Path to the People: Outreach efforts impact Iowans
OUTREACH has become a buzzword on campus recently, but its not a new concept. Making faculty and staff resources available to people throughout the state is an inherent part of the University, as it has been for years.
Theres a wealth of activity going on, on a daily basis, with both faculty and staff sharing their knowledge and expertise throughout Iowa. Weve been hiding our light under a bushel. Its time to take credit for our work, says Jane Van Voorhis, the Universitys new coordinator of outreach and advocacy.
We need to promote all this great work, so that everyone will be mindful of the impact we have in the state and on the lives of Iowans every day.
Van Voorhis, former assistant director of the Institute for International Business at Iowa, was hired in October to assist with an advocacy network of volunteers who will talk to legislators about issues important to the University.
She also will retool the Universitys outreach database and expand the reach of the Speakers Bureau.
Interim President Willard Sandy Boyd has led the charge to re-emphasize the importance of outreach as one of the Universitys primary responsibilities to the state.
Connecting with Iowans plays a vital role in accomplishing the Universitys goalsparticularly during tight financial times, he says.
We have a major responsibility to demonstrate that now, more than ever, the Regents universities are crucial to the future well-being of Iowa and constitute a wise investment of public funds, he says.
Every college on campus and most academic units are engaged in some sort of outreach. Because of the Universitys decentralized nature, its difficult to quantify exactly how many outreach projects are ongoing.
But everywhere you go, Van Voorhis says, theres a flurry of activity.
To protect and serve
For Nancy Kraft, outreach has been a way of life for 20 years. Spending two decades as a preservation librarian for the State Historical Society of Iowa, Kraft toured the state, helping volunteers and staff in archives, libraries, county courthouses, local genealogical and historical societies, and museums to protect valuable collections.
She and a diverse group of collection managers in the state formed the Iowa Conservation and Preservation Consortium (ICPC) in the mid-1990s and developed a statewide preservation plan.
When she was hired as a University librarian in 2001, she requested that her duties associated with the ICPC become part of her job here. The University inherited a wealth of outreach opportunities as a result.
In mid-November, Kraft and Gary Frost, University library conservator, helped facilitate an ICPC town meeting via the Iowa Communications Networkthe states fiber-optic, interactive TV network. More than 90 people at 15 sites throughout the state participated, discussing upcoming training and statewide preservation needs.
During the year, Kraft, Frost, and others at University Libraries give talks and field numerous calls about how to best handle collections damaged by water from building leaks, mold outbreaks, insect infestations, and other disasters.
The librarys outreach doesnt stop there. For example, the University lends thousands of items each year to Iowas 99 counties through Interlibrary Loan, develops searchable databases on the Internet, and organizes traveling exhibits. Also, many library staff members serve as consultants for state organizations.
Its the nature of the librarian. Were taught to help people do it themselves. We help educate them and help them find information that they turn into a paper, a research project, a book, Kraft says. Were not thinking of it as outreach. Its part of our everyday life. Its just second nature.
From magnetometers to the moon
Need a demonstration on pulleys and levers, or a presentation on space research and plasma physics, or help locating used physics and astronomy equipment?
Talk to Dale Stille; hes your connection.
Stille, an instructional designer, is coordinator of the physics and astronomy departments outreach activities. He organizes lectures, sets up demonstrations for other staff and faculty to conduct, and participates in some himself.
He also oversees a program that allows the department to give equipmentfrom power supplies and wave generators to magnetometers and oscilloscopesto Iowa high schools. Even though the equipment may no longer be useful to the departments mission, it is much needed by high school laboratories, Stille says, and in most cases is too expensive for schools to afford.
We arent throwing good equipment out. Even though we cant use it, other people can. Its a great service, he says, noting that more than 50 schools have participated in the program, which began three years ago.
Many times, people come to the University to see presentations because of equipment and money constraints. Stille hopes that sometime soon, the University can find a way to finance a mobile demo lab and take his show on the road on a more frequent basis.
Outreach benefits the department as well as the University and Iowans in general, Stille says, because more exposure in the state can lead to more money for scholarships, research, and stronger programs.
Were making connections that pay off for everyone, he says.
Eye on the economy
Everyone wants to talk to Beth Ingram, and the topic of conversation usually involves money.
As a professor of economics at Iowa since 1988 and director of the Institute for Economic Research since 1996, shes the economic forecasting guru who fields several calls a week from print, television, and radio journalists wanting the latest scoop on the state of the economy.
But its the presentations she makes to chambers of commerce, Rotary
Clubs, groups of real estate appraisers, and other organizations throughout
the state each semester that are her outreach highlight. She tells listeners
about tax revenue,
I dont have a particular political view about the information. I can give them unbiased information about their states economy without them thinking I have any particular ax to grind, she says. Im not on anybodys side. Its independent information, and they seem to appreciate it and benefit from it.
I gear the talks to whats been in the papers and give them the facts to evaluate, themselves, what the papers and the politicians are saying.
She also attends meetings of the Iowa Economic Forecasting Council, an advisory board to the Revenue Estimating Conference, which sets revenue projects for the state.
Although she says she enjoys traveling and meeting with fellow Iowans, she admits the time taken from an already busy schedule can be a bit of a burden.
This is something extra that I do, that the University does, above and beyond the regular duties, she says, pleased with the response from her audiences. Iowans genuinely value education and seem to appreciate the expertise available to them through The University of Iowa.