One-on-one with new ISU senior VP and provost Jonathan Wickert

Jonathan Wickert, dean to the College of Engineering, was named senior vice president and provost of Iowa State. 

Aimee Burch

Jonathan Wickert currently dean of the College of Engineering will soon take on a new challenge, serving as Iowa State’s new senior vice president and provost.

In the days following the announcement, Wickert sat down with the Daily to discuss life up to this point, what he hopes to accomplish as provost and what he feels students should know about him.

What were you doing when you found out you were going to be the new provost?

I was eating breakfast, that’s the simple answer. The president invited me to breakfast. … We were talking about the position that morning, and he offered the job to me, and I accepted immediately. I was thrilled by his offer, and I’m excited by the opportunity to work very closely with the president. We each leaned across the table and shook hands over breakfast.

When do you take over the position of senior vice president and provost?

My first day … will be July 30. That gives a little bit of time for me to get up to speed on the new job, to transition into that job and also to identify an interim dean of engineering who will then follow me and become the new leader of the College of Engineering.

Have they started that process yet?

Yes, we did. In fact, last week we had a faculty and staff meeting in the College of Engineering, and we began asking folks for their nominations and recommendations about who will be the interim dean. The interim dean will serve for about a year or so, and then in the fall we’ll start up a national search for the next permanent dean of the engineering college. My summer will be very busy managing my transition out of being a dean and into the position of being the provost.

What is the first thing you want to tackle when you take over your new position?

I’ll be starting in the new job just about the same time that the school year starts. You’ll see me working very closely with the president. You’re going to see me engaged and involved around campus.

In my first year as provost, I want to go out and visit every single department on campus and get to meet students, faculty and staff in all of the departments. So you’ll see me listening and learning about the different programs on campus and also hitting the ground running really from day one since the school year will be just starting up.

I’ve been a department chairman and a dean, so I understand the university pretty well, and that will help me to move into the new role very smoothly.

Iowa State is known for being a land grant university. What are your thoughts on that? What separates land grants from private institutions, and how will you work to fulfill that mission?

That’s a great, great question. The land grant mission is really at the heart of the responsibilities of the provost. The provost is responsible for the teaching, the research and the extension activities on campus, and those missions are really what define land grant universities.

Land grant universities were started up under the signature of Abraham Lincoln with the Morrill Act, and one of the things we really pride ourselves on here at Iowa State is we have remained very faithful to those traditions of offering the very affordable, practical education, cutting edge research, and then being very involved and engaged outside of campus and having the university be a source of economic growth for the state of Iowa.

Iowa State has done a fantastic job of sticking to those core values even 150 years after the Morrill Act was signed, becoming — in my view — the best modern land grant university in the United States.

Why do you do what you do? What motivates you to do these jobs and take on these new challenges?

It’s really because of the remarkable students at Iowa State. I’ve always been a teacher, I’ve always been a faculty member, and really what motivates me to come to work everyday is the remarkable students at Iowa State.

Students who are so creative and who really want to use their education to make a difference in the world. You see it by the student leadership at Veishea, selling a record number of cherry pies to raise scholarship dollars.

You see it by the creativity of students in the fashion show, by our students who study abroad from the College of Design with the program in Rome, and even the horticulture students who were involved with designing the green roof at Memorial Union.

Our students are so practical and creative, and to be able to serve as provost is very exciting for me because I’ll be able to help students across the entire campus.

What’s been your favorite ISU memory?

I enjoy walking in the Veishea parade. I’ve kissed my wife under the Campanile, and I make sure I step around the Zodiac every time I go into Memorial Union. So those ISU traditions mean a lot to me, just like they do to our current students and to all of our alumni.

If you had to do anything over again, like education-wise or career-wise, what would you do differently, if anything? For example, would you study something different or gone somewhere different? It’s something many students struggle with, wondering how things would be differently if they had tweaked one little thing.

One thing I wish I had done earlier was a study abroad experience. I got my bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees all in a row, and then after I finished the Ph.D. at the University of California, I went to England for a year of post-doctoral teaching and research at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. But that was at the end of all my degrees, and then I took a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon University.

So if I had to do it over again, I would have tried to have that experience in another country earlier when I was an undergraduate student. I’m very happy with how my education played out, but in terms of personal growth, it would have been nice to have that experience a little earlier.

These next questions are just some fun, getting to know you questions. What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Country music and classic rock. That’s what you’ll find on my iPod

Favorite movies?

The “Star Wars” movies.

Is there anything else you would like the students to know about you?

One is as provost, you will see me really involved in the campus. In the mornings, you’re going to see me over at Caribou Coffee. I’m going to invite groups of students to meet with me in my office for brown bag lunches. No agenda, just an opportunity to sit around the table and get to know each other and for me to hear what’s on student’s minds.

I’m going to teach, so I’ll be a provost that will teach a class every semester. I’ve done that as dean, and I think that’s important to continue as provost.

You’re also going to see me involved in ISU Athletics. You’ll see me at basketball and football games with my family, going to women’s volleyball and gymnastics, and those will be opportunities to interact with students.

You’ll see me involved in other school spirit activities. You’ll also see me running around on campus. I’m a runner, so you’ll see me first thing in the morning and on the weekends running around campus. I’ve run six marathons, and I run local 5K and 10K races. This fall I’ll be running the Des Moines Half Marathon again.

What do you normally teach?

Right now I teach a class called the Dean’s Leadership Seminar. I teach that each semester, and when I’m provost, it’ll be something different. I haven’t really decided what it will be, but I might be involved in mentoring learning communities or teaching an honor’s seminar.