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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Feb. 9, 2007

Charting the new course

by Mike Ferlazzo, News Service

In her 18 months as founding dean of the College of Human Sciences, Cheryl Achterberg has become quite practiced at leading change. She's had to, overseeing the combination of the former colleges of Education and Family and Consumer Sciences into one new college - steering it through inevitable challenges along the way.

Dean Achterberg

After overseeing the combination of two colleges into one, dean Cheryl Achterberg has identified the College of Human Sciences' key future initiatives. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Achterberg's task has been to find creative new synergies among faculty and staff across the college. To that end, she launched an ambitious process for drafting a new college strategic plan shortly after her arrival. She spoke with 32 groups of stakeholders to identify a clear sense of the values, strengths and desires of the extended CHS community.

Through that process, a common vision for the college emerged - to "expand human potential" across the lifespan.

The strategic plan that grew from those discussions centers on four cross-cutting themes designed to unite the college's programs:

  • health and well-being
  • education and human development
  • science and technology in the human environment
  • community and entrepreneurship
  • learn more

There already are examples of faculty and staff who have begun working across conventional program boundaries as they find others in this expanded college with whom they share professional interests.

"What we're about in this new college is helping people - each with her or his own specialty - to work in multidisciplinary teams," Achterberg said. "There is too much to know to be an expert in everything. By developing an expertise, you can work with people who have different expertise and together resolve complex human problems. That's a positive change in the new college.

"Projects emerging from these collaborations also show rich promise simply because of the excitement faculty feel when forging vibrant, new collegial relationships," she added.

Collaborative initiatives

The strategic plan formed the foundation for a series of four new initiatives that will enhance the college's growth. These initiatives, just announced by Achterberg this month and funded by ongoing college combination savings, will support innovative programs that foster collaboration; promote high-quality learning, discovery and engagement; and improve the lives of people everywhere.

One: Nutrition and Wellness Research Center

The first major initiative is the creation of the Nutrition and Wellness Research Center in the Research Park. The aim of this center is to promote successful aging across the human lifespan. While the center's initial focus areas include obesity and type II diabetes, it also will support other research involving on-site food preparation, exercise testing, clinical comparisons and data analysis.

Two: STEM education

The second major initiative reflects the college's commitment to preparing teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"For the U.S. to remain competitive on a global scale, we need to prepare more scientists, engineers and mathematicians skilled in the use of the latest technologies," Achterberg said. "With ISU's already notable strengths in STEM fields and the growing vitality of our science, math and technology education programs, we are uniquely poised to prepare high quality teachers in these critically important areas."

Improvement in STEM education nationwide will require providing underrepresented groups - such as racial/ethnic minorities and those with lower income - with greater access to science and technology.

"We also need to ask," she said, "'How do we ensure that people from rural schools have access to effective new educational pedagogies and technologies?'"

Achterberg sees a two-pronged approach in which the college can play a lead role. First, it will develop additional professional teacher-education workshops that enhance existing teachers' technical skills. Second, it will provide assistance in upgrading pre-K through 16 curricula to expand use of technology. According to Achterberg, producing Iowa students who have better critical thinking and technical skills will support the state's position in the emerging biorenewable energy market.

Three and four: Support for new programs

The third and fourth new initiatives will stimulate faculty and staff to continually generate new programs that align with the college's strategic plan. One major initiative will award a total of $75,000 to faculty for teaching innovations such as inventive new curricula, programs or pedagogical approaches.

Through the final initiative, another $75,000 will be awarded annually, but to entrepreneurial initiatives. These could include groundbreaking research projects, faculty start-up packages, new center developments or community outreach projects.

Achterberg reports that the College of Human Sciences can, in this fashion, help mitigate the risk for new majors, interdisciplinary programs, centers or curricula for up to three years - making the college "essentially a venture capitalist." In that capacity, it is responding to the university's more entrepreneurial budget model.

"We hope to position this college to succeed in the changing environment Iowa State will become," Achterberg said. "We're adding value - in part via calculated risk - to try new ideas and promote outcomes related to new opportunities."

Preference will be given to grant proposals that are interdisciplinary and support the four themes found in the college's strategic plan.

"The college has evolved a lot, and how exactly it will look in the future remains to be seen," Achterberg said. "It is clear, though, that both anticipating and maximizing our possibilities in a climate of change are essential to our long-term health.

"These initiatives are unique to the college in that they allow us to keep renewing ourselves and refreshing our programs. At the same time, to be true to our vision, we strive to balance dreams and ideals with pragmatism, actively integrating theory and practice to help people live longer, learn more and lead lives that are more satisfying."

The grant initiatives were announced this week and the deadline for proposals is March 30. Additional information about them can be found at


"We hope to position this college to succeed in the changing environment Iowa State will become."

Cheryl Achterberg, dean College of Human Sciences