With a flap of his wings, Herky commanded the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives. The first annual Hawkeye Caucus was in session.
Organized by the Office of Governmental Relations on April 5, the caucus sent Herky and a contingent of administrators, faculty, and students to the Capitol Building to raise state legislators' awareness of the university's positive impact on Iowa.
The Hawkeye Caucus has attracted many students eager to lobby on behalf of their university and to influence political decisions that affect their futures-such as budget reductions and tuition increases. Before the spring trip to Des Moines, the caucus became an official student organization as well.
"Students are what we're all about as a university," Tysen Kendig*, UI vice president for strategic communication, told the Daily Iowan. "Certainly, when you're talking about any effort to help people understand the importance of the UI, much of that is centered on the student experience here."
Organizers plan to hold a Hawkeye Caucus Day at the statehouse every year to showcase the university's endeavors and to discuss concerns and issues. Some 80 representatives from 22 colleges and divisions participated in April's inaugural event, highlighting contributions that ranged from the UI's top-notch education of future doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs to the economic benefits that athletics, research projects, and other activities bring to the state (to the tune of $6 billion each year).
The event also featured an information-fair atmosphere with display tables offering literature about UI colleges, programs, and organizations-including a primer on flood control research and a mini simulation experience sponsored by the UI's National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS). President Sally Mason, along with Herky, posed for photos with lawmakers and alumni. To top it off, the UI Alumni Association provided free pizza.
Peter Matthes, 00BA, director of the UI Office of Governmental Relations, says this first event was a great success, and he looks forward to building upon its momentum. "So many things are happening on this campus that people don't know about, even if they work here," says Matthes, pointing out that Governor Terry Branstad*, 69BA, and dozens of legislators visited every caucus booth. "We want to provide education and a face to our large, dynamic, thriving university community."
In addition to physical trips to the Capitol, the Hawkeye Caucus launched a daily e-mail update, sent to the inboxes of all Iowa lawmakers while the legislature is in session. The caucus also has its own Twitter account (@hawkeyecaucus) and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/UIHawkeyeCaucus), where recent posts carried newsworthy headlines such as "UI Spurs Job Creation," "UI a Leader in Genomic Medicine Research," and "Virtual Soldier Program earns $8.6 million Navy Contract."
"The consistent reaction we got from legislators was, 'Wow, you guys do that?'" says Matthes. "The Hawkeye Caucus is here to show how interesting UI projects affect the lives of average Iowans."