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 2020


12,160+ residents in 52 Indiana communities and 33 counties


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


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

When the COVID-19 pandemic descended on our nation, our trusted relationships with rural residents and leaders deepened as we all navigated this uncharted territory together.

The Center for Rural Engagement and the School of Public Health served as a resource for health leaders trying to solve extraordinary problems in a short timeframe. Activating rural health networks, Dr. Priscilla Barnes facilitated a series of virtual meetings and a survey with community partners across the region to find out their immediate needs and identified successes and lessons learned.

Dr. Jon Macy collaborated with Southern Indiana Community Health Care to create a COVID-19 symptom tracker to help residents monitor their own symptoms and inform providers and public health officials of the impact of the novel coronavirus in their communities.

We built customized web sites in partnership with local organizations to quickly inform their communities of the latest health information, resources, and local case counts. In collaboration with Dr. Dan Knudsen and the Department of Geography, the center maintained an interactive food resources map for the region as well as a free Wi-Fi map serving students and residents who were suddenly displaced from their schools and workplaces and found themselves with little or no internet connectivity.

See more COVID-19 resources

Response to unexpected crises is the invisible thread that connects with the existing health priorities, and these plans and their implementation will address both emergent needs and long-term priorities.

Dr. Priscilla Barnes, IU School of Public Health

Priscila BarnesBuilding on the work of School of Public Health faculty and students and community networks, we’re expanding community health improvement planning to address the pandemic and other pressing health issues facing our communities in partnership with the State of Indiana.

Based on local health assessment data, community health improvement plans (CHIPs) help communities set goals to meet a range of health objectives, from addressing gaps in services to preventing and treating chronic conditions. These plans, which contain goals that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound—maximize existing resources and networks and also include interventions that address root causes beyond the immediate needs.

The local networks that inform the CHIP development and implementation are composed of diverse organizations, including representations from health, education, business, and nonprofit sectors.

Read about our CHIP partnership with the State of Indiana

As arts programming and performances across the nation came to a grinding halt with the pandemic’s onset, we launched a virtual writing workshop led by Provost Professor and award-winning author Catherine Bowman. A collaboration with the IU Arts & Humanities Council and public libraries across the region, residents from 20 Indiana counties and beyond joined this creative community to write their own lives and experiences as poetry and prose.

This inspired a second virtual writing workshop serving teens in Indiana and fulfilling an artistic outlet and bolstering critical writing skills for their high school and college careers. Master of Fine Arts students mentored teen writers in small group sessions and fostered their writing development and creative aspirations. The team also created paper writing packets that local schools and libraries are distributing to students with limited internet connection.

These workshops are part of a larger effort to unite arts and cultural resources at the university with rural artists, students, and residents who are crafting their own narratives and reimagining a creative horizon that is both individually and collectively fulfilling and empowering.

Find upcoming events

I really liked the idea of writing through the crisis‚ finding expression and meaning now, not waiting for some theoretical later time of reflection.

This Imperfect Paradise writing workshop participant

Communities rely on quality, affordable housing to attract new residents and retain families who have local roots. With an aging housing stock and a lack of affordable options, rural Indiana risks losing residents and workforce.

In partnership with industry and business, local government, and nonprofit organizations, we created a toolkit to help communities assess their readiness for housing, determine the cost and benefit of new housing units, and plan for next steps.

This toolkit includes housing market data, a quality-of-place inventory, a visioning guide, zoning and planning information, an interactive tax model, a site identification guide, developer selection information, and an evaluation guide for environmental and infrastructure considerations. It is flexible enough for rural communities of all sizes to use as they plan for the future.

Get the housing toolkit

What started as a local survey of Lawrence County community attitudes toward issues of substance use disorder, stigma, and mental health conducted by Dr. John Keesler in the School of Social Work grew into a state-wide program implementation in collaboration with the Indiana Rural Health Association and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Now, we’re hosting dozens of virtual naloxone training sessions in collaboration with local health departments and organizations on the front lines of a crisis that began long before COVID-19.

As health professionals worry about the side effects of isolation and despair resulting from the pandemic, mental health care access is more important than ever. Social work students are working with rural communities to expand telehealth and substance use disorder treatment.

Despite the Midwest being an agricultural region, in rural areas like the Indiana Uplands, consumers often struggle to access local food, and farmers struggle to get their food into the hands of consumers, even when they are just miles apart.

We set forth a goal to create and implement a local food system value chain advancement plan to increase the amount of food produced and increase the consumption of locally grown food in the Uplands region. The value chain encompasses production, aggregation, processing, distribution, and consumption, and we are addressing all five with our community partners through community gardens, a farm-to-health initiative, food insecurity and provisioning studies, farmers’ market promotional planning, and a newly launched Indiana Uplands Food Network.

At the start of the pandemic, the Indiana Uplands Food Network created a series of informative webinars to help local producers revise their distribution plans to ensure minimal disruption to the local food supply chain. Through a partnership with the Media School, a new podcast entitled Growing in Place covers important local food issues and resource information during the crisis.

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.

Through a newly launched program, Student Agile Response Team (START) led by the IU Corps student service initiative, communities and students are connected 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.

two people at a farmers market

It gives me an opportunity to work with real clients. Going into the field, you have to work with real people, and will have real problems, and will find real solutions. I really enjoy the community aspect and engagement.

Janai Weeks, IU student and Sustaining Hoosier Communities participant

Create thriving rural communities with us