Parent Times: The University of Iowa
parents association
campus links
UI homepage

SPRING 1999-00
Volume 43, Number 3


Study in Summer? Almost 12,000 Students Say "Yes"

Listening to Students: President Coleman Finds Them 'Invigorating'

First and Foremost: Ten Standouts Launch Program That Gives High School Seniors an Early Start on College

Your Tuition Payment: Building Our Students' Future

Financial Aid: The Buffer Zone Between Students and Higher Education Costs

Investing in Your Student's Future

Accents: Problem or Opportunity to Learn?

A Challenge From Frank

Parent Times Briefs

University Calendar

The "fireside" where the Fireside Chats take place isn’t real–just an arrangement of tall candles. But the smile on Mary Sue Coleman’s face whenever she meets with students definitely is genuine. We asked the President to comment on the ways she has found to keep up with the University’s most important constituents.

How do you make opportunities to talk with University of Iowa students, and where do those conversations take place?
Talking to students is a good antidote for everything else I have to do! It’s invigorating to hear about their dreams and hopes. I seek them out for that reason.

Of course, there are the Fireside Chats. The last one I did was so much fun. There were 40 students there and we got into all kinds of topics. It went late and they really wanted to talk. Finally I had to say, "Gee, I have to go home and go to bed!"

Since Fireside Chats are open to graduate and professional students, as well as undergraduates, there’s a lot of information sharing among themselves. It’s an unintended benefit of the chats. There’s no agenda and students can say or ask about anything they want. Almost every fireside chat raises a different issue, so we don’t cover the same ground over and over.

President Coleman talks with a student at a reception. ‘I try to take any opportunity,’ she says.

In addition, I try to take any opportunity I get to attend classes or go to receptions or meetings where students will be. I’ve been invited to speak in the residence halls. Just before finals I attended a Spanish class, and they told me what they’d been doing.

I meet with student leaders monthly–not only UI Student Government but also leaders of other campus groups that UISG brings in. They’ve invited the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, for example; they’ve invited Latino/a students or representatives of other ethnic cultures. We share what’s going on on campus and they see ways they can help each other, too.

I meet with representatives of The Daily Iowan once a month. I think I’m more responsive to the DI than to the professional reporters, because the DI is a learning situation.

Do you have some unscheduled encounters with students? Or electronic encounters?
Of course, I hear from students via e-mail, and I must say they are good about it. They don’t pad my e-mail with trivia. I try to respond to all of them. Finally, I see students on campus. I’ve met a lot of students in the past few years, and we’ll stop to talk.

All of these contacts are absolutely crucial in order to have a sense of what students are thinking. Most students don’t know who is in administration, nor should they. But when we meet it helps to humanize the place for them, to break down barriers. We want them to know that the goal for everyone in administration is to help them achieve. I enjoy listening to their perspective, which is very different from when I was in school and even from when my son was in college in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sometimes they don’t have a good knowledge of the big picture, but why should they? They should concentrate on getting a good education and living a great life.

How do these conversations with students affect decisions you make about campus life?

Students have been really influential in developing some of our recent priorities. We’ve talked for several years about the libraries and students’ desire to have them open longer. We’ve talked about the furniture in the libraries, which needs to be replaced or refurbished. This input was extremely influential when we were preparing our recent proposal to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.
Fireside Chats draw students to express opinions, ask questions, and hear the President's opinion.

Students told us several years ago about some challenges in our classrooms–buildings that were in severe need of repair. We’ve done a good job of fixing them. Students are very realistic. They know we can’t fix everything at once and they’re excellent at helping to set priorities for the work we can do.

I’m interested in the fact that they’re well aware of changes in society, that their jobs and careers will change over time. They know they’ll have seven jobs and four different careers. They see that more clearly than we do. They have a fluidity of thinking that is amazing. They’ll say, "I’ll start out with this career and later perhaps I’ll try this one." They’re fearless! They’ll take on the world. I find that really exciting.

A few months ago the University received a gift from Myron & Jacqueline Blank for a new home for the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development and for the Honors Program–two programs that work with gifted students.

This is one of the most exciting projects I’ve been involved with. It’s a wonderful opportunity to locate a really great program involving K-12 students with our Honors Program. I believe we can imagine some of the synergies that will be involved in this now, but we will have more that we cannot imagine yet.

Undergraduates will be interacting with high school and middle school students; summer visitors will see what honors students can do at Iowa. We find that the students who have gone through Belin-Blank programs to get ready for college want the same enriched experiences in college. Now they’ll be right there in the same building!

The vision of Myron and Jacqueline Blank is just terrific. They established the Belin-Blank Center with a $1 million endowment in June 1988, which was matched by the Iowa State Legislature. Now the Blanks again have made such an enormous personal commitment so that we can design a space in the way that both honors students and Belin-Blank scholars want. The building will be in a prime spot on campus, too, near Daum Residence Hall.











[back to top]