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Exploring Iowa BIG

Published Tuesday, October 16, 2018
by Iowa Big Student

The traditional concept of high school typically consists of a set schedule of classes in a set time frame with a set curriculum planned out well in advance. Students are told what to do and what to learn. Iowa BIG is rethinking the traditional concept of high school. Iowa BIG is a nationally recognized project-based high school educational program. BIG is an opportunity for students from the Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar, and College Community School Districts to learn real life skills while working with people in the community on real projects, all while earning high school credit. Students are in charge of their own learning and are truly what define Iowa BIG.

So how does it work? It starts with staff partnering directly with the community to identify a list of potential projects that are pitched to students. These are important projects to business where partners are seeking creative input and project ownership. In many ways, partners must be willing to turn ownership over to students.

Students have the choice to pick an “inbound” projects, projects that Iowa BIG coordinates with the community, or they can pitch their own “outbound” project on a subject they are passionate about. In order for an outbound project be successful, students must identify a community partner as a sponsor.

Students work as teams to then lead meetings, write emails, make presentations, organize fundraisers, produce videos, and so much more. Iowa BIG is an opportunity for students to pursue their passion and make a difference locally and even nationally. A large part of Iowa BIG is the reinforcement of professionalism and equipping students to be successful in whichever path they take beyond high school. Iowa BIG equips students with skills they would never learn from a textbook.

It’s not just the students that benefit. Iowa BIG works with many community business partners in Marion and surrounding areas including, but not limited to, United Way, Linn County Food Environment Alliance, and the Marion Police Department. The businesses and individuals who partner with Iowa BIG hopefully gain just as much through the program as the students. In the six years that Iowa BIG has existed, students have collaborated with community partners through more than 200 projects. The collaboration between community mentors and high school students allows new perspectives and innovative solutions to be generated. In the past, students have made recruitment videos, started book drives, taught classes, organized events, put together exhibits and more all while working hand in hand with community partners. Getting involved with Iowa BIG as a community partner is as simple as having a problem that you would like to offer to students, contacting the partner coordinators at BIG, and being willing to give the time to work with the students on the project’s team.

This year, a group of students at Iowa BIG is working on a project called InFocus. The project is a partnership with MEDCO to highlight the work of both students and partners. Be sure to keep an eye out for articles sharing the successes of Iowa BIG students in future MEDCO newsletters. For more information, visit

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