Community Engagement

News and Announcements

Student Loan Debt and Its Impact on the Nonprofit Sector



This video by Julianne Gassman, Doroty Norris-Tirrell, and Kristina Kofoot describes a research article in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership entitled, "Student Loan Debt and Its Impact on the Nonprofit Sector."


President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll - Presidential Award Winner

UNI Earns Presidential Honor for Community Service

The University of Northern Iowa is the winner of the Economic Opportunity Award for the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The Economic Opportunity Award recognizes institutions with service programs that build economic independence, increase family stability, and create more sustainable and resilient communities.

Since 1997, the University of Northern Iowa’s Local Food Program has promoted economic opportunity and strengthened the local food economy in Northeast Iowa. In 2013-2014 alone, 17 institutional food buyers purchased nearly $3 million in local foods supporting the region’s food and farm business.

“Service and higher education go hand in hand,” said Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “Every day these colleges and universities inspire young leaders to commit to solving problems alongside community members. By recognizing institutions like the University of Northern Iowa that are pioneers in achieving meaningful, measurable results for their communities, we also highlight the critical role all higher education institutions play in addressing community challenges and placing more students on a lifelong path of civic engagement.”


Higher Education Seeks to Bring Attention to Civic Skills Gap and Solutions - Iowa Campus Compact

Iowa is facing a civic skills gap. Communities face challenges that require active citizens with the ability and willingness to apply skills like communication, critical thinking, and teamwork. The 21 college and university members of Iowa Campus Compact (IACC) are working to fill this gap by helping students build these skills through community experiences.

To be successful, a broader coalition of nonprofit, community, and business leaders is needed, so IACC is launching a new campaign to help bring attention to the issue and solutions.

“Community experiences were central to developing my ability to frame and solve problems, to manage projects independently, to communicate effectively, to work with groups of diverse people, and to celebrate the contributions of people at all levels of the organization,” said Iowa Campus Compact Board Chair and Coe College President David McInally on his personal experience in building core skills through community experiences.

In addition to building civic skills, community experiences can also contribute to gaps in workforce skills. Three in four employers said in a recent survey that they want colleges to place more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings and 92% said volunteering expands an employee’s professional skill set (Association of American Colleges and Universities report).

The new “Giving Voice to the Civic Mission” campaign will seek to elevate the public understanding of how quality, hands-on experiences shape students into effective leaders. We will share stories of how volunteer projects, service-learning courses, alternative break trips, nonprofit internships, and a range of other opportunities leverage real-world experience while contributing to community needs.

It is our goal that this information will help parents and students can take advantage skill-building community experiences, assist employers can seek candidates who have had these experiences, and encourage community leaders to support the partnerships needed to make more of these experiences a reality.

Here’s how to get involved:

Students and alumni: share your stories of building skills through community experiences.
Employers: get new resources and ideas on seeking and building these skills in employees.
Parents and students: find out how to engage in these experiences.
Nonprofits and community leaders:  find new ideas and connections with colleges and universities to create more of these skill-based opportunities.

Learn more about this initiative on the web site or in video form.


UNI Service Learning Project Helps Refugees, Adds Value to Education

Christinia Crippes,, Dec 12, 2016

Article Credit: Christinia Crippes - The Courier

Cedar Falls

University of Northern Iowa senior Conner Hoyt is about to graduate with a degree in religion. So, he is accustomed to the question, “What in the world are you going to do with a major in religion?”

Thanks to the senior religion seminar class he just completed, Hoyt now finally has an answer.

“While I don’t have the answer perfectly structured yet, I can at least tell them that it’s a field of humanitarianism that’s going to grow with the world around it, and I’m extraordinarily proud to be a part of that,” Hoyt said recently during a presentation on the service learning aspect of the senior religion seminar.

Hoyt’s was echoed by his 10 classmates.

The class combined developing a job training curriculum for the Cedar Valley’s Burmese refugees with understanding religious and cultural differences among Iowa’s refugee populations.

As each of Hoyt’s classmates offered their biggest takeaways from the semester-long course, they described how it gave them a better understanding of working in the real world, and how their work can have a very real impact on the world.

“This whole experience has shown me I definitely do have something to give, and it’s made me aware of that,” said Katherine Rinken, a junior at UNI who is minoring in religion.

Rinken also explained how initially overwhelmed she was by the work the class would entail.

Students prepared several guides for Burmese job seekers in partnership with EMBARC, or Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center, that not only offer interview etiquette tips but help to contextualize why they’re important in American culture.

EMBARC will plan to use the guides going forward.

Mallory Petsche, a RefugeeRise AmeriCorps member with EMBARC, offered comments from Burmese mentees who said they were appreciative of the help they received from the UNI religion seminar students who mentored and worked with them.

UNI religion seminar professor Cara Burnidge said the project, which has been in the works since May, could become a reality because of two factors: a state funding increase for EMBARC to boost job training efforts and new initiatives at UNI that made it easier for professors to design service learning courses as part of the curriculum.

Burnidge added she’s already looking at ways to continue to partner with EMBARC, and UNI community engagement fellow Julianne Gassman said she’d also talked with Petsche about how the university could further partner with the refugee advocacy group.

Gassman said the university has several partnerships throughout the community and already does a lot of service learning projects, for which it has garnered national recognition and awards. But the campus is now looking to be more intentional about its work.

“It needs to be a focused effort around an issue that we need to move the needle on in this community,” Gassman said. “It’s not something new. This is like an old story. We just haven’t told anyone about it.”

That story is evident in the students in Burnidge’s class.

It’s about the ways the students can help play a role in making improvements in the community they’ll call home throughout their college careers. It’s about students getting an education in their particular field but also about teaching them to be engaged citizens wherever they go after college.

Nicole Knapp, a senior religion major at UNI, offered a particularly concrete example of how she plans to engage her community after graduation. Knapp studied religion to make a career in family ministries, and that remains her passion. Only now rather than taking that career anywhere, Knapp said she wants to return to Marshalltown and work with the immigrants in her home community.

Katie Schieffer, a UNI senior majoring in religion and anthropology, got so much out of the religion seminar she wants to find a job with AmeriCorps upon graduation.

But the story the students can tell is best summed up by Morganne Reinboldt, a junior religion major, in defending the work they did over the semester.

“This became something that we all became really involved in personally, and I think that really made a difference, too. We all care about this now. This is something that you talk to us about and we’re not just naming of facts to name facts. This is something now that we care, we really care that this is helping people right here, right now, Reinboldt said. “We really care that by completing these projects, we’re affirming other people’s passion for this, and so I think this setting allowed for that, allowed for that passion and for us all find something within this that allowed us to let that passion grow.”


Exhibit shines light on the invisible

Allison Mazzarella​,, Jan. 28, 2019

Article Credit: Allison Mazzarella​ - Northern Iowan - Article Link

Cedar Falls

UNI art students used portraiture to help bring to life the stories of nursing home residents at Country View Care Center in Waterloo.

The exhibition displaying these portraits, “Being Seen: Portraits in Place and Person,” is now on display in Kamerick Art Building until Monday, Feb. 18.

Led by Alexandra Dooley, an instructor in the art department, the project’s objective sought to “help people be seen who are invisible through portraits.” Last semester, Dooley’s students spent time developing relationships with Country View residents in order to learn more about them prior to painting their portraits.

Dooley collaborated with the Service Learning Institute on campus to provide her students with the unique opportunity to participate in the project. The department assists faculty in community outreach, helping develop projects for their classes that incorporate a service-learning component.

“As faculty, we’re always looking for ways to make that real-life experience happen in the classroom,” said Dooley. “That’s a different teaching model than what we’re used to; it’s part of a way of figuring out how to create these opportunities for students and to make them meaningful, rich and effective.”

Dooley’s original objective for the project began to evolve. She said the idea to highlight invisible people through portraits eventually became a way to “represent with dignity a true portraiture of people who don’t usually get represented.”

After working with a volunteer coordinator on campus, those ideas took on an identity through the residents of Country View. Dooley explained that the subject of a painting plays a major role in why an artist might choose to create a painting and she wanted to give her students the opportunity to paint people they might have never met or had the opportunity to paint.

“What’s really hard is for the students to paint from every walk of life,” Dooley said.

While this project was an assignment for Dooley’s students, it was, at its core, about artists forming relationships with their subjects. What came out of it was not just an oil painting, but a deeper understanding of someone who comes from a different walk of life and learning how to use their talents to give presence and humanity to their subjects.

“We engaged [with] people who don’t have the freedom to go where they want to go or visit with people when they want to,” Dooley said.

Residents of Country View volunteered when they heard of the project. At the start of the project, students visited the nursing home and casually engaged with those residents in groups. After interacting with the residents, students then chose who they wanted to represent.

“That was very hard for them because that meant a few people from Country View didn’t get selected,” Dooley said. “It was interesting because none of them chose the same person; they all had somebody in their group they most connected with, and none of them had chosen the same two people.”

Once the student was paired with a resident, they returned to the nursing home to visit with the residents. Students could bring materials with them to sketch or watercolor on site, but the finished products were completed in the studio. Students could reference a photograph and the residents were invited to UNI to observe the student’s progress.

“They really identified that it was not just an assignment, but that when you paint a picture of a person, that person has a presence, a history and a personality,” Dooley said. “They all had this powerful sense of responsibility to their painting; they really wanted to represent their person well.”

Rachel Smith, one of Dooley’s students, had some apprehension going into the project, but came away with a new perspective.

“[The project] showed me they’re active in the community,” Smith said, “they’re living fulfilling lives.”

Through the process, Smith discovered common interests with her subject, Preston.

The students were given folders with information about the residents and their interests. From those, Smith discovered their shared love for gardening, which became the portrait’s background theme.

“[I learned] to humanize them,” Smith said, “and see them as equals and not some sort of pariah.”

Students in the class took that responsibility seriously, as Dooley said she often tells her class that an artist doesn’t have the luxury of explaining a painting to those who view it.

“The painting is the story,” Dooley said.

Her hope is that whatever opinions people form while viewing the paintings, they understand there is a person behind it.

On Friday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m., there will be a reception for the Country View residents to visit campus and see the finished products.