Biography: Steven Leath

Dr. Steven Leath became Iowa State University's 15th president in January 2012. He leads a university that educates more than 33,000 students, employs 6,000 faculty and staff, provides agricultural research and extension programs throughout the state and belongs to the Association of American Universities (AAU).

During President Leath's first two years, the university enrolled record numbers of students, surpassed its private fund-raising goals, and became one of only four universities in the nation to send football, men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams to NCAA post-season play over two consecutive years. Prior to his arrival, the university's budget had been reduced six successive years. In his first two legislative sessions, the state allocation has increased, and this year's state increases were the largest in over 20 years.

Strategic initiatives

Dr. Leath is leading ISU in strategic initiatives to:

  1. maintain and improve the high quality student educational experience that the university is known for,
  2. strengthen the university's scholarly reputation,
  3. expand and broaden its research enterprise, and
  4. increase its economic development programs and activities for the state of Iowa.

He also has placed major emphasis on enhancing the university's nationally recognized 1,700-acre central campus and its public art collection, which is one of the largest among U.S. public universities.

A member of the Council of Presidents of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), Dr. Leath also serves on the Board of Directors of the IFDC, an international soil fertility and agricultural development center, and the Big 12 Conference and Bankers Trust. He is a board member of the Public Flagship Network, composed of AAU public university leaders who are addressing the future of public higher education.

Dr. Leath co-chairs the Greater Des Moines Foundation's Capital Corridor regional economic development initiative, is a member of the executive committee of the Iowa STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Advisory Council, is vice chair of the Iowa Coordinating Council for Post-Secondary Education, and is a member of the Iowa Business Council. He is also a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Crop Science Society of America, American Phytopathological Society, and Sigma Xi research honor society.

Dr. Leath holds a B.S. in plant science from Pennsylvania State University, M.S. in plant science from the University of Delaware, and Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of Illinois.

Positions, projects, research

He spent one year as an Extension Plant Pathologist in Illinois before joining the faculty of North Carolina State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as a plant pathologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) unit based at NC State. He was named professor and research leader of the unit in 1998, then spent time as acting national grain crops program leader for the USDA-ARS in Washington, DC. He returned to NC State in 2001 as a professor and assistant director of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service (NCARS), was promoted to associate director in 2003, and was named NCARS director and associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2005.

From 2007 to 2012, Dr. Leath was Vice President for Research for the University of North Carolina (UNC) General Administration, where he promoted research and sponsored programs across the full spectrum of academic disciplines and interdisciplinary activities carried out by UNC's 16 university campuses. He also oversaw UNC's inter-institutional centers and was one of the leaders in such highly successful public-private partnerships as the North Carolina Centennial Campus, North Carolina Research Campus, Research Triangle Park, and the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which he helped establish and led as chief executive officer.

During his research career, Dr. Leath published nearly 100 scientific articles in plant disease resistance, plant pathology, plant breeding, and related fields.


He and his wife Janet have two adult sons, Eric and Scott.