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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 23, 2010

PHOTOS: Looking over a native prairie in Woodbury County's Loess Hills, a botanist leads a field trip. (lower, right image): University of Iowa student Hannah Kane (middle) gets her hair braided by a Chalmers elementary school student while UI student Jess Campbell (left) helps during a spring break 2009 service learning trip to Chicago.

UI students travel to Loess Hills to preserve prairie over spring break

This spring break, a group of University of Iowa students will have an opportunity to help with prairie management and explore a rare ecosystem in a trip to the Loess Hills region in western Iowa.

Jeffrey Dorale, an assistant professor of geoscience in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will take eight students on the alternative spring break trip in Pottawattamie County. The group will participate in hands-on activities while camping at the Hitchcock Nature Center in the Loess Hills. The course, offered through the UI Division of Continuing Education, is partnering with the Hitchcock Nature Center, the Pottawattamie County Conservation Board and the Northwest Iowa Sierra Club.

"It's an interesting part of Iowa that a lot of the student population doesn't know much about," Dorale said. "But it has arguably the most scenic landscape in the state."

Wind-blown silt -- or loess -- exists throughout the world, but the extreme thickness of western Iowa's loess deposits can only be found in one other place in the world -- China, Dorale said.

The Loess Hills were formed when glaciers moved across the upper Midwest and ground underlying rock into fine particles. The glaciers eventually melted, forming the Missouri River and creating a floodplain full of sediment that later dried and left behind a thick layer of silt. The prevailing westerly winds carried the silt and dust particles away from the mud flats and deposited them east of the Missouri River, creating the Loess Hills we see today.

The big hills and valleys are also home to dry areas that consist of rare vegetation and animals unlike any parts of the Midwest. The group -- which leaves Sunday, March 14, and returns Thursday, March 18 -- will primarily work on several prairie management projects along with other strenuous outdoor activities including hiking.

"The Loess Hills are a tremendous natural resource right here in Iowa, and yet they are not well known," said Doug Lee, the associate dean of the Division of Continuing Education. "The trip provides a great educational experience and helps integrate the University of Iowa into western Iowa."

A UI Faculty Engagement Corps traveled to the region last year, and this year's trip is another effort to continue a relationship with the western side of the state.

UI promotes other alternative spring break opportunities

The Loess Hills trip is only one of many alternative spring break options available to students through the university. There are 16 classes for academic credit, and more than 200 students are already registered.

Lee said many students are looking for options to continue their education over break, and some students want to get away from campus during that time and learn new skills.

"We're trying to put together a number of attractive, healthy options for students to do over spring break," he said. "We want to provide opportunities for service learning and ways to give back to communities as well as ways to promote student success and achievement."

Providing a legal helping hand

Some students will get the opportunity to get out of the Midwest in other UI sponsored spring break trips. Students from the UI College of Law have the opportunity to travel to either South Dakota or New Orleans to work with various legal organizations.

In South Dakota, students will be partnering with Dakota Plains Legal Services to provide volunteer legal services on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. At the request of the Reservation Tribal Courts, they will help to organize the tribal court system's appellate decisions -- a service desperately needed for the functioning of their courts. In New Orleans, 20 law students will volunteer 40 hours during the week with two nonprofit organizations -- the Alliance for Affordable Energy and Southwest Louisiana Legal Aid, where students will provide legal services to low-income individuals.

Future educators gain experience in diverse urban setting

For the second year in a row, 12 UI students will engage in a service learning experience with Chicago elementary children, though this is the first year that the College of Education will work with two Chicago public schools -- Chalmers Elementary School and McAuliffe Elementary School.

UI students will help Chicago elementary students with reading and writing projects as well as teach them what it is like to be a college student as part of the course titled "Topics in Teaching and Learning: Spring Break Service Learning Course in Chicago Public Schools" taught by Kathryn Whitmore, UI professor of teaching and learning. This course offers UI students the opportunity to work directly with students in an urban setting, where one school is predominantly African-American and the other predominantly Hispanic.

From salsa to scuba diving, UI offers fun learning

On campus, the university offers for-credit courses in ballroom dancing, salsa dancing, lifeguard training and fitness and yoga classes through the UI Recreational Services.

There are also SCUBA diving, sea kayaking, and bouldering trips in places all across the country including Ginny Springs, Fla., Lake Powell, Utah, and Horse Pens 40, an outdoor historic nature park in Georgia.

For more information and a detailed listing of the spring break courses, enter keyword "spring break" on ISIS at

Service learning engages students

Other campus groups are offering alternative spring break trips but without academic credit available. The student organization, Students Today Leaders Tomorrow, is hosting two multi-day and multi-city "Pay It Forward" trips. Students can engage in service learning projects in each city and learn about social issues, building lasting relationships, and making a commitment to continued action when they return home. Both tours will visit six cities before arriving in Dallas. For more information, visit and

For more information on other service learning and volunteer opportunities, call the UI Civic Engagement Program in the Pomerantz Career Center at 319-335-3531.

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

MEDIA CONTACTS: Doug Lee, Division of Continuing Education, 319-335-0444,; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,; Writer: Ashton Shurson