Get to Know Steven Pueppke

About this photo: 
A year ago while working on a water-energy-food project in Kazakhstan, we came across an abandoned irrigation area with red poppies growing as far as we could see across the steppes.  We wandered out into this dream world and a colleague snapped the photo.  I’m on the right, and a Kazakh student is on the left.  I promise—is not photoshopped!


What positions have you previously held leading up to your current role?

A whole bunch—chair of an academic department at the University of Missouri, associate dean for research and director of an international programs office at the University of Illinois, director of agricultural research programs at Michigan State University.  All of these positions were part of responsibilities as a university professor.   


What initially sparked your interest in the life science industry?

I grew up on a farm, and that was the initial spark.  When I got to college, I discovered that I enjoyed laboratory work with plants and so specialized in plant science oriented toward agriculture and food production.  No frog forfeited its life because I dissected it. 


Which leader in life science do you most look up to? 

There have been many, but I have especially impressed with the late Ralph Hardy, who founded the North American Agricultural Biotechnology Council.  I got to know him about 20 years ago and was immediately taken by Ralph’s commitment to science, down to earth personality, all resting on a long career of scientific accomplishments.  I like scientists who in spite of their accomplishments are just normal human beings.


What advice do you have for anyone pursuing a career in life science? 

 Do it because you love it, not because you plan to get rich. 

What do you do in your spare time? 

I am an avid gardener, love to travel, and in contrast to most of my friends, I like to write.  Oddly, I also enjoy translating old documents from German into English.  

What's your favourite Canadian dish? 

Poutine—not very available in the west so I hear, but you can get it in this part of the world.  I am a flexible vegetarian, and so I allow myself to enjoy more or less meatless versions of the dish. 

What do you most value in your friends? 

I like people who are spontaneous, like to have fun, are candid, and don’t put up very many defenses.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I could play the piano.  I can play by ear with one finger and wish I could use the rest of them on the keyboard, but I cannot.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I grew up in a very rural farming area.  Most teenagers were destined to stay there, and they did.  I was fortunate enough to get into a wonderful university and eventually become a professor.  In have no doubts that my school friends are happy and fulfilled in what they do, but I got a bonus:  I have friends from all over the world and get to work with them regularly.  I achieved only part of this myself---most of came through luck and many friends and colleagues along the way.   

Who are your heroes in real life? 

I don’t really have a name in mind, but I am in awe of people who stand on principles and get things done in spite of headwinds.  These people are rare—it is so easy to get comfortable with the system and lose one’s motivation to make a real difference and get things done.

I am quite sure that I will be the only US participant in the congress who has been on a fishing trip to Cranberry Portage, MB.  I’ve also driven east-west across the province on the Trans-Canada Highway.  I grew up in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, and so I appreciate the beauty of the prairies on either side of the 49th parallel.