Program Director Highlights

Our department is here to support faculty and staff that are interested in leading a program through CALS Study Abroad. Click here for a list of services that our department provides to faculty and staff to help implement new and existing programs to students.

Interested in learning more about leading a faculty-led travel course? Contact Mr. Jodi Cornell in the CALS Study Abroad Office, (515) 294-1851.


CALS Study Abroad Program Director Q & A

Lee Burras, Professor in the Department of Agronomy has been leading study abroad programs since 2002.  Lee has led or co-led a total of 20 classes abroad while at Iowa State University including the most common one “Soils & Crops of Costa Rica”.

What programs do you lead?

  • Even though I have been leading programs since 2002, it wasn’t until 2006 when I started leading programs annually.  Other programs include, France (2002), Ecuador (2011), Uruguay (2017) and Uganda (service learning in 2006-2008; Soil Formation in 2018).  I plan to lead/co-lead three more this academic year (Uruguay over Thanksgiving Break; Uganda soils in January 2019; Costa Rica over Spring Break 2019).

Why do you lead study abroad programs?

  • I lead programs because they are easy to do, they are fun to do, and they result in tremendous student learning – both professionally and personally.  They are also highly valued by ISU’s leadership (President, Provost, Deans, etc) and by the students who enrolled. 

What have you learned by leading programs?

  • I have learned a tremendous amount of technical details about soils, agriculture, the environment, and government by leading courses.  More importantly I keep improving my knowledge of why culture and how the people’s culture of a place must be understood and respected if I want anything I know to be understood, respected and – ideally – used.  Every trip I take also thoroughly reinforces in me that 99.999% of people are smart, kind and interesting.  That applies to our students and in-country hosts, hotel staff, etc. 

What have been most memorable about leading study abroad programs?

  • The most memorable aspects of my classes have been great people, beautiful and fascinating locales (including impressive soil profiles), wonderful food, and great lodging.   Pretty much the only negatively memorable experience has to do with the stress of getting groups through TSA-type security at airports while making sure we have enough time to catch a flight and no one gets bumped --- but that stress reflects that an airport is pretty much the part of a study abroad experience where a Program Leader has the least influence on what might go on.  Obviously it is a pretty manageable stress, too.  Otherwise I wouldn’t keep leading programs. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

  • In my free time I like to travel with Lori (my wife), try interesting restaurants, read, and now and then take a fitness class. 

What advice do you have for someone interested in leading or co-leading a study abroad program?

  • First, do it!  Second, work with the CALS Study Abroad Office in setting it up. 

What advice do you have for students interested in participating in a study abroad program?

  • A student should study abroad because it will help her/him understand who she/he really is while also better informing them about what they actually know and where they are from.   As a result, their personal and professional lives gain greater perspective, which seems kind of important if someone wants to be genuinely happy.  Oh – and the student will learn a lot of technical material while also making lifelong friends and eating great food in an exotic setting. 

Aside from leading study abroad programs, Lee was recently highlighted in the most recent “Stories” for his exceptional work in the classroom, Creating the future, teaching to serve.


Kevin Duerfeldt, Cargill Global Resource Systems Lecturer in Global Resource Systems and the Department of Horticulture has been leading international travel opportunities since 2010. Kevin has led programs to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Uganda, China and Brazil. Below are some reasons why Kevin leads study abroad programs and how he gained an interest in international travel.

When did you start leading programs?

  • I started assisting with and co-leading study abroad programs in 2010 while working with the EARTH Program, St. John, USVI as a graduate assistant.

What programs have you led?

  • EARTH Program St. John USVI 2010-2014
  • Uganda Service Learning Program 2015-2018
  • Global Food and Agriculture China 2016 and 2017
  • Global Food and Agriculture Brazil 2018

Why do you lead programs?

  • As a student, I participated in travel programs to Europe, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica.  These experiences were life changing, expanded my world view to consider perspectives of other people, allowed me to think about how global events impact people around the world, and completely changed my career path.  As an instructor, I want to make those same opportunities available to my students and continue learning about the world to improve my courses.

What would you say to faculty that are considering leading a program?

  • Traveling with students can be both one of the most rewarding and one of the most challenging aspects of teaching at Iowa State University.  On top of the regular course management responsibilities you now have to manage recruitment, travel logistics, and your personal culture/travel shock while helping students through their culture shock.  But, you'll never form as strong of relationships with your students or get to know them in a more meaningful way as you do when traveling abroad with them.  The CALS Study Abroad Office is awesome with helping leaders figure out all aspects of planning and leading travel programs.

What have you learned by leading programs?

  • Leading travel programs has also allowed me to learn about the world and agriculture production in different regions, giving me stories and information to add to my on-campus courses. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

  • I mainly spend time in my garden and play with my Australian shepherd, Arago. I also like to go to events around Ames with friends, and work on my family’s farm in Southeast Nebraska.

How do you encourage students to study abroad?

  • I mainly try to get them to understand that where ever they go it will be a life changing experience and that it will never be as easy to travel as it is now.  Once they’ve gone once they’re usually ready to go again!

Mary Wiedenhoeft, Professor in the Department of Agronomy has been co-leading a travel course to New Zealand since 2007. Below are some questions that we asked Mary about leading faculty-led study abroad programs through the CALS Study Abroad Office.

What program do you co-lead?

  • The “Agricultural Systems of New Zealand” is a 2-week program to the North Island of New Zealand. Leo Timms (Animal Science) and I have led this program in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2016 and will be leading it again this fall (2018).

Why do you lead study abroad programs?

  • My appreciation for international travel started in June 1978, when I was a junior in Agronomy at Iowa State University.  During that time, I participated in a 4-week travel course to 13 different countries in 30 days, on a bus, planes, and ferries.  The opportunity allowed me to visit historical landmarks, as well as, farms and agricultural industries in Europe. When I returned to teach at Iowa State in 1999, I was still interested in international travel, but wanted to wait until my children were older to pursue leading a travel course thru the Department of Agronomy. In the summer of 2006, I was contacted by Shelley Taylor in the CALS Study Abroad Office asking if I had an interest in co-leading a program to New Zealand with Dr. Leo Timms from the Department of Animal Science. I knew it was the right time! With my previous experience and contacts in New Zealand we started the “Agricultural Systems of New Zealand” faculty-led study abroad program.

Why should other faculty and staff consider leading a program?

  • Although leading a travel course can be a lot of work, many of the programs have at least one additional co-leader to help with the planning, logistics and travel. I personally have enjoyed learning more about myself while traveling abroad and working to enhance some of my personal skills. I have also enjoyed interacting with the students on a more personal level and watching them grow as they step out of their comfort zone.

What have you learned by leading programs?

  • Every time I travel abroad, I am reminded that there are so many different cultures and each culture has their own way of doing things. I have also had the opportunity to learn first-hand about agriculture and different farming techniques around the world. I recently had the opportunity to see an avocado tree!

What has been most memorable about leading a program?

  • Watching students learn about a different culture and also better understand their personal culture. I also enjoy watching students with no prior international experience step out of their comfort zone and understand that it is alright.

Is there a place that you would like to visit, but haven’t?

  • I have always wanted to visit (historical) Eastern European areas such as Bosnia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Prague and many others. Africa, Central America and Antarctica are also on my bucket list!

What do you like to do in your free time?

  • I love traveling as well as cooking, reading, biking and hanging out with people. I also like learning more about history.

Why should students study abroad?

  • Because they get to better understand their culture as well as learn about different cultures.
  • They get to step out of their comfort zone.
  • They get to learn about things in other countries that we don’t necessary teach about at Iowa State. For example, tropical agriculture or irrigations systems that we don’t use in the Midwest.

Dr. Jack Dekkers, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Science has led 2 two-week study abroad programs to the Netherlands. The first program was in 2013, focusing on dairy science and horticulture, and the second program in 2017, focusing on animal science. Below are some questions that we asked Dr. Dekkers about leading a faculty-led study abroad program.

  • Why do you lead study abroad programs?
    • I am originally from the Netherlands and enjoy the opportunity to show our students my home country. In addition, the Netherlands provides some unique perspectives in agriculture, that are very educational for our students. The Netherlands is very strong in agriculture (# 2 exporter of agricultural products, after the US), which is remarkable, considering that fact that the Netherlands is 1/3 the size of Iowa and has 16 million people. Having so much agriculture production, including animal agriculture, in such a small country with so many people obviously brings some unique challenges with it, including issues related to odor, manure, water quality, and animal disease and welfare related issues. Although these issues are also relevant in Iowa, they are much more at the forefront in the Netherlands. In addition, the Netherlands is also at the forefront of the use of mechanization and technology in livestock production (e.g. milk robots), and in agriculture in general.
  • What is most memorable about leading a study abroad program?
    • Going on bike rides with the students through the beautiful Dutch landscape.
  • Why should other faculty and staff consider leading a program?
    • It’s a unique experience to interact with our students on a one-on-one basis and give them a unique and important educational and life experience. In addition, it is an opportunity to visit, learn, and build or maintain connections with another country (or show students about your home country, as in my case).
  • Why should students study abroad?
    • Study abroad programs provide unique educational experiences that you can’t get on campus. They open your eyes, not only to what you will see and experience in the country you visit in terms of agricultural production methods, challenges, and culture, but also, by contrast, the insight it provides you on practices and culture in your home state or country; it’s not until you see how something can be done differently that you realize why things work the way they do in your home state or country.
  • What do you like to do in your free time?
    • Gardening, projects on and around our lake home, biking (RAGBRAI), and being a grandfather (Opa in Dutch) to our 20-month-old grandson.