UI students bring improvements to City of Clinton through university program

Students from various disciplines are taking their ideas for change outside of Iowa City through the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities.

Sydney Libert, News Reporter

The University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities program, or IISC, will bring more than 20 student-led projects to the City of Clinton by the end of the academic year.

The program allows students from a range of disciplines to develop and share ideas to help advance a community’s goals. This year, the IISC partnered with the City of Clinton.

The initiative, which started in 2009, paved the way for UI students to work with Iowa to advance sustainability goals. The IISC has expanded and now collaborates with multiple departments across campus.

 Every year, the IISC selects one community for a full partnership, collaborating on at least 15 projects in one area throughout the academic year — from August to May — while working on separate standalone projects in other locations.

 After a community applies and is accepted for the full partnership, the initiative provides a list of potential collaboration opportunities for the approved community to choose from. Students work alongside their peers with guidance from university faculty while collaborating with clients to achieve their goals.

While this is the first time Clinton has had a full partnership with the initiative, the IISC previously completed projects in the city through its regional partnership with the East Central Intergovernmental Association from 2016-18.

City of Clinton City Administrator Matt Brooke said the city tried to fit in as many IISC projects that it could to keep progressing the city forward.

“All of which, if I tried to do with my staff or hire outside consultants, would take a lot longer, and frankly, we may not have had the same experience because we have this different crowd that’s not as familiar with Clinton coming in and sharing their thoughts and visions,” Brooke said.

IISC Director Travis Kraus said while communities may be receiving tangible help from the UI, students are able to gain experiences that will prepare them for their careers.

“It’s a way for higher education institutions to be a part of solutions to our greatest challenges,” Kraus said. “We are better preparing our future leaders when we give them real-world experiences that exist outside of the classroom or outside of a textbook.”

Over 100 students from more than five university departments — from Library and Informational Sciences to the Tippie College of Business’ Marketing Institute — are collaborating with the city to address everything from local housing needs to painting murals in the Clinton community.

This year’s partnership includes several projects:

The full list of Clinton projects can be found on the IISC’s website.

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

For one project, students designed a campground space in an area that formerly served as a disc golf course in the city’s Eagle Point Park. A team of four UI seniors, including Audrey Birk, Valerie Pardo, Nicholas Hughes, and Andrew Klinkrodt, are developing a plan for the area’s first campground.

Birk, a civil engineering major who will be graduating with a certificate in sustainability in the spring, said transforming the area into a campground will use the land to its full potential. The project has already accumulated some funding, but the exact date of construction remains unclear.

“The land is there, but no one’s really using it,” Birk said.

Pardo, the only environmental engineer working on the project, said she expects the campground to bring more visitors from Clinton and neighboring communities to the area.

“I think it makes an exciting new thing for the community members to partake in, especially to get connected with the outdoors and just having other things to do with friends and family,” Pardo said.

The proposed model includes campground pads, firing areas, and a bathroom. Although campgrounds are not always required to add a storm shelter, Birk said the group decided to include one in their plans for a bathroom.

“You can never be too prepared,” Birk said. “Putting yourself in those shoes as if you’re a camper out there in the woods and you have nowhere to go if a storm comes out of nowhere just got us thinking.”

Pardo said engaging with the community helped her understand how her future career affects the people around her.

“One part of engineering that I’ve realized throughout the years is that we help people a lot more than we think,” Pardo said. “I think this is beneficial to the community and the people around us … Just knowing that we had a part in this is awesome.”

The Eagle Point Park Campground project group will present its finished design alongside peers at a briefing open to anyone in the community on May 10. A celebration of the partnership will follow.

While the exact location and time of the event have yet to be determined, more information will come from the City of Clinton soon.