Great Teachers Born And Made

Some people are born to teach.

Seasoned professors like Maynard Hogberg can spot them. Hogberg, chair of animal science at Iowa State, says he knew immediately Jodi Sterle was one of those people.

“I could tell from the moment I met her as a student at Michigan State. With a take-charge attitude and a passion for teaching it was obvious,” Hogberg says. “I knew then she would be a faculty member I would want to hire someday.

In 2011 Hogberg (’66 ag and life sciences education, ’72 MS animal science, ’76 PhD) got his wish, and Sterle joined the department of animal science as an associate professor and undergraduate teaching coordinator.

Prior to moving to Iowa, Sterle was an associate professor and extension swine specialist at Texas A&M University for 13 years where she earned numerous awards for excellence in teaching and service.

Sterle went to the University of Missouri to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees in swine reproductive management after Hogberg refused to retain her as a graduate student upon completing her bachelor’s at Michigan State in 1993 while he was chair of animal science.

“Looking back it was the best thing for me, and I had many wonderful opportunities in Missouri, but at the time I was furious at him for not taking me on as a graduate student,” she says. Both Hogberg and Sterle remember it as a defining point of their friendship.

Working alongside her mentor was a strong draw for Sterle to Iowa State, but she says the decision was based on many factors.

“What attracted me most to this position was the department’s outstanding national reputation. The energy and enthusiasm on campus, especially from students, was palpable.  It was obvious this was a great place to be, with programs and plans already in place to prepare the next generation of industry leaders,” she says.

The Eldred and Donna Harman Professorship for Excellence in Teaching and Learning also was a draw for Sterle. As holder of the professorship, she uses the additional funding provided by the gift to advance undergraduate teaching in the department. Faculty submit proposals to her for the funds. “I’ve funded everything from teaching workshops, to video production to enhance classes, to emergency scholarships,” she says.

Megan Clouse, an advisee of Sterle, received an emergency scholarship through the professorship in 2011 after her father died during her first semester.

“I made the decision to stay home and mourn his death with my family. I moved out and didn’t think coming back was an option,” Clouse says. “Without ever meeting me, Dr. Sterle took me under her wing.  She called me, talked to me about my situation and said if money was an issue, they could grant an emergency scholarship.”

The money from the Harman endowed professorship brought Clouse back to Iowa State and Sterle’s continued support has seen her through her remaining semesters. “I don’t think I can adequately express how grateful I am to have her as a professor and an adviser,” she says.

Sterle is the second recipient of the Harman Professorship, Doug Kenealy was the first to receive it when Eldred (’47 animal science) and Donna Harman of Waterloo established the fund in 2010. Eldred is a retired vice president of American Federal Savings.

She teaches the Introductory to Animal Science 114 course that Doug Kenealy taught for decades. She’s still occasionally referred to as, “the new Kenealy.” “Except Dr. Kenealy is way nicer than I am,” she jokes.

Known for her expertise, warmth and “tough love,” Sterle has quickly become a student favorite. Many refer to her as their “other mother.”

“She’s a professor who cares about her students as people.  We’re like her kids,” says Brady Zuck (’14 animal science) a solutions development specialist with Elanco. “We can talk with her about school, club events, personal issues and she offers real world advice,” he says.

As an adviser to more than 90 students, Sterle considers herself a guide along students’ journey, not the one planning the route.

“I’ve had students ask me to tell them what classes to take. I tell them to leave my office and reschedule their appointment after they decide what classes to take,” she says. “’This isn’t my degree it’s yours,’ I tell them. When they come back we review their choices and make sure they’re on the right track.”

In addition to 114, she also teaches a course on contemporary issues in agriculture and a course on the art and heritage of livestock, which reviews the role of animals in the development of culture throughout the world. She estimates she sees over 1,075 students in her courses each year.

“She provides an excellent learning environment,” says Patrick Frank, a senior in animal science. “Her classroom is open to discussion and she strongly encourages student interaction.”

In her role as undergraduate teaching coordinator, Sterle oversees who teaches which classes, handles difficult discussions between faculty and students and greets every new student.

Animal science students are 75 percent women, and 70 percent are from non-farm backgrounds. The department experienced record enrollment this fall with 1,077 total students, which Sterle says presents both challenges and opportunities.

“We work to maintain the quality of our curriculum as well as the personal attention we give our students,” Sterle says. “We offer innovative courses, hands-on learning experiences and increased opportunities outside the classroom through student organizations, study abroad and internships.”

Her research program includes published research from every corner of swine science from carcass quality to artificial insemination to biosecurity.

Sterle is always looking for teachable moments whether in the classroom or in the show ring. In addition to serving as a judge at state and county fairs, her family maintains an active show schedule with her sons, Jake and Jackson, who show pigs, steers and lambs.

The pork industry regards her as a trusted expert on contemporary issues. One of the many ways Sterle serves the industry is as an adviser to the Pork Checkoff’s Youth Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus program which focuses on food safety and animal well-being training.

“Consumers are paying more and more attention to how animals are raised and cared for. As such, we must prepare all producers – newcomers and veterans – to assure they’re aware of the best on-farm practices available,” says Sterle.

Bill Winkelman, vice president of producer and industry relations for the National Pork Board, says Sterle is one of their strongest partners supporting efforts in both youth programming and interaction with swine extension specialists.

As adviser for Block & Bridle and Bacon Expo, and a former adviser for CALS Student Council, she often can be found on campus late into the evening working along students.

“I believe that much of a student’s development and learning occurs outside of the classroom.  I enjoy getting to know my students better through club activities and study abroad experiences,” Sterle says. “Watching them mature during their time here at Iowa State, making difficult decisions, handling stressful situations and learning to work with industry professionals is very rewarding.”