Bloomington, Ind. - We've reached the end of the road in our Your Town Friday March Madness tour and our final stop is Indiana University.
There are more than 40,000 students at IU's flagship campus in Bloomington. But that's just a fraction because there are seven campuses statewide totaling more than 110,000 students.
There are many notable graduates including businessman Mark Cuban, journalist Jane Pauley and actors Kevin Kline and Jonathan Banks.
IU was established on January 20, 1820. One professor taught all the classes for two years!
The school will celebrate it's 200th birthday next year and something new on campus represents the next chapter in the story of IU.
Michael Etter is a third year graduate student in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and he got involved right away with the Center for Rural Engagement when it opened a year ago.
"It's really exciting," said Etter. "I hadn’t expected to do anything like that until after graduation."
The point of the Center is to use the vast university resources to help Hoosiers in rural Indiana. The University has such tremendous assets and they started to realize communities didn't know how to access those, so they're fixing that.
Etter's project was in Bedford, where they really needed what's called a "Complete Streets" plan.
"It’s to make walk-ability and bike-ability safer and that makes traffic patterns in the community better and safer for everyone," Etter explained.
And a plan was adopted by the city of Bedford in 2018, thanks in part to the students work.
The leader of the Center for Rural Engagement is Kerry Thomson, who spend more than two decades with Habitat for Humanity.
She says in the first year more than 1,000 students have worked with 27 communities and helped more than 1,400 people.
She's especially proud of what nursing students are doing by going into homes of people with long-term, chronic diseases.
"What that means is we can provide access to healthcare to patients who haven’t had it, sometimes, in as long as a decade," said Thomson.
The students then communicate directly with the person's doctor.
"The patients are having improved health outcomes and so this is not just a feel good student project," said Thomson. "This is something that actually tangibly affects communities in the end!"
At the end of the day, the idea is the create replicable, sustainable models for our rural communities. But something else is happening, too.
"We’re hearing from our students that they are becoming interested in engaging in rural communities after graduation," said Thomson.
Count Etter in that group!
"I was actually more on the healthcare track when I started and after that class I realized maybe that’s not my calling and there’s something better that would suit me."
And as for Etter, he's now back working with the Center before he graduates in May.
"I really became passionate just about social justice issues. Ideally I would want to work in the public sector, working to implement more sustainable measures."
You are invited to learn more about this on May 13th and 14th in French Lick. Anyone is welcome to go and talk about issues important to rural communities.
You're also invited to help the students by taking an anonymous survey on opioid abuse.
For more on both ways to help, click here.