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Seeking partners to help explore our lives online

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Erika Christiansen, guest columnist

If you glance at today’s headlines or scan a news website, you quickly get a sense of the issues facing your community, your state, your nation, and the world. It is our role at the University of Iowa to inform students about these issues and engage faculty and staff in research or activities that aim to educate or identify solutions.

In 2015, UI launched its first Theme Semester, a program that identifies a different topic every spring semester and views it from multiple backgrounds, perspectives, and contexts to further the understanding and discussion about its importance to Iowa, the nation, and the world.

We discussed the significance of food during the inaugural Food for Thought Theme Semester through lectures by members of the UI community and well-known figures such as journalist Mark Bittman, curated museum exhibits, and even theatrical plays. Last spring, we explored issues related to social justice throughout the Just Living Theme Semester, which brought a number of speakers to campus and surrounding communities, including Angela Davis and Sister Helen Prejean, and the opportunity to share related discussions at academic conferences and through the arts. I am very excited as we plan for the third annual Theme Semester.

The spring 2017 Theme Semester, Our Lives Online, will begin in January and run through May. The semester is about the internet and technology and will be an incredible time to talk about how your life has been changed by technological advances. We live in a global system of connectedness, intertwined with networks and collaboration. If you are interested in social media, trends in big data, or rapidly-changing technology, there will be an event in which you can participate. Courses at UI will be offered and many free activities related to the theme will occur. There are many opportunities to get involved as a student, university member, or community member and a list of ways is available at http://theme.uiowa.edu.

Theme Semester is seeking collaborators who may be interested in partnering on events or activities related to the internet or technology as we aim to bring activities to communities across the state. Theme Semester has facilitated the beginnings of countless partnerships through connections in course projects, activities on and off campus, and professional relationships that last long after each semester has ended. Our hope is to encourage connections that are mutually beneficial and in the areas that are of interest to you.

Being involved with Theme Semester is to welcome new ideas, while also having a platform from which to share your own. From the campus and communitywide effort, we can come to new conclusions and build on concepts together. From our experience, Theme Semester is rewarding to contributors. There are opportunities to collaborate on a large-scale, while shaping activities that is of interest to your community. This could mean discussing broadband access in Iowa or creating a digital archive of your community’s history.

This fall during our preview activities and throughout the spring semester, we look forward to engaging in conversation, hearing your thoughts, and being open to listening to others. There will be great dialogue during Our Lives Online, we hope you can join us.

• Erika Christiansen is director of campus initiatives for the UI Provost’s Office of Outreach and Engagement.

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