Making ideas real: How LAS, Business colleges are using new endowments

As Beate Schmittmann sometimes tells people, she is living every dean's dream. Thanks to the largest single private gift to the university, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences she leads has millions in new recurring revenue to boost students, faculty and programs.

"A lot of ideas and conversations, now we can make them real," Schmittmann said.

But in the wake of not one but two transformative gifts last year to Iowa State colleges, she's not the only dream-living dean on campus.  

An anonymous couple donated an equity stake in a Massachusetts-based education company to the ISU Foundation to establish the Transforming Liberal Arts and Sciences Fund. The $159 million net proceeds from the sale of the equity stake, a final total $14 million higher than estimated last fall, created an endowment that will generate about $6 million annually. In addition, Debbie and Jerry Ivy's $50 million gift to the ISU Foundation was unveiled last fall. The donation, also one of Iowa State's largest, is reflected in the name of the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, the university's first named college. Once fully vested, the Ivy endowment will provide about $2 million annually for the college.

Schmittmann and David Spalding, Raisbeck Endowed Dean of the Ivy College of Business, have begun to invest the endowment proceeds. Here's a look at what they're targeting so far:

Saying 'yes' to students

In broad strokes, the Transforming Liberal Arts and Sciences Fund will devote $1 million to faculty fellowships and professorships, $1 million to program support and $1 million for innovation, leaving nearly half of the annual endowment revenue, about $2.5 million, for student support.

"We can't say 'yes' to everyone, but we're saying 'yes' to a lot more students than before," Schmittmann said.

Scholarship funding for LAS students has more than tripled, both in the number of awards and their financial value, up from $800,000 per year. That includes a dramatic increase in awards offered to incoming students -- to 1,200 per year from 32 -- and new two-year scholarships that provide students greater stability.

New scholarship funding also is available for a variety of high-impact learning experiences, such as working an unpaid internship for a nonprofit or community organization, conducting undergraduate research, student teaching and studying abroad.

Some of those funding programs still are ramping up. Others, like study abroad scholarships, increased in time for students to take advantage of opportunities last summer. About $150,000 in scholarships were available for overseas study, up from $30,000, said Schmittmann, who recounted the life-changing experience a student had in Australia this summer.

"The conversations she had about immigration, about Brexit, about American power in the world, were really transformative for her. It really changed her perspective, how she views herself as an American citizen," Schmittmann said.

With so many new scholarship opportunities, college officials are trying to spread the word in as many ways as they can. Schmittmann said the university's new centralized undergraduate scholarship application portal, OneApp, will be helpful in administering the increased awards.

Other LAS initiatives

The endowment is funding the new LAS Dean's Professorships, which are three-year awards -- renewable for one additional three-year term -- for top educators and researchers. Schmittmann hopes to award three each year. The amounts vary but are designed to be large enough to make an impact. The college announced the inaugural recipients in August.

The new revenue also will pay to bring artists to campus and send Iowa State's own creative faculty to other institutions for similar opportunities. The Dean's Faculty Fellow in the Arts will cover the cost of the teaching responsibilities of ISU faculty who want to pursue off-campus opportunities such as directing or acting in a play. An artist-in-residence program will bring accomplished artists to Ames for short-term master classes, performances and workshops. Applications for both awards for the 2019-20 academic year will be due in March.

Knowing that the artist-in-residence program is on solid footing is key to making it work, Schmittmann said. Top performers and writers often are booked years in advance. "That's a big piece in trying to attract high-profile folks," she said.

Innovation funding will be available for departments looking to rebuild their curriculums and for infrastructure improvements. One facility upgrade already being planned is a renovation of the college's career services center in Carver Hall. An overhaul will provide more interview space and intensive interview coaching for sophomores, Schmittmann said.

Program support is directed toward three areas valued by the donors: the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, music and theatre, and the burgeoning data science department. Endowment funds will accelerate development of the data science degree approved this summer by the state Board of Regents, and the journalism school was able to hire a new faculty member and establish a program excellence fund.

Funding for the music and theatre department will assist with the costs of staging its performances, Schmittmann said. The new revenue also helped spur ISU Theatre's new CoLab initiative, a plan to collaborate with an on- or off-campus partner for every production. Pointing to the variety of majors pursued by students involved in theater and music programs, Schmittmann said the department is an example of how the college impacts all students.

"There's just so much interaction and so much engagement," she said. "That's part of what makes the Iowa State experience so unique for people, to have this combination of experiences."

Raising the profile

The Ivy gift, which will be donated in stages, isn't yet providing the college with the full $2 million in annual revenue, but Spalding already put several new initiatives in place.

Chief among them is a 15 percent increase in scholarship funding, totaling more than $1 million annually for the first time. The new scholarships target specific areas, Spalding said, including awards for high-performing, female community college transfer students. That was important to Debbie Ivy, a community college student herself, he said.

The college also increased its professional development funds -- meaning more conference travel and research money are available for faculty and more training for staff, Spalding said.

"We wanted to make sure that everyone in the college benefits from the wonderful gift from the Ivys," he said.

The Ivys' goal in establishing the endowment was to help the college raise its national and international profile, which Spalding aims to do with additional support for three disciplines: supply chain management, entrepreneurship and business analytics. The three emerging areas for the college didn't have departmental scholarships, so the college established awards for students studying in each discipline, he said.

The college also is boosting outside-the-classroom experiences related to those three fields, including a new staff position at the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship devoted to creating new programming for all interested students, he said.

Years down the road, future Business deans likely will see other growth areas as ways to improve the college's stature, Spalding said. 

"This endowment will give them the flexibility to makes those investments," he said.