The Iowa Master Farmer Association is honoring Wendy Wintersteen, president of Iowa State University, with the Iowa Master Farmer Exceptional Service to Agriculture Award for 2020. There are two winners this year. Lynn Betts, longtime conservation writer and contributor to Wallaces Farmer, is the other honoree.
Arriving in Iowa in 1979, Wintersteen began her career at Iowa State University as an Integrated Pest Management specialist for ISU Extension. A 1978 Kansas State University graduate, the Kansas native conducted hands-on field days in eastern Iowa, teaching farmers and crop consultants how to scout for crop insects. Fast-forward 38 years to Nov. 20, 2017, and she became the 16th president of Iowa State, the first woman to lead the university in its 160-year history.
Completing her doctorate in entomology at ISU in 1988, Wintersteen rose through the ranks to become a professor of entomology. She left ISU briefly (1989-90) to serve as interim National Pesticide Education Program leader for USDA. She returned to ISU and served in administrative roles in Extension and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
After serving as associate dean of CALS in 2002-05, she became dean, heading the college for 11 years (2006-17) until being named university president.
Strong management skills
“Dr. Wintersteen has been and continues to be a driving force for positive change for Iowa agriculture and the state of Iowa for nearly four decades,” says Iowa Master Farmer President Brian Kemp. “She understands Iowa, our agriculture and the educational needs of Iowans. She understands the critical issues and has vision to successfully address them.”
He adds, “Dr. Wintersteen has worked tirelessly to connect with Iowa commodity groups and Iowa’s ag leadership. Through the years, even as she serves as ISU president, she is known as Wendy by those who interact with her. She is on a first-name basis with many ag producers.”
Kemp has known Wintersteen for nearly four decades. “Years ago, when I was a county Extension director, I first knew her as an ISU Extension employee,” he says. “Through the years, her management skills did not go unnoticed.”
Later, as a farmer, Kemp served on the Iowa Soybean Association board. “Wendy understands the importance of connecting with producers,” he says. “She found time to attend committee meetings as an ex-officio member of ISA. She took time from her busy schedule to listen to farmers, hear their concerns and share ideas.”
Hearing what people need
Rich and Nancy Degner in their letter of support, wrote: “We’ve known Wendy since she was associate dean in the College of Ag. Her longtime career as an ISU Extension entomologist gave her strong communication skills to work with farmers. The ag community knows exactly who you are talking about when you say Wendy. How many other university presidents are known by their first name?”
During Rich’s time with the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Nancy’s with the Iowa Beef Industry Council, the Degners worked with Wintersteen when she was associate dean and dean.
“A longtime supporter of Iowa agriculture and its producers, Wendy continues in that role today as ISU president,” Nancy says. “Leading the College of Ag, not only did she have a great relationship and trust with farmers, her collaborative nature and efforts helped her connect with farm and commodity groups to work closely on ag issues. Whenever we had a conversation with Wendy, she listened. When she speaks, her sincere interest and concern for agriculture — and now the university, its students and faculty — comes across.”
Others also describe Wintersteen as an exceptional public servant and effective administrator. “I had the pleasure of working with Wendy for 12 years when I was chair of the animal science department and she served as dean of the College of Ag and Life Sciences,” says Maynard Hogberg, professor emeritus. “She is very dedicated to serving Iowa and agriculture.”
Effective advocate for agriculture
Her background in Extension prepared Wintersteen for becoming an effective spokesperson and advocate for agriculture, Hogberg says. “She’s been a great listener to people throughout the state, and a strong supporter of programs to enhance the viability and profitability of farmers. She’s also a strong supporter of the research and teaching programs.”
While Wintersteen was dean of CALS, the college grew to be recognized as one of the top ag programs in the world. Enrollment reached all-time highs, and recruiters swarmed the campus to hire graduating students. Part of this was due to her emphasis on recruiting the best students and providing a world-class education. The production agriculture areas of teaching remained strong, even while other programs expanded in international agriculture and the life sciences.
ALWAYS LISTENING: “Hearing people’s stories helps me learn,” Wintersteen says. “Sure, we’ll always have a question-and-answer discussion. But I want to hear what Iowans have to say.”
Research funding also grew during her time as dean. The research program stayed focused on the state’s agricultural needs and how to best strengthen CALS to better serve Iowa. Wintersteen has been a strong advocate of using science to address problems. As a result, ISU is known as a leader in ag research.
“President Wintersteen is highly respected by her colleagues throughout the U.S.,” Hogberg says. “I often received comments on how fortunate we were to have her as our dean and now president. People recognized ISU was still staying true to its land-grant mission, which many felt was diminishing in other universities. Her leadership in these areas has been strong and on target, and we all benefited by her vision, which was formed early in her career. She has great people skills and is sensitive to all people. She made many important decisions that greatly strengthened CALS because she sought input from many people before setting a direction. Her decisions and directions were always based on what was best for Iowa agriculture.”