Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Refugee students share their stories using technology at Drake University

Drake University

Darcie Vandegrift sees so many stories told about immigrants or refugees from everybody but immigrants and refugees.

So to hear directly from immigrant and refugee high school students, they asked. And it turned into a three-week workshop where immigrant and refugee juniors and seniors from the Des Moines School District learn about story telling, podcasting and literacy.

“Stories about refugees and immigrants are so often told by others, not through the communities themselves,” Darcie Vandegrift, Sociology Professor at Drake University, said Wednesday. “And the same is true for young people, a lot of stories are told about them, things are done to them and said for them, but they don’t get a chance to speak for themselves very often.”

Each week consisted of a different storytelling project. Week one was focused on themselves, week two focused on a friend and week three focuses on an elder in their community. The length of each podcast increased each week as well.

Students submitted applications and 13 were accepted for the workshop. Its last day is Friday, then the group will get back together for a launch party on Sept. 24 for a website that features all their podcasts.

“There are some compelling oral histories about some remarkable new Iowans,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift says it’s been refreshing to work with high school students because of their willingness to dive in to an unknown subject.

“All kids have technology experience with their phones,” she said. “But this group has been willing to take risks and jump in.”

Both Rita Idris and Tam Cao will be seniors at Des Moines Hoover High School this fall and came to the United States within the last two years. Both said they enjoyed working with the new technology and hearing stories from elders about their journey to the United States.

“How hard was it to be here and what challenges they went through,” Idris, 17, said. “Some people were really open where others were nervous and didn’t want their story to be heard.”

Idris came from Sudan to Des Moines in 2015; Cao came to Des Moines from Vietnam 18 months ago.

“I didn’t know anything about this till we started,” Cao, 17, says. “People here are really nice and have helped me a lot.”

Refugee students share their stories using technology at Drake University | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now