Fallen trees find new life on campus


Rhonda Martin, campus landscape architect, stands with a selection of wood preserved by the TreeCycle program, which uses trees from campus for furniture and other items. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Depending on the year, Iowa State annually removes or loses as many as three dozen large trees. Either in small shards or striking slabs, nearly all that wood returns to campus.

Most downed trees, along with trimmed branches and brush, are chipped for use in campus planting beds. About 25 large trees per year end up in the chipper, enough to supply most of Iowa State's mulching needs, said Rhonda Martin, a campus landscape architect with facilities planning and management (FPM).

But a select few find new life through FPM's TreeCycle program.

The initiative to find the best use for impressive but fallen Iowa State trees began after a tornado on Sept. 8, 2005, knocked down about 70 campus trees, including the state's largest scarlet oak.

Chris Martin, an art and visual culture professor, said when the massive old oak fell, he had already been asked to design and build furniture for the Christian Petersen Art Museum as part of the Morrill Hall renovation. Separately, FPM staff asked Martin if he'd be interested in using the toppled champion tree in a project.

"I kind of ho-hummed about it because I'm not a big red oak fan, to be honest," said Martin, who teaches the university's furniture-making courses.

But he eventually realized he could combine the requests. His students helped design benches and other furniture to outfit the museum space. Graduates in 2006 designated their class gift for the museum pieces and funding to make reclaimed wood available for student projects, giving birth to the TreeCycle program.

Making the cut

Now, more than 450 pieces made from Iowa State trees are sprinkled across campus, Rhonda Martin said. Recent additions include walnut counters in the Friley Windows dining center, an accent wall in Geoffroy Hall, and benches to honor the recent retirements of former FPM director Dave Miller and senior vice president Warren Madden. 

Because FPM is choosy about which trees get selected for TreeCycle, the production potential is limited. It wouldn't work for flooring or furnishing an entire building.

"There's no mass quantities of anything," she said.

Trees sawed into planks and stored in a campus barn for TreeCycle purposes must be wide and long, without hollow spots, she said. Suitable specimens of hard maples, walnuts and oaks are always pardoned from the chipper, but others species like pine and ash are borderline, she said.

The planks retain raw edges and are up to 3 inches thick. They're available for campus projects and students taking certain classes. Chris Martin's furniture students have used TreeCycle wood for their projects in two recent semesters and likely will again this spring, he said.

"There are students who get excited about the idea that it's from campus," he said. "Sustainability is on a lot of their minds."

Users of on-campus TreeCycle pieces receive specific information about the wood's origin, an appreciated touch, Rhonda Martin said.

"People want to know where the tree went down," she said. "The more I can give them, the more they're excited about that."

The wood also has been used for keepsakes sold by the ISU Alumni Association, with state prison inmates building designs created by Martin's students, he said.

Scarce opportunities

About 15,000 board feet of TreeCycle wood is in storage, Rhonda Martin said. The planks can't be sold directly to the public, but FPM does release boards -- sometimes upon special request -- for purchase through ISU Surplus sales. Oddly sized chunks sometimes end up in the free wood pile east of Haber Road between the railroad tracks and coal pile, she said.  

Chris Martin would like usage of TreeCycle wood to expand, noting that there's even a few planks of the original scarlet oak still in storage. (They're reserved for special projects, Rhonda Martin said.)

"I don't know if people have taken advantage of it as much as they could," he said.

But it's a challenge to work the wood into projects, Rhonda Martin said, because of the same quality that makes them valuable -- their individuality.

"The wood that goes into the barn is very unique. It's one tree. And then it's one other tree," she said.

Open educational resources can help ease students' financial burden

Open Access Week, Oct. 23-29

Join the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching for a panel discussion with faculty and students on Oct. 24 (3-5 p.m., 198 Parks Library) about the impact of open educational resources in the classroom. Register at Learn@ISU, call 294-5357 or email celt@iastate.edu.

For some college students, it's a life-altering choice: Buy textbooks for the next semester or pay rent, buy groceries and fill up the car. An exaggeration? Not according to these statistics from a 2014 University of Massachusetts (Amherst) Library study of its students. Because of high textbook costs:

  • 53 percent of students took a class but didn't buy the textbook
  • 23 percent dropped a class
  • 24 percent took a different class or chose a different major

The problem, according to Curtis Brundy, ISU associate university librarian for scholarly communications and collections, is a lot of publishers pursue high profits at the expense of cash-strapped students.

"Textbooks can be a real profit generator for these companies, and students may have no choice but to buy the book or not take the class," Brundy said.

Brundy said the library and other units across campus, including the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the ISU Book Store, believe students could save money through open educational resources (OER). It's a concept that's been catching on with faculty at college campuses throughout the country and Brundy hopes Iowa State faculty are ready to jump on board.

What is OER?

OER are teaching, learning and research resources -- primarily digital -- that are in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license for use by others. In some cases, the licensing allows materials to be adapted to fit the needs of a particular class. Or faculty can create their own OER materials from scratch. Examples of OER include course materials, modules, streaming videos, tests, software, digital textbooks or anything that supports open access to learning.

OER materials are available via several repositories, including:

Brundy suggests faculty browse these websites to get a sense of available resources but admits current OER materials don't cover all academic bases. And he acknowledges that, for instructors, revamping class curriculum is time-consuming, somewhat costly and just plain hard work.

"The reason some folks might want to go with a commercial textbook is that it gets you up and running," Brundy said.

But, he added, "In some classes, faculty may be able to pull together some resources that lead to a better learning experience for the students."

OER has caught the attention of ISU's Student Government, which may consider a resolution later this fall to request more faculty to use OER.

"In a climate where the cost of higher education continues to soar, anything we can do to increase accessibility and make college more affordable is an initiative worth taking on," said Cody West, Student Government president.

Minigrant program

To entice faculty to consider switching from traditional textbooks to OER, the library is launching a minigrant program next spring to support OER development and adoption. A request for proposals will go out in early 2018 and grants would be distributed next summer. For now, $5,000 in grant money will be available with award amounts based on the projects. Depending on the program's success, more grant money may be available in the future.

ISU Book Store perspective

One of the OER champions on campus is the ISU Book Store, which may seem like a conflict of interest considering the bookstore makes money selling textbooks to students. In reality, John Wierson, supervisor of digital course materials for the bookstore, said his job is to provide students with affordable options.

"Textbook affordability is always our goal," Wierson said. "There are things we can do to help with that."

The bookstore already offers students several cost-saving options, such as used, rental and e-books; access codes (used to retrieve online digital resources, including e-text, instead of buying bundles of physical texts packaged with the code) and inclusive access. With inclusive access, the bookstore negotiates bulk discount prices for digital materials for particular classes. Wierson said the concept was slow to take off the past few semesters, but more faculty chose the option this fall. He said 9,100 students are enrolled in inclusive access courses this semester, which amounts to student savings of about $600,000.

The bookstore already offers students some OER options, such as links on its website to e-texts at the library, free e-texts and low-cost physical texts through OER repositories, and inexpensive faculty-authored content.

"We want to work with the library and CELT on OER awareness," he said. "We want to find out what's needed and be able to provide as much support as we can."

Brundy hopes OER will take off at Iowa State once faculty learn more about it and how it can help reduce students' college expenses. 

"There's a real movement afoot and lots of universities are doing innovative things related to OER," Brundy said. "I think we're right in the midst of it all, and nobody knows what kind of interest we'll get on campus, but it's an exciting time."

Paying back student loans? Read this

Get the program details

A thorough explanation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, complete with a glossary, resource listing and FAQ, is online.

Iowa State employees who work at least 30 hours a week and are repaying direct educational student loans for themselves or parent loans for their children may have those loan balances forgiven by the federal government following 120 payments.

The catch? There are lots of hoops to jump through before the debt is forgiven. But extra effort to investigate the program -- called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program -- and complete the appropriate paperwork might be worth the trouble. Be aware that email scammers have discovered the program and may send out bogus contact information. The websites, addresses and phone numbers in this article are official and linked to the U.S. Department of Education.

What is PSLF?

Created in 2007 by Congress, the PSLF program forgives the remaining balances of direct educational student and parent loans of full-time public service employees -- with lots of stipulations. For those who joined the program 10 years ago, the first opportunity for loan forgiveness takes place this fall.

 Here are the requirements ISU employees must meet to save any money:

  • Qualifying payments must be:
    • Paid in full each month
    • Paid no later than 15 days after due date
    • Paid while employed by a qualifying employer
    • Part of a qualifying repayment plan
  • Qualifying repayment plan
    • Only income-driven repayment plans qualify. These plans set student loan payments at affordable amounts according to the payer's income and family size.
    • The 10-year standard repayment plan also qualifies for PSLF, but because the loan is paid off entirely after 10 years, there is no remaining balance after 120 payments. To benefit from the loan forgiveness program, individuals must switch to an income-driven repayment plan. Go online to complete an online income-driven repayment plan application.
  • Qualifying employer
    • Government organization at any level (federal, state, local or tribal). This includes Iowa State.
    • Nonprofit organizations with Section 501(c)(3) tax exemption status
    • Other nonprofits that are not 501(c)(3) exempt but provide other types of qualifying services (for example, military service, emergency management, public safety, etc.)
    • Full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteers

Which loans are forgiven?

A direct educational loan by either a student or parent is eligible if it has not been in default and was received under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. There are exceptions: Federal Family Education Loan or Federal Perkins Loan programs don't qualify for PSLF. But those loans may be converted to a direct consolidation loan, which would make them eligible. However, only the payments made following the conversion would qualify for the program. The loan amount forgiven is not considered income for tax purposes.

How to apply

To participate in PSLF, complete and submit the Employment Certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness form. The ISU payroll office must complete section 4 (Employer Certification) of this form. Scan this section and email it to payroll@iastate.edu. Payroll will complete the form and send it back to you. Completing the employment certification form helps the U.S. Department of Education determine if you qualify for the program based on your employer and loan type, and if payments already made can be applied to the program. File the form one of three ways:

  • Mail: U.S. Department of Education
    FedLoan Servicing
    P.O. Box 69184
    Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17106-9184
  • Fax: 717-720-1628


For more information about the PSLF program, read the program's FAQ or contact FedLoan Servicing at 1-855-265-4038.

Eight days of homecoming

"Sound the CYren" is the theme for Iowa State's 105th Homecoming celebration. Events kick off this Friday, Oct. 20, with an outdoor evening dance and continue through Saturday, Oct. 28. The revived second annual parade returns to downtown Ames Sunday, Oct. 22; start time is 2 p.m. The parade will leave from the south side of City Hall, travel east on Fifth Street to Douglas Avenue and west on Main Street to Grand Avenue.

Homecoming buttons ($5) will be sold through Thursday, Oct. 19 (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) in the Parks Library lobby. A button is your ticket to six meals provided by local businesses and served on central campus next week, plus hot dogs at the Homecoming celebration Friday evening at the Alumni Center. Buttons also can be purchased at the food-on-campus events, and a small supply will be available at the Alumni Center.

Food on central campus, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. unless noted:

  • Saturday, Oct. 21, Hickory Park
  • Monday, Oct. 23, Fazoli's
  • Tuesday, Oct. 24, Chick-fil-A
  • Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:30-10 a.m., breakfast from Panera Bread
  • Thursday, Oct. 26, Fuzzy's Tacos
  • Friday, Oct. 27, pork burgers from Iowa Pork Producers

A silent auction to fund annual scholarships for two outstanding seniors from the alumni association's Cardinal Court program will open at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, and close at the end of the pregame tailgate Saturday afternoon. Auction items will be on display in the Reiman Ballroom, Alumni Center.

Homecoming week also will include a student talent show, three rounds of the spirited Yell Like Hell competition, a step show by six historically black fraternities and sororities, and Friday night pep rally. A schedule of public events is below. Admission is free unless noted.

Homecoming 2017

  • Oct. 20, 8-11 p.m., Dance, with DJ and a Broadway theme, Memorial Union west terrace
  • Oct. 21, 10 a.m., Blue Sky 4K Run, to benefit the Beloit residential treatment center for children, minimum $25 fundraising/donation to participate, preceded by kids fun run ($15) at 9 a.m., central campus
  • Oct. 21, 12:30-4:30 p.m., Yell Like Hell, first cuts, central campus
  • Oct. 22, 2 p.m., Parade, downtown Ames
  • Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m., CyFactor student talent competition, Reiman Ballroom, Alumni Center
  • Oct. 25, Noon-4 p.m., "Bomb" transcribe-a-thon, 134 Parks Library
  • Oct. 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Yell Like Hell semifinals, central campus
  • Oct. 26, 8:15-9 p.m., Yard show, synchronized dance, six Iowa State chapters of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Curtiss Hall west steps
  • Oct. 27, 1:15 p.m., Honors and awards ceremony, alumni association and colleges, Benton Auditorium, Scheman
  • Oct. 27, 3:30-5 p.m., Happy hour, cash bar, snacks, prize drawings, Alumni Center
  • Oct. 27, 5-9 p.m., Celebration, includes food trucks, cash bar, kids' activities, silent auction and merchandise sale, Alumni Center
  • Oct 27, 7 p.m., Pep rally, with marching band, spirt squad, Yell Like Hell finals and student athletes, Alumni Center
  • Oct. 27, 8-10 p.m., ExCYtement in the Streets, sorority and fraternity chapters' lawn displays and skits, Greek neighborhood south of campus (performance schedule available on site), food booths at Greek triangle (Sunset Drive and Pearson Avenue)
  • Oct. 27, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., All-you-can-eat pancakes, $3, central campus
  • Oct. 27, midnight, Fireworks and mass campaniling, central campus
  • Oct. 28, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Cyclone Central, food trucks, entertainment, merchandise sales, optional catered meal (preregistration required for meal), Alumni Center
  • Oct. 28, 2:30 p.m., Football vs. Texas Christian University, $30-$65, Jack Trice Stadium
  • Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., Volleyball, vs. University of Kansas, $5, Hilton Coliseum

Pumpkins to light the night

Volunteers stenciling pumpkins

Sophomore Carly Bunkers, left, was among the many volunteers who stenciled and carved 650 pumpkins this week for Reiman Gardens' jack-o'-lantern walk during Spirits in the Gardens. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Trick-or-treaters can get a jump on Halloween this weekend at Reiman Gardens' Spirits in the Gardens celebration, Oct. 21-22. Returning for its second year, the weekend will include a jack-o'-lantern walk -- featuring about 650 carved and lit pumpkins throughout the gardens, an increase of 150 from last year.

Participants are encouraged to come in costume and enjoy trick-or-treating, family activities and storytelling from 4 to 7 p.m., followed by the jack-o'-lantern walk. Saturday's walk ends at 10 p.m.; Sunday's closes at 9 p.m.

Following the event, the pumpkins -- which were sourced from area businesses and farms, including the ISU Horticulture Research Station -- will be donated to a local farm for use as animal feed.

Gardens admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and free for youth (18 and younger), ISU students and members.