A Chat with Cath Engstrom, Friend of the Ag Community

CATEGORIES: Foundation Courses

Catherine “Cath” Engstrom started teaching at Iowa State in January of 2012, and has been teaching ISUComm Foundation Courses for the past eleven years. She obtained her undergraduate degree from ISU and later moved on to Purdue for graduate work. 

Cath has a rich and storied 24-year teaching background, her classrooms ranging from high schools to a maximum security prison. When probed about the intensity of precautions she would have had to take at the latter, she said there was “not as much [security checking] as you would think. […] They say to look in your car before you drive off, in case someone’s in it! I still look, to this day.” Of all the different contexts, however, she attests that parenting taught her the most about teaching. Through parenting her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, she learned how to help kids who struggle in academics– “it’s really made me a lot more compassionate and helpful,” Cath says. 

In her Foundation Courses, Cath is mainly responsible for teaching agricultural learning communities. She has a lot of respect for Iowa farmers, having spent thirteen years of her life working for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation nonprofit. The INHF “work[s] with Iowa landowners who want to protect natural lands like prairies, wetlands, or woodlands on their property. So, a lot of these people are farmers.” When there was a space available to work with agricultural students, Cath jumped at the chance to engage with the community again. She finds that her students appreciate having a professor who understands and has great respect for the depth of their labor and convictions. 

Because of her high school teaching experience, Cath is qualified to supervise ISU’s English Education majors during their student teaching phase. She says that “it’s a very hard job,” but worth it. Cath is responsible for a lot of hands-on feedback in her supervision class, visiting each of the students eight times and grading their lesson plans and projects. The class size may be small, but that does not mean that Cath has a light load. Eight visits per student, along with travel time to and from their various schools, really adds up. However, Cath finds that teaching her supervision class on top of Foundation Courses is very rewarding:  “I get people their first and last semesters, and I think those are some of your most teachable moments in your college career. I love seeing students at both ends of the spectrum, and catching them at a time when they’re really eager to learn.”

Cath’s favorite activity to do in Foundation Courses is called “speed dating,” which she testifies that she invented. She usually uses this activity during the outline phase, right before peer review, as a way to offer her students preliminary peer feedback. The students are put in two rows, facing each other, and they talk for a few minutes (it varies by assignment, but usually lasts a minute or less). There are a few “rounds” of one person talking to the other, then vice versa, each on a different aspect of the paper. Cath gives the following example:  “Round one you talk about your paper and your target audience and your purpose. And round two, you talk about what you’re gonna do in your intro. […] Usually there are about four rounds and then they’re tired of it.” She loves speed dating because “the room is just abuzz– […] it’s so rewarding to […] see how excited they are to talk to each other.” 

Cath has many hobbies outside of teaching. She enjoys traveling, baking, and reading when she gets the chance to, and she is part of a book club. She is proud of her quilt collection; of the 15 she owns, Cath’s favorite quilt is an heirloom passed down from Catherine to Catherine through the years. It was made in 1852. Receiving this quilt from her namesake aunt was what “started it all.”

Cath mentions that she has a lot of model papers, PowerPoints, handouts, and other resources that she is happy to share with any Foundation teacher, whether they be seasoned professors or new graduate students. After teaching Foundation Courses every year since 2012, she has accumulated quite the arsenal of resources. Swing by sometime and chat with Cath!