Dean Wintersteen finds forever home at Iowa State

Michaela Ramm

Editors Note: This is part one of a seven-part weekly series featuring the dean of each college at Iowa State.

The office in Curtiss Hall has a large window overlooking central campus with a clear view of the Campanile. Every time a chime rings out, it marks 15 more minutes at Iowa State for Wendy Wintersteen.

Wintersteen, the Endowed Dean of the College Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State, has held the her position since January 2006.

“I love my job,” Wintersteen said. “I love the fact that Iowa State is a land grant, and it’s about being engaged with the people of the state. It’s to serve the people of the state.”

She said she chose agriculture because her parents and both sets of grandparents were farmers.

“When I was a child, we moved into Hutchinson, Kansas, so that’s where I spent most of my childhood,” Wintersteen said. “We’d always go back to the farm and I just knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture because of that connection to my parents’ and grandparents’ enterprise.”

After obtaining her degree, Wintersteen began looking for her next challenge.

She was offered a position at Iowa State extension and began working in January 1979.

“I had a wonderful experience as a new student coming out with my bachelor’s degree,” Wintersteen said. “It was such a wonderful experience to be in the field working with farmers. I still have friends that I met in 1979 working as an extension associate.”

Wintersteen said she moved to central Iowa after a couple of years, keeping the same job. This allowed her to obtain a Ph.D. in entomology from Iowa State.

“I was offered the opportunity to run the pesticide education program at Iowa State University, and I did that as a full-time job,” Wintersteen said. “That’s how I got to Iowa State.”

She has lived in Ames ever since.

“I’ve lived in Iowa longer than I have lived in my home state of Kansas. I truly feel like an Iowan,” Wintersteen said.

Wintersteen married her husband Robert in 1984. She said they had known each other since high school.

“Robert was getting his degree at Drake and I was working at Iowa State, and we decided to get married. It was the best decision of my life,” she said.

Wintersteen said her husband is very supportive of her job.

“I have a wonderful husband,” Wintersteen said. “He always says his job is to take care of me, and he does a great job of it.”

Wintersteen has traveled all over the world for her work, and said her husband often accompanies her. She said she has been many interesting places, including Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Russia, China, India, France and others.

Wintersteen has traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, for her position on the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund.

During her work in Israel, Wintersteen said they had the opportunity to visit research farms in the area.

“One of the farms we visited last May was a farm focused on the production of olive oil,” Wintersteen said. “So we sat around a table and did an olive oil tasting, like you would do a wine tasting. Olive oil was one of my favorite things, so I learned quite a bit about it.”

When she is not working or traveling, Wintersteen said she enjoys gardening at home and reading murder mystery novels. She is currently working on Jonathan Kellerman’s latest novel, Killer.

“My husband and I both love women’s basketball,” Wintersteen said. “So that’s one of the joys we find when this time of year comes up.”

Trina Zimmer, Wintersteen’s administrative assistant, has worked for the dean for five years, but has been working for Iowa State since 1993.

“It’s not the same thing every day, so you don’t know what to expect,” Zimmer said. “[Wintersteen] meets with a lot of constituents that are off-campus. I also get the great chance to work with people on campus.”

Carla Persaud, a secretary, worked with Wintersteen for about two years while she was the senior associate dean.

“It’s very easy going to work with [Wintersteen],” Persaude said. “She knows what she wants and gives good direction.”

Zimmer said she enjoys working for Wintersteen because of her great attitude.

“She’s very low-key and doesn’t get very hyper about things,” Zimmer said. “She’s very easy to talk to, very down-to-earth and just conscientious about the staff who work around her.”

Wintersteen works with a team of associate deans, department chairs and center directors. However, she said the most important members of the college are the faculty and staff.

“It’s our faculty and staff working with our students that are really the heart of the college,” Wintersteen said.

Wintersteen said that Iowa State’s college of agriculture and life sciences is very global.

“Back in March, Iowa State’s agricultural program was ranked number five in the world,” Wintersteen said. “So we have great reputation, and that comes in part from the international relations we have with other agricultural universities around the world.”

She said she is making knowledge about agricultural sciences more known to others by serving on boards that help do just that — she works with the Board of Trustees for the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology and the Board of Trustees for the Farm Foundation.

Wintersteen said very few people grow up on a farm these days, and have very little knowledge about the science associated with agriculture.

“It becomes more important that we are able to communicate about agricultural sciences in a way that consumers understand and can make critical decisions,” Wintersteen said. “We want them to have a base knowledge so they can truly evaluate issues.”

Wintersteen said her favorite part of the job is working with the students who are a part of the agriculture and life sciences program.

“But personally, what I love is when students come and tell me what happened to them that day,” Wintersteen said. “The best day for me is when a student comes up and tells me about a great experience they got to have because of a scholarship or an internship or a study abroad opportunity.”

Wintersteen said she enjoys being able to offer opportunities for students.

“When they tell me about these experiences, I know that their life has been changed,” Wintersteen said. 

She has no plans to leave Iowa anytime soon.

“I’ve had opportunities to leave in the past,” Wintersteen said. “I love Iowa and Iowa agriculture, and I love the people involved in it. I never really wanted to leave and I never have left.”