Past fellows share impact of participation in program
The skills and knowledge gained during the Iowa Walking College has enabled its past fellows to make an impact — from educating local students on the importance of walkability to earning their community national recognition — in creating a healthier, more walkable state to live.
The Iowa Walking College was launched as a pilot in 2016 and has since graduated two classes of fellows in 2017 and 2018. The 2019 program is currently underway with ten new fellows. The Iowa Walking College is designed to train local change agents from a variety of backgrounds on how to evaluate built environments and incorporate walkability principles into projects.
MORE: Meet the 2019 Iowa Walking College fellows
Here are a few success stories from Iowa Walking College alums:
Kelli Gerdes, Cerro Gordo County
After running into roadblocks trying to accomplish some transportation-related projects related to Safe Routes to School in Mason City, Kelli Gerdes applied for the 2017 Iowa Walking College to gain more skills and knowledge in order to foster connections between various city stakeholders.
"Learning how to engage other sectors in community planning such as the transportation department and schools was the biggest takeaway for me," said Gerdes, Safe Routes to School Coordinator and Health Promotion Manager for the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health.
Another one of Gerdes' favorite takeaways from the Iowa Walking College were her experiences learning how to conduct walk audits. Since graduating, she has been able to share that knowledge with multiple students in the Mason City area through partnerships with Mason City High School, Newman Catholic High School and the Mason City Alternative School.
Kelli Gerdes (right) leads a group of students from Newman Catholic High School in Mason City on a walk audit near their school.
Gerdes is on the Move More committee for HEALTHY-Mason City's 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count! coalition. The committee identified school intersection improvements as one of their goals and decided to include local students in the efforts. "We wanted to include the students on the walk audits (in school neighborhoods) so they can have a voice with city leaders," said Gerdes.
MORE: Mason City shows power of partnerships with 5-2-1-0
At the conclusion of the walk audit and classroom unit on public health, students presented the problems they identified and potential solutions — including better signage, improved lighting, sidewalk fixes and additional turning lanes — to their classmates, school board members and city leaders.
Gerdes has also led smaller scale walk audits with city council members when addressing specific areas across the county. She credits the Iowa Walking College for giving her the confidence and walkability knowledge to better influence transportation projects.
MORE: Success stories from the Iowa Walking College class of 2017
Stephanie Schrader, City of Cedar Rapids
After Cedar Rapids experienced major flooding in 2008, the city has committed to rebuild as a healthier and more sustainable city including encouraging active lifestyles. Stephanie Schrader, well-being liaison for the city, thought her participation in the Iowa Walking College would be a good way to keep the positive momentum going.
"Participating in the Iowa Walking College was a good way to raise awareness about walkability and encourage community members to live healthy and be active," Schrader said. "Anything that includes active living, I want to be involved in."
After completing the Iowa Walking College in Fall 2018, Schrader helped Cedar Rapids apply for a national Walk Friendly Community designation, a resource she learned about through her participation in the program.
"The application process is an opportunity to self-assess and it's helpful to have the feedback on what we’re doing well and what we could still do," Schrader said.
Each year the City of Cedar Rapids hosts a community walk for the Healthiest State Annual Walk in October.
In its first year applying, Cedar Rapids earned a Bronze Level designation which is valid for five years. The city was commended for its Complete Streets policy, upcoming Pedestrian Master Plan and for its efforts which led them to win a Healthy Hometown Community Award in 2018.
Schrader said the city recently completed walk audits in two neighborhoods this spring and implemented a story walk project in collaboration with the parks and recreation department. She's also been involved in the city's new bike share project and educating citizens on how to use it.
MORE: Iowa Walking College alum champions local trail, challenge
Kristina Winfield, Jasper County Health Department
Prior to participating in the Iowa Walking College, Kristina Winfield didn't have a background in walkability, but she was inspired by the Surgeon General's call to action in 2015 encouraging Americans to walk more.
"I thought walkability was interesting and wanted to be part of a cultural change," said Winfield, the public health coordinator for the Jasper County. "I thought participating in the Iowa Walking College would be a unique opportunity and it looked like something that would help increase wellness in our county."
One of her biggest takeaways from the program was the knowledge she gained about built environments: "Now I am always looking at walkability. I can’t help it," said Winfield. "I am always doing a mini walk audit in my head when I go anywhere, evaluating traffic, sidewalks, street lights, everything."
After completing the Iowa Walking College in 2017, Winfield decided to partner with the library in Jasper County community of Baxter to build a Book Walk along a trail that surrounds the elementary school playground which sits across from the library.
The Baxter Book Walk features one page of a story on each post. The display stands are weather-proof and the book is changed out every few weeks.
The Book Walk posts were built and installed in collaboration with a local company who donated a portion of the project costs. The library manages the Book Walk and changes the story every few weeks. The Book Walk has received good feedback from local citizens who visit the park and the county is working to build a Book Walk in the neighboring community of Newton.
Winfield has also done multiple presentations to businesses and senior living communities about the knowledge she gained in the Iowa Walking College to spread awareness about the importance of walkability to other community members.
MORE: Find walkability resources you can use in your community
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WALKING COLLEGE: