The University of Iowa is fortunate to have an on-campus institution dedicated to the advancement of public scholarship. I became involved with the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies during my first year of graduate training. At the week long Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy (OGI), I workshopped a potential historic preservation project in South Dakota with a group of nearly three dozen graduate students from a variety of disciplines. Working with artists, social scientists, and many others offers a unique opportunity to improve one’s vision for such an endeavor. The frank discussions we had about the challenges, practicalities, and ethics of publicly engaged work, as well as the importance of cultivating reciprocity with collaborators have served me for years. Although my project has since stalled, I left the institute with a better understanding of–and an even deeper commitment to–publicly engaged work.
The following year, I was selected as the OGI Senior Fellow and asked to return and help the institute’s faculty advisors refine and develop the next year’s meeting. Following the leadership of Drs. Chuck Connerly and Carolyn Colvin, I helped develop a program that included a visit to the Office of the State Archaeologist, where OGI members learned about the deep connections between research and public outreach that are integral to working with American Indian tribes on Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act claims.
For the last two years, I have been asked to return to the OGI and share my experiences working in public history with incoming cohorts, and now serve on the institute’s advisory board. Over the years, my relationship with the Obermann Center has provided an anchor for developing and supporting new projects and helping train and encourage fellow publicly-minded scholars.