Faculty couple endows graduate fellowship in rural sociology

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A $250,000 gift from two Penn State faculty members promises to enhance graduate education in rural sociology in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Leland Glenna, associate professor of rural sociology and science, technology, and society, and his wife, Esther Prins, associate professor of education, established the Luther R. Glenna Graduate Fellowship in Rural Sociology in memory of Glenna's father, who died in 1975 at the age of 47. The couple used proceeds from the sale of the Glenna family farm to fund the gift.

Students in the College of Agricultural Sciences who are candidates for a graduate degree in rural sociology and who have exhibited academic excellence are eligible for the fellowship.

"The department and the rural sociology program are thrilled to receive this generous gift from Professors Glenna and Prins," said Ann Tickamyer, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education. "This award greatly enhances opportunities for graduate students in rural sociology to pursue their studies of the social factors that influence rural communities and livelihoods, especially as they are intertwined with natural resources and the environment."

The donors noted that in 1946, 18-year-old Luther Glenna and his parents bought and moved to a 360-acre farm in southeastern Minnesota. During the 1960s, Luther married Carole Johannes and the couple had three sons, LeRoy (Lee), Leland and Lester. After Luther's death, his wife and sons moved off the farm so she could earn a living as a teacher.

After the sons' grandmother died in 1991, they took management responsibilities for the farm, renting it to cousins. In 2014, one of those cousins purchased the farm, and a portion of the proceeds from that sale provided the funding for the graduate fellowship. "It is fitting that money from the sale of the farm that Luther Glenna purchased would support research in rural sociology," Leland Glenna said.

He explained that in the 1970s, Luther Glenna and his family resisted the then-prevailing wisdom from many agricultural experts that to succeed, farmers had to expand their operations and "get big or get out," which often required taking on a heavy debt load to pay for new land and technologies. The Glennas' skepticism of this approach helped the farm stay in the family during the farm crisis of the 1980s, when many others families lost their farms.

"Coincidentally, many rural sociologists also were skeptical of the advice that contributed to the farm crisis," Glenna said. "Rural sociologists promote critical thinking that is grounded in social and environmental conscientiousness. Therefore, it is appropriate for Luther Glenna's name to be attached to a rural sociology graduate fellowship at Penn State, one of the few remaining rural sociology programs in the country."

Leland Glenna joined the Penn State faculty in 2005 after holding academic positions at Washington State University, the University of California at Davis, and Cornell University. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Hamline University, a master of divinity degree from Harvard University School of Divinity, and a doctorate in rural sociology from the University of Missouri.

He has won numerous awards, including the College of Agricultural Sciences' 2013 Community of Advising Excellence Award, the Rural Sociological Society's 2013 Fred Buttel Outstanding Scholarly Achievement Award, the College of Agricultural Sciences' 2011 Community of Teaching Excellence Award, and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society's 2010 Award for Excellence in Research.

Prins earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from Wheaton College and master's and doctoral degrees in adult education from Cornell. She is co-director of the College of Education's Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy and its Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy.

She received the Outstanding Scholar in Distance Education award at the 2013 Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in Madison, Wisconsin. She also is the recipient of the 2010 Imogene Okes Award for Outstanding Research from the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education and the 2011 Outstanding Researcher Award from the Penn State College of Education.

Penn State's alumni and friends are invaluable partners in fulfilling the University's land-grant mission of education, research and service. Private gifts from alumni and friends enrich the experiences of students both in and out of the classroom; expand the research and teaching capacity of faculty; enhance the University's ability to recruit and retain top students and faculty; and help to ensure that students from every economic background have access to a Penn State education. The University's colleges and campuses are now enlisting the support of alumni and friends to advance a range of unit-specific initiatives.

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Last Updated November 02, 2015