Family — Part of the Magic of This College

Etherton and Ace

Terry Etherton and Don Ace

Students, faculty, and alums often describe our college as a family. My own experience certainly shows that to be true. From students to alumni, and everyone in between, there is a real, tangible sense of connection between people and the institution. Those connections are part of the magic, a tenacity of spirit and ideas that powers the College of Agricultural Sciences through thick and thin.

I recently attended a celebration marking the college's successful conclusion of Penn State's For the Future campaign. Donors, students, alumni, faculty, department heads, administrators, friends, and staff joined together to reflect on the remarkable support that raised more than $88 million. Like a family, this college cares for and invests in future generations.

Relationships are built and nurtured here over time. At the celebration, I ran into Don Ace, former head of dairy and animal science. He asked why I've stayed in Ag Sciences all this time, "Steve, we worked together before I retired in 1984, and that was over 30 years ago!" Thinking about his comment later, I realized how important the work of the men and women in the college is. Three strong pillars -- research, teaching, and extension -- form the unshakeable foundation of this family, which so many know and value.

Earl Harbaugh, 1961 graduate in general agriculture and current chair of the college's Development Council, also spoke to the group about the reasons people give back to the college. One of his comments stood out. "A person enjoying the shade of a tree is a recipient of philanthropy," he said. "Someone planted a tree today so someone can benefit tomorrow: that's the simple definition of philanthropy." Looking around, I saw that the room was full of tree planters -- people who establish and nurture our students and programs.

Lest we believe these connections and support only come at the end of a productive career, Terry Etherton, head of the animal science department, reminded us that our students also give back. The Block and Bridle Club has started an endowment. This is the family we are. We teach not just academics but values: support, concern, and stewardship.

As spring bursts forth, it brings with it a new opportunity for connection with the college. Governor Corbett has announced the reopening of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Agricultural Sciences, which closed in 2008 due to economic challenges.

The Governor's School brings together 40 academically talented and gifted students for a broad overview of the diverse fields of agriculture and natural resources. They will learn about educational opportunities and careers in the agricultural sciences, and get a taste of college life.

For four weeks this summer, these students will join our family to explore animal and plant sciences, food science, engineering, environmental and natural resource conservation, and community awareness. They'll take challenging courses and build connections by working on research projects with Penn State faculty and staff.

I can't help but think that if I were a parent and my child were considering colleges, that the lifelong connections made here would be something I would want my son or daughter to be part of, not just for professional networking and career opportunities, but for the chance to join an extended family that will enrich them forever.

That's magic.

Steve Williams