Chris Merrett earned his Ph.D. (University of Iowa) in Geography and Planning. He currently serves as the Dean for Innovation and Economic Development, as well as the Director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA), at Western Illinois University. The IIRA is a university-based research, outreach, teaching, and policy development center that identifies and implements strategies for sustainable rural community and economic development. Merrett has authored or collaborated on more than 100 publications in the area of rural community and economic development. He has secured over $12 million in external grants from agencies such as the USDA, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Economic Development Administration (EDA), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), to support research, outreach, teaching, and policy development activities related to community and economic development. He serves as Co-Director of Midwest CDI and is a board member of the Community Development Council.