Kindling a ‘Go Before You Know’ Mentality Across Northeast Iowa


Sarah Williamson, Contributor for The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative

When Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) offered its first Ice House courses in 2020, it ignited what one faculty member described as a “virtuous brush fire.”

NICC Director of Organizational Development Seth Gilbert expressed that when people hear about the Ice House program, they want to get involved. That’s especially impressive considering the college has 12 campuses and centers across eight counties covering 5,000 square miles of rural northeastern Iowa.

The college implemented the Ice House model because its leadership believed an entrepreneurial mindset could prepare students for all facets of today’s world, helping them overcome barriers and improve their lives. 

Seth Gilbert was among the first NICC staff to attend facilitation training. He still remembers hearing the CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, Gary Schoeniger, comparing traditional entrepreneurship with its focus on business plans, financial backing, and a “know before you go” mentality. In addition, Seth Gilbert recognized The Ice House’s “redefinition” as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. He identified the benefits NICC students would accrue and expressed students will develop an entrepreneurial mindset and start living out that "go before you know" attitude. 

The Rising Tide

For Business Instructor Melissa Stewart, who has worked in the fields of mental health and criminology as well as business and human resources, the psychological theories within the Ice House model immediately caught her attention. 

“I loved that it talked about evolution, change, and progression,” Stewart said. “We’re not in a static environment; you could say we are in a technology revolution. The lessons from Ice House allow students to conceptualize what change looks like and how to prepare for it.”

Some students have faced challenges and are still overcoming them. The Ice House curriculum has helped support their success. Other students attend NICC due to the resources the college has to offer. These resources assist those with constraints, including money, time, tools, and people. Students enrolled in Ice House courses can use these services to succeed and overcome challenges.

It was not long before the “virtuous brush fire” caught the attention of the faculty. These faculty members teach dual credit courses to high school students within the college’s substantial geographic footprint. 

Dean of High School Partnerships Katie Gilbert also saw the curriculum kindle flames in those students. “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, simply, is that students are exposed to the mindset concept.”

Benefits Beyond Campus

Seth Gilbert recognizes that the Ice House content is story-based and easily accessible to people from all walks of life. “We’ve always presented the Ice House approach as a community-strengthening opportunity,” he said. “If you can create more entrepreneurial-minded individuals, that rising tide lifts all boats.”

The Ice House courses resonate with students, faculty, and community business people who are racially and ethnically similar. However, they come from very different socioeconomic settings and have a variety of life experiences. “When we are able to share believable stories about what people have accomplished, that makes all the difference in the world,” Seth Gilbert said.

Melissa Stewart agreed. “Students relate to these stories about real-life people because these are their experiences, too,” she said. “I reinforce that, yes, it is real life, not just something from a textbook. And I know students talk about it in their network of family and friends.”

Thus the “virtuous brush fire” shows signs of continuing to spread. As NICC transitioned to new leadership over the summer of 2022, this is one fire that no one’s in any rush to put out.