Jean Lonie
Photo by Steve Williams

It would be difficult to find anyone with more enthusiasm for agriculture than Jean Lonie. The College of Agricultural Sciences’ new director of student recruitment and activities hopes some of that zeal rubs off when she speaks with prospective students and their families about the myriad opportunities available in today’s agriculture and related industries.

“There are such misconceptions about the word ‘agriculture,’” Lonie says. “When you look at the college’s 17 majors and 24 minors, there’s amazing diversity.”

Lonie comes to the college from the animal-health company Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health). Her wide-ranging career also features time with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Philadelphia School District’s W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, Farm Journal Media, the U.S. Holstein Association, and the American Mushroom Institute. These experiences, she explains, have given her a broad appreciation for the many facets of the field.

She notes that attracting young people to the food, agricultural, and natural resource sciences is a matter of helping students find their passion, showing them how it connects to the college’s offerings, then helping them see the pathway that leads to a successful education and career.

Are you interested in business? “Major in agribusiness management and learn it in a hands-on way that focuses on agribusiness goods and services,” she says.

Do you want to be an engineer? “Think about every piece of equipment, every farm structure and automation system, the bioenergy work that we’re doing in the college—all of that comes back to agricultural and biological engineering.”

Do you care about global health crises? “Major in toxicology or immunology and infectious disease and be part of the global solutions. My job is to help students make those connections.”

Lonie perhaps is uniquely qualified to do just that. A native of Philadelphia with a nonfarm background, she attended W.B. Saul High School, a respected agricultural magnet school. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in general agriculture with a minor in agribusiness management from the University of Delaware and a master of business administration degree from Eastern University.

Her foray into agriculture may have surprised her—and her parents. “I never thought I’d have a career in agriculture,” she recalls. “I loved sports and wanted to be an athletic trainer. It took some convincing for my parents to allow me to go to Saul, but once I got involved in FFA and attended the Governor’s School for the Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, I was hooked.”

Lonie believes her background will help her relate to young people who may not have given agriculture a serious look. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the job market for college graduates in the food, agricultural, and natural resource sciences is booming, a trend on which she plans to capitalize.

“According to the USDA, there are about 54,000 annual openings in agriculture and related fields, and only about 29,000 graduates with ag degrees,” she says. “To fill that gap, we need dynamic, engaged young people. We can use the college as a conduit to show them it’s about research, science, engineering, and math, but it’s also about marketing, communications, and law. It’s about boots on the ground out in the watershed; it’s about landscape design.”

Lonie acknowledges that despite these opportunities, some old stereotypes persist, and agriculture needs cheerleaders—a role she is delighted to fill.

“Not every student is going to major in the agricultural sciences, and I get that,” she says. “But I want it to be an informed choice.”

—Chuck Gill