The Legacy of the CALS Brand

Even though I was never a student in the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Science, it nevertheless played a pivotal role in my education and career. I am a proud alum of the University of Missouri, but my career was greatly influenced by some ISU College of Agriculture alumni. Let me explain.

Like other high school graduates in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was caught up in the confusion surrounding the Vietnam War protests, the civil rights movement and civil unrest of the time. The draft was in full force, and many young men in my cohort enlisted rather than be drafted into combat. Unlike my older brother who enlisted in the Air Force a year earlier to avoid being drafted, by the luck of the lottery I received a high number so there was only a small chance that I would be drafted, so I went off to the University of Missouri. Little did I know how at the time that alumni of College of Agriculture at Iowa State University would have an indelible influence on my education and eventually my career.

The transition from a small high school with graduating class of 24 students to a major university of 22,000 or so students was daunting. However, my first encounter with an ISU alum was in first day of my freshman year in the fall of 1970 when I went to see my academic advisor Ken Larson (‘54 agriculture and life sciences education, ’59 MS agronomy, ’61 PhD) who was a relatively new faculty member in the Department of Agronomy. Larson was the first of several mentors that were ISU CALS alumni that helped steer my career and professional development. A native of Iowa, Larson could identify with the culture shock I must have been experiencing during the first weeks on campus and he reached out and assured me that I could make the transition.

When I needed a part time job, Larson referred me to the Department Chair of Agronomy, who happened to also be ISU College of Agriculture alum Roger Mitchell (’54 agronomy, ’58 MS, ’61 PhD). For four years as an undergraduate student, I was able to work in the corn genetics lab. Drs. Larson and Mitchell made sure that I survived that freshman year in an alien environment, much different than my hometown. I remember telling my parents that there were more students in my dormitory than the population of the largest town in our county.

When I needed to fill my social science requirement, Larson recommended that I enroll in Introductory Rural Sociology. By happenstance or good fortune the professor in that course was Bill Heffernan (’61 agricultural business) also had roots deep in the ISU College of Agriculture. A native of Black Hawk County, Heffernan received his degree in CALS before he began graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. I must have stood out in that course, since Heffernan encouraged me to take additional rural sociology courses. In the sequence of rural sociology courses, I enrolled in Social Change and Development, taught by yet another College of Agriculture alum who earned all three of his degrees from Iowa State, Daryl Hobbs.

It was through the encouragement and mentoring of Bill Heffernan and Daryl Hobbs that I entered graduate school in 1974 and spent the next seven years working alongside of them as I earned by masters and doctorate. Both Daryl and Bill served on my master’s and doctorate committees. When I joined the ISU faculty in 1981, I found a rural sociology faculty steeped in the tradition of welcoming and caring for students and in my case new faculty.

Gerald Klonglan was the department chair, an ISU graduate (’58 rural sociology, ‘62 MS, ’63 PhD) who made the phone call in 1981 offering me a faculty position at ISU. But other CALS alums who were on the faculty that made me feel at home included Joe Bohlen (’47 farm operations, ’48 MS rural sociology, ’54 PhD) John Tait (’64 MS rural sociology, ’70 PhD) and Ron Powers. Each of these ISU CALS alumni commencing with Ken Larson dating back to my first day on the University of Missouri campus shared a common set of values about helping others succeed.

Over the years, I came to learn that all CALS alumni are ingrained with the philosophy of reaching out to others. My personal journey highlights the significant contribution that Iowa State University College of Agriculture alumni played in providing opportunities for me and many others.

With all the recent attention on branding, marketing and social media, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has long been at the forefront in expressing its own form of inclusiveness and encouragement. There were many times when I personally benefited from the advice and support of these CALS alums. Just as these alumni reached out and helped me as a student and later as a junior faculty member, I have tried to pass along this legacy in my 33-year career at ISU. The trademark of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumni is about helping others.

—Paul Lasley, Professor and Chair Department of Sociology, Department of Anthropology