Some of the nation's foremost figures in the world of plate tectonics, acoustics, law, engineering, educational testing, and public opinion polling attended or taught at Iowa.
- George Gallup—Pioneer of public opinion polling, founder of the Gallup Poll. BA, Journalism, 1923; former UI journalism professor.
- E.F. Lindquist—A pioneer whose work in educational testing and measurement led to the founding of ACT and Westinghouse Learning. PhD, Education, 1927; former UI education professor.
- George Nissen—Inventor of the trampoline, which he built in his garage in 1936. Trampolining debuted as an Olympic sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. BSC, Commerce and Science, 1937.
- Harry F. Olson—A pioneer and leading authority in acoustics and electronic sound recording, Olson developed magnetic tape recorders for sound and television, the electronic music synthesizer, and underwater sound equipment. Bachelor of Engineering, 1924; Electrical Engineering degree, 1932.
- Jerome K. Sherman—His doctoral research at Iowa was the basis for the first Cryobank for frozen semen in the world, established at The University of Iowa. PhD, Zoology, 1954.
- Lilia Abron—She was the first African American woman in the nation, and the third woman at The University of Iowa, to receive a doctorate in chemical engineering. PhD, 1972.
- Elizabeth Catlett—This significant 20th-century sculptor and civil rights advocate studied under the renowned painter Grant Wood at Iowa. She was one of the first people to earn an MFA from UI in 1940.
- G. Alexander Clark—The son of America's first black ambassador to Liberia became the first African American to graduate from the Iowa law school, and possibly the first African American in the nation to earn a law degree. Bachelor of Laws, 1879.
- Phyllis Propp Fowle—First female Judge Advocate General officer in the U.S. Army and the only woman in her graduating class in the UI College of Law. She helped launch the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II. BA, 1930; JD, 1933.
- Homer Harris—The University's first African American football team captain (a first in Big Ten history). After graduating from Iowa in 1939, he became a dermatologist in Seattle, Wash., where a park in his name commemorates his contributions to the community. BA, 1939.
- Mary B. Hickey Wilkinson—The first woman to graduate from the University of Iowa College of Law. She was possibly the first woman to earn a law degree in America. Bachelor of Laws, 1873.
- Lulu Johnson—The first African American in the United States to earn a doctorate in history and first African American woman to earn a PhD from The University of Iowa. BA, 1930; MA, 1930; PhD, History, 1941.
- Mauricio Lasansky—This Argentinian native who taught and led the printmaking program at Iowa for more than 40 years, was an esteemed printmaker in his own right, and led the university's printmaking MFA program to become one of the top-ranked programs of its kind in the nation.
- John McLendon—First black coach hired by a predominately white institution when he was selected at Cleveland State University in 1966. It was his service on the National Athletic Steering Committee, which McLendon founded in 1949, which had a large impact on the integration of basketball, and eventually, all sports. MA, Physical Education, 1937.
- Richard N. Olney—A famous chef, an authority on French cuisine, and a respected cookbook author. BFA, 1949.
- Jewel Prestage—She was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in political science. MA, Political Science, 1953; PhD, Political Science, 1954.
- Colleen Rowley—The FBI agent whose publicized memo exposed FBI missteps in the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2001. In 2002, she was Time magazine's co-person of the year. JD, 1980.
- Ori J. Sivan—One of the Midwest’s most respected leaders in environmental sustainability, Ori J. Sivan co-founded the Greenmaker Supply Company, Chicago’s only “green” provider of building supplies. BSE, 2004.
- Frederick W. “Duke” Slater—Frederick W. “Duke” Slater was the University's first African American All-America football player and was named to the Chicago Tribune’s All-American football team. He later became a municipal court judge in Cook County, Illinois. Slater Residence Hall is named in his honor. Bachelor of Laws, 1928.
- Juanita Kidd Stout—First African American woman in America to be appointed as a judge; She also was the first African American woman appointed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. BA, Music, 1939.
- Donald W. Tucker—One of the nation's first black federal narcotics agents and first black Secret Service agents; the former Iowa football player has since written two books: a mystery and a biography. BA, Sociology and Criminology, 1961.