Hawkeye Caucus hits Des Moines to inform legislators about UI's value
Monday, March 26, 2012

While working a clinical practicum at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, University of Iowa College of Education graduate student Tamara Woods and mentor Dr. Michael Hall noticed many veterans were returning to school only to drop out soon after.

So they created a course, “Life After War: Post-Deployment Issues,” to help veterans better understand the consequences of combat—from post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain and depression—and get the guidance and resources they need to succeed in college.

The class proved a success and last spring caught the attention of the Iowa General Assembly’s Veterans Affairs Committee, which invited Woods and Hall to come to Des Moines and talk about their work.

Woods says the invitation was a direct result of a “Hawkeye Caucus” email about the class sent by the UI Governmental Relations Office to lawmakers and their aides.

Launched two years ago, the Hawkeye Caucus is an initiative created by UI President Sally Mason and managed by Peter Matthes, UI federal governmental relations director. It involves a range of activities designed to better inform Iowans why the UI matters, why it’s worth supporting, and what it’s doing to make the state better educated, healthier, more livable, and more prosperous.

Tamara Woods
Tamara Woods

“I think that at a large university there’s often so much going on, research beyond the radar, that lots of people just don’t know about it,” says Woods, who graduates in December with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and hopes to work in a VA hospital after finishing a post-doctoral fellowship in Columbia, Mo. “I think the Hawkeye Caucus is a great way to keep the people of Iowa informed about all the great things going on here.”

One way it does that is by holding an annual Hawkeye Caucus Day in the Capitol. This year, that takes place Tuesday, March 27. Representatives from all UI colleges and various centers, programs, and initiatives will commandeer the first floor of the Iowa Statehouse rotunda to tell Iowa lawmakers about the university’s value, showcasing everything from education and health care to research and economic development.

Check out the scene from the 2012 Hawkeye Caucus Day at the State Capitol.

“Last year we got tremendously positive feedback from our participants and our state legislators,” Matthes says. “Clearly many of our elected officials in Des Moines have a strong emotional connection to the university and a keen interest in learning what great things are happening on campus and across the state through partnerships, public engagement, and other activities.”

In addition to the annual event in Des Moines, the Hawkeye Caucus maintains a frequently updated Facebook page and Twitter account, a Foursquare site and Flickr page. During each legislative session it emails stories and information to state legislators several times a week, highlighting UI activities that benefit Iowa students, businesses, organizations, and taxpayers.

Matthes says that while the UI has long published magazines, websites, brochures, and other materials promoting the UI, the Hawkeye Caucus focuses on messages that are especially tailored for his intended audiences—and intentionally brief. As anyone old enough to remember the E.F. Hutton commercials knows, sometimes all it takes is a whisper for people to pay attention.

“Our elected officials and alumni are busy people, so we want to be mindful of not overwhelming them with reams of data and information,” Matthes says. “Sometimes short and sweet is best.”