How Hawkeyes are using artificial intelligence to advance their careers and industries
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Call it a bomb, call it a tidal wave, call it humanity’s winning lottery ticket: When ChatGPT introduced the population at large to the world of generative artificial intelligence in November 2022, it seemed that nearly everyone agreed the world would never be the same.

Early data seems to bear that idea out: ChatGPT reached 100 million users in just two months. A survey of 6,000 people found that 84 percent of consumers are already using an AI-powered device or service (Amazon’s Alexa is one). And the global consulting firm Grand View Research forecasts a total AI market value of $1.35 trillion by 2030.

What does that mean for business? We talked to four alumni leaders and faculty experts to find out. While they are all acutely sensitive to AI’s power as well as its shortcomings, they share an optimism about its potential to make businesses more efficient and innovative—and to make our lives healthier and more vibrant than ever.

1: Fine-tune medical treatments

Nick Street

In the early 1990s, Nick Street, now the associate dean for research and Ph.D. programs, was a busy graduate student working on a promising machine learning project. The aim? Help surgeons diagnose breast cancer directly from a needle biopsy, creating a streamlined, one-visit diagnosis for an anxiety-producing experience. While the idea had transformative potential, the actual work could feel tedious: “I had to manually analyze about 500 images, then write my own code for a system that could analyze them before I could even get to the diagnostic part,” he says.

Today’s tools, however, are so much more advanced that many undergraduate students could replicate, or perhaps even better, Street’s graduate school efforts in significantly less time.

That’s one reason Street is so encouraged about the potential of today’s AI tools. Their ability to gobble up and analyze vast amounts of data—millions of cases, not hundreds—offers enormous opportunities to create increasingly sophisticated and individualized approaches to support patient health.

Take for example, a current project that Street is working on for people who have experienced a heart attack. He and his colleagues seek to find the best combination of medications, based on a patient’s individual characteristics, to increase their chances of survival. 

“Once we’ve estimated a patient’s risk, we can find the combination of medications—beta blockers, statins, aspirin—
that will reduce their risk the most,” he says. He has also developed a system to reduce long-term heart disease risk
by finding the easiest and most effective lifestyle changes. Is eating broccoli more valuable than an extra workout?
Someday, he says, we will have the ability to get these granular, personalized recommendations to optimize our health
integrated into technology that many of us use daily, like smartwatches.

Street knows that he’s working on just one piece of a very big puzzle, but he sees a vast horizon of opportunity. “I’m
excited about the idea that we’ll be able to get personalized answers to clinicians and patients at the time they need
them, and give people the best possible path to take care of themselves,” he says.


2: Help farmers make their land more efficient and sustainable

Eric Hansotia

Move over Silicon Valley: the next big AI advances might just be in farm equipment. “It’s a little bit of a hidden secret that companies like ours have so much tech work going on,” says Eric Hansotia (MBA98), chairman, president, and CEO of the Duluth, Georgia-based agricultural machinery company AGCO.

Since taking the helm as CEO in 2021, Hansotia has increased the company’s engineering budget by approximately 60 percent. AGCO also recently announced a $2.3 billion ag tech joint venture—the industry’s largest ever—with the technology company Trimble.

Farmers are already seeing the benefits of AI: AGCO planters can take some 789,000 measurements per minute and, with the help of the technology, reduce costs and increase yields. Cameras on AGCO sprayers can identify the difference between a weed and a crop, and spray only the weed. “AI saves about 70 percent of the pesticide,” says Hansotia. It can also help farmers ensure that the most amount of grain is captured by the combine harvester.

For Hansotia, the potential of AI is coming to fruition: Even better? He feels confident that they’re only getting started maximizing the possibilities. “The curve is flexing up in terms of the rate of change and the rate of innovation we can drive,” he says.

Beyond the field, AGCO uses AI to help with its customer service calls by pulling up the exact materials a trained technician needs to support the diagnosis and resolution of farmers’ technical problems. The process improvements can trim a call from 30 minutes to just three.

For Hansotia, the stakes of maximizing this technology are enormous: “These are challenging problems that have real purpose: feeding the world.”


3: Make small business more effective

Ben Cunningham

Principal Machine Learning Engineer Ben Cunningham (BBA16) knows that taking action on important business and financial information can help transform a “so-so” small business into a spectacular one. But even for experienced accountants, finding that needle of insight in a haystack of data can be maddeningly time-consuming. That’s why Cunningham finds his work at Sage on tools such as AI digital assistants so exciting.

Imagine, he says, a chatbot that can do far more than simply provide canned responses to a question. “[An employee] might say, ‘Can you tell me what happened to our accounts overnight?’ The chatbot would say, ‘Sure, I’ll fetch some data and analyze it to help you understand what happened.’ ”

From there, the digital assistant might highlight the top accounts with overdue invoices, recommend sending an email reminder, and even craft the text of the message. “It’s quite a bit beyond what we could have expected of a chatbot even two years ago,” says Cunningham.

This type of digital assistant might be able to tackle some of the duties typically assigned to an intern (minus the coffee-fetching), but Cunningham doesn’t see it as a way to eliminate workers. Instead, he sees it as a way for employees to eliminate many of the most unrewarding aspects of their roles. “AI will never replace the strategic aspects of work,” he says. “Hopefully, AI assistants will help get rid of those tedious aspects and allow employees to focus on the more value-added, human aspects of their jobs.”


4: Optimizing AI's advantages

Joni Wallace

Director of Artificial Intelligence Joni Wallace (BBA00) says that her team at Collins Aerospace sees AI not only as redefining business, but as a critical way to advance science and benefit humanity. 

“We would not be in these roles, dedicating our careers to the advancement of AI, if we did not believe it to be the most consequential technology of our time.”

For Wallace, there’s no “one thing” that AI might transform for the company: It’s everything. “Collins Aerospace uses AI in a variety of ways, from digital assistants that predict best-next-step for business processes and aerospace and defense markets to driving better strategic planning and risk mitigation,” she says.

Collins Aerospace’s wide-ranging efforts are possible, in part, because of early investment: They launched AI-adjacent efforts in the 1990s; by 2016, the company was acquiring more data and using AI neural networks. And all of the most impactful opportunities, Wallace says, remain ahead. “We still see ourselves at the front end of this transformation to tap the potential of AI and redefine how all markets deliver products and services.”

It helps, she says, that ChatGPT’s viral introduction led to enormous employee interest. “It provided an opportunity to educate employees on the innovative benefits and risk factors of this technology and led to opportunities to drive and scale generative AI across the business for additional value creation,” she says.

Among the company’s newest initiatives: an AI university for employee training opportunities, an AI portal for collaboration and standardization, AI events to share knowledge across the company, and even an AI fellow technical track to support employee career advancement.

Once an interesting novelty, AI now plays an essential role in the company’s innovation efforts—and will continue for years to come. “Our company, like many, now views the world through an AI lens,” she says.



Few sectors felt the impact of AI more quickly and dramatically than education. Was ChatGPT a boon in the classroom—or a boondoggle? How should instructors teach students to make the most of this new technology, while being clear-eyed about its dangers?

At Tippie, faculty soon coalesced around a philosophy that Dean Amy Kristof-Brown articulated in an October 2023 op-ed piece for Inside Higher Ed. “We have a responsibility to prepare our students for a world in which ChatGPT and its competitors are widespread,” she wrote. “To do that, we need to teach them how to use it expertly and creatively— incorporating it into their learning in ways that will make them better critical thinkers and problem solvers.”


Here are just a few ways that faculty are integrating AI tools into their classrooms:

“I’m having an AI chatbot act as an extra team member who is always the devil’s advocate, challenging each decision the group comes up with. This encourages critical thought and pushes groups to consider how they’d treat a real person asking the same questions.”
–Carl Follmer
Director of the Frank Business Communications Center


“I have taught students in my social analytics and data management classes how to use ChatGPT and other AI tools, such as Copilot, to help them automate the coding process.”
–Patrick Fan
Professor of Business Analytics


“Students in my [Foundations of Business Analytics] courses use generative AI to create graphs, manipulate databases, and create forecasts.”
–Patrick Johanns
Associate Professor of Instruction


This article appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of Tippie Magazine. 

Portrait illustrations by Mordi Levi.