Collaborators & Guest Speakers

Throughout the year, our students were able to collaborate, interview and learn from a wide cross-section of people in our community and many from beyond the county line. They met with local farmers, conservationists, lab scientists, elected officials and a meditation teacher. 

We found that if we're willing to ask questions and listen to the voices of others, our teachers emerge all around us.


Lewis Major - Polk County Naturalist

We met Lewis Major on our field studies / overnight camping trip to Chichauqua Bottoms Greenbelt in September. Major took us to one of the few remaining prairie pothole marshes in Iowa, formed 14,000 years ago when glaciers retreated from the Des Moines Lobe. Students waded knee-deep into hydric soil, ate wild cattail stems, and could smell the biological process of decomposition that created Iowa's world-renowned soils. Major taught us about the tiling of Iowa's marshlands and channelization of our rivers, actions that enabled farmers to grow crops in rich soil, yet forever changed the Iowa landscape, making us one of the "most altered states" in the nation.

Douglas Gayeton - Photographer / information architect

Co-Founder of the Lexicon of Sustainability and Project Localize, Gayeton traveled from his California studio to Ames in September 2015 to teach students elements of composition and how to work with photography subjects in the field. His tutelage continued throughout the year as he critiqued students' information artworks in-process via Skype on multiple occasions. In the spring, he joined students for exhibitions of their work at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and at Eagle Bluff Environmental Center in Lanesboro, Minnesota. In July 2015, Gayeton featured multiple images composed by students in a short film about water quality in Iowa and composed a web site page chronicling their work on his Lexicon of Water site. 

Bill Stowe - CEO / General Manager Des Moines Water works

As CEO of Des Moines Water Works, Stowe is charged with ensuring that the water supply flowing through the taps of 500,000-plus customers in the Des Moines metro area is free of contaminates. In March 2015, the DMWW Board of Trustees voted to sue three drainage districts upstream along the Raccoon River for violations of the Clean Water Act. The case is scheduled to be tried in the Iowa Supreme Court in June 2017. Stowe gave Bluestem students a tour of the nitrate removal facility, one of the largest in the world, and answered students' questions about the law suit. He invited students to present their work to the Water Works Board in June 2015.  

Dan Fagin - Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author

Awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, Dan Fagin's latest book, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, was described by the New York Times as "a new classic in science reporting." 

Bluestem students read Toms River and participated in Socratic Seminars, analyzing Fagin's narrative style and reporting techniques in telling the story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution.  He joined us via Skype and answered students' questions about how he conducted interviews, spoke truth to power, and how he structured the text.

Mary Skopec - Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Mary Skopec visited the Bluestem Institute multiple times to teach students how Iowans become citizen water monitors through IOWATER, Iowa's Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program. On her first visit, Skopec taught students how to test the tap water running through the pipes of Ames High. On her next visit, she led students into Squaw Creek with nets and vials to examine the state of our local watershed. She continued corresponding with student groups throughout the year, answering questions via e-mail to help them understand water quality issues. 

Tom Kaspar - USDA Plant Physiologist

Though he didn't expect to become a model when he agreed to meet us at ISU's research plots at Boyd Farm just west of Ames, Tom Kaspar became a key subject and critical source for multiple student groups during the Water Project. For over a decade, Kaspar and colleagues have studied the use of winter rye as a cover crop in the common corn-soybean rotations in the Midwest and found it can improve soil water dynamics without sacrificing water availability or crop yield, offering another possible solution to the challenge of nutrient sequestration.

Ames City Councilman Tim Garten

Ames City Councilman Tim Garten

Throughout the year, students were invited to consider the public consequences of their personal choices, exploring our place in the complex human systems and ecological systems we are all a part of. To kick off our Community Service Project planning in February, Councilman Tim Garten visited our classroom to share his story of how and why he chose to run for public office and serve our community as a councilman.