Live from the International Space Station

The stepatorium in the Student Innovation Center

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Live on the jumbotron, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough (l) and Megan McArthur answered pre-recorded questions from 20 Iowa youth during a NASA TV downlink Monday in the stepatorium area of the Student Innovation Center. Kimbrough and McArthur arrived at the International Space Station in late April, part of its Expedition 65, and have been in orbit 200+ miles above the earth ever since.

The chance to pose questions to astronauts was a follow-up exercise for youth who attended Astro Camps ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H hosted this summer across the state; the local audience Monday was Iowa State students and faculty. The Iowa Space Grant Consortium, of which Iowa State is a member, helped secure the downlink for a campus audience.


High schoolers around the world flock to innovation contests


A screenshot from the video project submitted by the EducationUSA Tunisia team for the School of the Future challenge of Iowa State's Innovation Fellows in Training program, which offers international high school students innovation competitions in hopes of recruiting them to enroll at Iowa State.

Ana Luz remembers what it was like when she was considering where she should go to leave Portugal and study abroad. The options seemed distant.   

"It was choice by pamphlet," said Luz, associate teaching professor and director of innovation and entrepreneurship in the College of Design. 

The international recruiting effort Luz assisted this summer is a far cry from the pamphlets she perused as a youth. Building on the success of two pilot sessions last December, the Innovation Fellows program and the admissions office partnered with ISU faculty, staff and students to conduct seven virtual innovation challenges for high school students worldwide. More than 700 high schoolers from 26 countries have participated or registered in the Innovation Fellows in Training (I-FIT) events that began in June and run through the end of October, vying for prizes and scholarships.   

The response has been so positive that the same concept is being extended next month to an event for domestic transfer students and next fall to an in-person series of international workshops, said Jorge Calderon, assistant admissions director for international recruitment. 

"The level of engagement has been amazing," he said. "We have decided to go all out." 

How it works 

An I-FIT challenge includes an initial presentation by faculty or other ISU experts, attended by student teams registered by a guidance counselor, teacher or administrator at their school. After a workshop, typically around 90 minutes but sometimes longer or delivered over multiple sessions, the teams are given a deadline for submitting a project video. Everyone reconvenes for an awards ceremony, with winners selected by faculty and a public online vote. Prizes generally run $500-$1,000 per team, and most of the events are sponsored by an ISU college, each of which offers all participants an ISU scholarship -- as large as $2,000 per year in some cases. 

The financial rewards and the chance to win a global competition are an enticement to participate, but the outcomes aren't as important as the process. The intention is to give the seniors-to-be and the educators sponsoring them a better sense of what an innovation mindset is and demonstrate how Iowa State can help develop it. Feedback from students and team sponsors has been effusive, Calderon said.  

"We had a school counselor at one of the award celebrations come in and raise her virtual hand to say what an amazing experience it was for her students, and she was crying when she was speaking," he said.  

I-FIT challenges were co-founded by Calderon, former assistant admissions director for reporting and project management Stacey Barnes, and director of innovation programs Karen Kerns. Kerns and Calderon collaborate to shape the topics and enlist faculty and student experts. Participants who enroll at Iowa State get a head start in the Innovation Fellows Corps, an interdisciplinary innovation training and professional practice program. 

"We designed the I-FIT program as another way to fulfill our land-grant mission and reach out to students who struggled with a sense of powerlessness as a result of COVID-19. We wanted to empower them with an innovation mindset," Kerns said.

A sense of belonging 

After the pilot sessions, which were held late in the typical recruiting cycle, applications increased at more than two-thirds of the schools where teams entered, Calderon said. While it's too soon to tell, he's confident the bigger push this year will drive enrollment gains from participating schools next fall.  

"I know it's coming. We'll see results with this," he said.  

That wouldn't surprise Luz, who led a workshop in June that asked students who received a primer in design thinking to propose the "school of the future." Learning from ISU experts and flexing their creative muscles creates an instant connection, she said. 

"It's right there in the name, I-FIT. They fit. They belong. They're part of Iowa State," Luz said. "I think it's very smart. It's an innovation on innovation."  

Music and theatre department chair Brad Dell led an I-FIT session in June on devised theatre, a production collaboratively created by the performers. The challenge for the high schoolers was to make a 90-second piece of theater. He had an ensemble of current ISU students create a 20-second production during the workshop so challenge participants could see what was possible.  

"You can go out and talk about Iowa State and its various programs until we're blue in the face. But this allowed students around the world to actually experience what we have to offer," he said.  

Impressive results 

Faculty leading the workshops also get to see what participating students have to offer, and they're often impressed, Calderon said.  

In the theater challenge, the theme that students broached was what the pandemic taught them about human connection. The responses were inventive and moving, Dell said.  

"They answered that question in a whole lot of different ways that were brave, funny and sometimes heartbreaking. It was really beautiful and thrilling," he said. "We'd welcome any of these wonderfully creative minds." 

Having previously operated an after-school youth program on building creative confidence, Luz was excited about I-FIT because it was a chance for students to brainstorm complex and abstract ideas. The "school of the future" they were asked to propose could be any aspect of education, from facilities to student resources to curriculum. The final presentations needed to show the process teams used to land on their idea, which helped emphasize the methods were as important as the results. 

"They had no boundaries. Their imagination just sparked everywhere," she said. "We built the scaffolding, but they took off with it." 

Despite the open-ended assignment, Luz said both winning teams focused on student-centered engagement in instruction.  

"I was surprised in a very good way because it was in alignment with what I've learned about education in 25 years in my career," she said. "They were so on top of things and really understood the concepts." 

A life-changer 

One of the winners in Luz's challenge was a Tunisian team whose video focused on providing hands-on learning personalized to address student interests. The chance to think about reimagining school drew team member Adam Ajroudi to the project, he said.


Members of the Mongol Aspiration International School team behind a winning submission in the "Tiny World, Big Problems" I-FIT challenge, in a screenshot from their project video. Team members interviewed herders as part of their submission.

"The subject really touched me," he said. "In the 21st century, we have all the means necessary to have a balanced education system that helps all types of students."

The workshop by Luz was insightful, with a vibe both inclusive and competitive, fellow team member Tasnim Chelbi said.

"It was kind of a life-changing experience," she said. "I'd be thrilled to take a class from the instructor."

Biology teacher Margad Uvgunkhuu coordinated numerous I-FIT entries from Mongol Aspiration School in Mongolia, including a challenge called "Tiny World - Big Problems" about the impact of bacteria, viruses and other tiny dangers. Aspiration's winning entry in the challenge considered ways to protect against brucellosis, a bacterial disease carried by livestock that's common among Mongolian herders.

The project inspired Uvgunkhuu's students to interview a herder family and consult with a veterinary science institute, experiences she suspects will give the team members confidence as they consider college opportunities.

"I've never witnessed this before in Mongolia," she said.

Aspiration student Undral Erdenebat said what struck her about the faculty presentation for the challenge was that students assist in the professors' research.

"I didn't expect that," she said. "I'm definitely considering applying to Iowa State University because of this project."

Ajroudi also came away with a changed view of Iowa State. He said U.S. schools often seem similar on paper, but participating in I-FIT made ISU stand out.

"It's an alive university," he said.

Hundreds of 2020 graduates return to celebrate their Iowa State degrees

A patient 350 former students who completed their ISU degrees during 2020 yet still wanted a traditional commencement ceremony will seal the deal Oct. 9 at a special commencement celebration. The single ceremony, for recipients of all four types of degrees, will begin at 10 a.m. in Hilton Coliseum.

Representing all six colleges, 252 bachelor's degree recipients -- 17 to 63 per college -- told the registrar's office they'll participate. The class to be honored also includes 45 master's recipients, 52 Ph.D. recipients and one Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Eligible graduates -- technically anyone who completed their degree between May 2020 and August 2021 -- were asked to RSVP to their email invitation from the registrar's office by Sept. 26. While that number exceeds 12,000, interim assistant registrar for certification and eligibility Abbie Suntken said the graduation team planned for a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

"We're very excited to finally celebrate this group of students. They've been through a lot in the last year and a half," Suntken said. "The university wants them to have this day, a chance to officially recognize and celebrate their accomplishments."

Cyclone pomp

The estimated two-hour (or less) ceremony will include a processional, remarks from President Wendy Wintersteen, conferring of degrees, brass and vocal music traditions, and celebratory streamers. Alumnus Charles Sukup, chairman of Sukup Manufacturing Co., Sheffield, and a professor of practice in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department, will give the commencement address. All graduates will walk across the stage as their name and graduation term are announced. Master's and doctoral-level students' academic majors also will be shared, as will the name of the professor hooding Ph.D. and DVM graduates. Those professors will sit with their graduating doctoral students during the ceremony.

Graduates received a copy of Iowa State's commemorative commencement program and diploma cover the term they completed their degree. Guests and graduates will receive a simple order of events program when they arrive at Hilton.

As with all university commencement ceremonies, the Oct. 9 event will be livestreamed for family and friends not able to attend and archived on the registrar's website with previous graduation events.

COVID practices

There are no guest limits for this ceremony. Per state Board of Regents policy, all ceremony participants and guests are encouraged to wear face masks indoors when around others. Unvaccinated individuals are encouraged to wear a face mask anywhere they are around others and practice physical distancing when possible. Stage and floor chairs will be spaced a bit to create some distance among participants. All graduating students will stand for a photo with Wintersteen or senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert on the stage, but they won't receive the traditional congratulatory handshake.

Suntken said the university will monitor Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for large indoor events and adjust any ceremony guidelines, if needed.

Five questions for ISU's parliamentarian

Amanda Knief

Amanda Knief became Iowa State's parliamentarian on July 1. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Amanda Knief has served as director of the lectures program since 2018, and this summer she also became the parliamentarian for the university. The position opened with Sheryl Rippke's retirement from Iowa State. Knief served Faculty Senate in that role for the first time at its September meeting. She recently spoke with Inside Iowa State about her new duties.

Name: Amanda Knief
Position: Lectures program director
Years at ISU: 3
Education: B.S., Journalism and mass communication, Iowa State; J.D., Drake University

What does the parliamentarian do at Iowa State?

Previous parliamentarians have served as advisors to the heads of P&S Council and Faculty Senate. It means understanding the governance documents for each body and knowing Robert's Rules of Order, which the university uses. I am impartial, which is a big part of being a parliamentarian -- not taking sides.

Why did you want to become the parliamentarian?

With my legal background I am familiar with a lot of rules, but as the director of lectures I am somewhat siloed. I don't have a strong connection to any particular college, so I thought it would be a great way to learn more about governance at the university and to meet more people. It is a little bit of a networking opportunity for lectures as well.

I like order in itself because I worked for the Iowa Legislature as legal counsel at the beginning of my career. We had to know legislative process and meeting rules if there was a dispute about process or order. I think governance in bodies like the Faculty Senate and P&S Council is really important. Because they are so complex and have amazing governance documents, having Robert's as the fallback ensures that the process is fair and equal for everybody.

How did you get the job?

I became parliamentarian on July 1. I took the membership test and joined the National Association of Parliamentarians. There are 100 possible questions and they give you 40 of them in a test. If you pass the test, you become a member. My next step is to become a registered parliamentarian, which is a more in-depth process.

Do you know all of Robert's Rules of Order?

I don't think that would be possible. There are over 700 pages of rules. I have been spending a lot of time with the senate's governance documents because before the rules, you go by the Faculty Senate constitution, the bylaws and governance. Those take precedence. It's really important to understand the body you are helping.

What's it like when all eyes are on you for an answer?

It is nerve-wracking and a little intimidating because I am not a member of Faculty Senate and don't know most of these folks. I can only fall back on what is in the governance documents and Robert's Rules of Order. Hopefully, people will understand if I mess something up, it is out of ignorance and not malice. The parliamentarian is not the final say. The parliamentarian is just an advisor who helps navigate when situations call for it.

Most employees' health plan contributions will increase Jan. 1

As part of a university multiyear strategy to keep up with health care costs, most employee contributions to their health insurance will go up on Jan. 1, as part of overall premium increases to the ISU Plan. All employees enrolled in the HMO plan will pay monthly increases between $5 and $48. Employees enrolled in the PPO plan will experience smaller monthly increases of $1 to $9. Monthly contributions won't change for two PPO tiers, employee and family, and double spouse family.

The change was shared with ISU employees in a Sept. 28 memo from President Wendy Wintersteen, senior vice president for operations and finance Pam Cain, and vice president for university human resources (UHR) Kristi Darr.

The university worked with a consultant on several proposals that were based on data analysis and comparisons to peer health plans, type of coverage and employer's share of premiums. The university benefits committee discussed the proposals this summer and made a recommendation to senior leaders, who approved the recommendation, as did the state Board of Regents.

Questions about increases to employee contributions may be directed to the office of payroll, benefits and tax,


Medical/Rx plans: Changes to monthly employee contributions


Blue PPO


Blue HMO




Jan. 1, 2022


Jan. 1, 2022

Employee only





Employee and spouse





Employee and children





Employee and family





Double spouse family






Last fall, after seven years of flat health insurance rates for employees, the three senior leaders announced some coverage changes to the plans and an initial premium increase for Jan. 1, and noted additional increases would continue over several years "to address the cost of the program."

Since 1996, Iowa State has used a self-funded model for employee health and dental care and prescription drug service.

The premium increase is the only change planned for 2022. Open enrollment for the new plan year begins Nov. 1. UHR will provide more information about these changes before then via videos, webinars and emails.

Internships, in-person career fairs are returning for ISU students

Mike Gaul has seen a lot working in career services for 24 years, but his description of the current climate puts things in perspective quickly.

"It is the craziest, wonkiest labor market I know I will ever see in the rest of my lifetime," said Gaul, associate director of career services in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). "To go from nearly 15% unemployment at the end of April 2020, to now every store is seemingly looking for labor, is crazy."

The roller coaster means plenty of opportunity for internships and jobs for Iowa State students.

"We're always working with students to find ways for them to get involved and get experience," said Taren Reker, associate director of career services in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "There are so many good opportunities out there right now that we are telling them to go for it."


One of the areas most restricted for students during the pandemic was internships and co-ops.

The number of co-op and internship opportunities posted on CyHire -- an online jobs platform for students and alumni -- went from 4,229 in 2018-19 to 3,819 in 2019-20 as the pandemic began to make its impact. The number sat at 3,210 in 2020-21 when all of ISU's career fairs were held virtually. Full-time job postings also dipped from 6,547 in 2018-19 to 4,996 in 2019-20.

Businesses were pulling internships for a variety of reasons, from health and safety to cost savings. Perhaps nowhere was the impact felt more than the College of Engineering, where an internship or co-op is not required to graduate, but highly recommended.

"There were a lot of students who were disappointed by their internships or co-ops being canceled in 2020," said Kellie Mullaney, Engineering career services interim director. "I think the biggest impact was on students whose last chance for an internship was summer 2020, so they ended up graduating without professional experience."

Fortunately, colleges are seeing a rebound.

"Obviously, we are not out of it, but it seems to be on the upswing," Reker said.

Gaul sees an impressive stream of internships coming through this year and has had more companies than ever contact him looking for part-time student help. Mullaney said there is a 10% increase in engineering internships and co-ops posted in CyHire compared to 2020, inching closer to 2019 levels.

The pandemic opened up different kinds of internships to fill needs created by new challenges, many coming with increased flexibility.

"A couple of years ago, a remote internship was not very common, and if it was, you were trying to determine if it was a quality opportunity," Reker said. "Now, there are a lot of organizations doing a good job with hybrid or work-from-home opportunities."

Mullaney said engineering students also have taken advantage of virtual options that provide a quality experience.

"These positions go through an additional vetting process when students register them so that we can ensure they receive appropriate support, supervision and education," she said.

Career fairs

Career fairs are returning with in-person and virtual options this year. Gaul said many of the businesses he communicates with are excited to get back in the same room with students, but not every employer is back to pre-pandemic operation.

"We still are seeing companies hesitant to come back in person, including some of the bigger companies for CALS because travel restrictions are in place," he said.

CALS' in-person career day Oct. 12 already has 173 companies committed  -- including 20 new participants. The Business, Industry and Technology events had nearly 200 commitments, and the People to People events had nearly 150.  A pair of Engineering in-person events and one online combined for nearly 550.

It is a solid rebound after just 872 employers participated in one or more career fairs in 2020-21, down from 1,231 two years ago.

One trend both Gaul and Reker have noticed is employers attending both in-person and virtual events because of the significant need to fill positions.

"They are taking any opportunity they can get," Gaul said.

A virtual option -- going from novelty to norm -- brings different employers from out of state to events they did not previously attend, Reker said.

"It really is two completely different ways of interacting, in-person and online," she said. "Regardless, employers still are looking for students who are well prepared, have done their research and have some ideas of what they want."

Learn how to advocate for gender equity

Male faculty are invited to a workshop that shows them how to positively impact gender equity at Iowa State, particularly in the STEM fields. The free, two-hour workshop, "Men Allies for Gender Equity," will be offered in person three times over two days next month: 9:30-11:30 a.m. Oct. 21, 12:40-2:40 p.m. Oct. 21, and 8:50-10:50 a.m. Oct. 22. Each session can accommodate about 25 participants, and registration is required.

The workshop's interactive format equips and supports men to serve as effective allies for gender equity in their department, college and university. It's a guided conversation with opportunities to ask questions and practice skills in scenario-based exercises, said D. Raj Raman, Morrill Professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and a workshop planning member. The Iowa State debut of the workshop occurred in a virtual format last January.

"I think asking men in privileged positions, which includes our Iowa State faculty, to educate themselves about gender equity is a real win -- for everyone. Men need to engage in these conversations," Raman said.

Roger Green, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Dakota State University (NDSU), Fargo, who led his first allies workshop a dozen years ago, will lead all three sessions.

The male allies workshop is part of Advocates and Allies, one of six program areas built into Iowa State's three-year ADVANCE Midwest Partnership with three universities: Western Michigan, Michigan Tech and NDSU. Like Iowa State, two of the three are alumni of the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE initiative. The four partners share data and resources, and collaborate on projects that change institutional practices and support an environment where women engineers, mathematicians and scientists thrive. Morrill Professor of geological and atmospheric sciences Cinzia Cervato leads Iowa State's Midwest partnership team.

The target audience for this workshop is male (or those who identify as male) faculty members. To register, email Raman, who will send a Doodle pool with more information and an option to register for one of the sessions. Registrants will receive the campus location.

Volunteer change liaison network is forming for WorkCyte Phase II

Recruitment is underway for a campuswide group of volunteers who will play a crucial role in helping with transitions during Phase II of WorkCyte, Iowa State's ongoing initiative to modernize its enterprise software products. 

The change liaison network will include more than 100 faculty and staff not otherwise involved in the Phase II implementation of Workday Student and Receivables, a project that began earlier this year and is scheduled to deploy in five segments between summer 2023 and late 2024. The four-year process will affect nearly all faculty, staff and students, replacing essential and aging systems such as ADIN and AccessPlus.

Change liaisons will help share information about WorkCyte Phase II within their unit or college, introducing colleagues to new terminology, processes and software functions. Liaisons also will be an ear to the ground for project leaders, said Scott Butterfield, manager of change management for information technology services.

"They'll be a main conduit for feedback," he said.

Regular meetings will begin in November and take two to four hours per month, according to a message college and unit leaders received last week from special advisor to the provost for student information systems Steven Mickelson, vice president and chief information officer Kristen Constant and Butterfield.

As go-live dates near for Workday Student and Receivables, change liaisons will help shape training plans by participating in user acceptance testing and readiness workshops. They'll also inform colleagues about continuous improvements related to WorkCyte Phase I, which launched Workday in 2019 for human resources, finance and payroll transactions.

"Our change network will be the key to a successful implementation. Change liaisons are instrumental in keeping our campus teams informed and providing feedback from all areas of the university. Their service is vital to ensure we are implementing a quality system to serve our students, faculty and staff into the future," said Mickelson, the Chuck R. and Jane F. Olsen Professor of Engineering.

Change liaisons need to be familiar with existing systems and processes for student information and receivables, but they don't need to be experts. College and unit leaders will nominate liaisons by Oct. 15, and WorkCyte staff will review the nominations with steering committee members from the Faculty Senate and Professional and Scientific Council to ensure a cross-section that represents campus. Nominess will be contacted in late October to gauge their interest. 

Questions about the change liaison network or the WorkCyte project in general can be submitted to

It's an old-fashioned garden party

Artist works on large floral mural

Artist Louise Jones (aka Ouizi) works on her outdoor floral mural in the Anderson Sculpture Garden. It covers a south-facing wall between the Hub and Morrill Hall. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

University Museums will host a garden party with Detroit-based outdoor mural artist Louise Jones on Thursday, Sept. 30 (4-5:30 p.m.) in the Anderson Sculpture Garden east of the Hub.

Jones, also known as Ouizi, is known for her large-scale murals depicting plants and animals specific to the installation sites. She visited campus in May and subsequently proposed a mural to create a welcoming space in the Anderson Sculpture Garden and ensure the garden is visually blooming year-round. Her mural highlights unique plants in the university's landscape, such as the "Golden Unicorn" Buck rose, hellebore and beautyberry.

The reception is free and open to the public. ISU Catering will serve custom treats inspired by the mural --that is, with vibrant colors and rich flavors -- each piece garnished with an edible flower. Guests are encouraged to wear something floral.

The new mural is considered long-term, temporary public art, made to last up to 30 years. It was commissioned by University Museums and funded by the Neva M. Petersen Endowment for art acquisitions for university museums' Art on Campus collection.