College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

CCEE’s Vern Schaefer Retires after 19 years of Teaching, Research and Service

For Vern Schaefer, ISU Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering professor and ISU alum, leaving Iowa State and the academic engineering world is a huge change, but a chance for reflection on his role in the university’s land-grant motto: teaching, research and service.

Headshot of CCEE professor Vern Schaefer
CCEE professor Vern Schaefer

This coming June, Schaefer is retiring from the department after 19 years of service. Before coming to ISU in 2003, Schaefer was a professor at South Dakota State University for 14 years.

Schaefer came to ISU to get more involved in research, and is leaving with over 44 projects developed in his professional career. But while Schaefer has developed a plethora of projects, the thing that he is going to miss the most is mentoring students, he says.

“My greatest pleasure being here has been working with the graduate students I have had over the last 19 years – I have had some outstanding students, and they have been fun to work with,” Schaefer said. “Watching a student’s lightbulb go off – and they just ‘get’ something – that is really rewarding for a faculty member to see. That is the great joy in the teaching and research aspects of what we do, and then watching the students go on to have their own careers.”

When Schaefer started, he was named the first ever James M. Hoover Chair in Geotechnical Engineering, a title created by CCEE alum Craig Denny, and focusing on mentoring students and helping them grow.

“A big part of what I have been doing over the last 19 years is mentorship – I think that has fulfilled the goal of the Hoover Chair, to do things for students,” Schaefer said. “That is what we do as faculty – we mentor students.”

Throughout Schaefer’s time here, he has taught many classes integrating soil research, including the undergraduate geotechnical engineering class (CE 360), the foundation engineering class (CE 460), several graduate classes and more. Schaefer has also been involved in numerous committees and on-campus organizations, like faculty senate and very active in professional/technical societies and their committees.

After retiring, Schaefer is planning on spending a lot of time at his lake house in Minnesota, while also creating a woodworking workshop, because he has always had a passion for woodworking, and now will have the time. He and his wife Ruth are planning on traveling as well, with many destinations on the bucket list. But Schaefer’s engineering work won’t come to an abrupt halt – Schaefer will still be fulfilling duties through professional organizations and committees and research projects he is working on.

To Schaefer, he is leaving his professional career with satisfaction and pride. The universities that he taught and went to school at were land-grant universities, and with a motto of ‘teaching, research and service,’ Schaefer feels that he accomplished exactly that throughout his time here.

“This has been a wonderful department to work in, and Iowa State has been very good to me,” Schaefer said. “As I reflect, all of my degrees were from land-grant universities. The land grant mantra is ‘teaching, research and service’. I think I have exemplified that mission through my mentoring, teaching, research and service throughout the university. My success is that I have followed the land-grant mission.”

On April 27th, 2022, Schaefer is being celebrated at a Retirement Reception in his honor. To attend, contact Alisha Carroll at