Joining hands in rural Texas to solve community problems


When Craig Rotter, Ph.D., took the lead of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Texas Rural Leadership Program, TRLP, it offered him the perfect opportunity to blend service and problem solving.

What he discovered was a profound need for what the program had to offer in Texas’ smaller communities, a need that has ignited his commitment ever since.

In March 2018, Rotter brought to AgriLife Extension his extensive background in community building and leadership development after nearly two decades with Texas A&M University’s Division of Student Affairs.

A man sitting on a bench wearing khakis, a blue short and a maroon sleeveless jacket with the Texas A&M logo on it.
Craig Rotter, Ph.D., executive director of the Texas Rural Leadership Program. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

He said he viewed his transition as a harmonious convergence of optimistic attitudes and attainable solutions.

Rotter said the program is founded on the principles of nurturing relationships, fostering networks and assisting communities in finding viable solutions.

“In the true AgriLife Extension spirit, we never merely provide a product,” he said. “We offer guidance and support from the outset, but it’s the relationships we build that truly endure.”

Engaging rural Texas

TRLP helps strengthen rural communities with leadership and engagement. Through strategic planning and immersive workshops, TRLP fosters collaboration and equips local citizens with the skills, knowledge and tools needed to overcome the challenges faced by communities and organizations.

“When we step into communities, our first priority is to have people truly be together and identify their unique assets, pinpoint their needs and bridge the gap between what they require and what resources are available. We have partnered with non-profit foundations, health and disaster recovery organizations, chambers of commerce, local government leaders and fellow service providers to authentically analyze realities with a vision beyond today’s status quo.”

Craig Rotter wearing a maroon blazer talks with a student in a classroom with other students in the room
Craig Rotter, Ph.D., Texas Rural Leadership Program executive director, also teaches an undergraduate Introduction to Leadership course in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Michael Miller)

TRLP recently unveiled a new strategic plan developed for the Texas Association of Regional Councils. The unveiling was part of the association’s 50th celebration dinner in Austin.

“Working with this dynamic group has been incredibly rewarding. They approached us seeking to shape a new vision, mission and core values. We guided them in defining their core values, clarifying their priorities and elevating their identity.”

TRLP clients receive actionable items, not merely dusty strategic plans, he said.

“Our greatest satisfaction comes when a client or service provider returns to us. We design these plans to keep them engaged, advancing steadily towards their goals and ultimate success.”

Strategic planning

During COVID, Rotter said TRLP collaborated with the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce to develop comprehensive strategic plans and with officials from Refugio County to host workshops through online services.

Rotter said consistently TRLP has actively partnered with Episcopal Health Foundation. This includes the development of rural resource centers in Robertson, Trinity and Bastrop counties, preparing for future health needs with resources needed across diverse community demographics.

TRLP has also served as a consultant to local communities, assisting with the creation of a Rainbow Room in Navasota, a physical space housing immediate resources when children are removed from endangering household environments. Collaborative work continues with the Episcopal Health Foundation with another leadership project going into 2024.

“Our overarching mission is to engage and empower local communities and their organizations,” Rotter said. “While we may not always meet every need, we do meticulously assess their requirements, develop tailored workshops and guide them toward networking and taking decisive action to surmount their challenges.”

In Texas, communities are often characterized by a small number of robust, strong-willed individuals. Rotter said the inherent balancing act, “navigating local dynamics while being trusted can be challenging, but that’s precisely where TRLP steps in.”

“We’re equipped to identify local assets, discern their genuine needs and guide them toward available resources with an honesty they appreciate,” Rotter said. “Our focus is on driving positive change. Change is inevitable, even when some cling to the past, and we’re here to help them prepare for a brighter future.”



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