Change of Command—Alum at the Helm of Animal Science

A full to-do list greeted Don Beermann when he started as animal science department chair in January. It was a bit different than his to-do list while a student at Iowa State some 40 years before.

His first weeks on the job found him visiting with external stakeholders at meetings held by the Iowa State Dairy Association, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Iowa Association of Meat Processors. He flipped pancakes for students at the Collegiate FFA breakfast. “It’s been fun crossing paths with people I haven’t seen, literally in decades, and others I didn’t know who have just come up and provided good interaction,” he says.

Beermann traveled from the University of Nebraska to return to Iowa State, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 1971. His career took the native Iowan to the University of Wisconsin for graduate degrees, then to Cornell University before Nebraska.

Engaging with stakeholders is one of Beermann’s top priorities. He knows that accomplishing many of his goals depends on the support of partners from around the state. New and updated facilities are high on his list of goals. The most pressing needs include a central feed mill, swine test facility, grow-finish and farrowing-nursery units, along with an update of many poultry facilities.

Also included is a renovation of the meats facility, which was constructed in 1977. Developing a mid-to-large classroom in the Farm Bureau Pavilion also is on his wish list.

“Those are all pretty big-ticket items, but the good news is we’re keeping stakeholders involved and keeping Maynard (Hogberg, former chair) involved,” he says.

Beerman’s experience and relationships with Iowa livestock and poultry producers and processors will come in handy.

As director of the Institutional Animal Care Program, at the University of Nebraska, Beerman sourced funding for animal facilities in the School of Biological Sciences, supervising remodeling of rodent, avian and fish research facilities. He also was involved in supervising design and renovation of a 42,000-square-foot, multi-species research facility—a  three-year, $15 million project funded by the Office of Research and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Managing a department with more than 1,000 students and 55 faculty members tops his new duties at Iowa State. The department was in the process of filling faculty positions in poultry nutrition, dairy nutrition and meta-genomics when he came on board.

Don Beerman, chair of animal science, serves pancakes to current students in the Farm Bureau Pavilion. Among his priorities as chair is a revamp of the pavilion and strengthening international programs.

Don Beerman, chair of animal science, serves pancakes to current students in the Farm Bureau Pavilion. Among his priorities as chair is a revamp of the pavilion and strengthening international programs.

The department’s growing enrollment attracted Beermann to the position. He’s always considered Iowa State animal science as one of the top departments in the country.

“It’s my goal to make sure we offer the best education that incorporates science, practice and innovation to prepare students for careers in the animal sciences,” he says. “I am a strong proponent of offering students experiential learning
in research, outreach, international study opportunities and internships to provide a diverse foundation.”

He wants to strengthen the department’s international programs and to provide students “real world” animal facilities and technologies as part of their education, making the updated facilities an integral part of the teaching program.

Beermann grew up near Denison, Iowa, on a farm that raised crops and a mixture of livestock. At Iowa State, he worked for David Topel and his graduate students on pig projects in the Meat Lab starting his sophomore year.

Topel says Beermann was a great candidate for graduate school and remembers Wisconsin was pleased to get him as a grad student.

“Don was a very understanding, caring and friendly person who worked well with his fellow students, staff and faculty,” Topel says. “He continues to have the same traits and personality today and because of these traits, Don is an outstanding administrator.” As a graduate student, he worked with pigs looking for a blood variable to use to screen for porcine stress syndrome. “When I started my docorate, I got more involved in muscle growth and development and started looking at fetal muscle development,” he says.

Research is one thing he’s missed since getting into administration. He was able to teach a senior seminar course and give lectures in some courses while at Nebraska, and would like to continue at Iowa State.

At a time when many are thinking about retirement, Beermann is energized by his new position.

“It’s an attractive proposition to come back to my alma mater and serve in an administrative role where I feel I can make some significant contributions and help with the leadership of the department.
I can’t think of a better way to end my career, however many years that may
be from now,” he says.