Amy Toth: Wasps like us

toth_amyThis feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

Back Story: Originally from Tolland, Conn. Earned a B.A. in biology in 2000 from Bard College in upstate New York. After I got my Ph.D. in 2009 at the University of Illinois, I did a post-doc at Penn State from 2009 to 2010. I’ve been on faculty here for three years.

How I came to Iowa State: The main connection was through my husband initially. He’s a faculty member in agronomy. We were both on the job market and there was an opening here in agronomy. He ended up getting the job offer, and I was really pleased to see that they had not only an entomology department but also an ecology and evolution department because those are my two academic homes. Luckily I had some really supportive people in EEOB. They ended up giving me an adjunct position for the first year that I was here; they gave me a lab and some start-up funds. [Eventually I] was able to negotiate a tenure-track position.

What I teach: I have taught three classes so far. One was a seminar-type course on the topic of evolution and creationism. Then there were two graduate classes: One was geared toward organismal biologists; the other was working with students on the computational side. Next semester I will be teaching an introductory course on animal behavior, which is my first love.

Scholarly pursuits: I’m interested in wasps because they are social. Honeybees are kind of the famous example of a social animal. They’re really fascinating, and people try to compare human society to honeybee society. But paper wasps, I think, are more parallel to humans in a way. They live in slightly smaller groups, so it’s more like a tribal setting where they know each and every individual. Another aspect of their biology that I think is more similar to humans is that they fight with each other. They do cooperate – most of the time. There are queens, and there are workers, but they are always fighting with each other over the chance to become the queen. Every wasp knows its position in the hierarchy: who’s above them, who’s below them. They have a lot to keep track of.

One thing we’re looking at is the difference between queens and workers. That’s sort of the fundamental question. The queen is more behaviorally dominant, more aggressive, laying all the eggs, staying on the nest. The workers have to go off and hunt for food, then they have to feed the offspring of the queen. It’s really dangerous having to go out and forage. Nobody wants to be a subordinate worker because they have to do all the dirty work.

Is a wasp born a queen: No. They’re all born the same. Any egg can become a queen or worker; it depends on the environment it’s raised in. We’re really interested in the impact of the environment on the developmental outcome. This is actually a really hot topic in human biology.

Why insects? I was always interested in animals as a kid. I’ve just always really enjoyed watching animals do what they do. I love spending time outdoors. Probably the highlight of my whole childhood was catching frogs and crayfish and things down by the brook by my grandparents’ house. My mom always said, “You should study animal behavior.” I always thought, “Yeah, but you can’t do that as a job.” And it turns out you CAN do that as a job.

At home: Husband, Fernando Miguez; sons Felix, 5, and Leo, 11 months

How I balance teaching and research and family: You feel like your life is really crazy sometimes, and you wake up in the morning and you’re like, “All right, I have
a hundred things to do today.” But instead of feeling beaten down and overwhelmed,
you just have to have this attitude like, “I’m superwoman. I’m really gonna kick
some butt today.” So think it’s just having a positive outlook.

Some people might not know: If I weren’t a scientist I probably would be a musician. I really enjoy classical music.

First job: Besides babysitting… I had a job at a diner, the Track Nine Diner. I washed dishes there and got paid $3.75 an hour. It was a terrible place to work.

Practical advice about wasps and bees: Keep calm. When we work with bees, we move very slowly. We try not to bump things around. They respond to vibrations. Stinging insects are not aggressive; they’re defensive. They’re not out to get you. When a bee or wasp is foraging on a flower or on your food or if it’s in your car, the last thing it wants to do is sting you. They only sting when they’re in their nest. So don’t be afraid if there’s a bee on your food. Just try not to bite it. I’ve done that before, and it’s very uncomfortable.

Staying Motivated at Work

We’re over six months away from the creation of our 2013 New Year’s resolutions. (And I guess that means we’re less than six months away from the 2014 batch.) How are your resolutions coming along? Yeah, mine aren’t so great either. This brings me to the focus of this post: motivation. Specifically, how do you stay motivated at work? If you’re having problems breaking through the wall, check out these five tips by Erica Dhawan at The Daily Muse.

Michael Stanley: Picking up the Pieces


This feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

Back Story: Born in Kansas City, lived in Colorado, graduated from high school in western Iowa, got a B.F.A. in sculpture from the University of South Dakota, joined the Merchant Marines, worked as an assistant at a limestone carving symposium in Bloomington, Ind., moved to New Orleans and worked at the School of Glassworks and Printmaking.

Life changer: Hurricane Katrina happened while I was living in New Orleans, and I ended up losing everything, which was hard. It was very difficult. I still feel some of those ramifications today. I got back four months after the storm hit, and the house I was living in had been gutted and torn down. There was nothing to really salvage. After (another) four months, I came to the realization that I needed to either take out loans from a bank or go back to graduate school. And that’s where a lot of problems started. I lost my entire portfolio. I lost all my work. I had played it safe – I had copies of the work in a fireproof safe, but the safe got destroyed. It was taken out with everything else. Literally I don’t have any work prior to 2006. Applying to grad schools was hard. Every place I applied to was the same – “We really feel sorry for you, and we appreciate your situation, BUT we can’t let you in if you don’t have any work to show.” There was really no proof that I was an artist.

How I came to Iowa State: My sister who lives in Omaha called me and said her husband’s brother went to Iowa State for architecture and said they had a fine arts program and that I should give it a shot. I contacted Iowa State and I came up and got a tour and they accepted me on a temporary basis… and I’ve been here ever since. It was a really quick transition. So I got my master of fine arts here in integrated visual arts in 2008, and I’ve been teaching here for five years. This is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place – seven years.

What I do: I teach woodworking, contemporary sculpture, drawing, introduction to 2- and 3-dimensional design, and metalsmithing. I actually have two full-time jobs: I teach and I work in the studio. The days that I’m not teaching, I’m in the studio for 10-12 hours a day. I’ve done a range of sculpture commissions for national competitions and local projects.

Favorite class to teach: Contemporary sculpture. It’s something I feel very comfortable teaching. It’s fun. We get to use a lot of found things and alternative materials. It really forces the students to get creative in their approach to their assignments.

About my artwork: I love doing public work because it is interactive, and I really feel that art should be interactive. It should be something you can touch. A lot of my work speaks to community. Because I have been a bit of a gypsy in my life I am always seeking out communities. When they built the south addition on the Memorial Union they cut down the biggest red oak tree in the state of Iowa. We harvested the tree and made benches for the Memorial Union. Projects like that I absolutely love. We take something down and we reuse it. As an artist, I struggle with making more stuff for a planet full of stuff.

Inspiration: I really love that intersection of nature and manmade. I love where those two points collide.

First job: I used to mow lawns at a golf course. That was a great job. It was really fun. I did that when I was 13.

Some people might not know: While I was in school in South Dakota, I moved to Italy for four months and learned how to carve stone in Pietrasanta.

Gray Calhoun: Balancing act

This feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

ImageBack Story: Grew up in Philadelphia. Received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Tufts University in 2001, a master’s in statistics at University of California San Diego in 2006, and a Ph.D. in economics in 2009 at UC San Diego.

How I came to Iowa State: I finished grad school at UC San Diego in 2009 and I was looking for a job. Iowa State was the most appealing. It seemed like a really good department. Everyone was really pleasant, really nice. It seemed like a good research environment.

What I teach: I teach Principles of Macroeconomics, Econ 102. It’s an intro-level class. And I co-teach Econ 674, a Ph.D. class in macroeconometrics. Typically in the fall I teach another Ph.D. class, an intro to statistical methods for economists.

Scholarly pursuits: A lot of the stuff that I’ve been working on is kind of abstract, because it’s less about actually understanding macroeconomics but it’s really more about understanding the sorts of statistics and statistical methods that people use in macroeconomics. A few of the projects I’m working on now are looking at “If you had a few different forecasting models what would be the right way for picking one of them?” The focus is on the methodology instead of the actual modeling.

Blog? I do have a blog. Doesn’t everybody? It’s a sports statistics blog: I spend way too much time thinking about sports.

Working with students: I like working with college students. The nice thing about college (and I appreciate this more now that I’m no longer in college) is that you really have so few responsibilities except just to learn as much as you can. I think a lot of the students really take that seriously and try to understand things. It’s fun to help with that.

At home: Wife, Jess, and three children: Blair, 4, and twins Nathan and Alice, 18 months

Life changer: The twins were born three months early. They were born on Jan. 26, 2012 and were due in April. They were in the NICU for a while, obviously. Alice came home on supplemental oxygen. They’re both doing really well now. Alice started crawling [in the spring]. It was funny, because Nate had been crawling awhile, and you could tell that she was jealous. She would watch him crawling around and she would get upset. She was proud of herself when she could start chasing after him.

How I balance teaching, research, and family: I don’t know. I don’t sleep enough, which is probably not a great strategy. I don’t know if I pull this off, but the trick is to minimize the other stuff that you’re doing so you don’t waste time: stuff other than family or physical health or research or teaching. And then just try to be disciplined. When I’m home, I’m home; when I’m at work, I’m at work; when everyone’s asleep, I work again.

A best friend’s grief

housley_breeWe Hope You Like This Song: An Overly Honest Story About Friendship, Death, and Mix Tapes is a sad, funny, honest memoir written by Bree Housley (’01 advertising) in honor of her friend, Shelly (Warner) Bridgewater (’02 elementary education) who died in 2005 following complications of childbirth.

“The book is NOT Beaches,” Housley says. “It’s brash, sometimes inappropriate, and we never steal each other’s boyfriends.”

Bridgewater, Housley’s best childhood friend and ISU roommate, died at age 25 one week after her daughter, Hailey, was born prematurely. Shelly had developed preeclampsia before the birth, followed by a condition called HELLP Syndrome.

Housley felt tremendous guilt for not being at her best friend’s side when she became ill. Four years later, she and her sister started a yearlong project to honor her friend’s “crazy, spontaneous crush on life.”

“We chose a new resolution each week and tried to complete it in seven days – a New Week’s Resolution, if you will,” Housley said. “By the end of the year, I had gone through a strange sort of healing, and I was ready to tell our story.”

The result was a blog and the book, which was published in October 2012.

“The year after Shelly’s death was a blur,” Housley said. “Writing the book was cathartic. When I sat down to write, I hadn’t detailed the guilt, so it was super therapeutic.”

Housley was on campus in April for a book signing at University Book Store. She said that she’s surprised by the number of emails she’s received from ”complete strangers” who have read her book and want to talk about their own grief.

“So many touching, emotional thoughts have been shared with me,” she said.

Though writing the book was painful, Housley said the outcome was “exactly what I was hoping for. People tell me they’re going to call a friend RIGHT NOW. I could not have wished for a better outcome.”

Housley is a freelance advertising copywriter in Chicago. She’s currently at work on book number two.

Catalina Miller: A new challenge every day

miller_catalinaThis feature is part of the “Nine Lives” feature from the summer 2013 issue of VISIONS magazine profiling nine ISU faculty members who are mixing it up in and out of the classroom

Back Story: Grew up in Bucuramanga, Colombia. Earned a B.S. in architecture from St. Thomas University in Colombia in 2002. Moved to the U.S. 10 years ago to study English. Everything worked out, so I was able to get in the master’s program at University of Oklahoma, where my sister was also studying. I graduated in 2005 with a master’s in construction administration. I met my husband in Florida and taught there at a small college for working adults. Then we moved to Pella, Iowa.

Why construction engineering? When I was a little kid we moved to a developing area so everything was growing up around us, buildings going up all the time. I always liked that. I wanted to be in that field. It’s a field that not a lot of women feel attracted to. I think maybe [it’s because] you need to get dirty. You’re walking in mud, you have to wear your boots, you are not wearing dresses. If you’re the kind of woman who likes to be pretty all the time, it’s probably not your field. I like to be outdoors, so I like jobs that allow me to get out of the office. I also like construction because you really are involved with people a lot. You always have to be in communication with people; you have to talk about the ideas. All the challenges are different every day. That’s probably the most exciting part.

How I came to Iowa State: I was working at Pella Corp. They needed engineers…but I needed more education. So I came to Iowa State in summer 2012 to work on my Ph.D. in construction engineering, and I also became an adjunct instructor in the department.

Life changer: I had the opportunity to work with a Red Cross project in Colombia, and that’s when I really started getting more involved in construction. Guerillas and the paramilitary had pushed the farmers to [undeveloped urban areas]. They left behind everything they had. So when they came to the cities they didn’t have the skills needed to live in the city, they didn’t have houses, they didn’t have money – they didn’t have anything. One of the projects was to bring water to the communities. We also built a multi-purpose building, which was a place they could have meetings. This was a big step. Now the community could get together and make decisions and have a leader. We also helped [provide] schools and bathrooms.

What I teach: I teach ConE 421 Construction Estimating and ConE 222 Contractor Organization and Management of Construction.

Scholarly pursuits: I’m pretty excited because I get to do my research on something that has to do with social interaction: social return on investment on transportation
programs with the Iowa DOT. I’m looking at how they prioritize maintenance, looking
at the economic impact, safety, all the risk assessment…. If they don’t maintain
the roads, will the economy of the state be affected? We’re measuring the social impact of the project. It’s pretty cool.

First job: I worked at a shoe store at age 15. The Christmas season was completely
horrible and overwhelming! It was so busy, we were throwing the shoes everywhere.

At home: Husband, Orin, who works for Vermeer and is the U.S. Navy Reserves;
two daughters:  Alison, 8, and Vanesa, 4

Some people might not know: I think one thing people sometimes don’t know: They think it’s easy to come here. Nobody really knows what you have to go through. In Colombia, people think if you’re here your family had a lot of money. People here think you have connections. I came here with a work visa. It was kind of tough. My family doesn’t have a lot of money. When I came here, I came with a very, very tight budget. I was actually working cleaning houses to get money for English classes in Oklahoma. I worked hard, but at the same time I had a lot of people helping me. When you come here and somebody asks to help you, you don’t say no. You need all the support that you can have.