Three professors acknowledged for their profound impacts at UI and beyond

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences has awarded its Outstanding Outreach and Public Engagement Award to Bonnie Sunstein, John Rapson, and Loyce Arthur. All three recipients of this year’s award are involved in the arts.

Rachel Steil, News Reporter

Bonnie Sunstein didn’t know her 52 years of teaching and community outreach were achievements to be proud of.

“It wasn’t until I got nominated for this award that I realized [community outreach] is a continual theme in my work,” said Sunstein, a University of Iowa English and education professor.

Sunstein is one of the three recipients of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences’ Outstanding Outreach and Public Engagement Award. Music Professor John Rapson and theater Associate Professor Loyce Arthur also received the honor.

“These professors are outstanding teachers and researchers who excel at using their expertise to engage with individuals, families, and communities beyond the university walls,” interim Liberal Arts College Dean Joseph Kearney said in a news release.

Sunstein was recognized for her community-outreach initiatives that brought UI’s writing programs to the public.

In 2017, Sunstein helped organize the Lloyd-Jones Residency for Versatile Writing. High-school teachers and students from across the state gathered in the City of Literature for a three-day writing program.

“We had writing workshops every day, a reading the first night, and a formal reading the last day they were here,” Sunstein said.

Graduate students in the Nonfiction Writing Program taught the workshops, and undergraduate students served as counselors for the high-school students. The people teaching the workshops then went to the high schools that the participants attended to continue writing education.

Sunstein has also organized the Writers Gone Public series and the Writing Tailgates.

“[Writers Gone Public] is a public reading at the end of the semester by all of the students in the undergraduate nonfiction classes,” Sunstein said. “This is a chance for people who love writing to really celebrate themselves and each other.” 

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The Writing Tailgates were hosted at the Main Library on football Saturdays. Writing activities for all ages and open-mic readings were open to the public.

“I’ve always believed that people sharing their writing is a very important dimension of making a community,” Sunstein said. “A passionate piece of writing is a way for people to speak as they can’t necessarily speak otherwise.”

Rapson was acknowledged for his outreach through his jazz production Hot Tamale Louie, which shares the story of Afghani immigrant Zarif Khan. Khan settled in Wyoming as a tamale maker and stock trader, searching for the American Dream.

Rapson said the current political climate inspired him to share Khan’s story.

“We would like immigrants to know that they have friends and advocates here,” Rapson said. “We have to go to some lengths to make that visible because of all the rhetoric that has been inflammatory.”

Hot Tamale Louie has been performed throughout Iowa and Wyoming. Each performance has been free, and Rapson has shared Khan’s story with thousands of people. Wherever there are arts, there is an effect, he said.

Arthur, who could not be reached for comment by press time, was praised for her career-long community engagement in the theater.

In Iowa City, Arthur has partnered with the university’s Arts and Humanities Initiative and International Programs to create the Iowa City Community Carnival Arts Education Project. Each year, a Caribbean-influenced carnival celebration is organized by Arthur and partners.

Arthur has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts throughout her career. In Philadelphia, she received a NEA partnership to expand youth initiatives. In Iowa City, Arthur has received a NEA grant to support art programs for at-risk youth in the community.