Source: Iowa State University
The Jeff and Deb Hansen Agriculture Student Learning Center is unique to Iowa State University, the state of Iowa and much of the Midwest. From everyday classroom and lab areas for courses to professional development space for internal and external groups, and from formal receptions to club meetings, this multipurpose building serves a multitude of purposes and hosts thousands of people each year.
Located at 2508 Mortensen Road near the old ISU Dairy Farm, the HASLC was the culmination of years of fundraising and planning efforts by many people, including former animal science department chair Maynard Hogberg.
“I was involved in building a pavilion at Michigan State,” Hogberg said. “The pavilion is a place for student-animal interaction, which had a tremendous positive impact. Iowa State did not have this type of pavilion, and we needed a place that could make sure we are producing the types of students that the industry needs.”
That was in 2006.
The next few years saw continued emphasis on the need for this building through seeking financial contributions from potential donors and planning for the building itself. In 2013 all funding was committed.
“HASLC was fully built on donors, including Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Iowa Beef Breeds, Midwest Dairy Association, Farm Credit Services of America and Farmhouse Fraternity,” Hogberg said. “Families including the Marv Walter family, John and Sandee Bonner, and Jeff and Deb Hansen donated as well. Major contributors were recognized with named rooms and spaces in the new facility.”
In January 2014, the building opened its doors. Demand for use of the various spaces started almost immediately.
The first semester HASLC was open, there were three employees: a manager, a mechanical and equipment assistant, and an assistant manager.
“In the beginning it was me, Rod Berryman and undergraduate student Sarah Smith,” said HASLC manager Marshall Ruble.
In short order, Ruble said he realized the building needed a public presence to publicize and promote the facility and its many potential uses to groups, organizations and associations outside ISU. So, he added another undergraduate opportunity in the form of a public relations intern position.
Former publics relations intern Lauren Houska said that choice was a strategic success.
“Before, if somebody were to Google the building, there was nothing,” Houska said. “The building needed a website for information and a calendar. Social media was a tool to showcase student activities, involvement and to elevate what the donors put into the building.”
Not only did Houska help HASLC make an impression through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, she worked to develop an annual portfolio that showcases the variety and growth of events each year. This portfolio has since become a major project for the PR intern.
The building provides a large open space that allows for livestock-human interaction as well as events outside of agriculture.
“We have undergraduate classes, club meetings, the Ames Home and Garden Show, donor events, concerts, and leading Republican and Democratic parties that utilize the building,” Ruble said. “We’ve even had a circus bring in an elephant.”
As the number of events hosted in the building continued to climb, Ruble found a need for more workers.
“Maynard and I agreed we wanted to model the student farms and have student workers,” he said.
And that’s just what happened. HASLC employment averages nine to eleven undergraduate students per semester. These staff members assist in setting up and tearing down events, cleaning, landscaping and running equipment. Throughout the years Ruble has received comments that show him that student workers are truly the right choice for the building.
“During an event, I heard someone was dreading coming to the building because of allergies. While talking with her after being in the building for a while, she figured we hardly had livestock,” Ruble said. “I was happy to tell her that seventy-two hours ago in the arena she was sitting in, we had one-hundred plus head of cattle.”
Over the years, the staff has learned to make quick transitions between events, according to Sarah Smith, who was assistant manager from opening day through December 2017.
“That first semester we were just doing things to get by,” she said. “We’d first try something and then tweak it until it becomes efficient so flips can be made.”
The sheer number of events at HASLC has ensured that employees learn to do some tight flips.
“Last summer we went from Sheep and Wool Festival to a seven-day Junior National Cattle Show,” Ruble said.
Although the work can be difficult some days, current assistant manager Sarah Orban said having hard-working students as part of the staff allows the building schedule to run efficiently.
“The work we do here can be hard, but the events that we have in here can be anything and everything, which is cool to be a part of,” she said.
Above all, the building provides opportunities for students that were just dreams a few short years ago. And that’s why the building exists.
“Hansen is just a building, but the people are what make it important,” Smith said.