McNabb keeps fair alive

Jodi Mace

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles on faculty and staff who have been nominated by readers who felt they deserved recognition for their outstanding work. Nominations can still be made by e-mailing [email protected] or calling 294-3690.

For 45 years, Harold McNabb, a professor of forestry and plant pathology, has been pushing students to explore science and research.

This year McNabb helped bring the Science and Technology Fair to Ames, providing students with another opportunity to increase their scientific experiences.

The fair has taken place in Des Moines for the past 40 years, but this year it was in danger of elimination, McNabb said.

“The fair almost died from lack of support,” he said.

McNabb said he decided to make a proposal to President Martin Jischke to hold the struggling fair at ISU, and plans were made to bring the nearly 400 science displays made by students from around Iowa to Ames.

Lately most of McNabb’s time has been spent coordinating the Iowa State Science and Technology Fair, which will be held on March 21 and 22 at Hilton Coliseum. It will feature seminars on Saturday in the Scheman building.

Although McNabb has focused much of his time on the fair lately, he continues to teach and help his students with whatever they need.

“Even though he takes on a lot of responsibilities, he is always available with a smile on his face,” said Sean Murphy, a freshman in microbiology.

Murphy first worked with McNabb for eight weeks in the summer between his junior and senior years in high school through the Howard Hughes Biological Science Internship program.

During this time, Murphy said he not only learned many important scientific applications from McNabb, but he also gained an appreciation for the “big picture” of science research and “the understanding that problems transcend the scientific community, the public at large, and the government efforts.”

“This man continues to push me to my limits by encouraging my research aspirations and diversifying my experiences with opportunities such as the Iowa State Science and Technology Fair, several advisory committees and rigorous bioethical discussions,” Murphy said.

For the past six years, McNabb has participated in the Howard Hughes program, which has given him the opportunity to do research with high school students like Murphy. McNabb allows students to choose their own topic of research based on their interests and asks only that they make a written and oral presentation at the end of the program.

“I just try to give them the push,” McNabb said.

Some of his students have been recognized for the research they have done while working with McNabb. Murphy analyzed proteins that were being digested by a particular fungus during his eight weeks, and he used this research to take first place at The Science and Humanities Symposium held at the University of Iowa.

“I was very proud of Sean. He is very adept with a computer, and his oral and written programs were phenomenal. He made up his mind what he wanted to do, and he became a man on a mission,” McNabb said.

McNabb said he enjoys spending time with his students. He works to keep them interested in biology, teaches them techniques and helps them make decisions about what they want to do in their lives.

He talks to them on the phone, meets with them in his office and lab, and even attends the high school graduations of students who he works with as part of the Howard Hughes program.

He said he thinks that it is an honor to work at ISU, and after 45 years, he still believes this is the place to teach.

“ISU has always recognized its faculty, which makes it a strong university. I especially like to be recognized for my work with students, and out of everything that I do, I really enjoy teaching,” McNabb said.

McNabb specialized in teaching seminar types of plant pathology courses. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in botany and chemistry from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1949, and went to graduate school at Yale University to study plant science and forest pathology.