Rural Initiative

Investing in Rural Colorado

In June 2021, the CSU System Board of Governors voted to invest $8.58 million over the next three years in expanded support for rural Colorado students and communities. We are making these investments after listening to and learning from our communities, economic and community development leaders and individuals across the state.

As we expand our rural initiative, we continue conversations. We listen and learn and work together with communities, evolving and enhancing our approach to serve the needs of Coloradans. This inclusive, statewide process led us to create key goals and the hire over a dozen rural initiative specialists who work to design and deliver programming that meets the unique needs of their communities.

Four Focus Areas

Accessible Education

Supporting college access, curriculum and partnership development with community colleges and other university partners to create collaborative bachelor’s programs around the state. Piloting 4-H programs targeting underserved populations. Developing innovative new positions that bridge school-based STEM education with college admissions.

Examples of Our Accessible Education Work

College Connection Webinars

The new College Connection Webinar Series is a monthly opportunity for attendees to learn about topics including degree program offerings, applying to CSU, scholarships and funding, research opportunities for undergraduate students, and more.

See upcoming sessions and previous recordings >

Colorado Envirothon

Envirothon is sponsored by the National Conservation Foundation and is North America’s largest and most academically challenging high school environmental competition. Each of Colorado Envirothon’s 26 participating students received $1,000 scholarships from the CSU Office of Engagement and Extension that can be applied toward any degree program offered through CSU.

CSU Pathways

Prospective students from Gilpin County visited the CSU Spur campus during a Second Saturday event. Students also met with Extension specialists to learn about college pathways at CSU. Additional efforts are underway to connect with middle- and high-school students during career and college fairs across the region.

Accessible Education Specialists

Students standing together

Colorado Envirothon participants work together during the 2023 competition held at CSU Spur.

Improved Health

Expanding our lifelong learning and wellness programs for older Coloradans and establishing a Health Extension system based on prevention science. Increasing rural mental health awareness and education through partnerships with community healthcare providers and facilitated connections to resources. 

Learn more about CSU Health Extension

A series of free caregiving webinars was created to support families in Colorado and beyond.

Vibrant Communities

Building on the efforts of the Family Leadership Training Institute of Colorado to increase community leadership training opportunities and support civic capacity building. Establishing a system of ‘humanities extended’ to create connections that promote rural histories and cultures. Fostering dialogues within rapidly changing communities to bridge urban/rural and other cultural divides while supporting community problem-solving.

Examples of Our Vibrant Communities Work

Rural Action Project

Developed in partnership with CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation, the Rural Action Project is a civic dialogue and community-led action project that is focused on building community connections, civic capacity and long-term community resilience. In the spring of 2023, 10 communities implemented projects supported by funding from the Office of Engagement and Extension.

Read more >

Clear Creek Economic Impact Study & Economic Diversity Planning

A partnership including CSU’s College of Business and Clear Creek County officials aimed at identifying needs and developing practical solutions for increasing economic diversity in the area.

Affordable Housing & Technical Assistance for Rural Communities

A roundtable session with Colorado Housing Finance Authority representatives, the Governor’s Office for Economic Development, and mountain community governments to discuss local, affordable housing options and assistance, particularly for addressing housing needs of civic
employees (teachers, paramedics, firefighters, etc.) in rural communities. 

Vibrant Communities Specialists

  • Alice Dong, Eastern Region
  • Jeff Engell, Western Region
  • Willie Wilkins, Mountain Region

Alamosa Mayor Ty Coleman takes a photo with CSU Family Leadership Training Institute participants in the San Luis Valley. The program gives residents time to form meaningful relationships with local and state elected officials and demystifies government operations. (Photo courtesy of Ty Coleman)

Thriving Economies/Food and Agriculture

Expanding the Regional Economic Development Institute’s capacity to inform and support community planning and redefining our impact on the agriculture economy with a focus on technical assistance and research translation. Redeveloping the value proposition and ways of working with large-scale food and agriculture producers, with a focus on technical assistance and research translation in areas such as soil sustainability and large animal veterinary medicine. Improving access to high-speed internet through grant and program development.

Examples of Our Thriving Economies/Food and Agriculture Work

CSU Produce Network

The CSU Produce Network was formed in fall of 2022 and is composed of 31 campus and field-based faculty and staff working in fruit, vegetable and pulse research and/or Extension outreach and engagement. It offers enhanced service to the Colorado produce industry through more informed, coordinated, and co-created CSU contributions.

2022 CSU Produce Network Report >

San Luis Valley Food & Agriculture Assessment

Rural specialists facilitated a series of community conversations and data analysis efforts in the San Luis Valley, part of a Colorado Health Foundation initiative to help partners prioritize how food and agriculture issues are addressed in the region.

Community Food Systems Outreach in North Fork Valley

Partnering with CSU’s Organic Agriculture Research Station to develop more community outreach efforts and support events provided collectively by CSU in the North Fork Valley, such as a cultural celebration of corn and peppers at a local farm in the valley, and a North Fork Valley farm tour.

Thriving Economies Specialists

  • Derek Lowstuter, Mountain Region
  • Nicole Didero, Western Region
  • Stephen Lauer, Southern Region
  • Libby Christensen, Statewide Food and Ag
  • Adrian Card, Statewide Specialty Crops

An automated weeder demonstration organized by an Extension Rural Initiative specialist brought the cutting-edge technology, and innovators in the field, to Colorado for the first time.

Learn more about CSU’s initiatives in rural Colorado

Photo illustration of CAM's classroom

Fourteen expanded rural initiative specialists begin serving communities across Colorado

The 14 regional initiative specialists have begun connecting with their communities. They are building on programming already being delivered by CSU Extension experts across the state and are working to create educational resources that meet their regions’ unique needs.

Photo illustration of CAM's classroom

Rural initiative brings CAM’s Classroom to Mesa County

Over the summer, support from CSU’s Office of Engagement and Extension’s Rural Initiative made it possible for the team at CAM’s Ag Academy to offer free, hands-on educational programming at the Mesa County fair.

A young woman stands under a tent with VR controllers in her hands

CSU Extension is expanding access to mental health care in rural Colorado

For decades, Colorado AgrAbility has focused on helping farmers and ranchers with physical challenges live healthy and productive lives. However, seeing a growing need in recent years, they have doubled down on their efforts to improve access to mental health care in rural communities.

A young woman stands under a tent with VR controllers in her hands

Custom-built mobile VR science lab takes innovative learning experiences statewide

The interior of the cutting-edge lab, from its desk spaces to countertops and cabinets, is all built using wood harvested from the wake of the Cameron Peak Fire, an event that upended communities and the natural systems that support animal and plant life across more than 200,000 acres. Now, the reclaimed timber is serving a key role in educating youth across the state about the interwoven connections between people, animals and the environment.