Rob Dillard

Correspondent

Rob Dillard is a Des Moines based correspondent for Iowa Public Radio. He joined IPR in 2001 as host of Morning Edition and moved to reporting in 2007.  He has been on special assignment for IPR since early 2011 reporting the ongoing series “Being in Iowa.” It has taken him around the state shining light on small segments of the population, including Muslims, military veterans, Latinos and the physically disabled. The series has won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and Northwest Broadcast News Association (NBNA).

Rob has extensive experience in radio, newspaper and media relations dating back more than 30 years. He has also taught news writing at Central College in Pella. Rob earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communications at the University of Iowa.

Rob’s favorite public radio program is Morning Edition.

Ways to Connect

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A class of fifth graders at Saint Anthony Catholic School in Des Moines are reaching a milestone. The students are coming to the end of six years of taking all of their coursework in Spanish. 

The 10- and 11-year olds are native English speakers. They have been completely immersed in a second language since kindergarten. Eleven-year-old Tyler Faris wasn’t quite sure what to expect when he began learning in Spanish at the age of five.

“I felt kind of nervous because it was a whole different language and I barely knew English,” he says.

AIB College of Business

A Des Moines school that has trained people to enter the business world for 95 years holds its final graduation ceremonies Sunday.

The American Institute of Business began in 1921 in a single room with 30-dollars-worth of used furniture and one borrowed chair. Two college roommates, Ray Hansen and E.O. Fenton, had an idea, says Fenton's son, Keith.

“They started a teacher placement agency," he says. "I don’t know if it was hard to get teachers or if it was hard for teachers to get jobs.”

An assistant Iowa attorney general is calling on state lawmakers to take action next session on laws to protect bicyclists on Iowa roadways. Iowa Assistant Attorney General Pete Grady says current law makes it nearly impossible to prove recklessness in cases where drivers hit bicyclists. 

At present, Grady says prosecutors need to show the vehicle operators knew their actions would cause harm.

"I don’t think anyone would define reckless behavior as requiring a better than 50 percent outcome for danger or harm, but that’s the standard we have here in Iowa," he says. 

John Pemble, IPR news

The annual Workers Memorial Day is remembering Iowa lives lost while on the job in 2015. 

Thirty-nine Iowans were killed at work last year.

The list includes Andrea Farrington, who was murdered at Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville last summer.

There were also people who died in explosions, falls, trench collapses, and vehicle accidents.

Iowa’s Commissioner of Labor Michael Mauro says on average, 12 people are killed on the job every day in the U.S.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

It’s being called the Dam Debate. Planners in the Des Moines metropolitan area are pulling in ideas from the public on what can be done to make the city’s two major rivers more open to boating, fishing and other recreational opportunities. 

More than a hundred residents skipped their lunch hours Tuesday to weigh in on a water trails plan for the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers downtown.

They used smart phones to answer survey questions to help determine what should be included in the plan.

The student art exhibit that just went up in Drake University’s Harmon Fine Arts Center crosses the intersection between art and the natural world. It’s the result of work created in a class called Planets. 

Drake associate art professor Angela Battle is pawing through an untidy box of display materials as she searches for things by which student artwork might attach to a gallery wall.

“See all the stuff required to hang an exhibition," she says. "Where are they?”

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

An unassuming laboratory in a basement corner room of the Black Engineering Building at Iowa State has a lofty goal: to make humans better at what they do. Researchers at the ATHENA Lab are working to improve human performance.

Photo by Kyle Munson

One of the Iowa's most generous philanthropists has died at the age of 79.  Richard Jacobson grew up in Belmond. He died today at his home in Florida.

Jacobson used the wealth he built as owner of a Des Moines-based shipping company to support many causes in the areas of health care, education and the Iowa State Fair.  His large gifts include $15 million to the University of Northern Iowa’s College of Education and $100 million to the Mayo Clinic, the largest gift Mayo has ever received from a single donor.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

About 50 people rallied outside the Federal Building in Des Moines Monday afternoon, calling on U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. 

The event was part of a nationwide call for senators to move ahead with hearings for President Obama's nominee to the high court.

It was organized by some three dozen groups, such as MoveOn.org, and included representatives from Iowa’s environmental and faith communities.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

We hear a great deal about attempts to recruit young women into the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Well, there’s another profession with a relatively small number of females, one that combines science with art. There's currently an effort to draw more women into architecture, and keep them in the profession.

When Barbara Welander enrolled in the architecture program at Iowa State in 1962, she was one of eleven women in the freshman class. When she graduated five years later, she was the only female remaining.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Doctors and nurses in military hospitals after World War Two saw the benefits of music.

They watched their patients improve under its sway. In recent years, scientists have shown it has special powers as we grow older. 

It doesn’t take musician Bill Connet long to win over his audience at Wesley Acres retirement community in Des Moines.

Joyce Russell, Sarah Boden, Amy Mayer/IPR

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses for the Republican presidential nomination, while the Democratic race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was considered neck-and-neck early this morning.

In a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Cruz thanked Iowa Republicans while also referencing scripture, Reagan Democrats, and what he calls “courageous conservatives”.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The first diplomatic consulate in Iowa is officially open. The office in Des Moines seals a long-standing friendship between the state and the Republic of Kosovo.

Band members from the Iowa National Guard and the Kosovo Security Force joined to play the national anthems of Kosovo and the U.S.

The deputy prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci says his country decided to open its second U.S. consulate in Des Moines because of what Iowa did for his nation after the war in the Balkans.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A growing number of schools across the country are providing more services to make life easier for students who have fallen behind in their coursework. Things like food banks and day-care centers. An alternative high school in Des Moines has become the first in the state to install an on-site dental clinic.

Dental assistant Jenny Hen has just ordered high school junior Dustin Elliott to open wide as she begins a thorough cleaning of his teeth.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Some students at Mount Vernon High School have spent a couple of weeks this month stepping out of their comfort zones. They’ve traveled to nearby Cedar Rapids to meet people they would otherwise not encounter in the hallways of their almost entirely white school.

constructionlessons.com

The construction industry in Iowa is moving into a busy first-half of 2016 with not enough workers to handle the jobs. Efforts are underway to attract more young people into the field.

Leaders in the building industry are promoting construction careers to students as young as middle-school age as a way to fill a gap in skilled laborers in Iowa.  The president of the Master Builders of Iowa, Chad Kleppe, says there are not enough carpenters, ironworkers, masons and other construction workers to attend to the hundreds of building projects in progress.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

In a small school district in Southeast Iowa, five young women are taking the future of science education into their own hands.

They’ve designed a proposed building addition that would provide room for students to experiment in science, technology, engineering and math.

Design team member Riley McElderry at Cardinal High School in Eldon says the project began by asking some simple questions.

ISU

It has been 30 years since a plane crash in a Des Moines neighborhood killed several members of the Iowa State University women's cross country team. Thursday, hundreds of people gathered at the crash site to remember those who were lost in that crash.  The team had just surprised even itself by placing second at the NCAA national championships in Milwaukee.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A small group of students at the University of Dubuque is holding some difficult conversations about race. A new initiative there is designed to get young people thinking about racial differences in order to bring the campus closer together. 

At the start of a three-hour session on a Sunday afternoon, Roger Bonair-Agard reminds the dozen or so students what he expects from them as they begin a series of writing exercises.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

 The Des Moines Metro area’s largest private employer is announcing plans to develop a history museum downtown.

Economic development leaders say it will be a linchpin to the revitalization of Walnut Street. 

Wells Fargo says it will open a 5,500-hundred-square-foot museum in its bank lobby a year from now.

City leaders say that times out perfectly with revitalization efforts on the street, which served for years as a hub for buses and was shut off to traffic.

Mercy Medical Center

Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines is using an eight-point-five million dollar gift to establish a women’s health center.

The money comes from the family of the late Frank Comfort and will help start a medical center in Clive dedicated to women in mid-life or older.

The facility will be known as the Mercy Comfort Women’s Center and is expected to open in early 2017.

The gift from the Comfort Family Foundation is the largest family gift in Mercy history.

March of Dimes

Iowa earns a grade of C on a report card issued by the March of Dimes.

The rating measures the rate of premature births in the state, and it shows a disparity between the races.

The percentage of babies born before full term in Iowa is 9.3.

For blacks, it’s 11.7 percent.

The state director of programs and advocacy for the March of Dimes, Michelle Gogerty says it’s not clear why this disparity exists.

She says the state chapter is working to do something about it.

Fairfield Community School District

The 2016 Teacher of the Year in Iowa is a 35-year veteran of the profession. 

Fairfield High School English teacher Scott Slechta was introduced as the latest Teacher of the Year during a school assembly.

The 57-year-old has been teaching in the southeast Iowa town since 1984.

Slechta reflects on what the recognition means at this stage of his career.

“New opportunities, new doors opened," he says. "I always think there are points in my career when I kind of look for something new and adventuresome, and I’m sure this journey will offer both of those things.

Friends of Iowa Civil Rights

The 20th Annual Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Lifetime Achievement Award went to the World Food Prize Foundation. 

The president of the Foundation, Ken Quinn, quotes World Food Prize founder Norman Borlaug when he says “food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.”

“If people don’t have enough food and sufficient nutritious food, they are not going to be able to avail themselves of their civil rights," Quinn says. "So food is the foundation that has to be addressed.”

A coalition of advocacy groups for children is urging presidential candidates to address issues of poverty in early childhood, especially among kids of color. 

A report from the philanthropic Annie E. Casey Foundation shows half of the nation’s children younger than five are either African-American or Hispanic.

In Iowa, it’s around 17 percent.

Advocates for children of color say many of these kids are living in poverty, and yet policymakers and presidential candidates are ignoring the problem.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A group of students in the Des Moines Public Schools are using art and poetry to address some of the nation’s most divisive social issues, such as racial divisions and immigrant rights. It’s in a course called Urban Leadership.

Sixteen-year old Jalesha Johnson has collected her thoughts on the plight of refugees in the form of a poem.

“This is us living the American dream.". she reads. "This is every migrant who never woke up, I wonder if the ships start sinking because they can’t hold all of that hope .”

Sioux City Schools

Latino activists in Sioux City are gathering signatures to protest Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s appearance at West High School next Tuesday evening. They plan to present a petition to the Superintendent of Schools in Sioux City saying Trump should not be allowed to use school property.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Two busloads of opponents of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline across Iowa protested outside the state’s Utility Board offices Thursday.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement organized the demonstration and delivered a box full of letters objecting to the plan.

Longtime Des Moines social activist Frank Cordaro was among the protesters.  

“Today we’re at the utility folks, the folks who are supposed to be protecting this state," he says. "And we’re here to tell them don’t let dirty oil come to our state.”

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Women farmers were at the center of a luncheon in Des Moines sponsored by Oxfam America.

The event was part of the week-long festivities surrounding the World Food Prize and it was meant to highlight the importance of women in food production.

The only woman to hold the job of Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa, Patty Judge, told the audience women are key to feeding a hungry world.

“Chronic hunger most often affects women and children," she says. "Investing in women as farmers raising food to feed their hungry children is just the right thing to do.”

John Pemple/IPR file photo

Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is among those sponsoring legislation aimed at recalibrating prison sentences for certain drug offenders.  Grassley appeared at a Washington news conference today with Senators from both parties.  He called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 a significant change in how the courts treat lower-level drug crimes.

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