A home away from home at Iowa State

Joe Van Essendelft standing outside a building, wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt with the Iowa State University logo on the front
Joe Van Essendelft, senior in agricultural business, is grateful for the friendships he has formed as a student at Iowa State - many miles from his North Carolina home.

By Whitney Baxter

Despite being more than 1,000 miles away from home and joining Iowa State University’s campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Joe Van Essendelft quickly found a home away from home in Ames.

A native of North Carolina, Van Essendelft, senior in agricultural business, grew up on a family farm where he developed his love of agriculture. Following high school, he attended a community college in his home state. With a dream of pursuing a major that would allow him to combine his passions for agriculture and business, Van Essendelft set his sights on Iowa State.

He chose to come to Ames because, at the time, Iowa State was once again offering in-person classes following the height of the pandemic. Plus, Van Essendelft was familiar with Iowa since his older brother and cousin attended college in the northwest part of the state.

“I came here not knowing anyone, and I’m leaving here feeling like I’m part of a family,” Van Essendelft said, looking ahead to graduation in May.

He immediately got involved with the Agricultural Business Club to get to know fellow students.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and try new things I’d never done before,” Van Essendelft said. “As a result, I got to go places and meet new people.”

Group of Iowa State University students standing together for a photo at a wedding
Joe Van Essendelft, far left, and Jenna VanderHeiden, far right, both gathered for a wedding of mutual friends in North Carolina that took place while VanderHeiden was in that state completing an internship.

One of the students he met was Jenna VanderHeiden, senior in agricultural business. When she accepted a summer internship with BASF in Raleigh, North Carolina, Van Essendelft provided insight about which restaurants to check out and different places to visit while she was there. He also connected her with people he knew in the area, many of whom have become mutual friends.

“Saying that Joe has been a huge factor in my adventure at Iowa State, and even in North Carolina, would be such an understatement,” VanderHeiden said. “I speak for myself and many others when I say that I’m so glad life brought him to Ames and to the ag business program. He will excel in whatever path he decides to take.”

During his time at Iowa State, Van Essendelft took part in internships with Pioneer and Midland Co., a seafood company in central Iowa. At Midland, he got to experience raising saltwater shrimp indoors.

Through his internship experiences and class work, Van Essendelft learned how Midwest agriculture differs from that in North Carolina and how they are similar.

“Agriculture is very community-driven and community-focused, no matter where you are,” he said.

Reflecting on his time at Iowa State, Van Essendelft is grateful for the friendships he has formed and for all the people who helped him transition from North Carolina to Iowa. He looks forward to passing that kindness forward.

“I love helping people because I know how much help I needed when I first got here. I was very thankful for those people, whether they were friends, advisors or professors,” Van Essendelft said. “Everything that I have done here at Iowa State has been to improve my knowledge of agriculture and help others along the way.”