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Growing the purple circle

Spectrum Project

Whether it’s in the classroom, on the manufacturing line or on a theatre stage, the impact of the University of Northern Iowa reaches every corner of the state.

That was the message UNI President Mark A. Nook delivered to the Iowa Board of Regents in a presentation Thursday, as he highlighted the many benefits the university provides to the state economy, workforce and students.

“We’re very interested in growing the purple circle,” Nook said. “That means reaching out to the community and growing the region around the university.”

One of the programs accomplishing that goal is the Spectrum Project, which aims to nurture an interest in the fine and performing arts among children of differing disabilities by combining music, movement, drama and art.

Each child participating in the project creates a unique performance, with the assistance of UNI students, and then performs it on the stage of the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. Last year, the project engaged 65 participants ranging from 5 to 19 years old in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Hudson, Jesup, and Cedar Rapids.

Margo Kreger, whose son Joshua was a Spectrum performer, said the program helped her son find his voice and embrace his uniqueness.

“Before Spectrum Project, Joshua did not have the opportunities to engage with other kids because of his communication deficits,” Kreger said. “Through Spectrum Project, Joshua has the confidence to initiate conversations and now participates in extracurricular activities. Yesterday, he was invited for the first time to a birthday party." 

Beyond the classroom, UNI is advancing the state’s manufacturing sector by providing skilled graduates trained in cutting-edge technologies to meet the needs of high-demand fields our growing state requires.

This fall, the Iowa Economic Development Authority board approved a $1.5 million Strategic Infrastructure Program (SIP) grant to UNI’s Metal Casting Center.

Over the past four years, the Additive Manufacturing Center facility, located at TechWorks Campus in Waterloo, has expanded its large-format sand printing services to include a student engineering center, polymer printing lab and a robotic mold machining center. The SIP grant will continue this expansion into investment castings, which are used in aerospace, light automotive manufacturing, agricultural equipment, medical devices and electronics applications.  

Projects funded by the SIP must have a goal of providing a competitive advantage to the private sector or create needed physical infrastructure in Iowa. The new equipment that will be purchased will do just that, allowing the Metal Casting Center to advance metal casting technology in the state. It will then be transferred throughout the industry with the center assisting in its adoption and utilization.

“The real goal is to provide a competitive advantage to the private sector,” Nook said.

Another focus of the meeting was the Cedar Falls Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), a partnership between UNI and Cedar Falls schools.

The program contributes to Iowa’s economy and workforce by immersing high school students in professional environments to development high-demand skills in critical fields, such as education, business communications and design, manufacturing engineering and technology, and medical and health services.

“The CAPS program illustrates how UNI is working with educators and employers to provide high school students with the opportunity to discover and develop their talent and skills as future professionals,” said UNI Provost Jim Wohlpart.

From advancing manufacturing technology, to inspiring students, to training tomorrows leaders, UNI is a vital cog in elevating Iowa into a prosperous future.