The magazine for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at
Iowa State University

A lifetime of gumption, taking risks, and giving back

Lou Ann Sandburg has always followed her gut feeling. Never one to let inexperience or a fear of the unknown stand in her way, she has spent her life taking advantage of unique opportunities.

“I’ve always taken risks,” she said. “When things come along that look like a good opportunity I take advantage of them, and I’ve been rewarded for that.”

Sandburg served as Vice President of Investments at FBL Financial Group, a publicly traded financial services company located in West Des Moines, Iowa, from 1998 until her retirement in 2008. But her background wasn’t in business or finance.

She earned her degree in English in 1970 with plans to become a teacher. After just one year of teaching, she and her husband, Kent (mathematics, ’70), moved to Des Moines where she took a clerical job at a bank and quickly took on more responsibilities.

That clerical job blossomed into a 36-year career for Sandburg, who worked for various large banks in Des Moines for 10 years before taking a job at Farm Bureau Financial Services (FBL Financial Group) in 1981. After managing more complex securities, she rose through the ranks to become VP of Investments.

LAS helped make it possible

Without a doubt, Sandburg’s gumption and risk-taking helped her navigate a successful career. But she credits her experience in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for preparing her for life off campus.

“By majoring in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, you learn how to live life,” she said. “Other colleges may put a bigger focus on how to earn a living, but life is about more than just earning a living.”

She said the diverse curriculum allowed her to explore classes she may not have otherwise. Her professors opened her mind to subjects and topics she may not have found on her own.

“By majoring in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, you learn how to live life,” she said. “Other colleges may put a bigger focus on how to earn a living, but life is about more than just earning a living.”

“My English degree from Iowa State helped shape who I am today,” she said.

A life of giving back

Sandburg has always been involved in the community. From serving on numerous nonprofit boards to preparing casserole suppers for the hungry, she loves meaningful philanthropic work. And while she has volunteered for several organizations over the years, giving back to Iowa State University has been her “only constant.”

This year, Sandburg is serving as Chair of the LAS Dean’s Advisory Council (DAC), a group of LAS alumni and friends who help enhance the College’s reputation as a world-class learning and reseach community..

“My favorite thing about the DAC is meeting young students,” she said. “They are so full of ideas and so articulate. It really is a joy to be a part of their success.”

In addition, she and her husband fund the Kent and Lou Ann Gerhard Sandburg International Travel Scholarship. Inspired by their own love of traveling and their belief that cultural awareness produces a better society, they have helped numerous students enhance their college experience by studying in a country of their choice. These student adventures have varied from archeological digs in Ethiopia to studying social justice in Sweden.

“I love being able to help make a connection between students and the University,” she said. “Iowa State gave me so much and it’s truly an honor to give back.”