Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
The former deans go through a round of hugs and handshakes. They warmly welcome Daniel J. Robison, the current holder of the Endowed Dean’s Chair in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The room buzzes with conversation. Portraits of all those who have led the college during its 160-plus years look down from the walls, quiet observers to history still in the making. Robison gestures for the group to take their seats.
ROBISON: Colleges are really not about the bricks and mortar that make up their buildings and facilities, they are about the people that inhabit them and what they’re thinking and doing. Each of us works on behalf of those that were here before us, and those yet to be here. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants in some way or another. I want to extend my personal gratitude to each of you for this wonderful place that you’ve allowed me to inherit. It’s wonderful to have all of you in the same room together.
WHAT MADE BEING DEAN SO MEANINGFUL TO YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
WINTERSTEEN: It was a meaningful experience to me because I love agriculture so much. This is a great college not only because of leadership like those who surround us, but because of the faculty, staff and students. We go out in the state and hear from our partners and stakeholders about the difference we’ve made in their lives. Every day the importance of our work is reinforced through those interactions. It truly is a great college.
WOTEKI: What makes being a dean here so special is the people. When I was dean, we developed a list of alumni from other countries who had done their graduate training here and then returned to their homelands. There were a surprisingly large number of men and women who are now ministers of agriculture or holding other offices in parliament or government. Our graduates have gone on to have such an important impact in Iowa, throughout this country and this world. Their education here has had impacts we can’t begin to fully understand.
COLLETTI: As an associate dean, I did not fully appreciate the depth of the love our alums and friends have for this institution. It’s immense, deep and meaningful. I got to know a lot of them as interim dean. They are so committed to the future of our students.
TOPEL: The most important observation I had as dean was when the old Soviet Union was busted and all these countries became independent. Many of them, including Russia, came to Iowa State for help. CARD (the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development) played a major role in helping develop programs for them. The College of Veterinary Medicine and Dean Ross were particularly helpful. The state of Iowa helped in the effort to establish freedom and a free economic structure for the people of these countries. That was the beginning of the freedom for teaching, research and extension in Russia and its former republics. Iowa State was a major, major factor in providing the atmosphere for that freedom.
ROBISON: THE DECISIONS THAT I’LL MAKE, JUST LIKE YOU MADE, WILL INFLUENCE WHAT KIND OF INSTITUTION WE WILL BECOME. PLEASE COMMENT ON OUR OBLIGATION AS UNIVERSITY LEADERS TO THINK ABOUT WHERE THE FUTURE LIES.
ROSS: This college has led the university in recruitment and retention of female students. You can look to our current president who came up through agriculture and our former deans who helped make that happen. Just recently, a woman led the world in proving Einstein’s hypothesis of black holes. It’s because this country opened its arms to a Jewish immigrant, Albert Einstein. It’s important we continue that culture, starting here in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
COLLETTI: We added an assistant dean of diversity about five years ago. We needed a point person to expand the job of cultural competency training, including for our faculty and staff. Now there’s a smorgasbord of activities, training and discussion. We’re continuing to improve cultural competency and inclusivity in the college.
WOTEKI: Universities are a place to create new ideas, science and technologies. That new technology can be used for good purposes or it can be used for mischievous or malign purposes. An important role of the university is that we are laboratories for innovation and we instill values about the appropriate use of technologies. We need to instill these concepts of values, our national values, and how we should be using these new inventions for good purposes.
WINTERSTEEN: People are starting to question the value of higher education – there is a questioning of whether we’re providing a good value for the investment. What’s unfortunate about this conversation is it should never be about only one right path – it should always be a portfolio of opportunities. We have our work cut out for us to continue to help people see what a great value a degree is from Iowa State or any institution of higher education. We need to work at demonstrating that there is a great return on investment of every aspect of what we do here in teaching students to live a life, and be prepared for change that will occur. I like to remember what I read in Iowa State’s first president Adonijah Welch’s installation speech, where he said we would welcome everyone to Iowa State regardless of race, gender or social-economic status. This is our history, and this is our future, as well.