No jacket required

Female student Kennady Lilly waters plants in a greenhouse

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Environmental science senior Kennady Lilly waters tropical plants in a greenhouse atop Bessey Hall Jan. 28, just prior to Iowa State's two-day closure due to frigid temperatures and dangerous windchills. "I'm grateful for this job -- it's so nice to get away from the cold," Lilly said.

Record-breaking cold leads to record-breaking closure

Prompted by dangerously cold weather, university administrators called off classes and closed Iowa State offices Tuesday through midday Thursday.

It was a rare cold, with daytime wind chills from 20 to 45 below and a low point of nearly minus 50 in the wee hours Wednesday. The air temperature of minus 22 Wednesday broke the record low in Ames for Jan. 30 by 7 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Campuswide closures are rare, too. How rare? According to university relations records dating back to 1971, it's only the sixth time ISU offices have closed during those 48 years. The most recent instance was the afternoon of Feb. 20, 2014. Classes have been canceled 32 times since 1971, though often just for part of the day and on a couple of occasions for non-winter reasons (1993 flood, 1990 power outage). This week was the only time in that nearly half century when inclement weather forced campus to close for more than two weekdays.  

Since it comes up so infrequently, employees might need a reminder about the policy on work time missed due to weather emergencies.

Most staff need to use vacation or compensatory time to make up for lost work hours. Employees also can take leave without pay or, with supervisor approval, work additional hours this week to make up for missed time.

When university offices close, faculty are expected to adjust their work activity appropriately, in consultation with their unit or department. There is no policy for making up class time missed for weather cancellations.

State-of-the-art veterinary radiation facility opens next week

Drema Lopez demonstrates a linear accelerator

Radiation therapist Drema Lopez demonstrates the linear accelerator in the College of Veterinary Medicine's new radiation therapy facility. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

A facility addition to the Hixson-Lied Small Animal Hospital equipped to provide radiation therapy for pets with cancer opens Feb. 4 at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Construction wrapped up in late August, followed by staff training and a commissioning process for the linear accelerator, a 6-year-old model initially used in a human hospital and subsequently reconditioned for Iowa State.

More info

To learn more about the College of Veterinary Medicine's oncology radiation services, call 515-294-4900 or email

The radiation therapy room offers pet owners a treatment option scarce in the Midwest. The nearest veterinary radiation treatment facilities are at the universities of Minnesota (St. Paul), Wisconsin (Madison) and Missouri (Columbia), according to Chad Johannes, assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences and medical oncologist. There are no veterinary radiation treatment facilities in Iowa, Nebraska or South Dakota, nor in the Kansas City metro area.

"While many clients are willing to treat their pets with radiation, there was a void in this therapy option within a three- to four-hour radius of Iowa State," Johannes said. "The logistics become especially challenging if a treatment protocol calls for 10-20 treatments over two to four weeks."

Precision doses

Even better news for pet owners is that the ISU facility features an advanced technology, stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT), which sends high-dose radiation to a small, focused area accurate within 1-3 millimeters. Johannes said for many cancers, this precision decreases the treatments needed -- from as many as 20 down to one to four -- and reduces side effects. The end result is shorter hospitalization for animals and less time away from their human families.

The nearest SRT sites, he noted, are at Colorado State University, Fort Collins; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and a private practice in Milwaukee.

"As it is with humans, radiation therapy is an integral treatment consideration for many types of cancer in pets -- dogs, cats, exotics. Having this technology available at ISU will increase access to treatment for many pets in the region," Johannes said.

Cancer treatment plans can vary as much as the animals themselves, he said. Costs could range from $1,500 for palliative care up to $8,000 for the most advanced therapy this linear accelerator offers. (Less intensive radiation options are available, too.) Despite a growth in the use of pet insurance, a majority -- about 98 percent -- of pets in the United States are not insured, Johannes said.

New staff

The college hired radiation therapist Drema Lopez from Des Moines' Mercy hospitals network to help guide the linear accelerator through its recommissioning. She has 18 years of experience in human radiation therapy.

Since August, Lopez said the small animal hospital has referred at least 15 animals to out-of-state centers for radiation therapy.

Lopez said the accelerator's table can accommodate animal patients up to 440 pounds, who are sedated and anesthetized for radiation therapy. Due to the precision required, she estimated a treatment capacity of three to eight animal patients a day. She anticipates treating numerous cancers that respond to radiation therapy, particularly brain and nasal tumors, for which surgery and chemotherapy aren't effective options.

The vault-like room has 2-foot composite walls, thickened to 4 feet opposite the beam delivery source. At a thousand pounds, even its heavy-duty door serves to contain the radiation.

The SRT facility's $3.7 million cost (including equipment and furnishings) was covered by hospital funds ($1.8 million), private gifts ($1.57 million) and a $330,000 state appropriation from Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Funds.

Drema Lopez shows how a linear accelerator can be tilted for a t

Radiation therapist Drema Lopez shows how she can tilt the linear accelerator for a very precise radiation treatment.


Regent presidents make FY20 funding request to legislators

President Wendy Wintersteen emphasized Iowa State's efficiency and record of accomplishment during her presentation Jan. 29 to the Iowa Legislature's education appropriations subcommittee. State Board of Regents president Michael Richards joined the three regent university presidents for their funding requests to the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Iowa State's request for state support remains consistent with its proposal to the board in September and Wintersteen's presentation to Gov. Kim Reynolds in November.

Wintersteen highlighted Iowa State's administrative efficiency, higher faculty teaching loads and $12 million in strategic realignments last year.

"ISU is proud to be recognized for our lean organization and structure, but we can't continue to deliver excellence on efficiencies alone. New resources are needed to ensure we can continue to fulfill our land-grant university mission at a world-class level," she said.

Iowa State seeks $7 million in new operating support, to be used for resident undergraduate financial aid.

She told legislators average student debt (for those graduating with debt) decreased more than $2,200 since 2013, to $27,643. The percentage of Iowa State students that borrowed money last year dropped to 59 percent, the lowest since recordkeeping began. Still, nearly 10,000 of 15,000 resident undergraduates had some financial need -- an average $12,124 after Pell Grant awards.

Wintersteen said private fundraising for scholarships remains a priority. Iowa State awarded $18 million in private scholarships last year to more than 6,400 students. Additional state support "will help ensure more Iowa students with financial need have access to an exceptional ISU education and graduates can leave ISU with less or no debt," she said.

Economic development

Wintersteen repeated Iowa State and the University of Iowa's shared request for $4 million in recurring funds to support four biosciences platforms identified in the November 2017 biosciences report prepared for the state by TEConomy Partners, Columbus, Ohio: biobased chemicals, precision and digital agriculture, vaccines and immunotherapy, and medical devices. Iowa State scientists would lead efforts on the first three. The governor's budget includes $2 million for this purpose.

"We believe the full amount of $4 million is necessary for us to fully develop the important economic opportunities," Wintersteen said. "Our faculty would leverage these state resources to attract external funding to advance research and innovation in these areas, and transfer more technology to the marketplace through startup companies and industry partnerships."

Library renovation

Wintersteen asked legislators for $26 million over two years -- $10 million in fiscal year 2020 -- to help fund an estimated $28 million in renovations to Parks Library. Private gifts would complete the funding package. Additional technology-equipped study and collaborative spaces in areas now serving as book stacks and more space for the special collections and university archives departments are planned. Reynolds' budget doesn't include this facility funding for FY20.

Iowa State's funding request also includes:

  • A 10 percent increase ($410,000) to the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab's operating appropriation to better serve the state's $32.5 billion animal agriculture industry. Reynolds' budget does not include an increase.
  • Continued commitment to directed appropriations that support specific land-grant functions such as ISU Extension and Outreach, livestock disease research and the Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

Accounting moves from cash to accrual with Workday

Iowa State's financial business will move from cash-based to accrual accounting with the July 1 implementation of the Workday software system. But what does that mean?

It's all about timing, said controller Kathy Dobbs.

"In the current system, the timing is based on when cash changes hands. In accrual accounting, it's about when expenses are incurred and revenue is earned,'" Dobbs said.

That means account balances will reflect reductions before final bills are paid and increases before revenue is collected. For example, if a department orders a new desk, the expense will be reflected on the account when the funds are committed -- in this case, when the desk is ordered, not when the invoice is received. For income, accounts will reflect revenue when clients are billed, rather than when cash is received.

"In the current cash-based system, the departments are used to seeing things happen when checks go out or come in the door," Dobbs said. "With Workday, we'll recognize expenses and revenues at the time they occur, not at the time we actually cut or cash a check."

Real-time information

Dobbs said the new system will provide nearly real-time transaction processing to help units and departments make financial decisions with timely financial reports.  

"Workday is configured to make the correct accrual accounting entries at the time transactions occur so when departments look at financial information, it's current, it's up-to-date and they don't have to wait for other things to happen to get the answers they want," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said the ISU already produces university-wide accrual-based financial statements at the end of the fiscal year, a requirement for all colleges and universities. Currently it's a labor-intensive process that brings in numbers from other financial systems to produce external financial reports.

With Workday, all of that will be done in one system, which updates every time a transaction is made.

"There's increasing pressure for institutions to produce financial statements more frequently and faster," Dobbs said. "With that environment in play, it makes sense to have all this in one system so we can get a picture of what the financials look like at any point in time."

Accrual accounting is a familiar concept for accountants but may be new to some employees who work with financial transactions and reports. Training will give specialists in accounting roles on the finance service delivery teams a deeper understanding of the system, Dobbs said.

"For most people, it's really how to look at the financial information they have access to and how to interpret it," Dobbs said. " We are committed to providing that information in a way that's very digestible."

Parks Library has app to pair with smart assistant

Library users make 10,000 inquiries about Parks Library's hours each year, but there is a new way -- with fewer clicks or phone calls -- to find out.

The university library is piloting an app, Parks Libro, available in the Amazon Skill Store, that pairs with Amazon Alexa technology to answer specific questions about the library.

Currently, the app can do three things:

  • Search the library's catalog by book title, author or genre
  • Share upcoming events
  • Dispense library hours

Answers come from the library’s Primo search tool and its calendar system.

"We configured the Alexa Parks Libro app to connect to the existing library system so there was no additional investment required there," said assistant director for assessment and planning Greg Davis. "It is just connecting to things we already purchased for use in the library.”

Taking the next step

The next question is if and when to further develop what Parks Libro can do.

"We are always very careful about protecting patron privacy," Davis said. "In our first try, we drew the line that we were not going to do anything that required personal information. That limits privacy risks, but also limits the functionality of the app.

"The next logical thing might be for Alexa Parks Libro to be able to tell you when your book is due, but it doesn’t know your books because it doesn’t know who you are," he said.

Providing personal information would allow this, but it would come as an opt-in for users of the app.

"People have spoken out about smart assistant technology -- not specific to our project, but in general -- wondering if it is a good thing to have Amazon as the 'Big Brother' listening to all of your conversations," Davis said. "Our app doesn't really have anything to do with that concern, but those kinds of misunderstandings are out there.”

Davis said a planned slow rollout of Parks Libro will allow user comfort to grow and provide an opportunity for feedback.

"We don’t want to do anything that would create red flags or hardship for anybody. This is supposed to be a simple, fun aid. That is why we are taking it slow and easing its way onto campus to see the kind of concerns we hear from people," he said.

It started with a list

The idea to add smart assistants to the tools available in the library began about a year ago.

"According to data from research and advisory company Gartner, by 2019, there will be two voice personal assistants per kitchen," Davis said. "Sooner or later students are going to show up on the campus doorstep having used smart assistants, and they will want to be able to ask their smart assistant about the Iowa State Library."

Davis began working on a list of 50 facts about Parks Library that led to a library partnership with ThickStat Inc. Indianapolis, to design Parks Libro. The app specifically is for the library and became available for download in September.

It also is possible in the future to expand the Parks Libro app to other platforms like Google Home and Apple Siri.

Go play in the gardens

Planters decorated as dice

Photos by Christopher Gannon.

Reiman Gardens' first exhibit of 2019 opened in January in the conservatory. The tropical display kicks off the "Toys and Games" theme that will be reflected throughout the gardens this year.

Orchids and flowering plants add color to the lush green conservatory, where hints of the theme -- think playing cards and dice -- are tucked into the "The Magic Circle" display. Spring bulbs will replace the orchids in March.

Larger-than-life, interactive displays will be installed on the gardens' grounds this spring. A College of Design team led by architecture lecturer Reinaldo Correa is partnering with gardens staff to create eight oversized games, including:

  • "Scavenger Hunt"
  • "Consequence," similar to the "KerPlunk" marble game
  • "Photosynthesize," balance balls
  • "BEEd Maze"
  • "Morphing Morphology," like the cryptex puzzle in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"
  • "Cause and Effect," sliding tile puzzle
  • "Food Web Chess"
  • "Connect Food," based on "Connect Four"

Themed sculptures, designed and fabricated in house, also are part of the exhibit. They include giant dice, a Rubik's Cube-like playhouse and playing cards with photo-op face cutouts. A fourth sculpture may be added. The "Nature of the Game" outdoor display of sculptures and interactive art is scheduled to run April 27 through Oct. 6. Admission to Reiman Gardens is $9 ($8 for seniors, $4.50 for youth and free for members, ISU students and children up to 2 years old).