(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)
At Veridian Limited, he learned how the school's Center for Industrial Research and Service has provided education, guidance and improvement coaching for the local manufacturer of fire-fighting equipment.
A visit to Clay County Extension showed how that branch of ISU is serving local residents.
Leath also spoke to service club members about the priorities he has had since being appointed president Feb. 1.
"I really believe a land-grant university needs to serve the entire state," Leath said. "I can't do that well, Iowa State can't do that well, if we don't get out constantly to all the areas of the state."
Research and economic development were Leath's priorities while working for the University of North Carolina system, and he has brought those same priorities to his new position.
"What I want to do is make sure all our science and research is relevant to the state," Leath said. "We want to be the university that serves the state better than any other college."
He calls that approach "demand-driven and citizen-focused."
Just as Gov. Terry Branstad has been focusing on public-private partnerships, Leath plans to do the same in hopes of contributing to Branstad's goal of creating 200,000 new jobs in the state.
Leath has been working with the Iowa Legislature and pledged to have questions answered within 24 hours, and he believes that ISU's budget was not cut for the first time in years largely because of that transparency.
With record enrollment of more than 30,000 students this fall, including 68 percent of undergraduates from Iowa, Leath is pleased to have full funding from the state.
He said the school's strengths will continue to thrive, while also working to promote other programs.
"You're going to see Iowa State as a world leader in agriculture and engineering, but you're also going to constantly see more and more of our other programs that are rising up to those levels," Leath said.
In order to keep those programs strong, ISU is targeting the top four or five faculty members in each department "to make sure they're happy before someone comes and tries to snatch them away."
Keeping college affordable is another one of Leath's priorities.
"I think it's a real shame that Iowa is one of the four or five worst states for kids going to public universities and graduating with large amounts of debt," Leath said. "We're at about $30,000 per student, which is way too high, and I think Iowa can do better."
More state funding would be one solution, but Leath said the school's next capital campaign will include a large focus on raising scholarship dollars.
When asked about what ISU can do to help create more jobs, Leath pointed to research, partnerships with businesses and hands-on experience for students.
"We have to continue to do innovative research because sometimes our research creates ways we can keep jobs and let us compete more effectively," Leath said. "One of the things we've done is replace the board of our research foundation to make us more user friendly. ... We've made some philosophical changes so we don't own our intellectual property we create anymore, so a company that wants to partner with us can have it, protect it and move forward.
"We're still going to give our students a lot of hands-on experiences so they have a higher likelihood they'll get hired," Leath continued.
In addition to working with students, ISU Extension is changing how it interacts with communities.
"What we're trying to do is really look at, 'What do we know the needs are in different counties, how can we be deploying staff in different ways, and how can we take a different approach instead of one size fits all to really address the needs citizens have in different counties?'" ISU Vice President for Extension and Outreach Cathann Kress said.
Leath is also committed to staying in touch with residents in all areas of Iowa and vowed to return to Spencer for the Clay County Fair.