Minority alumni panel hosted virtually by the College of Agricultural Sciences

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alumni from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences talked about their experiences at Penn State and their impact in their professional careers, as guest speakers on a minority alumni panel hosted by the college's Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Milton Newberry III, Megan Wilkerson, Archie Williams and Adriana Diaz shared their stories with faculty and staff, the Diversity Coordinating Council, and students, including the Penn State chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences.

Newberry, a 2007 graduate of the wildlife and fisheries science program, serves as director of the Sustainable Technology Program at Bucknell University.

With a master’s degree from the University of Georgia and a doctorate from the University of Florida, Newberry worked for several land-grant universities, serving in teaching, research and extension roles. His sustainability and conservation work has taken him to Costa Rica, Belize, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, the Carolinas and Rhode Island.

Milton Newberry III. Credit: Milton Newberry IIIAll Rights Reserved.

Originally from New Jersey, his interest in wildlife began the day he spied what he described as an “ominous figure with piercing eyes” in a tree near his elementary school. He realized it was a turkey vulture.

“It opened its giant wings and flew away, and from that point on, I was hooked," said Newberry. "While other kids were reading popular fiction, I was reading books on reptiles, insects and birds.”

Highlights of his undergraduate years include conducting research under the guidance of Duane Diefenbach, adjunct professor of wildlife ecology, and taking courses taught by Gary San Julian, professor emeritus of wildlife resources.

“The experiences I had at Penn State continue to impact my life,” said Newberry, who played trombone in the Blue Band. “And the trials and tribulations I faced — including failing and repeating a chemistry class — helped me grow.”

Before receiving a dual-title doctorate in entomology and in international agriculture and development in 2018, Wilkerson earned degrees from Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Georgia; and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida.

Attending Penn State was a challenging transition, said Wilkerson. “It was a huge adjustment because I attended historically black universities, and here I was at a predominantly white university in a small town,” she said. Wilkerson found her way by joining the Black Graduate Student Association, reading to elementary students during Black History Month, and overseeing one of the learning stations at the Department of Entomology’s Great Insect Fair.

Megan Wilkerson.  Credit: Megan WilkersonAll Rights Reserved.

Her mentors included Deanna Behring, assistant dean for international programs; Gary Felton, head of the Department of Entomology; and Patreese Ingram, assistant dean for multicultural affairs, all from the college; and Stephanie Preston, associate dean for graduate educational equity in the Graduate School; and Amy Snipes, associate professor of biobehavioral health, College of Health and Human Development.

“I surrounded myself with like-minded individuals,” Wilkerson said. “Though they did not all look like me, they thought like me and had the same passion.”

She conducted research and worked with smallholder farmers in Trinidad, South Africa, Mozambique, Cote d'Ivoire, Lebanon and Ghana. Wilkerson now serves as chief of the Pesticides Branch at the Department of Energy and Environment for the District of Columbia and teaches climate change and carbon reduction at the University of the District of Columbia.

Williams, of Decatur, Georgia, holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in agricultural and biological engineering, having graduated from the college in 2006. He is head of the Department of Engineering Technology and professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Fort Valley State University. His research area is bioenergy and climate change, with interests in agricultural sensors, artificial intelligence, mentoring, computer applications, instrumentation, neural networks, renewable energy and biofuels.

Penn State broadened his horizons multiculturally and professionally by providing opportunities to interact with professionals in the field. “We were allowed to expand our interpersonal and technical skillsets," said Williams, whose wife, Monica, also completed graduate studies at Penn State. “If you wanted to learn new skills, someone was more than happy to teach you.”

Archie Williams.  Credit: Archie WilliamsAll Rights Reserved.

There were challenges, one of which involved his doctoral degree defense. “I was focusing more on pleasing the members of my committee than on why my research was important,” he said. “This was a difficult lesson to learn, but with the guidance of Paul Heinemann, my mentor and academic adviser, I refocused and came to realize that regarding my research, I was the expert in the room.”

Williams' advice for students is to develop a diverse group of mentors and to network.

“If you don’t already, learn to love yourself,” he said. “You are valuable, uniquely created, and your perspective, ideas and experiences are not trivial.”

Diaz, who grew up in Puerto Rico, received a bachelor’s degree in community, environment, and development in 2018. She also holds various certifications in the domains of business development and business analytics.

Adriana Diaz.  Credit: Adriana DiazAll Rights Reserved.

As a business development analyst at ThinkWell, an organization that focuses on health and well-being, she secures new business and provides analytical support. Before joining ThinkWell, Diaz, who resides in Arlington, Virginia, worked at Social Impact in Washington, D.C.; Save the Children in Washington, D.C.; and the Banco Popular Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“I decided to work in international development because I am highly passionate about bringing sustainable change by forming innovative, contextualized solutions,” she said.


Last Updated April 20, 2021