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Meet the ECC Members–Ashlie Bunten

Upon applying for the Engaged Citizen Corps, I was under the impression that it would be like any other form of service I had done throughout my lifetime- direct and short-term contact with whomever I was serving. Little did I know that being a part of the ECC would cause me to reexamine the way I viewed myself and the service I do. In short, the ECC has not been what I initially expected. In reality, it has been a much more enriching and impactful experience. Through combining my academics with service, I have gained a deeper understanding of social issues (specifically homelessness) and how my actions impact others.

As an Engaged Citizen Member, I have been paired with Iowa Homeless Youth Centers (IHYC), a non-profit that works to end the cycle of homeless and promote independence through assistance and support. IHYC works primarily with the ages of 16-22 with direct assistance in the areas of education, employment, safe housing, positive community engagement, and life skills. There are several programs instilled at IHYC in order to achieve the youth’s goals within the said areas including the Youth Opportunity Center, Post-Secondary Education Retention Program (aka PSERP), counseling, Street Outreach, and Emergency Beds. The Youth Opportunity Center is a safe-space where youth can have a warm meal, use computers, socialize with others, and relax. Meanwhile, PSERP works closely with the youth as a form of support while achieving a higher education. Several of the youth utilize the counselor, while even more participate in Street Outreach, a program in which every other weekend, members and volunteers of IHYC bring survival packs to people experiencing homeless. Finally, the Emergency Beds are available for up to 10 youth, in which they can reside for a short amount of time while they work with IHYC’s staff to figure out their next steps. Needless to say, IHYC is dedicated to helping the youth reach a level of self-sufficiency.

As an ECC member, I work closely with Taylor McKee, the Development Coordinator and Emma Christianson, the Development Director. My main responsibilities at IHYC include helping organize special events. I am also responsible for revamping IHYC’s presence on social media and occasionally interviewing youth or staff members for the IHYC’s newsletter. During my time thus far at IHYC, I have gained a better understanding of the inner workings of non-profits and the amount of thought and work that goes into every aspect of the programs. More importantly, I have become more educated on the social issue of homelessness and now feel as though I have a greater understanding of how I can act as an advocate. All in all, this year has been a very humbling and eye-opening experience.

As a part of the ECC’s service-learning component, I took a class called the Common Good with my fellow ECC members. While this class was not what I was expecting, it caused me to reexamine my preconceived notions about service. Essentially, we read and discussed Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, a book that enforced the idea that service often hurts and disadvantages the ones it aims to help. Initially, this message seemed rather taboo and cynical. However, after further analyzing Lupton’s message, I was able to acknowledge the root of his message. Too often in the field of service, aid is given without fully examining what actually needs to be done and how it will affect those being served in the long run. Additionally, some service provides too much assistance that it leads to dependency, which in turn creates and perpetuates a cycle. In contrast, IHYC believes that the only way to break the cycle of homelessness is through promoting self-sufficiency among the youth. Through doing so, the youth are able to take accountability for the progress and their future plans. I have seen first hand how thrilled and proud the youth are when they complete a major task or milestone. After seeing the impact that IHYC’s tactic had on the youth, I was able to better understand Lupton’s message and its implications.

While I have had many wonderful experiences during my time in the ECC and IHYC, I am most grateful for the level of social awareness the programs have given me. Before this year, I considered myself a knowledgeable and socially-conscious member of society. However, I now have a better understanding of the causes and social construct of homelessness than I did before entering this program. Our society has a habit of ignoring topics or issues that make us uncomfortable or don’t directly affect us. This is a major flaw as it only perpetuates the issue. Thus, I’ve realized that advocacy can start small. In fact, change can start from simply realizing there is an injustice. For example, several times throughout the year I have found myself acknowledging stereotypes our society has on a day to day basis. I have also become more self-aware of my privilege. More specifically, I have realized that while I cannot control the fact that I am a privileged individual, I can control how I use my privilege. For example, I have used my privilege of going to Drake to promote change and advocate for others through serving as a member of the ECC.

It is amazing to think that I have gained so much experience and awareness just through simply applying to the ECC. Drake University and the ECC have exceeded my expectations and made my first year of college an enriching and unique experience, and for that I am thankful. As my year draws to a close, I am saddened to think that my time as an ECC and IHYC member are almost over. However, I know that my journey to becoming a better advocate has only started and has been greatly aided by my experiences provided by the ECC.

Written by: Ashlie Bunten

Feed Greater Des Moines Conference

On the morning of Saturday March 3rd, 2018, I walk into Grace Lutheran Church for the Feed Greater Des Moines conference, eager to learn about Des Moines’ food systems and what is being done here to help those in need. Right of the bat I got what I was looking for with the first keynote speaker, Nick Kuhn. Kuhn graduated with a degree in civil engineering but was never truly satisfied with what he was doing. He started a food truck business with the Justice League of Food and began looking for ways to give back to the community. He and the food trucks started by donating leftover food to the Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) but realized that was simply a Band-Aid for those at the shelter and not really solving any long-term problems that the residents at CISS face. He knew he could be doing more by ‘teaching a man to fish’ instead of ‘giving a man a fish’ so he bought a space in Valley Junction that has a bar and a commercial kitchen. This opened up an opportunity for the chefs of the food trucks to rent and have an adequate space to prepare meals for the day, as long as the chefs agreed to take on residents of CISS as apprentices and workers. This is great for the residents of CISS who get into the program because they have a chance to make a living wage and learn valuable skills for future job opportunities in the food industry. This is just a small summary of Kuhn’s operation that is growing and taking off.

I found his story very inspiring and it’s not done yet. I believe he is constantly looking for ways to improve what he’s doing in his own project and what he can be doing for the community around him. I struggle to remember that there is always something that can be done to help those in need, and this conference has reminded me of countless ways to better our community and better the lives of those in the community. Food insecurity was a large topic discussed at the conference whether it was surrounding those who live at CISS or families who are the working poor and don’t always have enough to buy food. This topic relates directly to Next Course Food Recovery here at Drake which I have the pleasure of working for out of the Community Engaged Learning & Service office as a Service Learning Ambassador.


Food recovery, or rescue, is something that I have become very passionate about within my first year at Drake. This new position I have taken on has allowed me to network and learn more about what is happening locally and globally in the food scene. I think it’s very important to attend conferences like Feed Greater Des Moines and other local or nationwide conferences to tell stories of success and stories of loss, to learn what other service systems are out there, and to realize how we all fit together in the larger picture of our shared goals of social, environmental and food justice for all. I strongly believe that if we collaborate together, advocate for each other, and keep pushing forward for equal opportunities for all, in good time, we can achieve these goals together.

By: Catie Mullen

Meet the ECC Members–Hannah Smith

Hello all!

My name is Hannah Smith and I am a new member of the 4-H Iowa State Extension and Outreach community and have never been so excited! I started working with 4-H around the end of August of 2017. I have been working mainly with Tiffany Berkenes, a Youth Program Specialist, as my supervisor, and I have been having a great experience so far. I am a part of a small program at Drake University called the Engaged Citizens Corps, in which we work with a number of non-profits and learn mainly what it means to properly serve. I’m originally from the south side of Minneapolis where I was born and raised and now I am a member of the Drake University community. I am a first-year student with an Elementary Education major and a minor in Spanish.

During my time so far at 4-H, I have had the opportunity to work with multiple afterschool programs in Des Moines including Hillis Elementary, Harding Middle School, and Callanan Middle School. I am so blessed to be able to work with such a diverse amount of kids coming from all types of backgrounds. This has helped increase my awareness and ability to work in situations that aren’t necessarily in my comfort zone. I am grateful to be able to work in such an inclusive community. In addition to working with a number of schools I had the opportunity to participate in the 4-H Ujima Retreat at the beginning of my service, which was an awesome experience where African/African American and Asian/Asian-Pacific Islander students were exposed to what higher education is and the doors it could open. I plan to do a lot more during my time with 4-H, including more afterschool programs, retreats, and creating a joint service project with a few Drake organizations such the APO Service Fraternity and Hillis Elementary.

A child’s education is one of the greatest things you could offer – an opportunity to expand their minds and enjoy all the light it can bring to certain situations. In many under privileged areas education is not emphasized as it should be and the children miss out on reaching their full potential and the future they truly deserve. What my goal is as a beginner educator and role model is to show these kids how fun learning can be and aid them in finding their passions and showing them the steps to reach their goals. This will not only show them what they are truly capable of but also create integrity, grit, and leadership. To teach that when things get hard, it doesn’t mean it’s time to give up but to work harder than they did before. A lot of the work I do also gives them light on our current events and history. For example, I recently did a lesson on both Black History month in February and International Woman’s Day in March. I believe it is important for the kids at a young age to understand what environment they will be encountering on their journey toward the future.

I hope to serve for a higher purpose and continuously aid in creating happier and healthier communities. I am proud to say 4-H and the Engaged Citizens Corps have been the start of a long line of service and internal growth.

Written by: Hannah Smith

J-Term Service-Learning Project

Professor Heidi Sleister’s Personal Fitness and Nutrition J-term class did a service-learning project with DMARC food pantries to educate themselves and the community on healthy food options. One thing the students created were “shelf talkers” which help inform people about healthy food choices and the foods they are consuming.

2018 IMPACT Conference

The IMPACT Conference is historically the largest annual conference that is centered around civic engagement. Building on its 32 – year tradition, student leaders like a few of our own Service Learning Ambassadors ventured off to Dayton, Ohio in search for innovative ideas for sustaining leadership programs, encouraging student volunteerism and ways to impact the community we live in. IMPACT is a one – time opportunity where students, administrators, AmeriCorps members and VISTAs, and nonprofit professionals are brought together to share effective practices and improve personal skills to bring back to their home universities.

My biggest takeaway from the conference would have to be the idea that it is not our responsibility to volunteer, it is our privilege. I would like to think other Drake students could use this statement, as a way to reflect on their approach to student volunteerism. I thought it was interesting to compare what the student body at Drake University contributes to service-learning projects versus the necessities that we should and can be provide but that we are overlooking. Shifting the perspective from responsibility to privilege removes that idea of simply ticking off a volunteer requirement on a to do list. Hopefully, if we start looking at our service learning projects through the lens of our privilege – we will see how easy it is to leave an impact and how beneficial that act truly is.  This new way of thinking for me could only be obtained looking at things from the outside in and that is exactly what the four days at the IMPACT conference pushes you to do.”

By: Jazlin Coley

Meet the ECC members–Brittany Freeman

When I opened the email about the Engaged Citizen Corps last year, I thought I was just clearing more “college propaganda” (as I like to call it) out of my inbox. Little did I know, my decision to actually engage in the content would lead to a defining program of my first-year experience. The Engaged Citizen Corps is a holistic program where you work, live, and learn in the same environment of your cohort. Through a mutual pairing process, each member is assigned a local non-profit agency in Des Moines. For me, this meant that I would be working with Anawim Housing, an affordable housing and homelessness outreach non-profit, to complete my 300 hours of service as an AmeriCorps member. Though the face value of 300 hours seems a bit daunting, it truly is necessary to connect with the organization on a deeper level. But what does this actually mean? It is easy to get caught up in the opportunity to build your resume especially as a first-year, but this experience is far more than another line on your resume.

Let me preface my experience by saying that I had virtually no expectations for this program. I had done internship programs before, so I already knew the importance of keeping an open mind. So, I kept it simple. I looked at this as an opportunity for growth and education. Having never been to Des Moines, I thought there was no better way to become acquainted with the problems and struggles facing the community. This was exactly the outlook I needed. Going to Drake, it is rather easy to get caught up in the micro-community of the campus, but it is important to remember that people’s entire livelihoods exist beyond the confines of the campus.

These “livelihoods” that I describe are often wrongly stereotyped especially within Anawim’s tenant basis. Though these people may be experiencing drug addictions, alcoholism, single parenthood, etc., they are not lazy, helpless scum. They are just people who have been bogged down by society’s unequal distribution of resources. With a deepening gap between the haves and the have nots, they feel the inescapable burden the most. Non-profits like Anawim are designed to provide opportunities to those who might not otherwise get the chance. But, it is important to note, that even Anawim’s programs do not extend to everyone. These man-made boundaries put people at risk for an on-going cycle of self-hatred and frustration. I regret to say that it is this that results in giving up. In doing so, people experiencing homelessness accept the wrongly attributed labels and become what they are described. This is not their fault. It is ours – for not speaking up or changing our language (one of the most powerful tools we have).

Seeing the narratives of Anawim’s clients – those who have experienced homelessness and those just in the need of reduced housing costs – I have begun to understand the diversity of Drake’s surrounding community. Without this experience, I would imagine that I too would be swept up in the luxuries of a small, private, liberal arts university. But instead, I have had the privilege of truly assimilating into the community and recognizing the importance of changing my dialogue. Though I may just be the “intern” at Anawim, I am doing so much more. I am documenting histories and completing tasks that aid in the overall functionality and vitality of the organization. I am educating myself and preparing to educate others. I am connecting.

Nonetheless, I know it is easy to get caught up in my story or the stories of the people, but it is important to also reflect on your own personal impact. It may seem like as a single entity you have no ability to affect change, but you do. It is this flawed thinking that is perpetuating our systems of inequality. Active reflection and implementation act as counter measures to the superficiality that is plaguing our nation.

To bring this full circle, let me return to Drake – what it means for the campus, for the students, and for the surround community. The Engaged Citizen Corps is not a program of single-student reflection in the community. It is a program designed to bridge the gap between Des Moines and Drake. For me personally, this has resulted in the pursuit of leadership roles in various organizations on campus where I can affect change within the realm of service and beyond. It means planning service events not only for the women in my sorority but also the greater student body. It means encouraging active education about issues and inspiring the pursuit of individual passions. It means making service a desire not a requirement. Together, we can inspire activism, advocacy, and service on campus with the purpose of translating it elsewhere as well. We have the privilege to serve other people, and we shouldn’t take that lightly. To that, I am going to leave this blog post with one final remark – “community service has to be less about random acts of kindness and more about strategic acts of justice,” (Wayne Meicel).

By: Brittany Freeman


Meet the Engaged Citizen Corps members–Danielle Dircks

Hello my name is Danielle Dircks! I am a first-year Neuroscience major from Omaha, Nebraska and a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC). The Engaged Citizen Corps has given me the opportunity to strengthen my passion for service through unique class experiences, an internship, and exposure to the Des Moines Community.

I was first introduced to the Engaged Citizen Corps when I was a senior in high school. My Drake admissions counselor took one look at my resume, saw my passion for helping others, and recommended this program. The ECC allows me to use what I am learning in the classroom and apply it to the real world. As a first-year student, I was required to take a First Year Seminar (FYS). Because I am a member of the ECC, I was put into an FYS entitled The Common Good. In this FYS, myself and the eight other members of the ECC dove into the world of service. We used the book Toxic Charity, written by Robert Lupton, to address some of the misconceptions involved with service work. His book mainly addressed the idea that even when you have the best intentions, you can do more harm than good, especially if you are not looking at the impact of your work on those you are trying to serve. The most important thing in service should be the people you are trying to serve.

In addition to taking specific classes, the ECC partnered me with a local non-profit where I was able to put into action what I have been learning. I have been working with HOME Inc., an affordable housing non-profit, as a research intern. My main task has been to conduct a research study to generate measurable outcomes for the work HOME Inc. has been conducting. I spent last semester collecting data. I went through over a hundred files from the last 30 years collecting information on our clients and on the houses that we have sold to them. I looked at things such as property value prior to HOME Inc. buying the house, the property value after HOME Inc fixed it up, the price the client paid for it, the size of the family, and their income. Now that I have all of the data collected, I am starting to analyze it. I am looking for trends, commonalities, and irregularities. The main goal of this study is to see what impact HOME Inc. has had on the surrounding neighborhood through looking at specific questions such as, has housing retention rate in those areas increased? Through their revitalization work, have they increased property value? Not only are we looking at the neighborhood, but also the families. Does having a stable place to live allow for an increased income? Do the children of the homeowners go on to finish high school or attend college?

This research project has allowed me to take what I love, experiments and research, and apply it in a different environment. Between the classes I have taken and my internship, the ECC has given me a new perspective with which to view the world. Most college students live on a bubble on their campus. They aren’t exposed to the community around them. This is especially prevalent with the Drake campus, since the area surrounding it doesn’t match the demographics of the school. This new lens the ECC has created has opened my eyes to the realities many people living not too far from myself face. I have decided that the phrase, “I understand” will no longer be a part of my vocabulary. No matter how much I want to fully empathize with someone, every single person is different. People living in poverty (notice the people first language) experience things that I cannot relate to. My perspective will always be different from theirs. As one of my professors says, “even if we are sitting no more than five inches from each other, you will still be able to see things that I can’t. No matter where we are physically positioned in the room, we will never see the same things. Just as we will never experience the same thing and thus never know exactly how the other feels”. I am fortunate enough to have always known where my next meal was coming from, or how I was going to pay for my books for school. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for everyone.

The Engaged Citizen Corps has allowed me to broaden my horizons, learn about the interworkings of a non-profit, and think about service in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It opened my eyes to something called people first language, instead of saying “poor people” to say “people living in poverty” because their socioeconomic status doesn’t define who they are as a person. The Engaged Citizen Corps encompasses the full meaning of service learning through its ability to connect what I am learning in classes, both my ECC classes and my neuroscience classes, to what I am doing out in the community. Through application, my knowledge doesn’t just lay static in my brain, it gets applied to my daily life in ways I never anticipated.

Citizen Engagement at CFUM

My passion for service led me to join the Engaged Citizen Corps at Drake University, an academic and service year experience for first-year students. The Engaged Citizen Corps program requires students to volunteer at an organization, and I was assigned Children and Family Urban Movement (CFUM). Being part of the Engaged Citizen Corps program, I have to be more mindful of my actions while volunteering, because “even the most innocent and well-meaning attempts to help, inflict pain” (Lupton 147). With this possibility in mind, I wonder whether or not I am making a positive impact on CFUM, what have I learned about myself so far, and how have my views changed during this entire experience?

I work with the different programs that CFUM has to offer, such as their K-5 programs, Gender-Specific programs, and community engagement programs. While working with the K-5 programs and Gender Specific programs I help clean the classrooms, prepare snack for the children, plan enrichment activities, help with homework, and monitor the children’s whereabouts. I understand that when working with children one needs a lot of patience and truthfulness, especially when there are continuous conflicts: the children fighting with one another, children misplacing items, not listening to me or the other adults, and not wanting to participate in academic studies. Truthfulness allows me to render genuine answers to the recipients about school and life. They understand that they can trust me as an ally and someone to look to for advice, particularly towards college. However, I do run into questions about the possibility of hard work and personal struggles inhibiting them from wanting to go to school, which is why I also work in the community program section of CFUM for their Grit Program. But, before I attempted to manage the Grit program, I had to apply the concepts I was taught in the ECC program.

In being a ECC member, I took a First Year Seminar Class called The Common Good. In this class we read Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. Lupton admonishes forms of volunteerism that will cause more harm than help, in particular, precluding the chances of dependency and disempowerment. Most of the causes of toxic charity is from volunteers that lack recognition in their actions, and expressing a superior deposition. To preclude the chance of any expression of arrogance or superiority, I have to “enter the neighborhood as a learner than an initiator” (Lupton 161). I am an observer with the students, with the intention of trying to find what they most needed most from the grit program: support, endurance, recognition and other essential characteristics. The overall goal is to empower the youth, in which Lupton expresses that “when we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them” which then creates dependency, and dependency is a form of toxic charity (Lupton 3). We want to empower the youth to make a social change, and give them the tools to surpass potential obstacles. Hopefully, our new project can do that.

CFUM and I are starting a new project that entails integrating more grit – self-discipline wedded to a dedicated pursuit of a goal through perseverance – into the recipients. The purpose of this project is to augment the children’s chances of success after they graduate from CFUM’s programs through activities promoting grit. CFUM and I want the children to be successful in their academics, social and emotional lives. I am collaborating with the program coordinator – Hannah Olson – to ensure that the activities I am creating can be feasibly implemented. Before creating the activities for the children, I read two books by Paul Tough, How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed. Both books take on the challenge of elaborating on methods of augmenting the chances of a child’s success, and record other organizations trying to do so. In addition to this, I had to procure inspiration concerning grit activities from other professionals through online research. With information from Tough’s books and online sources, I realized that grit has many counterparts to it. Therefore, I divided the curriculum of grit into subunits: growth mindset, discipline, environment, intrinsic motivation, and failure. My activities are modeled after each of the subunits of grit, which would overall teach the children how to apply grit into their lives. Some of the names of the activities that I have created are Grit Pie (inspired by Kristen Goulet), Finding Your Grit, Board of Support and Guidance, and Perseverance Walk.

Most of these activities were made from essential skills. I had to use my literacy, organizing, creativity, and recognizing skills. When reading the books and online resources, I analyzed the importance and effective approaches each one were depicting. Also, I organized my notes in a presentable manner to the directors of CFUM to ensure they could understand my findings. In addition to this, the most prominent skill is creativity. With working with children, I have to make activities that appeal to their interest. Through volunteering for CFUM, I recognized I am more than just a volunteer, I am a role model for the recipients that go to CFUM. I came to this conclusion once I saw that I identify with many of the values of CFUM. CFUM appreciates how I value development, discipline, knowledge, and grit, because these are values that they want to implement in their recipients, so the children can have long-term success. From having these similar values, CFUM wants me to work for their organization past my 2 semesters of volunteering, in order for me to be around the children/recipients more.

Individual analysis forces one to approach whether or not their service is effective. I feel as though my work is effective because of how I am building strong bonds with the recipients, and making it known to them that I am an advocate for their success through the projects that I am on. In addition to effectiveness, individual analysis allowed me to learn about myself. I learned that I am more than just a volunteer; I am a role model for others. Even if I don’t see it, I have people looking up to me, and it shapes how I conduct myself. I conduct myself humbly as a positive role model. Besides learning about myself, I learned that service can be toxic, in which volunteers can do more harm than help. With that being said, I cannot wait to continue my service with CFUM and other organizations in an effort to find more opportunities for impact and growth.

Written by: Jamie Rusan

Sabrina Uddin–Engaged Citizen Corps Member

Hello, my name is Sabrina Uddin and I am a first year student at Drake University from the Chicago area. As a member of the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC), I am an intern at IMPACT Community Action Partnership. The nonprofit organization has several offices throughout central Iowa, but the Drake Neighborhood office in particular is home to both the leadership team and an outreach office that services the community. Though I work primarily with the Director of Community Engagement, I am often able to collaborate with other members of the leadership team and staff in the outreach office. IMPACT runs two major programs from its outreach office: a food pantry and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The food pantry is utilized by an array of households throughout the community for varying amounts of time. LIHEAP financially aids households by assisting in payments for utilities bills.

Typically, I make the five-minute walk to the office from Drake twice a week and spend between eight and ten hours completing a variety of tasks. Through interning at IMPACT I have gained unprecedented skills and experiences because I am able to interact with many different aspects of the association. When I first began interning, I focused on two entirely different projects: organizing staff t-shirt orders and an audit of the food pantry. This was a good introduction to working at IMPACT because I familiarized myself with the staff, volunteers, schedule, and locations of food recovery and other IMPACT offices. Since those first few weeks in September, my projects have expanded to include answering phone calls and scheduling appointments for LIHEAP clients and organizing open-ended responses from a community survey. On a daily basis I make copies of flyers, expertly use the paper cutter, and enter information into spreadsheets.

Occasionally I engage in direct service by assisting in the food pantry. I work with volunteers to lead clients through the food pantry. My internship is focused largely around behind-the-scenes tasks that help the nonprofit run smoothly, however I always appreciate being able to interact with the people IMPACT helps. Regardless of whatever task is at hand, I know that as a member of the Drake Neighborhood and Engaged Citizen Corps, I am ultimately contributing to IMPACT’s overall mission of working to eliminate poverty by addressing the needs of the community.

Drake University’s campus is rather like a bubble. It is easy for a busy college student to become wrapped up solely in academics and extracurricular activities, forgetting about the community around the campus. However, it is important for students to remain cognizant of the fact that they are certainly part of this community. Since we live in the area during the school year, I believe it is important that students engage with the community in some way, whether that entails venturing off campus to support local businesses or simply saying hello to another person at the bus stop. As students at Drake University, we are undeniably connected to this community. I know that if I had not ventured out of my comfort zone and applied for the ECC, I would not feel nearly as connected with the Drake Neighborhood as I do currently.

Through this internship, I am afforded the opportunity to converse with and learn about community members and this has allowed me to develop a substantial understanding of the Drake Neighborhood. Since I am aware of the challenges and successes of the community, along with other students who are engaged in the community, I feel as though I better understand where improvements can be made and what we, as Drake University students, can do in order to help make a positive difference. Furthermore, by working in what some might call “the real world” I have been able to observe and experience situations that have sharpened my critical thinking skills and my ability to work with people. I know that after I am no longer a member of ECC, I will carry these lessons with me. When I am home, in the suburbs of Chicago, I now have knowledge that will allow me to optimally help my community. Regardless of where I end up in the future, I want to be sure that I can contribute positively to the overall wellness of my community.

Just Sustainabilities J-Term Course

As part of their learning about environmental sustainability, social equity, and urban planning, students in the Just Sustainabilities J-Term course explored advocacy for alternative transportation in downtown Des Moines. Although it was one of the coldest days of the winter, we bravely ventured into the streets and bus stations to explore how community leaders are working to make the city more friendly to people who cannot or choose not to rely on private cars to move around.

We first stopped in a conference room at the law firm of Faegre Baker Daniels, on the 33rd floor of Des Moines tallest skyscraper. There, we met with firm partner and Drake law alumnus Larry James, as well as with Jeremy Lewis, the director of the Des Moines Bike Collective. Larry and Jeremy told us about their work on the Connect Downtown plan, which is an urban planning document that identifies key ways to increase the walkability and bikeability of the downtown area. They described the research that went into developing the plan, but just as importantly, they also told us about the political processes involved in building support for the plan on the Des Moines City Council and in the downtown business community. After a question and answer period, we made sure to check out the views of the city from above and to take plenty of pictures!

From there, we walked ten blocks into the East Village to look at the East Grand bike lane demonstration project. As a first step towards making the Connect Downtown plan into reality, the city of Des Moines has built protected bike lanes on both sides of East Grand. While ordinary bike lanes are only marked with paint, the city has installed reflective posts to increase bike safety. In addition, it has created spaces for parallel parking between the bike lane and the street. As one planner put it, normally, bike lanes are designed so that bikers protect the parked cars from traffic. The East Grand design flips this arrangement, so that parked cars protect the bikers. It’s simple, but adds a lot to bikers’ feeling of safety!

After lunch at Zombie Burger and conversation about what we had seen and heard, we took the DART bus to our last stop of the day: the DART downtown central station on Cherry Street. There, we met with DART’s public affairs officer, Amanda Wanke, and members of DART’s planning staff. We learned about the bus utility’s goals of expanding its services, which are described in DART’s Forward 2035 comprehensive plan. In addition to describing innovative ideas like “transportation hubs” – which combine bus stops, bike-share stations, and car rentals – and driverless busses, the DART staff explained that they are required by law to ensure that DART’s services are equitable and nondiscriminatory.

This trip not only revealed new information about the city of Des Moines, it also helped to move the class forward towards completing independent research projects about organizations that are working to advance sustainability and equity. Discoveries from this research appear on the public class website at Check them out!


Written by: Michael Haedicke

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