By Brian Meyer Messages received in the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods often can be read like testimonials to the center’s work in Uganda over the past decade. “Thank you to the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods for being the engine of the transformation story that has blossomed on the …


By Ed Adcock Adam and Austin Fichter have a lot in common. The fourth generation agriculture and life sciences students from Shenandoah started off their freshman year excelling as scholars and leaders. You could say they were cast from the same mold, especially when you see them. The identical twins …


By Melea Reicks Licht Enrique Villalobos stretches out his arm and points.  He lifts his sunglasses and his eyes meet those of a little girl, barefoot and standing in the doorway of a small, simple home. Located on the outskirts of a large pineapple plantation near San Carlos, Costa Rica, …


By Lynn Laws Tiara Sandoval walks to a village meeting on a cool Saturday morning. Her host family’s village in Nepal’s Middle Hills Region, in the district of Syangia, is located along the side and top of a hill. Far to her left she can see tropical forest and to …

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By Lynn Laws

It was over two years ago, but Lori Lang often thinks about the women farmers she met in the Kamuli district of Uganda.

Iowa women farmers, including Lang (’97 agricultural education) and five other agriculture and life sciences alums, traveled to Uganda in 2011 and 2012 as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development Farmer-to-Farmer project. A total of seven, two-week trips were made during that time. Two to three Iowa farmers and an Iowa State University Extension staff member made the journey each time, armed with plans to continue to work collaboratively with women farmers in the Kamuli district to increase their income and their quality of life.

“When I get nervous about the agricultural outlook for profitability on my farm, I think about those women. They are so inspiring,” says Lang, who went on two of the trips.

Low rainfall and poor soil quality are challenges for the district’s farmers. Farms average two to four acres. Families rely on their crops for food and cash income. Their only farm implements may be a hoe and machete. And, years of civil war in northern Uganda has slowed development throughout the country. “They’ve had a very difficult time – more difficult than I’m going to face. Still they show up and they want to improve their agricultural practices,” says Lang.

In Vincent, Iowa, Lang and her brother farm 2,000 acres. As business partners, they raise corn and soybeans, seed soybeans, rye, oats and alfalfa. They also have some sheep and pasture.

Lasting impacts

Lang says she was nervous when setting out on her second trip to Uganda in August 2012. She didn’t want to be disappointed if the changes the Iowa and Ugandan farmers worked on together had not continued. When Lang left Uganda in August of 2011, the 80 Ugandan farmers were using tarps on which to dry their maize (white, edible corn) in lieu of the previous practice of drying the grain on the ground. They were using their crop record books and teaching others how to use them. They had joined together in groups of 10 to 20 with hopes of increasing their marketing power. They had experimented with a bicycle-powered maize sheller to replace the practice of putting ears of maize in bags and beating the bags with a stick, and they had made plans to purchase a bicycle dedicated to shelling maize – one for each of the 10 groups of women. In addition, each woman had been given 13 pounds of soybean seed.

“Soybean is a good protein crop and we knew that their diet was somewhat protein deficient,” says Margaret Smith, program specialist with Iowa State’s Value Added Agriculture Extension Program. Smith and Linda Naeve, program specialist, co-managed the Ugandan Farmer-to-Farmer project. “There is a soybean breeding program with Makerere University in Uganda we thought, let’s give some improved seed from that program to the women and see how it grows in this district,” Smith shared.

When Lang arrived back in Uganda in August 2012, her concerns were quickly put to rest. “They were doing wonderfully,” says Lang. All 10 cooperative groups had established bank accounts and constitutions enabling them to do collective marketing. With the addition of the bicycle-operated maize shellers the women had been able to provide better quality maize to their families and local buyers, store it longer and sell when the price was higher. Though soybean yields were inconsistent, the women were excited to talk about how much their families were enjoying eating them and benefiting from cash sales, as well.

Lang says, “The innovation they added to soybeans was amazing. They were making baby formula for moms that struggled with nursing. They were grinding it and making cakes with it. They had found uses beyond the traditional U.S. uses. A lot of women said, “I feel full and my cheeks are rosier.””

One woman showed Lang her child and said, “Look how great my child is doing.”

The Ugandan women who sold a portion of their soybean crop found that when soybeans yields were good, they were more profitable per acre than maize. The difference in income had enabled many to keep their children in school and increase household food security.

UgandaSeedCleaner2Innovation leads to progress

During the November 2011 work exchange, the Ugandan women had reported they were getting sick from the soybean cleaning process they used. The women winnowed the soybeans by hand. Placing the soybeans in a flat basket, they toss small batches, into the air and used their breath to blow away the chaff. The method was very effective, but time-consuming and the dust was unhealthy for the women’s respiratory system and inflamed their sinuses. In response, Smith has since collaborated with Tom Brumm, associate professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, to obtain a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for the development of a portable, mechanical grain aspirator/fanning mill, which could be used as a model and further developed by Ugandan industry, if found to be beneficial. Indeed it was.

In August 2012 Lang and April Hemmes (’82 animal science), a corn-soybean farmer in Hampton, Iowa, returned to Uganda as experienced volunteers with mechanical skills, assembled the ISU-developed prototype and demonstrated it to each farm group. The prototype was able to reduce a previously 4-hour winnowing process to half an hour and reduce farmer exposure to airborne soybean dust and chaff.

Common ground

Both Lang and Hemmes are grateful for the experiences in Uganda. They talk about the many similarities between them and Ugandan farmers. Hemmes, who has traveled extensively, including market tours with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, says, “One of the great things to come out of this experience is it confirms farmers are the same the world over. Farmers want to keep their crop for a better price, but they sell when they need money. They care about their children and families. And most of all, farm women are strong, entrepreneurial and intelligent.”

Other CALS alumni who participated in the exchanges were: Sheila Hebenstreit (’80 horticulture), Jenny Thomas (’77 animal science), Cindy McCollough (’81 animal science) and Connie Tjelmeland (’76 botany, MS ’81 agronomy). ISU Extension and Outreach Value Added Agriculture Program coordinated the program with the Center for Rural Livelihoods and VEDCO, a non-profit organization based in Uganda.


Learn about new advancements to the fanning mill in the works by Iowa State University engineering students.


Kacey K-2

A service learning trip to Uganda gave Kacey Klemesrud a greater appreciation for the differences in the way people live.

By Haley Banwart

More than 400 students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences went abroad on travel courses, to study for semester and year-long programs and to complete service learning and internships abroad during the past academic year. Study abroad programs are integrated into the curriculum and offer a wide array of unique and challenging opportunities for students looking for academic adventure. These transformative experiences offer students exceptional ways to polish their academic and pre-professional skills, making them uniquely suited to be future leaders in their fields.


Landon Kane, senior in agricultural business and international agriculture from Fairbank, Iowa.

Landon Kane will come one step closer to reaching his goal of hitting all seven continents through CALS Study Abroad programs this December on a 10-day trip to Antarctica.

What motivated you to participate on a trip to Antarctica? 

Going to Antarctica will kind of be like taking a trip to the moon. Because there are no permanent residences, we will be lodging on a vessel on the open sea and using smaller boats to tour Antarctic ice monuments and to view marine mammals, penguin colonies and bird life. I am looking forward to experiencing how vast the world truly is and learning about other research and entrepreneurial opportunities other than the traditional ways we think of agriculture in the U.S.


Kacey Klemesrud, sophomore, animal science, from Osceola Iowa.

Kacey Klemesrud said gained patience and appreciation while working to improve nutrition and agriculture education at a primary school in Uganda.

How did your trip to Uganda inspire you?

My first impressions of the impoverished region were swept away when I realized how colorful the Ugandan culture was. Despite the sights of housing crumbling and prevalent disease, everyone I met was always smiling and very welcoming. It was eye opening to be surrounded by this positive attitude and it strengthened my appreciation for the differences in the way people live.


Mason Lewis, senior, agronomy, from Monroe, Iowa.

Mason Lewis explored his interests in learning about the difference between U.S. and Australian crop production by completing two trips down under. One as part of the study abroad program and one as a member of the Iowa State Crops Team competing in the Australian Universities Crops Competition.

How did your travel experience change your perception of agriculture on a global scale?

Looking out across the Australian landscape, it was amazing to see the diversity of cropping systems. I enjoyed learning about the production of other farms including vineyards, rice, cotton and orchards.  Being able to tour these farms while still being a tourist was the perfect travel experience for me. Studying abroad allowed me to walk on the other side of the world while maintaining my connections to agriculture.

South America

Courtney Harder, senior, agricultural business and international agriculture, from Hancock, Iowa.

As a former marketing intern with CASE IH, Courtney Harder was grateful to tour one of the company’s sugar harvesting plants in Brazil and realize its global agricultural impact.

How has the study abroad program influenced your career decisions?

My travel experience has inspired me to open my mind to global career possibilities. I’ve witnessed the impact of global ties and business relationships and I’ve learned the importance of being able to cater to cultural tendencies. I look forward to applying my experience and knowledge to different regions and audiences. Agricultural practices may be done differently across the globe, but in the end we are all working toward the same end goal.


Nick Jackosky, junior, global resource systems and environmental science, from Lakewood, Ohio.

Competing as an Iowa State cross-country athlete helped Nick Jackosky learn how to be a team player. He developed a new appreciation for working with others while participating in the Dean’s Global Agriculture and Food Leadership Program in Rome.

What is an important life lesson you gained while working in Rome?

The research I conducted with my colleagues was eye opening and gave me an overarching view of the world, its resources and all of its moving parts. I think I brought my own expertise to my team by having a limited agricultural background. I now understand the importance of imparting the knowledge I gained with other non-agriculture audiences and I have developed a true passion for agricultural conservation and biodiversity.


Nathan Davis, senior, food science and global resource systems from Sioux City, Iowa.

A single course at Iowa State made a large impact for Nathan Davis. After completing a class about the exploration of race and ethnicity in the U.S., he decided to immerse himself in a new culture on a study abroad trip to China.

How did you travel experience make you a better global citizen?

Being from Iowa I had a set view of agriculture, but my trip allowed me to see the big picture of world food issues. Traveling to China helped me realize my desire to solve food related challenges and to be at the forefront of today’s efforts.  I consider myself an experiential learner. Diving into a new environment and being in situations that were unfamiliar to me really changed my global perceptions.

North America

Jacob Lamkey, senior, agronomy, from Gilbert, Iowa.

Spending a semester in the Virgin Islands was something Jacob Lamkey never imagined himself doing, but spontaneity inspired him to jump on the opportunity. Lamkey is currently on the island of St. John where he is teaching sustainable agriculture to students in Kindergarten through eighth grade.

How have you applied the studies and skills you have learned at Iowa State?

I have applied the knowledge and skills learned from my classes in agronomy to maintain the school garden and to teach lessons in the classroom. My day-to-day activities help me become a better communicator of agricultural concepts as I interact with students who have a basic background in plant science. This experience has expanded my own knowledge and will assist me as I take on my role as a teaching assistant in Agronomy 114 next semester.


Hear more from globetrotting students — on seven continents – about their experiences abroad.



Iowa State University celebrated the dedication of Elings Hall and Sukup Hall, two new buildings that serve as the home for the agricultural and biosystems engineering department, and the Jeff and Deb Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center this fall. The modern, state-of-the-art facilities “create a nearly unmatched learning environment for all students who are pursuing careers in agriculture and related fields,” says ISU President Steven Leath.  Take a virtual tour of the new buildings at www.stories.cals.iastate.edu.



Water quality researchers and extension specialists at Iowa State University have joined with scientists at 11 other land-grant universities in the Mississippi River watershed and the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Hypoxia Task Force in a formal partnership to strengthen efforts to reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Learn more about ISU’s work to reduce hypoxia in the “dead zone” at www.stories.cals.iastate.edu.



John Pesek (’14 honorary alumnus), Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Emeritus Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences, was presented with the American Society of Agronomy Presidential Award on campus on Oct. 15. The ceremony also included the unveiling of a portrait in his honor that will hang in the second floor of Agronomy Hall. Pesek served as head of the agronomy department from 1964 to 1990. He also served as interim dean of agriculture from 1987 to 1988. He is world renowned for his role in the 1989 National Academy of Sciences Report on Alternative Agriculture. More

Appointments, faculty service

  • Agricultural engineer Jay Harmon has been named the interim director of the Iowa Pork Industry Center. Harmon, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and an extension livestock housing specialist, brings expertise in pork production systems to the position, which promotes efficient pork production technologies in Iowa.
  • Max Morris is the new chair of the Department of Statistics at Iowa State University. He succeeds Kenneth Koehler, University Professor, who served as chair since 2003 and remains on the faculty. The statistics department is coadministered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


CALS students lead nation-wide

Award-winning clubs and teams help agriculture and life sciences students become outstanding leaders. Recent top finishes include:

  • Agricultural Business Club, outstanding student chapter in the nation for the eighth time in nine years.
  • Food Product Development Team, second in the national Nutritious Foods for Kids Competition.
  • Soil Judging Team, first place at Region 5 Collegiate Soil Judging contest.
  • Crops Team, second place in the four-year school division at the 2014 North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Crops Contest.
  • Livestock Judging Team, third at the Arksarben Stock Show.


Ag Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm Marks 50th Anniversary

Iowa State University Research and Demonstration Farms celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Agricultural Engineering/Agronomy Research Farm Sept. 10.

The AEA Research Farm, as it’s called, consists of about 1,160 acres located between Ames and Boone on Highway 30. It is devoted to mainly agronomy and agricultural and biosystems engineering department research projects, with other Iowa State academic departments, centers and Extension and Outreach, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Crop Improvement Association participating.

Several facilities have been added around the AEA Farm in recent years:  the BioCentury Research Farm, Livestock Environment Buildings Research Complex and the Field Extension Education Laboratory.



Establish and Grow, a philanthropy organized by Iowa State students and staff, raised more than $1,400 for children in Uganda with Melon Mania. At the September event more than 2,000 melons were used in carnival games.  Since research performed on some melons made them unqualified to donate for eating students decided to have fun and raise money with them before they became compost. Melon bowling, melon sculpture, melon pinball, strong-man toss and a hammer versus melon station helped raise enough money to provide about 300 Ugandan children school lunch for an entire year.


By Barb McBreen


Iowa State grad Paul Tauke, bureau chief and state forester for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says communications skills are key to preparing the next generation of great foresters, which may include his son Leo.

Iowa forests cover 2.9 million acres or eight percent of its total area. Managing those timbered areas can be challenging.

That’s why landowners, both public and private, annually call on students at Iowa State University. Landowner’s goals range from increasing timber value to enhancing wildlife habitat to improving recreational access.

Student consultants, professional recommendations

Every spring forestry seniors enroll in a capstone class to evaluate and prepare recommendations for landowners on how to manage forested acres. Since 1975 students have assessed forested-lands in every corner of Iowa.

Clients have ranged from church congregations to divers salvaging old growth river logs. Each year there’s a waiting list of clients for the program. They hope to work with Iowa State students to improve Iowa’s forests while the students improve their communications and management skills.

John Tyndall, natural resource ecology and management professor and adviser, says the department never has to advertise for projects because of the class’ reputation. Each spring Tyndall and Dick Schultz, natural resource ecology and management University Professor, select from a list of projects for students.

“It’s not just an academic exercise and a good experience for the students, these clients come back because they know they are getting high quality advice,” Tyndall says.

Students select their clients, meet to understand the landowner’s goals and analyze information about the property using online resources. The students also spend several days on site surveying, measuring, sampling water and inventorying plant and animal species.

“Students alert landowners if there is an issue of concern, such as an invasive species or water quality problem,” Tyndall says.

At the end of the semester the students provide a management plan with several options from basic maintenance to more intensive and costly suggestions. Schultz says the continuum provides clients the option of implementing suggestions based on their resources.

Plan comes to life for ISU forests

It’s rare for students to be able to watch their recommendations get implemented, but it’s an opportunity Louis Hilgemann has relished. Hilgemann, a graduate student in natural resource ecology and management, helped evaluate a property owned by Iowa State three years ago.

His team developed a forest management plan for the Everett Casey Nature Center and Reserve near Boone, Iowa. The 76 acres was a gift donated to the Iowa State English department in 2009 from Everett Casey, a 1946 Iowa State engineering graduate.

“They wanted a place for students to connect to nature,” Hilgemann says. “We recommended and have implemented prairie restoration, trails and meeting areas, invasive species removal and we hope to do stream bank work in the future.”

In May, the forestry seniors advised three private landowners and three Iowa State University research farms. Mark Honeyman, director of Iowa State’s research farms, says they are using the student expertise as a springboard for more intensive management.

“Our first step is to inventory what’s in these woodlands, so we can be more intentional about how we manage these areas,” Honeyman says.

Communication key to great forestry

Paul Tauke (’88 forestry) is the bureau chief and state forester for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He says a misconception about professional foresters is that they spend a lot of time alone. The reality is that foresters are always working with people. This class is key to helping students hone their communications skills.

“You can be a great technical forester, but if you can’t communicate to people around you and the people you work with, then you’ll just be a technical forester, not a great forester,” Tauke says.


Crystal Jones2-2

Crystal Jones-Sotomayor, a junior in genetics from Puerto Rico, has isolated a new mutation in a cancer gene using genome editing technology. She loves talking about her work with assistant professor Maura McGrail and tutors fellow undergraduates in genetics.

By Barbara McBreen

Finding a cure for cancer is Crystal Jones-Sotomayor’s dream.

It’s been a dream since she was a sophomore in high school in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico – after she lost her childhood friend to breast cancer.

“I remember asking Michelle what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said ‘I don’t know, but I want to be in the history books like Christopher Columbus,’ says Jones-Sotomayor, a junior in genetics. “My hope is to do that for her.”

Cancer develops when a cell’s DNA is damaged causing it grow out of control, form abnormal cells and invade the body. It’s that DNA or genetic code that interests Jones-Sotomayor. In fact, she keeps a diagram of a cell in her laptop and on her cell phone. The diagram illustrates the countless genetic pathways cancer can enter a cell.

Genetics has fascinated her since grade school when she learned about the Punnett Square. The square is a simple method to diagram inherited traits and determine the probability of those traits being passed on to children.

“I absolutely loved the Punnett Squares in elementary school because you could visually see the dominant and recessive traits,” Jones-Sotomayor says. “I have always been a curious person and science is about asking questions.”

After her friend died, Jones-Sotomayor began looking for a top-rated genetics university program in the United States. That search led her to Iowa State University and Maura McGrail’s research lab, which is filled with 40,000 zebrafish. The zebrafish allow scientists to do genetics research on a large scale but at a reduced cost compared to other animal models used in cancer research. (Read more about McGrail’s work on page 27.)

Jones-Sotomayor met McGrail at an ice cream social hosted by her adviser when she was a freshman. She knew immediately that she wanted to be part of McGrail’s lab because they both had a common goal – searching for a cure for cancer. McGrail describes Jones-Sotomayor, who has been a part of her lab for more than three years, as a forward-thinking creative researcher who started out doing basic genetic mapping.

“Crystal uses cutting edge genome editing technology to create specific mutations in genes,” says McGrail, assistant professor in genetics, development and cell biology.

Jones-Sotomayor isolated a new mutation in a cancer gene identified in zebrafish and found the fish that inherit the new mutation also develop tumors.

“This result was really critical, because it validated our initial discovery that mutation of this gene promotes cancer,” says McGrail.

When asked about the mutant gene, Jones-Sotomayor gets excited. She goes into great detail about cutting genes and watching for brain-tumor development in the fish. She explains how Transcription activator-like effector nuclease (TALEN) technology, which is used to cut and introduce mutations in the DNA code, helped her isolate the new mutation. TALEN technology was developed by plant pathologists at Iowa State.

In a lab filled with small aquariums, Jones-Sotomayor points out the zebrafish she’s watching.

“The idea was to cross those fish to find one that would transmit the new mutant gene to their offspring. After crossing and screening the offspring from 260 fish, I found it,” Jones-Sotomayor says.

“At this point we don’t have enough information to say exactly how the gene is involved in cancer,” Jones-Sotomayor says. “What I’m doing now is testing how this gene connects with cancer genes that control cell growth or repair damage to DNA.”

During her short career she’s presented her research results at six conferences, including the national Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science conference in Los Angeles in October. She also won third place for a poster presentation at the 2013 Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation IINSPIRE program.

Research is what Jones-Sotomayor is about, she says her friends got tired of hearing about genetics so she started tutoring genetics students. She helps students with real life examples and videos because it’s a difficult topic to understand.

“It’s great because I get paid to talk about genetics,” Jones-Sotomayor says.

She also formed the iResearch club, a student organization for young scientists. She’s hoping the club will give her peers a place to share research, results and challenges.

Jones-Sotomayor has worked in McGrail’s lab since she first came to Iowa State three years ago. She has a natural talent for lab research, but was struggling with class work. She’s worked hard over the last three years and is now making the Dean’s list.

Last summer she worked as an intern studying the use of specific viruses to combat cancer at the University of Florida. That experience introduced her to a different approach to researching cancer and will add to her resume when she applies for graduate school.

Finding a cure for cancer won’t be simple, but she hopes researchers find some answers in her lifetime. And she’s hoping to make a discovery to contribute to that goal and honor her friend.


Lani Mckinney


Farmers Patty (left) and Kris Walker show Iowa State University extension’s Madeline Schultz (center) around their farm. Schultz, Women in Agriculture Program Manager,facilitated a succession planning course they participated in as part of the Annie’s Project – an educational program for farm women.

“I don’t think it’s worth it,” says Patty Walker. She sits across the kitchen table from her daughter-in-law, Kris Walker, on a bright October morning.  One look out the picture window and it is obvious harvest is in full swing.  Patty is making reference to something she has seen too much – families being torn apart over the dispersion of the family farm.  “It breaks my heart when I hear people fighting over an estate.  My family is the most important thing and I don’t want it broken up over land,” she says.

This was the driving force behind her decision to attend an Annie’s Project course – Managing for Today and Tomorrow  – in Ames with Kris (’00 animal science) in 2012. It was part of a new curriculum supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA. Madeline Schultz, Women in Agriculture program manager, with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in the Value Added Agriculture office facilitated the course.

“Like Kris and Patty, many farm women are central to farm family communication. Managing for Today and Tomorrow was designed to help farm women talk with family or other business partners about business, estate, retirement and succession,” says Schultz. “Successfully transitioning land, other assets, management and labor to the next generation takes good planning over several years,” she says.

Patty takes the course workbook along when she meets her lawyer. It’s just the compass she needs to navigate unfamiliar topics and terms and also prompts her to ask questions she would have never thought to ask. “I pick up something new every time,” she says.

Annie’s Project is a national educational program dedicated to strengthening women’s roles in farming. Over the past ten years courses have been taught in 34 states. In Iowa the program is administered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Annie’s Project fosters problem solving, record keeping and decision-making skills in farm women and connects women to their local resources.

Since taking the transition planning course, Patty and her husband, Jim, have updated their will.  Patty, a mother of four and grandmother of nine, stresses the value of succession planning, “You need to think about it before you’re sick.  Along with our will, we have a living will to explain why we have things the way they are.”  Although only Kris’s husband, Bill, plans to farm, the course compelled Patty to meet with each of her children individually to help them understand the transition plans.

“The best part was the ride home from the course,” Patty remembers, smiling at Kris, “Kris and I would talk non-stop and plan how to communicate what we learned.” Later, Patty would lay in bed at night talking to Jim about things discussed in class. “I could not stop talking about what I learned,” she laughs.  It prompted conversation about retirement, a topic Jim often avoided.  “That conversation wouldn’t have happened without this course,” says Patty.

“We’re confident we have a basis as far as information or places to go for information,” says Kris. Patty nods and chimes in, “And we’ve at least had a conversation.”  Managing for Today and Tomorrow and other Iowa State extension courses they’ve taken have helped them work towards successfully transitioning the Walker family farm to the next generation.


Take a trip to the Walker farm and hear from the family about their experience with Annie’s Project.


By Haley Cook


Matt Wenger’s event and customer service skills have proven invaluable for a number of non-profits he serves when not working at the ISU Meat Lab. As co-chair of Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games he works with athletes like Kim Lively, a competitor in bocce ball, and fellow member of the Summer Games organizing committee.

Service to others is a mantra Matt Wenger takes seriously. A self-proclaimed “life-long 4-H’er,” Wenger has implemented the skills learned in his youth as an instrumental volunteer to multiple organizations.

Wenger (’00 agricultural and life sciences education), program coordinator for the Iowa State University Meat Laboratory, has a penchant for event management and organization. He coordinates all special and annual educational programs offered by the Meat Lab. Outside of office hours he spends much of his time serving the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program (Iowa 4-H) and Special Olympics Iowa.

“Matt gladly offers the time and energy needed to mentor individual students and, most importantly, continues mentorship and involvement with many of them through their college years and professional lives,” says Brenda Allen extension program specialist for Iowa 4-H, “We’re also fortunate he shares his time and expertise in event planning with major initiatives like the annual Iowa 4-H Youth Conference,”

Wenger has served as an adviser for the Iowa State 4-H Youth Council and a chaperone during the Iowa State Fair for nearly a decade.

“I’m a product of the Iowa 4-H program; it was a great experience for me with lessons that have continued in to my adult life. It’s fun to work with these youth, listen to their ideas and perspectives and see them receive some of the similar benefits that I did,” he says.

Wenger also is involved with Special Olympics Iowa, where he’s served as a volunteer for more than 13 years – most recently as co-chair of the Summer Games, held annually in May on Iowa State University campus.

“Matt is that special ‘go-to’ person when you have a project and need someone to step-up, create and understand the larger picture then oversee the details,” says Elizabeth Beck executive director of Heartland Senior Services in Ames, Iowa, and fellow Special Olympics Iowa volunteer.

According to Wenger, the impact of an organization like Special Olympics far outweighs the time commitment, or stress of organizing a large event like the Summer Games. “It’s all about the athletes,” he says, “You see them during the games, participating in events and winning medals. It’s one experience that makes their year.”

He recalls a church service in his hometown of Fairbank, Iowa, during which a Special Olympic athlete was recognized for winning multiple medals during last year’s Summer Games. He says the experience was moving and helps define the role of volunteerism in his life.

“Whether we’re talking about a great 4-H project or an amazing Special Olympics athlete, it is, and always will be about their accomplishment,” Wenger says.


By Ed Adcock


Thousands of zebrafish serve as models for Maura McGrail’s cancer-fighting research. McGrail studies the development of glioma, a brain cancer in humans.

Inch-long zebrafish are used as a model organism by several Iowa State researchers. McGrail, an assistant professor in genetics, development and cell biology, is studying them for a project to understand the development of glioma, a brain cancer in humans.

She says an advantage to using zebrafish it is that her team can do genetic research on a large scale at a relatively low cost unlike using mice, a prime cancer-research model that is expensive to raise.

“The same genes that work in humans and mice, and other mammals, are functioning in fish as well. We’re trying to understand how the disruption of networks of genes called conserved pathways contributes to carcinogenesis,” she says.

The pathways altered by cancer are normally required for an organism to grow and develop. Understanding these networks during the organism’s development gives scientists insight into what is happening when cancer occurs.

“In cancer research we are trying to figure out what changes in DNA lead to cells growing in an uncontrolled fashion,” McGrail says, “Having large populations of affected individuals, in our case fish, allows us to use genetics to find those changes in the DNA.”

The zebrafish are providing insight into the genes that could be functioning in the development of glioma, a brain cancer, in humans. Previous work developed a genetic system that identified genes involved in carcinoma and sarcoma.

The system used transposons, pieces of DNA that move around the genome and cause mutations when they insert into genes. Examining where the transposons landed in the zebrafish tumors revealed genes involved in DNA repair and cell growth that are also mutated in human cancer.

McGrail’s present project will take that system for cancer gene identification and use it to specifically look for new genes that promote glioma formation and progression. If the transposon “hits” the same gene over and over again in tumors from many different fish, this provides evidence that the gene is involved in cancer.

In addition to fish care, student researchers in her lab carry out independent projects to study how genes are involved in brain development and cancer. (Read more about one such project by Crystal Jones-Sotomayor on page 10.)

The prognosis of those with malignant glioma is poor, she says. Surgery is an option, but can result in damage to surrounding brain tissue. Understanding how genes work together in advancing disease will provide insights into potential targets for new therapies. The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust and the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute are funding the research.

McGrail’s husband Jeff Essner also works with zebrafish, researching how blood vessels grow. “Our research programs dovetail quite a bit. Understanding the role of blood vessels and tumor growth is very important for developing cancer therapies. We take two different approaches to the same question,” she says.



Melea Reicks Licht


Following his career at Kent Feeds, Glen Mente and his wife Mary Jo have become celebrated volunteers with many organizations including Iowa 4-H, Special Olympics and the ISU Alumni Association. Retirement also brought Glen back to his signature crew-cut – a look he sported on the ISU basketball court.

Service has long been a part of Glen Mente’s life.  And now, in retirement, he’s enjoying his second career as a “professional volunteer.”

Mente met his wife Mary Jo, through their involvement in 4-H. Together, the two spent a combined 25 years leading 4-H clubs. It could easily be said they raised generations of 4-Hers in addition to their two daughters.

A Iowa High School Basketball Hall of Famer, Mente (’61 animal science, MS ‘63) continued honing his skills playing for Iowa State.  After joining Kent Feeds in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1964 as a swine nutritionist the president had a request.

“He asked me to get rid of my crew-cut so I would appear older and more authoritative,” Mente says. He complied, but quickly re-embraced his signature cut after retiring as senior vice president in 1996.

At Kent Feeds Mente was instrumental in developing an industry leading “flavorizing” process for baby pig feeds, a protected natural protein (PNP) concept in ruminant diets and a patented open Front Pork Production Center.  “We set the industry trend for a ‘grind and mix’ medicated supplement concept for swine feeds.”

Glen says, “moving to Ames after retirement provided so many volunteering opportunities to keep us busy, and, the best part is, we enjoy everything we do.”

Tops on Glen’s list is meeting people and narrating Iowa State University campus bus tours as a volunteer for the alumni association. A homemaker and community volunteer, Mary Jo has been involved extensively with the alumni association, 4-H and Mary Greeley Medical Center.

“Every organization needs a Glen and a Mary Jo.  Committed and thorough volunteers, they offer up their time, talents and treasure gladly and the association and our alumni have benefited greatly from their generosity,” says Jeff Johnson, president and CEO of the ISU Alumni Association.

Glen and Mary Jo are celebrated by the organizations they serve. His honors include the State 4-H Alumni Award, the ISU Alumni Association’s Alumni Medal, Iowa Games Volunteer of the Year, Special Olympics Iowa Outstanding volunteer and the State of Iowa Governor’s Volunteer Award. The couple received the National Service Award from the ISU Alumni Association and was inducted into the Iowa 4-H Foundation Honor Court.

He served as president of the Iowa 4-H Foundation and as a governor of the ISU Foundation. As a past president of the ISU Alumni Association Board of Directors the Mentes served as co-chairs of The Circle, the association’s organization for former leaders. They also are members of the Order of the Knoll Campanile Guild and President’s Circle.

Glen and Mary Jo provided funds to name the Mente Welcome Center and the Mente Conference Room as part of the recent renovation of Curtiss Hall.

“We wanted to be sure prospective students always experience the welcoming environment I felt when I enrolled in the college,” Glen says. “The Mente Welcome Center provides college staff the best environment to begin this relationship.”

Glen’s pace would keep time with any current Iowa State student, whom he encourages to get involved.  His rally cry for them: “Go for it!”



By Lynn Laws

“The planet is becoming more crowded, hungrier, thirstier and hotter,” says Manjit Misra, Global Food Security Consortium director, Seed Science Center director and professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at Iowa State. “The consortium is attempting to alleviate poverty both domestically and internationally through collaborative partnerships.” Launched in the summer of 2013, the consortium was developed in response to Iowa State President Steven Leath’s call to university researchers for multidisciplinary programs “that tackle some of the grand challenges facing our world.”

Worldwide, 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger and even more suffer from undernutrition, according to a 2014 United Nations report. Food security – having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food – is a complex issue that requires a broad range of interventions in agriculture, water supply, policy development and education.

Here are five ways the Global Food Security Consortium (GFSC) has begun to tackle this important challenge.

1.     Growing a worldwide network of food security experts.

“Our goal is to bring the best people together to collaborate on projects related to food security,” says Max Rothschild, co-director of the consortium, associate director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and Distinguished Professor in agriculture. Rothschild and Misra grow the consortium through one-on-one contacts and meetings, such as the April research symposium held at Iowa State, where more than 180 scientists and community leaders discussed innovation in food security science. Fifty researchers and community leaders at Iowa State and other campuses and organizations in the U.S. and abroad are now members of the consortium.

2.     Developing new science and technology.

Five major research focuses are promoted by the consortium: Germplasm and Seed Systems; Climate Resilient Crops; Climate Resilient Animals; Post-harvest and Utilization; and Policies, Regulations and Trade. Within each research focus, research teams also address capacity building, socio-economics and natural resource management.

3.     Bringing new funding to the table.

Consortium teams of global experts are responding to funding opportunities and seeking out grants to support their research and new technologies. For example, last fall animal science professors Susan Lamont and Jack Dekkers successfully partnered with researchers at University of California, Davis and two universities in Ghana and Tanzania. Together they obtained a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to study the genetic makeup of chickens in Africa to breed for heat-tolerance and disease-resistance.

4.     Sharing science and technology with the world.

“Advances in sustainable crop and livestock science and transferring the technology to the private sector and communities are at the very heart of solving this grand challenge,” says Rothschild. He and Misra traveled to Washington, D.C., in October to meet leaders in government, implementing agencies and foundations. In addition to technology development, the significant scholarly exchanges and research among consortium members is expected to foster entrepreneurial opportunities for Iowa, the nation and smallholder farmers worldwide.

5.     Training the next generation of global food security scientists.

Consortium members are working to create opportunities and attract increasing numbers of students to Iowa State and affiliated partner institutions, in the area of food security research. For example, one consortium team made up of North American, European and African experts is working to strengthen post graduate programs integrating seed science, business and systems at six universities in Africa. Support was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.




10 Dec 2014


This fall you don’t need to look far to see difference makers among our students, faculty and staff for our community, state and planet. Students in the Sustainable Agriculture Student Organization have been growing and cooking fresh garden produce for a program that provides free meals to hundreds of the …

FOREWORD – Fall 2014

10 Dec 2014


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