addressing health, community resilience, and quality of place opportunities and challenges.

The Student Agile Response Team (START), part of the IU Corps student service initiative, connects communities and students faster than ever to work virtually on emergent needs, including those arising from the pandemic. Through these channels, students and rural communities are planting the seeds for a brighter future together.

It definitely validated that I like working with non-profits and small businesses. I see myself having a small law firm where I help other small businesses in an affordable way.

Paola Gabriela Zaragoza Cardenales, IU student and START volunteer

Create thriving rural communities with us