Robert T. Anderson, 67BA, 72MA, has spent his entire career building bridges between Iowa and the larger world through his role as president and founder of the nonprofit Iowa Resource for International Service (IRIS) and his tireless work in education and politics.
His lifelong dream was to become a teacher, but after completing both his master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism at the University of Iowa, the Marshalltown, Iowa, native took steps that led him closer and closer to the global community.
Anderson began this journey as a high-school journalism teacher and quickly moved into a position in state government, serving in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1975 to 1983. He then became the first Democrat in Iowa history to be elected as lieutenant governor alongside a Republican governor.
After four years as lieutenant governor, Anderson focused on his passion for creating local opportunities and global connections. He worked with former Governor Robert Ray and Iowa City State Senator Jean Lloyd-Jones to create the Iowa Peace Institute in 1987. After the institute narrowed its focus to domestic issues, he formed the International Center for Community Journalism (ICCJ) and became an adjunct professor of journalism at both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. ICCJ changed its name to IRIS or Iowa Resource for International Service in 1996 and expanded its programming internationally to additional professions.
IRIS's mission promotes international understanding, development, and peace, bringing students, journalists, educators, and leaders in business and government to Iowa from Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia. So far, the organization has welcomed nearly 800 international visitors to Iowa, and it recently arranged for more than 400 high school students from Nigeria and Tanzania to spend a year attending Iowa high schools through the State Department's Youth Education and Study program.
In addition to his leadership work with IRIS, Anderson has found numerous other ways to foster international exchanges and to educate citizens about the crucial roles that a free press and information systems play in society. Among his many activities, he was a sponsor for Thai Dam refugees in the 1970s and 1980s; led programs to assist Iraqi refugees in Iowa in 2008 and 2009; and created an exchange partnership among 18 libraries in Bulgaria and the U.S. He also helped establish Study IowaŚa consortium of more than 20 colleges and universities that recruit international students and scholars.
Colleague UI Professor Emeritus Kenneth Starck wrote of Anderson: "Throughout his career, Bob has generated innovative ideas. Just as importantly, he has possessed the courage, commitment, and resourcefulness to see them carried out."
Anderson's visionary contributions have not gone unnoticed. He received the Immigrant Champion Award at the Iowa Immigrant Entrepreneurial Summit 2009, and he is also the recipient of the Delphi International Award, the Global Peace and Justice Award from William Penn College, the Distinguished Service Award from the Iowa Council for International Understanding, and the Award of Excellence from the Nigerian Peace Corps.
In an age where global relationships are more important than ever, Robert T. Anderson's commendable support of cultural exchange has cultivated a more peaceful and tolerant world.
Anderson is a life member of the UI Alumni Association.