Featured in CDS Finest 2017 Profile Series on Aug 31, 2017

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Name: Benjamin Winchester
What I am working on:
What I am working on: In 2017, we received a 3-year NIFA/AFRI grant to further explore the recruitment and retention of rural residents in Minnesota. This research is completed under the topic "Rewriting the Rural Narrative" that looks to counter the negative canvas that blankets rural discussion. By looking at migration to small towns, leadership and community involvement, and economic diversification the story of rural is nuanced and positive. I am also looking at the future of small towns as 75% of homeowners are baby boomers or older. Will enough new residents be moving in to buy the homes of these people moving over and out?

http://z.umn.edu/braingain
Keynote at Symposium on Small Towns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOlMRJ-jc14
My Achievements
My Achievements: First and foremost, I am happily married with two sons, living in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I have been blessed with opportunities to work in and for small towns across the Midwest for the past 20 years – with a focus on my home state of Minnesota. I am currently a Senior Research Fellow for the University of Minnesota Extension, Center for Community Vitality and am conducting research on two topics that are vital to rural Minnesota. The first is documenting “newcomers” – the influx of 30-49 year old people – to identify the social and economic opportunities of this migration - I call this the "brain gain" to counter the negative narrative around the "brain drain" language we hear every day. The second area involves the analysis of rural community leadership, specifically examining the community-wide requirements to “keep the town running” through the public sector. Overall, I work on cultivating connections between institutions of higher education and rural places by involving university faculty, staff, students, and programs in everyday community life. I have co-authored a chapter titled “Integration of Service Learning into Statistics Education” which appeared in Mathematics in Service to the Community, published by the Mathematical Association of America.

Before joining Extension, I was a founding employee and research coordinator at the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota, Morris. This work included building a “consumable” infrastructure of rural data sources to be utilized by local decision makers in addition to building maps using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to help in the visualization of data. I also conducted and reported surveys, provided research resources to small towns, supervised undergraduate student research interns, implemented community development initiatives, wrote grants, and evaluated community-based programming.

Distinctions:
Current Research Award, Community Development Society (2017)

National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, 2013 North Central Educational Piece Team award for the Brain Gain website.

National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals, 2013 National Educational Piece Team award for the Brain Gain website.

Minnesota Association of Community and Leadership Education Professionals, Excellence in Research, (2012) in recognition of excellence in research for work on the Rural Brain Gain.
Work experience / Education
Work experience / Education: Masters of Science. December, 2001
Department of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia
Award: Outstanding Graduate Student, 2000.

Bachelor of Arts. June, 1995.
Mathematics; Area of Concentration in Statistics, University of Minnesota, Morris
Award: Mary Martelle Memorial Award for Community Service

Bachelor of Arts. June, 1995.
Mathematics; Area of Concentration in Statistics
University of Minnesota, Morris
Award: Mary Martelle Memorial Award for Community Service

University of Minnesota, Extension Center for Community Vitality. August, 2008 – present.
Senior Research Fellow

Major Accomplishments
• Providing evaluation support for Community Vitality Extension economic development and leadership programs. Evaluation models include logic models, theory of change, and utilizing the community capitals approach to measuring impacts using both quantitative and qualitative research methods.
• Applied research in the areas of leadership development, housing preferences, social structure analysis, social capital assessment, and migration patterns across rural Minnesota. Primary research on the “brain gain” documenting the influx of people age 30-60 to rural communities.
• Provide national keynote addresses on the topic of Rewriting the Rural Narrative on a regular basis.
• Provide leadership to develop the Making it Home program, a new rural recruitment and retention program offered by Community Vitality. This program builds on the applied research of the Brain Gain topic and brought the Marketing Hometown America program to Minnesota Extension. This program is being tested in Meeker County.

Center for Small Towns, University of Minnesota, Morris. 1995-1997, 2002–2008.
Coordinator, Data Analysis & Research
This program provides assistance to small towns and rural areas across Minnesota. Duties include building infrastructure of rural data, program evaluation, analysis and reporting of survey results, and providing GIS mapping of selected variables. Additional responsibilities to supervise student interns and complete research on projects such as health care purchasing, senior care facilities, and community-university interactions.

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