#CALSstories My Favorite CALS Professor

Story and image by Melea Reicks Licht

We put out the call in STORIES Online monthly e-newsletter and CALS social media outlets for stories of your favorite teachers, and you answered in force.

Several outstanding instructors were honored by alumni and thanked for broadening perspectives, offering a listening ear, never accepting less than the best and making science fun among much more. Here’s a few examples of the submissions received.

Share your own story about your favorite CALS professor using #CALSstories on social media.


Over my four years in Ames, (Andrew) Manu (professor of agronomy) served as my adviser, mentor and even my boss!

While I struggled with Agronomy 114, I excelled in Agronomy 154. The interactive method of using computers (rest in peace, sadly) with hands-on activities, lectures and the site-lab made for a very fun and challenging class. It was actually through this class that I got to know my adviser—Dr. Manu. He noticed I was doing well in his class and asked that I meet with him.

Halfway through my sophomore year, he encouraged me to dive further into soil science by adding the environmental studies secondary major. This gave me a more in-depth understanding of soils and soil conservation. He encouraged me to study abroad with Dr. (Lee) Burras to Costa Rica, and helped me get a summer job in Dr. Mahdi Al-Kaisi’s soil lab.

During my junior year, when I discovered my passion for weed science (my current field), he encouraged me to pursue it. He served as an excellent sounding board, helped me through graduate school applications, wrote letters of recommendation and was really my guide through the entire process.

He became my boss during my senior year. Dr. Manu asked if I would serve as a TA (teaching assistant) for Agronomy 154, teaching a section of site lab. I also helped him with the grading and scoring of exams, which meant I got to spend a lot of quality time with him—an absolute joy. Being a TA for this course was probably the most rewarding experience of my college career. It gave me valuable teaching experience that would help me in graduate school and in my professional career. It also gave me the opportunity to help young CALS students navigate a challenging, but important soils course. Watching their growth over the course of each semester was incredible.

I’ve never met a professor who cares more about his students—about them personally, about them finding their passion and about them succeeding academically. I remember going through the class roster with him entering test scores. He would remember something about each and every student, and noted ones that were struggling, but had the potential to succeed. In reality, he saw that potential in every student, and would seek them out to see how he could help them.

— Matthew Nelson (’15 agronomy, environmental studies)

My favorite professor: The late Dr. William Murray (professor emeritus of economics) led class discussions and made assignments that were so realistic to the days just before rapid increases in land values. His assignments reflected the need for students to understand the value of land resources needed for safe borrowing for production with lending institutions, and costs of marketing of crops and livestock was also a factor in land values. I remember that the class assignment of calculating the value of the farm I was raised on came within $25 per acre of what his assessment was, which I thought was rather remarkable.

— William Thom (’61 farm operations)

The toughest class you’ve ever loved: Agron 154 – There was more to soil than I ever imagined, but Dr. Manu made it fun.

— Amber Samson (’13 ag and life sciences education)

My favorite professor: Through her Environmental Sociology course and her mentorship, Dr. Lois Wright Morton helped me discover that my passion for agricultural and meteorological sciences is rooted in my love for the people science impacts.

— Heather Duncan (’06 public service and administration in ag)

My favorite professor: Dr. Chris Currey (assistant professor of horticulture) and Dr. Jeff Iles (professor and chair of horticulture) were my favorite professors. I learned the most from both of them because of their unique teaching styles and perspectives. They both challenged me to think outside the box. They also made an effort to leave the classroom to show us how to apply what we’ve learned to a real situation. They both prepared us for what we would see and how to adapt to working in the horticulture industry.

— Lexie Ryan (’15 horticulture)

My favorite professor: Dr. Lee Kilmer in the AnS Dept was my favorite. He pushed me to achieve milestones I thought were insurmountable. I benefited greatly from being a student in his classes, a TA for his courses and a member of the dairy judging and challenge teams he coached.

— Jordan Hanson (’13 dairy science, ag business)

The toughest class you’ve ever loved: Chem 177 because it was sometimes difficult to understand, but he put on a kids movie (Cars, Monsters Inc.) in the 10 minutes between the last class ending and the start of our class and would restart it everyday. It made you want to show up everyday so you didn’t miss any.

— Jenny Lichty (’09 agricultural education and studies, ’14 MS)

My favorite professor: Dr. Chris Currey (assistant professor of horticulture) once told me, “You want to be my graduate student for two reasons. One, I have a lot of really cool gardening books. Two, I have an awesome beard.” Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?

— Kellie Walters (’13 horticulture, ’15 MS)

My favorite professor: My favorite CALS educator was Dr. Chad Hart. It’s because of him that I am in the cash grain business.

— Donna Klostermann (’14 ag business)

My favorite professor: My favorite CALS professor is Virginia Hanson. Virginia was constantly encouraging me to take on new projects and opportunities that challenged and shaped me into the professional I am today. She was a huge supporter of mine through my time at Iowa State and still today as I am still adjusting to being a professional in the industry.

— Heidi Darrington (’17 ag and life sciences education)

The toughest class you’ve ever loved: Agronomy 114(?) with Russ Mullen. As someone who was in FFA all 4 years of high school with no farm background, I loved learning about the sciences and practices of crop production. I never knew the name of farm equipment, when they were used, or much about pests, diseases, or seed development before that class. It was difficult, but the weekly labs and quizzes were hands-on and purposeful, with plenty of resources and staff available to help. I use many of those resources and techniques still today as I teach my high school agronomy and plant science course topics.

— Dan Doeing (’13 ag and life sciences education)

My favorite professor: Professor Dermot Hayes was my favorite professor. His ability to take a fun example to teach Economics was a tactic that really worked with our class.

— Holden Asmus (’14 ag business)

My favorite professor: Dr. (Tom) Baas (professor of animal science). He took a lot of time to personally get to know his students and cared for every student as an individual. No matter who you were, he knew your name and probably still would remember you in a crowd. His AN S 225 class fueled my love for the swine industry as well.

— Amber Howell (’16 animal science)

My favorite professor: Dr. (Mike) Retallick (professor and chair of agricultural education and studies)—from my first time on campus and meeting with him to defending my thesis, he was always supportive. No matter the day, I could stop in the office to say hi or to ask a question. He never hesitated with the “tough love” when it came to making sure I would defend and graduate on time. He definitely made the transition to Iowa State, both coming in as a transfer undergrad and graduate student, easy.

— Jenny Lichty (’09 agricultural education and studies, ’14 MS)

The toughest class you’ve ever loved: Soil and Water Chemistry – It was a grad-level class and I had senioritis when I took it, but the labs were fun, I had good friends in the class and Dr. Michael Thompson is a great instructor.

— Shannon Moeller (’13 international ag, agronomy)

My favorite professor: Dr. Richard Schultz (University Professor of natural resource ecology and management). I took several classes with him, including: Natural Resources Ecology and Soils, Watershed Management, a spring travel course to Ecuador and a spring travel course to Uganda. Dr. Schultz has more of an experiential learning approach which meant that a good portion of classes were spent out in the field and working with students. He would always challenge us to understand different perspectives of local, domestic and international agricultural issues and approaches through projects and discussions. Dr. Schultz’s commitment to teaching combined with his fun-loving personality made his classes the highlight of my day!

— Bridget McFarland (’17 agronomy)

My favorite professor: I had some awesome professors, but my advisor Dr. Carmen Bain made such an impact on how I evaluate issues in ag. She helped me recognize and understand all view points – a valuable skill I’ve carried with me into my career.

— Amber Hammes (’17 ag and society)

The toughest class you’ve ever loved: Comparative Chordate Anatomy. It took so much time, but absolutely reaffirmed by love for my major (even though it dropped my GPA that semester).

— Maddy Sislow (’16 animal ecology, biology)