Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity space named for alumnus and donor

February 09, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumnus Jeffrey A. Conrad has made a $1 million gift to support facility renovations and enhanced programming for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity at University Park. As the largest gift in the center’s history, Conrad’s commitment will provide an expanded home for the campus’s LGBTQ+ and ally communities while enhancing its future programming. In recognition of his support, the renovated space will be named The Jeffrey A. Conrad Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.

“At Penn State, we strive to be a welcoming, inclusive community where every student can thrive, and Jeff’s support for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity has created the home that our LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty deserve,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “I am extremely grateful to Jeff for his inspiring generosity and continued support. His commitment will make our University community a stronger, more vibrant place to learn and grow.”

Penn State Alumnus and Donor, Jeffrey A. Conrad

Jeffrey A. Conrad, Penn State alumnus, donor and current president and founder of AgIS Capital.

IMAGE: Provided

A native of Pennsylvania and 1983 graduate of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Conrad said his gift to the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity was inspired by his lifetime journey as a gay man and by his dedication to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. As a first-generation student coming from a small, rural community, Conrad faced many challenges in his undergraduate experience, compounded by his experiences struggling with his sexuality and negative stigmas about the LGBTQ+ community in the early 1980s. Conrad endured a lack of support and resources for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as sometimes outright hostility, while earning his degree in agricultural business. Those same experiences persisted as he began a career in business where, if revealed, disclosure of his sexuality at that time could have resulted in a loss of employment or derail his career.

“I’m hoping this center provides the support that many of my generation needed but didn’t have,” he said. “I want undergraduates to know that they can openly be gay, be themselves and succeed in demanding fields, like business and agriculture. Supporting LGBTQ+ students is as important now as it has ever been, and I hope others will join me in strengthening the role the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity plays at Penn State.”

Throughout his career in the agricultural investment industry, Conrad has openly supported the LGBTQ+ community. He currently serves as president and founder of AgIS Capital based in Boston, Massachusetts. Conrad previously served as president of the Hancock Agriculture Investment Group, and he is a recognized expert in the industry. 

In addition to his support for the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Conrad has also established the Rodney E. and Brenda L. Conrad Trustee Scholarship, the Conrad Trustee Scholarship, and the Jeffrey A. Conrad Open Doors Scholarship, supporting undergraduates with financial need. Most recently, he partnered with lifelong friend and fellow Penn State graduate MeeCee Baker to cover the membership fees for 4-H members in Juniata County, where he and Baker grew up and participated in the organization.

The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity renovations

Growing out of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force appointed by former Penn State President Joab Thomas to address the addition of sexual orientation to the University's non-discrimination policy in 1990, the entity that would become the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity was established in 1996 and appointed its first full-time director in 2001. Previously located in the Boucke Building, the center transferred in January to its new location on the ground level of the HUB-Robeson Center and expanded its comprehensive range of education, information and advocacy services for students, faculty, staff and alumni. The renovations, completed in early 2020, have increased the center’s accessibility and inclusivity, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining a respectful and safe environment that honors sexual and gender diversity. 

The center’s renovated space was designed through student feedback and guided by constituent conversations to foster a sense of belonging and community. By including universal and inclusive design features and additions like gender-inclusive bathrooms and a private entrance, the center renovations enable visitors to engage in and access the center in ways that meet their individual needs.

“Jeff Conrad’s generosity has provided a solid foundation for the center to expand, both in celebrating the diversity of our students and in adapting to challenges facing LGBTQ+ and ally communities,” said Damon Sims, vice president for student affairs. “The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity is elevating Penn State as a national leader in LGBTQ+ education and outreach, now more than ever, and such progress would not be possible without Jeff's substantial support.”

Conrad’s gift expands access to diverse LGBTQ+ cultures and communities. Renovations to the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity feature an art installation by renowned artist Tamara Gayer and exhibition spaces that connect visitors to the many perspectives and experiences of under-represented communities at Penn State. Conrad’s gift will also enhance the center’s future programming around themes of social, gender and racial justice, including the center’s LGBTQ+ lecture series, keynote speakers, faculty workshops, peer-to-peer engagement, and community outreach events.

“In supporting our mission to expand narratives around diversity, equity and inclusion, Jeff’s outstanding generosity has helped us to create an expanded space that fosters both individual development and holistic community engagement,” said Brian Patchcoski, assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion in Student Affairs. “His support is elevating the center’s ability to encourage introspection and growth at all intersections of gender and sexuality, including aspects of race and beyond, and I am deeply grateful for the impact his gift will have on our University community, both now and into the future.”

Center impact during the pandemic

With the center’s physical location closed during the spring semester, students used building schematics, photographs and digital community-building platforms like Discord to duplicate the center’s space virtually. By recreating the space online, visitors accessed the new space remotely and engaged in programming, support, digital tours and celebrations like Lavender Graduation until the center officially reopened in August, which would not have been possible without the renovated space to facilitate social distancing. Students and staff also facilitated equitable access in partnering across the University to secure translators and closed-captioning for the center’s digital programming during COVID-19. These practices have helped to set a new precedent for online University events.

“Seeing the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity in its new space has been incredible because it creates so many new opportunities for students to connect with the center, themselves, and each other,” said Laryn Jackson, a senior journalism major and marketing student staff member at the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. “It’s important that every student at Penn State feels central to the ‘We Are’ spirit the University community embodies, and Mr. Conrad’s generosity celebrates and emphasizes the importance of our LGBTQ+ community by strengthening an amazing center that has already given us so much.”

Other donors can join Conrad in in supporting the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity through the center’s website.

Conrad’s gift and those of other donors to the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit  greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021