Reflect and react

Student Ryan Faught

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Agricultural and life sciences education senior Ryan Faught intently studies a work of art displayed in Morrill Hall's Reiman Gallery earlier this week. Faught was working on a gallery reflection assignment for one of his classes, Art and Heritage of Livestock. Here, he's studying pieces from the exhibit "It Starts with Us: Civility and the 21st Century Land Grant Mission," which ends its month-long run Friday as part of university museums' ReACT exhibition series.

ISU joins national degree completion initiative

Iowa State leaders learned last week the university was accepted into the national "Degrees When Due" initiative sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). The program identifies and reengages adults who started their college educations but stopped before earning a degree. The goal is to help more students, particularly those from historically underserved communities, complete their studies and compete for new kinds of jobs.

"We think it's going to be a great program. It allows us to be responsive and help the state meet its workforce needs," said associate provost for academic programs Ann Marie VanDerZanden. "What's really attractive is that it can look very different at each institution."

Degrees When Due is data-driven, she said, both in terms of identifying students who are close to completing degrees and solutions for helping them finish. She also said Iowa State is fortunate to be in a position to build on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' (LAS) success the last few years reaching out to former students who were close to completing a bachelor's degree, laying out a course map and making sure those courses were offered in a format the students could use.

Regent-wide effort

Iowa's three regent universities applied jointly to be in the Degrees When Due program's second class. Over two years, about 150 two- and four-year schools in 20 states have been accepted. Thanks to nearly $6 million in funding from the Lumina, Kresge and ECMC foundations and the Great Lakes Higher Education Corp., participating schools don't have to pay a fee.

Prioritizing for maximum impact

To get started, IHEP staff will provide training to core leadership teams on each campus, including instruction on how to use state data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and coaching to develop a work plan with the greatest impact. VanDerZanden said the ISU team will include representatives for the LAS college, registrar, institutional research, student affairs, provost and a few others. She estimated the behind-the-scenes training and preparation would take several months.

VanDerZanden said the campus planning process would involve identifying patterns in what's absent from former students' transcripts in order to prioritize courses that could satisfy the greatest number of needs and offering them in a format -- online or face-to-face, for example -- that's useful.

LAS college experiment

Associate dean for academic programs Amy Slagell credits online learning staff members Callie Morrow and Amanda Rasmusson with spotting the potential for inviting former LAS students to complete the flexible, interdisciplinary bachelor's of liberal studies, administered in the college. Respecting the obstacles that keep students from completing a degree and adding courses to the university's online offerings were critical to the project, Slagell said.

LAS's first invitation, in May 2017, went to 84 recent (within five years) LAS students with at least 100 credit hours and 2.0 GPA who hadn't defaulted on school loans and owed less than $1,000 on their U-bill. A second group got the invitation in spring 2018. College staff ran a degree audit for everyone who responded, seeking multiple paths to a degree. As of May, those invitations garnered 17 re-entering students, eight of whom had completed a degree.

Slagell said the college was able to accommodate the highly individualized work with existing staff. Degrees When Due will provide access to data and best practices for building a program systemwide, she said.

"I see this as part of our land-grant mission," Slagell said. "We're all tuned in to accessibility but also to student debt. What a serious setback it is to have the debt without the degree."

Change to federal overtime law will impact some ISU employees

Federal equity audit finds ISU compliant

Pay equity and recruiting a diverse workforce are important at Iowa State. As a federal contractor, the university is required, by law, to take affirmative action to ensure all individuals have equal opportunity for employment. 

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) periodically audits federal contractors and recipients of federal assistance to determine if the contractor maintains nondiscriminatory hiring and employment practices and is taking affirmative action to avoid making employment decisions with regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, national origin or status as a protected veteran.

In September 2018, OFCCP began an extensive audit of Iowa State. In August 2019, OFCCP notified Iowa State the audit found no violations. This notification is significant because it demonstrates that we are all doing our part in complying with the federal regulations.

Recent revisions to federal labor regulations will increase the number of workers nationwide eligible for overtime pay and will impact some Iowa State employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Sept. 24 that it completed the rulemaking process for updating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), raising the weekly salary an executive, administrative or professional employee must earn to be exempt from FLSA overtime provisions. The $455-per-week threshold set in 2004 will increase to $684 per week, effective Jan. 1, 2020. That means the minimum annual salary to qualify as exempt will jump from $23,660 to $35,568, making more Iowa State staff eligible for overtime pay.

Because the FLSA doesn't make a distinction between full-time and part-time work, the salary threshold also applies to part-time employees without proration. 

Iowa State has been planning for the changes, which will affect around 100 employees, said Emma Mallarino-Houghton, university human resources (UHR) classification and compensation director. The effects will be far less widespread than anticipated in 2016, when a proposal to raise the salary threshold to about $47,500 per year was blocked by a federal court ruling.

"The university is aware and is developing a plan for implementation," Mallarino-Houghton said.

UHR will work with supervisors, human resources service teams, and department and unit heads on preparing for the revised regulations. Managers will notify impacted employees, who will receive resources needed to navigate the change.

After working 40 hours in a week, employees covered by FLSA must be paid an overtime rate of at least 50% more than their regular rate for any additional work. ISU workers subject to FLSA regulations due to the revisions will be required to track their work hours with Workday's timekeeping function.

The salary threshold that exempts some workers from FLSA overtime rules applies only to those who qualify for the "white-collar" exemption for executive, administrative or professional employees. The minimum salary for the exemption doesn't apply to some specific professions, including most teachers, certain academic administrators, lawyers and physicians. Merit, student and temporary positions at Iowa State are not exempt from FLSA rules.

Rare tree hybrid identified on campus

Close up of needles and cone on fir tree

Photos by Jeff Iles.

A rare species of tree was born or planted on campus at least 70 years ago. It was identified this summer thanks to a flurry of interest (and a fair amount of geeking out) by a cadre of experts drawn into the mystery. 

Members of the campus tree advisory committee observed the "large and impressive" fir tree in August during a biannual walk through campus. They couldn't agree on its classification.

Mapping the tree canopy

Details about thousands of trees and shrubs are being recorded as part of an ongoing effort to electronically map the campus landscape.

"Everybody knew it was a fir, but just about everyone in the group thought it was a different type of fir," said Rhonda Martin, landscape architect in facilities planning and management. "Everyone got excited about the mystery, trading stories of what they were told about the tree when they were in school here."

It only took two days to find an answer. Martin said horticulture professor and chair Jeff Iles worked the mystery through a network of experts on and off campus. Mark Widrlechner, an affiliate associate professor in the horticulture and ecology, evolution and organismal biology departments, solved it with comparisons to fir details outlined in a scientific handbook.

The tree -- believed to be a hybrid of the Spanish and Greek fir varieties -- has been growing on the Forker Building's east lawn since at least the 1950s. 

"It's rare for Iowa and likely is rare for the whole U.S. -- who knows if there's another one out there?" Martin said.

Good genes

She said there's no record of the tree or where it came from. But the fir hybrid may one day have offspring of its own planted on campus. The horticulture department and campus services teams are exploring the possibility of cultivating its seedlings.

"Here we have this fir tree that's beautiful and it's been around for 70 years. Maybe it has some special resistance -- to climate or whatever. We're going to give it a shot," Martin said.

Student assistance office helps students through a range of issues

Knowing what to say or do to help a student going through a difficult time can be a challenge. Staff in the office of student assistance can offer guidance on a variety of issues ranging from a personal crisis, mental health issue, academic problem or something else. The staff tries to resolve the problem -- and refers students to the right people as needed -- while alleviating some of the burden of working through an issue alone.

"We can be a place to navigate students to appropriate resources across campus," said director of student assistance Kipp Van Dyke. "We are almost like a coach who can help students understand and get through different processes."

Signs of an issue

Faculty and staff have some of the most impactful relationships with students at the university. This can lead to students sharing problems that may extend beyond the classroom.

Not everyone with an issue will seek help, but there are actions that may suggest a larger issue including:

  • Significant missed class time
  • Change in mood
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Other students express concern

What to say

Van Dyke said communication is key to determining if help is needed. If a student appears to be having an issue, don't assume someone else will provide help, he said. Conversations can begin with questions like "Are you OK?" and "What have you done to address the situation?"

"You don't want to assume something is wrong. If you talk to them, they may have already reached out to student assistance or are getting the help they need," he said.

Offering help

If a student needs assistance with a course, Van Dyke recommends faculty deal with those situations.

"What the student needs most is to have faculty help them in their course or explain their flexibility with an issue," Van Dyke said. "I think it speaks well for the faculty on campus that students want to build relationships with them."

If the issue goes beyond a faculty or staff member's control, listen, ask questions and help begin to find a solution.

Student assistance

Students can contact student assistance directly or someone can make the office aware of a potential issue through a referral.

Van Dyke recommends faculty and staff refer students through an electronic introduction after speaking to them. Sending an email to the student and letting them know that student assistance also is receiving it can help begin a conversation.

Student assistance, which has operated in this form since 2009, can be reached by calling 294-1020, email or through a link on its website. After a referral is received, the office reaches out to offer help.

"The referral link can be anonymous, but I feel the personal connection can be helpful. Otherwise, it can feel awkward to a student when we reach out to them," Van Dyke said. "The whole goal is for faculty and staff to help connect us to them in some way."

A few caveats

Student assistance can help with non-emergencies, but if a student's actions put faculty, staff or other students in danger, call ISU Police, 294-4428 or 911.

Van Dyke also noted when an issue involves sexual misconduct, it is important to let the student know as early as possible the conversation is not confidential, while still providing support. In these cases, confidentiality only extends to those not required by law to report, such as health service and counseling professionals or sexual assault advocates.

In simulation, intro to business students learn by doing

For the 700 or more Iowa State students each semester taking Business Administration 250, a game can be serious business. Their grade, in part, depends on it.

The introductory business course has for several years devoted a portion of the class to an online corporate simulation called Capsim. It's an engaging, practical way to help students grasp basic concepts and the value of teamwork, said Bruce Kraft, a professor of practice in finance and the course coordinator.

"Once you get out into the business world and start doing it on a repeated basis, you understand how to make business decisions and evaluate business performance. But the challenge as a learner is unless you put it into practice, it doesn't really stick," he said.

The simulation puts students at the helm of the remnants of a sensor manufacturing monopoly broken up by the government, creating up to six separate companies in the sensor industry that start on equal footing. Students choose how to proceed to distinguish their corporations from the competition.

The students work in five-person teams, making joint decisions about research and development, marketing and sales, production, total quality management and financing, Kraft said. They study an array of reports to inform their production plans, sales and budget forecasts, and capital management. Each of the eight weeks of the simulation equals a year in the industry.

"It's a good approximation of an annual process that you'd go through to develop your targets and monitor and evaluate your performance," Kraft said. "It helps them see the importance of the connectivity of the departments and impact of their decisions."

Each week, Capsim gives a score for each team's corporate maneuvering, based on metrics such as product margins, profitability, working capital, market share, forecasting accuracy, customer satisfaction, productivity, their financial structure and wealth creation, Kraft said.

All of about a dozen course sections per semester use the simulation, and each team's score is ranked against other teams in their section and against hundreds of other student teams using the program across the country. Kraft said Iowa State teams often are in the top 10 nationally.

"We tend to do pretty well, in comparison. It gives them a sense of pride, knowing there are all these other teams out there," he said.

The simulation accounts for about 30% of a student's grade. With an average class size of 75, a course section typically will have three self-contained "industries" in which the companies' behaviors impact each other. It's not designed to be a cutthroat contest, Kraft said.

"It's really a matter of what did you learn from what happened. How did you improve your business performance?" he said. "It's an iterative learning process."

At the end of the semester, teams give class presentations on their companies. After his team's presentation last spring, Kashver Sidhu, a junior in management information systems, said Capsim taught him a lot about analysis and collaboration.

"The numbers tell a story, but you have to figure out the story as a group," Sidhu said.

Info booth will come down this month

Information building adjacent to University Boulevard

The visitor information booth on University Boulevard was shuttered last winter. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The information booth on University Boulevard, just east of the Iowa State Center parking lots, will be demolished this month and the area returned to green space within the city's Stuart Smith Park. The demolition could begin as soon as Monday, Oct. 7, but will wrap up by Friday, Oct. 25, according to parking division manager Mark Miller. The plan is to complete the demolition project during the three-week window that includes two road games (Oct. 12 and 19) for the Cyclone football squad. Final seeding and landscaping could happen next spring.

The victim of smartphones, GPS and self-sufficient travelers, the information booth just wasn't serving its intended purpose anymore, Miller said.

A friendly stop

University leaders christened the new building in May 1996 as a first point of contact to help visitors navigate their way onto campus. Back then, ISU retirees volunteered to hand out campus maps, guest parking passes and helpful advice. Over time, the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) added its brochures, event calendars and city maps to the offerings, and in 2010 ACVB employees began staffing the booth.

But the growth of mobile-friendly websites and widespread use of smartphone apps diminished the need for a helpful human in the information booth. Visitors who stopped in mostly were following directions to pick up a free campus parking pass.

Unrelated to the information booth and to curb misuse of visitor passes, in August 2018 the parking division began charging $5 for a daily parking pass and implemented an online process for receiving and paying for it. Vehicles pulling in to the information booth slowed to a trickle up to its December 2018 closing for the winter semester break. The information booth never reopened amid a few months of discussion about its future.

'Theatre Action' production to inspire hope, urgency on climate crisis

Theatre action cast during rehearsals

The ensemble cast rehearsing for "Climate Change Theatre Action: Lighting the Way." Photo by Britney Walters-Chester.

What will a trip to the zoo look like a century from now? That's one of the provocative questions ISU Theatre will explore when it presents "Climate Change Theatre Action: Lighting the Way," opening Friday, Oct. 4.  The production performs Oct. 4-6 at Fisher Theater, Oct. 10 outside Parks Library and Oct. 13 at the Ames Public Library. All performances have free admission with general seating.

Founded in 2015, the Climate Change Theatre Action initiative is a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays. The series is presented biennially to coincide with meetings of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held this year in Santiago, Chile.

Fifty international playwrights, representing all continents and several cultures and indigenous nations, are commissioned for each series to write short plays about various aspects of climate change. Collaborators then select plays to present at local productions, which can also include work by local artists.

Panel discussion

ISU Theatre will present a panel discussion, "Leading the Way: Women Tell the Stories of Climate Change," on Sunday, Oct. 6 (3:30 p.m., 004 Scheman Building). Community members are invited to engage with scholars and guest artists on climate change and sustainability issues. The discussion is part of ISU Theatre's yearlong symposium series, "HERoic: Gender Equity in the Arts."

ISU Theatre's ensemble cast will tell stories of action, community and hope through 18 imaginative performance pieces by international and local writers. One play is narrated by the last surviving bee in Manhattan. Another invites the audience into an interactive Rube Goldberg-style experiment.

Alumna guest director Vivian Cook said the performances will encourage audience members to reflect on the connections between the environment and humanity, while providing opportunities for them to join climate efforts in their own communities.

"The goal of the international project is to tell the story of climate change and how it connects to humans across the world who come from different places, backgrounds and perspectives," Cook said. "These are stories that are for all of us, that are about all of us, and that are crucial to share today." 

Cook, a graduate student in Iowa State's sustainable agriculture and community regional planning programs, also led Climate Change Theatre Action at Iowa State in 2017 as part of her undergraduate Honors project.

Community members can learn how to take local action on climate through a Sustainability Resource Fair during intermission and after each performance, and during an Oct. 6 panel discussion.


"Climate Change Theatre Action: Lighting the Way" performances are Oct. 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Fisher Theater, Oct. 10 at 5:15 p.m. outside of Parks Library (attendees can bring a blanket or chair; rain location under the library overhang), and Oct. 13 at noon at Ames Public Library.

A list of fundraiser events for United Way

As a campus community, Iowa State has a goal of raising $410,500 in cash and pledges by Dec. 1 for the United Way of Story County. Associate provost for faculty Dawn Bratsch-Prince is the chair of the campus campaign, with vice president for extension and outreach John Lawrence serving as chair for leadership gifts. They're assisted by employee volunteers across the university.

One way units can hit their mark is through fundraising initiatives opened to the wider campus community. Below is a list Inside staff have compiled of events open to all. Send us your United Way fundraising event and we'll add it to the list. 

Online auctions

  • College of Human Sciences online auction, closes at noon Oct. 4
  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences online auction, Oct. 7 (8 a.m.)-Oct. 10 (4 p.m.)
  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences online auction, Oct. 7 (8 a.m.)-Oct. 11 (5 p.m.)
  • University Library online auction, planned for October (TBA, contact Susan Jasper or Jeff Kushkowski to donate an item)

Other events

  • ISU Extension and Outreach annual United Way picnic, Friday, Oct. 4 (11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Extension 4-H Building patio), includes a $5 walking taco lunch, silent auction and games with prizes
  • Ames Laboratory Hot Wheels car race and bake sale, Oct. 9 (1-2 p.m., 301 Spedding), cars can be purchased at the event