CALS Council Senior Awardee: Senior Ellen Reed receives Distinguished Service Award

Ellen Reed, fall 2021 recipient of the CALS Student Council Distinguished Service Award, has kept busy participating in diverse activities that advance food security, sustainability and community on campus and beyond.

By Ann Y. Robinson

“If you have a gift, share it.”

That advice from her mom has clearly influenced Ellen Reed, recipient of the fall 2021 Distinguished Service Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council.

A double major in horticulture and global resource systems (GRS) from West Des Moines, Reed has kept busy sharing her gifts through diverse activities that advance food security, sustainability and community on campus and beyond.

“Ellen’s ongoing, personal and professional engagement in service is a proud reflection of the broader mission of CALS to enhance the quality of life in Iowa and the world,” said Catherine Swoboda, assistant teaching professor in horticulture, who nominated Reed for the service award.

Reed’s volunteer activities include:

  • preparing Days for Girls hygiene kits for girls in developing countries so they can attend school every day of the month;
  • making meals for community members at Food at First in Ames;
  • helping physically disabled community members with gardening; and
  • managing invasive species to help maintain Pammel Woods near campus.

As a participant in Iowa State’s EARTH Program in the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) during fall semester of 2019, she managed daily work in the program’s vegetable gardens and delivered produce to a local Feed the Hungry project. She coordinated a food waste pick-up at five different restaurants on the island of St. John to use for composting to improve the gardens’ productivity. She also worked with the St. John Community Foundation to research and create interpretive signs about native plants for a new park.

“Ellen went above and beyond the norm for an undergraduate student at USVI,” Swoboda said. “Her daily commitment made a significant impact on the area’s food security challenges where about 22% of the population lives below the poverty line. These efforts continue to benefit community members and visitors to St. John.” 

Reed has also earned recognition for academics and leadership, including the Schebel Scholarship for Women in Science and Engineering and the Robert M. Clark Memorial Scholarship in Horticulture.

Reed said “staying busy” has been her secret to juggling academics, service, work and fun.

As a freshman she joined Iowa State’s Women Scorned Ultimate Frisbee group, even though she had never played the sport. Frequent practice and games have been a big commitment, but the group provided an important campus community for her -- and another chance to help by volunteering for the Iowa High School Ultimate Frisbee Tournament.

She’s also been involved in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) group. She credits WISE for giving her the confidence to apply for a prestigious internship with Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston. She was selected, but it didn’t work out due to COVID. She has been able to take advantage of internships and work experiences as varied as assisting with corn breeding experiments in a Department of Agronomy laboratory and helping manage logistics for campus sports events.

As she looks ahead, Reed wants to work for a couple of years and then go to graduate school to study plant breeding and genetics.

She appreciates the great mentors she’s had on campus. “One thing I love about Iowa State is that it may seem like a large university, but once you get here, you find so much support, it feels like a small college. I don’t think it’s possible to get lost in the crowd here.”