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.”


On the right path


As a student at Iowa State in the late 1970s, Lori Jacobson (A) was not thinking about a career in museum management.

In fact, she didn’t even know that an art museum existed on campus until she met Nancy Gillespie, then director of the Brunnier Gallery (as it was known then), at the Ames clothing store where she was working part time.

Once she learned of the museum’s existence, she was intrigued. Once she met Lynette Pohlman, she was hooked.

Pohlman (L)(’72 interior design, MA ’76) – who is now the longtime director and chief curator of University Museums – hired Jacobson to help install and catalog collections for the Brunnier. Jacobson immediately knew she was in the right place.

“The first day I showed up at the Brunnier and worked with other students installing a permanent collection of glass, I was in awe and smitten,” she says. “I had no idea that the profession existed. From day one, I knew I was on my path.”

Jacobson was then at the end of her sophomore year. She had struggled with choosing her major; she knew she wanted to go into an area of the arts, but she had shifted from art education to interior design to advertising design and still didn’t feel like she was in the right niche. Once she discovered museums, she added history to her already declared art major. She graduated with a double major in 1980 and stayed on for a year to work with Pohlman on a project that would help build a case for using the museum’s collection in classrooms across campus.

The experience at University Museums, she says, boosted her selfconfidence and pushed her out of her comfort zone.

She became curator of collections at the McAllen International Museum in McAllen, Texas, traveling in Mexico to collect folk art and textiles. She became the assistant museum educator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and then executive director for the Western Museums Association.

“One thing just led to another,” she said. “I learned the design and construction side of exhibitions. I always felt excited to be part of something bigger that had an educational mission.”

Eventually Jacobson co-founded THINK Jacobson & Roth, an exhibition development and management firm. For 15 years she managed designs, installations, fabrications, and other projects for natural history, history, paleontology, and art museums.

Two years ago she decided to “push the edge of the envelope” a bit more by launching Lori Jacobson Consulting, her own Los Angeles-based planning and project management firm, working with educational exhibits and interpretive materials.

One of her first clients was Lynette Pohlman.

Pohlman was looking for a project manager to curate the content for a major University Museums publication.

In just two years, Jacobson helped Pohlman and her team organize documents, photographs, and notes that had been collected over the past 30 years. The result is the comprehensive Campus Beautiful, a 480-page book with 450 images, nine primary authors, and 25 secondary authors.

“It came together surprisingly fast and without as much anguish as you’d expect,” Jacobson says. “If we had done this at [another museum], it would have taken five years. Being part of a smaller, can-do team makes all the difference.”

The book was revealed at the Sept. 19 University Museums 40th anniversary celebration in the Brunnier Art Museum.

Pohlman credits Jacobson with having the time commitment, organization, follow-through, vision, and ability to keep people moving in the same direction.

“The book would not be done if not for Lori,” Pohlman said. “I would still be muddling around. She brings energy to everything she does.”

A philanthropic journey


The story of Lora and Russ Talbot is a classic success story about the significant attraction of Iowa State – not only to students and alumni but also to friends of the university. Neither of them ever attended Iowa State, yet here they are today: extremely proud to be Cardinal and Gold.

For Lora Howell, going on a blind date on New Year’s Eve was a new low.

philanthropicjourney3But her friends Jane and Ed, who were dating, insisted she meet this guy from Wartburg College, Russ Talbot. They were sure Lora and Russ would be a great match. So she agreed to meet him. It was Dec. 31, 1966.

Of course, the evening was a huge success. Lora and Russ began to date. Russ transferred from Wartburg to the University of Iowa to convince Lora that he was the one she should marry.

And then, one evening in the fall of 1967, when Lora decided to help Russ improve his laundry skills, Russ popped the question.

“We were walking to a laundromat in Iowa City to have a lesson in laundry protocol. I was going to teach Russ to separate clothes by color so that he didn’t end up with pink underwear,” Lora remembers. “Instead, I ended up with a fiancé.”

The couple married in February 1968. Ed and Jane were in the wedding party. After the academic year ended, they both transferred to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, where they received bachelor’s degrees, Lora in elementary education and Russ in business administration / economics.

A solid work ethic
Lora was born and raised in Belmond, Iowa. She has two older sisters. Lora started working at the age of 9 as a carhop at one of her parents’ businesses, Gov’s Drive-In. At the age of 12, she was promoted to being a waitress at their Mello Maid Café, a popular gathering place on Main Street. Lora also worked at her parents’ laundry and dry cleaning business and helped with the bookkeeping for her father’s jukebox locations. In her free time, Lora enjoyed riding her unicycle around town.

Russ grew up in Streator, Illinois. He has an older brother and two younger sisters. As a teenager, Russ worked detasseling corn, as a carhop and crew leader at a local drive-in, and as an usher and doorman at the movie theater.

Both Lora and Russ had parents who taught them the importance of hard work.

“At a fairly young age, we formed the beginnings of a solid work ethic, which stayed with us throughout our lives,” Lora said.

Their parents were also giving in nature and taught their children to save and plan for their future.

“Over time, this grew and developed into a hallmark of who we are and how we have conducted our personal, professional, and financial lives,” Russ said.

Early in their highly successful professional careers, Russ worked in the executive management training program of S.S. Kresge/Kmart Corporation in Waterloo while Lora taught first grade in the Wapsie Valley School District. In 1972, Russ was hired as a special agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service in Des Moines, a position he held for nearly 25 years. Lora worked for the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System for more than 30 years as a retirement benefits counselor and as an executive officer. During that time, the Talbots lived in Ankeny, Iowa.


A philanthropic spirit
In the 1980s and ’90s, the Talbots became committed and active donors and volunteers with local organizations and activities.

“Our philanthropic spirit was energized, developed, cultivated, and put to good use,” Lora says.

The couple became involved in, among other organizations, the Friends of Iowa Public Television, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, the Very Special Arts Iowa, and the Animal Rescue League of Iowa. Their contributions were multi-faceted: they volunteered as well as making financial contributions.

Russ retired from the IRS in 1996. In 1998, Lora’s father suffered a stroke, and Russ volunteered to move to Belmond to help care for him. He continued to stay in Belmond to care for Lora’s mother until Lora retired in 2004.

By then, the Talbots were deeply involved in the Belmond community. They purchased Lora’s family’s property as well as two adjacent houses, which they later donated. In 2008 they decided to sell their house in Ankeny and make Belmond their retirement home.

In Belmond, their volunteer and philanthropic spirits are well known. They’ve served on boards and donated artwork. They’ve led, been involved with, and been major donors to highly successful capital campaigns for the public library, a scholarship foundation, school building project, and the local hospital. Two libraries are named in their honor.

Lora and Russ have demonstrated creative philanthropy. They are also not afraid to get their hands dirty when volunteering. They purchased a downtown property and donated it to the Library Foundation. Along with other volunteers, they salvaged and restored the property to be  used as a temporary library and to later be sold by the Foundation. In addition, they purchased and donated a house to the Iowa River Players, a multi-community theatre in nearby Rowan, for them to sell as a fundraiser. For their longtime community support and extensive volunteer work, the Talbots were presented Belmond’s Outstanding Community Service Award in 2007.

The Talbots are a team but, surprisingly, they don’t always agree on where their time and money should be spent.

“Some people think we’re completely alike, that we’re joined at the hip,” Lora said. “It helps that we are at our best working as a team, but we’re quite different, especially when it comes to risk or determining the projects we want to support. We’ll weigh the pros and cons and talk things through before making a joint decision.”

Before the age of 40, the Talbots established endowed scholarships at Wartburg College, their alma mater. Their contributions to Iowa State, a university they first “discovered” in 1998, are many. In fact, they say, Iowa State has become their main philanthropic focus. Between trips to Ames and their involvement in Belmond activities, the couple stays busy – but flexible.

“Throughout our lives, we have worked hard. We started early in our marriage to plan and systematically save for the future. We have invested wisely over the years,” Russ says.

“Our focus has been on thinking and acting long term, not for immediate rewards,” Lora says. “As we reflect on our lives and see how we have been richly blessed with success, wonderful health, and good fortune, we understand that we have a responsibility to share and give back, to help others, and do what we can to make the world a better place in which to live. All of this gives us great happiness. We have experienced the joy of giving time and time again.”

Lora and Russ emphasize, “We have tried to live in the same way we now advise young people at Iowa State and in our community to emulate: ‘Think big! Set goals! Work hard!”

‘We’re doing amazing things’

edwardsThreaded through the tapestry of Samantha Edwards’ (’12 journalism & mass communication) life is an abundance of inspiration.

Whether she is inspiring others or soaking up inspiration from her mentors and friends, Edwards has demonstrated that people with disabilities can thrive and positively impact their communities.

Born with cerebral palsy, Edwards has used a motorized chair for mobility since she was four years old.

“Regardless of your situation, you can use your life to inspire people,” Edwards said. “Challenges don’t have to stop you from making meaningful contributions to the world.”

As a determined young student, Edwards developed a passion for writing, which sparked dreams of attending college away from her home in Marshalltown, Iowa.

“With support and encouragement from friends and family, I was able to earn my degree from Iowa State while living on campus,” she said.

While attending ISU, Edwards served as president of the ISU Alliance for Disability Awareness. She also managed numerous events for ISU Disability Awareness Week.

Edwards describes the many friendships she forged while at Iowa State as key to her success in college and beyond.

“Inspiration goes both ways,” she said. “People have told me that I have inspired them. This makes me happy because I gained so much from my fellow ISU students. Everyone was so helpful and kind.”

Beyond her ISU achievements, Edwards was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Iowa in 2011. Dedicated to honoring Iowa women who use wheelchairs for mobility, the pageant helped Edwards to advance her platform: promoting positive perceptions of the disabled.

“People with disabilities are more than their disabilities. They also have abilities,” said Edwards. “We’re doing amazing things.”

Edwards has volunteered at the Central Iowa Art Association, the Marshalltown library, and the Iowa Veterans Home. Her involvement with Ms. Wheelchair Iowa has continued with writing and developing content for the pageant’s website. She hopes to pursue additional freelance writing opportunities.

“My primary goal is to be an example for disabled people by inspiring others to find their passions and to reach their goals,” Edwards said.

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.

Campustown Reborn


Originally published in the fall 2014 issue of VISIONS
Written by Steve Sullivan. Photos by Jim Heemstra

When the state of Iowa prohibited smoking in bars and restaurants in 2008, the crew at Welch Avenue Station took action.

They removed everything from the walls of the longtime Campustown oasis. The neon beer signs. The music posters. The Iowa State memorabilia. All of it. After years of nicotine were scrubbed away, the walls were repainted as close to the same color as they had been for as long as anyone could remember. Then the Welch Avenue gang put everything back on the walls, hanging each sign and picture exactly where it had been, even using the exact same nail holes.

“Alumni come back to town and come in and say the place hasn’t changed a bit,” says Mike Adams, Welch Avenue bar manager since 1996. “It has, but it feels the same.”

This bit of tavern lore offers an apt metaphor for the challenge now facing Campustown: How to hold tight to the district’s diverse character, while embracing the opportunities presented by significant change.

And significant change is most definitely coming to Iowa State’s Campustown.


A Campustown renaissance
Kim Hanna, director of the Campustown Action Association (CAA), does not hesitate to use the “r” word when talking about what’s happening in the nine-block district that for more than 100 years has been a hang-out for Iowa State students, staff, and alumni drawn to the bars, restaurants, hair salons, T-shirt shops, book stores, movie theaters, tattoo parlors, and much more.

“We’re seeing the biggest wave of investment in Campustown by the city and university in years,” she says. “This is the renaissance of Campustown.”

This so-called renaissance is driven primarily by Kingland Systems, a software and data-management company started in the ISU Research Park by founder David Kingland (L)(’80 industrial administration). The company moved to the old Ames Theater space on Lincoln Way in 2004, tightening the bond with its biggest pool of employees: Iowa State students.

The old theater was one of nine buildings on the 2400 block of Lincoln Way owned for decades by the Champlin family of Ames. Kingland purchased all nine in 2012, launching a redevelopment project that will alter the landscape of Campustown, and quite possibly the very personality of the district.

“We are excited about this being our permanent home in Ames,” says Todd Rognes (A)(’85 accounting), Kingland president. “We believe this area can attract college students and professionals alike, and we hope our project demonstrates that Campustown is an area for the entire community.”

Birth of a district
The late A.L. Champlin is considered by many to be the father of Campustown. In 1908, he built the area’s first brick building at the corner of Lincoln Way and Welch Avenue. It was the entry point to what would eventually become today’s Campustown. During its long history, the building housed a grocery store, a drug store, a dance hall (in the years before Memorial Union), and various eating and drinking establishments, including People’s Bar and Grill, which energized Iowa State’s live music scene in the 1990s.

Over the years, Champlin built more structures along the 2400 block of Lincoln Way, including the Ames Theater. Champlin constructed it in 1919 after the city lifted a ban on theaters near campus.

The 2400 block itself has hosted the occasional residence and a variety of businesses, including the Varsity Theater, Student Supply Store, and the Maji Jewelry Store. The strip has also been home at one time or another to long-defunct restaurants with names like Cyclone Lunch, College Inn, Mother’s Kitchen, L-Way Café, Baxter’s Bar and Grill, and Serpico Pizza.

The Champlin buildings are now gone, demolished in May 2014 to make way for the Kingland project, which Rognes hopes will provide “a positive lift in attitude and appearance to Campustown.”

A retail tenant, CVS/pharmacy, will occupy a portion of the new three-story structure going up at the corner of Lincoln and Welch. Kingland plans to use about

a third of the remaining new space for its growing business. Iowa State also has plans to use a significant amount of the new space for staff offices. The entire ground level will be available to retail tenants.

Kingland expects to eventually have more than 300 employees working in Campustown. Rognes acknowledges that some may view the project as an office space takeover of the district. But, he points out, the project also “actually increases the amount of retail space from its previous state. We engaged with many parties as we designed our project, including the city, CAA, the Champlin family, and Iowa State to design a project that will draw people to Campustown for a multitude of reasons. This project can support Campustown in becoming a district that is well-rounded and full of a variety of offerings.”

Lynn Lloyd, the granddaughter of A.L. Champlin and former co-owner of the Lincoln Way buildings, knows all too well the toll that business turnovers, upkeep of aging buildings, and competition from other areas of the city have taken on Campustown.

“We had 17 bars at one time,” she says. “There’s no way that many bars can make it now.”

While the brick-and-mortar buildings represented a wealth of Champlin family history, Lloyd feels as exhilarated as she does bittersweet about their demise.

“I hope new and interesting and exciting things happen for the students, and that this also inspires other parts of Campustown to develop,” she says. “My grandfather would be happy to see all this. He didn’t believe in sentimentality.”

A neighborhood
Campustown has been going through a gradual transformation for several years, spurred by increasing Iowa State enrollment.

There are 20 apartment buildings with 501 units in the district as of June 1, 2014. More than half of those units were built in the last decade. Many of the new buildings feature retail space.

More housing is on the way. In May 2014, Campus Book Store, at the corner of Lynn Avenue and Lincoln Way and directly across from campus, was demolished to make room for The Foundry, a six-story structure with 53 rental units and groundlevel retail space. It is slated to be completed in August 2015.

Just up the street, a small building that most recently housed a coffee shop (Lorry’s, which has since moved to West Street where it shares space with Mother’s Pub, which was once home to Boheme Bistro and before that the gone-but-fondly remembered Dugan’s Deli) was torn down. A bank building next to it also was razed. The site will now be home to 23 Twenty Lincoln, a 320-bed student housing complex. 23 Twenty will also have retail space, as well as the kind of amenities that get the HGTV crowd oohing and aahing: granite counter tops, walk-in closets, enclosed courtyard with a hammock garden, fire pit, and outdoor barbecue kitchen. Oh, and there’s also a coffee bar and fitness center with a tanning room.

On Chamberlain Street, just off Welch Avenue, yet another building offering eight units with 40 bedrooms, as well as retail space, is going up.

Guarded optimism
The Campustown student housing boom has, at least to this point, had little impact on the retail environment of Campustown. While a few new establishments have popped up, the district remains a collection of primarily locally grown businesses housed in aging buildings that are owned by a mix of area and long-distance landlords. With all the new retail space coming, the CAA has a long wish list for the district: a grocery store, an 80-seat restaurant, and a combination performance and cinema space.

“Campustown has thousands of students and hundreds of residents, but we are missing so many services,” Hanna says. “We want regional and national chains moving into the district, but we also want a mix of local businesses and chains to keep our diversity alive.”

Diversity is a huge component of the Campustown personality, and one that many fear will be diminished. A bright and shiny 2400 block of Campustown facing Lincoln Way runs the risk of making the 2500 block look like an ugly cousin. (The city has recently made grant money available for façade renovation.) With its row of older buildings, each with its own distinct curb appeal, housing ethnic eateries, a comic book store, a tanning salon, and more than one hairstyling establishment, the block arguably has more of a “lived-in” look that you might expect from a campus town.

“They are missing the whole point of Campustown if they are going to tear it down and give it a facelift,” says Rob Josephson, who opened Mayhem comic book store in 1990. “Looks are one thing, but it’s the businesses that draw people. Who wants to come to a campus town that’s all office space?”

“We’re happy to see a fresh look coming to Campustown. The rundown look can chase people away,” says Welch Avenue’s Adams. “But I’d hate to see the character of the place go. You need more than apartment buildings and big box stores.”


Matthew Goodman (’96 chemistry, MS ’00), both a Campustown restaurateur and a member of Ames City Council, hopes “we can maintain the incredible diversity of ownership and incubator nature of Campustown. I think we have more foreign-owned restaurants per square foot than any place in Iowa. If our choices destroy the unique cultural fabric, then we’ve failed. It’s going to take vision and courage to maintain this. It’s the only district like this in town. This is it. If you gussy it up too much to the point of it being sterile you’ve really lost something.”

All anyone can do right now is wait and see what the impact of the new developments will be. In the meantime, contractors and cranes will be busy along Lincoln Way. Visitors to the district will continue to stop by Stomping Grounds for a latte, University Barbers for a trim, and Mayhem for the latest installment of “The Avengers.”

But there’s no avoiding this fact: The Champlin buildings are history, and in Campustown, a new era is has begun.

Ames freelancer Steve Sullivan counts a Dugan’s Deli T-shirt among his most cherished possessions.

Acting Bug: What makes Brendan Dunphy tick?


Brendan Dunphy is an actor. And an entomologist. And a producer of eclectic Irish plays. People keep telling him to move to Hollywood, but he stays stubbornly rooted in Iowa. So what makes Brendan Dunphy tick?

Brendan Dunphy is not a household name. Yet.

But the 29-year-old is already well known in two very diverse circles: Des Moines theatre-goers and scientists who follow the mosquito and tick populations in the Midwest.

If that sounds crazy, it’s not. Dunphy, a 2007 ISU graduate with a degree in animal ecology, entomology, and zoology, is a research associate in Iowa State’s Medical Entomology Laboratory. You might say being an entomologist is his day job. He runs the university insectary and oversees the surveillance program of mosquitoes and ticks in Iowa. He even documented the arrival and establishment of an exotic mosquito species in the state: Aedes japonicas.

Dunphy’s alter-ego is an actor and producer of both stage and film. You may have seen him in Iowa State’s “Choose Your Adventure” television commercials. He’s the long-haired narrator with the friendly smile.

On the professional stage, he’s played characters ranging from deranged killers and a psycho hotel clerk to a priest and a crippled Irish boy. He may be best known locally for his dogged persistence in producing the complete series of Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s stage plays in a central Iowa market that likely never heard of McDonagh (although his plays have garnered Tony Award nominations and his indy film In Bruges received critical acclaim). Dunphy’s production company, Mooncoin, named after the Irish village in which his grandfather lived, is the only production company in the world to stage McDonagh’s complete series.

Dunphy might attribute his tenacity – and his perfectionist nature – to the advice given to him by a Tae Kwon Do instructor he had growing up in eastern Iowa: “Don’t ever settle for second best at anything you do.”

A loner
Brendan Dunphy was born in 1983 in Oxford, Ohio. He spent his preschool years in Zachary, La., but moved with his parents and two brothers to eastern Iowa when he was 8 years old.

His love of hot summers followed him from Louisiana, where he played baseball year-round. He liked to hunt for frogs, snakes, and crawfish.

By the time he moved to Wilton, Iowa, where he went to high school, Dunphy’s family had moved around a lot. Dunphy was a loner.

“I didn’t have a large network of friends,” he says. “I had a wiener dog named Moose. He was my best friend.”

But Dunphy was athletic, and he developed into a good student. He was active in martial arts and played football. He became a bank teller at age 16 at the Wilton Savings Bank. His supervisors trusted him to lock the safes and arm the security system.

He graduated from high school with nearly a 4.0 grade point average.


Dunphy collects samples of mosquito larvae as part of the mosquito surveillance program he conducts in the state of Iowa.

The lure of the stage
After attending Muscatine Community College for two years, Dunphy arrived at Iowa State. He wanted to be a veterinarian, but not for long.

“I didn’t love the idea of vet school once I got here,” he says. “I thought I had a clear idea, but then I had to change my plan. I liked animals in a wild setting, so I wanted to study them in their natural habitat, not in a clinical setting.” He became a zoology major.

He studied for a semester at Humboldt State University in northern California in wildlife biology.

“I wanted to learn about the world around me,” he says. “I did not view college as a vehicle for employment. I had a natural, genuine curiosity. I was a sponge.”

Dunphy added majors in animal ecology and entomology. At the encouragement of his father, he also took acting classes.

“My dad was shy. He regretted not having done theatre himself. He said, ‘Maybe you should give it a try.’ He thought I’d be good at it.”

Dunphy auditioned for the ISU Theatre Department’s production of James and the Giant Peach. He was cast in the lead role.

“I’ve been doing theatre ever since,” he says. “It became an addiction.”

And he was good at it, too. One of his theatre professors was the late Patrick Gouran, who went on to become one of Dunphy’s mentors.

“Brendan’s special quality as an actor rests in the fact that he creates people
on stage and screen,” Gouran said this fall. “Not personalities, not characters, not entertainment ‘stars.’ This is a rare quality in an actor, and Brendan Dunphy has it.” (Gouran passed away in December.)

Dunphy went on to perform in ISU productions of A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Intimate Apparel. He spent a semester at the
University of Massachusetts Amherst and stayed for the summer, both working
with turtles and performing in Hamlet with the Hampshire Shakespeare Company.

He graduated from Iowa State with a triple major and a 4.0 grade point average.


In a rehearsal for Martin McDonough’s A Behanding in Spokane, Dunphy as Mervyn is threatened at gunpoint by actor Dan Chase as Carmichael.

Mooncoin Entertainment
Dunphy found himself acting on camera for the first time in 2007. He did all the usual first-time-actor work: commercials, industrials, short films. He wasn’t very selective.

Then he got an agent and “learned what not to do.” He was cast in his first of several Iowa State commercials in 2008 from an open audition pool.

“I’m proud of those commercials,” he says. “That was a feel-good project.”

He made his first feature-length film, “Sugar,” about a minor-league baseball player. Dunphy was an extra. He played Jordan, a teenage hustler, in the film “16 to Life.”

After that, he briefly considered moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting.

“People told me, ‘Go to Hollywood,’” he said. “I thought about it, but a director told me, ‘You have a good thing going here, so why leave?’ I decided I didn’t want to be a cliché. I want to show people you can have a life for yourself in show business and still live in Iowa.”

At the same time he was starting his film career, he discovered the plays of
Martin McDonagh. He was cast in a 2008 StageWest Theatre Company production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore in Des Moines. The play about Irish terrorists was the funniest thing Dunphy had ever read.

“I thought, ‘This is the theatre I’ve yearned for for years – it appeals to 40-year-old construction workers,’” Dunphy said. “I wanted to be in all these plays. I wanted to do all these roles. I wanted to do them NOW.”

So he formed his own production company, Mooncoin Entertainment, building his first set in his garage. He traveled on his own to Ireland for research and to learn the native dialect. (“I needed to get a feel for the place,” he said.
“I wanted to know how to build a cottage.”) He partnered with the Des Moines Social Club and recruited a talented pool of local actors and technicians.

He produced and acted in one play after another: A Skull in Connemara in 2009; The Lonesome West, The Pillowman, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane in 2010; The Lieutenant of Inishmore and A Behanding in Spokane in 2011; and, finally, The Cripple of Inishmaan in 2012.

Zachary Mannheimer, founder and executive director of the Des Moines Social Club, said about Dunphy, “He is a great example of what the theatre scene in Des Moines needs: people not afraid to take risks.”


Dunphy is Flynn Fitzpatrick in the Iowa Filmmakers’ comedy series “Marooned.”

Iowa Filmmakers
In the summer of 2008, Dunphy began working on a film, The Yin of Gary Fischer’s Life, with Paul David Benedict and Scott Siepker (’05 psychology). The trio eventually launched Iowa Filmmakers, a production company formed to create high-quality long- and short-format films in Iowa. (You may be familiar with “Iowa Nice,” a YouTube sensation with more than 1.2 million views. That’s an Iowa Filmmakers production.)

The team has worked on a number of projects since 2010. Central among them is Valentine Road, a dramatic web serial that takes place in prohibition-era Iowa. Two components of the series are complete: “Eye of the Storm,” a short clip about two hit men (Dunphy is “The Man in Black”); and “A Kidnapping at Castelle Manor,” a prologue to season one. Filming for the rest of the series is currently on hold as the group secures additional funding.

“Our budget has increased from five digits to half a million dollars,” Dunphy explained. “Valentine Road is a complex production.”

Valentine Road is a period piece, with a need for historically accurate costumes, guns, cars, and locations. The show has a large cast and complex technical requirements.

“This is the ultimate project [for us], but the painful realization is that we have to put it off for awhile,” he says.

Meanwhile, the team is working on other projects. Currently in the works is a comedy series called “Marooned.” It’s the story of a pair of actors who find themselves stuck in Iowa with nothing to do after a scandal shuts down the state’s film office. Dunphy plays Flynn Fitzpatrick, a soap star from L.A.; Siepker is Liam, an actor from New York. A pilot episode has been shot; the next step is selling the series.

“We’re hoping Hulu or Netflix will pick it up,” Dunphy said. “They are looking for original content. We would love to help Des Moines become a player in the industry of online production and prove you can do film and theatre from Iowa.”


Dunphy is the narrator in Iowa State’s “Choose Your Adventure” television commercials; this one features Nicole Edmond, ’04 biology, who went on to study at Johns Hopkins Medical School.


On location in Story City, Iowa, Dunphy is the producer of the Valentine Road prologue to season one, “A Kidnapping at Castelle Manor.”

Coming full circle
Brendan Dunphy is always working.

“I want to do it all,” he says. “To have as many adventures as possible. On my death bed I want to say, ‘That was a really, really great ride.’”

He continues to trap and survey ticks and mosquitoes in the state of Iowa, tracking the spread of Lyme Disease, West Nile, and other viruses and bacteria transmitted by the insects. He oversees the department’s insectary and supervises a staff of undergraduate students.

“Like everything else he does, Brendan throws himself into his lab work with tremendous passion,” says Lyric Bartholomay, ISU associate professor of medical entomology. “He’s talented enough that he can do exactly what he wants to do. No one can compare to him in terms of what he knows about
mosquitoes in Iowa.”

Even as his show business career expands, Dunphy says, “I can’t see myself ever giving up science. I love working in academia. I can see myself doing more research.”

Right now, Dunphy is in the midst of accomplishing one of his lifelong dreams of having his own television show educating people about animals and the natural world. He is hosting television programs on the topic of insects for the Science Channel (also known as Discovery Science) and the BBC.

He’s also actively pursuing another of his loves: rock’n’roll music. Just this fall Dunphy had his first experience in the recording studio. He’s a singer and lyricist, and he says he’s hoping to eventually form a band, perform live shows, record songs in the studio, and make music videos.

Oh, and then there’s Broadway. That’s another one of his professional goals.

“I never relax,” Dunphy says. “I’m never satisfied.”

About this story | By Carole Gieseke, editor of VISIONS. Originally published in the winter 2013 issue.