Wendy Wintersteen knows firsthand the life-changing difference that an internship can make in shaping a young person’s future.  

While she was an undergraduate at Kansas State University, a professor offered her the opportunity to participate in his research program on a significant regional crop pest — the Southwestern corn borer.  

“Besides learning a lot about biology and entomology, I really discovered a passion for using science to improve people’s lives,” Wintersteen recalled. 

Another pivotal experience for Iowa State University’s president came later when she was a doctoral student at ISU. She led an overhaul of a statewide extension program dealing with pesticide education, at a time when the use of farm chemicals was becoming more restricted by government regulations and therefore politically volatile. 

Through that experience, “I learned how to assemble a team to get helpful feedback and to respond to it, and really to produce a quality program that provided benefits to the farmers that participated,” she said. “The key to that was truly listening to the feedback, and listening to my own intuition about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.” 

Wintersteen is a staunch believer in the value of diversity and leads the university’s efforts to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive campus climate at Iowa State. She is also keenly aware of the tremendous influence she has, not only on thousands of students, but on the state’s future as a whole. 

“As president, I really have the influence to bring to bear for the state the science and innovation of Iowa State University,” she said, “so that we can help Iowa grow its economy and so that we can improve our quality of life, strengthen our communities and help address environmental issues.” 

As Iowa State’s first female president, Wintersteen acknowledges the opportunities she has to serve as a role model for many young women aspiring to lead, whether it’s in academic roles or in other professional areas. 

“I have grandmothers come up to me with their grandchildren and tell me their granddaughter wants to come and study at Iowa State and be an engineer or a veterinarian or whatever it might be,” she said. “And I think it opens up the world even broader to young women, that they too can aspire to be anything they want to be, that they can build their skills and talent and that they can have the confidence to be successful.”

Areas of Influence:

  • She was selected in a national search to become the first woman to lead Iowa State University as president. 
  • During her tenure as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the college ranked in the top 10 in the world and experienced record growth to become the third-largest ag college in the nation. 
  • She represents ISU on numerous state, national and international boards, among them the University Innovation Alliance, Cultivation Corridor, the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Executive Committee, the Business Education Alliance, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities Council of Presidents.