For the Love of Discovery

John and Donna Cleasby

John (Jack) L. and Donna Cleasby

One lesson John (Jack) L. Cleasby learned in his years of teaching is that given enough support, graduate students can be one of the most valuable resources for innovation in a field.

For most of his career in the department of civil, construction and environmental engineering, Cleasby taught courses for students seeking graduate degrees in environmental engineering. His graduate students assisted with his research work in water and wastewater treatment, and he directed their thesis research projects.

"Back then, it was so helpful when Dr. E. Robert Baumann (leader of environmental engineering) was able to allocate state funds he had obtained to support one or two of my graduate students per year," he explained. "It meant I could turn good students loose to choose their own research topics, which led us down different paths of research I never would have pursued otherwise."

When he retired after 40 years of teaching and research, Cleasby had attained tremendous respect in his field: He was honored as an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering and elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He had also developed a lifelong connection with the university; not only did he spend almost his entire career here and help launch the careers of hundreds of environmental engineering professionals, he also earned a Ph.D. from Iowa State in 1960.

It was the type of relationship that made Cleasby look for ways to give back and create a legacy that would ensure the future excellence of his department and his field. For him, the obvious place to direct his giving was graduate support. "I realized many of the experiences I had during my career, and the support to pursue new ideas, are getting harder and harder to come by," he said. "These days, professors everywhere must seek funding from all possible sources and usually must define the specific topics and approach to the research. This doesn't leave any room for the students to pursue what interests them."

When exploring the best ways to create a graduate fellowship and maximize its impact, Cleasby sought the advice of the Iowa State University Foundation planned giving team. "I learned that changing the beneficiary designation on our IRA account to the university provided a tax-free solution," he said. Along with leaving his IRA account to the university, Cleasby and his wife, Donna, decided to make annual charitable distributions from his IRA to establish the Cleasby Environmental Graduate Fellowship in their lifetimes.

"The purpose of this fellowship is to have money available that one of the current faculty members can use to support a student and tell them, ‘Pick a topic and make a proposal for what you want to do.' I know that freedom is very beneficial and leads to the greatest possible outcomes for both student and faculty," said Cleasby. "It's gratifying seeing graduate students benefit from the support now, while also knowing the estate gift will ensure the future of the fellowship after we're gone. I'd think this would be truly an ideal situation for anyone with charitable intent."

"I had a long and fruitful time at Iowa State," said Cleasby. "I have fond feelings about the people I worked with and students I taught. It's nice to find a way to honor that time in my life."

Be Part of Iowa State's Future

You, too, can have a stake in Iowa State University's future with an estate gift. Your support equips students to become the leaders and critical thinkers of tomorrow. Contact the office of gift planning at 800.621.8515 or to explore the gift option that is right for you.