What Makes a Rivalry? Iowa BIG Documentary Seeks Help, Answers

Guest Writer: Sean Wu

First published on November 19 by The Gazette.

It’s Friday night and the scoreboard resets for the varsity game.

You question why you are even out in such loud, noisy stands. But you see your team rush out on the field or court, wearing the colors of your alma mater. Then, that team you despise so much steps in the footprints of your favorite team.

It’s another case of a good old inner-city rivalry, part of what makes high school sports so magical.

How did these rivalries begin? Why are they still around? Who were some of the major players involved with forming them? And why do we care so much about them?


Keegan and Maurice filming interviews.

These are questions our Iowa BIG group is exploring in a sports documentary about local high school rivalries. There is nothing that brings a city together more than high school sports and our group feels we need to revive the great Cedar Rapids/Linn County rivalries.

We can’t complete this project alone, though. We would greatly value any contributions from the Cedar Rapids-Marion community. You are the people who make these rivalries happen, so we need your help to create an accurate representation of them. No matter if you’re a Kennedy Cougar, Linn-Mar Lion, Washington Warrior, Prairie Hawk, Jefferson J-Hawk or a Xavier Saint, we can use your resources and knowledge.

We want to do the histories of these rivalries justice because we know how important they are to our city.

If you have information to help with this project, contact Nate Pruett and npruett@iowabig.org.

Iowa Startup Accelerator Launch, TJ Vogel

ISA_FINALThe last five pitches I saw were more amazing than I ever imagined. Smiles filled the room as the crowd watched these entrepreneurs showcase their fully operational businesses and take flight.

I had the opportunity to attend the Iowa Startup Accelerator Launch Day at the Doubletree with my parents. I walked into the Startup Accelerator space in the Vault almost everyday, and every time I went in there I wondered what they were working on. Never had I imagined the people I saw working hard every day were launching multi million dollar companies. The environment in the Startup accelerator seemed so laid back. Listening to the final pitches showed me that they had been very hard at work, and they succeeded in their goal for a successful business.

The hard work they put into those ninety-four days showed in their business pitches. This was about each company’s 100th time pitching their business and they had it near perfection. I could see the excitement each person had as they showed us all their accomplishments. As I was watching and learning about their journey, it made me realize that just about anything is possible, and if you put in the effort and hard work, you can make your dreams a reality.

More information here: http://www.iowastartupaccelerator.com/


Guest Writer: Cali Trueblood

Cali is a sophomore at Kennedy High School. She is currently involved in the Urban Orchards project and the Bioluminescent Project. She recently helped out the ONE campaign by helping to create the World’s Largest Duck Duck Goose Game. She’s also involved in Key Club and enjoys helping out at the Soup Kitchen at the First Presbyterian Church. Her favorite school subject is math and she’s on her school’s tennis team. She is a Warehouse Associate at ESP International. Cali hasn’t yet decided what she wants to do once she’s out of school and is hoping BIG can help point her in the right direction.

Urban Orchards


Alexander Bishop’s Perspective of Proposed Urban Orchard, Stuckeman School, Penn State College of Arts and Architechture

My current BIG project is an urban orchard. We have yet to change the name to something more suiting since we are considering adding a garden and other fun ideas! Along with the garden, some of the other ideas we have come up with include: benches for the park patrons to use to enjoy their time in nature, milkweeds since monarchs have become scarce, and clover to add more nitrogen to the soil for the trees and it helps with reducing mowing maintenance. After having our first meeting with the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, we realized that some of our ideas might not work if we want to put our orchard in Noelridge park because of federal laws. Even though some of our ideas wouldn’t necessarily work, it was a great experience and will prepare us for the future.
The research for this project has been very interesting. I hadn’t realized that there were certain zones for plants. I had never understood what the numbers on the tree ID tags meant, but after learning about all of the zones, I understand! Each zone is specified by the range of temperatures the tree can live through. I also found out that certain types of fruit trees may need a different type of the fruit to be pollinated. For example, a honeycrisp apple tree would need an empire apple tree as its pollination partner.
I have really enjoyed this opportunity to get out into the community and actually do something to make a difference in my community. Each project normally meets once a week and there is always something I can be doing. It’s very different from regular school since we have to get in contact with possible partners for our projects and meet with important people. Collaboration plays a major part in BIG.

Life at BIG

Becker Design and Function Ed

Dennis Becker discuss the design and function of Iowa BIG.

What an exciting week at BIG! Monday was the first BIG visit day and  staff and students spent the afternoon with an engaging group of educators, administrators, and researchers from across Iowa and as far away as Connecticut and DC. Representatives from higher education also set aside some time to join us. The visitors were able to participate in team meetings and a variety of Q and A sessions, in addition to seeing the BIG space and meeting our community of coworkers and entrepreneurs. It was very powerful to interact with such a passionate group of educators, in varied places on their PBL and CBE journey.

Students, partners, and staff answer questions at the first BIG visit event.

Students, partners, and staff answer questions at the first BIG visit event.

On Monday night, many of our community partners joined us for an update on all things BIG and to spend time with faculty and students. Students Kyle Scheer and Jordan Icenogle pitched their projects to the large group. Other students, parents, and partners participated in a panel discussion, sharing their thoughts on BIG and answering questions generated by our guests.

Tuesday was the Innovation Expo at the Doubletree Convention Center in downtown Cedar Rapids. Many students spent time listening to entrepreneurs pitch their ideas, networking with community members, and participating in the Inventor’s Garage. Trey White, Bethany Shaw, and Sam Uthoff all had their projects displayed and were pitching their ideas to attendees. Sam walked away a winner, with $50, awarded through a pitch contest!

Trey with his work at the Inventor's Garage.

Trey with his work at the Inventor’s Garage.

The BIG Advisory Board held their inaugural meeting on Thursday evening. This group is comprised of students, parents, and community members, and function in an advisory role to the program. The table was surrounded by innovate thinkers who are passionate supporters of BIG.

Today a group will visit an aquaponics farm in western Iowa and on Friday, a group will be visiting magnet schools in Minneapolis as part of their work surrounding the Johnson Elementary STEAM project (Full STEAM Ahead). All of this and it’s only Thursday! Welcome to life at BIG.

Guest Writer: Taylor Volesky

Taylor Volesky is a dual senior at Prairie High School and Iowa BIG. She looks forward to studying Pharmacy and Business at Drake University next year. Taylor is involved in Executive Board Student Council, Business Professionals of America, Key Club, and National Honor Society at Prairie. She is also actively involved in the music department, serving as a Field Commander for the Prairie “Hawks” Marching Band, and as the Student Manager for the Prairie Premiere Show Choir Competition. This past summer Taylor went to Peru and lived with a host family. She also worked on rebuild houses in Pittsburgh as a mission trip through her church.


Lou Dennis Ice Rink

I am a first year student at Iowa BIG, and so far it has been the best decision that I have made for my senior year. In high school, students fall into the routine of going to school, completing the homework that they have to for class, and showing up for class again. Growing up I liked school, and did well. However, as I got older I started losing the excitement to go to school everyday. When I first heard about Iowa BIG I was hesitant. I had heard great things through my friend Kinzie Farmer, but I have always been one that groaned to myself whenever a teacher said group work.

Women Ice Skating by J.R. Taylor

Women Ice Skating by J.R. Taylor

This year I am a part of three different teams, with different advisors, in an atmosphere that is very new to me. I am also getting the chance to collaborate with new people from surrounding school districts. One of the projects that I am currently working on is trying to reopen the Lou Dennis Ice Rink, previously located in Ellis Park. My team and I have divided up into two separate groups, Team City and Team Ice. Team City is the part of the project that I am actively involved in. We are researching similar cities to Cedar Rapids, what they offer for outdoor winter activities, as well as how this would impact our city with cost and community involvement. We are also looking into what we need to do when we present our proposal to the city. Team Ice is investigating the ice rink’s history up to this point, and making contacts with people who knew about Lou Dennis, and learning about the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. In the long run we have to figure out weather patterns, measure the ice, record data this winter for our case, and the science behind ice making the ice rink work.

I have learned through this experience that the Creative Corridor isn’t actually as big as it seems. Once you have created a network with the mentors in the area, the people you are trying to connect with seem to magically appear. Through networking if you know the right people, they in turn know the people that you are trying to contact for help; it is just a matter of establishing those connections. All the adults that I have had the pleasure of working with thus far have been so willing and helpful. The freedom that BIG provides has taught me how to properly manage the free time that I am given in order to be successful. I am excited to see the end result of the projects I have been working on.

Guest Writer: Ali Morrow

Ali Morrow is a senior at Prairie High School. After high school she plans on attending Luther or Wartburg to study business and law. At Prairie, she is involved with Student AliMCouncil, National Honor Society, and Business Professionals of America. Within those activities she is Student Council Treasurer, National Honor Society Secretary, and Business Professionals of America Communications Director. She is also involved in both high school and club soccer. In her spare time she enjoys hanging out with friends and family and watching movies.

BIG Project: Cedar Rapids History and Artifacts

One of my BIG projects is “Cedar Rapids History and Artifacts.” In this project we have partnered with Jelinek Companies, the parent company of Parlor City Pub and Eatery. In this partnership we are using Cedar Rapids artifacts they have within their restaurant and storage areas to help tell the story of Cedar Rapids. Our end goal is to produce some kind of database that contains their numerous artifacts as well as providing a story and background information about the specific artifact. As the stories are told, we also would like to create QR codes or plaques that could go next to the artifacts within the restaurant. These plaques or QR codes (barcodes in which you can scan with your phone) would tell or take you to a site that would give further information on where specifically the artifact came from in the Cedar Rapids area as well as what it was once used for.

At the beginning stages of our project we were not sure of what we wanted this project to look like and took time brainstorming our ideas. During this process, we were asked to seek out information regarding Cedar Rapids to help spur the idea process. For one the first times in my school career I was not given boundaries or limitations on what my project could look like. I soon came to realize that the information out in the “real world” is endless and that to find what you need to know you must create contacts within the community. Although scary at first, making these contacts not only helps build my 21st century skills, but also teaches me how to interact professionally with both my superiors and peers.

One of the many artifacts in Parlor City Pub and Eatery.

One of the many artifacts in Parlor City Pub and Eatery.

In the short time I have been involved in BIG I have learned valuable skills that not only go towards what I need to learn in a high school environment, but also skills I can use in a future career. These skills include in depth research, communicating with community members, learning to move on from a failed idea and from there creating a new idea or project that could be successful. Learning these skills now I feel has put me at an advantage and will benefit me later because I will be applying skills I already have whereas others will be learning as they go.

Guest Writer: Walt Wagner-Hecht

Walt Wagner-Hecht is an eleventh grader at Kennedy High School and is currently working on the Urban Orchards and Species GIS projects at BIG. His interests include nature, math, and linguistics. Last summer, Walt spent a week at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory studying diatoms at an aquatic microbiology camp. He also visited Costa Rica as part of an Audubon birding trip with field guide author Richard Garrigues. Walt is a member of the Iowa Young Birders and frequently attends their field trips. He plays harp for the Orchestra Iowa Harp Ensemble and French horn for the Coe College Concert Band. He plans to study biology and environmental science in college.

Walt on a birding trip in Costa Rica.

Walt on a birding trip in Costa Rica.

BIG Project: Species Range GIS

My BIG project is currently called “Species Range GIS,” for lack of a better title. This title explains one of its goals, but it’s really a lot more than that as well. I am very interested in wild animals and nature, and often research various species and ecosystems. While I was doing this one day, I realized there wasn’t a very good way to compare the ranges of different species to see which ones lived within an area. I could theoretically find a GIS program and import species range data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List (which keeps map data for all mammal species in its database), but I couldn’t find a program that was free, easy to use, and that could handle large amounts of data. I was very frustrated, so my mom suggested that I make my own program. And so the original idea for my BIG project was conceived.

Since then, I’ve decided that I want to include more information than just species’ ranges; it would also be nice to include their detailed classification, interactions with other species, and more. Based on the original idea of a GIS, which uses different “layers” of geographical information placed on top of maps, I plan to organize this information in “layers,” with one layer consisting of distribution, another for classification, etc.

This was my idea when I arrived at BIG. I had already spent the summer working on the classification layer by comparing various hypotheses about birds’ evolutionary relationships to construct a gigantic cladogram or “family tree” of all living bird species. Now I thought that BIG could provide a great place to make my idea into an actual website or program. I soon learned that in order to make sure our projects would be used, BIG wanted us to do customer discovery. This meant I would have to ask what people wanted in a biological information resource. I created a survey and sent it to several ornithological, forestry, and naturalist programs for feedback. Since we haven’t actually finished collecting our results yet, I don’t know for sure how customer discovery will impact my original idea, but I’m hopeful that both the scientific community and I are happy with the results.

At BIG, I’ve been learning a lot about computer programming to prepare me for creating the website or program. Right now Shawn and I are working on converting my cladogram into a form that can be used by OneZoom, a program for visualizing cladograms. This visualization will be used for the classification layer of the final program. While my idea is very BIG and complex, with the help of BIG I think I’ll be able to break it down into pieces that I can work on before connecting them into the final product. Traditional science classes, because they have to follow exact requirements, don’t allow for in-depth research like this, so I’m glad I can work on this at BIG.

Guest Writer: Kinzie Farmer

Kinzie at the podium at the conclusion of SuccessS.H.E.

Kinzie Farmer is a senior in high school and will graduate in the spring of 2015.  She looks forward studying International Business at Santa Clara University or Notre Dame.  Kinzie has spoken at a handful of conferences and is involved in her school through band and Business Professionals of America.  She hopes to share what she learned throughout the past year with other students so they fulfill their dreams.  Kinzie loves to spend time with her family and friends and travel all over the world.

A School Students Love

As a senior in high school, I have spent more than my fair share of time in a seat watching the clock.  I entered my thirteenth year of school this August, and for the first time since I can remember, I was so excited.  I no longer had to sit in a seat alongside of thirty other kids and learn what I “had” to.  I didn’t have to watch that clock for forty-two minutes, or cram for a test and stay up super late.  I didn’t have to be herded through the hallways in five minutes and make it to the next class on time.

This year, I was able to go back to the school that I love.   It’s a school without classrooms, with only four teachers, no tests and my favorite, no class periods.  Here at Iowa BIG, we learn the same material as other students, just in a way that’s best for us.


Kinzie speaking at 1 Million Cups.

I was one of less than twenty students at Iowa BIG last year, and now I am one of sixty.  I had the privilege of completing a project last year that challenged me as a student more than I could imagine and as a person even more.  I worked with my teacher and headmaster, Shawn Cornally, to create SuccessS.H.E. to inspire young women to overcome the personal boundaries they have imposed on themselves.  Through that project and through the school, I created a network in Cedar Rapids that helped me achieve what I never thought was possible.

At Iowa BIG, we have meetings once a week to connect with our groups and decide what we need to do to make progress, they assess our learning similar to a test or quiz.  The rest of the week, we work on our projects, have meetings in the community, work with our groups, do “customer discovery”, or go on tours in the community.  Last year and this year, I have learned how to communicate with adults that I will eventually work with, schedule meetings, deliver a speech (with an ask) to further my project, advocate for myself, manage my time, and work harder than I ever thought possible.  The freedom that Iowa BIG has built in is a key component of learning how to grow up and manage your time without someone telling you what to do.  It has been the greatest learning experience for me.

When this year is over, I will be really sad to graduate and leave BIG, but right now, I am working to leave an impression on the community and students to come.  One of my three projects is to “Make BIG Bigger”, or expand the BIG model so other students can enjoy school as much as I do.  My team is exploring what it would take to make another Iowa BIG and doing marketing for the school.  This project is so exciting to me because I can share what has made my high school experience with more students.

So Iowa BIG might not be for everyone, I understand that, but it definitely was for me.  I hope students find the thing that makes them love school, because I sure have and I’m so lucky.  I can’t wait to share that with others.

This Week at BIG


Customer discovery at NewBo Market. It is challenging to speak with people you’ve never met!

As school settles into a routine, we get many questions about the work of BIG students. What have our students been engaging in these last few weeks?

Right now we have thirty-two active projects, with community partners like the City of Cedar Rapids, EcoLips, Linn County Conservation, and Cedar Rapids Schools. Our students work in teams on projects like Making BIG Bigger and evaluating the Cedar River to control urban runoff. Others have been learning math and physics through their work with aquaponics. Others still are meeting with community members to investigate activities for teenagers and the revival of the Ellis Ice Rink.


Students and staff work as a team to challenge each other and create new solutions.

All of this investigation and learning is threaded with support from teaching staff for writing business emails, cold calling to set up appointments, and the best methods for locating quality research, in addition to instruction in a wide range of content areas. Team meetings are scheduled throughout the day, some beginning at 7:30 am and others at 4 pm. Our days at BIG continue to be challenging, innovative, and anything but routine!