Iowa State University has a new president, its first woman president, and she’s no stranger to Iowa agriculture. Wendy Wintersteen has worked at ISU for 38 years — the last 11 years as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She received a standing ovation Oct. 23 at a press conference at ISU, where the board of regents announced they had unanimously chosen her to be the 16th president. Four finalists competed for the top job at ISU.
Watching the presentation, I remembered the first time I talked to Wendy Wintersteen. She was an ISU grad student many years ago working in the Integrated Pest Management program and was helping conduct a crop scouting field day near Davenport. She was showing us how to scout for corn rootworm beetles.
Honored and humbled to be president of ISU
As a longtime faculty member, Wintersteen (people often just call her Wendy) has incredible internal support. At the press conference when named the new president, she said: “I’m honored and humbled to be named the next president of Iowa State University. My goal is we will make Iowa State the best land-grant university in the nation.”
Wintersteen has led ISU’s College of Ag and Life Sciences since 2006. As dean, she helped raise more than $247 million in donor support for students, faculty and staff. She says budget constraints will be her biggest challenge as president. “I want the citizens of Iowa to know we are never going to waste a dollar of their money. We will always be committed to being the most efficient and effective organization possible.”
Won’t need on-job training
Known for being approachable and a good listener, Wintersteen will hit the ground running. She’s already familiar with the challenges ISU faces and the resources available. Faculty members say she will be a great leader. “I can’t wait to get to work,” she says. “It’s going to be a pleasure to serve as the next president of Iowa State.”
Mike Richards, board of regents president, echoed the thoughts of many people who believe Wintersteen is the right person for the job because of her deep knowledge of ISU and her ability and experience in managing the recent growth of the ag college. She won’t have to go through a year of on the job training to be effective.
Wintersteen began working at ISU as an Extension entomologist and Integrated Pest Management specialist. She received her doctorate in entomology from ISU in 1988. She knows farmers and rural issues. Her appointment as president concludes a six-month national search. She starts her new role Nov. 20.
Ag groups praise appointment
The Iowa Soybean Association issued a press release saying Wintersteen has never lost sight of the special responsibility ISU has in training the next generation of leaders and has never wavered in support of Extension — all this, while maintaining her strong support of science and research.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association says her dedication to the university, students, faculty and farmers across the state has been evident throughout her career. “During her tenure as dean of the College of Ag, she has shown tremendous leadership, working collaboratively to bridge the gap with groups both within the university internally and with external groups. She has helped advance the College of Ag to meet the ever-changing challenges and opportunities present in agriculture today. We have no doubt she will excel in her new role as ISU president,” says ICGA.
Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig adds: “Dean Wintersteen has provided strong leadership to the College of Ag and Life Sciences at Iowa State, working tirelessly to make sure the university is a respected voice we can count on to provide the most current and relevant scientific information. She is a proven leader who values collaboration and bringing science and technology to address the important issues facing the state. The president sets the tone from the top and we are excited to continue working with Dr. Wintersteen in her new role.”
Challenges new president will face
A total of 64 people applied for the position prior to it being narrowed to the final four. Wintersteen’s candidacy did face some critics. Some say she is loyal to large corporate ag businesses, which they claim are contributing to water and air pollution. Some have also criticized her, saying she failed to do more to halt the Iowa Legislature’s decision to no longer provide funding this year for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag at ISU.
Wintersteen talked with Wallaces Farmer about some of those concerns following the announcement of her presidency. She pointed out that ISU has a team of researchers studying ways to improve and protect water quality in Iowa and the Midwest. “We’re going to maintain that commitment, and hopefully, we will have the funding to increase it,” she said.
Enrollment has increased greatly in the last decade. ISU is now Iowa’s largest public university with 36,300 students. The growth has created the need for more housing for students and concern about student-to-faculty ratios. Wintersteen said such growth has resulted in ISU becoming a more diverse university, but that also brings challenges. “For instance, in the College of Ag and Life Sciences, some multicultural students felt unwelcome. Unfortunately, we didn’t make sure these students had a welcoming environment. Now, we are in the process of taking care of that, making sure all students feel welcome,” she said.