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The Connectors

Meet the 2023 Cohort & Core Connectors

Our 2023 Cohort, composed of first-year and second-year members of this two-year experience, joins our Core Connectors in this adaptive and emergent journey to create meaningful exchanges in and across our Minnesota communities.

2023 Cohort Connectors

24 Minnesotans with diverse backgrounds in leadership, expertise, geography, culture, class, age, gender, sexuality, and race

These leaders in the arts, community development, education, environment, healthcare, and business sectors represent many regions of Minnesota, including Anoka, Becker, Beltrami, Big Stone, Cass, Clay, Fillmore, Hubbard, Lake, Lyon, Otter Tail, Ramsey, Scott, Winona, and Yellow Medicine counties. They commit to four community intensive weekend gatherings over a two-year period, where they set out to understand and value the culture, landscape, context and people of each place. This year’s cohort members look forward to Community Intensive weekends in Mahnomen/White Earth Nation and Winona County.

First-Year Cohort

Shawna Bullen-Fairbanks

Artist, Poet, Writer, Advocate, and Activist

Ashley Dwire

Anti-Racist, Avid Non-Fiction Reader, Advocate, Activist, Scientist, Safe Parent

Mary Gaasch

Mom, Mayor, reluctant chicken farmer, community builder, advocate, storyteller, obsessive reader, easily distracted by plants.

Kathryn Gonzalez

Dancer, foodie, lover of life, Earth-whisperer, visionary, connector, communicator, social transformer

Sarah Johnson

Connector, Healer, Weaver, Illuminator, Creator

Katie Kangas

Ham Lake
rural enthusiast, chaos coordinator, mother of 3 girls, novice musician, clay-player, explorer of nature and small towns, avid learner, child of Christ

Kara Maloney

city mouse turned country mouse, scandinavian rosemaler, novice birder, community connector, pumpkin farmer, track coach

Kate Mudge

Arts advocate, metalsmith, connector, trivia aficionado, dog lover, gardener, baker, dreamer.

Anne O’Keefe-Jackson

Mother, wife, sister, antie, grandma, artist, art advocate, avid learner, traveler.

Lucia Possehl

community connector, daughter, sister, auntie, caretaker, artist, student and educator, place-maker, systems-thinker

Isaac Russell

Saint Paul
Father, husband, policy advocate, community builder, eternal volunteer, recreational foreign policy pundit, martial arts practitioner, food enthusiast.

Sarah Sampedro

maker, outdoor-lover, runner, walker, bicycler, reader, art-lover, mother, community connector, food-lover

Don Sherman

Grandfather, Pickleball addict, maker space advocate, sometimes extroverted, nature based, socially engaged artist, nonsectarian kayaker

Hawona Sullivan Janzen

Saint Paul
writer, thinker, seeker, finder, mother, daughter, griever, traveler

Second-Year Cohort

Conie Borchardt

St. PaulListener-Vibration. Heart Artist. Luth-opalian Sufi Dancer. Mixed Asian. Rural-Urban. Gen X-er. Community Song & Dance Leader. Budding Organizer & Storyteller.

Autumn Cavender

Granite FallsDakota, mother, partner, midwife, decolonization activist, Indigenous animist, artist, ancestral femme, Sci-fi/high fantasy nerd

Laura Joseph

St. Paulmother by choice, appreciator of slowness and rest, hoosher/small world maker, believer in embodied knowledge, seeker of meaningful/deep connections, curator

Penny Kagigebi

Detroit Lakes
Advocate for JOY and Mino-Bimaadiziwin (good life/good health) through Ojibwe Culture+Arts, QUEER2-Spirit, Relative-Mom-Grandmother-Wife-Niece-Sister-Auntie

Marcus Larson

JordanGardener, Painter, chameleon, Social Butterfly, YouTube addict.

Su Legatt

Moorheadartist, mother, daughter, photographer, rural advocate, connector, baker, love of the outdoors, musician

Jeremy Radtke

Granite Falls
Chronic optimist, Designer, Fun-haver, Communicator, Western MN advocate, Family guy, Lover of Adventure

Joy Davis Ripley

Writer, photographer, artist, professor, mother, life partner, daughter, friend, cyclist, gardener, Southerner, introvert, person with disabilities

Laura Seter

Mom, partner, daughter, granddaughter, sister, gardener-in-training, podcast junkie, journal keeper, evolver. Double Scorpio

Dan Thewis

Two Harbors
Father, Husband, Son, Brother, Teacher, Coach, Friend, Cook, Christian

Core Connectors

The Core Connectors (or Steering Committee) design and facilitate this learning exchange from year to year

Minnesota RUX began in 2020 with a cohort of statewide Steering Committee members who stewarded the program's adaptation to Minnesota from the Kentucky RUX model (which began in 2014). In 2023, Kentucky RUX hosted their 27th community intensive in their 15th host community and now includes an alumni of 260 Kentuckians from 49 counties.

Joe Allen

Mahnomen; White Earth Nation
Project Director, Gizhiigin Arts Incubator
Father, Lakota, Ojibwe, Artist, Rural, Mentor, Entrepreneur, Introvert

Anna Claussen

Founder, Voices for Rural Resilience
Farmers daughter, mother, tomboy, social strategist, twin, scarf hoarder

Dawn Espe

Equitable Development Specialist, Region Five Development Commision
Wife, mother, planner, gardener, cook

Maddy Fisher

Economic Development Specialist / Lead for MN Fellow, Southern MN Initiative Foundation
leader, dancer, friend, daughter and deep conversationalist

Matt Fluharty

Executive Director, Art of the Rural
father, visitor, writer, artist, curator, zen wanderer, listener

Ashley Hanson

Granite Falls
Founder and Director, Department of Public Transformation and PlaceBase Productions
theater artist, enthusiast, climber, Leo, extrovert, adventurer, yogi

Emma Higgins

Lead for Minnesota Fellow, Grant and Program ResearcherNew Yorker, Runner, Improviser, Extrovert, Traveler, Barista, Rural Advocate, Advocate for Women

Cheryal Hills

Executive Director, Region Five Development Commisionrural, feminist, gardener, bridger, spiritual, atheist, change agent, equity advocate

Salma Ahmed Ibrahim

Lead for Minnesota Mental Health FellowSomali, Black, Muslim, Community Organizer, Writer

Teresa Kittridge

Founder 100 Rural Womenmother, sister, aunt, rural advocate, rural woman, curious, traveler, community servant, seasoned

Benya Kraus

Co-Founder & Minnesota Executive Director, Lead for AmericaDaughter, sister, Rural Advocate, Catholic, Thai-Midwest Fusionist, Eating with Hands Enthusiast

Jane Leonard

St. Paul
President, Growth & JusticeTwin, community builder from birth, family kin-keeper, Rurban advocate, flashlight/duct tape gal

Jonathan Locust

Associate Vice-President, Office of Equity & Inclusive Excellence, Winona State UniversityBlack American man, Father, Husband, Meditator, Entrepreneur, Committed to bringing higher vibrations to the world.

Kathy Mouacheupao

St. Paul
Executive Director, Metropolitan Regional Arts CouncilHmong American woman, daughter of refugees, arts administrator, auntie, Saint Paulite, creative collaborator, optimist

Anna Pollock

Theater Director, Waseca Public Schoolscookbook collector, writer, gardener, coffee drinker, storyteller, and Meridenite

Jeremy Staab

Director, National Advancement at Artspace Projects, Inc.Dakota, Arts Administrator, Social Justice Advocate, Brother, Uncle, Friend

Erik Takeshita

Interim Executive Director, Arrowhead Regional Arts CouncilSon, grandson, husband, father, Community builder. committed to social justice

Moira Villiard

Community-engaged artist, freelancer, and muralista community organizer, muralist, a descendent of both Indigenous and settler heritage, emo/punk kid at heart, a pluralist, a sweet potato and squash chef

Cassie Williams

Inver Grove Heights
Labor Educator, University of Minnesota
Black woman, mother, artist, poet, educator

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