A Student Changed Forever

How Winters in Ames Beat Summers in California

James Gibson

James Gibson’s Iowa State experience led him to a rich and rewarding career, and he is supporting the Department of Economics with a gift in his will to help more students achieve their dreams.

It's a strong pull that can incite a cross-country move — especially if you're trading in the California sun for the harsher climate of Ames, Iowa.

"I think my family was shocked," said James Gibson, class of 1976. "I was the first person to attend college outside of California." In addition to family tradition, the fourth-generation California native was also leaving behind a full ride scholarship to attend graduate school at his alma mater, the University of California, Davis.

The draw to Iowa State? Giants. "The economics department at Iowa State was a powerhouse, combining traditional economics with agricultural economics - and it was loaded with giants in their fields," said Gibson. The department had three Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Economists at the time: Dr. Earl Heady, Dr. John Timmons and Dr. Neil Harl. Gibson had been offered a full research and teaching scholarship, and the opportunity to study under Timmons. So Gibson and his new wife packed up their 1967 Volkswagen micro bus and transplanted their life to Iowa.

For the five years Gibson was a graduate student, his office was located right next to Timmons' and Harl's offices. "The day-to-day proximity to two high-energy academics really inspired me," said Gibson.

It was the close relationship with his professors that truly shaped Gibson's Iowa State experience — as well as his career. "Right before I graduated, Dr. Timmons called me into his office and asked me what I wanted to do with my career. Following a short conversation, he went right through his directory and arranged my very first job with one phone call," said Gibson. "My hiring was based entirely on the personal recommendation of Dr. Timmons."

Gibson's first job paved the way for a successful career. He traveled the world while at Harza Engineering Co., was a director at Ernst & Young, and founded NewPoint Group, a Sacramento-based management consulting firm. Gibson also integrated a multidisciplinary mindset when running his company — an approach inspired by Timmons.

"Because of Iowa State, I was fortunate to have a productive and successful career," said Gibson. "The education and experience I obtained in Ames is something no one can ever take away from me, and it is something that becomes even more valuable as each passing year goes by."

Key ideas, such as a strong appreciation of science and technology, the need for multidisciplinary approaches to problem-solving, and good old-fashioned Midwestern values, shaped Gibson's character. "These values came from weathering five winters in Ames, surviving summer tornadoes and withering in the humidity. They came from forging new Iowa friends and visiting down-to-earth farm families from small Iowa towns."

Gibson decided to support the John F. Timmons Graduate Fellowship in the Department of Economics through a gift in his will in order to pass along his distinct Iowa State experience to a new generation. "I am proud to be able to make provision for a gift to Iowa State University in my estate plan," he said. "It's a great way to give because you can optimize your personal situation, but also give to a worthy cause."

Looking back on the life-changing experience of becoming a Cyclone, Gibson says he feels "compelled to give something back to Iowa State, as it has given so much to me."

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