A search committee is in the process of finding a new president for Iowa State University. They’ve narrowed the choice to four finalists, and one of them is Wendy Wintersteen, dean of ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. All four candidates were interviewed on campus the week of Oct. 9. Wintersteen was the last of the four presidential finalists to meet the public. Her day was Oct. 12, and in a public forum at the end of the day, she made a compelling case why she should be chosen to be the 16th president of the university.
ISU has a lot of pressing issues and it doesn’t have time to wait for an outsider to catch up, Wintersteen told a crowd of about 300 people at the ISU Memorial Union. The longtime agriculture dean cited her accomplishments, her endorsements and her grasp of the issues.
“I don’t believe, given the challenges facing us, that we have time to wait for someone to come in from the outside and spend one or two years learning on the job about the situation at ISU, trying to understand the history, the context,” she says. “I do understand the situation here, and the challenges, and I know the people on campus who we need to work with. And I truly care about Iowa State.”
New ISU president to be announced Oct. 23
The other three finalists who visited the ISU campus at Ames last week included Sonny Ramaswamy, 65, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA; Pamela Whitten, 54, vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia; and Dale Whittaker, 56, executive vice president and provost at the University of Central Florida.
They vowed to focus on student success, to increase faculty support, improve ISU’s standing in the American Association of Universities, and to address broader local, national and global problems such as world hunger.
The Iowa Board of Regents is scheduled to meet Oct. 23 to interview the four candidates and select ISU’s next president. Steven Leath resigned as ISU president earlier this year to take the presidency of Auburn University in Alabama. If selected as the new ISU president, Wendy Wintersteen would become ISU’s first female president.
Wintersteen has impressive record at ISU
Wintersteen, 61, has an impressive record of success in the college of ag at ISU, where she has served as dean for 12 years. She and her colleagues have raised more than $250 million to support student scholarships, establish programs and fund professorships and research. The College of Ag & Life Sciences is one of ISU’s most esteemed colleges and the faculty has earned top awards.
Wintersteen also directs the ISU Ag and Home Economics Experiment Station. She cites innovative programming that has been introduced under her leadership, including a Global Resource Systems major that enables students to study and learn about agriculture, food production and culture in the developing countries of the world, such as Africa. She also instituted an ag entrepreneurship initiative that teaches students to become entrepreneurs. A center for sustainable rural livelihoods has faculty and students in the poorest part of Uganda in Africa, where they are working in schools and with farmers on how agriculture can be part of rural economic development.
Whittaker, who visited Ames Oct. 11, praised Iowa State’s position as “best in the world “to help end hunger and create a future that is sustainable. He vowed to move that mission forward, if he is hired.
Faculty support, research and student interest
Faculty support and research have blossomed while Wintersteen has headed ISU’s College of Ag. “We have established an environment, an ecosystem so all of our faculty can be successful with grants and contracts,” she says.
With this taking place, student interest in the college has soared and student success rates are strong. Enrollment has grown 90% in her time as dean and the college has maintained a 98% placement rate for students getting jobs upon graduating.
Wintersteen acknowledges issues that need addressing at ISU — issues raised in the other candidate forums, too. They include diversity, and inclusion. “This past year we went through a process of holding listening sessions for our multicultural students,” she says. “At these listening sessions, we heard about their experiences. We learned about the problems they were having. Some of those stories were difficult to listen to. We did not have a very supportive campus climate for our multicultural students.”
In response, she wrote a letter to faculty, students and staff calling for a behavior change. “We are learning what we need to do across campus to change the climate to make sure all students feel supported,” she says.
Compelling candidate for job
“I believe I am a compelling candidate for the job of president of ISU,” Wintersteen says. As president, her goal would be to drive Iowa State as a whole to greater success. She says she’ll focus on making improvement in graduation rates, developing an entrepreneurial culture across the entire campus, improve administrative efficiency and increase community member and alumni involvement.
Wintersteen emphasizes the importance of listening to ideas in a leadership position. Former ISU president Greg Geoffroy, years ago, said she was ready to be president of the university someday. “I think what he admired in me was that, as I carried out my responsibilities as dean of the College of Agriculture, he looked at me as an individual who could manage complex issues,” she says. “Every day we are addressing issues in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and in other colleges at ISU that are relevant to Iowa, to Iowa agriculture and often relevant to the nation and to the world.”
First job at ISU was IPM
As dean of the college of ag, Wintersteen administers and oversees a budget of $172 million with 317 faculty, 484 staff and more than 5,500 students. She began working at ISU shortly after graduating from Kansas State University in 1978. Her first job at ISU was as an Extension associate in the area of integrated pest management. She became dean of the College of Ag and Life Sciences in 2006.
Wintersteen received friendly greetings of “Hi Wendy,” and hugs, shoulder-pats and handshakes before the public forum began at the ISU Memorial Union on Oct. 12. “Good to see you,” she said to individuals and groups of people gathering in the room. “I appreciate your positive feedback.” After her introduction she explained to the audience why she wants to become president of ISU. Then she answered questions from ISU students, faculty, staff, alumni and others.
“To many people, she is dean of the ag college,” says Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. “But to many, many more she’s just ‘Wendy.’”
Has managed growth of college well
Wintersteen became an assistant professor of entomology in 1988, the same year she received her doctorate degree from ISU. The only time she’s spent away from ISU was when she was acting National Pesticide Education Program leader for USDA’s Extension Service. “She may have spent most of her professional career at Iowa State, but she’s also been very active learning what is happening in other places. And if she sees something she likes, she implements it at ISU,” says Northey.
He adds, “She’s managed the growth of the college very well. A lot of challenges come with growth like that—the college enrollment has grown by 90% during her tenure as dean. As I talk to students, they are very satisfied with their experience at the college.”
Craig Floss, CEO of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, is a member of the ISU ag college’s executive council. He’s impressed with how Wintersteen works with other ISU department heads and leaders. “She does a really nice job of bridging the gaps between groups,” says Floss.