WDYTYA: Presidential Edition

By: Becca Marting 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up primarily in Hutchinson, Kansas. Kansas is certainly a different place from Iowa.

But you grow up in your hometown, and like everyone, you have your friends, you go to school, you’re engaged in different activities –– so I had a great childhood. I have two sisters. I love my parents, friends, my grandparents and so it was a wonderful experience to grow up in Hutchinson, Kansas.

What do you enjoy doing as an adult?

I love reading, so I read everyday. I read books and reports related to my job, but I also like to read history. I also like to exercise. I have my Schwinn exercise bicycle, and I try to ride my bike inside everyday. My husband and I enjoy traveling and seeing new cities and new countries. It’s always a pleasure to get out there and understand a little bit about different cultures. Traveling is always a wonderful experience. This summer we visited Iowa State University’s training center in the Kamuli District of Uganda. Over there we had a group of our undergraduate students and some graduate students working to deliver educational programs to members of the community. It was a great experience to see our students there and engage in a service where students help teach the primary schools in the district about agriculture and work in the schools’ gardens. We have staff that works with farmers to help address how they could be more successful in producing crops and livestock and poultry.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

I went to Kansas State University, and I got a degree in crop protection. I had really connected with my love of entomology. My parents had been engaged in agricultural production in their lives, so I had that connection to agriculture; and I was interested in a career related to agriculture.

What is your preferred genre of music?

I find that I still love the music that I loved in college like Joni Mitchell and Judy Ballen. I still love that kind of music. I still have a bad habit of listening to the 70s and 80s.

What is your favorite show to binge watch?

The show that I’ve binge-watched lately is “The Crown.” It’s a story drama about the queen of England and it is so well done. I love the history. It’s just an incredibly well developed story. I remember one snowy day, my husband and I sat there and we must’ve watched at least three or four episodes before we got back to work. It’s definitely a great series with a lot of historical facts.

What is your favorite place to eat in Ames?

We have many good restaurants. I think about Aunt Maude’s or Provisions, but I must say that a couple times a week I go out to the House of Chen out on Lincoln Way.

Rumor has it that you have a lot of red colored clothing. Is this true and why?

Well of course our university colors are cardinal and gold, and I think being a woman I have the ability to wear almost anything I’d like to wear. I think we just have more flexibility in our wardrobe, and so I try to buy as many red jackets as I can find. I think red is a good color for me personally, and it is also our university’s color. It’s just a fun part of standing out and to have fun with my wardrobe. I look everywhere for my red jackets. When I have a moment, I’ll go down to Des Moines on the weekend and go out to the two malls there and go into a lot of different stores to look and see what I can find.

What makes Iowa State special to you?

I love the fact that Iowa State University is a land grant university. The land grants were established by President Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War. He wanted to have a set of universities that would welcome the sons and daughters of farmers and merchants –– what’s really a revolutionary change for higher education. It was about access to everyone regardless of one’s social status, regardless of one’s gender or race, regardless of one’s socioeconomic status. With this land grant university concept, Iowa was the first state to accept the provision of the moral act that President Lincoln signed and put into place.

This concept of access is one thing I love about Iowa State. I also love the fact that a land grant university is engaged in team research and extension. We play a critical role with helping Iowa move forward into the future so we have that special connection to the state. I would have to say that I love how beautiful our campus is. Not every campus has the beauty that we have –– how the campus is layed out, how we have this central campus that’s very open, how we have art throughout campus where you can walk around a corner and see a beautiful sculpture or see an art mobile hanging from a building’s ceiling. We have an extraordinary campus environment that I think gives our students, faculty and staff a place where they can be successful.

What was your journey like to become president of Iowa State?

I decided it was time for ISU to look at a candidate that had served for her entire career here, that knew the history of this great institution, understood our culture, so I decided to lean in and apply for president. It certainly was not something that was on my list of things to do or even an aspiration until that opportunity became available.

I did not aspire to be president when I started my career. As a graduate of Kansas State, coming to work at ISU and beginning my career by working out in the field, what I found was that if you work hard, if you’re committed to your career and responsibilities, what happens is that people will open doors for you.

By saying yes, by having the confidence, you can walk through a set of open doors that gives you opportunities, and that’s what happened to me.

What are your thoughts on being the first female president of Iowa State?

First of all, it’s such an honor to serve as president and to really serve as the face of Iowa State University. When I’m out and about, it doesn’t matter where I am, people come up to me and talk to me about their own experiences at Iowa State, their connection to Iowa State, so it’s been an honor to serve in that capacity as the 16th president. Being the first female president is a special honor and what happens is that I have many women approach me.

Often times they’re with their daughter or granddaughter and they turn to their five-year-old granddaughter and they say, “You know this is President Wendy Wintersteen. You should know, you too can be the president of Iowa State.” We all need to have models of how we can aspire to a different role, and I’m pleased to serve as model for the women and girls of Iowa. I hope that they see my accomplishment as an indicator that they too can accomplish whatever they choose to achieve.

What do you think ISU can improve on?

Specifically, one thing the University can improve on is the graduation rate of our students. We want all of our students to graduate, which is an important thing. You come as a student, you make an investment, so it is important that all students graduate. We have a very good graduation rate, especially compared to some of our peers. We are right around 74 percent but we are working to increase that. We would like to see that number be higher, and we are also looking at individuals that are in subpopulations. We know that our first generation students don’t always graduate at the same levels as our total population, because first generation students don’t have a mentor at home; they don’t have somebody that has experience with college. We are working to help first generation students, low socioeconomic students and multicultural students as a whole. We are working to lift up all of our students but especially our students in those categories where we see, overall, low graduation rates.

Of course every student is defined by their own success. We have first generation students and multicultural students that excel. We just see that that subpopulation has a low graduation rate overall. I want to see our graduation rate improve for all students. In the next few years, it’d be great to see our graduation rate at around 80 percent.

What would you consider to be the greatest accomplishment(s) in your life so far?

I think being a successful being was personally very important to me. I think I achieved that success, because I had a strong team working with me. When you have a team and you’re really a part of that team and helping to lead others step forward as well, that’s a big accomplishment. As dean, I learned that leadership is really about being a servant –– that it’s serving the members of your team.

There is a great book by Jame Autry called Servant Leadership and he has this statement in his book that says “leadership requires love,” and I think that learning about servant leadership, putting it into practice to lead a great college of agriculture and life sciences, I would say that’s my greatest accomplishment.

What are you most proud of about Iowa State students?

When I think about our ISU students, I think about students that are very engaged. They certainly are in the classroom, working hard, setting in their discipline. We have over 800 clubs where students are providing leadership and learning how to be a member of a team and how to collaborate. They’re even giving back to the community. There’s just so much engagement.

I also love the fact that they engage in intramural sports or they’re in the marching band and other big activities. When I first became president I was shocked to learn that we have over 400 flag football teams. Then you realize that whether you’re on the ISU football team or whether your on a flag football team, you’re still developing a set of skills that go beyond your athletic prowess. Again, it’s about leadership and teambuilding and collaboration. I just love the engagement of our students. They are living a full life and learning how to live a full life while at Iowa State that will serve them well when they graduate and move on to their careers.

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