Breaking down the big game
This Saturday is the most anticipated day in the state of Iowa. It’s the day when students from the two largest state-sponsored universities duke it out for 60 minutes on the gridiron. When the final buzzer sounds, we will know the answer to the age-old question: which school is the best? To answer that question we will have to examine the storied histories of these two illustrious academic institutions.
Many of the nation’s political bigwigs have donned the cardinal and gold, none more prominent than U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, who served under FDR from 1941-1945. Wallace developed the first commercial hybrid corn and founded the first hybrid corn seed company, Pioneer. Roosevelt appointed this farm boy from Orient to be his Secretary of Agriculture in 1933 before adding his name to the presidential ticket seven years later. Other politically influential alumni include current Republican Congressman Tom Latham and Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack, as well as former U.S. Agricultural Secretary Ezra Taft Benson, who later became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Hawkeyes’ cheer section is chalked full of stars from television and the silver screen. Ashton Kutcher, known for his role in “That ‘70s Show” and most recently as Charlie Sheen’s replacement in “Two and a Half Men,” studied at the U of I. Tom Arnold sported the black and gold colors of his alma mater during his tenure as the host of Fox Sports Net's “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.” Iowa also claims the former host of NBC Nightly News for 22 years, Tom Brokaw. The Hawkeyes’ most vocal supporter (in more ways than one) is operatic bass singer Simon Estes, who is still belting out music at the age of 74.
The Cyclones outlasted the Hawkeyes a year ago in triple overtime. ISU was undoubtedly inspired by the perseverance of alumnus Tom Harkin, one of the longest serving members of the U.S. Senate at 27 years and chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This year, look for the Hawkeyes to surge late in game, taking after one of their alumni, Terry Branstad. When Branstad left office in 1999, he was the longest serving governor in the state’s history at 16 years. And yet, Branstad had enough left in the tank for another run a decade later, when he found his second wind and won his fifth term in the capitol.
The two schools have a long history of civil rights promotion. The University of Iowa was the first public university in the country to admit men and women on an equal basis (in 1860) and the first to admit students regardless of race. Among its most distinguished alumni are Martha Angle Dorsett, the first woman admitted to the bar in Minnesota, and Juanita Kidd Stout, the first black woman to serve on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The U of I also produced the first female Republican governor, Kay Orr, who presided over Nebraska from 1987 to 1991.
Iowa State’s first black student is among the most famous students in its history: George Washington Carver. Carver promoted alternative crops to cotton such as soybeans, sweet potatoes and most notably, peanuts, a crop for which he devised over 100 uses. Incidentally, Carver and the aforementioned Wallace were friends, and three of Carver’s ISU professors would go on to become U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture. The Cyclones also claim one of the leaders of the women’s rights movement, Carrie Chapman Catt. Catt was the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the founder of the League of Women Voters. She campaigned for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in 1920.
The sign of a good quarterback is one who can think on his feet and create a play after the original one has broken down. Creativity comes easily to students at the U of I, famous for its graduate-level writing program called the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Forty Pulitzer Prize winners have graced its campus as students or faculty.
Iowa graduates famous for their pens and paintbrushes include Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Tennessee Williams and painter Grant Wood, widely known for his portrait, “American Gothic.” Other Hawkeye inventors and discoverers are Everett Lindquist, creator of the ACT, Ignacio Ponseti, who developed a brace for treating clubfoot, and James Van Allen, who discovered the radiation belts around the earth that bear his name.
Not to be outdone, Iowa State has shown its creative side with the vast array of public art scattered throughout Ames. The university has 600 works of art on campus, more than any other university.
Among the Cyclones’ most prized inventions is the first digital computer, created in 1942. The machine was invented by physics professor John Atanasoff and his graduate student Clifford Berry (hence the name “Atanasoff-Berry Computer” or “ABC”). Unlike other computing devices before it, the ABC performed calculations electronically rather than mechanically and it used binary digits to represent all numbers.
Crunching the numbers
During Saturday’s game, you will probably hear a lot of numbers thrown around such as average yards per carry and pass completion percentage. Iowa State was the birthplace of academic statistics in the U.S. when it opened the first statistics department in 1934. George Snedecor, the founder of the department, authored, “Statistical Methods,” one of the most influential texts in the history of statistics. Snedecor was also one of the first people to use Atanasoff’s computer.
While Snedecor developed many statistical techniques in academia, the man responsible for spreading statistical insights to the masses was University of Iowa graduate Darrell Huff. In 1954, Huff wrote the book “How to Lie with Statistics,” which outlined several common fallacies in the field and the ways in which statistics are often intentionally misrepresented in graphs.
Both schools recruit heavily outside the United States, and many of those students have gone on to impressive careers in their home countries. Iowa State alumnus Lee Teng-hui reached the highest office in his native Taiwan, ascending to the presidency in 1988. In 1996, Lee selected Wu Jin as his minister of education. Wu received his college diploma from, you guessed it, the University of Iowa. Perhaps that is a lesson for all of us. No matter which school wins on the field Saturday, we’ll all congregate as friends on Sunday and work together as colleagues on Monday.