Young alumnus gives back to honor grandfather

University Park, Pa. -- Many Penn State alumni, after years of establishing themselves in their careers and their lives, give back to help young students with their college costs. Benjamin Cordivano has given back, but with a difference: At age 24, he has endowed a student award, only two years after graduating from the University.

After Cordivano left Penn State in 2006 with his bachelor's degree in agriculture science, he returned home to Kennett Square to bring his new knowledge to his family's mushroom business, where he had grown up working side-by-side with his grandfather, Joseph Cordivano Sr., and his father, Penn State 1978 agriculture graduate Joseph Cordivano Jr.

"My grandfather was extremely influential in my life, and he was one of the reasons I decided to pursue my chosen career path as a mushroom farmer," said Benjamin. "He was practically like a second father to me."

When Joseph Sr. passed away in 2007, Benjamin and his sister, Sarah Cordivano, who had also been extremely close to their grandfather, wanted to honor him in some way. After considering how much of an influence their grandfather was in their lives, the siblings decided to create the Joseph Cordivano Sr. Memorial Award at Penn State with a pledge of $20,000.

"Although my grandfather had grown up in a time when there wasn't much importance placed on education, he understood the opportunities and advantages that it offers today," said Benjamin. "Sarah and I thought about the different ways we could have an impact on others' lives, as he had done for us. We thought this endowment would be a great way to continue his memory and generosity on to other students."

The award will be given to recognize outstanding achievement by an undergraduate who is minoring in international agriculture in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The purpose is to encourage and support the recipient's participation in an agricultural education or otherwise agriculturally related study-abroad program.

Joseph Cordivano Sr. learned about the mushroom industry through working at local mushroom farms with his father, Bernard, an Italian immigrant in the early 20th century. Joseph and his brothers, Guy, Angelo, and Bernard Jr. became partners and started their own mushroom business, Cordivano Brothers.

Benjamin is now vice president of Cordivano Brothers, which produces both portabella and white button mushrooms and sells to wholesale markets in the New York City and Boston areas.

He hopes the award will help motivate students to do their best in school, as the aid he received in college did for him.

"Recently graduating from Penn State, I can vividly remember how rewarding it felt to receive performance-based financial support," he said. "The awards and scholarships provided an incentive to study hard and get the most out of my education."

Benjamin and Sarah, who earned a degree in geography and urban studies from Temple University in 2008, both wanted to include an emphasis on study abroad in the award, since each of them traveled during their respective college experiences.

"My sister and I share a love for traveling, as did our grandfather," said Benjamin. "He visited many countries in Central and South America. We felt that an award to students studying abroad in the College of Agricultural Sciences would capture two areas for which he was very passionate.

"And, I believe that traveling to another area, where there is a different culture and way of life can be incredibly educational and beneficial."

Benjamin continues to travel worldwide to learn about new techniques in the mushroom industry. He recently returned from a trip to Ecuador to learn about mushroom production there.

"Graduating from Penn State is an accomplishment that I feel very proud of," he said. "My four years at Penn State were definitely life-changing."

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Last Updated March 19, 2009