CALS students part of inaugural George Washington Carver Day

Danielle Douglas stands in the alcove of a balcony
Danielle Douglas, senior in animal science, practices her lines during one of the rehearsals ahead of the Feb. 1 George Washington Carver Day celebration at Iowa State University.

What started as a conversation between two influential men in the summer of 2020 blossomed into an event that brought together approximately 550 people in celebration of an Iowa State University-educated, world-famous agriculturalist.

The inaugural George Washington Carver Day was celebrated Feb. 1, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union at Iowa State with a program that included several speakers and readings of Carver’s work.

Only the third Iowan to have a day set aside by the state in their honor, Carver earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from Iowa State and later became the first Black faculty member at the university. He was passionate about plant sciences and is known for his work with peanuts and sweet potatoes, among other food items.

In addition to remarks during the inaugural event from Iowa State administration and the president emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation, several College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students read excerpts and letters on Carver’s work.

“Celebrating George Washington Carver here at Iowa State is pretty awesome,” said student speaker Paige Jergens, senior in agricultural business, reflecting on her involvement in the program. “This is a very, very cool experience, learning about his achievements and accomplishments, and it's honestly been amazing and very, very eye-opening.”

Blake Van Der Kamp, senior in agricultural and life sciences education and international agriculture, worked on a project last semester related to Carver. He was excited to play a role in the inaugural celebration.

“I came to Iowa State as a George Washington Carver Scholar, so it is a great moment to honor someone who honestly gave me my opportunity to come here,” Van Der Kamp said.

Danielle Douglas, senior in animal science, was recommended to serve as a student speaker in the event by Theressa Cooper, CALS assistant dean for diversity and advisor of the Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) student organization. Douglas is the treasurer of MANRRS.

“I said, ‘hey, why not?’ It's a great opportunity. It's nice to be part of the first one ever,” Douglas said. “I'm not a theatre person, so it's getting me out of my shell in a really unique way.”

The keynote speech was delivered by Dewayne Goldmon, senior advisor for racial equity to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Goldmon received his doctoral degree in agronomy from CALS. He encouraged those in attendance to come together to support American agriculture, despite any differences we may have.

“I think we can all take a page out of Dr. Carver’s book and say, ‘man, how good could we be if we were embracing some of his sayings and resistant to some of those negative things that tend to put a lid on our head?’” Goldmon said.

From idea to reality

The idea for what will become an annual celebration of Carver’s life and legacy at Iowa State was sparked by Kenneth Quinn, president emeritus of the World Food Prize Foundation, and Simon Estes, F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Artist in Residence of the Department of Music at Iowa State. The two men brought together leaders throughout Iowa, representing a variety of backgrounds and organizations, that resulted in Governor Kim Reynolds designating Feb. 1, annually, as George Washington Carver Day in Iowa.

The date of Feb. 1 was selected because it marks the beginning of Black History Month, and it is a time when students are in school, allowing teaching opportunities about Carver’s impact.

“Let us thank George Washington Carver for being the man who could bring us together across the most difficult circumstances ever. It’s a great night,” Quinn said.

Paige Jergens stands in the alcove of a balcony
Paige Jergens, senior in agricultural business, was one of the student speakers who read excerpts from Carver's letters and work during the inaugural George Washington Carver Day event at Iowa State University.