Eric O. Hoiberg was the second person I met in Ames, Iowa after parking my loaded, four-door, silver Plymouth Fury. The residence hall director was the first. Eric was my student advisor. I was a seemingly lost transfer student alone in a new town on a campus with a student body nearing the population of my home state of North Dakota.
To this day I recall the feeling of optimism and assurance I had leaving his office that August afternoon. I sensed I’d graduate as a Cyclone. I believed I’d succeed in the so-called real world post-graduation. He left me with the impression he believed in me, so I did in myself.
I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Iowa State University (ISU) under his guidance.
Dr. Eric O. Hoiberg-an inspirational figure.
Hoiberg is a dedicated, loyal Iowa State University Cyclone, except for the fact that he earned 3 degrees (BA, MA, and Ph.D) at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL). He spent 21 years as a Sociology faculty member and advisor for and coordinator of the Public Service and Administration (PSA) program. Before retiring, he was promoted to, and spent 11 years as, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Agriculture. Hoiberg returned to ISU twice after retirement. Once to create an alumni program. Next as the Interim Associate Provost while a search was being conducted.
Eric’s upbringing greatly influenced him. Born in Fayette, Missouri, he and his three older brothers and homemaker mother, accompanied his father to Germany directly after World War II during the Berlin Airlift. There his father, a rural sociologist, worked with the Reconstruction effort helping churches cope with the Holocaust and other ravages of war. The family returned to Europe several years later when his father directed a group establishing Turkey’s first Land Grant University. The family traveled extensively throughout the Muslim country, expanding Hoiberg’s view of the world. However, he also developed a deep appreciation for the lifestyle and subculture of farmers and small towns where many of his extended family members resided. This combination of academic readiness and world-wide vision made him an ideal university employee.
His doctoral research at UNL was published in the esteemed American Sociological Review and centered on creating a new methodology for assessing neighborhood and community structure and change. A comprehensive survey of 700 Iowa farm families, which provided a baseline for the state of agriculture in Iowa in the 1970’s, was his first research venture at ISU. Eric also conducted research on farmers’ adoptions of new technologies and techniques, particularly environmental practices. And, he was part of a national research team that studied a series of six rural communities across the country, originally studied by the USDA in 1940. His team examined change over the roughly 50-year period.
Despite this nationally recognized research, Eric cites the growth of the PSA program as his most valued career accomplishment. “I took over the program in its infancy and grew it into a strong program attracting excellent students who went on to do some good in society.”
One of those students, Renny Olhava Crawford shared “I remember sitting in his class my sophomore year. By this time, I’d already changed my major 4 times. As I was listening to the lecture, all I could think was – I love this! I need to talk to him and learn how I can get more into this. So, I found a reason to go arrange a meeting, some question on an assignment, I believe. After “clearing” up my question, I just told him, “I really love everything we are going over in this class-how do I study more about this?” I think his response was “Well maybe you need to look into PSA”. He told me more. That afternoon I changed my major-and probably my life.”
Fellow PSA graduate John Bahr added, “Eric is one of the three key male figures who influenced my life. His guidance and insight helped me graduate from Iowa State. As a result, I learned discipline and gained academic confidence, which helped me to achieve personal and professional success.”
These Kids Now Days
Eric’s attitude and approach while working with students earned him numerous advising and teaching awards. He felt responsible to place curriculum in context so students gain an appreciation for the why and wherefore of courses they’re required to take. “There must be a link between the curriculum and the world of work they’ll be entering.”
He enjoyed students stopping by after a lecture to discuss how ideas/examples in class applied in their own lives. “This kind of discussion invariably increased my own understanding of the topic and reinforced that education is truly a two-way street.” And, he was frustrated when students focused solely on grades and test scores rather than understanding and communicating subject matter and applying it to their lives. “Evaluation is an important part of the educational process, but it shouldn’t be the only one.”
Over time he saw 3 key indicators that predicted student success: One, leadership experience in high school. “If a student came to PSA with extensive FFA experience, I could almost guarantee they’d be successful upon graduation.” Two, strong communication skills, and Three, a love for learning, indicated by a high level of intellectual curiosity and exploration. Today’s students also need a sound grasp of technical skills.
In addition to guiding and advising countless ISU students, Eric and his wife, Karen, who just celebrated 50 years of marriage, raised three boys: Steve, Fred and Andrew. Today, they also enjoy the company of 8 grandchildren. “My greatest sense of pride comes from my children and grandchildren. I revel in their accomplishments, both big and small. They’re each unique in their own way but also integral parts of our family unit.” Fred, the wildly popular former ISU basketball player and coach, who now coaches the Chicago Bulls, has struggled publicly with heart conditions. “His concerns have strengthened our family. We all recognize life is fragile and we should be thankful for the gifts we have.”
One of those gifts is time together in Northern Minnesota-Eric’s favorite getaway. Now fully retired, he and Karen enjoy the spontaneity of life while he’s tirelessly working on becoming a scratch golfer. “It doesn’t seem to be happening.”
Compassionate, Curious, Understanding-that’s my college Advisor-Eric O. Hoiberg.
Proud to know him and deeply grateful for his influence on my life.
Share with ISU Cyclones and others who know Professor Hoiberg.
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At an event honoring Dr. Eric O. Hoiberg during the Bacon Fest on the campus of Iowa State University on October 7, 2017. Still an inspiration and mentor to many, including me.
Linda Leier Thomason is a retired CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form.
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