The University of Iowa

About IISC

About IISC

The Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) is an engaged-learning program at the University of Iowa.  We partner faculty, staff, and students with urban and rural communities to complete projects that enhance the sustainability of Iowa's communities, while transforming teaching and learning at the university. Community needs are matched with the expertise and resources of university faculty, staff, and students through courses, independent studies and research projects.  By taking students out of the classroom and into communities to complete real-world projects, IISC accomplishes two university-wide goals: enhancing sustainability across the state and transforming teaching and learning at the University of Iowa.

IISC approaches the holistic nature of sustainability by drawing on many disciplines across campus, including  urban and regional planning, civil & environmental engineering, business and marketing, law, art and art history, cinema arts, and more. Students, faculty, and staff in these diverse fields bridge disciplinary boundaries to develop innovative approaches to complex challenges.


A unique model for engagement and learning

The magnitude and depth of an IISC partnership make it unlike any other resource or service at the University of Iowa.  Whereas some community engagement might consist of single project, IISC partnerships bring together faculty, staff, and students from across campus to complete 10-15 projects in a single community over the course of an academic year.  Dozens of top UI students from various disciplines bring their talents, enthusiasm, and creativity to the partnership.

For IISC community partners, focusing resources in their area results in a profound, transformative impact not only because of the number and quality of projects, but also because citizens and community leaders coalesce around a shared vision and shared goals in order to make the partnership successful.  

For UI faculty and students, IISC means that they can expect to work in a community ready to take on big challenges, and prepared to be true collaborators.  IISC is a competitive application process that requires a considerable amount of time and effort from prospective community partners, as well as a broad vision for the future.  By the time students arrive on campus for the start of a new semester, community partners are ready and eager to begin working on the collaboration.

IISC is also unique because professional staff work to ensure high quality results for community partners.  Final deliverables reflect not only the high quality work from students, but the professional expertise of IISC staff. 


Defining Sustainability

Sustainable communities are those in which current generations are able to meet their social, economic, and environmental needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do so as well. Sustainability spans topics that range from social justice to workforce development to ecological health and resiliency.



IISC was founded in 2009 in the School of Urban & Regional Planning by Dr. Chuck Connerly.  Since 2009, IISC has worked with small and medium-sized communities in Iowa to advance sustainability across the state.  In fall 2012, due to the success of these projects and the recognition that sustainability in Iowa spans a variety of disciplines, IISC expanded to include courses and departments from across campus. 

IISC partners with communities across the entire state, from Dubuque on the eastern border to Mason City in the north to Sioux City on the western border.  The full list of current and past partners includes:

  • Jackson County 2021-22
  • Maquoketa River Watershed Management Authority 2021-22
  • Waterloo  2020-21
  • Manchester  2020-21
  • Keokuk  2019-2020
  • Webster City  2018-2019
  • Mason City  2016-2018
  • East Central Intergovernmental Association  2016-2018
  • Sioux City/SIMPCO  2014-2016
  • Winneshiek County  2014-2016
  • Iowa City  2014-2016
  • Cedar Rapids  2013-2014
  • Muscatine  2013-2014
  • Washington  2013-2014
  • Dubuque  2011-2013
  • Oskaloosa  2010-2011
  • Burlington  2010-2011
  • Decorah  2009-2011
  • Charles City  2010-2011
  • Columbus Junction  2009-2010
  • Wellman  2009-2010
  • Anamosa  2009-2010