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Interview: Rachel Cloninger

As the new animal science advising coordinator, Rachel Cloninger is helping students in the Department of Animal Science achieve success.
Rachel Cloninger

Rachel Cloninger

I grew up on a dairy farm in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. My parents still own and operate the farm, which has 80 registered Holstein cows. As a kid, along with my brothers, I performed all of the fun and not-so-fun tasks associated with dairy farming. I also participated in 4-H. I'm grateful for the experiences I had and the skills I acquired. I hope that at some point in my life I can give back to others just a small portion of that.

I majored in animal science at Penn State. After graduating, I worked for the Farm Bureau, AgChoice, and PennAg Industries. When Jana Peters--who was the animal science advising coordinator for 38 years--retired, I saw it as an opportunity to come back to a place I love. As a student, I sat in her office asking for advice and help. Now I'm sitting on the other side of the desk helping today's students.

Our doors are always open. We help students with just about anything--from deciding which biology or math class to take to discerning which of three job offers is the right fit. If a student just got a bad grade on a test and is having a crappy day, we're here for that too. We're also here to celebrate their victories.

Most of our students have had some hands-on exposure to animals at some point prior to coming to Penn State; all of them get hands-on experience when they are here. That's a great part of our program--we have our animal facilities close by, our classes are hands-on, and the curriculum is designed as an opportunity to put knowledge into practice. This gives our students a competitive edge when applying for jobs or spots in vet school or grad school.

I'm passionate about animal agriculture because of the people. People in animal agriculture are second to none in their work ethic, passion, and dedication toward feeding the world. My job enables me to be with those people who want to do good in the world. We have the best students. I know everybody says that, but our students are so dedicated and passionate about agriculture. We need every single one of them out there in the world making a positive impact.

The hardest part of my job is wanting to fix things for students and not being able to. For example, a student who is working very hard in school and is doing well might be struggling to pay for school. I wish I could make things perfect for every one, but sometimes I can't. That's the hardest part of my job.

The best part of my job is watching the students grow. I get to visit with prospective students, see them make the decision to come here and major in animal science, welcome them to summer orientation, and check in with them on their first day of classes. I get to watch them explore, develop, and grow, and in a few years, I'll see them graduate and go out into the world. It's a big responsibility to advise students because the decisions they make, sometimes based on my advice, could affect their futures, their livelihoods. I take this responsibility very seriously. I want all of our students to succeed.

-- Sara LaJeunesse