We Are ISU: Snapshots of Student Life


Introduction       1869-1898       1899-1928       1929-1958       1959-1988       1989-2018       2019      

Aerial panoramic view of central campus


An International Reputation (1899-1928)

Early course catalogs, biennial reports, and student directories show that international students started arriving on Iowa State’s campus as early as the 1880s. Few of them enrolled for a full four years, but many received degrees from Iowa State indicating that they had completed college courses in their home country. Unsurprisingly, many of the first international students came from Canada and Mexico. Over the years, Iowa State’s international student population continued to grow and as of Fall 2018, they make up over 10% of total student enrollment.1

Student Spotlight: Fan-Chi Kung, B.S. (1926)

Close-up of Fan-Chi Kung


Fan-Chi Kung arrived on campus in the Fall of 1924 and enrolled as a sophomore in horticulture. He was one of several students at Iowa State initially trained at the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Kung graduated with his degree in horticulture in 1926. He returned to Ames in the fall of 1928 to pursue graduate studies in pomology—the branch of botany that deals with growing fruit. Sadly, Kung would never complete his degree. He was killed in an automobile accident while trying to teach a fellow international student how to drive his car. Kung was buried in the Iowa State College cemetery. Iowa State received a photograph album that belonged to him, possibly given to the school by the family that he stayed with while studying here. Several photos below are from that album. 







Snapshot of Campus in 1926:

  • President: Raymond A. Pearson
  • Student Population: 3,936 students
  • New Campus Buildings: Birch Hall (1923), Horse Barn (1923), Parks Library (1925), Hughes (Friley) Hall (1926)

Student Life

group of Tsinghua University graduates who attended Iowa State


Chinese students


Tsinghua University was established in 1911. It initially functioned as a preparatory school for Chinese students, prior to being sent to study in the United States.Fan-Chi Kung was one such student and based on this picture he was not the only student in Ames who graduated from Tsinghua University. This picture from Kung’s photo album shows him along with several other Chinese students posing on the steps of Curtiss Hall. Only a few of the individuals are identified: Chaucer Chang is at the tip of the Tsing Hua pennant and Fan-Chi Kung is at the other end. Cheng Shao-chiung is in the center of the Iowa State banner.





Chinese students in residential Ames


Off-Campus Housing


At first, almost all international students at Iowa State were men. By 1924, when Kung arrived, Iowa State had removed most male students to off-campus housing. Many stayed at boarding houses or with local families. Iowa State would start building dormitories again that decade, but housing would remain a challenge for many students.  









Kung in his room studying at desk


International Student Studying in His Room


This image was also from Kung’s photo album. The inscription on the back of the photo reads “In my room,” so we can only assume that it shows Kung studying in the room that he rented off-campus. 








Extracurricular Activities – Cosmopolitian Club

The Cosmopolitan Club at Iowa State University was a campus organization dedicated to encouraging friendship, respect and understanding among men and women of all nationalities. The Iowa State club was chartered in 1908 as the tenth chapter of the National Association of Cosmopolitan Clubs. Over the years the club sponsored international food fairs, talent shows, film screenings, and other events that brought students of diverse cultures together. The Cosmopolitan Club also served as an informal support group for international students. The Club ceased operations sometime around 1995.3


Cover of Cosmopolitan Club's 1924 annual production


Program for the Cosmopolitan Club's 1926 Annual International Review


This program for the Iowa State College Cosmopolitan Club International Review identifies the individuals who appeared in the production and helped put it on. Students from Bulgaria, South Africa, China, the Philippines, India, and Russia all contributed to this production.












image of performers on stage


Cosmopolitan Club performers on stage


Photograph of the cast of "Tour De Luxe," the 1924 Cosmopolitan Club International Review. 





Page from script


Script for “A Travelogue, Tour De Luxe!” Presented by the Cosmopolitan Club of Iowa State College


Script for the 1924 Cosmopolitan Club international review titled "Tour De Luxe." The script contains the parts for each interlude and the short plays depicting scenes from Armenia, India, South Africa, and China.













Academics – Horticulture

The Department of Horticulture is one of the oldest academic departments at Iowa State. Courses in horticulture were first taught at Iowa State in 1871.


image of students judging apples


Apple judging contest


This image from 1928 is labeled, “Freshman students getting special instruction on fruit judging prior to competing in a contest at the student Horticultural Exhibition.” Even though he entered Iowa State as a sophomore, it is possible that Fan-Chi Kung had similar experiences while he was a student at Iowa State.








Extracurricular Activities – VEISHEA

For over 90 years, VEISHEA was the largest student celebration of the year. Thousands of alumni would return to campus to visit the open houses and watch the parade that Iowa State students put together. Unfortunately, VEISHEA also came to be known for the large off-campus parties that too often ended in the destruction of public and private property and personal injury.


image of freshmen throwing their beanies into bonfire


Burning of the prep caps


This scene shows a crowd gathered around a bonfire burning freshman beanies. Freshmen men were required to wear the beanies on campus for much of the school year. Not wearing the caps could result in significant conflict with upper classmen.









VEISHEA Nigh show sheet music


VEISHEA Night Show sheet music


Sheet music for Yalami, the Night Show production from VEISHEA 1924, written by Ruth Elaine Wilson and Homer Huntoon.











VEISHEA Night Show program cover

VEISHEA Night Show program


International students at Iowa State in the 1920s were subjected to unflattering and racist portrayals of their cultures. For example, this VEISHEA program from 1924 presents a crude display of Chinese people in the segment titled “Mah Jongg—Pah Jongg.”








Campus Development

Aerial panoramic view of central campus


Central Campus


This scene of a panoramic view of central campus as viewed from the south was taken in 1913. Any Iowa State student today would easily recognize many of the buildings pictured here. By the time Kung arrived on campus just over a decade later, a number of significant buildings would have been constructed on campus, including Parks Library, Oak and Elm Lodge (temporary residential structures), Gilman Hall, Physics Hall, Davidson Hall, and the Armory.