Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Rain forest starts staffing local office

By Brian Sharp
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Having helped students find their career path into the world since 2001, Nancy Quellhorst is changing gears - hoping to bring the world, or a better understanding of it, to students and the community.

The Iowa City woman was named Monday as vice president of the Iowa Environmental/Education Project. The $180 million proposal would create a 4.5-acre enclosed rain forest and learning/research center southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue in Coralville.

Quellhorst has worked since 2001 as program coordinator for The Workplace Learning Connection, an Iowa City business linking youth to job-shadow and internship opportunities. She is the first hire for the project's Coralville office, expected to reopen later this month. Project officials expect to staff the office with up to five employees by early 2005. Currently, all operations are based in Des Moines.

"(The project) is a great combination of elements that are important to me," Quellhorst said of her interest in the proposal's linkages with workforce development, the environment and education. "I found it exciting. The environmental component is something that is near and dear to my heart. Another thing that attracted me to this project is the national focus."

The project, envisioned to forge a link with K-12 schools statewide, the University of Iowa and programs elsewhere, also includes a large-scale theater, educational galleries and 10 acres of re-created Iowa wetlands and prairie.

Quellhorst begins her new job April 19. Her duties range from creating marketing opportunities to being a liaison to K-12 schools, UI, Kirkwood Community College, and other interested organizations, clubs and businesses. She will join the design team, but, at this time, her staff position does not bring a seat on the board of directors, said David Oman, the project's chief administrator.

Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth contacted Quellhorst about the position and put her in touch with Oman.

"We had several discussions," Oman said. "I concluded that she absolutely would be fantastic."

Having received a $50 million federal grant in January, Oman and company are hoping to break ground in late fall. Coinciding with that schedule, Oman said, is a need to "dial up" the listening and outreach in the community.

Oman did not release Quellhorst's salary, saying details still are being finalized.