David Oliver’s cold, winter treks from home to work will become a bit farther in January.
An associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 2003, Oliver will start a new position in 2013 as interim vice president for research and economic development at Iowa State University.
He’ll move a couple blocks west from Catt Hall to Beardshear Hall. Yet that won’t stop the avid biker from peddling or walking to work from his home east of campus, even on cold winter mornings. A little frost on his beard never slowed him down.
"I wonder if they have a bike rack at Beardshear?" he pondered.
Oliver had planned to step down as an associate dean in LAS and return to his role as a professor in the Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology (GDCB). He even had the first two weeks of lectures planned for the freshman biology course he was to begin teaching in January. Then he accepted an offer from Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost, to take the interim vice president’s position.
He did not like backing out of his teaching gig. "I like being in the classroom – always have," Oliver said. "So I felt guilty leaving the department up in the air."
For years Oliver oversaw research in the college. He worked with LAS departments to help them hire the best researchers available and obtain the instrumentation and facilities needed to support their work. He will do the same in his interim position, only on a university-wide basis.
"The job is to provide what we can to get the people and the infrastructure to make research happen," he said in his usual easy-going manner.
Oliver grew up on a "New England-style" dairy and poultry farm in the rocky soil of upstate New York. He enjoyed science more than farming, so he studied chemistry and biochemistry at nearby Syracuse University.
"I was raised on a farm so at an early age I realized the one thing I didn’t want to do was to be a farmer," he recalled. "So I decided I had to go to college."
He earned a doctorate in 1975 at Cornell University and eventually worked at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. He spent many years on the University of Idaho faculty before becoming ISU’s botany department chair in 1996. Six years later he was set to join the faculty in ISU’s newly formed GDCB department when the new LAS dean, Mike Whiteford, asked him to become interim associate dean of research. Just for a year, Whiteford assured him.
"I knew Mike because he had been the chair of anthropology and I was chair of botany. So alphabetically we were side-by-side at graduation ceremonies," he laughed.
The interim tag soon fell off and Oliver held the position some eight years until 2011 when he became interim college dean upon Whiteford’s retirement. He wore the interim dean’s hat for nearly a year, until the arrival of Dean Beate Schmittmann.
"David has been a wonderful mentor and advisor to me since my arrival on campus," Schmittmann said. "I learned so much from him about the college and the university. He’s a great person and always will be a honored ambassador of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences."
The classroom will always lure Oliver. He taught 10 years while also serving as a department chair and associate dean – and also maintained an active research lab. Because of his new duties, the teaching will have to wait, as will the extended summer kayaking, fishing and kin-visiting vacation he had been planning.
Oliver will be missed in Catt Hall, from explaining complex biological concepts to would-be science writers, to posting photos of his bright-eyed grandchildren near the office coffee pots. His calm demeanor, common sense approach to life and dedication to higher education brand him as one of the truly good guys at Iowa State University.