Drake University: Offering a class exploring the Silicon Prairie

Drake University The "Exploring the Silicon Prairie" course offered at Drake University is held inside Aliber Hall. As students and guests walk into the building, they see this statue of Griff the bulldog.

A four-week class at Drake University has students in the information systems program examining and exploring the “Silicon Prairie.”

The class—Exploring the Silicon Prairie—is offered in the Spring J-term and looks at how the term “Silicon Prairie” was first coined and what the Midwest, specifically Iowa, offers from a tech and startup perspective.

This is the second year the class has been offered.

“We start off with like history, background, explaining what is the Silicon Prairie,” Alanah Mitchell, associate professor of Information Systems, said. “Then we talk about technology evolution, innovative and disruptive technologies and emerging technologies.”

After a history lesson, Mitchell scheduled tours of six different companies around Central Iowa to give students a glimpse into what it’s like to work in a startup or corporate environment.

She has tours scheduled with Dwolla, Principal, Workiva and Blue Compass.

“I want to show the students that you don’t have to be in silicon valley to have exciting tech stuff happening,” Mitchell says. “We have exciting tech stuff happening here.”

Spreading awareness of the startup community

Last week Mitchell brought her class to the Gravitate coworking space in downtown Des Moines to expose students to the idea of coworking and what kinds of companies take advantage of the space.

“It exposes them to different places that they may want to work,” Mitchell says. “And while they’ve had internships, that’s just one or two experiences. They don’t know what they like about small companies or big companies.”

And because the students get to meet with the founders and CEO’s of these companies, Mitchell hopes students get to have their questions answered.

“They get to find out answers to things they wouldn’t normally find out,” Mitchell says.

Adam Lathan is a sophomore who’s currently interning for an insurance startup in Des Moines and he admits to not knowing that Des Moines offered so much in terms of startup companies and resources for those companies.

“It’s been interesting because I was expecting it—the class—to be more about the process of what happens with startups,” Lathan, 20, says. “But it’s really been a lot more about an awareness and here’s what is going on.”

Lathan said he can see himself working for a startup or in a corporate environment and that this class is helping him understand where he would fit best.

“I’m able to see both sides and it’s been really interesting,” Lathan said.