In Step: Adapting for the Next Adventure

Dawn Henderson’s student experience has been transformative. From building communications and leadership skills in the marching band, to conducting undergrad research, she’s graduating with a varied skillset.

She started her Iowa State adventure in agronomy, but decided to add a minor in agriculture and life sciences education. She sees a lot of misinformation and lack of knowledge about agriculture among the public, and even close acquaintances, and hopes to bridge that gap.

“A lot of my friends joke that I just play in the dirt, but I’m very proud of being an agronomist,” she says.

Some of that pride was no doubt passed down from her parents, Eva (’93 agronomy) and Mike Henderson, who earned degrees in agronomy. Her father is an area agronomist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in northwest Iowa and her mother raises chickens and tends an expansive garden on their acreage near Marcus, Iowa.

After helping her father with presentations about a rainfall simulator, Henderson found she liked teaching and speaking to groups. A position in extension as a field specialist, or with an agricultural literacy program might be good fits.

Her father is a big influence. They send pictures back-and-forth of the weed of the day.

Stinging nettles is her favorite: “They’re just endlessly fascinating to me,” Henderson says of its numerous adaptations to survive.

Henderson has adapted, too, according to Nancy Grudens-Schuck, professor of agricultural education and studies, who saw a transformation—from tentative to confident—as she supervised Henderson’s Science with Practice research project, for the agricultural education and studies 312 course.

The project was follow-up research to Grudens-Schuck’s survey study of 1,700 participants of the IOWATER program, in which volunteers conducted water monitoring. She had numerical data, but lacked interviews that were needed to find out why people joined watershed organizations.

“Dawn was really persistent in learning about interviewing,” Grudens-Schuck says. “She pushed herself to make those ‘cold calls’ to people. She kept people talking, even quiet people like herself. Her interviews got better and better.”

Being part of the Iowa State marching band also has allowed her to test her limits.

“I’ve learned more from marching band than I’ve learned from any other activity on campus,” she says.

The last two years she was one of four guides for the 18-member tenor sax section. As a guide she serves as a point of contact between the director and the band members. The guide captain focuses on the music, while Henderson and the others focus on marching and visuals.

She has added valuable communication skills.

“I’ve learned more about being a good leader as a guide. I’ve learned a lot about when to continue to push and when to back off,” she says.”