Schmittmann’s retirement leaves big shoes to fill


Photo: Jessica Langr/Iowa State Daily

Beate Schmittmann, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

After serving 12 years at Iowa State in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), Dean Beate Schmittmann officially announced her retirement plans on March 30.

Many students and faculty praise her leadership skills and long-lasting impact as dean. Schmittmann will retire from Iowa State on June 30, 2024.

Schmittmann began as the 10th LAS dean in 2012 after serving as professor and chair of physics at Virginia Tech University. She was then reappointed to the position in 2017 and 2022.

“I have other things in life that I enjoy, that I want to have more time for and serving as dean for 12 years is actually very long compared to the typical tenure of a dean so, you know, I think it’s a good time to hand over the college,” Schmittmann said.

Schmittmann commended LAS for being very diverse in terms of its academic disciplines and the motivations of those who are a part of it. She said she is most proud of her work bringing in more scholarships, research funding, new majors and expanding learning communities.

Schmittmann said in 2017, a donor gifted the college a company to sell for student scholarship funding. She said this donation became the largest gift to Iowa State University ever and was used to create an endowment.

Schmittmann said each year, the money helps fund students’ scholarships, the LAS Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I+E) Academy, undergraduate research through the Dean’s High Impact Award for Undergraduate Research, study abroad scholarships, supports unpaid internships and students who are training to become teachers during their student teaching semester and more.

“When I started, we had very little scholarship money to give away to incoming students as a way to attract them to Iowa State University,” Schmittmann said. “Now that money comes to several million [dollars] that we offer incoming students and also current students so that has completely transformed our ability to support students.”

Schmittmann said she wants her successor to understand the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective and a sense of humor.

“You have to make decisions that some people are not going to like, that is just something that comes with a leadership role and that is why you want to be caring and compassionate and support and respect the individuals,” Schmittmann said.

Schmittmann said it is important not to take every criticism personally and retain a sense of balance and calm in high-pressure situations. She said her ability to balance her work and home life is not always something to look up to, but she has been able to pace herself in her work.

“I think one lesson that I’m taking away from the 12 years here, is that the vast majority of people want to do a good job, they want to contribute, they want to be part of an organization, they want to make a difference, they want to make an impact and you know, if you start there, I think you’re already in a very, very good place,” Schmittmann said.

Schmittmann said this job has proved to her that the vast majority of people want to be productive and make a positive difference, including Iowa State faculty, staff and students. She said that, as humans, people want to be part of something they care about.

Looking back at her time at Iowa State, Schmittmann said there may have been a few things she would’ve done differently. However, she said that the past is how one learns and grows.

“Part of what I do is create an environment in which other people can be successful and do their work and so I really try to structure things very thoughtfully,” Schmittmann said.

Schmittmann said she hopes the next dean of LAS understands that the college and Iowa State are great workplaces where people can share their thoughts freely and respectfully.

“People are hardworking, people have a very high level of integrity and people are, across the board, very honest,” Schmittmann said.

Schmittmann said she has appreciated the collegiality and the openness which people interact with on campus. She said along with this aspect of the university, she believes that the genuine care that faculty have for students is what makes Iowa State such a unique institution.

“The opportunities that we try to provide for students, I think really stands out,” Schmittmann said. “And combine that with being a leading research university, and having that sense of creativity and innovation and pushing boundaries on campus makes this place really unique.”

Schmittmann said Senior Vice President and Provost Jonathan Wickert will launch a search for her successor, and she hopes that the transition will be as smooth as possible. She said she’ll do whatever possible to help the next dean get off to a good start.

“It’s been a great ride and I look forward to serving for another 15 months here and then I will hope to remain connected to this community in one way or another,” Schmittmann said.

Amy Slagell, LAS Associate Dean for Academic Programs, said Schmittmann has been transformative within LAS in numerous ways, including creating many scholarship opportunities for students.

“I work mostly in the undergraduate program space, so our scholarships for students that we are able to give at the college level are like three times as many scholarships as we gave out before she (Schmittmann) got here,” Slagell said.

Slagell said Schmittmann has exceeded expectations in recognizing faculty excellence and student excellence, creating opportunities for students such as undergraduate research and other support.

“Those things, which now seem normal, and like you ought to have those, we simply didn’t have before Dean Schmittmann was here, not at the kind of level we do now,” Slagell said.

Slagell said Schmittmann has built an infrastructure within the college to help faculty within different departments be more successful in grantsmanship and help people accomplish their research goals.

“It was Dean Schmittmann’s leadership that had us building up our career services office to make sure that we were better proportioned to support one of the most important outcomes for students and families of university education,” Slagell said.

Slagell said Schmittmann encouraged her faculty and staff to engage and connect with students, having conversations about the majors that will serve students well and understanding students’ interests in coming to Iowa State. She said the overarching goal is to support students’ academic success and connect them to resources through great advising.

“We want all of these pieces of the college talking to each other and helping support students through all of that lifespan because, you know, our goal is to create really successful alumni,” Slagell said. “You really want that sense of a trajectory so that it’s a big, conceptual and strategic way to take a student-centered path.”

Slagell said Schmittmann’s attention and interest in students’ success and being data-informed have been very memorable.

“It just helps to make the college feel more approachable and help us be more proactive in addressing challenges and supporting faculty and students successfully,” Slagell said.

Slagell said she hopes the next dean continues to ensure Iowa State is seen as a great institution for supporting its faculty and staff.

“I’ve seen lots of new policies to help ensure that, some new resources like the faculty wellness site, is something Iowa State has really developed over the last decade and I think continuing to help people find that balance [is important],” Slagell said.

Monic Behnken, associate professor of psychology and LAS’s inaugural associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, said Schmittmann has had a profound and lasting impact on the college.

“I think she has been someone who has led the college through a variety of seasons, and has, you know, really tried to keep students’ success at the forefront of everything that we’re doing, regardless of the other pressures that the college has been under throughout the years of her tenure,” Behnken said.

Behnken said Schmittmann’s leadership will be the university’s biggest loss after her retirement. She said Schmittmann has always served as a role model for what women are able to accomplish and achieve in academia.

“I think her leadership voice is also something that I’ve come to really respect on this campus,” Behnken said. “I think she is tremendously passionate and strong in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion and to lose that strong champion, I think will be a loss for the institution.”

Behnken said LAS Pulse, the first student advisory council within LAS, is a group that Schmittmann created and has had a lasting impact and measurable benefit on the college. She said the council provides real-time feedback on their experiences with the college around issues of inclusion, belonging and accessibility.

“Creating a way for students to give direct authentic voice to their experience in the college and to have deans, chairs and staff be able to hear from the students and then to respond directly has had a measurable benefit,” Behnken said.

Behnken said Schmittmann has overseen the creation and growth of various undergraduate research experiences, which she’s “championed” for the college to provide access to these research experiences for undergraduate students.

“Under her leadership, the undergraduate research experience has grown by a large amount and that is directly due to her vision and her leadership,” Behnken said.

Behnken said the entrance of a new dean will be an opportunity for the college to move in a new direction. She said she thinks helping students, staff and faculty make the transition will be a challenge that the new dean must be able to face.

“I think anytime somebody steps into a leadership role that’s being vacated by someone with such a long history, you know, it’s always hard to chart your own vision,” Behnken said.

Jo Anne Powell-Coffman, a professor in the genetics, development and cell biology department and LAS associate dean for research, said Schmittmann has been a strong leader through great times of change within the college.

“She’s been very active in fundraising, she’s passionate about research and scholarship and I think that she communicates well and she really cares about students,” Powell-Coffman said.

Powell-Coffman said Schmittmann was able to steer LAS through COVID and map a path toward financial stability as enrollment numbers went down.

“I think whoever steps into the role [next] will find that it is challenging and rewarding to learn about all of the different disciplines in diverse programming and in scholarships,” Powell-Coffman said.

Powell-Coffman said Schmittmann often says that ‘leading the college is a team sport.’

“She means that there are so many leaders across the college, all of the department chairs, all those people leading programs and that whole community who will contribute to leadership going forward,” Powell-Coffman said.