Ag sciences graduate creates scholarship to honor Penn State mentors

Pictured is the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, about 10 miles southwest of University Park. Penn State Extension educators and faculty use the facilities for educational field days and seminars. Credit: Michael Houtz / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. —  An anonymous donor has pledged $125,000 to establish a graduate scholarship supporting Penn State Extension programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The “Penn State Extension Graduate Scholarship in Honor of Dr. John S. Shenk and Dr. J.D. Harrington” recognizes two Penn State professors the donor credits with being sources of inspiration as he pursued two degrees at Penn State.

During “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” the University’s fast-paced, $1.6 billion fundraising campaign, the donor took advantage of a 1:1 matching program, which doubled the size of his endowment. The scholarship will be awarded to graduate students whose studies are associated with Penn State Extension and focus on extension-related agriculture work or applied agricultural field research, with a first preference given to Penn State Extension employees.

Raised on a small farm in the Southcentral Pennsylvania Appalachian Mountains, the donor said his family grew potatoes and corn while also running a poultry operation. Although Saturdays were busy work days for the donor, he said he found time to listen to Penn State football games on the radio. “That’s what captured my interest in attending Penn State,” he said. Family income was limited, but with the help of several undergraduate scholarships, the donor was able to earn a bachelor’s degree. Two mentors, in whose names the new scholarship was established, encouraged and supported the donor during both his undergraduate and graduate studies.

“Dr. J.D. Harrington provided me with a teaching assistantship that covered the cost of my master’s degree,” said the donor. “He had a unique ability to teach his material in an engaging way with an infectious sense of humor and a charisma that enabled him to connect and relate to his students. He encouraged us all to get involved on campus, showing genuine support and investment in our success.” Harrington died in 2008.

The late Dr. John Shenk II served as the donor’s graduate adviser. “He was just as interested in my academic endeavors as he was in my personal and professional growth. He was a trusted adviser, even when I left Penn State to pursue my doctorate at another institution.”

Because of his education and the mentors who inspired him, the donor dedicated his life to the agricultural sciences as both an extension educator and administrator.

"Thanks to this generous gift, we will be able to provide important training for graduate students interested in utilizing their research expertise to serve the public through extension,” said Jeffrey Hyde, acting associate dean and director of Penn State extension. “The research skills obtained in graduate school are vital for success in extension."

“I created this scholarship because financial support for graduate students is lacking, especially in extension,” the donor said. “I wanted to give back to Penn State and enable the development of future leaders in extension.”

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

Last Updated December 12, 2018