On November 8, 2022, Erin Olson-Douglas began her tenure as program director of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development (CED) unit. In addition to leading CED, Olson-Douglas serves as the associate dean for extension and outreach in the ISU College of Design.
Olson-Douglas comes to ISU from the City of Des Moines, where she had worked since 2008, most recently as the director of development services. During her tenure, the City of Des Moines significantly expanded downtown housing, approximately 10% of which was affordable for residents earning less than the area’s median income.
“I am proud of the vibrancy that we were able to foster in downtown Des Moines,” she said. “An important aspect of that vibrancy is due to the flourishing downtown housing market.”
Olson-Douglas’s concern about housing corresponds to her experience as a parent of three children and the need for families to have access to quality, affordable housing. She also sees the importance of housing in attracting businesses to a community.
“Businesses and companies will not choose to locate nor grow in a community unless they are confident that they can attract the workforce they need,” she said. “To me, desirable housing options in a community is a key to successful communities and to fostering Iowa’s workforce.”
A native Iowan who grew up on a farm near Adel, Olson-Douglas earned a Bachelor of Architecture with distinction from ISU, followed by a Master of Architecture from Harvard University. Before joining the staff for the City of Des Moines, she worked in private practice as well as taught studio courses for ISU’s Department of Architecture.
“I had the opportunity to teach first-year core studio,” said Olson-Douglas. “It really solidified my decision to go to grad school.”
Teaching also offered Olson-Douglas a chance to explore broad design ideas, something that occurs less often in private practice. Because of the energy that exists in design studio courses, she is interested in being able to work in both professional and academic environments.
While she will not be teaching in her new role at ISU, the ability to work at a statewide scale through both the College of Design and CED is appealing to Olson-Douglas.
“I love work in the community and economic development areas and this position’s responsibility to utilize research to educate on these topics at the service of communities across the state is tremendously interesting and exciting to me,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to help my home state.”