The Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy is a one-week interdisciplinary institute in which UI graduate students from across campus and at any point in their graduate studies explore how public engagement can enhance teaching, research, and creative work.
The January 2017 Graduate Institute occurred against a backdrop of questions about the role of higher education in a United States on the brink of a new presidency. Fellows seemed more eager than ever for their work to benefit a wider audience and to be actively involved in all of their communities.
For the second year, the Institute fellows visited the Johnson County Poor Farm and worked in small, interdisciplinary teams to propose possible projects that could be undertaken with a Poor Farm partner, such as Grow: Johnson County, which produces fresh food for local food banks, or Iowa Valley Global Food Project, which helps Iowa City immigrant populations learn small-scale farming techniques. The proposals were evaluated by our liaison with the Poor Farm, Shanti Sellz, Local Foods and Planning Specialist.
“The most rewarding experience I had at last year’s Graduate Institute was the opportunity to work with such a diverse and interesting group of scholars. As academics, it’s very easy for us to stay wrapped up in our own work—at least it is for me—and I appreciated the reminder that fascinating, passionate people can be found all over campus. I look forward to collaborating with them for the rest of my career.”
—Danielle Kennedy, Graduate Fellow (English, CLAS)
The Institute was co-directed by Jennifer Kayle (Dance, CLAS) and Tricia Zebrowski (Communication Sciences & Disorders, CLAS) with assistance from Graduate Senior Fellows Heidi-Renée Aijala (English, CLAS) and Diane Williams (American Studies and Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies, CLAS). The Senior Fellows are chosen from previous Institute classes and have an opportunity to learn program management skills, as well as help to edit the Institute’s content from year to year.
One change this year was having students work in intentionally “messy” interdisciplinary groups and propose an engaged project with the Poor Farm or one of its partners that would represent the scholarship of at least one team member. “I was impressed by the level of engagement with each Poor Farm group this year,” reflected Aijala. “The facilitators did a fantastic job of creating a clear assignment that helped guide participants to thoughtful and meaningful projects. Students found an authentic way to connect with their own interests and mutual skills, which made our meeting with the community partner smooth and useful for Shanti [Sellz] and for us.”
“One of the things about the Institute that will always stay with me is the transformative experience of discovering that there are options for the way that knowledge is created. Most of the students came to the week with an understanding of conventional models of scholarship and a research idea that didn’t fit into any of those. To watch them move from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘How will I do this?’ over the course of the Institute was a teacher’s dream.”
—Tricia Zebrowski, Co-director
In addition to Sellz, guests to the Institute included Jacki Rand (History, CLAS), Rossina Liu (Language, Literacy, & Culture, College of Education), Jeannette Gabriel (Iowa Women’s Archives, UI Libraries), Jessica Anthony (Dance, CLAS), Theresa Jubert (UI Foundation), Anna Flaming (Center for Teaching), Thomas Keegan (Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, UI Libraries), Craig Just (Civil & Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering), and Wayne Jacobson (Office of Assessment).