INVISION encourages our studio staff to get involved in our communities. Both studios frequently engage in city-led leadership programs. In part one of a three part series, Xianli Zeng, Intern Architect and Cedar Valley Leadership Institute graduate, describes her experience in the eight-month course.

The 2019-20 Cedar Valley Leadership Institute program is designed to foster community awareness while developing individual leadership skills, giving current and emerging leaders a broader view of civic leadership responsibilities and opportunities in the Cedar Valley.

I was very happy for the opportunity to introduce INVISION to my class. INVISION was established in Waterloo over 100 years ago and has always taken an active part in designing, developing, and supporting the growth of the Cedar Valley community. Our classes were held inside the Cedar Valley SportsPlex and Allen College, we also toured Cedar Falls Public Safety and the Waterloo Women’s Center for Change – all designed by INVISION.

In our broad range of sessions listed below, we learned about opportunities and challenges in the Cedar Valley community and were inspired to become thoughtful leaders and make changes.

  • Leadership Foundations – Cedar Valley SportsPlex Servant Leadership
  • Meet Your Cedar Valley – Multicultural Tour
  • Political Leadership/Media Relations
  • Education in the Cedar Valley
  • Healthcare & Wellness
  • Economic & Community Development
  • Capstone Session
  • Leadercast 2020

In addition to attending each of the sessions, our class completed a group project and two electives.

Our group project consisted of 10 of us who were brought together based on our personalities and strengths. Our project goal was to develop a sustainable fundraising framework for the Family Literacy Program (FLP) at Hawkeye Community College (HCC). FLP is a free program for individuals completing a high school equivalency diploma or an English language learning class at HCC, and they have a child at home age 18 or younger. The free program helps parents and children gain the benefits of reading and education by receiving one-on-one assistance and free children’s books.

Creating a fundraiser had been a long-time goal of FLP, so our leadership group was excited to offer assistance. Our solution included a fundraising event and a large fundraiser mailing. Our team coordinated with HCC internal departments and led discussions with local businesses. While the materials and organization for an event were ready to go, unfortunately the on-site event was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

My two electives consisted of interviewing a community leader and attending a community meeting. For the interview, I contacted Tom Wischersham, Program Director at the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa and the President of Cedar Falls Food Coop. Speaking with him was very inspiring. He defined community leaders as people for the greater good. He explained how anyone can be a community leader, as long as they devote the time.

The community meeting was at the Cedar Falls Historic Preservation Commission. Discussion points included challenges our African American citizens are facing and how the city is trying to help as well as the effort to seek funds to save a brick section of 16th street which was first installed in 1908. Through these electives, I learned how important it is for all of us to participate in community affairs and listen to different groups opinions and ideas.

This experience created new friendships and connections as we all strive to become leaders in our community. We collaborated, built relationships, and shared advice. Participating in the CVLI program was a great experience for me, one I highly recommend for anyone.