Let’s make Nebraska even better

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

We’ve shared in past columns what we’ve learned from Nebraska high school students as a result of the survey conducted by Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF) partnering with UNO. Knowledge may be power, but it’s not terribly useful if not turned into activity. So today is a call to action for you, and all of Greater Nebraska, based on what we’ve learned.

By way of review, Nebraska high school students told us they value safety, great schools, and presence of family in their future hometowns, they tend to like smaller towns, and they have little hesitation about staying in their hometowns. Further, they value places where they are engaged and can make a difference.

While we can provide everything on that list, let’s not get overconfident because there are other places that can as well— and many of these students aren’t sure they can find the career they want in a small town in Nebraska.

So, what should we collectively DO with what these students have shared? I would propose there are a couple action items that stand out.

First and foremost, we need to make the link between these students and available careers in our hometowns. Almost half the students say the reason they’d leave as adults is because they think they have a better career opportunity elsewhere. It is by far the most common reason they say they’d live somewhere else.

Fortunately, there are several actions we can take to address this misconception (and yes, it IS a misconception for many because their hoped-for career can be pursued in Greater Nebraska). Communities can work together to set up career experiences through job shadowing, career days, internships, bringing businesses into schools, etc. Many of those activities have been taking place for years so we even have a head start.

One new opportunity has been given to us by the extended winter break on the calendar for UNL. Nebraska Community Foundation and the University are working together to encourage businesses and communities to engage interns during this time. These students will have six weeks (maybe more) when they are home for the holidays this year. Your business or organization might consider hiring a student to do something meaningful and expose them to career opportunities in your community.

Nebraska Community Foundation and NU have provided a framework for such an internship and the details are here: https://www.nebcommfound.org/news/2020-winter-internships/. Or reach out to me and we’ll discuss what you might do! This framework hits both sides of the “attraction equation” by exposing the student to potential careers while also engaging them in their community.

The Columbus Area Future Fund, Butler County Area Foundation Fund, Leigh Legacy Fund, Newman Grove Community Foundation Fund, or Boone County Foundation Fund can connect you to Winter Internships or the summer “Hometown Intern” program as well. Contact any of these groups for the details on either program through each fund’s webpage at www.nebcommfound.org.

Second, we can intentionally engage these students. As one example locally, CAFF has supported the Youth Leadership Columbus program that was started by alumni of Leadership Columbus. YLC teaches the students about their hometown, builds their leadership skills, and asks them to get involved— precisely what students want!

This is just one example of what are truly hundreds of avenues to ask students to play a role and every time we do so it increases the likelihood that these students become adult residents. Adult leaders must be intentional about finding those avenues and then asking students to engage alongside in doing the work AND directing the work.

In this case, knowledge isn’t enough and it’s time to take action. Reach out to me anytime if you’d like to help and let’s talk about what we might do together. We all have a role to play in growing our hometown and right now is quite literally our best opportunity to do so since the 1890s!