Lisa Wasko-DeVetter: ‘The people of Iowa State, people of Uganda draw me back to Ames’


Lisa Wasko-DeVetter (left) was recently back on campus to accept the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Outstanding Young Professional Award. She took time to meet with current students while on campus.

Growing up in Iowa, Lisa Wasko-DeVetter (’07 biology and horticulture, MS ’10) knew she was going to get two choices of where to attend college: Iowa or Iowa State.

“My dad was a Cyclone,” she says, “so I was indoctrinated early with Cyclone fever.” DeVetter attended football games, toured the campus, and met the faculty members with whom her father used to work in Ross Hall. And when she received her acceptance letter from Iowa State, she knew right away what she wanted to do.

“My reverence for Iowa State came after being here that first semester and that first year being in the biology department and horticulture department,” said the two-time ISU graduate, who also contributed to the university’s service learning program in the Kamuli district of Uganda. DeVetter spent four years coordinating the program’s school garden project, which was aimed at teaching local youth the importance of agriculture, health, and nutrition.

“I was working in Dr. [Gail] Nonneke’s program and could see from the beginning that this was an amazing opportunity for students to get in involved,” she says. “I was interested in traveling and learning about other people and other cultures. Why I remained with the program goes back to the people. I got to interact with some amazing people and have friendships that were kindled. I wanted to keep on meeting new people and build relationships. It was also just a tremendous learning experience. Every year that I went I was learning and it was very enriching.”

Even today, DeVetter – now an assistant professor of small fruit horticulture at Washington State University – continues to sponsor an orphaned child in the district.

DeVetter did not come to Iowa State with a plan that would last her entire four years.

“I originally wanted to be a marine biologist, and I realized that’s really hard to do in a land-locked state,” she says. “I ended up taking a plant systematics course, and that is really where I first developed my interest in plants. Someone in Dr. Nonneke’s program suggested that I take a horticulture class and I said horti-what? I knew that horticulture was the missing piece. It was that applied element that I needed.”

DeVetter recently returned to Ames to accept the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ 2015 Outstanding Young Professional Award, and DeVetter says she will always be drawn back to campus for one simple reason.

“Hands down, the people,” she says. “There’s too many to list; there’s the faculty, the students, the people of Uganda. It’s such a great institution for teaching and research, and, as I learned later on, for graduate research and extension.”

“Once an Iowa State Cyclone, always an Iowa State Cyclone,” she says. “That’s just kind of how I feel.”

— Story and photo by Blake Lanser

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