UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kim Steiner has been interested in arboreta virtually his entire career. While completing his doctorate in forest genetics at Michigan State University, he interviewed for a scientist position at the former Cary Arboretum of the New York Botanical Garden. But instead of heading to New York, he joined the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences faculty as a 25-year-old assistant professor of forest biology in 1974.
In spring of 1975, Penn State's then-provost Russell Larson named him to a committee studying the feasibility of establishing an arboretum on campus — an initiative that had been discussed, in fits and starts, since 1914.
"That committee's work gradually came to a standstill as members left the University, but in 1994 the arboretum project was resurrected by a new task force of faculty and staff, which I chaired beginning in 1995," Steiner recalled.
When trustees in 1999 approved a plan for an arboretum, to be developed on a 370-acre tract of undeveloped land adjacent to campus between Park Avenue and the Mt. Nittany Expressway, Steiner was named the founding director of what formally became known as The Arboretum at Penn State.
"So, I’ve actually been involved with this project for nearly my entire tenure at Penn State," said Steiner, who will retire from the University in June.
His decades of contributions to planning for an arboretum, and the work he has guided since the 1990s to make it a reality, have changed the landscape of the University Park campus forever.