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Ken Sufka named prof of the year

11 Dec


Ken Sufka, our VISIONS Across America-featured alum for the state of Mississippi, has been named the 2014 Mississippi Professor of the Year. The award comes from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Ken (’86 psychology, MS ’88, PhD ’90) is a professor of psychology and pharmacology at the University of Mississippi. You can read our VISIONS Across America story about him here.

Heemstra honored for his work on the VISIONS Across America project

6 Oct


We all know Jim Heemstra’s work on the VISIONS Across America project was AMAZING. On Friday, Oct. 10 he’ll be honored with the 2014 Impact Award during the ISU Homecoming Honors & Awards ceremony. The Impact Award honors individuals who have brought broad recognition to the university during the previous year (Cyclone basketball standout Melvin Ejim is the other 2014 recipient).

Jim is being honored for his work with the VISIONS Across America magazine and museum exhibition this past year. But I like to think of this as a lifetime achievement award for the thousands of incredible images Jim has made of the ISU campus and for VISIONS magazine. He’s a legend, and although he’s not so keen on winning awards, he is definitely deserving.

Here’s a link to all the awards being given on Friday to many other deserving Iowa State alumni and friends. Congrats to all.

The VISIONS Across America tour

3 Oct

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Now that the VISIONS Across America: Portraits of Iowa State Alumni by Jim Heemstra exhibition has ended its April-August run in the Brunnier Art Museum, we’re taking the show on the road.

A select number of portraits will travel to five cities beginning this fall. Locations include the Twin Cities (Oct. 22), Chicago (Nov. 13), Kansas City (March 10), Omaha, and Denver. Those last two dates will be announced as soon as they are set.

I’ll be going on the tour, along with photographer Jim Heemstra and ISU Alumni Association president Jeff Johnson and others from our staff. We’ll be bringing about 20 portraits to each city; the portraits will vary depending on the location.

So excited to be taking the show on the road!

They’re all here

1 Jun

My apologies to On the Road subscribers who have been inundated with notifications of stories being posted on this blog. I thought it was time to post all the stories featured in the spring 2014 special VISIONS Across America issue of the magazine, so I added all 51 stories the past two days.

You can now search “categories” by state, and all the stories written about alumni who live in that state or our travel to that state will appear. You can also search by month posted under “archives” — but obviously that only works if you know the month the story was posted. For the most recent ones, search May 2014 and June 2014.

Happy reading!


Best week ever

6 Apr

What a week!

Last Monday I woke up to the sounds of thunder and rain hitting my roof. Not good — Monday was move-in day for our VISIONS Across America portraits to the Brunnier Art Museum. But by 9 a.m., when half the Alumni Association staff was ready to help load the truck, the rain stopped. That was the first sign that it was going to be a special week.

One by one, the portraits were loaded into the ISU Printing and Copy Services truck (thanks again, Rob Louden) and into the waiting arms of the University Museums staff at the loading dock of the Scheman Building. The load-in went like clockwork, and by Tuesday every print was hanging on a gallery wall. The Museums staff (Lynette Pohlman, Nancy Girard, David Faux, Adrienne Gennett, and Allison Sheridan) was so great — accommodating in every way, efficient, and professional. They really know their stuff.

This is Jim and me on Tuesday afternoon…so happy with our progress!


By Wednesday, people were already sneaking into the exhibition to look at the portraits, even though it was technically not open yet. Thursday was our “soft” opening, and by Friday, every light was in place, every word attached to the wall. We were ready for our grand opening reception.

I arrived at the Brunnier Friday afternoon about 3:30. The caterers were already there, setting up the food stations and cocktail tables. By 4:30, Association staffers Katie Lickteig and Beth Lott had brought in beautiful bouquets of flowers to decorate the tables, and the food began to arrive.

Jim and I were interviewed by the Iowa State Daily newspaper staff, and then it was 5 o’clock. Time for the show.

People began to arrive, and suddenly I didn’t know where I should be. There were too many people to greet, too many people to talk to, too many people to thank, too many people to hug.


Jim and I especially wanted to spend time with the alumni featured in the show. And they did come! Bob Gannon from Nevada (above), Catherine Swoboda from Iowa, John Arends from Illinois,  Shirley Koenen from Arkansas (below), Allison Foss from Kansas, Dawn Refsell from Missouri, Kathie Taylor from Utah, and Faye Perkins from Wisconsin. And some were represented by their families: Leslie Baker’s (Oklahoma) parents, John Kaiser’s (Pennsylvania) son, Rachel Beardsley’s (New York) parents…and I’m sure I’m missing some people.


We were surrounded by friends, family, and many friendly strangers. We had Board of Directors members and former alumni staffers. There were ISU administrators (including President Steven Leath and his wife, Janet), faculty, staff, and students. I recognized people from the Ames community and Des Moines. Most of the Alumni Association staff was there — working the event, or just enjoying it. I wish I could have met everyone. In all, 335 people turned out for the opening. It was beyond my wildest dreams.

And the reaction! I think people really love this show — because it’s about THEM. It’s about the potential of every person who sets foot on the Iowa State campus. Because once you have this Iowa State experience, you can do something extraordinary. Jim’s photos tell that story so well.


This project has been a huge source of pride for me, for Jim, for the Alumni Association, for University Museums, and for the whole Iowa State community. I think the people in the room Friday night felt that pride. If you were there, thank you so much for coming. If you were not, I encourage you to take time to view this wonderful show. It’s on exhibition through Aug. 9 (Tuesday – Friday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday – Sunday 1-4 p.m.), so there’s plenty of time to see it. Admission is free, although donations to the Museum are appreciated.

Thanks to everyone for making this one of the best weeks ever!


The show must go up

1 Apr


Through the long, long, long Iowa winter, April seemed very far away. But now it’s here, and that means our VISIONS Across America: Portraits of Iowa State Alumni by Jim Heemstra exhibition is opening THIS WEEK! Yesterday, we very carefully moved all 116 of Jim’s portraits out of the ISU Alumni Center, where they have been stored for more than a month, and into the Brunnier Art Museum. It’s just across a big parking lot, but it took a couple dozen of us from the Alumni Association, University Museums, and ISU Printing and Copy Services to do the move. (That’s Rob Louden from Printing and Jim above.)


Once all the portraits were in the museum and unwrapped, Jim and I worked with Lynette Pohlman, director of University Museums to place each photograph within the gallery spaces — and that’s not as easy as it sounds. But by mid-afternoon we felt we had a pretty good handle on it, so Museums staffers Nancy Girard and Adrienne Gennett started climbing the big ladder and pounding nails in the walls and adjusting lights, and pretty soon the first room looked like a real art show.

Today we’re working on the other rooms, and by Friday night we’ll be ready for our big opening reception. Hope to see you there!




They’re here!

11 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday feels like Christmas at the Alumni Center. Our magazine printer, Brian Downing of Rock Communications, just delivered a preview box of the special VISIONS Across America issue. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to finally be able to hold this magazine in my hands after working on this project for more than three years. It’s unbelievable.

Here’s a picture of VISIONS designer Scott Thornton and me with the Rock gang last week. We were in Newton watching the press run for two full days. Since they ran the magazine from front to back, and it’s organized from the West Coast states to the Northeast states, when it was on press it just felt like a freight train barreling across the country.


The magazine will be mailed to ISU Alumni Association members by the beginning of next week. If you want to order extra copies, or if you’re not a member and you want a copy, go to (copies are $10 for members, $12 for non-members).

The home stretch

4 Aug

With 40 states completed, the travel portion of VISIONS Across America is winding down. Except that it doesn’t feel winding-downish at all. It feels chaotic and stressful. And breathless and fun and exciting. Because the travel to our last few states in August and September is going to be packed crazy-tight.

It’s always nice to come back from one trip and have a little time before the next one. But right now I’m working on the next three trips all at the same time. We’re flying off in a week to Seattle, Wash., our jumping-off place for four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. That’s a lot of land to cover, but we’re really excited about this trip. We’ll be in two national parks (Olympia and Glacier), driving through some spectacular parts of the country, and visiting some of the greatest cities in the Northwest as we meet with alumni in each state.

We’ll be back in Iowa for a couple of weeks before heading off for a quick and easy driving trip to Missouri and Kansas. And then we’ll be in our offices for just one week before starting our last major travel: Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. Talk about saving some of the best states for last: This will be another drive through beautiful national parks and great American countryside. We have some great alumni lined up for this trip, too.

After we return from that trip at the end of September, we’ll have 49 states complete. Guess which state will be left?


I’ve talked to lots of people during this VISIONS Across America project, and they’ve asked a lot of questions about our process and logistics. They’ve asked about flying vs. driving (driving is simpler but obviously takes more time), whether Jim and I get along when we travel (mostly yes), and how we select the alumni we feature (I have a long answer for that one, because it’s complicated).

But the three questions I get asked the most are:

  • Have you been to Alaska and Hawaii? (Yes; and we surprise people by saying that we preferred Alaska.)
  • What was your favorite state? (Alaska, followed by Maine…but we have really loved traveling to all the states.)
  • Who are you going to feature in Iowa?

I STILL don’t have an answer to the last question, and we’re getting down to the wire. More than 90,000 Iowa State alumni currently live in the state of Iowa. That makes Iowa both the easiest and the most difficult state to choose. I’ve received a lot of suggestions and nominations and advice…but most people just say, wow, that’s gonna be a tough one.

Let me know if you have any ideas!

Are we there yet?

25 Jun

Jim and I are packing the car for another road trip, this one to Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. We leave tomorrow; we’ll meet with alumni in each state and be back in Iowa before the Fourth of July.

I have to say that I’m getting much better at preparing for these trips. Here are a few things on my packing list:

  • Twizzlers (the No. 2 most important thing to have in the car)
  • GPS (the No. 1 most important thing)
  • Atlas with large print
  • A bag for trash – it drives me nuts to have random trash in the car
  • Planning documents for all our upcoming trips, so we can multi-task
  • CDs of road songs, Broadway musicals, and books
  • Ziploc bags, all sizes
  • Sharpies and highlighters
  • Umbrella for rain and sunscreen for sun; I’m guessing we’ll run into both
  • Socks (I failed to bring socks to the Dakotas)
  • A huge thermos of coffee, and a Starbucks gift card for when it runs out

Happy Independence Day!

Off we go again

18 Mar

Jim and I are getting ready to head off to three more states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, plus Washington, D.C. and a bonus return visit to Virginia — a state we visited  back in May 2012. I knew when we set this trip up that it was awfully early in the spring to be traveling to this part of the country, and I was nervous about the weather. Now that we’re actually going, I’m mostly concerned about what kind of coat to bring. As of this morning, it is snowing in Washington, D.C. (as it is here in Ames), and the forecast is for highs in the upper 40s and low 50s by the end of the week. In Lancaster, Pa., our destination for Thursday, it is also snowing today and the forecast says it will be 26 degrees when we arrive, with a high on Thursday of 39 degrees. That sounds like a winter coat to me. Although I’m not too keen on wearing my winter coat in the rain…so this mixing of seasons is sort of freaking me out. Oh, well, I figure whatever I take will be wrong, so I just have to accept that. I will let you know how it all turns out.