By Whitney Baxter
From growing vegetables and donating them to a local food pantry to establishing a garden to educate peers about pollinators, two graduating seniors have taken innovative approaches to making a difference on campus and in the community.
Jenna Errthum, senior in horticulture, global resource systems and Spanish, and Cooper Hess, senior in biology with a minor in global health, are the recipients of this year’s Roger Grundmeier Innovation and Leadership Award, offered to students in Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Scholarship recipients are selected based on their demonstration of “going above and beyond in their efforts to collaborate and innovate” during their college career.
“Both Jenna and Cooper are incredible representatives of the diverse mix of unique experiences supported through the Grundmeier award,” said Carmen Bain, CALS associate dean for academic innovation. “In looking through their applications for this award, I was impressed by their engagement in leadership and extracurricular activities outside the classroom that demonstrated an innovative mindset and positively impacted others, including students here at Iowa State.”
Errthum and Hess share a passion for improving the world’s food systems, which stems back to their involvement in the Iowa Youth Institute and Global Food Program as high school students.
They carried that passion to Iowa State, quickly becoming involved in activities to improve the lives of others.
Leading efforts in agriculture
Throughout her time at Iowa State, Errthum has been involved in several innovative initiatives that seek to better the community and the world. One of those was her involvement in the Growing to Give program, started by a small group of students to grow vegetables during the winter months in an unoccupied forestry greenhouse. Using funds from Iowa State’s Student Government, the group repurposed the space, constructing raised beds in which they grew various cold crops – kale, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and carrots. The produce was harvested and donated to Food at First, a non-profit organization that offers free meals and perishable food items to the Ames community.
“I used to say, ‘There’s nothing more rewarding than growing vegetables for yourself.’ But now I’ve switched that to, ‘There’s nothing more rewarding than growing vegetables to give to others,’” Errthum said.
She also has taken part in several leadership opportunities through the Global Resource Systems program and the International Association of Students in Agriculture and Related Sciences (IAAS). Errthum is most proud of her role through IAAS in organizing the first National Women in Agriculture Day at Iowa State, which took place March 24, 2022.
Shelley Taylor, IAAS advisor and CALS director of global programs, said Errthum is a strong leader and worked diligently to bring the National Women in Agriculture Day to fruition.
“Her enthusiasm and positivity were infectious on the committee and the result was a successful event with an impressive turnout,” Taylor said. “As an executive member of IAAS, she continues to play an instrumental role in highlighting agricultural processes from around the world for the chapter, using her experiences living in Spain and Costa Rica to showcase exciting comparisons between agricultural systems.”
Before organizing the National Women in Agriculture Day, Errthum said she was a little intimidated by the amount of work and coordination required to pull off a large, successful event.
“Going through the process of organizing the event gave me the confidence that I can make an event happen if I bring together the right people to help me do it,” she said.
Errthum’s ability to work on a team and share what CALS is all about was enhanced through her participation in a design charette. This two-day event brought together students from CALS and the College of Design to create design concepts for two CALS-owned collaborative learning labs in the Student Innovation Center. Errthum was a member of the winning team that sought to showcase the diversity of CALS programs and make the rooms accessible to all.
Regardless of where Errthum’s next adventure takes her after graduation, she knows it will involve vegetables and strengthening the skills gained on campus.
“Iowa State has helped grow my ability to think innovatively about creating things and making changes, as well as grow my networks,” she said.
Gathering peers around the One Health concept
Hess said his interest in innovating to make a difference stems from his participation in the Iowa Youth Institute. The annual event brings together students from all over the globe, all interested in improving the world around them.
He saw a similar gathering of students when he was accepted into the CySI (Cyclone Science Innovators) group at Iowa State. The team of nine students, representing majors from across campus, was tasked with combining their innovation skills to identify problems impacting campus and come up with solutions during the spring 2023 semester.
Assigned to be the global health expert on the CySI team, Hess admits that he was unsure what he could bring to the group. Then he thought about everything he was learning about the One Health concept in his classes. One Health seeks to take a multi-disciplinary approach at all levels – from local to global – to improve the health of people, animals and plants, recognizing that all species are connected in some way through the environment.
“It was really rewarding to be in a teaching role, telling my teammates about One Health and seeing all the projects come together under the One Health umbrella,” Hess said.
Those projects included a cookbook, complete with budget-friendly recipes appealing to students of all nationalities using food available at the on-campus SHOP food pantry; an educational advertising campaign centered around healthy living; and a pollinator garden installed at the Student Innovation Center.
“Cooper was an integral part of the CySI team with his background in genetics and global resource systems. His enthusiasm and willingness to teach other students about the One Health initiative sparked a fire in the group and led them down the path of overall health for students,” said Claudia Lemper-Manahl, CySI faculty mentor and associate teaching professor in plant pathology, entomology and microbiology.
With a goal of one day leading a team of researchers that work in disease prevention and treatment, Hess has been gaining hands-on experience as an undergraduate research assistant for Iowa State’s Center for Crops Utilization and Research and C-CHANGE (Consortium for Cultivating Human and Naturally regenerative Enterprises). Working alongside individuals at both facilities trained in fields different than his own has allowed Hess to combine his perspectives with theirs to solve problems.
He encourages fellow students to be flexible and willing to consider different approaches to concepts and tasks.
“Always be open to new ideas or new ways of doing things. That mindset has really helped me,” Hess said.