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Rural Futures Institute Serviceship Interns Clayton Keller, left, and Amber Ross arrived in Columbus on May 21 and are excited to begin working on their projects relating to economic development, marketing and event planning. 

Rural Futures Institute (RFI) interns Amber Ross and Clayton Keller grew up in rural communities which fueled their passion to help like areas thrive economically.

One of these areas is Columbus.

“We are really excited,” Ross said. “We think it’s going to be a good summer. We are going to be busy but learning a lot too.”

RFI’s Serviceship Program trains and disperses interns from different universities in the state to work in rural Nebraska. The program continues to grow each year, from serving five communities last year to 11 this year. This year’s team consists of 18 interns from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, University of Nebraska at Omaha and Peru State College.

Ross is an undergraduate student majoring in agribusiness at UNL and Ohio-native Keller is a graduate student majoring in public administration at UNO.

The duo arrived in Columbus May 21. They both said that they “lucked out” because of the amenities available in the area, as compared to the communities other interns were assigned to.

When asked about their first impressions of Columbus, Keller responded with “Wow, this is bigger than I thought it would be.”

“It’s much bigger than what I think of rural,” he added.

Before their arrival, Ross and Keller underwent a week-long training at UNL learning about marketing strategies, team building, leadership and entrepreneurship. The training also provided interns opportunities to network and bond.

Kara Asmus, workforce development coordinator at Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was impressed with the skill sets of the interns.

Asmus and K.C. Belitz, president of Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce will be keeping the interns busy throughout the summer. They will be working closely with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Columbus Economic Development and Columbus Area Future Fund.

The many projects these interns will be working on include planning the Young Nebraskans week happening in September, working on the “Something Good” campaign, putting together the community calendar, marketing the Columbus Future Fund’s fundraising campaign and organizing the monthly Intern’s Night Out.

“Columbus is the most industrial-saturated city, so the most industry per capita in Nebraska,” Keller said. “And with that comes a lot of interns because we have a lot of STEM students who want internships over the summer and Columbus has lots and lots of opportunities for them and so there’s an intern influx that happens every summer here.”

Director of RFI Serviceship Program Helen Fagan, who is also the director of leadership engagement at UNL, will be checking in with the interns every two weeks for progress updates and to work on problem solving.

Keller grew up in a town of approximately 2,000 people called Millersport. He was looking for a summer internship when he learned about the opportunity from his friend.

“I am really impressed with the caliber of people we’ve been able to meet,” he said.

This is not Ross’ first time being a part of the RFI Serviceship Program. She was placed in West Point last year with former UNL student, Madeleine Schwinghammer, to work with its Parks and Recreation Department. Their main roles were to conduct research to improve its parks while working on economic development.

Ross said she understands that each community is different, not only in terms of population but needs, as well.

“I am really excited to be back with RFI again and to learn more and really figure out if this is the path that I really want to go down on,” she said.

Both Ross and Keller said they’re ready to start working on their projects, especially when it means that they will get to further enhance their marketing and event planning skills.

“I am here to experience Columbus so I will be here as much as I can,” Keller said.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at


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