Gansemer-Topf brings student success experience to the School of Education

Ann Gansemer-Topf’s quest to improve student success has included finding solutions for the “sophomore slump.”

One of her studies looked at how the second year of students’ college experience compared to their first year. She analyzed the challenges of second-year students socially and academically to help students who might be struggling. These efforts led to the development of a more comprehensive focus and support for students in their second year.

“The first year, everything’s exciting,” Gansemer-Topf said. “In the second year, you still have pressure and you’re not far enough along yet to see the end. It’s called the sophomore slump.”

Gansemer-Topf, an assistant professor in the School of Education, had experience in the areas of institutional research, admissions, residential life, academic advising, new student orientation, and assessment before joining the Iowa State faculty.

At Iowa State, she teaches graduate-level courses in student affairs, research and evaluation, and higher education policy. She said she focuses on students developing both scholarly skills and practical experience in her courses. She said she wants to help students develop applicable professional skills, not easily gleaned from textbooks.

“Students in our discipline not only need to know that higher education organizations are complex, but how to manage and lead within this complexity” Gansemer-Topf said. “The interactions you have are just as important as the discipline you’re studying.”  

Focusing on student success

Gansemer-Topf received her master’s degree in higher education and Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies from Iowa State. Her research interests encompass student success. She said she has a passion for understanding how college students and their campus environments contribute to student learning and degree completion.

“As a higher education practitioner, I focus a lot on assessment,” Gansemer-Topf said. “What is assessment? It’s about asking what is the purpose and is what we’re doing the most effective it could be? These fundamental questions serve to guide my research and teaching.”

ann-secondary_0Most recently, she’s examining institutional expenditures. She said higher education has gone through a significant funding shift and she is looking at where resources are best allocated to meet students’ needs.

“Do we put [resources] in faculty? Do we add more student support services? Do we put it in financial aid?” Gansemer-Topf asked. “Where do we put our resources and can we tease out if that makes a difference to overall student success?”

Challenging students

Gansemer-Topf joined the Iowa State faculty in January 2012.

“As an instructor, I work to integrate what research tells us regarding student success — challenge and support the students,” Gansemer-Topf said. “Connecting teaching pedagogy to learning is both difficult and rewarding. There are many tools and techniques that can be used in teaching. Discovering those that best enhance student learning is an on-going, iterative process.”

Cameron Beatty, a graduate student in the School of Education, is a former research assistant to Gansemer-Topf. She now serves on his dissertation committee.

“Dr. Gansemer-Topf is an honest faculty member who only wants to see her students succeed and holds all of her students to high standards,” Beatty said. “I appreciate she doesn’t need nor want excuses, but just expects quality work. I will be a better professional because of her.”

Beatty said Gansemer-Topf challenges him to consider the implications that his work provides for student affairs professionals and the practice of advancing student success.

“She taught me the importance of holding students accountable for their own learning and the role of the instructor in that process,” Beatty said.  


Ann Gansemer-Topf, assistant professor, School of Education, Iowa State University, 515-294-7635, anngt@iastate.edu

Matthew Leimkuehler, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-9424, hswriter@iastate.edu