The University of Iowa

Theme Semester

T S World Canvass
The University of Iowa's Theme Semester is a collaboration that brings diverse perspectives to bear on a topic of importance to Iowa and the world every spring semester. Grounded in the education mission of the university, the Theme Semester provides opportunities for teaching, engagement, and learning both on campus and throughout the state of Iowa. The events and activities surrounding each theme are meant to help the university forge new partnerships, promote publicly engaged scholarship, and contribute to communities statewide. 

Our Lives Online, the University of Iowa’s spring 2017 Theme Semester about the internet and technology, explored the global system of connectedness, networks, and collaboration.  With the combined efforts of the Theme Semester Planning Committee and Student Ambassadors, 21 marquee activities were held, over 80 related events were tagged on the University of Iowa events calendar, and 117 academic courses engaging in curriculum based learning and exploration were connected to the program. The marquee activities focused on the exploration of relevant topics for the campus and surrounding communities, including big data, social media, and emerging and rapidly changing technologies. 


The Our Lives Online program built new community partnerships and sought ways to increase interdisciplinary dialogue and community engagement surrounding this important topic.  Theme Semester Planning Committee member, Professor Lindsay Mattock, pursued a unique initiative to make learning technologies more accessible throughout the state.

Lindsay Mattock
“The Our Lives Online Theme Semester has enabled us to purchase a variety of technologies for Makers by Mail, a project that constructs portable makers kits with built in curriculum for students of all ages. This project opened access to populations that have not traditionally been encouraged to play with technology. This semester we worked with two Theme Semester courses and developed four new makers kits spanning from data visualization to DIY low-tech solutions for information access, expanding the variety of kits that can be deployed across campus and throughout the community.”  Lindsay Mattock, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science

Neil Blumenthal
Theme Semester was also able to collaborate with new community partners this year to showcase cutting edge technological innovations while encouraging critical reflection. The program teamed up with the Mission Creek Festival to host a speaker series focused on the intersections of art, life, and technology, and also worked with the EntreFEST conference to bring keynote speaker Neil Blumenthal, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, to Iowa City.
“I've worked closely with the members of the Theme Semester Committee in the last couple of years to make a meaningful difference on campus. Their unique ability to create a semester-long focus facilitates meaningful dialogues relating to local, national, and global issues. We've benefitted directly from their resources multiple times to help bring big-time speakers to campus, including Uber co-founder Oscar Salazar and MIT biologist and engineer Neri Oxman just this semester, both of which were well attended and extremely thought-provoking. I can't speak highly enough about the folks involved in the Theme Semester Planning Committee and the great work they do for the University of Iowa campus and community.” Sarah Tortora, PharmD Candidate, University of Iowa Lecture Committee Chair

Additional Our Lives Online Highlights:

  • Several successful lectures were held in partnership with the University Lecture Committee this year, with speakers including:
    Oscar Salazar
    • Former Senator Tom Harkin
    • Patrisse Cullors, a social activist who co-created the viral Twitter hashtag and movement #BlackLivesMatter
    • Oscar Salazar, co-founder of Uber and a seasoned entrepreneur, executive, and investor
    • Neri Oxman, an architect and designer from the MIT Media Lab
  • The Old Capitol Museum curated a brand new exhibit titled, “CONNECTED: The Internet of Everyday Things.” This exhibit prompted reflection on what it means for people and businesses to have increased internet connectivity through everyday devices.
“Being a Theme Semester Student Ambassador has allowed me to get involved in the University of Iowa community in a new and creative way. Tackling the current theme, I was able to push my limits through brainstorming, collaborating, and initiating events that could bring the Iowa community together. I loved the Theme Semester program for not only the ability to bring faculty, staff and students together but to be educated or enlightened on a given topic that impacts our daily lives.” Kathryn Slunecko, Theme Semester Student Ambassador

The spring 2018 Climate for Change Theme Semester will explore topics related to sustainability and create mutually beneficial partnerships with community partners across the state. Sustainability is defined as meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. In addition to environmentalism, sustainability concerns itself with social equity, community health, and economic development. Learn how you can get involved by visiting