Northeast Iowa Community College Case Study

Rolling Out a Strategy Everyone Can Agree on to Prepare Students for Today’s World


Northeast Iowa Community College logo

Main campus location: Calmar, Iowa

Total campuses and centers: 12

Affiliated high schools: 13

Total students in Ice House courses: 200-250



Across eight counties and 5,000 square miles, Northeast Iowa Community College is the go-to institution for post-secondary and technical education and training. Not surprisingly, given its rural location, it’s a leader in agriculture and animal science. Including world-renowned Iowa’s Dairy Center, its other programs are also well respected on a national level. 

NICC students come from various life experiences and socioeconomic demographics. The college strives to match that diversity in its certificate, course, and degree options. Faculty and staff collaborate closely with the business community to understand workforce needs, but the college’s impact doesn’t stop there. The College’s overarching goal is to prepare students for all facets of today’s world. This is so they can overcome barriers and improve their lives.


Several years ago, NICC leadership intentionally sought out new ideas to help it achieve that student development goal. “We wanted to create something where a student who was motivated and focused had access to a tool or a model that had been proven to work and could be used by anyone,” recalled Seth Gilbert, NICC Director of Organizational Development.

After Seth Gilbert and two colleagues attended a one-day workshop by Gary Schoeniger, the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative CEO, they were captivated by the Ice House model. The College’s leadership decided to incorporate the model into the curriculum writ large so every student would gain exposure to an entrepreneurial mindset before graduation. 

Seth Gilbert was one of the first NICC employees to attend certification training. His role is to work with faculty, staff, students, and community members in various stages of learning and professional development. He was uniquely positioned to recognize that successful implementation depended on their collective response. He was determined to avoid the pitfalls that had stymied some college-level rollouts of the Ice House model. 


NICC leadership decided to offer two versions of the Ice House program. They include a one-credit condensed version for all students and a three-credit version within the Business Department’s Ed Plan. (For the 2022-23 school year, the program will transition out of the Business Department but continue to be available to all students.)

Gilbert realized that the first key to widespread support was to ensure that the entire program had a warm welcome from the outset. “We ran the Ice House program through our curriculum committee with zero changes, so we had the faculty on board right away,” he said. The college also worked in tandem with an independent consultant who involved local businesses by making the program available to them. 

Seth Gilbert leveraged the Ice House program’s content. This includes the eight principles (also sometimes called constructs or life lessons)—to convince stakeholders of the benefits beyond simply earning a credential. “They saw that it wasn’t just a CEU,” he said. “There was an opportunity to turn this into something much bigger.”


Paradoxically, the timing of the pandemic helped with the rollout. “The COVID shutdown allowed us to train faculty who had extra time,” Seth Gilbert said. Therefore, they attended online certification training in the spring of 2020 in preparation to introduce the Ice House model to students in the fall.

Four of the College’s affiliated high school campuses offered dual credit Ice House courses to 28 students in the 2021-22 academic year. The college trained the instructors (who are considered adjunct faculty) and offered the opportunity for students to attend the course at no cost. “High school students earn credits toward their high school graduation requirements as well as receiving college credit from NICC for the course,” explained Katie Gilbert, Dean of High School Partnerships.

“Many of the high schools have been demonstrating entrepreneurial leadership and development programming for their students successfully for quite a few years now,” she continued. “These partnerships between NICC and the school district are very strong in Iowa and particularly strong in our region of northeast Iowa.”


Business Instructor Melissa Stewart was one of the first faculty members to attend facilitation training. She comes from a unique background that includes psychology and criminology as well as business and human resources, so the psychology theories within the model immediately caught her attention. But that wasn’t the Ice House program’s only draw. “I loved that it talked about evolution, change, and progression,” she added. “We’re not in an environment where we stay the same. Nothing is consistent, especially with technology the way it is today.” The final selling point for Stewart was the focus on finding business opportunities and problems to solve. 

“When I saw all of that within the course, I said, ‘Yes, that is what employers want,’” Melissa Stewart said. 

As soon as she started teaching the three-credit course within the Business Department, she realized that it was what students wanted as well. “Students bought into it from the start,” she said. “You could see they were reading the materials, they were engaged, they wanted to go farther. They asked questions. They were applying it to their own lives.”


Katie Gilbert saw this at the secondary level, too, starting with the first 28 students to enroll in the dual credit option at four high schools. “During class visits, I have witnessed students who have not been engaged in course content suddenly become engaged when they find a project or business idea that aligns with something they are excited or passionate about,” she said. 

“The biggest benefit is simply that students are exposed to the mindset concept,” she continued. “Some of our high schools have been adept at character building and development curriculum for a long time, but I think this course supports and enhances it. Our students benefit from the opportunity to direct their own learning, practice creativity when combined with personal passion, and then push themselves outside of their comfort zones while creating new networks of support they never realized they already had available to them.”

While the Ice House program is not heavy on management or other aspects of running a business, “it provides a supplement that gets more into the heart, soul, and passion of doing something worth doing,” Katie Gilbert said. “The concept of having this mindset and attitude towards life—and, subsequently, a successful business—is unique and rewarding.”