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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

Julie’s Reflection: A Year Into Her Position

Hi!My name is Julie and I currently work as the Food Security Coordinator for Next Course: Food Recovery Network at Drake. I am a double major in Sustainability & Resilience and Rhetoric, Media, & Social Change with a minor in Sociology and am both passionate about Next Course and see it as an intersection of my two major areas of study.


I have been in this position for a little over a year, but have learned so much about the complexity of food security that my perspective has been forever changed. To start, classes like Michael Haedicke’s Food and Society and programs such as Double Up Food Bucks working out of the local nonprofit Eat Greater Des Moines led me to consider the accuracy of my position title. Food security, the ability to to access affordable, nutritious, and culturally comfortable food as needed, is threatened for many people, even in our local area. I recognize that the work of food recovery- allocating excess food from Drake’s campus to nearby organizations that assist people facing hunger- supplements the charitable efforts of local organizations, but does not provide the sustenance required to move an individual to complete food security. With this understanding, I came to identify as a “Food Recovery Coordinator” more than a “Food Security Coordinator.”

Meet Julie, Next Course’s Food Security Coordinator

Hi! My name is Julie and I currently work as the Food Security Coordinator for Next Course: Food Recovery Network at Drake. I am a double major in Sustainability & Resilience and Rhetoric, Media, & Social Change with a minor in Sociology and am both passionate about Next Course and see it as an intersection of my two major areas of study.

            Next Course recovers excess food from Drake’s campus that would otherwise be thrown away, and donates it to one of five local partner agencies on a rotating triweekly basis. When I first started my position, I was encouraged to visit and get to know the people and mission behind each of our partner agencies. This led me to schedule tours at Central Iowa Shelter and Services (CISS) and YMCA Supportive Housing Campus. Touring both of these local charitable organizations alongside other Drake students allowed me to see the complex and immense effort of local individuals to help, support, and enable people in need. The tour at CISS revealed all the services that are provided there beyond meals, such as job application workshops, a hydroponic garden, and Veterans Assistance apartments. I was utterly inspired by the psychological and sociological considerations put in by CISS faculty to address local issues. Working for Next Course has not only broadened my perspective about Des Moines, but also lead me to new considerations about my future career path.

Drake MCL students conduct research for local nonprofit

Our task wasn’t easy. As part of Drake’s Master of Communication Leadership (MCL) program, our class of 14 students was asked to propose, conduct, analyze, and present research for a local nonprofit.

The client was Best Buddies Iowa (BBIA), an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). BBIA organizes leadership development programs and one-to-one friendships between people with and without IDD to help participants build self-advocacy and communication skills and feel valued by society.

At the beginning of the semester, BBIA Director Blake Campbell presented to our class on the organization’s current state, its short- and long-term goals, and its obstacles. Armed with that information, as well as our own preliminary research, we decided to focus on four main areas:

  • Program analysis – To gain an understanding of BBIA programs, including challenges and opportunities.
  • Market analysis – To assess the current needs of individuals with IDD that might be met by expanded BBIA programming.
  • Brand awareness analysis – To gauge community awareness and opinion of BBIA.
  • Digital media analysis – To examine the effectiveness of BBIA’s website and social media in communicating its vision.

The class divided into groups to tackle these areas. Under the guidance of Matthew Thornton, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication, we conducted online surveys, in-depth interviews, and secondary research. Many of us even attended BBIA events to learn more about the organization.

Our efforts culminated with a 91-page, professionally printed report that we presented to the client, thanks to a mini-grant provided by Community Engaged Learning. We were able to identify key findings that will help inform decision-making at BBIA and take the nonprofit to the next level. These findings will also be crucial as we put together recommendations for BBIA in our capstone class next summer.

Overall, the research provided us with an in-depth understanding of BBIA. Along the way, we also learned about strategic research methods. We learned how to analyze data and summarize our findings. We learned about the value of teamwork, persistence, and effective communication.

When we hit walls, we resorted to back-up plans to achieve our goals. We utilized each student’s individual strengths to make the project succeed—from designing the presentation, to writing and editing the report, to creating a video for the client. Everyone in the class contributed in a unique way, and the process of organizing the combined efforts of 14 people helped build leadership skills.

I feel proud of what we did as a group this semester. It was gratifying to present research that will help BBIA continue its important mission and impact even more people with disabilities throughout the state. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in our next class.


Written by: Kayla Choate

Drake Students Collaborate with Movimiento Al Exito

This semester’s Methods of Social Research class sought out to aid one of Iowa’s premier organizations for Latinx youth. Movimiento Al Exito is an organization focused on enhancing the lives of Latinx youth through cultural recognition, secondary education opportunities, and creating a sense of well-being in their communities. Our class was approached by Al Exito with the request to gather information to objectively view their success and areas of improvement for the program as a whole. Through hard work, dedication, and some help from a mini-grant, we were able to conduct a survey to students in Al Exito and present tangible information to help our client improve the lives of Latinx youth in Iowa.

The process was long and arduous. As we progressed through the course, we learned survey work takes research, time, dedication, and patience. We began with textbook readings to develop a perspective attuned to service learning and research strategies. The class was visited by two heads of Al Exito, executive director Dawn Oropeza and Professor Cammarota from Iowa State University. From these meetings, the class performed research about Latinx individuals in Iowa and learned of Al Exito’s goals to obtain from our survey. From there, each of us were given a task in the project such as working on a survey draft, working with SPSS (our statistical analysis program), applying for grants, and more. To create our survey, we conceptualized and operationalized many questions, both in written and survey form, in an effort to obtain relevant information. Many of our questions centered around adult support, acculturative stress, future goals, prejudice, and cultural awareness. After conducting a pilot survey with a select group of Al Exito youth, we traveled across Iowa to distribute the survey. Schools in Des Moines, Marshalltown, Clarion, Hampton, and Ottumwa were all administered our survey. Upon its completion the class analyzed data collected from 128 Latinx youth throughout Iowa and found many interesting statistics to help Al Exito in the future.

We learned many important lessons throughout this project as a class. However, three stick out to us more so than others. We all learned the value of service learning. The first how actually going into the world to fix a problem hands on allows us to create a difference and learn skills beyond a textbook. We were able to practice civic responsibility while reflecting on an unforgettable experience. The second lesson we learned is the value of survey work in the real world. Problems plague the world we live in and, unless analyzed extensively, rarely sort themselves out. The work we performed exemplified the power of information and its ability to change the world for the better. The third lesson we learned was our power in the real world. When visiting schools and administering surveys to youth, we all realized how (even if we don’t feel like it) we are adults and the youth looked up to us. It helped us to realize our place in the world and emphasized our ability to make positive and meaningful change.

We, the members of Methods of Social Research, would like to thank Drake University Community Engaged Learning for the grant to help us on our trips, materials, and supplies. Without your help, the positive experience gained by each individual member of the group could’ve turned out differently. Thank you!


Written by: Joshua Yeager

An Immersive Fall Break

My last fall break as an undergraduate student was lavished with lessons deep.

Unlike all the others, I was not stuck in a time warp, endlessly arguing with my brain that I did deserve the luxury of spending my two days off being non-functional (after all I had worked oh-so hard) and binge watching every drama and anime under the sun. On the contrary, I was entangled in the hustle and bustle of being a member of this society and realising harsh truths.

Let me rewind.


This semester, I have the opportunity of working at the Community Engaged Learning Office and being a Student Learning Ambassador. Part of my responsibilities included organising a fall immersion project that would take place over the fall break – October 16 and 17. The plan was to attend the Iowa Hunger Summit and help at Bidwell Riverside on Monday and be out in the farm at Lutheran Services of Iowa – Global Greens on Tuesday. We had three people for the first day and six for the next.

Now, let the raw, blunt, brilliant story of my fall immersion project unravel!




“The Iowa Hunger Summit gathers leaders from across Iowa representing community organizations, business and industry, state and local government, social agencies, churches and religious communities, schools and universities, civic and social clubs, and other individuals and groups that lead or participate in projects to confront hunger.

The World Food Prize was hosting the Iowa Hunger Summit on Monday and it was a great opportunity to learn about hunger – which was the issue that we decided on exploring! The event ticked standard checkboxes of events: welcomes, thank you’s to the sponsors, introductions, and so forth. In the process, somewhere after the five Secretaries of Agriculture were introduced and their panel discussion were to begin, we blundered head-on to a group of amateur protestors. The only thing I gathered from their cries and sign was the word ‘GMO’. Frankly, there were only about 9 and they didn’t make a huge fuss and quietly left when escorted. I guess, my senses must have temporarily shut down with misplaced excitement (though I am glad no one was inappropriate or forgot civility).

Once they were cleared from the room, it was time to move to the next item in the agenda: The panel. As with any instance where politicians are involved, there were points I agreed with and points that made me wish all officials in power had an obligatory ‘spend a life in the day of’ imposed on them, to be grounded and connect proposals to reality.

Anyway, the most remarkable aspect of the summit was its lunch.

It was a horribly brilliant lunch.

Trust me – I need the oxymoron. Now, the tradition at any summit – and the favourite part in many person’s day – is a delicious lunch. However, I was attending the hungersummit and I went in expecting -despite being informed- for a five-star lunch (there’s another lesson here: how many of us make poor choices despite being informed?) Our lunch was donated by the Outreach Program – a program much like the Meals from Heartland where the struggle to end hunger and provide meals to those in need is endless.

When our meals were served my moral imprimatur crumbled into pieces.

I’ve volunteered twice at Meals from Heartland and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that whatever is being packaged is an ocean away from being appealing to the taste buds. Nutritious? Maybe? A meal that you and I can have on a regular basis? *cricket sounds* I have been lucky to be raised on delicious, nutritious meals and that is maybe what prompted my reaction… but I was not the only one in the room. In hindsight, after each hunger related volunteer session, there was a moment of gloved hands saying ‘cheese’ and eternalising the moment when I’ve done a oh-so great deed! I have never been the sort to shy away from being grateful but when the going gets a bit rough, it is easy to forget to appreciate and easy to complain. I was instantly grounded.

We were served the same lunch that we would have otherwise been packaging. I am going to be blunt about it: I could not stomach the meal and for the first time in forever, I left half the plate untouched (Suddenly, I could no longer hear my parents’ voices constantly ringing in my head saying: never excuse yourself from the table unless the plate is clear). Many people in the room didn’t take more than a couple of bites. Some people even had a snack bar in their bags. I heard from several past attendees of the summit that the organisers were generous this year. There was a time when all you got was corn juice or only a third of your plate was filled.

We did luck out when it came to portions. We had a decent serving to settle any hunger… that is if you could numb your taste buds and swallow. You know what’s funny? The meal was not as atrocious as I might have made it sound but I was so used to a certain kind that I simply could not think of eating what was in front of me. Whoever came up with this idea for the hunger summit deserves a medal for creativity and is the master of ‘driving a point home’. There are a couple of important lessons here, but I am going to save them for later.

The rest of the summit was a conglomerate of break-out sessions and were equally informative. Afterwards, we headed off to Bidwell Riverside Center. I had managed to string along another friend to help at the site! Yay me for being social!

“As long as the need exists, Bidwell Riverside will continue to provide food, clothing, child care, and hope to all”

Bidwell is located on Hartford Avenue. It has a long history starting in 1983 and by 2012, the center was helping 867 families in need with three different services – food and clothing, children’s day-care, and bedding. The center welcomes all and makes it accessible to everyone who needs help.

That evening we were in charge of stocking up the empty shelves with the donations they had received from DMARC and others. I was worried that 3 pairs of hands would not be able to do much but, once we got to work, after about 30 minutes of learning about Bidwell, time disappeared to the extent that the next time I blinked, it was already the end of our shift. Amongst the three of us, we restocked three shelves. Chicken broth, beef stew, cans of peach, there was so much… and it was positively brilliant!

Missy, our point of contact at Bidwell, was very helpful in showing us what the impact of our help meant to many families. She talked about how unfortunate it is that there should be the need for such centres in the world, but the fact of the matter remains that this is the way the world functions.


Tuesday, 17th October

On Tuesday, we set out bright and early – around 9AM to the Lutheran Services in Iowa Global Greens Farm in West Des Moines. We started off a bit chilled from the wind but as we were shown our task, we deemed the weather perfect. In front of us were 2 huge gates that needed repainting, and to be able to do that we needed to scratch off the old paint and rust, sand, wash, and more before proceeding to paint. After a small introduction by a person in charge, Jess, we divided into two groups and cracked some muscles.

In between metallic scrapes, Jess told us that LSI’s refugee population comes mostly from Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, and Rwanda. A lot of them were farmers in their homeland and they are overjoyed to be able to create a piece of home and familiarity in America through the Global Greens Farm. Being able to farm goes beyond sentimental value. For some families, it is their income. Knowing the importance of financial stability they toil in an attempt to create a living – harvesting crops and selling at the farmer’s market downtown or on University Avenue. All the while juggling adapting to a new country, language, and culture.

Under the warm autumn sun, we scraped, dusted, and sanded the gates for three hours (though our group – working on the second gate – took about an hour to make a dent of progress). However, as noon rolled around, one of the gates was almost done. An outsider can be deceived into thinking that not much was done but, that day, we contributed in a meaningful way and most importantly – in a way the community partner needed us to. We were working with them.


A few paragraphs ago, I mentioned that there are important lessons with each volunteer opportunity. The take away can be different for each person but this fall break as I reflected on hunger, refugees, and volunteering, there are two conclusions:I promised you a honest reflection and here are my raw thoughts:

  • Hunger – in the entirety of its definition – is real.
  • Simple volunteering without reflection is like a pendulum that does not swing.

It is a fact that each person is on a different step on society’s ladder. Some are more fortunate than others – maybe because of something we did or maybe not. However, I think, that those of us that are a step ahead, should definitely keep climbing – but carefully reaching out to the person stuck below will not lead to a fall. If the ladder you are on is treacherous and you are at a risk of losing footing, the least you can do is appreciate that you are climbing up until you are stable and then turn around to help someone.

Most often, people think that being grateful and appreciating what you have is equivalent to feeling guilty for enjoying life. That is the most ridiculous thought I have ever heard. If you are able to afford a meal at an expensive restaurant and eat delicious food, by all means do so. You only have one life after all (throwback to the YOLO days). However, if you gloat and turn a blind eye when you know and see that you can help then… take a step back and reflect.

Segwaying into my second point: community service can be ugly. Fleshing this out will require another thousand words but as another blogger mentioned “your great work might not be so great at all” and reflection of the volunteer moment is as imprtant as direct service. Always reflect on identifying if you didin’t unintentionally leave the person you are trying to help suffering. A picture might be worth thousand words but a person’s eyes speak a million.

I am going to overlook philosophical debates when I form my next sentence. We are all rational to a certain degree and all have the free will to choose and be deliberate about our actions. Hence, we should be wise and extend a hand, all the while keeping in mind that helping someone whilst unable to help yourself is a slippery slope. As hard as it might be: Be realist.

Written by: Chamindi Wijesinghe

Defying Limits One Intellectual Disability at a Time

“The only limits that exist are the ones in your own mind”. I have learned a lot about limits through my First-Year Seminar: Exploring the Portrayal of Mental Illness and Disease in the Media. Whoever said limits were meant to be broken, is right. Throughout the course of this class we took visits to Ruby Van Meter; which is a school for students only with intellectual disabilities. One week, we set up a homecoming carnival for the students to play fun carnival games and win prizes. All the smiles and laughter and eagerness to obtain a prize filled the school. Seeing their smiles after I handed them their prize was so heart-warming. Almost every single student got to participate in each of the carnival games, whether it was throwing pies at our faces or stepping up and taking a silly picture in the photo booth with a rocking face painting covering their face. These students were capable of so much more than what their disabilities define them as; they can do many of the things you and I do. They for sure defy their limits. Sharing this incredible homecoming experience with these students is something I will never forget. The students at Ruby Van Meter are an inspiration to crushing your limits.

Written by Maddie Monahan, First-year student

Students gain practical skills while supporting community in Internal Auditing course

ISCPA Audit Team: John Nicholson, Elizabeth Cokel, Michelle Thompson, Neal Usry and Rachel Schaefer

Masters students in Jaime Grandstaff’s internal auditing class were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom this spring by meeting real community needs. Half of the class partnered with Youth Emergency Services & Shelter of Iowa (YESS) to review employee expense reimbursements, and the other half worked with the Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants (ISCPA) to review cash receipts. The students worked closely with staff at the organizations throughout the semester and then provided final reports on April 17.

In addition to the projects, panels of subject matter experts from businesses across the area came to class, and some classes were also held at Principal Financial Group and Wells Fargo. Together, these experiences provided opportunities for networking, real-world experience, and job and career options. To read more about the outcomes of this class and hear from those involved, check out

“With this being a new course and a new community engagement project, I had a lot to learn about how to set it up,” said Grandstaff. “The Community Engaged Learning team helped me through the process with what forms needed to be completed and who I needed to talk to with all aspects of the project.”

There are many benefits of incorporating a community engaged learning component into a course. For more information, resources, or to explore community partners, visit or contact the Director of Community Engaged Learning at

A Community Thrives

My name is Bri Dressel and I have been interning at the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), specifically working with direct food assistance. My recent work has been exciting because I have been given the freedom to make DMARC’s video grant application for the A Community Thrives grant of up to $100,000! This video took a lot of time and energy but I am happy with the way that it turned out. Applying under the “Wellness” category, my video needs to get one of the top number of votes to move to the next round. Though there are many submissions and my video may not win, this is a good opportunity for DMARC’s cause to gain publicity. Here is the link to vote for my video ( , voting is open until May 12th and everyone can vote once daily! The footage shows a little bit of what Des Moines is like and the Drake Area Food Pantry, which is one of DMARC’s 13 pantries. DMARC has 12 pantries and 1 mobile food pantry. I had the pleasure earlier in the year participating, helping, interviewing, and photographing “A Day in the Life of the Mobile Food Pantry.” Later the photos I took and the story I wrote from my interview with one of the pantry visitors, Ida, was featured on the cover of DMARC’s newsletter. Working at DMARC has provided me with a lot of opportunities to get a better grip on what food assistance means—a perspective shift for sure.

Small but Mighty Nonprofits

My name is Jamie Lamb and I am a first year student at Drake University in the college of Arts and Sciences. Through the Engaged Citizen Corps (ECC), I am currently an intern with Rebuilding Together Greater Des Moines. Rebuilding Together helps with home repairs for low income, senior citizen homeowners. This includes anything from simple around-the-house tasks, to installing wheelchair ramps or grab bars to make a home more accessible to family members with wheelchairs.

Although Rebuilding Together is a large organization with offices in about 135 cities nationwide, the office that I work in is small. When I began my time with Rebuilding Together, the office included three other women other than myself. This included the executive director and two other part-time workers. Towards the middle of my first semester in the office, one of these ladies left our team, leaving only three of us left. Just recently, this number decreased again when the other part-time worker also left her position. This left the executive director and myself the only two people left in the office.

This organization has a lot going on all the time, this time of year probably being one of the busiest. Between planning single work days and National Rebuilding Day, which is May 5th and 6th, there wasn’t a lot of time for the extra work that needed completion. There was about a week and a half/two week period in which every day spent at the office consisted of running around and trying to do four tasks at one time. Kimberly and I had to manage phone calls, filing, planning and managing all upcoming work days. As the weather gets nicer, more time is spent outside of the office, but in order to do so, it requires a lot of planning.

One day in particular that was more chaotic than expected, was a Friday, which is the longest day I have in the office. This Friday began with the normal checking of messages, but instead of the usual three or four messages, there were fifteen messages that I needed to listen to, take notes on, go through with Kimberly and call back. This task took about an hour to complete if not more. I barely had the chance to finish just listening to the messages when a couple of homeowners walked through the door requesting an application. It was my job to go through the application with them because they had difficulties reading and writing and we wanted to make sure we received all of the information that we need.

Going through our tedious application was a difficult task, however getting the chance to learn about this particular couple is something that I took special interest in. They were very kind, not married, but living together. The woman told me about her eight children, and how one of them had a mental disability. Hearing their story was one of the first times that I was able to experience the type of families we help first-hand. This time, I was not told their story through someone in the office and I did not have to read about their story in one of our newsletters; they told me their story directly. As we filled out the application together, I truly felt as though the work I do in the office makes a difference out in the community, even if my job isn’t always the most exciting in the office.

After the application was complete and all questions were answered, they shook my hands and continuously extended their gratitude. It was easy to see how genuine they were and how much they appreciated our help.

If organizations such as ours didn’t exist. It would be difficult for low-income homeowners- such as the ones I helped that day- to complete the required repairs needed to keep their home safe. Over time, houses break down and wear down and become unsafe for families to live in. Should the homeowner not make enough money to make these repairs, they will leave it alone until the house is no longer safe to live in. Rebuilding Together bridges that gap and provides those services for repairs to be made, and for them to be done well.

The Rebuilding Together Greater Des Moines office is small, but that doesn’t take away from the impact that it has on the Des Moines area. This particular experience, combined with the rest of my time with this organization, has taught me so much about the behind the scenes of a small nonprofit. It’s impossible to spend one hundred percent of the time doing hands on service work- the office is where it all happens. Sometimes it becomes hard to remember that it’s not always going to be the exciting hands on service work. There is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into each project. Which makes the work done in the office just as important as the hands on work that is completed during work days.

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