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Newest regents settling in

BY BEN MARKS | JUNE 18, 2015 5:00 AM

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Three months ago the state Board of Regents gained some new members.

In early March, Gov. Terry Branstad nominated Mary Vermeer Andringa, Patricia Cownie, and Rachael Johnson for positions on the board, and they were officially approved by the Iowa Senate a few weeks later.

Officially taking office May 1, they have spent the last month settling in and adjusting to regent life, something Cownie said comes with a large amount of homework.

“Let me tell you, there’s a lot of reading that comes with being a regent,” she said. “It’s honestly like a part-time job, I get a lot of information almost every day.”

Andringa is also dealing with the large amount of preparation required as a regent, while acting as CEO of Vermeer Corp., her family’s international agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturing company.

She is planning on stepping down as CEO in November while still remaining board chairman, which she said is one of the reasons she was approached to be a regent. However, she said she misjudged the timeline of the two positions.

However, despite the learning curve, Cownie said she said she feels like she is well prepared for the role of regent due to her 15 years on the Drake University Board of Trustees.

“Whether the school is small or large, private or public, most of the problems are the same,” she said.

A lifetime resident of Des Moines, Cownie has served on a number of boards for various organizations, including the Des Moines Opera, Mercy Hospital Foundation, Des Moines Arts Festival, and the Des Moines Civic Center.

However, including the regents, she currently only serves on two boards because of the time commitment.

Johnson is also settling down in her role as regent, and said although the process has been tough, she has enjoyed it so far.

“There have been so many nice genuine people I’ve met throughout even my short time on the board, she said. “That’s my favorite part so far, the people.”

From Sioux City, Johnson is the student regent and is a sophomore at the University of Northern Iowa.

Pursuing a degree in elementary and middle level education, Johnson said, being on the board ties in closely to her major.

“I just felt that going into the field of education, I should be very informed on issues that will affect education across the state of Iowa and in our nation,” she said.

Johnson has served in several similar areas before such as the vice president for the Iowa Association of Student Councils and a senator in the Northern Iowa Student Government.

However, she said, her greatest strength on the board is simply being a student.

“I’m the only student on the board, so I know what issues are currently being faced by our 78,000 students,” she said. “I can hear from them and bring their voice and opinion back to the board and say this is what the students are feeling.”

Andringa also said she feels her strength is her close connection with students. By working at Vermeer, she said she knows exactly what employers are looking for in graduates and workers, not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well.

“I understand that world really well because I live it,” she said. “Understanding how the workforce today is different than how it was ten years ago and what is going to be needed in the future.”

With this knowledge, Andringa said she hopes she can adapt curriculum and majors for the various colleges to increase their relevance to the working world, although she said her main goal right now is simply listening and learning as much as she can about each school.

During her time on the board, Cownie said she has two major goals, the first of which is student debt.

“It’s a horrible thing to carry with you while you’re starting out in life and so I want to try to work on that,” she said.

Cownie’s second goal is campus security.

“It’s not that it’s changed over the years, but it’s more visible and people are more concerned and there is certainly more publicity about it,” she said.

Other concerns for her include class size, especially for first year students, and performance based funding, which she said has some valid concerns associated with it.

Despite their goals, meetings and busy schedules however, the regents are also hoping to take some time for themselves to pursue their own interests, especially during the summer months.

Currently, Johnson is at work for the ARC of Woodbury County, a nonprofit that works to support individuals with intellectual disabilities.

In addition to spending more time with their families, Andringa and Cowie both said they have some summer reading to catch up on.

In the end however, despite all the work and preparation, all the regents said they are eager to begin their term on the board.

“It’s an incredible learning experience and such a great opportunity that I’m lucky to have that a lot of people don’t have the chance to do,” Johnson said.


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