Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy

Meet our Graduate Institute alumni

View a list of all Graduate Institute fellows and co-directors since 2007


The Obermann Graduate Institute is a one-week interdisciplinary institute in which UI graduate students from across campus and at any point in their graduate studies explore how public engagement can enhance teaching, research, and creative work.

During the week, participants discuss theories of engagement and meet with experts, including former Obermann Graduate Fellows, faculty members, UI administrators, and potential community partners. They participate in a site visit—usually a community space that has collaborated with UI partners and that can suggest how to organize a successful partnership. And they develop their own engaged project, which they present in draft form at the end of the Institute and then again in a public forum of their choice. 

Graduates of the program tell us that the Institute helped them to develop a cohort of like-minded colleagues and mentors while at the University of Iowa. Many have reported that the experience and familiarity with public engagement helped them to secure job interviews, some of which translated into positions that include strong engagement components.

Meet some of our recent Fellows and learn about their work via these short videos:

  • Mark Pooley (Urban & Regional Planning and Engineering) talks about a winter biking challenge that connects to his research on transportation habits;
  • Laurel Fantuzzo (Non-Fiction Writing Program) developed a web site for the literary Filipino diaspora community;
  • Kwame Owusu-Daaku (Urban & Regional Planning) tried to develop a program to work with local landlords interested in making energy improvements, but all did not go as he'd hoped;
  • Jacqueline Biger (Library & Information Science) created a tactile storytime at the Iowa City Public Library, aimed at children with learning disabilities.

Learn more about the Graduate Institute in this seven-minute video:


The 2018 Obermann Graduate Institute will take place the week of January 8 through January 12. The RFP will be posted after Labor Day. Applications are due October 10, 2017.


University of Iowa graduate students in any program and at any level of their studies are eligible to apply. As part of the goal of the Institute is to augment public engagement in teaching, if you are in a professional program please consider the value of this aspect of the Institute to your future aspirations.

Required Items

(Please submit your CV and answers to the four questions in one .pdf document to:

  • An academic CV: This should be no longer than 2 pages and should include a) your projected date of graduation and your final degree; b) a list of academic accomplishments, including presentations, publications, exhibits, and teaching assignments, and c) your current contact information (mailing address, phone, and e-mail), academic department, and advisor’s name. Send your CV as a PDF to Be sure your name and e-mail address appear at the top of the first page.
  • Responses to the four questions below: Your responses should be no longer than 200 words per question. Send your responses as a PDF to Be sure that your name and address are at the top of the page.
  • A confidential letter of support from your faculty advisor: Provide a confidential letter of support from your faculty advisor. This should address:  a) your standing in your graduate program, b) the value of the Graduate Institute to your present and future teaching and research, and c) your potential for collaborative, publicly engaged teaching and/or scholarship. [For a definition of public scholarship, see below.] Your faculty advisor should email this letter directly to
  • An optional confidential letter that addresses your abilities or potential abilities to work as partner with a community organization or work experience with public engagement: This letter might come from a faculty member, a mentor, or a supervisor in a volunteer position. It can address any or all of the following: a) your potential to bring this project to fruition, and b) your ability to work with a community partner, and c) the viability of your proposed project. Please have this letter e-mailed directly to
  • An email from the applicant’s Director of Graduate Studies: In order to ensure that the DGS of your department is aware of your participation, we require an email from the Director of Graduate Studies from your home department stating the following: “NAME OF APPLICANT is in good standing in our department. If he/she is accepted, I support his/her participation in the Obermann Graduate Institute in January 2018.” This statement—no more and no less—should be e-mailed by your DGS to

Additional Notes

Four Questions:

  1. EXPERIENCE: What is your past involvement as a student, teacher, and/or scholar with publicly engaged scholarship, volunteerism, service learning, or community activism? (See definition below.) What skills have you built in these areas?
  2. CURRENT VISION: Describe a project that you would like to develop further that involves teaching or scholarship and community engagement. This project can be in any stage—from the spark of an idea to a program that is already in place and to which you would like to build. The Institute will help you to move the project further, but we would like to hear what excites you and where you can imagine applying the methodologies of the Institute.
  3. DIVERSE PERSPECTIVE: How does your background and life experiences relate to your interests in publicly engaged scholarship? We are particularly interested in how you could bring a unique and diverse perspective to the Institute.
  4. PATH FORWARD: Explain how participation in the Obermann Graduate Institute will benefit you as a scholar, teacher, and individual, as well as how it will benefit the University of Iowa and/or a scholarly community of which you are a member.

Note: It may prove useful to you and those writing letters on your behalf to consider this three-part definition of public scholarship from Imagining America, a coalition organization to which the Obermann Center actively belongs:

  • Public scholarship is scholarly or creative work integral to a faculty member’s academic area. It is jointly planned, carried out, and reflected on by co-equal university and community partners. And it yields one or more public good products. 
  • Subject to these three conditions, public scholarship may encompass artistic, design, historical, and critical work that contributes to public discourse and the formation of robust rubrics. It may also include disciplinary or interdisciplinary efforts to advance public engagement in higher education itself and reflection and research on the import of such efforts.
  • Public good products may take diverse and plural forms, including but not limited to peer-reviewed individual or co-authored publications; other forms of writing and publication; presentations at academic and non-academic conferences and meetings; oral histories or ethnographies; interviews with or reflections by participants; program development; performances, exhibitions, installations, murals, or festivals; new K-16 curriculum, site designs or plans for "cultural corridors," and other place-making work; and policy recommendations.