Wintersteen's remarks

To Serve. To Lead. To Excel.

I am very honored and humbled to stand before you today as the 16th president of Iowa State University -- and as a proud graduate of this extraordinary institution -- with one of our nation's most beautiful campuses.

My deep appreciation to Governor Kim Reynolds for joining us, along with Congressman Steve King, Mayor John Haila and the many other dignitaries here today. I also wish to thank the president of the Board of Regents, Dr. Michael Richards, and all of the Regents who volunteer their time and energy to carry out their very important duties as regents.

My sincere thanks to our former president, Greg Geoffroy; and interim president Ben Allen, and their spouses for attending the celebration today, as well as University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook, and all the representatives of institutions of higher education here in Iowa. My husband, Robert Waggoner, and I are especially thankful for Kathy Geoffroy's presence here today, and her very kind assistance in getting us established at the Knoll.

It is so wonderful to see so many family members, friends and colleagues in the audience along with our students, faculty and staff. I deeply appreciate your support, prayers and good wishes. Seeing all of you reminds me how blessed I am to be raised in the Midwest by supportive parents who knew the profound impact of education and hard work -- and who encouraged me to follow my dreams.

A year ago when I was applying for this position, I introduced myself to the search committee in my application letter by mentioning the university-wide campaign led by the ISU Foundation, "Forever True, For Iowa State."

I wrote, "As a dean, proud alumnus, and donor, the idea of 'Forever True' touches me very deeply, since it clearly expresses my 38-year relationship with this university and underlies my reason for applying. If selected as President, the Cyclone faithful will immediately know that this is someone who is not passing through, but is, like them, 'Forever True.'"

As president, I promise to serve this great university so that it may reach its highest potential and academic excellence. With the assistance of my great administrative team, the deans, our excellent faculty and staff, our caring and supportive alumni and donors, I pledge to lead this university forward to becoming the best land grant university in the nation. Working together, we will continue to excel -- we will excel in our world-class science and research, we will excel in the classrooms and hands-on teaching labs, we will excel in the arts and humanities, and we will excel in our land-grant mission to support the people and economic vitality of this state.    

My Personal ISU Adventure

My ISU adventure began on a cold, snowy day in November of 1978. After an interview in Ames, ISU Extension offered me a position as an integrated pest management field specialist in southeast Iowa. I did not realize how fortunate I was to be part of ISU Extension. There, I found a welcoming and inclusive environment, where people were eager to share their scientific research, organizational knowledge, and personal insights to help me succeed. Discovering the interconnected nature of research, teaching and extension was truly exciting. 

A few years later, I decided to seek a Ph.D. in entomology at Iowa State. Dr. Dave Foster acted as my major professor. Dave was my mentor by example -- in his laconic way, he mentored me by his actions; in fact, as I remember back, he barely spoke to me in the first three months. Yet, I heard the verbal and nonverbal messages. From his actions, I learned a new way of being. Dave modeled professionalism, the scientific approach and how to be engaged in one's discipline. 

Specifically, he made it clear that every day comes with choices -- and that choices lead to pathways with consequences. He taught me to recognize that I was on a path, and that I was creating the direction of that path, knowingly or unknowingly -- so I might as well think about where I was going, and act in a way to get there.

Little did I realize that consistently trying to do my best would create a pathway to the presidency. After progressing through the ranks as a staff person, as a faculty member, senior associate dean, and then 11 years as dean of the great College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, I sensed that Iowa State may be looking for a new president as someone who understood the history and culture at Iowa State, supported its land grant mission, and cared deeply about its faculty, staff and 35,000 students, and would dedicate their life to advancing this great institution and its academic excellence. I decided to lean in and take that chance -- to be part of this historic opportunity. I am so grateful to have been selected to serve.

However, I do need to say that during the past 10 months, there's one question I frequently ponder when faced by various university challenges: Why didn't Ben Allen take care of that? 

Seriously, we all owe Ben and his lovely wife, Pat, tremendous gratitude for coming and serving Iowa State University.

ISU: Welcoming and Inclusive

Next year on my birthday, ISU will celebrate 150 years since the very first presidential inaugural celebration on March 17, 1869. In that first inaugural ceremony, the president of the Board of Trustees, B.F. Gue, stated: "It is one of the chief aims of this College to break down the barriers which belong to the darker ages of the past, and open these doors to any of God's people, whether high or low in social circles, rich or poor, white or black, man or woman."[1]  

The Board of Trustees sought to dedicate this institution "to the education of the working people of Iowa."[2]

In his installation address, our first president, Adonijah Welch, made note: "The great obstacle to all reform is prejudice."[3] He fully supported the ideals of the Iowa State Agricultural College to educate both the sons and the daughters of this great state, regardless of race, so that everyone could achieve their full personal and academic potential, and use that knowledge to better their lives, their communities, and the state of Iowa. In his address, President Welch mentioned that at that time, only four other colleges allowed admission to women as equal partners. 

The founders of Iowa State Agricultural College were practical idealists. In a few short years after the Civil War, they set out to 'reform' higher education -- to open it up to all classes, races and genders -- and to focus on the practical arts and sciences necessary for future growth and discovering "the mysteries of nature". They knew that prejudice was based on ignorance. They stated that every person in this state had "a natural right" to higher education, if they were willing to work for it.

Being welcoming and inclusive is built into the DNA of this university from its founding moments. As president, I will work to serve this ideal, and strive to make ISU set the standard among the land grant universities as a leader in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment -- where anyone who is willing to work hard can achieve their full potential. As a proud alumna and this university's first female president, I represent the active expression of that ideal of inclusiveness. I intend to nurture this ideal and energize it for all those who come after me. It is one of my top priorities.

By virtue of this ideal, Iowa State admitted George Washington Carver in 1891 -- the son of slaves -- who went on to graduate with a bachelor's and master's degree from Iowa State and then served as our first black faculty member. He used that knowledge and foundation in 'science with practice' to revolutionize agriculture and food technology, especially in the South. Years later, George Washington Carver noted, "Education is the key to unlock the Golden door of freedom."[4] Not only one's personal freedom, but freedom from want, from food insecurity and most importantly from ignorance.

At that time, who knew what he would become? Who could foresee the inventions that he would create? Or the transformative science and the "mysteries of nature" that he would share with the world? As I walk across campus each day greeting students, a part of me wonders, 'Is that young man or young woman the next George Washington Carver? What inventions and discoveries will these students make to help the world?'  

An Exciting Time

One reason this is an exciting time to serve as the president of Iowa State is the tremendous engagement and support of the university's alumni and friends. It's rewarding to hear from so many alumni who feel their education here literally transformed the direction of their lives -- and they give back to ensure the same opportunity for future generations. Last year, nearly 36,000 alumni and friends supported ISU! Can you imagine? 36,000! The impact of their giving is seen in every corner of this beautiful campus, sustaining the university's land-grant mission of teaching, research, extension and service.

During the past year, we've had some extraordinary donor investments, and each of these is linked to a feeling of gratitude for their student experience and ongoing engagement with the people and programs of Iowa State University.  

Last year, we named the College of Business the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business in recognition of a gift of $50 million dollars from the Ivys that is already supporting scholarships, faculty and programs in the college. They know the transformational power of education. Regrettably, Debbie and Jerry Ivy could not be with us today. But will you please join me in applauding them for their generosity, practical idealism and caring philanthropy?  

Last year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was also delighted to receive from an anonymous couple a large gift of stock in Curriculum Associates, an educational technology firm. The sale of the stock resulted in more than $150 million dollars for the college to increase student scholarships, support high impact learning experiences and recognize outstanding faculty. 

Iowa State's legacy of inclusiveness and service continues as a living tradition in this third gift. This summer, I visited Uganda for the opening of the ISU Uganda  Mpirigiti Training Facility by our Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods. This wonderful program is transforming the Kamuli district in Uganda -- home of some of the poorest poor -- and also transforming the lives of our students and faculty who spend time there. We are so thankful for Karen and Jerry Kolschowsky and their entire family for supporting our Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, our Global Resource Systems major, and providing the majority of funds for this facility and having the vision to ensure Iowa State becomes a truly global institution.

I am particularly excited about the Student Innovation Center -- a new building going up just west of the Marston water tower -- where half the funds came from the state of Iowa, and the rest from generous donors, including a remarkable $20 million gift from an anonymous couple. There, students will have a supportive and special place to collaborate on ideas and innovations to advance science, solve real world problems, spark new businesses and learn how innovators and entrepreneurs move the economy of this state and country forward.

Innovation and Entrepreneurism

As president, I have made it a priority that our students, faculty and staff know that Iowa State University is a campus that encourages innovation and supports entrepreneurs. In fact, I want a spirit of entrepreneurism to be a significant part of the Iowa State brand -- one of the special things that sets us apart. As our alumnus and publishing entrepreneur, Roy Reiman, told his publishing team about his magazines, "First we make them different, then we make them better."[5]  

Iowa State must be different; it must stand out from the pack. Then it must be better than the rest. 

As president, I intend to establish a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem where innovating is built into the curriculum…and where innovations and entrepreneurial ideas come from our students, faculty, and staff, and that they receive support to move those ideas forward. Building on the success of the Ivy College of Business' major and minor in entrepreneurship, we will create and support undergraduate entrepreneurial programs in our other colleges to better prepare our students for the new economy of rapid change. 

Over the course of its history, Iowa State has distinguished itself as the birthplace of many inventions and innovations. As many of you know, Iowa State University built the very first electronic digital computer. John Vincent Atanasoff, a former Iowa State professor of physics and mathematics; and Clifford Berry, a former physics graduate student and electrical engineering undergraduate, built the computer at Iowa State University from 1937 to 1942.[6] Iowa State considered, but did not file a patent on this revolutionary technology. Imagine the possibilities!

Iowa State and its community of scholars has been and continues to be the home of some of the world's greatest innovations. But we must both support and recognize innovation, in order for our work to make a powerful impact and change this world for the better. 

I am pleased to report that last year our faculty had a banner year in terms of commercializing their research and innovation. Worldwide, Iowa State ranks in the top 100 universities granted U.S. patents in 2017. And last year, Iowa State researchers earned 32 U.S. patents. Also, ISU has 366 active commercial agreements related to ISU technologies and germplasm. 

As president, I will encourage the next step, where our faculty, staff and students are supported in helping their innovative research lead to an increasing number of patents licensed by industry. And for those with entrepreneurial ambitions, I want to assist them in actively creating new businesses here in Iowa.

For decades, Iowa State has been an engine of economic development for the state and a powerful resource for companies in solving technical problems. We need to continue that important work while also creating a new generation of ISU research backed startups. I want to see the ISU Research Park flourish with activity that expresses the brilliance of our faculty, staff and students, and acts as a magnet for businesses worldwide!

The Student Experience and Faculty and Staff Excellence

As ISU reaches for greater heights, I will reward and recognize the excellence of our teachers and the success they achieve in the classroom. In the words of Albert Camus, "Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present."[7] -- and I see this every day in the actions of our faculty and staff toward our students. They give their all to educate and inspire these students. With the rapid enrollment growth in the past 10 years, we must provide the tools and resources that enable our faculty and advisors to touch and inspire all of our students.

Aligned with that goal, we must continue to make the student-centered experience a priority for every college. We must increase the number of students who can take advantage of high impact learning experiences -- whether it is an aeronautical engineering field trip to Boeing in Seattle, a fashion merchandising event in Paris or a marine biology trip to the Virgin Islands. Similarly, we must support our students who wish to study abroad -- in Brazil, China, India, Africa, in Rome -- and around the world.

ISU is known for its very high student retention rate. But we must develop and implement new approaches to improve our graduation rates. In the coming years, I hope to work with the Iowa State University Foundation to raise funds to offer 'completion grants' to those students who need a final bit of financial support to finish their degree. Imagine being 12 credits away from graduating, but having no funds to finish that final semester. These completion grants provide the final bit of financial help to get our seniors across the finish line, so they can graduate.

And finally, I will make it a priority to recruit, nurture and retain excellent faculty. Iowa State has a long and proud tradition of discovering talented faculty and staff, but we must continue these efforts by seeking funds to support their needs for world-class facilities, graduate assistants, and research. We must seek funds to grow new research programs in engineering, in agriculture and life sciences, in veterinary medicine, in liberal arts and sciences, in human sciences, in business and in design -- to create nationally ranked departments in each college.

It is an exciting time to be the president of Iowa State University. But it is also a challenging time. 

Even though our resources seem limited and ISU offers one of the lowest tuition rates in the nation, my administrative team and I continue to work to offer an incredible educational opportunity: 

  • by strategically pruning away less fruitful efforts, and investing in more fruitful ones; and
  • by seeking to improve our own administrative efficiency.

In a word, we will serve, lead and ultimately excel by constantly innovating.

As lead administrator, I will work with the university administrative team and the ISU Foundation to seek out and engage new funding streams. We must identify innovative new government partnerships, public-private partnerships, and global and venture capital partnerships to grow this great university and achieve our fullest potential.

My passion for Iowa State continues after these 39 years because I know how it transformed me. I know Iowa State has transformed many of you here today. Your university experience allowed you to accomplish things in your life that you could never imagine.

I believe in the future of Iowa State University -- in the potential of our students, the excellence of our researchers, the transformative power of our educators, and the strategic commitment and dedication of our staff. Together, we can build upon our great historic land-grant foundation and make Iowa, our nation, and this world a better place for future generations. 

Now let me finish my remarks by returning to the final comments spoken by President Welch as he looked forward to building this great university almost 150 years ago: "God give us mutual confidence -- mutual esteem and mutual helpfulness. Thus shall we be able to gather and concentrate all the elements of strength we possess -- and thus, with the Great Father's blessing, will the rolling years bring their full harvest of fruits."[8]

Thank you for supporting Iowa State University and allowing me to serve!


[1] Addresses Delivered at the Opening of the Iowa State Agricultural College, March 17, 1869, Davenport, Gazette Premium Book & Job Printing Establishment, 1869, p. 11

[2]Addresses Delivered at the Opening of the Iowa State Agricultural College, March 17, 1869, Davenport, Gazette Premium Book & Job Printing Establishment, 1869, p. 15

[3] Addresses Delivered at the Opening of the Iowa State Agricultural College, March 17, 1869, Davenport, Gazette Premium Book & Job Printing Establishment, 1869, p. 29

[4] George Washington Carver to Booker T. Washington, April 12, 1896, Booker T. Washington Papers (online version) vol. 4; p. 159

[5] Reiman, Roy, I Could Write a Book, Milwaukee, Grandhaven Group, 2005, p. 234.


[7] Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1951

[8] Addresses Delivered at the Opening of the Iowa State Agricultural College, March 17, 1869, Davenport, Gazette Premium Book & Job Printing Establishment, 1869, p. 40