ISCORE celebrates 20th anniversary with record turnout

President Wendy Wintersteen addresses the audience at the opening of the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity.

Logan Metzger

The 20th Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE) filled the Memorial Union with almost 1,300 attendees, the most the conference has ever had.

ISCORE is a comprehensive forum on issues of race and ethnicity at Iowa State and beyond. The local conference is designed to model the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE).

The annual ISCORE conference started soon after the university’s 1998–99 year long university-wide celebration, “The Legacy of George Washington Carver—Inspiring Students to Become Their Best.” The first full conference was modeled after NCORE and was held on March 3, 2000, thanks to the vision of former Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, Thomas L. Hill.

Hill had the inspiration to make the conference a reality and into the successful and highly praised institutional event now experienced by hundreds of students, staff, and faculty every year. When Hill retired in March 2016, President Leath accepted the conference planning committee’s recommendation to rename the conference to “Thomas L. Hill ISCORE: Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity” to reflect his role and commitment to the conference and the university.

The conference opened with the official land acknowledgment that was introduced just weeks before the conference.

Japannah Kellogg, director of the NCORE-ISCORE Project, welcomed attendees to the conference.

“I am excited to welcome you to this year’s Thomas L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity,” Kellogg said. “This project I have been working with for a long time and […] it’s really an emotional experience to see it come full circle. When we first started we were in the Great Hall and it was 160 people, so I think we have come a long way. We shut down registration for the first time in history at 1,278 people.”

Kellogg also mentioned the pre-conference, which is a half-day conference for faculty and staff. He said it started in 2015 with 135 and this year they had 300 attendees.

“We talk about vision and I think having a vision is easy, we all have them, I have them all the time,” Kellogg said. “However, the tough part is implementing and there is an even tougher part in supporting. So the vision was set 20 years ago and we have been supporting ever since.”

After Kellogg, President Wendy Wintersteen presented her opening remarks to the attendees.

“It is my pleasure to be here to help welcome you to ISCORE today, we have an extraordinary program,” Wintersteen said. “This has really been an extraordinary week of wonderful full of events lead by Japannah Kellogg and his team and many others. Last night we had our Symphony of Diversity with Jonathan Govias. […] Thursday, we had the honor of naming Music Hall the Simon Estes Music Hall in honor of his extraordinary career […]. So a great week of celebrations and successes.”

After thanking many different individuals from across campus for their work with ISCORE, Wintersteen discussed the importance of the conference.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations this year,” Wintersteen said. “We know that our history is embedded in a place where the very first president of Iowa State University said that we would educate everyone at Iowa State, we would welcome everyone. Men and women, regardless of race, so that everyone who that willing to come here and work hard would have a chance to achieve their full, personal and academic potential, that has been our history and that is what we need to be today.”

She said Iowa State believes in the power of education and that it can lead people past ignorance and prejudice.

“We believe in the power of education to overcome ignorance, to overcome hate and create a better world for everyone,” Wintersteen said. “We know, we all know, everyone in this room knows that we have had despicable acts of racism, discrimination and bigotry occur this year and we are appalled by the stories and experiences that have been shared by our students, by our faculty and staff and by citizens in this community. We also know that ISCORE is a critically important part of how we raise awareness and work together to take action to improve our university and our community.”

During Wintersteen’s speech, she recognized this year’s ISCORE Champions, which are departments or colleges at Iowa State who have committed to increasing diversity education, creating opportunities for dialogues on race and ethnicity and expand opportunities for success of underrepresented populations.

There were four different departments named ISCORE Champions: the Graduate College, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the ISU Foundation and the ISU Alumni Association.

Next to speak was the morning address keynote speaker, Vijay Kanagala, associate professor of secondary and higher education and coordinator of the Higher Education in Student Affairs Program in the School of Education at Salem State University.

Throughout Kanagala’s speech, he kept the audience entertained with stories and jokes but still focused on the idea of race and ethnicity and getting everyone ready for the conference.

After Kanagala spoke, the conference then moved into the first set of concurrent sessions from 10-10:50 a.m. Topics discussed were a wide variety, from white fragility and white nationalism to Native American mental health and the black identity.

Next was the second set of concurrent sessions from 11-11:50 a.m. which included topics from the multicultural student-athlete experience and suffrage African American women to displacement and different -isms.

After the first two concurrent sessions was lunch, which included a keynote by NCORE-ISCORE alumni.

Before the alumni spoke, Martino Harmon, senior vice president for Student Affairs, presented Kellogg with an award for all of his dedication and hard work for ISCORE.

“On behalf of the entire university, on behalf of everyone who has been involved in this project, on behalf of Dr. Hill who was the man who inspired us, I want to thank you for all of the work you have done when it wasn’t your job,” Harmon said. “I want to thank you for loving this project so much, he loves it with his heart and his soul. Although I am pushing you to do I want to take this opportunity to thank you for what you have done that we really appreciate you.”

After the award was given to Kellogg the lunch keynote moved to the Brenda Jones Change Agent Award. In recognition of her work, the Brenda Jones Change Agent Award is given annually to an ISCORE student alumnus. The award recognizes an alumn who demonstrates personal growth in understanding issues related to race and ethnicity, contributes to the awareness of topics relating to race and ethnicity among peers, and passionately uses their talents to create change in their community.

This year’s Brenda Jones Change Agent Award goes to all of the NCORE-ISCORE Alumni for their continued efforts in creating change for the betterment of their communities. To see a list of all the NCORE-ISCORE alumni by year, visit

“I look across this room, and when I started at Iowa State there was no one here,” Jones said. “I felt isolated, alone, sometimes scared to walk across campus but I refused to be a coward. I refused to live in fear and I still speak to everyone I get on the elevator with because I learned one thing, this isn’t about me. I did nothing to you and I take nothing from you. You either get even or you let it go, let it go and take your power back. That is all you have, you do not live in someone else’s shoes. You just move on.”

Next was the alumni panel where NCORE-ISCORE student scholar alumni reflected on their Iowa State experience and how the NCORE-ISCORE project shaped their personal and professional lives.

Kanagala, who was the moderator for the panel of alumni, asked the panelist various questions about their NCORE-ISCORE experience.

This first question was about the leadership experiences of the panelists when they were at Iowa State and how NSCORE-ISCORE experience influenced their leadership.

The panelists discussed the various things they did on campus, such as joining or creating student organizations and working jobs to support their families.

The next question asked the panelists what they remembered most about their NCORE-ISCORE experience.

The panelists discussed things like how discussions at NCORE were intentional and impactful, how traveling to NCORE was the first time they were on a plane, how they debriefed their days together every night as a community bonding moment and how NCORE created many connections and there were many points of vulnerability through those connections.

After the lunch keynote was the third and final concurrent session from 2:10-3 p.m. which included topics ranging from the “Black Bermuda Triangle” and African-American Vernacular English to -isms within the deaf community and predominantly white institution Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Then from 3:10-4 p.m. was the closing general session, “What does this have to do with me? How administration, faculty, staff and students can support and impact campus climate through participation in a 20 year history of ISCORE” in the Sun Room/South Ballroom/Great Hall.

This session provided insight and support into how staff, administrators and students can move new awareness and knowledge gained at ISCORE into an actionable plan in support of Iowa State’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Attendees spread out in the opened Sun Room/South Ballroom/Great Hall area to numbered tables and received case studies. These case studies were used as a method to identify ways participants could increase their multicultural competencies to influence campus climate.

Through discussion at the tables, the groups were asked to decide which option was best out of a series of seven options as the answer to the case study. Then the moderators on stage asked different tables their views on the answers and why they picked what they did.

The final part of the 2020 ISCORE was a 20th-year anniversary reception where Hill gave his closing reflections. Hill served as the senior vice president for Student Affairs from 1997-2017.

Hill discussed how when he first attended NCORE in 1989 when he worked at Tulane University. He said it was so impactful that he thought all students should have the opportunity to attend.

“When I arrived at Iowa State I thought now was the perfect time to fully implement my idea,” Hill said. “The idea was to take the entire student body to the NCORE conference. Obviously this was not a realistic goal so I had to come up with an alternative.”

Hill and his staff then decided to create a delegation and send them to NCORE and have them get the information and when they returned to Ames they would share the information with the community.

Hill said the administration of Iowa State has always been dedicated to the NCORE-ISCORE project, even when Hill offered up ISCORE to be cut during budget cuts. He said the budget committee told him that he was not allowed to ISCORE and that during that hearing they actually increased funding to the project.

“We’re still standing,” Hill said. “As a matter of fact we’re not just standing, we’re thriving. This is unbelievable. This whole room was full, that doesn’t happen by luck.”