Celebrating Martha’s 30 year career with Iowa State University

Martha’s 30 years with Iowa State University began in Elm hall, yes really!

Martha started with the Center for Family Research in Rural Mental Health (1991 to 1997)


Martha was hired as a Research Associate, and was promoted to Field Director in 1994. When she started with the group, they were housed in the basement of Elm Hall on campus. They were in the area that CWRTP had, plus farther South past the vending machines and around the corners. After maybe a year or two they eventually moved out to the ISU Research Park. Does this sound familiar?


The Center was founded as a consortium of faculty members from Sociology and Psychology in response to the farm crisis of the 1980s. The research investigated preventive interventions and economic and family factors influencing behavioral and mental health outcomes for families. The initial project was the Iowa Youth and Families Project, which studied 451 rural Iowa families. This project was then replicated with an African American cohort in rural Georgia, and with Native American families in Minnesota, and Martha got to participate in developing and training for these projects.


Martha developed, documented, and delivered training protocols to field interviewers who visited rural Iowa families to collect questionnaire data and film family interactions which were later scored for things like voice tone, eye contact, physical touch, warm or harsh interactions, etc. Because this was a longitudinal study, the families were revisited every year for a period, then every two years, then after five years, and so on. They eventually were interviewing the grown children of the original families, some with spouses and children of their own.


Martha also worked on training and data collection for a survey project about Midwest runaway and homeless adolescents in St. Louis and Omaha.


Next Martha worked with the Office of Sponsored Programs Administration (1997 to 2003)


Martha started working at the Office of Sponsored Programs (formerly known as the Contracts and Grants Office) as a Systems Support Specialist III. Martha remembers telling the Director during her interview that she knew some fundamentals about database design, and if he was prepared to hire someone who wasn’t quite ready to hit the ground running but was willing to learn, she was the one for him. Lucky for her, he knew even less about databases than she did, so he hired her! Martha had two computer science grad students she supervised, worked closely with a programmer from the Durham Center, and took some classes/workshops to get herself up to speed. Martha was housed on the second floor of Beardshear Hall, then moved to the basement of Pearson Hall four years later.


Martha’s biggest accomplishment in this position was overseeing the migration of their historical database into Oracle. After lots of testing, the changeover went off without a hitch. Martha’s favorite part of the job was going around to different offices on campus and training people to use the reporting software to pull data about their department’s sponsored programs funding, sorted by faculty member. Martha met many people around campus doing this and really enjoyed devising different way to explain how to use the program depending on the individual’s learning style. 



Since 2003, Martha has been working with the Child Welfare Research and Training Project (2003 to present)


Martha was hired as a Human Service Specialist and eventually reclassified as an Instructional Designer II. Martha was originally housed in the no-longer-standing Andrews-Richards House (next to where the Hixson-Lied Student Success Center is today), then moved into the basement of Elm Hall (full circle, back to her ISU salaried employment roots!).


Martha has been providing in-person and online training for Iowa Child Support workers for the past 18 years through an annual contract between Iowa State University and the Iowa Department of Human Services. Over the years, Martha has gravitated to the kind of training that involves soft skills and communication work with customers. She loves these kinds of training topics because she gets to explore human psychology, brain science, and behavioral research. She also gets to brainstorm about big ideas and how to make the world a better place, even if it’s only baby steps.


Martha is the go-to person for face-to-face training. When this type of project emerges as a need, Iowa Child Support leadership immediately requests Martha lead the effort. She has provided communication, team building, and customer experience workshops statewide, as well as large-scale prisoner re-entry and domestic violence awareness simulations.


Impact Iowa State University has had on Martha’s life over the last 30 years (in her own words)


It’s had a tremendous impact!


To start with, let me describe my closest family members and their connections to Iowa State. My father was a professor at ISU (Physics, then Electrical Engineering, then the first head of Computer Science, and retired from Computer Engineering), and my mother was the first woman to graduate from ISU’s Geology Department.


My husband Russ completed an MS in Industrial Technology at Iowa State and recently retired as a faculty member in the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department. On top of that, my daughter Maggie recently finished her undergraduate degree at Iowa State with majors in History and Anthropology, and minors in German and Linguistics.


So, through three generations, my connection to ISU runs quite deep, and spans the entirety of my life.


In addition to my salaried positions, here are additional “connections” I’ve had with Iowa State:


  • I completed an MA in Anthropology (Thesis: Dietary habits and obstetrical service utilization by pregnant and lactating Tai Dam women in central Iowa, 1995) and an MS in Economics (Thesis: Socio-economic and environmental factors that influence growth patterns in Haitian children, 1990).


  • I also worked part time as a Field Supervisor for the Anthropology Department (out of East Hall) doing Iowa Native American and historical archaeology during the summer months, Teaching Assistant in both the Anthropology and Economics departments, and as a Graduate Assistant in ISU’s World Food Institute (located in the no-longer-standing E.O. Building next to Beardshear).


  • I also taught calligraphy classes at The Workspace (in the ISU Memorial Union) and even worked as a Memorial Union food server when I was in high school… wow, haven’t thought about that in a long time. We had to wear hair nets – SO not cool.


  • In addition to paid positions with Iowa State, I also blew glass with the Gaffers Guild for several years, helped found an international women’s group that met in Sloss House, and completed the Master Gardener’s program through ISU Extension.


  • Although I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my life, some of my favorite trips were the result of my ISU connections. In 1983 I participated in an ISU-Cyprus exchange program where I did two months of volunteer work for the Cypriot Wildlife and Fisheries Department maintaining sea turtle nesting sites, and in 1987 I tagged along on an ISU Russian class trip to the old Soviet Union, visiting the capitals of Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia. In the late 80s I took a class in the ecology department that included a class field trip to hike and study the area around Escalante, Utah, and in the late 90s I took a marine biology class that included a class trip to study at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences in Honduras.


Not surprisingly, the thread running through my life has always been about learning and teaching – these are the things that I’m drawn to. Sometimes I wish I’d had a broader background than the one I do (growing up and living in academia is absolutely a privileged bubble), but I’ve had a very rich life, and I attribute that in large part to my connections to Iowa State. I guess you could say ISU is kind of embedded in my DNA – without it, I wouldn’t be me!