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A Lifetime of Excellence

Steven Leath
Photo courtesy of Iowa State University

Penn State Plant Science '79 alumnus and current Iowa State University President Steven Leath was one of 21 alumni honored with the lifelong title of Alumni Fellow, the highest award given by the Penn State Alumni Association, on October 8.

After graduating from Penn State, Leath went on to an illustrious career at several land-grant institutions, culminating in his current position at Iowa State, where he oversees an institution that educates more than 34,000 students each year and employs more than 6,300 faculty and staff. After his appointment to president in 2012, members launched an initiative to raise Iowa State’s profile as one of the top land-grant institutions in the country. Since then, the university has enrolled record numbers of students, dramatically increased the full-time faculty, surpassed its private fundraising goals, and maintained the lowest tuition and fees of its peer group of 11 universities.

After his graduation from Penn State, Leath went on to earn a master’s degree in plant science from the University of Delaware and a doctorate in plant pathology from the University of Illinois (UI). He began his career as an extension plant pathologist at UI before joining North Carolina State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as a plant pathologist, focusing on disease control and genetics of disease-resistant crops.

At North Carolina State, Leath built a name for himself by holding a variety of positions with wide-ranging scope. At the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service, he served as associate dean and director and then became vice president for research for the University of North Carolina General Administration, where he administered $1.4 billion in grants and contracts. He also oversaw North Carolina State’s inter-institutional centers and held lead roles at the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus, the North Carolina Research Campus, Research Triangle Park, and the David H. Murdock Research Institute.

Leath participates in a variety of local and national organizations, including the Council of Presidents of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the International Fertilizer Development Center, where he serves on the board of directors, the Big 12 Conference, Banker’s Trust, and the Cultivation Corridor initiative, for which he is a co-chair.

—Chuck Gill