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Local leaders discuss DEI, budgets in the State of the Ames Community

Brittany Huston
The panel of Ames community leaders at the annual State of the Ames Community meeting on Jan. 26, 2024.

The League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County hosted the annual State of the Ames Community Friday, where community leaders were given two minutes each to answer questions from moderators and the audience ranging from DEI to the Sixty Forward center.

The panel consisted of:

  • Iowa State Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert
  • Ames Mayor John Haila
  • President and CEO of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Robert Denson
  • Associate Superintendent of Education at the Ames Community School District Jeff Hawkins
  • President and CEO of Mary Greeley Medical Center Brian Dieter
  • Chair of the Story County Board of Supervisors Lisa Heddens

    Jeff Hawkins, associate Superintendent of Ames Community School District speaks on expanding opportunities for students at the annual State of the Ames Community meeting on Jan. 26, 2024. (Brittany Huston)

“This panel conversation is a really good opportunity to show what great things can happen for a community when you dedicate yourselves to working well together,” Hawkins said in his closing statement.

“Share your goals on DEI and the progress that you’ve made on those goals.”

Wickert was the only member of the panel to ask for more than the allotted two minutes to answer the question, but did not mention the 10 recommendations the Board of Regents put forth to change DEI initiatives or Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen’s focus group to address the recommendations.

“Well at Iowa State University, you know, our goals around DEI are really pretty simple,” Wickert said, who was the fourth panelist to answer the question. “We aspire for every single student who’s admitted to the university to be educationally successful and we aspire for every single faculty and staff member to reach their professional success according to their ability.”

In an interview with the Daily after the forum, Wickert said he did not mention the recommendations because of the time constraint and that the university is “working very hard on” the recommendations.

“The president has a committee formed and we continue to work on our response to the board’s 10 adopted recommendations in varying your progress and then the task force has been formed and there’s 10 recommendations and I think our next meeting is at the end of January,” Wickert said.

The outgoing provost added that Wintersteen will present their report to the Board of Regents during their April meeting at Iowa State.

Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost at Iowa State University speaks on preparing the next generation to enter the workforce at the annual State of the Ames Community meeting on Jan. 26, 2024. (Brittany Huston )

On the panel, Haila answered the question after Wickert and said “even if we’re doing things perfectly” Ames will still be a “warm welcoming community.”

“It’s appropriate to hold all of us accountable and responsible for doing things,” Haila said on the panel. “But honestly, unless all of us are really taking this seriously and seeking to embrace and build friendships with people who don’t look like us, who don’t come from the same community, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Wickert also used his time answering the question about DEI to say students have learned how to disagree on social media but have not learned how to disagree or “resolve disputes” face-to-face.

“Today, there’s too much reliance on these devices, particularly on students on social media and online technology,” Wickert said, holding up his phone. “I think a lot of students need to be retaught how to disagree with one another. People disagree, you know, it’s part of the human condition.”

In answering another question, Haila said people have to stop hating each other and start disagreeing with respect for each other.

“If we don’t start now, trying to change the course of action, we’re in serious trouble as a country and I’m thankful that our city council and I think all our community is not that way,” Haila said.

“What challenges is your organization experiencing and how does your organization work to balance current and upcoming budgets?”

Lisa Heddens, chair on the Story County Board of Supervisors speaks on working on affordable housing and transportation initiatives at the annual State of the Ames Community meeting on Jan. 26, 2024. (Brittany Huston)

Heddens answered second on the panel and said a balanced budget is required by state law and if Story County failed to do so it would “probably be front page of the news,” but that they would have challenges in accomplishing their goals with new state legislation causing a reduction in a levy rate.

“But what does that impact?” Heddens asked. “It could impact public safety, roads – you got to make sure you’ve got quality roads – bridges, […] it’s a huge array of things that could be impacted.”

Denson said DMACC has the highest bond rating among community colleges in Iowa and that “budget-wise” the college is “in very good shape.”

“Our biggest challenge at DMACC is to have enough students come into the pipeline so they can get into the jobs that are currently available, particularly for companies that are growing, that we can feed their pipeline,” Denson said.

Hawkins said one of the challenges facing Ames schools is adequate mental health aid to students.

“We implemented a brain health room at Ames High School to empower students to seek help when needed [and] promote a kind of a holistic approach to education that provides both academic and social, emotional and mental health approaches to that,” Hawkins said. “Our brain health room creates a space where high school students can feel comfortable and safe.”

Hawkins also said Ames schools have “just about anything anybody could want” and that they try to “be that place.”

“Sometimes budgets force us to have to make choices about how we do the best we can with what we’ve got with, again, growing and changing needs of our students,” Hawkins said.

Dieter said Mary Greeley has been operating “at about break even or less” over the past couple of years.

Brian Dieter, president and CEO of Mary Greeley Medical Center speaks on creating the highest quality care for hospitalized patients at the annual State of the Ames Community meeting on Jan. 26, 2024. (Brittany Huston)

“We were used to margins of three or 4% on a regular basis for years leading up to the pandemic and those dollars go into the future capital expansions to help finance new equipment new facilities etc.,” Dieter said.

The Mary Greeley CEO also said “about 55%” of their budget is operating expenses.

“How are you trying to meet the needs of the Sixty Forward individuals of the Ames community?”

According to the Heartland of Story County website, the Sixty Forward initiative aims to provide more than 60 opportunities to people 60 and older. Additionally, a Sixty Forward Center which will include fitness equipment, an atrium, Duckpin bowling and a fitness studio has already begun construction at 205 S Walnut Ave. and is expected to open in “early 2024.”

Of the panel, Dieter answered first and said, “Well I am Sixty Forward.”

Wickert said he “had just become Sixty Forward also.”

“I think by the time the Sixty Forward building opens, I’ll meet the criteria to attend,” Heddens said.

Haila encouraged those in attendance to consider serving on one of the many city boards or commissions.

“You have a lot of insight and you have a lot of wisdom and you can come alongside and mentor the next generation or generations,” Haila said.

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