Academic Affairs Blog

Welcome to Academic Affairs, a blog from Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert (and guest contributors from the Academic Affairs Division) on issues related to teaching, research, extension and outreach. The blog addresses issues and trends in higher education, and also shines a light on innovative programs at Iowa State.

Email the provost (wickert at If there's a topic you would like to see profiled in Academic Affairs.


August 2017

FY2017 Diversity and Inclusion Report released

The Division of Academic Affairs recently completed its FY2017 Diversity and Inclusion Report. You can find it at:

The report details the hard work of many across campus, and they should be proud of their accomplishments. Yet – as I recently noted in an email to our multicultural liaison officers and equity advisors – progress seems elusive at times like these.

The shocking and horrific events in Charlottesville, and news that additional campuses in Texas and Florida might be affected in the future, are a sobering reminder that we still have a long way to go.

These events are also a reminder to me that Iowa State’s faculty and staff are on the front lines of our battle to create a diverse, inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment. We are charged not only with creating new programs and initiatives, but also leading by example. Every interaction we have is an opportunity to advance Iowa State’s Principles of Community, and this work is more important than ever.

I do want to thank everyone who contributed to the items highlighted in our report. Even in these painful and frightening times, your continued dedication to the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion will help us move ever closer toward our goals.


April 2017

See you at the Library!

Finals Week is nearly here…

Students are feverishly preparing for the end of the semester, completing group projects, processing 15 weeks of lectures and readings, and packing up for summer break.

Finding quiet spaces, either for group meetings or individual studying, can be a challenge for students. Many look for a location away from the residence halls or apartments, where they can eliminate the temptations of friends, television, and sleep.

Iowa State’s Library faculty and staff, led by Dean Beth McNeil, have been helping students finish the semester strong by keeping the Parks Library open 24/7 during Dead Week and Finals Week. The expanded hours began as a pilot initiative in collaboration with Student Government, but have since been institutionalized for the fall and spring semesters.

Visiting the Library in the middle of the night is one of my favorite things to do as provost. I enjoy talking with students, handing out donuts, and hearing about their academic work. What I have found is that students aren’t simply cramming for finals – they’re trying to put their best foot forward, and go that extra mile that often represents the difference between a B and an A in the grade book.

So thank you to Dean McNeil and the Library faculty and staff for burning the (after) midnight oil to help students achieve their academic goals!


April 2017

Emeritus status extended to all faculty

As you may have read this month in Inside Iowa State, the Faculty Senate has approved honoring longtime non-tenure-eligible faculty with emeritus status upon retirement.

This is a welcome and long overdue change that appropriately reflects our appreciation for all faculty who serve Iowa State with distinction over many years.

And only two days after the Senate approved this change, we were delighted to approve our first nomination: Catherine Strohbehn from the Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management. Catherine, an adjunct professor and expert in safe food handling practices, has served the university with distinction since joining the faculty in 1986, and her emeritus status is well deserved.

The change in emeritus status is one of several recommendations stemming from the recently completed NTE Task Force. The task force, led by Faculty Senate Past-President Rob Wallace and Associate Provost for Faculty Dawn Bratsch-Prince, examined a variety of issues related to faculty who are off the tenure track.

Perhaps the most basic recommendation is to refer to NTE faculty as specialized faculty. It might seem like a simple change in terminology, but it is important to recognize that not every faculty member aspires to gain a tenured position. We have many faculty who are excellent teachers, for example, but may be less interested in conducting original research or applying for external funding. Others are highly successful in the lab, but may not wish to teach.

Additional recommendations from the task force include:

  • Adding a third, “principal” rank to recognize top-performing lecturers
  • Adding a “teaching professor” track for specialized faculty who hold terminal degrees
  • Adding a “professor of practice” track for faculty who bring significant experience from industry or government service

Other, common sense changes have already been implemented for specialized faculty, including an increase in multi-year contracts; creating a targeted pool of professional development funding; inclusion in the University Awards process; and participation in New Faculty Orientation and other faculty development activities.

Ultimately, the changes and recommendations reflect a desire to honor the service and contributions of all Iowa State faculty, and their impact on Iowa State’s land grant ideals of education, research, and extension.


January 2017

A reminder on academic integrity

The beginning of a new semester is always a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of academic integrity.

In today’s environment, where research materials can be easily downloaded onto a laptop, it can be hard for some students to resist the temptation to copy and paste others’ work and misrepresent it as their own. And the pressure to take short cuts can seem great.

The real offense of plagiarism is twofold: it tarnishes one’s own reputation, and diminishes the work of others. And, in my experience, it’s almost always discovered. Three recent examples in the popular press bear that out:

  • Mexico’s president came under fire last year when he was accused of plagiarizing nearly one third of his undergraduate law thesis.
  • A tenured professor at Arizona State University will reportedly resign later this year after a string of plagiarism controversies spanning several years.
  • The Army War College even rescinded the degree of a sitting U.S. senator for allegedly plagiarizing a final paper.

A quick Google search yields even more examples of high profile academics, artists, and politicians who were caught in embarrassing and damaging plagiarism traps.

I once taught a required senior-level course where I noticed that several students made an inexplicable error in their solution to one of the homework problems. They based their calculations on a number that was “given” in the assignment in the textbook. Their problem, however, was that the number given in the textbook was actually different from the number given in the instructor’s solution manual, which is prepared by the textbook’s publisher and provided to instructors.

As it turns out, the solution manual had a typo in it, and these students had blindly transcribed the typo into “their” answers. I called each student into my office individually, and asked why their answer had the same typo as the publisher’s solution manual.  All but one admitted to purchasing a bootleg copy of the solution manual online, and plagiarizing it.

Iowa State does have safeguards in place to detect student plagiarism, including Turnitin, a prevention, detection and student learning tool available through Blackboard Learn; and iThenticate, offered by the Office of the Vice President for Research to detect plagiarism in research proposals and manuscripts. Federal research funding agencies, for instance, have strict policies and penalties regarding plagiarism.

The University Library has published an Information Literacy Guide to help students understand what plagiarism is, and how it can be prevented. The guide, authored by Susan Vega Garcia, the Library’s head of instruction, offers several best practices for avoiding plagiarism. My favorite: “Commit to doing your own work.”


December 2016

Fall Big 12 provosts meeting

While we usually think of the Big 12 conference strictly in terms of athletics, there are many similarities and synergies in academic affairs areas, as well. I get together twice a year with my Big 12 provost colleagues, and we rotate those meetings between campuses.

In November, I hosted the group here in Ames for a two-day meeting. I’ve found these meetings to be a useful venue to learn from each other, and share successes and emerging challenges on our respective campuses.  For the host institution, it’s also an opportunity to highlight new initiatives, such as the recently opened core facility at the Research Park, Extension and Outreach’s unique Land Grant Legacy Project, and CELT’s inclusive classroom initiative, which is now in its second year.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the meeting a success, and for your willingness to share your successes, challenges, and hospitality!


December 2016

Focusing on graduation and retention rates

At the end of the day, universities are about graduating students who are well prepared for successful lives and careers. An important metric for any institution of higher education is the timely graduation of its students, which is generally measured by the four- or six-year graduation rates. As I noted in my most recent post below, Iowa State, as a student-centric major research university, has been making steady progress in this area.

These gains are made to the credit of students themselves, and among faculty and staff in every academic department, the Division of Student Affairs, and countless others who strive to create a meaningful and positive “adventure” for students. In this post, I would like to highlight two initiatives that are making a difference.

Gateway math courses

Performance in first-year math courses is a leading indicator of student success, particularly for a university like Iowa State that has over 16,000 undergraduate students majoring in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The faculty of the math department, led by Clifford Bergman and previously by Wolfgang Kliemann, completed a comprehensive review and upgrade of gateway math courses (such as college algebra, trigonometry, and calculus) to redesign the delivery of course material, improve student learning, and reduce the number of students who receive a grade of D or F, or withdraw from the course (known as the DFW rate).

Additionally, we are doing more to start students off on the right foot by placing them into the math course that best matches their skill level and high school preparation. Our faculty regularly communicate the importance of first-year math to academic advisors on campus, and high school and community college counselors.

Through these efforts, we have cut the DFW rates in gateway math courses in half, and, importantly I point out, without changing course rigor or learning outcomes. This same strategy is now being scaled to gateway courses in physics and computer science, again with a view toward enhancing student success in the first year.

Data-driven analytics

Another initiative now underway is the implementation of a new predictive analytics approach to academic advising. We’re using a tool developed by the Education Advisory Board Student Success Collaborative that identifies at-risk students before they or their advisors may know they are even at risk.

Beginning in fall 2016, this advising tool has been implemented across the academic affairs division.  It pulls in information from a variety of sources, including mid-term grades and performance in gateway courses, and using sophisticated data analytics, provides actionable steps for advisors to discuss with students.  A student may have a high cumulative GPA, for example, but dropped a key course or two, and is now at risk for falling behind in their degree program.  So while the student’s GPA might indicate “no problem,” the data and statistical comparison with the profile of many other students over time could indicate otherwise.

We’re also merging this predictive analytics tool with other successful initiatives already in place, including the MapWorks student assessment, and the 2.0 GPA Predictive Model, to make sure we using data to drive decisions, and leaving no stone unturned in helping students succeed.

More to do

While we’re making progress, there is still much more we can do. The graduation rate for underrepresented students, for example, is lower than the rate for all students. We’ve been addressing this issue in a variety of ways. The College of Liberal Art and Sciences’ BOLD learning community for students of color boasts a 100 percent first-year retention rate. Iowa State faculty recently received nearly $10 million in National Science Foundation funding to increase STEM diversity among both students and faculty. And students, faculty, and staff across campus are working together to create a safe, welcome, and inclusive environment that encourages every student to succeed.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, we’re always looking for new ideas on how to help students graduate on time, with both the practical and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed as professionals. After all, our ultimate goals are 100 percent retention, and 100 percent graduation!


November 2016

Iowa State offers 2016 report card on Board of Regents strategic plan metrics

Each year in October, I have the privilege of sharing Iowa State’s progress on performance metrics set by the Board of Regents in their strategic plan. The 2016 report for all three Regent institutions can be found on the Board’s website.  Here is a snapshot of how we’re doing relative to the Board’s goals …

GOAL 1 – financial aid for undergraduate resident students: Iowa State granted a record $21 million in need-based aid last year. We exceeded our target, and awards were up eight percent over the prior year.

GOAL 2 – six-year graduation rate for underrepresented minority students: Our results on this metric were up 1.3 percent over last year, to 58.5 percent.  That said, this is an area where much more progress is needed, and those efforts are underway, but our job won’t be done until we hit 100 percent.

GOAL 3 – four-year graduation rate for all students: A similar story here. Our four-year graduation rate was up 2.5 percent over last year, to 46.1 percent. This is less than one percent under our goal.  But we’re not going to be satisfied until every student completes his or her degree. I’ll write more about what we’re doing on graduation rates in a future post …

GOAL 4 – increasing distance education opportunities: Online course enrollments continue to grow, both for students who only take online courses, and for on-campus students who appreciate the flexibility of taking the occasional class online. We are working to better promote our graduate degree and certificate programs to working professionals, as well as offer more undergraduate courses during the summer, so students can work ahead or stay on track to graduation.

This year, we will also be encouraging and supporting undergraduate students who may have stopped-out and left the university, for whatever reason, and perhaps years ago, to come back, take advantage of our online programs, and complete a degree such as the Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies.

(GOAL 5 is specific to the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School)

GOAL 6 – create student outcomes assessment programs: We continue to make solid progress on this metric. More than 85 percent of Iowa State’s academic programs are collecting and using assessment results in a continuous quality improvement mode. The remainder are in process.

GOAL 7 – total sponsored funding: We set a record last year for sponsored funding, exceeding the Board’s target by $97 million. Our FY2016 results include five-year highs in research support from federal agencies, industry, and nonprofits, and reflect both the highly impactful scholarship of Iowa State’s faculty and the good work of the Office of the Vice President for Research.

GOAL 8 – efficiency improvements: We reported 19 different efficiency projects in the 2016 report. The examples come from every corner of campus – including the Library, Information Technology Services, and classroom scheduling.

I highlighted two other points of pride in the presentation:

  • ACT scores for entering students are on the rise. The average ACT score of our freshman class has increased each of the last three years, and was up a tenth of a point this year.  This trend bodes well for future increases in retention and graduation rates.
  • Iowa State’s students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree have a 95 percent placement rate, 96 percent with a master’s degree, and 97 percent with a doctorate.


October 2016

Reinventing Iowa State’s diversity curriculum

Since 1996, Iowa State has required undergraduate students to complete at least one course that focuses on multicultural society in the U.S. This U.S. Diversity curriculum requirement was designed to help students achieve four distinct learning outcomes:

  • Articulate how personal life experiences and choices fit within the context of the larger mosaic of U.S. society, indicating how they have confronted and critically analyzed their perceptions and assumptions about diversity-related issues.
  • Analyze and evaluate the contributions of various underrepresented social groups in shaping the history and culture of the U.S.
  • Analyze individual and institutional forms of discrimination based on factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, class, etc.
  • Analyze the perspectives of groups and individuals affected by discrimination

Currently, about 170 courses can be taken to meet the requirement. However, as students and faculty have rightly pointed out, not all of these courses are meeting the four learning outcomes.

In response to these concerns, the provost’s office is working with the Faculty Senate and Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) to reinvent how students meet the U.S. Diversity requirement. Among the first steps is a Diversity Course Development Initiative to support faculty who want to create new courses, or make major modification to current offerings:

  • Faculty interested in creating new courses can receive up to $10,000 of support. New courses must meet departmental, college, and university curriculum committee requirements, and must first be offered as an “X” course.
  • Faculty interested in making major modifications to existing U.S. Diversity courses can receive up to $5000 of support. Modified courses must continue to meet departmental, college, and university curriculum committee requirements. Priority will be given to courses having a track record of high enrollment.

Multiple awards may be made in each area, and the new/modified courses must be offered beginning in the Fall 2017, Spring 2018, or Fall 2018 semesters. Proposals are due January 16, 2017, and will be reviewed by a committee including representatives of the Faculty Senate Academic Affairs Council, Curriculum Committee, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee; the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion; and Student Government. Funding decisions will be announced in February 2017.  The request for proposals and proposal template can be found at:

In addition to meeting the four original learning outcomes, the new and modified courses should focus on current issues related to diversity and inclusion; foster inclusive classroom environments; and feature high quality course design and appropriate instructional strategies

Faculty receiving grants will receive support from CELT, including initial consultation for instructional design planning, follow-up consultation, and faculty development opportunities through on-going CELT programs, including the Inclusive Classroom Initiative.

I am excited to see how Iowa State’s faculty can re-imagine diversity education, particularly with a focus on current issues, and I am hopeful we can create a national model for curricular excellence.

In tandem with this effort, the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee is also looking at all of our current U.S. Diversity courses, to make sure their content meets defined learning outcomes, and truly reflects the education needed to enhance diversity and inclusion on campus.

Questions regarding the initiative may be directed to Ann Marie VanDerZanden,; or Mark Looney, chair of the Faculty Senate Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee,


October 2016

Faculty win four new NSF grants (and nearly $10M) to increase STEM diversity among students and faculty

Iowa State University has received nearly $10 million in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve diversity in both the professional STEM workforce and academia. You can read our recent news release on the initiative here.

The fact that we received four different awards is a big deal. The programs these grants will support lie at the sweet spot for Iowa State – combining the strength of our STEM programs with the commitment of faculty in every corner of campus to promote diversity and inclusion through the entire academic pipeline.

The NSF Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM) award, for example – in addition to our partners at Des Moines Area Community College and Kirkwood Community College – includes an interdisciplinary Iowa State team representing three colleges, four departments, and an academic support unit:

  • Lora Leigh Chrystal, Program for Women in Science and Engineering
  • Doug Jacobson, electrical and computer engineering
  • Joel Johnson, college of engineering
  • Phillip Jones, electrical and computer engineering
  • Mari Kemis, School of Education
  • Lisa Larson, psychology
  • Mani Mina, electrical and computer engineering
  • Sarah Rajala, college of engineering
  • Sarah Rodriguez, School of Education
  • Diane Rover, electrical and computer engineering
  • Vicky Thorland-Oster, electrical and computer engineering
  • Mack Shelley, political science
  • Joe Zambreno, electrical and computer engineering

This “diversity” of internal partners no doubt played a role in securing the S-STEM and LSAMP awards. Likewise, the AGEP and NSF-INCLUDES awards feature numerous collaborators from Iowa State’s academic programs, under the leadership of the Graduate College and Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

I am also pleased that three of the four programs include our Iowa community college partners. I frequently interact with my community college peers, and they share our desire to create more opportunities for underrepresented students, including first-generation students, and those from low-income families.

In that way, then, these programs are about more than just increasing diversity in the professoriate – they are about helping students succeed and thrive in ways they might not have thought possible.

One more initiative you may not have heard about:

The College of Business is hosting a Building on Diversity – Higher Education and Business Summit October 21 in Des Moines. An initiative of the PhD Project, the White House, and Iowa State University, this second national summit is focused on our nation’s growing Hispanic population, and how business schools, higher education leaders, and industry are responding. You can learn more about this free event here.


September 2016

Faculty committed to continuous course improvement

Guest post by Karen Zunkel, director of undergraduate programs and academic quality

In 2012, legislation was enacted requiring faculty at the Regents universities to create course improvement plans for large enrollment classes. The plans allow faculty to take a focused look at student learning and success in the courses they teach. Faculty are doing this all the time, of course, but the legislation and reporting requirements help to document those efforts.

This is a significant effort. The process began with courses enrolling 300 or more undergraduate students annually in fall 2013; 200 or more students in fall 2014; and 100 or more students in fall 2015.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, Iowa State implemented continuous improvement plans for 591 different courses. These courses had nearly 250,000 total enrollments, and 32,400 unique students, which means the improvement plans impacted nearly every undergraduate student on campus.

These were the five most common types of changes planned for 2015-2016:

  • Modifying assignments or assignment instructions (195 courses)
  • Changing student experiences or activities in the course (190 courses)
  • Modifying time spent on specific course content to better meet student needs or abilities (169 courses)
  • Changing course delivery of pedagogy (135 courses)
  • Changing assessments to gain more accurate insight into students’ achievement of learning outcomes (101 courses)

The improvement process often spurs discussion among faculty who teach different sections of the same course (ECON 101, for example). Faculty can determine what learning outcome they would like to focus on for the year, as well as how best to assess whether students are meeting expectations on that outcome.

One thing we do know – these faculty efforts are having an impact.

  • In CE 105 (Introduction to the Engineering Profession), the percentage of students earning a B+ or better has increased from 66% to 80%, even though grading standards have not changed.
  • Instructors in SP CM 212 (Fundamentals of Communication), responding to data collected through the improvement process, are providing more strategies to help students control the anxiety that often accompanies public speaking.
  • HS 105 (First Aid and Emergency Care), a large class with multiple faculty and teaching assistants, implemented a common software package for physical activity coursework that has improved consistency across course sections.

While exam and quiz grades continue to be the most frequently used assessments to measure achievement of learning outcomes, faculty are increasingly incorporating term papers, projects/presentations, and portfolios to more holistically gauge students’ success.

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching is also available to assist faculty with resources on developing measurable course objectives, outcomes, and learning strategies.

Again, course improvement plans represent a significant effort but, thanks to dedicated faculty, Iowa State continues to raise the bar on student learning.


August 2016

Fostering inclusive classrooms

The Division of Academic Affairs continuously works to advance initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff. You can find our annual report of all these initiatives here.

An additional area that has been identified by both students and faculty is the need to foster inclusive classrooms.

So what does it mean to have an inclusive classroom, and why is it important?

For the sake of definition, inclusive classrooms respect diverse people, cultures and viewpoints; and offer a safe environment where students are encouraged and empowered to share their experiences.

The importance of fostering inclusive classrooms cannot be overstated. It is absolutely imperative that students (and faculty and staff, for that matter) be able to engage in free and civil discussions on the important topics affecting our world. Inclusive classrooms also enable the development of critical thinking skills, which are necessary for students to thrive in both their personal and professional lives.

Fostering inclusive classrooms at Iowa State

In 2015, I asked the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) to lead an Inclusive Classroom Task Force. The task force was charged with creating and implementing a professional development program for faculty that addresses diversity and inclusion in Iowa State’s learning environments. The group included students and faculty – from different areas of campus, and with different experiences – who shared their ideas on how best to meet this goal.

I am now pleased to report that the result of their hard work, the Inclusive Classroom Workshop, will be offered eight times in the coming academic year. The workshop provides strategies instructors can use to foster respectful learning environments, including:

  • Using inclusive language and examples during lectures
  • Correctly pronouncing students’ names
  • Setting ground rules for discussion
  • Basing disagreements on facts rather than stereotypes

Faculty who register for the workshop will be enrolled in a series of online training modules to complete before the face-to-face program. CELT will also launch Coffee and Critical Conversations, a monthly discussion group to assist faculty who have attended the workshop and are now incorporating inclusive strategies in their classrooms.

Incidentally, CELT has a wealth of resources on inclusive classrooms on its website, which you can find here.

Credit for this great work goes to CELT’s director, Ann Marie VanDerZanden; program coordinator Laura Bestler; and other members of the Inclusive Classroom Task Force:

  • Maria Archevald-Cansobre, Student Government
  • Joan Cunnick, Animal Science and Microbiology
  • Mary Lynn Damhorst, Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management
  • Ashley Garrin, graduate student
  • Daniel Gavin, Student Government
  • Nadia Jaramillo Cherrez, graduate student
  • Gloria Jones-Johnson, Sociology
  • Jennifer Margrett, Human Development and Family Studies
  • Misty Spencer, graduate student
  • Jonathan Sturm, Music, Faculty Senate President

Inclusive classrooms are just one area where faculty and staff in the academic division are working to enhance diversity and inclusion. For the next post in this series, I will profile the work that CELT and Iowa State’s Faculty Senate are doing to improve those courses that meet the U.S. Diversity/International Perspectives requirement.


August 2016

Promoting diversity and inclusion in academic affairs

The Division of Academic Affairs continuously works to advance initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion for students, faculty, and staff. These initiatives include faculty hiring, support for faculty and staff affinity groups, equity advisors in the academic colleges, and even include community programs offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Our efforts also include partnerships and collaborations with the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, the Division of Student Affairs, and numerous other individuals and groups on campus.

During the spring semester, I asked the academic deans, as well as vice presidents and directors in the division, to share their diversity and inclusion efforts. The results were compiled into a report that you can find here. The need for these programs is great, as evidenced by recent events both here on campus and around the world.

Here are a few examples of initiatives in the academic division:

  • The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching’s Inclusive Classroom Task Force designed a professional development program for faculty on creating inclusive classroom environments. The workshop features individual, small group, and large group activities related to inclusive classrooms, barriers to effective inclusion, and strategies to overcome those barriers. CELT plans to present the workshop eight times in the 2016-17 academic year.
  • BOLD, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences learning community for students of color, boasted a 100% first-year retention rate. Additionally, since experienced students serve as BOLD peer mentors and peer mentor leaders, the community supports and inspires students at all academic levels.
  • Juntos: Together for a Better Education, a partnership between the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, served more than 300 Latino youth and parents/caregivers throughout Iowa through a series of workshops focused on academic success and exploring higher education.
  • First-year retention of underrepresented Ph.D. students in the Graduate College is 96%. Fall 2015 graduate enrollment included 321 underrepresented students, which represents 9.7% of Iowa State’s U.S. graduate students, and is a 26% increase over 2010.

While we’re proud of our accomplishments, we know our work will never be complete, and we hope our report serves as a catalyst to generate more ideas on improving diversity and inclusion.

In the coming weeks, I will be writing more about the CELT inclusive classroom project, as well as highlight how CELT and the Faculty Senate are working together to improve diversity and inclusion-related curriculum.


Tips for Academic Success

I was recently asked by Iowa State’s student newspaper to share my advice on what students need to do to be successful. It was an interesting exercise that forced me not only to share conventional wisdom on the subject, but also to look back on my own experience as an undergraduate student.

While some factors have changed over time (I was never tempted to watch Netflix between classes, or search the campus for Pokémon), most of the educational experience is the same as it was 10, 20, and even 50 years ago.

With that in mind, here is my list … Good luck!


  • Go to class. This should be a no-brainer, but I’m always surprised by students who don’t attend every class through the semester.  Research shows that students who attend class get better grades.
  • Go to the Library. Learn how to use the Library, which will enhance the depth and quality of your academic work. We have great staff ready to help you find anything you need, even if we don’t have it here in Ames. And you can also get coffee or a Red Bull there…
  • Ask questions. Not understanding key concepts, particularly in fast-paced classes that cover a large amount of material, can lead to poor performance on exams and other assignments. So be sure ask questions – not only during class, but after class, too, or during the instructor’s office hours. Faculty like it when students ask questions!
  • Visit with your adviser once every semester. This is the best way to ensure you’re taking the right classes, and that you’re making progress toward your degree. An adviser can also give you ideas about studying abroad, or participating in a research project.
  • Make friends. Get to know the other students in your classes. They can help bring you up to speed if you’re ill and miss class, become valuable partners in group projects, or even form a study group for final exams.
  • Embrace diversity. Get to know people who are different than you. Not only will this make you richer as an individual, but it will also help prepare you for your career.
  • Enjoy. The Iowa State University adventure is more than just going to class. Make time to join a club, attend a football game or theater performance, play intramural sports, or participate in a community service activity.


  • Take the easy way out. Reading the Cliffs Notes or SparkNotes version of A Catcher in the Rye may be faster than reading the book, but you’ll miss out on the richness of the material, which always shows up at report and exam time.
  • Cheat. This should also be a no-brainer. Giving your phone to a friend so they can log you in for attendance or quizzes, copying from Wikipedia, “re-using” a friend’s paper from last semester, or writing calculus equations on your water bottle are all forms of academic fraud.
  • Be shy about seeking help. Every student has at least one class during their college career where they could benefit from tutoring or supplemental instruction. It’s a lot smarter to take advantage of those services than to try and go it alone.
  • Do all your studying at the last minute. I’ve never met a student who could cram an entire semester’s worth into a weekend. Keeping up to date on assignments steadily pays off in the long run, especially since concepts build on each other throughout the semester.
  • Forget to call home. Seriously. Mom and Dad want to know how you’re doing.


July 2016

July Board recap: Entrepreneurship program meets student, workforce demand

The Board of Regents approved a new undergraduate degree program in entrepreneurship for the College of Business this week.

Entrepreneurship was previously offered as a track in the management major, and also as a university wide minor. The change to stand-alone major reflects but both student demand and best practices, nationally, for business schools.

The field of entrepreneurship focuses on recognizing and creating business opportunities, growing existing businesses, and managing innovation processes. In terms of learning objectives, students graduating with a degree in entrepreneurship should be able to start a new business or non-profit organization, assist others in launching or operating a business, and manage entrepreneurial activities in established organizations.              

There is significant demand at Iowa State for the program. We expect 75 students to choose the entrepreneurship major in the coming year. Enrollment will eventually increase to 225 students on an ongoing basis.

There is also significant demand for entrepreneurship in the business community. The American Management Association identified four critical skills for the 21st century workforce, including critical thinking skills; effective communication; collaboration and team building; and innovation. Our new program will be well positioned to develop all four. A recent study by the Kaufman Foundation also noted that entrepreneurship was the fastest-growing academic area in business, in terms of programs, faculty, and courses.

Congratulations to Dean David Spalding and his team in the College of Business for identifying yet another way to serve both students and Iowa’s economy!


Supporting our department chairs

I recently attended the summer meeting for the APLU’s Council on Academic Affairs. It’s a valuable investment of time to meet with other public and land grant university provosts, share successes and challenges, discuss new and emerging trends in high education, and bring new ideas back to Iowa State.

Gloria Jones Johnson, university professor of sociology and a recent faculty fellow in my office, joined me at the meeting. As a faculty fellow, Gloria managed ISU’s professional development program for department chairs over the past year, and she gave a great presentation at the meeting about our program.

Becoming a department chair is a challenging transition in academia. One minute, you’re teaching class, advising graduate students, and conducting research. The next, you’re knee-deep in faculty hiring, budgets, student affairs, facilities, and the myriad activities that make departments run smoothly. 

There is a lot of on the job learning.  While a view toward helping with that transition, we started and conduct at ISU a series of professional development workshops, coordinated in my office by Associate Provost Dawn Bratsch-Prince, to help chairs build a network of resources and contacts within the university to facilitate information sharing, problem solving, and support for day-to-day challenges.  Read more here.

Workshop topics in 2015-16 included using data in decision making, cultivating a supportive culture, managing conflict, conducting equitable and transparent faculty searches, and a session featuring advice from experienced department chairs.

Ultimately, we want to help chairs save time and energy on administrative matters so they can focus on the missions of teaching, research, and extension, and arrange matters in the department so that faculty, staff, and students can succeed.  Kudos to our department chairs for their commitment to academic and administrative excellence.


March 2016

Recognizing tech transfer in the promotion and tenure process

The Association of Public & Land Grant Universities recently published a report on the inclusion of tech transfer activities in promotion and tenure evaluations.  As co-chair of the APLU Task Force on Tenure, Promotion, and Technology Transfer, which developed the recommendations, I am pleased we were able to address an important issue for research faculty, especially those in disciplines where the generation of intellectual property and tech transfer are often an outcome of the discovery process.

The task force endorsed the perspective that technology transfer activity needs to be relevant to the specific discipline, and there may be some disciplines where it makes sense and some disciplines where it doesn’t.  It is also very clear that the value of technology transfer should be assessed through peer review by experts who are knowledgeable in that particular area.

The report made five key recommendations:

  • Policy statements should acknowledge tech transfer as a valuable part of the university’s work, with safeguards against conflicts of interest/commitment
  • Tech transfer activities should be explicitly included as relevant P&T criteria for appropriate disciplines
  • Tech transfer activities should be an optional component of the review process, rewarded when present, but not required
  • Criteria related to tech transfer should be flexible enough to encompass high-quality work in many forms of creative expression
  • Tech transfer activities should be evaluated according to the standard peer review process, by experts who are knowledgeable in that area, and not relying on artificial metrics

Or, said more simply: Tech transfer is an important activity for some faculty, and when that work is present as an outcome of research, we want to make sure it is appropriately evaluated.

You can read the full report here and a related article here (J. Genshaft, J.A. Wickert, B.  Gray-Little, K. Hanson, R. Marchase, P.E. Schiffer, R.M. Tanner, “Consideration of Technology Transfer in Tenure and Promotion,” Technology and Innovation, 17(4), pp 197-204, 2016).

Ultimately, our goal is to appropriately recognize all the ways faculty contribute to the mission of the university, to the people of Iowa, and to the world. Recognizing activities like tech transfer, where appropriate, is an important step in that process.

Questions or comments? I’m always happy to discuss these topics in greater detail at 515-294-0070, or wickert at


February 2016

Distance education at Iowa State

The Iowa Board of Regents receives a report each February detailing the state of distance education at the Regents’ universities.

In Fall 2015, nearly 6,300 Iowa State students earned 22,750 credit hours by completing online courses. This number has steadily gone up in recent years, as more students take advantage of online learning, and as more working professionals add to their education through online master’s degree and certificate programs.

Our largest area of growth is in students who are taking both on-campus and online courses. These students may prefer an online class to accommodate their work schedule or athletic commitments, or to complete general education classes during the summer term.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for example, has significantly increased its online undergraduate offerings for Summer 2016, offering a convenient option for students who return to their hometowns for the summer.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Iowa State added 41 new online courses in 2014-2015
  • 614 total courses are offered online
  • Nearly 300 faculty have been trained to deliver online courses
  • Subject areas with the highest numbers of for-credit course enrollments include family and consumer sciences, agriculture and related sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, and social sciences

Offering entire degrees online

Iowa State offers two undergraduate degree programs that are completely online – a bachelor of liberal studies created by the Regents institutions to help students who may be experiencing educational barriers; and a bachelor of science in early childhood education and programming. This program is offered through the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (of which we are a member), and administered by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Iowa State also offers 31 online master’s degree and 27 graduate certificate programs, ranging from agronomy and business analytics to information assurance and educational administration. These programs are especially popular with our alumni – you can get a second degree from Iowa State from anywhere in the world!

The hallmark of all these programs is that our online courses are identical to on-campus courses. We’re also working hard to train faculty to deliver online courses, and equipping more classrooms for lecture capture and web delivery.

We offer non-credit courses, too!

Many people don’t realized that Iowa State also offers a significant number of non-credit courses, including 176,000 in agriculture, 99,000 in personal awareness and self-improvement, and 80,000 in family and consumer sciences. These courses are presented primarily through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ISU Extension and Outreach.


January 2016

Helping students keep the finish line in view

The start of the spring semester is a special time for students. For some, it’s the beginning of their last term at Iowa State. First-year students greet the new semester with a sigh of relief – they have successfully completed their first term, not to mention the important transition from high school to college work. 

And I suspect a few others are already counting down the days to spring break!

But there are a few students who didn’t come back for the spring.  Maybe they had trouble making the transition academically. Perhaps they struggled socially, or were unable to manage newfound independence and free time. Whatever the reason, it’s unfortunate, and it’s everyone’s job to help prevent it from happening.

Iowa State has a variety of academic and student affairs programs that focus on maintaining and even enhancing our already high first-year retention rate.  That rate was 87.1 percent for students who entered in 2014, and something to be proud of. These efforts begin even before the first day of classes, with programs like Destination Iowa State, and ALEKS tests to place students in the most appropriate math courses.

Initiatives also include our highly regarded Learning Communities, the MAP-Works Transition Survey taken by first-year students, meetings with academic advisors, supplemental instruction and tutoring through the Academic Success Center, and countless student organizations that make a big campus like Iowa State seem smaller.

These programs make a difference. Students who participate in Learning Communities, for example, have eight percent higher first-year retention rates, and 12 percent higher six-year graduation rates, than non-participants.  The one piece of advice I give new students is:  Join a Learning Community!

Still, we are always looking for ways to improve.  For the past three years, we have been working on a project that will bring software, data, and technology to academic advising and degree planning in new and exciting ways.  In fact, we are pilot testing this approach in every academic college this year.  The participating departments are Design, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Horticulture, Kinesiology, Mechanical Engineering, Meteorology, Open Option LAS, and Undeclared Engineering.  And in the Fall of 2016, we will deploy predictive advising analytics campus-wide. This project is a strong collaboration between academic affairs, student affairs, and Information Technology Services.

We are working with a team of universities through the Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative to develop and rollout an easy-to-use advising platform and dashboard.   The platform provides real-time information about students’ academic risks; matches sophisticated predictive analytics with historical performance benchmarks; and provides tools to help academic advisors lead efficient and productive discussions with their advisees.

Iowa State is also part of the 11-member University Innovation Alliance (UIA), created in 2014 to develop and share strategies that help students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds succeed at a high level. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs professionals have been visiting UIA partner universities over the last year, bringing back valuable insights into how we can do an even better job serving at-risk students. At the same time, we are sharing our own expertise with Learning Communities.

The Alliance has already received $19 million in funding, including a large grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a U.S. Department of Education First in the World Grant which, in addition to the financial support, gives you an idea of how important this issue is to higher ed.

Look for more information on the Student Success Collaborative as we prepare for full implementation in the fall, and as we continue to work with our UIA partners to improve success for every student at Iowa State.


January 2016

Election year reminder: separate personal and institutional views

As we look forward to the campaign season and upcoming legislative session, it’s appropriate to remind ourselves of Iowa State’s policies regarding political advocacy.

As citizens, all employees have full rights to participate in the political process, including voicing support for, or opposition to, candidates, state and federal legislation, and legal issues involving government entities.  However, employees—especially faculty and administrative leaders—should not imply that their personal views represent those of the university.

A good rule-of-thumb is: If there is any question or ambiguity as to whether an employee is speaking (or writing) individually, or on behalf of Iowa State, the employee should clarify they are speaking individually. This includes letters to the editor, op-eds, or other forums where employees may wish to comment on the issues of the day.

Institutional advocacy

Advocacy efforts on behalf of the institution must be approved through the Office of the President, and subsequently through the Regents’ Governmental Relations Office.  Keep in mind that the President’s office, in coordination with the Board of Regents, determines ISU’s legislative priorities and presents that information to individual legislators.

University resources should not be used for political purposes

Using university computers, e-mail accounts, and telephones for political purposes is not permitted. Doing so may lead the public to infer that Iowa State endorses a particular position, or that state resources are being improperly used to support that view.

Employees who wish to be personally involved in advocacy efforts should use a non-ISU computer and email account (such as Gmail), perform such advocacy on their personal time, and reference a home address in communications rather than a university office address.

Inquiries regarding state legislative matters should be directed to Iowa State’s Government Relations office.  Questions regarding employee political activity may be directed to the Office of University Counsel.