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Serving: IA
former students gathered Photos by Brian Nonnecke
10 YEARS: Alums of the GRS program gather at the 10-year celebration.

ISU’s ‘global’ degree going strong

Global Resource Systems major celebrates 10 years of impact.

By Brian Meyer

Ten years ago, it seemed an uphill battle to debut a new, untested major — global resource systems — into the portfolio of academic programs offered by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University.

Would it survive? A decade later, GRS has not only survived but also thrived. On Oct. 2, CALS held a 10th anniversary celebration with 125 faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors, including ISU President Wendy Wintersteen. A dinner was preceded by a poster session, with 35 current GRS students telling stories about their global internships.

‘Bravery and commitment’

The 10-year journey of the GRS major has been marked by bravery and commitment from everyone involved, recalled Gail Nonnecke. “Global resource systems was an unproven concept, even though we’d tested pieces of it through an exploratory program in 2005 and a pilot service learning program in Uganda in 2006,” said Nonnecke, the faculty coordinator for the major and holder of the Global Professorship in Global Resource Systems.

“GRS was a difficult curriculum designed to take an interdisciplinary and systems approach to understanding complex global resource issues,” Nonnecke said. “It pushed requirements in ways we hadn’t pushed students before. What if it didn’t work?”

Gail Nonnecke, GRS faculty coordinatorLEADER: Gail Nonnecke is the GRS faculty coordinator.

The timing was less than opportune, too. The GRS major was approved to move forward in 2008, the year the Great Recession began melting down economies around the world.

“But our worldview was ‘All is possible,’” recalled Nonnecke. “We were amazed at the brave students who embraced the major. We even had students eager to try it out, who knew the major was coming and waited to enroll, holding off until it was officially launched in the fall of 2009.”

The major drew strength from the collaboration, with multiple departments, attracting double majors from within the College of Ag and Life Sciences and other ISU colleges.

“We’re so proud we had donors who stepped up and bankrolled this little startup we called GRS,” said David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs. “It was untested and a little ‘out there.’ But they trusted the college and our faculty to develop a valuable addition to our family of majors.”

An early champion of the major was Dean Wendy Wintersteen, now the 16th president of ISU. “Back then, Dean Wintersteen got behind it immediately and has supported it for years,” Acker said. “Interim Dean Joe Colletti and our current Dean Dan Robison joined the list of leaders supporting the program.”

Decade of impact

“An incredible decade of impact” is how President Wintersteen describes the GRS journey. “Iowa State’s goal is to make the world a better place, and GRS helps us do just that,” she said. “It really was the leadership of Dr. Acker and Dr. Nonnecke and their team of faculty and staff who were the real visionaries. They developed something in GRS so totally different than any other major — a global view where the U.S. cooperates with other nations to solve problems; a reliance on science to guide our decision-making; and a strong commitment to our principles of community.”

Over the past decade, 235 students have completed GRS internships in 45 countries on six continents. GRS students have a reputation as high achievers. To date, more than 40% of GRS students have graduated with distinction, a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The placement rate after graduation is as good as it gets,100%.

Meyer is director of college relations for ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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