Posted: April 19, 2021

Adele Turzillo, most recently the vice president for animal agriculture systems at the World Wildlife Fund and before that the division director for animal systems at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, was named head of the Department of Animal Science in November.

Adele Turzillo, Professor and Head of the Department of Animal Science. Photo: Michael Houtz

Adele Turzillo, Professor and Head of the Department of Animal Science. Photo: Michael Houtz

She succeeds Terry Etherton, Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition, who after serving as department head for 22 years plans to retire in June.

I grew up on a small vegetable farm in western New York state. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather on the farm, and he instilled in me a strong appreciation for a rural way of living, a love of the land, and a love of agriculture. And that has never left me.

I love animals, but I didn't want to be a veterinarian because it made me sad to see them sick. At Cornell, I thought I would go to medical school, but instead got a job in a research lab that studied reproduction in dairy heifers. I fell in love with the research process and realized it was a really cool way to contribute to agriculture and to farms, many of which I had seen go out of business back home.

As a faculty member at the University of Arizona, I taught classes, mentored graduate students, and had a research program and funding--the whole thing. But my family and I wanted to return to the East Coast. That's when I stumbled upon the opportunity to work at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

I always wanted to return to academia. I love the land-grant mission, being around students, and the idea of contributing to agriculture through research and educating the next generation of agriculturalists. My husband, now an animal scientist working at the University of Maryland, put it best when shortly after I started this position at Penn State he said, "You're finally back where you belong."

Through my work at the USDA I had the opportunity to work with universities across the country. Not surprisingly, Penn State was always recognized as one of the strongest departments for animal science. This department has a long history of being a leader, particularly in animal nutrition and reproduction.

With the increasing global population, we need to be able to produce protein efficiently and in ways that don't negatively impact our environment. That's what the Department of Animal Science is poised to do, to help us find those ways through both fundamental and applied research, and then through Penn State Extension get it into the hands of the people who are actually doing the work.

I'm very passionate about education and believe the ability to think critically and communicate effectively are among the most important skills we can develop in our students. If our graduates have those two skills, I think the world will be their oyster. In fact, these skills are so important that i've tried to instill them in my own kids--my daughter, who is 21 and a senior at American University in Washington, D.C., where she is double majoring in philosophy and dance, and my son, who is 19 and a sophomore at Drexel University, where he is majoring in recording arts and music production.

Terry Etherton has left an incredible legacy in this department. I'm honored to have the opportunity to continue his work, of course adding my own fresh perspective and ideas.

I feel strongly that a successful vision can't be imposed on a group of people. It has to be a grassroots effort. So, I want to hear from the faculty what their vision is, where they think we should take the department, and what things are important to them and to their stakeholders.

By Sara LaJeunesse