By Tim Leeds
One of the goals of NARFI (the North American Rural Futures Institute) is to create an institute at Montana State University-Northern to identify and implement ideas and actions to create a viable, sustainable future in rural areas.
Jonathan Richter, founder of NARFI and coordinator of the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers for Technology Today grant at Northern, said the goal of the institute would be to identify current and future trends in the increasingly technological world that impact rural communities, and find ways that the communities can transform themselves to take advantage of those trends. He said the institute would be working directly with businesses and people in the community to implement the discoveries of the institute.
Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville said the institute would be an expansion of the role the university already plays in economic development.
"I think the big thing this does to the university is that it really puts forth to the front of the agenda how the university is part of economic development," he said. "We need to be more active working with Bear Paw Development (Corporation of North Montana) and other groups on projects like this."
Richter said they are contacting the Montana U.S. congressmen to gain support in receiving $500,000 in federal appropriations as seed money for the institute. He said Sen. Max Baucus told him that if they can show community support, he would give it top priority. Richter said Paul Tuss, executive director for Bear Paw Development, said Baucus told him that if there is community support, receiving the appropriations is a virtual certainty.
Tuss said Baucus seemed pretty excited on the local level about the prospects of the institute for rural Montana. He said the entire congressional delegation is generally supportive of efforts to help rural areas in the state. He said they will need to have a united delegation while seeking the appropriations for the institute.
Richter said he implores anyone in the community who thinks the institute would be a good thing to call or email the Montana congressmen to show their support.
Tuss said the institute would have a direct impact on economic development, the goal of Bear Paw Development. He said there is a high degree of concern and fear in rural communities about the future, about whether people's children will be able to stay and make a living, about the business community, education, taxes and so on.
Richter said the findings of the institute would be implemented both on the campus and in the community. He said much of the findings could be incorporated directly into the curriculums at the university, such as in nursing, education, business, technical programs and more.
Darlene Sellers, dean of the College of Education at Northern, said the institute fits perfectly with the mission of the college. She said teachers from Northern have a covenant with the children they teach, to provide a future that is viable.
"Technology is the biggest tool for them," she said, "how to shrink geographic boundaries."
Richter said part of the institute would be to create a community learning center, to educate people in the community about modern technology and the political, economic and social environments it can create. He said the most important part is to help people start implementing the solutions the institute finds for rural communities.
"(Getting) the technology is the easy part," he said.
Sellers said the problem is very complex, like the layers of an onion. She said the layers have to be peeled away to find the best solutions to modern problems and how to stimulate and create viable rural communities.
Congressional contacts: Sen. Max Baucus, 511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington D.C. 20510-2602; (202) 224-2651, toll-free 1-800-332-6106; email email@example.com
Sen. Conrad Burns, SD 187 DSOB, Washington DC 20510; (202) 224-2644; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Dennis Rehberg, 516 Cannon, Washington DC 20515; (202) 225-3211; email email@example.com
On the 'net: North American Rural Futures Institute: http://www.narfi.org