Search begins for next leader of The Arboretum at Penn State

May 10, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A national search will commence to find the next leader of The Arboretum at Penn State — one of the most cherished and popular destinations in State College.

In the meantime, an interim director will provide temporary leadership beginning July 1, 2021.

Sanford "Sandy" Smith, teaching professor in forest resources and natural resources and youth extension specialist in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, will serve as interim director of the Arboretum until a permanent replacement is selected with the help of a national search firm. Smith, who has been with Penn State since 1985, has spent much of his career leading education programs for youth, adult volunteerism in conservation and environmental education, and forest stewardship on private forestlands.

Long-term funding for the permanent position will be made possible by a $3 million endowment from Charles H. “Skip” Smith, the Penn State alumnus and philanthropist whose gift in 2007 launched construction of the Arboretum.

Sandy Smith, no relation to Skip, will temporarily take over for Kim Steiner, founding director of the Arboretum and professor of forest biology in the college. Steiner announced his upcoming retirement earlier this year, following a nearly five-decade Penn State career. Under Steiner’s watch since its inception in 2009, the Arboretum has grown to 370 acres, including the 7-acre H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens and the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden, and over 40 acres of restored natural areas. The Arboretum, which sees more than 150,000 annual visitors, also serves as an outdoor laboratory for Penn State classes, student research and engagement projects, and a rental venue for both University and private events.

The search for Steiner’s replacement commences at a time of expansion and transition for the Arboretum. A unique, 3-acre pollinator and bird garden will soon be completed, and more gardens and a conservatory are planned. A new facility for the Palmer Museum of Art, which will also house the Arboretum staff and its operations, is scheduled to be completed on the edge of the botanic gardens in 2023. Together, the Arboretum and art museum will become the core of a planned University cultural district. 

In addition, operational oversight for the Arboretum moves from the Office of the Provost to Penn State Outreach, under the leadership of Vice President Tracey Huston, on July 1.

“The alignment of the Arboretum within the Outreach portfolio will enable us to provide a high level of support to engage diverse audiences in programming, create synergies with other Outreach units, and more fully support the work of University faculty — representing several departments and academic colleges,” said Huston. “It is truly an honor to provide leadership to this extraordinary University asset that is appreciated and supported by so many stakeholders and was recognized as one of three ‘Great Places in Pennsylvania for 2020’ by the state chapter of the American Planning Association.”

Huston ensures that, under her leadership, the Arboretum will continue its interdisciplinary focus on learning, discovery and community engagement.

"The Arboretum is more than a collection of beautiful plants and gardens. It is a manifestation of the research excellence and land-grant mission of Penn State,” she said. “The gardens, including the Pollinator and Bird Garden, were developed in close consultation with faculty to reflect current and emerging scientific understanding of ecological processes, providing access to the cutting-edge research of Penn State for the hundreds of thousands of Arboretum visitors each year. We will continue to build upon the impactful work that Dr. Steiner has accomplished with the deans, faculty from a broad range of disciplines, dedicated employees, students, volunteers, and generous donors.”  

Huston added that Sandy Smith’s previous experience will allow him to serve as an outstanding interim leader for the Arboretum.

Once a national search firm has been selected, it will work closely with a diverse Penn State search committee comprised of representatives from the Arboretum, Outreach, University Development, Local Government and Community Relations, Human Resources, and various Penn State colleges.

An official job announcement will be posted to the Penn State Careers site in the coming weeks.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 24, 2021