Iowa State University Alumni Association

Stories Archive


Jennifer Curtis (A)('02 indus engr), who leads corporate social responsibility for Schneider Electric in North America, this spring had an unforgettable experience when she traveled to South Africa on a teaching mission with the NGO Schneider Electric Teachers. "I taught entrepreneurial skills to underprivileged, who did not quality for college," she said. "[The students] were engaging, interested, and their reasons for selecting the degree were heartwarming. They want to be electricians or work in electrical trades to prevent fires. They want to have safer homes. They want to make a difference in their townships. They want to solve reliability issues and help solve data and energy issues.”

Read a Schneider Electric blog post about Curtis' experience


Vanessa McNeal (’15 child, adult, and family svcs), a survivor of child abuse and sexual violence, has used her story to help others. And now, just two years after graduating from Iowa State, she is an accomplished public speaker, the recipient of the YWCA’s 2017 Young Woman of Tomorrow award, and the executive producer of “The Voiceless,” a documentary film about male victims of sexual assault. The film, which has been accepted into the Newark International Film Festival, is being screened worldwide. McNeal recently spoke to New York Elite magazine about the project.

“What makes a film great for me is the personal connection that you can make from the stories,” she said in the interview. “Storytelling is the single most powerful thing in my eyes. Being able to relate your struggles and your story is what connects people to your work.”

Read the full interview online.


The football off-season can drag for NFL beat reporters, so they do things like compile listicles. The Sun-Sentinel earlier this month decided to take one of the greatest NFL franchises in history -- the Miami Dolphins -- and identify its 10 all-time best offensive linemen, which even if just a listicle is a pretty distinguished group in which to be included. Coming in at No. 7: three-time Pro Bowler Keith Sims ('90 indus ed & tech), who played for Miami and Washington during his 11-year pro career and was inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame back in 2006. Sims was an all-Big Eight performer for the Cyclones from 1985-1989; the father of five also, in case you missed it, moonlights as an extreme couponer.


Mr. South Sudan Akol Dok (’16 pol sci) is the reigning Mr. Africa International – a global ambassador for his homeland who spent his undergraduate career at Iowa State sharing his story and advocating for South Sudan. He moved from Renk, South Sudan to Des Moines at age 5 but has never forgotten his war-torn roots. It is with his Iowa State education that he seeks to make a difference in his homeland – not unlike the late South Sudan vice president John Garang (PhD ’81 econ), a controversial but powerful Sudan People’s Liberation Army rebel who studied at ISU before him.

“[Garang] set the standard for us as Africans,” Dok told the Iowa State Daily last fall. “He as our leader for movement, for independence.”

This summer, Dok is partnering with the Daily as an alumnus to tell his and his country’s story through a series of editorials. Read “The war in South Sudan,” “Analysis of South Sudan National Dialogue,” and “The most marginalized tribe in South Sudan” online.


When Jaya Halepete Iyer’s 3-year-old daughter, Svaha, said she wanted to grow up and become an astronaut, her mom wanted to support her dreams. Iyer (A)(PhD ’06 textiles & clothing) took her to the National Air and Space Museum and read her stories about female astronauts. But when Svaha requested a T-shirt with an astronaut on it, Iyer could not find a single space-themed T-shirt designed for girls.

Iyer’s desire to find clothing that defied gender stereotypes, coupled with her work experience in apparel merchandise and buying, she started a brand-new company, Svaha, Inc., in 2015.

“I noticed a huge gap in the market and really wanted to address the gap,” she said. “The idea behind our clothing is to move away from gender stereotypes and encourage science, technology, engineering, and math among girls. Our focus is not necessarily on girls, but to create designs that are not easily available in the clothing market. We have unisex T-shirts in different colors that a girl or a boy could wear. We have pink car T-shirts, blue butterfly T-shirts, and a red cat T-shirt for anyone who loves cats.”

Svaha, Inc. sells clothing for women and children online at Iyer says the company’s best seller is a glow-in-the-dark constellation dress. Other popular items are a caffeine molecule scarf, a DNA dress, a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish dress, and a science lab dress. The company even sells a “budding scientist” outfit for babies, and a new line of science jewelry. 


Jerlando F.L. Jackson (L)(PhD ’00 education), currently the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education and chief research scientist at the Wisconsin Equity & Inclusion Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently completed his term of service to My Brother’s Keeper, the initiative created by former President Barack Obama aimed at addressing the U.S. achievement gap for men of color. As both a researcher and a member of the demographic the organization is trying to reach, Jackson says he felt not only honored to be part of My Brother’s Keeper, but motivated and compelled to serve.

The UW School of Education recently created this video highlighting Jackson’s service to the country. Watch it here.


Laura Barta (L)(’85 indust engr) believes that curiosity about people is a powerful tool for making the world a better place. She’s traveled the world doing consumer research for Procter & Gamble, living in Germany, Poland, Egypt, and India. When she moved back to the U.S. with her family she wanted her children to continue to have global experiences, not just through occasional travel but in their everyday lives.

“I developed World Village Playsets so kids can experience the world from wherever they are,” she said. Her first product line launched in 2015.

“It’s an ‘aha!’ moment for families and teachers who discover World Village Playsets. Parents are excited that their kids might study abroad, work for an international company, and live in diverse communities of people. So, when they see that kids are exploring new cultures while they play, it makes immediate sense to them,” she said.

Whole Wide World Toys ( are sold to families and teachers online and through select toy stores and museum shops.


Serial entrepreneur Brandon T. Adams ('12 management) wants to do everything he can to inspire others to figure out what it is they want to do and how exactly they're going to get there. That's why he's serving as vice president of business development for the film "THINK: The Legacy of Think and Grow Rich" and why he's co-hosting the new TV series "Ambitious Adventures" and the podcast "To Live the Grind." It's also why he recently held his second-annual Young Entrepreneur Convention April 21-22 at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. “If I can create work that helps people get to their goals faster, then it’s a win for me,” Adams told the Iowa State Daily in the days leading up to the 2017 convention. “It’s my passion.”

Learn more about YEC online.


If you want to be the hero of the story, you've kind of got to answer the call.

-- Elizabeth Gilbert

"Well, the mountains are calling, and I must go," Elsye Walker ('95 community and regional planning, MCP '98)  of San Diego, Calif., recently wrote us. The story of her love affair with hiking and her inspiration to complete the Continental Divide Trail this year, in her own words, is as follows:

"Recently I was reading an article to mark International Women’s Day. Nine African-American women were listed for becoming the first to accomplish a variety of things. The tenth spot was left blank, but this statement followed: 'If you are reading this and just happen to be an African-American girl or woman, then this tenth spot on our list is for you. It is for what you will do and achieve in your life. What will it be?'

"The first African American woman to complete the Triple Crown?" (Triple crown = hikers who have walked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail in their entirety.)

"When I started hiking in 2014 I had no idea the path would lead me to completing the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015, 1,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 2016, and now setting off to tackle the 3,000-mile-long Continental Divide Trail.

"For the next five or six months (starting April 13), I am attempting to thru-hike the Continental Divide from Mexico through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. The official route is roughly 3,100 miles. I hope to finish in September at a place called Waterton, Canada. Then I will travel to Massachusetts to complete the rest of the Appalachian Trail.

"There are very few woman thru-hikers, and even fewer African American women.

"This has not been an easy journey, but something I have just felt called to do. (My mom thinks I only hike to worry her!) No, but I do want to be part of improving minority participation outside and inspiring youth of color to take on adventurous outdoor activities.

"People have told me that my journey is extraordinary and inspirational, but I've never considered myself different than other thru-hikers. Just a black girl losing herself in the woods, but finding her soul, reaffirming her confidence and courage. Soon I hope more African Americans will be inspired to thru-hike, explore the outdoors, and gain the confidence and empowerment that comes from the experience. If my story can move others to step outside their comfort zone, look to the Outdoor Industry as a career option, or just see the outdoors in a new light, well I want to share my journey."

You can follow Walker's adventures on her blog at and on Instagram at @elsyew.


In a vote of the NBA Development League's 22 coaches, Maine Red Claw Abdel Nader ('15 liberal studies) -- a former Cyclone standout -- was named D-League Rookie of the Year for 2016-2017 after leading his team to a 30-22 record while averaging 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in 40 games. Nader also recorded a team-high 99 three-pointers. He becomes the first Iowa State alumnus, as well as the first internationally born player (Alexandria, Egypt), to earn the award. The Red Claws are affiliated with the Boston Celtics, who drafted Nader with the 58th overall pick a year ago. Nader told the Des Moines Register he hopes to make the squad in Boston next season.

"The NBA's obviously always been my dream," he said. "I want to make it. Hopefully everything I've done has proven that I'm ready."

Watch Nader's D-League rookie year highlight film here.


The New Yorker recently ran a fantastic feature on an Iowa State architect and artist Mohamad Hafez ('09 architecture), whose tiny models depicting the ruins of his homeland are now on exhibit at the Lanoue Gallery in Boston. Hafez, who has returned to Syria just once since he first arrived in the U.S. to attend Iowa State, is now an architect with the ISU alumni-owned firm Pickard Chilton. By day, he designs skyscrapers. By night, his creations are the exact opposite of massive structures -- but their impact as a reminder of the horrors of life in Syria today loom large. Hafez tells The New Yorker he actually started making his tiny building models while he was a student at ISU.

"I realized if I couldn't go home, at least I could re-create it in miniature," he said. "And the process of making and detailing these models was very therapeutic."

Read the feature on Hafez and his unique art online.


For more than a decade Iowa State’s crack basketball statistics crew – including Rich Pope (’74 ag & life sci ed, MS ’89 agron), Chris (Chip) Andringa, and longest-serving member Steve Shuey – has been the Big 12’s “A” team for women’s basketball, each March working nine or more games in four days of the Big 12 tournament after getting tuned up during long seasons statting all home ISU men’s and women’s games. 

So when the Big 12 received the bid to host this year’s women’s Final Four in Dallas, they knew who to call to serve as official statisticians. Pope, Andringa, and Shuey reunited with former stat crew member Pete Roberts (’02 indus tech) and headed to the Big D to keep the official statistics for the biggest games of the year – where, as it turned out, they ended up witnessing some really great basketball and an epic upset.

“It was so unexpected. UConn had beaten (Mississippi State) by 60 in the tournament last year,” Andringa says. “It was an exciting game, but we are watching it through a different lens. By the time we check the stats, get the records updated and everything, it’s like 10 or 15 minutes after the game. That’s when you finally have a chance to process it and you say, ‘Holy cow.’”

“I really thought our crew showed its experience by not getting caught up in the emotion of that upset,” Shuey says. “I attribute that a lot to working games at Hilton and the Big 12 tournament.”

Keeping calm and professional is just the name of the game for these seasoned professionals – who still managed to have some fun during the trip, including getting “Babb-tized” at Babb Bros. BBQ, the restaurant owned by the famous ISU hoops family.

For a job that, let’s be honest, no one really notices unless you screw up, the ISU crew flew under the radar at this year’s Final Four as a well-oiled machine. When Pope tripped on a cable run in the dark, veteran ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe was there to catch him. And none of their worst fears came true – the computer locking up (“Chip always says there’s no such thing as a statistician’s timeout,” Pope says. “If that happens you just gotta find ways of catching up again.”); a team wearing unreadable jersey numbers (“There was no Grambling men’s team from 1997 situation,” Pope says with a laugh, “light yellow on yellow; that was fun.”); or a preponderance of overtimes (“I’m really glad [Morgan William] made that shot,” Andringa admits, “because I didn’t think I wanted to do a second overtime at that point.”)

In the end, the trip to Dallas was another bonding experience for a crew that Pope describes as “disparate personalities but really good friends.”

“I’m thankful for the guys that I work with; they’re the reason we’re so successful,” Shuey says. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”


The PBS series City in the Sky asked Americans to ponder an important phenomenon: How do you put one million people 30,000 feet in the air at any given moment and land them safely every day? Kim Pastega (A)(’91 aero engr), vice president of Boeing 787 Production, helped answer the question: A new generation of safer jets, manufactured using a material that’s brought the greatest change in airplane design since the 1920s: carbon composite. “There’s a massive difference in terms of how the airplane performs with fuel.”

Find out exactly how much carbon composite has revolutionized air travel by watching Pastega’s segment on “City in the Sky” online, thanks to a post from the Department of Aerospace Engineering.


When the ISU Alumni Association presents its highest awards April 7 at the Distinguished Awards Celebration, an international pioneer of maternal and infant nutrition will be part of the festivities: Susan E. Carlson (A)(PhD ’75 food and nutrition), currently the AJ Rice Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is internationally celebrated for her research in the 1980s that resulted in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving the use of DHA and arachidonic acid in infant formula. Today, 90 percent of products on the market contain these nutritional enhancements, which have been shown to have a positive impact on brain and eye development.

“It is always wonderful when you are appreciated,” Carlson said about being recognized with the ISU Distinguished Alumni Award, “but it is especially validating to receive recognition for a body of work that you have pursued with passion for many years from an institution that gave you your start. I love the feeling of ‘coming full circle.’”


Most people don’t have the good fortune of living to age 100. Even fewer hit that milestone with a healthy, energetic body and a sharp, inquisitive mind. Nels Gerrard Glesne ('40 forestry) has all that, plus a sense of adventure that rivals most people a third his age. Glesne celebrated the century mark in 2016 with a capital C. He went kitesurfing, paragliding, and ziplining in Hawaii, the state in which he now resides. The former World War II bomber pilot was also honored at a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field in September – he thinks he gave them good luck at the World Series – and played tennis with one of the top-ranking tennis players in the world, John Isner, who also happens to be 6’10” tall.

Glesne’s adventures were captured by the Tennis Channel; PR Web; IKSURF, the international kitesurfing magazine; Maui Now; Tennis World magazine; Surfer Today, and other media outlets. This photo, shared on GoPro camera’s Instagram account, was taken during his ziplining experience at Skyline Eco-Adventures’ Haleakala location. Glesne completed all five lines of the zipline course. “My favorite part of the zipline is jumping off and accelerating,” he told PR Web. Somehow, we do not find that surprising. Happy birthday, Mr. Glesne!


Lee Ann McCue (’86 microbiology and biophysics), a computational biology scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., hates photos and videos of herself. But when she was approached about being part of a Women’s History Month campaign called #SitWithMe to encourage women to enter STEM fields, she didn’t hesitate to participate. McCue has never been one to listen to noise suggesting that women should shy away from science. “I chose the people I listened to,” she says. “There were critical individuals, but I just walked away.”

McCue loved science and mathematics way too much to listen to those critics. “I was interested in too many things. At Iowa State I took biology, I took differential equations, I took physics – I took everything,” she says. “Finally I just had to stop. But when I did a post doc as a statistician I saw the relationships between computing and math and biology – that’s when sequencing really took off. So that was a good marriage of all my interests. And now [after 11 ½ years in her current position] I’ve learned to communicate in a variety of different science languages.”

And she loves them all. Her first love, biology, had a healthy mix of men and women – but she says statistics proved different, with women in a significant minority. For McCue, encouraging women to enter STEM – whether it’s biology, statistics, anything, or everything in between – may boil down to simply helping the world see women scientists. That’s where the #SitWithMe campaign comes in. “They did all these video interviews separately, and none of us knew what the others said,” she says. “Yet well all had the same message: Don’t listen to the critics.”

“I just thought it was important for people to see that there are women scientists.”


Reagan Hoefler (S), an ISU junior in dietetics, is currently working with $7,000 in research and scholarship funding from the Iowa Space Grant Consortium to figure out just how to make the movie “The Martian” into reality and plant a garden on Mars. Her main emphasis is on testing the effects of radiation on maize, using a linear accelerator at Ames’ Mary Greeley Medical Center.

The work is relevant not just around future designs on colonizing Mars, Hoefler says: “Our own ozone is depleting, so Earth may one day become more Martian-like,” she explained. “We’ll all have to eat, so we’re seeing if this plant growth under these conditions is possible.”


Trent Preszler (L)(’98 interdisciplinary studies) has experienced success as CEO of Bedell Cellars on Long Island, but making great wine isn’t the only way he displays a passion for craftsmanship. Inspired and motivated by the grief he experienced following the death of his father, he opened Preszler Woodshop with the purpose of building canoes. He didn’t know the first thing about boatbuilding when he started, Preszler admits, but the slow process of becoming a boatbuilder was educational, therapeutic, and, in the end, cathartic. Newsday recently created a beautiful video about Preszler’s dual career as a winemaker and boatbuilder. Watch it here.


Iowa State University has a strong tradition of launching pioneering female students – from Carrie Chapman Catt’s (class of 1880) founding of the League of Women Voters to Jane Armstrong-Byrne ’57 becoming one of the first female vice presidents of a Fortune 500 Company to women like Mumbi Mwangi (PhD ’02 education) and Ellyn Bartges (L)(’85 history), colleagues at St. Cloud State University who took a bus to march on Washington in January to exercise their rights and their belief in the power of women. March is Women’s History Month, so we’re following Mumbi’s and Ellyn’s lead and celebrating women’s history in Cardinal & Gold. Here is some of the latest news about Cyclone women who are shattering the glass ceiling:

  • Nawal El Moutawakel (’88 phys ed), who in 1988 was the first Arab woman, first African woman, and first Muslim woman to win Olympic gold, broke even more new Olympic ground last summer when she became the first woman ever to chair the Olympics Coordination Commission. She was recently honored for her work as the 2016 coordination commission chair, which featured the Games’ first-ever refugee Olympic team.
  • The state of Iowa long held the dubious distinction of having no women in Congress or the governor’s mansion. Shattering that glass ceiling in the Senate in 2014 was one Iowa State alum, Joni Ernst (L)(’92 psychology), and soon to become the first female governor of Iowa is Kim Reynolds, who in December completed her ISU degree in liberal studies. Reynolds has been serving as lieutenant governor to Terry Branstad but will replace him in the post when he becomes U.S. Ambassador to China later this year.


When Christina Moffatt (’02 liberal studies) left a stable job with RDG Planning & Design to start the now-thriving Des Moines bakery and dessert lounge Crème Cupcake + Dessert in 2010, she leaned on the Iowa Small Business Development Center. Three weeks after starting work to open a storefront on Ingersoll Ave., she learned she was three months pregnant. Shortly thereafter, her mother suffered a massive stroke. It was mostly “because of good guidance and mentors,” Moffatt recently told Clay &, “that Crème survived.”

Today, the 2015 Iowa Woman Business Owner of the Year and Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” alum is paying her success forward in a new role: director of small business resources for The Greater Des Moines Partnership. In her new position, Moffatt will help other entrepreneurs navigate the “are we going to make it” phase but will also serve as a resource for existing businesses. Her new role will place special emphasis on promoting and growing businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

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