|Katie Winter is a senior at UMM|
Driving past rows and rows of wind turbines lining the southwest Minnesota landscape, my mind wandered to the meeting I was about to attend. Having just finished up my final event for the Fairmont Market Square project I’d been working with, I was about to embark on a new adventure through CST, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had worked with David Fluegel, my contact for this new project, during my time with Fairmont Market Square, but all of the other dozen or so members of this new team would be strangers to me. I was excited to be starting a new project, but also a little nervous coming in as an outsider. After a short round of introductions at the meeting, though, I felt like I had known the group members for months, rather than just a few minutes. The casual, yet motivated dynamic of the group made me feel very welcome and valued as a newcomer, and everyone seemed genuinely interested in my work and what I had to say. It was also clear from these first few interactions that everyone in the group shared a passion for rural communities and southwest Minnesota. I could already tell that working on this project was going to be an incredible experience. So began my work with SWxSW, a sub-group of the Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership focused on sustainable tourism and resilient communities.
When I started working with SWxSW, in late October 2014, they were planning their first event, “Local Color.” The event was designed to highlight a couple talented residents of the small southwest Minnesota town of Windom – artist David Strom and chef Mari Harries of River City Eatery. I was brought into the group because of my experience with social media marketing, since they were looking for creative ways to promote the event. I attended a couple planning meetings to learn more about the event, help with some aspects of planning, and brainstorm promotional strategies. Once I had a solid understanding of what the event was all about and what the group was looking for, I created a Facebook page for the group and began posting relevant and engaging content to get people excited about the event. Although I was unable to personally attend the event due to a schedule conflict, the day was a great success.
As soon as the Local Colour event was finished, the planning team was already preparing for their next event. Entitled “Farmers Leading the Way,” this event was an educational conference to facilitate conversations about climate change, agriculture, and food systems, with speakers like U of M Extension Climatologist Mark Seeley, as well as small group discussions about innovative agricultural strategies. My role for this event was a little different from the previous event. This time my focus was on designing promotional materials for event attendees. I worked on a save-the-date postcard and a potential informational brochure to be handed out at the event. At the event, I was in charge of the registration table, as well as photographing the event. Like the Local Colour event, it was a very successful day.
My work with SWxSW has been a wonderful experience, not only because of how it has prepared me for my future career, but also because it has helped me appreciate rural communities. Career-wise, this project has provided me with experience in social media, marketing, event planning, design, and numerous other areas that will benefit my future in marketing and advertising. Beyond the career experience, I have gained a greater appreciation for small towns. Growing up in a small town myself, I think I took for granted the value of small, rural communities. After working with SWxSW through CST, I’ve learned to appreciate the culture found in small towns. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help showcase local talent in small communities and bring citizens of rural areas together to discuss important issues. I think it’s safe to say that my experience working at the Center for Small Towns is something that will stick with me throughout my entire life.