Coston receives 2024 CANR Alumni Service Award

Donald Claude Coston will receive the 2024 CANR Alumni Service Award during the annual ANR Awards on Friday, March 1.

Dr. DC Costion headshot

Donald Claude (D.C.) Coston, Ph.D., of Birmingham, Alabama, will receive a Michigan State University (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Alumni Service Award at the March 1 ANR Awards Program.

The Alumni Service Award honors CANR alumni who have demonstrated continuing outstanding volunteer service to MSU, the CANR or meritorious public service on a local, state, national or international level. Candidates must possess the highest standards of integrity and character to positively reflect and enhance the prestige of the CANR.

Coston grew up in North Carolina, earning his undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University. After receiving encouragement from several alumni at NC State, Coston decided to attend MSU for graduate school, earning both his masters (’74 Horticulture) and Ph.D. (‘76 Horticulture-Plant Physiology) from MSU. Coston had an assistantship with Dr. Al Kenworthy and helped manage the Plant Analysis Lab, eventually becoming the statistics consultant for the department.

Coston retired in 2015 as President of Dickinson State University (DSU) in Dickinson, North Dakota, after an over five-decade career in higher education spanning five different universities. Facing steep financial, accreditation, enrollment and accountability concerns, Coston was brought to DSU in 2012 to stabilize operations and re-establish public trust. Under his presidential leadership, DSU’s financial situation drastically improved and its accreditation was affirmed for 10 years by the Higher Learning Commission. At the time of Coston’s retirement, DSU was in the strongest financial position of all 11 North Dakota University System institutions and had no debt.

During his tenure as DSU’s president, Coston played an instrumental role in a variety of important achievements, including the expansion of several academic programs, improving graduate placement rates, revitalizing the Strom Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, recruiting, nominating and mentoring DSU’s first ever Truman Scholar and successfully transitioning DSU athletics into the Frontier Conference and the North Star Athletic Association.

Coston’s visionary leadership and advocacy also was vital in building awareness in the North Dakota State Legislature about important work being done at DSU’s Theodore Roosevelt Center to digitize the papers of President Theodore Roosevelt. DSU has engaged with Harvard University, the Library of Congress and the National Park Service to catalog and digitize records so scholars worldwide can access these papers. As a result of Coston’s efforts, the North Dakota State Legislature appropriated funding to establish a physical library in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and to support the ongoing work of digitalization. The initiative has grown in scope, raising about $200 million privately plus securing a permanent $50 million operating endowment from the state. Construction of the Library is underway in Medora, ND, adjacent to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. A ribbon cutting is planned for July 4, 2026.

Prior to his time as president of DSU, Coston served as Vice President for Agriculture and University Extension at North Dakota State University (NDSU) from 2005-2011. He was successful at developing teams and building alliances across the state of North Dakota. Over this period, Coston helped secure funding for several capital projects, including enhancements to all seven of the off-campus Research and Extension Centers. In addition, Coston catalyzed the development of collaborations like the Bio Energy and Product Innovation Center, the Oil Seed Center of Excellence and the Beef Systems Center of Excellence.

Before leading Agriculture and University Extension at NDSU, Coston served as the Associate Director of the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station at Oklahoma State University. In this position he was responsible for leading programs at 18 statewide locations with nearly 300 faculty members and support staff and 400 students in four colleges and divisions. Coston led efforts to create the International Research Support Grants Program, enhancing the college’s research portfolio and professional partnerships for faculty and students as well as leading the creation of the Rural Oklahoma Capital Alliance, a partnership with numerous businesses and organizations to create a nearly $40 million venture-capital fund.

Coston started his academic career at Virginia Tech University. He then transitioned to Clemson University, rising through the faculty ranks from 1978-1995. In the late 80s, he served as Associate Dean for Research for the South Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station at Clemson University – more than tripling the extramural grant support and increasing the patenting of college intellectual property and subsequent licensing agreements. During his last five years at Clemson, he coordinated the University’s Biotechnology Program, a collaboration across 12 academic units in four colleges.

Throughout his entire career, Coston has remained a proud Spartan and advocate for the Horticulture department. He and his wife Debbie, an MSU alumnae (’75, Horticulture Science/Business), met during Coston’s Ph.D. work at MSU. They were married in 1976 at the United Methodist Church in East Lansing, Michigan, and celebrated their reception at the Kellogg Center on campus. They retired to Birmingham, Alabama where they enjoy spending time with friends and family while staying active in their community. Coston volunteers weekly on a team that helps maintain the Japanese Garden and serves as Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee of Board of Directors of the Friends of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.


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