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 "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.  

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.


group of people on a stage

Dubuque Inspires

Friday, September 15, 2023
When the University of Iowa’s Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) visited Dubuque in early September, the day was filled with surprises. “Dubuque is an inspiring place,” says IISC director Travis Kraus. “I know we’ll be able to help the city move some of its goals forward while also learning from their innovative team.”
A small town and a river seen from above.

Manchester's Shelly Park Reopens

Wednesday, September 13, 2023
During the 2020-2021 academic year, the University of Iowa’s Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) partnered with Manchester to complete 16 projects. One of these was a project undertaken by four Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) students for improvement to Shelly Park, which sits directly on the Maquoketa River. This summer, their plans were realized when the newly renovated park was officially opened.
group of people in front of a small business with a bright blue sky

Bondurant Visit Highlights Small Town's Expansion

Thursday, September 7, 2023
“Unlike many Iowa communities that need to focus on smaller populations and what planners allude to as ‘shrinking smartly,’ Bondurant is in a unique situation of rapid growth,” says Travis Kraus, IISC’s director. The needs that come with this growth provide interesting challenges and learning opportunities for UI students who will work with Bondurant during the 2023-24 academic year. They will complete 15 projects and bring a wide array of academic skills to the city, including archival research, art, engineering, and planning.
a blonde young woman works on a mural from a crane

5 Questions with Ali Hval

Tuesday, September 5, 2023
I have completed more than 40 public murals around the country, though the majority are in Iowa. I’ve experienced “Iowa Nice” to be a real thing. In Clinton, the mayor drove me around and gave me a tour of the city after finishing a project there. While painting, people stop to chat and bring you cold drinks and snacks. In Webster City, the mayor had a dinner party for me, and personally installed the panels with a lift. If I’m painting in a big city, these things don’t happen—you just show up and do your job.
2023-24 IISC Partners

IISC Announces 2023-23 Community Partners

Monday, June 26, 2023
The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities is excited to announce that our students and faculty will be working in Bondurant and Dubuque during the 2023-24 academic year. We are grateful for the many strong applications submitted last spring. The selected communities provide unique opportunities for University of Iowa students to apply their learning through hands-on projects that will benefit the state of Iowa.