Meet Lester “Les” H. Myers, department head for agricultural and applied economics from 1992-2002.

You often hear about impressive careers, but I assure you Lester H. Myers, Ph.D. has definitely made his impact in the world of economics and agriculture. - By Melissa Vidmar

Penn state university year book with Les Myers
Pictured: Penn State University yearbook from 1961

Education snapshot

The profile

Growing up on a small poultry farm in eastern Pennsylvania, Les had a natural love for agriculture and the business behind it.

While he jokes he had “enough of chickens” growing up, it ended up being one of the reasons he chose dairy science as his major when he applied to Penn State University.

As the first person in his family to go to college, it was after he was accepted to Penn State University that he came across a $600 scholarship that would pay for half of his tuition and board. This was a great opportunity for him to help pay the costs, but to get the scholarship he had to switch majors.

You guessed it. Les had to switch his major to poultry.

During his junior year, he took an agricultural economics marketing class. It was his professor at the time who wrote a note on one of his papers asking if he had ever considered graduate school. While he hadn't even thought it was a possibility, Les applied to the University of Connecticut to be part of their graduate program and was accepted and offered a research assistantship.

While pursuing his Ph.D., Les was employed as an Agricultural Economist for the Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Upon graduation, he joined the Florida Department of Citrus as a Research Economist and held an adjunct assistant professor position in the Food and Resource Economics department at the University of Florida. In 1976, he became the Economic Research Director for the Florida Department of Citrus and was promoted to Adjunct Professor. In 1980, he joined Chase Econometrics in Philadelphia as Senior Economist and Director of International Agricultural Services. He became Chief of the Food Marketing and Consumption Economics Branch of the Economic Research Service, USDA in December 1983, where he served until 1992 when he assumed the position of Professor and Head for the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech. He retired from Virginia Tech in 2002 and received emeritus status in 2003.

Les was hired as the Professor and Head of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Department in 1992 where he had administrative and leadership responsibilities for the department's teaching, Extension, and research programs in marketing, production economics, rural and community development, natural resource and environmental economics, and international programs in economic development. He also taught an undergraduate Food and Agricultural Policy course.

During his tenure as department head, the department averaged 27 faculty and 12 support positions. He also represented the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences on the university's Economic Development Committee. He was particularly proud of two major departmental initiatives.

  • Joining the School for Public and International Affairs, which provided AAEC with more university-wide visibility.
  • Collaborating with the Department of Economics to develop and implement a joint Ph.D. program.

“One challenge faced was the possible elimination of the Ph.D. program in economics, which could have proven fatal to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics Ph.D. program as well, said David Orden, a professor in the department and then chairman of the Graduate Committee. The Department of Economics and AAEC worked together to instead create a new Ph.D. in Economics to be administered jointly. Approved by SCHEV after two years of development, the joint program has served the two departments for twenty-five years.”

“Les Myers provided a steady hand as department head helping marshal this innovative development,” Orden noted.

In addition to his career, Les has been a member of many professional organizations and held a number of leadership positions in the Southern Agricultural Economics Association (SAEA) and the American Agricultural Economics Association (AAEA).

He served on the editorial council of the Southern Journal of Agricultural Economics and as Associate Editor of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. As an elected member of the AAEA Executive Board, he served on numerous Association committees and chaired the Finance Committee. In 1995, he was elected to the AAEA Foundation Board of Directors and served as the Foundation's President from 1996-1997. He served as chair of the Southern Agricultural Economics Department chairs/heads and as president of the National Association of Agricultural Economics Administrators. Les is a charter member of the SAEA and served as its 2003-2004 President.

Who better to ask advice from than Les? When asked what advice he has for younger faculty just starting their careers, he said simply… “find a good mentor.”

Les and his wife live in Blacksburg, VA. They remain supporters of the department through the "Les and Winne Myers" scholarship. In February 2023 during AAEC's scholarship reception, students Kelsey Davis and Phoebe Pyles were the recipients of their generosity.

"I am grateful to have led a department with such amazing faculty, staff, and students during my tenure. Virginia Tech and Blacksburg will always be home to my family and me. Winne and I  are very proud to continue to show our support."