Steven Newman is a professor and extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture. In December of 2020, he retired after 26 years of service to Colorado State University.
Specializing in floriculture, greenhouse crops, and plant stress physiology, Steve Newman has dedicated his work to the advancement of horticulture at CSU. Since 1976, Newman has worked in the university system in one form or another.
During his undergraduate studies at Montana State University, Newman switched majors from engineering to recreation area management. With an interest in large-scale parks systems, he hoped this course of study would give him a chance to become a national park ranger.
“I got into the plant ID courses and taxonomy. I was also getting pretty good at my pen and ink drafting skills, and I decided that I was going to be a landscape architect,” Newman said. “I put my portfolio together and I applied to the landscape architecture program at Iowa State University. I was in the process of getting accepted and one of the teachers I had, Homer Metcalf, called me into his office and said, ‘Steve, there's an assistantship available to teach plant propagation classes and work on a master's degree at the University of Nebraska. I think you would have fun doing this.’”
Newman considered the opportunity, called the department head, and within six weeks, moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska, he was managing the teaching greenhouses by age 22. Between his hands-on work and courses, Newman fostered a love for the green industry. When it was time to pursue his Ph.D., Newman applied to the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida, to no avail.
“I got a call from a man at Texas A&M named Fred Davies who said, ‘I hear you're looking to come do graduate work, come work with me,’” Newman said. “So, I moved to Lubbock and taught plant propagation classes for another two years, and then ran his greenhouse lab and did all of his statistics.”
Davies would send Newman out all around the state and country doing research. Half of his research was focused on temperature profiles in black plant pot container nurseries that spanned hundreds of acres. As he was finishing up his degree program, the U.S. fell into a major recession. Upon graduating, Newman sent out 35 applications for professorships.
“I got two interviews and one job offer. It was a scary time because it was hard to get by. I got a job offer from Mississippi State University. It was a great school, great program, and a great place for me to start,” said Newman. Nine years later, an opportunity opened at CSU, where he spent the remainder of his career.
With multiple doors opened for him throughout his academic and professional career, it’s been easy for Newman to pay it forward with students and faculty alike. Encouraging students to attend green industry expos, compete in horticultural competitions, and pursue internships out-of-state are all strategies Newman uses to give students an upper hand. Risk is commonplace in the green industry, and Newman merits that risk is necessary for success.
“There's a scene from an Indiana Jones movie where he has to step out over a chasm, and he can't see the board,” says Newman. “You have to take that leap of faith. Sometimes you can't see the board, and you have to trust in your instinct, trust in your guts, and just take that leap of faith - and I'm constantly taking that leap of faith.”