Thomas C. Sorensen Seminar: Rural Policy and Leadership


As Henrik Ibsen once said, “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” In a changing world, leadership is exceptionally important to keep rural communities thriving. This seminar focused on rural leadership and rural policy issues with a dynamic discussion between panelists Senator Raymond Aguilar, Dr. Rick Foster, Chancellor Doug Kristensen, and Ms. Sandra Scofield. The panelists particularly addressed leadership for rural policy changes, the meaning, and implications of agricultural policy versus rural policy, and perceptions of what rural policy is—or should be—by lawmakers.

Senator Raymond Aguilar was born and raised in Grand Island, Nebraska. His family has made Grand Island their home for four generations. He graduated from Grand Island Senior High School and attended Central Community College in Grand Island.

Senator Aguilar was appointed to the District 35 seat in June of 1999. In the 2000 election, Senator Aguilar officially won the seat with 74 percent of the vote. The United States Senator Chuck Hagel nominated Senator Aguilar to a seat on the U.S. Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs. On September 18, 2003, Senator Aguilar was appointed as a member of the Children’s Task Force by Governor Johanns. In 2004, Senator Aguilar ran unopposed for his second term.

Senator Aguilar’s community involvement on local boards and programs, especially participation in the Hall County Leadership Tomorrow program, gave him the knowledge, confidence, and experience that lead him to become an elected official. Soon thereafter, he became involved in several committees dealing with local government issues and a city council member.

Past and present boards and organizations the senator has been involved with include: Rotary and Optimists Club, Adult Basic Education Advisory Board, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the Grand Island Little Theatre, American Red Cross, CHAD Community Council, the Multi-Cultural Commission, and Habitat for Humanity. Statewide commissions he is a member of: Governor’s Infant Mortality Blue Ribbon Panel, the Juvenile Diversion, Detention and Probation Services team, Task Force on the Productive Integration of the Immigrant Workforce Population and the Minority Advisory Council to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, Central Nebraska Area Health Education Center (AHEC).

Dubbed the “blue-collar senator” by the Lincoln Journal Star, Senator Aguilar has worked a variety of labor-sector jobs, including welding, production manager, construction manager, building and grounds director for Central Catholic High School, and is currently self-employed in the commercial cleaning business. Senator Aguilar’s current committees include: Intergovernmental Cooperation, Chair, Transportation and Telecommunication Committee, and the Judiciary Committee.

Richard M. Foster is vice president for programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. His programming duties include guiding Foundation efforts in food systems, rural development, and leadership development. Dr. Foster also serves on the executive team that provides overall direction and leadership for the Foundation. Specific programming initiatives for which he is responsible include: Food and Society, Mid South Delta Initiative, People and Land, Networks for Rural Public Policy, the Kellogg National Leadership Program, and the new Kellogg Leadership for Community Change Program.

Dr. Foster joined the Foundation in 1991 as a visiting professional while on sabbatical leave from the University of Nebraska, where he served as a professor of agricultural education. Prior to joining the Foundation as a visiting professional, he worked in international development activities in Africa and Central America, and was instrumental in establishing the School of Agriculture for the Humid Tropics (E.A.R.T.H.) in Costa Rica. Dr. Foster was selected for a staff position at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as a program director in 1992 and appointed vice president in 1995.

Previously, Dr. Foster taught at Iowa State University, the University of Idaho, and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln between 1976–1992. He also was a Group VIII Kellogg National Fellow from 1987 to 1990, and a Thornton F. Bradshaw Fellow at Claremont Graduate School in 1990.

Dr. Foster received his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in agricultural education from Iowa State University in Ames. He has received many awards and honors, including the E.B. Knight Award from the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture for outstanding scholarly publication. He was recognized with the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Young Professor Award at the University of Nebraska; cited as the Outstanding Student Advisor at the University of Idaho; and received the Justin Morrill Award from the National Association of State and Land-Grant Universities at the 2001 national conference.

Douglas A. Kristensen was appointed chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney in July 2002. He brings to the position a unique knowledge of the issues affecting higher education in the state of Nebraska, and a record of dedication to Nebraska’s citizens. As the former, and longest-serving, speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, he has long been familiar with the University system and the history and mission of the Kearney campus.

Chancellor Kristensen represented the 37th Legislative District after having been elected to the office in 1988. He was then reelected in 1992, 1996, and 2000. During his career as a Nebraska state senator, he sponsored legislation that created the Nebraska Court of Appeals and the Tax Equalization and Review Commission. He also was one of the sponsors of legislation that brought then Kearney State College into the University system. Dr. Kristensen was also instrumental in passing scores of other legislation and numerous constitutional amendments. At the time he held political office, he practiced law and was a partner in the law firm of Lieske & Kristensen in Minden, Nebraska. Chancellor Kristensen was Kearney county attorney from 1983 to 1988.

Sandra K. Scofield is director of the Nebraska Rural Initiative at the University of Nebraska. Scofield has degrees in social sciences and education and in educational psychology and measurements. She has worked in education and in a major U.S. aerospace corporation; has been a partner in a small business and family farming and ranching operation; and has served in a variety of governmental positions, both appointed and elected. Scofield served as a state senator in the Nebraska Unicameral for eight years, where she was a leader on education, natural resources, and rural development issues. She was a member of the Appropriations Committee and chaired the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families. She also served as vice-chair of the National Conference of State Legislators Committee on Agriculture, Food Policy and Rural Development. Upon leaving the Legislature, Scofield served as chief of staff for the governor and as a special assistant to the governor for planning and budget, where she was responsible for directing the strategic planning and budget process. She is a member of Rotary and has participated in the Teammates Program. In addition, she continues to manage a small family farm and ranch in northwest Nebraska.

Bill Kelly is the executive producer for News/Public Affairs at the Nebraska ETV Network. Bill Kelly oversees the production and development of new programming. He began his association with NETV in 1990, covering the state legislature and producing a documentary on the Strategic Air Command’s transition into a world without the Cold War. In 1993, he created the weekly news program STATEWIDE. This innovative series, done in cooperation with commercial broadcasters and newspapers across the state, has become one of the most-watched and highly regarded programs on the network.

The News unit also produces the network’s daily coverage of the Nebraska Legislature and coordinates special projects including “Campaign Connection,” NETV’s expansive coverage of the 2000 elections.

Previously, at WOWT in Omaha, Kelly covered government and politics. He produced a nationally award-winning documentary on a notorious Nebraska crime spree titled “Charles and Caril: Starkweather 30 years later.” He previously worked at KARD in Wichita and WLFI in Lafayette, Indiana. His work earned honors from the Associated Press, United Press International, and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. He graduated from Purdue University.

He continues to serve on the Omaha Press Club board of directors as a past president, and is a regular performer and writer in the annual Gridiron show poking fun at newsmakers of the past year.

Click here to view video of the event.

In the news:
Panelist: Rural America Must ‘Have an Opinion, Become Active’. (2005-11-17). North Platte Telegraph.