Many individuals in the Iowa State University engineering community have either seen a notification from, or heard of, the ISU Water Chicks. From sharing advanced research publications to posting group hangouts, the account has been a staple for ISU engineers and environmental scientists on Twitter.
Amy Kaleita, ISU Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering professor and department chair and Michelle Soupir, ABE professor and associate chair for research, started this account many years ago, with a plethora of ideas in mind, but one that stood higher than the rest: being a role model for supporting women and each other.
In 2003, Kaleita was hired at Iowa State as an assistant professor in ABE at the age of 27 – and she was the only woman faculty member in the department. Five years went by, and then one day in 2008, Kaleita was asked to help host a faculty candidate for dinner, where she then met Soupir.
“For a while, since I was so young and the only woman in ABE, I felt unsure of myself,” Kaleita said. “And then, at the dinner, I felt like I clicked with Michelle right away. I thought to myself, ‘she seems great and we could be friends and work together – and wouldn’t that be amazing?’”
The two clicked instantly, and Soupir knew she had to be a part of Iowa State.
“The first time we met in person, Amy picked me up for dinner as part of my interview. That was very smart of the department, to connect us early on,” Soupir said. “When I came here, and I saw another woman in the field, that was actually a huge impact. People would ask me why I am going to Iowa State – and it was because of that dinner.”
After that dinner, Kaleita and Soupir spent many years supporting each other in their social life and research. And as the years went by, they started to notice that for some reason, colleagues, students and many other people in the department never seemed to be able to tell them apart.
“Students, all the way through collaborators, would always get confused about which one of us is which,” Kaleita said.
After entertainingly watching people mix them up, and after receiving many emails meant for the other person, the two embraced their similarities, and the ISU Water Chicks Twitter account came to life.
“We often joke about how people can’t tell us apart,” Kaleita said. “A part of calling ourselves the ISU Water Chicks, and making it plural, showed that we are two different people, even if people can’t tell which one is which.”
The ISU Water Chicks account officially joined Twitter in 2016, on an evening where Soupir, Kaleita and other ABE colleagues were at Soupir’s house for dinner. The two professors wanted to be a part of Twitter, but didn’t want to join the platform alone.
“When we created the ISU Water Chicks account, I remember we were at Michelle’s house,” Kaleita said. “We had ordered dinner with our colleagues, and we were just talking about how we wanted a twitter account to be more visible as women in STEM, but I didn’t want to do it by myself.”
Through ISU Water Chicks, the two wanted to convey that here at Iowa State, women support women, through research, relationships, career paths and more. And when deciding on the name, they wanted it to be clear that not only were they researchers in water quality and conservation at Iowa State, but they were women that were researchers in water quality and conservation at Iowa State.
“I think our account shows friendship, which is something that I think is so important for women – to support each other and build relationships,” Soupir said. “This is a really nice demonstration of building each other up.”
“We very clearly have our separate things, but by having our joint account we can always be supporting one another,” Kaleita said.
In the past, Kaleita and Soupir had both seen how competitive academia can be. But here, with both of them in ABE, they wanted to jumpstart a culture of care, support and success.
“I have experienced places where all the players are so competitive with each other that they are mad when something good happens to someone else,” Kaleita said. “Iowa State doesn’t really have that culture, and I think the two of us together definitely don’t have that culture, so transmitting that positive support and celebration of each other is a nice message to share.”
Recently, Kaleita and Soupir have been working together on a project with students and colleagues on farmed prairie pothole wetlands, with students publishing five papers just in 2021. Soupir and Kaleita value their different experiences in these moments, putting their expertise together to help students learn a variety of skills.
“When we are advising a student together, it’s so clear what we both do differently – we have very different expertise, but very similar goals, and I think the pothole project has helped us emphasize those aspects and how we work together,” Soupir said.
With their twitter account and passion for a supportive environment in the department, the two are working together to be role models of a collaborative and supportive team.
“We are all on the same team, and we have to support each other and build each other up,” Soupir said. “Whether that is through our twitter account, our work together, or even now as the associate chair and chair, this is a really nice way to continue to move into newer positions and continue to work together.”
You can find the ISU Water Chicks at https://twitter.com/ISUWaterChicks, or in Sukup Hall teaching, researching or inspiring the next generation of students at Iowa State.