Leading the way

One of the goals of Rural Leadership North Dakota is to prepare participants to become engaged in issues that they are passionate about.

For Cassidy Kersten, corporate communications director at SRT Communications in Minot, that issue is rural economic development.

Kersten said she enrolled in RLND because she wanted to see first hand what has been happening in rural communities.

“I really wanted to understand the rural side of things and how much the communities have changed and what they are trying to do to improve,” she said. “I was gone for quite a few years after growing up here. For me, to understand it from an outsider’s point of view has been incredible because I have really been able to see the change in North Dakota.”

As she nears the end of her 18 months with RLND, Kersten said she has become an advocate for the program. A new session of RLND starts this fall, and applications will be accepted until June 15.

The RLND Program was created in 2003 to develop leaders who can help strengthen agriculture and the rural way of life. RLND brings participants together with experts in various fields for seminars, on-site tours and international experiences. Participants visit community businesses and organizations in a number of sectors, including agriculture, financial, health care, government, education, economic development, tourism and water.

The 2013-15 schedule includes eight gatherings around the state in addition to trips to Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and an international location yet to be determined. The varied topics include personal leadership, media training and communication skills, team building, trends in agriculture, entrepreneurship, trade relationships, marketing, working with the Legislature and civic engagement.

Dan Folske, Burke County Extension agent in Bowbells and a current participant, said he’s been impressed with the leadership training.

“What you learn about yourself is very important,” he said. “It helps you step back and take a look at yourself and the way you approach difficult situations to try and accomplish goals.”

He also gained insight into how government works and is building a wider network of contacts with differing areas of expertise.

“One thing that really came home to me is how lucky we are in North Dakota with our small size and our very open government, with being able to approach and work with our government leaders at the local, state and even our federal level,” he said. “When you have that kind of contact and then the new contacts within our group it can open so many more doors for you when you are trying to do things for your community or your business.”

Kersten said that the diversity among participants in the program exposes her to new ideas that are beneficial not only in her job but in her involvement with community organizations. Seeing the economic development projects that rural communities have accomplished gives her a toolbox of successful ideas and expert contacts that she can share with others.

“It’s a huge networking advantage for us,” she said.

Kersten also saw the benefit of RLND during an unrelated trip to Washington, D.C., on business with SRT. She was able to enter into discussions with government officials with confidence because of the experiences gained through the program.

“I felt so much more knowledgeable,” she said.

Because RLND seminars are comprehensive, to get the most from the program, Kersten suggests participants first learn about their community’s needs. That can help to hone in on specific information that will be valuable to their communities, she said.

For more information about the program, contact RLND at North Dakota State University at 231-5803 or email to (ndsu.ruralleadership@ndsu.edu). To apply or to nominate someone to receive an application for the next session, log onto (www.ag.ndsu.edu/rlnd).

The program tuition of $3,750 covers meals, hotels and travel. Out-of-pocket costs include travel to seminar sites or points of departure for out-of-state seminars.

The actual cost of the RLND program is about $15,000 per participant, but costs are offset with funding from NDSU Extension Service and businesses, organizations, foundations and interested individuals.

The program aims to have 50 percent of participants representing the agriculture industry. Individuals who are nominated also may have priority. Applicants will be interviewed over the summer and notified of class selection by Aug. 31.