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Student regent's term to end April 30

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | MARCH 11, 2015 5:00 AM

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Hannah Walsh’s office features corkboards devoted to all of Iowa’s public universities and special schools, each decorated with relevant memorabilia.

University of Iowa senior Walsh has been a member of the state Board of Regents since late 2012. However, her term will end April 30 after being passed over for reappointment by Gov. Terry Branstad.

“I’ve been told so many times from so many different people: do not take this personally, this is not something that you did wrong,” Walsh told The Daily Iowan. “It’s just that it’s a huge opportunity for someone else.”

Instead, the governor chose University of Northern Iowa freshman Rachael Johnson to take her place. The selection is subject to Iowa Senate confirmation.

Walsh will remain at the UI pursuing a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs.

In interviews with various leaders, including a two-term regent and student-government presidents, three words consistently came up when describing Walsh: engaged, active, and involved.

They noted her interest in representing all regent institutions, not just her own school. Walsh said that was something she strove to do and hopes that is continued.

Steven Gettel, the superintendent of both the Iowa School for the Deaf and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School — both regent institutions — noted Walsh’s heavy interest in the special schools.

“She’s always a really strong advocate for the programs for the deaf kids,” he said about Walsh, who is pursuing an American Sign Language certificate. “It is unique to have somebody on the board that has this level of engagement and interest in the work that we do educating deaf kids.”

Gettel said Walsh has “a lot of gumption,” and he is impressed by how articulate and well-versed she is, particularly about the special schools.

This heavy involvement was her biggest accomplishment, Walsh said.

Another key point of her tenure has been building ties with the other two regent universities.

Hillary Kletscher, the president of the Iowa State University Government of the Student Body, said Walsh has taken steps to go to ISU and get to know students there, noting one instance in which she planned a day to visit a campus.

“I was really thankful to see her commitment to learning more about Iowa State so she could really represent our students in an accurate way,” Kletscher said.

Kletscher, who is from Minnesota, also said she appreciated how Walsh has brought out-of-state students forward in discussions over tuition costs.

Out-of-state students are vital and bring “good things” to campus, Walsh said, something that is often missed.

“I think a lot of times it’s very easy to forget about that because we are a public university,” she said. “Really, we were designed to educate Iowans, but that doesn’t negate or lessen the impact that our out-of-state students have on the state of Iowa and the good things that they bring.”

Along with out-of-state students, Walsh believes that more attention needs to be given to graduate and professional students — especially with the proposed funding model. The plan would allocate 5 percent of state appropriations to such resident students — versus 60 percent for in-state undergraduates.

“They’re what makes the state continue on,” Walsh said. “Our dentists, our lawyers, our veterinarians, all of these different professions that we need to maintain our state. They’re our infrastructure, and I think that they a lot of time get put in the background, and I think that we do need to shine a better light on those students.”

A major focus for the regents is working with state legislators, particularly because the Legislature allocates nearly a third of funding for the universities.

Rep. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, said she has always found Walsh to be “very informed” and did “more than required” as regent.

“She was always there,” Stutsman said. “I felt Hannah always gave it her all.”

Walsh said she feels there is a bit of a “stigma” to being the lone student regent.

“Although I hold the same voting power and the same term, etc., as the other regents, it is not seen the same way,” she said. “The student in front of regent is almost synonymous with being lesser, which I don’t think is fair.”

Walsh wants to become an education policymaker in the future, which is something Regent Robert Downer said would be a strong fit.

Walsh’s ultimate ambition for her future is to direct the U.S. Department of Education as well as “to be one half of a power couple,” she said jokingly — with a smile.


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