Welcome to a big city with small-town charm

October 18, 2012 —

Having grown up in an Iowa town of about 7000 people, I found Des Moines big and a little intimidating when I moved here to go to DMU in the mid-1980s. I remember driving by the school the night before my interview and just bursting into tears because so much seemed to be riding on the next day’s interviews. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would one day work for the University, let alone for 23 years (and counting).

Over the years, the city, for me, has taken on the small-town charm I loved from my childhood, while still providing all the perks of small-city life. My kids find it amazing that I find out the things that I do, but that comes from being entrenched in a community and getting to know so many people. It also helps that my daughter drives my old car with personalized plates, so I get regular reports of CHICKAD sightings. (The plates are a shout-out to my grandmother, who called us all “her chickadees.”)

Earlier this week, I had a morning meeting with a young man interested in making health and wellness his life’s work. I call him a “young man” because I felt really old meeting with him…he asked me how long I’d been at the school and then he told me he was only a year older than that. When I first started at the University, I was younger than most of my students, and now I’m old enough to be their mothers. But that’s okay. When people ask me what I want to be when I get older, I say, “a little old woman.”

I digress; that’s not the purpose of the story. The purpose is to show the connections we make over the years and we find out we’re all connected in some way. As I talked to this young man, whom I’d only met briefly at a master of public health program event a couple of weeks ago, we were both astonished with the connections we shared. We go to the same church. His brother-in-law is a DMU doctor of physical therapy program alumnus, and his sister is a DMU College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate. His brother-in-law’s mother runs the front office at my family doctor, so I get to find out how he is doing whenever I go for my physical. That same woman attends my sister’s church so I hear about their family that way, too. This man graduated from the same high school my daughters attend, and his high school baseball coach went to high school with my husband in northern Iowa…and there were more connections, too!

This goes to show that in Iowa, we don’t have six degrees of separation; we have one and we like it that way. Anyone hoping to move to Des Moines and just fly under the radar, will learn soon enough. You’re now one of us and we’ll keep a light on for you.


Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., PA-C, is dean of the DMU College of Health Sciences and holder of three DMU degrees. She recently was recognized as a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), a designation received by fewer than one percent of physician assistants nationally. Dean Cahalan earned the designation in recognition for her outstanding contributions to the profession as well as her significant dedication and involvement in the community.
  • Margaret Joseph

    It is so good to hear people like you talk about Des Moines .
    Actualy my daughter is trying to go to DMU to study Podiatric medicine, and I was looking up the college and read what people say about the college and the city. Good to find out that it’s a big city with small town charm.

    Looking forward to visit Des Moines soon.

  • Jodi Cahalan

    Margaret, I hope your daughter enjoys her visit to Des Moines and Des Moines University. I’m sure she already knows that our podiatry college is the best so I’m hoping she enjoys the rest of what our university and city have to offer. I wish her the best of luck!