VISIONS Winter 2017: The Administration

Changes at the top

With the departure last summer of Warren Madden, (L)(’61 indust engr) the long-time senior vice president for business and finance, there’s been a series of changes in senior leadership at Iowa State.

During Madden’s 32 years as vice president, ISU’s enrollment increased nearly 50 percent, the campus grew to more than 13.8 million square feet of building space, and the university budget increased from $268 million to $1.4 billion. ISU President Steven Leath (L), in a letter last spring to the Iowa State community, wrote, “I recognize it would be very difficult to find someone as capable as Warren to manage all of the components of what has become a very large, diverse, and complex office. Therefore, I have decided to split this office into divisions: the Division of University Services and the Division of Finance.”

As a search commenced for the VP for university services, Leath tapped his chief of staff, Miles Lackey (L), to assume the role of chief of staff/chief financial officer. Lackey, who came to Iowa State in 2012 at age 32, had served as director of financial relations for the University of North Carolina System and was a legislative aide to former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. At Iowa State he’d been, as he oen joked, “chief of stuff,” taking the lead on projects to streamline the resource management model and budgeting system in addition to coordinating the day-to-day functions of the president’s office.

In what can only be described as a perfect storm, Lackey’s wife, Tara, gave birth prematurely to their twin sons on March 23 and Lackey was named chief of staff/chief
financial officer on March 24.

“It was like drinking through a fire hose,” he said of those first few months with a new job and expanding family. (Daughter Reagan turned 2 years old in July; twins Emmerson and William spent 84 days in the hospital but are now healthy and at home.) “It was a hectic period, but I’m starting to feel more in control.”

With a full plate and a number of different hats, Lackey says his number one priority is “to ensure that we are achieving transparency in the budget process and making sure that we are adhering to best practices when it comes to accounting for resources here and making sure they are being used in the most efficient and effective way possible.”

He takes the land-grant model seriously and says, in fact, that the land-grant mission “is really one of the things I love about working here, serving the people of the state.” He won’t even to try to replace Warren Madden, he says. “I certainly wouldn’t try to fill his shoes,” he says. “He was here for 50 years! But what I hope that I can do is just really apply a lot of the sound advice that he provided to me and try to do a good job and leave this institution in better shape than when I found it.”

Kate Gregory (L), a retired Navy rear admiral, also admires Madden’s institutional knowledge and work ethic – and that’s important, because she took on much of his management role in July when she became ISU’s first senior vice president for university services.

“You can’t do anything at Iowa State without seeing, in big and small ways, what Mr. Madden put into place during his tenure here,” Gregory said. “Mr. Madden is an incredibly generous man,” she continued. “He has offered to help me and Iowa State in any way possible, and for that I’m tremendously grateful and I take him up on that at every opportunity. But I think the best advice he gave me was the fact that there are great people in university services and that I should rely on and listen to them.”

Gregory retired from the Navy last year, serving most recently as chief of civil engineers and commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (2012-15). She says her military experience has uniquely prepared her for her new role at Iowa State.

“In the military, I was accustomed to working in large, complex organizations that had a lot of different interests and things that needed to get done – and universities, in my short experience, are very much like that,” she said. “Iowa State is a very complex organization; it does a huge variety of things, and it all needs to happen for Iowa State to succeed in its mission. So I think there’s a very close parallel between what I did before and what I do now.”

Like Lackey, Gregory says she’s grateful to be working at a land-grant university. “Working at Iowa State was a dream, not something I ever really thought was possible,” she said. “I feel exceptionally lucky to be here.”

As relative newcomers to the Iowa State campus, both Gregory and Lackey say they already feel at home here, and they have established their own campus traditions. Gregory says she runs on campus early in the morning, soaking up inspiration as she runs by the historic buildings. Lackey walks around Lake LaVerne most evenings with his family, often stopping at the benches near Christian Petersen’s Fountain of the Four Seasons.

“We’re indoctrinating our kids,” Lackey says. “They all have the Cyclone gear.”

Gregory says, “I think it’s impossible to walk across central campus and see the Campanile and the blue sky and the trees and not just feel great about being at Iowa State.”



  • Facilities Planning and Management
  • Business Services
  • Environmental Health and Safety
  • Public Safety
  • Reiman Gardens
  • University Museums
  • WOI Radio Group


  • Finance
  • Treasurer’s Office
  • University Financial Planning
  • University Relations
  • Ombuds Office
  • Internal Audit


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

VISIONS Winter 2017: Off-Campus Development


Campustown: Everything old is new again

When VISIONS last reported on Campustown redevelopment in the fall 2014 issue (“Campustown reborn”), the name of the game was construction. Huge, blocks-long work sites were framed by construction fences and filled with heavy equipment.

Two years later, the word is booming: booming with new housing as well as office and retail space. And booming with activity, day and night.

offcampusdevelopment2New apartments such as The Foundry and 23 Twenty are helping to ease some of Iowa State’s student enrollment growing pains. The Kingland building at Lincoln Way and Welch Ave. houses the Iowa State Daily, ISU News Service, and the ISU Foundation Call Center on the second floor of the three-story building, with Kingland Systems’ offices on third floor and CVS Pharmacy located at street level.

Stroll the streets of Campustown – in both the new and historic areas – and you’ll find more to do, more to buy, and more to eat. New retailers and restaurants include Starbucks, Barefoot Campus Outfitters (for ISU gear), Potbelly Subs, Campustown Spirit (more Cyclone gear), Fuzzy’s Tacos, Insomnia Cookies, an expanded Arcadia Bakery & Café, Portobello Road boutique, Indian Delights Express, TJ Cups bubble tea, a skate shop, and other continuously evolving businesses.


Research Park: Developing the future

When the $12 million, 42,000-square-foot Economic Development Core Facility opened last June at the ISU Research Park, it brought together all of Iowa State’s economic development services in one open, easily accessible location.

This is one-stop shop supports expansion of high-value companies that attract top talent to the Research Park and to the state. Two such companies – Boehringer Ingleheim and Vermeer – recently opened major new buildings at the park, joining Workiva’s recently added state-of-the-art operation.

“Early on, I made it a priority to double the size of the Research Park [from 220 acres] – and that development is moving full steam ahead,” ISU President Steven Leath said in September. “Commercial development and amenities including Ames Racquet and Fitness Club, a new restaurant, health clinic, and new recreation trails are progressing quickly. But we’re not done growing the size of the park!”

ISU Research Park’s Phase 3 expansion is adding 200 acres and will integrate more resources to attract businesses, entrepreneurs, researchers, and employees. New buildings will feature media-rich shared workspaces, including conference rooms, offices, classrooms, and labs that can be utilized by park tenants, ISU faculty, students, and third parties. The new park setting will feature a Hub Square commons area, anchored by the Economic Development Core Facility, where people can gather, enjoy recreational activities, get inspired, and share ideas.

The Economic Development Core Facility, funded through an appropriation from the Iowa General Assembly, is the first building to be completed in the ISU Research Park’s next major expansion phase. The facility is on the edge of the new developable land that will support another 1 million square feet of offices and labs.

“It’s our goal that over the next five years, Iowa State will be one of the top five universities nationally in startups,” Leath said.


  • Economic Development Core Facility houses office and collaboration space for the
    Small Business Development Center, ISU Research Foundation, CIRAS, CyBIZ Lab, Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, Cultivation Corridor, Iowa State Economic Development & Industry Relations, and other units, as well as providing event and meeting space.
  • Vermeer Applied Technology Hub houses public-private collaborations that advance economic development and innovation.
  • ISU Startup Factory, located in the Vermeer hub, is an intensive, 52-week program that provides participants with formal training, resources, and access to a network of business mentors, advisers, counselors, and investors.
  • CyStarters is an affiliated 10-week summer entrepreneurship program housed at the new Core Facility.
  • Boehringer Ingleheim Vetmedica Inc. has a new facility at the park and will double its workforce in Ames.
  • Workiva, a company that started with 10 employees in 2008, now has 450 employees in its 120,000-square-foot facility.


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

VISIONS: Enhancing the campus aesthetic


As if the Iowa State campus wasn’t already gorgeous enough,* the university just completed a three-year, $3 million central campus beautification effort.

Projects included landscaping and tree trimming, improved building entries and first-floor hallways, and meeting/gathering spaces. Two project highlights are the renovation of the Hub patio and construction of a decorative wall north of the Memorial Union, both completed in 2015.

The $272,000 Hub patio renovation removed a retaining wall and extended the outdoor patio area, with seating, shade canopy, tables with umbrellas, and brick entrance columns.


A curved 43-foot-wide wall engraved with the “Iowa State University” nameplate has quickly become one of the most popular spots on campus to take a photograph. The wall, located between the MU and the Campanile, is landscaped with a front bed of annual flowers and behind with flowering shrubs and perennial flowers.

“We didn’t have any place on central campus that identified Iowa State University,” said associate vice president for facilities Dave Miller (L)(’75 elect engr), who proposed the idea for the wall. “I think this could become [a place] where students and alumni will want their picture taken.”

Another campus beautification project improved the plaza area surrounding the Fountain of the Four Seasons, just outside the Memorial Union. The new area includes stone benches, pavers, additional sidewalks, and landscaping.

Last spring, 8,700 flower bulbs – all but 200 of them daffodils – bloomed on campus. The bulbs were planted in a handful of locations the previous fall by campus services teams. The perennials are another piece of the presidential beautification initiative.

In a separate project, the university is creating a landscaped green space and plaza between Jack Trice Stadium and Reiman Gardens. The $11.5 million project began last summer. The plaza will include a water feature, with formal and informal gathering spaces. Work on the plaza landscaping will continue this spring, with completion scheduled for fall 2017.

* In an informal survey of the digital Buzzfeed Community, voters ranked Iowa State’s campus as one of the most beautiful in the entire world.


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

2017: Student Residence & Dining


Full house

In 2005, Iowa State’s campus housing occupancy was at 7,736 – the lowest it had been since 1971. Now it’s the highest on record. And it’s not just due to the burgeoning enrollment: Occupancy growth (65%) has even outpaced the rise in enrollment during that time period.

How has the Department of Residence kept up with the demand? It’s taken a variety of approaches: Expansion of apartment-style living; addition of a large, traditional residence hall; renovation of Memorial Union hotel rooms to student rooms; and off-campus leases. As of last fall, all freshmen requesting housing were placed in on-campus residence halls.

With dozens of new apartments popping up in Campustown, west Ames, and along 4th and 16th streets east of the stadium, it might seem surprising that the demand for on-campus housing is so strong.

But Pete Englin (L)(PhD ’01), director of the Department of Residence, understands what motivates students to live on campus.

“Students get to know each other in the residence halls,” he said. “e experience is built on relationships and a shared investment in the living community.”

Since taking over leadership of the residence division in 2005, Englin has placed a high priority on working with students and providing the services that matter to them. He emphasizes leadership opportunities; nurturing the whole student – academically, socially, emotionally, physically; providing resources to allow students to succeed; and keeping costs down.

“Students need to know they’re relevant and they matter,” he said. “Their opinions are clearly informing the decisions we make.”


Our campus home

A quick look at new and revamped facilities

  • Frederiksen Court Apartments expansion: Six new buildings since 2012
  • Geoffroy Hall: A traditional residence hall opening in January
  • Memorial Union: 70 students now living in former hotel space
  • Reinvestment in current housing: “Lifecycle” projects are taking place in ISU’s historic residence halls (new windows, flooring, restroom upgrades, etc.)


  • Clyde’s Fresh Express: Retooling of existing sports-bar-themed restaurant to a fast-casual restaurant with healthy grab-and-go options
  • ABE’s Harvest Café: Located in the Biorenewables Complex
  • Froots: Smoothie bar in the renovated and expanded State Gym
  • Global Café: Located in renovated Curtiss Hall space
  • Coming next fall: Friley Windows dining center



  1. All incoming freshmen who submitted contracts were placed in university housing in fall 2016.
  2. 95% of all freshmen live on campus.
  3. A total of 12,437 beds were filled in fall 2016 in university-owned or -managed housing.
  4. Housing occupancy growth (65%) outpaced enrollment growth (40%) from fall 2005 to fall 2015.
  5. University housing is guaranteed to all new-to-ISU students, including transfers.
  6. The Department of Residence employs 192 full-time and more than 300 student staff members.
  7. The Department of Residence is completely self-supported (no money from tuition or general fees; all revenue from room/apartment fees).
  8. Iowa State has 20 residence halls and two on-campus apartment communities.
  9. Some university housing isn’t actually on campus. The university has leased 1,455 off-campus spaces and operates them as on-campus housing. All leased apartments are furnished, with CAs, hall directors, and paid utilities.
  10. Students can choose to eat at four residential dining centers, three on-campus restaurants, and 11 cafes scattered across campus.
  11. Three convenience stores offer snacks and made-to-order sandwiches and other meals.
  12. Meals that can be used outside the dining centers give student meal plans flexibility and on-the-go convenience.
  13. Most ISU Dining bakery items are baked from scratch, and flavors are rotated seasonally. But don’t worry – the über-popular buttermilk chocolate brownies are available all year.


Rooms with a view

Geoffroy Hall, located just east of Buchanan Hall on Lincoln Way, opens in January 2017.
The $49.5 million project includes large, traditional, double-occupancy rooms with 784
beds; four elevators; community bathrooms with private showers; open gathering spaces;
and a “front porch” area on every floor. Oh, and one more thing: amazing views of both
campus and Ames. During a sneak peek last fall, photographer Jim Heemstra snapped
photos from upper floors of the still-under-construction residence hall.


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.


VISIONS Winter 2017: Our Changing Landscape



Biorenewables Complex*

  • Two phases of this building project have been completed since the original Biorenewables Research Laboratory opened in summer 2010.
  • The Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering program is housed in the new $60 million Elings and Sukup Halls.
  • Buildings feature more than 190,000 square feet of modern research labs, classrooms, student spaces, and offices offering a state-of-the-art learning and innovation environment.
  • Artwork includes “Floating World,” 14 parallel laser-cut steel panels by Ralph Helmick representing agricultural progression through time.


Troxel Hall*

  • Opened in fall 2013, this state-of-the-art teaching auditorium features a 400-seat general university lecture space and green roof.
  • Named for donor Doug Troxel (’67 mathematics), who gave a $5 million lead gift.


Jeff & Deb Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center*

  • $7.9 million building paid for by nearly 1,200 donors, led by Jeff & Deb Hansen’s $2 million gift.
  • Versatile, multipurpose resource accessible to students campus-wide; includes an indoor 125-foot-by-250-foot arena with seating for 1,000, four classrooms, and a conference room.


Cyclone Sports Complex

  • In fall 2013, a new athletics facility opened its doors on campus – opening with it new opportunities for student-athletes in ISU’s soccer, softball, and track and field programs.
  • The $13 million Cyclone Sports Complex is located just east of the Towers Residence Halls at the intersection of Mortensen Road and Welch Ave.
  • The facility replaces the competition fields formerly housed at the ISU Soccer Complex and Southwest Athletic Complex with new, state-of-the art features for student-athletes and fans.



Marston Hall

  • The two-year project gutted and restored all four floors.
  • Reopened fall 2016.
  • Total interior renovation, with three state-of-the-art classrooms seating up to 80 students each, 177-seat auditorium, special events center student lounge/ welcome center, and office suites.
  • $27 million project (combination private giving and university funds).


Curtiss Hall*

  • Partial interior remodel, featuring Harl Commons, a student services area, and space for the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative.
  • Projects completed in 2012 and 2013 at a cost of $14.3 million.


State Gym**

  • Remodel/expansion of the historic gymnasium, with a 92,320-square-foot addition.
  • Reopened in 2012.
  • Facility features two- and three-court gymnasiums, cycling room, fitness & wellness suite, Outdoor Recreation Program space, two jogging/walking tracks, skywalk, pool, rock-climbing wall, cardio equipment, weight equipment, and a smoothie café.
  • Pictured is a fitness yoga class held over the noon hour. Other classes include strength training, cardio sculpt, kickboxing, Cy-Cycle, Zumba, Pilates, Boot Camp, Jump Fitness, and more.


Jack Trice Stadium

  • Project constructed in two phases; $64.5 million total.
  • First phase enclosed the south end of the stadium with permanent upper and lower seating bowls in the south end zone and added the Sukup End Zone Club.
  • End Zone Club seats 3,000; the new sections of the stadium seat nearly 6,000, bringing total capacity to 61,000.
  • Funded in part by a $25 million lead gift from Roy (’57 ag journalism) and Bobbi (honorary alumna) Reiman (L)
  • A landscaped green space between the south end zone and Reiman Gardens to be completed in fall 2017.*LEED gold, **LEED platinum


  • Work is currently underway to renovate nearly a dozen state-of-the-art classrooms in two buildings – Hamilton and Pearson – that will open next fall.
  • An $80 million Student Innovation Center: This 140,000-square-foot interdisciplinary space for project-based learning, entrepreneurship, and team work will be located near Marston Water Tower. Funding comes from a $40 million state appropriation, a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor, and an additional $20 million to be privately raised. Completion is scheduled for spring 2020.
  • An $88 million project will construct new space to support biosciences programs. The project consists of two components: an addition to Bessey Hall and a new Advanced Teaching and Research Building (ATRB), both currently under construction. The $30.3 million, four-story addition to the east side of Bessey Hall (funded through state appropriations) will house biology teaching labs and two 80-seat classrooms, in addition to research facilities for ecology, evolution, and organismal biology. The new ATRB, located on the northwest corner of Stange Road and Pammel Drive, is being built at a cost of $56.1 million (funded through state appropriations, university funds, private gifts, and an $8 million bond). The ATRB will house programs in plant pathology and microbiology; genetics, development, and cell biology; and entomology with space for research, teaching labs, and a general university lecture hall.
  • University officials have requested a state appropriation to initiate funds for a $124 million Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) project. The VDL will put Iowa State on the map as a national leader in protecting animal and human health.


  • Andrews-Richards House
  • Davidson Hall
  • Industrial Education II
  • Soon: Nuclear Engineering Building and a portion of Sweeney Hall


This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

VISIONS Winter 2017: Inside Academics


The big flip: New ways to learn

If your memory of attending classes at Iowa State was to drag yourself to class, plop down in your seat, and let the knowledge wash over you, you’d be in for a shock in many of today’s classrooms.

New ways of teaching – flipping the classroom, team-based learning, and innovative uses of technology – have changed the way students learn.

“Students like to be engaged,” says Ann Marie VanDerZanden, director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). “They like to be doing something other than just sitting there.”

As a result of ISU’s Presidential Flipped and Hybrid Course Initiative and the faculty’s Team-Based Learning (TBL) Community, students are engaging in the classroom like never before.

In the old model, students would learn curriculum content through a lecture and then do homework outside of class. The benefit of flipping the class, according to VanDerZanden, is that now when students have a question, the faculty member and their peers are there to help guide the learning. The result: significant learning gains and a deeper understanding of course content.

Here’s an example of both the “flip” and TBL: In Peter Savolainen’s Civil Engineering 453 Highway Design class, students are arranged into teams in one of the newly renovated Marston Hall classrooms. The team approach, he says, eliminates the problem of providing one-on-one consultation to students in a large classroom.

“By arranging the students into teams, I am able to more effectively interact with the entire class over the duration of the semester. I am also able to provide more challenging problems, which are well-suited for teamwork,” he said.

And here’s where the “flip” comes in: The prerequisite course, CE 355 Principles of Transportation Engineering, was a flipped class. So instead of reviewing that material at the beginning of CE 453, Professor Savolainen is able to refer his students to the YouTube site where the CE 355 lectures reside, allowing students to catch up on topics they may not remember while allowing him to keep pace and cover new material.

Online/distance learning has also expanded in recent years. Thousands of Iowa State students enroll in online classes today for a variety of reasons.

“Some academic departments are offering undergraduate courses that are part of a sequence of courses that students have to take, so they’re offering an online version of the course as a means to allow students to make progress toward their degrees,” VanDerZanden explained. “Sometimes it’s a bottleneck class, so the online (option) is relieving a little bit of pressure as our enrollment has grown. Other departments are thinking about attracting new audiences who might be looking for graduate programs
or professional development.”

In fact, 28 ISU degrees and 22 graduate certificate programs can be completed entirely online.

VanDerZanden says some faculty members at Iowa State are eager to integrate new uses of technology, new methods of teaching, and expanded undergraduate student research into their classrooms.

“Where it works in the discipline, I think more and more people are looking for different ways to teach,” she said. “It’s kind of that crest of the wave, right? I mean, there are the early adopters who will do a whole range of different things in their classes and be willing to take that risk.

And then, as there are more successes and positive student feedback and acknowledgement that this can be effective in the discipline, others start to join along.”

What is it? Defining the trends

  • Flipping the Classroom: A teaching model that “flips” the traditional instructional format. Students view lectures and other academic content, mainly online, prior to class. Class time is used for active learning activities such as discussion, problem solving, projects, and further explanation of materials.
  • Team-Based Learning (TBL): An increasingly popular form of flipped-classroom, small-group learning that provides students with an intimate, collaborative, active experience even in a large class.
  • Online/Distance Learning: Classes are offered online both to resident students and distance students for convenience, to make progress toward a degree, or for professional development.
  • Hybrid Course: A portion of the course’s meeting time is replaced by online instruction.

Hottest majors on campus

Some of today’s most popular majors have been around for years: Think animal science and mechanical engineering. Others are new to the mix. Here are the top undergraduate degrees conferred in 2016:

  • Mechanical engineering (358)
  • Kinesiology / health (282)
  • Supply chain / management information systems (274)
  • Apparel, events & hospitality management (267)
  • Animal science (232)



This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.

A long journey: Iowa’s first humans

Human settlement of what is now the state of Iowa did not begin with Lewis & Clark or the Dragoons discovery corps or the pioneers or even the Native American tribes. Archaeologists believe that people first arrived in  what is today Iowa approximately 12,000 years ago. These people were the ancestors of the American Indians of today, crossing a land bridge into North America and migrating south. Archaeological evidence of human habitation has been found in every county of the state, from the Paleoindians to the Woodland and Oneota cultures.

The first people of Iowa
Many thousands of years ago – perhaps 18,000 to 20,000 years – a migration began in Siberia that would change everything we know about our past.

Slowly and steadily, people walked across what is now the Bering Strait. How? During the last glacial period, sea levels were lowered several hundred meters because massive amounts of water were taken up as continental glaciers, lowering sea levels and exposing land between Alaska and Siberia. Anthropologists have named the exposed continental shelf that connected Russia to North America Beringia.

“From northeast Siberia, people just naturally spread,” Matt Hill, ISU associate professor of anthropology, said. “By 11 and a half thousand years ago, we had people in the mid-continent, south of Canada. All native Americans are derived from ancestral populations in Siberia. This is supported by archaeological evidence, and the genetic evidence leaves little doubt.”

It’s pretty mind-boggling, right?

“Just think about it,” Hill says. “There was a first person who took the first step into Iowa. Somebody took that first step. There was nobody here before them. It was a clean slate. They had to learn the geography, the distribution of plant and animal resources, and the waterways firsthand. They could not rely on anybody else. They could not ask grandma or grandpa. Over time, they acquired information that they could share. We don’t know exactly how, but they shared this information, and these people flourished. They flourished.”

Hill explains that the educational process – understanding the landforms and the distribution of resources – is called “landscape learning.” The earliest humans in the state didn’t stay in one place; they were constantly on the move. Hill describes them as “human foragers” – gathering plant foods, hunting animals, collecting eggshells, and perhaps fishing from the rivers.

Not much is known about the earliest Iowans. “The nomadic cultures didn’t leave much behind,” Steve Lensink (’68 physics), associate director for the Office of the State Archaeologist, says. “They were on the move, and they didn’t carry many heavy items with them. So those archaeological records are gone.”

Later in pre-history, when people began to rely on domesticated plants such as corn, the agricultural fields tethered them more to a single location. By the Middle and Late Woodland periods (about 200 BC to 1250 AD), groups of people were beginning to stay in one place. Archaeologists have found records of trade networks, agriculture, earth lodges, burial mounds, and raised-bed gardens.

Although many people assume that early humans lived mainly along rivers, survey work shows habitation occurred throughout the state, according to Lensink. “There are sites all over Iowa,” he says. “Anywhere you happen to be, you’re probably only half a mile at most to an archaeological site.”

There’s no consensus among experts how many Native Americans lived in the state of Iowa prior to European settlement, but the population at any given time likely was no more than 6,000.

“We have 23 federally recognized Native American tribes that were historically resident in Iowa,” Jerome Thompson (’74 anthropology), former curator of the State Historical Society of Iowa, says. “One misperception is that native people all went away, and they didn’t. They’re still here. They’re still practicing their culture.”


Matt Hill holds an unfinished weapon point from the rare Clovis cache found in Carlisle, Iowa.

The Clovis cache
When the Army Corps of Engineers began building a levee in 1968 around the southeast side of Carlisle, a town in central Iowa, it was thought that a late prehistoric village of about a 1,000 years old was present in the area. So some archaeologists from Iowa State were working the site, including Jeff Hruska (’74 fi sheries & wildlife biology), who now works for Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

What they found was shocking: a cache of artifacts that was ELEVEN THOUSAND years old. Matt Hill, associate professor of anthropology, explains the significance: “There is no older evidence of humans in Iowa than this Clovis cache,” he says. “This is one of a kind.  This is really unique. It’s unbelievable.”

The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleoindian culture named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, N.M., in the early 1930s. Clovis people appeared just after the retreat of the last glaciers in what is now the United States, and they are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.

In Iowa, Hill says, “The archaeological record they left behind is incredibly difficult to locate. These sites are really, really rare. Those sites have to be preserved for 11,000 years and then we have to find them. These are needles in a haystack. We’re very fortunate to have found this site.”

The 37 items making up the cache include 25 unfinished weapon points and 12 hand-held scraping tools for defleshing animal hides. The points are made of Burlington chert, a rock that occurs in southeast Iowa.

Blood Run: A National Historic Landmark
In Iowa’s northwest corner, just across the Big Sioux River from South Dakota, lies the remains of a large Native American village and ceremonial site called Blood Run.

In the early 1960s, when Steve Lensink (’68 physics) was in high school, he joined an older friend in the first excavation of this culturally significant site.

“Blood Run was my first chance to do actual digging,” he says. “We found human remains, pipestone pipes, trade beads, and other historic items.”

“Some of these archaeological features had never been found in Iowa,” Doug Jones (’89 anthropology) says.

The Blood Run site is thought to have been populated for 8,500 years, during which earth lodges were built by the Oneota culture and occupied by their descendant tribes. It was  major trading site from about 1500 to 1700. The location adjacent to the river, plus abundant game, fertile soil, and access to pipestone made this land attractive to Iowa’s early people.

“Geographically it’s kind of a magical place,” Jerome Thompson (’74 anthropology), former curator of the State Historical Society of Iowa, says. “Blood Run is the largest site of its kind ever found in Iowa.”

A master plan is in the works by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Thompson says, to further preserve the site. The state of South Dakota has already created the Good Earth State Park southeast of Sioux Falls.


Doug Jones stands near a Woodland Indian burial site in Yellow Banks Park.

Iowa’s cultural treasures
Doug Jones has a tough job.

Jones (’89 anthropology) is an archaeologist in Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office in Des Moines. His job is to help preserve Iowa’s archaeological record and to educate current Iowans about their past.

Unfortunately, he says, 99 percent of Iowa has been plowed or mined or logged. “There’s not that many places left in Iowa that have not been touched,” he says. “When you find those places, sometimes those places have been left alone for a reason.”Take this site at Yellow Banks Park in Polk County: Woodland Indian cultures constructed mounds in which to bury their dead, along with pottery or personal items, nearly 2,000 years ago. Projectile points and tools from the Archaic period have also been discovered in the park.

But finding the remains of ancient people isn’t easy, he says. “Archaeology sites are tough to deal with, because most of the archaeology site is underground – you can’t see it. A lot of times you don’t know what’s there. Archaeology is a destructive science; the only way you learn about things is by removing artifacts and digging up the context they’re in.”

Education, he says, is the key to preserving these unique artifacts from the past.

“The hardest thing to get people to understand is that there are important things that were left behind that we’re kind of messing up because of what we’re doing today,” he said, “whether it be mining or farming or industrial sites or even just building a house.”

Agriculture: Changing the land
While clear evidence exists that Iowa’s Indian tribes were involved in farming activities, big changes were afoot when Euroamericans began to settle the state in the mid-1800s.

“You can make a good argument that Iowa is the state that’s been most transformed by European settlement,” Jeff Bremer, ISU assistant professor of history, says. “Ninety-nine percent of the prairies are now gone.”

You’ll get no disagreement from Mike Blair (MS ’78 Earth science), a high school earth science teacher in Des Moines who recently gave an Iowa geology lecture in Ames. “Ninety percent of Iowa was covered in prairies just 150 years ago,” he says. “Now there are virtually none.”

Hannah Carroll, an Iowa State PhD candidate majoring in ecology/evolutionary biology and environmental science, is a paleoecologist – someone who studies the ecology of the past. Her work takes her back as far as 11,700 years, but in Iowa she looks primarily at how the environment has changed since Europeans arrived.

“In 1843, before much European settlement, I see reports raving about how beautiful Iowa is; there’s this gorgeous, clear water, all the game you can find, beautiful prairies, beautiful forests,” she says.

“But within 60 to 70 years we have a very different picture. They’re reporting on all the land that’s been drained, and they’re very proud of that endeavor because it opened up so much land to agriculture. Massive public works projects … have drained the land. And now they say it’s beautifully productive and much healthier for the residents because they don’t have stagnant, standing water. But of course you have accordant losses in ecosystem services and diversity and water quality.”

When the first of the European settlers came to Iowa, the best land in the mid-1800s was in southern Iowa, according to Neal Iverson (’83 geology), ISU professor of geological and atmospheric sciences. “But then once the drainage cooperatives started on the Des Moines Lobe footprint, once farmers banded together, this whole part of the landscape was changed forever. That’s something that everybody should know. This part of Iowa, hydrologically and ecologically, isn’t anything close to what it was prior to settlement. And that’s largely due to the drainage of the landscape and due, of course, to the advent of row cropping on an industrial scale.”

“Iowa is unique in its intensity of its agriculture,” Carroll says. “We have several counties in Iowa where 80 to 90 percent of the total land area of the whole county is tile-drained.”

Jane Pedrick Dawson (’83 geology, MS ’86), ISU senior lecturer in geological and atmospheric sciences, understands why Iowa’s farmland was so sought after by Iowa’s early settlers, right up to today’s farmers.

“The most recent glacier retreated around 14,000 years ago, so the landscape is very young. The soil that developed on that landscape is, by geological standards, fresh and brand new, with fresh, ground-up minerals providing nutrients to help make the soil fertile along with lots of organic matter,” she explains. “In parts of Iowa, the landscape is still too new to drain [on its own], so to farm it we had to tile and drain it.”

Farmers today can thank Iowa’s glaciers for their bountiful harvests, according to Iverson. “The whole economy of Iowa really wouldn’t be anything like it is today without the repeated glaciation of Iowa.”

Effigy Mounds National Monument
No big, splashy national parks exist in Iowa. In fact, there are only one national historic site (President Herbert Hoover’s birthplace) and two national historic trails (Lewis & Clark and Mormon Pioneer). But there’s one very special national monument in northeast Iowa: Effigy Mounds.

“When you go up to Effigy Mounds, it’s like walking back in time,” Doug Jones (’89 anthropology), an archaeologist in Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office, says. The Effigy Moundbuilders were a culture during the Late Woodland period, according to the National Park Service. The construction of mounds was a regional cultural phenomenon. Mounds of earth in the shapes of birds, bear, deer, bison, lynx, turtle, panther, or water spirit were the most common. Like earlier groups, the Effigy Moundbuilders also continued to build conical mounds for burial purposes.

The Effigy Moundbuilders also built linear or long rectangular mounds that were used for ceremonial purposes that remain a mystery. Some archeologists believe they were built to mark celestial events or seasonal observances. Others speculate they were constructed as territorial markers or as boundaries between groups.

The animal-shaped mounds remain the symbol of the Effigy Mounds culture. The national monument is located near Harpers Ferry, Iowa, on the Mississippi River.


Alumnus Steve Lensink works in the Office of the State Achaeologist in Iowa City.

Preserving the past
Steve Lensink (’68 physics), associate director of the Office of the State Archaeologist at the University of Iowa, grew up in Sheldon, Iowa. As a teenager, he followed a friend involved in the Iowa Archaeology Society to dig, seemingly, for buried treasurer at what is now known as the Blood Run site in northwest Iowa.

After that career-shaping summer activity, he says, it was hard to go back to being a lifeguard.

Following his graduation from Iowa State, Lensink describes his graduate school education as “colorful, punctuated by bouts of alternative civilian service” during the Vietnam War years. He joined the staff of the state archaeology office while he was working on his doctoral dissertation and then became the director of the Highway Archaeology Program. Over the past 32 years Lensink has served as the assistant director, associate director, and occasional interim director of the Office of Archaeology located in Iowa City.

“I never wanted to be director for long,” he says with a smile. “I always want to be able to say that the buck doesn’t stop here.”

Lensink and his team conduct research, excavate historic sites, preserve artifacts, and ensure that human remains are properly buried and that Native American sacred sites are maintained. The office also provides educational resources for the public and manages data on all recorded archaeological sites in Iowa.

Traveling Iowa’s best archaeological sites
Iowa’s most significant pre-European settlement sites in Iowa can be visited, along with several museums, to tell the story of Iowa’s earliest people:

  • Blood Run National Historic Landmark in northwest Iowa
  • Toolesboro Mounds National Historic Landmark, Wappelo (southeast Iowa), one of the best preserved Middle Woodland burial sites, plus native prairies
  • Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa, part of the National Park Service
  • Yellow Banks Park, Polk County in central Iowa
  • Ft. Atkinson, Winneshiek County in northeast Iowa
  • State Historical Museum of Iowa, Des Moines
  • Museum of Natural History, Iowa City
  • Putnam Museum, Davenport



This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.