When Iowa State was recruiting international high school students in their home countries, a practice on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, attracting attention at college fairs wasn't a problem.
"When we are in person, we're a top five table at any event," said Jorge Calderon, assistant director for international recruitment.
But standing out in an online college fair is more difficult. Every school is represented by a logo that students can click on in the virtual lobby, and there are a lot of logos. With the cost of international recruiting reduced by the lack of travel, virtual fairs commonly draw more than 200 colleges and universities, more than triple the size of the largest in-person events, Calderon said. As few as one or two students trickled in to the ISU virtual recruiting booth during some 2020 online fairs, usually keeping their video off and saying little.
"You don't have that eye-to-eye contact, where you can get a sense of whether someone is paying attention or not," Calderon said. "It's an issue."
Two events the admissions office held last month in partnership with the Innovate at Iowa State program aimed to cut through the detached drudgery of distance recruiting, engaging prospective students in themed competitions that offer a taste of an ISU education and a chance at cash prizes. The initial run was a success, and the admissions office is planning to offer even more innovation contests later this year.
"It is a great way for the students to get an educational experience with the university and get us in front of students we otherwise wouldn't see," Calderon said. "In these competitions, the students were sharing their video and paying attention and taking notes. It was really, really fantastic."
The idea to hold innovation competitions as a recruiting tool sprang from a plan Calderon was developing pre-pandemic to bring faculty on recruiting trips to demonstrate ISU expertise to international students interested in particular fields. With travel grounded by COVID-19, he turned to entrepreneur in residence Karen Kerns, who heads up the Innovate at Iowa State initiative that launched last year, for help shifting the concept online.
Kerns and Stacey Barnes, assistant admissions director for reporting and project management, developed two contests -- one asking students to design a community-building virtual event and another seeking ideas for how colleges could improve recruitment of international high schoolers. The competitions kicked off with workshops in early December, presented by Kerns and Calderon for the recruiting challenge and, for the virtual event contest, a group that included faculty in apparel merchandising and design, event management and design.
Calderon's international recruiting team enlisted counselors at international high schools to form participating student teams, who had about a week following the workshop to create a proposal. Nearly 90 students were involved in the recruiting experience contest and nearly 40 in the virtual event contest. Teams hailed from China, Korea, India, Hong Kong, Bolivia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Winners in the recruiting event split $10,000 in prize money, which was sponsored by the Ivy College of Business. Total prizes in the virtual event contest were $6,000.
Students' ideas for virtual events included a standup comedy performance, a fashion show and a color-based version of charades. A handful of the recruiting ideas were promising enough to prompt the admissions office to consider adopting them, including the winning team's idea to create short videos of a day in the life of a student from each of the countries where Iowa State is recruiting.
"Some of the ideas are genius. We are pursuing some this spring," Calderon said.
The recruiting value of the competitions isn't necessarily getting participating students to enroll -- though there were students who were interested after the competitions, Calderon said. The outcome the admissions office is tracking is the number of applications from participating high schools as a whole.
"It's more about getting a buzz going at that school, and getting counselors who are advising students on where to go to college to know about Iowa State University. We want to be on their mind. At some of these events, the participants invited their entire senior class and their family members," he said.
Multiple students entered in the recruiting experience competition noted that the competition itself was an effective recruiting effort, Calderon said.
"They said, 'This competition is it. This should be part of it,'" he said.
Innovating head start
The competitions are the first examples of the Innovation Fellows in Training (I-FIT) portion of the Innovate at Iowa State program, designed to provide high school students a feel for the university and its innovation opportunities, Kerns said.
"It gives students a chance to experience what our faculty and mentors are like and how they might innovate on campus," she said.
Should they enroll at Iowa State, I-FIT students also get a head start in joining the university's Innovation Fellows Corps -- a program that fosters opportunities for dedicated student innovators by pairing them with mentors, industry leaders and collaborators. Kerns said an I-FIT experience counts as credit toward designation as an Innovation Fellow.
Similar I-FIT programs are in the works for high schools in the U.S., including two in Iowa, Kerns said. In addition to Barnes and Calderon, library external relations director Nacuya Rucker is colloborating with Kerns to develop the I-FIT programs, she said. Extending beyond campus is an important aspect of Iowa State's growing innovation programming.
"The minute you connect with us, you are part of our ISU family," Kerns said during one of the competition's final presentations. "We're innovating everywhere."
Calderon said he and Kerns are developing as many as a half dozen international I-FIT events for admissions to offer in late summer or fall for potential fall 2022 enrollees, potentially including an app development contest, a talent show and a business plan pitch-off. Even when recruiting travel resumes, he foresees continuing to hold the online competitions.
"It's a really great blueprint to roll out with other faculty members," he said.
Registered nurses Libby Nelson and Kelly Frizzell were among the first people on campus to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December. After months of working on the front lines at Thielen Student Health Center, there was no doubt for either when it was their turn to roll up a sleeve and receive the shot.
"I was not hesitant about getting the vaccine at all," Nelson said.
Nelson and Frizzell received their first dose on Dec. 18 and their second three weeks later. Nelson said her lone side effect was a sore arm she compared to what some people experience after a tetanus shot.
"After my first shot, I noticed a little burning in my arm that was very vague the next day," Frizzell said. "After my second shot, I was just a little tired and generally achy, but nothing unlike what you would expect from an influenza vaccine."
Receiving the vaccine and helping prepare for its wider distribution has provided both nurses with a greater sense of hope.
Frizzell recommends anyone with specific questions or concerns about the vaccine contact the Thielen center or their health care provider, not rely solely on the internet.
COVID-19 public health coordinator Kristen Obbink said the vaccine is safe and effective.
"The vaccine process was accelerated, but still it has demonstrated to be safe with very few side effects," she said. "Ultimately, what is at risk is getting COVID-19, and there are just so many uncertainties with that. Getting the vaccine is safe, and we would highly recommend that everyone do so when they are able."
"I found it to be very reassuring and answered a lot of the common questions," Frizzell said. "Any fears we may have had as health care professionals, after watching his presentation I had next to no doubt or worries about getting it."
There is no risk of contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine.
"There is no COVID in the vaccine," Obbink said. "It helps your body recognize a COVID-like virus, and the vaccine helps your body respond like it has seen it before. You have a stronger, quicker immune response that can prevent you from getting sick."
Obbink said ISU's public health team is collaborating closely with Story County Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health on how the state's phased vaccine plan will be implemented on campus.
The development and rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine is a significant step, but it is not a cure-all to return life back to normal overnight.
"It will be several months before this vaccine is available to the general public, and we have a long way to go before there is enough of the general public that has been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity," Obbink said.
A Jan. 11 memo from Obbink and associate vice president for student health and wellness Erin Baldwin outlined ISU spring semester COVID-19 testing, including testing for residence hall students, sorority and fraternity members and asymptomatic surveillance testing.
Continuing to follow Cyclones Care behaviors is key to having a successful spring semester on the heels of completing the fall, Obbink said. Practicing good habits of wearing a face covering, frequently washing hands, physically distancing and staying home when sick are more important than ever.
The vaccine does not completely eliminate risk. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Modera vaccines require two doses, so peak immunity occurs about 10 days following the second dose, Obbink said.
"This time of year is cold and flu season anyway. We have a lot of respiratory illnesses that are going around that are not COVID-related," she said.
Working remotely. Dodging (or battling) COVID-19. A child's educational progress. Political tension and transition. Computer hacks. Social isolation. Vaccine uncertainty. Month 11 of a global pandemic. Short winter days. If it all has you feeling a bit frayed around the edges, ISU WorkLife invites you to sit in on a moderated forum Tuesday, Jan. 19 (3:30-5 p.m., via Webex).
- Brian Luke Seaward, Boulder, Colorado, author of the text, "Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being," currently in its 10th edition
- Doug Gentile, ISU professor of psychology, who researches social behaviors, including those that can reduce stress and increase well-being
- Jacob Meyer, ISU assistant professor of kinesiology, currently studying depression and exercise
- Joleen Frideres, licensed mental health counselor working in Algona and Clear Lake
- Dina Eisenberg, attorney, mediator and ISU ombuds officer
Stephanie Downs, WorkLife and WellBeing senior coordinator in university human resources, will provide questions for their discussion.
"Stress, sleep, work-life balance were issues before we ever had a pandemic," Downs noted, "but we'll talk about how the pandemic has changed that, made it more relevant for so many more people."
She said she'll also ask panelists to talk about anger and irritability, and what's normal, given all that employees may be experiencing. She'll invite the panelists to offer suggestions -- from their research, expertise or professional experience -- for coping strategies that can help prevent emotions from hurting relationships and work quality.
"Some of the skills we were using before just aren't working right now," she said.
Downs said the forum is intended for any faculty or staff who feel "anxious, overwhelmed, challenged by all the change. Maybe they just notice they're a little more on edge or could benefit from some perspective on the emotions they're experiencing."
Summer study abroad programs scheduled to depart between May 2 and Aug. 1 have been canceled, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert announced this week. Spring study abroad programs scheduled to depart before May 1 were canceled in October.
Last March, the state Board of Regents implemented a rolling 30-day ban on international travel for students at Iowa's three regent universities. The ban has been extended continuously since that time and remains in effect. University and board leaders continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on global travel and will provide an update when decisions are made for programs scheduled to begin after Aug. 1.
International business travel still prohibited
Wickert also noted the university is not yet approving international business travel for employees. This decision also is revisited on a rolling 30-day basis. Employees should not conduct university business, such as delivering a lecture at an institution or conference or conducting research, while traveling internationally for personal purposes.
Commencement decision to be made by March 1
Wickert said a decision on spring commencement will be made by March 1. The university's commencement advisory committee is evaluating multiple options for commencement -- with a focus on safety for students, faculty, staff and guests -- that appropriately honor graduating students' achievements. Deferring the decision gives university leaders additional time to monitor trends related to the pandemic, including vaccine distribution, and to make a decision based on the latest information.
All spring and fall 2020 commencement events were held virtually.
A new catalog in cyBUY, the university's online purchasing system, will give campus units a simple and cost-effective option for purchasing promotional items. Think mugs, drawstring bags, pens, portable phone chargers, lanyards and the like. The Staples catalog in cyBUY Marketplace, found under Workday's procurement icon, launched Jan. 5 and features about 40 common items departments and programs might give away to students, employees or visitors.
"This is something we've wanted to do for a while: Help groups on campus acquire the common promotional items at a lower cost with faster delivery and fewer administrative requirements," said procurement director Cory Harms.
Preapproved = faster
The convenience and speed lie in eliminating the normal design and product approval process, which can take a few days to a few weeks. Trademark licensing (TL) director Leesha Arunsiripate Zimmerman, university marketing director Carole Custer and a procurement team approved all products in the catalog for quality and color (red or white). They also preapproved use of the university wordmark and college marks on the products.
"Everything in that system is preapproved so it's as simple as placing an order," Zimmerman said. "We think this is going to be an easy system for the university community to use."
She said marks for campus departments and smaller units likely will be added over time.
Harms said the catalog of preapproved items will evolve as shoppers use it.
"Buyers will tell us, based on standard orders and custom requests, what items are most popular and where we need to expand what's offered," he said.
He also noted Staples' capacity to keep a finished inventory of high-demand ISU items on hand for immediate shipping from its fulfilment center in Orange City. That could mean orders arriving in days, not weeks. Sales volume will determine what makes that list, too.
Custom orders remain an option
Harms emphasized the cyBUY Staples catalog doesn't limit purchasing options. It expedites requests for popular items. Campus units that want a product or color not in the Staples catalog may continue to use any of the TL-approved vendors. Or they may submit a custom request through cyBUY for a product from Staples' larger collection of promotional items. However, either of these options will require design approval from Zimmerman's office.
The lineup of preapproved ISU items in the Staples catalog does not include any clothing. Harms said the options for quantities of a clothing item are the same as custom orders: Use one of the university's hundreds of licensed vendors or request a custom order from Staples through cyBUY.
The Staples catalog in cyBUY Marketplace will feature promotional items only. Office Depot remains the only approved vendor for office supplies.
Procurement staff are leading a 30-minute virtual orientation to the new Staples catalog. Upcoming sessions include Jan. 19 (3 p.m.) and Jan. 28 (9 a.m.) via Webex. Register for cyBUY Staples Promotional Products Store Orientation in Learn@ISU under procurement services.
Count the state Department of Transportation's semiannual vehicle auctions among the events sidelined by COVID-19. The June auction squeaked out in August and the October event was canceled. The university's transportation services staff, which sells 80-110 fleet vehicles in a normal year at the auctions, found an alternative online at govdeals.com, a liquidity site for government agencies ISU Surplus has used strategically for a decade.
Since October, transportation services has sold the five vehicles it listed on the website, including a buyer from Tennessee and two university employees. The sixth, a 2016 silver Chevrolet Impala driven 93,524 miles, was posted earlier this week.
"Local buyers know our vehicles are maintained well, we share the service record, we're up front if there's any accident information," said transportation services director Kathy Wellik. "We think this is an easier way for university employees who know our standards and want to purchase our vehicles."
And by selling on the government site, they also gain a national audience and lose the two-sale-dates-per-year constraint.
The latter is particularly appealing this year. With the pandemic wiping out business travel, university drivers put fewer miles on the fleet in the last 10 months and fewer vehicles need to be replaced. Wellik said fleet vehicles are sold when they hit 10 years or 100,000 miles. She estimates transportation services will sell 20-30 vehicles over the next 10 months or so, some due simply to a lower campus demand for fleet vehicles.
"We're constantly watching utilization and right-sizing the inventory," said Butch Hansen, shop manager for transportation services. "We don't know when things will get back to a new norm, so for now, it's an as-we-go process."
An effective strategy on an auction site is to provide a limited quantity -- and vary the model -- to keep the bidding more competitive. A single Grand Caravan minivan is likely to fetch a better price for the seller than the third of five vans, for example.
How to shop
As ISU fleet vehicles become available for sale, Wellik's team shares those vehicles on its website and Facebook page. ISU Surplus posts vehicles on govdeals.com and collects payment on behalf of transportation services. Bidders on govdeals.com need to register to participate in its auctions.
Purchases focus on specialty vehicles
Because transportation services needs to replace fewer sedans and minivans this year, Wellik said her purchasing efforts have focused on specialty vehicles for university clients, for example, police responders, a customized truck for animals or a box truck for campus package deliveries. Campus units in need of a vehicle are invited to contact Wellik, 294-1657.
The Iowa State and Ames communities will continue annual celebrations of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through virtual events in January and February.
Iowa State's spring semester begins Monday, Jan. 25, but the annual MLK Jr. Legacy Series begins a week prior on the holiday. The MLK Jr. community birthday celebration will take place 6:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18, on the Ames/Story County MLK Celebration Facebook page as well as on YouTube.
Wayne Clinton, longtime Ames resident, retired teacher and coach, will serve as the keynote speaker. The Ames Human Relations Commission will present its annual Humanitarian Award.
An ISU carillon concert honoring King will take place from 11:50 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8. Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam will play hymns and spirituals.
The MLK Jr. Legacy Series keynote this year will be delivered by Isabel Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, National Humanities Medal recipient and author of bestsellers "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" and "The Warmth of Other Suns." The convocation, "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents," will begin at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 8, on WebEx.
Wilkerson captivates audiences with the universal human story of migration and reinvention, as well as the unseen hierarchies that have divided the United States, in order to find a way to transcend them. She has become an impassioned voice for demonstrating how history can help us understand ourselves, our country and our current era of upheaval.
All events are free and open to the public. More information about ISU lectures is online or call 515-294-9934.