Thursday, February 17, 2022

From its earliest days, the University of Iowa has nurtured the creative spark of experimentation and has become a university dedicated to learning, discovery, health, and culture.

This year’s 39th annual Presidential Lecture features presentations from three of Iowa’s most distinguished areas: health care, writing, and space physics.

The lecture event, titled “The University of Iowa at 175: Proud Legacy, Promising Future,” will take place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, at Hancher Auditorium and will draw to a close a multi-day celebration of the UI’s 175th anniversary. For a complete list of 175th anniversary events, visit

Patricia Winokur, executive dean, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research, and professor of internal medicine in the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, will discuss Iowa’s role in facing COVID-19 and why Iowa is such a great place to study medicine.

Christopher Merrill, director of the International Writing Program, will talk about truth-telling and the many different ways fiction and nonfiction writers have cultivated and continue to cultivate that skill at Iowa.

Craig Kletzing, Donald A. and Marie B. Gurnett Chair in physics and astronomy, will explain Iowa’s rich history in space exploration and space physics, and how Iowa continues to invest in this area thanks to a renewed commitment at Iowa and around the country.

Patricia Winokur

Patricia Winokur

What are you going to discuss during your lecture and why did you choose that topic?

When I was sent the request, it was targeted toward using COVID-19 as a jumping off point. COVID-19 has certainly been impactful and on everybody’s mind for the past two years. We also thought about impacts of different pandemics on the function of the university, the contributions we’ve made over the long haul—developing some of the science behind vaccines and the clinical evaluation of the vaccines. A lot of that played into the topic of my lecture. I plan to use history, the history of the University of Iowa, of infectious diseases, and particularly pandemic pathogens to try to put what we are experiencing today into context of what we’ve seen before.

What are you hoping others take away from your lecture?

There are some really special contributions that the university has made to several pathogens that I will be talking about. The 1918 influenza was one that impacted the university and the world significantly and it came at a time when there was a lot of political strife. You can see in that timeframe the mirroring of some of the social commentary that we are seeing now. You can see some of the history playing out in the science and how Iowans have made some of the important contributions that have allowed us to develop new knowledge about the infections and infectious disease pathogens that are with us today.

What makes Iowa a great place to study infectious diseases and find breakthroughs?

What makes the University of Iowa special is this collaborative spirit that exists. For decades in the College of Medicine, we have had close collaboration between our clinicians and scientists that was set up by a number of our previous leaders. It became the way the University of Iowa approached a problem. Iowa has been conducting team science and collaborative science for 50 years, and it has come about naturally. It’s true with the rest of campus, too. It’s a collaborative place. We’re small enough where we can seek each other out and that helps us make progress faster.

What is the future of the Carver College of Medicine and health care at Iowa?

The 10-year master plan shows that there is a really optimistic future for UI Health Care. It shows our value to the state, that Iowans are getting really top-quality care here. People are seeking us out and that is why we need to grow. The opportunities to expand the campus are necessary so that we can accommodate that growth.

We are the top specialty care program in the state, but we need to develop more relationships around the state so we can help Iowans without requiring them to come to the main campus. That’s what you’re going to see over the next 20 years, developing that system of care and providing more care closer to home for Iowans.

What does it mean to deliver a presidential lecture on the 175th anniversary of the University of Iowa?

I grew up partly in Iowa City then I went to college and medical school elsewhere. I came back for my residency and fellowship and left again to do more postdoctoral training and then came back. You come to appreciate the strength in this institution. People who know academic medicine know how special the University of Iowa College of Medicine and University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics are. It’s not something the everyday person knows. But this is a hidden gem. You come to see that as you leave, and you see that reputation as you’re looking back fondly at the times you’ve had. It’s a great place to work. Many of our colleagues who leave want to come back. It’s an honor to represent the University of Iowa over the long haul. The concept this year of using three different areas is really fun because it shows that we have strength in many different programs. I am honored to share the podium with two esteemed colleagues.

Christopher Merrill

Christopher Merrill

What the topic of your lecture and what are you going to be discussing?

When I was invited to give this lecture, I was tasked with addressing the past and future of the "Writing University." The way I’m approaching it is to talk about truth-telling in all of its different guises, which we cultivate in the "Writing University," whether it’s in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the International Writing Program, the Nonfiction Writing Program, or journalism. Writers tell truths of a different order, and so I will explore some of those truths through a poem by Emily Dickinson, which begins ‘Tell All the Truth, But Tell it Slant’ and goes on to praise “the Truth’s superb surprise.” I expect to talk about some of the ways that has played out in my own life.

What are you hoping people take away from your lecture?

It’s all storytelling and anchored in different types of truth. A fiction writer won’t say they are writing a factual truth, but are hoping to get at central truths of the human condition through their storytelling. A nonfiction writer’s primary allegiance may be to getting the facts right and corroborating what they unearth in their research. At the end of the day, they are in the business of truth-telling but in a different order.

What makes Iowa a great place for writers to thrive?

The story of the "Writing University" is a really great story. You have a dean in the 1920s, Carl Seashore, who makes the decision to grant graduate credit for creative work whether it was writing, music, or art. In a way, that inspired the migration of artists and writers into higher education, to be at a university where you get to interact with a lot of really smart people. That’s a good place for writers to spend at least some of their time. In a way, because we are in the middle of the country and away from the stresses of large metropolitan cities, it’s a good place to get work done. I had a teacher in graduate school who said the reason so many people write well in Iowa is because the winters are so long and cold and there is nothing else to do. A writer needs a good library and time. While Iowa City has a lot going on, there is not a constant tug to be at one thing or another.

How have you seen the University of Iowa continue to support writing?

The International Writing Program grew out of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, thanks to Paul Engle, from Marion, Iowa, who was one of the first to receive a Master of Arts degree in creative writing. He directed the Writers’ Workshop for 24 years from 1941-1965, and many of his students went on to teach in English departments around the country, where they lobbied to teach creative writing, and now there are some 350 graduate creative writing programs in the United States. And when Paul Engle retired, he and his soon-to-be second wife, the Chinese novelist Nieh Hualing, created the International Writing Program, which opened up the magic of Iowa City to the rest of the world. No wonder this became the first UNESCO City of Literature in the New World.

What was your reaction to being chosen to deliver a Presidential Lecture celebrating 175 years of the University of Iowa?

It’s an incredible honor because, among other things, some of my favorite experiences here at the University of Iowa have been listening to these Presidential Lectures. I am thrilled to be in conversation with people from completely different parts of the university.

Craig Kletzing

2019_04_15-Craig Kletzing-tschoon-002.jpg

What is the topic of your lecture?

I will be talking about space physics at Iowa, so I’ll probably spend a third of the lecture talking about the history of space physics here, our department and how it got started, all the kinds of projects we have been involved with, and then talk about the current projects we have going. I’ll finish up with what we have planned for the future and great opportunities. We have a bunch of great, young faculty who are carrying this forward in the future.

What are you hoping listeners take away from your lecture?

People have forgotten a bit, but I will remind them why the building we work in is called Van Allen Hall. Space science was basically invented here at Iowa. We are responsible for the first measurements ever made of a phenomena that led to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts. What I hope people take away is that we have been in this a long time and we are here to stay. Iowa, surprisingly enough, in what some people call a ‘fly over state’, is well-known around the world in this space physics and it’s one of the things in which we’ve maintained international recognition for more than 50 years.

How have you seen the university support your work and your department’s mission?

James Van Allen’s legacy continues to carry weight. We get help for certain things and right now we’re looking into renovations here in Van Allen Hall, but over the last five to 10 years there has been a renewed sense of wanting to remain an international powerhouse, so the university has been a positive force in helping us hire young faculty, which is one of the most important things you can do.

My department used to be narrowly what I would call space plasma physics, and now we also include space-based astronomy. We have more areas of specialty, and they are all synergistic with each other because we are all building instrumentation that goes into space. We use the same facilities, but we have a variety of different areas where funding and projects can go.

What is the future of the Department of Physics and Astronomy?

Keeping our facilities current and up-to-date will be important. The University of Iowa has invested funding that has allowed us to do more of what we call environmental testing right here in our building. There are things like what we call a shake test—the vibration when a rocket launches is tremendous so we always vibrate the instrumentation that we build to make sure it can withstand that. In the past, we have always gone outside the university for that, and shortly we will be able to do that here.

What does it mean to have been chosen for this presidential lecture celebrating 175 years?

It’s a tremendous honor. I have gone to a few of these over the years and it’s always something quite notable for the university. I feel greatly honored to be asked to do this, particularly in the context of our 175th anniversary. It is quite wonderful. Since there are three of us presenting, it will give a flavor of some of the different things we do here at the University of Iowa that sometimes people are not aware of.

About the Presidential Lecture Series

The Presidential Lecture Series provides an opportunity for distinguished faculty members to present significant aspects of their work to the greater university community and general public. The university established the annual series to encourage intellectual communication among the many disciplines that constitute the UI, as well as to provide a public forum for scholarship, research, and creative achievement. The series is made possible by the generosity of donors of unrestricted gifts to the UI Center for Advancement.