Finding Community Deep In The Heart Of Iowa

What happens when your plans change from attending a college in Europe to Iowa State University? Texas native Alexandria Harvey would describe it as a whirlwind of opportunity.

Not only did Harvey (’14 environmental sciences and global resource systems) learn about farming in Iowa, she also learned her great grandparents had farmed in Iowa. Last fall she visited the farm where her great grandparents farmed near Le Roy, Iowa, which is the second smallest town in Iowa with 15 residents.

“When I came to Ames I found connections to my roots,” Harvey says. “My great grandparents lived and farmed in Iowa. I also learned that my aunt and uncle (Mike Harvey, ’88 animal science) met here and got married under the campanile.”

Enid Reyes, a minister in Rockwall, Texas, says having her daughter in Iowa wasn’t the plan. Harvey had planned to attend college in Europe, but found that Iowa State offered numerous study abroad opportunities and scholarships.

“Iowa State offered the best of both worlds, so I enrolled without ever seeing the university,” Harvey says.

Reyes can’t imagine her daughter anywhere else. She’s been so impressed by Iowa and the university’s service to students and parents, she heads north as often as she can.

Reyes recently set up and opened Grace Center for Family and Community Development in Rockwall. She was pleased to see her daughter follow a similar path of community betterment in Ames.

For the past year Harvey has served on the Ames City Council as the ex-officio student representative between the city and Iowa State University. Harvey says she was excited to see one of her projects make the two-year list of goals for the city.

“I sent out rental housing surveys and sat in on planning sessions. Addressing housing issues is listed as one of the goals for the City of Ames,” Harvey says. “I was excited to get that on the list as one of the city’s tasks.”

Serving on the council seemed like a fun thing to try, but she says it changed her perspective and her career path.

“It’s shaped my future. It’s crazy, because now I’m really interested in the role local government plays when it comes to resources. If you have good government everything else follows,” Harvey says. “The biggest indicator of food security is good government.”

An interest in food security led Harvey to an agronomy internship with Rafael Martinez-Feria, a graduate research assistant. Part of her internship involved collecting and comparing data on the effects of cover crops on erosion. She’d never worked with soil and plants before landing the internship.

“I didn’t know a major like agronomy existed,” Harvey says. “I got involved with the student organic farms. I did research at the Agronomy Farm, and I really enjoyed it.”

Mentoring also is something Harvey found at Iowa State. For the past three years she’s worked with Pat Miller, Iowa State Lectures program director. That’s how Harvey found out about the student position on the Ames city council.

“Alexandria quickly learned how important it was to take advantage of her opportunities to interact with visiting scholars, public officials and professionals,” Miller says.

The Lectures Programs hosts more than 130 speakers on campus each year. As a member of the University Committee on Lectures and co-chair of the World Affairs Series planning committee, Harvey says the program helped her build confidence.

“I got to talk to and have dinner with my idol Michael Mann, climatologist and Penn State Earth System Science Center director,” says Harvey.

Since graduation, Harvey has spent the summer in Texas. Next fall she will begin a fellowship to work on her master’s in public administration and a professional master’s in environmental science at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“I think water resource management will be the next big issue. It plays into every segment of development and agriculture. Water is central to everything,” she says. “The professor I want to work with has research in Latin America and works with municipalities, so I feel like it will be a good transition.”

Harvey says she’ll miss Iowa State and Ames, but the roots she discovered here have helped her move on to a world of opportunity.