Schreyer Scholar alumnus leading national land-grant center

Jeff Rice
November 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In the fall of 2008, Rodney Hughes discovered there was an opening for a student seat on Penn State’s Board of Trustees. The then-graduate student in economics thought he might be able to apply his background in economics to issues facing college students, such as affordability. 

More than a decade later, Hughes is still thinking about those kinds of issues, though now on a broader scale. The former Schreyer Honors Scholar and College of the Liberal Arts alumnus was recently named the director of the West Virginia University Center for the Future of Land-Grant Education.

Hughes, who graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2007 and a master’s degree in economics in 2009, and later earned a doctoral degree in higher education in 2013, has been an assistant professor of higher education at West Virginia University’s College of Education and Human Services since 2016. He joined the center as a senior scholar when it opened in 2017.

The time Hughes spent on the Schreyer Honors College Student Council presented him with an opportunity to serve as a representative for the council on Penn State’s Undergraduate Student Government, which led him to seek the position with the Board of Trustees. Serving in that role from 2008-11 opened his eyes to what governance looked like at the university level.

“That really shaped a lot of my professional goals,” said Hughes, who became the first student member of the board to chair one of its committees. “It shaped my thinking about higher ed. And that was really the catalyst. … That really set the stage for my exploration of this work with the board, and that really has kind of set the stage for the early stages of my career.”

Hughes and his colleagues at the center, which include two other faculty members, a graduate assistant, and several faculty affiliates, have been working on projects that are priorities for both land-grant institutions and the states in which they operate. For example, West Virginia has the highest age-adjusted rate of drug overdoses involving opioids, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. How West Virginia University might be able to partner with the state to deal with that crisis, and what sort of effect the crisis has on educational outcomes, are major points of emphasis for the center.

“If the crisis hits a student’s family, does that change their plans about whether or not to attend college, where to go to college?” Hughes said. “Does a student need to work to support their family and delay their studies? Trying to think through what some of that impact looks like aligns really well with some of our research expertise and faculty expertise in thinking about educational progress and success in other contexts.”

Hughes, who has continued his teaching and dissertation advising duties since taking over as director, said he is excited to identify future key projects but also wants to continue to position the center as a resource for higher education leaders and scholars.

“Given the set of issues that we’re going to think about and the institutions that we’re going to think about, there’s also a recognition that these institutions are doing important work,” he said. “I think we need to be mindful of that and recognize how we can conceptualize what the land-grant mission means, what these institutions are doing, so we don’t miss an important part of that picture.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 26 countries. More than 14,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

  • Penn State alumnus Rodney Hughes

    Penn State alumnus Rodney Hughes.

    IMAGE: Photo submitted
Last Updated November 20, 2019