Jump-start initiatives take strides toward strategic plan goals

Last June, President Wendy Wintersteen announced the university would jump-start its new nine-year strategic plan with a $10.5 million investment in projects that address one or more of the plan's five aspirational statements. Funding came from university funds set aside for institutional priorities.

Those nine projects are the lead-in to an annual competitive process that will prioritize and fund proposals from the university community. Senior advisor to the president Sophia Magill will soon share a spring submittal process for a set of projects to be funded in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Magill was named last fall to lead the effort to advance the goals of the strategic plan, including the jump-start initiatives and an annual process to identify and fund priority projects.

"We're approaching this in an innovative way," Magill said. "We are looking for transformational project proposals that will propel the institution forward in a significant way.

"We know it's going to be iterative. We recognize that we also will need to be nimble and flexible in our approach, and as we pursue this nine-year plan, we'll look for continual process improvement," she added. "Most importantly, we all have a role in accomplishing the aspirational goals of the strategic plan and we need to keep the focus on impact -- on our students, faculty, staff and broader stakeholders."

She said the application timeline and process could look different from year to year, "depending on what we learn and what works."

A role for everyone

Magill said a strategic plan, by its nature, takes a university-wide approach. But its success also relies on local reinforcement.

"Each of us can make an impact and play a role in achieving the goals of the plan. As we embark on these efforts, units and departments have the opportunity to align and refresh their own planning processes with the strategic plan. We all can take action toward achieving these 'to be' statements," she said.

As an update on the nine jump-start projects announced last summer, below is a short summary of each.


Hire faculty in key areas that track with Iowa State's research strengths and emerging degree programs ($3.5 million).

The key disciplines identified are: climate science and sustainability, cybersecurity, critical materials, and human health initiatives. Hiring proposals are due March 1; funding decisions will be announced May 1. The jump-start funds will provide 50% of base salaries and fringe benefits for strategic faculty hires, with the hiring unit covering the remainder. Proposals should address one or more of these criteria:

  • Research critical to Iowa and the nation's economic future
  • Experience and expertise brought to Iowa State and proposed responsibilities in curricular innovation and degrees of the future
  • Interdisciplinary reach
  • Joint hires across departments, colleges, and extension and outreach
  • Research, teaching, outreach and service that reinforce ISU's land-grant mission of accessibility


Start academic degrees that meet student and employer demand; also known as the "Degrees of the Future" initiative ($1.5 million).

Funds will help faculty and colleges create and implement innovative degree programs -- bachelor's, master's or doctoral -- that help the university reach new demographics of students, expand into new geographical areas or attract students to emerging disciplines. Proposals for phase 1 planning grants are due March 1, with funds disbursed May 1 and spent by the end of 2023. A subsequent round of funding in 2024 will focus on implementing the new degree programs.


Launch a university-wide initiative to increase student retention and graduation rates, with a focus on first-generation and multicultural students and students whose academic progress was most impacted by the pandemic ($1.5 million).

During fall semester, $300,000 provided additional tutoring and academic help for students. The Academic Success Center received $150,000 to expand tutoring and supplementary instruction in courses with high student demand for assistance but unmet need, and in classes that traditionally have low success rates, such as economics and math. Students who attended supplemental economics instruction had an average grade of 3.02, compared to 2.73 for those who did not. For the math course students, the grade difference was 2.84 to 2.58.

The six undergraduate colleges shared another $150,000 to expand existing college-hosted help centers and peer-to-peer tutoring, in many cases focusing on specific courses. College awards ranged from $9,000 to $40,000.

A cross-campus work team, represented by units that impact student success and retention, also formed to identify college-level strategies with university-wide impact.


Recruit freshman and transfer students more effectively to build overall enrollment ($1 million).

In July 2022, the start of the fall 2023 student recruitment cycle, the university launched a new recruitment campaign, "Cyclone in the Making." Jump Start funds helped provide campus communicators and marketers with the tools they need to create materials and communicate with prospective students and families in a cohesive way, including campaign guidelines, graphic elements, prototypes and an assortment of templates such as postcards, fact sheets, yard signs, PowerPoints, emails and social posts.

Since October and continuing this spring, the office of admissions also is investing Jump Start funds to upgrade Iowa State's virtual tour on the YouVisit platform. YouVisit allows students and families from every corner of the world, many who aren't able to travel to Ames, to explore campus and see and hear about all Iowa State offers. The tour currently is available in English and Spanish, and the platform is ADA-compliant.


Purchase unique, major research instruments and improve lab infrastructure ($1 million).

The colleges' associate deans for research, in partnership with the office of the vice president for research, developed three interrelated strategies for investing in ISU's research enterprise:

  • A research administration internship program that recruits and trains senior graduate students or postdocs from across campus to expose students to research development and administration careers while also helping researchers and proposal support units improve their proposal success rates. The writing consultants program in the Graduate College's Center for Communication Excellence is the model for this internship program.
  • Learning communities for research fellows and scholars that, through senior faculty mentors and other support mechanisms, help participants succeed in their pursuit of competitive funds, particularly in areas where Iowa State possesses strengths but has room to grow, for example, opportunities with the National Institutes of Health or U.S. Department of Defense.
  • An online inventory of research resources in ISU centers and departments. Useful in itself to research teams, the list also could serve as a starting point in developing a strategic purchase/lease program for next-generation equipment or tools for shared use in current or expanded centers.


Develop Iowa State Online, a university-wide brand and support structure that brings online education programs under a single umbrella ($600,000).

The new unit, one of four within the restructured Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), launched Jan. 3, providing marketing and support resources for students studying online. Iowa State Online centralizes expertise in online learning and delivery from the academic colleges in a single service provider. The unit also is responsible for media production and the ISU testing centers. Team members from the college-based online units joined the CELT staff, now about 45 strong. This spring, CELT staff are piloting four online projects, selected for the breadth of instructors, units, instruction variables and challenges they'll present for staff to work through and learn from. CELT leaders are deliberating the most appropriate and meaningful use of the jump-start funds in this inaugural year.


Renovate two campus childcare facilities to improve learning, safety and comfort for the children of faculty, staff and students. ($600,000).

At ISU Child Care Center at Veterinary Medicine, playground improvements included replacing a rotted raised wood walkway, replacing cracked or sunken concrete pads and an impacted fence gate, adding a play structure and mulch under all the play structures, and replacing worn sod. At University Community Childcare on North Stange Road, outdoor work included smoothing and staining outdoor cedar support columns on several buildings to prevent wood splinters, adding fill dirt and resodding the grassy play areas, replacing mulch under the play structures, and replacing concrete walkways and play areas. At both facilities, card readers are being added to all exterior doors to monitor access and improve security.


Build and provide seed funding for new interdisciplinary faculty research teams in areas where Iowa State has a competitive advantage, for example, water management, carbon sequestration, cyber or advanced materials ($500,000).

The office of the vice president for research is hosting a series of Research and Innovation Roundtables to assemble collaborative teams and identify novel solutions to complex societal challenges. The first, held Nov. 29, focused on being climate smart and drew more than 60 faculty participants. Teams, formed around specific research challenges, subsequently submitted five proposals (up to $40,000 each) in seed funds for initial research that will lead to larger proposals with federal or industry partners. Initial research began this month.

The focus of the next roundtable, scheduled for March 10, is "Healthy Iowa" very broadly -- including plants, people, communities, food and water systems, rural mental health delivery and elder care.


Invest in open educational resources (OER) and immediate-access materials in undergraduate high-enrollment courses to ease textbook cost for students ($300,000).

The funds will be awarded to competitive proposals in two categories. Phase 1 ($75,000) will be announced in February and fund proposals for sustainable infrastructure that improves the visibility, transparency, implementation or long-term use of affordable course materials. Examples could include a course catalog filter that sorts by OER or an awareness/branding campaign. Phase 2 ($225,000) will be announced later this spring for summer and fall activity. The focus will be on developing free course materials with the greatest impact, including numbers of students served, cost savings, courses and degree paths touched, or multiple instructors' commitment to using the new OER.