One-on-one with Provost Jonathan Wickert

Saige Heyer

Dr. Jonathan Wickert is the senior vice president and provost at Iowa State University. He tries to be as involved in campus and student life as possible, even through the leisure activities he participates in during his spare time.

What are the two US patents you hold?

My research area is in mechanical engineering and I’ve done a lot of research on automobile brakes. I work with a number of automotive companies on designing disc brakes and drum brakes for cars that work better and are quieter. You’ve probably of brakes squeal. A car puts on its brake and you hear a squealing noise or a grinding noise.

My students and I worked on some projects some years ago on how do you design automotive brakes to be quieter and smoother. We have two patents that came out on that work. So instead of pressing a brake pedal on a car and you hear noise, you press the brake pedal and the car still stops, but it’s kind of nice. It’s quieter and so it works better and there’s higher quality.

In a previous interview, you said you run various marathons and races. Do you think you’d want to do what Richard Kresser is doing and run RAGBRAI?

Well, I’m flattered that you’d ask if I think I could do it. The answer is that’s a little farther than I can run. But I have run six marathons and I like to run races in Ames and Des Moines area in the summer.

I usually do one or two 5K kind of races in the area every month. I do some out at Ada Hayden, there are some races out there. Then there was a race recently out at the Ames Middle School. I can’t remember what that one was called – the Hope Run. It benefits the hospice that’s out there. So, yeah, I like to run races like that.

I run the Des Moines half marathon every fall. I’ve run the Twin Cities marathon up in Minnesota, I’ve run the San Francisco marathon and the Marine Corps marathon out in Washington, D.C. But right now I run about three to four times a week.

I had a great, fun thing this past year where I went out in the morning and I ran with our ROTC units. They get up real early, do physical training and run around campus. So, I connected with Ricks Polk, who’s the captain in charge of the Navy ROTC program. I met up with him and all the cadets one morning and kind of joined them for a run around campus. It’s nice to try to connect in the running with some student activities.

Have you been doing brown bag lunches in your office? If so, has that been going well?

I’ve been doing some of that with students, in particularly with the leaders in GSB, a great opportunity to talk with students in an informal kind of setting. I’ve also been enjoying meeting up with students in my visits out to departments and just getting to meet them and learn a little about their career plans, where they’re from and how their studies are going.

What is your favorite thing about being on campus in the summer?

It still is very busy during the summer time. I think a lot of people don’t realize that the university is a business that really goes year round. The pace changes in the summer because we’re doing summer teaching rather than teaching during the academic year, but it’s busy in kind of a different way.

During the summer, we’re finishing up a lot of the budget work from last year. We’re setting raises and salaries for employees. We’re planning out courses for next year and making sure we have enough available sections for students and they can get into the classes that they need. We’re finishing up faculty hiring, we’ll have a lot of new faculty that will start in August.

What I like about the summer is that it’s still busy, but it’s kind of busy in a different way and you’re at that fun transition point where you’re finishing up one year and you’re getting ready. You know that the next year’s going to start and you have to get ready for it. I kind of like that change in pace, if you will.

Plus, you know, campus is obviously really beautiful in the summer time. I can open up my window and get some fresh air.

Have you gone on any interesting vacations this year or do you plan to before school starts?

Personal vacation? Yeah, my family and I went on vacation earlier this summer to Switzerland. We enjoy hiking and getting outside.  I had some nice time with my wife and daughter at the Alps.

State Fair is coming up soon. What are you looking the most forward to about that?

I’ll be out at State Fair. Our Iowa State Extension and Outreach program has a lot of activities out there and of course we run the statewide 4-H program. So I’ll be out there. We have an Iowa State booth in the varied industries building and I’ll be manning the booth for a while, handing out Iowa State posters and talking to people about the university.

And then we’ll go over to the 4-H building. I love looking at all the great projects – artwork and sewing and woodworking, all kinds of cool stuff there. I’ll go around and visit other displays and programs at the state fair. We have our master gardeners display, our wind research center has a display there to help the wind industry in the state of Iowa. So I’ll go around and visit a variety of the other Iowa State booths to help support those programs.

I love going to the State Fair. It’s always really hot. I’ll definitely get pork chop on a stick. I’m going to stay away from the fried Twinkies and stuff like that.

Will you be teaching this fall and spring? If so, which class or classes?

You know what, I don’t have plans to teach this fall. Last year, I taught, a lot of fun, an honors class in the fall. What I’m going to try to do this year is rather than teach a whole class, I’ll see if I can work with some faculty and do some guest lectures in various classes. I did a little bit of that this past year – one class in our school of education and a guest lecturer in one of the engineering classes.

Where is your favorite place on campus and why?

It’s got to be central campus. You know, going out for a walk, kind of around the central campus loop – going out down the Beardshear steps, which is great going down those steps because you get that whole kind of view of central campus, kind of looping around the Campanile, past Curtiss and then back around. It’s park-like. In the spring and fall, it’s packed with students playing Frisbee, studying and just kind of enjoying it. And it really makes you appreciate the community on campus and how special the place is. It’s just a beautiful setting for the university.