About President Leath

Dr. Steven Leath became the 15th president of Iowa State University in January 2012. He leads a university that educates more than 34,000 students, employs 6,300 faculty and staff, and belongs to the Association of American Universities (AAU).

Dr. Leath has launched a very dynamic agenda to raise Iowa State's profile as one of the top land-grant institutions in the country by enhancing efforts associated with the university's mission of education, research, and service. During his first three years, the university has enrolled record numbers of students, dramatically increased full-time faculty hiring, surpassed its private fund-raising goals, and maintained the lowest tuition and fees of its peer group of 11 universities. Iowa State has been nationally recognized as one of the most efficiently run universities in the country as well as having one of the most beautiful campuses. Many of these achievements have been recently featured in national publications including: The Washington Monthly, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes Magazine.

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. Broaden its research enterprise,
  4. Expand its economic development programs and activities for the state of Iowa, and
  5. Increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff.

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.

Memberships and boards

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; 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; and he's on the board of the University Innovation Alliance, a group of 11 public research universities aimed at making college degrees more attainable for students with financial needs.

Dr. Leath co-chairs the Cultivation Corridor regional economic development initiative. He is a member of the executive committee of the Iowa STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Advisory Council and a member of the Iowa Business Council. He also is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Crop Science Society of America, American Phytopathological Society, Sigma Xi research honor society, Cardinal Key Honor Society, and Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity.


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 focused on disease control and genetics of disease resistance in cereal crops. In 1998, he was named professor and research leader of the unit, 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 oversaw $1.4 billion in competitive research grants and contracts and 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 Research Campus and the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which he helped establish and led as chief executive officer. He also had active roles in the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus and the Research Triangle Park.

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

Family and interests

Dr. Leath is a pilot and an avid outdoorsman. He enjoys bird hunting, bow hunting, and is a member of the Boone and Crockett Club. His family owns and manages a Christmas tree farm in Ashe County, North Carolina. He and his wife Janet have two adult sons, Eric and Scott and two dogs, Dixie and Quill.

Updated: Sept. 25, 2014