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Working together to create a better future

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Linda Snetselaar, guest columnist

When an Iowa community needs the expertise of engineers, the skills of doctors and nurses, the creativity of artists, or the knowledge of scholars, the University of Iowa opens its doors to assist with teaching and providing new learning opportunities. Through this process of connecting Iowa communities and their unique needs to UI resources, known as community engagement, students can participate in professional learning experiences that allow them to interact with citizens; faculty can conduct applied research that is rooted in the community; and staff are able to facilitate workshops and training to carry out community-driven projects. These projects can range from providing recommendations for a community’s business district to attract and retain tenants, to offering new opportunities for a city’s residents, such as writing workshops.

In spring 2013, the UI demonstrated its commitment to engaging citizens statewide by establishing the Office of Outreach and Engagement. The office houses six programs (Arts Share, Grant Wood Art Colony, Hawkeye Lunch and Learn lecture series, Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, Resource Conservation and Development Partnership, and Theme Semester) that are dedicated to working with communities to enhance existing programs and efforts, or listening to their feedback to assist them in creating new learning opportunities for residents. This emphasis complements the university’s mission of teaching, research, and service.

In my role as associate provost for outreach and engagement, I have had the pleasure of talking with citizens across the state and hearing stories about the value our partnerships bring to their community. In Sioux City, where we completed 10 projects last year ranging from rooftop garden design to comprehensive communitywide planning, a city council member shared enthusiasm for how involved the community became in the process of drafting the recommendations, comparing it to consultant-level work. In Maquoketa, community partners worked with UI faculty and students to enhance the K-12 art classes and provided university students and faculty with a venue to showcase their work in the city’s Art Experience building. Additionally, we shared information about how Iowa citizens can partner with the UI through monthly lectures in Iowa City and Des Moines, empowering residents to address issues facing their community.

In addition to our featured programs, the Office of Outreach and Engagement works to unify and promote numerous efforts throughout the UI’s 11 colleges. The colleges have integrated outreach and engagement into their curricula resulting in assistance to communities across the state. From offering the services of our graduate and professional students to sharing the UI’s extensive resources in a particular subject, citizens of all ages likely have been impacted by the UI in some way.

As Iowa communities are faced with new challenges, our office will continue to help communities access UI’s educational, creative, and intellectual resources. To learn about the UI’s impact in your county, or to find a program to meet the needs of your community, I encourage you to visit outreach.uiowa.edu. You can browse data for your county, search for programs, and find university activities happening near you.

Together we can create a better future for Iowans and beyond.

• Linda Snetselaar is associate provost for Outreach and Engagement at the University of Iowa.

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