Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences honors outstanding alumni

September 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has honored five of its graduates with 2019 Outstanding Alumni Awards.

The awards, which will be presented during a banquet Oct. 22 at the Nittany Lion Inn, recognize the alumni for their achievements and provide opportunities for recipients to interact with the college's faculty, students and other alumni.

The recipients also will be inducted into the Armsby Honor Society, which recognizes those who have demonstrated a commitment to the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Named Outstanding Alumni were Thomas Balmer, of Keswick, Virginia; James Irons, of Columbia, Maryland; and Christopher Canale, of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.

Jenna Mitchell, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Kristina McAllister of Mifflintown, Pennsylvania; were named Outstanding Recent Alumnae, an award that honors alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years.

Balmer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in food science in 1979 and a master’s degree in agricultural economics, is executive vice president of the National Milk Producers Federation, a national trade association that advocates public policies that advance the interests of America’s dairy farmer-owned cooperatives.

For the past 35 years, he has served dairy farmers and dairy processors through his current position and prior service at the International Dairy Foods Association. In addition, he serves as executive director for both the National Ice Cream Mix Association and the American Butter Institute.

Balmer has helped the U.S. dairy industry navigate complex domestic and international legislative and regulatory issues. His industrywide leadership efforts also include managing the well-known REAL Seal promotion program for U.S.-sourced dairy products and administering the Cooperatives Working Together Export Assistance Program that supports overseas sales of cheese, butter and other dairy products.   

In January 2019, Balmer celebrated 30 years as a lecturer on standards and labeling regulations at the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course. In 2016, he led the establishment of the National Ice Cream Mix Association Internship Award in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Balmer is a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association. 

Irons earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental resource management in 1976 and a master’s degree in agronomy in 1979 from Penn State. In 1993, he received a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Since 2018, he has been the director of the Earth Sciences Division at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he leads 1,400 scientists and support staff dedicated to studying the Earth as an integrated system.

Irons has spent his career at Goddard, serving as the deputy division director from 2015 to 2018, as the deputy director for hydrospheric and biospheric sciences in 2014, and as the associate deputy director for atmospheres from 2007 to 2013.

Prior to 2007, Irons worked for 28 years as a physical scientist in the biospheric sciences branch, including serving as the deputy project scientist for the Landsat 7 satellite, launched in 1999, and project scientist for the Landsat 8 satellite, launched in 2013.

He received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2009 and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal -- the highest honor conferred by NASA -- in 2014. Irons is a life member of the Penn State Alumni Association.

Canale earned his doctoral degree in animal nutrition from Penn State in 1989 after receiving his master’s and bachelor's degrees from the University of Maine and Cornell University, respectively. He also served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the USDA, in Beltsville, Maryland.

He currently serves as U.S. technology manager for Cargill Inc., the largest privately held company in the U.S. and one of the world's top producers and distributors of agricultural products.

Having joined Cargill in 2004, Canale directs training, technology deployment and product development within Pennsylvania and the U.S. His research responsibilities include model development, experimental design, diet review, and data interpretation and transfer.

Prior to 2004, Canale was vice president of nutrition for Agway Inc., where he directed training and set nutrient standards for domestic animals. He also worked with Penn State faculty to initiate an internship program and a research grant-in-aid program.

Canale conducts farm visits, serves on dairy teams and collaborates with Penn State and the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania. He received the 2016 Dairy Science Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Animal Science and remains active on campus through class lectures and on-farm workshops.

A 2010 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences, McAllister serves as regional lending manager for AgChoice Farm Credit, Pennsylvania’s largest agricultural lender. She began her career with AgChoice in 2010 as a credit analyst in the Mechanicsburg location.

She later transitioned to a loan officer role at the Seven Mountains branch and, in 2017, accepted regional lending manager responsibilities. In her current role, she manages three branch offices serving 14 counties in Pennsylvania with a total loan portfolio of $444 million. In addition, she supervises 14 lending team members. 

While working, McAllister furthered her education, earning a master’s degree in agribusiness from Kansas State University. AgChoice recently honored her with the President’s Award for her leadership in the organization.

McAllister serves as the Penn State Stockmen’s Club secretary and is an elected board member of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Alumni Society. She regularly returns to Happy Valley to speak with students about careers in agricultural lending. 

Mitchell, a 2014 graduate with a degree in environmental resource management, is the Pennsylvania state director of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a conservation organization that works to restore the rivers and streams of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

She has served in this position for two years, having started at the Alliance as the Pennsylvania Program Manager in 2016. Mitchell initiated a strategic change for the Alliance in Pennsylvania by locating an office in Lancaster County to better support farmers.

Following the move, she partnered with Turkey Hill Dairy and Maryland Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association to build and coordinate the Turkey Hill Clean Water Partnership, a $1.5 million public-private initiative that supports dairy farmers through financial and technical assistance to accelerate the implementation of conservation practices. Since being employed with the Alliance, Mitchell has secured more than $3.5 million in grant funding.  

She is the co-chair of the Lancaster Clean Water Partners Watershed Action Team, is a past board member of Donegal Trout Unlimited and currently is a member of the conservation committee. She has served on the leadership committee of Lancaster Water Week and recently joined the Chesapeake Bay Program Wetland Workgroup. 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 24, 2019