The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) brings University of Iowa students to communities across the state to collaborate with local leaders on real-world projects.

The program offers essential, energizing, and applicable learning experiences to graduate and upper-level undergraduate students, while simultaneously providing valuable services to communities. 

An IISC partnership includes multidisciplinary expertise focused on a specific geographic area, yielding deep and substantial outcomes. 

IISC in Iowa


IISC creates mutually beneficial partnerships with communities across the state to advance shared goals. Full partnerships bring numerous multi-disciplinary teams of UI faculty and students into communities over the course of an academic year, collaborating on up to 15 projects. Communities also have the option of working with us on standalone projects.

50 +

Communities in Iowa have partnered with IISC on at least one project

200 +

Students work on IISC community engagement projects each year


Community-based projects completed since 2009


Number of projects IISC completes as part of a full partnership

10,000 +

Hours are contributed to each partnership by UI faculty & students


UI Departments have completed community-based projects through IISC

Voices of IISC

Young brown skinned young man wearing a gray tshirt and sitting in a public location while smiling at the camera.
As a planner I want to make the communities that we live in and work in more livable and enjoyable, but a big aspect of that is also advancing social equity. This is what brought me to the program at Iowa. My capstone project is in the neighborhood and community I live in, which has been especially helpful in introducing me to a lot of the people who are driving change here. That community energy was not that visible to me before this, so it’s very exciting to know all these different dreams and ideas are possible.  
Leon Begay, Master of Urban & Regional Planning, 2021
Woman in gray suit with a blue and purple scarf around her neck smiles at the camera.
The Community Empowerment Law Project (CELP) is staffed by law students working under faculty supervision. They advise entities working to advance social, economic, and racial justice in Iowa, while honing their legal skills in the real world. Collaboration with IISC and their community partners enables students to better understand the issues, culture, and strengths of rural and small town Iowa; to participate in interdisciplinary work with students from across the university; and to do meaningful work and have an impact beyond Johnson County.
Daria Fisher Page, College of Law
Black man in his 40s looking up at the sky with an American flag behind him. He is wearing glasses and a violet dress shirt.
With the expertise from our partnership, we have the opportunity to focus holistically on our community. One project we did with IISC focused on a neighborhood with a lot of diverse populations – Latino, African American, newly arrived immigrants. The housing in that area hasn't kept up with time. The Neighborhood Plan was a great opportunity for us to figure out how to raise and elevate the levels of housing and create energy and a sense of pride back in the area for the residents who live here. 
Quentin Hart, Mayor, Waterloo, IA
Clinton group photo

Full Partnerships

Depth & Breadth of Our Work Across Iowa

In the last decade, IISC has partnered with communities across Iowa—from Sioux City on the western border, to Decorah in the northeast, and Keokuk in the most southwestern tip. Our 16 full partnerships have included larger cities, like Waterloo, and smaller ones, including amalgamations of rural towns, such as those in Jackson County. 


What do we offer?

Each year, we undertake full partnerships with one or two Iowa communities. We listen to our partners' needs and match these with the capacities of the university faculty and departments. Together, we co-develop up to 15 diverse projects that address complex problems which tap the assets of both the community and our students. Our goal is always to bring high-quality work to Iowa's communities, while providing learning opportunities for the next generation of community leaders.

For a list of past and potential projects by disciplinary area, visit the Project Types page.


Has IISC worked in your community yet? 

In addition to the full partnerships that IISC has completed with the Iowa communities listed to the left, we have also collaborated on stand alone projects with more than 50 additional communities. To learn more about our past work across the state, visit the Projects page of this website.


EPIC-N Network

IISC is a member of the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities-Network (EPIC-N). This global nonprofit and its members unite the human capital of universities with local governments and communities to improve the quality of life and social wealth for all involved. IISC, which is considered a leader in this work, was a founding designer of EPIC-N. Our director, Travis Kraus, currently serves on the organization's board.


Office of Community Engagement

IISC has a strong relationship with the University of Iowa Office of Community Engagement, which works to facilitate the development of mutually beneficial partnerships between faculty, staff, and students at the University of Iowa with community partners across the state, nation, and world.  


Several people look at academic posters on easels at an indoor public event in a gray room with wood floors.

IISC Celebrates Clinton Partnership

Monday, May 8, 2023
On Thursday, May 4, the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) capped off its year-long partnership with the community of Clinton, Iowa. Seven student groups made presentations, followed by a ceremony that included awards, remarks, and a documentary film screening.
Two young women talk with an older man at a business event with people milling in the background.

Students Advocate at Hawkeye Caucus Day

Monday, May 8, 2023
As Master of Public Affairs (MPA) students participating in the IISC program, Payton Colbert and Maggie Schnurr shared a student perspective. Both Colbert and Schnurr worked with the IISC partnership in Clinton. “I study policy and what makes it work and what makes it fail,” Schnurr says. “I think that it’s important to evaluate policy not just by standards of 'does it work' but by looking at 'who does it work for?'"
A group of people in an alley that has a lot of graffiti and other art.

Courses Combine to Focus on Creative, Equitable Placemaking

Wednesday, April 5, 2023
One of the most cross-disciplinary classes on campus is actually two classes that have opted to combine forces. Travis Kraus teaches Community Development through Creative Placemaking in the School of Planning and Public Affairs, while Loyce Arthur teaches Action! Engage! Art! Creative Placemaking for the Public Good in the Department of Theatre Arts. Undergrad and graduate students from those departments, as well as political science, dance, engineering, and public health meet to discuss creativity and equity in placemaking.
Manchester Fish Hatchery mural ribbon cutting

Manchester Fish Hatchery Celebrates New Mural

Sunday, April 23, 2023
The mural was made possible by the Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority. Through an Iowa DNR watershed planning grant, they enlisted the help of the University of Iowa’s Initiative for Sustainable Communities program, which takes students out of the classroom and into communities to complete real-world projects.
Five people outside holding papers and binders, smiling into the sun.

Clinton's Liberty Square - Revitalizing a former brown field

Tuesday, April 11, 2023
For their capstone project, graduate students in planning and sustainable development have spent the year conceiving a new life for an area at the western entrance of Clinton, IA. The group sought public input during design charrettes in order to come up with four concepts for the narrow land that was once the site of a railroad repair shop.