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Interview: Steven Loerch

Senior Associate Dean Steve Loerch returned to his alma mater in 2017 to help lead the college that gave him his start.

When I was growing up here in Centre County I wanted to be a cowboy and a scientist. I discovered a way to put those two things together and became a beef cattle scientist.

I've been on a Big Ten tour my whole life, starting when I was a child with my father working on his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Michigan State University, followed by my own career as a student at Penn State, as a student at the University of Illinois, as a faculty member at The Ohio State University, as department head of animal sciences at Illinois, and back to Penn State again.

When I was 16 years old, I got jobs working with Ralph Mumma in the Department of Entomology at Penn State and with Hugh Hodge on his Penns Valley beef farm. They, along with my father and mother, were important mentors for me.

I met my future wife at Penn State. We met in Speech 200, fell in love, and got married the week after we graduated. Throughout our careers, Karen and I both longed to return to State College, so we jumped at the chance to apply for the senior associate dean position. She told me, "Make sure you do a good job in your interview!" so I did the best I could and was fortunate enough to start this job a year ago. It's wonderful to be home.

Land-grant universities hold a special place in the development of this country. Our mission is to produce a safe, affordable, abundant food supply; to sustain the quality of air, water, and soils in this country; and to find ways to protect our natural resources and use them for the betterment of society. This mission is noble, impactful, and highly important. That's what motivates me; that's why I wanted to come back to Penn State and serve this College of Agricultural Sciences that gave me my start.

I like to remind people that the College of Agricultural Sciences is not just about farmers; what we do here is important to all citizens of the Commonwealth.

I never aspired to be an administrator. I miss working closely with students as a faculty member. My former students are currently professors who lead the beef cattle teaching and research programs at universities across the country and the world. I'm especially proud of my former student Dr. Tara Felix, who is an assistant professor here at Penn State doing great things in our animal science department. I serve in a different way now and find it very satisfying.

As senior associate dean, my responsibilities are to manage the college's personnel, budgets, facilities, and other resources. For example, I facilitate the hiring process in the college, how to run the Creamery, and how to run our farms more effectively to meet our teaching, research, and extension missions.

I'm helping to oversee the replacement of Henning Building, which houses the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and the Department of Animal Science. Penn State has made $90 million available to the college to help us with this new building project. What a tremendous testimony to the value of this college to the University. That commitment is more unique than people realize.

In the past year, we've hired more than 40 new faculty and staff members. I commend Dean Roush for putting the college's dollars into people because that's what makes an organization strong. Dean Roush and his leadership team are extremely impressive. We're hiring great new minds to do great things, and it's part of my job to help them be successful.

Interview by Sara LaJeunesse
Photo by Michael Houtz