Sioux City and Community Development

Monday, I embarked on a 15 day travel with Cornelia and Jan Flora, stopping by various meetings, projects and conferences in a south west direction from Ames, Iowa to Arizona and back. The amount of car miles involved would get me twice around the Netherlands I suppose. We started with a meeting in Sioux City, a city in the north west of Iowa bordering Nebraska.

STA71678We are meeting in a recently restored old boiler building which once served 46 building in this neighborhood. This old industrial neighborhood is being redeveloped as Sioux City tries to reinvent itself as an arts and cultural city. However, its history is tightly connected to agriculture through the stock yards, the traditional trading place for farm animals. Therefore it stays as somebody said “a cowmen’s town with an opera”.

Well, I heard last night that it was not only about men. Traditionally, the stock yard was surrounded by cowboy saloons and brothels. The brothels, where a Madame ruled, were important places for local business and access to capital.The Madame had a very powerful position and was often involved in providing micro loans and other financial services in a time where banks were not easily accessible.

However, we are here for another type of community development…. Faculty members of 5 Midwestern universities discuss here the Community Development On-line Master’s Program in which they are involved together. This is quite a unique situation, a full online course offered jointly by the universities of Iowa State, North Dakota State, Kansas State, South Dakota State and Nebraska-Lincoln under the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance.

The Community Development Program began in the fall of 2005, and it was initially funded through a National Higher Education grant. Since the grant has ended, the program continued and supports itself. Students in the program are from all over the United States, as well as other countries. Many of them combine the Master with their (community) work and/or family. The program won two awards in 2008, a state and a national award. Jan and Cornelia Flora are both involved in the Program as teachers and Jan Flora won two grants in 2008 which allow for the development of two new courses within the Master, one on Sustainable Communities and the other on Immigrants in Communities.

Online Bachelor and Master programs are becoming rapidly popular. For universities, such as those in the Midwest it represents an opportunity to new attract students to universities in States which show a downward demographic trend. And the online – placeless programs also attract new categories of students, such as those who are forced to come out of retirement because of financial problems and need to ‘rewire’ themselves.