Leath officially installed as 15th president of Iowa State

Dan Mackenzie

UPDATED Friday Sept. 14th at 5:30 p.m.

President Steven Leath laid out his goals and aspirations to a crowd of nearly 1,500 poeple at Stephens Auditorium at his installation on Friday morning.

Leath said that his vision is still a work in progress but for his first major he said, “Iowa state must continue to provide a high quality education.”

He broke that down into four separate areas. First is to hold down costs. “Iowa State has the lowest tuition of the 11 universities in our peer group. This is great but simply being no. 1 on this list – or in this case no. 11 – is not enough.”

Leath said the university will continue to do more because students debt is still too high.

Second Leath said “We want to provide better financial counseling for students and families…We are proud to be one of only five colleges in the nation with a full-service financial counseling clinic for students.”

Third, he said the university needs to be more creative in helping people find more creative, lower-cost paths to a four-year degree. And lastly he wants to maximize revenue streams outside of just student tuition.

The president’s second major focus will be partnerships with both private public institutions. “I want Iowa State University to be known as the ‘partnership university’…We need to create the most innovative, flexible, and agile partnership model ever seen at an American university.” said Leath

To cap his list of goals, Leath unveiled two large-scale Presidential Initiatives for Iowa State.

“I am announcing a new Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research to support the creation of new, large-scale interdisciplinary and multi-organizational research programs. It will provide ‘pursuit’ funding of $500,000 per year, for three years, to up to three research teams whose proposals are selected through an internal evaluation and competition.”

Leath said the goal of the program “is intended to create a new culture of interdisciplinary and collaborative research at Iowa State, a culture that encourages ‘thinking big.’”

The second initiative will be a program “developed in cooperation with Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, with King and Moulton elementary schools in Des Moines to increase the number of lower-income and minority students enrolling at Iowa State. By successfully completing this program, which involves ISU faculty and teacher-education students working with Moulton and King school faculty, Moulton and King students will earn full-tuition scholarships to attend Iowa State.”

Those on hand after the speech were especially excited, not only about Leath’s message, but also about his enthusiasm for his new task ahead.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said he was impressed by Leath’s focus. “The vision that the president has for Iowa State University, and more importantly the energy with which he stated it [was impressive]…Leadership is so important, and I think he’s going to provide very good leadership. I also appreciated the emphasis on economic development in the state. That means Iowa State University isn’t going to be just an ivory tower and ideological, [the work] is eventually going to have a practical emphasis in the end.”

Gov. Terry Branstad shared the enthusiasm. “Dr. Leath had a great message, I think he’s got a great vision for Iowa State and the role of Iowa State as a land-grant university can play in helping Iowa’s economy grow and propser.” Branstad said.

“I thought what he announced today…Those are all I think very positive things and I think it’s very encouraging. He’s got the same kind of enthusiasm [Coach Rhoads] has. It’s great to have a couple really motivational, positive leaders.”

President Steven Leath was given a warm welcome as Iowa State’s 15th president on Friday morning, as led by his friend and colleague Erskine Bowles.

More than 500 ISU students were on hand to celebrate the event, along with more than 200 faculty and staff members. The group was joined by Gov. Terry Branstand, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, as well as Ames Mayor Ann Campbell.

The event started at 10 a.m. at Stephens Auditorium and lasted a little more than two hours. Following the installation ceremony, the newly installed president met with students and other guests at a reception in the cafe below the auditorium.

The president gave a speech, which he titled “Educate. Innovate. Achieve,” and noted all of his goals and aspirations for his next few years here at Iowa State.

The president announced two major initiatives. The first is a new program for interdisciplinary faculty research at the university, as well as a program for elementary school students in Des Moines that would provide full-tuition scholarships at the university.

The prepared remarks are below:

“Educate. Innovate. Achieve!”

I. Opening/acknowledgements

Thank you, Erskine, for those very kind words. Having you here today for my installation means a great deal to me.

…Gov. Branstad …Lt. Gov. Reynolds …

…Regent President Lang and fellow Regents (names) …

…Sen. Grassley …

…Sen. and Iowa State alumnus Harkin …

…family, colleagues and friends from other educational institutions, and many other friends, guests and supporters of this great university …

…and students. Lots of students! That’s fantastic. And I love your T-shirts.

Thank you all for coming. I am delighted you are here today to celebrate this exciting occasion.

First order of business … I’d like to have the following people stand …

My wife Janet and our two sons, Eric and Scott;

My parents, Marie and Ken, my father is also a plant pathologist and is the one who started me on this career;

My siblings (names), their spouses and their children;

My major professor Bob Carroll and Janet’s advisor Jim Hawk;

My best friend, former colleague and “sounding board” Bill Dougherty;

And the many other close friends and relatives in the special area …

These people, especially Janet, our sons and my parents, have played such an important role in helping me get to this point in my life, and I am very grateful to you all.

(Lead applause)

I also want to thank the installation committee, led by chair Olivia Madison, Dean of the Library, for organizing this ceremony and the many other related events. Thank you, Olivia, and all of your committee members and other faculty, staff and students who assisted.

Lead applause

And I am delighted that my fellow Regent university president Sally Mason from the University of Iowa is here, as well as a representative of the University of Northern Iowa. Iowa is very fortunate to have such outstanding public universities, and the people of Iowa need to know just how good the relationship is between these three universities …and that it will continue.

Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds …thank you both for being here. Your support is key to our ability to fulfill the mission of this great university, and you have been stalwarts when it comes to education in Iowa. We are grateful for your support and your leadership, and we will continue doing all we can to live up to your high expectations. And I want to extend my deep appreciation to Regent President Craig Lang and all the members of the board for all that they do to make higher education one of this state’s greatest attributes.

And now to Erskine …I am so grateful to you for being a part of this installation. Because of your friendship, your support, your confidence in me, and your mentoring, you are one of the main reasons I am here today …

Erskine has made a tremendous impact on my life, and much of what he has taught me will come through in my remarks today and in my time ahead as president of Iowa State. One of the things he taught me was to always think big. Don’t settle for less than what you are able to achieve. When I was associate dean of agriculture at North Carolina State, Erskine was president of the North Carolina System. He basically told me I had to apply for the Vice President for Research position in his office, and during the process, he asked me what I ultimately aspired to achieve in my career. I answered, “I want to be a dean of agriculture at a great land-grant university.” Erskine said, “That’s not high enough. You can and you should be the president of a great land-grant university.” Thank you, Erskine. Here I am!

What that means for all of you, is that you are going to have to get used to a few North Carolina phrases, many of which Erskine taught me.

For example, when I say, “That dog won’t hunt” …it means, “Forget about it!”

And when I say, “You don’t buy a good dog and then do your own barking!” it means “Hire good people and let them do their job!” And that reflects one of my management philosophies!

Finally, I want to thank former President Greg Geoffroy for all that he did to build up this great university. He provided exceptional leadership for the 11 years he was president. I have said often that my primary goal is to do what Greg and the 13 previous presidents did, and that is, when I leave Iowa State, I want to leave this university in better condition than when I came. I hereby acknowledge all that Greg and his team did to position Iowa State so that my team and I can move it from great …to greater.

And that is eminently doable, because we have a very strong foundation. I have an A-plus administrative team, with Jonathan Wickert as the dynamic new Senior Vice President and Provost; Senior Vice Presidents Warren Madden and Tom Hill who have a wealth of valuable experience and who I count on daily for advice and counsel; an outstanding and energetic new chief of staff in Miles Lackey; and many other great leaders throughout the university.

We’ll be looking to add to that strength of leadership as we search for new deans for Engineering and Business. Erskine taught me many things, and one is that you move an organization forward by constantly raising the level of its talent. We’re looking for top academic leaders for these colleges, and I’m asking Jon Wickert, as the former dean of engineering, to outdo himself in the dean of engineering search!


Iowa State University is very strong today, and again, I credit Gov. Branstad, the Regents, former President Geoffroy and the faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and supporters of the university.

Our enrollment continues to grow, now an all-time record 31,040! These students come because of the quality of our educational programs and learning environment, and the opportunities that await our graduates with an overall placement rate of over 90% and as high as 100% in some programs. They come here because our culture is one of student success.

And what a beautiful campus they come to! Rain came just in time to restore the beauty of this campus right before the beginning of the semester, and for that we are grateful. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t address those who have been more seriously affected by this terrible drought. I want to assure the people of Iowa, and especially the farmers and agricultural business people, that this university is doing all it can to help people manage the impact of the drought and preserve their operations. It is a top priority with our College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Extension and Outreach division.

Iowa State continues to enjoy a very high level of external support, from funding agencies, foundations, business and industry, and from the alumni and friends of the university. Indeed, the generosity of Iowa State’s alumni and friends seems to have no limits …and I can assure you that we will continue to count on that tremendous support in the months and years ahead!

All of this success is the result of the work of the faculty, staff and friends of Iowa State. You are an exceptional group, and you deserve a big round of applause for all you do!

(Lead applause)


II. So Who am I?

If I may, I’d like to borrow a line from Cyclone Football Coach Paul Rhoades … “I am so proud to be your president!”

I am proud to be the 15th in a long line of outstanding presidents …

I’m the second president to come from North Carolina, as the 10th president, James Hilton, was also from the Tar Heel State.

Dr. Hilton and I both come from agriculture, and, in fact, from the same college at North Carolina State. I was told early on that being from agriculture is not a pre-requisite to being president of Iowa State …but it doesn’t hurt! I’m also told that two of Iowa State’s early presidents actually came from the ministry, which probably didn’t hurt either!

I’ve been at Iowa State since mid-January and I’ve met with many of you, as well as many leaders of Iowa, community and business people, farmers and agri-business folks, and lots of our alumni and friends. I have enjoyed it immensely, and I hope you’ve gotten some idea about who I am. For those who haven’t yet met me, I hope my comments today will help you understand who I am, what my passions are, what drives me, what excites me, and what I envision for the future of Iowa State University.

I grew up in the Midwest so I have sound Midwestern values. I worked two jobs going through school so I have a good work ethic, developed by my parents, and Roy Stewart, a Nebraska cattle rancher I worked for. Roy taught me about time management, self-discipline and many other life skills, including showing me that the two of us could rope and doctor a 2,000-pound bull in a pasture …with no horses! Roy, will you stand up and be acknowledged …Lead applause

All three of my degrees are from land-grant universities, and I am a firm believer in the land-grant ideals. If you’ve heard me speak at a Rotary Club or other engagement around the state, you may have heard me say “I’m a land-grant guy.” I am… and I’m very proud of that.

I believe that there is nothing more important than an educated citizenry, and land-grant universities opened the door to higher education for all. And I believe there is nothing more powerful than knowledge that is put to a practical use …to solve a pressing problem, to improve our quality of life, and to create new economic opportunities.

I am even more proud to be the president of a land-grant university that understands this, and a university that, more than any other, helped to define the land-grant movement, and one that is regarded far and wide …throughout this nation and indeed across the world …as one of the best, if not the best, in terms of carrying out its land-grant responsibilities.

I have shared my philosophy for this great land-grant university with my senior staff, and it’s short: When we make important decisions, we first ask: “What is the right thing to do for Iowa State University, and what is the right thing to do for the State of Iowa?” If we get that right, we’re doing OK.


III. Now back to our Land-Grant foundation

Our land-grant legacy has shaped our past and it will continue to guide our future.

I believe there are three characteristics that are central to defining “land-grant”, whether that be a person or an institution.

The first land-grant characteristic is being “down-to-earth” …rooted in the soil …both literally, as agriculture is one of the cornerstone programs, and more broadly, as land-grant institutions were created to work side-by-side with the people of their states. We are the antithesis of the ivory tower, and we should be. I firmly believe this.

The second characteristic is: Land-grant people have the ability to see the bigger picture. We can see what can happen when a good idea takes root and grows …like a seed when planted and given the right nurturing, produces great yields.

The third characteristic is: Land-grant people are known for being bold. They are not afraid to think big and take bold actions. Again, I thank Erskine for rekindling this in me, and I remind all of you today of this heritage.

Vermont Senator Justin Morrill was a bold visionary when he authored the land-grant act. He first introduced his legislation to create a new kind of college in 1857, but Congress didn’t pass it until 1859, but then it was vetoed by President Buchanan. Sen. Morrill kept at it though, and he reintroduced a modified bill in 1861. It passed, and a new president – Abraham Lincoln – signed it into law on July 2, 1862.

This was one of the boldest and most visionary acts in the history of this nation. It not only helped rebuild a nation devastated by war, but it also was a catalyst in an unprecedented economic and social evolution that took place over the next one and a half centuries, and which continues today.

Iowa State’s first president, Adonijah (aah-doh-NYE-jah) Welch, was a bold visionary. He saw the bigger picture of how important a land-grant university could be in the lives of a state’s citizens. He made sure that the core programs of engineering and agriculture were balanced with the liberal arts and sciences, so students would be broadly educated. And he began outreach with his Farmers Institutes.

Seaman Knapp, Iowa State’s second president, was another bold visionary. He was instrumental in crafting the legislation that would become the Hatch Act, which made the experiment station approach to practical research a national system.

Yet another visionary was Perry Holden, a Professor of Agronomy here, who envisioned a comprehensive statewide system of outreach, emanating from the land-grant university, but with a strong local control and focus at the county level. This vision developed into the nationwide Cooperative Extension Service.

Raymond Hughes, Iowa State’s 8th president, was yet another. In the depths of the Great Depression, Hughes took the bold step of hiring a talented young artist named Christian Petersen as an “artist-in-residence” – at an institution of science and technology, no less – to give prominence to the arts and so students could actually experience the arts they were learning about. It was one of the transformational steps in the development of this university, and today, this campus is a visual arts treasure as a result. We value this tradition and continue to build on the arts here at Iowa State …and I hope you all enjoy seeing Petersen’s beautiful “Fountain of the Four Seasons” in operation again at the north entrance to the Memorial Union!

The list goes on of Iowa State people who embody these land-grant traits. And it includes the people of Iowa, who 150 years ago, took the bold step of becoming the first state in the nation to accept the terms of the Morrill Act creating these revolutionary institutions. What a remarkable and incredible history we have here!

IV. Vision: Bold innovation and partnering

We learn from our past, but our focus …my focus …from now on …must be on the future.

My vision for Iowa State University is still a work in progress. But I can tell you this: It’s not small. It’s big, and it will be innovative. And I have high expectations!

Erskine taught me that most of us, and most of our leaders, think too small. The great success of Iowa State over the past 154 years has resulted from bold leadership. We must now be bolder, and we must think bigger in terms of our goals and impact, if we are going to drive Iowa State from great …to greater …at a time when our state needs us.

Developing this vision will involve all of you – not just the faculty and staff of the university, but all Iowans and supporters of the university. Iowa State is a university for all people. That’s why land-grant institutions were called the “peoples’ colleges.” And I come to this position with a spirit of collaboration and eagerness to work with all of you.

My first major focus: Iowa State must continue to provide a high quality educational experience.

This university has worked hard over the years to develop a “brand.” We are known as a caring university, committed to helping students be successful and achieve their dreams, both as students here and after graduation. We are a large university, with all the advantages that brings, but we have the feel of a small, friendly place, partly because of our small, supportive community, but mostly because the faculty and staff who work here really do care. My first priority is to continue to be true to this brand and this culture, and to continue improving our retention, graduation and placement rates, which means keeping the academic and student service programs strong.

But just as important, we must be accessible. And being accessible means being affordable. And, of course, being accessible without quality is not acceptable.

One of the issues that captured my attention, since even before I arrived at Iowa State, is the rapid rise in student indebtedness. And here in Iowa, we have one of the largest average student debt loads in the nation.

Land-grant institutions were created to be accessible … and affordable. But in recent years, what’s happened in many states, including Iowa, is that the state’s investment in this critical public educational resource has declined, and in some states, including Iowa, the decline has been precipitous. The result has been a dramatic rise in tuition, and an alarming increase in the amount of student debt.

In July, I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chaired by Senator Harkin, on the issue of growing student indebtedness. I shared that this issue is a top priority for Iowa State and that we are addressing it with an aggressive four-part effort.

Part 1. Holding down costs.

I’m proud to say that as of this fall, Iowa State has the lowest tuition of the 11 universities in our peer group! This is great, but simply being No. 1 on this list – or in this case No. 11 – is not enough. We can and will do more because our students’ debt load is still too high. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the “overhead” for the education we provide.

I have charged my senior management team to review university operations and recommend efficiencies. One of the areas we’re looking at is in Human Resources, where we want to make our operations more efficient, more effective and less costly while supporting our faculty and staff and advancing the institution.

We will continue to become more energy efficient, make better use of electronic and online systems for business operations, and streamline administrative functions, such as we’re currently doing in the Colleges of Design and Human Sciences. We also intend to consolidate more of our online education course offerings so as to achieve even greater efficiencies. In fact, one such effort between the Colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences recently cut overhead costs by more than 60% in certain online course offerings.

Part 2. Provide better financial counseling for students and families.

Our financial award notice letters to students now show, very clearly, current indebtedness and how much their payments are projected to be after graduation. They also emphasize that the loans are optional and encourage other methods to finance their education. And we are proud to be one of only five universities in the nation with a full-service Financial Counseling Clinic for students.

Part 3. Be more creative in helping students to find lower-cost paths to a 4 yr. degree.

One-fifth of our new students are transfers from community colleges, and an increasing number of high school students come to us having already earned college credits (also usually from community colleges). Both paths speed a student’s time to graduation, reduce costs and debt load, and we are working closely with every community college in Iowa to make the transition for these students to Iowa State as seamless as possible.

Part 4. Maximize revenue streams other than tuition to support academic programs.

In Iowa, there has been a nearly 50% decline in the state’s share of educating students at Regent Universities since 1981. Fortunately, we are receiving an increase in state support for the current year, so we hope that this downward trend has slowed or stopped. I want to publicly thank Governor Branstad, the Regents and the legislature for working to reverse this trend.

Governor, without your leadership, this would not have happened!

Lead applause

I am working closely with state leaders to ensure that the state continues to invest in its public higher education institutions so the people of Iowa can have access to a high-quality and affordable college education, and so Iowa can continue to reap the benefits of a highly educated citizenry and workforce.

And while tuition increases in the future may be unavoidable, we will work with the Regents to keep these at the lowest possible level.

And we will not increase student fees next year!

(Students may applaud)

The federal government also has an important role to play. Pell grants need to keep pace with inflation, and student loan interest rates need to be held down, both of which have been achieved for the coming year. I have thanked Congress for supporting us in these key areas and I plan to continue to working closely with our delegation to advocate for these priorities.

Finally, we as institutions have to do more to provide funding to help students pay for their education. Last year, Iowa State completed its most successful private fundraising campaign in its history, bringing in more than 867 million dollars in gifts, pledges and commitments. More than a quarter of that – 236 million dollars – was for student scholarships. But we can and will do more. Starting now and over the next five years, we will raise an additional 150 million dollars for student aid. Iowa State’s generous alumni and friends will have another opportunity to come through for this university and our students as this initiative builds into a full-fledged campaign.

As I testified, we didn’t get into this debt dilemma overnight. It’s taken decades of cost increases, state support decreases and poor financial decision-making to reach this critical debt level. And we won’t get out of it overnight. We must be creative. We must be aggressive. And we must be innovative.

The second major focus of my presidency is: Partnerships.

Partnerships are central to what we, as a land-grant university do. We were created out of a partnership with the people we serve, and we exist to work in partnership with these people. We work together, whether that’s providing an education, researching a vexing problem facing agriculture or business, or helping a community to improve the quality of life for its citizens.

I want Iowa State University to be known as the “partnership university.” More than that, I want us to be known as the university that gets it right when it comes to partnering with others. One size does not fit all. We need to listen; we need to be more demand-driven in developing our programs and services. – Erskine, are you hearing familiar words?

We need to create the most innovative, flexible, and agile partnership model ever seen at an American university. I want others to come to us expecting to partner, and us to be willing to look at any and all possibilities as long as they maintain the integrity of our academic enterprise.

This is especially true in our mission to support the economic development of Iowa.

Iowa State already has some excellent programs that help strengthen Iowa’s business and industrial sector, including:

the Center for Industrial Research and Service,

the Institute for Physical Research and Technology,

Small Business Development Centers,

and the Iowa State University Research Park.

These do an outstanding job, and they have played an important role across the state in helping to create and nurture new companies, as well as strengthen existing companies. What’s missing, I believe, is a fully integrated approach to economic development that truly leverages the full potential of this great university.

Therefore, I have asked members of my senior leadership team to develop an economic development framework that will better assist Iowa companies and communities to prosper and grow. Elements of that framework will address a number of challenges associated with Iowa’s ability to form new businesses, grow existing industry, support communities, and transplant companies to the state. We will launch this new framework before the end of this year.

Specifically I expect the new framework to provide clear value propositions which will be immediately applicable to companies, both small and large. This will include items like STEM education, fulltime job placement, technology transfer, policy analysis, continuing education, and technical assistance.

The framework will connect faculty, staff and student resources with industry, communities, educational institutions, business associations, and state and regional economic development agencies to help Iowa prosper and grow. Efforts will concentrate on the three state focus industries of biosciences, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.

The goal here is to improve the quality of life for Iowa’s citizens by enhancing the effectiveness of our economic development efforts. Specifically, this comprehensive and differentiated approach will accomplish the following objectives:

connect and leverage our strengths in Research and Economic Development, in Extension and Outreach, and in the academic colleges;

build upon strong existing partnerships;

serve Iowans for the future by making ISU an easier and more friendly place for companies to do business; and

significantly expand the university research park by providing new locations for innovative companies to grow and prosper.

My experience in North Carolina has given me the confidence that we can accomplish this in Iowa. North Carolina has had significant success with its research-based economic development efforts, and I have been fortunate to be involved in these efforts. I intend to use these experiences to both help steer this university in the directions it needs to take, and to work with the other segments of Iowa to develop a broad and bold plan for becoming a leader in the bioeconomy, and to implement that plan.

Iowa has taken some good initial steps, but so have other states. We are in a competition, and we need to ramp up our efforts – and I intend for Iowa State University to take a leadership role.

The most important thing we can do for this effort is to assemble the workforce needed to lead it. Again, we have an excellent foundation in place, with some of the top faculty in the world. But we still have a relatively small number of “core people,” and many of them spend much of their time in other important activities, such as teaching students, as they should. We need more top people to be successful.

Under the leadership of Provost Wickert and the college deans, we are focusing our efforts in faculty recruitment in areas critical to Iowa’s economic future, such as the biological sciences, and key areas of physical science and engineering. Our goal is to build this faculty by 200 positions over the next 18-24 months, and to continue growing aggressively beyond that. Many of these will be new positions and some will be positions that become vacant. But we do not … let me repeat that …we do not intend to “strip” faculty from other areas of the university. Our academic programs must remain strong. They are a real strength of this university. But whenever possible, we will be looking for an opportunity to fill an existing position with someone who brings a proven track record in research and/or scholarship. I understand this will take additional resources and I will find them.

Let me emphasize again: We are not an “ivory tower” when it comes to generating knowledge. Innovation and prosperity realized through research requires that we move our basic research beyond the lab and allow it to continue in places where the public and private sectors can come together.

Therefore the ISU Research Park must continue to grow and to be more aggressive in enabling start-up companies and existing companies to locate and expand facilities in the park. We have a good research park, but I want to see it reach its full potential. It will need to be expanded significantly from its current size in the coming months and years.

In order to achieve our goals, the Research Park will now report directly to my office. Among other things, I expect it to become the north anchor for the Capital Corridor initiative growing out of Des Moines, which clearly has the potential to be an important source of economic growth in central Iowa. I am excited to be a leader in this public/private partnership.

These are beginning steps. If Iowa wants to be successful in the bioeconomy, we need to be bold…in our goals and in our investment in resources – especially in talented, creative, and innovative people, who will help us to realize our goals.

The foundation of any economic development effort, indeed the foundation for our academic programs and for our outreach efforts, is research. And I want to be absolutely clear that in order for Iowa State University to effectively carry out its land-grant mission, research and scholarly activity must be a priority.

Iowa State has a solid research program. This is evident in our increasing success in sponsored funding and several other measures, such as patents and licenses. But I believe the research enterprise of this university can be expanded, especially in our core strengths. We must also bring together different disciplines to address the extremely complex questions and challenges that face us today.

While we must bring in new faculty to continue to expand our research efforts, we also need to do more to support the excellent work of the faculty who are already here. That is why I am announcing a new Presidential Initiative for Interdisciplinary Research to support the creation of new, large-scale interdisciplinary and multi-organizational research programs. It will provide “pursuit” funding of $500,000 per year for three years to up to three research teams whose proposals are selected through an internal evaluation and competition. There will also be a smaller, companion program, directed at research areas that are still emerging.

This initiative is intended to create a new culture of interdisciplinary and collaborative research at Iowa State, a culture that encourages “thinking big.” Specific details will be available through the Provost’s Office, but the process begins now, and we intend to award the first grants by March 1.

I’d like to make one more important point about faculty. Clearly, faculty are the most important resource of any university, and we must have a strong faculty if we are to accomplish our goals. That includes strength through inclusion. In all of our searches, we must emphasize inclusion. We can and must do better in building a more inclusive faculty and staff, both to provide a better multicultural learning experience for our students, and to add to the diversity of ideas and approaches of our own academic community. Soon, we will announce initiatives that are being developed with input from key campus groups, such as the University Committee on Women that will truly make a difference in the makeup of our community.

And speaking of inclusion, I also want to congratulate everyone at Iowa State for enrolling not only the largest student body in the university’s history, but the largest minority student body in the university’s history. That’s a tremendous accomplishment! This increase is the result of outstanding efforts by all of you – student recruiters and people who lead special programs like Science Bound and others that partner with area schools to encourage and prepare more minority students to go to college. Building upon these efforts, we are announcing a new partnership developed in cooperation with Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, with King and Moulton elementary schools in Des Moines to increase the number of lower-income and minority students enrolling at Iowa State. By successfully completing this program, which involves ISU faculty and teacher-education students working with Moulton and King school faculty, Moulton and King students will earn full-tuition scholarships to attend Iowa State. Details of this bold initiative are nearly complete and will be provided in the weeks and months to come.

Finally, we need to enroll more graduate students to support the basic and applied research that this university undertakes. Graduate students are a vital resource to a major research university like Iowa State, and they are, frankly, underutilized here, and I expect the university to grow its graduate enrollment by at least 2,000 students in the coming years.


Strengthening the economy is not our only outreach responsibility. We are also determined to make a positive difference in the lives of Iowans. Through Extension and Outreach, we provide Iowans with access to education about issues that matter to them. Our signature issues focus on needs of our state, priorities of the Governor, and priorities of our institution.

We will continue strong Extension and Outreach efforts in agriculture, food and nutrition, environmental sustainability, community development, and business assistance. And through K-12 youth programs, we will continue to build leadership, citizenship, communication, and life skills in Iowa’s youth. Our youth programs which focus on science, technology, engineering and math skills will support the Governor’s STEM initiative and help create the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Through extension, Iowa State has implemented a statewide outreach program in health and well-being, and we are a partner with Governor Branstad’s “Healthiest State in the Nation” initiative. This effort utilizes research and programs developed right here by our own Research Center for Nutrition and Wellness. We are also focusing inwardly on health and wellness at the university through the development of a comprehensive “mind and body” wellness program. The goal of this program is to promote a healthier and more productive lifestyle for our most valuable resource – our faculty and staff. I have charged Human Resource Services with developing this plan and implementing it this spring.


I don’t want to give the impression that Iowa State will become a strictly science and technology university, although that is our emphasis …or solely an economic development engine. Make no mistake: We will be a leading engineering, biosciences, and physical sciences university. And we will help Iowans improve their lives in every way possible through outreach and development. But we will not sacrifice any of the university’s educational strengths that have brought us to this point in our history.

Iowa State is known for the high quality of its overall total educational experience, and this means high quality in the arts, humanities and social sciences as well.

For example, our College of Design has been doing some great things, such as the wonderful exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American Folklife Festival in our nation’s Capital this summer, and I was thrilled to participate. We have the remarkable Christian Petersen legacy in the arts, made stronger with the recent acquisition of “Two Panthers” that now sit across from the Petersen Museum in Morrill Hall. Also of note are programs like the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, with its many affiliated departments and curricula, outstanding music and theater programs, and exceptional programs like the University Museums. These programs will continue to play a vital role in the broad education and complete learning experience of our students, as well as in the delightfully eclectic character of this university and community.

And, as I noted earlier, and as you are all aware, we have a beautiful campus, from the spacious central campus and Campanile, to the south campus and Reiman Gardens. These aesthetics are a tremendous advantage for Iowa State, especially in recruiting new students, faculty and staff. We must preserve this environment and work to enhance it further.

You may have noticed in recent months that there have been many improvements in the streets, sidewalks and grounds around the campus, such as the east campus gateway and the extensive work at the north entrance to the Memorial Union. This new budget year, I have made significant investments in Reiman Gardens and University Museums, and we will soon be making major improvements to the grounds around the Iowa State Center. These efforts will ensure that these places – all jewels in the crown that is Iowa State’s beautiful campus – remain in pristine condition.

These improvements are part of a larger campus beautification plan, with special attention to areas where people first encounter the university – the streets, sidewalks, building entrances, and public venues. I asked First Lady Janet Leath to be involved in this effort, and she has already become actively engaged. And Janet and I plan to set an example by rolling up our sleeves and developing a landscape master plan for the Knoll.

We want Iowa State University to shine in every way – from our students, faculty and staff; to our buildings, walkways and grounds; to our academic programs and many services to Iowans.

V. Conclusion/closing

As I conclude my remarks today, and as we go about our daily activities …teaching, performing research and other scholarly activity, helping students succeed, conducting the business of the university, caring for the campus, serving clients, and so many other activities … I want you to keep in mind what an impact this university – through you – can have.

In the book, The Butterfly Effect, there’s a story about this university. It’s the story of how a professor named Joseph Budd decided to take a new young transfer student from Simpson College under his wing, because in him, he saw an incredibly gifted young man. That young man was George Washington Carver, who, thanks to Prof. Budd and others at this institution, realized his potential as a plant scientist, educator and humanitarian, and used those talents to literally change the world. For in addition to his own many contributions to plant science, one of the things Carver did after becoming a faculty member himself here, was take another young person under his wing and nurture him. That person was Henry Wallace, who used his education to take a technology developed by universities, including this one, and create a company that introduced hybrid seed corn to the nation and the world. That technology brought about an agricultural productivity increase unlike any before it, and one that has been instrumental in our ability to feed a constantly growing population.

It’s absolutely amazing the impact we can have as educators and scientists, even in our seemingly smallest actions. So I want you to remember this story as you go about your daily activities. And I also urge you to remember these messages as we work to build on the tremendous history and heritage of this great university:

1. Let us all do everything we can to leave this university better than when we came.

2. Take every opportunity to look beyond your own area to see how what you do impacts the bigger picture that is Iowa State University.

3. Look at every task as an opportunity to be innovative, be interdisciplinary, and to create a partnership.

4. And be bold.

Innovation, boldness and partnerships created these revolutionary land-grant institutions and made them the great institutions they are today. These same characteristics will carry us forward as we take Iowa State University from great …to greater!

Thank you!!