For nearly a century — from the late 1800s through the 1960s —Iowa State University (ISU) had a campus creamery, where students and locals could buy the freshest milk, ice cream and other dairy products. Then in 1969, when changes in the dairy processing industry amplified challenges for small-scale dairy businesses, ISU shuttered the creamery. 

Fast forward 50 years and the ISU Creamery found a new champion: Stephanie Clark. 

Clark, who holds the Virginia M. Gladney Professorship in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, had worked with creameries when she taught at other universities. When she arrived at Iowa State, she saw a big opportunity. Clark strongly believes that students learn best about dairy processing through hands-on training, and she wanted to provide that experience for ISU students. 

After months of diligent work, the ISU Creamery reopened its doors to the public last August. 

While the ice cream is delicious, the creamery’s main mission is education. It provides students the opportunity to apply knowledge learned in the classroom to a hands-on dairy manufacturing facility. The students who work in production learn how to run the various equipment and troubleshoot when something goes wrong. 

Taking ownership

Students are also encouraged to take on an extra task for the ISU Creamery to have ownership over the processes, from social media management to ordering supplies and ingredients to new product development. 

(Photo above: Iowa State University student Griffin Meyer, left, and Sarah Canova, ISU Creamery Business administrator, prepare to add heavy cream to a batch of ice cream. The creamery, which sells cheese as well as ice cream, provides students hands-on experience to prepare them for careers in the dairy business.  PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT)

The students are out-front, and Clark makes a point to step back as much as she can so they get the most experience possible. She also emboldens students to try something new in the creamery. 

“We try to have other innovations happening that are student-driven,” Clark says. “All of our stuff is made from scratch by students, one staff person and me.”

Cyclone-themed flavors

The creamery makes cheese and ice cream, which are sold in the creamery’s retail shop located on the second floor of the Food Sciences Building. Especially popular are scoops of Cyclone-themed concoctions, including Two Swans and Marston Mash.

Sarah Canova, the ISU Creamery’s business administrator, says students’ experience in the creamery better prepares them for their career because of the hands-on training in a production setting, ultimately impacting the dairy industry at large. “Our students have real experience with the pasteurization and freezing processes, as well as the process for making cheese,” she says. 

Canova says she hopes the ISU Creamery can help teach customers at the store, and the entire ISU population, about the importance of dairy in the state of Iowa. “We are working on developing a partnership program to highlight the other creameries in the state, as we want to lift up all dairying in the state,” she said.

Clark notes that because the dairy industry is one of Iowa’s foundational agricultural commodities — and because the ISU Creamery uses Iowa ag products in their own goods — the money they make is essentially being circulated back into the state economy. Thus, customers of the creamery are benefiting the state’s dairy industry. 

“By coming here and buying products from the creamery or making a donation if that’s what they so choose to do, they are really helping future generations of Iowans to continue to keep the dairy industry going,” Clark says. 

Careers in dairy

For Clark, the best part of serving as director of the ISU Creamery comes back to helping students prepare for successful careers in the industry. 

“Seeing the students get jobs is very, very satisfying,” she says. “I love seeing the learning process. I love when students get it. I enjoy seeing them get excited about things, when they get excited about ice cream coming out or cheese forming or selling something that they had their hands on and having pride in that.”

The ISU Creamery retail store is open five days a week in the heart of the ISU campus at 536 Farm House Lane. More information can be found at or by calling 515-294-3612.

Giardino is a freelance writer in Polk City.