Plant pathologists honored by American Phytopathological Society

Steven Whitham and Daren Mueller
Steven Whitham, left, and Daren Mueller

AMES, Iowa – Three faculty members in Iowa State University’s Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology have been recognized by the American Phytopathological Society for their contributions and impacts in research, teaching and extension.


Steven Whitham, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, was named an APS fellow. He is one of 10 to receive this honor for the 2022 award year.

APS members are recognized with the fellow distinction for their “significant contributions” in research, teaching, administration, professional and public service and/or extension and outreach.

Whitham has been at Iowa State for more than 20 years. Since joining the university as a faculty member, Whitham has become known internationally for his cutting-edge research on the interactions between plant pathogens and their hosts.

He studies genes in plants and pathogens to determine the molecular basis for disease susceptibility and how viruses can be useful in plants. Whitham is also interested in finding ways to make plants more disease resistant and drought resilient through testing various mutations in the plants.

Over the years, he’s collaborated with fellow researchers in other departments at Iowa State, including agronomy and horticulture, and mentored undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral scholars.

“I’ve worked with a lot of great teams, so that’s been a fun aspect,” Whitham said.

Excellence in Teaching Award

Leonor Leandro, professor of plant pathology and microbiology, received the Excellence in Teaching Award.

When Leandro was hired as a faculty member at Iowa State, her position was considered 20% teaching and 80% research. Over the years, the amount of teaching she does has increased.

Just as her teaching responsibilities have changed, so have her teaching methods. Where she used to lecture from a PowerPoint presentation, she has incorporated more interactive learning into her classrooms.

“I feel like students are more excited to come to class and learn and they pay better attention,” Leandro said.

She teaches a course that introduces students to fungi and the impact they have on people’s lives. Seeing the “little lightbulb moments” when students realize fungi are everywhere or learn something new is encouraging for Leandro.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing my job well. It’s very rewarding to get emails from former students saying they got a new job and what they learned in class is benefitting them in some way,” she said.

Excellence in Extension Award

Daren Mueller, associate professor of plant pathology and microbiology, is quick to point out the Excellence in Extension Award he received would not be possible without the work and support of his team.

“I come up with the ideas and my team makes them work,” Mueller said.

That team involves Extension and communication personnel who contribute to Iowa State’s Integrated Pest Management Program efforts. Through IPM, workshops, field days, social media outreach and various publications are produced. All in an effort to share with stakeholders and the community the research plant pathologists at Iowa State conduct.

In addition to coordinating the IPM Program, Mueller also serves as co-director of the North Central Integrated Pest Management Center and co-director of the Crop Protection Network.

Among those roles, he finds times to conduct research related to diseases in field crops – namely corn, soybeans and mung beans. He seeks to better understand and manage the diseases, then share what he learns with others.

Leonor Leandro standing and talking to two students in a class
Leonor Leandro