Student helps visitors relive ISU past


Photo by Megan Gilbert

Dan Gavin is one of two student employees in the Farmhouse Museum. Through his enthusiasm for history, Gavin can easily relate the museum and it’s pieces to visitors. 

Megan Gilbert

The old wooden floors of the Farm House Museum creak as a tour group makes its way through the oldest building on Iowa State’s campus.

Dan Gavin, senior in history at Iowa State, leads the group and recants the stories of different objects on display.

As the Wayne and Eleanor Ostendorf Farm House Museum Undergraduate Assistant, Gavin is able to use these same skills to recite the history of the Farm House and the origins of Iowa State University.

“One of the things that I think that Dan does incredibly well is talking with people and making information accessible and enjoyable, no matter who he is talking to,” said Nancy Gebhart, Gavin’s supervisor and the educator of visual literacy and understanding for University Museums.

Gebhart said Gavin’s ability to make art and history relatable to others is a unique gift and is helpful for visitors to the Farm House Museum and campus.

Gavin is also employed as a Cyclone Aide adviser at Iowa State. In this role, Gavin works one-on-one with potential students and helps them explore and discover Iowa State’s campus.

“His knowledge of university resources is a great benefit,” said Paige Johnsen, orientation graduate student in the Office of New Student Programs and another of Gavin’s supervisors. Knowing about the history of campus adds a fascinating level of depth to Gavin’s campus tours.

Gavin has been a Cyclone Aide since August 2014 and continues to exceed expectations in his role as a leader.

“When it boils down to it, he is in the top five individuals that I’ve ever interacted with,” Johnsen said.

She said Gavin is kind and welcoming to everyone he meets and has an inexplicable talent for taking something seemingly irrelevant and making it personal and important.

For example, there is a painted teapot on display in the Farm House Museum. To an untrained eye, it seems to be an insignificant detail in the house, but for Gavin, this teapot has a rich history.

Gavin is visibly excited as he reveals the history of the teapot that sits in a forgotten cabinet of the Farm House parlor.

The person who painted the teapot was Etta Mae Budd, the same woman who convinced George Washington Carver to pursue a career in science at Iowa State.

Carver became the first African-American student at Iowa State in 1894, where his research on plant pathology and mycology drew national attention.

“Those are the kinds of stories that you can tell with the objects in the Farm House,” Gavin said.

Gavin enjoys giving tours of the Farm House to interested visitors because he is able to delve into the history and discuss some of the 14,000 objects in the museum in more depth.

“Every object in the house does have a story, but some are more extensive or more interesting than others,” he said.

Gavin’s experience in the Farm House Museum has also helped him determine his plans for the future.

Though it may seem that Gavin is interested in pursing a career in art history or a museum profession, he intends to become a high school history teacher.

In his time as an employee at the Farm House Museum, Gavin started a regular blog about the Farm House and its historical content. This project is something Gavin would like to incorporate into his curriculum when he becomes a teacher.

Gebhart said Gavin’s position in the Farm House Museum will propel him into his future, while helping him learn how to make history relatable.

“Dan is going to be the favorite teacher of many of his students. I’m sure of it,” Gebhart said.

Gavin’s work with the Farm House blog can be found on the museum’s website.