New student services director shares vision for office

Howard Tyler, an animal science professor at Iowa State for the past 25 years, began serving as the assistant dean for student services for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on June 1. He succeeded Tom Polito, an assistant professor of agronomy who directed student services for 38 years, and retired in May.

Tyler graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and nutritional science from Illinois State University and received his master’s degree in animal nutrition and his doctorate in animal science, both from North Carolina State University.

He recently sat down with CALS Communications to talk about his new position:

What is your philosophy in serving students?

Our philosophy in serving students is to always attempt to meet the individual needs of each student while maintaining the integrity and standards of excellence of the college programs. In meeting with prospective students, we help them find the program that best fits their goals within our college. Most of our students have a strong passion for agriculture or for the life sciences but just need some assistance fine-tuning their goals. Our office has developed a strong customer service approach to serving students; the success of our office is built in large part on our ability to establish strong relationships. We strive to rapidly respond to the needs of the students, faculty and staff that we serve; to provide support in addition to simply providing services; and finally to create genuine relationships with students, faculty and staff that earns their trust.

You are new to Student Services, but have been at Iowa State for 25 years. How has your past experience prepared you to be assistant dean for student services?

I joined Iowa State after completing my Ph.D., starting as an assistant professor in the animal science department. I was extremely fortunate that my position over the years has allowed me to be involved in all aspects of the land-grant mission. My research program focused on factors that influenced neonatal survival in animal species, and I have served as major professor for 22 graduate students. I taught a variety of courses over the years including Dairy Systems Management, Animal Nutrition, Perinatology and Orientation to Animal Science. My extension colleagues incorporated me into dairy extension programming efforts all over Iowa and around the Midwest. I was fortunate to advise several clubs over the years — including 25 years as co-advisor for the Dairy Science Club — and I acted as academic advisor to hundreds of undergraduate students. This varied background has prepared me exceptionally well for my new position in Student Services for the college.

How would you describe what Student Services does for CALS?

There are nine full-time staff in the Student Services office, including myself. As a team, we really have three overarching goals. The first is to support departments in recruiting a diverse and talented pool of students who are passionate about agriculture and life sciences. Secondly, we provide services to support department and student needs and enhance student learning, retention and success. Finally, our ultimate goal is to support departments in producing graduates that are resilient, creative, independent and successful in all phases of their lives.

Our office is both student-focused and data-driven. We provide leadership through service in the key areas of curriculum and outcomes assessment, recruitment and retention initiatives, college academic policy matters, student support; basically everything student-related from the first contact that prospective students have prior to applying to Iowa State continuing through coordination of the CALS convocation program for graduating seniors.

CALS has experienced record enrollments for four consecutive years. What challenges are you and your office facing with the larger enrollments?

The primary challenge facing all programs in CALS is to maintain the quality of the individual student experience in the face of a rapidly increasing student enrollment. This college has always had a strong sense of pride in creating a feeling of family amongst students, faculty and staff. Remarkably, CALS has managed to maintain that environment despite the fact that enrollment in the college has nearly doubled since 2005.

Our student services team is committed to continuing to provide any needed services to our students, faculty and staff so that the student experience remains a strength of our college. In addition, we need to provide those services in ways that meet or exceed the expectations of excellence that were established over the last 30 years by the previous assistant dean, Dr. Tom Polito. We are fortunate that we are gaining access to new sources of student-related data that can help us refine our processes even more than was possible in the past.

The staff in the office are extraordinarily talented and dedicated. I am confident they will find new ways to provide even greater opportunities and experiences for our current and future students. The enrollment growth of this college, although challenging to manage, is also one of our greatest assets. Our students have always been our strength, and our students bring a richer diversity to our college in terms of backgrounds and experiences than ever before.  And we provide terrific graduates to support all of the agriculture and life science industries and organizations.

Are there new initiatives you are planning for the office?

Probably the most exciting new initiative that will affect all of our student programs is a university-wide initiative to implement an integrated technology platform across nearly all our business processes, including everything we do involving student records, such as processing major changes for students, adding or dropping courses and assigning advisors to incoming students. This will be a multi-year process that affects our Student Services office, our students and our advisor in many ways.

Our challenge will be to use this opportunity to streamline our current business processes, improve college-wide efficiencies in student-related business processes, and still maintain the integrity of the student experience in CALS.

In addition, we plan to improve the effectiveness of how we communicate information from the college to the department level. We need to ensure that our students as well as the people working directly with our students have access to the most current information regarding university-level or college-level changes in recruitment- and retention-related policies. We will use several approaches, including monthly electronic newsletters, to communicate the most crucial information in an easily digestible form to the appropriate end users of that information.

Overall, we strive for the best outcome we possibly can for every student, helping them with choices they make to find long-term success and happiness in their careers and their lives.