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

Mercy Medical Center

Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines is receiving the go-ahead to start a psychiatric residency program. The hospital hopes to fill the void of behavioral health providers in the state.

Mercy has been approved to begin a four-year residency program in psychiatry, and is recruiting the first class of four doctors to begin in 2018. Iowa ranks 47th among states in the number of practicing psychiatrists per capita. The medical director of behavioral health at Mercy, Dr. Sasha Khosravi, estimates there are more than 120,000 Iowans with serious mental illness.

GEICO

The auto insurance company GEICO is planning to move its Midwest regional office from Coralville to a new building going up in North Liberty. This is another piece of development news for one of Iowa’s fastest growing towns.

GEICO has been in Coralville since 1997. By April of next year, the auto insurer will be in a 50,000-square-foot office building just east of I-380 in North Liberty. That town’s mayor, Terry Donahue, says GEICO was looking to expand.

Drake University

Drake University in Des Moines is entering into an arrangement it hopes will increase diversity at the private school. Drake is signing an agreement with three historically black colleges and universities.

Graduates of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, Lincoln University outside Philadelphia, and Kentucky State University in Frankfort, will be guaranteed scholarships upon admission to Drake’s Law School and doctor of pharmacy program. Drake’s provost, Sue Mattison, says the university is intent on drawing more minority students to campus.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio / Iowa Public Radio

A 200-person delegation representing the Greater Des Moines Partnership is in Washington this week lobbying on behalf of business and economic interests. This year, the focus is on a major project at the airport.

The Partnership is made up of 23 chambers of commerce representing 6,000 Central Iowa businesses. It has organized lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., for 38 years. The senior vice president of government relations and public policy for the group, Joe Murphy, says each year the agenda includes a transportation related concern. He says this year it involves air travel

Iowa Department on Aging

It’s estimated some 81,000 Iowans older than 60 are food insecure, meaning they do not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. A gathering in Des Moines is examining this issue.

The day-long hunger summit is co-sponsored by a coalition of groups working on food issues within Iowa’s older population called Growing Bolder, and AARP. The event’s coordinator, Linda Gobberdiel, says among the state’s seniors there’s a stigma attached to asking for help, which brings challenges to making sure they’re eating properly.

John Pemble, Iowa Public Radio

As the plan to replace Obamacare moves from the U.S. House to the Senate, Iowa’s Republican Senator Joni Ernst says it’s becoming increasingly urgent to enact a final bill. She says these are tough times for Iowans who are at risk of losing coverage as companies pull away from providing individual policies through the state’s insurance exchange.

“Knowing that very shortly we could have many families who have absolutely no options for insurance is worrisome, and so we know we have to address it,” she says.

EntreFest

An event billed as the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in Iowa returns this week after a year off. EntreFest is coming back to downtown Iowa City Thursday and Friday.

The conference for start-up business owners was launched in 2008 and managed for several years by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Business Growth and Innovation. But EntreFest went dark last year as operation of the event switched to Cedar Rapids-based New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative. Its events director, Jill Wilkins, says she’s glad to see Entrefest return.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The alternative high school in Des Moines is using grant money to become a safer place for students who are experiencing trauma at home. The money will help make staff more aware of how troubles outside the class are linked to behavior inside.

Scavo High School is planning to use $23,000 from the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation to become what’s known as a “trauma sensitive school.” The community schools coordinator for Scavo, Lyn Marchant, says the money will help teachers and students recognize the connection between strife at home and performance in school.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

On almost every college campus, there are dining halls and cafeterias filled to the brim with food. Students have their pick of practically anything they want. And yet, a surprisingly high percentage of these young people are hungry.

Grand View University senior Shannon Kaster is not your typical undergraduate college student. To begin, the Boone-native is 33-years-old.

“I’m married, I have a four-year-old son at home and I’m pregnant with another one due in July,” she says.

But she is experiencing something that is becoming all too common on campuses nationwide.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

The Transportation Security Administration and Des Moines Area Community College are expanding a training program that’s been in place since 2011. DMACC will now offer homeland security courses to TSA officers across much of the nation.

Drake Community Press

At a time when religious intolerance has sparked violence at mosques, synagogues, temples and churches nationwide, a project in Des Moines is embracing the diversity of faiths within Central Iowa. A photo-rich book is being released this week that illustrates various worship services in the area.

Freelance photographer Bob Blanchard had lived in Des Moines just two weeks when he read an op-ed column by a Drake University philosophy professor named Tim Knepper.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A tight state budget may mean a delay in one of the Branstad administration’s top legislative priorities. The issue of school choice for Iowa parents may have to wait for a brighter budget forecast.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds says the establishment of an education savings fund to help families pay for private education may not happen this session.

Iowa State University news service

Iowa’s Board of Regents has made it official. Former UNI President Benjamin Allen will serve as interim president of Iowa State after Steven Leath leaves Ames for Auburn University in May.  

Allen is a familiar figure at Iowa State. He’s been a professor, department chair, dean, vice president of academic affairs and provost at the school. He’ll become interim president May 9th, the day after Leath leaves office. Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter says Allen will begin work three weeks before then.

Iowa Lt. Gov.'s office

The alliance of business leaders and educators assigned the job of developing strategies to prepare tomorrow’s workforce in Iowa is hearing from its co-chair, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. She says the group is on track to meet its stated goals.

University of Northern Iowa's Center for Business Growth and Innovation

Economic development officials in the state are on the hunt for the next great idea. They are a launching a contest to find a new batch of innovative start-up companies.

The Center for Business Growth and Innovation at the University of Northern Iowa is behind the Great Idea Challenge. A senior program manager at the Center, Patrick Luensmann, says winners of the contest will be guided on how to build a strong, sustainable business.

“We really want to try and grow the pipeline for new, innovative companies to start and grow in Iowa,” he says.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Educators in Iowa are saying an early warning system for struggling young readers is showing progress. Nearly 61 percent of the school districts using it are recording improvements in reading among students from kindergarten-through-third grade.

cedar rapids police patch
City of Cedar Rapids

A year-long survey of Iowa law-enforcement agencies indicates they have more than 4,200 untested sexual assault evidence kits in storage. Most of the shelved kits are the result of changes in the circumstances surrounding rape cases.

Creighton University

A monthly index of the mid-America economy is at its highest point in nearly three years. The survey of supply managers in nine states indicates solid hiring in the manufacturing sector.

The Mid-America Business Conditions Index compiled by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss stands at a strong 60.5 for February. This is well above the growth neutral mark of 50. Goss says the reading for Iowa is even healthier at 62.6.

Grand View University

Grand View University in Des Moines will be launching a new academic discipline in the fall. Students at the school will be able to major in game design.

Grand View administrators say students who pursue a bachelor’s degree in game design will be trained in such things as animation, video production and 3-D illustration. English professor Joshua Call describes himself as a lifetime gamer. He says he finds the intersection of story-telling with decision-making in gaming an important academic pursuit.

Greater Des Moines Partnership

A newly launched web site is aimed at breaking the myth that start-up companies in Iowa can’t raise capital. More than 40 entrepreneurs have already shared their success stories.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

An overflow crowd crammed the Visitors' Center at Living History Farms in Urbandale for a lively town hall meeting with 3rd District Congressman David Young. The exchanges between the Republican and audience occasionally turned heated.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

A new technology sweeping the real estate market is hitting Des Moines. Virtual reality tours show finished living quarters while they’re still under construction.

Minnesota-based Roers Investments now offers potential downtown apartment dwellers a chance to see what they would be renting before the construction dust clears. Virtual reality devices can now lead prospective tenants of the company’s upscale Confluence on Third project on a tour of the completed building. Jeff Koch with Roers says the new marketing tool is revolutionizing the real estate industry.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Office space at the former AIB campus south of downtown Des Moines is being put to use as a hub for health-related nonprofits. It’s the first project to come since the University of Iowa took ownership of the 20-acre property last summer.

U.S. Department of Arts and Culture

A group in Des Moines is staging what it calls a People’s State of the Union event Monday night at a local jazz club. The evening will consist of stories told by representatives from various minority groups.

The storytelling circle will be made up of someone who uses a wheelchair, a Latina, a Native American, an African-American, a Muslim high school student and a refugee from the Middle East. One of the organizers is Carmen Lampe Zeitler.

National Advanced Driving Simulator

The U.S. Department of Transportation has selected the Iowa City area to be one of its ten proving grounds for driverless cars. Testing is scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

The Iowa City Area Development Group submitted the application to be considered one of the sites for testing automated vehicles. Its director of strategic growth, Tom Banta, says the presence of the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa helped the application stand out.

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

Until recently, sheriff’s departments in 26 Iowa counties pursued policies described as “sanctuary” protections for undocumented immigrants. That number appears to be going down.

At the start of a public forum in the gymnasium of Hampton-Dumont High School, some ground rules are laid out by the event's organizer, Sister Carmen Hernandez.

“I would ask that any comments, or political comments and opinions might be saved for another time," she tells the crowd. "That probably won’t happen, but just so we know.”

Rob Dillard, Iowa Public Radio

In the days immediately following the election of Donald Trump in November, Muslims in Cedar Rapids said they needed to do something to spread the word about their faith. Since the president assumed office, they say this need has become imperative. 

Around 20 people gathered in a lecture hall on the campus of Coe College in Cedar Rapids last Saturday afternoon to learn a little something about the Prophet Muhammad.

Iowa State University news service

An alliance of educators, government officials and the Iowa National Guard is setting out to inform the public about cyber security. The group aims to better protect people from increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks.

The Iowa Cyber Alliance is the nation’s first statewide program dedicated to cyber security. One of its leaders is Doug Jacobson, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State. He says one of the group’s goals is to prepare young people for careers in what he calls “the very hot field” of cyber security.

Wikimedia Commons

Executives at Lee Enterprises took time out of their first quarter conference call Thursday to defend professional journalism against the onset of so-called fake news. The newspaper chain is set to launch a campaign to explain its journalistic principles.

The Davenport-based company operates newspapers and specialty publications in 21 states. Lee’s executive chairman Mary Junck blasted the proliferation of fake news. She says it underscores the importance of professional journalism.

Wikimedia Commons

President Trump’s executive order to bar citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States is having a direct impact on families in Cedar Rapids. The Imam at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids says many people fear they may never see relatives again.

Imam Hassan Selim says the president’s recent order restricting travel between the U.S. and seven predominantly Muslim countries is creating fear and uncertainty among members of his Mosque.

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