Students repurpose road signs into commercial products

Team project presentations

Offenders at the Anamosa State Penitentiary provided feedback on design concepts presented by student teams. Two of the products will be further developed for production at the facility. Images provided by Dan Neubauer.

Two student design concepts are a step closer to reality, thanks to Iowa State's expanding partnership with Iowa Prison Industries (IPI). Six undergraduate teams in Dan Neubauer's industrial design studio course (IND 592) this summer developed commercial product ideas that use recycled road signs and repurposed wood.

IPI director Dan Clark said cities and counties across the state send their retired and damaged road signs back to the Anamosa State Penitentiary, where they were originally produced. The signs -- from large overpass signs to small speed limit signs -- can be ground down and resurfaced or recycled for other uses.

The challenge for the student teams was to incorporate the used metal signs in designs for public-space furniture. Repurposed wood -- for example, fallen and diseased trees -- and reclaimed steel posts/supports that held the signage also were available for use.

"IPI's given us access to its manufacturing facilities and the opportunity for students to learn how to make commercialized products," Neubauer said.

Lots of learning

Neubauer, who was an IPI intern seven years ago, launched this summer's inaugural course that packed a lot of learning into a short amount of time.

The students made two road trips to the northeast Iowa penitentiary, where offenders will manufacture the items on site. The first trip familiarized students with the fabrication equipment available. The teams presented their initial designs during the second trip, getting production and usability feedback from offenders and IPI personnel.

"We do a lot of collaboration with Iowa State," Clark said. "One of the ways we love to engage is on the academic side."

Moving forward

Bench design concept

Plaza bench design, pictured at left with vertical garden panel.

Clark and his IPI team chose two of the concepts for further development. Bench and trash bin designs were selected for their commercial appeal. The items could be added to IPI's product catalog for customers that include cities, universities, parks and other public agencies.

"Everybody immediately loved these," Clark said. "These teams will work in more detail with our design people about how we're going to manufacture the items."

The bench concept features optional side panel inserts, one of which could be a vertical garden. The angle of the bench seat is designed to channel rainwater off it and into the garden. The concept also leaves the back of the bench open for various uses, such as bike racks or planters.

Trash bin design concept

Trash bin design with wood overlay.

The proposed trash bin would house a typical 32-gallon garbage can, shaping repurposed large signs into a metal receptacle. The front access panel of the bin can be customized with a wood overlay, custom logos and "raw" signage, such as a speed limit sign. The student team developed the concept as a mid-level price option IPI's current catalog lacked.

"We're not huge, we won't sell millions of them, but the students can say they had something built and sold commercially," Clark said.

IPI partnerships

Several campus units and departments partner with IPI. For example, IPI produces design concepts developed in furniture design studio and apparel production management classes. Many of the furnishings in ISU residence halls and apartments also are IPI products.

"This is the first one we've done with industrial design," Clark said. "We'll be doing a lot more with these folks."

Summer enrollment drops below 12,000

Two male students leave Gilman Hall

Students leave Gilman Hall at the end of a summer session chemistry class. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Iowa State's summer enrollment is 11,675 -- 385 fewer students than last summer's record-setting 12,060 students. Summer 2018 numbers include:

  • 8,049 undergraduates, a decrease of 336 (4 percent) from last summer
  • 3,126 graduate students, a decrease of 69 (2 percent) from last year
  • 345 post docs, an increase of 15 (4.5 percent) over last summer

"Our overall enrollment continues to be strong," said Laura Doering, associate vice president for enrollment management and student success. "After a decade of enrollment increases, the university is experiencing a slight decline in overall enrollment as larger classes are graduating and being replaced by smaller new classes."

Doering said Iowa State graduated a record number of students during the 2017-18 academic year, with 8,310 degrees conferred -- including degrees to 4,919 Iowans. 

The summer census day is the 10th day of the second session (June 22). The count reflects all registration through that day and includes classes that concluded prior to it.

Some increases noted

If it doesn't feel like there are nearly 12,000 students here this summer, you're right. The number of Iowa State summer students who enroll only in online courses continues to grow. That number, a subset of total enrollment, rose 120 students to 3,996 this summer, or 34 percent of all summer students. A year ago, online-only students made up 32 percent of all summer enrollees.

Despite the overall decline, three colleges registered slight increases in their summer enrollments: Business, Design and Veterinary Medicine.

Summer enrollment by college
















Human Sciences






Vet Medicine



Interdisciplinary graduate






Post docs






Spring is a predictor of summer

Registrar Mark Simpson said this summer's enrollment nearly mirrors the average of the previous five summers, 11,679 students. He also noted that this summer's decline is consistent -- perhaps even predictable -- with spring semester's enrollment decline, after more than a decade of a steady climb in spring enrollments.

And while it served a limited number of students -- about 50 each summer -- this was the first year Iowa State didn't offer the summer trial program for new freshmen who don't meet the minimum score on the Regent Admission Index. The summer program was replaced by other strategies to support at-risk first-year students.

Six years: Spring and summer enrollments


Spring semester

Summer sessions






















Sandra Looft near the Sloss House

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Ruxandra (Sandra) Looft is the new director of the Margaret Sloss Women's Center, effective June 18.

She will oversee the strategic vision of the women's center, plan and develop programming, supervise staff and direct building operations for the Sloss House, located on central campus. The women's center director reports to associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students Vernon Hurte. 

Looft will remain a faculty affiliate with the women’s and gender studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Studies.

Looft has worked on campus since 2010, when she was a lecturer in German in the world languages and cultures department. In addition to advising up to 260 students annually, she also became advising coordinator for the department in 2013.

Her office is in 203 Sloss House. Looft can be reached by phone at 294-4647, by email at

Rosa named first fellow to assist with diversity, inclusion

Professor of marketing Jose Rosa has been appointed the inaugural faculty fellow to the vice president for diversity and inclusion. The half-time, three-year appointment begins July 1.

Vice president for diversity and inclusion Reg Stewart said the fellowship's focus will be on training and support for Iowa State faculty. It was important, he said, to identify a tenured faculty member with a demonstrated willingness and dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

"Jose has been a champion for our efforts since we started our office two and a half years ago. He's always at the ready," Stewart said. For example, Rosa chairs Colegas, the affinity group for Hispanic and Latino faculty and staff. And he frequently serves as moderator for the VPDI's campus conversation series.

Stewart noted that Iowa State is fortunate to have many faculty who devote lots of hours and effort to diversity and inclusion. The fellowship creates a deliberate, more formal opportunity for one faculty member, he said.

It also aligns with Goal 4 of the university's five-year strategic plan: "Continue to enhance and cultivate the ISU Experience where faculty, staff, students and visitors are safe, feel welcomed, supported, included and valued by the university and each other."

Making a difference

The VPDI and provost offices partnered to buy out half of Rosa's time from the Ivy College of Business. Rosa will work with Stewart and with associate provost for faculty Dawn Bratsch-Prince to create and coordinate educational training and development for faculty.

"Jose is a respected faculty member who was really looking to make a difference at Iowa State, and we're excited about an opportunity to partner with the VPDI office," Bratsch-Prince said. "Jose will help us advance in some very specific projects. But we know he'll also help us [provost's office] weave issues of inclusion into everything we do."

The faculty fellow's areas of major responsibility are:

  • Institutionalize the Sustaining the Pipeline workshops first offered in the 2016-17 academic year
  • Analyze data from the COACHE (every four years) and fall 2017 campus climate surveys, and identify and address faculty climate concerns
  • Assist Faculty Senate leadership with its priorities in diversity
  • Facilitate innovative faculty trainings in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Incorporate education and training topics into existing faculty development programming -- for example, monthly department chair workshops, new faculty workshops, academic administrator orientation and other general workshops for tenure-track and term faculty
  • Collaborate with ISU ADVANCE to expand efforts to recruit, retain and advance women and underrepresented faculty members

Expanding an idea

Early on, the faculty fellowship was proposed as a collaboration between the VPDI and Business college. When the provost leaders inquired about making it a university-wide assignment, Business dean David Spalding agreed.

"Dean Spalding is very supportive of diversity efforts on campus. He's positioning his college to be a leader in this," Bratsch-Prince said.

Rosa joined the Business faculty in 2015 and was named the John and Deborah Ganoe Faculty Fellow in the marketing department in 2016. He organized a fall 2016 summit in Des Moines that brought together professionals from higher education, government and industry to discuss the opportunity to provide a better business education to Iowa's fast-growing Hispanic population.

Rosa is among the Business faculty who are relocating temporarily to the Memorial Union until the Gerdin Building expansion is complete. His office is in 4564 Memorial Union.

State-of-art facility aims to improve farm and construction machinery

If you've ever seen a car commercial set in a laboratory -- tires of a motionless vehicle spinning on rollers like a treadmill for sedans -- you've seen a dynamometer in action. Used for measuring force, torque and power, dynamometers can be as simple as a small spring.

On the other end of the spectrum is Iowa State's new $2.9 million dynamometer approved by the state Board of Regents in April. Among the world's many publicly available chassis dynamometers -- the kind with rollers, like on car commercials -- Iowa State's will be one of the few capable of testing large construction and farm machinery, including tractors, combines and wheel loaders.

A range of research

Having a controlled setting to evaluate the performance of off-highway vehicles will allow faculty to expand research in emerging areas, said Brian Steward, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. That could mean extending to off-road machinery some concepts already familiar in on-road passenger vehicles, he said. Think tractors with traction control and fuel efficiency ratings.

"You can set up your test conditions much more specific to what you'd want to understand than you could in a field test," Steward said. "It really complements what we can do in the field and what we can do with components."

Design is underway on the facility, which is expected to break ground this fall and be in operation by next summer in a 5,000-square-foot building at the Agricultural Engineering and Agronomy Farm, about 4 miles west of Ames on Highway 30.

Based on preliminary designs, the dynamometer would feature four sets of seven independently controlled rollers, each about 18 inches high and set inside trenches about 7 feet deep, Steward said. Motors connected to the rollers will help gather energy released by vehicles being tested, converting it to electricity that will be distributed back to the power grid.  

The multiple rollers clustered in four corners provide more surface contact and allow tests of vehicles propelled by both wheels and tracks, he said. Though built with the capacity for massive heavy equipment, it also could handle vehicles as small as skid-steer loaders and passenger cars.

"Those are the things that make it unique," he said. "A lot of it is the range of powers."

Valued experience

Students will benefit from the dynamometer because they'll be working with the techniques and data used to assess sophisticated control and sensor systems increasingly common in vehicles of all types, Steward said. It would be valuable background for working on driverless cars, for instance.

"In order to develop those systems, you need to be able to test them. Students going into the industry need some perspective on what the testing looks like," Steward said.

The facility will be available to industry for a fee, which Steward expects will generate significant interest. One company certain to use it is Danfoss Power Solutions, which contributed $1.8 million to the dynamometer project -- nearly two-thirds of its cost.

A private partner

The largest non-governmental employer in Ames, with 1,100 workers, Danfoss makes hydraulics and electronics for heavy equipment manufacturers like John Deere and Caterpillar. It also develops and improves systems for off-highway vehicles, looking for ways to improve performance and efficiency, said Dave Wohlsdorf, senior director for strategic innovation platforms and processes.

Danfoss tests those systems in computer simulations and real-life operations at its Application Development Center in Ames -- "a playground for engineers," as Wohlsdorf called it.

"But the one thing we don't have is a laboratory to test complete machines," he said. The dynamometer will provide a setting to collect accurate, precise, repeatable data that's difficult to obtain in outdoor environments, he said.

There are other upsides. Assisting Iowa State with the facility's funding will better prepare students Danfoss wants to hire. Its workforce is about half Iowa State graduates, and nearly all of the dozens of interns it hires each summer are Iowa State students. Engineering students working on research projects at the dynamometer will be ready to jump right in at Danfoss, Wohlsdorf said.  

"We saw this as a great opportunity," he said. "We could have built this laboratory all by ourselves. But it makes more sense to do it with a partner using it for research."


Alumna appointed director of lectures program

Amanda Knief has been appointed director of the Lectures Program, effective Aug. 1.

A graduate of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication (1999) and Drake University Law School (2006), Knief currently serves as a legislative analyst in the Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service. Previous appointments include government relations, policy and event planning positions with the American Atheists, Secular Coalition of America and Iowa Legislative Services Agency.

Knief will be just the third director of the 60-year-old lectures program. She succeeds Pat Miller, who retired this month after directing the program for 37 years.