They're the kind of guys you'd probably like as neighbors. Smart troubleshooters who know their way around a tool cart and stay cool under pressure with an "it's nothing" demeanor. After three or four decades each of keeping campus boilers, turbines and chillers humming, there aren't many big problems or small hiccups they haven't faced down.
Which is why it's a bit sad Iowa State will lose all three to retirement this spring.
Power plant supervisors Pat Foley (43 years of service) and Rick Terrones (40 years) are part of the crew that operates the big equipment that heats, cools and provides electricity to campus; supervisor Jim Oberender (33 years) moved to the plant's maintenance/repair side 25 years ago for its consistent day shifts. The university's retirement incentive option (RIO) was too tempting to ignore, and Foley and Oberender will retire next week. Terrones will finish up the first week of June.
Assistant director of utilities Lindsey Wanderscheid, who oversees plant operations, is losing 20% of her 53-person team -- 11 employees with roughly 320 years of service -- to the RIO, but changing technology will make that attrition less bumpy than it sounds.
"There just are fewer things that can go wrong on the new machinery and it takes fewer people to operate it," she said.
Three of the power plant's five boilers were replaced with natural gas units in 2015, and this spring the university sent plans to the state Board of Regents to replace the last two. Coal boilers require more equipment, such as a conveyor system for the coal and a removal system for the ash byproduct. From both an operations and maintenance perspective, they require more attention, she said. Three of central campus' seven chillers, including the newest two at the chilled water plant next to the railroad tracks, are powered by electricity, not steam, also a much simpler process.
Staffing three shifts and keeping four plants going -- the Veterinary Medicine college and Applied Sciences Complex have gas boilers and electric chillers in mostly unstaffed facilities -- provides plenty of work for 42 employees, she said.
Wanderscheid is grateful the three supervisors shared their retirement plans last fall, giving her time to do competitive searches and them time to train their replacements. All three have been in trainer mode since January or February. Not that three months is nearly enough.
'Improving the art'
"We've been trying to download our knowledge of the plant as best we can to the new supervisors. They're having to learn quickly what took us 10 years or more to learn," said Terrones. A former employee union steward accustomed to supporting colleagues, he transitioned easily into his trainer role and has enjoyed it.
He's also updating standard operating procedure documents which, frankly, haven't seen much use lately.
"With people with so much experience on the job, we didn't really use them," he explained. "But the new employees will have them for every boiler, turbine and chiller when they need them."
Come July, most of the team will have 10 years or less of ISU power plant experience, he noted, "but we have some good people coming up who will make this place run as smoothly as we did."
The power plant runs pretty well, Wanderscheid concurred, which is great for efficiency but slows training progress. "Training is about reacting -- and knowing how to react when there's a problem," she said.
How many employees are participating in the retirement incentive program this year?
The three supervisors have strong memories of the handful of times the power plant shut down -- "going black" they call it -- from something as small as a squirrel or as overwhelming as a 500-year flood (2010) or a derecho (August).
"It becomes especially apparent during those trials how the whole group steps up to get the utilities back to campus and the loyalty and pride they have in their work," Wanderscheid said.
Even with all hands on deck, it's a 14-hour process to start up a coal boiler.
Foley, who was on vacation last Aug. 10, reached campus by 11 a.m. and worked through to 7 a.m. to resolve some enormous stuck valves on boiler water heating tanks. Gas boilers typically can restart in an hour or less.
"That's the magic part: to know what to check and how to bring the system back online," he said. "I have enjoyed the ability to come in here and use the knowledge we pick up and actually do stuff, really work.
"When you can say 'Hey, we kept the place running for another day,' that's worthwhile."
Foley, who started shoveling ash full time while a student, is known for tracking the "why" behind all the "what" in the power plant.
Established in the early 1980s, the Valuable Ideas for Productivity program for state employees paid 10% of the savings realized (up to $2,500) to employees for their recommendations. Foley earned the highest award, $2,420 in 1983, for calculating heat loss in the boiler room, and followed up in 1987 with a patent on an electrical device that regulates air flow in a furnace for peak efficiency, what he calls "improving the art."
This is it
Oberender read his retirement contract four times before he was ready to sign it. And there was a tug of regret when he officially turned over supervisory responsibility March 8 to his successor.
"I hated to give it up, but I got over it in a couple of days. There still are plenty of questions to answer," he said.
As maintenance supervisor, Oberender's was the name called most frequently on the plant's intercom system. His team completes repairs or adjustments to keep the many parts of the big machinery running efficiently.
"I've always enjoyed working here. I like to stay busy and there's a lot of investigative stuff to do," he said. "I look at things, figure out how they work and what's wrong," a skill he attributes to growing up on a farm.
For example, he recalls recurring problems with a boiler fan. After some analysis, he realized the thrust and load bearings were reversed.
"Just because parts look the same doesn't mean they are," he explained.
In the late 1990s, he trained for five days in Richmond, Virginia, to use lasers to align motor and fan shafts, where the tolerance is 3/1,000 inch. Going from a dial indicator to lasers turned a day's job into an hour's job and resulted in sharper alignment and fewer breakdowns, Oberender said.
Wanderscheid said it's been a blessing to have the three men's leadership in the power plant.
"The utility production employees are like family. I'm sad to see them retire, but I'm excited for them to move on to the next chapter in their lives.
"We're so grateful for what they've done over the years to support Iowa State University."
Ninety percent of the 360 employees who applied to the university's 2020-21 retirement incentive option (RIO) were approved to participate. Following the March 1 application deadline, six cases still were pending earlier this week and the rest -- 28 applications -- were either withdrawn by the applicant, declined or deemed not eligible.
The approved participants represent roughly 5% of those employed at Iowa State during the latest annual October count.
Approved for the RIO
*Excludes six pending cases
Associate vice president for institutional financial strategy Bonnie Whalen said the retirements are projected to save the university about $42 million over the next three years. Two of the program's three incentives extend the university's retirement contributions or health and dental coverage for three years. The third provides all three for two years.
Three power plant supervisors with decades of service are RIO participants.
"The RIO implementation team is happy that the program offerings were so well received by the campus community," Whalen said. "We think there was excellent participation.
"We thank all of our retirees for their service to Iowa State," she added.
Employees approved to participate in the RIO have until June 30 to retire from the university.
Incentive of choice
Two years: Medical and dental coverage and employer retirement contributions
Three years: Employer retirement contributions
Three years: Medical and dental coverage
*Excludes six pending cases
The RIO program was one piece of a broader plan announced last summer to trim operating budgets in the face of reduced state appropriations and tuition revenue. It's a voluntary program for employees who are benefits-eligible and meet age and university service requirements. Eligibility for the medical and dental options also required employees to have been enrolled in the university's plans for at least five years. At the time it was announced, university leaders estimated 1,200 employees met the requirements.
Iowa State will restore its portion of the TIAA/VALIC retirement contribution to 10% on July 1, pending approval by the state Board of Regents.
Last summer, university leaders announced a plan to reduce the TIAA/VALIC retirement match by 2 percentage points from Sept. 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. This was one of several cost-saving measures implemented to address the university's $41.2 million FY21 budget shortfall.
"We recognize the impact the retirement contribution reduction has had on our employees as they consider their long-term financial and retirement goals," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "This is one of many sacrifices that our faculty and staff have made to help the university address extremely difficult budget challenges. We are deeply grateful for their understanding and support during this extraordinary situation."
Over the 10-month period, the reduction will generate an estimated $6.1 million in savings, which will be shared between the central university and divisional units.
"The Institutional Budget Management Team is developing a plan for sharing the cost savings and will communicate that plan with budget leaders as part of our regular FY22 budget development process," said senior vice president for operations and finance Pam Cain.
More information about employee retirement resources is available through university human resources' WorkLife website.
As director of the office that organizes the Thomas L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE) and coordinates the university's annual delegation to the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE), Japannah Kellogg knows the importance of converting education into action.
To help participants prepare for those conferences and build on momentum after the fact, the NCORE-ISCORE office offers a professional development action plan, a modified version of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching's individual action plan for an inclusive classroom. It's a tool for building a personalized anti-racism plan.
"We often want to do better, but we rarely know how. That's where having a framework is critical," Kellogg said. "It gives you a way to hold yourself accountable."
That can work at an individual level or for a group. In a preconference ISCORE presentation last month, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) staff talked about how they have used the template to create and maintain an officewide anti-racism plan.
Making a plan
As Black Lives Matter protests became widespread this summer in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, WISE staff collectively agreed they wanted to become more intentional about combating racism. They organized a book club to read Ibram X. Kendi's "How to Be an Antiracist" and invited other units in the provost's office to join them. The idea to create an anti-racism plan for the office sprang from the book club discussion.
"We were trying to find ways to implement in our work what we were learning and unlearning," said Alicia Herron-Martinez, a WISE program specialist for leadership and professional development.
The process took several months and began with the staff creating their own personal plans. The two-page action plan template has sections for identifying opportunities to promote diversity, equity and inclusion; possible barriers and strategies to overcome them; who could provide support; and action items to take, along with the resources needed and a timeline.
From there, staff compared their plans and found common themes. The officewide plan calls for more purposeful inclusivity in WISE marketing, events and programs, which has brought changes to its website and events like the Go Further conference. It also encourages ongoing education opportunities and taking time in staff meetings to discuss personal and group anti-racism efforts -- both highlights and stumbles.
"I think that centers the work so it doesn't get forgotten," Herron-Martinez said.
Beyond the specific provisions of the plan, merely creating it has made a difference, said Yamille Perez, a WISE program specialist for outreach and recruitment. Conversations about representation are more common than when she began working at WISE 18 months ago.
"It comes into play for every decision we're making," Perez said. "It's much more top of mind."
Staff will regularly revisit the plan, which was put in place last fall but remains a work in progress, said Carly Miller, a WISE program specialist for marketing and communications.
"We're continually learning and growing. It's not just a one-and-done type of topic," Miller said.
WISE staff said they've had numerous colleagues outside their office ask them for tips on how to assemble a similar plan in their unit. In part, WISE was fortunate because there was no need to convince anyone on the seven-person team of the merits of drafting an anti-racism plan.
"We were all on board to read the book. We were all on board to create the plan. And we're all on board to do the work," Perez said.
Their advice for employees interested in starting the process is to begin with themselves. "An individual can do a plan without anybody else involved. Everyone has their own power to create their own plan," Miller said.
The ownership that comes with self-generating an action plan is a key part of what makes them effective, Kellogg said.
"We don't collect them. You don't turn them in for a score," he said. "If we gave everyone a completed action plan, it would fall short."
A group conversation
For units or departments that are interested in approaching anti-racism work as a group, there is another option offered by the NCORE-ISCORE office. In the "Expert of My Experience" series, a team participates in an activity revolving around anti-racism, and assistant director Jowelle Mitchell moderates a post-event discussion. The first two installments -- with the provost's office and dean of students office -- followed "How to Be an Antiracist" book clubs, but many other activities could work, Mitchell said.
"It gives a platform for people to say it out loud, to debrief as a group about what that experience was like and what it meant for them," she said.
The panel discussions are designed to apply the information learned in the activities to people's own lives. They're also meant to demonstrate for faculty and staff ideas they could use in their offices.
"Anti-racism work isn't easy. When you don't know where to start, seeing what someone else is doing can help move the needle," Mitchell said.
To inquire about having an "Expert of My Experience" event for your unit or department, contact Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 294-8731 with an idea for the activity and the goal the team has for participating.
ServiceMaster teams have completed a five-week task of scrubbing down Ross Hall following a Feb. 22 fire in a first floor custodial closet. Two other companies will wrap up their smoke and soot cleaning specialties this month.
Crews from West Des Moines-based Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network are cleaning all electronics and Wi-Fi hotspot devices. Initially, that process was going to take place off campus, but on floors 2-6, teams were able to work in the building, wrapping equipment they have cleaned. CRDN teams also are cleaning office contents such as rugs, tapestries and other textiles. Those processes are expected to wrap up next week.
Polk City-based Clean Air Systems contracted to clean the building's air handling ductwork, and its work is scheduled to continue into the third week of April.
A tentative timeline has Ross Hall occupants back in their offices around July 1. A new fire alarm system must be operational first.
A restorative phase 2
Facilities planning and management is in the design or bid phase for several projects to restore damaged elements of the building. They include a fire alarm system and new ceiling tiles throughout the building. Projects contained to the first floor include:
- Install a new ceiling support structure and corridor lighting.
- Refinish wood doors.
- Repair utility services in the custodial closet (site of fire): electricity, water and sewer.
- Finish drywall surfaces where vinyl coverings had to be removed.
- Replace display cases in the corridors.
These projects are scheduled to wrap up by late June. Also during June, IT teams will reinstall and complete operational tests on all computers, printers and other electronics.
No summer session classes will meet in Ross Hall, but the building will be in full use this fall.
Jerilyn Logue was thrust into a situation participants in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Iowa State (OLLI) usually find themselves in. Last March, the OLLI director had to move classes online in a short amount of time in response to the pandemic.
"We found out about a week or so before classes were set to begin that the university was going to be closing to in-person instruction," Logue said. "In a matter of two days, we decided to go with Zoom."
OLLI is for people at least 50 years old who want to continue learning on a range of topics without the pressure of tests or grades. For Logue, the pressure was on, with 46 classes and multiple daytrips already scheduled and little knowledge about delivering online classes.
"I went to the internet and looked things up, but I had the extra benefit of being an OLLI, which means we have a resource center," she said. "I went to some training sessions that were great. A lot of it was trial and error and keeping it as simple as possible."
Not all classes were conducive to moving online, but a majority of instructors -- who are volunteers -- put in the effort to make online instruction possible. Logue did test runs with each instructor, allowing them to learn the ins and outs of the online environment before classes began.
Twenty-two classes were offered online last spring, and while the total number of participants is down during the pandemic, the number of classes they are taking is up, Logue said. The current spring session offers 43 classes.
"These are people who have a passion for learning, and they couldn't go this long without learning on a wide variety of topics," she said.
Learning online has its challenges for OLLI participants, but Logue preaches patience with yourself, classmates and instructors since proficiency comes with practice.
"I tell instructors it is OK if it doesn't work right away," she said. "Our biggest obstacle is bandwidth and internet speed because it is different for everyone."
Participants can log on to their computers or dial into classes using their phone in a conference call setup.
Instructors have learned to innovate, with one teaching a class on how to operate an iPad by sharing his iPad and iPhone on the screen so participants can easily follow lessons.
Classes, which range in length from one day to eight weeks, are recorded and available for those who miss one.
Logue said many participants have adjusted well to the move online and learned to troubleshoot issues. With the switch online, participants receive instruction on internet and learning-from-home etiquette.
Classes will remain online through at least next winter. The four-week winter session will be exclusively online going forward to avoid participants traveling to campus during inclement weather. Logue said she would consider "pop-up classes" in the fall to allow participants to meet face to face.
Class subjects change each session and often deal with timely issues. The spring session includes courses on racism, human trafficking and speaking civilly to those with different political views.
OLLI was almost exclusively an on-campus program at the ISU Alumni Center until the pandemic forced changes. But with struggles come advantages, like being able to offer courses to participants across the nation.
"We have always had people who have lived in Marshalltown, Webster City, Boone, Des Moines and Newton who would drive up, but now we have people in different states and different cities and counties in Iowa taking classes," Logue said.
OLLI also gives participants the chance to interact with others during a time when they may have limited ventures outside the home.
Regardless of when in-person instruction resumes -- something some participants are eager for -- online offerings will continue.
"We will never be able to do away with online because we have too many people now all over the country," Logue said. "We sent out an email to all alumni 50-plus making them aware of this opportunity, and it is a great way to connect with them."
In fact, one participant from Ohio enjoyed a class so much in the fall, he is teaching this spring.
The latest federal COVID-19 relief package includes another temporary change for the dependent care assistance program (DCAP), more than doubling the amount employees can contribute to DCAP flexible spending accounts.
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) of 2021 passed by Congress March 11 includes a one-year provision for 2021 that increases the DCAP maximum from $5,000 to $10,500 ($5,250 for married filing separate taxpayers). DCAP accounts allow employees to reimburse eligible expenses such as child care from an account they fund with payroll deductions, which reduces what they pay in taxes.
The earlier relief package passed by Congress in late December also changed flex account rules for 2021, allowing unspent 2020 contributions to a DCAP or health care flexible spending account to be used to pay for eligible 2021 expenses. In addition, the December bill suspended for 2021 the rules limiting when employees can adjust their contribution levels, giving employees more flexibility to manage unforeseen circumstances during the pandemic and recovery.
Employees who had unused DCAP funds from 2020 should be mindful of the amount they elect to contribute in 2021. The election amount, when combined with excess 2020 funds, should not exceed the $10,500 limit, which is based on the date the service is provided/incurred -- not the date the expense is reimbursed by the plan or paid by the employee. Any unused DCAP funds from 2021 that remain available for use in 2022 will be subject to the previous $5,000 per year limit and the March 15 grace-period deadline, barring future changes made by Congress.
ARP also made one-year changes to the federal child and dependent care tax credit, raising the value of the credit, the limit on eligible expenses and the income for qualifying. Those changes may affect employees' decisions about DCAP contributions. Consult a financial advisor for more information.
Employees can make changes to their DCAP account in Workday using the "Change in Dependent Care Provider" event type. Detailed instructions can be found here. Enter an effective date of April 1 or later to access the higher limit.
For questions regarding flex account changes, contact the university human resources benefits team at 294-4800 or email@example.com. For questions about plan rules and tax impacts, contact the payroll, benefits and tax office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert approved the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) advisory board's recommendations for Miller Faculty Fellowship funding for the 2021-22 academic year. Grant recipients submitted proposals that focus on improving undergraduate courses to strengthen student learning. Seven projects will share $93,000 in grants.
Miller grants are funded in part ($50,000 annually) through the F. Wendell Miller endowment, managed by the president's office and distributed through CELT. Miller, an attorney and farm manager who died in 1995, stipulated in his will that the bulk of his estate would create the Miller Endowment Trust, with income divided equally between Iowa State and the University of Iowa. Former ISU president Martin Jischke established the faculty fellowship program in 1996.
CELT supplements the Miller trust funding each year.
Projects for 2021-22 are to be completed by June 30, 2022, and a final report submitted by July 31.
The seven funded projects are:
Does Top Hat improve student performance?
Team: Brian Hornbuckle, agronomy, and students Liz Griffin, materials science and engineering; and Audrey McCombs, statistics
Summary: Each semester, approximately 300 ISU classes use the personal response system Top Hat as a learning tool, but there hasn't been an evaluation of its effect on student performance. The team will analyze data from more than 3,000 students enrolled over 14 years in an introductory science class to test the hypothesis that more thinking in the classroom (measured by students answering a higher percentage of Top Hat questions) results in more learning (measured by exam performance). The goal is to improve pedagogy and instructional delivery and increase student performance.
Longitudinal assessment and experimental design for project-based learning in the ISUComm foundation courses (ENGL 150 and 250)
Faculty team: Abram Anders and Amy Walton, English
Summary: The two ISUComm foundation courses enroll about 6,000 students each academic year and teach written, oral, visual and electronic communication skills. The two goals of this project are:
- Design and implement a longitudinal assessment study using a mixed-methods approach addressing both communication and writing skills and broader impacts on student learning capacities and academic success
- Design, implement and test innovative instructional strategies through the direct comparison of assessment data for standard and experimental sections of both courses
Spaceflight Operations course
Faculty team: Clayton Anderson, Tomas Gonzalez-Torres and Robert Martin, aerospace engineering; and Nir Keren, agricultural and biosystems engineering
Summary: The team will add training components to the aerospace engineering department's Spaceflight Operations course, now entering its eighth year, that incorporate nuances of NASA astronaut preparation and are intended to train students to think from an operations perspective. These include wilderness preparation and survival, skydiving, flight simulation and others, as well as astronaut training philosophies (for example, punctuality, accepting constructive feedback and persevering through stressful situations).
A history of genocide: Collaborative approaches to teaching about race, violence and the state
Faculty team: Jeremy Best and Brian Behnken, history
Summary: The team will develop a new course that examines racial and genocidal violence by comparing the experiences of Black, Latino/a/x, native and Asian peoples in the United States with Jewish people in Europe and looks at the relationship between state power and racism to understand questions about nationalism and social exclusion/marginalization. The team teaching and experiential learning will include collaboration with museums and public scholars in Iowa and Washington, D.C.
Pressing letters: Integrating printmaking into graphic design and creative writing
Faculty team: Raluca Iancu, art and visual culture; Miriam Martincic and Maurice Meilleur, graphic design; and Debra Marquart, Charissa Menefee and Barbara Haas, English
Summary: Typography is an essential aspect of printmaking, graphic design and creative writing. The team will purchase letterpress equipment and develop class modules to incorporate hands-on letterpress printmaking into 15 existing and two proposed courses in three departments (impacting 450 students). When students create only in a digital format, they often don't understand the connection between the work on a computer screen and its history in moveable type and letterpress.
Enhance lab learning through a new OPERA (Online Platform for Equipment and Remote Assistance) system
Faculty team: Shan Jiang, materials science and engineering; Ann Gansemer-Topf, School of Education; Hantang Qin, industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, Greg Curtzwiler and Xiaolei Shi, food science and human nutrition; and Lingyao Yuan, information systems and business analytics
Summary: The team will build an adaptable online platform that enhances students' lab learning experiences while accommodating diverse learning styles. It will integrate multiple formats of lab assistance, including videos, computer simulations and virtual reality experiences, and share resources from manufacturing and material processing courses -- but apply to many other lab courses. The platform will let students preview and rehearse lab procedures before they collaborate on data collection and analysis during or outside regular lab hours. It will help instructors assemble learning materials, minimize equipment mishandling and reinforce data analysis skills.
Enhanced learning and skill-building by using state-of-the-art CALPHAD software to apply fundamental principles in the thermodynamics and kinetics of materials
Recipient: Ralph Napolitano, materials science and engineering
Summary: The thermodynamics and kinetics of materials are two central pillars of materials engineering, but MatE 311 (Thermodynamics) and MatE314 (Kinetics) remain two of the most challenging courses for students. Napolitano will integrate the commercial software CALPHAD (Calculation of Phase Diagrams) into learning exercises that apply fundamental principles to complex problems in real-world material design and control. The software will provide a backbone for an active-learning approach that helps students develop technical field competencies.
President Wendy Wintersteen will host the April 2 (2-3 p.m.) innovators forum, "Innovation Beyond Conventional Institutional Boundaries," with Arizona State University president and ISU alumnus Michael Crow.
Wintersteen and Crow will talk about his time as a student and faculty member at Iowa State and discuss the University Innovation Alliance.
Arizona State is one of the most innovative institutions of higher education under Crow's direction, establishing 25 transdisciplinary schools. They include the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Crow also oversaw the launch of several multidisciplinary initiatives, including the Biodesign Institute and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.
A 1977 Iowa State graduate, Crow earned bachelor degrees in political science and environmental studies. At Iowa State, he was the director of the former office of science policy and research (1985-91), director of the former Institute for Physical Research and Technology (1988-91) and assistant director for planning and program development at Ames Laboratory (1985-88). He left Ames to serve as executive vice provost at Columbia University, New York City (1991-2002), before becoming Arizona State's 16th president in 2002.
Entrepreneur in residence Karen Kerns and associate professor of English Abram Anders will moderate the online forum. Registration is required and audience questions may be submitted through the chat function in Webex.
"We will be asking president Crow about the culture at Arizona State when he arrived, and what inspired him to look at shifting the culture to innovation," Kerns said. "We will discuss the barriers he encountered, how he overcame them and what is next on the horizon."