Five Questions for Katie Baumgarn


Room scheduler Katie Baumgarn in 205 Carver, a 2012 replica of 305 Carver, which she helped design six years ago to make a large, unsloped classroom more user-friendly. Her solution: raise the back rows of students instead of raising the floor. The first five rows of movable tables and chairs are about hip-height; the last three rows are closer to rib-height. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Katie Baumgarn leads a three-person team charged with scheduling all Iowa State classrooms available for general use -- whether for classes, final exams, night exams, student club meetings or special events (for example, Odyssey of the Mind or new student orientation). Variables in their equation include the needs of students and faculty with disabilities, growing enrollment and class sizes, and back-to-back room requests. As of Sept. 1, the team had completed a preliminary run through a spring 2013 class schedule (mid-October is the more typical timeline).

The basics:

  • Name: Katie Baumgarn
  • Position: Coordinator of instructional facilities
  • Years at Iowa State: 28+
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in home economics education with a minor in child development; master's degree in curriculum and instructional technology, both from Iowa State

Throw some numbers at me. What kind of space does the room scheduling team coordinate?

We manage 214 general university classrooms in 36 buildings. It's roughly 4 percent of all the indoor space on campus. The smallest seats 12 students (1157 Sweeney); the largest 431 (Hoover auditorium). All but approximately 10 of them are media-ready and those 10 are on our [renovation] list. In any given hour, that's 14,171 student seats.

In an average semester, we're trying to find homes for 5,000 to 6,000 class sections for somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 courses. (Departments control their own teaching laboratories and classrooms.)

We use the Schedule 25 computer program, but we always have 200 to 225 of what I call homeless classes – ones that don't get scheduled by the software. Typically, there's a discrepancy with the (enrollment) number. Maybe two sections merged or a department decided to move something to a lab, but we didn't know that yet. So we follow up on those and find them a home.

Answers to more questions

Room scheduling FAQ

So there's not much wiggle room in the system?

People want to stay in that prime time, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are rooms that are open at 8 in the morning and after 2 o'clock, even more when you hit 3:10 and 4:10 p.m. It also depends on the size of the class. A class of 80 students? There might not be anything, but larger classes? Yes, we're going to find rooms. The fact that most of our classrooms are media-ready gives us great flexibility in scheduling.

We spend hours, hours, trying to fix things for folks. One request for a change could result in five or six moves, involving other faculty and departments, and if everyone along that chain agrees to the change, we can say yes. We don't like to say no, but 214 rooms isn't a lot of space for the classes we have to schedule.

Last fall, we had two hours when there were no large classrooms (50-431 seats) at all for either a Monday-Wednesday-Friday or a Tuesday-Thursday sequence. This fall, there are four hours in the M-W-F sequence there are no rooms available, and two hours again on T-Th.

I'm trying to let departments know that if they have some new ideas on how and where they want to teach classes, I'd like to come over and visit with them. We want to be as supportive as possible with the limited resources we have. We just need to work out a plan.

If someone offered you $5 million worth of classroom construction or renovation, what's on your wish list?

I'd say a room or two that holds 150-180 students, or as we're growing, even 180-200 students. But as I said, we still have rooms; you just have to go to that time of the day, and the students will come, I know they will. If it's the right class, for example a required one, and you only offer it one time, that class will fill.

What's your "If I had a dime for every time I heard that" ... ?

Faculty requests to teach back-to-back classes in the same room.

What's the best part of your job?

I really enjoy helping plan classroom renovations. Faculty and departments let us know when rooms need some upgrades. We also look at room use, which helps identify rooms needing a face-lift. We have a wonderful partnership with [Information Technology Services] classroom services, which also gets comments. So [classroom services manager] Matt Darbyshire and I compare our lists and plan our attack. The Maintenance Improvement Committee has blessed me with a pool of $250,000 per year to get some work done.

We're trying to create more rooms (for 48 to 100 students) that offer flexible seating for a more cooperative learning environment. Faculty are moving that way and students seem to enjoy it.

In other rooms, we've added white boards all the way around the room. We just partnered with ITS and CELT on an old, old room in Gilman that looked like a Harry Potter classroom. In there, we're using for the first time what's called a huddle board -- a white board for small group use that then can hang on a rail at the front of the class for large group sharing. It's fun to introduce some new ideas.