50 Years: A Growing List of Learners



Beitz, Don (Special Collections and University Archives/Iowa State  University Library)

Don Beitz has kept a list of every student he’s ever taught during his 50 years at Iowa State—that’s 13,000, and counting.

This fall, Beitz begins his 51st year as a professor and researcher at Iowa State University.

He says his career has been filled with blessings and opportunities that he attributes to mentors and students. Beitz first learned how much he enjoyed teaching as an eighth grader in a oneroom school in Illinois.

“The teacher had a system that I thought was fantastic,” Beitz says. “I would get assigned to teach mathematics or science to younger students, and that’s when I learned that teaching was an enjoyable experience.”

Beitz, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences in animal science and biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, says the best thing about teaching is inspiring others.

Angela McCleary-Wheeler (’01 agricultural biochemistry, ’05 veterinary medicine) is one of those students. She nominated Beitz for the Iowa State University Alumni Association Faculty/Staff Inspiration Award, which he received in May. When she saw the announcement for the award she immediately thought of Beitz.

“It didn’t matter if you were a post doctoral fellow or an undergraduate student in his lab. The environment was welcoming and engaging, so you felt like you were part of the team,” McCleary-Wheeler says.

McCleary-Wheeler, an assistant professor of oncology at Cornell University, says he was a fantastic teacher and adviser who had a major impact on her career trajectory.

“He always had that inquisitive nature and that whole environment fostered learning,” McCleary-Wheeler says.

Another graduate, Jim Roth (’75, ’79 MS, ’81 PhD veterinary medicine), a Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine at Iowa State, also had Beitz as a professor. He says Beitz was cheerful, enthusiastic and was able to make biochemistry interesting.

“He was very interested in student learning and he wanted students to learn and know why they were learning,” Roth says. “He was a great teacher. He made biochemistry interesting and applied. I really appreciated that as a student.”

Beitz’s first class was introductory biochemistry 301, which met at 8 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “That was the best experience—to just jump right in and teach. I have to admit, I have been enjoying it ever since,” Beitz says.

When asked for advice for new faculty, Beitz says it’s important to get established as a researcher and start teaching as soon as possible.

“I like to see people start teaching right away because teaching gets you into the university experience,” Beitz says.

Beitz says he couldn’t have been so successful without his wife, Judy.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have married the right person,” Beitz says. “A happy home life is extremely important for a person’s professional success.”

Hearing a thank you from a former student is priceless, Beitz says. “My students are my pride and joy—teaching is my fun.”