Marlene Strathe is the new director of the School of Education. She wants to make Iowa State the top pick for future educators. Photo by Blake Lanser.

Strathe aims to make Iowa State the top pick for future educators

Marlene Strathe wants the Iowa State University School of Education to be the top choice for students wanting to become teachers, and schools looking to recruit quality teachers.

“I want to see the School of Education become the degree programs of choice for people that are preparing to be educators,” she said. “What I hope is that we will find or continue to find that if I really want a teacher who’s cutting-edge in this area, I go to Iowa State.”

Strathe is the new director of the School of Education. She’s an alumna who came to Iowa State at the age of 17, earned three degrees here, and went on to serve for 18 years as a provost and vice president for academic affairs at universities in Oklahoma, Colorado, and North Dakota.

marlene-strathe-contentJust like Iowa State University empowered her to have a successful career in higher education, Strathe is passionate about empowering the next generation of students and faculty. She envisions continued growth in the school — both in the number of students and in the quality of academic programs offered by the School of Education.

“I’d love for us to be at the place where I can say, ‘We just can’t handle any more students,’” she said.

Some of that is already happening. A growing number of Iowa State students want to become elementary school teachers. Undergraduate enrollment in elementary education grew last fall by 10.7 percent, from 713 to 789, over the previous year.

Diversity key to the future

Strathe’s plan would ensure that Iowa State’s educator preparation programs continue to be research-based, which she said is fundamental in a land-grant institution.

Then, the school will do some planning. Under Strathe’s leadership, the school will identify four or five key strengths it would like to focus on — such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education — and build from there, both in its research and educator preparation.

Strathe said diversity is key to moving forward.

“The real challenge is that we are going to have to prepare educators to work in highly diverse settings,” she said. “We’re finding that we must prepare our teachers for an increasingly different classroom than they came from.”

Marlene-strathe-content-2Diversity in today’s classrooms is about more than ethnicity and gender, Strathe said. It’s about a whole host of ways that the environment is different from just a decade ago — from the rapid advancement of technology to the development of charter schools and magnet schools.

“We have to increase the diversity in our educator forces whether that’s teachers or administrators, K-12 or higher education,” she said. “That’s the leadership for tomorrow. We have to start talking to individuals earlier about the profession of teaching — the importance of teaching and education in changing people’s lives.”

That means more efforts like ISU 4 U Promise, Iowa State’s partnership with the Des Moines Public Schools that will make college more accessible and affordable for students in historically underserved communities. That also means recruiting more men and women to teach or work in areas where they’ve traditionally been underrepresented.

“I think we have to be intentional in a lot of different ways,” Strathe said. “The ethnic issue is one. But I think we need to be much more intentional about recruiting males into elementary education. I think we need to be much more intentional about women in STEM fields. I think we need to think about who can be most effective with our middle school and junior high students.”

Opportunity to give back

Strathe said Iowa State University is an institution that literally changed her life. She sees her new job as director of the School of Education as an opportunity to give back.  

With a background in student affairs, she thought about working once again in that field or becoming a university president. But she chose to stay in academics because she said it better suits her abilities, and she loves working with students and faculty.

“Dr. Strathe will be a wonderful leader for our School of Education,” said Pamela White, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “Her substantial administrative experience will help in shaping the SOE during these early, formative years. Her inclusive and supportive leadership style will help all faculty, staff, and students achieve their greatest potential.”

The School of Education is evolving. While teacher education at Iowa State University dates back to 1868 with the opening of what was then known as Iowa State Agricultural College, the longstanding programs were combined into the School of Education in 2012.

Strathe said her first priority as director will be to build a sense of community. Then comes the planning to move the school forward. Ultimately, she hopes to leave a legacy of doing things with quality and integrity.

“I’ve often been asked the question, ‘At the end of the day if someone had to say one word about you, what would you hope they would say?’” she said. “I hope that they would say, ‘No matter the situation, she did it with integrity.’”