A peek inside the Student Innovation Center

Central foyer of the Student Innovation Center

A view of the two-story central foyer, looking east toward the Student Innovation Center's front doors. At left is the second-floor outdoor courtyard; at right, shrouded in painter's scaffolding, is the step-atorium, a combination of stairs and seating areas linking the first and second floors. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

Under construction for the last two years, the Student Innovation Center, just west of the Marston water tower, is about 75% complete and on target to open by spring semester. Senior construction manager Leroy Brown, facilities planning and management, said his goal is to begin moving in equipment during November, a lengthy process that will continue through the spring. A daily crew of 150 to 170 on site is working to get there.

When it opens, the Student Innovation Center will be a hands-on hub for students from all corners of campus. "This building belongs to every student at Iowa State; hopefully every student will be in it," Brown said.

In it, they'll create, design, fabricate, test and demonstrate ideas -- everything from culinary to lunar, digital gaming to wood, entrepreneurship to vehicles. The facility also will include exhibit space, print and supplies shops, a student-run cafe, office space for student organizations and more wireless access points than any other building on campus, according to Brown.

The general university space includes four classrooms and a 110-seat auditorium, but Brown noted that 60 percent of the finished space is either shared or not yet assigned. Two passenger elevators service all five levels of the Student Innovation Center, and a freight elevator, large enough to hold a pickup truck, services the basement, first and second levels -- programmed to know how much weight each floor can handle. Too heavy? The elevator doors won't open.

Wait for it

If you feel like you've been waiting for this building longer than two years, you have. The 2015 Iowa Legislature approved $40 million in state support, with subsequent lawmakers tweaking the timing of the funding (currently spread over six fiscal years, 2017-22). The state Board of Regents gave its final approval in December 2016. The state funds nearly match $44 million in private gifts for this one-of-a-kind learning facility. In January, Jim Oliver, University Professor and Larry and Pam Pithan Professor of Mechanical Engineering, began serving as director of the Student Innovation Center, and a facility manager will be announced next month.

Torqued roof feature of the Student Innovation Center

The south second-floor roof features a raised, torqued roof (flat on its underside) above the step-atorium in the Student Innovation Center.

Raised access floor on three levels of the Student Innovation Ce

Utilities are located beneath a raised access floor, consisting of 17-inch steel pedestals and 48-pound concrete tiles, on floors 2, 3 and 4 of the Student Innovation Center. (Pictured) Five tiles have been removed to give an electrician access to the space.

Fourth floor meeting room

An east fourth-floor meeting room in the Student Innovation Center provides floor-to-ceiling views to the north, east and south.

Leroy Brown on the second floor patio roof

Senior construction manager Leroy Brown, facilities planning and management, points out a designated patio area on one section of the second-floor roof. Beyond will be a planted, green roof.


New initiative requires immediate academic help for at-risk freshmen

A new program launching this fall will assure immediate academic intervention for first-year students who didn't automatically qualify for admission, a group of about 200 undergraduates who often need extra support in their crucial first months on campus.

Participation in Smart Start will be required for Iowa State freshmen admitted despite a Regents Admissions Index (RAI) score less than the 245 that guarantees acceptance to any of Iowa's three state Board of Regents universities. Typically, that cohort is about 3-5% of each entering Iowa State class, roughly 200-250 students, said Phil Caffrey, director of admissions operations and policy. 

"Research shows they're the students at greatest risk for attrition," Caffrey said.

The average one-year retention rate for students with RAI scores between 233 and 244 has been 16% lower than for all students who enrolled directly from high school, 71% compared to 87%. Three-year retention was 22% lower (just 56%), and six-year graduation rates are 50%, compared to 73% for all direct-from-high-school students. The statistics cover from 2009, when RAI was first used, through 2016.

Students who weren't automatically admitted are more likely to struggle immediately. The average first-year GPA for students whose RAI would have qualified them for Smart Start is 2.11, compared to an overall first-year average of 2.87. That's why early intervention is key.

"The best way to help somebody get out of an academic hole is to help them not dig the hole in the first place," Caffrey said.

How it works

The initial required contact will come within the first three weeks of the fall semester, a small-group meeting with three or four other Smart Start participants and Yakira Sanders, the half-time graduate assistant hired to run the program, said Katie Whipple, director of the Academic Success Center, which will oversee Smart Start.

It's important to establish a connection early, just as students are adjusting from high school to college. The small-group meetings will be interactive, giving students a chance to discuss and reflect on the transition.

"They will be coming to see someone face-to-face within the first three weeks, which I think can be powerful," Whipple said. Typically, she said, "They may not need to see their adviser until October or November."

Attendance at one of the center's one-hour workshops also is required in the fall semester, as is a one-on-one meeting with Sanders strategically timed around midterms. Whipple said first-year students sometimes don't realize they're falling behind until they receive a midterm report, making it an ideal time to shepherd students toward assistance.

"They're not going to engage until they feel that reality," Whipple said.

Students who earn at least a 2.33 GPA in the fall will have no further obligations under the program. Caffrey said research shows a significant jump in persistence for students with a 2.33 or better in their first semester.

"That wasn't an arbitrary decision. We definitely look at the data to inform that," Whipple said.

Students who fail to hit the 2.33 benchmark remain in Smart Start a second semester. In the spring, two one-on-one meetings with Sanders are required, as is enrollment in Psychology 131, a one-credit academic skills development course. They're also eligible for free tutoring for one of their courses and potentially more, if funding is available. Along with regular academic warning and probation rules, additional measures might be required for Smart Start students who receive less than a 2.0 in their first semester.

Because participation is a condition of admittance, students who don't comply with the Smart Start requirements won't be able to register for their next semester's classes. 

Hopeful it's helpful

Whipple and Caffrey said they're optimistic about what a dash of guaranteed support will mean for Smart Start students.

The initiative is limited to students who aren't affiliated with other sources of academic structure, so it doesn't include student-athletes or, for example, Multicultural Vision Program participants or recipients of Hixson Opportunity Awards. Neither is it a replacement for the former summer trial program canceled in 2018, Caffrey said. Summer trial students had lower RAI scores than the Smart Start cohort. Those who earned acceptable grades in six credits of summer coursework were admitted for the fall, but the chance to show college readiness didn't come with any added assistance. 

Smart Start's aim is to proactively help students otherwise on their own as they begin their college journey.

"Since we haven't ever done anything to reach out to this population, I'm hoping we can move the needle at least a little bit. And I'm really hoping we can move it a lot," Caffrey said.

A committee first began exploring options in 2017, wrestling with how to wring the most from a relatively small budget, a little more than $40,000 per year.

"We spent a lot of time talking about what this program will entail," Caffrey said.

The broad strokes have been in place since spring 2018, which allowed the program to be touted in recruiting materials for the first-year class arriving this fall. The program is funded for at least two years -- probably three, Caffrey said -- allowing time to see what works and make small adjustments as needed. For instance, enrollees were invited to touch base at the Academic Success Center during orientation, an offer 39 of the 211 participants (as of July 11) took them up on. Whipple said they will study whether that summer contact makes a difference.

Though it will take more than a year to gauge the results of Smart Start, in terms of academic performance and retention, Whipple said she's eager to see it in action.

"I think there's a feeling of excitement and hope," she said.

Five questions for an entrepreneur ambassador

Karen Kerns, entrepreneur in residence

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Alumna Karen Kerns is midway through a three-year, half-time appointment to guide President Wendy Wintersteen's entrepreneurship and innovation initiative. Student entrepreneurs, the focus of the initiative, will be showcased in ISU's state fair exhibit (Aug. 8-18, Varied Industries Building).

The basics

Name: Karen Kerns
Position: Entrepreneur in residence, a three-year presidential appointment
Time in position: 1.5 years
Other positions: Chair, ISU Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative; CEO, Kerns and Associates production agriculture consultants

What's your assignment?

I work across the entire university and with the deans, the president and key leaders to understand and develop the culture of entrepreneurship as it relates to mindset, entrepreneurial skills and behaviors, and traditional entrepreneurship [startup businesses]. I'm doing this in conjunction with some well-established efforts already on this campus.

Iowa State students are exceptional when it comes to technical competency -- they are great performers and skilled -- but if you look at data from employers and student confidence in terms of preparedness, they struggle with what we've termed behavioral capacity. It's moving from a transactional mentality -- give me this for that -- to a stewardship mentality where everyone benefits through a culture of contribution, engagement and return. 

How do you define entrepreneurship and innovation?

The criteria for entrepreneurship are risk, capitalization, investment and utilizing business concepts to create. For Iowa State, we consider value that extends beyond financial capital -- we're looking at human capital, community welfare and revitalization, and thought leadership that changes culture. We focus on four quadrants of entrepreneurship: traditional product- and service-based startup business entrepreneurship; intrapreneurship that helps students innnovate within companies; civic innovation that allows students to make an immediate difference in their communities; and social entrepreneurship, which is thought leadership and advocacy.

Innovation is a necessary component of entrepreneurship. Innovation refers to the capacity to create something novel -- to look at a problem, see a gap and provide a solution. But it doesn't necessarily translate to economic or social value. The difference between innovation and entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurship is deliverable-oriented and outcome-based. Innovation has to have a context in order to have value.

How do you sell entrepreneurship and innovation to students?

This is a significant opportunity to provide resources that help them impact and contribute to not just the economy, but also to Iowa State. We're asking students to participate in a different way. To contribute while they're here. We're telling them they have the capacity to innovate and entrepreneur their experience at Iowa State.

Our deans have been innovative, leading their colleges in conversations and initiatives resulting in unique approaches for curriculum and student experiences. They have embraced it and found it revitalizing. During this first 18 months of mapping and planning what entrepreneurship looks like for Iowa State, the most surprising discovery has been the number and scope of students, faculty and staff currently engaged in entrepreneurial programs and projects. Many colleges already have formalized programs and are working with thousands of students on business startups or new product or service design.

What skills do you use as entrepreneur in residence?

One of the hardest things in my job is to not impose an agenda. I have certifications in internal family systems therapy and spiritual direction which are very critical to what I do. I've spent the last 10 years doing a lot of research on how our brains process information, why we process things the way we do -- what are the limitations and what inhibits us from innovating, creating, moving forward and healing. That knowledge allows me to help create conversations that are secure and trusting for a broad base of participants. Resistant stakeholders are my favorite because they protect us, are rigorous in investigating gaps and are an important part in clarifying what we're doing and why we're doing it.

What can visitors expect at ISU's entrepreneurship-themed state fair exhibit?

They will walk away with an experience of what it's like to participate with students who are creating, innovating and entrepreneuring. They will be able to see it, hear it and participate by giving us their vote. Experience trumps belief. We are putting our money where our mouth is, showing Iowans that their investment in Iowa State is fostering and launching exceptionally innovative young people who will go on to create economic opportunities wherever they settle. We want to show participants that our students are phenomenally and technically competent, but they're not just satisfied with ideas and education -- they're turning their education into outcomes and impact.

Budgets are on regents' Aug. 1 agenda

Meeting via telephone on Aug. 1, the state Board of Regents will approve university budgets for the fiscal year that began July 1. The meeting will originate from the board office in Urbandale, and audio of all public portions of the meeting will be livestreamed on the board's website. Start time is 10 a.m. The agenda is online.

According to board documents, Iowa State's proposed operating budget for FY20 is $742 million, up about $10.1 million from a year ago. The key pieces of that increase are about $5.1 million more in state support and $4.6 million in additional tuition revenue.

Combined with restricted budgets of $773.2 million, Iowa State's proposed overall FY20 budget is nearly $1.53 billion, an increase of about $24.8 million from a year ago.

Details about Iowa State's budget will be shared in an upcoming edition of Inside.

Other ISU business

Also on the consent agenda are ISU requests to:

  • Purchase an 18,200-square-foot warehouse on about four acres at 2105 East Lincoln Way, the proposed new location for ISU’s central receiving facility. It currently shares a building on Airport Road with the surplus unit. The proposed price is $1.45 million, covered with lease revenue funds.
  • Lease to the city of Ames, for $1 annually, 9.5 acres at the northwest corner of the Scholl Road/Ontario Road intersection so the city can develop it for the proposed Healthy Life Center. The land currently is used for agricultural research plots, but access with modern farm equipment is increasingly difficult as the residential neighborhood grows. This lease would be the university's contribution to the project.
  • Change the name of two master's programs, for consistency. The master of engineering and master of science programs in information assurance would become the master of engineering and master of science in cyber security. This reflects degree program names at other universities and aligns with the new bachelor's degree in cyber security.

Alumna named to state relations post

Headshot of Carolann Jensen

Carolann Jensen

Carolann Jensen, chief operations officer for the Iowa Finance Authority, Des Moines, will become the state relations officer for Iowa State on Aug. 26. Officially, she is a state Board of Regents employee, and this was a collaborative hire between the board office and the president's office.

Jensen has worked for the IFA since 2011. Her service included time during 2018 as interim executive director and chief programs officer. Previously, she spent 24 years as a senior research analyst for the Republican caucus in the Iowa Senate.

She earned a bachelor's degree in public service and administration in agriculture from Iowa State and a master's degree in public administration from Drake University.

Jensen succeeds Kristin Bauer, who joined the legal staff in the board office.