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Giving Time, Giving Yourself

by LISA DUCHENE

Graphic courtesy of Michael Austin for The iSpot.com

GRAPHIC: MICHAEL AUSTIN FOR THE iSPOT.COM

People are busy. Life is complicated. Yet, alumni continue to donate time and resources to support the college despite professional and personal commitments. Three alumni explain why they chose to get involved.


Professional Connections

In 2009, Emily Yeiser, ’07 Animal Sciences, was at a crossroads. She’d worked for two years for a dairy genetics company. Yet, she was curious about much more, like improving the health of dairy cows.

She weighed graduate school and considered becoming a professor. But which program made the most sense?

Yeiser—active in the college’s Ag Alumni Society and the Dairymen’s Alumni Club—e-mailed alumni, asking if anyone knew people studying animal welfare and disease prevention.

Answers came quickly. Yeiser connected with Dr. Christina Petersson-Wolfe, ’00 Dairy and Animal Sci, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech. Petersson-Wolfe explores ways to improve dairy cow well-being and milk quality by reducing mastitis.

For the next two years, Yeiser studied with Petersson-Wolfe, earning an M.S. in dairy science from Virginia Tech. Last fall, she started a new job managing program initiatives at the Center for Dairy Excellence, a nonprofit dairy farmers’ organization based in Harrisburg.

“It’s amazing how the connections work,” says Yeiser. “It’s a small world in that sense. It’s a family. Less than 2 percent of the population is involved in [agriculture] nationwide. So it automatically makes you part of a close-knit small community, and if you take it on the university level, it’s even smaller.”

“At least every other day, I have a conversation on the phone or send an e-mail to either a classmate or an ag college alum that allows me to be better at my job,” says Yeiser. “It’s been very much a personal passion of mine. I really enjoy staying connected with the undergrads. It’s a pretty cool community.”

For Emily Yeiser and others, the alumni society offers professional support.

 

College Connections

A common thread among alumni is the desire to stay connected to the family-like community they first experienced as undergraduates. Working with alumni and students provides an opportunity to reconnect with that experience.

“I can’t stress enough the family feel the college has,” says Laurie Williams, ’90 Food Sci, consumer safety officer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “That makes wanting to participate and give back very, very easy.”

Williams joined the society’s Food Industry Group in the late 1990s, serving as its vice president and president. She served on the society’s board of directors from 2006 to 2009 and is now on the executive board of the Penn State Alumni Association.

“I’m gainfully employed in my field of choice,” says Williams. “I think it’s important to let younger folks know how valuable a Penn State degree is, particularly in ag sciences and food science. I felt I could do that most directly by participating and giving back.”

Williams has worked on a mentor- protégé program, hosting visiting students at the FDA.

She also helped create a “speed networking” session that gave students a chance to ask alumni questions in a casual atmosphere.

“Being able to help provide opportunities for growth in their fields—particularly food science because I’m a food scientist—that’s the most rewarding,” says Williams.

For Laurie Williams, the alumni society provides opportunities to return to the college, to help students, to reconnect with “family.”

 

Student Connections

Some alumni make lifelong commitments to education.

Larry Campbell, ’63 Ag Bio Sci, ’67g Dairy Sci, was busy with his young family and working his way through school when he developed a close-knit, family feel of the department that later became food science and a commitment to education.

“That led to lifelong connections with the department,” says Campbell, “so I always found every excuse I could when I was working to come up and visit.”

“I believe in education,” says Campbell. “I believe in the college’s education.” His own parents had instilled in him to never forget people who helped him. He’s held a number of posts within the food science alumni group and the Ag Alumni Society, helped raise money for the new Food Science Building, and with his wife endowed a scholarship.

Campbell, now retired from a 33-year research and development career at Hershey Foods, still works to help students—connecting undergraduates and alumni working in their fields of choice by organizing visits and tours at food processing companies and helping undergrads learn about career opportunities and summer jobs.

For Larry Campbell, continuing to support educational opportunities for students is important.

 

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The reasons alumni give their time and resources are as varied as the opportunities to get involved with the college and the alumni society. They’re personal and professional; they’re small commitments and large. Whatever the reason might be for you, it will make a difference—in your life or in the life of someone else.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, visit agsci.psu.edu/alumni/get-involved/committees.