Funds memorializing ag science faculty members see outpouring of support

Susan Burlingame
November 28, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Two late professors from the College of Agricultural Sciences have been memorialized with awards that quickly became endowments because of the generosity of colleagues, students, friends and family members. Arun Kilara, professor of food science, and Harold Harpster, professor of dairy and animal science, made a powerful impact on their students and their departments during their long tenures with Penn State.

Arun Kilara

Robert Roberts, head of the Department of Food Science in the College of Agricultural Sciences, served on the faculty during the same time as Arun Kilara, professor of food science. Kilara worked at Penn State from 1978 to 1998 and was known as a teacher of the internationally recognized Penn State Ice Cream Short Course as well as a world-renowned expert in dairy and food science.

“As a junior faculty member, I remember watching, a bit in awe, as Arun mentored his students through their research projects,” said Roberts. “He gave students increasing amounts of responsibility, always stretching them to achieve beyond, perhaps, what they expected. I have worked to model this in my own mentoring.”

Kilara’s students, Roberts added, went on to have very successful careers. Sherri Slocum, principal scientist at Nestle Health Sciences, earned her doctorate while studying under Kilara. “Dr. Kilara had a fun-loving and casual way of relating to us and was very generous in sharing what he knew,” Slocum said. “He gave us [his students] the guidance we needed but also let us make and learn from our mistakes. He provided a solid foundation for my career.”

Almost a year to the day since Kilara’s passing in October of 2017, another of his doctoral students decided to establish the Professor Arun Kilara Memorial Graduate Student Award in Food Science to honor the memory and contributions of his former mentor. Madansinh Vaghela, global research and development and strategic network leader for Nestle Research, described Kilara as someone who truly cared for his graduate students.

“More than two decades after he retired from Penn State, all his students stayed in touch with him and held him in high regard, often seeking his counsel on various matters,” Vaghela said. “In view of this, we thought of celebrating the very special life of Dr. Kilara and memorializing his name with Penn State forever. Once I had this idea, we reached out to his former students, and the support was overwhelming.”

Students, colleagues and Kilara’s wife, Karen, contributed to the fund, quickly helping it surpass the $20,000 necessary to be fully endowed.

“Arun loved education and loved his students,” said Karen Kilara. “I think he would have been overwhelmed by this gesture and very grateful. I know his presence in the lives of his students was very meaningful. This award speaks volumes about him.”

Harold “Doc” Harpster

Similar sentiments were expressed by colleagues, friends and students of another beloved professor in the college, Harold “Doc” Harpster, professor of dairy and animal science and long-time advisor to the Block & Bridle Club, who passed away in July of 2018. Harpster’s Penn State career spanned 38 years, during which time he endeared himself to all who knew him.

“Harold had a wonderful way with students,” said former colleague William Henning, animal science professor emeritus. “He was never in a bad mood. He never uttered a harsh word. He was a fun and loveable guy who touched the lives of so many students.”

Together with Jana Peters, former advising coordinator in the Department of Animal Science, Henning reached out to colleagues, alumni and friends and created the Harold “Doc” Harpster Award, to be given to students majoring in animal science who demonstrate leadership through clubs in the department. As with the Kilara award, the Harpster Award garnered gifts exceeding $20,000 — elevating it to endowment status within a few weeks of its establishment.

“Harold was a colleague and a friend as well as a very beloved faculty member,” said Peters. “We created this award to honor his memory by providing support for students because we know how much they mattered to him.”

Harpster set the bar for excellence in advising and teaching, added Terry Etherton, head of the Department of Animal Science.

“He was beloved by countless students and provided important career guidance for many of our graduates," he said. "In addition, because of his active engagement with stakeholder groups in the Commonwealth and region, he not only contributed his brilliant advice but also was a wonderful ambassador for the department and college. He passionately believed in pursing the greater good of the group ahead of self-interests.”

Harpster’s wife, Dawn, and his children, Lisa and Matthew, wrote that teaching Penn State students was Harpster’s passion and source of joy for nearly four decades: “He not only walked the walk in devoting his entire professional career to the advancement of students and Penn State agriculture, but he also talked the talk in maintaining, with the family, a small family farm, making the agriculture-food source connection a value he nurtured on a daily basis.

“He held high standards both for himself and others,” they continued. “He believed in striving to reach one’s full potential through sweat, dedication, honesty, humility — as well as a whole lot of fun, strong coffee, and anything chocolate peanut butter! We are honored to have an award offered in his name. Harold Harpster lived and breathed blue-and-white agriculture, and we are overjoyed that his memory and values continue to affect so many amazing young people.”

Those wishing to make a contribution to the Professor Arun Kilara Memorial Graduate Student Award in Food Science or the Harold “Doc” Harpster Award can contact the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences development office at 814-865-0158 or visit

The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State University 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 has begun "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives: 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, visit

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Last Updated November 29, 2018