2015 Iowa State Year in Review


isu4u…ISU President Steven Leath (L) signed the “ISU 4U Promise,” an agreement with the Des Moines Public Schools to provide tuition assistance to economically disadvantaged elementary students who wish to pursue higher education in their futures.

…ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” program visited Ames for the first time ever. Thousands of Iowa State fans came out for the broadcast and subsequent 86-81 men’s basketball victory over Kansas on Jan. 17.

…ISU’s largest student organization, Dance Marathon, raised $444,000 at its annual event benefiting the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.


…Roger Neuhaus left his position as president of the Iowa State University Foundation. Larissa Holtmyer Jones (L)(’94 marketing, ’03 MBA), an 18-year veteran of the organization, was named the Foundation’s new president and CEO.

…Iowa State University announced plans to hire its first-ever chief diversity officer.

kemboichamp…Racing on its home track at the Lied Rec Center, the Iowa State men’s track and field team recorded its best finish at the Big 12 Conference indoor meet since 1997 thanks to Edward Kemboi, who became the first athlete in Big 12 history to be crowned the 1,000-meter and 800-meter run champion in back-to-back seasons.

…More than 25 campus units participated in Iowa State Day at the Capitol Feb. 23, an annual showcase of how Iowa State serves Iowa and Iowans.


…Edward Kemboi won the national indoor title in the 800-meter run in Fayetteville, Ark., breaking the tape in 1:46.05 to become the first Cyclone man to win an indoor national championship since 1993.

gadson…Cyclone legacy Kyven Gadson (’14 child, adult, and family services) pinned Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder in 4:26 to win the 197-pound NCAA wrestling title, becoming the 69th national champion in ISU history.

…Freshman Haylee Young won the individual all-around crown at the Big 12 Women’s Gymnastics Championship, becoming the first Cyclone since 2002 to do so.

…The Iowa State men’s basketball team won the Big 12 tournament title in Kansas City for the second consecutive year, defeating Kansas 70-66 in the title game at the Sprint Center.

…ISU athletics director Jamie Pollard (L) suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. His greeting for Cyclone men’s basketball fans in Kansas City from his hospital bed drew cheers of support in the Power & Light District.

…Iowa State University was announced as a chief partner in the new Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium. ISU has planted 10,000 seeds of nine different milkweed species in an effort to help regrow the iconic butterfly’s habitat in the state.


talbot…The ISU Alumni Association received a $2.5 million gift from Lora and Russ Talbot (L) of Belmond, Iowa, to endow the organization’s president and chief executive officer position. The Talbots’ gift created the first non-academic endowed position at Iowa State and the first endowed alumni association president and CEO position at a college or university anywhere in the U.S. The announcement was made during the ISUAA’s annual Cardinal & Gold Gala in Des Moines.

…Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences Catherine Kling was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, becoming the first Iowa State woman ever to receive the honor.

…Four Iowa State scientists were named to the team collecting data from the second run of the Large Hadron Collider – the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, considered to be the “largest physics experiment in the world.”

…Beth McNeil (A) was named dean of the Iowa State University Library.

…Iowa State clinched the 2014-2015 Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series with a 5-4 softball victory in Iowa City.

…More than 450 Iowa State alumni and friends participated in “Cy’s Days of Service,” an annual ISU Alumni Association initiative encouraging Iowa Staters to unite worldwide in community service throughout the month of April.


…Iowa State University received a five-year, up-to-$20 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create the Forensic Science Center of Excellence, which will do important research for the nation’s law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

…after 4,300 participated in spring commencement exercises, Iowa State topped the 100,000 mark for alumni living in the state of Iowa. A total of 100,223 alumni now reside in the state, making it the highest number of alumni living in Iowa from any institution of higher education.

…construction officially began on a much-needed new campus residence hall. The 784-bed facility is being built adjacent to Buchanan Hall and is scheduled to open in spring 2017.


prohm…Head men’s basketball coach Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg (L)(’95 finance) left his alma mater to fulfill a life dream and become head coach of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. He was replaced by 40-year-old Steve Prohm, the 2012 Basketball Times Coach of the Year from Murray State.

…Despite supportive efforts by the governor, ISU, and the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa legislature defeated a Board of Regents’ proposal that would have changed the state university funding model to be based 60 percent on the number of in-state students enrolled, resulting in significant funding increases for both ISU and UNI. ISU President Steven Leath expressed disappointment in the vote’s outcome, noting that he doesn’t want to have to deny qualified Iowans admission to ISU, where demand is at an all-time high.

…Edward Kemboi won the NCAA 800-meter outdoor track and field title in Eugene, Ore., with a time of 1:49.26, making him the third Cyclone in history to achieve indoor/outdoor sweeps and the first Cyclone man since 1996 to win an individual outdoor NCAA crown.


phaeton_capitol…In the 25th anniversary season of solar car racing at Iowa State, Team PrISUm took home its first-ever title at the 2015 Formula Sun Grand Prix with the award-winning car Phaeton. No other car was within 30 laps of Phaeton after three days of racing in Austin, Texas.

…ISU alumnus Dennis Muilenburg (L)(’86 aero engr) became the 10th president and CEO of Boeing, the United States’ largest exporter and the world’s second-largest defense contractor.

…Registration opened for ISU’s first-ever massive open online course (MOOC). University Professor Steffen Schmidt announced plans to teach the course on the topic of the Iowa Caucuses.

…Glassdoor Economic Research released a report indicating that Ames ranked eighth nationally for successful “Recession Rebound,” fueled largely by the rapid expansion of the university’s business and technology incubator, ISU Research Park. The Park added 14 companies in 2015 alone and began work on a 183-acre expansion that will include amenities and services for Park employees such as child care, dining, and fitness facilities.


…College of Human Sciences dean Pam White (A)(PhD ’81 food technology) announced her plans to retire in July 2016 after 40 years of service to ISU.

…The ISU chapter of Sigma Chi officially opened its new fraternity house at 2136 Lincoln Way.

…The ISU women’s soccer team earned its biggest win in program history, topping No. 10 Pepperdine on its home pitch in Malibu, Calif., Aug. 30, 1-0.

…The ISU College of Business launched a new master’s degree program in business analytics, an interdisciplinary program focused on business intelligence in the “big data” environment.


…Iowa State announced its seventh-consecutive record enrollment: 36,001 students.

…The ISU athletics department dedicated its $60 million addition at Jack Trice Stadium that created the Sukup Endzone Club and increased the stadium’s capacity to 61,500.

seasons…The ISU Alumni Association unveiled its new coffee-table book, “SEASONS of Iowa State University,” featuring the celebrated photography of Jim Heemstra (A).

…The National Science Foundation extended its grant supporting the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC) based at Iowa State. The Center has already served as platform to launch six startup companies.


…Distinguished Professor of food science and human nutrition Diane Birt (A) was inducted into the National Academy of Medicine, making her the second ISU faculty member to receive National Academy induction in 2015 following a 10-year drought.

homecoming…Iowa State celebrated its 103rd Homecoming during a beautiful Halloween weekend, capped by a 24-0 gridiron shutout of Texas at Jack Trice Stadium.

…ISU President Steven Leath joined the Twitterverse, sending out the first message from @IASTATE_Pres on Oct. 12.

…readers of the website BuzzFeed selected Iowa State University as one of the 25 most beautiful campuses in the world.


rhoads…Beloved head football coach Paul Rhoads (A) coached his final game at the helm of the Cyclone program Nov. 28 in Morgantown, W.V., following an emotional week of goodbyes. The following day, athletics director Jamie Pollard (L) announced that Toledo head coach Matt Campbell had been hired to replace Rhoads on Campbell’s 36th birthday. Campbell, who was named 2015 MAC Coach of the Year, becomes the Big 12 Conference’s youngest head football coach. View a photo gallery of Paul Rhoads’ seven years at ISU on the ISUAA Flickr page.

…A team of ISU students received the Community Service Award of Excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architecture for its project at the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women.

…A team of ISU students won the first-ever National Cyber Analyst Challenge.

…Iowa State was announced as one of five universities comprising the National Science Foundation’s new Midwest Big Data Hub, SEEDCorn (Sustainable Enabling Environment for Data Collaboration).

…Cyclones junior Perez Rotich and sophomore Erin Hooker finished 1-2 in the Big 12 women’s cross country championship.


stewart…Reginald Stewart (pictured, right) began his duties on campus as ISU’s inaugural vice president for diversity and inclusion.

…the Iowa State volleyball team played in its 10th consecutive NCAA tournament, sweeping Miami (Fla.) in round one before losing to No. 10 Wisconsin. Ten of ISU’s 11 all-time NCAA tourney appearances have been under current head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch (L).

…The “Cardiac Clones” resurrected their crazy come-from-behind ways in men’s basketball under new coach Steve Prohm, beating instate rival Iowa 83-82 Dec. 10 with a last-second bucket by Monte Morris that sealed a 20-point comeback at Hilton Coliseum. The following night, the Cyclone women also came back from a significant deficit to beat Iowa.

…Vice president for student affairs Thomas Hill (A) retired after 18 years on campus.

…The Skunk River and Squaw Creek in Ames crested at twice their normal levels for mid-December following unusually warm temperatures and three consecutive days of steady rain from Dec. 12-14. Officials say the heavy rain may have been a factor in a deadly Dec. 14 hit-and-run accident that killed ISU freshman Emmalee Jacobs at the corner of Lincoln Way and Ash Ave. around 7 a.m. on the Monday morning of Finals Week.

…A record number of December graduates joined the ‪Iowa State alumni family Dec.18-19. The university awarded 1,631 bachelor’s degrees, 251 master’s degrees, and 111 doctoral degrees. Congrats to the last of the Class of 2015!

Bring on 2016! Happy Holidays!

Leo’s Boy


Growing up in rural Collins, Miss., the youngest of Leo and Odell Johnson’s 10 children, Jeff Johnson was taught the importance of three things: church, school, and work.

Though Johnson – called Wayne, his middle name, by his family – lived on a farm in a home with no running water or electricity, his parents and grandparents taught him and his siblings to carry themselves with pride.

“I got my first job at age 8,” Johnson says. “I was mowing lawns and gardening. All of us kids were peddling our vegetables in town – people knew that the Johnson children would be on Main Street every Saturday morning.”

jeff_familyJohnson was born in 1963, just as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to take shape. He attended a community school for blacks during his elementary grades, but Collins Middle School was integrated.

His teachers made sure he and his classmates were ready for the change. Mrs. Evelyn McCann, his English teacher, saw that Johnson and his classmates had value. “She told us to  go out and make a difference,” he says.

Johnson met his wife, Peggy, when he was in the eighth grade. Peggy was in sixth grade. In high school, Johnson was a drum major for the band and played the baritone.

Another influence in his life was Mrs. Jessie Allred, a former teacher of white students who encouraged Johnson to go to college. His mother cleaned Mrs. Allred’s house, and Johnson worked in her yard to earn extra money.

When he graduated from high school, Johnson wanted to earn a college degree. He would be the first in his family to do so.

“I wanted a college degree for my family, my church, and for my community,” he says. He enrolled at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.

And then he made a big mistake. Well, it was a big mistake in the eyes of his daddy. He ran for student body president the second semester of his freshman year.

“The college’s dean of students, Mr. Tim Waldrup, convinced me to run, so I ran,” Johnson says. “My campaign slogan was ‘Keep the JJ in JCJC.’”

He won the election. But then he learned that the student body president had to live on campus. He was living at home and riding the bus or with a friend to get to school each day. His family couldn’t afford room and board.

“Mrs. Allred went to my defense,” he remembers. “Daddy struggled, but he had to let me be who I was. I had to promise him that I would come home on weekends to get my chores done.” Johnson thrived in the college atmosphere. After completing junior college, he enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, where he became a resident assistant, for which he was given free room and board. He got a scholarship. He worked at a clothing store. He became a part of Southern Miss’s student ambassadors, Southern Style. He impressed enough visiting dignitaries with his knowledge and friendliness that the USM president, Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas, hired Johnson to help the university recruit high-ability students. For this, he was paid $1,000 a month and given free room, board, tuition, and access to a university vehicle.

Thus began Johnson’s higher education pilgrimage.

A career in alumni relations
Johnson married Peggy, a USM junior, on Aug. 3, 1985, the last semester of his senior year. After graduation from Southern Miss in 1986 he was hired as an admissions counselor.
The young couple lived in faculty housing. In October 1986 they had their first child, Krystal. In May 1989 a son, Kristopher, was born.

Johnson’s career path expanded. He became involved in government relations, served as an adviser to the university’s student alumni program, and was named an assistant to the executive director of alumni relations. He saw his future: a future in higher education that he didn’t even know was possible.

When he was attending a national student alumni conference in Kansas, then-alumni director for the University of Kansas Fred Williams took a shine to the young man from Mississippi. Six months later, Johnson was working for Williams as director of alumni membership. He spent five-plus years in Lawrence, moving up as the alumni association’s director of external affairs and then a vice president. He earned a master’s degree at the same time.

He moved his family again, this time to the University of Illinois, where he became the alumni director for the Urbana-Champaign campus.

And then, following Jim Hopson’s retirement in 1999, Johnson was recruited to work for Iowa State.

Hopson (’69 education) had been executive director of the ISU Alumni Association for 20 years. Johnson, and all of his Midwestern alumni relations colleagues, knew and respected Hopson. Johnson also knew about Iowa State.

“We [national colleagues] all knew Iowa Staters and about Iowa State,” he said. “I had never seen a nicer, more pride-laden, good crop of people.”

But the kids were in fifth and seventh grade, and Johnson didn’t want to uproot them. And after having been at Illinois for just three years, Johnson felt strongly that they were in a good situation there. Still, he agreed to an interview in Ames.

After he was offered the job, he asked the committee if he could bring his family to Ames first before giving them an answer. The committee and campus leadership granted Johnson his request.

It was love at first sight – for everyone.

“I already knew the people of Iowa and the Alumni Association’s quality, so it was a no-brainer. But I hadn’t seen the central part of campus. It was the most gorgeous place I’d ever seen.”

While Johnson was back in Illinois completing the transition process after accepting the position, Peggy and the kids moved to Ames early. Within a week, Kristopher had already invited a newfound friend over for a slumber party. He was also loaned a bike, and the family was invited to attend the Iowa State Fair. The kids felt safe in Iowa. They even approached Johnson with a list of all the reasons they were happy they moved to Ames.

It was unanimous. In September 1999, Johnson started his duties with the ISU Alumni Association, and the Johnson family officially became a Cyclone family. Iowa has lived up to their expectations, he says. It fits their values. It’s been a great place to work and to raise their kids.

Johnson has taken a page from his daddy’s playbook; he and Peggy have raised their children using the “rule of 21.”

“From zero to age 7, parents need to get in their kids’ heads,” Johnson explained. “You teach them right from wrong, yes from no. You help them build their character. From age 8-14 you get in their face. This is where you help them build their communication skills by allowing them to express why they are making the decisions they are making. From age 15-21 you get out of the way. This is when they learn that their decisions have consequences. At the end of this process, parents have hopefully achieved the most important thing – they have instilled in their children a conscience.”

The Johnsons have implanted a strong work ethic in their kids; they’ve made faith and education key priorities in their lives. Krystal has a 2014 child, adult, and family services degree from Iowa State, and Kristopher graduated from the University of Kansas in 2013 with a degree in sociology. The apple, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree.


Reaping the harvest
It’s been 16 years now. Johnson has achieved much of what he set out to do at Iowa State. He’s strengthened the Alumni Association’s visibility. He’s achieved Jim Hopson’s dream of building an alumni center. He’s launched new programs. He’s become the face and voice of the Alumni Association and a central figure in Iowa State’s outreach and engagement arsenal.

“There’s always plowing and planting and harvesting in everything you do,” Johnson says. “Jim did a damn good job of plowing and planting at the ISU Alumni Association. I got to come in and tend those plantings and ultimately do some harvesting.”

At Iowa State, Johnson has fulfilled another of his lifelong goals: He earned a PhD in 2014. Even though he admits he didn’t have time for classes or the grueling work of writing a dissertation, it was important to him to do it. He really wanted a degree from Iowa State – his newfound alma mater.

“No one in my family has a terminal degree,” he said. “I’m on a college campus. The only thing standing in my way was time. I just had to figure out a way to do it.”

The completion of his degree was sidelined twice: once because of his own health scare, the other because of Peggy’s. Life takes crazy turns, he says.

The Johnsons were on vacation in southern California in 2012 when Peggy began to experience severe headaches and alarming changes in her vision. She was rushed to the hospital while they were visiting a colleague on the UCLA campus, and she underwent emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm. She spent 32 days in intensive care.

Today, Peggy’s health is excellent. But Johnson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, and although the surgery was successful, the cancer has returned. He’s currently preparing to undergo radiation treatment.

Coming full circle
A lot of years have gone by since young Wayne tended yards and pumped gas with his grandpa at a local gas station. Johnson watched and learned from his father and his father’s father. Back then, he says, everyone in town knew whose kid you were.

They’d say, “That’s Leo’s boy.”

“Daddy wanted these little black children growing up in the South to know that there are things you can control. He wanted to craft a lifestyle for his children. Being Leo and Odell’s son…their standards were so high.”

Johnson is a grandfather himself now. Tony Wayne Martin was born July 12 to daughter Krystal and her husband, Cole, a 2010 industrial engineering graduate of Iowa State.

Johnson says that while it may seem like he’s settled in his new role as the Russ and Lora Talbot ISU Alumni Association Endowed President and Chief Executive Officer – and he’s as proud as he can be to have earned this first-in-the-nation status – he doesn’t feel a sense of completion yet. He still has goals he’d like to accomplish. He’d like to expand the Alumni Center. See the Association’s membership hit 60,000 paid members. Improve the organization’s financial health. Have the Alumni Association become a bigger player in Iowa State’s future.

And, personally, he thinks he’d someday like to become president of a community college or work on the campus of a historically black university. He’d like to give back to students what he was given so many years ago: self-confidence.

“My work is not yet done.”

Career Corner: Enhance your wellbeing this winter

If you missed out on our four-part wellbeing webinar series this past fall, it’s not too late to listen and learn. The webinars focus on wellbeing in four areas: your career, your finances, your physical health, and your social circle. These presentations are free to view. Take some time during this crazy (and sometimes stressful) holiday season for yourself!

Click here to view the webinars.