The agenda below includes links to video and additional resources from selected sessions.


The 2015 National Rural Assembly was held on September 8-10, 2015 in Washington, DC at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

Who participated? Participants included more than 175 leaders and advocates representing diverse geographies, cultures, ages, and issue areas, including 35 states and the District of Columbia. Other participants included White House and other government officials, members of Congress and their staff.

What was the primary focus of this gathering? This year’s focus was on how we can create better outcomes for rural communities by specifically addressing barriers that disproportionately affect rural people and places, such as persistent poverty, disinvestment by public and private institutions, lack of access to quality healthcare, education, and technologies, and the depletion of our natural resources.

We convened conversations focused on youth leadership and empowerment; rural child poverty and building a better policy framework to address it; and the persistent gap in philanthropic investment in rural America.

Breakout session were geared toward creating policy recommendations that create more opportunity for all communities. This included addressing climate change, access to healthcare, education, investment, technology, and leadership development.

As Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack said in his address to the 2013 National Rural Assembly: “Folks, we are not going to have that more inclusive nation unless people around this country recognize and understand that we cannot accept failure with impunity.”

What did we accomplish together? We returned to our foundational principles as set forth in the Rural Compact to advance a rural platform that looks at strategies and opportunities for building a more inclusive nation where rural is part of the solutions to some of our country’s greatest challenges. The final day of the conference included a Congressional briefing and visits with members of Congress and Congressional staff on Capitol Hill. Young leaders also had the opportunity to participate in a full-day strategic planning and action session.

What is unique about the Assembly? The Rural Assembly is intentionally a cross-sector, cross-geographical coalition. The National Gathering is dedicated to hosting conversations at the crossroads of health and climate, immigration and economic development, art and agriculture, poverty and prosperity, to name a few. Your participation influences the content and outcomes of each gathering.

The Rural Assembly Steering Committee membership is listed here.



Who attended the Rural Assembly 2015?

Profiles here of  Timothy Lampkin of Clarksdale, MS; Sarina Otaibi of Granite Falls, MN; Frank Estrada of Lockhart, TX; and Nick Tilsen of Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, SD.


Tuesday, September 8

Young Practitioners & Pre-Conference Meetings

9:00am-5:00pm    Young Leaders Day: How to Frame Rural Policy Issues (video profiles: Megan and Dustin, Amrita and Rebecca; Daily Yonder article, The Gazette article, Daily Yonder article)

Facilitated by Jane Feinberg, Founder & Principal, Full Frame Communications

Room: Congressional A

12:30pm-5:30pm              Pre-conference meetings                                    

3:00pm                               Registration opens
                                              Room: Hall of Battles

5:30pm                               2015 National Rural Assembly Reception
                                              Join us for drinks and light hors d’oeuvres
                                              Room: Regency B

6:45pm                              Dinner Program (video excerpt)

Enjoy and learn from a hopeful and charismatic band of rural leaders and activists who are deeply engaged in developing more inclusive, culturally vibrant communities.

Panelists: Nikiko Masumoto, Masumoto Family Farm, performer and artist; Robert Gipe, community organizer, author and professor; Rachel Reynolds Luster, Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-op, community organizer; Carlton Turner, Alternate ROOTS
Room: Regency C/D

8:00pm                                 Adjourn

Wednesday, September 9

Building an Inclusive Nation

7:30am                 Registration opens
                               Room: Hall of Battles

7:30am                 Breakfast  
                               Room: Regency C

8:30am                 Welcome from the National Rural Assembly Steering Committee
                               Room: Regency C

8:45am                 Plenary: Building An Inclusive Nation: Closing the Philanthropy Gap (video interview, article by Rick Cohen, Blandin Foundation post, The Gazette editorial)
                               Room: Regency C

What is the  role of philanthropy in building a stronger rural America and a more inclusive nation? This session will look at the partnership between foundations and rural nonprofits. What’s working? Where are the challenges? How do we build better links between urban and rural?

Moderated by Rick Cohen, writer and consultant
Panelists: Justin Maxon, President Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; Kathy Annette, President Blandin Foundation; Jamie Bennett, ArtPlace America; Heetan Kalan, Senior Program Officer, New World Foundation

9:45am                 Keynote address: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
                               Room: Regency C (video link, NPQ article, Daily Yonder article)

10:15am               Break

10:45am               Plenary: Addressing Rural Child Poverty
                               Room: Regency C (video link)

This panel represents experts and advocates from diverse landscapes and economies in rural America.  They will have a candid conversation about child poverty in rural America and highlight opportunities and examples of people and places where the narrative and outlook are changing.

Moderated by Mil Duncan, Research Director, Agree, and Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America
Speakers: Doug O’Brien, Senior Advisor, Domestic Policy Council, The White House; Kimberly Phinney, Rural & Tribal Initiatives Director, YouthBuild USA; Eileen Briggs, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures; Roberto Gallardo, Mississippi State University Extension; Dr. C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director, Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest at the New York Women's Foundation

Slides from Roberto Gallardo

12:00pm               Rural policy opportunities lunch
                               Room: Regency C (video link)

Earned Income Tax Credit slides

1:15pm                 Plenary: The Next Generation
                               Room: Regency C (video excerpt)

Rural America is home to a sixth of the population and a wealth of strategic resources.  As the nation works to meet new challenges we must bring all our assets to bear in ways that create a sustainable future.  

Tapping the innovation of the next generation of rural leaders is critical for the future of rural communities. And successful examples can be found across the rural geography and in varied sectors. Many young people are establishing roots in rural communities, either continuing in their “hometown” or creating new hometowns for themselves. They are part of a vanguard of new leadership, taking seats on community boards and commissions, opening small businesses, and actively looking for opportunities to transform their communities. 

This panel will bring together four such leaders, representing the diverse nature of rural America’s communities in terms of geography, culture, and experience.  They will each share a snapshot of their journey as young leaders engaged in building stronger, more inclusive communities.

Moderated by Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary for Rural Development, USDA
Panelists: Philan Tree, National Young Leaders Council; Sarina Otaibi, Director of Communications & Engagement, Clean Up the River Environment; Jennifer Connor, Chicot County, Arkansas; Tim Lampkin, CEO, Lampkin Consulting Group
Developed in collaboration with Rural Policy Research Institute; Matthew Fluharty, Art of the Rural & Next Generation Initiative

2:30pm                 Break

3:00pm                 Breakout Sessions

These 90 minute breakout sessions will cover a diverse set of issue areas and examples from communities across the country.  Presenters and participants will discuss strategies for addressing climate change, child poverty, broadband access, creative placemaking, emerging tools for mapping and data analysis, and how we build more inclusive communities across age, culture, and experience.   

Breakout session descriptions here

4:45pm                 What to expect tomorrow
                               Room: Regency C

5:30pm                 Adjourn to reception
                               Join us for drinks and light hors d’oeuvres
                               Room: Concord/Lexington

Dinner on your own.  Or sign up throughout the day for one of our Dine-Arounds.

Thursday, September 10

Rural Advocacy Day

7:30am                 Registration/information booth opens
                               Room: Hall of Battles

8:00am                 Breakfast buffet
                               Room: Regency C

9:00am                 Good morning & overview of the day, breakout presentations
                               Room: Regency C

9:15am                 Keynote Address by U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx
                               (video excerpt, Daily Yonder article)

9:45am                 White House Rural Council Breakout Sessions

Join members of the White House Rural Council for conversations about some of the most urgent rural issues, like hospital closures, response to climate, new broadband initiatives, investment in infrastructure, and closing the philanthropy gap.

Health of Our People
Room: Bunker Hill

Stewardship of Our Natural Resources
Room: Concord

Quality in Education
Room: Regency D

Investment in Our Communities
Room: Lexington

Connecting Rural America
Room: Congressional A

Please make your way back to General Session at 10:30am

10:30am               Adjourn and make our way to Capitol Hill for 11:30am briefing on rural child poverty

11:30am-1:00pm        Special session with Rural Placemaking Advocates, open to all
                               Room: Lexington

Advocacy Day Continues on Capitol Hill

11:30am               Congressional briefing (video link)

The National Rural Assembly will host a briefing on child poverty in rural America for Congressional members, staff, and rural advocates on September 10, 2015, from 11:30-12:45 in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Building. Lunch will be provided.

This briefing will look at the realities of child poverty in rural America, across geographies and experiences, and will draw some conclusions about how policy makers and rural stakeholders can work together to capture immediate opportunities and identify longer-term efforts that will put us on a new path toward a better future for all. 

Currently, one in four children in rural America lives in poverty.  Over the past decade, the rural child poverty rate grew by more than a third, and in some counties and on tribal lands, the rates are much higher. Rural leaders are undertaking a range of practical and innovative approaches to improving conditions in their communities, but they need support and recognition policy makers to effectively reduce child poverty rates, stabilize families, and create greater economic opportunity.

The panel will be moderated by Mil Duncan, Director of Research, Agree, author of Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America

Kennedy Caucus Room, Russell Senate Building

1:00pm                 Hill Day visits commence


Jane Feinberg, Founder & Principal, Full Frame Communications                         

Jane Feinberg is Founder and Principal of Full Frame Communications, a Boston-based consulting practice that helps mission driven organizations develop effective communications, engagement, and change strategies. Her specialties are education, child and youth development, adult development, disability rights, and aging.

For 25 years, Feinberg was an award-winning television producer and documentary filmmaker. At PBS, she co-produced a documentary about famed aviator Amelia Earhart for The American Experience, where she was also Senior Researcher. In addition, she produced for the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and Frontline and developed several college telecourses. At WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston, Feinberg was a writer and producer for “Chronicle."

Feinberg was a Senior Associate at FrameWorks Institute in Washington DC, a communications think tank that conducts research on how Americans think about social issues, including those related specifically to rural America. While at FrameWorks, she taught issue advocates how to use research-based “framing” strategies and developed a variety of tools and templates to help experts advance progressive policies and programs.

A former Director of Communications for the Boston Public Schools, Feinberg recently spent four years consulting to school districts in New England, many of them in rural communities. Feinberg is currently a second-year doctoral student in Antioch University’s Graduate Program in Leadership and Change.

Robert Gipe, Higher Ground & Trampoline

Robert was born in North Carolina in 1963 and was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, a child of the Tennessee Eastman Company, Pals Sudden Service, and the voice of the Vols, John Ward. His dad was a warehouse supervisor and his  mom was registered nurse. Robert went to college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he was a DJ for a student radio station he helped start. He went to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and got a masters in American Studies. Robert worked as a pickle packer, a forklift driver, and eventually landed a job as marketing and educational services director for Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky in 1989. At Appalshop, he worked with public schoolteachers on arts and education projects. Since 1997, Robert has been the director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College in Cumberland, Kentucky, where he is also one of the producers of Higher Ground, a series of community musical dramas based on oral histories and grounded in discussion of local issues. Robert is also a faculty coordinator of the Crawdad student arts series. He has had fiction published in Appalachian Heritage and have attended the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman every year since 2006.

Rachel Reynolds Luster, Founder, Oregon County Food Co-Op


Rachel is a folklorist, fiddler, and community organizer who lives on a 10-acre homestead with her family in Couch, MO. In addition to serving as founder and project steward of the Oregon County Food Producers and Artisans Co-Op, she is the librarian at the Myrtle Library, a one-room library in the Missouri Ozarks which has been featured on National Public Radio’s, Morning Edition. She is a founding member of Art of the Rural, a collaborative organization with a mission to help build the field of the rural arts, create new narratives on rural culture and community, and contribute to the emerging rural arts and culture movement. Luster is a frequent presenter on topics of cultural sustainability and rural placemaking around the country and on her home turf. She recently initiated #NotMyOzarks, a social media campaign that reshapes the narrative of our rural places in the face of organized hate and in solidarity with the oppressed. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Heritage Studies from Arkansas State University.

Nikiko Masumoto, Masumoto Family Farms

Nikiko Masumoto first learned to love food as a young child slurping the nectar of over ripe organic peaches on the Masumoto Family Farm. Since then, she has never missed a harvest.

Farmer, artist, and leader, Nikiko works alongside her father to raise organic peaches, nectarines and grapes. She hopes to add another generation’s voice to the story of the Masumoto Family Farm. She calls herself an “agrarian artists” cultivating the richness of life in California’s Central Valley through farming, food, stories, art, & community.

In 2007 she graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Gender and Women’s Studies and in 2011 completed a Master of Arts in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas, Austin. She debuted her one-woman show “What We Could Carry” about Japanese American Redress hearings in 2011. In 2012, she started the Valley Storytellers Project whose aim was to create spaces for people to tell stories in and about the Central Valley. Her intellectual and artistic curiosities continue to inspire creations and inquiries into community building, memory, place, public art, justice and healing.

In 2013 she published her first book The Perfect Peach (Ten Speed Press), co-authored with Marcy & David Mas Masumoto.

Carlton Turner, Executive Director, Alternate ROOTS

Carlton Turner is the Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS, a regional non-profit arts organization based in the south, supporting artists working at the intersection of arts and social justice.

Carlton Turner is co-founder and co-artistic director, along with his brother Maurice Turner, of the group M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction). M.U.G.A.B.E.E. is a Mississippi-based performing arts group that blends of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry and soul music together with non-traditional storytelling and a member of the Progress Theatre Ensemble.

Carlton is currently on the board of Appalshop, an advisory member to the National Theater Project at New England Foundation for the Arts and Michael Rohd’s Catalyst Initiative. Carlton is a member of the We Shall Overcome Fund Advisory Board at the Highlander Center for Research and Education, a steering committee member of the Arts and Culture Social Justice Network, and former Network of Ensemble Theaters steering committee member.

In 2011 Carlton was awarded the M. Edgar Rosenblum award for outstanding contribution to Ensemble Theater by Irondale Ensemble Project in Brooklyn, NY.  In 2013 Carlton was named to the Kennedy Center Honors Artist Advisory Board alongside Debbie Allen, Maria De Leon, and Ping Chong. M.U.G.A.B.E.E. is a recipient of the 2015 Otto René Castillo Awards for Political Theatre recipient.

Dee Davis, President, Center for Rural Strategies

Dee Davis is the founder of the Center for Rural Strategies. Dee has helped design and lead national public information campaigns on topics as diverse as commercial television programming and federal banking policy. Dee began his media career in 1973 as a trainee at Appalshop, an arts and cultural center devoted to exploring Appalachian life and social issues in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Dee went on to serve as executive producer of Appalshop Films and Headwaters Television. During his tenure, the organization created more than 50 public TV documentaries, established a media training program for Appalachian youth, and launched initiatives that use media as a strategic tool in organization and development. Dee served as president and chairman of the board of the Independent Television Service, president of Kentucky Citizens for the Arts, and as a panelist and consultant to numerous private and public agencies. Dee serves on the board of directors of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Fund for Innovative Television, and Feral Arts of Brisbane, Australia. He is also a member of the national advisory boards of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI). Dee received an English degree from the University of Kentucky. He lives in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

Kathy Annette, CEO, Blandin Foundation

A lifelong resident of rural Minnesota, Dr. Kathleen Annette is a recognized leader at local, regional and national levels. She is president and CEO of Blandin Foundation.


Kathy grew up on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and is enrolled with White Earth Band of Ojibwe. She is a graduate of University of Minnesota, where she received both her medical and undergraduate degrees. She is the first woman in the Minnesota Ojibwe Nation to become a physician.

As acting deputy director of field operations of Indian Health Service, based in Bemidji, Minn., Kathy had responsibility for supervision and leadership of Area Directors across the United States, including 48 hospitals, 238 health clinics serving 1.9 million American Indian patients, and 15,000 federal employees. For her professional leadership, she received two Presidential Meritorious Awards given to no more than three percent of senior executives in federal service and, in 2010, a Presidential Distinguished Service Award which is presented to no more than one percent of senior federal senior executives throughout the government. She retired from federal service after 26 distinguished years and joined Blandin Foundation as its CEO on Sept. 1, 2011.

Kathy’s many honors and awards include the national American Indian Physician of the Year award, Quality of Place Award issued by Northwest Minnesota Foundation, and the Jake White Crow National Award, presented by the National Indian Health Board—the only federal employee to be so recognized. She was inducted into the Northwest Minnesota Women’s Hall of Fame at Bemidji State University in 2006 and into the Academy of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Duluth in 2005 (the first woman so honored).

One of the major events of her career was serving as the on-site coordinator and leader in the response to the Red Lake High School shootings in 2005. A representative of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Kathy assisted the community in the aftermath of this tragedy both immediately and long-term. For her service, the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation bestowed honorary membership—an honor received by only three individuals.

Kathy is a long-time partner of the Blandin Foundation, having served as a board member for 12 years (1991-2003) and chaired and participated in the Foundation’s American Indian Advisory Committee (2004-2011). She is an alumnus of the first Blandin Reservation Community Leadership Program cohort in 2001.

Justin Maxon, Executive Director, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation

Justin Maxson is the Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, a 60-year-old foundation that seeks to move people and places out of poverty in the South. The Foundation supports organizations and networks that work across race, ethnic, economic and political differences to make possible a brighter future for all.

For 13 years, he was President of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), a 33-year-old multi-strategy community economic development organization serving Central Appalachia based in Berea, Kentucky. In addition to strategy development and fundraising at MACED, he guided program strategies including small enterprise lending and technical assistance solutions, energy efficiency support strategies and targeted research and policy efforts. Prior to MACED, he was founding Executive Director of the Progressive Technology Project.

Justin has also been a yearlong fellow at the Sustainability Institute and the Rockwood Leadership Institute. He served at the Kentucky Governor’s request on the Kentucky Climate Action Planning Committee and the planning committee for Shaping Our Appalachian Region, a regional development planning process. He has a master’s degree from Boston University and a BA from the University of Kentucky, both in anthropology.

Jamie Bennett, Executive Director, ArtPlace America

Jamie Bennett has been the Executive Director of ArtPlace America since January 2014. Previously, Jamie served as Chief of Staff at the National Endowment for the Arts and Chief of Staff at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.  He has also provided strategic counsel at the Agnes Gund Foundation; served as chief of staff to the President of Columbia University; and worked in fundraising at The Museum of Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic, and Columbia College.  His past nonprofit affiliations have included the Board of Directors of Art21 and the HERE Arts Center; the Foot-in-the-Door Committee of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation; and Studio in a School’s Associates Committee.  Jamie received his B.A. from Columbia College in New York City.

Mil Duncan, Research Director, AGree

Mil Duncan is Research Director of AGree. From 2004-2011 she was Professor of Sociology and founding director of the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, an interdisciplinary research center focused on vulnerable families and sustainable development in rural America. From 2000-2004 she served as the Ford Foundation’s Director of Community and Resource Development; from 1989-2000 she was a professor of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire. Duncan recently updated Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America (Yale University Press 2014), which won the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park Award. She has written numerous articles and chapters on poverty and development, and edited Rural Poverty in America. Among her awards are the Earl D. Wallace Award for Contribution to Education Reform in Kentucky, the Thomas R. Ford Distinguished Alumni Award for Sociology at the University of Kentucky, Distinguished Lecturer talks, and several public service awards. She serves on several regional boards related to philanthropy and policy. Mil Duncan received her BA in English from Stanford University, and her MA and Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky.

Kimberly Phinney, Senior Director of the Rural and Native Initiative, YouthBuild USA

Kim Phinney is the senior director of the Rural and Native Initiative for YouthBuild USA. Kim joined YouthBuild USA in 2001 to design education and career pathways for rural Opportunity Youth. She now oversees technical assistance and training to the national field of 75 rural and Native YouthBuild programs, and works on a broad range of rural policy issues as a member of the National Rural Assembly Steering Committee.

Growing up in rural Maine, Kim learned firsthand the strong values of a close knit community as well as their unique challenges. In college, in Lewiston, she volunteered to run the Bates College Big Brother/Big Sister program and found a passion for working and connecting with rural young people. After college she moved to Burlington, Vermont where she directed a program at the local Community Action Agency supporting the self-sufficiency goals of low-income single mothers. That work committed her to addressing the numerous obstacles faced by rural young people living in poverty and isolation. It also sparked a personal interest in organizational development in a rural context.

Her work over the following decade included leading the Vermont Women’s Rape Crisis Center through organizational restructuring (as executive director) and co-creating a grades 6-12 curriculum addressing healthy relationships, sexual violence and hate crime prevention/intervention (implemented in the Chittenden County School Systems). She also advocated on a range of public policy issues including helping secure VT’s first Violence Against Women’s Act federal grant, helping establish the City of Burlington’s Human Rights Commission (as a mayor-appointed task force member), and serving on the Sara Cole House steering committee to create the first Single Room Occupancy (SRO) for homeless women.

Prior to joining YouthBuild USA, Kim worked as the development director for Third Sector New England as well as interim program officer for Boston LISC/Neighborhood Development Support Collaborative leading their Human Capital Development Program. Kim has served on various non-profit Boards and is currently a member of the Westford School Board. She has a BA from Bates College and completed her graduate work in the Urban and Environmental Policy Program of Tufts University.  

Kim lives with her family in northern Vermont.

Roberto Gallardo, Faculty, Mississippi State University Extension

Roberto Gallardo (pronounced GaYardo) is a faculty member of the Center for Technology Outreach, part of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He holds an engineering degree from the University of the Americas in Mexico, a Master’s in Economic Development from The University of Southern Mississippi and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration from Mississippi State University.

Gallardo's interests lie in local/regional community and economic development as well as the use of technology for community/economic development purposes.

Doug O’Brien, Senior Policy Advisor for Rural Affairs, White House Domestic Policy Council

Doug joined the White House Domestic Policy Council in early 2015. He coordinates the White House Rural Council and takes the lead on a number of Obama administration rural development initiatives.

Before joining the Council, Doug served as the USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development. During his tenure at USDA, Doug served in several high level capacities, as senior advisor to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and as Chief of Staff to then Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

O’Brien served as the acting undersecretary for rural development for one and a half years between the departure of Dallas Tonsager and the confirmation of Lisa Mensah.

Dr. C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director, Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest at the New York Women's Foundation

Dr. C. Nicole Mason is the Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.  She held the distinction of being one of the youngest scholar-practitioners to lead a major U.S. research center or think tank. She is also an inaugural Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC.

Dr. Mason’s research and advocacy work serves to influence policy outcomes and public attitudes by focusing on the impact of the intersections of race, class, and gender. Her most recent publications include Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Families in the Rural South, Race, Class, Gender and the Recession: Job Creation and Unemployment,  and At Rope’s End: Single Women Mothers, Wealth and Assets in the U.S.

She has also been a partner on a number of statewide and national initiatives to identify strategies to move low-income women and families toward economic security including the Odyssey Project, a multi-year community college collaborative to improve educational outcomes for young women of color.

Dr. Mason’s commentary and writing have been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, POLITICO, The Nation, The Progressive, Spotlight on Poverty, USA Today, Essence Magazine, The Huffington Post and on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC, among other outlets.

Prior to serving as Executive Director of the Network, she served as the Director for Research and Policy Initiatives at the National Council for Research on Women, where she remains a Senior Research Fellow. Dr. Mason was also an Assistant Research Professor at New York University and has previously held appointments at Spelman College and in the Department of Political Science at Howard University.

Eileen Briggs, Executive Director, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures

Eileen (Cheyenne River Sioux) is the Executive Director of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Ventures. Eileen received her Bachelor’s and Master’s from the University of Minnesota. As Executive Director, she is currently in year nine of a ten-year poverty reduction plan with Tribal Ventures. Eileen is now serving as Principal Investigator on the Cheyenne River Voices Research – a reservation wide research project; creating a historic set of baseline data for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and others serving the reservation population. In addition, as a co-author, she is creating a series of papers on tribal data sovereignty and governance in collaboration with the Native Nations Institute.

Lisa Mensah, Under Secretary, USDA Rural Development


Lisa Afua Serwah Mensah was nominated by President Obama for the position of Under Secretary of USDA Rural Development and she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November of 2014.

Ms. Mensah provides leadership for three USDA agencies charged with improving the economic wellbeing of rural America: the Rural Housing Service, the Rural Utilities Service and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service. Together, these agencies provide critical infrastructure investments in the form of loans and grants for rural housing, high-speed broadband access, telephone, electric and water utilities, renewable energy generation and conservation, local and regional food systems, community facilities, and small business development in rural America.

An expert in using financial tools to improve the economic security of the working poor, Ms. Mensah has experience in the private financial sector and has worked extensively on small and micro business development, housing, financial and savings policy.

Prior to joining USDA, she was the founding Executive Director of the Initiative on Financial Security at the Aspen Institute. In that role she led a national bi-partisan effort with leaders of financial institutions, non-profit executives and experts to promote solutions to the complex problems of helping more Americans save money, buy homes, and finance retirement. Ms. Mensah began her career in commercial banking at Citibank before joining the Ford Foundation where she was responsible for the country's largest philanthropic grant and loan portfolio of investments in rural America.

Ms. Mensah holds an M.A. from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from Harvard University. Born and raised in Oregon, she is the daughter of an immigrant from Ghana and of a former Iowa farm girl. She resides in Maryland with her husband and two children.

Philan Tree, The Corps Network & Opportunity Youth United National Council of Young Leaders

Philan Tree, 26, born in the Edgewater Clan, is a member of the Towering House Clan of the Navajo Nation.  She is currently interning as an assistant to the Coconino County District 4 Supervisor, tasked with community relations and communications between her office and tribal communities. 

Philandrian served two terms as an AmeriCorps mentor and was selected as The Corps Network’s 2012 Corps Member of the Year.  As an AmeriCorps mentor she had a great opportunity to work in her home community on behalf of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps and secured two memoranda of understanding between Coconino County and the Navajo’s Leupp and Tonalea Chapters.

This collaboration between the county and Navajo resulted in all 17 Navajo chapters receiving Coconino County weatherization retrofits; and in the process, AmeriCorps members benefitted from on-the-job training with participating local contractors in the Navajo Nation Weatherization Assistance Program.

In addition to her work with Coconino County, Philandrian serves as the chair of the Native American Parent Advisory Committee for Flagstaff Unified School District, where she works with families and the District to support and enhance the quality of education for 2,500 Native K-12 students.

Sarina Otaibi, Director of Communications & Engagement, Clean Up the River Environment (CURE)

Sarina is a preservationist and a leader in her community of Granite Falls, MN. In 2003, she moved to Minnesota from Saudi Arabia to finish high school and then went on to receive her B.B.A. in Marketing from Stetson University in Florida and a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Maryland, College Park. When she was offered the opportunity to move back to Granite Falls, she accepted it with the intention of staying for only ten months. Three and a half years later, Sarina is now in her third year as a city councilmember after successfully running a write-in campaign against an incumbent of sixteen years, rehabbing and repurposing a historic church, and starting up a cooperative brewery, Bluenose Gopher Brewery.  She also serves as a board member on the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, the Granite Falls Historical Society, and the Granite Falls Library Board. By day, Sarina works in communications and marketing at CURE (Clean Up the River Environment), an environmental nonprofit focused on climate, energy, and water issues. With all of her endeavors, Sarina sees the importance of supporting and educating our next generation of leaders to step up early and become part of the decision making process in their communities.  

Tim Lampkin, CEO, Lampkin Consulting Group

Mr. Timothy E. Lampkin is CEO of Lampkin Consulting Group, LLC that offers services such as grant proposal development and review, small business consulting, project management, and event support for non-profits, universities, municipalities, coalitions, artists, and entrepreneurs.

He previously worked as a Community Development Officer for Southern Bancorp Community Partners (SBCP) in Clarksdale, MS. In this position, he collaborated with the city, county, and local nonprofits to identify funding for projects in the community. Mr. Lampkin helped secure over a half of million dollars for projects in Coahoma County. Mr. Lampkin is a sought after consultant for his insight and knowledge regarding community development concepts. He frequently presents on topics related to creative placemaking, creative economy, and inclusive entrepreneurship.

Prior to his role at SBCP, Mr. Lampkin worked as a consultant with the DEBTS Program funded by the USDA at Delta State University. He provided credit management, marketing assistance, inventory control, and technical assistance to entrepreneurs and nonprofits in four counties in the Mississippi Delta. Mr. Lampkin also worked at the Carnegie Public Library in Clarksdale. Mr. Lampkin has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Mississippi Valley State University, an MBA from Delta State University, and a M.S. in Organizational Performance from Bellevue University. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning from the University of Arkansas. Mr. Lampkin has served as a Federal Voting Rights Observer for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management since 2008. Some of his afflations’ include the Delta Leadership Institute, American Management Association, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Mississippi Broadband Initiative, Christian Community Development Association, and the Placemaking Leadership Council.

Matthew Fluharty, Executive Director, Art of the Rural

Matthew Fluharty is an artist, writer, and researcher currently splitting his time between Winona, Minnesota, Saint Louis and points along the Mississippi River. Matthew is the Executive Director of Art of the Rural, facilitator of its Middle Landscape projects, and a member of the M12 collective. He serves on the Council for Common Field, the Board of Directors for the Wormfarm Institute, and is currently a Research Fellow in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis.

Matthew is currently collaborating with rural leaders from across the country on Next Generation, an initiative coordinated by Art of the Rural and the Rural Policy Research Institute that facilitates regional and national networks committed to elevating cross-sector, creative placemaking strategies and disseminating this knowledge through a digital learning commons.

Jennifer Connor, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service

Dr. Jennifer Conner has extensive experience in behavioral research, clinical health services research, grant administration, community-based public health programming, and policy evaluation. She has brought together academic institutions, hospitals, schools, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, municipalities, and non-profits to investigate and evaluate a broad range of health topics, including childhood obesity, respiratory illness, traumatic brain injury, cancer, and birth defects.  She has also examined healthcare system topics such as access to quality care, safety net benefits, and incentive-based insurance premium programming.

Under the direction of the Arkansas Surgeon General, Dr. Conner led data acquisition and data infrastructure efforts for the Arkansas Health Data Initiative and provided statistical support for statewide Body Mass Index assessments when data collection began in 2004. She was appointed to the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention Executive Committee and served as Built Environment Subcommittee Co-Chair for many years.

Dr. Conner has also served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH).  While at UTSPH, she served as the Community Outreach Resource Center Director. In this role, she supported community-based projects in San Antonio and its four contiguous counties. In 2011, Dr. Conner was appointed as Policy Subcommittee Chair for the San Antonio Mayor’s Fitness Council. She launched several faith-based obesity prevention programs and developed several community gardens in the area.

More recently, Dr. Conner worked with the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care to investigate health disparities and evaluate disease prevention and health promotion strategies across the state. She is now continuing those efforts with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Chicot County. Dr. Conner serves on the Lake Village Economic Development Commission and was instrumental in launching the Mayors Mentoring Mayors program to advance comprehensive community health and wellness.

Dr. Conner obtained her Master of Applied Psychology from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock with an emphasis in experimental methodology and design and completed her Master of Public Health in Biostatistics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) College of Public Health (COPH). She received her Doctorate of Public Health in Leadership from the UAMS COPH. Dr. Conner recently graduated from the Delta Regional Authority DLI Executive Academy and was accepted into the 2015 cohort of the Community Development Institute – Central.

Anna Claussen, Director, Rural Strategies, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) was founded in 1986 as an outgrowth of the family farm movement. IATP works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems and have worked for decades on climate, farming, local food and rural development – becoming a trusted convener, stakeholder and organizer for farmers and farm organizations. As the Director of Rural Strategies at IATP, Anna Claussen focuses on the creation and retention of natural and social wealth within rural communities in order to improve the quality of life for all residents. Of particular interest is the impact of extreme weather and changing climate on rural communities and the opportunities for an emerging bio-based economy that can produce clean food, energy and materials.  A landscape architect by training, Anna bridges years of practice in urban design and planning with a life deeply rooted on a Minnesota family farm. Over the last decade, Anna has focused on creating resilient communities through the creation of alternative land-use plans, regional greenway studies, city comprehensive plans, and park and trail system plans for communities across Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. Anna has a bachelor’s degree in geography and studio arts from Gustavus Adolphus College and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. 

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack serves as the Nation's 30th Secretary of Agriculture.

As leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Vilsack is working hard to strengthen the American agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and create new markets for the tremendous innovation of rural America. In more than six years at the Department, Vilsack has worked to implement President Obama's agenda to put Americans back to work and create an economy built to last. USDA has supported America's farmers, ranchers and growers who are driving the rural economy forward, provided food assistance to millions of Americans, carried out record conservation efforts, made record investments in our rural communities and helped provide a safe, sufficient and nutritious food supply for the American people.

Under Vilsack's leadership, USDA has partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to improve the health of America's children. He helped pass and implement the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, enabling USDA to help combat child hunger and obesity by making the most significant improvements to school meals in 30 years. He has led a comprehensive effort to improve the safety of the American food supply, implementing changes to food safety standards to prevent illnesses by reducing the prevalence of E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter in our meat and poultry.

He has made civil rights a top priority, reaching historic resolutions to all major past cases of discrimination brought against USDA by minority groups, and taking definitive action to move USDA into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider.

Prior to his appointment, Vilsack served two terms as the Governor of Iowa, in the Iowa State Senate and as the mayor of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vilsack was born into an orphanage and adopted in 1951. After graduating Hamilton College and Albany Law School in New York, he moved to Mt. Pleasant, his wife Christie's hometown, where he practiced law. The Vilsacks have two adult sons and two daughters-in-law - Doug, married to Janet; and Jess, married to Kate. They also have four grandchildren.

Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Anthony Foxx became the 17th United States Secretary of Transportation on July 2, 2013.

As U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Foxx leads an agency with more than 55,000 employees and a $70 billion budget that oversees air, maritime, and surface transportation.  His primary goal is to ensure that America maintains the safest, most efficient transportation system in the world.

Foxx joined the U.S. Department of Transportation after serving as the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, from 2009 to 2013.  During that time, he made efficient and innovative transportation investments the centerpiece of Charlotte's job creation and economic recovery efforts.  These investments included extending the LYNX light rail system, the largest capital project ever undertaken by the city, which will build new roads, bridges, transit as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities; expanding Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, the sixth busiest in the world; working with North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue to accelerate the I-485 outer belt loop using a creative design-build-finance approach, the first major project of its kind in North Carolina; and starting the Charlotte Streetcar project. 

Prior to being elected mayor, Foxx served two terms on the Charlotte City Council as an At-Large Representative.  As a Council Member, Foxx chaired the Transportation Committee, where he helped shepherd the largest transportation bond package in the city’s history, enabling Charlotte to take advantage of record low interest rates and favorable construction pricing to stretch city dollars beyond initial projections.  Foxx also chaired the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization. 

Foxx is an attorney and has spent much of his career in private practice.  He also worked as a law clerk for the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and staff counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. 

Foxx received a law degree from New York University’s School of Law as a Root-Tilden Scholar, the University’s prestigious public service scholarship.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Davidson College.

Foxx and his wife, Samara, have two children, Hillary and Zachary.

Whitney Kimball Coe, Coordinator, National Rural Assembly

Whitney Kimball Coe serves as coordinator of the National Rural Assembly, a rural movement made up of activities and partnerships geared toward building better policy and more opportunity across the country. Before joining the Rural Strategies staff, Whitney served as assistant editor of Appalachian Journal, an academic regional journal based in Boone, North Carolina. She has master's degree in Appalachian studies from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and an undergraduate degree from Queens University of Charlotte. Whitney lives in Athens, Tennessee.

Charles W. Fluharty, President and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI)

Charles W. Fluharty is the founder, President, and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI), the only U.S. national policy institute solely dedicated to assessing the rural impacts of public policies. Since RUPRI’s founding in 1990, over 300 scholars representing 16 different disciplines in 100 universities, all U.S. states and 30 other nations have participated in RUPRI projects, which address the full range of policy and program dynamics affecting rural people and places. Collaborations with the OECD, the EU, the German Marshall Fund, the Inter- American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the International Comparative Rural Policy Studies Committee, and other international organizations have framed RUPRI's comparative rural policy foci.

A Clinical Professor in the University of Iowa College of Public Health and a graduate of Yale Divinity School, he was also a German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Fellow from 2007 to 2011. Chuck is the author of numerous policy studies and journal articles, has presented dozens of Congressional testimonies and briefings, and is also a frequent speaker before national and international audiences, having delivered major public policy speeches in over a dozen nations. He has also provided senior policy consultation to most federal departments, state and local governments, associations of government, planning and development organizations, and many foundations.

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation

(Daily Yonder article)

Nick Tilsen is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the founding executive director of the Thunder Valley CDC. Nick has over 11 years of experience in working with nonprofit organizations and tribal nations on projects that have a social mission. Nick is also currently the project director for Oyate Omnicye, a process funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Sustainable Housing & Communities to create a reservation-wide plan for sustainable development for the Oglala Lakota Nation. In 2012 Tilsen was recognized by President Barack Obama at the White House Tribal Nations Conference saying that “day by day, family by family, community by community, Nick and his non-profit have helped inspire a new beginning for Pine Ridge.”

Ivye Allen, President, Foundation for the Mid South

Ivye L. Allen is President of the Foundation for the Mid South, a regional foundation serving Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The Foundation supports programs and initiatives that focus on community development, education, health and wellness, and wealth building. Allen previously served as Chief Operating Officer for MDC Inc. and was Director of Fellowship Programs for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.  She has held finance and marketing positions in Fortune 100 corporations.  Her education includes a Ph.D. in social policy from Columbia University; an M.S. in urban affairs from Hunter College; an M.B.A. in marketing and international business from New York University; and a B. A. in economics from Howard University. 

Adam Strong, Opportunity Youth United National Council of Young Leaders

Adam Strong, 24, is currently working as a Medical Laboratory Scientist at Hazard ARH hospital. Assisting and working with doctors, validating results for diagnoses he aspires to one day become a doctor himself. “Service is a way of life and I’d like to work with patients to not only rehabilitate them medically but to their lives as well.”

Raised by his father in an Appalachian community in Jackson, Adam attended his local community college, working as a security guard at a local coal mine at a time when the coal industry was in decline.  He soon found himself unemployed and without options; but was able to gain entry into the YouthBuild Hazard program.  At YouthBuild, Adam took part in community service and outreach projects, while receiving a much needed stipend.  The experience helped introduce him to a life of service where he could not only improve his community and other people’s lives but his own as well.

After YouthBuild he went on to serve two terms as an AmeriCorps member at YouthBuild Hazard working as a Teacher’s Aide.  Adam Characterizes this experience this way: “It feels great being able to work with young people and see them realize that they can not only dream but accomplish as well.”

After graduating from his local community college he went on to graduate with a bachelor’s from the University of Kentucky’s Medical Laboratory Science Program.  

Billy Altom, Executive Director, Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL)

Billy Altom is the Executive Director of the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living. APRIL is a national membership organization dedicated to advancing the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities in rural America.  APRIL provides leadership and resources on rural independent living through a national network of rural centers for independent living, programs and individuals concerned with the unique aspect of rural independent living.  The goal of APRIL is to work together to find solutions to common problems and to bring rural issues in independent living into focus on the national level. 

Altom is a member of the Easter Seals Project Action National Steering Committee, the Rural Transportation Policy Group, the Transportation Equity Caucus and the National AgrAbility Advisory Committee .  He is a past member of the Board of Directors for the Arkansas Disability Coalition, past Chair of the Arkansas Independent Living Council and has served on the boards of both APRIL and the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL).  He recently served as chair of the Rail Vehicles Access Advisory Committee of the United States Access Board.

Young Leaders Day: How to Frame Rural Policy Issues

- Optional - Sept. 8, 2015 - $50

The National Rural Youth Assembly is excited to provide a Young Leaders Day focused on policy professional development, happening just prior to the full gathering of the National Rural Assembly. We are inviting young adults working in rural communities to join us on September 8, for a full day of professional development across policy and communications.

Join us to learn the theory of framing, understand the research proven frames for rural issues, and apply this knowledge to your own practice. You'll strengthen your policy toolkit and apply this training to your immediate day to day work. From writing a successful grant proposal, to championing a specific policy change, to demanding rural issues be an integral part of the 2016 candidates’ platforms, knowing how to strategically frame your rural message is critical.

Space is limited to rural leaders ages 22-30. Additional registration cost $50. Register here.

Advocacy Day and Congressional Briefing

- Optional - Sept. 10, 2015 - $25 fee to cover materials for Hill Day

This is a part of an Advocacy Day at the National Rural Assembly, which will include:

  • White House Rural Council Breakout Sessions. Meet directly with members of the White House Rural Council on Internet access and connectivity, education, food access, the philanthropy gap and more.
  • Congressional Briefing on rural child poverty.

    The National Rural Assembly will host a briefing on child poverty in rural America for Congressional members, staff, and rural advocates on September 10, 2015, from 11:30-12:45 in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Building. Lunch will be provided.

    This briefing will look at the realities of child poverty in rural America, across geographies and experiences, and will draw some conclusions about how policy makers and rural stakeholders can work together to capture immediate opportunities and identify longer-term efforts that will put us on a new path toward a better future for all. 

    Currently, one in four children in rural America lives in poverty.  Over the past decade, the rural child poverty rate grew by more than a third, and in some counties and on tribal lands, the rates are much higher. Rural leaders are undertaking a range of practical and innovative approaches to improving conditions in their communities, but they need support and recognition policy makers to effectively reduce child poverty rates, stabilize families, and create greater economic opportunity.

    The panel will be moderated by Mil Duncan, Director of Research, AGree, author of Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America

  • Visits with policy officials on the Hill.  If you would like help coordinating visits with staff and policy officials on Capitol Hill, please register for the optional Hill Day excursion here.


If you would like to apply for a scholarship or travel support, please fill out this form before registering.


We are grateful to the following sponsors of Rural Assembly 2015:

If you are interested in being a sponsor, contact Whitney Kimball Coe at


For questions or more information, please contact Whitney Kimball Coe at