Mowing between showers

lawn mower on central campus

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

A campus services team member takes a go at cutting back the central campus lawn in between rain showers this week. Behind him is Curtiss Hall.

Regents direct employees back to campus by July 1

Employees working mostly from off-campus locations who were making plans to return to their university offices in August now have an earlier deadline. Repealing the board's March 2020 "state of emergency" declaration for the three regent campuses May 20, state Board of Regents president Michael Richards also directed regent employees to return to their campus workspaces by July 1.

In a follow-up memo, Iowa State leaders confirmed the change applies to employees who normally would work on campus during the summer. Faculty on nine-month appointments, for example, can keep the Aug. 19 return date the university announced last month.

President Wendy Wintersteen and senior vice presidents Pam Cain (operations and finance), Jonathan Wickert (academic affairs) and Toyia Younger (student affairs) noted that thousands of ISU employees either never stopped working on campus or had begun to transition back to their university workspace. For others, including parents who need to find child care for summer months, the new timeline "may be challenging," they wrote.

"We encourage these employees to work with their supervisors over the next six weeks to plan for a smooth transition back to campus," they wrote. Return-to-work questions also can be sent to

Regents directives

In addition to requiring employees to return to their pre-pandemic work mode in six weeks rather than 10 weeks, Richards provided these guidelines from the board:

  • Effective immediately, face coverings and physical distancing aren't required on campus. Exceptions are buses, human and animal health care facilities, and research labs. The board's directive supplants the changes to the university's face covering policy announced May 19. Instructors can't require face coverings in summer classes, and employees can't require face coverings in their offices.
  • Effective immediately, campus spaces, including classrooms, will return to their normal capacity levels.
  • Regent universities should ensure vaccines are available and strongly encourage vaccination for employees and students, either on campus or with off-campus partners. However, the universities can't mandate vaccination or proof of vaccination for students or employees.
  • Unvaccinated employees, students and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering on campus.
  • Effective for fall semester, academic coursework and experiences will be offered in person similar to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Traditional student life activities will resume fall semester.

Face coverings no longer required in most campus locations

new face covering signage

The Cyclones Care messaging collection was expanded to include a sign that reflects the new campus face covering policy. Photo illustration by Christopher Gannon.

Wearing a face covering on campus is now optional for employees, students and visitors. May 20 guidance from the State Board of Regents lifted a 14-month "state of emergency" on the three public university campuses and eliminated many COVID-19 safety protocols.

In a May 19 memo to the university community, senior leaders strongly encouraged students, faculty and staff who can to get vaccinated since it's one of the most effective ways to mitigate the virus.

It's also "one of the best ways you can show that Cyclones Care," wrote President Wendy Wintersteen and senior vice presidents Pam Cain (operations and finance), Jonathan Wickert (academic affairs) and Toyia Younger (student affairs).

They noted face coverings remain mandatory in health care settings and on CyRide buses. University policy also would have given faculty the option to require face coverings in their classrooms and all employees the flexibility to require face coverings for meetings in their enclosed offices through the end of summer session. However, the regents' guidelines eliminated that flexibility for summer. The regents told Iowa's three public universities that in addition to the face covering and physical distancing changes, they should immediately return to normal room capacity levels in all campus locations, including classrooms.

The board's guidelines include research labs in its short list of facilities where the new rules for face coverings and physical distancing don't apply.

Face coverings remain optional

The university and regent changes come on the heels of new guidance May 13 from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that relaxed the face covering requirement for vaccinated individuals in many situations, but also deferred to local government and business regulations. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 59% of people 16 years and older in Story County are fully vaccinated.

In their memo, senior leaders noted that vaccinated individuals still may opt to wear a face covering, so the presence -- or absence -- of a face covering shouldn't be interpreted as proof of vaccination status.

"We ask all members of the campus community to be respectful and supportive of others' right to wear a face covering, and to not ask others about their vaccination status," they wrote.

New Cyclones Care signage

The Cyclones Care messaging collection has been modified to include a new sign, "Masks Encouraged if Not Vaccinated." It's available for download from the Cyclones Care messaging materials website. Working with their building supervisor (and a central COVID fund), units also can order self-adhesive removable versions (safe for application to walls and doors) from printing services

Building supervisors were asked to remove by May 24 Cyclones Care signage that requires face coverings or physical distancing and reduces occupancy limits.

Employees who post any Cyclones Care signage in their work areas should use masking tape or painter's tape in order to avoid damage to walls and other surfaces. Don't use clear desk tape or packaging tape.

What to think about if you're looking for child care

Finding consistent, high-quality child care is always a challenge for employees with young children. Here are some tips for faculty and staff to keep in mind if they are looking to arrange child care starting this summer or fall, provided by Cris Broshar, WorkLife and family services coordinator.

Start now

There are child care openings available in the Ames area, for sure. The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) child care availability map lists 83 openings, not including unregistered child care homes and providers in the surrounding communities. But capacity may be down slightly due to closures during the pandemic and continued safety precautions. Regardless, it's wise to make child care arrangements months in advance of when care is needed, and the start of school in the fall is the busy season for child care turnover.

"Child care providers as a whole tend to be planners. They always like to have their full enrollment set," Broshar said. "It's important for parents and guardians to do this work now."

Identify needs

The first step in looking for a child care provider is determining what type of care is needed and when. Think about your family's schedule. Is full-time care necessary? If so, for what hours? Would flexibility be beneficial? Also inventory what other features are important: stability, group size, location and so on.

"Having a list of needs is helpful when a family is contacting providers to inquire about openings," Broshar said.

Consider settings

Whether to place a child in a center or with a home-based provider comes down to preference. Each has pros and cons. Centers stay open more reliably due to their larger staffs, care for more children separated by age group and may offer early education curriculum. Some parents appreciate the intimacy and family-like setting of a home-based provider, but they may close more frequently as they're typically operated by one person. Center fees tend to run higher than for home-based providers.

Who can help

Parents can search for child care online using the DHS portal or the Iowa Child Care Resources and Referral (CCRR) portal, but Broshar recommends contacting a CCRR parent referral specialist at 855-244-5301 or to have them provide a list of possible providers.

"They're kind of the best-kept secret for families looking for child care," she said. "Their services are free, and they work really hard to keep the most up-to-date information about programs in the area."

Do the research

When considering a provider, be sure to search their names in the DHS database of child care reports, which includes recent records of complaints and compliance inspections. Also take a look at whether the provider participates in the state's voluntary quality rating system, which gives ratings up to five stars for additional enhancements beyond standard licensing rules.

Home-based providers don't necessarily have to be licensed by the state. Unregistered child care homes can care for up to five children, a limit increasing to six July 1. Registered providers, called child development homes, are subject to state regulations and requirements that depend on their registration level. CCRR's parent guide has a detailed explanation of the various registration levels.

Keep irons in the fire

It's best to explore a number of possibilities when searching for child care, especially when placing your child on a waiting list. Don't hesitate to get on multiple waiting lists, Broshar said. Spots are often snapped up quickly.

Seeking support

Looking for some encouragement in all this? Connect with the Cyclone Family Network, a new program offered by ISU WorkLife this summer. The virtual meetings will be held every Monday (11 a.m.-noon, via Zoom) starting June 7. Broshar said the goal is to offer open-ended sessions for faculty, staff and post-docs to socialize and informally discuss issues impacting their families, the sort of conversation that was common in workplaces before the pandemic. Anyone is welcome to join.

Digital access resources growing, with policy coming soon

A growing collection of training and tools are available to help faculty and staff keep digital communication barrier-free, resources that will be useful as Iowa State prepares to adopt a new policy on digital accessibility.

Cyndi Wiley, digital accessibility lead in information technology services (ITS), told the Professional and Scientific Council at its May 6 meeting that a draft of the university's first-ever digital accessibility policy, written over a 6-month period beginning last August, will be released soon for public comment. The policy will mandate that all ISU digital communication -- including websites, software, course materials, emails, publications and videos -- be inclusive and accessible, as required by federal law.

"We need some sort of cohesive policy to provide consistency and clarity to a very critical dimension of student operations that affects retention and attrition -- and also for faculty and staff," Wiley said. "This will affect everyone on campus."

The policy will allow five years to begin implementing needed changes, with a timeline for certain benchmarks and possibly incentives for early adopters, Wiley said.

"We wanted to make this attainable," Wiley said.

Much of the work to make digital accessibility the standard across campus will build on existing resources, Wiley said. ISU Extension and Outreach's e-accessibility initiative offers free courses on document design, accessibility is a key feature of the Quality Matters online course certification workshops from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, and ITS opened a digital accessibility lab in 2019 to provide a space for demonstrations, testing and research.

Services have been added in recent months, too. Last year, in a contract coordinated with other state Board of Regents institutions, Iowa State began offering all university units a reduced rate on captioning services from Rev. Starting this month, faculty and staff who operate ISU websites can sign up to use the Siteimprove platform to identify ways to make web content more accessible. Siteimprove flags issues such as broken or insufficiently descriptive hyperlinks, a lack of alternative text for images and color contrast concerns, Wiley said.

"Those little changes can really make a big difference," Wiley said.

Faculty and staff who are just getting started with digital accessibility may want to consider taking a four-week course Wiley will offer this fall. The Canvas-based class on digital access basics meets for an hour once a week and includes some asynchronous instruction. To request to enroll in the course, email Wiley at

Fall plan feedback

The council asked P&S staff to provide feedback on the fall plans senior leaders announced in April, which call for employees who have been working remotely to return to their pre-pandemic workspaces by Aug. 2 (staff) or Aug. 19 (faculty) -- return-to-office deadlines that were moved up to July 1 in a May 20 announcement by the state Board of Regents.

Council president Sara Parris said the council received about 100 responses for feedback, many who shared similar concerns about safety, arranging for child care and maintaining work-life balance. She also said a significant number of responses supported the plan. The council provided senior leaders with a summary of the feedback.

Parris said angst about returning to the office is understandable, but as a staff member who has worked on campus throughout the pandemic -- as associate director of the Thielen Student Health Center, she's been heavily involved in the university's COVID-19 response -- she's confident staff will be safe.

"We've proven that mitigation measures work. None of us can say with any certainty what measures will be necessary in August, but I am certain that the university's approach will be rooted in science and good public health policy, as it has been thus far," she said.

Some staff were disappointed that guidelines on flexible work arrangements in development before the pandemic won't be complete until mid-fall. Parris noted that in her experience, day-to-day matters were often all-consuming during the pandemic -- pushing long-range initiative planning to the back burner.

"We have asked for grace for ourselves from our leaders and our students this past year and a half. I ask that we extend the same grace to university leadership," she said.

Five questions with a research farm superintendent


Horticulture Research Station superintendent Nick Howell inside a hoop barn full of lettuce varieties. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Nick Howell grew up on a farm in northeast Madison County, where the family operation included cattle, hogs and Christmas trees. He had more than his fill of livestock as a kid, the smells especially. But raising trees stuck with him, leading him to study horticulture at Iowa State.

Name: Nick Howell
Position: Superintendent, Horticulture Research Station
Years at ISU: 36
Education: B.S. in horticulture (1985) and Master of Agriculture (2015), Iowa State

He started working at his alma mater right out of college, running the now-gone horticulture garden north of the power plant for 10 years and then Reiman Gardens for its first decade, developing it from bare ground. Since 2006, he's been superintendent of the Horticulture Research Station a few miles north of Ames, 230 acres of university land where a wide variety of researchers stage their work and dozens of students each year learn by experience.

The research station is a busy place, annually home to as many as 100 projects. That was even true last summer, when 71 projects were running despite the obstacles -- first the pandemic and then the derecho, which knocked down 600 trees, six high tunnels and half the vineyard. Cleanup extended into the spring, repairs will continue this summer and replacement plantings will take years to establish, in the case of the trees.

Howell recently spoke with Inside Iowa State about the research station and his role managing it.

Since researchers oversee the station's projects, what does the superintendent's job entail?

The oversimplified version is I move people and equipment around. We're in constant communication with researchers to get an idea of what they need. We're not here to fully outfit research projects, but we do go to a lot of effort to make sure they get what they need. We generate about half of our operating budget, so some of it is about marketing. For the web sales and ISU Dining sales, we work out the strategies and hire interns to run some of these projects. A lot of the undergrads have little or no experience, so myself and the rest of the crew do a lot of training. So far this year, I have 62 people signed up for our annual safety training the first day of the summer. And that's a requirement: If they're working on this farm, even the faculty, they have to attend. Usually, I'm involved with all of the crews at some time or another, and sometimes more often than not.

Was the variety one of the appeals of working at a research station instead of a garden?

This morning I was putting up an electric fence around our turtle ponds with a graduate student. Yesterday, I was working with Dr. Ajay Nair to troubleshoot a trickle irrigation system for a lettuce field. Every day is something different. Every day, I learn something new. It's really kind of a wonderful challenge. This year, because of the derecho, we're doing a lot of extra construction, replacing the high tunnels that blew down. We're building a new orchard. We're planting six acres of sod for Jack Trice Stadium and some practice fields for 2022, which is pretty cool. 

What can you tell me about the field turf project?

We're planting this grass in three inches of sand laid over the soil, so the soil isn't disturbed or removed in the cutting of the sod and, from what I understand, it makes for a relatively cushy surface for the players so they don't have as many injuries. But when you grow stuff in sand, it does wear out eventually. And that's what's happened. It's just time for the field to be replaced. They can buy sod like that, but it is tremendously expensive and they don't have any quality control. By having it here and managing the production along with our turf specialist, Adam Thoms, they get complete control. It helps fund the farm, and they've funded an assistantship, which is outstanding. We're not here to make money. We're here to teach and do research.

Produce sales begin this week

The Horticulture Research Station produce sales kicked off this week with a fresh crop of various lettuces. Submit an order by noon May 20 to pick up your selections May 21 east of the Meat Lab, in the northwest corner of lot 39.

Are the produce sales continuing with curbside service this year?

Yes, absolutely. We had been doing it since 2014, but last year was our best year. The rest of the crops were destroyed in the derecho, but most of the web sales produce could be salvaged or were close enough to the ground to survive. The site is being updated and is going to be a lot easier to work with. I think it looks really good. The web sales were actually a project a class took on at first, and we took it to the next level after the class folded by turning into an internship opportunity for an undergrad. People love it, and it gives us a presence on campus we didn't have before. People know who we are. That's useful for all sorts of reasons.

Just over one-quarter of the station's land is tillable. Do you ever turn projects away because you've run out of space?

We never turn anybody away. We work to find an appropriate location for the project to happen. Our biggest limitation on this farm is water. We raised the water level in the lake 18 inches the first year I was here, and it's saved us about three times now. I used to think it was a travesty the land wasn't used more. But after managing between 75 and 100 research projects per year, I think it's fine. With the fallow land, we can do things like honey production. We used to grow soybeans and corn on unused land, but now we grow oats as a nurse crop for clover. We harvest the oats and let the clover come up so the bees have a nectar source in the fall. If you don't, during grape harvest the grapes are completely covered with bees trying to extract sugar from the berries. It makes everybody a little happier -- and a little safer, too. We make good use of the tillable land even when it's not being used for research.

University employees are invited to city's May 20 mental health forum

University employees are invited to attend a mental health forum hosted by the city of Ames May 20 (6:30-8:30 p.m., Ames City Auditorium, 520 Sixth St., or via livestream on the city's social media channels). In conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, it will address mental health concerns, identify symptoms of mental illness and connect residents with resources in central Iowa.

The event will include a keynote address by Story City-based Jason Haglund, a panel discussion with mental health experts and time reserved for questions. Haglund, a mental health counselor and leader in the behavioral healthcare field, will present "Finding a Path Forward After a Year of Stress and Uncertainty."

Following his talk, a panel of local mental health care experts will share information about their organizations, programs and services. Two university employees will participate on the panel, which include:

  • Brian Carico, therapeutic learning specialist with Ames Community School District
  • Cassi Cheney, program director of Optimae Life Services, Ames
  • Tricia Crain, executive director of Arc of Story County
  • Breanna Degelau, community-based crisis services supervisor with Eyerly Ball Community Mental Health Services
  • Joseph Fox, a licensed clinician, will provide information and resources about YSS
  • Kinsey Phillips, mental health advocate at ISU police
  • Warren Phillips, licensed psychologist, director of Central Iowa Psychological Services and associate teaching professor in the psychology department
  • Angela Tharp, executive director of NAMI of Central Iowa
  • Karla Webb, operations officer for Central Iowa Community Services (serving 11 central Iowa counties)

15 months in

More than a year of social isolation and restrictions brought about by COVID-19 have contributed to an influx of mental health concerns affecting people of all ages, according to local public safety agencies. 

"The pandemic has not only changed how we do things, it has impacted the emotional health of all ages across our community, nation and world. I am seeing an influx of mental health calls for service that suggest our community is suffering," said Julie Saxton, mental health advocate at the Ames Police Department. "This community forum will be helpful for residents to learn more about the resources in our community that can help put us on the road to recovery and help our neighbors, friends and community."

The city's Mental Health Wellness Recovery and Resiliency initiative will include a series of speakers, training and educational opportunities scheduled through September. They are free and open to the public.

The May 20 forum will be archived on the city's media production services website.

Goldfinch Room announces outdoor summer series

The Goldfinch Room has announced a nine-show outdoor Tuesday concert series for the summer. Two to three times each month, the series will feature Midwest singers and songwriters performing on the Stephens Auditorium front lawn.

Admission is $10 at the door. A summer series pass, available online before June 1 for $100, provides admission to all nine shows. It also includes a $50 donation to Stephens Auditorium to support The Goldfinch Room, which launched in 2019 to host a series of Iowa songwriter showcases throughout the year.

Guidance for guests

Face coverings will be required unless guests are seated. Attendees should bring their own lawn chairs or blankets for seating. Pop-up tents and umbrellas will be allowed around the perimeter of the seating area.

Attendees may bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages, and Stephens Auditorium will sell beer, wine, soda and water. The Traveling Pig food truck, Ames, will offer mobile meals featuring local ingredients and global flavors.

Concerts will begin at 6:30 p.m., except for the two September dates, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. Lawn access will open approximately 30 minutes before show time.

The summer lineup brings in artists from around Iowa and the Midwest: