Vehicle technology bootcamp revs up at the Biorenewables Complex


Student team discusses laptop data with large data monitor behin

(l-r) Chris Saleh, engineer in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department and bootcamp instructor; Lisa Tordai, senior in software engineering; Tristan Thier, senior in agricultural systems technology; and Lauren Thompson, sophomore in agricultural engineering, ponder their data during the bootcamp session at Sukup Hall on Nov. 3. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

Students interested in the latest in vehicle technology kicked it into high gear this semester by participating in the first-ever vehicle technology bootcamp.

The bootcamp resulted from a collaboration among John Deere, the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering, the ISU Research Park and the Digital Ag Innovation Lab, and is providing undergraduate and graduate students hands-on experience with cutting-edge software and hardware included on a John Deere tractor. It also includes small-group sessions with ag industry veterans and ISU faculty. Two cohorts, each containing about a dozen students, are completing the bootcamp this semester by attending sessions in Elings and Sukup halls on Friday afternoons. Organizers intend for this year's bootcamp to be a pilot that could lead to similar opportunities in the future that involve other industry partners.

On Friday, Nov. 3, 10 students participated in the second of four sessions with the bootcamp's second cohort. The students worked at a table in a high-bay lab in Sukup Hall in the shadow of a towering 8R John Deere tractor. Real-time data from the tractor flashed across a large display screen at the front of the lab, and students observed and analyzed the data using their laptops. By sifting through the complex computer code, the students could see real-time information on everything from the tractor's transmission temperature to its fuel usage.

"This bootcamp will expand the students' knowledge of what's in these vehicles and show them some of the interesting things you can do with this technology, that these vehicles are more than just the machinery," said John Potter, a senior engineering manager at the Digital Ag Innovation Lab. "It also has the potential to help students make connections in the industry and expand the pool of potential new hires when the students graduate."

The collaboration

The tractor used to demonstrate the technology belongs to the Digital Ag Innovation Lab, while John Deere provides a speaker and mentor to work with the students each week. Around 56 students applied for the bootcamp, and 24 students were accepted -- 12 participants in each of the two cohorts. The bootcamp is completely voluntary and does not provide course credit, so the high demand among students demonstrates an intense interest in the latest vehicle technology, Potter said.

Henry Hayes, a sophomore in computer engineering from Arlington, was among the students selected for the second cohort. He and a partner combed through rows of computer code and spreadsheet data generated by the tractor and displayed on their laptop during the session. They were learning how to adjust the tractor's on-board displays from their laptop.

At first, the data was just an incomprehensible "jumble of numbers," Hayes said, but the bootcamp was showing him how to make sense of the complex stream of information.

"I grew up on a farm, and I want to find that place where agriculture and technology overlap," he said.

Lauren Thompson, a sophomore studying agricultural engineering from Wilton, said she's considering pursuing either the power machinery and engineering option in her major or the land and water resources option. She said the bootcamp may have tilted the scales in favor of the power machinery track, though her mind remained open.

"I really appreciated hearing from the speakers from John Deere," Thompson said. "I wanted to learn more and get hands-on experience with a tractor because that could help me decide what I want to study."

Benjamin Withers named dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Benjamin Withers from Colorado State University, Fort Collins, has been named dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of history.

Benjamin Withers head shot


Withers, who currently serves as dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State, will begin his tenure April 15, 2024. He takes over for dean Beate Schmittmann, who will retire in summer 2024 after serving 12 years in the role.

"Benjamin Withers brings a wealth of experience to Iowa State University, including service as a department chair, dean and associate provost," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "Dr. Withers also understands the deep value of public and land-grant institutions, and we are pleased he will build upon the legacy of Dean Schmittmann."

Withers earned a bachelor's degree from Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota; and master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago, all in art history. He previously served at Indiana University, South Bend; and University of Kentucky, Lexington; before joining Colorado State as dean in 2016.

"I am humbled and excited for this opportunity to lead the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences," Withers said. "The great breadth of the college, spanning the physical and social sciences and humanities, enables our faculty and staff to positively impact every student on campus, and I look forward to helping the college advance toward its goals."

In making the announcement, senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert thanked Schmittmann for her leadership of the college, and members of the search committee and campus community for their thoughtful consideration of candidates.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has nearly 6,800 students (5,700 undergraduate and 1,060 graduate students), 596 faculty and 268 staff among 21 academic departments, one professional school and 25 cross-disciplinary and interdepartmental programs. The college's faculty and scientific staff attracted more than $27 million in research grants and contracts in fiscal year 2023.

Regents discuss, approve diversity recommendations

Recommendations from the state Board of Regents' diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) study group were approved after vigorous discussion at the board's Nov. 16 meeting in Cedar Falls.

Study group members (regents David Barker, Jim Lindenmayer and Greta Rouse) presented their report and recommendations, noting Iowa's public university campuses are welcoming places committed to equal opportunity and have a long history of accepting all qualified students.

Discussion centered on the group's 10 recommendations, including whether all are needed, a few might contradict each other, and how students benefit from DEI programs, among other topics. Their discussion distinguished between activities required for compliance and accreditation and others that support a welcoming campus, and noted challenges to achieving intellectual and philosophical diversity among faculty and staff job applicants. A recording of the two-hour discussion is available on the board's YouTube channel.

Learn more

The 65-page document consists of an 18-page report and 47 pages of attachments. The study group's 10 recommendations are listed on page 18; pages 1-17 provide background information and the analysis behind their recommendations.

Ultimately, the board approved all 10 recommendations, though no vote was unanimous. Recommendations 3-7 and 10 were approved in a single motion; the remaining four recommendations passed individually following additional discussion. The board amended recommendation 9 to ask the regent universities to explore, rather than develop "a proposal for a widespread initiative that includes opportunities for education and research on free speech and civic education."

Next steps

Board president Michael Richards, who appointed the study group last March, said its work is complete. He directed the regent institutions to provide reports on how they are complying with the recommendations, with implementation timelines, for the April meeting, which will be held in Ames.

As senior leaders outlined in a Nov. 7 email to the university community, they will form and work with an internal advisory group and gather input for Iowa State's response. In the meantime, ISU leaders wrote, the focus will remain on "the educational success of all students and providing a welcoming environment for all members of the ISU community."

This artificial intelligence option offers data security

Microsoft's artificial intelligence (AI) tool, formerly Bing Chat Enterprise and newly renamed Microsoft Copilot, is available to all Iowa State faculty and staff. Unlike other AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard, Microsoft Copilot includes commercial data protection that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and others. 

The AI task force:

Kris Baldwin, ISU Extension and Outreach

Mindi Balmer, university human resources

Barb Biederman, office of general counsel

Matt Carver, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Kristen Constant, information technology services

Kevin Houlette, operations and finance division

Angie Hunt, strategic relations and communications

Mike Lohrbach, information technology services

Matt Pistilli, student affairs division

Hridesh Rajan, computer science

James Reecy, office of the vice president for research

The tool is included in Iowa State's Microsoft license at no additional cost and became available in October. It's not currently available to students. To access it, log in to Microsoft Copilot and authenticate your ISU credentials. Once logged in, users see a confirmation that personal and company data are protected in the chat.

"The big difference with Microsoft Copilot is that it adds security for university data," said chief technology officer Mike Lohrbach. "It does not use any data entered by Iowa State employees to build the model, and none of the data entered resides in any Microsoft data center after the chat is closed."

Although ChatGPT offers an enterprise version, which ISU is inquiring about, Lohrbach said from a security standpoint, Microsoft Copilot, when authenticated with ISU credentials, is safer than the free version of ChatGPT.

Getting started

Lohrbach offered several best practices for all faculty or staff using Microsoft Copilot:

  • It operates best in Microsoft Edge, but will work, with limitations, in other internet browsers.
  • Log in to Microsoft Copilot. Do not use the free version, which does not provide the same security measures.
  • Don't load any data into the free AI tools you wouldn't want made available publicly, and think carefully even when using tools with enhanced security.
  • Always fact check the results and beware of hallucinations. AI tools can create results when they're not able to find answers.

Using an AI tool often is a series of trial-and-error questions. Typically, the more specific the search, the stronger the results. Microsoft Copilot allows users to choose a conversation style and provides sample questions to help users develop an effective style. 

"We are encouraging people to test it out," Lohrbach said. "If it is something that doesn't require university or personal data, try testing it with Microsoft Copilot, ChatGPT and Bard to see what kind of responses you get."

Task force studies AI's future at ISU

Lohrbach is part of a 11-person universitywide task force (see box) that's examining AI's impact at ISU and will provide recommendations for its use. The task force formed in July, and is challenged because AI is so prevalent that new issues arise almost daily. Lohrbach describes the work as balancing opportunities with risks to determine the outcome.

Instructors and AI

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has developed recommendations and resources for instructors using generative AI tools.

Members of the task force come from across campus because the impact of AI can be wide ranging depending on the task. Lohrbach said more safeguards are necessary when personal information is involved than when someone asks for help writing an outline.

"AI is everywhere, and everyone wants to know what they should be doing and what they shouldn't be doing," he said. "We have many different functions across campus, from teaching and learning to administrative to research, and no one person is able to provide all the information for every group."

The task force is considering an AI faculty fellow position for someone to dedicate more time to pursuing proper and safe use of AI on campus.

Share your experiences

As universities across the nation determine how best to use AI tools, Lohrbach said faculty and staff can help Iowa State make those decisions by sharing how they use it and when they avoid it.

"It will help us identify the risks associated with these tools, and what policies and guidelines need to be put in place," he said.

Faculty and staff can email their AI experiences and suggestions to

Survey: The faculty workweek remains well over 40 hours

More regents news

The state Board of Regents also approved its study group's 10 recommendations that limit or clarify programming and policies about diversity, equity and inclusion at the three regent universities.

Iowa State faculty, on average, worked 52.53 hours per week last year, according to a biennial self-survey they completed during spring 2023 semester. Tenured and tenure-track faculty members report working 53.6 hours per week, non-tenure track faculty 49.2 hours, and clinical track faculty 49.9 hours. At Iowa State, 1,355 full-time faculty received the survey over eight weeks, and 85.5% returned it. Each participant tracked and recorded their professional activities for their assigned week. The reported workweeks are down slightly -- less than an hour in most cases -- from spring 2021 results, the last time faculty were surveyed.

The state Board of Regents received the survey results during its Nov. 15-16 meeting at the University of Northern Iowa.


Iowa State faculty activity (spring 2023): Average hours per week


Tenured, tenure-track



Dept chairs

Student instruction





Scholarship, research and creative work





Clinical work





Outreach, community engagement





Professional development





Administration and service











Associate provost for faculty Dawn Bratsch-Prince provided examples of faculty research and outreach that positively impact the state, including apparel products for firefighters and nursing mothers, patent-protected digital agriculture components on farm machinery, and collaborations to understand why aging Iowans do better in some small towns, or how to grow crops or raise bees amid solar panels to use the land more efficiently.

The biennial survey also tracks the distribution of student credit hours (SCH) among faculty groups. At Iowa State, tenured and tenure-track faculty taught 33.2% and 8.7% of undergraduate SCH, respectively, in fall 2022, a decrease from 2020 of 0.1 percentage point (tenured faculty) and 1.5 percentage points (tenure-track faculty). Term faculty taught 45.8% of undergraduate SCH in fall 2022, an increase of 1.8 percentage points over fall 2020. Graduate assistants taught 12.2% of undergraduate SCH in fall 2022, a decrease of 0.3 percentage point compared to fall 2020.


A comparison: Total Iowa State student credit hours and who provides them

Faculty type

Fall 2022

Fall 2020










Graduate assistant




Instruction incentive plan for Business faculty

After a one-year pilot during calendar year 2023, the board approved a three-year plan (2024-26) that provides additional pay to tenured and tenure-track faculty in the Ivy College of Business who develop and lead custom seminars, workshops or other professional education services for corporate clients. The faculty receive a portion of the registration fees collected for the sessions they teach, with compensation based on contact hours delivered. Additional compensation through this program is capped at 20% of a faculty member's base salary. Custom Education Services Incentive Plans are a tool for improving faculty retention, and also provide an opportunity to promote the college's graduate programs.

Veterinary Medicine faculty are piloting a similar strategy that incentivizes them to provide veterinary clinical services.

Faculty professional development for 2024-25

The board approved professional development assignments (PDA) next year for 38 Iowa State faculty -- 2.3% of eligible faculty. A general rule is to keep the list at or below 3% of eligible faculty each year, said Rachel Boon, chief academic officer for the board. The list includes seven assignment requests for the full 2024-25 academic year, 18 for fall semester 2024 and 13 for spring semester 2025. The number of Iowa State faculty PDAs is consistent with recent years, 41 this year and 38 last year.

Each of the regent universities has its own criteria for the faculty professional development program. At Iowa State, all faculty employed half time or more are eligible to apply. There is no requirement on length of service, however priority is given to accomplished senior faculty, faculty who are seeking competitive fellowships (for example, a Fulbright Award), and faculty who haven't received a PDA in the last five years. The length of service for faculty with approved PDAs varies from five to 25 years.

Across the three regent universities, 95 faculty professional development assignments last year (2022-23) cost an estimated $133,000 and have produced $36.3 million in grants and external funding, with another $60 million in submitted grant proposals.

Second phase for the VDL

Iowa State received board permission to construct a 78,500 square foot addition to the south side of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the College of Veterinary Medicine campus. The board approved a schematic design and budget ($66.5 million) for phase two, which will move remaining lab functions still housed across the street at the college, including diagnostic research, laboratory testing sections and administrative staff. The additional space also means safer biocontainment and biosafety, an efficient process flow of samples and additional program space to meet growth and more effectively integrate diagnostic medicine education. The 90,000-square-foot phase one (plus a partial basement) is nearly complete and staff should begin their move in January.

Phase two construction could begin next summer and last two years. Funding comes from dollars directed to Iowa in the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and pledged last winter by Gov. Kim Reynolds ($40 million), an $18 million state appropriation (Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund) this year, university funds ($6.5 million) and private gifts ($2 million).

CYTown infrastructure, phase 2

The board approved a revised budget ($37.7 million) for infrastructure and parking lot improvements at the Iowa State Center for the athletics department's CYTown development. The additional funds ($9.2 million) are necessary to complete phase 2, the lots immediately south of Center Drive (A3, B3, C3). Phase 2 also includes a north-south corridor in the middle of the lots for future facility development and a new CyRide transit hub in the northeast corner of the lots. Phase 2 work will begin in the spring, and most work will be completed prior to the fall 2024 semester.

More space for veterinary oncology

Iowa State received permission to begin planning phase two of the pet cancer clinic at the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center. The project includes remodeling 3,600 square feet and building a 2,000-square-foot addition to the northeast corner of the small animal hospital, estimated to cost up to $6.75 million. University funds and private gifts would pay for the project. Phase one, a radiation therapy facility, opened in February 2019. Iowa State is the only veterinary facility in the state with oncologists providing cancer care.

Senators learn about task force's work on educational materials policy

Senators were updated on changes being considered to the university's Educational Materials Policy -- which hasn't been revised since 1976 -- during the Nov. 14 Faculty Senate meeting.

Use and ownership of educational materials task force

Barbara Biederman, co-chair, general counsel

Steve Lonergan, co-chair, animal science

Mandy Fales-William, veterinary pathology

Katie Fulton, English

Lesya Hassall, CELT

Tyler Jensen, finance

Reza Montazami, mechanical engineering

Kimberly Moss, art and visual culture

Hilary Seo, Parks Library

Ann Smiley, kinesiology

Animal science Morrill Professor Steve Lonergan and associate general counsel Barbara Biederman lead the use and ownership of educational materials task force formed nearly a year ago. Educational materials -- which include academic instruction, professional development and extension -- have changed significantly in the 46 years since the policy was last updated and are more easily transferred and delivered in different ways, Lonergan said. Proposed updates also recognize that individuals developing materials have expanded beyond faculty to include professional and scientific staff, post docs, graduate students and undergraduates.

The task force has met with most key stakeholders across campus, including college caucuses, administration, graduate council, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Professional and Scientific Council and ISU Extension and Outreach. Lonergan said the consistent messages are that authors want to maintain ownership of their material, and updates are needed to clarify who owns and who can use the materials. From a university perspective, being able to continue to use materials for a defined amount of time, even if the author moves to a different position or leaves, is key to educational continuity, Biederman said.

"Our mission was to add clarity to the policy where possible and balance the interest of all parties while emphasizing the need to serve students and other learners with access to high-level educational experiences and meet external university commitments," Lonergan said.

Lonergan also discussed the process for the policy going forward:

  • Presented to the Policy Library Advisory Committee (PLAC) for review on Nov. 16.
  • Pending PLAC review, an open comment period will begin in early December and run through January 2024.
  • Pending PLAC recommendation, review will continue with the provost's and president's offices.
  • If approved by senior leaders, the updated policy would take effect for the 2024 fall semester.

Faculty Handbook modifications

Senators heard first readings on a pair of modifications to the Faculty Handbook. For consistency, the section on interim action would replace "calendar days" with "days." References to calendar days are rare and days are defined as working days, when university offices are open for business.

The section on appeals of a provost's decision regarding a conduct case to the president would add current details of the process. An appeal must be made in a written statement and the person making the appeal must provide sufficient proof. The president has 15 daysl to respond and appeals can be made for four reasons:

  • Improper procedures were followed
  • Academic freedoms were violated
  • Policy was interpreted improperly
  • Arbitrary and impulsive criteria were used in recommending the decision be appealed

New online master program

Senators will vote at the December meeting on adding an online master of applied statistics, helping fill the need to train individuals who can make data-driven decisions across many fields and industries. The 30-credit master -- which no other institution in the state offers -- would use online versions of 23 credits currently taught in person on campus. The other seven credits are from new courses. 

Work to resume on CYTown lots next week


Graphic that color codes lots in phases 1 and 2 of the CYTown in

Image by Deb Berger, strategic relations and communicationsLarger image.

Due to favorable fall weather and a promising forecast through the end of the calendar year, work will resume on several Iowa State Center parking lots on Monday, Nov. 20. The work will not impact the Cyclones' final home football game and tailgating activities on Saturday, Nov. 18, or the Iowa high schools' All-State Music Festival, which runs Nov. 16-18.

Crews from Des Moines-based Elder Corp., the contractor on the parking lot and infrastructure phase of the athletics department's CYTown development, will return to the site for an estimated four to five weeks. Their work will focus on lots A4 and A5 and the south half of Alumni Lane in the southwest corner, where they'll demolish the old asphalt lots and bring in fill dirt from offsite to raise the elevation of the area.

Lot A3, south of Stephens Auditorium, will remain open for staff and visitors to the Alumni Center, with access from the north via Center Drive.

Leveling the fill dirt in lots A4 and A5 this fall and letting time and Mother Nature help it settle over the winter puts the project a bit ahead of schedule in the spring when the frost breaks and work can continue, said senior construction manager Nathan Graves, facilities planning and management.

While the underground infrastructure required for the west lots isn't as robust as what was installed under the D lots this year, it does include stormwater sewers and electrical and telecommunication lines, he said.

Lots A4 and A5, with under-construction areas B4 and B5 that sat idle this fall, will complete the first phase of the parking lot and infrastructure prep work for CYTown in August 2024. A second phase, which will replace lots A3, B3 and C3 along the north side, was approved by the state Board of Regents this week. Phase 2 work will begin in the spring, and a majority of the work will be completed prior to the fall 2024 semester.