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Engineering agriculture’s future

By Staff | Oct 6, 2014

THE $74 MILLION, 100,000-square-foot Elings Hall is located on the west edge of the ISU’s campus in the Biorenewables Complex. The new building brings more than 730 undergraduates, 86 graduate students and faculty members in the agricultural and biosystems engineering department under one roof.

AMES – Students and faculty who are developing tomorrow’s solutions for farm machinery, renewable energy, field robotics and systems to protect Iowa’s air and water quality are hard at work today in Elings Hall, the new home of Iowa State University’s agricultural and biosystems engineering department.

“We’ve gone from some of the most outdated facilities on campus to some of the best,” said Steven Mickelson, department chairman. “This gives our faculty and students new opportunities to collaborate and apply engineering solutions to agricultural challenges.”

The $74 million, 100,000-square-foot Elings Hall is located on the west edge of the ISU’s campus in the Biorenewables Complex. The new building brings more than 730 undergraduates, 86 graduate students and ABE faculty members under one roof. Previously, the department had to operate out of multiple buildings scattered across campus, including Davidson Hall, constructed in 1922, and Industrial Ed II, constructed in 1926.

Elings Hall offers a vast improvement that’s long overdue.

“Even J. B. Davidson, the father of ag engineering at ISU, said new facilities were needed when he retired from Iowa State in the 1940s,” Mickelson said.

STEVEN MICKELSON, left, chairman of Iowa State University’s agricultural and biosystems engineering department, and Tim Shepherd, teaching lab coordinator, explain how the diesel engines in the Advanced Machinery Engineering and Manufacturing Systems Laboratory will enhance students’ education.

Best of all worlds

Named after Virgil Elings, a 1961 graduate of ISU’s College of Engineering, the hall completes ISU’s Biorenewables Complex, which includes the new Sukup Hall and the Biorenewables Research Laboratory, which opened in 2010.

The time is right for Elings Hall, Mickelson said.

The ABE department grew 10 percent this fall and has become one of the largest departments of its kind in the country. Elings Hall will allow ISU to enhance its national reputation as a leading agricultural and biosystems engineering program.

“U.S. News and World Report has ranked ISU No. 4 nationwide among biological/agricultural engineering departments,” Mickelson said. “We’ve felt that our facilities were holding us back from being No. 1.

WITH FOUR HIGH bays in Elings Hall, large equipment can be driven inside the building. During a Sept. 23 tour of the building, Gretchen Mosher, right, an assistant professor in ISU’s agricultural and biosystems engineering department, explained how her students are studying ways to design a tractor cab that is quieter than current ones.

“All that is changing now.”

The state-of-the-art facilities include:

  • Spacious classrooms and laboratories. Elings Hall boasts the newest technology, software, farm and manufacturing equipment, and research opportunities, Mickelson, supported by ag equipment manufacturers like Deere & Co. The Advanced Machinery Engineering and Manufacturing Systems Laboratory, for example, features a spacious room filled with modern diesel engines to help reinforce classroom lessons.

“It’s great to give our students these hands-on learning experiences,” said Tim Shepherd, teaching lab coordinator.

Other areas contain a well-equipped welding center and ample room for the department’s new water-jet machine, which allows for faster, smoother cuts on metal with less waste.

  • Four high-bay spaces. Large equipment, including tractors and sprayers, can be driven into the high bays.

“Students can combine the theory learned in class with the opportunity to get grease on their hands working with equipment,” Mickelson said. “With the high bays, students and instructors can work with large equipment indoors, rather than outside like we had to do before.”

  • Ag-inspired artwork. The distinctive, “floating art” suspended in the spacious atrium of Elings Hall includes 14 parallel, laser-cut sheet metal panels designed by artist Ralph Helmick to reflect the evolution of agriculture through the centuries. The lobby artwork, like the lab research next door, ultimately looks toward the future.

STEVEN MICKELSON, chairman of Iowa State University’s agricultural and biosystems engineering department, explains how the “floating artwork” in the atrium of the new Elings Hall depicts the evolution of agriculture.

“For years we’ve had world-class faculty members and students at ISU,” said Raj Raman, a professor and associate chair for teaching programs in ISU’s agricultural and biosystems engineering department. “Now that we’ve got a world-class facility, it’s the best of all worlds.”

Investing in Iowa’s future

The exceptional resources and learning opportunities offered at Elings Hall and the Biorenewables Complex is appealing to ISU students.

“Having hands-on experience on my resume is really valuable,” said Bailley Richardson, an ISU senior from Lake City, who is majoring in biological systems engineering. “It can get you a lot further along when you’re looking for an internship or a full-time job.”

Elings Hall is a solid investment in Iowa’s future, said Raman. Seventy percent of the department’s graduates remain in Iowa after they earn their degree from ISU.

“Consider that starting salaries for our grads are in the mid $50,000 range and these professionals have a 40-year career ahead of them.

“The value they offer creates a good return on the $74 million investment in Elings Hall, as well as a great investment in the future of Iowa and agriculture.”

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