EAST LIVERPOOL - Stephen Nameth is a man in training.
An avid cyclist, he's preparing for a cross-state, four-day ride for the American Cancer Society later this month.
Then, on Aug. 1, he assumes his duties as dean and chief administrative officer of the Kent State University Columbiana County campuses - a position he's been in training for for 59 years.
Nameth will split his time between the Salem and East Liverpool campuses at a time when branch campuses are under increasing scrutiny for their low graduation rates.
"The students come in with the intention of graduating, and there are many factors that keep them from doing that," he said. "These students are being pulled in many different directions than I was at their age."
Nameth grew up in neighboring Beaver County, Pa., and, then, at the age of 14, the only child moved to Los Angeles. "My mother didn't see a lot of opportunities where we were living. ... In 1969 (Southern California) was a bit of a culture shock," he said.
Nameth finished high school in Whittier, Calif., the hometown of Richard Nixon, and started his college career at Cerritos Community College, where he earned an associate degree in natural science.
He finished his bachelor and master's degrees at California State Polytechnic in Pomona and received his Ph.D. in plant pathology from the University of California, Riverside, in 1985.
That same year, he moved to Columbus to take a teaching position at the Ohio State University. Nameth distinguished himself in the field of plant pathology, authoring or co-authoring more than 150 bulletins and technical reports on plant diseases and growing practices.
His peer-reviewed journal articles include "Bacterial blight of geranium: A diagnostic challenge," "Digital video technology as a means of quantifying root rot," and "First report of cucumber mosaic virus in garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) in Ohio."
Nameth's career in higher education took him from teaching to administration in 2004, when he became director of OSU's Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster.
He is just finishing up his second four-year term there, during which time he helped secure more than $7.2 million in external funding, increase enrollment of incoming freshmen and broaden the school's mission by developing new classes, programs and majors.
"I enjoy problem solving. I enjoy working with people. I'm very fascinated by people," Nameth said. "I enjoy being around the students, and the youth and the vitality of what they bring to the campus."
Nameth said he's impressed with what he's seen of the Salem and East Liverpool campuses -- and with the fact that Columbiana County has two KSU campuses.
"I see that as a real benefit," he said. "I see myself really promoting those campuses and letting people know of the opportunities that both campuses bring to the Columbiana County area. ... We're in an area where we can have a dramatic effect on the social and economic environment and be a real benefit to the people in that area."
Nameth said he is aware of the media reports listing KSU East Liverpool among the public universities with the worst graduation rate in the country. One report had the branch campus' graduation rate at 8.9 percent -- third-lowest in the country.
Also ranking low are the Ohio University Southern campus in Ironton, Ohio (sixth), KSU Tuscarawas (seventh), and OU at Chillicothe (10th).
"I think that can be improved," Nameth said, "but I don't think it's as dismal as it's portrayed because we are serving a purpose for those students."
A lot of students enroll at the East Liverpool campus with the intention of eventually transferring to the Kent campus or elsewhere, he said. Others are unable to complete for reasons outside the university's control, he said.
"There are a lot of reasons why students don't graduate," Nameth said. "Some of that is a reflection of the economics we're going through right now. Some go back home and work. ... Some want to take two years and move on to the Kent campus. The regional campus has served its purpose for that student in that case."
Graduation rates also are a reflection of how well-prepared students are as they graduate from high school and enter college, he said.
Nameth said he was attracted to Kent State because it has "an ideal view of what the branch campus should be." It can be an entry point for students who want to start their college career close to home, or it can be a "stand-alone" place to finish a degree, he said.
"When you start looking at the two-year programs, it's a starting and end point for students who can walk away with a degree from KSU that's no different from a degree at the Kent campus," he said, "and you have a skill that's going to allow them to have a successful career."
Nameth said both campuses - Salem and East Liverpool - have their strong points, whether its degree programs or the role of the campus in the community.
Nameth said he and his wife of 37 years, Sharon, are looking for a home in East Liverpool. The couple has two daughters and three grandchildren.
"I will be riding my bicycle back and forth to work," he said.