Alec Bramel is curious about new homes for Hancher and other University of Iowa arts programs. Kelsey Zlevor wants to talk sustainability goals. Jessie Tobin seeks a little career advice for 2013 college grads.
On April 30, they got to take their questions to UI President Sally Mason, joining about 20 UI undergraduates for a free-ranging forum about the challenges, choices, and opportunities that face the university.
It was the third such reception and conversation held at the president’s residence this spring.
“This is another way for President Mason to engage with students, and a chance for students to highlight what’s important to them,” says Nic Pottebaum, who this week wrapped up his tenure as UI Student Government (UISG) president.
Together, student leaders Michael Appel and Nic Pottebaum have focused on boosting the university's profile across the state. Read more.
Pottebaum pitched the idea for the forums with Michael Appel, president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students (ECGPS).
The two of them had spent the better part of a year working alongside Mason and other UI leaders and gaining rare perspective on what it means to run a major public university. In part, they wanted to share that experience with peers.
“We’ve invited students who are active in various ways,” says Appel. “We know they’ll take the information they hear seriously and pass it along to others.”
The first forum in February brought together students from the full range of UI programs. A second forum focused on graduate and professional students.
At the April 30 forum, Mason described the unprecedented period of building under way on campus, including work on the new arts facilities that had piqued Bramel’s interest.
“I’m the UISG liaison to the Iowa City City Council, so I hear about projects from the city side,” says the Holy Cross, Iowa, native. “The view from campus helps complete the picture.”
For May graduates like Tobin—who's also outgoing UISG vice president—Mason noted the continued value of a four-year degree, and cited reports that the job market for new grads is turning around.
“I have the chance to sit next to a lot of CEOs,” she says, “and I know employers are still looking for broadly trained people who are strong communicators and problem solvers.”
Zlevor asked specifically about the university’s 2020 Vision sustainability plan, wondering what comes next should the UI meet its goals. Mason emphasized the need to keep identifying new targets, and summarized accomplishments to date.
“Almost 90 percent of the waste that comes out of this house goes into recycling,” she says. “At our annual block party, we manage to feed 5,000 people but generate only a few pounds of garbage.”
Zlevor has been working on sustainability projects for a couple of years. Talking with Mason provided new perspective.
“It’s easy to see plans and campaigns as impersonal,” says the junior environmental science major. “Interacting with the person behind the plan changes that.”
Mason spoke frankly at times, stressing openness to new ideas, but noting the need for compromise. She didn’t shy from sharing the realities that face a university president, including the fact that tough questions come with the territory.
“These conversations have introduced me to a lot of smart, interesting, and motivated students,” she says. “The questions differ from night to night, but it’s always a great experience.”
Katherine Valde, who began her term as UISG president May 1, says she and incoming ECGPS president Ben Gillig have already discussed continuing the forums in the fall. “I’ve heard a lot of terrific feedback,” she says.
That kind of response encourages Pottebaum and Appel, who hope the initiative builds a cadre of students prepared to advocate for the university.
“Students provide some of the most powerful voices for university priorities,” says Appel. “Winning their support while they’re on campus also helps keep their support once they graduate.”