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Shelley Oltmans facilitated over 20 projects tied to economic and community development

Shelley Oltmans

Executive Director,
Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce 
Shelley’s LinkedIn

Favorite Place

The Mississippi River

What was your first interaction with a school-community partnership project?

Working with the IISC students and faculty on over 20 projects in the City of Keokuk had a huge impact on moving toward our vision laid out in the 2018 comprehensive plan. I was excited to host the students in our community and share with them our assets as well as help them learn about how to build on those while addressing our struggles. The students came in with wide eyes open and a bit naive, however quickly learned things aren’t as easy as it appears in the classroom. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and also the satisfaction of succeeding is well worth the time and frustrations. The relationships I built with students and faculty have carried on and the quality foundational work they completed has allowed me to collaborate with community organizations and succeed in my position driving community and economic development in the city of Keokuk.

How did you first learn about EPIC-N?

I learned about EPIC-N through our community partnership with Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities at the University of Iowa.

What are some of the top priorities you are working on this year?

Related to the downtown redevelopment plan we have several projects moving forward. Housing is our top priority! This includes implementing vacant property and rental property registries and inspections, identifying funds for renovations and rehabs of existing structures with upper-story housing, as well as new housing on infill lots. In addition, we have a focus on building community spaces connecting the arts corridor from the Great River Players building to the Keokuk Public Library Foundation Park.

In what ways are you looking to engage, or work with others, either from within the EPIC-Network, or in general?

I am interested in consulting with local communities that are working with institutions on developing projects or larger community partnerships with multiple projects. It can be intimidating for community leaders to identify projects and community partners for the program, and once this is complete, even more difficult to balance the communications and organizational side while students are doing the work. However, a solid foundation related to expectations and open lines of communication can make it much easier for the community coordinators and organizations.

Why do you think the EPIC-Network is important?

The ability to tap into a large network of institutions and communities doing this work is critical to building new programs and successful community partnerships. EPIC-N serves as this resource.

What do you want a community, or university, to know about the EPIC-Network?

I want a community to know that EPIC-N is a great resource to see what type of projects and programs are possible and to feel comfortable to ask other communities about their experience.

What are you hoping attendees will take with them after attending your presentation?

During the EPIC-N Resilience Webinar Series featuring the Iowa EPIC Model program, I hope that communities and Higher Ed Institutions leave feeling that experiential learning for students in real communities is necessary! Learn more about this recent webinar featuring Shelley.


Shelley Oltmans is an Industry Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in the department of Community and Economic Development. In this position she also serves as the Executive Director of the Keokuk Area Chamber of Commerce. She is a proud alumna of Iowa State University, where she received a Master in Community and Regional Planning and Master of Science in Sustainable Agriculture. In her Industry Specialist position, she teaches community leadership and facilitates local and regional planning efforts with nonprofits and local governments. Her strengths are partnering with government entities and nonprofits to collaborate in providing educational and economic development opportunities. As the director of the Chamber of Commerce she is highly involved in catalyzing reinvestment in housing and the built environment.

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