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Editor's Note - An Ongoing Conversation

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For every feature story we have a conversation with our subjects. And afterwards they have a chance to review what we’ve written and make sure the facts accurately reflect their story.

Not long after the last issue of Penn State Ag Science appeared in readers’ mailboxes I opened an email from Darrel Williams, an alumnus we highlighted in the feature “Oh! The Places We Go.” During our review process, Darrel provided a number of corrections to the text that I failed to make before we went to press. The errors were serious, although, as he indicated, few people would likely recognize them. His email was gentle, and detailed his pride in his education at Penn State and his disappointment in our not getting things right. As a NASA scientist getting things right is important.

And as it is for us too, here are the corrections:

  1. The title of Darrel’s section, “The View from 1,000,000 Feet,” should be “The View from 2,000,000 Feet.” That’s quite a difference—nearly 190 miles.
  2. He did receive his Ph.D. degree from the University of Maryland, but in “Physical Geography,” not “Geology,” as stated.
  3. The historical sequence of degrees is wrong. Darrel went immediately to NASA after completing his master’s degree at Penn State, and worked at NASA for more than 10 years before enrolling in a Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland.

Thank you, Darrel, for making sure our conversation didn’t end before we got the facts straight.

Part of my job as editor, besides making sure our subjects are portrayed accurately, is to keep my ears open for interesting and important stories. Readership surveys provide general guidance about story length, topics, art, and photography. But paying attention to ongoing conversations people have around agriculture is far more insightful. Alumni, business owners, farmers, students—all have a voice. I listen and try to put myself in their shoes when considering stories that originate from all parts of our community.

Relationships make our college special and fuel careers, academics, and businesses in ways we can’t possibly comprehend. Over the years I’ve had the privilege to witness interactions I knew made a difference in people’s lives. Some big, some small—all important.

A few weeks ago I opened an email from Penn State Extension Enologist Denise Gardner asking if I might have an archived copy of the Fall/Winter 1998–99 issue of Penn State Agriculture. Denise was giving a talk in Washington, D.C., about how she got interested in enology (the science of wine and wine-making), and it turns out that in ninth grade, she had an exam in an ag science class based on that issue. The magazine provided her first exposure to grape phylloxera, a pest of commercial grapevines worldwide. I met Denise as a college student enrolled in my AG 150 freshman seminar. By that time, information from the magazine had taken root, and she announced to the class that she was going to be an enologist.

I spoke to Kim Dionis, the writer of the article, and she distinctly remembered the story, and how she felt especially lucky to interview people so eager to draw her into their worlds. She hoped she could translate their knowledge and passion to readers. Kim, who is also my wife and then co-editor of the magazine, was thrilled to hear that the story influenced Denise’s career trajectory. I told Denise what Kim said, and she replied: “You can tell her she changed my life.”

There’s a give and take that makes up many conversations in our ag sciences community. In this case, we gave something to a young student and she’s giving back now to the wine industry in Pennsylvania.

Every faculty member and extension educator probably has a similar story to share in which a relationship they’d had with a student or customer blossomed into something bigger and richer. This helps make up the fabric of our college and is why our community is close, concerned, and connected.

Let’s keep talking.

Steve Williams, Editor