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

SERVING 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

320

Community-based projects completed since 2009

15

Number of projects IISC completes as part of a full partnership

10,000 +

Hours are contributed to each partnership by UI faculty & students

23

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

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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 "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.

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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.

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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.  

Engineering with IISC

See what Civil and Environmental Engineering students have to say about their experiences working with IISC community partners in their Senior Design class! 

Senior Design is a cornerstone of IISC partnerships.  Each year IISC staff identify and develop 10 to 15 unique, real-world challenges for these soon-to-be engineers. 

Watch the video on the right to learn more about the tremendous impact of these experiences for UI students.

News

young woman dressed in black listens as an older man with a microphone talks and looks at her

IISC Recognizes Outstanding Faculty, Students, and Community Partners

Monday, May 6, 2024
IISC gives six awards to acknowledge outstanding contributions by UI faculty, students, and Iowa communities.
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Bondurant's Future Looks Green

Monday, April 29, 2024
A community parks and recreation master plan is “a document that provides an inclusive framework for orderly and consistent planning; acquisition; development; and administration of the parks and recreation resources, programs, and facilities of the agency that sponsors the master plan.” (Source: American Association for Leisure and Recreation.) Because Bondurant is a rapidly growing community, it looked to IISC to create a plan that includes policies and frameworks for aligning parks and recreation services to accommodate its youthful and and growing population. The student team embraced the opportunity to support health initiatives and preserve and expand spaces for pollinators and other sustainability projects.
Group of teenagers in a school hallway

Connecting Marshallese Students to Dubuque’s Schools

Monday, April 29, 2024
Students in the Community Empowerment Law Project spent Spring 2024 working with a wide array of partners in Dubuque to analyze the high degree of absenteeism among K-12 Marshallese students.
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IISC Showcases Student Work in Bondurant and Dubuque

Wednesday, April 10, 2024
As the 2023-24 partnerships between the UI's Initiative for Sustainable Communities and the City of Bondurant and the City of Dubuque come to a close, there will be events in both communities to showcase the work that has been completed. UI students from across colleges and departments and will share research and plans they have done in collaboration with representatives from the two cities. Events are free and open to all.
A younger black man and an older white woman talk in front of an informational board to which the man is gesturing.

Accessibility, land use top citizens' housing, transportation concerns

Monday, April 8, 2024
Students who are part of two IISC projects in Dubuque this year, one focused on affordable housing and the other on alternative transportation, led a community engagement event in the city to hear directly from citizens.