Sophomore computer science major Olivia Wiench finds a quiet, daylit corner to work in on the third floor of the ECpE addition to Coover Hall. Final exams begin Monday and conclude Thursday evening, Dec. 15. Graduation events will be held Dec. 16-17.
Duties may shift for faculty, staff during finals week
Finals week brings a range of emotions for students as they prepare to wrap up a semester's worth of work. But what is the week like for faculty and staff across campus?
Inside talked with instructors and department and unit leaders to find out.
A helping hand
Most of the Academic Success Center's (ASC) work is complete prior to finals week when tutors and supplemental instructors have assisted and prepared students. Instead, ASC staff support student accessibility services during finals week by providing rooms and proctors for students needing test accommodations. Whether it's a low-distraction environment, additional testing time or something else, staff assist more than 600 students.
There are three, three-hour testing blocks daily during finals week that begin at 7:30 a.m. and conclude at 6:30 p.m. The Hixson-Lied building provides a variety of testing rooms and environments.
"We really just want to lend our support where it is needed," ASC director Adriana Gonzalez-Elliott said. "Students come and they are nervous, and we get to be that friendly face that greets and checks them in."
The process is not as simple as handing a student a test and sitting in while they take it. For some instructors, a test must be taken at a certain time to match the rest of the class and returned within another time window. Students are only allowed to have certain materials with them when taking the test.
During finals week, staff also continue to interview undergraduate students for tutor or supplemental instructor roles the following semester.
Keys to success
Finals week is different for natural resource ecology and management associate professor Tim Stewart without lectures to prepare. Still, he tries to be available to students through the final days of a semester.
"I have changed the name of office hours to drop-in hours, and I always encourage them to come throughout the semester," he said.
Stewart said students often are looking for last-minute extra credit to earn a better grade. He doesn't offer extra credit, but works with them to identify how they can have success going forward. For younger students, it can be learning how to study, how to ask questions in class and using his drop-in time. Stewart's willingness to help comes, in part, from his own experiences in the classroom.
"I struggled in courses and remember getting a 'D' on my first biology exam," he said. "I let students know that I had trouble too, but also I tell them on the second exam I did much better because I made some changes."
When not giving a final exam, most instructors are busy assigning and submitting final grades. Stewart said there is stress for the instructor around the final grade, knowing the disappointment of a low grade for him and the student. But it also can represent the reason many instructors are in their position when they see students succeed, especially those who overcame challenges during the semester.
Finals week is a time to conclude work on committees and to continue preparations for winter session and spring courses. Accounting teaching professor Michael Bootsma is in his second year teaching Accounting 215: Legal Environment of Business during the winter session. His biggest lesson from the first year is getting content loaded in Canvas as early as possible so students see the commitment needed for a four-week course.
"During finals week, you are putting finishing touches on your winter session course and thinking about how you want to improve things for the spring," he said. "For the winter, I think it is important students can tell their family that it is a break, but they do have commitments to this course."
Burning the midnight oil
Parks Library staff get ready for longer days during exam week to ensure students have what they need to be successful. To keep Parks open around the clock for five days, night staff adjust their schedules to work overnight hours and library staff volunteers step up to fill any gaps.
"The evening staff, which typically works until 2:30 a.m., works the longer overnight hours by shifting to 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.," said circulation services librarian Cara Stone. "They are not working extra hours because they work with their supervisors to flex their time where appropriate."
The increase begins the weekend before finals and moves into 24-hour access. More than 10,000 people use the library each day, and that increases during the final two weeks of a semester. Most questions librarians field deal with food and drink, library hours and available study spaces. Individual, group and comfy study spaces are in demand, and students also gravitate to study spaces with power outlets, said head of access services Dawn Mick.
Bookends Café is open until 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday during finals week and 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. To assist the late-night students, Parks, in partnership with ISU Dining, provides gallons of free coffee and fruit -- bananas and oranges -- for students. Staff members also keep an eye on students studying late to ensure their safety during long days.
The registrar's office sees a lull during finals week, but it is just the calm before the storm. The office does help students who have three or more finals scheduled in a single day work with instructors to spread them out.
While students and instructors are focused on finals, the registrar staff is busy putting final touches on commencement preparations.
"I liken commencement to a wedding because there is only so much planning you can do, and then you just have to wait for it," said university registrar Jennifer Suchan.
The commencement planning team meets during exam week with volunteers and faculty marshals and confirms anyone who plays a role knows how the event will unfold, Suchan said.
When final grades are posted, the office shifts into high gear for about two weeks. Tasks include certifying student-athletes for the upcoming semester, preparing the next round of veterans' benefits, processing final grades and graduating students. The office also processes all student transcript requests.
Food for thought
ISU Dining locations across campus see an uptick in students during the final weeks of a semester when they use parts of their meal plans that don't roll over.
To give students a break from preparing for exams, the bakery hosted a gingerbread night during prep week to give Cyclones a chance to adorn a scratch-made gingerbread structure. Dining supplied the gingerbread pieces, frosting, decorations and a space to relax, with refreshments.
During finals week, ISU Dining will have a peppermint Frappuccino pop-up event on campus to wish students good luck, said dining services interim director Karen Rodekamp said. About 500 bottles will be given away in 45 minutes.
Upper level students jump on winter session opportunity
While many of us look forward to powering down for a week or two during the winter semester break, there's a small but mighty group set to power up. More than 1,600 undergraduates registered for Iowa State's third winter session and, consistent with the first two winter sessions, about 70% of them are juniors or seniors. They'll be led by more than 50 faculty members from five colleges.
This year's four-week winter session begins Monday, Dec. 19, and concludes Friday, Jan. 13. Now a regular part of the academic year, it's designed as an opportunity for Iowa State undergraduates to earn up to three credits, with 90% of the courses offering just that. For some students, it's the chance to work ahead and advance one course closer to graduation day. For others, it might be a chance to catch up, retrieve credits dropped during an earlier semester or free up space this spring for a popular course. All courses are offered online, and some will include synchronous components. Dec. 9 is the final day any low-enrollment courses could be canceled in order to give enrolled students time to select other options.
Winter session students will be able to access support services online. For example, the Academic Success Center's online services will include academic coaching, consultations for writing and communications, on-demand workshops that focus on the shorter winter term and a winter session workbook of tips and best practices.
Winter session participants as of Dec. 6
*Degree-seeking students. A handful of non-degree seeking undergraduates also enrolled.
Startup Factory helps faculty researchers apply research, solve problems
Shan Jiang had a solution. After several years of trial and error in the lab, Jiang and a team of graduate students developed a technology to inexpensively produce large quantities of specialized nanoparticles.
It was a significant breakthrough, but a major challenge remained: finding the right problem to which to apply this solution.
"We could make something no one else could make, but that doesn't mean it's useful. If you cannot find the proper application, there will be no market," said Jiang, associate professor of materials science and engineering.
Having previously worked in industry, Jiang was confident there was a need for the technology, but as a scientist he didn't know how to bring his concept to market. Iowa State's I-Corps program and the ISU Startup Factory helped Jiang find the answer and launch his spin-off company, Janas Materials, Inc.
Jiang graduated from the incubator program in December 2021 with a better understanding of developing a business model and commercialization plan, conducting market research and pitching his startup. One of the most valuable takeaways for Jiang has been the connections.
Learning from and working with ISU Startup Factory director Peter Hong and Tim Neugent, an entrepreneur-in-residence with the Startup Factory, led to an opportunity for Jiang to present to a group of investors. Jiang admits he initially considered declining the invitation and is thankful for Hong and Neugent's encouragement and persistence to attend.
At the meeting, Jiang connected with an Iowa State alum -- now the CEO of Janas Materials -- who helped move the concept forward. The startup has since secured an agreement with Diamond Vogel to test the technology in producing more environmentally-friendly wood stains, and Jiang is working with the ISU Research Foundation on patent protection and commercial rights to the technology.
In October, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board awarded Janus a $25,000 grant for IP development and evaluation, proof of concept work and product refinement.
"It's reinforced that we're doing the right thing," Jiang said. "Being an entrepreneur and launching a startup is not just about one brilliant idea or taking a risk. It's actually about going out of your comfort zone and getting connected with people from different backgrounds."
Networking is woven into the curriculum for the ISU Startup Factory. Cohort members or founders also attend virtual class sessions that cover everything from market investigation to legal terminology. During one class session this fall, Hong tackled financial accounting -- a topic that often is overwhelming and confusing for founders. However, Hong stressed that having even a basic understanding will pay off when meeting with investors.
The session generated several questions and provided an opportunity for Hong, Neugent and Donna Ramaeker-Zahn, an entrepreneur-in-residence, to share their experience and offer guidance on how financial reports are beneficial for strategic planning, anticipating needs and managing demands.
Venture Mentoring Service
The team-based pilot program matches startup founders and entrepreneurs with three to five mentors who provide guidance on everything from outside investment to customer acquisition strategy. Hannah Kirkendall said the program is intentionally crafted to be fluid so the team of mentors can change according to the needs of the startup.
In its first year, around 50 professionals -- many who are Iowa State alums -- have volunteered as mentors. Kirkendall, program manager for ISU Startup Factory and Iowa G2M Accelerator, said the goal is to make the pilot project a permanent part of the services offered through the Pappajohn Center.
Interested entrepreneurs and mentors can schedule a time to meet Kirkendall and learn more about the program.
The class discussion is an example of the collaborative culture Hong has worked to foster since stepping into his role as director in February 2021. Hong said most founders never entertained the idea of running a business before joining the ISU Startup Factory, and learning from the success and mistakes of others is valuable.
"It's a small ecosystem for entrepreneurship in Iowa, and networking is something we strive to promote," Hong said. "They need to develop their own networks, so we really push them out of their 'lab vacuum' mentality."
To keep participants focused and moving forward, Hong condensed the year-long program to 16-weeks. And the program is tailored to the needs of the founders in each cohort. In addition to virtual classes, there are weekly one-on-one mentoring sessions to provide support and help develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
"Success is not always a business launch. It's just as important to learn if a business is not viable," Hong said. "If entrepreneurs have the proper tools and support, they will continue to pursue future startup ventures and have success even if they don't launch their initial startup."
Contributing to society
For Guowen Song and Rui Li, the weekly meetings with their mentor this fall have helped them identify potential pathways to use their research findings to develop new technology as well as industry standards and regulations. Their ultimate goal: revolutionize the development, design and optimization of personal protective equipment for improved safety, comfort and function for first responders and health workers.
Prior to joining the ISU Startup Factory, Song, professor and Noma Scott Lloyd Chair in Textiles and Clothing; and Li, research assistant professor, had conducted countless lab simulations to measure how different textiles perform in hazardous conditions. Learning how to apply their research gave them the confidence to continue pursuing their startup, NexGenPPE.
"It's not only about making it a business, it's about how we can make use of the technology to contribute to society and not let it just sit in the lab," Li said.
NextGenPPE won't launch by the end of the 16-week cohort, but Li and Song have the direction and support to keep moving forward, and that is a success by Hong's definition.
Elements of success
Each ISU Startup Factory cohort concludes with a showcase and demo day where founders share their achievements and celebrate their success. Some of the startups will take the next step in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and join the Iowa G2M (Go to Market) Accelerator, take advantage of other resources available at Iowa State, or determine their concept wasn't viable.
Because of the support he's received, Jiang takes every opportunity to share his experience with colleagues on campus and other aspiring entrepreneurs. As he reflects on his journey, he often is reminded of an ancient Chinese saying about the three elements of success -- timing, location and people.
"I couldn't find a better location for my startup than at Iowa State," Jiang said. "With the Startup Factory, we're given such a wonderful platform to translate our technology to business. We have so many resources for entrepreneurship and innovation that I never realized before."
Longer class passing is standard
After meeting with leaders across campus, including the Professional and Scientific Council, vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert explained the decision to permanently increase the passing time between classes from 10 to 15 minutes at the council's Dec. 1 meeting.
It allows more time before and after class for students to interact with an instructor, gives instructors more time to disconnect and connect to classroom technology and helps instructors and students navigate campus for back-to-back classes, Wickert said. The longer passing time also allows CyRide to add an additional bus to the orange route, which travels from central campus to the Iowa State Center.
"We have gotten the sense that this change lowers stress during class changes, especially during the winter months," Wickert said.
The additional five minutes between classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday began in fall 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes on those days begin 15 minutes earlier (7:45 a.m.) and end 20 minutes later (6:20 p.m.). Classes remain 50 minutes long and the 10 class periods begin every 65 minutes. Tuesday and Thursday classes already have a 15-minute passing time, and the summer schedule has 60-minute classes with a 10-minute transition time. Those won't change.
Iowa State Online
Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) executive director Sara Marcketti provided an update on staff hiring for Iowa State Online, which launches Jan. 3.
The unit has grown from 12 people to 45 through about 70 interviews, Marcketti said. Those hires included two senior managers and nine supervisory manager positions. There still are 10 open positions -- instructional design, instructional technology and others -- that can be found internally through Workday.
"We have about 25 employees coming from units that are joining CELT and Iowa State Online," she said. "We were thrilled we were able to offer a position to every internal individual who applied for one."
The council's university community relations committee sponsored a food donation drive throughout November to benefit SHOP, the campus food pantry. The effort collected 2,726 pounds of nonperishable food items for SHOP, easily meeting the council's goal of one ton. Some council members want to make the food drive an annual event, given its success.