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 36,000 students, employs 6,300 faculty and staff, and belongs to the Association of American Universities (AAU).

President Leath’s dynamic agenda is raising Iowa State’s status 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. 

Strategic initiatives

President 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.

Recent highlights

  • Student experience: Fall 2015 enrollment set a new record of 36,001 – marking the seventh consecutive year of record enrollment.
    • Serve more Iowa students (21,064) than any other institution 
    • Majority of students in 74 of Iowa’s 99 counties attend ISU
    • First-year retention rate increased to 87.4%
    • 50% of graduates earned degrees in STEM fields
    • Placement rate is 95% for graduating seniors
    • Average amount of debt for Iowa State graduates has declined 8.5% in three years (declined 11% for resident students)
  • Diversity: Record number of international and U.S. multicultural students, totaling 23 percent of the student body. Initiated new senior level position, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.
  • Research and scholarship: $425 million in external funding in FY15, a new university record.
  • Economic development: Launched Phase 3 expansion of ISU Research Park, including construction on $12 million Economic Development Core Facility to serve as economic development assistance hub for Iowa. Cultivation Corridor attracted $1.8 billion in economic activity and investments.
  • Fundraising and development: New fundraising record set in FY15 at $165 million. 
  • Government relations: Worked with Board of Regents, the Iowa Legislature, and Governor Branstad to secure an increase to the state appropriation for the fourth consecutive year as well as funding for a new Student Innovation Center.
  • Extension and Outreach: Programs impact more than 1 million Iowans annually with offices in all 99 counties.
  • Alumni: 225,000 living alumni, 100,223 live in Iowa.
  • Campus Beautification: Ranked as the 5th most beautiful campus in the world. 
  • Community: Ames ranked the best college town in the country by AIER. 
  • Honors: Delivered 2015 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture: A University President’s Perspective on the Economic Importance of Pursuing a Unifying Message to Make Agriculture a National Priority

Memberships and boards

A member of the Council of Presidents of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), President Leath also serves on the Board of Directors of the University Innovation Alliance, a group of 11 public research universities aimed at making degrees more attainable for students with financial needs; the IFDC, an international soil fertility and agricultural development center; the Greater Des Moines Partnership; and Bankers Trust. He is also a member of the Big 12 Conference Board of Directors and serves as the Big 12 representative on the NCAA Division I Presidential Forum.

President Leath is founding co-chair of the Cultivation Corridor regional economic development initiative; and he is a member of the executive committee of the Iowa STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Advisory Council, the World Food Prize Council of Advisors, the Qassim University International Advisory Board, and 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, Sigma Xi research honor society, Cardinal Key Honor Society, and Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity.


President 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, 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, Leath published nearly 100 scientific articles in plant disease resistance, plant pathology, plant breeding, and related fields.

Family and interests

President 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: January 29, 2016