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From the ground up

1 Jun

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Michael Studier was in the right place at the right time.

A recent Iowa State graduate, he was applying for a job at a golf course north of Atlanta when he spotted earth-moving equipment nearby. He asked if the course was expanding.

“They said, ‘That’s a new course being built,’” he says.

That course was Capital City Club Crabapple in Woodstock, Ga.

Mike got in on the ground floor of the project, hired as assistant golf course superintendent in 2001. He was promoted to superintendent in 2004.

Crabapple is one of three courses making up the Capital City Club, an exclusive, private club chartered in 1883. The original club is located in downtown Atlanta; the Brookhaven/Country Club is in north Atlanta. At 600 acres, Crabapple is the largest of the three courses; it hosted a PGA event in 2003.

Mike grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, where he worked for the Meadows Golf Club. He attended Iowa State, graduating in 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture. During his time at Iowa State, Mike interned at the Old Overton Golf Club in Alabama and the Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta.

“That got me here,” Mike says of his internship in Atlanta. “I wanted to work for the best club possible. There are high expectations here because [members] are paying so much. We have a very high maintenance budget, so there are no excuses.”

Mike hires and supervises a crew of 30 maintenance workers. He oversees the budget, which includes $1 million worth of maintenance equipment. His team is charged with the overall condition of the golf course: all the grasses, plants, trees, and other aspects of the grounds. It’s not an easy job; Mike gets to work at 6 a.m. during the summer – and a leisurely 6:30 a.m. during the off-season. He works long hours, nights, and weekends.

But this is a job he sees himself doing for a long time.

“I love working outside. I’m probably outside 75 percent of the time from April through October.”

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Bittersweet memories

10 Apr

Natasha Thomas grew up in as culturally different a place as you can get from Ames, Iowa and still be in the United States: Brooklyn, N.Y.

A track and field standout in high school, Natasha was ranked third in the state in 400-meter hurdles. Her performance at a state track meet caught the attention of Iowa State’s assistant track and field coach, Patrick Moynihan, a native of Yonkers, N.Y.

Moynihan recruited the young track athlete, bringing her to Iowa State for a campus visit in 1984. She was just 16 years old.

“He took me to Hickory Park,” Natasha remembers. “Ames was prettier than I thought it would be. I remember the first time I saw Hilton Coliseum.”

And then the memories of Coach Moynihan come flooding back, and Natasha is overcome with emotion.

On Nov. 25, 1985, three members of the women’s cross country team, their two coaches — Moynihan and Ron Renko — a student trainer, and a pilot were killed in a plane crash in Des Moines. In an instant, everything changed.

“He was the main reason I came to Iowa State,” Natasha says of Moynihan, who coached her during her freshman year and the first part of her sophomore year. “He had this dry New York sense of humor that only I got. We lost three teammates [that night], our coaches, and a trainer. It was horrible. It was tough.”

Natasha went on to become a four-year letterwinner and a Big 8 Conference champion in 400-meter hurdles in 1987. She still holds records in 55-meter and 100-meter hurdles at Iowa State.

Natasha graduated in 1989 with a degree in marketing. She lived in Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines and Waterloo, Iowa; and Los Angeles before settling in Atlanta, Ga., in 2002. She’s spent most of her career as a training and sales coach for State Farm Insurance. Soon she’ll have her own agency, which she describes as “exciting and scary.”

“I’ll be CEO of my own agency,” she says. “If I don’t make something happen, I don’t get paid.”

Natasha has stayed connected to Iowa State in a number of ways. She’s been an alumni ambassador and a mentor for African American students. And she travels to Ames four times a year as a current member of the ISU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Food for the soul

6 Apr

Hang yue (Jessica) Wong had never been away from home when, at the age of 19, she left her native Hong Kong and traveled to the United States for a college education.

“I wanted to leave my country to see a different side of the world,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody in the U.S. I didn’t have a driver’s license or Social Security number. I just hopped on the plane and set out to explore a new country.”

Jessica chose Iowa State for its high-ranking food science program. She found it easy to make friends on campus, both through the Hong Kong Students’ Association and through her department. She pushed herself to excel academically and to be less shy in her interactions with colleagues.

Following her graduation in 1997, Jessica became a quality specialist with Landlock Seafood in Dallas and then worked as a quality engineer for Dannon Yogurt. Today she’s working in Atlanta as a culinologist/senior food scientist with Naturally Fresh, Inc. There she develops sauces, salad dressings, and marinades for a variety of private labels.

Jessica and her husband, Quentin Mock, have an 8-year-old son, Lofton. The Mocks grow Swiss chard, beets, spinach, broccoli, kale, and other vegetables in an organic backyard garden, and Jessica has a growing interest in alternative Chinese medicine and holistic nutrition.

“More than ever, I realize we are what we eat,” she says. “Food is really part of my soul.”

The Deep South

2 Apr

Hey, y’all! We’re back from our 10-day, five-state tour of the Deep South, where we met with nine alumni and attended a gathering hosted by the ISUAA Club of Atlanta.

It was a fantastic trip from start to finish. I am in awe of the alumni we met, and it occurred to me as they were telling their stories that a few themes seem to be recurring: Their lives were changed at Iowa State because of a particular professor, mentor, or class; they truly took advantage of all that Iowa State had to offer them when they were students; they have developed a strong passion for their work; and they chose Iowa State because they were seeking out world-class programs in their areas of study. Their stories are truly inspiring.

You’ll meet some of these alumni in more depth in the coming weeks on this site, and others will be featured later in VISIONS magazine. But here’s just a sneak peek at who we met and what we did on our most recent VISIONS Across America road trip:

GEORGIA

I met with two alumnae, Hang yue (Jessica) Wong Mock and Natasha Thomas, in Atlanta before Jim arrived. So I apologize to them (and to you) that their photographs will not be up to Jim’s high standards. (I did the best I could!)

I went to dinner with Jessica (’97 food science) and her family, husband Quentin and 8-year-old son Lofton. Jessica and Quentin met in the food science industry (he’s an engineer with a degree from Georgia Tech), and Jessica currently works for Naturally Fresh, Inc. in Atlanta as a culinologist/senior food scientist.

Natasha (’89 marketing) and I also went out to dinner in Atlanta, and although I already knew her (she is a member of our ISUAA Board of Directors) I learned so much more about her during our visit. She grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and came to Iowa State to run hurdles for the track and field team. She was only 16 years old when she came for her campus tour, and she became the only New Yorker on her team.

I’ll tell you more about Jessica and Natasha in the coming weeks.

After Jim arrived, we spent the afternoon with Michael Studier (’01 horticulture) on the Capital City Golf Club’s Crabapple course north of Atlanta. I am not a golfer, but I recognize a beautiful golf course when I see one. Mike is the course superintendent, and it’s his professional leadership that keeps the course looking good and running smoothly. He took us around to most of the holes on his 4-person golf cart. The weather was iffy when we got there, but by the end of our visit the sun was out and the course was glowing. Mike will be featured in the 2014 special issue.

SOUTH CAROLINA

I’ve been looking forward for months to meeting our next alumna, Leola Adams – ever since I received a news release from South Carolina State University when she became dean emeritus of the School of Applied Professional Science. Leola’s story is truly inspirational. I wish I could tell you about her right now, but I’m saving this one for the 2014 special issue. I will just say that she left her mark on Iowa State during her time here, working on her master’s (’70) and Ph.D. (’75) in home economics. I should also mention that she welcomed Jim and me to her home with warm Southern hospitality – and sent us on our long drive to Alabama with a bag filled with fresh fruit, cheese, and bread. (We briefly considered spending the night with her – that’s how “at home” she made us feel!)

ALABAMA

We weren’t sure what to expect from our next alumnus, Dean Gjerstad, a retired professor of forestry at Auburn University. We had visited on the phone a few times, and I knew he was going to take us to some forested property he owns south of Auburn. I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the tall loblolly and longleaf pines on his acreage, or for the fun we’d have riding along the rough forest roads in Dean’s Polaris Ranger ATV (even better than the golf cart!) Dean earned three degrees from Iowa State: a bachelor’s in 1966, master’s in ’69, and Ph.D. in ’75, all in forestry. That’s photographer Jim Heemstra and Dean walking through the forest, above.

After a fun morning with Dean and his family, we headed south toward Tuskegee. This was another very exciting destination for me. Tuskegee and Iowa State have many connections, most importantly the connections made by George Washington Carver. It was a real thrill to meet Jacquelyn Jackson, a Tuskegee native who came to Iowa State for a Ph.D. in plant genetics. Jackie is now a professor at Tuskegee and is following in the research footsteps of Dr. Carver himself. Jackie is a warm and bubbly person – and she knocked me out with her expertise in plant genetics. Like so many alumni, I felt like Jackie and I were best friends after spending just a few hours with her on campus. That’s her above with Jim at the photo shoot in front of George Washington Carver Museum.

Our last alumni meeting in Alabama was with Keecha Harris in Birmingham. Keecha (’96 dietetics) is one of those people who talks so fast and is so articulate that I sure hope my tape recorder kept up with her. She’s doing great work with national issues surrounding nutrition, public health, and community development. And she’s an awesome spokesperson for Iowa State, too. We met at the Whole Foods Market in Birmingham, above.

MISSISSIPPI

It seems like we spent an unusually large percentage of our time on college campuses during this trip, but it was a complete coincidence that our alumni connections included faculty or former faculty at South Carolina State, Auburn, Tuskegee, and the University of Mississippi. I very much enjoyed being on each of these campuses. I even had an opportunity to visit with the magazine editors at Auburn and Ole Miss – a bonus!

The Ole Miss campus (above) looked like a picture postcard the day we were there to meet with psychology professor Ken Sufka. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many flowering trees and bushes in one place. I guess that’s the South in spring – but we were very lucky to be there when we were.

Ken is another example of an Iowa State alum who’s had an extraordinary career in teaching and research – and changing people’s lives in both areas. Ken says he came to Iowa State as an afterthought and didn’t have much interest in earning a degree – but because of some strong professors he not only earned a bachelor’s degree in 1986, he also went on to earn his master’s (’88) and Ph.D. (’90) at Iowa State. He’s such a fascinating guy – not just because of his career but also his lifestyle in rural Oxford – that we were almost late to our next appointment.

TENNESSEE

Which brings us to our last state on this trip and our last alumni appointment with Andrea Vogt-Lytal. Andrea is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. She is an information analyst for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency resident office in Memphis. She started at Iowa State as a journalism major but was transfixed by an anthropology class she took during her sophomore year and ended up pursuing a research project in Mexico before graduating in 1995. She’s now lived all over the world, is fluent in Spanish, and has a career tailor-made for her many interests and talents.

I can’t wait to tell you more about all of these awesome alumni. After each interview and photo shoot I just had to pinch myself that I am really lucky enough to be doing this project and meeting all these incredible people who all have a single connection: Iowa State.

P.S. I wish there were some way to thank all the people who have been kind enough to photograph Jim and me at each of the state entrance signs on our travels (see photo at the very top). I’ve handed over my camera to a lot of strangers! My favorite was the woman who, at the Alabama visitor center, told us to “smile and say ‘grits’!”

Georgia on my mind

25 Mar

Hello from the road! Jim Heemstra and I are currently in Orangeburg, S.C., but I wanted to show you some photos he took night before last at an an alumni gathering in the Atlanta area. Doug Krohn, our ISU club leader in Atlanta, organizes the BEST gamewatch parties, and he offered to host Jim and me Friday night at the usual gamewatch location, Firebird Sports Grill in the suburb of Dunwoody.

Here are some photos. Thanks to everyone who came out to welcome us!

Dawn and Andy Crawford

Doug Krohn

Ross Bradshaw and his guest

Michelle Pierce, Doug Krohn, and Sue Graham