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Stresses teamwork daily at ISU

By Staff | Jul 30, 2010

Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said collaboration with many outside partners is the key to success for the college. She is pictured at her desk inside Curtiss Hall.

AMES – Who knows how Wendy Wintersteen’s career might have turned out had she followed her mother’s advice and studied home economics?

Instead, she opted for an academic and career path in entomology that began with a childhood fascination of insects and has led all the way up the steps of Curtiss Hall to the position of dean of Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In the position since 2006, Wintersteen has the distinction of holding Iowa State’s first endowed deanship, due to an anonymous donation of $3 million to the college.

“I am extremely honored to be the holder of the first endowed deanship at Iowa State,” she said. “It is a gift that supports the college’s mission in our current time and the times to come.” Wintersteen used the donation to establish a dean’s chair for distinction that is currently held by Manjit Misra and to support the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative in the college.

Growing up on a cow/calf farm in southeast Kansas, Wintersteen remembers her fascination with insects from the time she was 5, when she made an insect zoo from every available pest she could find flying or crawling on the farm near Fort Scott, Kansas.

“Insects seemed to be the most interesting things,” she said. “I feel like that (interest) has always been a part of me.” From those beginnings, she faced a crucial decision as she made her way through school and was contemplating a college path. “My mother wanted me to study home economics. The only problem was I didn’t have any talent in that,” she said.

Fortunately, her curiosity with insects never waned as she gained more expertise in the field of entomology, eventually earning a doctorate, and ascending to assistant professor, program director and senior associate dean before being appointed to the Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

While her responsibilities have increased along the way, Wintersteen said her approach to her positions has been largely the same: work with Iowa State’s resources and its partners to gather the research on each project and share the results as efficiently as possible.

“We will always accomplish more if we can work together. That’s what I try to do every day,” Wintersteen said.

The method of sending the information to end users has changed over the years, but the basic principle remains the same.

In years past, Iowa State University’s Extension service used its own Extension staff spread throughout the state to convene meetings directly with farmers; now information is more likely spread through Web sites, electronic newsletters, or by agronomists employed by the private sector.

Recent successes from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences show that collaboration at work:

  • The maize genome sequence is now complete. ISU researchers developed methods for the assembly of sequence data and conducted much of the ongoing analysis.

The researchers worked as part of a multi-institutional, $29.5 million, National Science Foundation-funded effort. The first discoveries were published along with the sequence itself in a November issue of “Science.”

So far, the effort has revealed the maize genome is nearly as large as a human’s, containing about the same number of genes but substantially more complex, according to an Iowa State release.

  • A U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist and his Iowa State University colleagues will partner with scientists from the United Kingdom to investigate how crop plants respond to pathogens through a new grant that includes an educational component for Iowa high school students.

The Iowa State group is led by Roger Wise, a research geneticist with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and a collaborating professor in the ISU plant pathology department.

The work is funded by a $2.76 million National Science Foundation plant genome grant to study the resistance of cereal crops to fungal pathogens, according to an Iowa State release.

  • Led by plant pathologist John Hill, ISU researchers have scored several breakthroughs over the years, including development of a viral technology for identifying genes involved in protecting soybeans from bacterial pathogens; studies of bean pod mottle virus strains to better understand how the disease develops and evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies; and development of novel technology to “track” released virus strains through disease epidemics caused by the soybean mosaic virus, according to the release.

Another major accomplishment for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences occurred this fall, Wintersteen said, when enrollment reached more than 3,000 students for the first time in more than 30 years.

She said the effort to attract and retain more agriculture students began several years ago, when the College of Agriculture became the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to better represent the broad spectrum of learning and research of the college.

She said many students perceived that the College of Agriculture was only for students who want to farm.

About five years ago, a formal recruitment effort began.

“The agricultural industries in the state needed more of our graduates to hire and asked us to increase our recruitment efforts,”?Wintersteen explained. “We asked our entire faculty, staff and students to help us recruit students and everyone pitched in to help.”

The increased enrollment in the college appears to be sustainable into the future, Wintersteen said. “Our undergraduate enrollment will increase again this fall and we believe we can sustain these high numbers.

“We have excellent faculty who provide an extraordinary experience for our undergraduate students in the classroom, through our student clubs and through special programs,” she said.

Contact David DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

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