Riley Wilgenbusch named fall 2020 CALS Outstanding Senior

October 30, 2020

Riley Wilgenbusch, senior in agronomy and global resource systems, was named this semester's CALS Outstanding Senior. The award recognizes a senior who has shown exceptional effort in leadership, service, and academia.

"I'm truly humbled to receive this award. To be considered among such a talented group of individuals is such an honor. I know that this isn’t solely my work being recognized," said Riley. "The faculty and staff have so well supported me in the Agronomy and Global Resource Systems Departments, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences administration, and university administrators, plus countless other peers, friends, and family who all helped me achieve these goals, push myself to do the next right thing, and comfort me when things were particularly challenging."

Riley took advantage of many opportunities during his time at Iowa State. One of his favorite experiences was traveling to multiple countries to learn and develop as an individual and agronomist.

"I traveled first to Rome, Italy, where I worked with eight other students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on a research paper focused on the sustainability implications of a global shift toward plant-based diets for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. After a month there, I took a few days of personal travel to other parts of Italy and to visit an old friend in Germany," said Riley. "I departed Europe bound for a public health internship with the Iowa State University—Uganda Program in Kamuli, Uganda. While In Kamuli, I worked with the Kamuli Mission Hospital and Iowa State’s Nutrition Education Centers. I also had opportunities to teach in primary schools, visit other hospitals throughout Uganda, harvest cacao, and visit some beautiful parks and landmarks."

Riley also had extensive research experience as a student. In his first year, Riley worked on a semester-long agricultural meteorology project with Dr. Taylor from the Agronomy Department through the First-Year Honors Program, as well as an independent honors biology research project on the bioethical implications of alternative vaccine delivery methods with Dr. Kukday from the Department of Genetics, Development, and Cell Biology.

"Entering my second year on campus, I was hired to work with the United States Department of Agriculture at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment on campus. While I haven’t conducted any of my own research, I’ve been part of the data collection and analysis process for a range of agricultural and environmental research studies on water quality and soil health. I still work with this lab three years later and enjoy the experiences and opportunities I’ve had there!"

Riley's most notable research experience was through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean's Global Agriculture and Food Leadership Program. Through a professional development class focused on leadership development through research, Riley worked with other students on evaluating the nutritional, economic, and environmental impacts of the ongoing global shift toward plant-based diets. They presented their research to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' livestock policy division. They were fortunate to have been accepted to present again a few months later at the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock’s Multi-stakeholder Partnership Meeting.

"As my time as an undergraduate student draws to a close, I continue working on a research project for my Global Resource Systems senior capstone project. This research is evaluating the effectiveness of foreign aid on long-term health systems development in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone following the 2014 Ebola epidemic that devastated the region," said Riley.

Looking at the curriculum, Riley enjoyed Agronomy 342: World Food Issues. This class prepared him for his second major in global resource systems and challenged how he thought about food and his career within the food system. He loved the class so much that he was a teaching assistant this semester to support other students' learning. Riley also noted that he enjoyed Agronomy 180: Global Agriculture in a Changing World. This class took an approach that focused more on the challenges that farmers and everything in between face due to global climate change and production and consumption pattern changes.

"I’m grateful to have been selected for unique leadership development classes during my time at Iowa State (excluding the Dean’s Leadership Program in Rome). The first of these was the President’s Leadership Class, which I took my freshman year as one of thirty selected first-year students. We met every week with former president Dr. Steven Leath and other leaders from across campus to learn about professionalism, leadership, communication, and tap into our growth potential," said Riley.

Riley has also won several other awards, including Second-Place Winner in the World Food Prize Food systems Dashboard Competition 2020, CALS Convocation Speaker for Fall 2020, Fred Foreman Scholarship for Growth in Leadership Participation, Agronomy Academic Fellowship, and Distinguished Innovative Idea Presentation Award – American Association of Agricultural Educators.

"In my time at Iowa State, I also was involved in the impactful organization, Dance Marathon. While I’ve been involved, the program has raised over $1.3 million for the children’s hospital, including a $700,000 pledge to fund a revolutionary hemodynamics program that provides specialty care for premature babies and their fragile hearts. I had the pleasure of serving as an events director for Dance Marathon 2019 and 2020, and am currently learning so much as an executive director for the program for Dance Marathon 2021," said Riley.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Ambassadors were privileged to have Riley as an ambassador since his first year on campus. In his time, Riley helped pioneer diversity and inclusion efforts centered around Iowa State’s Principles of Community by evaluating the organization’s language and practices. He helped carry out a program review and implemented new programming to increase the organization’s reach. The group also helped thousands of students find their Cyclone home on campus.

"If I could give one piece of advice to myself four and a half years ago, it would be: don’t wait until you’re ready. Waiting until you’re ready is risking the opportunity altogether. The Agronomy Department and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences only want to see you succeed, and they will do whatever it takes to help you get there. Be willing to take the risk, meet new people, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and open your mind to new ideas. Doing so will lead to more opportunities and experiences than you ever could have imagined when you said yes to Iowa State and the Agronomy Department," said Riley.

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