Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities turns 10 years old, selects Keokuk as next partner

Just in time for its 10th anniversary, the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities announced it will partner with Keokuk next academic year for a number of improvement projects in the city.


Nick Rohlman

Icicles form on the Old Capitol on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities announced that its partner during the next academic year will be the city of Keokuk, Iowa. The collaboration coincides with the IISC’s 10th anniversary as a department, which is housed in the University of Iowa Center for Outreach and Engagement.

Every year since its establishment, IISC reviews and selects a community among applications from across the state to decide where approximately 120 UI students will partner with local leaders to implement approximately 20 improvement projects.


“It’s a special partnership that exists in our office,” IISC Assistant Director Travis Kraus said. “While we do a lot of projects across Iowa, this is a little different, because a single community is selected to get a lot of resources, including student groups and projects.”

Kraus emphasized that focusing in on one geographical area will likely have a more transformative effect on a city such as Keokuk. Over its 10-year run, he said, IISC works hard to communicate its opportunities to communities statewide.

“We have a formal request and proposal, so communities actually apply, so it’s competitive,” Kraus said. “The application is scored based on criteria.”

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The primary goal of IISC projects is collaborative activity, so local experts in the selected city and UI students work together, he said. Cities are ultimately selected based on their leadership capacity and if they are prepared for meaningful projects, he said.

“Providing these real-world-learning experiences enhance the quality of the educational experience for UI students,” Kraus said. “So they develop skills that might not be as possible just when [they’re] sitting in a classroom.”

The IISC mission, he said, revolves around transforming, teaching, and learning at the UI. Hands-on work in communities such as Keokuk allows students to gain experience that will directly affect their future careers.

Helping communities be more sustainable, socially and economically, means providing a high quality of life for residents, Kraus said, and relying on them to present their challenges so the UI can respond accordingly.

One of the most exciting things about partnering with Keokuk, he said, is its recent comprehensive planning that outlined what the community needs to do.

“It’s perfect timing for Keokuk,” said Shelley Oltmans, the city’s Area Chamber of Commerce executive director. “From our 2018 comprehensive plan, we were able to find 20 projects right off the bat.”

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The Keokuk community is enthusiastic about the opportunity to spend hours on its latest proposed projects with the UI and to start implementing them, she said, and would like a variety of projects.

“You have 120 students with faculty who are taking the time to put together a plan, doing the public outreach, coming up and taking up an operation, and synthesizing it,” Oltmans said. “That’s a huge value.”

In addition, she said, the Keokuk-UI partnership will provide positive publicity for the city and a chance to celebrate its comprehensive plan and gather momentum. The community members will also have the chance to share what they love about Keokuk with UI students, she noted.

Lindsay Henderson, the community vitality director of Webster City and IISC’s current community partner, said the collaboration is an opportunity for combined civil engineering, art, and other projects.

“I couldn’t imagine any other way to move forward so fast,” Henderson said. “It was a good match. The process itself is really wonderful to engage a community.”