Communications Specialist, Iowa JPEC

The main lesson Margorie Gutierrez learned as a student in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is to never fear failure. 

Because of that philosophy—and a philanthropic drive—her name is becoming synonymous with the word partnership. Gutierrez, who emigrated from Peru to the United States when she was 8 years old, has coordinated an electronic waste project and started a food pantry for University of Iowa students.  

Gutierrez started the electronic waste project when she was unsure how to dispose of two laptop computers she no longer used. Most of our electronic waste is shipped overseas and “mined” for precious and heavy metals, exposing the individual and the environment to toxic materials. She realized recycling was not a solution, a better alternative was to reuse.   

“For as little as $10, and with help from the IT department at the University of Iowa library, I was able to refurbish a 10-year-old laptop,” Gutierrez said. 

She started a partnership with Goodwill Reboot to refurbish unwanted electronics and began on-campus collection drives. The chip shortage caused by the pandemic has provided a new opportunity for her to push refurbishing of electronics into the mainstream. She’s also working on creating a user-friendly kit to update laptops.    

That was just a beginning for Gutierrez. Her second venture relied on a partnership with Kirkwood Community College in Iowa City, Iowa, where she earned an associate degree before enrolling at the University of Iowa. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic put numerous college students out of work —and low on food — Gutierrez donned her enterprise leadership hat and started a student food pantry for Kirkwood Community College’s Iowa City campus. Kirkwood donated a refrigerator and freezer, as well as a small space to set up shop. Then Gutierrez needed to quickly mobilize. She received the OK for the pantry in December with the expectation that it would be running by the first day of spring classes Jan. 25. Everything came together in six weeks, thanks to the director of student services Nick Borders and another partnership, this time with Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP).  

“The easy part was getting it up and running,” Gutierrez said. “The harder part was getting word out that we were open, especially in a pandemic and with no students on campus.” 

Gutierrez reached out to programs on campus that had more of a one-on-one relationship with students who would benefit from a food pantry. There was huge turnout at first, then a drop in attendance. 

“I was taught how important it is to get to know your target market,” Gutierrez said. “We did a survey and realized we were missing the mark. Most of our pantry users are not American students, and the food that was offered was not diverse enough.” 

Undaunted, Gutierrez utilized grant money to create market vouchers that could be used at African, halal, and Mexican markets. In the seven months it has been open, the pantry has distributed more than 35,000 pounds of food and had more than 850 visits. Gutierrez was also awarded $23,973 in grants which will be used to continue to fund the diverse market voucher program and move the pantry into a larger space. 

“It has been an amazing journey and I’m so grateful,” Gutierrez said. “I have been given all the tools I need to succeed. I just need to have faith in myself and the work I am going to do.” 

Gutierrez worked in Student Services while attending Kirkwood. She also worked with food distribution at the University of Iowa’s food pantry and as its Resource and Advocacy Coordinator. 

Gutierrez graduated from the University of Iowa in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in enterprise leadership. During her time on campus, she received Iowa JPEC’s John and Mary Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Scholarship, made the dean’s list every semester, and participated in the IdeaStorm pitch competition. 

Her vision is to morph the food pantry into a one-stop shop to supply whatever resources students need to complete their education. 

“Don’t be afraid to fail, but if you do, fail fast,” Gutierrez said. “That is one of the many things the teachers in the entrepreneurial leadership department drive home. I’m no longer afraid to create and start things from the bottom up. Before attending the University of Iowa, I would describe myself as someone who always played it safe and lacked creativity. The enterprise leadership program gave me the freedom to dream and the tools needed to bring my vision to life.” 

Gutierrez has received the Enterprise Leadership Student of the Year in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors. The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center will recognize her Oct. 8 in Hancher Auditorium.