Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Hawkeye Caucus is a day for students, faculty, and staff from the University of Iowa to connect with legislators at the State Capitol in Des Moines and highlight the important research and community engagement done here. A variety of university programs set up tables in the first-floor rotunda of the State Capitol emphasizing initiatives in the arts, sciences, health care, and humanities. Meanwhile, students and faculty connect with legislators about their research and program efforts.

This year, alongside VP for Graduate and Professional Education and Dean of the Graduate College Dr. Amanda Thein, School of Planning and Public Affairs Director Dr. Lucie Laurian, Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC) Director Travis Kraus, and Community Engagement Specialist Jennifer New represented the Graduate College at the event. The IISC is an engaged-learning program that partners with urban and rural communities in Iowa to provide necessary services and resources while granting students unique teaching and learning opportunities. Most recently, students worked on more than 20 projects, including developing profiles of people from Clinton, assessing housing needs, creating a comprehensive plan for undeveloped land, and more. Legislators were eager to hear more about the community engagement initiated by the IISC.

“As emerging researchers in our respective fields, learning to connect and communicate with lawmakers is important to bridge the gap between science and policy,” Sursely describes. “Legislators need research to make informed, evidence-based decisions, and scientists need to communicate this research in a way that is relevant and easily digestible.”

Payton Colbert and Maggie Schnurr, master students in Public Affairs

Payton Colbert and Maggie Schnurr, Master Students Public Affairs students
Maggie Schnurr (center) and Payton Colbert (right), master students in Public Affairs, speak with an Iowa state legislator at the Hawkeye Caucus in Des Moines.

As Master of Public Affairs (MPA) students participating in the IISC program, Payton Colbert and Maggie Schnurr shared a student perspective. Both Colbert and Schnurr worked with the IISC partnership in Clinton. “I study policy and what makes it work and what makes it fail,” Schnurr says. “I think that it’s important to evaluate policy not just by standards of “does it work” but by looking at “who does it work for?”’ Colbert’s project in Clinton focused on youth substance-use prevention, helping to ensure the wellness of the city’s youth population. During Hawkeye Caucus, Colbert presented legislators with her research-driven prevention strategies that included implementing programs in schools which help students gain necessary life skills to ensuring that schools have buffer zones, or mandated space between liquor stores and youth homes, schools, and facilities.

Schnurr ’s IISC research aimed to improve the outcome of adults suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD) by eliminating barriers to healthcare and addiction services. Schnurr’s project goals for both the city of Clinton and the State of Iowa were to improve access for those suffering from addiction. When speaking with legislators, Schnurr shared her thoughts on the importance of policy that supports marginalized populations. Schnurr’s project sought to center marginalized populations by advocating for better harm reduction strategies within state law. She connects her research to past initiatives that provide addiction services. She explains, “Looking at the equity of policy, not just through its current implementation, but through the history of the policy as well, can show us how we could improve inclusivity.”

Amanda Sursely, doctoral student in Epidemiology

Amanda Sursely, a doctoral student in epidemiology
Amanda Sursely, a doctoral student in Epidemiology, advocates for community health workers at the Hawkeye Caucus.

Doctoral student, Amanda Sursely, studies epidemiology and provided an additional public health perspective at Hawkeye Caucus. Sursely's research focuses on providing support for community health workers (CHW) to ensure culturally and linguistically appropriate health and wellness services for Iowans. Through her research, Sursely advocates for CHW apprenticeship programs, CHW professional skills training, and continued education in a variety of health topics. Because of the community focus of Sursely’s research, engaging with legislators will be an important aspect of her work moving forward.