By design: Penn State alumna devotes studies, career to protecting environment

Amy Duke
March 26, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An ideal world for Jayne Ulrich is one in which everyone -- from individuals to organizations to governments -- would take an active role in protecting, preserving and restoring the Earth’s natural resources.

She’s doing her part not just personally, but also professionally as an environmental engineer with Mondelēz International, a multinational confectionery, food and beverage company known for making snacks such as Oreo and Chips Ahoy! cookies.

The 2013 graduate of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences works at the company’s location in Richmond, Virginia, helping to ensure its environmental-management systems and protocols comply with environmental regulations.

“It was, and always has been, important to me that I make a positive impact on the world, especially through my career,” said Ulrich, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental resource management with a minor in international agriculture.

“From soil to mouth, and everything in between, environmental studies are vital to the future of our quality of life. It is a vast field and touches each of our lives daily, from the air we breathe to the food we eat.”

Growing up near the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, Ulrich was knee-deep in outdoor activities from the get-go, spending most of her free time running, hiking and snowboarding. A favorite family pastime was traveling to national parks.

“I always carry my national park passport and to date have visited more than 65 national parks and monuments,” she said. “Those experiences have shaped who I am and my love for the environment. My travels to such natural, beautiful places were one of the primary reasons I decided to pursue a degree and career in environmental resource management.”

When it was time for college, her heart was set on Penn State.

“The first time I visited University Park, I immediately felt a sense of community and school spirit,” Ulrich said. “Choosing to study at Penn State was one of the best decisions I've ever made -- the opportunities are endless.”

Jayne Ulrich Scotland

Jayne Ulrich said minoring in international agriculture gave her "real-world experience and helped me understand and appreciate international development and cultures in other parts of the world." She is shown hiking the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. 

IMAGE: Jayne Ulrich

One of the factors in her decision was the opportunity to minor in international agriculture.

“The INTAG minor gave me real-world experience and helped me understand and appreciate international development and cultures in other parts of the world, as well as to learn about global challenges in hunger, food security and agriculture,” she said.

Spending six months in New Zealand as part of the study abroad program in natural resources and the environment helped Ulrich better understand human interaction with the environment and impact on the landscape through land use.

“My experience in New Zealand focused on raising awareness for a more sustainable future,” she said.

One of those who inspired Ulrich to pursue international studies was Deanna Behring, the college's assistant dean and director of international programs.

“Jayne was one of those ‘stand out’ students who makes an indelible impression,” Behring said. “I am thrilled at Jayne’s successes and how the INTAG minor was a factor in her growth and success. I have fond memories of traveling to Washington, D.C., with Jayne for the minor’s capstone class to learn about various organizations that work in the field of global food security.” 

While an undergraduate, Ulrich was active in several student organizations, including Go Change Move, a club aimed at promoting random acts of kindness around campus and throughout the community. Perhaps most meaningful, however, was her support of THON, Penn State’s annual dance marathon that supports families fighting pediatric cancer.

She also gained preprofessional experience during two unique internships: one with Coca Cola and the other with the Conewago Watershed Initiative. “While on the surface they appear to be very different jobs, they were closely related and made an impact on me,” she said. “Because of those experiences, I developed an interest in learning and applying my environmental background in the field of food science.”

One of her mentors, Robert Shannon, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and coordinator of the Environmental Resource Management program, said Ulrich was a model student at Penn State and in the ERM program.

“She had a passion for environmental science and wanted to translate that passion into a profession to impact the world,” he said, adding that Ulrich’s independent study project on wetland conservation and regulation has become part of his classroom discussions.

Following graduation, Ulrich earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. From there, she grew her environmental engineering portfolio by holding positions with several large, international companies, including IBM and DuPont, where she was responsible for permits and plans related to wastewater, stormwater, air, groundwater, hazardous waste and spill prevention.

Accepting the position with DuPont required her to relocate from New York to Richmond, Virginia. To acclimate to the region, she turned to Penn State’s strong alumni base for help, a decision that proved to be life-changing.

“I didn’t know a soul, so the first thing I did was reach out to the Richmond chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association, and they took me in as one of their own,” she said, adding that the most welcomed benefit of joining the chapter was meeting a fellow Penn Stater, Zach Deal, who soon would become her fiancé.

Now settling into her new position at Mondelēz International, she said she hopes to contribute to a more sustainable future in her personal life and professional career and inspire others to make more informed decisions when it comes to preserving the natural environment.

“Without Penn State, I wouldn’t have the career and impactful life I have today,” she said. “Penn State is always with me.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2019