Learning Communities Connect Students and Encourage Success

ACES group members meet with Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, once a year to discuss issues impacting agriculture.

The first year of college can be frightening, but getting to know peers who feel the same can make a difference. That’s where a learning community can help.

“The biggest thing that I gained from the learning community is being able to walk into class and see familiar faces. I'll sit with friends, we might do homework together and it just opens up a bigger network of friends.” said Lauren Houska, freshman in agricultural education.

Joining a learning community not only offers support, but the opportunity to build lifelong friendships and a chance to grow academically. Students who choose to live in learning communities tend to have higher retention and graduation rates.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has many options for students wanting to live in a residential learning community. A few majors offering residential learning communities include: natural resource ecology and management; food science and human nutrition; and agricultural systems technology.

The most popular learning community is the Agriculture Community Encourages Success (ACES), which is open to students in any major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. ACES includes a team of 25 men and 25 women, who are first year agriculture students and live on separate floors in Maple Hall.

“Socially, ACES has been great because you get to meet new people who love agriculture. Academically, ACES has helped because we have core classes together so we can help each other study,” said Kayla Degner, a freshman in agricultural communications.

Each floor has one or two peer mentors. The mentors are an asset and help students acclimate to the college setting.

“Our peer mentors really helped us the first week. They gave us a tour of campus, helped us with schedules and told us where we needed to go for certain things. That was a huge help since everything was so new,” said Degner.

Alicia Humphrey, a senior in agricultural education, was a peer mentor for ACES her sophomore year and had an open door policy.

“My daily task was to be available. My door was always open for ACES members to stop by whether they just needed to chat, needed homework help, had questions about classes or just wanted to grab dinner with me.”

One of the advantages in ACES is the opportunity to tour different area agribusinesses. Members of ACES have toured Iowa State Veterinary Medicine, Picket Fence Creamery and Successful Farming Magazine and several other businesses.

Students also hear different perspectives from agribusinesses by listening to leaders from the National Pork Board, Iowa Beef Center and Farm Bureau offices talk about their experiences.

Although Humphrey did not plan the speakers or the industry trips, she coordinated monthly meetings and shared her own experiences from class registration to studying abroad.

“I knew the ACES students, so I would always greet them on campus. The ACES students I mentored truly became my friends rather than mentees,” Humphrey said.

ACES members have the advantage of being introduced to many faculty and staff in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Adviser Edward Braun said one of the best meetings of the year is when Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, joins the group for a meal.

“We have some good discussion about student issues and Iowa agriculture,” Braun said.

Iowa State has provided learning communities for the past eighteen years and has consistently been rated in the top 25 learning community programs in the country by US News.