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AUGUST 7, 2023
Good morning, Fearless readers:

Yikes. We’re somehow approaching the end of summer. RAGBRAI and Hinterland are over. The Iowa State Fair starts Aug. 10.

The piles of school supplies at stores still make me equally anxious and excited.
Take that deep breath with me, Fearless friends.

In today’s e-newsletter, you will find:

  • A column by Business Record special projects editor Emily Barske Wood about returning to graduate school while working: Have you considered making this leap?
  • A story about innovations in child care by former Fearless editor Emily Kestel: Learn about the most innovative approaches to expanding child care access in Iowa.
  • A preview of Flourish and its annual pitch event, which provides cash for women entrepreneurs and gender nonconforming entrepreneurs.
  • In the headlines: Maternal mortality rates in Iowa increased between 1999 and 2019, according to a new JAMA study.
  • A break from the headlines: Do you own Weird Barbie? We want to see her.
  • Lots more!

– Nicole Grundmeier, Business Record staff writer

Emily Barske Wood, the Business Record's special projects editor, recently started a master's degree program at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., pictured above. Photo by Getty Images.
Advice from women who have gone back to school while working
Growing up, when school was out for the summer, I would make homework assignments for myself – anything from geography quizzes to memorizing lines from the Gettysburg Address. I, of course, was also a big fan of summer reading challenges. And I took college classes starting the summer after eighth grade – including a three-week literature course that had me reading Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" between races at a swim meet so I could finish it in time for the next day’s class.

I have always loved learning. At first because it satiated my desire to achieve, and later because it fulfilled my desire to challenge my beliefs.

This quote from Sydney J. Harris says it all to me: "The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows."

It wasn’t until I was an undergraduate student at Iowa State University that I truly understood that education is more about opening your mind to the world around you rather than simply knowing facts or how to follow an equation. I also found that learning can be either formal, like attaining a degree or training, or informal, like listening to a podcast or experiencing a new culture through travel.

Working at the Iowa State Daily in college and for various publications as a professional, I’ve found I love teaching others about journalism just as much as I love doing journalism. So last fall I decided to start looking into a goal that has always lurked in my mind: earning a master’s degree to be able to continue my education so I can teach future journalists in some capacity.

I found a program through the University of Georgia in nonfiction narrative writing to be a perfect fit: It’s geared toward working professionals, it’s mostly online, but I’ll also get to travel to campus once each semester, and it’s focused in an area that will challenge me (writing). So I decided to take the leap.

But deciding to go back to school as a working professional requires a lot of decisions: like how to foot the bill or how to manage it all.  

For many professionals, especially women, going back to school requires an extra layer of juggling of roles they already hold, perhaps as a leader in their workplace, as a volunteer with various nonprofit boards, as a parent or caregiver, or as a spouse. It requires disruption, perhaps of their finances or the time they can commit to various activities.

Yet, it also offers an opportunity to gain new skills that can help you advance both your knowledge and your career. It offers a chance to work toward a personal goal, which can be very appealing to women who often are in roles focusing on helping others, leaving little time for themselves.

I’m lucky enough to have a great support system of people who believe in me. I’m also fortunate to work at a company that was able to help create a new part-time role, as special projects editor of the Business Record, which would better align with the demands of the graduate school program I chose. Much has changed as it relates to flexibility in the workplace since the onset of the pandemic, and it’s important that leaders think about the education goals of their employees as part of that.

On LinkedIn, I recently asked others who have gone back to school as working professionals to share why they made the decision and what advice they have for others. Here are a few comments (which have been edited and condensed for clarity).
Kenia Calderón Cerón, vice president/bilingual business development director at GreenState Credit Union: "I decided to go back to earn my MBA this year to prove to myself that I can succeed in school. I faced many hardships during my undergrad; therefore, I earned a low GPA. This became an insecurity, and I carried so much shame. Today, I have a 4.0 in my graduate program. Don’t let your undergraduate experience hold you back from trying school again. You are in a much different place today (mentally and financially). You deserve a second chance."
Erlin Kakkanad, director of operations excellence at Principal Financial Group and Ph.D. student at Drake University: "My decision to get a Ph.D. from Drake University was to close the literature gap of lack of voices from Asian American and especially the American Asian Indian diaspora and the journey from Asia to America. Being a working professional and pursuing a Ph.D. is extremely difficult, but not impossible. Prioritizing work, schoolwork and raising extraordinary toddlers was a path that does not come with a playbook for any of those spaces. Supportive peers, partners and tons of self-determination were some of the reasons why I continued to complete the program."
Brianne Fitzgerald, senior director of community engagement and inclusion at Alzheimer's Association Iowa Chapter: "I was able to obtain my master’s degree over the course of two years (graduated 2017) as a working mom of three. I also obtained several certifications over the course of my career as I have worked full time. My advice is that you should never stop learning. You will change as you grow in your career, and so should your learning. Identify what could give you a boost for a next step in your career or what might benefit you in your current (or next) role, and go after it. Find a program and schedule that work for you. Take your time. Ask your family/friends for support. Celebrate every step along the way – especially when you complete your program."
Ngozi Igbokwe, senior manager, learning and development, Bright Horizons: "Going back to school was always in the cards for me; I have always wanted to expand my knowledge and pursue higher education. Ultimately, I found the perfect program for me, a master's program focused on leadership development. My concentrations were in leadership and talent development. I especially liked that the program was geared toward working professionals. To those hoping to take the leap, I would advise you to make sure the time is right. Think about the things going on in your personal and professional life and evaluate whether you have the time to dedicate to your education. Once you have reflected, take time to explore programs and courses that align with your passions and career goals."
Rachelle Keck, president at Grand View University: "I started my Ph.D. in 2016 and completed it in 2020. A FANTASTIC decision! I not only expanded my knowledge and skill set, I met amazing colleagues who are still valuable members of my professional and personal circle today. The additional degree was a critical component of obtaining my current role."
Kayla Kovarna, deputy director of communications, marketing and air service development, Des Moines Airport Authority: "Years ago, I cannot recall precisely when, I quietly set a goal to obtain a master's degree. Fear crept in as I started considering enrolling. How could I go to school while working full time and starting a family? Eventually, I realized there would never be a ‘good time’ to return to school. I enrolled. I knew juggling my responsibilities and career obligations would be challenging while reading textbooks and writing papers, and it is, yet it is also fulfilling to be working toward a personal goal.

"There are countless reasons for not doing something that scares us, yet if we focus on all the reasons we should, we may achieve something beyond our expectations. As a goal-oriented person, it was about accomplishing something I had always wanted to do while setting myself up to capitalize on career progression opportunities. While there are days that are difficult to get it all done, it has been rewarding to show my daughters – and myself – that we can set and achieve goals at any age; I look forward to graduating in 2024."  

So here’s your sign: If you’re considering pursuing more education, in whatever form that might be, there are ways to make it work within your current lifestyle.

Leading Fearlessly: The value of an MBA for women, from BPC President and CEO Suzanna de Baca.
‘The sky’s the limit’: How Iowa businesses, communities and day care centers are innovating to address the state's child care crisis
From left: Kinzley Verros, Sarah Lange (teacher), Linden McCleearly and Rileigh Anderson engage in hands-on learning. Photo by Emily Kestel.
Addressing the child care crisis in the state is a bit like a high-stakes puzzle. The objective is simple: Have an equal ratio of child care slots and kids who need care. But there are countless factors that make the puzzle challenging, most of which can be lumped into themes of affordability, availability, quality and staffing.

There are a quarter of a million kids under the age of 5 living in Iowa, but only 175,000 registered child care slots, which on paper means about 60,000 children don’t have access to child care, should they need it.

Many child care providers struggle to stay open due to the razor-thin profit margins they’re forced to operate on. They often can’t afford to pay teachers a living wage – a child care worker in Iowa earns a median hourly wage of $13.85 – so those employees leave to work in other industries, which then causes extreme workforce shortages. But providers can’t raise their wages, because that would mean parents have to pay more.

Iowa parents often pay between 10% and 14% of their income for care – which is above the 7% national affordability benchmark. Some families can expect to pay $13,000 a year for care for one child.

More than three-quarters of Iowa families with children under the age of 6 have all parents in the workforce. But if they’re unable to find quality, available child care – or they can’t afford it – one parent can find themselves being pushed out of the workforce.

With all of that in mind, within the past several years, businesses have realized that access to child care is a critical economic issue and have started to seriously look at what they can do to help.

The solutions to the child care crisis aren’t cut and dried, and vary depending on the community’s needs.

"There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to child care, because every community is so different," said Sheri Penney, employer engagement director at the Iowa Women’s Foundation.

Both Penney and Emily Schmitt, chair of the state’s Child Care Task Force, said they’ve seen an increase in business involvement in child care and believe public-private partnerships are the way to go to make the child care industry in Iowa sustainable long term.

The Business Record visited a handful of unique child care businesses to see how they operate. The innovations of each organization address specific child care gaps.

Kidz Corner
Kidz Corner, owned by husband-wife duo Josh and Tina Terrell, is a drop-in child care center in Urbandale that opened in July 2021.

Before they moved to Des Moines, Tina, who serves as the director of Kidz Corner, was a preschool teacher in eastern Iowa. When Josh and Tina had looked into opening a center in the metro, they were intrigued by the drop-in center concept because of how it fits with the current economic reality.

Dubbing it "convenient care" or "flexible care," Josh said the model is geared toward parents who have irregular child care needs. Situational examples could include parents who work a hybrid schedule, are part of the gig economy, are waiting to get into a full-time child care center or need time to run solo errands. After registering their child with Kidz Corner, parents make reservations through an app and can book time that day or several months out.

Kidz Corner has 12 employees and room for 76 kids at any given time but generally has between 35 and 40 kids in the building.

Sydney Marshman, whose 9-month-old, Lincoln, attends the center, is an occupational therapist and founder of Happy at Home Consulting. She said she was drawn to Kidz Corner for its flexibility.

"Owning my own business and being a mom, I wanted to balance those two," she said, adding that it’s helpful to switch up the number of days she needs care.

Tina believes this type of care is in high demand and hopes to open another location in the future. The Terrells are also looking to develop a business partnership program that would provide employer-subsidized child care credits.

"The world changed with the pandemic," Josh said. "People are looking for different opportunities that have flexibility."

Williamsburg Community Child Care Center
One might not assume that an outlet mall in rural Iowa is a good place for a child care center.

Sandy Joseph, executive director of W4Cs (which stands for Williamsburg Community Child Care Center), thought that too – until someone from Bayer Crop Science, which is a local employer, knocked on the door in 2020.

Brett Wilson, Bayer’s Williamsburg site lead, was looking for help in providing child care for its seasonal migrant workforce. Historically, the company had hired people to babysit employees’ children but it was looking to modernize efforts.
W4Cs was full, so Wilson asked if it could expand its operations into a new building and mentioned they would help foot the bill to do so.

Iowa County is home to more than 1,100 kids under 5 but only has 600 spaces across child care centers, homes and preschools.

W4Cs had initially looked at moving into a former Head Start building in town, but the city administrator instead steered it toward the outlet mall, which would be more affordable, Joseph said.

"My knee-jerk reaction was, ‘What? Put a child care center in a mall? Are you kidding? No way!’" she recalled, but said she was open to looking at the 9,000-square-foot space, tucked in the back northeast corner of the outlet mall.

At the same time, Kristie Wetjen, general manager of Outlets & Marketplace Williamsburg, was looking at different ways to drive local traffic to the center, because she realized the company couldn’t sustain itself with its current retail-only business model.

"We’re in the middle of nowhere. No one builds outlet centers in places like this anymore," she said.

Wetjen’s boss gave her the go-ahead to move forward with the idea, and after more than a year of grant writing, community meetings, planning and construction, W4Cs North opened its doors in the old Dress Barn store in July 2022.
The center has capacity for 88 kids, and as of early 2023, has 45 kids enrolled and 20 people on the payroll.

The center was awarded a $406,888 grant through the Future Ready Iowa Child Care Challenge and received $350,000 in private investments, including from Bayer Crop Science, Compass Memorial Hospital and Outlets & Marketplace Williamsburg.

Bayer pays to hold 26 child care slots whether the company’s employees have a child there or not. Wilson said it’s a huge benefit as a business to have a child care center that its employees can use.

"A public-private partnership is the only way to make this happen," Wilson said. "The sky’s the limit; this is the starting point."

Kristen Daily and Chelsea Smith pitch their joint bakery at the Flourish event on Sept. 20, 2022, at Jasper Winery in Des Moines. File photo by Emily Kestel.
Flourish seeks women, gender-nonconforming entrepreneurs, to apply for cash prizes at pitch event
The organizers of Flourish are seeking applicants for its annual pitch event, which ultimately provides cash for women and gender-nonconforming entrepreneurs.

Flourish is hosted by FuseDSM and Love Local. This year’s event will be Sept. 26 at Willow on Grand, 6011 Grand Ave., in Des Moines. Applications are due Aug. 20.

"Getting the community engaged in learning about and funding local ideas not only creates more success for business owners, but it builds local pride – knowing your own dollars are backing meaningful ideas," Emily Steele, founder of Flourish, said in a news release.

Three people will be chosen from the applicants to pitch their ideas to a live audience. At the end of the event, the audience members will vote on who they want the money to go to. Proceeds from all ticket sales go to the winner.
In 2022, the event raised $3,000 to invest in Pie Bird Pies and Bread by Chelsa B as they opened a bakery together. The other finalists, Des Moines Girl and DSM Culinary, received $500 each. To learn more, visit
Photo by Getty Images.
In the headlines
Maternity care deserts in Iowa: A third of Iowa’s 99 counties are maternity care deserts, meaning they have no OB-GYNs and no birthing hospitals or birthing centers, according to a new report by the nonprofit March of Dimes. The report found 33 Iowa counties fit this definition, marking an increase in the number of rural hospitals that are no longer offering labor and delivery services, according to Iowa Public Radio. The loss of maternity services correlates with negative birthing outcomes, said Jessica Dill, the manager of centralized developments with the March of Dimes. "Preterm birth, issues related to birth, maternal morbidity rates go up when families have to drive more than 30 minutes to get to a care provider," she said. The report found hospitals offering birthing services dropped 6.7% between 2019 and 2020. Insufficient Medicaid reimbursement rates are a big factor in why many rural hospitals continue to shutter their labor and delivery units, she said.

Pregnant and postpartum Iowans dying: Maternal mortality rates in Iowa increased between 1999 and 2019, according to a JAMA study, published July 3, which provided the first state-level breakdowns by ethnic group. The overall number of deaths per 100,000 live births in Iowa increased from 10 to nearly 22 during the 20-year study period, according to AXIOS Des Moines. Maternal mortality is defined as a death that takes place during birth or up to a year later. The study looked at pregnant Iowans ages 10 to 54. Common causes of maternal death include mental health-related conditions and cardiac ailments. The rate among Iowa’s American Indian and Alaska Native populations rose from 26.5 to 139; from about 5.1 to 8.9 among Asian people, and 8.3 to 17.6 among white people, researchers found. This trend has accompanied the closures of birth centers in rural Iowa over a similar time period.

Extreme heat and female workers: Women are disproportionately burdened physically and financially by extreme heat, and those impacts are expected to increase as climate change accelerates, according to Scientific American. A new report looks at how heat affects women in India, Nigeria and the United States, and finds that high temperatures cost women in those countries $120 billion annually, due largely to missed work hours. When unpaid domestic labor is accounted for, the financial losses from heat borne by women rises to 260% compared to 76% for men, exacerbating existing gender disparities, the report says. That has ripple effects on family health, income and women’s education, but they’re not accounted for in economic data and often go unnoticed by policymakers, the report states.

Settlement over woman’s stem cells: Henrietta Lacks, a Black mother of five, was dying of cervical cancer in 1951, when doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore took a sample of her cells without her knowledge or consent. The invasive procedure led to a revolutionary discovery: Her cells were the first to reproduce in a laboratory, which no human cells had done before, allowing researchers to develop vaccines for polio and the coronavirus and treatments for diseases including cancer, Parkinson’s and the flu, according to the New York Times. But it would be more than two decades before her family knew that the cells were fueling research in laboratories all over the world, and even in space, creating an unparalleled medical legacy. On Aug. 1, which would have been Lacks’s 103rd birthday, some of her descendants gathered at a news conference after reaching a settlement with a biotechnology company that they had accused in a lawsuit of profiting from the cell line named for her, HeLa.

Worth checking out
Why Barbie must be punished: Mothers, daughters and an icon’s existential crisis. (New Yorker). A theory of childbirth’s evolution may not be what you’re expecting (Gifted article: New York Times). ‘Not just a ride’: Inaugural bike ride exploring 68 miles of the Underground Railroad in Southwestern Iowa to be held in September (Black Iowa News). Dads may want to do more caretaking – but then face barriers, one study finds (NPR). Evelyn Witkin, who studied how cells repair DNA, dies at 102 (Gifted article: Washington Post). Katie Ledecky passes Michael Phelps for most individual golds at world championships (NPR).
Share your Weird Barbie photos with Fearless
"Weird Barbie" is my new favorite Barbie.

I saw the "Barbie" movie on July 29 with my daughter in Ankeny. Maybe I just love Kate McKinnon. Or maybe it’s Weird Barbie’s hyperflexibility (She would be a tremendous gymnast but she is going to have back problems!), her child-given chunky haircut that somehow reminds me of both Kate Gosselin and Kit Kittredge, and the puffed sleeves of her shimmery magenta dress that Anne Shirley would covet.

People are showing off their own Weird Barbies on TikTok, and I’m kind of jealous. We don’t have a Weird Barbie at our house.

We do, however, have a weird American Girl doll. I gave my daughter a Samantha Parkington doll when she was 3 years old. (Yes, I really should have known better.)

A few weeks after giving my daughter the doll, I found Samantha with black Sharpie marks all over her legs and parts of her cloth body. I was upset. I asked my daughter why she chose to draw all over Samantha.

She told me the Sharpie marks were veins and scars. She had tried to make Samantha look more real.

I immediately fell in love with our Weird Samantha. Our dolls should look like us. Our dolls should look like our children.

We all have veins and scars. Those scars tell some of our most sacred and empowering stories.

Do you have a Weird Barbie at your house? I would love to see your photos to share with Fearless readers. You can email me a photo of your Weird Barbie at

I would love to hear her story.

Be fearless with us
At its core, Fearless exists to help empower Iowa women to succeed in work and life. We believe that everyone has a story to share and that we cannot progress as a society unless we know about one another. We share stories through featuring women in our reporting, featuring guest contributions and speakers at our events.

We are always looking for new stories to share and people to feature. Get in touch with us!

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