Steering the Student Experience: Leading with Heart
It was while earning her MBA that Amy Brandau realized the perfect job for herself. She had been working as an academic adviser—and had fallen in love with it.
Brandau (’00 agricultural business, ’08 MBA) found her undergraduate degree an ideal combination of her two interests: agriculture, thanks to the family farm where she grew up, and business, because of her mother’s bridal shop.
As an adviser in the Department of Economics, she uses her passion for working with college-age students to help economics and agricultural business majors navigate their Iowa State experience.
“I get to work with students the entire time they’re here, which is really fun, because I get to watch them mature, grow up and go on to do great things,” she says.
Brandau advises 250 sophomores, juniors and seniors—about 80 of them new to her this year.
“It’s only overwhelming at registration time, when I meet with students,” she says. “I feel strongly about meeting with all of them individually, so I can get to know them and be the best adviser.”
Students are required to meet with her once per semester, but at least half will visit with her multiple times.
“I tell my students I’m here so they don’t need to panic or lay awake at night and worry. They should stop in and we’ll figure out a problem together; sometimes just talking will help solve it.”
Conversations take place not only in her office, but also via email, at Agricultural Business Club meetings and even on sidewalks around campus. Questions range from majors and minors, to career paths, internships and graduation tracks.
“She’s always willing to meet with me—whether it’s about school, jobs or just to catch up,” says agricultural business senior Jessica Manthe. “She’s made me feel confident in my abilities and has helped calm me down numerous times when things got tough.”
Brandau teaches an orientation class for students transferring to Iowa State in agricultural business. For one class period, some of the last year’s transfers talk to the students about their experiences. Inevitably, they tell the new class how she helped them solve problems or prep for the career fair.
“It’s better when the students say it for me,” says Brandau. “And it’s gratifying when they want to come back and help the next class, which is part of the CALS culture.”
Ag business senior Geert Boelen appreciated Brandau’s help.
“I had a small case of transfer shock, and being in her Econ 110 class helped me out a lot,” he says. “She explained to me a drop in grades was to be expected. That way, I was prepared for it and could adjust accordingly the second semester.”
Students who start in spring have a more difficult time adjusting. She started a spring semester orientation class last year to help those students meet others and to learn about Iowa State.
Part of Brandau’s job includes being an Agricultural Business Club adviser, along with professor Ron Deiter and assistant professor Georgeanne Artz (’05 PhD economics). The award-winning club has monthly meetings, brings in outside speakers and hosts events. The club offers opportunities for leadership development in committees as students run for office, or collaborate on projects and events.
“I always tell people, you’re going to have a good degree,” says Brandau, “don’t worry about that. What Iowa State does well is make sure you’re employable with leadership skills, and Ag Bus Club just gives you a way to network and practice those skills.”
An annual student favorite is the fall industry tour.
“It’s been fun to go on these tours with the students,” says Brandau. “The people who are speaking to us are usually my age, so they’re people I went to school with. It’s neat to reconnect and find out what they’re doing now.”
Last spring break Brandau co-led a 10-day Brexit study abroad trip with senior lecturer Terry Alexander. Twenty students explored the government and history of Great Britain, specifically England and Scotland. Prior to the trip, students were required to take Economics 496,
a three-credit course taught by Brandau and Alexander.
“The Brexit study abroad trip showed me the differences and similarities between the United States and United Kingdom governments,” says agricultural business junior Gary Wynne. “I was able to hear people’s stories and opinions of current political talking points, both there in the
U.K. and in the U.S. These conversations left an impact on the way I think and gave me a new perspective on many topics.”
Brandau’s passion for her students is reflected in her advising philosophy.
“I have one goal every day when I come to work—how can I interact with students in order to help them have a better experience at Iowa State? While many student meetings begin with developing class schedules and relaying university policies, I find that what students really need are personal connections. It’s my belief that everyone needs a cheerleader in their corner while at college,” she says.