Wintersteen touts familiarity with challenges, success as dean


Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a finalist for Iowa State's presidency, speaks at an open forum Oct. 12 in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Citing her accomplishments leading the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Iowa State's current longest-serving dean said the university is facing too many pressing issues to hand the reins to an outsider who would need time to get up to speed.

In the fourth and final public forum Oct. 12 for Iowa State's presidential finalists, Wendy Wintersteen told the audience at the Memorial Union Great Hall that she's a compelling choice to lead Iowa State because she'd hit the ground running on the first day.  

"I understand the challenges we're facing. I know the people on campus we need to work with," said Wintersteen, a university employee for nearly four decades who received her doctorate in entomology from Iowa State.

Finalist forums

Presidential finalists spoke and answered questions at public forums this week. Inside Iowa State's coverage:

  • Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • Pamela Whitten, provost and senior vice president, University of Georgia 
  • Dale Whittaker, provost and executive vice president, University of Central Florida 

It resonated with her when former President Gregory Geoffroy mentioned Wintersteen as a viable successor when he resigned in 2011, she said.

"I decided this time around that it was my turn to lean in," she said.

Wintersteen said she thinks Geoffroy recognized her ability to solve complex problems -- and her fundraising prowess. Since her promotion to dean in 2006, she said, CALS has raised about $250 million in donations, leading to more scholarships, major new facilities and an increase in endowed chairs and professorships in the college from 21 to 45.

In outlining her goals, Wintersteen said the university needs to seek continuous innovation in four areas: providing a student-centered experience, research and entrepreneurship, administrative efficiency and creating an inclusive campus climate.

After speaking for about 20 minutes, Wintersteen took questions for about a half hour. Here's what she said on a handful of topics:


Wintersteen said students are the university's top priority, and it's important to maintain their access to high-impact educational experiences. Students in CALS -- where enrollment has climbed 90 percent during her tenure as dean -- have access to the nation's largest and second-largest career fairs and rank second in the nation in studying abroad, she said. 

She urged a university-wide emphasis on teaching business development skills, making entrepreneurship a key component of Iowa State's brand. 

"It's time to infuse into the curriculum a set of entrepreneurial skills for all of our students," she said.

Wintersteen said she also would look for ways to better reward faculty teaching success and improve graduation rates, which she said aren't competitive when compared to peer institutions.


Finding new forms of revenue is important as legislative appropriations lag in comparison to the university's growth, but Wintersteen also believes public support for more state funding and higher tuition depends on better communication about Iowa State's impact.  

"Iowans forget that we're out there with them every day trying to assist them in moving forward," she said.

Wintersteen said newly enacted differential tuition rates have helped retain educational quality. In the animal science department, for instance, it retained a faculty member who studies companion animal nutrition, she said.

She also endorsed saving through purchasing efficiencies, noting that the university coordinates with the state Department of Transportation to jointly purchase toilet paper.


Becoming more efficient also plays a role in reducing the burden on faculty and staff, Wintersteen said. She vowed to review all processes and required paperwork in search of areas to streamline, freeing up more time for teaching, research and extension.

Based on feedback from faculty, Wintersteen said CALS beefed up its research ecosystem. The college added more assistance for grant writing and sent faculty to Washington to get a better handle on how to make grant applications competitive.

It's had an effect, she said. Since 2005, CALS has doubled its research contracts and grants.

Campus climate

Though CALS was Iowa State's first college, in 2013, to appoint an assistant dean for diversity, Wintersteen said college listening sessions held last year with multicultural students made it clear the environment isn't supportive enough. Some of the stories were difficult to hear, she said.

"We got behind on this issue," she said.

Wintersteen said she would institute intensive inclusiveness training for all administrators at Iowa State.

"This is something we need to work on every day," she said.

Next steps

Members of the Iowa State community are asked to provide the search committee with feedback on the presidential finalists. An online form to assess each candidate is available on the presidential search website. Responses are due by Oct. 16. Archived video of the public forums will be available Thursday night on the search website, after the final forum is held.

The state Board of Regents plans to meet Oct. 23 to interview the finalists and select Iowa State's next president.