Cyclone Science Innovators make their mark on campus

The 2023 CySI cohort
The 2023 CySI team consisted of nine students from across across the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Sciences and Design, working together to solve problems impacting Iowa State's campus.

by Madelyn Ostendorf

The Cyclone Science Innovators, otherwise known as CySI for short, is a group of multi-disciplinary students working to hone their innovation skills and make life on campus a little brighter.

Last semester, the students identified problems impacting the Iowa State University and Ames communities and engineered ways to help solve these issues.

The inaugural CySI team was comprised of nine students from across the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Sciences and Design. The team included:

  • Alex Bray, senior in microbiology 
  • Catarina Bittencourt, junior in genetics 
  • Brenna Hartse, senior in industrial technology 
  • Cooper Hess, senior in biology
  • Bjorn Iverson, senior in graphic design 
  • Ashtyn Jolly, senior in animal science 
  • Callan Randall, senior in food science 
  • Alyssa Rodriguez, senior in human development and family studies 
  • Travis Schake, senior in dietetics

"I really wanted to get more involved in innovation because it's something that I'm passionate about," Rodriguez said. "I wanted to make a difference and be a part of something bigger than just me."

Claudia Lemper-Manahl, associate teacher professor in plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, recruited and mentored the students as they selected and planned projects they were passionate about. Funding for the CySI group came from Lemper-Manahl’s participation in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellows Program sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Start Something CALS.

CySI was not just an extracurricular activity but a credited class where the students met twice a week, for two hours at least, to ensure their selected projects were completed on time and to see where they could support each other.

After hosting an open forum in January where students could come and talk about issues they thought were important, the team sat down and strategized about which ones they could realistically impact with their time and resources. They developed not one project but three: a free cookbook, a garden at the Student Innovation Center and an educational advertising campaign to help remind students about healthy living.  

"We've spent a lot of time, whether it's with our garden project, planting and coordinating plants, or formatting the cookbook and working with those students who want to get them to come look," Bray said. "There's a lot of different additional things that go on behind the scenes regarding outreach and physical labor."

The idea for the cookbook was born from the students' desire to have a collection of homecooked, budget-friendly meals. The recipes in the cookbook cater to both national and international students, include health information and can be made from food found at Iowa State University's food pantry, SHOP.

Another of their undertakings, the One Health Garden, required coordination between the CySI team, the Student Innovation Center and the Department of Horticulture to complete.

The garden sits on one of the Student Innovation Center's rooftop patios, serving as a place for students to sit and take a breath between classes and study sections and a resting place for Iowa State's local pollinators.  

Travis Schake planting the ONEHealth Garden on the roof of the Student Innovation Center.
Travis Schake, senior in dietetics, plants the new One Health Garden on the roof of the Student Innovation Center for students to relax in. (Photo courtesy of the Student Innovation Center)

"The Student Innovation Center is all about hands-on learning and collaboration, which is exactly what the CySI program and One Health Garden are doing," said Danielle Orris, media production manager for the Student Innovation Center. "The Center is full of unique learning opportunities and spaces. The addition of the One Health Garden helps to beautify the third-floor terrace and provides a unique space for students to learn about pollination and the environment."

The team also assembled posters reminding students of the importance of physical, emotional and mental health, tying into their theme of living better. The posters were displayed in rooms across the Student Innovation Center.

"We started looking into the idea of One Health," Iverson said. "That's a concept of the health of the general public and animals and then the interaction between the two from a mental health and physical angle. All of our ideas were put together to be part of the system of better wellness."

The team plans to continue innovating together this fall semester and hopes to expand its CySI lineup.

“Our original team is going to participate in the EXCITE showcase on August 31, so come check us out,” Lemper-Manahl said. “It will be great to get them together again.”