By Susan Thompson Thomas Isenhart believes Iowa is at a turning point for water quality, a true watershed moment. “In my 25 years working on water quality in Iowa, I have never seen as much attention to the topic,” Isenhart says. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to reach across all …


By Willy Klein It’s tough to get into Melissa O’Rourke and Kelvin Leibold’s class. There is often a waiting list. The course, Evaluating Your Estate Plan, doesn’t appear in the Iowa State University course catalog. It isn’t offered on campus and their students are not traditional students. O’Rourke and Leibold …


By Melea Reicks Licht Matthew Eddy taps his forehead. “Remember what you’re forgetting,” he tells one of his students. They are getting ready to set fire to various feedstuffs. The student nods as she realizes she’s forgotten her safety glasses. Students measure the mass of the feedstuff before and after …


By Haley Banwart Iowa State University is home to an impressive, 30,000-plus square-foot arena and multipurpose learning center. Located on the south end of campus, the Jeff and Deb Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center is no ordinary classroom. The facility touts a 125-by-250 foot heated arena with seating for 1,000 …

Recent Articles:


Jianming Yu, Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, agronomy
Gretchen Mosher (PhD ’11 industrial and agricultural technology), researcher in food safety and grain quality and director of undergraduate services, agricultural and biosystems engineering
Daniel Andersen (MS ’08 agricultural engineering, PhD ’12), assistant professor, manure management and water quality matters, agricultural and biosystems engineering
Patrick Gunn, assistant professor, cow-calf specialist, animal science

Dan Otto, professor of economics and ISU Extension economist, retired in October
Dennis Shannon (‘69 agronomy), ISU Research and Demonstration Farms, retired in December
Phil Spike (PhD ’75 animal science), professor of animal science, retired in January
Jean Tilley, food science and human nutrition, retired in February

An international consortium of scientists that includes Jonathan Wendel, distinguished professor and chair
of the Department
of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, has mapped the genome sequence for cotton in a paper published in the journal “Nature.” The sequencing of the genome will have sweeping ramifications for cotton growers, plant biologists and producers who grow other cash crops. Wendel received the 2012 International Cotton Genome Initiative Award for Outstanding Contributions to Cotton Research at the initiative’s conference in October. For details about Wendel’s research visit www.news.iastate.edu/news/2012/12/20/cottongenome.

Michael Retallick (PhD ’05 agricultural and life sciences education), agricultural education and studies, received the New Teacher Award at the Food and Agricultural Sciences Excellence in College and University Awards Program at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities annual meeting in Denver in November. The award honors college and university instructors who demonstrate
a commitment to a career in teaching and exhibit meritorious teaching with seven or less years of experience in higher education.

An agricultural educator from Tennessee has been named the new CALS assistant dean
for diversity. Theressa Cooper, former director of Academic Success Programs and Outreach Initiatives at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, began Feb. 1. She will coordinate, manage and implement the college’s existing diversity programs, such as the George Washington Carver Summer Internship program and Graduate Assistant Research Match program. She also will lead efforts to identify new opportunities to enhance diversity and connect with minority serving institutions nationwide. To learn more about Cooper and her position visit www.cals.iastate.edu/news/releases.

Agricultural Business Club: 2012 National Outstanding Chapter, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (seventh consecutive title); first place 2012 Academic Quiz Bowl
Block and Bridle Club: hosted the 93rd National Block and Bridle Conference in April attended by 500 students; first place yearbook, webpage and first-place outstanding senior
Crops Team: first place crops contest and Ag Knowledge Bowl
Dairy Products Evaluation Team: fourth place 91st National Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest and third place at the Regional Collegiate Dairy Products Evaluation Contest
Food Product Development: third place AACCI Product Development Competition in Hollywood, Fla.
Livestock Judging Team: first place Sioux Empire Farm Show Livestock Judging Contest; first place Iowa Beef Expo; High Team Overall honors at the Aksarben Stock Show and Rodeo
Meats Judging Team: first place Southeastern Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest
National Agri-Marketing Association: first in 2012 John Deere Signature Award Competition at the NAMA Agri-Marketing Competition
Soil Judging Team: second place overall at the 2013 National Collegiate Soil Contest hosted by the University of Wisconsin, Platteville
Turf Club: first place 2012 Collegiate Turf Bowl Competition at the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America Education Conference (12th win out of the past 14 years)

Max Rothschild, animal science, and fellow research team members at the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Food Security received a Meritorious Honor Group Award for its outstanding vision, teamwork and dedication in designing and implementing USAID’s programs in support of the Feed the Future Research Strategy, building strong linkages that span USAID’s Missions, Bureaus and partners, especially U.S. universities, CGIAR Centers and the private sector.


By Ed Adcock

Matt Helmers and colleagues are researching the use of prairie grass strips in crop fields.They have found the practice can reduce sediment export 95 percent.

Matt Helmers and colleagues are researching the use of prairie grass strips in crop fields.They have found the practice can reduce sediment export 95 percent.

Producers wanting to reduce soil and nutrients from leaving their fields can look to techniques developed by Iowa State researchers. These practices span the scale from in-field to watershed.

There is a lot of interest in using bioreactors, trenches filled with wood chips, to intercept tile flow at the edge of fields, says Matt Helmers, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. This emerging technology is being used at about a dozen sites in Iowa treating approximately 60 acres each. He says the bioreactors are getting attention because they are at a scale individual farmers can implement.

Helmers and his colleagues also are researching strategically placing strips of prairie grass into crop fields at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. The practice can reduce sediment export 95 percent using 10 to 20 percent restored prairie within the row crop system. The research team is working to create demonstration sites around the state in association with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Researchers also are investigating the benefits of including cover crops
in row crop systems. Helmers’ research has found reductions in nitrate leaching with a winter rye cover crop, while other research shows reductions in soil erosion and phosphorus loss. “There seems to be a lot of interest in cover crops not only for the benefits for water quality but also the longer term benefits to
soil quality,” Helmers says.

These measures have promise, Helmers says, but research suggests that in-field practices alone may be insufficient to achieve the desired reductions in nitrate export.

Research led by Bill Crumpton, associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has demonstrated that restored wetlands can substantially reduce nitrate loads if the restorations are strategically placed.

“It’s not just wetland creation, it’s targeted and strategic, so they intercept and remove contaminants,” Crumpton says. A strategically placed and properly designed wetland as small as 10 acres can remove 35 to 90 percent of the nitrates exported from a 1,000-acre drainage basin.

Crumpton’s work provided the technical basis for the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). This program, sponsored by IDALS and the USDA-Farm Service Agency, provides permanent easements to strategically restore wetlands that remove nitrates from tile drainage water. Over the past 10 years, a total of 72 wetlands have been established through the Iowa CREP with the combined capacity to remove nearly one million pounds of nitrogen each year.

“Iowa farmers have been very accepting of wetland restoration, especially targeted for this purpose, and landowners appreciate the wetlands for benefits beyond nitrate removal, such as wildlife habitat,” Crumpton says.

Alumni News in Brief—Vol. 7, No. 1

John Bonner (BS ’68 dairy science, MS ’71 animal science, PhD ’74 animal science), retiring executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, was presented the college’s Impact Award for Extraordinary Partnership at a reception Jan. 23 on the ISU campus. Bonner served as head of the Ames-based organization since 2005.

Jim Tobin, vice president of industry affairs at Monsanto Company, presented the 2013 Carl and Marjory Hertz Lecture on Emerging Issues in Agriculture March 28 on the Iowa State University campus. Tobin (‘78 agricultural education) presented “Agricultural Technology: Reflections on the Journey, Perspectives on the Future.”  Click here for a link to a podcast of the lecture.

CALS GRADS HONORED BY ISU FOUNDATION, ALUMNI ASSOCIATION Two Agriculture and Life Sciences graduates were honored with the highest awards presented by the ISU Alumni Association and ISU Foundation during a ceremony on April 19.
Neil E. Harl (’55 ag and life sciences education; PhD ’65 economics), left, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences and professor emeritus of economics, received the Order of the Knoll Faculty and Staff Award
for his dedicated and long-term professional and volunteer service to the Iowa State University Foundation and Iowa State through the advancement of philanthropy. Esmail Zirakparvar (MS ’77 plant pathology, PhD ’79), right, retired chief operating officer of Bayer CropScience, was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award—presented to alumni nationally and internationally recognized for preeminent contributions to their professions or life’s work.

In Memoriam
George Beal (‘43 agricultural economics, MS ‘47, PhD ‘53 rural sociology), 95, of Kailua died Sept. 20. The Iowa State University Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Sociology served in the Army during World War II before joining the faculty at ISU. He received the Henry A. Wallace Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture. After retirement in 1977 he and his family moved to Kailua, Hawaii, where he took a position as professor with the East West Center. Beal was previously profiled in STORIES magazine and the George M. Beal Distinguished Lectureship in Rural Sociology was recently established by alumni in his honor. Visit the Iowa State Foundation to honor Beal by supporting the fund and read more about his contributions to sociology and Iowa State University.

FROM THE DEAN – Spring 2013

This Spring, at a ceremony honoring ISU’s top seniors, the father of one of the students came up to greet me. He recognized me from my extension field specialist days. We’d known each other when he served on a county extension council in eastern Iowa.

WendyFarmersSmMy warm exchange with him reminded me how much I enjoyed those times working with farmers. It was life-changing for me. The photo on this page was taken around 1980 at a Louisa County field day. That’s me, delivering my integrated pest management messages.

Many of the farmers remain friends who understand the value of determination and fortitude. Every day farmers deal with the complex biological system that is agriculture. Tiny, even unseen things—a pest, a virus, a temperature drop—have enormous ramifications. When a corn field is damaged by an insect or a disease infestation, it’s serious business.

For me, farmers are an important
connection to real people doing real things. I never felt better, then or now, when I see the same recognition in their eyes—here’s a real person, doing something real. That helps reinforce for me the university’s role as a problem-solver, to put science into practice. And we can change lives with that connection.

Wendy Wintersteen

Endowed Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences

FOREWORD – Spring 2013


That saying was on my favorite sweatshirt as a kid. I was so attached to it my mom had to cut off the sleeves and neckband so I could squeeze into it a few more years. Eventually the screen-printing faded and flaked off, but I’ll never forget how it made my dad smile when I wore it during our trips to the local co-op.

Sociology researchers at Iowa State asked those who farm what term they’d prefer to use to describe themselves. According to the 2011 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 60 percent of respondents chose “farmer.” Roughly 18 percent chose “producer” and another 18 percent selected “farm operator.”

“Proud to be a crop producer’s daughter” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Regardless of how you refer to it—producing, operating, ranching or farming— many of the stories have a common thread. Compelling tales of managing risk, evaluating new technologies, balancing stewardship and profit, multigenerational family businesses and more. There’s something special underlying farming that draws in generation after generation that often can’t quite be put into words. But we’ve tried our best in this issue to represent these special stories and illustrate the impact the college is having in educating future farmers, increasing profitability, sustaining the industry into the future and more.

Lastly, I must confess that I broke one of my rules in this issue by featuring my husband, Mark, on page 20. I couldn’t help it. The story of his partnership with the Halbur family is emblematic of what ISU Extension and Outreach is all about: helping people evaluate and adopt new technology or practices that can improve their lives. The Halbur family, cardinal and gold to the core, is an excellent example of a family farm operating on the cutting edge. I hope you’ll agree there are several in the pages that follow.

Kind regards,

Melea Reicks Licht

Director of Alumni Relations

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Young Alum of the Month June 2013

June 13, 2013 Alumni No Comments

Janelle Buxton

Janelle Buxton

Title and Company: Product Marketing Communications Manager at Du Pont Pioneer, Des Moines

Hometown: Creston, Iowa

Major and Graduation Date: Agricultural Communications, Agronomy Minor, May 2005

Favorite ISU Organization: National Agri-Marketing Association- “Great organization, great people involved and leading it,” says Janelle, “NAMA could help land your job and further your career.”

Major Job/Position Responsibilities: Janelle’s primary responsibilities include developing and implementing strategy and tactics for corn product communications in North America.  When she begins developing a grassroots campaign for a product, she first asks herself, “How do we convey the Pioneer brand to North America?  How do we want our customers to feel and perceive our brand?”  Janelle describes herself as being a steward for the Pioneer brand.  She thinks strategically about product messaging including: the attributes, purpose and the profitability.  She describes her position as being the middleman.  “I work with scientists, business teams, and marketing firms and I am the middle person that makes the sense between the two groups,” says Janelle.

What you like most about your job/position? Janelle enjoys her position at Pioneer.  “The people you work with can make all the difference in your career,” she says.  Janelle describes her coworkers as being hardworking, smart individuals that make her work enjoyable.  “Always work for a place that demands you to be better.” She enjoys the creative side of marketing because it is a side of agriculture most people don’t think.

What other agricultural organizations are you involved in? Janelle is involved in the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) Nationals Career Committee.  On this committee, she helps plan the student NAMA competitions.

In 2012, Janelle, along with Amanda Taylor (Iowa Corn Growers), and Claire Masker (Pioneer) founded Young Professionals in Agriculture, a group allowing individuals in agricultural industry in Iowa to connect and network. “It has been scary because we have seen great success to network, and then there also lies a unknown future,” she says.  The group has experienced great success and demonstrated considerable growth during its first year.

What advice would you give to current students pursuing a career in Agriculture and Life Sciences? “Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Keep your eyes wide open to clearly make connections, which is going to be key for your career path,” she says, “Keep connections with fellow students.  You still might get to work with them.”



Joe Colletti is the senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and associate director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

By Joe Colletti

There’s no doubt we face complex, global challenges in food, environment, bioenergy and human health and nutrition. Solutions will rely on new ways of thinking, new technology and analytics, new partnerships and new transdisciplinary teams.

It’s not rocket science, folks. It’s more complex than that. Solutions must be economically viable, environmentally sound, socially acceptable and resilient. They must make sense for the time and for the place.

For anything new to have impact and endure, it needs to be built upon a strong foundation. For the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, that foundation is life sciences.

We have more than 150 years of success focused on crops, livestock, food,  environment, nutrition and socioeconomics related to agriculture. What you may not know is that life sciences—including biology, biochemistry, ecology and genetics—have been and continue to be key to our success in science. It enriches our research portfolio, which today is both broad and deep, spanning so-called “basic science” to “applied science.”

In 2009, a National Research Council report, “A New Biology for the 21st Century,” outlined an approach to addressing major societal challenges of food, environment, energy and health. A key to this approach was the integration of knowledge across the life sciences, mathematics and engineering. The report stressed that the “New Biology” would build upon, not replace, “fundamental and curiosity-driven” research.

A few examples of our “beyond rocket science” work shows how we are tackling global challenges through life sciences:

Research on zebrafish using advanced genetics called TALENS is poised to enhance food production and address human health concerns (see page 22).

Breakthroughs in understanding plant-parasitic interactions at the genetic level may lead to new ways to thwart a $1 billion annual loss nationally in soybean production (see page 25).

Double haploid technology allows corn breeders to more quickly produce corn inbred lines that better resist pests, respond better under extreme climatic conditions and have enhanced nutritional value.

New understanding of components involved in plant cell wall development is central to biorefineries producing the next generation of fuels and renewable products.

Scientists are learning more about a naturally occurring enzyme that converts glucose in plants directly into isobutene, a valuable, green fuel additive and  industrial chemical.

A blend of molecular virology, computational modeling, protein structure and function and veterinary pathology drives new vaccine strategies to combat a horse lentivirus and may shed light on a close cousin of the disease in humans, HIV.

Capturing genetic and biochemical blueprints of medicinal plants may lead to advances in drug discovery and development for improved human health.

Using biology and enzymology to understand how plants and animals repair DNA damage can benefit human health, including new options for cancer treatment.

Ecology and evolutionary biology using a unique eye model in mollusks could advance therapies for human diseases causing vision loss.

You get the idea. The college’s fundamental work in life sciences is the basis for solving complex, global challenges. It’s a key part of how we are engaged in learning, discovery, translation and service for the benefit of Iowa and the world.

It’s not rocket science, folks! It’s more complex, and more meaningful!


By Barbara McBreen

The summer of 2012 was a hot one, but that didn’t stop Bethany Olson from training for competitive cross-country.

Bethany Olson

“You have to love running—whether it’s 100 plus degrees or 21 below—you have to work out,” says Olson, a senior in agricultural business and international agriculture.

As a member of the Iowa State University Women’s Track and Cross Country teams Olson trained hard this summer to reach her mileage total of 85 miles per week. An important goal because she believes cross- country competition is about teamwork.

“If you don’t put your time in, you are letting your team down,” Olson says. “There are no timeouts when you compete in cross country because it’s an individual contribution to the team.”

The teamwork paid off last year when Iowa State University’s Women’s team brought home Iowa State’s first Big 12 Championship trophy. Corey Ihmels, Iowa State University director of men and women’s track and cross country, says it’s because of athletes like Olson.

“The easy part is doing the hard work, the hard part is balance. I ask students to manage life, school, get enough rest and eat well,” Ihmels says. “Bethany is very involved academically and she’s a committed athlete. She’s doing things right.”

Olson’s a team player in everything she does, but balancing all her interests is a challenge. Along with Cyclone athletics, Olson is a member of the Agricultural Business Club, Alpha Zeta, the Honors Program, Collegiate FFA, Lyrica (an Iowa State women’s choir), the Student Athlete Advisory Council and serves as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

One of Olson’s interests is travel. In grade school Olson listed traveling the world as one of her lifelong goals. She started her college travels in Argentina as part of an agronomy and economics travel course during spring break. The twelve-day trip was packed with farm and ag industry tours along with a few tourist stops.

Olson wrote an 80-page report summarizing the trip and credited Sergio Lence’s connections for making the trip a hands- on tour. Lence, a professor of economics and course adviser, grew up on a farm near Carlos Casares in the Province of Buenos Aires.

“Students like Bethany make the effort of leading travel courses worthwhile and motivate me to continue doing them,” Lence says.

Nathan Johnston, a senior in agricultural business, also went to Argentina with Olson. The two grew up four miles apart from each other near Jewell, Iowa. They both have similar career plans. Johnston says the long-standing joke between them is who will be the other one’s boss.

“In high school we were involved in 4-H, cross country and FFA co-presidents together. We followed each other to Iowa State and both went into the ag business program,” Johnston says. “It’s been great to have a friend like Bethany at Iowa State.”

In June, Olson continued her international studies and traveled to Southeast Asia after being selected to participate in the International Collegiate Agricultural Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Grains Foundation and the National FFA. She and Karl Kerns, a junior in animal science, were among twelve students nationwide to participate in a trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

The group toured an aquaculture farm on the Mekong River in Vietnam and met with commodity representatives in Saigon. Olson says the experience emphasized Iowa’s global connection to agriculture, especially when they visited the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade in Singapore.

Both study abroad opportunities fit Olson’s plans to pursue a career in marketing and with an agricultural business or organization that includes international connections.

“I hope to have a career that is focused on furthering the productivity of farmers and their agricultural practices around the world, while helping consumers under- stand that agriculture is an important and necessary part of their lives,” Olson says.

Olson is co-chair of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Ag Career Day. Her past awards include recognition as a Foreman Scholar and the Branstad-Reynolds Undergraduate Scholar. She was raised on a fifth-generation family farm and graduated valedictorian of the South Hamilton High School Class of 2009


ISU Extension and Outreach joined with Farm Services Agency (FSA) and other organizations to address drought issues in Iowa this summer. ISU field agronomist Paul Kassel and fellow ISU alumni farmer Kurt Christensen, Les Zobrist with the FSA, farmer Kent Christensen and ISU beef specialist Beth Doran touch base about management and feed options.

By Willy Klein

Jim Larson, a northern Iowa beef cattle breeder, called Beth Doran in mid July with an urgent message. Larson (’69 animal science) looked to Doran, an Iowa State

University Extension and Outreach beef specialist, for answers to cattle producers’ drought-specific questions. Weeks of triple digit temperatures and little, if any, rainfall had contributed to the significant decline in crop and pasture conditions—and herds needed feed. What were their options?

His calls followed conversations Doran and her colleagues were having with county office and campus staff and put into motion a regional extension response that included 10 emergency meetings reaching over 660 producers and agribusiness staff.

“I was concerned about nitrates in my silage, so were my clients,” says Larson. “Beth sent me information about getting silage tested and many of my clients went to the meetings where extension tested for the presence of nitrates.”

Similar scenarios were happening across the state. The extension network ramped up communications, updated resources, contacted partners and began providing educational events and distributing materials.

Drought-stricken Iowa producers needed to make decisions quickly, but university research and expertise alone could not answer all their questions. Within a few days, Extension and Outreach joined with crop insurance agents and adjusters, agribusinesses and Farm Services Agency (FSA) directors across the state to hold meetings addressing drought issues.

“In July, we didn’t have disaster assistance to talk about, but we attended the extension-led meetings and encouraged producers to keep good records in the event assistance became available,” says Jeff Davis, Plymouth County FSA director.

FSA and ISU Extension and Outreach response continued around the state. Carol Groen, Lyon County FSA director, attended an Extension and Outreach webinar in Sheldon in late July, responding to question and providing agency fact sheets.

Trevor Kerr, Sioux County FSA director, invited Doran and staff from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Rural Development to a late-July county emergency board meeting to document losses in crops, pasture and hay. He completed, filed and updated U.S. Department of Agriculture reports needed to trigger USDA response to the drought. Similar county emergency board meetings  were held around the state.

By the end of July, Iowa FSA authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres in 26 counties, freeing up forage and feed for producers.

Haying and grazing of cover crops without impact to insurability of planted 2013 spring crops was announced by Risk Management Agency in August.

USDA designated all Iowa counties as primary or contiguous natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by the drought by August 15, making emergency loans available to producers.

Looking back, Doran sees partnerships worked for the benefit of producers, especially with FSA.

“The agency with the capacity to offer emergency relief and the university with agricultural experts will continue to anticipate needs and respond to continuing drought conditions,” she says.


Professor John Downing leads long-term regeneration research at Clear Lake in north central Iowa. Downing says the lake’s recovery has been “phenomenal,” with much improved water clarity and lake function.

By Ed Adcock

Clear Lake is getting closer to living up to its name after a restoration plan created by limnologist John Downing and his Iowa State team.

It began with a two-year study he compares with a medical diagnosis.

“We basically took that lake and the watershed apart and determined what wasn’t working right and then helped the community find a way to put it back in better shape,” says Downing, a professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology and agricultural and biosystems engineering.

He credits the City of Clear Lake, Cerro Gordo County, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and dozens of citizen volunteers with making the restoration successful.

“It’s a community that really threw a lot of energy into it, worked hard and did many special things to increase the chances of success,” Downing says.

The lake became a classroom for many of Downing’s students.

One became the coordinator of the Clear Lake Enhancement and Restoration (CLEAR) Project. David Knoll (’99 animal ecology) worked for Downing as an undergraduate. He collected samples at the lake, analyzed them and performed GIS work during the diagnostic and feasibility study preceding the restoration.

The work convinced him to pursue a career in water resources. In 2001, he joined the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as an environmental specialist with responsibility for the CLEAR Project.

Although much progress has been made, Knoll says, the community around Clear Lake is still working on implementing the recommendations of the feasibility study.

“The fact that this is a relatively small watershed (about 8,500 acres) makes it easier, but it takes a lot of maintenance work and requires consistent attention,” Knoll says.

The lake’s recovery has been “phenomenal,” much better than expected. “The water clarity is substantially improved, the function of the lake is much, much better,” Downing says.

One of the concerns when they started the restoration was heavy nutrient and sediment loading from agricultural and developed areas in the lake’s watershed. Row-crop agricultural land represents 51 percent of the land in the watershed, and about 80 percent of the lake shoreline is developed. This meant that a lot of improvements needed to be made in the land around the lake to cut down on nutrient run-off.

Phosphorus coming into the lake was the main problem and is now down to a quarter of pre-restoration levels. Likewise,  suspended sediment in the lake has been reduced by more than 80%.

The Department of Natural Resources is managing the carp, which stir up the bottom when nutrients are rich and outcompete other fish. Restoring surrounding wetlands and Ventura Marsh was another factor, and dredging the small lake west of Clear Lake helped protect it from sediment and nutrient deposition.

Downing said Clear Lake became a model for about a dozen lake restoration projects. “We, as a state, learned a lot—how to do the studies and how to do the restoration—from the work at Clear Lake,” Downing says. “We also learned a lot about the value of water, which was very important.”

He collaborated with Iowa State economists Catherine Kling and Joseph Herriges from 1999-2005 on surveys of Iowans seeking to understand the return of investments in Clear Lake and other waterways. Water clarity was a prime factor in how Iowans decide to visit lakes and clean lakes were called extremely valuable to the 80 percent of Iowans who visit lakes each year.

The Lakes Valuation project found that 12 of Iowa’s 132 lakes generate spending of more than $40 million annually. Overall, Iowans spent more than $9 million on average per lake.

Lake visitation increased 33 percent from 2002–2009, the years in which lake usage surveys were conducted. Of the four lakes with the largest increase in usage, three had undergone major restoration efforts.

“I grew up around water and studied to be a limnologist,” says Downing, an Iowa native. “It’s a great thrill for me to give something back to society.”


By Ed Adcock

Entomologist Bryony Bonning has devoted her life’s work to developing alternative methods for pest control, like developing pest resistant transgenic plants or infecting pests with viruses.

Entomologist Bryony Bonning finds the range of insects stunning. “They span the complete range. You’ve got the repulsive ones and the beautiful ones, the useful ones and the pests,” she says.

Classical chemical insecticides are widely used for insect pest management, but a downside to this, Bonning says, is that they kill both the pests and the beneficial insects. That’s why she has devoted her work to developing alternative methods for pest control, like developing transgenic plants that are pest resistant, or infecting pests with viruses. She discovered her passion for biology at her family’s farm in the English countryside. She spent summer holidays fishing, catching insects and bird-watching at the farm in Derbyshire and credits her grandfather for influencing her interest and knowledge in nature. She earned her undergraduate degree in zoology at Durham University and was inspired by John H. Anstee to specialize in entomology.

It didn’t hurt that entomology is one sub-discipline of zoology that offers plenty of employment opportunities. “There is an ongoing need for entomologists. It’s good to know that as we train students,” Bonning says.

She was drawn to Iowa State in 1994, shortly after completing her doctoral degree from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London. Much of her work is basic research, which she says “brings discoveries that make science exciting.” But her ultimate goal is applying the findings. The combined economic losses associated with insect pest damage and human health consequences associated with insect-vectored disease are astronomical.

She is currently working on two approaches to develop transgenic plants that resist aphid attack. One involves plants that produce toxins derived from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, that have been modi- fied to bind better to the aphid gut. In collaboration with W. Allen Miller (see page 7), plant pathology and microbiology, Bonning is working on another approach to deliver a neurotoxin by fusing it to a protein from the coating of a plant virus the aphids carry.

“If I’m able to retire and have some- thing that we developed actually used in the field, that would be the icing on the cake,” she says.

To that end, she is involved in a proposed collaboration with the world’s largest agricultural and insect pest control companies to discuss new research for managing pests, and to better align research conducted within academe with the needs of industry for practical solutions.

Bonning is working on a proposal with colleagues at the University of Kentucky that would create a center with industry members to streamline the development of insect pest management tools. Depending on the interest of companies to partici- pate and the  outcome of the proposal, the Center for Arthropod Management Technologies could start in the fall of 2013.

“The motivation behind this center is to collaborate with industry, so we can work together toward more effective pest management solutions for agricultural, structural and public health pests,” she says.


Nancy Brannaman conducts an impromptu photo shoot with local villagers in Azerbaijan. Intrigued by her camera, family after family approached her asking for portraits from her Polaroid. She and her husband John didn’t leave until each person had a copy of their own. This photo is among their favorite memories of their service abroad.

By Melea Reicks Licht

As a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State, Nancy (Barickman) Brannaman has experienced several moments during her career that have driven home the importance of her work.

One such moment came in September when the U.S. Consulate in Libya was attacked.

“I was anguished for all of the families of Americans and Libyan staff who worked in the Consulate. What a tragic loss of innocent lives,” she says. “This event illuminates the dangers that can exist for diplomats overseas. ”

Another was 9/11. Brannaman was conducting visa interviews in Ukraine ensuring those requesting to enter the United States were who they claimed to be.

“That historic event drove home the importance of keeping the U.S. safe through qualified access like visas, and striking a balance so that business people, students and visitors may travel to the U.S.,” she says.

Brannaman (’83 agricultural business and farm operations, MS ’85 agricultural economics), has been stationed in Islamic countries for the majority of her 12-year service. She says she felt welcomed and appreciated at each of her posts.

Motivated by a desire to help others, Brannaman and her husband John (’78 animal science, MS ’82), an officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development, find their work gratifying.

“When we visit places we worked 10 years ago and see the improvements made in the area thanks to our effort—that is what it is all about,” says John. “And you can’t deny the sense of adventure.”

John works in Food for Peace providing food aid to refugees in developing nations.

Nancy manages operations, finance and human resources in embassies and finances in the State Department in Washington, D.C.

“In management we want to make sure the rest of the diplomats at our embassy aren’t distracted by the little details and can focus on their jobs,” she says. “I help them find ways to stretch tight budgets, or accomplish special projects. For me, finance is all about helping people meet their goals.”

The two have been fortunate to be placed together since she signed up with the State Department. Their first post was Ukraine in 2000. Following Ukraine, they landed in Baku, Azerbaijan; then Tashkent, Uzbekistan; then Tirana, Albania.

State Department postings last, at most, three years before requiring personnel to move to another assignment, including jobs stateside. Currently, Nancy is a financial management officer for the International Cooperative Administrative Support Service in Washington, D.C.

Thanks to rigorous language training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va., Nancy speaks Russian and Albanian proficiently. She says her ability to communicate with local embassy employees is essential to making connections and developing an esprit de corps.

Traveling and experiencing the culture and countryside of their host nations has been the biggest perk of working abroad, Brannaman says.

“Azerbaijan was especially enjoyable. I loved the culture, the friendly, hospitable people and the food,” she says. “I traveled freely throughout the country exploring Christian ruins, monasteries and mosques.”

Prior to working with the State Department Nancy worked with John on agricultural development projects for the State of Iowa and Land O’ Lakes Inc. in rural Ukraine and Russia for three years following the break-up of the Soviet Union. She first  gained experience living abroad as an exchange student in her teens. In total, Nancy has worked in or visited more than 25 countries.

While traveling the globe Nancy, a third-generation Iowa Stater, has kept her alma mater close to heart.

She has fond memories of her time on campus, including meeting her husband while both were enrolled in macroeconomics.

After graduation, Nancy worked for Iowa State University Extension as an area management specialist. She and economics professor William Edwards traveled the

state with 40-pound “portable” computers to perform financial analysis and scenario planning with farmers in the 1980s.

“We would set up our machines on their kitchen tables,” she recalls. “For many we were trying to find ways to save the family farm.”

Nancy is a recipient of Iowa State University’s Outstanding Young Alumna Award, Outstanding Agribusiness Alumna Award and an ISU Extension New Professional Award. She is a member of Cardinal Key and received the William G. Murray Award for outstanding Senior in Agricultural Business.

Ron Dieter, economics professor, uses her as an example when talking to prospective students.

“Nancy went from farm management to Amana Appliances to a career in foreign service,” he says. “She shows students a degree in agricultural business provides skills that are transferable. With an education like hers you can work anywhere.”

Nancy was a guest lecturer in one of Dieter’s classes this fall. She and John returned to campus to share their experiences with several classes and encourage students to consider a “richly rewarding” career in foreign service.

“Working with citizens of the host country and speaking their language we learn their history, traditions and perspectives while we progress U.S. foreign policy,” she says. “We also put a human face on American values and ideals.”


Wes Buchele (left) is well known for developing and patenting the first large round baler in 1966 with graduate student Virgil Haverdink.

By Barbara McBreen

At 92 Wesley Buchele continues to creatively solve problems. Along with his 23 patents, he has a website, a YouTube video, a radio blog and in 2008 co-authored a book about his childhood with his twin brother.

The book, Just Call Us Lucky, describes how a widowed mother with seven boys survived droughts, grasshopper infestations, dust storms and the Great Depression on a Kansas farm.

To survive, the seven brothers worked on and off the farm to feed the family and pay the mortgage. That’s how Buchele (PhD ’54 ag engineering and soil physics), got the idea for the large round baler.

“I was on a baling crew when I was 16 and it was 115 degrees in the shade, but there was no shade,” Buchele says. “I made an oath to myself that I would eliminate those small square balers.”

He did that and more. Buchele, Iowa State University professor emeritus in agricultural engineering, is well known for developing and patenting the first large round baler in 1966 with graduate student Virgil Haverdink (’64 agricultural engineering, MS ’67).

Buchele says seeing and solving problems is what he does.

“I can no longer keep myself from inventing, than I can keep myself from breathing,” Buchele says. “I’m not sure where I heard that, but it applies to my life.”

Buchele’s other inventions include
a rotary-flow threshing cylinder used
in American combines and rollover protective devices for tractors. He also started the first agricultural safety class in the United States in 1972 at Iowa State.

He built a tandem tractor in 1954, that had two tractor fronts and two steering wheels, but one driver. The combination of two tractors each able to pull a two-bottom plow, allowed Buchele to pull a six-bottom plow and get 50 percent more power.

In 2010, Buchele was one of five engineers nominated to the Product Design and Development Design Engineer Class of 2010 Hall of Fame. He is one of 13 engineers in the Hall of Fame that include Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci.

Buchele earned his bachelor’s at Kansas State University and master’s at the University of Arkansas before beginning his doctorate at Iowa State. He taught briefly at Michigan State University before joining the faculty at Iowa State in 1963 where he worked until 1989.

Mark Hanna (’73 agricultural engi- neering, MS ’75, PhD ’91), an Iowa State agricultural engineer, remembers Buchele’s entertaining lectures, which resulted in questions, rebuttals and discussion.

“His lectures and exercises on brain- storming to creatively solve machinery and other problems were legendary,” Hanna says. “I don’t recall what tuition cost at the time, but I got more than my money’s worth.”

Buchele’s innovativeness, he says, comes more from being creative than academic. He says lots of people can get great grades, but not many are creative.


Carla Persaud, an administrative assistant in the college’s dean’s suite, organizes book sales, auctions and volunteer activities to raise funds and awareness for the Story County United Way.

By Barbara McBreen

If you want something done Carla Persaud is the person to ask. That may be why she was asked to join the Iowa State University United Way Campaign.

Last year Persaud won the Story County United Way Wall of Fame Award. The award recognizes a volunteer who has gone beyond the call of duty.

Jean Kresse, president and CEO of United Way of Story County, says Persaud served on the Day of Caring committee to kickoff off the campaign for United Way. It’s a big job. One that requires the coordination of 700 volunteers who helped clean, landscape areas and do odd jobs for nonprofit group homes and social service agencies in Story County.

“Carla’s willingness to get involved and stay active is truly appreciated. We were honored to recognize and thank her for all of her efforts,” Kresse says.

Persaud, an administrative assistant in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean’s suite, has served on the ISU United Way Campaign Cabinet for the past five years, but has been involved with United Way for more than 15 years.

“United Way has so many programs in this community that help people,” Persaud says. “It’s a very giving community and I’m proud to be part of it.”

In addition to personal pledges,
she’s helped raise funds through online auctions and book sales, which brought in almost $3,000 last year. She welcomes contributions of new or unique items for the annual online auction for the United Way Campaign.

“Everything we do helps, not only to raise funds, but raise awareness about United Way,” Persaud says.

Joe Colletti, senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says Persaud defines volunteer.

“She offers her time, energy, goodwill and passion to help those in need. She is a professional who gives back and is the ultimate volunteer,” Colletti says.

Everyone who knows Persaud, knows she doesn’t walk, she practically runs everywhere—whether it’s racing to a meeting or running errands.

“I like to get things done as soon as possible,” Persaud says. “That allows me to address those unexpected items that come up.”

You can pretty much guarantee that Persaud will be racing to surpass this year’s goal of $62,500 for the college’s contribution to the Story County United Way Campaign. Just ask the volunteers who help her every year—the ones, she credits, for helping United Way succeed.


Dr. Tyrone Artz, a retired orthopedic surgeon, didn’t follow the path be began at Iowa State into the animal agriculture industry. But, his gift of farmland will help ensure future animal scientists the best opportunities.

By Melea Reicks Licht

Dr. Tyrone Artz, a retired orthopedic surgeon in Valley Center, Kan., never forgot the lessons he learned showing livestock in 4-H and as an undergraduate at Iowa State University.

“Showing livestock teaches responsibility and that animals deserve a high quality of life,” he says. “They should be respected and treated decently, and not taken for granted.”

Artz created an estate provision in his will so future students may learn these same lessons as they grow their skills and experience in livestock judging at Iowa State.

As a freshman in animal science in 1960, Artz remembers feeling anxious about “making the grade.” But something he heard at his orientation session stuck with him, even tho ugh the speaker’s name has faded from memory: “Students that have the ‘I will’ fare much better than students that have the I.Q.”

He took the comment to heart, worked hard and gained confidence during his first quarter. His grades were high, and he was accepted to vet school.

He would have “D.V.M” behind his name rather than “M.D.” if it weren’t for an exchange with his local veterinarian while working on his home farm one hot Iowa summer day.

“In the middle of a particularly hot and messy visit our local vet asked me why I’d ever want to do what he did for a living and reminded me doctors work in the comfort of air conditioning,” Artz recalls with a smile. “He told me if I was smart enough for vet school I was certainly smart enough for med school.”

Artz took his vet’s advice. After graduating from Iowa State he completed medical school at the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

While his future didn’t play out in animal agriculture, he’s taking steps to ensure future animal scientists trained at Iowa State University have the best opportunities.

Now retired, Artz has invested in both Iowa State and the University of Iowa with a land gift through his estate. His gift to Iowa State also will benefit the College of Veterinary Medicine with the creation of an endowed professorship.

Maynard Hogberg, professor and chair of animal science, says Artz’s gift will provide the margin of excellence over similar programs across the country.

“The Artz Judging Team Fund will assist with recruiting the best students and reinforce our commitment to leadership skills development,” Hogberg says. “It will create an environment for students to interact with and care for animals and to better understand the agricultural and food system.”

The gift also will endow the Artz Chair for Faculty Excellence in Animal Science for a faculty member who has shown distinction in undergraduate education and  research in an area that strengthens and supports animal agriculture in Iowa.

Funds generated from Artz’s endowed gift of farmland will support students, faculty and staff and programming. It will provide travel support, scholarships, professional development, materials, equipment and the development of a stronger advising system. The department will use part of the fund to sponsor and host judging competitions and recruitment programs.


Anthony Davis, clinic director and chiropractor, says his background in genetics gives him a unique perspective in enabling the body’s natural ability to heal.

By Melea Reicks Licht

If it is possible to be both serene and passionate at the same time, then Anthony Davis is just that.

Davis (’97 genetics) practically glows as he describes the philosophy that drives his chiropractic practice in Ames.

“The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself from illness as long as there is nothing in the way. My job is to get those barriers out of the way,” he says. “There is so much joy in what I do. I help people get more control over their health. Having the opportunity to do that is such a gift. Every day is different, even when you see the same patients—your radar always has to be up to identify their current needs.”

Davis describes chiropractic care similar to repairing the wiring system in a house.

“We remove stress and interference from the nervous system by adjusting bones. It’s like a wiring system in a house and the vertebra are the circuit breakers. If one is out of place it leads to bad communication between the body and the brain. Discomfort or illness could result,” he says.

Those barriers may contribute to neck or back pain, which chiropractors are best known for treating, but Davis says his treatment can influence the gamut of health issues from digestion to asthma to allergies and beyond.

Davis may be unique in that he came to chiropractic medicine through agriculture.

He became interested biotechnology and genetics while a high school student in Madrid. A self-described “lifelong Iowa Stater,” Davis says once he discovered Iowa State offered a degree in genetics it never crossed his mind to attend any other university. He shared his enthusiasm while at Iowa State playing saxophone in the marching and pep bands.

“Going to chiropractic school was a bit of a left turn for me,” Davis says. “I was working in a lab at Pioneer in Johnston when I realized that I wanted to be more directly involved in helping people.”

A good experience with chiropractic medicine following a sports injury in high school made a lasting impression on Davis. As he explored his options, pursuing a career in chiropractic care rose to the top. His genetics degree armed him with the necessary prerequisites and a unique perspective to approaching chiropractic care.

Davis attended Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City, Mo. He specializes in a method using a small handheld device called an Activator to gently tap vertebra in place. He opened his own practice, Complete Spine and Headache Center, in 2006 in southwest Ames.

Davis lists awareness and acceptance of chiropractic care as a top challenge for his profession. About 8 percent of the U.S. population sees a chiropractor in a given year. He says his ultimate goal is to create a world-class chiropractic center in Ames so he can work to improve the quality of life for his patients and raise awareness and acceptance of his field.


Chet Boruff, with the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies and former Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, considers industry regulation key to protecting farmers and consumers.

By Melea Reicks Licht

Chet Boruff has made a career protecting agricultural producers and consumers through regulatory affairs.

Boruff (’76 farm operations) is the chief executive officer of the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA). The organization is “like the NCAA of the seed industry,” he says.

“We govern how the seed industry plays in terms of isolation, handling and maintaining identity, purity and quality. We protect farmers to make sure what they buy is what they get,” Boruff says.

The association’s members are certification agencies in 45 states and Canada, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and South Africa. These agencies administer seed certification programs protecting the varietal purity and quality of a wide range of seeds and plant propagating materials.

“AOSCA has always worked to ensure genetic purity and varietal identity are maintained and preserved. We are simply working with different technologies than we were in 1919 when the organization was created,” Boruff says. “We want to make sure there is credibility in the seed market and our members have active participation in decisions regulating the seed industry.”

Throughout his career he has operated a farm near his home in Moline, Ill., which he credits for helping him stay focused in serving agricultural producers and consumers.

Boruff was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity while at Iowa State and met his wife Joy, a journalism grad. What strikes him most about his Iowa State experience is that at the time, he didn’t appreciate student access to “highly-esteemed” professors like Neil Harl, whose lectures were like “opening a fire hose” of knowledge.

Prior to his current position, Boruff worked in agricultural finance, sales and marketing.

Thanks in part to networking and experience gained as part of the inaugural class of the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Program, Boruff was selected to serve as the Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. He worked for seven years under former Governor Jim Edgar, overseeing regulatory and natural resource programs.

Manjit Misra, director of the Seed Science Center and the Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products based at Iowa State University, considers Boruff a capable leader and spokesperson with the ability to anticipate and meet the needs of member organizations.

“Under Chet’s leadership, AOSCA has become a visible and effective organization,” Misra says. “AOSCA recently developed an organic seed database that I’m hearing very good things about. They serve both conventional and organic agriculture, giving farmers access and choice.”

The online organic seed finder brings buyers and sellers together and assists organic certifiers. It is one way AOSCA is evolving with the industry.

“The introduction of new types of technology will continue to provide challenges for seed producers and those that regulate and audit the seed industry,” Boruff says, “as will consolidation of companies and the impacts of decreased funding for public agricultural research.”

Boruff says AOSCA will continue to serve and maintain the relevance of seed certifying agencies to the agricultural industry.


Thomas Peterson uses color in the cob and seed coat to phenotypically track the genetic doings of a transposon that controls red pigment in maize. The gene for red kernel color also produces a natural insecticide.

By Meg Gordon

Thomas Peterson, a leader in transposon biology, does fundamental research that pulls him deep into the swoops, swishes and switches of the corn plant genome.

Sixty-four years ago transposable elements were discovered in maize. Thirty years ago a Nobel Prize was awarded to the scientist who found them. Three years ago, the maize genome map appeared in the pages of the journal Science, confirming that eighty-five percent of the maize genetic hard drive involves transposable elements, “transposons”.

DNA with wanderlust

Transposons are pieces of genetic material that freely and unpredictably caper around the genome. They can contain one gene or many genes, and regulatory elements—the so called junk DNA that scientists now know is anything but junk.

“This is the raw material for evolution,” says Thomas Peterson, Pioneer Chair in Maize Molecular Genetics and professor of genetics, development and cell biology.

Peterson was a graduate student when Barbara McClintock received her Nobel Prize in 1983. “At the time, it was so remarkable that this little piece of DNA could move around the chromosome when common wisdom stated that genes stayed in place,” he says.

In the intervening years, transposable elements have been found within the genomes of most organisms—from Arabidopsis to Homosapien to Xanthomonas.

Mother Nature’s genetic engineering

Plant breeding depends on natural variability recombined to create favorable types of plants. New molecular techniques for engineering DNA such as transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), that target specific sequences and cut the DNA, are making it possible to place genetic modifications where they are most likely to succeed.

But dramatic contributions to natural variability come from transposons. They are Mother Nature’s way of introducing variability—genomic complexity—genetically engineering on a large scale.

Peterson describes their behavior as somewhat like a computer in which the select, insert and delete functions sporadically activate to delete, move, copy and paste chunks of text all over a document. The resulting copy can accumulate duplicate sentences and paragraphs. At first these additions might seem irrelevant or disruptive, but over time some of the duplicate text morphs into prize-winning prose.

”People would like to control transposons but they have a reputation for being wild—if the TALENs approach is a smart bomb then the transposon system is an atom bomb,” says Peterson. “No one wants to unleash the transposon system into their carefully controlled genetic material but, the potential benefit transposons offer is that they open up so many kinds of large changes that are not feasible using any other method.”

Where the fine-tuning begins

About 50 percent of genes present in the maize genus are duplicates. Many sit side by side; others are peppered throughout the genome. Peterson studies relative activity rates and the mechanisms transposons employ to copy, slot in, slip out, or invert whole sections of DNA in maize. A transposon containing the maize gene for red kernel color allows Peterson to track its activity phenotypically (visually) through cob and kernel.

Transposon capering is enabled by an enzyme called transposase that frees the element with what Peterson believes is a clean cut to the DNA. Whether the transposon reinserts as a simple relocation or a large chromosomal rearrangement appears to be determined by the number of surrounding transposons and which end of a given transposon is cut and therefore activated.

Furthermore, environmental stresses such as heat and cold appear to encourage transposon-enabled gene duplication. Peterson’s current work proposes a new mechanism whereby endpoints of neighboring transposons contribute the scaffolding for rapid reprinting of side-by-side copies of a gene or its removal.

“Once you make two copies of a gene, one can change or adapt, developing a new function such as coding for a protein that recognizes a specific pathogen and confers disease resistance,” says Peterson. The other copy preserves the original function. Alternatively, deleting or disrupting a gene that has a negative effect on the organism can confer new advantage.


Plant pathologists Thomas Baum (right) and Tarek Hewezi, developed a new approach to studying microRNAs, powerful regulators of gene activity, to better understand how nematodes change gene activities in plants.

By Ed Adcock

Soybean cyst nematodes have been found in fields in every Iowa county. The plant-parasitic microscopic roundworms cause an estimated loss of $1 billion dollars annually to U.S. soybean producers.

The pests get their name from the shell-like cysts, each containing hundreds of eggs, that persist in the soil until a susceptible plant is within reach.

Iowa State plant pathologists have made a breakthrough in the understanding of how cyst nematodes attack plants at the genetic level, providing the possibility of giving soybeans a way to fend off the pest.

Rosetta Green, an agricultural biotechnology company, licensed the technology last summer with the goal of developing nematode-resistant plants. The company’s agreement with the Iowa State University Research Foundation is based on research deciphering how cyst nematodes infect plants.

The research is led by plant pathologists Thomas Baum, professor and chair of plant pathology and microbiology, and Tarek Hewezi, an associate scientist.

Cyst nematodes are damaging pathogens of plants worldwide. The pests feed on plant fluids by attaching to the host plant’s roots.

Scientists previously discovered that nematodes hijack plant development by injecting cells with chemical signals that cause hundreds of cells to fuse into a feeding site.

Baum and Hewezi sought to understand how the nematode changes the plant’s gene activities for the purpose of turning it into a food source. The researchers’ new approach was studying microRNAs, which are powerful regulators of gene activity.

“These worms learned to communicate with these plants’ cells in a very subtle way,” Baum says.

The researchers used the plant Arabidopsis as the model because it has a relatively small genome, and studied how sugar beet cyst nematodes attacked it. They discovered a relationship one microRNA had with two genes that are associated with growth regulation.

Hewezi and Baum used molecular biology techniques to generate experimental plants in which the microRNA levels are elevated in roots attacked by cyst nematodes and they found these plants were not as susceptible to the nematode. And when they adapted the target genes to be unaffected by the microRNA, they found these plants were less susceptible as well.

“Our results indicate that the microRNA, together with its target genes, has a real function in the interaction and it’s required to a certain degree for the pest to attach to plant roots,” Baum says.

The Iowa Soybean Association funded research that led to the discovery, and the National Science Foundation recently funded a three-year study for $607,875 to continue work with Arabidopsis micro-RNAs during cyst nematode parasitism.


Andrew Paxson grew up enjoying the outdoors in the in Fox River Valley area northwest of Chicago. As president of the student Soil Water and Conservation Club he builds ground water flow models.

By Barbara McBreen

Andrew Paxson spent his summer biking, canoeing, mussel hunting, weeding and educating others about the importance of ecological preservation. It was an intern- ship that fit him perfectly.

“We covered ecology, history, philosophy, economics, botany and geology all in nine weeks,” Paxson says. “The internship helped me understand that I’d like to pursue a career in ecological restoration.”

Paxson, a senior in environmental science, spent last summer as an intern with the McHenry County Conservation District at Glacial Park. It’s an area north-west of Chicago and north of Algonquin, Ill. The 3,500-acre park is located one hour north of where Paxson grew up hiking and enjoying water sports.

“I like to challenge interns with basic questions,” says Tom Simpson, field station ecologist with the McHenry County Conser- vation District. “This summer we had many involved discussions about how and why we do conservation. Andrew was always engaged in the discussion, which helped everyone else participate.”

This summer brought hot, dry weather to most of the Midwest, which made it challenging to work outside Paxson says. At times he was worried about starting fires with vehicles used in the park. As streambeds began to dry up, he also participated in a mussel rescue and survey.

“We were on our hands and knees in the river trying to find these mussels in the mud, it was like finding gold,” Paxson says.

When he returned to Iowa State this fall, he found the drought also dried up his water-sampling job. For the past three years Paxson has taken water and sediment samples from Squaw Creek to measure E. coli. The water sampling not only provided a job, but a basis for his research.

“The data is interesting because we have samples from flood years and from last spring when the creek began drying up,” Paxson says.

Michelle Soupir, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, says Paxson’s help with data collection will provide the basis for stream modeling. The project not only measured E. coli in the water, but also in the streambed.

“He went out weekly and collected water and sediment samples,” Soupir says. “We found that bacteria concentrations in the bottom sediment was higher than the overlying waters.”

Paxon’s research focused on plotting
E. coli concentrations in watersheds using geographic information systems technology. The results will be included in a modeling project used to predict E. coli concentrations in streams. He presented his research in poster sessions through the Science With Practice program and at the Research at the Capitol event in Des Moines. Both programs give undergraduate students research experience with mentors and faculty.

Paxson served as president of the Soil and Water Conservation Club Student Chapter from 2009 to 2012, which builds water flow models for educational groups. He also was a member of the Skunk River Navy, a student group that cleans trash out of the river. He also gained practical experience serving on Iowa State University’s Storm water committee.


 Nancy Boury, a senior lecturer in animal science, incorporates real- life scenarios to engage students in microbiology, biology and genetics.

By Barbara McBreen

Microbes rule the world. That’s a fact that Nancy Boury shares with students in her Microbial World class.

“There are more microbes in one person’s gut than there are people who have ever lived on earth,” says Boury, a senior lecturer in animal science (’97 PhD molecular, cellular and developmental biology).

To make introductory micro- biology, biology and genetics interesting, Boury incorporates real-life scenarios into her classes. In one class she asked students to bring evidence both for and against the idea that microbes can influence weight gain. She also asked students to analyze the source of the research they used as evidence.

“I want students to think and not just memorize,” Boury says. “Information literacy is important because students need to understand the source of information they use to make decisions.”

Making students comfortable in the classroom is a priority for Boury. She does that by trying to memorize everyone’s first name, which isn’t an easy task when you have more than 250 students. She also asks them to submit a question on the first day of class. Every fall she spends two weeks responding to each question.

“It would be easier to teach these classes if I didn’t care, but I care,” Boury says. “I went to a small, private, liberal arts school and I try to take the advantages of that setting and bring them to the class.”

If you sit in on one of her classes it’s obvious the students enjoy her and are involved in the learning process.  Her goal is to encourage students to reach their full potential, provide an active learning experience and bring science to life.

Boury advises first and second year microbiology students and is the Microbiology Learning Community coordinator. One former student and advisee, Janae Hohbein (’09 microbi- ology) who is attending the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine, says she still uses the study techniques she learned from Boury.

“I can honestly say that without her mentoring, I would not be flourishing in medical school,” Hohbein says. “Many professors can boast about the grades their students get and the things their students achieve, but only a few can boast about who their students become as people.”

Ed Braun, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, team-teaches the microbiology class with Boury. Braun focuses on the plant aspect and Boury’s focus is more on the animal and human health areas. He says Boury has a great rapport with students.

“It’s fantastic to watch the level of inter- action she has with the class,” Braun says. “She’s serious, but leavens it with humor.”

That humor is important to Boury. She asks students to bring in cartoons or other microbial humor she can share with her classes and says student compete to be featured.


W. Allen Miller, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, has become one of the world’s leading authorities in research of viruses.

By Ann Marie Edwards

W. Allen Miller is using his understanding of viruses to aid both plant and human health.

In one such project Miller, professor
of plant pathology and microbiology, is working to introduce a gene into soybeans harmless to mammals, but toxic to aphids that feed on soybean plants. He collabo- rates with entomology professor Bryony Bonning (see page 6) on the project.

Miller wasn’t always interested in the survival of soybeans.

“I became fascinated by molecular biology when I was a college student. When I went to graduate school I decided I wanted to help feed the world rather than do medical research. I would study agricultural research or biotechnology even though I had no background in plants or farming,” says Miller.

He started to focus on viruses while earning his Ph.D. degree at the University of Wisconsin. Miller is now recognized
as one of the world’s leading authorities on mechanisms of barley yellow dwarf virus molecular biology.

Since joining the ISU faculty in 1988, his research has made important contri- butions to several disciplines including RNA structure and function of viruses (referring to the type of nucleic acid they use to store genetic information).

By publishing and sharing his findings, Miller has made the molecular biology world more aware of plant viruses as fascinating model systems. His work has been funded from many sources including the National Institutes of Health.

Today, Miller and his colleagues study molecular biology of plant RNA viruses from several perspectives including RNA virus replication from plants to humans.

“We employ plant viruses as easy-to-use model systems to provide basic understanding of how viruses express genes and replicate,” Miller says. “This knowledge may be relevant to major human viruses such as hepatitis A and C viruses, West Nile and more.”

While running his research lab Miller works to create a stimulating environment for students and postdocs.

“The lab is almost like a family,” Miller says. “Some of my proudest achievements beyond scientific discovery are the number of scientists who I have trained. Many of my students have gone on to very successful careers as scientists.”

Miller’s former student Elizabeth Pettit Kneller (PhD ’05 plant pathology), agrees.

“Dr. Miller is really enthusiastic about science and instills an excitement about virology in his students. He gives students opportunities to be involved with grant applications and presenting at conferences,” says Pettit, a scientist at KeraNetics, an advanced biomaterials company in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Miller recently began a faculty profes- sional development assignment at the Institute for Plant Molecular Biology in France. While on the 10-month assign- ment with the French governmental research organization, he will continue to study translation mechanisms, but with a different set of plant viruses than he studies at Iowa State. The new lineup includes viruses important to sugarbeet and potato production. He will use this new experience to build his research program at Iowa State.


Intern Sally Gorenz is the driving force behind the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology’s social media presence. CEO John Bonner says their intern program is one of many ways CAST partners with Iowa State University.

By Dan Gogerty

Charles A. Black, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, was instrumental in founding the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) in Ames in 1972 to meet the need for access to sciencebased agricultural information.

Since then the partnership between CAST and Iowa State University continues to run deep. When CAST offered an education program, ISU was first to take advantage, so educators and students could access current news, resource material and career opportunities. Other universities and education groups followed ISU’s lead to receive CAST benefits. Many Iowa State professors support CAST by contributing to research papers and serving on CAST committees.

CAST shares science-based information through its publications, weekly online newsletter, videos and social media. For four decades, the independent organization has informed educators, students, the public and policymakers about issues important in the world of agriculture and food production.

Currently, the most dynamic collaboration between CAST and Iowa State University is the intern program.

“The program is wonderful for both the students and our organization,” says CAST’s John Bonner. “Our organization gets help from hardworking young people with innovative ideas, while the students gain experience and make connections that often lead to successful jobs.”

Bonner (’68 dairy science, MS ’71 animal science, PhD ’74) is executive vice president and chief executive officer of CAST.

Many interns have been part of this productive partnership. Two with strong  agriculture backgrounds demonstrate why the program flourishes.

“Elizabeth Burns-Thompson came to CAST brimming with enthusiasm and insights about tech and communication. She took every opportunity to make connections and develop new programs,” says Linda Chimenti, CAST’s chief operating officer.

Burns-Thompson points out, “I worked on a number of projects, but the most significant was introducing CAST into the world of social media.”

During her internship, Burns-Thompson (’11 agricultural business and international

agriculture) kick-started CAST’s involvement with the AgChat Foundation and Twitter. At the same time, she was able to “agvocate” for agriculture—including a trip to Washington, D.C., for National Ag Day. Burns-Thompson now studies agricultural law at Drake University Law School and works with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

A current intern, Sally Gorenz, has kept the tweets rolling with a growing tally of 2,300 Twitter followers. Among her many jobs, the senior in agricultural and life sciences education, communications option, has expanded the role social media plays at CAST. Gorenz developed a CAST Facebook page and started the popular “Catch of the Day”—a regular Facebook link featuring high interest stories.

“Staying on top of social media helps you put a name to your organization, expand your network with the click of a mouse and keep you on your toes for the next social media outlet coming your way,” Gorenz says.

The ISU-CAST connection continues to be a two-way street that benefits students, educators and those interested in credible information about science and agriculture.

Follow CAST on twitter and find them on Facebook.


By Ed Adcock

Biochemist Basil Nikolau looks for ways to improve foods and animal feed with better nutrition and development of biorenewable sources of industrial chemicals.

The national focus on using biomass to substitute for some petroleum based products has given biochemist Basil Nikolau’s work new focus.

Since 2008 the Frances M. Craig Professor in the Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology has served as deputy director of the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) based at Iowa State University.

Nikolau works with director Brent Shanks in engineering to lead the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center of 10 academic and 30 industrial partners.

Premium research

The center concentrates on biologically producing chemicals similar to those currently produced from petroleum. Nikolau says that’s where the potential for growth lies. He uses the petroleum industry as an example.

“If you take a barrel of oil, about 75 percent of the barrel is burned for fuel and worldwide that’s worth about $400 billion. The 5 to 10 percent that ends up in chemicals is worth the same amount,” Nikolau says. Biofuels are a commodity product, worth the going rate at the pump.

The chemicals are produced at a premium price. “For fuels you need such a large amount of carbon, whereas chemicals you don’t need that much and yet it’s worth a lot more,” he says.

Being worth more provides more incentive for research. Developing new ways of producing chemicals from biomass also opens up more opportunities for obtaining intellectual property rights.

CBiRC’s researchers seek to find catalysts that promote the reactions to efficiently produce biorenewable chemicals. Another goal is to educate students to be creative engineers by exposing them to multidisciplinary research.

The spice of biology

Nikolau and his wife, Eve Wurtele, a professor in genetics, development and cell biology, joined Iowa State in 1988 during a period when many young faculty were hired to respond to the promise of biotechnology. He took a multi-disciplinary appointment in biochemistry and the food science and human nutrition departments.

“I’ve stayed more on the wet lab aspect of things and she’s taken on more computational aspects of research, but these are complementary approaches. The biological research with genomics has become more data generating, and managing that data and deducing valuable information out of that has become more important,” he says.

This is exemplified in the emerging science of metabolomics. The W.M. Keck

Metabolomics Research Laboratory uses analytical instruments to measure the biochemicals, or metabolites, that make up an organism. “It’s really geared to give biologists the analytical tools needed to measure metabolism. It could be any biological system, but we’ve focused more on plants. All our spices, fragrances and flavors come from plant sources. And these are pharmacologically active metabolites,” he says, giving examples such as aspirin and lovastatin drugs whose design principle originated from plant metabolites.

Metabolomics research should lead to improvement in foods and animal feeds with better nutrition and also aid in the development of biorenewable sources of industrial chemicals, Nikolau says. He calls it “the spice of biology.” Multitasking in multiple labs Nikolau’s many projects—he maintains three labs on campus—reflect his varied interests and the multidisciplinary nature of his work.

“Iowa State has a long history in plant genetics and I’ve dove-tailed into that by moving more into biochemistry,” he says.

The Frances M. Craig Professor of Biochemistry says research was a challenge when he first started out, relating his specialty in lipid metabolism to nutritional concerns. First, fat isn’t considered good for people.

“Another difficulty to consider is that, you’re trying to alter peoples’ well-being by modifying what they are eating. So we were trying to alter one biological system—the plants that we eat—which is difficult enough to do, so when you eat them you become better. Altering one biological system—plants—in order to make a

second biological system—humans— better is difficult,” he says. His research is much more straightforward since becoming involved in biorenewable materials.

“CBiRC enabled me to put this larger umbrella over the research, a justification relative to a real nice application. Before it was a little bit eclectic in the form of

a justification or a rationale. Now CBiRC provides a rationale that is all encompassing,”Nikolau says.

CBiRC is in its fourth year of funding and has been renewed out to eight years, with an expectation to be funded to 10 years. By then the intent is to be self-supporting. The center is starting to make chemicals that several companies are interested in. Some of the industrial partners are sponsoring research.

Nuturing future scientists Nikolau’s teaching in biochemistry focuses on research-based education and training. Graduate students conduct the bulk of the research with opportunities for inclusion of undergraduate students, high school students and teachers.

In addition, Nikolau leads a grade school through high school program,

Symbi, funded by the National Science Foundation, which allows graduate

students to participate in classroom activities in Des Moines middle schools.

The graduate students become resident scientists in the classroom, providing them an opportunity to expose forefront research to young Iowans at an early stage of their education.

FROM THE DEAN – Fall 2012

Over the summer, I spent an enjoyable evening at the Iowa Turkey Federation’s summer meeting, which had a baseball theme. To fit the theme, I spoke to the audience about recent success stories, or “home runs,” in the college.

Then I listed areas I thought would be “game-changers” that were in the batter’s circle for Iowa agriculture.

One was agriculture’s centrality to the continuing vision for the biosciences and bioeconomy in Iowa. I shared that, to me, these areas mean research and development unlocking new economic potential in plants and animals, stimulating new kinds of value-added products and processes in agriculture. As we look to capitalize on Iowa’s great competitive advantage in agriculture and in science and technology, biosciences are key to driving economic growth and job creation to new heights.

Another game changer is the rising numbers of students studying agriculture and life sciences. A grand-slam was the impending enrollment record, which was confirmed early in the fall semester— 3,900 undergraduates, topping the 1977 record. More young people realize agriculture and life sciences offer exciting and life-changing opportunities for those willing to work hard to accomplish something positive. They realize agriculture is where they need to be to play a role in addressing local, national and global needs.

Finally, I told my audience the ultimate game-changer is the strong partnerships we forge together to build our future. We need to work as a team, to communicate, to know where each of us is on the field, to have everyone play their position well and to keep our eyes on the ball. That’s what great teams do. The players connect the dots and great things happen.

As a team, we are partners in crossing the plate to “home” base—whether “home” is a safe, plentiful food supply; high-quality natural resources; expanding economic development; and promising futures for our children and grandchildren. Our team must include scientists, extension specialists, teachers, farmers, business people, well-prepared college graduates and many more.

For those who know me well, you know I always root, root, root for the home team—Iowa agriculture. Because when agriculture scores, society wins.

Wendy Wintersteen

Endowed Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences

FOREWORD – Fall 2012

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is all about life. Agriculture is biology in action. Biology is a precursor for agricultural science and practical application.

Whether plant or animal, soil, air or water—it’s all about life.

Here in CALS we break down the stuff of life more than half a dozen ways with faculty expertise in everything from biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology and organismal biology, to microbiology, genetics, development and cell biology. For those of you who haven’t seen the inside of a lab since organic chemistry, I hope you’ll stick around and keep reading. There’s exciting science happening here every day, chipping away at huge issues facing agriculture and society.

The following pages offer a few examples of life sciences research. Faculty like Jeff Essner and Allen Miller who are searching for deeper understanding of animal and plant diseases with hopes of using their findings to improve human health. Many faculty mentor graduate and undergraduates in their labs, providing unique opportunities for students to be involved in cutting-edge research. Brandi Malchow is a perfect example of a student making the most of every day of her student experience.

Enthusiasm, passion and a drive to help others are common themes I think you’ll pick up on throughout this issue.

Nancy Brannaman has traversed the globe working in embassies for the U.S. State Department and Dr. Anthony Davis treats patients in Ames as a chiropractor. Be sure to check out Carla Persaud, our “In the Margins” profile, who is featured for her work with United Way. Her efforts are anything but marginal. Alum Chet Boruff’s story spotlights his career in agricultural regulatory affairs protecting farmers and consumers. His story also offers a glimpse as to what to expect in our next issue, which will focus on farming and farm programs.

As always, your thoughts on this issue and others are welcome. Please feel free to contact me at stories@iastate.edu. I enjoy hearing from you and sharing your news here and in STORIES Online, our monthly e-newsletter. If you’re not already on our e-mail list please sign up at www.cals.iastate.edu/alumni.

Kind regards,

Melea Reicks Licht

Director of Alumni Relations

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences



Thomas Bobik

Thomas Bobik, professor

On the culture of BBMB

“We have a great culture of cooperation that allows us to solve problems based on our collective interdisciplinary knowledge, which is crucial for modern science.”

On his current research

“We are genetically engineering E. coli for production of renewable chemicals. We also are trying to define the architectural and functional principles of bacterial micro-compartments so they might be developed for  industrial production of chemicals or as drug-delivery vehicles.”

On how his work connects to peoples’ lives

“We are trying to define the functional and design principles of biological systems so we can build purpose-specific systems that are useful in industry or medicine.”

On what’s exciting about his work

“The bacterial micro-compartments we study have unique structural and functional principles. Once we have fully defined these principles, then it will become possible to determine the scope of their importance and implement biotechnology and biomedical applications.”

Desi Gunning, teaching laboratory coordinator and biochemistry undergraduate academic advising coordinator

Desiree Gunning

On the culture of BBMB

“BBMB is large enough to have great faculty and research opportunities and small enough for our students to feel connected and a part of this flourishing community. Students are very focused, dedicated and eager to experience research. When you combine great faculty with highly motivated and talented students, wonderful things happen.”

On undergraduates and research

“Most of our undergraduates want to become involved in research and most do by their sophomore year. We encourage research as a natural extension of their education. Working with faculty mentors and alongside scientists in the lab is very exciting and motivating. Putting all those semesters of math, biology, chemistry and biochemistry to use in research helps them understand just how much they have learned. They transform from students to scientists. The application of their knowledge is what gets them hooked.”

On what’s exciting about working with students

“With such dynamic, capable and motivated students, we need to be on our toes. Our faculty is fantastic and ready to adapt and innovate to provide them with the education, experience and opportunities for excellent outcomes. A strength of our department is the strong sense of community that is greatly valued by students and their families. Our undergraduate program is wonderfully successful at preparing students for a variety of professional careers. Some may start as pre-med, but discover they love research. Our role is very important because we are sending our graduates off to be tomorrow’s leaders as physicians, professors, pharmacists, veterinarians, research scientists and more.”

On the signature BBMB undergraduate research symposium

“It is because of our students that we hold the Stupka Undergraduate Research Symposium each spring. The symposium is dedicated to the memory of Rob Stupka, a biochemistry student who inspired and developed the idea for the event but tragically died in a traffic accident. Now in its eighth year, the symposium is planned and executed by students and grows each year. It features the remarkable accomplishments of our student researchers. It has become a highly regarded professional scientific forum and we refer to it as a jewel in the BBMB crown.”


Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson, assistant professor

On the culture of BBMB

“Everyone isinterested in what different labs areworking on. Faculty are always willing to help their colleagues and students in an area where they may lack expertise. Research is performed in a very collaborative environment, which definitely moves research forward at a faster pace. Having been a student in the department (PhD ’02), I saw what a benefit it is to have easy access to professors with varying expertise. When I left Iowa State, I assumed the tight-knit, supportive atmosphere that I was part of was normal. But I’ve found the BBMB department is extraordinary in this regard.”

On his current research

“My research focuses on discovering how enzymes carry out various activities and how these activities are regulated at the molecular level. We are currently concentrating on an enzyme complex that plays an important role in the repair of damaged DNA.”

On how his work connects to peoples’ lives

“Fundamental information we are collecting on the enzyme complex may prove useful in efforts to control its activity for the purpose of altering the DNA repair capacity of certain organisms. This could mean increasing the efficiency of DNA repair in plants for agricultural purposes or inhibiting DNA repair in tumor cells to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments.”

On what’s exciting about his work

“We’ve made a great deal of progress towards identifying the routes of communication that occur within the structure of the enzyme complex. These routes are highlighting areas that may be particularly susceptible to inhibition by small druglike molecules, which could be very helpful to rational, computer-aided drug-design efforts.”

Olga Zabotina, assistant professor

Olga Zabotina


On the culture of BBMB

“Open, friendly and intense. Faculty’s doors are always open for students. Faculty are demanding with students because it exposes them to how demanding their future jobs will be. We try to convince them there’s no time to lose: Learn how to be proactive and productive in the lab.”

On her current research

“We want to understand how plants synthesize polysaccharides, which are major components of cell walls, and important for improving plants for biofuels production and industrial uses. We also are working to understand how changes in cell walls reflect interactions with the environment.

This is important because cell walls are a first line of defense against environmental stresses and pathogens.”

On how her work connects to peoples’ lives

“We’re trying to understand how we can modify plants to produce more useful food, fiber, fuel or other resources. How can we do this without affecting the plant’s growth and development? Can we better understand how plants tolerate environmental stresses and use that information to improve them?”

On what’s exciting about her work

“Fundamental questions intrigue me. Step by step, we understand more about diverse, complex and dynamic structures in plants and can begin to put the information into the big picture and, in the future, apply it to practical problems. That excites me and that’s why I tell students plants are much more interesting to study than other organisms because of their flexibility.”


Page 2 – “Astonishing Tales of the New Biology” Plant Sciences Institute Comic

Page 5 – Symbi, NSF-funded program placing graduate students in Iowa

classrooms as resident scientists

Page 10 – Learn more about Wes Buchele, ISU professor emeritus in

agricultural engineering, inventor of the large round baler

Page 11 – Biographical video of Allen Christian, former manager of Iowa State

University’s Swine Teaching Farm; George Beal, emeritus Charles F. Curtiss

Distinguished Professor of Sociology STORIES article

Page 13 – Read more about Bethany Olson in the Agriculture Future of America newsletter

Page 16 – Andrew Paxson’s research with the Science With Practice program

Page 17 – Aubrie James’s internship at Harvard Forest

Page 19 – Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust

Page 31 – Global Resource Systems major

Page 35 – Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology

Page 36 – Read more about Sarah Myers who overcame cancer and family tragedy to complete her veterinary medicine degree; Visit Fred Hoibar contestant for Iowa State Fair Biggest Boar competition

Page 38 – Farm Service Agency; ISU Extension and Outreach


Jeff Essner says the transparent zebrafish are especially suited for his research since their development is easy to observe under a microscope.

By Virginia Zantow

Zebrafish are tiny vertebrates, but if you ask Jeffrey Essner, their significance to genetics research and cancer research is huge.

Essner is an associate professor in genetics, development and cell biology. He says the idea that he can improve human health—especially the idea that he can make a difference to cancer patients—motivates him in his research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Zebrafish—tiny, seemingly insignificant fish help him work toward that lofty goal. They also inspire him on another level: he enjoys looking at them.

“The embryos are just fascinatingly beautiful,” Essner says.

Their embryos are optically clear, so zebrafish development is easy to observe under a microscope. Also, since fish embryos develop outside of the mother, researchers can manipulate them, and that works well for genetic engineering and identifying genes involved in disease processes. Zebrafish also happen to be prolific breeders (a given female will produce up to 400 embryos in one morning).

“We can generate lots of embryos,” Essner says. “We can look at mutants and get statistical relevance from the numbers of offspring we’re examining.”

Precision is key

Essner has been using zebrafish to study a new method for genomic editing which uses artificial transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs). This method allows researchers to cut DNA at specific sites and modify genetic information.

“We can go into any gene and introduce specific changes to the DNA with incredible precision,” Essner says. “This technology has implications for working with large animals and human gene therapy.”

Since zebrafish embryos develop outside of the mother, and since they are transparent, they are ideal for perfecting the use of TALENs in genomic editing. The embryos are easily accessed for microinjection, and the characteristics expressed by the modified genes are easily observed.

Essner, along with Ying Wang, a postdoctoral research associate in genetics,  development and cell biology, and former ISU professor Dan Voytas, recently published an article in the journal Nature documenting the efficient use of TALENs in zebrafish.

The development of TALENs, an exciting new tool in the field of genetics, has roots at Iowa State. “TAL effector” proteins, which ultimately led to the development of TALENs technology, were discovered by Iowa State University plant pathologists and microbiologists.

“ISU has a great amount of intellectual property in TALENs,” Essner says.

The TALENs technology started with plants, but now it is being applied to animals like zebrafish. The hope is that soon, TALENs technology will be perfected to the point that it can be applied to large animals like pigs, which are much more biologically similar to humans than zebrafish. Genetically engineering pigs to have human diseases like cystic fibrosis or multiple sclerosis would make strides toward the development of therapeutics for those diseases, and even gene therapy, Essner says.

From an agricultural perspective, perfecting genetic engineering technology like TALENs so it can be used on large animals could improve resistance to disease in livestock, meat production, and large animal production in general.

Essner is one of the founders of Recombinetics, the biotech company that holds the licenses to use TALENs on large animals of agricultural importance.

Cancer research: both sides of the coin

While Essner spends a lot of time studying the TALENs technology and applying it to zebrafish, he also uses zebrafish to study cancer with Maura McGrail, his colleague as well as his wife.

“As tumors progress, they always ask for a blood supply,” Essner says. That’s why his take on cancer research focuses in on blood vessel development.

Blood vessels don’t just feed cancer tumors; they also transport them. Metastasis, or the spread of cancer tumors from one part of the body to another, happens through the blood stream. Essner looks for the genes necessary for blood vessel development. He is interested in finding ways to inhibit those genes, which could lead to developments in cancer therapies.

The transparency of zebrafish embryos also aids this research effort, as it allows Essner to clearly see the development of blood vessels.

McGrail, assistant professor in genetics, development and cell biology, looks at cancer from another angle. She seeks to identify the genes that are mutated in the cancer tumors themselves.

“Both of our research programs will continue to provide new insights into understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to tumor onset and progression,” McGrail says.

Offering a closer look

As a third grade child, Essner was taken with the beauty of watching a sea urchin develop under a microscope. The experience was formative in his decision to become a scientist. As Essner is still fascinated with observing life under a microscope, he passes his enthusiasm for biology on to the next generation.

“We provide zebrafish embryos to local schools in order to inspire the next generation of scientists,” Essner says. Essner inspires young scientists at Iowa State as well. He teaches Introduction to Biology as well as Developmental Biology, an upper-level course that provides research experiences to undergraduates.

Essner and McGrail mentor approximately five to ten undergraduates at any given time in their laboratory. The students take care of the fish and work on their own research projects, taking advantage of the clear view of cellular processes accessible in the zebrafish laboratory.


Brandi Malchow, junior in agricultural biochemistry, hopes to follow in the footsteps of her adviser and mentor Don Beitz .

By Calee  Himes

If Brandi Malchow could major in everything, she would.

After spending a semester at a university without a tradition of agriculture, the junior from St. Cloud, Minn ultimately chose agricultural biochemistry at Iowa State University. It fed her interest in biochemistry that began in advanced biology in high school and her longing to be reconnected with her agricultural roots that were seeded in FFA.

Agricultural biochemistry combines science and math to help further the understanding of human, plant and animal life. With diverse interest areas combined, agricultural biochemistry is a perfect fifit for Malchow, who sees it as a means for “understanding molecular mechanisms of various life processes.”

Malchow loves her major, but is especially thankful for her adviser, Don Beitz, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences in animal science and in biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology. She credits him for helping shape her Iowa State career.

She even aspires to become a “female version of Beitz”, she jokes. Like Beitz, she wants to earn a Ph.D. and become a research professor and adviser. Finding a future that involves helping others is a must for Malchow. She’s especially interested in studying diabetes, Chron’s disease or another pressing health issue related to digestion.

“Brandi is Ms. Enthusiasm,” Beitz says. “She works hard for her grades and is very involved in activities outside the classroom.”

That’s likely because one of the first things Beitz told Malchow was to work really hard, but play even harder.

Malchow took Beitz’s statement to heart.

“Academics and activities are two separate things and both deserve equal time and attention,” she says.

She’s a member of Student Admissions Representatives, the Transfer Ambassador Program, Women in Science and Engineering and is a Cyclone Aide—all of these programs tap into Brandi’s desire to mentor new students and help them navigate their first few semesters of college. And she tutors math, science and Spanish at Woodward-Granger High School.

Malchow’s planning to attend the Emerging Leaders Retreat, an overnight, off-campus retreat for students interested in building leadership skills, and will spend a semester at Louisiana State University in the spring as a national exchange student. She’s always been curious about living somewhere else and is intrigued by the south. She also hopes this experience will expand her network while she’s researching graduate schools.

She enjoys being so involved because it’s a great way to network with people she wouldn’t otherwise encounter in her major. In fact, the Cyclone Aide program is where she met most of her friends.

Malchow sees every day as a new adventure. “Every day is the best day ever,” she exclaims. Whether she’s going over math problems with a student, conducting a campus tour or taking a calculus test, she looks forward to something new and exciting each day.


Wildlife biologist Jeramie Strickland says sharing his knowledge of wildlife and the outdoors is what drives him. He hopes to inspire kids to pursue careers in science.

By Melea Reicks Licht

Working with animals was my ticket out of the rough, crime-infested streets of Chicago,” Jeramie Strickland says. “And you can quote me on that. It’s my testimony.”

He isn’t shy about relaying how his love for the outdoors and nature spared him from an uncertain future, one in which many of his peers became “gang-bangers and drug dealers.”

Strickland (MS ’08 ecology and evolutionary biology) is a wildlife biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. He is stationed at one of the most visited refuges in the nation, which attracts millions of hunters, fishers and other outdoor enthusiasts from nearby urban areas including Chicago.

Strickland’s inner-city Chicago childhood was interrupted by a three-year respite in the backwoods of Alabama. Without money for afterschool programs and sports, the five-year-old spent his days catching frogs, crafting homemade fishing poles and exploring every nook and cranny of the ponds surrounding his home.

“I moved back to Chicago in third grade, and I couldn’t fish or swim in Lake Michigan. It was too polluted. I didn’t have that outlet anymore,” Strickland says. “When I started to have behavior issues in elementary and junior high school, my teacher’s response was for me to do math and science with guidance counselors as my punishment.”

Strickland’s “punishments” led to winning science fair projects at the school, district and city levels. He was strongly encouraged by mentors and counselors to attend the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences where he followed the animal science track working with the school’s livestock and aquaculture programs.

To his surprise he was offered a partial scholarship to the College of Agriculture and Related Sciences at Delaware State University, where he gained undergraduate research experience and held internships at Purdue University, Michigan State University, the U. S. Department of Agriculture and in Nambia, Africa.

He realized his true passion—sharing his knowledge with youth, especially minorities and urban students—working for the Ecological Society of America as an education program coordinator. He knew a master’s degree would advance his career and provide more opportunities for him to work with youth. So he sought out Iowa State University biologists Fred Janzen and Anne Bronikowski.

“Jeramie’s application for graduate work simply oozed enthusiasm and the diversity of the meaningful experiences in his background was exceptional,” says Janzen.

Strickland went on to study painted turtle nesting in Janzen’s lab performing fieldwork at the refuge where he now works. He helped start the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology program.

Strickland’s work at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is busy and varied. His enthusiasm and down-to-earth nature is obvious as he explains a day’s work could entail hosting youth and disabled hunters during specialized  hunts, bald eagle population counts, recovery of threatened ornate box turtles—the list goes on and on. There is no typical day.

“I have to remember to say, no,” he admits. “There are so many fun and exciting projects to take on I have to remember I can’t do everything.”

One thing he rarely says no to is any opportunity to share his love for wildlife and the environment with youth. In doing so he realizes he isn’t just teaching science, he’s showing kids like him a glimpse of a future they may not have thought possible.

“Getting kids involved in conservation and exposing them to the outdoors is my way of giving back,” Strickland says. “I am truly thankful for my mentors, and I want to give kids from my community a better role model.”

Strickland serves as a mentor for the Ecology Society of America and The Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science Program. Both programs provide students  with professional development opportunities, science exposure (including research), networking opportunities and reciprocal mentoring opportunities.



John Carlson, a professor in Western Illinois University’s School of Agriculture, has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar. He will spend August through December teaching at the Ryazan State Agrotechnological University in Russia. Carlson earned an ISU bachelor’s degree in animal science and agricultural journalism in 1974, and a master’s degree and a doctorate in 1977 and 1980, respectively, in animal breeding.


The North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture honored two CALS faculty members for their teaching ability. Curt Youngs, animal science, was presented the Central Region Outstanding Teacher Award. Mike Retallick (PhD ’05 ag and life sciences education), agricultural education and studies, was presented the Teacher Fellow Award. Other CALS alumni honored as Teaching Fellows were: Nicholas Paulson (’02 ag systems technology), University of Illinois; Antoine Alston (PhD ’00 ag and life sciences education and studies), North Carolina A&T State University; and Jennifer Bormann (’97 animal science, PhD ’04 animal breeding and genetics), Kansas State University.


Jim Evans (’54 agricultural journalism) was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the American Agricultural Editors’ Association (AAEA). The retired professor of agricultural communications at the University of Illinois was recognized for his work developing the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, a collection of information on agriculture and the profession of agricultural communications. The AAEA also named a new scholarship after Evans for his “tremendous impact on the establishment and  growth of agricultural communications programs.”


CALS alumna Sarah Myers (’07 microbiology) overcame cancer and family tragedy to complete her veterinary medicine degree in May. In the five years since earning her undergraduate degree her life has hit highs and lows most others experience over a lifetime: marriage, birthing two children, caring for and mourning the death of her mother, her own cancer diagnoses and treatment and finally, completing her doctor of veterinary medicine degree.


Paul Kruse (’80 farm operations) and John Sweeney (’80 animal science,’84 DVM) teamed up with fellow ISU alumni and fans to raise Fred Hoiboar, named after Iowa State Men’s Basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. The tubby Yorkshire weighed in at 1,079 lbs. at the Iowa State Fair Biggest Boar contest. While Hoiboar didn’t take home the gold, he did help raise funds and awareness for heart disease benefitting Hoiberg’s cause of choice Camp Odayin for kids with heart disease.

The Student Experience

The Student Experience Issue features one of two special edition covers, each featuring a different CALS student. Both active in college activities and CALS Ambassadors, Adam Bierbaum (‘12 agronomy) and Kayla Reiter, senior in agricultural business, help illustrate the different aspects of today’s student experience.

Much to cheer about!

Fall 2011 enrollment in agriculture and life sciences hit a 30-year high with 3,584. And we have the best college retention rate on campus with 81% of first year students sticking with CALS. 88% of our students return to Iowa State.

Welcome to the club

95% of CALS students gain hands-on experience and develop leadership in departmental clubs and activities including agronomic and livestock judging teams, competitive national contests and service projects.

Science with practice

CALS students get a solid grounding in science from biology to chemistry to advanced agrisciences. Our “Science with Practice” undergrad research program paid students $250,000 since 2005 to learn and earn in research laboratories, farms and greenhouses in nearly every CALS department.

You’re hired!

98% Placement Rate

73% of new grads stay in Iowa

70% of undergrads complete internships before graduation


Assistant professor Mike Retallick and Adair Boysen catch up between classes. Boysen, a graduating senior in agricultural education and animal science, participated in Retallick's study abroad course to Australia and credits Retallick for helping her get the most out of her college experience.

Mike Retallick’s door is always open. The assistant professor of agricultural and life sciences education and studies advises more than 80 students annually, in addition to his research and teaching responsibilities. Any number of his advisees could drop by in a given day. And they do.

Retallick (’05 PhD agriculture and life sciences education) is one of 135 faculty advisers in the college. Together with another 13 full-time staff advisers they help agriculture and life sciences students navigate through their ISU experience.

For each advisee Retallick is the person who reviews their course schedule to be sure they are meeting degree requirements. He helps them identify and prepare for their internship and student teaching experiences. He intervenes when students are headed for academic probation and offers congratulations when they make the dean’s list. He processes course substitutions and makes sure his students meet university and departmental deadlines.

Retallick says that when entering college many students aren’t prepared for balancing their newfound independence with coursework. That’s where he comes in. He helps students learn to study and manage their daily lives, but he also encourages them to take their college experience a step further.

“I challenge them to get the most complete experience while at Iowa State. Our grads are highly sought after, but a degree on a wall should not be their end goal,” Retallick says. “Students should get the most out of each opportunity and differentiate themselves through clubs, leadership roles, internships, study abroad. It is the entire package that sets our students apart.”

Another major role Retallick and other advisers play is helping students handle the challenges life throws at them while they work on their degree. He connects students with campus resources such as student counseling, student health, financial aid and the academic success center.

“It is key as an adviser to be upfront, honest and frank with your advisees,” he says. “It helps them to know what to expect and makes their time on campus less scary.”

According to his advisees Retallick does just that. Transfer student Rachael Emig considers Retallick as the most influential person in her college experience.

“Dr. Retallick is always available to answer any question I have quickly and clearly, and I feel like I could ask him any question,” she says. “He helped me solidify my decision to major in agricultural education and have the smoothest possible transition to Iowa State.”

The toughest part of his job, Retallick says, is there are no easy answers.

“My first answer to many questions is ‘it depends,’” he says. “Every situation and every student is unique and policies and procedures can be interpreted differently.”

He admits it can also be difficult to balance his research and teaching load with the number of advisees he currently carries. But, that challenge is also what drives him.

“These students are what recharge my batteries. I enjoy the one-on-one teachable moments that come with advising,” he says. “You just don’t find that in the classroom.”

Advising the Advisers

The college launched the Louis Thompson Advising Academy in 2011. The academy, named in honor of the late agronomy professor and associate dean known for advising excellence, promotes the professional, individual and academic development of students through a mentoring relationship with an academic adviser.

Retallick is among the 25 faculty members of the academy who earned acceptance by receiving at least one college or university advising award.

David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs, says the academy will help the college make further strides in becoming the best student advising program on campus.

“At its core the academy is about helping students reach their potential and maximize success inside and outside the classroom,” Acker says.

The academy was created based on recommendations from the college’s Future of Academic Programs Task Force and Academic Affairs Committee with support from the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment Board.

“It takes time, it takes patience and it takes a caring attitude to serve students in this capacity,” Acker says. “This highly experienced group will provide excellent guidance and counsel on how to maintain and improve our tradition of excellence in advising.”


Alum Lucas Carlstrom, right, stopped by Matthew Ellinwood's lab to catch up and share how he is doing in med school at Mayo Clinic. Carlstrom credits his work in Ellinwood's lab for helping him develop problem solving and critical thinking skills.

The management and care of research animals is a necessary, behind-thescenes aspect of scientific study that animal scientist Matthew Ellinwood has made a learning experience for undergraduates.

“We take seriously the role these dogs and cats play in addressing new treatments or possibly cures for conditions that have a big, negative impact on people, especially children,” he says.

After earning his doctoral and veterinary degrees, Ellinwood became a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. Part of his duties was the management of dogs and cats used to research human genetic diseases—most of them fatal pediatric diseases. Graduate students did a lot of the work, offering valuable hands-on experience. Ellinwood brought this model of students caring for animals to Iowa when he started at ISU about seven years ago.

About 18 undergraduates per semester provide animal care and management and two or three conduct lab work, such as molecular diagnostics, routine biochemistry and inventory management. Led by Ellinwood, the team looks for answers behind what causes human diseases like glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness world wide.

Nearly all the students have a pre-vet or pre-med focus. Most are animal science students, but there are also those majoring in animal ecology and biology. The work offers an especially good experience for pre-vet students who plan to concentrate on small animals.

Some students get involved for research experience, others because they enjoy animal care and management. Whatever the goal, they find a unique environment for learning.

“Dr. Ellinwood not only created an opportunity for students to learn basic medical care of companion animals, he’s given us the opportunity to think on our feet, be attentive to detail and apply what we’ve learned in other classes to what we’re studying in the research colony,” says Allie Ludwig, a sophomore in preveterinary animal science.

Lucas Carlstrom (’08 animal science) was another of Ellinwood’s students. While working in Ellinwood’s lab he was first author on one research manuscript and co-author on another—quite an accomplishment for a student, let alone an undergraduate.

He credits that experience for being accepted into the highly competitive combined medical doctor and doctoral Medical Scientist Training Program at the Mayo Clinic: College of Medicine, where he is engaged in molecular neuroscience and spinal cord regeneration research.

Spending time in a research setting allowed Carlstrom to develop self-guided problem analysis and advanced critical thinking skills. “These valuable training experiences enhanced my intellectual curiosity and afforded me the opportunity to solve relevant biomedical research questions that will hopefully improve human health and alleviate disease,” he says.

“The undergraduates we get are top-tier who I would put up against students at any other institution,” Ellinwood says. “They are certainly as skilled and bright, but they also have the traditional values of Midwest farm kids, that you may not see as often at other schools.”

Ellinwood says it’s important to challenge these talented students with real-world problems and to show them they can make a difference.

“Regardless of where they go, I hope they come out of my program with a heightened sense of achievement and accomplishment.”


Alum Craig Morris, deputy administrator of the USDA's Livestock and Seed Program, credits F.C. Parrish for helping him land his dream job-facilitating the domestic and international marketing of the nation's meat supply.

Craig Morris always wore his St. Louis Cardinals hat. As a freshman animal science student at Iowa State in 1988, that hat made him feel at home. It also caught the eye of his meat science professor, F.C. Parrish, who would come to do the same.

Morris (’92 meat science), now the deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Livestock and Seed Program, credits Parrish’s influence for leading him to his dream job—facilitating the domestic and international marketing of the nation’s meat supply.

Like Morris, Parrish was a native of the St. Louis area, and felt an instant kinship. “He was an excellent scientist as a young guy. You don’t find them that work any harder than Craig did. He wanted to succeed,” Parrish says.

Morris worked with a butcher in high school and was working for Carriage House Meats in Ames at the time. “I loved everything about the meat business,” Morris says, “and F.C. loved teaching people about the business. We gravitated toward each other.

Parrish hired Morris as an undergrad research assistant. “After I was exposed to research, I never really left,” he says. Once he arrived at Iowa State, Morris spent every weekend and every semester break either working in the ISU Meat Lab or on an internship that Parrish helped him land. He was a member of the meats judging team, and Parrish introduced him to the American Meat Science Association.

“I didn’t have a friend in college that I spent more time with than F.C. It was seamless between work and fun,” Morris says.

Well known in the meat science industry, Parrish was on faculty in animal science for more than 35 years teaching introductory and advanced meat science classes. He taught more than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students during his tenure and was major professor to more than 30 graduate students before retiring as a University Professor in 2001.

He and his wife Fern provided Morris with home-cooked meals and moral support. In return, Morris mowed their lawn when Parrish was recovering from minor surgery. For him the couple became “like second parents.”

After graduation in 1992 Morris continued to work at the Meat Lab. Parrish recommended graduate schools and helped him find the best fit at Texas A&M.

“F.C. wanted me to go out and experience the world. If he would have just once asked me, I would have stayed, but he was kicking me out of the nest. It’s the best thing that could have happened,” Morris says.

At the USDA Morris oversees marketing activities for livestock, meat, fish, grain and seed. It’s a big job. He manages budgets and human resources for nearly 500 fulltime employees.

He oversees USDA grading and verification programs ranging from Prime Beef on restaurant menus to export verification programs allowing U.S. meats to enter countries all over the world. He handles purchasing specifications for commodities that go into the nation’s school lunch program and food banks. He also oversees country of origin labeling; market news reporting for livestock and grain; check-off programs for beef, pork, lamb, soybean and sorghum; accreditation of organic certification bodies; and the Federal Seed Act ensuring agricultural seeds are accurately labeled for interstate and international commerce.

Morris learned to manage employees from Parrish’s example. “I used to put a lot on my plate and needed help to prioritize. F.C. would put a ‘one’ next to everything on my list and let me work through it,” Morris quips. “I’ve tried to emulate him as I’ve gotten more responsibility in my career. He surrounded himself with self-starters, independent thinkers and creativity. He trusted his employees. He would impart ownership and push you into the limelight.”

Morris can’t help but wonder what his life might have been like if not for Parrish.

“Just think,” he says, “if I’d have been a Cubs fan, that might have been the end of it.”


Despite being briefly sidelined after a car-bike accident, Sarah Low is making an impact on rural development as an economist with the USDA.

Sarah Low was supposed to be training for the Washington D.C. Triathlon, not immobilized in a neck-to-hip brace.

Low (’02 public service and administration in agriculture) didn’t get to do the 2010 triathlon. The car-bike accident during her commute made sure of that. But she was able to celebrate several victories along her six-month journey to recovery.

One was continuing to work–from her bed–as an economist in the Farm and Rural Business Branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

“I drew on my indomitable spirit, developed through TaeKwonDo, to continue working. An intern I supervised that summer said I was the most hardworking and demanding supervisor she’d had, despite the fact I was immobilized. I was tickled pink,” Low says.

Low conducts research on farm and rural business and rural economic development. The outreach and policy-relevance of her work drives her. She wants what she does to create economic opportunities for people in rural areas.

“I am often asked to summarize the current state of research for members of Congress. I recently briefed the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture on my local food marketing research. I just love taking calls from graduate students or economic development practitioners who have questions about my research. These are the outlets in which I can make a difference,” she says.

She’s done work on rural entrepreneurship and innovation, rural broadband accessibility and she’ll be delving into rural manufacturing resilience next.

Low’s list of published research and presentations is lengthy, especially for a young professional, and continues to grow. She has a master’s in agricultural economics from Purdue and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in agricultural and consumer economics.

As a student at Iowa State, Low participated in precursor courses that now are part of the college’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative. The native of Maysville, Iowa, also enjoyed getting her hands dirty.

“Working at the ISU dairy farm as part of the freshman honors program was a lot of fun. I’m so glad I got to experience that. I remember going directly to my first class of the day smelling like, well, a dairy farm,” Low says.

Low was known on campus for her involvement in the Government of the Student Body, which was very influential in shaping her career. She also fondly recalls the support of mentors like Liz Beck, then director of the campus honors program, and her academic adviser, Steve Padgitt, professor of sociology.

“I’ll never forget Dr. Padgitt giving me a copy of the Main Street Economist, a publication of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. I was enthralled. I did research on the author and decided that I wanted a job like hers when I grew up,” Low says. “Less than three years later, I was in the cubicle next to her, writing about rural economic development issues for the Main Street Economist.”

That same drive and focus allowed her to get back on her bike. Eighteen months after her accident, she finished a sprint triathlon. She still bikes to work on occasion and trains with the DC Triathlon Club.


Darrin Rahn

Darrin Rahn talks as fast as he walks and for good reason – he’s normally juggling meetings, mentoring, working, studying and writing marketing plans.

Interpreting statistical data intrigues Rahn. That’s why he’s combined two majors – agricultural business and marketing. He’s also the go-to person for marketing solutions.

He helped Dakota Hoben (’12 ag business) successfully campaign for president of the government of the student body. And he’s written award-winning marketing plans for both a product development team and the National Agri-Marketing Association competition.

“When I do marketing it’s driven from the quantitative and research perspective, the creative side is just the cherry on top,” Rahn says.

Rahn is well known in the college. In 2011, he was elected to serve as the president of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council. As president he saw how clubs interact in the college and how the college interacts with other colleges.

“It was fascinating,” Rahn says.

He also took the lead on organizing a successful Ag Week, starting with an ad campaign. The “Our Roots Run Deep” slogan was printed on posters and t–shirts to increase awareness about the week’s activities and opportunities available in agriculture. The fall event included a first-time student concert and full-page newspaper advertisements outlining the weeklong schedule, which included free lunches, lectures, entertainment and a food drive.

His interest in figures also helped him in his work with Mike Duffy, an economist who analyzes farmland price trends in Iowa. This year, Iowa land prices hit record highs and Rahn was part of the team that put the data together.

Along with being involved in clubs, committees and mentoring activities, he’s also made the Dean’s list every semester.

“Being involved is what I do,” Rahn says.

Rahn is interested in the consumer end of food production. He says he was inspired by his internship with Hormel Foods Corporation. In June, he started his dream job in Minneapolis at Target as a sourcing business analyst, where he’ll collaborate with global vendors, designer partners and buyers to deliver and source Target store brand products from concept into stores. His long-term career goals are becoming a merchandise buyer or in brand management within the grocery and food product categories.


Maurice Aduto, a senior in natural resource ecology and management, hopes to return to his native South Sudan to aid in the development and protection of the country's natural resources.

You’re 12 years old. You live in a mud hut with a tin roof in a desert. You eat one bowl of grain a day and you live among 70,000 refugees in a place known as “nowhere.”

These are recent memories for Maurice Aduto. It’s also what drives him to seek opportunities and make a difference in his homeland of South Sudan, a country that gained independence in 2011 after a 22-year civil war.

When Aduto was a young child herding cattle with his uncles, brothers and cousins the problems of Sudan’s war seemed far away. His family lived in Chukudum, a village near the Uganda border in east Africa.

The village was known for its fertile land and abundant harvests. Aduto has fond memories of the tranquil valley where he played. He also remembers his British-trained elementary school teachers, who taught him the importance of education.

Things changed in his village as the war moved south. The violence threatened Aduto’s family. The soldiers were killing children.

Many families decided to send their children to Kenya for safety. Aduto was sent and he remembers running for an entire week, evading soldiers and wild animals before reaching the border.

“It was a long journey. We only traveled at night, “Aduto says. “People were dying from lack of water and food.”

When the refugees reached the Kenyan border the United Nations took them to the Kakuma refugee camp. The camp’s name means “nowhere” in Swahilli. Aduto spent the next six years in a dusty maze of refugees from eight nations. To survive he focused on a lesson he carried in his soul.

“In middle school the teacher told us that school is everything,” Aduto says. “The pen is everything. It is the key to your life.”

Aduto and his family spent two years navigating through red tape to get to the United States. When he arrived in Des Moines he was 20 years old and considered too old to attend high school. Aduto persuaded officials to allow him to finish his last year. He supported himself with a part-time maintenance job, survived on $90 a week and graduated in 2007.

One of Aduto’s goals was to attend college. He was inspired by the numerous opportunities he could see in the United States.

“I talked to my high school counselor who helped me find scholarships that fit my status and public universities that I could join,” Aduto says.

Iowa State University’s Multicultural Vision Program offered him a scholarship and a chance. The award is given to high school seniors who demonstrate academic ability and maturity, despite adverse situations. Aduto fit the description.

His first semester at Iowa State was difficult. Aduto knew his grandparents, who had raised him, had died in the war. It suddenly overwhelmed him.

“I felt so bad and I wondered what the point was to be here. I couldn’t focus,” Aduto says. “Then I realized many of the wishes my grandparents gave me had come true.”

He continued and decided to major in animal ecology and minor in forestry. Skills he could take to South Sudan, which is rich in wildlife and natural resources.

Aduto also found a trusted friend and adviser in John Burnett, a student services specialist in the natural resource ecology and management department. Burnett and coworkers helped Aduto return to his village in 2009 to attend reburial ceremonies for his grandparents.

“Maurice’s life is about his connections with his family and his home country,” Burnett says. “He has overcome unimaginable adversity, but he still maintains those connections.”

With the help of Burnett, Aduto became a U.S. citizen on Oct. 14, 2011, just 47 days before returning to South Sudan. This time Aduto returned to oversee a reburial ceremony for his father, who had been killed by robbers in the spring of 2011.

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan. As president of the South Sudanese Student Association at Iowa State, Aduto helped exiled residents register to vote and cast their votes in the election, which was held Jan. 9, 2011. More than 98 percent of South Sudan’s residents voted to separate.

Aduto, who is a senior at Iowa State, plans to return to South Sudan. He says his generation represents the seeds that have been scattered throughout the world.

“We are the seeds that are vital to the development of South Sudan,” Aduto says. “Most of us who came here are the children of war. To go back is tough, but to take the initiative and make the sacrifices to go back is important for the future of South Sudan.”

BRIDGING CULTURES – Leading Students to Expand Knowledge and Worldview

Senior lecturer Ebby Luvaga is known among students for her enthusiasm and her tough love. "I hold students accountable and expect them to live up to their potential," she says, "but I also want them to feel comfortable enough with me to be open and honest."

She’d been sporting a short Afro, and then showed up in class one day with 500 shoulder length braids woven into her hair. For Ebby Luvaga, a native of Kenya, Africa, the dramatic change in hairstyle was nothing unusual. But for a classroom of Iowa State University freshman, many from small rural Iowa communities, the shift was totally unexpected.

“For some students I may be the first person of color they’ve interacted with,” says Luvaga. “In this case, I remember the students were silent and just stared.” So she opened her class time with a discussion about black hair care, letting students ask the questions they had on their minds. It was a practical and teachable moment—the kind that Luvaga employs regularly in her economic development class and as an adviser in the economics department. “I want students to feel comfortable asking me about my differences.”

The sense of her own differences was something that hit Luvaga the moment she arrived in New York City as a young college student in 1983, fresh from the small Kenyan village where she’d grown up. “I stepped off the plane and didn’t think twice about carrying my suitcase on the top of my head. It’s just how we carried things in Kenya,” she laughs. “I kept wondering why no one else was doing the same.”

The daughter of a school principal and a teacher, she was always encouraged to seek higher education. So when the opportunity to study in the United States presented itself, her parents were naturally supportive.

Luvaga graduated from Ohio University with a master’s in international affairs and a doctorate in economics education. “I always knew that I wanted to work closely with students,” she says. When a position that combined student advising, teaching economics and leading study abroad programs opened at Iowa State in 1997, she felt it was an “ideal” match.

Her role at Iowa State is a diverse one. She serves as a learning community adviser for the agricultural business major, working with 75 to 80 students each year. Luvaga recently won recognition from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for her ability to create a welcoming environment for students and increase their participation in the learning community process. She also teaches a class in economic development and leads study abroad courses to such places as Argentina, Spain, Australia and Panama.

Over the years, she’s developed a reputation for working enthusiastically with students, but also with a firm hand—a balance that reminds her of her father. “I hold students accountable and expect them

to live up to their potential,” she says, “but I also want them to feel comfortable enough with me to be open and honest.”

Tory Mogler, a 20-year-old sophomore serving under Luvaga as a learning community peer mentor, agrees that she can be “a bit of a stickler” when it comes to students doing things right. “But she has her heart in the right place,” he says. “I’m never hesitant to talk to her about things, and she always takes her role with students seriously.”

Coming from a small rural town in Iowa, he also remembers being one of those freshmen who hadn’t had a lot of exposure to diverse cultures. “Ebby sets herself out as an example and lets people ask her questions. She encourages curiosity. She helped me feel comfortable with her differences to the point where I don’t feel that we have them,” he says.

Luvaga sees herself as a “bridge,” helping the increasingly diverse range of students at Iowa State continue to expand their perspective. With her roots in Africa and her home now in Iowa, the sense of being part of a global community is central to Luvaga’s identity—and it’s what she imparts to her students.

Hear Ebby talk about learning communities: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EskHMhOmMwg&feature=player_embedded.



21 Jul 2014


I was born and raised in Kansas, but Iowa is my home. I’ve come to know Iowa as a very special place. It’s where I’ve spent much of my life and career. It is a privilege to serve as the dean of agriculture at Iowa’s land grant university, on behalf …


21 Jul 2014


We’re all Iowans. Our time on campus unites us all as Iowans, if only for a few years. When I interview alumni, especially those from out of state, I always ask them what drew them to Iowa State and what made their time in Ames special. Some mention the picturesque, …