sealPurdue News

May 3, 2002

Agriculture upholds tradition of outstanding students

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue's School of Agriculture is cultivating some of the university's top male graduates. Eight of the last 11 outstanding senior men honored by Purdue have studied agriculture.

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The most recent example is Eric Steiner, of Berne, Ind., who majored in agricultural education. He will graduate at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11, after receiving the G.A. Ross Award for the outstanding graduating man.

Compiling a sparkling academic record is the first criterion, but it takes a lot more than good grades to be considered the top "big man on campus." Winners of the Ross Award also must display leadership, good character and contribute to the university as a whole.

"We push students to be engaged in activities beyond agriculture," said Karl Brandt, associate dean and director of academic programs in agriculture. "With our land-grant mission, many of our students are interested in undertaking activities that have impact. They actively try to see how they can improve things."

Steiner was studying in South Africa at the start of his final year in school. Previous study abroad experiences had taken him to Poland and Honduras.

He was at a conference with South African business leaders when he first heard about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. He says international experiences such as his own, can go a long way toward combating the hate that fueled the attacks.

"There is much work to be done – one friendship at a time." Steiner said. "I strongly believe students engaging in international study abroad –neighbors inviting neighbors to dinner, and networks of old and new friends staying connected – are crucial activities we can all do to bridge the widening gaps of ostracism that lead to terrorism."

Creating global friendships has been just one part of Steiner's mission. He participated in at least 12 different organizations on campus and served in many leadership positions. He spent a summer in Washington, D.C., learning about federal policy-making with the American Farm Bureau. And he volunteered with community service organizations, such as the Lafayette Adult Reading Academy, the Lafayette Urban Ministries and the Salvation Army community center.

While Brandt won't describe Steiner as the typical ag student, he said the senior does exhibit some of the same enthusiasm and zest for living as previous Ross Award winners from Purdue agriculture.

Last year's recipient, Ben Hasse, was a forestry and natural resources major who spent the first semester of his junior year on a frozen continent completely without trees. The Kingsford, Mich., native was selected to serve with researchers in the Antarctic. He described one of his reasons for going as "a way to learn about how to function in a harsh environment." Hasse has things a little nicer in his current assignment as a Peace Corps worker in El Salvador.

"Those of us involved in food and agriculture are a minority of the population," said Brandt. "In order to keep our agriculture and natural resources system strong, we need students who feel comfortable challenging and debating and changing the opinions of the majority. We also must be willing to have our opinions changed once in a while, too."

Steiner was recently selected to serve as a fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center. He is one of 22 people from across the country picked to spend six months assisting at a field site, working with a community agency to distribute food to the nation's hungry. After his field experience, he will spend another six months in Washington, D. C., working with legislators and non-profit groups to formulate policies to help alleviate hunger in our country.

Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-2722;

Sources: Eric Steiner, (765) 532-9840;

Karl Brandt, (765) 494-8477;

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Participation in Purdue's International Programs in Agriculture took Eric Steiner to the southernmost point on the African continent and helped him earn the 2002 G.A. Ross Award as Purdue's outstanding male undergraduate student. (Photo provided by Eric Steiner.)

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Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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