Supporting the Obermann Center

A Crucial Foundation

picture of C. Esco Obermann in uniform

C. Esco Obermann came to the University of Iowa as an undergraduate from Yarmouth, Iowa, in 1922. Sixty-eight years later, he and his wife Avalon endowed a fledgling center because of their belief in interdisciplinary research. Today, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies serves the research mission of the University of Iowa by providing funding, space, and the crucial connections that make for innovative breakthroughs and reflective discovery. By recognizing the value of bringing faculty, researchers, and artists from across campus together to meet in a lively but neutral setting, Esco and Avalon Obermann laid a crucial foundation for the scholarly work that has ensued at the Center ever since their gift. 

The results have been profound and unique. Nowhere else on campus could a three-day international symposium delving into the humanistic approaches to the Anthropocene and led by faculty in Geoscience, English, and History have been planned. And the Obermann Center was exactly the right place for a project between a nurse and a musicologist to devise a pain relief app for teens undergoing spinal surgery have come to fruition. 

As Claire Fox, a professor in English who lead a symposium exploring the culture and history of Latinos in the Midwest said, "The Obermann Center is excellent at facilitating connections among different disciplines and research units on campus, as well as between the campus and community groups. Those connections lead to all kinds exciting new projects and research, and they foster good faculty governance at UI."

Ripple Effect

photo of history corps group who benefited from our funding

Giving to the Obermann Center has a ripple effect. First and foremost, gifts allow the Center to continue and expand its creative programming that includes community members, graduate students, and which reaches across geographic borders. Funding provides more opportunities for UI scholars to do the work that is so central to the purpose of any university -- to deeply consider ideas and problems that might bear on the current condition. And as faculty are enriched, so are their students who reap the benefit of cutting-edge research and new connections. 

Some recent programs and projects that have emerged as a result of having been incubated and otherwise supported by the Obermann Center include:

  • An embrace by the History Department of "public history," including the History Corps project, which is an Obermann Working Group
  • Involvement by the UI in three different programs funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, including Humanities Without Walls, Digital Bridges, and the Sawyer Seminar
  • The founding of the UI Latino Studies program, which came into being following the Obermann Humanities Symposium "Latinos in the Midwest" and ensured that the UI was no longer the only school in the Big 10 without such a program

Moving Forward

Truly, every gift makes a difference. To provide a snapshot of what gift can provide, consider: 

  • $250 covers one day of expenses (lodging and food) for a visiting scholar hosted by one of our Working Groups
  • $500 funds a fellowship for one graduate student in the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy
  • $1000 provides research support for one Obermann Fellow in Residence.

Safeguarding the Graduate Institute for Future Students

photo of Obermann Graduate Institute participants

One program that we would especially like to buffer from changes in funding patterns is our nationally recognized Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy. Founded in 2006, the program has produced nearly 200 alumni who are working in institutions across the country, including Vanderbilt University, Grinnell College, and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Although relatively simple in structure -- a one-week intensive institute run by two faculty members in which 16 graduate students from across campus learn how to weave public engagement into their teaching and research -- the Graduate Institute has an incredible rate of return. Students give back to the campus and the community during their time in Iowa City via creative programming. They become better citizens of other universities and locales, sharing the methods and ideals learned in the Institute. 

Alumni have gone on to:

  • a post-doctoral position at Harvard Public Health and a project to improve the mental health services for Syrian refugees 
  • a tenure-track position at the University of Miami and a project bringing undergraduates and high schoolers together tools to measure water levels and then teach community members about the near-term effects
  • a research assistantship and a project to save the memories of Iowa's elder Jewish community
  • a professorship in Kuwait and a project to use Shakespeare to explore current cultural-political issues.

A gift of $500,000 would endow this innovative program and ensure its continuity. Its modest budget includes the students' stipends and the faculty co-directors' honoraria. In return, the work of the program ripples out through local schools and arts organizations, across the state to environmental organizations and small museums, and beyond the borders of Iowa to partners as far flung as Kuwait, Nepal, and Honduras. 

Other Funding Opportunities

  • The annual Obermann Humanities Symposium spotlights some of the boldest thinking on campus and connects scholarly panels with public events, including concerts and exhibitions
  • Obermann Working Groups allow faculty, upper-level graduate students, and experts from outside the academy to meet on a monthly basis around a shared topic, often working toward a grant application

Please consider a gift to the Obermann Center. To learn more about how your gift can support and enrich our already diverse Center, contact Director Teresa Mangum at Or to give directly, visit our University of Iowa Foundation giving page