Posted: April 13, 2022

After being introduced to the national Cultivating Change Foundation, Conrad offered Penn State’s chapter, Students for Cultivating Change (SFCC) in the College of Agricultural Sciences, an opportunity not only to develop valuable professional skills but also secure a $10,000 gift to support their goals.

Penn State alumnus and supporter Jeff Conrad’s most recent gift to the University has been inspired by his own experiences as a 4-H youth, a Penn State student and a professional in agricultural investments. After being introduced to the national Cultivating Change Foundation, Conrad offered Penn State’s chapter, Students for Cultivating Change (SFCC) in the College of Agricultural Sciences, an opportunity not only to develop valuable professional skills but also secure a $10,000 gift to support their goals.

The Cultivating Change Foundation and its university-based chapters have a goal of valuing and elevating LGBTQ+ agriculturalists through advocacy, education and community. Penn State’s chapter was formed in 2016 and was the first collegiate chapter for the organization.

The process of securing Conrad’s support gave members of the Penn State chapter hands-on experience in fundraising. Following the successful creation of a proposal and a presentation to Conrad, Penn State Development staff, and several others, the students began pursuing the actions outlined in their proposal, which include increasing the chapter’s visibility within the college and at the University; developing a speaker series; traveling to Washington, D.C.; touring local queer farms; and other activities. They will follow up with Conrad later this year to share what they accomplished with the funding.

The SFCC students found the experience to be both challenging and valuable.

“We found working on this proposal beneficial, new and slightly intimidating,” said Emma Steely, SFCC secretary. “The organization’s officers had never written a funding proposal or worked with a donor before. Now that we have, we feel as though we have gained a new professional skill that will help us during our time at Penn State and as we move forward into our respective career paths.”

For Conrad, a Pennsylvania native and 1983 graduate of the College of Agricultural Sciences, the experience working with the students was and continues to be a rewarding one.

“I’m a strong believer in giving what I would describe as active capital,” said Conrad, president and founder of AgIS Capital LLC. “I like to think about what my gift will result in. This was an opportunity to help students develop valuable skillsets with a real-life situation. They came up with some great ideas, and I’m looking forward to coming back to campus to see how they did.”

According to Steely, the students tried to align their proposal with SFCC’s organizational pillars focusing on strengthening LGBTQIA+ education, community and awareness in the College of Agricultural Sciences. In addition, they plan to make a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with agricultural groups that have a LGBTQ+ interest, as well as connect with the Virginia Tech Chapter of SFCC.

“Receiving this gift greatly benefits the club, as it means that someone sees us and wants to invest in us,” said Steely. “It means that we can begin to promote inclusivity and visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community within the College of Agricultural Sciences and beyond.”

Overall, Conrad was impressed by the proposal created by the students, particularly its detail surrounding group trips. The proposal included projected costs for gas, meals and the number of students expected to attend.

“The students did an excellent job planning and putting together the proposal,” said Conrad. “They’re excited about this opportunity. They want to build a community, increase camaraderie and make connections with others, especially leaders in their fields. I’m looking at my contribution as if I’m starting a snowball rolling down the hill and watching it grow.”  

Conrad is no stranger to philanthropy. A longtime supporter of Penn State, LGBTQ+ and rural 4-H, he previously made a $1 million gift to support facility renovations and enhanced programming for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at University Park, which was named in his honor at a ceremony on April 8, and teamed up with fellow graduate MeeCee Baker to cover 4-H membership fees for youth in Juniata County.

The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State and its land-grant mission to serve the public good. To fulfill that mission for a new era of rapid change and global connections, the University is pursuing "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a twenty-first-century public university: Open Doors, Create Transformative Experiences, and Impact the World. Through teaching, research, and Extension, and because of generous alumni and friends, the College of Agricultural Sciences is able to offer scholarships to one in four students, create life-shaping opportunities, and make a difference in the world by fueling discovery, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To learn more about supporting the college, visit http://agsci.psu.edu/giving. Information about the campaign is available at greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

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