Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy

This is a one-week interdisciplinary program in which UI graduate students from across campus, at any point in their graduate studies, explore how public engagement can enhance teaching, research, and creative work. Highlights of this year’s Institute included:

  • a site visit to the Iowa City Wastewater Treatment Plant and visits with the facility’s directors, water activists, county administrators, and a UI faculty and graduate student who work on water quality issues
  • screening of documentary If You Build It at FilmScene, also attended by local leaders in food rights, housing, and K-12 education
  • coaching by actor Kate Hawbaker-Krohn on presentation style
  • panel talks by Tilly Woodward (Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College), Trina Roberts (UI Pentacrest Museums), Carolyn Colvin (College of Education), Jennifer Teitle (Graduate College), Wayne Jacobson (Office of Assessment), Georgina Dodge (Chief Diversity Officer, Office of the Provost), William Liu (College of Education), Rachel Williams (CLAS), Teresa Mangum (Obermann Center), Eric Zimmer (CLAS), and Kathrina Litchfield (College of Education)

Learn more about the Graduate Institute here.

Co-Directors: Barbara Eckstein, English (CLAS), and Craig Just, Civil & Environmental Engineering (College of Engineering)

Senior Fellow: Emily Kroska (Psychology, CLAS)

Obermann Graduate Fellows

  • Amanda Ward (Psychology, CLAS)
  • Andrew Nelson (Interdisciplinary Program in Human Toxicology, Graduate College)
  • Anna Swanson (Cinematic Arts, CLAS)
  • Carla Gonzalez (Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, College of Education)
  • Cathryn Lucas-Carr (American Studies, CLAS)
  • Cristina Muñoz (Geographical & Sustainability Sciences, CLAS)
  • Heather Draxl (Language, Literacy, & Culture, College of Education)
  • Jessica Pleyel (Art & Art History, CLAS)
  • Kalmia Strong (Library & Information Science and Center for the Book, Graduate College)
  • Katherine Wetzel (English, CLAS)
  • Marie Kim (Interdisciplinary Program in Immunology, Graduate College)
  • Melissa Gilbert (Theatre Arts, CLAS)
  • Natalie Luna-Renek (Anthropology, CLAS)
  • Peggy Valdés (Higher Education & Student Affairs, College of Education)
  • Robert Hart (Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering)
  • Stefan Schöberlein (English, CLAS)
  • Steven Rippentrop (Health, Management, & Policy, College of Public Health)
  • Tariq Ghazal (Oral Sciences, College of Dentistry)

Applicants to the Graduate Institute are asked to propose a project they would like to develop during the week. Some fellows take years to bring their projects to fruition, while others are already in the planning stages, and while still others scrap their original idea but go on to find something even richer than they had first imagined. Here are snapshots of five different fellows and the current state of their engagement work. We are especially pleased when fellows find potential collaborators via the Institute, as illustrated in the fourth example.

Projects in Incubation

Jessica PleyelJessica Pleyel (Art & Art History, CLAS) is currently planning an exhibit, “We Are Survivors,” that she hopes to hold next April at the same time as Take Back the Night campus events. Pleyel wants to create a space in which victims of sexual abuse can tell their own stories through visual and performing arts. As a survivor herself, she says the best advice she ever received was to take control of her own story. The multimedia artist also hopes that the exhibit will expand the ongoing conversation about sexual assault at the University of Iowa.

Projects in Fruition

Historical document from Stefan's projectLate summer 2015, Stefan Schöberlein (English, CLAS) floated his Institute project down the Iowa River. In conjunction with Coralville’s Seize the Carp festival, Schöberlein led a canoe tour focused on the history of paper mills on the Coralville–Iowa City stretch of the Iowa river. He especially wanted to make people aware of a chemical spill that occurred in 1875 near what is now the Iowa River Power Company, in order to highlight the “slow violence” of water pollution. He partnered with Project Green and the Ashton House on this pilot run of his tour, which he hopes to expand.

Eric with MeskwakiAs a 2012 Graduate Institute Fellow, Eric Zimmer (History, CLAS) was just beginning a relationship with the Meskwaki Settlement in Tama, Iowa. Using what he learned about public engagement from the Institute, he met with a tribal historian to brainstorm topics that would be of value to the tribe. Research into the origins of the Meskwaki constitution, a misunderstood document, became the subject of Zimmer’s master’s thesis. Three years later, Zimmer is well under way on his dissertation, “Red Earth Nation: Environment and Sovereignty in Modern Meskwaki History.” He has donated more than 10,000 digital copies of documents he collected from the National Archives in Chicago and other repositories to the tribe’s archive and has also given several lectures at the request of the tribe. Zimmer’s work has been recognized widely. Among other awards, he recently received the Mildred Throne–Charles Aldrich Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa Board of Trustees, the Graduate Student Research Excellence Award in Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences from the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and the Research Grant from the Phillips Fund for Native American Research at the American Philosophical Society.

Prison projectWhen Kathrina Litchfield (Language, Literature, & Culture, College of Education) and Gemma Goodale-Sussen (English, CLAS) participated in the 2014 Graduate Institute, they were both volunteering at the Iowa Medical & Classification Center, but had never crossed paths. Litchfield wanted to become a certified librarian for the facility, and Goodale-Sussen was archiving thousands of records from another Iowa prison. Together, they created the UI Prison Projects Coalition, an interdisciplinary networking group to connect scholars working with incarcerated populations. They also organized Incarcerated in Iowa, a one-day symposium. More than 100 participants, including the director and many staff members of the Iowa Department of Corrections, scholars from across the state, librarians, and artists, as well as families of incarcerated people, shared current work and possible future collaborations.

Check out YouTube videos featuring Graduate Institute alumni