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University of Iowa News Release


May 14, 2007

UI Faculty To Learn About Northeast Iowa During Three-Day Tour

Professors will become students when a group of University of Iowa faculty members embarks on a three-day learning tour of northeast Iowa this week. From Thursday through Saturday, the second annual Iowa Engagement Corps will visit Postville, Decorah and Dubuque, where faculty will meet with educational and civic leaders and visit schools, museums and even a monastery.

The trip allows faculty members to develop a clearer understanding of the cultural, historical, economic and educational underpinnings of the state, and introduces faculty to the communities from which their students come and in which the state taxpayers live.

"So many times when our faculty and administrators visit Iowa communities we are lecturing about an area of our expertise or outlining the university's mission, goals and achievements," said UI Executive Vice President and Provost Michael Hogan. "This trip is different. It's a learning mission for our faculty -- an opportunity to find out how we can contribute to these communities' efforts and to learn from what they are already doing so well."

The group will start in Postville on Thursday, May 17, where it will visit local schools and have lunch with area residents at Sabor Latino. A community with several different groups of recent immigrants to Iowa, Postville provides an opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities that accompany welcoming new populations to Iowa.

The tour's next stop will be Decorah for the afternoon and evening of May 17. Again, local schools will be on the tour agenda, including an exhibit on Iowa's Norwegian roots created by local fourth graders for the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

These two stops on the tour's first day will showcase both established and newer cultures and how they inform today's culture in Iowa communities, said Downing Thomas, associate dean for International Programs and one of the trip's organizers.

"It is always interesting and informative to see where your students are coming from and what their backgrounds are," he said. "Sending the faculty out to listen to what folks are saying makes an important statement about the university's commitment to working collaboratively with the rest of the state."

The trip's second day continues the educational focus with meetings and discussions about private college education in Iowa with colleagues from Decorah's Luther College. The group then travels to Dubuque to learn about economic development and tourism. Faculty will meet with community development leaders, celebrate Dubuquefest, visit the Mississippi River Museum and have lunch at the New Melleray Abbey in Peosta before returning to Iowa City Saturday, May 19.

Steve McGuire, professor of art education, participated in last year's trip to Northwest Iowa and said the experience far exceeded the expectations of both the faculty and community participants.

"What we saw last year was that we were really able to experience a sense of being part of the state in a way you can't do when you're sitting in your office in Iowa City," he said. "And we really got a sense of how these communities imagine being involved in the work and life of the university. People really responded to the fact that we didn't just come out and say what we do, but rather, asked what is needed."

Last year's trip led to an invitation for Sioux City's historic preservation chairwoman to speak at a statewide urban planning conference held at the UI in fall 2006. And students at Western Iowa Tech Community College now have access to an electron microscopy instrument at the UI thanks to a connection made between two professors who otherwise might never have met.

Both McGuire and Thomas said that an added benefit of the trip is the time for UI faculty members to get to know each other across disciplines and colleges. "People in the communities we visit are intrigued to learn the varied paths people took to end up at the University of Iowa," McGuire said. "In the same way, we are discovering connections among colleagues we never knew, despite living and working in the same community."

The Engagement Corps was first funded in 2006 through a Year of Public Engagement grant and now is supported by the Office of the Provost.

"I am so gratified at the gracious and generous way the hosting communities have opened their doors to us," Hogan said. "I truly believe the university faculty are the net beneficiaries of this important exchange of ideas."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,