Archive | May, 2014

Color my world

31 May


Welcome to Emily Williams-Wheeler’s world. It’s a world of colorful rabbits and birds and cotton-candy trees. It’s a world of self-expression and new discoveries.

“Color is my strength and my passion,” Emily says. So whether she’s creating artwork to sell or painting a mural for a local mall or teaching creative-thinking classes to local children, the “Studio e” artist is always infusing her world with color.

“If I can bring color to people and make them happy, that’s my goal,” she says. “I had a reviewer once who said I make art contagious.”

When we met Emily in early June 2013 at her home in Fargo, N.D., she had just opened a solo exhibit titled “Soup to Nuts: A Lighter Faire” at Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls, Minn. Her children’s annual spring art exhibit had attracted more than 200 people. A month before, she had finalized the installation of a mural in the Children’s Playland in Fargo’s West Acres Mall.

In 2012, Emily (’86 interior design) was named TOSCA American Artist Series North Dakota Artist of the Year. Her list of projects, workshops, shows, and other accomplishments covers four pages. She and her husband, John Wheeler (’84 meteorology), a meteorologist for WDAY-TV in Fargo, have two children, Maggie and Cameron, and two rambunctious dogs, Phinney and Ollie.

Emily grew up in Iowa, and her initial impression of Fargo was not exactly positive.

“It was awful. I thought it was a barren hinterland,” she says. “It took me awhile to fall in love with it.”

Now, although she “lives in a gray world up here” during much of the year, she sees color everywhere. “Or I put it there,” she says.

Community garden

31 May


When Spencer Crews arrived in Omaha, Neb., to oversee what would become Lauritzen Gardens botanical center, he found 70 acres of vacant fields and the rudimentary beginnings of a rose garden.

But Spencer had a passion for what that land could become.

That was 17 years ago, and the 1980 landscape architecture grad was the gardens’ first executive director. A St. Louis native, Spencer had worked as chair of the Department of Horticulture at East Central College in Union, Mo., and as manager of horticulture for Powell Gardens near Kansas City.

At the fledgling Omaha garden, Spencer led the transition of the botanical center from a small, volunteer-based project to a multifaceted, revenue-generating, event-driven facility. The process took many years, first to fundraise and then to implement. But throughout the process, the key was listening to community leaders.

“We collaborated with the community to build something they wanted,” he said.

With a $30 million investment in infrastructure and the addition of 30 more acres, the gardens took off. Spencer and fellow Iowa State landscape architecture grad Chad Grimm (’89) shared a vision and an aesthetic that would create a botanical garden with a deep sense of place.

“We wanted to capture our part of the country,” Spencer said.

Indeed, the Song of the Lark Meadow is reminiscent of Nebraska’s wildflower-filled prairies. The arboretum and bird sanctuary feature regional plant communities, native grasses, and Midwestern bird species. A model railroad garden has direct ties to Omaha’s railroad history. A woodland trail winds through a native hardwood community.

Lauritzen Gardens continues to expand, with a multi-million-dollar, 20,000-square-foot conservatory currently under construction.

Spencer is clearly delighted by the community’s support of the gardens, and he is especially gratified when he sees children visiting with their parents and grandparents.

“It’s an intergenerational experience,” he says of the gardens. “Influencing and exposing your kids to nature at a young age is so important. It’s a memorable experience that stays with them their whole life.”

Fisherman’s friend

31 May


In this land of 10,000 lakes, Ron Schara is the reigning king of sport fishing.

Ron is the host of the long-running television program “Minnesota Bound” and the author of Ron Schara’s Minnesota Fishing Guide. He is equal parts fisherman and storyteller – with some hunting and other outdoor recreational pursuits thrown in for good measure.

Ron got his start at Iowa State as a fisheries and wildlife biology major. He shifted his career goals slightly when he took a basic writing course and found a new passion.

“The light bulb went off. I discovered that I could write about these things I was learning,” he said. He graduated in 1966 with a degree in journalism and a minor in fisheries.

For 29 years, Ron wrote an outdoor column for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Today he is famous in these parts and beyond, with 17 years worth of “Minnesota Bound” episodes airing in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, and Fargo. Ron Schara Productions, headquartered in Minneapolis, also creates outdoor-recreation programming for the Outdoor Channel, The Versus Network, ESPN, and Fox Sports. His company even publishes popular Midwest wall calendars, filled with outdoor information on every date.

“The beauty of what I get to do is that I love to fish,” Ron says. “I fish a lot, and I get to do it for a living. And then I get to tell stories about fishing.”

Ron has been filmed on location not only in the state of Minnesota but also in Africa, on the Amazon River, in the Bahamas, and beyond. But one of his signature shots is right in his own backyard in Ramsey, Minn., sitting on a hay bale next to his costar Raven, an energetic black Labrador retriever.

“She’s the star of the show,” Ron says, “and she knows it.”

Feed the world

31 May


Hunger is an increasingly serious issue in America. Even in Iowa – a state with some of the richest, most productive farmland in the world – one out of every six people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Catherine Swoboda (’08 agronomy, MS ’10 crop production & physiology) works to raise awareness about hunger issues through her position as director of Iowa and Midwest education programs for The World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines. She designs educational programs for high school students and teachers to expose them to issues of global agriculture and hunger.

“Everyone is subject to food insecurity,” Catherine says. “We’re all fragile and vulnerable.”

Catherine got her start with the World Food Prize in high school when she participated in the World Food Prize Institute and met its founder, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug.

“I was captivated by the idea that science could make a real difference in people’s lives,” she said.

She was a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern in Brazil between high school and her freshman year at Iowa State – an experience she calls “life-changing.” As an ISU student she studied for nine months in Costa Rica and following graduation spent two years in Washington, D.C., with the Agronomy, Crop and Soil Science Societies of America, working with agencies and departments on issues surrounding agriculture.

Today, in her position with the World Food Prize, she directs the Iowa Youth Institute, helps run the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue Symposium, and organizes the Iowa Hunger Summit. She also serves on the Iowa Governors STEM Advisory Council.

Catherine grew up on Des Moines’ eastside.

“I always assumed I’d live in Iowa long term,” she said. “Iowa has a special, rich humanitarian heritage. I have a deeper appreciation of that now.”

An Oklahoma cowgirl

31 May


Oklahoma City is going through a renaissance.

“There’s an energy about this place,” says Leslie Baker (’86 ag journalism) – and she could either be talking about her city or her museum.

Leslie is the director of marketing for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The 220,000-square-foot facility, a premier showplace for western art and history, is visited by more than 200,000 visitors a year.

“As director of marketing I’m always trying to get the needle higher, so I need a bunch of Cyclones to come see us,” Leslie said, laughing.

With a background in journalism, agriculture, horses, and advertising, the job is a perfect fit for her skills. And it all started at Iowa State.

A 1986 ag journalism grad from Centerville, Iowa, Leslie says, “I had the internship of all internships, because I was a horse-crazy 4-H girl from Iowa and I got to go work at the Quarterhorse Journal in Amarillo, Texas. My internship really did open the doors that I needed for my career, and my education at Iowa State is the foundation that I use every day.”

Following graduation, Leslie went to work for the American Quarterhorse Association, where she stayed for 12 years before moving to a full-service advertising agency in Amarillo. She took the museum position in 2003 just as the last gallery came on line at the end of a multi-year expansion, tripling in size in the mid-1990s.

“I am blessed to this day to combine what I love – which is really the west and horses and people of the land – with what I do,” she said. “It’s a gift.”

Leslie has two children, a 20-year-old son, Hagan, and a 9-year-daughter, Hadley.

As for Oklahoma City, its renaissance began after the 1995 bombing of the downtown federal building.

“The people chose to redefine the city,” she said. “They weren’t going to let that be all that we were. They had a choice to rise from that tragedy and be bigger and better than they ever had been.”

A note about the photo: Leslie is standing before the 18-foot James Earle Fraser The End of the Trail sculpture. “It’s awe-inspiring,” she says.


Rocket scientist

31 May


Like so many other Iowa State aerospace engineering graduates, Richard Schmidgall began his career with the U.S. space program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas – and never left.

The 1983 grad from Mackinaw, Ill., was first employed by McDonnell Douglas and Rockwell Space Operations, both NASA contractors, before going to work directly for NASA in 1989. And until May 2011 he spent his entire career supporting the Space Shuttle program, working on trajectory abort design and later becoming the lead engineer for ascent flights on the Shuttle and deputy manager for the Space Shuttle Systems and Integration Office.

“After the Challenger accident occurred in 1986, things changed,” he said. “We developed contingency abort modes in the event we would lose two or three main engines during the ascent flight phase. We developed the capability that the crew could actually bail out of the orbiter. Luckily, we never had to do that.”

Richard said that being placed in a lead role after the Challenger accident while still early in his career is a source of pride.

“Being able to work through that and get us to the point where we could fly again was a highlight of my career.”

Richard also held a lead role in developing a system to allow the Shuttle to launch in a wider variety of wind conditions. Prior to the project, approximately 50 percent of launches were scrubbed due to wind velocity. After the new capability was implemented, he said, “we never scrubbed a launch.”

“To be a part of that project team, to ensure that we had the right safety parameters in place and do it with the quality and assurance that we would not compromise the vehicle or crew on day of launch was terribly rewarding.”

Currently, Richard is the assistant manager and contracting officer technical representative for the Orion program. Orion is NASA’s next major crew vehicle for exploration. The vehicle will be responsible for routine flights to the International Space Station as well as eventually returning to the Moon, exploring near-Earth asteroids, and – someday – Mars.

Missions are targeted for 2014, 2017, and 2020.

Up in the air

31 May


It’s 6:30 a.m. on a cold November morning in Albuquerque, NM. Lyndi Dittmer-Perry, her balloon-pilot husband, Jim Perry, and their six-person hot-air-balloon crew are gathering in the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum parking lot.

Everyone has a job to do to get this balloon airborne, and the crew works together like they’ve been doing this for years – because they have.

Jim and Lyndi both graduated from Iowa State but didn’t know each other then – Jim graduated in 1967 with a degree in electrical engineering and Lyndi in 1983 with a degree in industrial administration. In 1994 they met through mutual friends in Albuquerque and, after a short courtship, were married in a balloon-themed wedding in Telluride, Co.

“It was adventuresome,” Lyndi says.

Jim is retired after spending 32 years with Sperry Flight Systems/Honeywell in electrical engineering and avionics. Lyndi is the owner of Blue Side Up, Inc., a project and program management company.

Their passion is hot-air ballooning. Jim started out as part of a crew in 1991, got his private pilot’s license in 1992 followed by a commercial pilot’s license, and has been flying ever since.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” he says.

“The saying is, ‘The first ride is free; the second one is $30,000,” Lyndi jokes.

Lyndi, too, has her private pilot’s license. “For Jim, it’s a passion for flying,” she says. “For me, it’s more about understanding what’s going on.”

“We have a lot of fun with it,” she continues. “The crew is a lot of fun. Ballooning is an excuse to get together.”

New Mexico is home to the world’s largest hot-air balloon festival, the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. For nine days – and three nights – each fall, Jim and Lyndi and the “Zoo Crew” take up their Serengeti-themed balloon, “It’s a Zoo.”

And now, here we are, still in the parking lot. The sun is up, the sky is blue, and it’s time to go up, up, and away.

The crew has worked hard to get the balloon ready for Jim and Lyndi to fly. So what do they get in return?

“Jim pays us in breakfast,” they say, laughing.