Rosses support agricultural and biological engineering with graduate fellowship

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a desire to support the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, its graduate program and the next generation of leaders in the agricultural engineering field, Penn State alumnus David S. Ross and his wife, Debbie Ross, have created a graduate fellowship through a gift of $400,000.

The Dr. David S. and Deborah M. Ross Graduate Fellowship in Agricultural and Biological Engineering will benefit students who have been admitted to the graduate school as candidates for a graduate degree offered by the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and who are pursuing their education full-time and demonstrate academic excellence.  

“Graduate student support is a key focus when it comes to philanthropy for our college,” said College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Rick Roush. “We are grateful for this gift from David and Debbie Ross to create a fellowship in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Graduate fellowships provide a tremendous competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting and retaining talented graduate students who contribute to the top-notch research for which Penn State is known.”

Paul Heinemann, professor of agricultural and biological engineering, echoed the dean’s sentiments.

“Graduate student support is critical to help our department carry out the research mission that advances our work in agricultural systems, natural resource protection and utilization and biological processing and bioproducts,” he said. “We have made graduate student support a top priority in our department, and the donation from David and Debbie serves as a lead gift towards establishing additional fellowships. As a professor emeritus, Dr. Ross knows well the significant contributions that graduate students make towards the department’s mission. We are very grateful for their generosity, and we hope others will follow this lead.”

The Rosses chose to gift an investment real estate property into a charitable remainder trust — a planned giving option that provides income to donors for life or a specific number of years. In addition to fulfilling their philanthropic passions, donors who unlock an appreciated asset benefit by receiving a significant charitable deduction in the year the property is gifted into the trust, and capital gains are not incurred as they normally would be with the sale of an appreciated asset. The Rosses’ property was sold, and the proceeds were invested in the trust. When the trust ends, the remaining assets will be distributed to the graduate fellowship in their name.

David Ross, who grew up working on his family’s dairy farm and farm machinery and supplies dealership in Jefferson County, developed an interest in engineering and agriculture at a young age. He often helped put new farm machinery together, built and maintained farm facilities, worked with clients of the family business and developed 4-H projects, including his own 4-H dairy business that would later help pay some of his college expenses.

Ross attended Penn State, earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, all in agricultural engineering, which prepared him for his 37-year career as an extension agricultural engineer and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland.

“During my time at Penn State, I had many wonderful faculty advisers who helped guide my education and professional growth,” said Ross. “As a student, I was actively involved in the American Society of Agricultural Engineering and helped establish a chapter of the national agricultural engineering honor society, Alpha Epsilon. I was fortunate to receive financial support for my graduate studies and research, which allowed me to focus on my work, engage in related activities and prepare for my career as an educator and leader.”

Debbie, a graduate of the University of Maryland, also worked in University of Maryland Extension as an information technology coordinator for more than 34 years. She and David are both involved in local and regional engineering society activities, as well as 4-H activities at local, state and regional levels.

“This gift is an opportunity for us to pay it forward,” said Debbie. “We want to help ensure the next generation of agricultural and biological engineering graduates have the ability, thanks to their education and research, to go on to be valuable contributors in this field and in their communities.”

Added David Ross, “We are thankful for the help we received when pursuing our degrees and want to ensure future students have the same opportunity to pursue an education and advanced degree in this field. We also hope this gift will encourage others who are able to create or further contribute to fellowships and scholarships, regardless of the field, to ensure students have the chance to pursue their dreams.”

The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences represents the foundation of Penn State 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 is pursuing "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a fast-paced campaign focused on the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: 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 about supporting the college, visit Information about the campaign is available at


Last Updated August 30, 2021