Bold Vision


Originally published in the winter 2015 issue of VISIONS
Written by Carole Gieseke. Principal photography by Jim Heemstra.

With record-shattering enrollment, crucial faculty hires, the opening of several brand-new academic and research buildings, and an unprecedented economic impact on the state of Iowa, it is, as ISU President Steven Leath says, “an exciting time to be at Iowa State.”

January 2015 marks Leath’s third anniversary as Iowa State’s 15th president, and he’s already taken the university in a number of high-profile directions. Here’s a snapshot of his priorities in four key areas: student experience, groundbreaking research, economic development, and academic excellence.


Working aggressively to expand the capacity of the institution

At his installation in fall 2012, Steven Leath announced a goal of hiring 200 faculty in his
first three years as president, and he has already exceeded that goal: As of September 2014,
the number of new hires totals 245, with 105 new tenure or tenure-track faculty joining the
university ranks just this fall. Leath’s Presidential High-impact Faculty Hires Initiative
ensures hiring in high-impact areas, such as big data and translational health.

A supportive environment
institutional_excellenceElizabeth “Birdie” Shirtcliff’s Stress Physiology Investigative Team –– an initiative she began when she was at the University of New Orleans – uses saliva to test the effects of environmental stress on kids. “We collected a lot of saliva. People don’t mind doing that as much as giving blood samples,” she explained. The research measures hormone levels and other biomarkers as a  response to stress in vulnerable populations.

When Shirtcliff came to Iowa State as part of the Presidential High-impact Faculty Hires Initiative in the College of Human Sciences, she brought with her not one but FIVE ongoing grants, as well as a team of graduate students. She just started her work on campus this fall, but she’s already settled in.

“I’ve had tremendous support from Iowa State,” she said. “That’s why I came.”

Change Agent
Carolyn Lawrence, one of Iowa State’s “high-impact faculty” hires, joined the Department of  Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology faculty last January to continue her work in maize bioinformatics. Lawrence is working to create new data tools for plant breeders, an effort that could speed up the development of new stress-resistant crop varieties.

Presidential graduate student initiative
President Leath has launched a graduate student initiative to build the impact of Iowa State’s  graduate and research programs. The three-year initiative includes:

• A Presidential Scholars Program for new PhD students
• Matching funds to the academic colleges for graduate student recruiting
• Funding for PhD students and post-docs working with faculty on research projects


Adding innovation and expertise to the state of Iowa

Ground was broken this fall for a new Economic Development Core Facility at the ISU
Research Park. The new building will house all of Iowa State’s economic development
service units and programs. ISU President Steven Leath calls it a one-stop shop for
companies to access Iowa State’s workforce and capital.

Research Park: ‘A perfect storm’
economic_developmentThough it has been growing steadily for 25 years, Steve Carter says that Iowa State University Research Park is experiencing an unprecedented expansion.

“We’ve gotten large enough that companies are more interested in the environment that the Research Park is providing,” Carter said. “They see the growth, hear the publicity – it’s a perfect storm for Research Park.”

Carter, the Park’s director, says that companies choose to locate here – for example, Workiva, NewLink Genetics Corp., Harrisvaccines, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Metabolic  Technologies Inc., and Priority 5 – because of the relationship with Iowa State. He said firms are looking for a research infrastructure, connection and collaboration with university researchers, and – perhaps most importantly – Iowa State students.

Research Park’s expansion includes a new $12 million, 40,000-square-foot ISU Economic  Development Core Facility, expected to open in mid-2016, and the development of 200 additional acres to the Park, located in south Ames.

Current Research Park
• 210 acres
• 10 buildings with two more in process
• 441,521 square feet
• 60 tenants
• 1,400 employees
• Total annual salaries: $70 million

After Phase II completion
• 792,521 total square feet
• 3,000 total employees

Phase III
• 200 additional acres
• 1 million new square feet of space
• Estimated 3,000 additional employees

Cultivation Corridor
In the areas of ag bioscience, biorenewables, biotech, and advanced manufacturing, Iowa’s Cultivation Corridor group is leading the way in the production and security of food, feed, fiber, and fuel. The physical corridor exists along I-35 between Des Moines and Ames; ISU President Steven Leath is on the board of directors and co-chairs the group.

Last year, Iowa State established the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations to make it easier for the university’s external partners to connect with Iowa State’s expertise and capabilities. Mike Crum, Ruan Chair in Supply Chain Management, was named vice president for economic development and business engagement. “Research and economic development are key priorities for Iowa State,” said President Steven Leath. “We now have the organization and leaders in place to increase our impact in Iowa and beyond.”


Putting ISU talent to work on big, complex global problems

Seven diverse, multi-disciplinary Iowa State research teams have been funded through
a presidential research initiative. Collectively, the teams are tackling large-scale problems,
such as food security, disease prevention and treatment, and crop acceleration.

Research centers spark collaboration
interdisciplinary_researchResearchers at Iowa State are coming together from departments across campus for a common goal: creating an effective way to make chemicals from renewable biomass.

Brent Shanks – the Mike and Jean Steffenson professor of chemical & biological engineering and director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (or CBiRC for short) – says that faculty in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering, agriculture and biosystems engineering, and electrical engineering are collaborating to discover ways in which these renewable chemicals can replace fossil-carbon-derived chemicals. Six start-up companies have already spun off from their research.

CBiRC is housed in the Biorenewables Research Laboratory (BRL), which opened in 2010. It’s part of Iowa State’s Biorenewables Complex, which now also includes the brand new Sukup and Elings Halls. The BRL, Shanks says, “is unique on the Iowa State campus. Labs are very open; multiple investigators and students are in the labs from multiple departments. It’s a very collaborative, very different approach from the one-faculty/one-lab model. It’s bringing together groups that haven’t worked together before.”

A better way to pave, package, and paste
Chris Williams, the ISU Gerald and Audrey Olson professor in civil, construction, and environmental engineering, and Eric Cochran (’98 chem engr & math), associate professor in chemical and biological engineering, are ready to roll out a new product: a biopolymer that could have applications in the asphalt paving, adhesive, and packing materials industry. The polymer from the Cochran and Williams research groups will be tested in an industrial-scale pilot plant located at the BioCentury Research Farm west of Ames. The biopolymers are derived from domestically sourced vegetable oils and have the potential to replace materials derived from crude petroleum. “This product has huge potential for reducing input costs for laying asphalt, and it’s bio-based, so it has environmental advantages as well,” said Mike Crum, ISU vice president for economic development and business engagement. Demonstration asphalt paving projects are planned for summer 2015.


Providing rich educational experiences, both in and out of the classroom

Iowa State’s fall 2014 enrollment of 34,732 is the largest in school history. And it’s the
university’s sixth consecutive year of record enrollment. How is ISU handling the rapid
expansion in student population?

Managing student growth
student_experience• HOUSING: A record 12,350 students are living on campus and in university-managed apartments; Department of Residence opened six new Frederiksen Court buildings last fall, and plans are underway for a new 700-bed residence hall.

• CLASSROOMS: Three academic buildings are new to campus: The Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center and the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering’s Elings and Sukup Halls. Plus, Troxel Hall, with its 400-seat auditorium, opened last year.

• OTHER SPACE ISSUES: To free approximately 100,000 square feet of central campus space for faculty and student needs, some administrative offices will be moved off campus.

• DINING: In addition to the proliferation of dining centers and cafes already on campus, the university has added five food trucks in high-student-traffic areas.

• TRANSPORTATION: CyRide added five buses to its fleet in the fall and three more in January. Six more buses will arrive in May, ready for service next fall.

• TECHNOLOGY: The university’s computer network has been increased 10-fold to accommodate the increase in student data needs.

• FACULTY & SUPPORT SERVICES: 105 new tenured or tenure-track faculty joined the ranks this fall. Additional academic advisors have been hired, and student support services have also been expanded.

Record diversity
Total U.S. multicultural and international enrollment is 8,045, or 23.16 percent of the student body – the most diverse in school history. President Leath has announced plans to hire a chief diversity officer to review and implement findings from a recent comprehensive diversity study.

Learning communities
Iowa State has joined 10 other public universities in a new national alliance to help close the student achievement gap and increase graduation rates for students from all backgrounds. The universities will share their expertise in relevant areas – Iowa State’s is learning communities. The highly successful ISU learning communities program began its 20th year this fall. About 70 percent of traditional-aged Iowa State students participate in a learning community.

Keeping costs down
Iowa State’s student tuition was frozen for the second year in a row. “We’re working hard here as a land-grant to make sure that family background and socio-economic status are no longer a  predictor of success,” President Leath said.

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