Happy to be back

A smiley face is fingered into the snow covering a campus bush

Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Following nearly five weeks away from campus, students returned to in-person classes Wednesday -- and somebody was happy about it. University photographer Chris Gannon spotted this snow art outside Marston Hall Wednesday morning.

Well-below-zero windchills prompted university leaders to start "spring" semester online Tuesday, Jan. 16, for the safety of both students and employees.

Wickert announces move to faculty this summer

Jonathan Wickert has announced plans to relinquish his appointment as university provost on June 30, after serving a dozen years in the role -- an Iowa State University record. He is one of the nation's longest-serving provosts, as well as the longest-serving provost among Iowa's public universities and within the Big 12 Conference.

Head shot of man with red/gold striped tie and charcoal suit

Jonathan Wickert

While Wickert no longer will be responsible for a broad array of academic and administrative functions, he will continue to serve the university as professor of mechanical engineering, President's Chair in Engineering and provost emeritus.

"Being provost is a profound responsibility and an amazing experience, and I've enjoyed working day-to-day with President Wintersteen and other members of her senior leadership team. It's a privilege to see the entire landscape of Iowa State's teaching, research and extension missions, and to collaborate with a community of scholars and stakeholders who care deeply about our traditions and future," Wickert said.

"Still, 12 years in this role is a long time. The next provost will bring other ideas and perspectives to continue moving the university forward."

Some of the initiatives Wickert had a hand in include:

  • Creating winter session, Iowa State Online and multiple new degrees.
  • Higher graduation rate and faster time-to-degree for undergraduate students.
  • New success policies for faculty, including structured term faculty ranks, modified duties assignments and the exceptional performance pay program.
  • Expanded recruiting of domestic and international students.
  • The Student Innovation Center and its academic programming for hands-on learning and interdisciplinary education.

"Provost Wickert has served Iowa State University with skill, intelligence and dedication," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "Around the region and nationally, he is a recognized leader for his insights and ability. I sincerely appreciate all Provost Wickert has done to support this great university."

"Jonathan's leadership at Iowa State has been exemplary. He can both help set and drive the university's strategic direction while also serving as a skilled problem solver," said Larissa Holtmyer Jones, president and CEO of the ISU Foundation. "He has been a great partner, and many of our most generous donors deeply respect him and trust his suggestions and guidance. As a result, his fingerprints touch every corner of our campus."

As chief academic officer, Wickert also collaborates closely with faculty in each of the university's departments and colleges. Sarah Bennett-George, teaching professor and president of the Faculty Senate, said, "Working with Provost Wickert in my role with the Faculty Senate has been a privilege. He is a goal-driven leader who clearly puts the academic mission of the university at the forefront of all of his actions, and I believe his commitment to shared governance and strong faculty leadership is proof of that. The university is stronger because of his years of service as provost. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to both work with and learn from him over the past year."

Previously, Wickert held positions at Iowa State as dean of the Engineering college and chair of the mechanical engineering department. An author and researcher in vibration and noise control, he was Iowa State's first professor elected to the National Academy of Inventors. Outside the university, Wickert served on the boards of directors for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, Science Center of Iowa and United Way of Story County, as well as the Governor's STEM Advisory Council. 

The search for Wickert's successor will begin immediately, following a timeline and process similar to the university's provost search in 2012.

"I appreciate David Spalding, Raisbeck Endowed Dean of the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, for agreeing to chair the search committee," Wintersteen said.

All employees should update their Iowa W-4 form

University employees should take time in the next week to update their state W-4 income tax withholdings form in Workday, for two reasons. First, in a multiyear plan to simplify and lower Iowa's income tax, the highest of four 2023 rates (6.0%) went away for 2024, leaving three remaining tax brackets (see chart). Also, the 2023 Legislature changed withholdings in the Iowa W-4 from an allowance number to a dollar amount to align with the method of counting in the federal W-4.


2024 Iowa personal income tax rates (most tax filing categories)

Gross taxable income*

2024 (3 rates)

2026 (1 rate)

Up to $6,210






$31,051 and more



*Upper and lower limits of income brackets double for married taxpayers filing a joint return


How soon should I do this?

For employees paid monthly, Jan. 25 is the deadline to update your W-4 form in time for the Jan. 31 payroll. For employees paid semi-monthly, Jan. 22 is the deadline for the Jan. 25 payroll, their second of 2024. Senior payroll manager Teri Kruse reminds employees they can update their W-4 as often as they want. The goal is to calculate adequate withholdings from 2024 paychecks to avoid a tax liability at tax time in 2025.

How to update your form

In Workday under the "pay" icon, select "withholding elections" in the actions column to make changes to either the Iowa W-4 or federal W-4. An updated knowledge base article in human resources service delivery, Payroll: How to Update Your State W-4 Withholding Elections, walks you through the form, line by line.

Note that "single" no longer is an option on the "marital status" line. The options are: married filed jointly, head of household or other (which includes single, married filing separately or qualifying surviving spouse, according to the state revenue department).

If you're uncertain about whether the university is withholding enough Iowa income tax, the Iowa Department of Revenue updated its basic withholding estimator to help individuals calculate their 2024 withholding amounts. And, as always, employees are encouraged to talk to a professional tax advisor, Kruse said. Her staff can't provide individual tax advice.

Until employees update their W-4, the state has set a default for employers to use: a $40 allowance and $0 in additional withholdings.

University employees who are residents of Illinois working in Iowa and university employees working outside of Iowa should contact the payroll team for information about their taxation.


Related story

Large Workday Student data transfer begins Jan. 27

The most significant implementation yet for the university's transition from legacy student information systems to Workday Student is set to begin next weekend.


A timeline of activities during the data transfer from legacy systems to Workday is available. A video tour of Workday also is available as well as several how-to articles focused on Workday Student. 

More than 32 million rows of student and supporting data, representing decades of information from legacy systems, including AccessPlus and ADIN, will move into Workday from Jan. 27 to Feb. 25. The 24/7 process may lead to slower results when faculty and staff initiate reports or complete tasks in Workday. Additionally, faculty and staff may experience delays when requesting new reports or changes to existing reports in Workday.

"The implementation of Workday Student is in two phases," said information technology services Workday cutover lead Brian Ntem. "The first took place in June 2023, dealing mostly with admissions and some financial aid. This next phase represents the bulk of information moving into Workday Student." 

The student records and accompanying data are divided into "active" -- students with a recorded grade since fall 2017 -- and historical. The active group consists of 108,000 students, including a lifelong learner dating back to 1967, while the historical group includes another 360,000 students, including three with records from 1932.

Ntem emphasized that the information remaining in the legacy systems after the transition will not be lost.

"The remaining data will stay in the systems until it can be archived and the legacy systems sunset," he said. "The data will not be lost, but it will not stay in AccessPlus and ADIN forever."

Busiest time

The bulk of data transfer will take place Feb. 10-18. All employees are asked to avoid running long, complex reports or other high data-driven activities that may put additional strain on the system.

"People may notice it in their day-to-day work in Workday with a slower response time," Ntem said. "If you're trying to fill out a vacation request or load a report, it may be slow to run."

Other transition periods are scheduled, and impacted employees will be contacted separately.

On March 4, students will have access to Workday for the first time. Later that month, students will begin registering for fall classes in Workday.

A few reminders about 2024 changes to your health plan

The new calendar year means changes to the university's health care plans announced last fall have arrived. And while employees should expect to pay more attention to their health care and pay a greater share of the (nonpreventive) medical services they receive in 2024, in many cases their office visit experience will be similar. On the day you see your doctor or therapist, you're responsible for a copay, $15 for BlueHMO participants and $25 for BluePPO participants. That copay will cover other services received.

If your appointment is for a preventive service, you won't even have a co-pay. Under the national Affordable Care Act, the federal government maintains an expanding list of preventive services that, by law, carry no cost-sharing. Benefits director Ed Holland, university human resources, said it's important to keep scheduling these covered services -- including annual wellness exam, colonoscopy, 2D and 3D mammogram, skin or lung cancer screening, mental health screenings, among others -- to stay ahead of any health issues.


An ISU medical insurance glossary defines a dozen terms such as copay, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum.

One change with office visit payments in 2024 is that ongoing or short-series appointments, for example, for allergy shots, mental health sessions or physical therapy, require the copay at each visit, not just the first one.

Besides a copay, the other pieces of the medical cost-sharing structure are a deductible and coinsurance. If one of these applies (typically when a copay is not taken), it will be paid later to your medical provider -- for example, McFarland Clinic -- after the provider has sent the claim to Wellmark and Wellmark has processed it. That usually takes three to four weeks, after which you'll receive a bill from your provider.

Explanation of Benefits: Not a bill

The Explanation of Benefits (EOB), which you'll receive from ISU Plan administrator Wellmark after you receive service, is a recap of what your insurance has paid. It's not a bill, it's simply a summary of the services provided, along with a detailed breakdown of who is responsible for which portion of the costs, as detailed in the linked sample. Review your EOB when it arrives.

These tips could help reduce the amount you pay out-of-pocket:

  • Select an in-network provider. Use the Find a Doctor or Hospital tool on Wellmark.com to find an in-network provider so you can get the best savings from your health plan.
  • Compare charges. If you receive a bill from your provider, compare charges on your EOB to charges listed on the provider bill to confirm that services and charges listed on the two align and are correct.
  • Register for myWellmark. This website becomes your personalized site to make the most of your coverage.

More about myWellmark

Insurance ID cards

An update on ID cards you'll receive from providers for 2024 

The myWellmark member portal can help you stay on top of your ISU plan benefits and usage. The site helps you manage your health, your health plan and your health care costs, all in one place. This secure member website is available 24/7 and lets you track your expenses and use tools to help you reach your health goals. On the site, you can do tasks such as check your claims, find providers, see if a procedure is covered and check the prices of your prescriptions. Plus, you get access to Wellmark's secure message center and digital notification preferences for information about your health plan. And you'll find answers to common questions, including:

  • Where do I find my claims information?
  • Where do I find how much of my deductible I have met for the year?
  • How do I print my health plan ID card or request a replacement card?

If you haven't registered for the portal, visit the myWellmark registration site. You also can download the myWellmark app on the App Store or Google Play.

Curious about costs?

ISU employees have several options for finding out what -- or if -- a service will cost them.

Also in myWellmark, you have access to a cost estimator -- but keep in mind it's an estimator, not a quote for services. To use it, at the bottom of your myWellmark homepage, locate the section called "what are you searching for today?" Select "find costs" and the link below to be taken to the provider finder tool. Once there, select the "estimate your costs" box and enter a procedure.

Customer service specialists at Wellmark also can help with medical plan questions, for example, comparing how a medical service was paid in 2023 and how the same service will be processed in 2024. Wellmark staff also can answer questions about the list of preventive services. Call the number on the back of your Wellmark member ID card for help.

Or, you can request information locally. The business office staff for most providers, including Ames-based McFarland Clinic and Ames' Mary Greeley Medical Center (MGMC), will provide, at no charge, a cost estimate of a procedure before it's scheduled and reflecting the patient's insurance coverage.

Payment plans for even small balances

If you've received nonpreventive medical services and are concerned about covering those expenses in your monthly cash flow, payment plans are common among medical providers. ALEX, the virtual benefits counselor, offers a video and FAQ about using payment plans. Closer to home, MGMC and McFarland Clinic both offer interest-free payment plans for anyone and financial assistance or adjustments for qualifying individuals and families. Here are a few details shared by the providers:

  • MGMC, billing services office, 515-239-2111. Payment plan of up to 24 months (minimum balance to request a payment plan is $25). MGMC suggests monthly payments of 10% of the balance, if possible.
  • McFarland Clinic, business services office, 515-239-4598. The minimum balance to request a payment plan is $50. The maximum length and minimum monthly payment vary according to the size of the balance (the larger the balance, the longer the terms). McFarland's financial advisor team works with the patient on a payment arrangement.


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Speech-to-text tool makes learning more accessible

Iowa State has taken another step on the path of digital inclusion with the purchase of a new notetaking tool, Glean.

Glean converts speech to text and provides students with disabilities an equitable way to learn and absorb class information. The tool also is available to faculty and staff, who may purchase an annual license for $24.

Glean is part of Iowa State's Digital Accessibility Toolkit. The toolkit comprises guidelines such as the university's digital accessibility policy as well as resources and tools that check website accessibility, provide captions for videos and more.

Supporting students with disabilities

Traditional notetaking in class may work for some students. For others, typing on a laptop or jotting down details with a pen are not ideal or feasible options.

"Glean is a flexible tool that allows students to use their mobile devices or computers to customize their learning," said Cyndi Wiley, digital accessibility lead in information technology services (ITS).

Using Glean, students can record the audio of a class lecture or presentation. With the click of a button, the software then converts that audio into text.

Glean is a helpful solution for individuals with hearing impairments who may need to see information in written form. It's also useful for those who physically can't take notes because of injury -- like a broken arm -- or motor disabilities. The audio recording feature alone can assist students with dyslexia and other learning differences, who may absorb information best as it's spoken.

Glean is available as a web, desktop or mobile application. When the app launches, a dashboard shows a list of all speech-to-text files, called "events."

From the dashboard, users select the "New Event" button to initiate an audio recording. Whether the event is in-person or remote, recording options can accommodate both formats. After a recording has finished, the "Convert to Text" button turns the audio file into a transcript.

Additional benefits in Glean

As a speech-to-text tool, Glean captures every spoken word, so no detail slips by in a fast-paced lecture. Students can enhance their Glean notes by adding labels, lecture slides, definitions and images. The searchable transcript produced has the added benefit of reducing potential language barriers.

For faculty and staff, the tool works well for capturing meeting minutes and summaries as well as research transcription.

"Researchers who need to transcribe audio from interviews will find Glean's interface easy to use, secure and a way to reduce time spent on transcription," Wiley said.

How to get a Glean license

Students working with the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) office can receive a Glean license as an accommodation for their courses. The SAS team will notify the ITS digital accessibility team about the license assignments it makes. 

Other students, as well as faculty and staff, should request a license through a form in the ISU Service Portal. To get started, visit your Sign On dashboard at login.iastate.edu. After signing in, select the "ISU Service Portal" app. When the portal launches, search "Glean" and select the "Request License for Glean (speech-to-text tool)" form. On the form, a worktag will be required for faculty and staff licenses. This form is then routed to the ITS digital accessibility team.

Glean is provided to students at no cost. Faculty and staff licenses cost $24 annually. The university's contract is for up to 1,000 licenses among students, faculty and staff. Licenses align with the academic year and begin in August. Pro-rated licenses are not available.

Experimental AI course will return this fall

English associate professor Abram Anders said the same thing to begin his experimental course, "Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Writing," every time it met this fall: "I'm so excited for today." The instructor was just as enthused as the 31 students to see what new things they would learn.

Ethics and AI

Anders and Dux Speltz developed a prompt at abramanders.com that can be put into any generative AI tool to act as an ethics tutor. Anyone can then ask the tool questions about AI ethics and it will present users with scenarios that may occur as they use AI. An AI in education checklist for students and instructors also is available.

With the semester complete and results reviewed, Anders is convinced this is just the beginning of what AI and curious students can achieve. Students appreciated the active learning and the tangible results that came from their expanding knowledge and success using AI tools, Anders said. All levels of undergraduate, masters and doctoral students were in the course.

Anders will offer the class next fall since he has received plenty of interest from students and inquiries about an advanced course for those who have already taken it.

"We will really look to grow to meet demand, whether that means adding sections or enrollment capacity," he said. "I was very excited to see them use AI as a tool to aid their education and not to replace their learning or do work for them."

Anders is not the only instructor in the English department looking to use AI in a class. Department chair Volker Hegelheimer is working with instructors in two core English courses (150 and 250) to introduce AI.  

The course

Anders designed the course to have a different focus each week, but most importantly students learned how to use different AI tools. Each AI tool required different prompting techniques.

"There is tremendous enthusiasm, but knowing how to use AI and get good results out of it, especially for situated applications it takes work and learning," he said. "Students quickly learned that you can't ask for something and take its first result. If you do, you will get mediocre outputs."

Beyond learning how the tools worked, students were asked to consider ethical issues inside and outside academic settings and how to correctly prompt each tool. The course primarily focused on large language tools, like ChatGPT and Bing AI, but also used image and video tools. Students pushed themselves and learned through weekly creative challenges using different techniques.

The course concluded with students doing a creative project, which Anders said he used as an indicator of the success and positive learning that took place. Postdoctoral research associate Emily Dux Speltz -- who helped Anders design, teach and review the course -- said the creative projects fit into five themes: interactive apps, creative multimedia, media production and design, writing assistance, and research and analysis.

"One student, a farmer with no prior coding or programming experience, developed a mobile app to aid sustainable farming practices," she said. "We were blown away by that."


Anders said he expects to see more AI courses across colleges as interest from both instructors and students grows. Dux Speltz said varying teaching styles -- such as lectures or letting students learn on their own -- prompted different but productive results.

"There was benefit to providing some core content around AI, but also providing the opportunity to have hands-on practice with those strategies right away was incredibly helpful," she said.

Anders also had students gather after using AI tools to share their thoughts and experiences. It was valuable to instructors and students because there wasn't enough time for everyone to sample all the AI options, Anders said. Each of the large language tools showed different strengths, leading students to use different ones for certain tasks.

Anders said success for instructors comes with plenty of trial and error before classes begin. He encourages instructors to spend time with AI tools they intend to use to ensure the tools  can produce what they will ask students to do. Instructor familiarity with the tools is just as important because AI will interact with content differently across colleges. Free versions of the tools can limit output, especially in media applications like videos. This may hinder some students if they are unable to afford pay versions of the tools.

"It is important to give your students some experience with the tool within the context of your course so they understand the things it can't do relative to the course material," he said. "Some kind of discussion about ethics and what kinds of things are and are not allowed is important."

Anders and Dux Speltz developed a prompt that can be put into any generative AI tool to act as an ethics tutor (see box).

The future

Anders said that as AI changes on a seemingly daily basis, faculty and staff need to be explorers as much as instructors, willing to pivot around AI for the foreseeable future. He believes it won't be long before AI becomes an incorporated part of many upper division courses.

"There will be dedicated AI courses in nearly every discipline," he said. "We have already seen AI and writing and AI and art and there will be an AI and … in almost everything for sure because it is already happening."

Memorial Union hosts 23rd annual Postcard Exchange exhibition

collage of colorful homemade postcards

The University Print Society, an ISU student organization, is presenting its 23rd annual Postcard Exchange Jan. 22-Feb. 4 in the Memorial Union Art Gallery, located on the first floor.

Exhibition hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekday and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. The opening reception will be held Monday, Jan. 22 (5:30-7 p.m.)

This postcard exchange dates back to December 2022, when printmakers from around the world were invited to send 13 original, identical, 4-by-6 inch prints to the University Print Society, with a postmark deadline of Oct. 1, 2023. Eligible methods included any edition-able printmaking technique, for example, woodcuts, litho, intaglio, relief, photography, silkscreen or digital printmaking. Prints were to be stamped and mailed separately as postcards, so they would bear the markings of travel and the postal service.

Every artist who submitted prints received 12 different prints from other artists, hence the "exchange." The University Print Society kept one print from each artist for its own collection, and these are the prints that will be in the exhibition. Additional postcards from past exchanges also will be on view.

The exhibition features 146 prints from 19 states and three other countries: two each from South Korea, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Theme: Anarchy, Rules We Should Break, and Mutual Destruction

Participants were asked to think about what happens when anarchy rules the land. The theme resulted in varied responses from individuals across the country and around the world. Are there rules we should break? How can we eschew mutual destruction? Participants used this prompt to voice their growing concern for the world. Exhibition organizers said they were happy to see so many participants connect with the theme to make a positive impact and reflect upon our society.

Silent auction

All prints on display will be for sale through an easy bidding process. This presents a great opportunity to collect interesting pieces of art, purchase unusual gifts for friends and family, and help a great cause. Bidding ends at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, the close of the exhibit. Winners will be notified by e-mail to arrange to pick up the prints the following week.

Proceeds from the silent auction will help fund the student club's activities, such as visiting artist lectures and print projects, as well as supplies for on-campus printmaking workshops.