Friday, August 13, 2021

The University of Iowa’s School of Planning and Public Affairs (SPPA) is committed to providing students with unique, real-world experiences that help address complex challenges across the state of Iowa. Engaged-learning not only gives our students a higher sense of purpose during their educational experience, but also provides a competitive advantage as they enter the job market and helps communities become more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.

The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), housed in SPPA, is the premier community-engagement program at the University of Iowa, connecting Iowa community partners to faculty, staff, and students in departments across campus. Each year, IISC selects two partnering communities, which benefit from 15-20 student-led projects and more than 10,000 hours of work. This year, IISC’s partner communities are Jackson County and Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority (MRWMA).

In lieu of a master’s thesis, SPPA students complete real-world capstone projects for partnering communities, applying their learning, creativity, innovation, and research talents to help develop solutions to local issues. For the 2021-22 academic year, five student teams from the school will work on projects that address climate change, water quality, clean energy, food insecurity, and greenhouse gas emissions.   

One team of urban and regional planning students are developing a Clean Energy Action Plan to transition Jackson County away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy alternatives. From getting community input through knocking on doors to engaging with community leaders, this team is cultivating buy-in from the community to support the adoption of clean energy technologies across Jackson County.

A second planning capstone project picks up were one team left off last year. During the 2020-2021 academic year, a team of five students created MRWMA’s first watershed management plan. This year, students will complete Phase 2 of the plan by applying the plan’s overarching goals to more localized, implementable projects. Both phases involve engaging stakeholders and residents about needs, opportunities, and priorities.

The Spring semester marks the first round of Master of Public Affairs capstone projects. Second-year MPA students will collaborate with Muscatine Community College on zero-waste and carbon emissions reduction policies, Maquoketa City Council on goal setting, and Jackson County on local foods policies.

At SPPA and across the University of Iowa, students can have meaningful opportunities to enhance their studies while making a difference in local communities. The work being done within SPPA is part of a much bigger effort of connecting University of Iowa students to local communities through IISC. Over the course of this academic year, 150 students from 20 departments will complete 30-40 projects in partnering communities. More information about the work being done at IISC and the opportunities available to students, can be found on their website.