Lab space offers digital accessibility tools

Three students play Xbox with an adaptive controller and two typical controllers in the digital accessibility lab.

From right, digital accessibility student staff members Matt Daniel, a junior in graphic design, Morgan Roberts, a junior in advertising, and Kaitlyn Ouverson, a graduate student in human computer interaction, play Xbox with an adaptive controller and two typical controllers in the digital accessibility lab. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

Digital accessibility coordinator Cyndi Wiley will mark her one-year work anniversary at Iowa State next week. But she celebrated early with a Nov. 6 dedication and open house for a new digital accessibility lab in the Durham Center. 

"It is a place where students can work together and also try out some new things maybe they don't have access to," Wiley said.

Alternate computer keyboard for one-handed use.

Alternate keyboard with finger controls

ISU's committee on the advancement of student technology for learning enhancement (formerly called the computation advisory committee) approved a funding request for the central lab last spring, adding nearly $25,000 of student technology fees to the project. Information technology services provided the location in 108 Durham and furnishings, including five adjustable-height desks and easy-to-move seating.

"We didn't want to overload the space with seats if someone is coming in with a wheelchair," Wiley said. "We worked with [facilities planning and management] to make sure everything was ADA compliant and, beyond that, a more comfortable space to access technology."

Gizmos and gadgets

It's a small space -- a room that's about 195 square feet -- packed with assistive technology. Some examples include: 

  • Display monitor for personal devices (laptops, tablets)
  • Portable magnifier with a 24-inch screen and document camera
  • Screen reader (JAWS) and digital magnifier (ZoomText) software
  • Alternate keyboards (for example, finger controls worn like rings)
  • Eye tracking system that controls computers with eye movements
  • C-Pen that reads text aloud when scanned like a highlighter (can be used with headphones)
  • Virtual reality headsets
  • XBox gaming system with adaptive controller for hands-free use
  • Adaptive switch controller that uses buttons to interface with computers and gaming devices

"We have an emphasis on gaming because a lot of instructors are using game-based learning and teaching through games," Wiley said.

Braille display board

Refreshable Braille display

Faculty and staff use

Demonstrations and small-group programming for faculty and staff are planned for the digital accessibility lab. Wiley said instructors can experience their course materials or the Canvas learning management system from the perspective of students with disabilities.

"It gives them exposure to different ways of navigating -- without a mouse, without a keyboard, or maybe through an eye tracker where you point the cursor through eye movements," she said.

Wiley also encourages researchers to utilize the space if their work, such as virtual reality or gaming technologies, provides an avenue for collaboration. She's already talking with campus partners about expansion options.

"This lab can change based on usage," she said. "We wanted to have something flexible that can evolve as needed. We want to track how students are using the place, listen to them, find out what we need that we don't have, what can we be doing better. We're open to feedback."

Wiley's student assistants will staff the lab, which is available only by appointment this fall. Spring hours are being determined and will be published on the digital accessibility website. Wiley said they will track usage to possibly add evening and weekend hours. 


Temporary recruiting boost to help with vacancy backlog

Help arriving soon will boost how quickly Iowa State can whittle down a backlog of open positions, a university human resources (UHR) leader told the Professional and Scientific Council Nov. 6.

Two recruiting coordinators on temporary nine-month appointments will start work next week, Dwaine Heppler, associate vice president for human resources services and strategy, said in a presentation on the progress of HR service delivery. The temporary employees join the five staff recruiting specialists on service delivery teams -- a new position created by the improved service delivery (ISD) initiative that shifted HR and finance work to specialists with the July 1 launch of Workday, the university's platform for business transactions.

Of the 544 job openings requisitioned since July 1, 265 remain open, Heppler said, a hiring crunch he attributed in part to backfilling posts that opened when staff took service specialist positions. HR coordinators assist in recruiting for faculty jobs, 72 of which are unfilled. Recruiting coordinators provide support for merit and P&S recruiting. There are currently 155 openings for P&S staff and 38 for merit, he said.

"We certainly need to get past the glut of open positions we have," he said.  

Heppler said recruiters need to reduce the number of openings to create time to fully support hiring managers in a timely manner. Feedback has been positive in instances of "full-cycle" hires, when recruiters have been involved at each step along the way, he said.

Ticket volume drops

HR and finance services joined information technology services this summer in using an email ticketing system called ServiceNow to receive and manage requests for assistance. The volume of service requests is waning, Heppler said. There were 600 requests submitted in the first week of July, immediately after Workday went live. The final week of October saw 270 requests.

However, as ISD leaders have in previous council presentations, Heppler acknowledged work remains to address struggles faculty and staff are having with the transition. Common concerns include the time faculty and managers spend navigating Workday and processing transactions, along with the effects ISD has had on departmental workflow.

Finance and HR specialists are meeting with each other and local departments to work though individual issues, many of which become easier as Workday becomes more familiar, he said. Training and user labs for departmental staff impacted by the changes also have been a focus.  

Workday budget tool

A meeting this week kicked off plans to launch a budgeting tool in Workday this spring, interim vice president and chief information officer Kristen Constant told council members. A spring implementation is expected for Workday Planning, also known as Adapative Insights. It should be in place in time to use it for fiscal year 2021 budget plans, she said.


Faculty development and numerous construction requests go to regents next week

Professional development requests for 48 faculty members next year, renovation plans for the top three floors at the Memorial Union and a proposal to add a computer science marker to the Regents Admissions Index (RAI) are on the agenda when the state Board of Regents meets Nov. 13-14 at the University of Northern Iowa. Board committees will meet Wednesday, with the full board expected to complete its work Thursday morning. The agenda is on the board's website, and all public portions of the meeting will be livestreamed.

Professional development

Iowa State leaders will request professional development assignments during the 2020-21 academic year for 48 faculty members -- or 2.6% of all faculty. The list includes 32 semester-long assignments, 14 for the full academic year and two for the 2021 calendar year. The faculty group includes 26 professors, 16 associate professors and six assistant professors.

Admissions index

To align the regent universities with state goals to improve Iowans' preparedness for the digital economy, the regents' admissions study team has recommended adding a new category, computer science, to the RAI. The team asked three computer science faculty members to review all courses offered in Iowa high schools that meet K-12 standards set by the Computer Science Teachers Association and identify which had the depth to serve as college prep coursework. Four courses were selected for their rigor: IB computer science, computer science principles, AP computer science principles and AP computer science A.

The proposal doesn't yet indicate how computer science coursework would alter the RAI formula.

Leave donations for a catastrophic illness

Included in the consent agenda is a proposal to expand the regents' catastrophic illness policy (section 2.1.4.A) to allow faculty and staff working at least half-time who don't accrue vacation -- such as nine-month faculty -- to receive vacation leave donations for a catastrophic illness or injury. Currently, employees who don't accrue vacation aren't eligible to receive catastrophic leave donations. If the board approves the change, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Building projects

Iowa State leaders will present schematic designs and proposed budgets for a $5.9 million roof replacement on all seven sections of Friley residence hall and a $10 million renovation to floors 4-6 at the Memorial Union. The roof project will replace slate shingles with asphalt shingles (excluding flat areas), repair dormers and replace gutters as needed. The two-phased project would be completed over two summers, 2020 and 2021.

The MU project would convert 14,000 square feet of former hotel rooms to office suites on each floor for student-focused services. Scheduled tenants include the veterans center, student legal services, study abroad, LGBTQIA+ student success, NCORE/ISCORE planning, lectures series and international students and scholars. Restrooms would be centrally located near the elevators. This project also updates the heating/cooling, electrical, communications and security systems on all three floors. MU revenue bonds would cover the entire cost. As proposed, construction would begin in January 2021 and last about 20 months.

ISU leaders also will ask for board permission to begin planning to replace the 61-year-old LeBaron Hall (49,000 square feet) with a new facility (83,300 square feet) for the College of Human Sciences. An estimated 6% of the adjoining MacKay Hall would be renovated. The estimated project budget, $55 million, would be covered with private gifts ($15 million), university funds ($10 million) and state appropriations (a $30 million, three-year request will go to the Legislature in January). The university's evaluation of LeBaron Hall found it to be a poor candidate for renovation.

More ISU agenda items

In other business, the board is expected to:

  • Approve an expansion of completed renovations ($650,000, 3,800 square feet) in the Union Drive Community Center to include the Marketplace dining center. The revised budget would rise to $3.6 million and add about 16,000 square feet of dining and food service space. The proposal provides new seats and tables, new finishes for the ceilings, floors and walls and energy-efficient lighting. The work would be phased over three summers (2020-22) to minimize service disruptions. ISU Dining funds would cover the project.
  • Accept for Iowa State a land gift of 262 acres (three parcels) in Lucas County, two miles east of ISU's McNay Research Farm. Land owner Ronny Tharp's intention is that the land become part of the university's farms and not be sold for 50 years. The university would use the additional land for needed research plots.
  • Approve Iowa State's request to close two centers. The Industrial Assessment Center's most recent federal grant expired five years ago. The Center for Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses, part of the Plant Sciences Institute, has insufficient funding to operate as a separate center, but the faculty research continues in the plant pathology and microbiology department.
  • Approve the proposed name for the under-construction feed mill and grain science complex at the Curtiss Farm west of Ames: Iowa State University Kent Corporation Feed Mill and Grain Science Complex. Muscatine-based Kent Corp. provided the lead gift of $8 million for the $21 million complex.
  • Authorize board executive director Mark Braun to take the necessary steps to sell for $1 the Iowa Braille and Sight-saving School in Vinton (11 buildings and garages on 48 acres) to the city of Vinton. Since 2008 and due to declining enrollment (119 students in 1972; just 16 in 2008), the regents have leased 60% of the campus to the federal government as a regional site for AmeriCorps. The school's residential program closed in 2011 and sight-impaired students in Iowa now attend public schools. Board staff have been working since 2016 to find a buyer for the property, including several state agencies Earlier this year, AmeriCorps renewed its lease for 10 more years.

Leaders approve interim policy for chalking on campus

An interim policy regarding chalking on campus will take effect Monday, Nov. 11.

The interim policy restricts chalking on campus to registered student organizations publicizing an upcoming event open to all students. Any chalking must include, but also be limited to, the event title (seven words or less), location and time, and name of the sponsoring student organization. The interim policy, available in ISU's Policy Library, mirrors the University of Iowa's chalking on campus policy.

Facilities planning and management staff will remove all chalking that doesn't comply with the interim policy.

Until now, Iowa State hasn't had a policy with specific provisions regarding chalking. The interim policy was adopted as a result of the escalating volume of chalking on campus in recent years. University administrators plan to work with student government to explore a permanent chalking policy.


Extension is training staff in mental health first aid

2020 mental health first aid training schedule

  • March 5: Woodbury County ISU Extension, Sioux City
  • March 26: Lucas County ISU Extension, Chariton
  • April 16: Dubuque County ISU Extension, Dubuque
  • April 30: ISU Extension Outreach Center, Urbandale
  • May 14: Grace United Methodist Church, Spencer
  • May 28: Muscatine County ISU Extension, Muscatine
  • Sept. 10: West Pottawattamie County ISU Extension, Council Bluffs
  • Sept. 24: Cerro Gordo County ISU Extension, Mason City

Whether it's taking research from the classroom to the field or exposing students to an extension career through the Rising Star Internship Program, ISU Extension and Outreach connects with Iowans in many ways.

Extension is helping those going through tough times, particularly in rural communities, by certifying its staff in mental health first aid.

"This doesn't train them to be therapists, but we train them to be more comfortable and confident to engage individuals who may be struggling with distress and to assist them in accessing resources," said David Brown, behavioral health specialist in extension and a mental health first aid instructor.

Filling a need

Extension specialists began teaching mental health first aid to staff in November 2018, expanding sessions across the state in 2019. There will be eight opportunities in 2020 to take the $50, eight-hour workshop.

This year's focus has been on training extension staff at the university and county level.

"Given all the stresses related to the farm economy, we wanted our staff to have additional knowledge in how to interact with distressed people or individuals who may be developing a mental illness," Brown said. "Over the last five or six years, the farm economy hasn't been great, and it's not showing signs of getting much better. The strain on the rural population is getting pretty high, so we felt this was the time to get our staff better prepared."

Brown said the stigma around mental health can be strong in rural communities.

Mental health first aid

The workshop, which has online registration, begins with a discussion of mental health stigma and how that can influence people's interactions. It also covers depression, anxiety, psychosis and providing help to those with a substance use disorder.

The course is interactive and includes videos, learning activities and lectures. Participants who complete the course are certified for three years.

One goal is for participants to become able to recognize symptoms and when a situation may call for intervention.

"We talk about how individuals can intervene and interact in ways that will help those in need to seek resources and other self-help strategies," Brown said.

Brown and extension's three other certified mental health first aid instructors -- program specialist Anthony Santiago, program coordinator Tammy Jacobs and women in agriculture program manager Madeline Schultz -- teach a response plan called ALGEE:

  • Assess for risk of harm, including suicide
  • Listen attentively and respectively
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

"We know that if individuals beginning to develop a mental health illness get appropriate professional help their recovery is so much easier and successful," Brown said, noting a fifth instructor will be added this year.

Program growth

There is one more staff workshop this year, Nov. 7, in Waterloo. The 2020 workshops will be offered in Sioux City, Chariton, Dubuque, Urbandale, Spencer, Muscatine, Council Bluffs and Mason City. The workshop will expand to include advocates for farmers and ranchers.

"It could be a veterinarian or someone at the co-op, someone who is supporting the farmer in their business," said Brown, who noted a fifth instructor will be added.

Brown said extension has done mental health training at various conferences and may look to expand that in the future.


World War II, Vietnam service members to be honored at Gold Star ceremony

Four former Iowa State students will be recognized for their military service, and their ultimate sacrifice, at the annual Gold Star Hall ceremony.

The ceremony will take place at 3:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. This event is open to the public and it begins a week of events dedicated to honoring veterans. Light refreshments will be available following the ceremony.

Photos, memorabilia and the personal stories of four students – three who served in World War II and one who served in Vietnam – will be shared at the Gold Star Hall ceremony. The 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge also will be recognized.

The Gold Star Hall ceremony honors Iowa State students who lost their lives in war. Former students' names are engraved on the Gold Star Hall walls if they attended Iowa State full-time for one or more semesters and died while in military service in a war zone. As names become known, they are added to the wall and the service members are honored in Iowa State's annual Veterans Day observance.

The family and friends of these four fallen heroes will be in attendance so that they may see the names of their loved ones forever memorialized in Gold Star Hall.

The ceremony will include the stories of each honoree, as well as taped comments from President Wendy Wintersteen, presentation of the colors by members of Iowa State ROTC, singing of the National Anthem and taps played by ISU students.

  • Schuyler Wheeler, Boone, studied dairy industry at Iowa State from 1939 to 1941. He joined the U.S. Army on July 12, 1942. Wheeler was killed Dec. 15, 1944, while trying to help liberate Ensdorf, Germany.
  • John Fuller, Milford, studied general engineering at Iowa State from 1938 to 1941. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on Jan 15, 1942. He was killed during the Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne, Belgium, on Dec. 23, 1944.
  • Meredith DeRoy Winter, Dysart, studied chemistry at Iowa State from 1938 to 1943. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in September 1943. Winter was killed Feb. 28, 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
  • Kennith Tapscott, Charleston, South Carolina, studied political science at Iowa State from 1963 to 1967. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy to serve in the Vietnam War. Tapscott died Aug. 6, 1970, in Song Ong Doc, South Vietnam.

While their names are already engraved on the wall, these men have not yet been honored in a Gold Star Hall ceremony.

Gold Star Hall includes the names of the nearly 600 Iowa Staters who have died in war: in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia and the Global War on Terrorism.