Graphic depiction of a network with the Obermann Center building at the middle and headshots of Dr. Kate Kedley, Dr. stef shuster, Dr. Erica Damman, Dr. Bridget Draxler, and Dr. Janice Byrd as nodes.

Nourishing Collaborations & Transplanting the Work

Graduate Institute Alumni Blossom Beyond Academic Walls

Jennifer New asks alums of the Obermann Institute on Engagement and the Academy to share their advice for graduates doing engaged and public-facing work, and how higher ed can better support innovative projects.

Dr. Janice Byrd (2016 Iowa PhD in Education, now Assistant Professor at Kent State University) describes her experience building Delta Academy during graduate school, an organization working with BIPOC and economically disadvantaged middle school students in Coralville, and how she has continued to work with middle schoolers in her engaged research, teaching, and service. She emphasizes reciprocity, learning from communities as they’re learning from you, and cautions against the “academic trap” of producing knowledge that benefits ourselves and our careers and not those communities.
Dr. Erica Damman (2018 Iowa PhD in Environmental Humanities, now Director of Marketing and E-commerce, EJ Victor) describes how her sense of public engagement has evolved throughout her academic and professional experiences, from her MFA to the Institute to her PhD to her career outside the academy. She makes distinctions between working with established communities and creating new spaces to have conversations, and explains how her understanding of what it means to be a creator has changed since the Institute.
Dr. Bridget Draxler (2011 Iowa PhD in English, now Associate Director of Writing, Speaking, and Academic Support at St. Olaf College) discusses how engaged work can create connections between teaching and research, between generations, and between local and global issues. Her publicly-engaged experiences include curating museum exhibits, teaching courses with community-engaged projects, hosting book clubs, running a writing center, and publishing a book as part of UI Press’s Humanities and Public Life series. She emphasizes the importance of sustainability in community-engaged work, even as scholars might move to new places and institutions.
Dr. Kate Kedley (2017 Iowa PhD in Teaching and Learning—Language, Literacy, Culture, now Assistant Professor at Rowan University) explains how recent years (and the pandemic months) have shifted their definitions of community, place, and engaged work. Kedley is involved with a group of teachers, human rights activists, lawyers, and poets organizing against state oppression in Honduras. Kedley shares practical tips for beginning engaged work after moving to a new place and new community, based on their experiences moving from Iowa to New Jersey.
Dr. stef shuster (2014 Iowa PhD in Sociology, now Assistant Professor at Michigan State University) shares how institutional support can shape engagement and what seems possible and viable. After being challenged by rigidly-defined opportunities and a lack of resources at other institutions, shuster describes their current efforts to build meaningful relationships with community partners in their new location and with these lessons learned. shuster also discusses their research on trans medicine, their courses designed for pre-med students, and their new engaged project about the experiences of queer and trans communities of color within the healthcare system.