The Matson Halverson Christensen Hamilton families have worked together farming and ranching in South Dakota for more than a century. In 2001, the families formed the Matson Halverson Christensen Hamilton (MHCH) Foundation to improve quality of life and increase economic development opportunities in rural South Dakota.

MHCH’s flagship program, Prairie Futures, is a rural nursing education program designed to bring opportunities to non-traditional students living in rural South Dakota. Prairie Futures is a partnership between the MHCH, the University of South Dakota, and Sanford Health.

Prairie Futures is a satellite education program that also utilizes local nurse practitioners and masters-prepared nurses to help students through the process. Executive Director Corey McGhee says the ideas behind Prairie Futures were very pragmatic, as health care tends to be one of the largest employers in rural communities.

“Many of our students are individuals who were making minimum wage. With Prairie Futures, they graduate with a nursing degree, they pass their boards and become registered nurses, and they’re almost tripling their income overnight,” McGhee says. “These are individuals who have lots of challenges. They are going to school while trying to work—often while trying to raise a family. We’re in a place where we understand what those challenges are for them, and that makes it all that more rewarding when you see them succeed.”

MHCH also partners with the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF). McGhee notes funds from SDCF are integral to ensuring the success of students in Prairie Futures, many of whom have been out of school for 15 years or more. SDCF funds help provide students with one-on-one tutoring. Some students wouldn’t make it through the program without this extra help.

Twenty-one students have graduated from Prairie Futures since its 2010 inception, and McGhee adds that the vast majority of them are still living and practicing in rural South Dakota. He considers this a huge success, as this, of course, is the whole idea.

We work to create a sense of hope within South Dakota’s rural communities.

— Corey McGhee

“From an economic development perspective we’d like to see rural South Dakota grow. We truly believe as long as we can create programs in these communities that increase the quality of life and increase the sense of vitality in the community that results in some type of hope for the future, then we’ve really done something good,” said McGhee.