Susan Cross

Cross received the 2023 Award for Departmental Leadership.

    Fabulous. It's a word Susan Cross repeated throughout a discussion of her experience as chair of the psychology department for the past five years. Her tenure concluded in July and though she's ready to take a step back, it's clear she feels a deep loyalty to the department and the faculty, staff and students who make it special.

    That loyalty was instilled when Cross and her husband were offered tenure-track positions at Iowa State, a rare find nearly 30 years ago when the pair came to the university.

    "We both came into great departments where we've been able to do good work and work with wonderful students and colleagues," she said. "That combination is what kept us here all this time."

    Cross' time as chair took place during a complicated time, to say the least -- she stepped into the role in 2018 and helped lead the department through the pandemic and budgetary challenges in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS). But against the backdrop of demanding years, her time at the helm was defined by connection and solutions.

    Advocating for faculty, supporting staff and helping students — those are the key things a chair needs to do, and that's been my goal.

    Susan Cross

    Departmental advocacy

    A year before she became chair, Cross was visiting colleges with her youngest son. Like the parents and students who visit Iowa State, she toured buildings and met with advisors to talk about her child's future. Then she had a realization -- the office space for psychology's academic advisors was not welcoming. In a basement space described in her own words as "old, stinky and gross," advisors met with prospective students and parents whom Cross worried were receiving the wrong message about the department -- that they didn't care.

    Cross, who earned a degree in student affairs before pursuing her Ph.D. in psychology, decided something had to change. She advocated for funding to relocate the advisors to the main floor of Lagomarcino and renovate the space to create a comfortable and collaborative place where advisors could help future Cyclones and their families.

    "Advisors are so valuable at the university and in our department," she said. "I see them as key parts of our team and I wanted to make that apparent. I think it's made a huge difference in how parents and students meeting with the department feel about coming to Iowa State."

    Her focus on student success and belonging also contributed to the creation of the department's Mosaic program. Inspired by the McNair program, Mosaic aims to increase the involvement of underrepresented students in psychology and provide the research experiences and skills needed to attend graduate school.

    Cross said the goal is to help students get research experience early in their education -- especially paid experience since finances can present a barrier. The program collaborated with the LAS Dean's High Impact Award for Undergraduate Research to get funding, and Cross is excited about the opportunity to be intentional about supporting more students.

    Advocacy for funding didn't stop with students -- Cross also went to bat for faculty salaries, addressing the need to not only align with peer institutions but also to recognize the different ways faculty contribute to their department.

    While faculty often were rewarded for their research contributions, Cross felt it was just as important to acknowledge the instructors who might produce less research but were excellent teachers and serve the department in other ways.

    "It was an issue of equity and morale," said Cross. "We've done a fabulous job increasing our research productivity in the 30 years I've been here, but we also have a reputation for being great in the classroom."

    Dream team

    Now on the other side of a tenure characterized by improvements for faculty, staff and students, Cross said her approach to leadership was intentionally holistic.

    "You don't just strengthen one muscle. You have to work them all to stay strong," she said. "Advocating for faculty, supporting staff and helping students -- those are the key things a chair needs to do, and that's been my goal."

    She credited her colleagues and administration for their support over the last five years, calling the experience of working with them -- you guessed it -- fabulous.

    "I'm leaving the department in excellent hands and we're in a good place to move forward. I worked with a fabulous faculty and staff, and it wouldn't have been a successful experience without their support, hard work and enthusiasm," she said.

    To be the university that cultivates a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment where students, faculty and staff flourish

    Five aspirational statements guide the work of Iowa State's 2022-31 strategic plan.