Diversity panel highlights alumni careers from the farm to the urban forest

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Office of Multicultural Affairs in the College of Agricultural Sciences hosted a panel to highlight the career paths and accomplishments of several notable alumni on Nov. 9.

The panel, composed of four alumni representing a range of academic disciplines across the agricultural sciences, addressed students and answered questions at an open forum in the morning and again at an evening meeting of the Penn State chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences — which is often referred to as MANRRS.

Panel participants described their experiences as students at Penn State and their career trajectories since graduation. They included:

Candace Croney, who currently serves as the director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science and an associate professor of animal behavior and well-being at Purdue University, was honored as an Outstanding Alumna by the College of Agricultural Sciences in 2007. She studies the effects of rearing environments and enrichment on animal cognition, behavior and welfare; the ethical implications of animal care and use decisions; and public perceptions of animal agriculture.

Croney began working with farm animals during her undergraduate studies at Rutgers, and then decided to pursue animal science instead of veterinary medicine. Her work focuses on animal welfare and public perception and recently resulted in a new national certification program that sets rigorous standards for the care of dogs and puppies by professional breeders.

“I couldn’t have been able to do what I do without the experiences and training I’ve had working with farm animals,” she said. “Working with young scientists, showing people how agricultural procedures and a background in agricultural sciences are relevant, tying what we do back to people’s perceptions is all new and exciting. It’s a really fun time to be working in agriculture.”

Herbert White, an International Society of Arborists-certified master arborist and member of the society's Penn Del Chapter board of directors, is an urban forest administrator for the city of Wilmington, Delaware. White earned an undergraduate degree in forest science in 2000. He connects people to natural resources in the urban environment and advocates for environmental justice through public outreach, green space enhancements and public resource allocation.

“I tell people that I was an urban forester before urban forestry existed,” said White. “People have come to understand what ‘urban forestry’ means now and are starting to understand the importance and the role that the natural environment plays, and the services that elements of that environment, like trees, can offer.” His goal is to introduce people to the different services that trees can provide, even helping to assign dollar values to those services, including helping to clean the city’s water supply, prevent flooding and runoff and provide cooling shade in the summertime.

“Every little piece helps,” he explained. “Small, localized projects can make a huge difference, and a lot of time funding for those projects is easier to come by, as well.”

An alumna of the Department of Entomology who graduated with a doctorate in 2006, Alexis Barbarin also earned a master’s degree in agricultural and extension education. She works as a National Science Foundation fellow at North Carolina State University, studying the dispersal and migration patterns of bedbugs in urban areas. She also teaches at St. Augustine University, one of the oldest historically black colleges and universities in the United States.

Barbarin explained how she transitioned from researching the gypsy moth, a mostly rural pest, to the bedbug, a modern plague in U.S. cities. “After going home for Mardi Gras during my first year, I saw a homeless man looking in a trash can for food. I realized that what I really wanted to do was study something that would benefit people in urban areas, like New Orleans.” She has since developed a 95 percent effective biopesticide and studied how likely bedbugs are to transmit the antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA (not very, fortunately). She hopes to go on to a position as a medical entomologist in North Carolina and develop programs to combat the Zika virus.

Darryl Blakey is a recent alumnus of the college who graduated with an undergraduate major in animal science in 2015. He began serving as a staff assistant at the Committee on Agriculture in the U.S. House of Representatives shortly after graduation and has been more recently promoted to legislative assistant. He described what it’s like to work in agriculture on Capitol Hill. “There are these young, innovative folks working who care about agricultural policy and families that have farms. They want to make a difference and help people.”

As a student at Penn State, Blakey learned from experiences in student government. He was student body president at Penn State’s Berks campus and vice president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments at University Park. A class he took, Advanced Beef, also provided an opportunity to travel to D.C. and lobby for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Although he is still learning daily, he enjoys working for the committee. “We have an opportunity to listen to everyone’s concerns,” he explained. “I like to think we are very bipartisan as committees go. What we try to do is help businesses and industry figure out changes that they can make rather than starting by mandating policies.”

The Office of Multicultural Affairs leads and supports the college in interweaving diversity into the very fabric of our daily operation and into every aspect of collegial practices. The office strives to create a welcoming environment for everyone by providing curricula and special programming that teach a fuller appreciation of the uniqueness among diverse groups.

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Last Updated December 08, 2016