Photo / Steve Leath

Steve Leath, the vice president for research for the UNC system, is leaving his position to become the 15th president of Iowa State University (ISU) on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

Leath, 54, was announced as the new president in Ames, Iowa on Sept. 27, 2011. The only other finalist was Kumble Subbaswamy, a University of Kentucky provost. Leath will be taking over for the 14th President of ISU, Gregory Geoffrey, who retired earlier in 2011. According to reports, Leath will be making an annual salary of $440,000 in his new position.

Leath helped change the way research is done in our state with his work on REACH NC, which stands for Research, Engagement, and Capabilities of North Carolina, said Leslie Boney, Vice President for International Community and Economic Engagement for the UNC system. “[REACH NC] is a research expertise portal that brings the expertise of faculty into hands of professionals and nonprofessionals who can put it to use.”

According to its website, REACH NC is “a web portal that enables users to find experts and assets within North Carolina higher education and research institutions. It is the first comprehensive system that capitalizes on emerging technologies, efficient processes, and strategic relationships to provide a near real-time view of North Carolina assets and capabilities.”

Boney, who worked with Leath for four years and helped him with the REACH NC project, said that Leath “is the vision of research” for the North Carolina system. “He sees research as something that is interdisciplinary and institutional.”

Anita Watkins, vice president for government relations for the UNC system, worked with Leath for three years and was equally impressed with his work on REACH NC, as well as other work he did. “REACH NC is a really cool project. It brings all of our talent together into one database. It will have a profound effect on how campuses in our system do research.”

Although Leath’s work is lab-oriented and research driven, the first characteristic his friends talk about in regards to working with him is his personality. “He is an exceptionally personable guy,” said Boney. “There was never a meeting we went into together that I felt as if he wouldn’t be able to talk to every person in the room.”

Watkins also defined Leath as a great communicator. “Anytime there is an issue that the legislature or I need to know something about, he is the first one at my door,” she said.

“He really is driven by success and creativity. He is dedicated to helping campuses formulate research practices that help them bring their research to the private sector, wherever it is needed.”

Leath has played a major role in developing the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), a research hub that focuses on health, nutrition and agriculture. The NCRC works hand-in-hand with the David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI), a charity that funds groundbreaking research at the 350-acre Kannapolis biotech research campus.

Leath has been involved with and served as a board member at the DHMRI, over which he served as president until recently, since its inception. The public-private partnership between NCRC and DHMRI was created by David Murdock, chairman of Dole Food Co. New President James Oblinger, former chancellor of N.C. State University, took over day-to-day operations in mid-September.

Watkins said that although she is very sad to see him go, she is excited for him in his new role. “I think it is a huge opportunity for Steve, but I think it is a really huge opportunity for [ISU] to have Steve and [his wife] Janet there as leaders on campus.”