Posted: October 19, 2020

The new associate director of Penn State Extension returns to his alma mater to help ensure a bright future for Pennsylvania's agricultural communities.

Photo by Michael Houtz

Photo by Michael Houtz

I grew up in rural Louisiana where my family raised cattle and grew crops such as cotton, corn, and wheat. It's this experience that developed in me a passion for the environment. My aunt who has worked for the USDA Forest Service for over 30 years helped to further influence my decision to move into the area of forestry.

Because of my experiences growing up on a farm, I acquired an appreciation for the value of creating sustainable systems for now and the future. Watching my father work hard to develop a crop each season--often in the midst of drought, pest infestations, and other environmental factors, not to mention the economic realities that farmers must face--really brought to my attention the need to know more and do more.

I completed my bachelor's degree in urban forest management from Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, and my master's and Ph.D. degrees in forest resources from Penn State. I served as a faculty member and scientist at Southern University and A&M College for 13 years in the Department of Urban Forestry before moving to Alcorn State University in Mississippi, where I served as assistant director for research in the School of Agriculture, Research Extension, and Applied Sciences. After a little over a year, I moved back to Southern University to lead the Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

My roles as a faculty member, scientist, and administrator have exposed me to all facets of the land-grant university, and they connect me with external entities to facilitate change and assist communities in becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to serve on various local, regional, and national committees, all of which have contributed to my embracing of the concepts of program development and evaluation, accountability, and the integration and engagement of extension, research, and education. These experiences will help guide me in my work at Penn State.

I am extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity to join the Penn State Extension family. I am looking forward to the opportunity to become familiar with the great faculty and staff and the amazing work that they are doing, while at the same time helping to contribute to the legacy and success of extension programs in serving the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As our world changes, our needs and expectations are also changing. The very fluid nature of our world presents the challenge of having to constantly pivot to ensure that we are addressing those needs effectively and meeting expectations.

I hope to play a significant role in helping to make Penn State Extension the premier go-to extension program in the nation. One of my personal goals is to help advance the Urban Agriculture Program. I have spent much of my career working in urban forestry and urban agriculture, and this has allowed me to gain a great appreciation for the need for such a program.

I am a sports fanatic. I love all things sports, but by far my favorite sport is football. I also love to travel and hang out with my family. Having completed my graduate work at Penn State, I am somewhat familiar with the area and extremely excited about moving back.

By Sara LaJeunesse