Senior Grant Johnson (right) works with industrial design assistant professor Pete Evans during an Industrial Design 401 studio inside the Student Innovation Center Monday. For his final project, Johnson is developing user experience augmented reality platforms through smart glasses (being worn and tested by Evans). Studio time is limited to 50% capacity, with additional mitgation measures for safety, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most Iowa State employees will enjoy a six-day Thanksgiving weekend, following a Nov. 13 announcement from Gov. Kim Reynolds. As a show of appreciation for state employees' hard work and perseverance through a pandemic and the August derecho storm, Reynolds awarded them two additional paid holidays.
"We could not have managed what we have without every single state employee coming together as one team. For that, I offer you my heartfelt thanks. As a sign of my appreciation for your hard work, state employees will receive two additional days of paid time off."
-- Gov. Kim Reynolds, in a Nov. 13 letter to state employees
President Wendy Wintersteen and vice president for university human resources Kristi Darr followed with a Nov. 17 announcement that Iowa State will implement the holidays on Monday, Nov. 30, and Tuesday, Dec. 1, for consistency and to avoid disruptions to an already-adjusted fall and winter academic calendar. Reynolds proposed Nov. 25 and Dec. 24 for the extra holidays. The university's holidays policy will apply to Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Over a longer Thanksgiving weekend, "we encourage you to prioritize health and wellness," Wintersteen and Darr wrote. "Time off is an important tool to support work-life balance. All employees need time to relax and recharge."
They also asked Iowa Staters to not ease up on their personal commitment to stopping the spread of COVID-19: wear a face covering, practice physical distancing, wash your hands often, self-monitor for symptoms and stay home if you have symptoms.
Share your plans
Shared initially last month with the campus community, the university's guidelines for campus operations during December and January, including a partial closing Dec. 24-Jan. 3, have been modified to reflect the two post-Thanksgiving holidays. Wintersteen and Darr asked supervisors to make decisions about necessary work on the additional holidays and the impact to staffing levels. As always, units should share staffing changes with employees and post service changes on their websites and phone messages for clients. University human resources posted an FAQ that answers some questions about staffing over the long weekend. Employees also may contact their HR service delivery contact with questions.
"Thank you for your excellent work this semester in all aspects of ISU's mission of teaching, research, extension and outreach and in supporting our students. This semester has been a success because of you," Wintersteen and Darr concluded.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings have changed how many Iowa State faculty and staff do their jobs. Same goes for Spencer Braly, though in his case it's changed both how he works and what he does.
- Name: Spencer Braly
- Position: Audio visual support specialist, information technology services
- Years at ISU: 6
Braly, an audio visual support specialist with information technology services, provides behind-the-scenes technical support for most of the university's highest-profile online events, including the town halls held by President Wendy Wintersteen and the commencement ceremonies for spring and fall. Providing white-glove support for ISU virtual events and meetings has quickly taken over much of his work time and the basement of his Ames home, a space adorned by ceiling Christmas lights that had been devoted to recording with his band.
His setup for facilitating virtual meetings includes four screens, two computers, two mixers, two routers, an audio interface box and a switch for toggling his keyboard and mouse between the computers, but he still has room to record music when the work day is over, albeit for a solo project.
"That's what I do to relax. I don't leave the basement, I just switch which programs I'm running," Braly said.
Inside caught up with Braly for five questions about his work supporting virtual meetings.
Before the pandemic started, what did your job look like?
My main focus day in and day out was support, design and programming for learning spaces. If something went awry with an AV system in a classroom, there's a good chance I was the guy showing up to see if I could get it working again. Classrooms were the game. I still do a little bit of it. The way our systems are set up, I can troubleshoot from afar rather effectively. We still have guys on the ground, but I help with the day-to-day as much as I can. But more than half of my job has become these virtual meetings.
Give me a rundown of what meetings you -- well, I don't know what the correct word would be to describe what you do.
The term that I've been using is technical moderation. Basically, I set it up, and if something goes disastrously wrong, you've got a guy there who can get it back on track or knows the person to call to get it there. You might not need me every time, but when you do, you're glad I'm there. I've done all the president's town halls except for the first one. I do the Flagship Fridays. I do a lot of others, like the president's council. Today, I did the Board of Regents.
What sorts of trouble do you troubleshoot?
One of the things we had to figure out early on was that all of our Webex platforms are capped at 1,000 people. We needed a way to take a Webex meeting and let more than 1,000 people watch it. Webex has now integrated streaming to platforms like YouTube, so you can just do it from inside the meeting. But when all this started, this hadn't been introduced. That first town hall I did, for the whole meeting I was about five minutes from everything falling apart.
Now, my problems are this person can't get into the meeting, we're last minute adding this, and they don't know how to do that. A big thing has been playing videos for people and formatting it so it looks the best. Babysitting the mutes is a small part. Everybody's heard the typing noise in a meeting when someone forgets to turn their microphone off. I'm the guy in the background listening for that. Or if I see somebody start to talk, I can get them unmuted before somebody says "You're muted." I'm making sure no one has to worry about the meeting because I'm the one doing all the worrying.
What do you do if your internet service drops during a meeting?
I have two services now. And I live alone. That helps. I don't have other people on the internet when I'm trying to host a meeting. At first, I upgraded my service. Now, I'm running two services. One runs just on Wi-Fi. The other one is wired to my desk. If the wired connection goes out, I can just flip over to Wi-Fi, and I'm all good. It was the derecho that got me thinking I should have some redundancy.
As a neutral observer of many virtual meetings, what's something you have noticed?
I think people have become more conscientious. There's a lot fewer microphones being left on. There's a lot less drifting away from the meeting, where you can tell someone just heard their name and then snapped back. You can tell everyone's getting used to paying attention, being more conscious of being virtually there just as they would be in person.
I can see that whenever we get to a post-COVID world, we're not going to completely stop doing this. I think everybody's gotten a taste of it, and we're going to have a shift in how we do some large events. I'm not saying they're all going to go this way. The president's annual address will probably go back to being in the Great Hall. But I think it's gotten in people's heads that if we do this virtually, we don't have to book the big room, get the catering or fly the person in to speak. They can do it from their bedroom, I can do it from my bedroom and everybody can still get the information.
With the end of the fall semester, senior leaders are preparing to review several COVID-19-related actions taken to help employees manage their work and home lives throughout the pandemic.
"Many employees have voiced how these programs have helped support them and their families as they navigated unexpected challenges," said Kristi Darr, vice president for university human resources. "Since the pandemic began, we have adapted to support a changing work environment and the needs of our workforce."
When these actions were initially considered, end dates were placed on the programs to ensure they would be revisited in light of changing regulations and guidance, Darr said. For example, the federal government put an expiration date of Dec. 31 on the required Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave. Other policies have the option to stay in effect while the state of Iowa remains in a state of emergency.
Darr said there's uncertainty about the timing of new or updated federal information that would help inform the decision-making process into the new year.
"Because of that uncertainty, we will need to consider short-term adjustments to these programs, as they may need to pivot as new information becomes available," Darr said. "One thing is certain, and that is we will continue to look for ways to support unit flexibility and support workers during these stressful times."
More information will be shared as decisions are made.
An estimated 2,171 students are completing Iowa State degrees next week following a pandemic-imbued semester that started a week early, eliminated a fall break and will conclude before Thanksgiving. The university will honor their achievements in two commencement ceremony videos that will be available for viewing at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, on the virtual graduation website. Iowa State introduced virtual commencement last May.
The anticipated graduating class includes 1,793 undergraduates, 235 master's candidates and 143 doctoral students. Another 807 students (496, 205 and 106, respectively) who completed their degree programs at the end of summer session also have the option of participating in fall commencement.
The ceremonies, each approximately 40 minutes long, will feature much of the same celebratory content:
- Music and theatre department's F. Wendell Miller Distinguished artist in residence Simon Estes singing the national anthem.
- Remarks from President Wendy Wintersteen, Regent and Iowa State senior Zack Leist and alumni association director Jeff Johnson.
- Special recognition for college student marshals and students graduating with distinction.
- The ISU Brass Ensemble performing "Cyclone Fantasia," and the ISU Brass Ensemble and senior vocalist Olivia Hartman performing "The Bells of Iowa State."
Ann Marie Fiore, University Professor, associate chair and director of graduate education for the apparel, events and hospitality management department, will address the graduate student audience. Alumnus David Kingland, the founder, chief innovation officer and chairman of the board of directors of Kingland Systems Corp. and Kingland Companies, will speak to the undergraduate audience.
Guests to the virtual graduation website then may select from eight videos to view the names of graduating students by: doctoral candidates, master's candidates and bachelor's degree recipients in each of the six undergraduate colleges. Arranged in alphabetical order by last name, each graduating student has a slide that contains information such as their name, hometown, degree and graduation distinctions. Undergraduates and master's students were given the option to customize their slide, including submitting a photo, and doctoral candidates had the opportunity to schedule a short hooding video with their presenting professor. For about 60 Ph.D. candidates who made appointments, those clips will follow their slide.
As they have at dozens of in-person ceremonies, Ames-based radio producer Hollis Monroe and landscape architect associate professor Michael Martin read the names of all graduating students as their slide appears.
The six undergraduate colleges also prepared convocation videos to celebrate the achievements of their graduating seniors. Those will be available on the college websites, also beginning at 10 a.m. Nov. 28.
10 a.m. Nov. 28
10 a.m. Nov. 28
10 a.m. Nov. 28
Reception with program
10 a.m. Nov. 28
10 a.m. Nov. 28
11 a.m. Nov. 28
Continuing another practice started last spring, Iowa State prepared graduation day gift boxes for all graduating students. It includes a cardinal-and-gold tassel, musical card from Wintersteen that plays "Pomp and Circumstance," diploma cover, streamer tube, I-State car window decal, Iowa State lapel pin, honor cords if applicable and a free introductory membership to the alumni association. Students in Ames were asked to pick up their CY-lebration box on campus beginning in late October, and boxes will be mailed to graduates who aren't in Ames this fall.
Spring tuition won't go up, state Board of Regents president Michael Richards confirmed during the board's Nov. 18 virtual meeting. Last June, when the board approved flat rates for fall semester, it reserved the option of revisiting a spring tuition increase.
"Because of COVID-19, pausing our five-year tuition model for one academic year was the right thing to do," Richards said. "But in balancing the future needs of our institutions, we are planning to resume the five-year tuition plan beginning with fall 2021 semester."
In his remarks, Richards also gave an assignment to the university presidents for the board's February 2021 meeting: Provide a "full and thorough update" about how their institution is protecting free speech on campus and in the classroom. Noting that the board adopted a free speech policy in April 2019, Richards said members won't tolerate violations of it.
"Everyone has a right to express their own opinion. Disagreeing on issues and having a respectful debate about those issues should happen on our university campuses," he said. "What should not happen is preventing another person's or group's opinion from being expressed, or threatening those opinions with possible repercussions. This is not who we are, and it is not right."
Richards appointed three regents, David Barker, Nancy Boettger and Zack Leist, to an advisory committee. Their task, also by the February meeting, is to evaluate the board's policy as well as best practices in First Amendment protections at other colleges and universities, and recommend changes that would strengthen the board's efforts in the area of free speech.
"This is a conversation that should be transparent and public," he said.
Winter course registration
In her presentation to the board, President Wendy Wintersteen reported that changes to the fall and spring semester calendars presented an opportunity to offer a short online winter session featuring 55 courses. With registration still open, she said more than 2,400 students have enrolled so far.
"We'll be closely monitoring this to see if we might consider this winter session again in the future," she added.
Wintersteen also offered a short update on the university's current fiscal year budget. She estimated the pandemic's total financial impact to exceed $150 million, nearly half of which -- $70 million -- is in lost revenue for auxiliary units due to canceled performances, conferences, competitions and other events. The reduction to the general university operating budget remains at $41 million, and university leaders are working with state and federal partners to make the best use of options for reimbursable expenses.
ACT/SAT requirement waived another year
The board also extended its waiver of an ACT or SAT score as a required piece of the student admission process at the three regent universities through the 2021-22 admissions cycle. The waiver recognizes that many test dates are being canceled or postponed during the pandemic.
Additionally, the board temporarily expanded institutions' authority to provide exceptional performance payments to merit employees on a calendar year basis. Normally, the state administrative code only permits these awards on a fiscal year basis. The intent is greater flexibility for schools to recognize exceptional merit employee efforts, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regents David Barker and Nancy Dunkel, who co-chaired another board advisory group tasked last April with identifying opportunities for the three regent universities to collaborate for greater efficiency, presented about two dozen recommendations to the board. They divided their recommendations into two lists: one for the board's executive director Mark Braun that generally covered digital delivery of academic programs and board office collaborations with other public partners, and one for university presidents that includes suggestions in the areas of joint contracts, resource opportunities and inter-institutional collaboration.
"Through the meetings we've had, it's been apparent -- and comforting -- to see the long list of collaborative efforts our schools already employ, from joint contracts to cross-institutional committees and ongoing coordination of various programs. It's very clear that this process is not new to our regent schools," Dunkel said.
Barker concurred but noted that "in these difficult time, it's not enough."
He cited revenue losses because of the pandemic, coming enrollment declines because of demographic changes and changes to how higher education is delivered. He said the list highlights ideas the group believes have potential for additional savings and efficiencies, and noted members studied many other ideas that ultimately didn't make the list.
Dunkel said once the list receives a second reading at the board's February meeting, each idea will be explored over 2.5 years. Initial assessments of every idea should be completed by December 2021 and, for those ideas the board moves forward, June 2022 is the goal for completion or near-completion.
Iowa State agenda items
In other business, the regents approved ISU requests to:
- Award professional development assignments for next year (2021-22 academic year) for 29 ISU faculty, including four for the full academic year, 15 for fall 2021 and 10 for spring 2022. This year, 48 ISU faculty are approved to complete a professional development assignment; the change represents about a 40% decrease.
- Revise the budget ($2.1 million) and scope of work for a project that now will replace the glass exterior wall system at the southeast corner of Parks Library. Original plans were to repair leaking window seals and frame components for $640,000, but replacement parts no longer are available.
- Name the athletics department's new sports performance center for the Stark family of Woolstock: Richard, Joan and their children: Kristin, Natalie, Jennifer, Stephanie and Mary. The Starks made a multi-million-dollar commitment to the larger $90 million building and plaza project outside the north end of the football stadium that also improves the north end of the stadium itself.
- Close the Iowa Community Vitality Center in the economics department, effective Dec. 31, due to the director's August retirement. Legislative funding for it ended in 2010.
The board also received several annual reports, with data submitted by the universities and prepared by board office staff:
Stacy Cordery knew she needed a way to engage her students in a semester likely to be sprinkled with obstacles. The history professor decided to try something new -- unsure if it would work -- to help students who might be out of her in-person class for weeks at a time.
"If we want to keep students engaged in their learning, and if we want to hold them accountable for their own education while further encouraging the formation of community, what if we put them in triads?" Cordery said.
Cordery presented her idea to the students on the first day of class. Students formed groups of three and were responsible for taking notes and sharing them with anyone in the group who missed class. She chose three because if groups formed around friendships, the likelihood of two people being sick at the same time was higher.
"I do not post my lectures online or share my PowerPoints because I want students to come to class and be engaged," she said. "Now, they don't just have me to come to me, they can go to each other."
Cordery said the groups have been a success with little pushback from her students. It was aided by teaching assistant Matt Dawdy dedicating time during a recitation section to explain how to best listen during a lecture, how to take notes, and how to make them legible and logical for their triad members.
"I think students are hungry for that connection that is such a part of college life," Cordery said. "I am not saying they all got it through their triad, but it at least opened the door to a kind of connection, should they want it."
Students have missed class for a variety of reasons, from quarantine to the death of a family member, but the triad helped keep them connected and up to speed, Dawdy said.
The students have become better active listeners in the lecture because they are responsible to some degree for their fellow students' learning, Cordery said.
"One of the harder things about teaching is having students understand what the purpose is of whatever we are doing," Dawdy said. "But when [Cordery] approached me [with the triad concept], it made sense and was useful. It was a way to hold students accountable to each other, and also I had hoped a way to foster communication."
Cordery said some students have expanded the triad into a study group for the Survey of United States History II course. It also alerts Dawdy to areas that need more explanation.
"Once students talk to their triad, if there is something they don't get I know where I need to focus," he said.
Cordery isn't sure how triads would translate to online courses, but she is certain it could be applicable in every discipline.
"I think you could use it in chemistry or French or any other class," she said. "Any class that had a classroom component could adapt or use this."
The positive feedback Cordery has received from students and Dawdy has her planning to use the triad system in her large classes going forward.
Cordery is pleased her attempt to keep students engaged has been successful, but she points out that many across campus are doing similar things.
"Faculty talk a lot about pedagogy and how to keep students at the center," she said. "Those conversations have only accelerated because of coronavirus. I wouldn't be surprised if there are numerous other great ideas Iowa State faculty have come up with."
A longtime resource for Iowa State faculty development has been extended to staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) is an independent faculty development center dedicated to supporting higher education professionals make successful transitions throughout their careers. Effective Wednesday, Dec. 2, all faculty, staff, graduate students and post docs will be automatically enrolled in the program and receive weekly emails and notices of seminars and other programming. Those who don't wish to receive the communications will be able to opt out using a link provided in the emails.
Tera Jordan, associate professor of human development and family studies and assistant provost for faculty development, said the program is designed to enhance critical areas such as writing productivity and work-life balance, while also providing access to a broader community of peers and scholars across the nation.
"So much of academic life is focused on individual work that we sometimes forget the importance of professional networks, mentoring and other supports that are the 'secret ingredients' of success," Jordan said.
Array of benefits
Through Iowa State's institutional membership, the center offers numerous benefits at no charge to the campus community, including monthly webinars, weekly email messages with productivity tips and reminders, web-based resources and workshops, monthly writing challenges and a discussion forum that allows students and employees to network with peers across the nation.
"The Monday Motivator," for example, is a weekly email that offers readers positive energy, ideas and action steps to address the challenges of day-to-day work.
Casting a wider net
Jordan said that while the center's resources initially were geared toward faculty, users of the programming spanned the university community. Opting in staff, graduate students and post docs will help more people take advantage of the membership to meet their professional development needs.
The change has been received well by campus leaders.
"So much has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in terms of completing our degrees, but also navigating teaching and research assistantships, and maintaining the same levels of engagement with mentors and colleagues," said Ellie Field, doctoral student in entomology and current president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. "Having access to these resources provides an extra measure of support during a very challenging time."
"Increasing development opportunities for staff has long been a goal of the Professional and Scientific Council," said P&S Council president Sara Parris. "The center's virtual resources fill a critical need, and formally expanding the program to P&S staff is greatly appreciated."
More information about resources and programming is available on the NCFDD website.
A campus services team worked Monday afternoon to lift into place the frame around a central campus pine tree that supports holiday lights. The annual job was moved up a bit on the schedule so more of the university community can enjoy the lights as fall semester wraps up.